Episode 669 – Ford Tweaks Technologies, EPA Cuts Ethanol Requirements, After Hours Draft

June 22nd, 2011 at 12:00pm

Runtime 8:48

Ford says it’s tweaking the software behind its SYNC and MyFord Touch systems because of customer complaints about the technologies. The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing another reduction in the use of cellulosic ethanol, the third-straight year it’s slashed requirements. Over the last year, Detroit automakers have boosted sales in California while their Japanese rivals have seen their market share drop in the state. All that and more, plus, we find out the draft order in next week’s automotive draft on Autoline After Hours.


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This is Autoline Daily for June 22, 2011. I’m Mark Phelan, auto critic from the Detroit Free Press and — coming up next week — one of your Draft Analysts on the After Hours Automotive Draft. But more on that later. Right now let’s get to the news.

At a safety and technology briefing in Dearborn yesterday Ford announced it’s tweaking the software behind its SYNC and MyFord Touch systems. According to the Detroit Free Press – the best newspaper around I might add – the automaker is addressing customer complaints that these technologies are hard to use. What’s strange in all this is that the company is actually admitting fault. It’s a rare day when corporations do that. Mark Fields, Ford’s President of the Americas, said internal quality evaluations showed some issues with the systems. He said they’re working to address the problems quickly. It will be interesting to see if Ford takes a hit on the latest J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, which is due out tomorrow. Last year it was the highest-rated non-luxury brand in the survey.

Ethanol is the drama queen of the fuel industry, and it’s in trouble again. The Detroit News reports the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing another reduction in the use of cellulosic ethanol. Back in 2007 the U.S. enacted a law requiring 500 million gallons of alcohol end up in gas tanks in 2012. Now it’s suggesting no more than 12.9 million gallons of the stuff get burned. It blames “market availability” for the cutback. This is the third straight year the EPA slashed its cellulosic ethanol requirements. By 2013 America was supposed to consume 1 billion gallons of the fuel, but this goal will certainly get scaled back as well.

Remember Pontiac and Saturn? Of course you do. Millions of people still drive these vehicles today even though GM sent them off to the big parking lot in the sky when it went through bankruptcy in 2009. In a bit of bad news for the company, two thirds of Pontiac owners and THREE QUARTERS of Saturn drivers are defecting to other automakers when it’s time to buy a new car. According to The Detroit News, Chevrolet is a top choice for these “abandoned” customers but Honda, Toyota and Nissan are popular as well. In March of last year GM started offering Pontiac and Saturn owners a $1,000 incentive to stay with the company, a deal that’s still in place today, and apparently not doing as much as executives had hoped.

Most major car companies are making huge investments in emerging markets like India and China, but Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche warns of mounting risks in these countries. According to Reuters, inflation in China could but the brakes on growth. Sales in the country this year have been slowing down but Zetsche says the company’s business is diverse enough to balance the volatility in emerging markets. But it’s not just those markets Zetsche is concerned about. According to the Wall Street Journal, he says slow economic recovery in the U.S. could hurt the auto industry’s growth (subscription required) this year. He also says the debt crisis in Europe is a threat and that it’s necessary to preserve and strengthen the euro.

California’s auto market is dominated by import brands, but over the last year, the Detroit automakers have been gaining share in the state. According to the LA Times, California buyers are turning to the Detroit automakers because their newest crop of small cars and SUVs are competitive with their Asian rivals. Last year the Chevy Cobalt only accounted for 1 percent of sales in California but its replacement, the Cruze, has boosted sales to just over 3 percent of the market. Ford’s retail sales jumped 37 percent the first four months of the year and the company’s overall market share in the state is the highest it’s been since 2002. Japanese automakers on the other hand have seen their market share fall nearly a full percentage point in the last year.

Mayors across the U.S. recently voiced their support for red-light cameras in order to reduce traffic accidents. According to the Detroit News, the mayors say the cameras reduce red-light running and speeding through traffic lights. A recent study from the IIHS found that red-light cameras do help reduce fatal crashes because people are more cautious if they know a camera is around. But many argue this is just a way for the government to raise revenue and there have been several challenges in court to stop their use. So what do you think? Are cameras a good safety technology, or do they represent too much government intrusion?

