Episode 732 – Honda Scoots with New Engine, OnStar is Watching You, LEGO Ford Explorer

September 27th, 2011 at 11:21am

Runtime: 8:52

Honda is rolling right along with a brand-new, global engine for its scooters: a liquid-cooled, four-stroke unit displacing 125 cc.  Last week OnStar announced it would track customers even after they cancel the service and that the company reserves the right to sell the information it’s gathered. Not surprisingly, this caused a bit of an uproar.  In order to celebrate its new partnership with the LEGOLAND theme park in Florida, Ford created an Explorer out of . . . you guessed it . . . LEGOs!  All that and more, plus a review of the BMW 550i.

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This is Autoline Daily for September 27, 2011. And now the news.

Government subsidies for developing fuel-efficient cars just survived a close call in the U.S. Congress. Republicans wanted to cut $1.5 billion from that program to pay for hurricane disaster relief. Democrats wanted both the money for disaster relief and to keep the green-car funding intact, and that’s exactly how the vote came out.

But a study by Carnegie Mellon University, Arizona State University and the Rand Corporation says subsidies for electric cars are not an effective way to reduce oil consumption or CO2 emissions. It says hybrids and plug-ins are a better way to go. But here’s my Autoline Insight. How can hybrids be a better way to go when they’re such a sales disaster? With the exception of the Toyota Prius, hybrid sales are negligible. Even with 28 different models of hybrids they only account for about 2 percent of the American market.

And now Tesla, the electric-car maker, is asking the U.S. government for more subsidies. It’s already received $465 million in taxpayer money, but now it needs more.  Autoblog reports the company will not publicly say how much more it needs, at least not yet.

Now for some two-wheel news.  Honda has developed a new engine for scooters.  It’s a liquid-cooled, four-stroke, single-cylinder unit that displaces just 125 cc.  The company claims it delivers up to 25 percent better fuel economy compared to a conventional engine of the same size.  It’s also supposed to be quieter and more durable than the unit it replaces.  To boost its efficiency, Honda focused on optimizing the design and reducing friction as much as possible.  The new engine will be offered on a variety of scooters around the world starting next year.

Ford pulled that controversial “press conference” TV commercial, the one that featured a supposedly real person named “Chris,” who railed against automakers taking federal money.   I’ll give you two guesses which ones they are. Here’s the interesting reason why it got pulled. According to The Detroit News, the Obama administration apparently raised questions about the commercial, so Ford pulled it.  The last thing the President needs is to draw attention to the bailouts, especially as an election year draws near.

Last week OnStar announced it would track customers even after they cancel the service and that the company reserves the right to sell information it gathered. Not surprisingly, this caused a bit of an uproar. U.S. Senator, Charles Shumer asked OnStar to reverse its policy and even asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. OnStar responded by saying it wouldn’t keep gathering data if customers opted out and that it has never sold any info it’s gathered. Here’s my Autoline Insight. It’s not well publicized that the Department of Homeland Security and OnStar have a close relationship. After Hurricane Katrina, the agency asked OnStar to track customers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Department is behind this latest request. Kind of gives new meaning to Government Motors doesn’t it?

In order to celebrate its new partnership with the LEGOLAND theme park in Florida, Ford created an Explorer out of . . . you guessed it . . . LEGOs! It took 22 designers and over 2,500 hours to build it. More than 380,000 LEGO pieces were used and it weighs over 2,600 pounds. The LEGO Explorer will be featured at the new park, which is the largest in the world and contains over 50 million LEGOs for its exhibits.

Coming up next, a look at the BMW 550i.

Thanks, Craig.

Don’t forget to tune in to Autoline After Hours this Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Join me and the Autoextremist, Peter De Lorenzo, for the best insider information of what’s going on in the world of cars and the people who run the companies that make them. And you can find that at our website www.Autoline.tv

And a programming note here. We are moving our offices and studio into a new building we bought. So, for the next few days, we’re going to be bringing you some of the best of Autoline Daily as we make the transition into our new facility.

But that wraps up this show. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

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

43 Comments to “Episode 732 – Honda Scoots with New Engine, OnStar is Watching You, LEGO Ford Explorer”

  1. HtG Says:

    That was one fine report today, Craig C. Very snappy and informative.

    Looks like somebody is backing tj up on EVs.


