Episode 198 – Spare Change?, Nissan LEAF, Honda’s Airbag Hand Grenade

August 3rd, 2009 at 12:00pm

Runtime 7:01

Look for a mad scramble in the U.S. Congress as it tries to find funding for the cash-for-clunkers program. Nissan took the wraps off its new electric car, called the LEAF. Honda announced it will recall 440,000 vehicles in the American market to fix an airbag defect. All that and more, plus a look at Lexus’ new dedicated hybrid, the HS 250h.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. Congress looks under the couch cushions to find more cash for clunkers. Nissan unveils its new EV. And Honda issues a big recall due to defects.

Up next, we’ll be back with the news behind the headlines.

This is Autoline Daily for Monday, August 3, 2009. And now, the news.

Look for a mad scramble in the U.S. Congress today as they try to find a couple of billion dollars lying around that they can put into the cash-for-clunkers program. But based on how quickly they burned through the first billion, even if they do find extra money, it won’t last very long. The burn rate is a billion dollars a week and you have to wonder how long a government that is broke can keep that kind of scheme going.

The AFP reports that the political pressure is building in Germany to support Magna’s bid to buy part of Opel. General Motor has suggested it would prefer investment group RHJ to buy part of Opel while German politicians are clearly in favor of Magna, which has promised not to slash German jobs. This is now becoming an issue where state and national politicians are jumping into the fight. I believe GM is worried that Magna will share its technology and intellectual property with Russian automaker GAZ, whose chairman is now Bo Anderson, the former head of purchasing at GM.

Honda announced it will recall 440,000 vehicles in the American market to fix an airbag defect. The recall includes 2001-2002 Accords, 2001 Civics, and 2002-2003 Acura TLs. When an airbag goes off, the casing can rupture into shrapnel, sending metal fragments through the airbag. One person has been killed and several injured due to the defect.

Riot police in South Korea strengthened their siege of a Ssangyong Motors plant after talks fell apart between management and the union. According to the AFP, after talks collapsed yesterday, riot police moved in to try and remove protesters but further clashes ensued. Workers have occupied the factory since May in protest of the company’s decision to cut jobs.

Yesterday Nissan took the wraps off its new electric car, called the LEAF. It’s a five-passenger hatchback that features a 90 kilowatt lithium-ion battery pack that should give it a range of 160 kilometers or about 100 miles. The company says it can be charged to 80 percent in less than 30 minutes. Nissan is emphasizing affordability with the LEAF but it hasn’t mentioned how much it will cost. It’s scheduled to launch LATE next year in Japan, the U.S. and Europe.

In other electric news, BMW announced that it named the battery partner for its upcoming “Megacity” hybrid project. SB LiMotive is a 50:50 joint venture between Bosch and Samsung, and should give the automaker access to state-of-the-art lithium-ion technology. Currently BMW has 600 MINI E’s undergoing real-world testing. Information gathered from this experiment should help in the development of its next-generation electric vehicles which are expected to come out in the next few years.

Coming up next, a look at Lexus’ new dedicated hybrid, we’ll be back right after this.

Later this summer Lexus is launching a new sedan that’s designed to slot between its sporty IS and luxurious ES models.

But the new HS 250h is not just another four-door family car. It represents a big first for the company and the auto industry as well.

And speaking of one, hybrids focus on a single thing, fuel economy. Lexus engineers fought to squeeze every mile per gallon they could out of the HS. With that goal in mind, it features the brand’s first four-cylinder engine, and it’s paired with a continuously-variable transmission. Combined output for the gas engine and the electric motor totals 187 horsepower.

Like the hybrid version of the RX crossover, the powertrain also features an exhaust heat recovery system. When the weather is cold it helps the engine reach operating temperature faster, improving fuel economy. Careful attention to aerodynamics also helped boost efficiency. All told, the eco-friendly engineering delivers an estimated fuel economy rating of 35 city, 34 highway (6.7 and 6.9 L/100 km, respectively) with a respectable 0-60 time of around 8.4 seconds. Bringing the green theme full circle, 30 percent of car’s interior and trunk surfaces are made of plant-based bio-plastic.

With all of this hybrid talk you may think the car is just a gussied-up Prius, but there’s more to it than that. It shares an architecture with the Toyota Avensis, a midsized family car sold around the globe. Plus it sports a totally different interior with luxury features like semi-aniline leather and a top-shelf Mark Levinson sound system.

Additionally, navigation-equipped models come with the company’s new remote touch interface that debuted on the redesigned RX crossover. It works like a computer mouse and offers distinctive haptic feedback.

Look for this segment-founding hybrid to start arriving at dealerships late this summer. But stay tuned for more updates, because pricing hasn’t been announced yet.

And don’t forget to tune in to Autoline After Hours, Thursday at 7 PM eastern when our special guest will be Kurt Ritter, who runs Toyota’s advertising, and who used to do it for Chevrolet. I’m sure we’ll get some good comparisons between how GM and Toyota do business.