Now don’t go away because coming right up is an Autoline Daily exclusive about next week’s After Hours Automotive Draft. Stay tuned…

As I mentioned in the open, I’ll be one of the After Hours Draft Analysts along with some guy named Scott Burgess. Just kidding, as many of you know he’s the auto critic from The Detroit News who will, in fact, be sitting in for John here tomorrow. Anyway, Scott and I will be equipped with our own executive power rankings as we watch along with you all who John, Peter, Jim and Ed draft, and then telling you what we think. Should be a lot of fun.

Anyway, you can’t have a draft without an order — who chooses first, second…you know what I mean. So to keep it unbiased and fair, we asked the panelists and guest on a recent Autoline to help us with the process. So we recorded it and thought we’d premier it here today on Autoline Daily. Check it out.

Wow! Do you think the hat was fixed? Well, the Autoline staff swears it wasn’t. So the order of round 1 is McElroy and Dymaxion Motors choosing first, followed by De Lorenzo and Renzo Motors with Ed Lapham’s DeWard Auto Group third and Jim Hall’s Bistango last. But remember, each round will be reversed so Hall will pick first in round 2, followed by Lapham, De Lorenzo and McElroy.

So that’s the first annual Autoline After Hours Automotive Draft next Thursday, June 30th at 7pm though you might want to tune in early. You never know what’ll happen.

That’s it for today. I’m Mark Phelan, auto critic of the Detroit Free Press…we’ll see you next week at the After Hours draft. Take care.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog and WardsAuto.com

35 Comments to “Episode 669 – Ford Tweaks Technologies, EPA Cuts Ethanol Requirements, After Hours Draft”

  1. Tom Cain Says:

    Mayors like Red Light cameras because they bring in CA$H. Reducing accidents is just a ruse…

  2. Jon M Says:

    Of course mayors like revenue generating red light cameras. But guess who else does? The companies that make them. Not only do they earn revenue from the sale, but they aslo collect a percentage of the fines. Somebody is really cashing in on the inattentive motorist market! Who knew such a market existed? Nevertheless, as long as mayors across the nation can get in on the action, then of course they’ll love the cameras. And what a rock solid pretext of reduced accidents they can use to justify them!

  3. Martin Says:

    Interesting stats on the defection of Saturn and Pontiac owners.

    I was just in a tire store this week and the lady standing next to me at the counter had a fairly new Saturn. She had a blown tire, and supposedly had bought all the extended warranty coverage, including road hazard for the tires. A call to the warranty company told her she was SOL, and when she called GM she was told the same. Im sure she wont darken the doors of a GM store whn it’s time for a new car.

    Best line overheard though, was the guy at the counter who looked at her and said “Saturn’s closed?” Seriously dude, you work in the automotive industry and you dont know that? I think he might be living under one of those tires he’s selling.

  4. David Sprowl Says:

    Red light cameras are not about safety. They are about revenue. The cost of these camera’s are between 60-90K per set up. Those cost are taken into account when these units are placed.
    Now, if the city can identify problem spots, then why not dispatch patrol car to said intersection to observe and issue tickets? The average patrolman outfitted with car is almost a wash as far as investment is concerned. Safety first? I think not.

  5. Artimus77 Says:

    I’m a little disipointed Peter didn’t go with “Fu-King Motors”.

  6. dcars Says:

    Saturn never really figured out what it was. The slogan “a different kind of car a different kind company” didn’t mean anything when they stopped selling the plastic exterior skinned cars. Pontiac on the other hand was starting to build some nice cars. The G-8 and the solstice coup and even the g6 convertible was very interesting. Chevy doesn’t sell anything that compares well to those vehicles.

  7. MW Says:

    Some of us remember Pontiac for what it was, not what it eventually became. It was the rebel, preformance division of GM that gave Chevrolet heatburn. It became a symbol for GM that showed how lost they were in trying to provide a true performance brand. My favorite Pontiac was the 1970 Grand Prix Model SJ, and my least favorite was that awful Aztek that was the beginning of the end.

  8. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I like red light cameras, because they have noticably reduced the number of people who run red lights at a certain intersection I cross when walking to the beach. I don’t feel sorry for people who deliberately run red lights and get caught.

  9. HtG Says:

    where is the straw that stirs?

  10. Simpson Says:

    Saturn started out with such grand plans & engendered a tremendous loyalty before GM got tired of mob psyche. Plastic fenders just weren’t enuff.

  11. GPL Says:

    Red light cameras, like many other things, aren’t inherently bad IF used for their stated purpose. As Kit pointed out, they have a benefit. However, many municipalities and the companies that operate the cameras see the revenue potential first and public safety second.