    John, when you reference a specifac article or video, a link in the transcript would be great. Like a link to the Detroit News piece on Ford where I was able to read this…

    Whatever the politics, the ad kerfuffle exposes two opposed realities existing simultaneously for Ford:

    First, a sizable cadre of current and would-be customers oppose the notion of taxpayer bailouts for automakers, whatever the economic costs to the industrial Midwest and the nation of letting them collapse. Meaning there’s an advantage Ford can press to remind folks that it didn’t receive direct payouts from Treasury.
    Second is that Ford supported the bailouts before Congress, in public statements and still does today, despite the recurring snarkiness you hear around its offices in Dearborn that it “didn’t take the money.”
    No, it didn’t. But Ford did seek a line of credit from the feds, borrowed billions under a government program to “retool” its plants and effectively failed first. That’s why it recruited a superstar CEO from Boeing Co. and gave him some $23 billion in borrowed money to save the Blue Oval from bankruptcy.
    Or it would have taken the money, too.

    From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110927/OPINION03/109270322/Howes–Ford-pulls-its-ad-on-bailouts#ixzz1ZATFrrNh

  2. HtG Says:

    If you’re looking for suggestions for which AutolineDaily best-of episodes to run, John, how about the one where Christie Schweinsberg responds to her critics in the comments section? Remember when she advised Bob to check his meds? Awesome.

    (Oh, you weren’t looking for my input today?)

  3. Ron Paris Says:

    A 2600 pound Ford Explorer? Hey, we may be on to something here! Making cars out of Legos makes about as much sense as Obama’s 54.5 mpg CAFE standard.

  4. HtG Says:

    Saab gets reprieve from Court. They get protection from creditors for another three months.

    From the WSJ($)

    Labor unions representing workers at Saab Automobile and its subsidiary Saab Automobile Powertrain AB last month petitioned for bankruptcy on behalf of thousands of employees who didn’t receive paychecks last month. The court protection stays the bankruptcy.

    “There is reason to question if there are conditions for a successful reconstruction of the companies,” the court said in its decision, adding it needed to investigate whether conditions for a successful reconstruction may exist.

    Swedish Automobile said its reorganization plan will focus on lowering both fixed and variable costs by eliminating duplication of work, streamlining processes, shortening lead times, improving coordination between departments and simplifying the organizational structure.

    “As a result of this initiative, headcount reductions cannot be ruled out,” the company said, adding that the efforts should be implemented before the end of the year.


  5. Aliisdad Says:

    EV’s are not really going to work for most people until the range is really increased; however, I do think hybrids are the way to go…While sales are low for now, if hybrids became “just the way cars are” they would sell…Every advance in car tech had to be adapted and accepted at some time… For example, I can even remember when radial tires were new, and there was lots of dicussion if they were good or worth the price–now they are the norm…Air conditioning, radios, heaters, fuel injection, automatics, and so on would be examples of things that become the automotive norms in time…Yet, we need to remember that hybrid tech works best in certain vehicles while it is not so efficient in others..Where it works well, the benefits can be great..

  6. tj Martin Says:

    E/V SUBSIDIES SAVED ( ??? ) ;

    ( subtitled ” Alice Thru the Looking Glass ” – the automotive version )

    Oh really ? Thats what we’re calling this wasted travesty of Tax Payers money ? More like throwing down the toilet , with w good solid flush .

    And look who’s begging for even more of our monies to throw away . My # 1 favorite E/V target Mr Elon Musk(rat) MR ” I’ve accomplished Bupkiss since day one with the Millions the US and Toyota have given me ”

    Anyone watch Top Gear BBCA last night ? Noticed how long the battery pack in the Leaf( italone) will cost you every three years if you use the Quick Charge regularly ?

    That’ll be £7000 please ( $11.340 US )

    Add that to the initial cost of the Leaf (call it $40K after reasonable options ) cost of Charging Station ( $2,000 + install so call it $3,200 ) add on the price of the Quick Charge ( $1500 ) MD and Chiropractor Fees ( for your back after pushing it multiple times to get to an outlet – $10K ) plus electricity bills and rental of outlets ( call it $5K )

    And you’re spending a minimum of $ 66,040 to own an E/V for Five Years that Does Not Work !

    And for all you Hybrid fans well here’s the bad news for you as well . Your battery packs will be very close to that $11,340 when you include disposal and install fees AND …. you’ve got the worst of both Worlds under your hood .

