Episode 994 – A123 Out of Juice, LEDs Already Replaced? Superhero-Themed Kia Optimas

October 17th, 2012 at 12:00pm

Runtime: 7:42

Johnson Controls charges up as another battery supplier files for bankruptcy. LEDs are the latest thing in automotive lighting, but could they be obsolete within the next few years? Does your car look like it could save your life? One car maker thinks their’s can. All that and more, plus John McElroy responds to your questions and comments in this week’s edition of You Said It!

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Thanks for joining us for Autoline Daily, we’re already halfway through the week! Let’s get to the news.

Well today it’s official. Battery company A123 filed for bankruptcy and it looks like Johnson Controls will get its automotive battery operations. Johnson Controls, or JCI, is the largest battery supplier in the Americas. However, other companies will be able to bid on A123’s assets in bankruptcy court, so it’s not a sure thing that JCI will get it. I keep saying that this electric-car market is a financial disaster for the companies involved in it, and I believe what’s happened to A123 is only the tip of the iceberg.

In related EV news, General Motors made it official that the Cadillac ELR will be built in the Hamtramck plant in Detroit. Of course, since this is the same plant that the Chevrolet Volt and Opel Ampera are made in, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the ELR would be made there, either. I wonder if anyone out there believes the Cadillac ELR will sell any better than the other EVs that are floundering out there.

But I’m not against new technology, as long as the market wants it. Next on the high-tech list is steer by wire. Reuters reports Nissan’s luxury division Infiniti is working on a steer-by-wire system that could launch within a year! It would be the first of its kind in a mass-market vehicle. Rather than a direct mechanical link to the front wheels, electronics and actuators would control steering. In the event of an emergency, a backup clutch could engage to facilitate direct input. Steer-by-wire could open the door to new control interfaces, like joysticks or even tillers. This may sound far-fetched but remember, aircraft have had fly-by-wire for years, so it’s no surprise the technology is migrating to the automotive industry.

Here’s a weird one. Kia is taking a unique, albeit somewhat tacky approach to attract new buyers. Time reports the South Korean automaker is working on a lineup of superhero-themed Optima sedans. Yes, I said superhero. A Batman-ified Optima with logos and graphics is on the list. So are Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, to name a few of the Justice League characters. Different models will be unveiled over the next 10 months. Pricing and availability have not been announced. The plan is the result of a partnership between Kia and DC Entertainment, and it will actually help raise funds to fight hunger in Africa. Whatever it takes, I guess.

Now for some racing news. Ferrari just renewed its contract with driver Filipe Massa through the end of the 2013 season. And Ford is dropping out of the World Rally Championship. The company expects to lose nearly 1 billion dollars in Europe this year and it cutting costs everywhere it can. The racing team M-Sport, Ford’s factory team since 1997, will continue to race the Fiesta WRC and hopes to receive support in the form of vehicles and engineering.

YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE (subscription required)
Right now LEDs are the latest thing in automotive lighting. But lasers could be the next wave. Laser headlamps would be up to five times brighter than the best LED headlamp, and offer new styling features. They can be put in very compact areas and could allow such functions as a picture beam and auto dim so as not to blind oncoming drivers.

Coming up next, it’s time for You Said It!

Jeff Taylor wants to know, “How can Tesla void the warranty for using a non-Tesla service facility? I thought the Magnuson-Moss Warranty act prevented that. I know most manufacturers won’t void your warranty as long as you follow the maintenance schedule.” Great point Jeff, and I bet the Tesla policy gets tested in the courts if it tries to force people to its dealerships.

C-Tech wants to know, “Please clarify for me, is this Nissan-Mercedes engine plant building the same 4-cyl which will be shared by the C-Class and Nissan vehicles?” Yep, same engine, but look for different company names on the valve cover.

Bradley saw our report on the new Explorer Sport and says, “The Explorer name on the front hood edge really looks Land Rover esque.” You’re right Bradley. Ford started doing this on the Flex Titanium Edition and obviously they liked it so much it’s starting to spread to other models. Ford started planning this when it still owned Land Rover, and I don’t know why but to my eye it does make an SUV look more premium. Count me in as just another lemming.

G.A. Branigan says, “I still don’t get it….why the push for autonomous cars? What happened to the driving experience? If someone doesn’t like to drive there is public transportation.” C’mon GA, what about disabled people, or blind people? Or what about the elderly who need their cars for their personal freedom but are hitting that age where they shouldn’t drive anymore? What about kids who are too young to have a driver’s license? And as for public transportation, you go stand out in a driving snow storm when its 10 degrees outside, and wait for a bus.