    One study of these cameras about which I recently read found sited a camera from which the number of citations issued for failure to come to a complete stop before turning right was around 80-90% (don’t remember the exact number) of the citations issued, however, there had never been an accident caused by such an infraction at that intersection. Other investigations have found that some municipalities go so far as to shorten the interval of the yellow light, sometimes illegally, to induce the issuance of a greater number of citations. California is even currently trying to change the law to allow towns to do just that.

    In these examples, the intent of the camera is clearly to generate revenue at the expense of citizens.

  12. dcars Says:

    I loved Pontiac it was such a great idea that lost it’s way with cars like the Aztek, Sunfire and Transport. Toyota’s Scion brand is a Pontiac wannabe. Saturn was another great idea that was done so poorly, it turned into a huge money pit. If GM would have spent that money on Pontiac they would have been much better off. I can say that now with out the fear of failure!

  13. pedro fernandez Says:

    If GM had taken the Saturn money and spent it to improve their R and D, suppliers, factories and gotten rid of redundant brands like Olds and GMC they would have come out a lot stronger, but Smith had to have his stupid Saturn as some kind of legacy, yeah it was a failure, just like his time as head of GM.

  14. Kit Gerhart Says:

    GPL re: #11

    I wouldn’t like some of the practices you site, especially the deliberate shortening of yellows to catch more people.

    Where I am, Cocoa Beach, Florida, there was an article in the local paper about how they intend to “play it clean” with the cameras. The article said, and I can confirm it, that they look at the videos and cut people some slack, especially on the right turn on red. I was a little worried one time when I turned on red without stopping completely, and I saw the tell tale flash, but I didn’t get a ticket.

    Before the camera was installed, way too many people would deliberately, and blatently run the light at the intersection near me when pedestrians had the “walk” light, and when the side street had the green. A lot fewer people do that now.

  15. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Saturn, along with buying Hughes and EDS, was the brain child of Roger Smith. With Saturn, they did a very good job of creating a pleasant dealer experience, but the cars were nothing special, except for the plastic body panels. The last “real” Saturn, the Ion, was pretty much worst in class.

    With the money spent on Saturn, they could have made the Cavalier into a genuinely competetive car. It would have taken a few years for the word to get out that Chevy actually had a good small car, but the word would have gotten out eventually. Even positive reports from Consumer Reports would have helped out, had the car existed.

  16. pedro fernandez Says:

    I got a “ticket” from a local municipality because they determined from the red light camera that I made a right on red without stopping, I was 1000% positive I was innocent because I am well aware of that intersection and I made sure that I made an full and absolute stop (2 seconds) b4 proceeding, I went to court and thanks to my clean driving record I was acquitted but it cost me time from work and plenty of aggravation

  17. HtG Says:

    @16 Pedro, maybe the red light camera’s sensor determined that your Vibrolla never actually came to a full stop.

  18. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Saturn also came at a time when the Koreans were growing and budding, and the Koreans started Below Saturn to only surpass them in the long run.

    I’m starting to think that short term the revival of Buick is a Good Idea, but in the long term since Buick is still acting too slowly on small cars I think Saturn should have been treated as a New Age Buick Replacement.

    They could have Badged them as Buicks in China and Opels in Europe, added new body kits, new trims, etc.. then badged them as Saturns as the “New Age” Buick.

    It’s too late now, plus Buick is doing quite well.

    I do think with Buick, MINI, Ford, and the Koreans Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura are in big trouble in the long term.

    - Buick covers the stately, but new Tech pretty well.
    - The Koreans have this chic nouveau about their cars that could make them become like a new age Italian “design oriented” car maker.
    - MINI is diversifying their small cars.
    - Ford’s increased “Premiumness” and Relibaility ratings in their cars should keep a few buyers that could consider Japanese Premium away.

    The auto Market is going to be pinched very soon in an Automotive World War III.