    An engine thats running on a rapidly diminishing commodity( petrol ) and and Engine that runs on the LEAST efficient and effective energy storage system currently available ( the battery )

    Here’s a fact and please challenge John or the Staff at ALD to challenge or confirm this ;

    #1 EVERY major manufactures engineers will tell you Hybrids and E/V’s solve nothing , and long term create more problems ( both environmental and maintenance wise ) then they pretend to solve .

    #2 The ONLY valid and viable short term solution is to build lighter and more efficient ICE’s

    #3 The ONLY valid and viable long term solution is HYDROGEN PERIOD . Yes it needs further development before bringing it to market ( hence the short term solution ) but it IS the ONLY one available that will in FACT solve our energy problems

    BMW knows this . Mercedes Benz knows this . Porsche knows this . VW -Audi knows. Honda knows this and all have stated this opinion publicly .

    My guess is if the ( not so ) Big Three would let their engineers speak out they’d say the same thing

    The ONLY reason all of the above ( and the rest ) are releasing Hybrids and E/V’s is to ;

    A) Satisfy public demand
    B) Take the above’s money as long as they’re foolish enough to part with it
    C) For positive public exposure to an ignorant and blind Green element who know a ____ of a lot less than they think they do

    So here’s my question for ALD and PDL in particular ;

    When you guys gonna come out of ” Alice in Wonderland ” get your feet firmly planted in Reality and start criticizing the heck out of Hybrids and E/Vs and begin pushing for the REAL Short & Long Term solutions .

  7. tj Martin Says:

    Now Tj just got a new instrument delivered yesterday , fresh from the makers hands so bye bye for now and see y’all next week .

  8. HtG Says:

    Here’s a little more color on Ford finances. From the US Treasury.

    Ford Motor Company 7/26 $131,300,000.00 6/15/22 2.245% Qtr.
    Ford Motor Company 7/26 $31,500,000.00 6/15/22 2.245% Qtr.


    Repeat after me, ‘Ford didn’t take the money.’

    (almost done here, Mr Farley)

  9. Dave Says:

    With the price of LEGO these days that probably costs more than a real Explorer!

  10. Don B. Says:

    So what is the Buick Regal? A compact, a six speed is optional and has a good feel to it.

  11. Phil in Burlington, Ontario Says:

    Congratulations on the new digs! I’ll be looking forward to seeing the new set on Autoline Afterhours.

  12. jesse Says:

    ONSTAR is infringing on our privacy illegally,GM is kicking that ball down the road even though they ARE onstar,and CHUCK SCHUMER-SENATOR from NY is calling them out.I may never buy another CHEVY again if GM does not step up on this.As much as I loved my CORVETTES I won’t buy one with that feature!

  13. Lex Says:

    Hi John & Crew,

    I wish you all a safe move into your new building.

    Tesla is asking for more money? I want to know how many have been built and are on the road today. It seems that no matter how much money is pumped into the strictly electric can companies like Tesla and Fisker, it is never enough! The problem with these guys is that they want to build a electric car from the ground up. Yes Tesla is using a Lotus body. But if Tesla used a mass produced vehicle without its ICE Drivetrain they would have been way ahead in the electrification game.

    GM has the right idea, place a small onboard ICE Flex Fuel powerplant to supply battery charging to the electric powertrain. They could have saved much time and money by retrofiting a Chevy Cruze with a electric powertrain.

    If Tesla was able to get a large multi-million dollar contract from Mercedes Benz to electrify the Smart for Two, why is it asking the the Obama Administration for more money? How has that MB / Tesla contract been going? Has Elon Musk produced any electric Smart Cars yet, and how many? The only way electric car are going to succeed is my making them every affordable and incorporating small ICE Flex Fuel Battery recharging units into these vehicles.

    However, between the Toyota Prius and other Very High Milage Conventional ICE offerings from other high volumn OEM’s, the electrification of the automobile is still decades away! Thank you OPEC!

  14. Lex Says:

    OnStar is now available for most non-GM vehicles. It can to installed at Best-Buy.
    It is not cheap, around five hundred dollars installed without the monthly service fee.

    I believe smart phones with one day de able to directly interface with your vehicle and blow up the entire OnStar / My Ford Touch business models. If your smart phone had an APP that was able to interface with your vehicle directly and communicate vital engine information, vehicle location and still provide communication and entertainment, who needs these expensive OEM packages?