Kit Gerhart is puzzled. “I thought Skoda was VW’s lower cost brand. I guess the new one will be ‘more lower.’ Had they thought of Trabant for this new brand?” I love the idea of calling VW’s new low-cost brand Trabant. It’s a known brand that has a weird nostalgia going for it in some circles. I guess VW believes that Skoda is doing so well that it did not want to drag it down with el-cheapo cars. Thanks for your comments and letters, we truly do enjoy going through them.

Don’t forget to tune in to Autoline After Hours tomorrow night starting at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Our guest will be Hau Thai Tang, the vice president of Engineering in Global Product Development at Ford, who will also be bringing the new Focus ST along with him. So join me and Peter De Lorenzo, the Autoextremist, for the best insider information in the business.

And that wraps up today’s report. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

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43 Comments to “Episode 994 – A123 Out of Juice, LEDs Already Replaced? Superhero-Themed Kia Optimas”

  1. Bradley Says:

    If JCI is lined up at the door of A123, that means A123 has something of value. Therefore, the company’s bankruptcy has more to do with bad management than a bad technology. The technology may still have a future.

  2. pedro fernandez Says:

    Ok now besides having computers control acceleration and braking, now we got steering also? It’s no wonder auto enthusiast love the older stuff so much more than the new computers on wheels.

  3. Jim Taylor Says:

    Ask an Airbus captain how well he likes fly-by-wire. ‘Nuff said. No FBW for me, thankyouverymuch.

  4. HtG Says:

    Horse Drawn Carriage


    Fly By Wire Auto

    Three Eras

    (I may start early this week, John)

  5. pedro fernandez Says:

    Comparing airplanes to cars is silly, the former get a lot of routine maintenance and inspections, the latter, not so.

  6. pedro fernandez Says:

    Horse drawn carriages, now that’s a great idea that should make a comeback!

  7. Lex Says:

    The Kia Superhero theme Optima would be best suited to the vehicle informatics systems within the vehicle. I can see the dash and radio displays come up with superhero themed displays but no big logo’s on the outside of the vehicle(childish). Maybe just a “Batman or Other Superhero” Edition badge around the vehicle. Why not have a “Knight Rider Edition” since the Pontiac Trans Am is gone forever? Didn’t GM think of doing this same thing based upon the Transformers movies?

    I know a good name for VW’s low cost brand “Smart”, Ha..Ha..Ha..! Maybe VW can take the brand name off Mercedes Benz hands.

  8. XA351GT Says:

    I don’t know the less direct control we have on the cars leaves me nervous. It’s not that have have doubt in the systems when new, but what happens once these electronics age and are not maintained. My sister has a car with FBW throttle and I don’t care for the non immediate response. That lag even small felt so strange.
    Th ethought of controlling a car with a joy stick or tiller doesn’t leave me comfortable either. Hell most people have enough trouble with a wheel that we’ve used for 100 years. Why not just use a video game control while we’re at it? That way you can go drive your Playstation Corvette or Xbox Mustang.Geesh.

  9. Jon M Says:

    I don’t believe the Cadillac ELR will sell any better than any other EV; in fact, it may even sell worse. I also don’t think GM will produce many copies of the AC Cadillac, given the nature of the market. Being a niche among niche vehicles, though, it may grab the attention of some A-list celebrities who want to make a point with something that has a more opulent image. And who knows, maybe throwing in more government-backed incentives will finally convince us that we really DO want an EV?

  10. gmveteran Says:

    I am tired of the Japanese and Korean companies taking our American culture and wrapping their products up in it to make them more appealing in the U.S. market. Honda, Toyota and Hyundai have used classic American rock music in their ads, Toyota is going to sponsor Martha Stewart’s American Made Awards to promote their new Avalon and now Kia is going to rip off DC comic heros to sell their cars? Wow, I guess everything is for sale here in America. This stuff just makes me mad and compels me to cross these brands off of my shopping list.

  11. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I hear that Amish kids really like their horse-drawn carriages. They can go into town on a date, and then, on the way home, do whatever they want, because the horse knows the way home.

    Airplanes with “fly by wire” have lots of redundancy on all aspects of the flight controls, but they are almost “cost no object” machines. Cars would be different, and I’m not sure I’d trust whatever cheap mechanical backup they might come up with.