And that’s it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

11 Comments to “Episode 198 – Spare Change?, Nissan LEAF, Honda’s Airbag Hand Grenade”

  1. ForU2Know.Com Other Resources › Posts about Sports as of August 3, 2009 Says:

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  3. Mike Says:

    I am sorry for Honda that they have this particular airbag problem. Sorry too for the person that was killed. I worked a Honda program where we added a plastic tray to catch something that might fall into the bag on assembly. Honda knows and trys to avoid this.

    To me though this is something of a tip of the iceberg. There are numbers out there that suggest something like 1200 people a year are genuinely saved by airbags but that 400 are actually killed by them. Recently, my step dad was involved in a 20 mph fender bender. The airbag split the back of his head as it blew him into the back of the headrest and broke his arm. It also turned a $750 fender into a vehicle total loss due to the damage caused by the airbag deployment.

    It seems amazing to me that genuine life saving technology such as Electronic Stability Control gets nearly no mention when airbags are seen as the ultimate in life saving devices. Its’ just not true.


  4. Chuck Grenci Says:


    I didn’t exactly know where to ask this question. I thought it might be a good one for AAH or may “You Said It”, but here’s my question/comment:

    I fine it ironic that the auto industry is trying to develop (back) their customer base loyalty, when true to fact, it is not just only a few of the automotive executives that jump(bounce) around the auto industry to any particular affiliation, for what it appears to be, money. What happened to staying with the team, taking a hit for the team (because in the long run, we shall prevail, mentality).

    I have been a loyal GM fan my whole life (58 y/o and counting) and constantly root for their efforts and remain loyal to the ‘Firm’.

    I am a loyal watcher, and know, I appreciate your efforts in bringing us the news (and views)of the automotive industry; thank you.

    Chuck Grenci (and it is: Gren see; you got it right when you responded to one of my earlier ‘You Said It’ segments.

  5. pedro Fernandez Says:

    I have noticed a very large number of folks trading in their clunkers for foreign cars. Now can someone explain to me how in hell this is supposed to help the struggling AMERICAN auto industry? Why does the govt. keep messing up again and again and they want to run healthcare?

  6. craigerzgt Says:

    Great AAH episode last week John. Jim Hall is one of my favourites that you have on, as he seems to always have some interesting bit of information that isn’t often mentioned of, or has a reason as to why companies make the decisions they do. He’s a fantastic guest, and I look forward to when you have him on again.

    What I’d like to know from you John and from the AAH crew is how you all feel about all of this EV/Hybrid stuff moving in. You do lots of reporting about how many manufacturers are getting into this market, but not much is ever said about how you feel about it.

    Personally it drives me crazy because of how unbelieveably complex these new cars are going to be, how unbelieveably hypocritical their environmental impact is during their manufacturing process, and the fact that they all centralize around the concept of a battery, the one concept that has never been a proven technology for massive use. Not even car batteries in today’s vehicles are all that reliable, and they’re like $100 to replace, nevermind batteries for cellphones and laptops, or even the batteries for remote controls and radios and things. I can’t imagine the enormous burden that’s going to be placed on second-hand owners of these vehicles. And that’s assuming that a replacement of battery packs will provide worry-free motoring for a good set of years, nevermind the idea of “lemon” EVs. God these are scary times, and the worst of it is that they’re being legislated in.

  7. pedro Fernandez Says:

    This Lexus is gonna be a failure, I think. Except for these phony Hollywood types, rich folk don’t give a hoot about fuel economy, case in point: V12 engines, why would anyone need a V12 engine? This car would have done better as a Toyota. It kind of reminds me of the Cadillac Cimarron of a few decades ago.

  8. G.A.Branigan Says:

    As far as all these upcoming EV’s I have yet to see how our antiquated electrical grid is supposed to handle it.How long do these batteries last,and how are they disposed?For that matter,how are they made?Battery power may sound green,but I’ll bet they aren’t.

    It also appears that vehicles loaded to the gills with electronics and display screens are getting out of hand for any driver.When aircraft get so loaded down with “info goodies” they have to resort to a HUD just to fly the darn thing.Just how much info does the average driver really need?

  9. APMeterman Says:

    I wonder how much the $4500 for the clunker is going to eventually raise my taxes? This must be getting paid with all the money that the government is currently creating with unicorns and leprechauns.

  10. TRLennon Says:

    I think the Hybrid Lexus is a sure winner. Just because you can afford and want a luxury car doesn’t mean you enjoy giving oil companies one penny more than you have to. A waste of money is a waste of money no matter how much you have. I drive between 35,000 and 40,000 miles every year so I give big oil a lot of money. If I had any confidence that diesel fuel would not return to be significantly more than gas, as last summer, I would probably buy one of those.

    Since I am no Lexus fan I probably will not buy one of these but, should Ford drop their hybrid drive line in the MKZ or MKS, I will be first in line. I honestly can’t figure out why they didn’t do it and claim title to first Luxury Hybrid anyhow.

  11. Mouhamad A. Naboulsi Says:

    Likew I noted on these pages when the CARS initiative was announced, This is a bad policy.

    If the auto makers failed with their cash incentive, why should the U.S. government succeed?

    The automotive company counted on the ARTIFICIAL STIMULATION of the credit industry and the result is wewll known. The U.S. government should not ARTIFICIALLY STIMULATE sales. The result can be worst then just running out of money.