    In 10 years the Automotive industry will be radically different. With the lowered standard of living for most Americans this is what will occur:

    - The Chinese will come and storm the market with their cheap in China cars like they did with their cheap in China, TVs Radios, etc… and the masses will scoop them up. Chinese cars will become the New Walmart.
    - More Americans will ride transit, because it’s going to be the “PC” thing to do, and more transit is going to become available, as rural transit is being beefed up under the radar. They will also come out with new gadgets that will keep a minority of people permanentely disinterested in cars in general. Many Suburbs will become ghettoes, ghost towns, and shanty towns. People will either move back to the country to escape crime, or back to the cities to escape being a suburban slave to high gas prices.
    - The used car market will show a lot of promise, but more people riding transit, and access to cheap Chinese cars will force used car dealers to almost give away their used cars. Used car dealers will become like thrift stores, where they make sure they always have the lowest prices you can think of
    - The Japanese are going to be even in a worse position than today- They are going to become the new Automotive laughing stock in the same way Detroit used to be. People will start to doubt the survival of the Japanese Auto Industry itself.
    - Gas prices have been projected by some think tanks to be $6+ a Gallon as normal.
    - Chevy Will Replace Buick’s positioning Cadillac will be just fine. Buick uncertain, but they need a ton of small cars for me to be more certain.
    - Ford will strggle with Lincoln, and more than Likely drop it. Ford itself will become the New Lincoln. I think Ford will revise or change their logo.
    - The Koreans will French out the US providing many flavors of a car. Bare Bones cheap Accents to Up Spec Accents that can do battle with the best that Luxury brands can throw, and everything in between.
    - B and C segment cars will make up more than 50% of sales, and the buyers will still cry out for more variety.
    - Hybrids and E Assist systems will come standard in most cars.
    - EVs will become the new Hybrids.
    - All Cars will come with LED Lights as standard headlamps. This will either be progress or government mandate, but this will happen.
    - D and above cars will start to become more Boutique oriented in the vain of the M, AMG, S Division, ST, R-Spec, etc…

  19. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    The World itself is moving towards WWIII 10-15 years away. A Lot of America’s “friends” are going to turn against us because of this economic crisis, and a collapse of America’s Superpower will create a Global power vaccum that even Japan will fight and scratch to fill.

    Japan has no choice at this point, but to create a serious nuclear armed national defense that can take it to any Military on the planet. Japan will become a Military industrial complex like America is today, and as it was under Emperor Hirohito as the “Solution” to their problems. We will try to get Japan entangled into world conflicts to act out our Military Proxies that we cant afford to do, or unwilling to do anymore.

    As China grows in Power, America will be even more than ever working behind the scenes and openly to “Groom” India to become like a “New America.”

    You will see next year a Soviet style collapse of the US, businesses will close down, and the next day you will have hoardes of people stripping the place down to the foundations selling what they have de-constructed to everywhere in the world- especially Chinese looking for scrap, etc.. on ebay, etc… IT’S ALREADY HAPPENING IN CALIFORNIA ACCORDING TO SOME THE WATCHERS I KNOW.

    I’d say Korea and the UK will become even more important friends than today. America will be forced by the forces to have some kind of North American Union/American Federation with Canada and central America agreement. This isnt a “Conspiracy Theory” anymore. Wikileaks a couple of weeks ago leaked out the plan, but many in the Media kept quiet about it.

  20. HtG Says:

    tj, please


  21. XA351GT Says:

    If red light cameras make people stop at RED lights then I’m all for anyone making money on their stupid asses . Better them a fine then me or my family injured or dead. In SE PA the amount of people that ignore red lights and stop signs is insane. Considering that I drive a small car and most vehicles dwarf my car I know where I’m going to come out in a crash.

  22. Tony Gray Says:

    My wife’s last two brands were, Pontiac and Saturn. She won’t go near a GM dealership…and we have been shopping for three months for a replacement for her Aura.

    I almost got her into a Regal, but it was dog slow compared to her XR, and they didn’t have any Turbos on the lot.

    She wants a Mustang, but trying to find a loaded red V6 automatic is like trying to find the Lost Ark.

    And Red Light Cameras are a scam. Paint a line on the road that synchs with the yellow. If you are going the speed limit and the light turns yellow AFTER you pass it, you keep going. If it turns yellow BEFORE you get to it, you stop. Costs almost nothing.

  23. Jim Hall Says:


  24. HtG Says:


  25. Kit Gerhart Says:

    @tony gray #22
    If your wife wants something like an Aura, it most certainly exists. It is called Malibu. If she wants a Mustang equipoed a certain way, she should be able to order it and get it in six weeks. At least that is the case with GM and Chrysler.

  26. John Says:

    Re: Economy vs. The U.S. Dollar and Energy Prices

    How can Bernanke make this statement with a straight face?