  12. pedro fernandez Says:

    XA: are sure the lag in caused by the FBW throttle or the lazy downshifting automatic?

  13. Brett Says:

    A historical perspective about technology:

    If you were to add up all of the investment in all of the computer business from the beginning until, oh, I’d say 1985, winners and losers, the entire industry didn’t do better than break even. Every dollar spent on forming a company or creating a product equaled or exceeded the dollar brought in by selling a product.

    The same financial dynamic played out from 1890 through about 1917 in the global automobile “industry”. A lot of investment was lost that more than offset the money made as a whole. It wasn’t until the likes of Henry Ford come up with a way to make it all _really_ profitable that the total net profit finally exceeded the amount invested in the auto industry.

    The same thing is happening in both electric cars and in renewable energy. Just because things are not instantly perfect and profitable doesn’t mean they have no merit.

    Recall the Commodore PET and the Atari 800…

  14. pedro fernandez Says:

    Hey autonomous horse carriages, now that is a great idea, Kit! Feed them hay and maybe there is a way to recycle the methane exhaust. This steer by wire will no doubt raise the cost of new cars even more, yet some are calling for cheaper cars in the American market, perfect sample of how out of touch car companies really are.

  15. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Well, fly by wire makes sense in airplanes as they have to traverse great distances to invoke control surface movement, not so in automobiles (and if a redundant physical backup is used in the vehicle, what’s the point in the first place). Auto critics already lam-blast the power steering some manufacturers use when they change from hydraulic to electrical power steering; what on earth could make enough of a difference to use FBW.

    Another EV (e.g., ELR); well at least it will be the most beautiful (one) out there (might be good for a few sales) and besides Cadillac is going to price this one higher still (than the Volt, Ampera), so yes, probably a ‘green statement’ for the ‘haves’ of the world. I’d sure like one though.

  16. XA351GT Says:

    Pedro @#13 It’s a stick.You give it gas let out the clutch and no forward movement then it lunges forward. I thought maybe it was me on the clutch ,but it did it even with me concentrating on shifts.

  17. G.A.Branigan Says:

    Blind people and kids? Correct me if I’m wrong John,but wouldn’t they still need a drivers LICENSE? As for waiting outside in a blinding snow storm for a bus…..why not call a cab? Or are you thinking about the less fortunate people? If so,how would they be able to afford a autonomous car?

  18. HtG Says:

    Computer controls have damaged motorsport because it’s just too easy now. Look at MotoGP with its driver aids. What a snooze when a bike even has wheelie control. It’s the skill and sensitivity needed to control a vehicle, which makes it interesting. But it’s over now: I even saw the tards at Motor Trend assessing the best driver’s car, saying that the point of shifting was to change the gears, and that therefore, lack of a manual was no big deal.



  19. pedro fernandez Says:

    17 My sister’s Journey suffers from low torque on the 4 cyl and an automatic that resists downshifting, resulting in really scary passing situations, with all this technology, you would think they could address this safety issue.

  20. Kit Gerhart Says:

    My MINI has throttle by wire, and it works fine, with no discernible delay. There is a regular mode, and a “sport” mode. The latter increases throttle sensitivity at small pedal deflection, but if you floor it, you get full throttle in either mode. My car has a manual transmission, but I assume that, with an automatic, the “sport” mode makes the transmission shift later.

    I always use regular mode. It’s better for driving smoothly, I guess sport mode is for those who want the car to “feel” faster than it is, but I don’t like “high gain” throttle response.

  21. G.A.Branigan Says:

    I’ve owned several vehicles that have the fbw throttle,my equinox is so equipped.I don’t like it at all,and see now reason for it.At low speed,say easing into or out of a parking space the throttle is very touchy.Not as bad as the other vehicles I have owned,my 08 JK had the worst one which was later improved by a software update.As for steering? It’s just plain stupid.Electrical glitchs,a sensor gone bad etc could be disastrous.Yes I know they mentioned a ‘clutch’ type system that COULD engage should it be needed.But,that runs off a computer too.

  22. Kit Gerhart Says:

    With throttle by wire, they can make throttle response “feel” any way they want. Some cars, like a V6 Mustang I drove a few years ago, had a very touchy throttle, making it hard to start off smoothly, or drive smoothly at parking lot speeds. Ford did that, presumably, to make the car “feel fast” to those who don’t know any better. The few Benzes I’ve driven seemed to do the opposite, using low gain throttle, so you have to push the pedal down fairly far to accelerate fast. I like that.