    Verizon, do you hear me now?

  15. pedro fernandez Says:

    Since Lego pieces are made in China, does this mean that this Explorer is Chinese?

  16. MJB Says:

    Craig, Craig, Craig… Now why must you hate on the badonkadonk-butt of the previous generation BMW 5-series? You mean you ain’t down wit’ Sir Mix-A-Lot? C’mon, bro.

    Just for the record, we are talking about this one, right? http://images.usedcheapcars.org/used-bmw/2008-bmw-550i-sedan/123bd0-ucc.jpg

    In all seriousness though, I really do VERY MUCH prefer the rear end of the above pictured 5-series over this new one. Give me the badonkadonk butt BMW, Corvette and Cadillac baby! I love ‘em all.

  17. MJB Says:


    Good one, Pedro. But the answer is “no”. It is a Chinese car assembled in the U.S.

  18. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Prius is the only hybrid that is selling well because it is the only one that buys you much. It gets exceptional fuel economy, especially in stop and go driving, is reliable, and is moderately priced. Also, while hatchbacks generally don’t sell well in the U.S., Prius buyers are looking for practical and efficient transportation, and hatchbacks appeal to that group. The battery issue is highly exagerated, at least with the nickel metal hydride battrries used in Prius. They last a long time, and while no one seems to know what they cost since they never fail, a Prius battery is small enough that it won’t be terribly exoensive. The jury is still out, though, on the life of lithium batteries used in pure electric cars, and Volt.

  19. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Some hybrids on the market are just silly, like the 7 series and S-Class, and LS. People don’t buy cars in this class for fuel economy, and those entries don’t even get good fuel economy. The EPA ratings of those three are from 17-23 to 19-25. The upcoming S-Class diesel has ratings of 21-31. Why would anyone buy the hybrid that gets 19-25 on similar price fuel, since it needs premium? OK, the hybrid is faster, but still…

  20. Kit Gerhart Says:

    “I believe smart phones with one day de able to directly interface with your vehicle and blow up the entire OnStar / My Ford Touch business models.”

    Chevy is already advertising one OnStar function that can be done with a smart phone, unlocking the doors.

  21. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I’ll be watching for the new Honda scooters. I have an archaic 125cc Yamaha with a fan cooled engine. It’s simple and reliable, but I’m sure the new Honda will both perform better, and use less gas.

  22. W L Simpson Says:

    spent 2 weeks in a hybrid—-disturbingly indecisive

  23. pedro fernandez Says:

    Just saw a video on TTAC of the CEO of VW scratching his head on how much better put together is the Hyundai I30 than what his company offers in the class, I predict he went home crying and heads will roll at VW.

  24. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Interesting video. I, personally don’t care if a car makes noise when you adjust the steering quality, but apparently Winterkorn saw it as a sign of “quality” that the Hyundai did not make noise. I suspect he saw other, more important areas where the i30 looked better than a Golf.

    When, if ever, will the new i30, AKA Elantra Touring arrive here?

  25. Lex Says:


    Unlocking Doors is one task running through the OnStar System. What if you did not need to subscribe to OnStar, and were able to remotely start, monitor key engine functions or diagnosis problems using your smart phone by way of encrption coded software with a proximity chip similar to the one in some key fobs.

  26. pedro fernandez Says:

    Kit I would personally be embarrassed if a product from a supposedly inferior manufacturer turns out to be better put together than a competing model from a company that is always referred to as one representing superior German engineering, he even mentions BMW not able to achieve this, you may also notice he’s giving the car a pretty thorough examination, that is how I felt when I first got a close look at my 86 Camry after the horrible experience I had with the Buick X car from 1980.

  27. HtG Says:

    OK, here’s Bob Lutz sounding off again. ‘In His Book,’ (IHB) Lutz wrote about how the best panel gaps they were measuring at GM came from Hyundai. This even before the present Sonata model.

  28. HtG Says:

    Beginning about p112, IHB, Lutz wrote about a comparison GM did of dozens of competitive cars, including Korea, Japan, Germany. The one that was best in sheetmetal was the 02 Sonata. That means the gaps, the corners, the edges. Seeing Winterkorn being impressed by Hyundai doesn’t surprise me.

  29. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I agree. Hyundai is the new quality standard, at least in regard to things you see before you drive the car. I suspect there is a lot of “catch up” being played, not only in Germany, but in Japan and the U.S.