    ““We don’t have a precise read on why this slower pace of growth is persisting,” Bernanke said.”

    Here is the context:

    ” The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.8 percent in the first quarter, down from 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter, and recent data have shown manufacturing and consumer and business sentiment weakening.

    “We don’t have a precise read on why this slower pace of growth is persisting,” Bernanke said. Referring to “frustratingly” slow job growth and weakness in the financial and housing industries, Bernanke said “some of these headwinds may be stronger and more persistent than we thought.” ”

    The direct relationship between higher oil prices and negative economic activity is obvious to most but not to Bernanke at the helm.

    1. Bernanke’s QE1 and QE2 DEVALUE the U.S. Dollar.

    2. Oil markets trade oil in U.S. Dollars.

    3. It takes MORE, DEVALUED, U.S. Dollars to purchase a barrel of oil.

    4. Oil Prices go UP as the Value of the U.S. Dollar goes down.

    5. U.S. Consumer spending Drops as marginal disposable income goes for energy instead of products and services.

    6.The economy tanks.


    ““We don’t have a precise read on why this slower pace of growth is persisting,” Bernanke said.”

    It Gets better.

    ““Bernanke’s remarks kept that door open” to more bond buying, said former Fed Governor Lyle Gramley, currently senior economic adviser at Potomac Research Group in Washington. “The hurdle for QE3 is obviously high. But if large downside risks materialize and the economy slows enough so that the unemployment rate starts to increase again, QE3 would have to be considered.” ”

    So, since Bernanke does not understand the economic destruction he has caused with QE1 and QE2, he still may burn what is left of the economy to the ground with a QE3.

    Remember, that is only if things get worse.

    Bernanke Leaves Door Open to More Stimulus Should Economy Fail to Rebound
    By Scott Lanman and Jeannine Aversa – Jun 23, 2011 12:00 AM ET


  27. John Says:

    I should point out that 70% (SEVENTY PERCENT) of

    the U.S. Economy is based on the Consumer

    Spending for products and services that Bernanke

    has destroyed with QE1 and QE2 .


    ““We don’t have a precise read on why this slower pace of growth is persisting,” Bernanke said.”

    might be an alarm bell.

  28. dcars Says:

    Funny thing about the Ion was it’s replacement never even came close to selling as many cars. I didn’t think it was that great but it was liked by its owners.

  29. dcars Says:

    #23 is that the real Jim Hall with only a single word comment?

  30. Ali from the Bronx Says:

    Doing 30 miles/hr. I know the next light has a camera, I am close and the yellow comes on. I don’t know if the guy tailgating me knows that! Do I speed up and pay 50$ or slow down and take a hit?

  31. pedro fernandez Says:

    Good point Ali, I would not be surprised if your nearby red light camera was sponsored by your friendly, neighborhood auto collision specialist. Add to that all the distracted drives plowing into each other this is indeed a good time for body shop operators. BTW I witnessed an accident in my intersection and both drivers were on their cell phones.

  32. HtG Says:

    @30 The law in NY is that under a yellow, stop as soon as it is safe to do so. If you think the guy behind you is too close, then you have a defense if ticketed or photoed. I learned this the hard way when a cop said I made no attempt to slow as I went through a yellow that changed to red just as I passed under the hanging light. Ali, you know the camera on the Moshulu as you approach Jacobi Hospital? Fair/not fair?

  33. HtG Says:

    @31. Driving on the DC Beltway(495) I watched some young dongding texting while switching from the left to middle lane. Many may know that the Beltway is a horror show, and will clog for miles if there is even one fender blender. More and more reasons to find a way to stop driving.

  34. Ali from the Bronx Says:

    HtG, I think the one on Moshulu is fair, actually!
    Here the reason:
    1. The block after that is too long and folks try to make that light cuz they know they wont stop for a while after that.
    2. The road just before the light is rough, so people should slow down anyways
    3. Every now and then, I see pedesterians crossing between this light and the next (folks to/from hospital). Lets face it, if you are in the middle of those lights, you are not walking all the way to the intersection to cross over.
    4. If you are coming from Orchard Beach or a fishing trip, whats the rush?

  35. Zieke Says:

    Cameras, a huge scam. They are made to produce revenue, plain and simple. What will really gall you is getting a ticket for not coming to a full stop before turning right. The camera doesn’t care if there are no cars within 2000 feet of the intersection. Some states and cities are about to remove them because of public outcry.