    Since it would be so cheap to do, car companies should have maybe three settings, so you could get the throttle sensitivity you want.

  23. Charles Domanski Says:

    Not to get off the subject but, I think the Cadillac ELR is the most beautiful car I have ever seen. I think it would sell like mad if it had a CTS-V engine in it. I know I would buy it in a heart beat with a nice powerful V8 under the hood with either a six speed manual or automatic. I just can’t figure out why Cadillac comes out with such a mind blowing beautiful car, and then want to saddle it with some useless EV system. WHY???????? It will not sell unless they can find a lot of rich suckers who can’t resist the (Look at me how green I am even with a Cadillac.) As far as electric vehicles and cars like the Volt and Prius, they are NOT as green as a lot of people would like us to think they are.

  24. HtG Says:

    23 I thought this kind of range of throttle response was a mapping question. Some cars have a map between the pedal and the engine so that you think, hoo boy this is a beasty. The problem comes when you want to apply gas coming out of a turn, and you can’t get fine control.

    When I drove the Mini(auto) and the Dodge Caliber I noticed a true lag between when I gassed and when the engine responded; as if the computer was considering my request. I thought it was dangerous in the Dodge for times I want to make a left at an intersection.

    As Albert Brooks said to Bryan Cranston in Drive, ‘It’s OK. It’s over.’

  25. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I’ve never driven an automatic MINI, but I drove an ’06 manual MINI that had touchy, and non-linear throttle that I didn’t like very well. My MINI is a ’10, the 2nd. gen car with a different engine.

    My ’89 minivan, with mechanical throttle linkage, has some lag, turbo lag.

  26. Kit Gerhart Says:

    25, Exactly, on the throttle mapping. The car companies decide what to use, and many of them seem to be too touchy for my tastes. My newer cars have choices I like, though, “normal” on the MINI, and “eco” on the Prius.

  27. HtG Says:

    I recall driving a loaner Infiniti G sedan in the nineties, and asking the service manager if the throttle mapping had been changed to make the car seem more powerful. She smiled and told me it was so. That car just leaped when you tipped in. I requested the previous year’s model for the next loaner because I am not the kind of person who should be given power.

  28. Rafi Jaan Says:

    @ #18 (G.A.): You probably aren’t able to process this, but there are people out there driving right now who’d rather be doing something else. They like the convenience of owning a car, yet they don’t want to focus on driving, rather than eating, putting on make up, texting, making phone calls etc…

    I love driving my manual transmission car, but I’m all for autonomous vehicles for those who simply are not able to/don’t want to drive. Giving those people self-driving cars would make our highways and road a lot safer. And whether you like it or not, autonomous vehicles are already here and will be sold to consumer in a very near future. Millions of dollars are spent by private and government agencies to develop autonomous vehicles. Along with all the benefits I just mentioned — and the ones mentioned today on the show by John — one other benefit is that they’d save lives by doing the dangerous tasks that soldiers, firemen are forced to do. Look up the DARPA Challenge and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    I would be against it if I were forced to own a self-driving vehicle. But if I’m given the choice, then I’m all for it.

    I don’t understand why you’d be against a technology that would save the lives of both soldiers and civilians?!

  29. pedro fernandez Says:

    Attorneys are gonna have a field day if these auto autos ever become commonplace, BTW has anyone figured out how much these babies are gonna cost at a time of diminished economic times? On the other hand, people are asking for cheapo cars like they have in 3rd world countries to come here, I am baffled!!!!!!!!

  30. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Based on the DARPA performaces, I expect cost-effective autonomous cars to be many years away.

  31. G.A.Branigan Says:

    I’m against it right now because I don’t believe that the technology is going to be the panacea that most seem to think it will be.For myself,I have totally disabled since Vietnam and I still drive.I can no longer shift a manual trans but the automatics are fine.

    As for saving the lives of soldiers that doesn’t come close to equating that type of technology to everyday civilian type driving.Lots of differences between a stateside hwy/road system as opposed to a war zone.

    I do believe that autonomous cars will be in our future,but in the near future? No,I don’t think so.Just one ‘glitch’,that causes an accident will result in law suits all over the place.Just because a googlemobile can do it,doesn’t mean that it’s all worked out.

    I do hope that cars will be able to handle everything that one hopes for in safety etc.As for the price of the vehicle(s)and the maint costs? No one has mentioned that yet.