    From TTAC, OnStar has dropped the proposal to keep collecting data. See:


  30. HtG Says:

    Don’t think Veloster is in demand by the first on the blockers? A local dealer is charging 22,400 for a car that the Hyundai site says should go for 18K.

    Link to the dealer site.


  31. Chuck Grenci Says:

    When did we stop using whale oil for our lighting………….when it became more expensive than that new fangled kerosene. Next question, when will we gravitate towards electric power…………..when it becomes (consistantly) less expensive than gasoline. Really, it’s not that hard; government interference isn’t working or needed.

  32. tj Martin Says:


    ( taking a break and thought I’d toss some fuel onto the fire )

    If you don’t know this already , its because 90% of the D Senators and Congressmen that voted to keep E/V funding are Heavily invested into the companies pretending to produce E/V’s and they stand to lose a fortune if the Govt handouts aren’t maintained

    And you thought its was just the Republicans that were a bunch of self serving Mercenaries .

    Don’t believe me ? Take the time to look in the records as to who voted what , and then have a look at the public records of their portfolios .

    If you’re like me and voted Democratic in the last election you’re probably feeling as snookered as I do

    Moral of the Story ?

    We’ve been had Gentlemen

    To the tune of 4 Billion of yours and my tax dollars

    All for a Technology that was doomed to failure from the start so’s a few Politicians can keep their pockets lined with our Money .

  33. tj Martin Says:

    @ Chuck Grenci

    Batteries = Bad

    E/V’s run on batteries

    Therefore – No Government Subsidies and Pressure to move E/V’s forward in the market = No E/V’s

    E/V’s The new Beta Max of the Automotive World .

    There’s a big [ L ] written right into the contracts of every single one sold .

    Thank Obama and the Democrats for this one .

    ( sheesh every time I start thinking the Republicans and Tea Party members are the biggest fools on the Hill , the Dem’s come up with another one like this one to prove me wrong ! )

  34. tj Martin Says:

    Oh and pardon me .

    I should give TESLA credit for one thing

    Creating the Second Fastest and Second most Expensive Mobile BBQ .

  35. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Cradle to grave; batteries are just not ready for primetime. Agree with tj and others here; when it becomes smart to switch, we will see the switch.

  36. HtG Says:

    @32 OK, I can’t resist. Take a look at where Nancy Pelosi’s district is. It’s in Frisco, just north of Silicon Valley. In today’s pay to play political world a pol rises to the top by bringing in money for other pols. Do you not think that the charisma challenged congresswoman held many fundraisers where computer money met govt? This function of raising money for other pols is what people are complaining about when they say too much time is spent raising money.

    Next rant is on Obummer and Hilary.

  37. HtG Says:

    I was not clear in 36. Tesla is in Palo Alto CA and Fisker is in DE(Home state of Uncle Joe Biden)


  38. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The democrats have done a lot of dumb things, but I’d take them any day over the r’s and tea partiers who really wanted another great depression.

  39. Kit Gerhart Says:

    As far as batteries, we have been doing cost-effective recycling of lead-acid batteries for about a hundred years, and will, or already are doing likewise with other battery types.

  40. XA351GT Says:

    What was with the flickering lights on that Beamer? That looks very distracting and potentionally dangerous by drawing one’s eyes to them.

    Did anyone ever think that On Star wasn’t being used to track people? Any vehicle with a GPS can be used to keep tabs on it’s operator. Same goes with Lo-Jak . Big brother is watching and has been for quite a while.

  41. HtG Says:

    @38 You’ve got to understand, Kit, we need a great depression so that we can begin to grow again off a solid foundation. America!

    (drinking tonight)

  42. Mouhamad A. Naboulsi Says:

    Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar Shame on OnStar

  43. Mouhamad A. Naboulsi Says:

    Hi Lex,

    Micky mouse application on a flimzy cell phone is not going to get you anything but ditraction and headache. iPhone get 2% returns but other smart phones get 40% returns and I know why. My phone used to reboot on me when I call 911 while the Navigation is on or the MP3 player is on. I had to replace it 3 times andthat was a $550 phone.

    In automotive you need robust hardware, but I agree that you do not need OnStar sharing your life with you or Sync frustrating you with poor Speech Recognition. You can check out my website on http://www.iQ-Telematics.com for ahappy medium. I finished the first prototype in 2002, but still no serious backing.