    And finally,I am,as you and everyone else on here,am entitled to my opinions,as we all make on the type of lives we live.

  32. HtG Says:

    32 Jim Hall said something interesting about autonomous cars on a recent RoAb. Responding to someone, he said that car makers wouldn’t be able to make weight savings happen just because autonomous cars wouldn’t crash into each other. Hall said that liability concerns about how the cars’ systems would hold up through ownership by the third or fourth owner would make it impossible to eliminate weight arising from crash safety strength.

  33. G.A.Branigan Says:

    How will an autonomous car know where it is? I guess the obvious answer would be from gps….right? Just where I live and the roads I normally drive,the trees on both sides of the road block signals from gps,but also sirrius radio.Now what will happen when someone enters a tunnel,will the onboard sensors know if there is a curve as some tunnels have? How about in driving snow storms that seriously affect gps reception,locations with high rf areas? There is a big difference between daylight driving and storm conditions.Has google tried out their system in anything but fair weather?

  34. HtG Says:

    I’ll shoot my mouth off a bit. Years ago when I worked with GPS systems, positioning boats or even rigs, one of the constraints to accuracy was how many satellites were overhead. The more birdies, the more accurate you could be. But I think that one thing Google has done is to have collected more than visual images of streetscapes; they also collected wifi signals from buildings. This means that they have a database of the precise location of wifi signals and their indvidual ID.(they’ve been in a bit of hot water about this privacy breach) So if an autonomous car can pick up and calculate its XYZ from both GPS and wifi data as it navigates down the road, then maybe there is an argument for the safety of such a system.

  35. G.A.Branigan Says:

    Most of our country is just that….country.Wifi isn’t everywhere right now.Hell,we don’t even have cable available.Infrastructure costs money we out in the country just don’t have.As it is we only have part time law enforcement because our county is broke,like most rural counties.Ya know,a lot of this ‘pie in the sky’ talk of autonomous cars,cng powered vehicles is great,but rural America can’t afford to put it in,and neither can the feds.Most talk on here is based in having simple stuff available almost right around the corner.It ain’t that way for most of the country.Just sayin’….

  36. Kit Gerhart Says:

    There seems to be a lot of talk about autonomous cars, but I don’t see it happening in a big way in my lifetime, if we’re talking about typing in “Joe’s Bar” and having your car take you there. It just isn’t that easy to replicate even bad driving by a human. By “my lifetime,” I’m talking about 20 years or so.

  37. G.A.Branigan Says:

    I can see it in cities and the surrounding towns etc,but nothing large scale in my lifetime either.Since I’m in my 60′s,20 years seems right,lol.

  38. HtG Says:

    Here’s video of the DeltaWing being clipped and flipped at Road Atlanta on Wednesday.


  39. G.A.Branigan Says:

    What was that Porsche driver doing? Day dreaming?

  40. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Well, the Porsche clipped the apron and came over on the Deltawing; just a racing incident. The Deltawing appears to need some extra forward protection. Also, this is another reason to not have too divergent of race cars in the same race (speed differences). The more I see the Deltawing, the less I’m becoming impressed. JMO

  41. HtG Says:

    I’m a little worried it’s hard to see the Delta, maybe because of the shape and lack of colorful advertising. Also, wasn’t that easy to flip over? A car with a square foot print would not have flipped IMO.

  42. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I’d think the DeltaWing would flip over easily, just as a tricycle flips more easily than than a four wheeled vehicle. That 2 foot front track doesn’t look good to me.

    Also, it would seem that you would not drive away from contact with a guard rail as easily as with a “square” car.

  43. Brett Says:

    Combine GPS, inertial guidance, ground radar, and situational info (hypothetical radio data sources like traffic signals, etc.) and I’m pretty sure that a vehicle and approximate it’s spatial location on Earth to within a couple inches if not less.

    After probably a decade of litigation, it will probably become accepted wisdom that if an autonomous vehicle is in a collision with a human-operated vehicle, it will automatically presumed it was the human’s fault. Just like if you rear-end another vehicle, it’s your fault.

    One thing that MUST be sussed out is updates to internal mapping. In Orlando, they just reconfigured a major interchange, closing the old exit ramp and opening the new exit ramp 1/2 a mile prior to the old one. Without some formal data interchange specification, there’s no way for an autonomous vehicle to deal with that sort of change to it’s comprehension of the world.