Episode 432 – Toyota Hires Outsiders, Intel’s New Black Box, Nissan Evaluates Chinese Steel

July 12th, 2010 at 12:01pm

Runtime 7:29

Toyota is now hiring outside experts to help it improve its quality. Computer chip-maker Intel demonstrated a data-event recorder, or black box, on a modified smart car. Nissan is considering using a Chinese steelmaker as a global supplier of steel for its vehicles, not just for those made in China. All that and more, plus John shares his analysis on why the Chrysler PT Cruiser went out of production.

»Subscribe to Podcast | iTunes | Zune | RSS | Listen on Phone Stitcher

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

This is Autoline Daily for Monday July 12, 2010, and now the news.

Just to give you an idea of how much things change in the auto industry: Toyota, the company that literally wrote the book on quality, is now hiring outside experts to help it improve its quality. Toyota announced today that it hired two professors from Tokyo University, the head of the Automobile Journalists Association of Japan and the head of the Japan Consumer’s Association. Toyota hired them after The Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers evaluated Toyota’s processes and made the recommendation for outside experts.

And in keeping with this theme of seeking outside advice, Tesla is building several prototypes of electric cars for Toyota. The Japanese automaker recently bought $50 million worth of Tesla, and Reuters reports that it wants to evaluate Tesla’s approach of using off-the-shelf lithium-ion batteries for laptops, which is cheaper than developing a purpose-built battery pack for electric vehicles. The prototypes are a Toyota RAV4 and Lexus RX crossover which can handle the heavier weight of the battery approach that Tesla uses.

Semiconductor and computer chip-maker Intel is getting more involved in the auto industry. The New York Times reports the company demonstrated a data-event recorder, or black box, on a modified smart car. The tiny two-door was also equipped with Wimax – 4G wireless internet. The company’s CTO predicts that interior and exterior cameras will be an important part of systems like this, as well as GPS recorders that can geotag video. Talk about big brother watching you. I bet insurance companies will love to get their hands on this kind of information.

MINI is about to launch the fourth model in its lineup called the Countryman. And while you’ll be able to recognize it as a MINI, there are a few firsts for this model. It’s the first MINI to come with four doors and the first one over 4 meters in length, that’s just over13 feet. Five engines are available, three gas and two diesel. All-wheel drive is optional as well. Inside the seating position has been raised and for the rear you have a bench seat or two individual seats.

Big step forward for China’s steel makers. Nissan is considering Chinese steelmaker, Baosteel, as a global supplier of steel for its vehicles, not just for those made in China. According to Bloomberg, the company is looking to reduce costs and is evaluating whether to use the Chinese steelmaker as a supplier for its vehicles around the globe. Analysts say for ordinary grades, the quality of Chinese steel is as good as Japan’s.

And speaking of China, GM announced that it sold Nexteer, which makes steering racks, to a Chinese investment firm. According to the AFP, Pacific Century Motors, a unit formed by the Temco Group and an affiliate of the Beijing municipal government, will purchase all of Nexteer’s operations. Nexteer used to be known as Saginaw Steering and was part of Delphi, which sold it back to General Motors, which has sold it to the Chinese investment group.

Coming up next, a look at how Ford wants to use soybeans to replace petroleum in rubber parts in cars, a look at the Porsche 918 and its outrageous price tag, and my analysis of why the Chrysler PT Cruiser went out of production.

SOY BEANS FOR FORDS (subscription required)
Ford already uses soybean oil-based seat foam in several of its vehicles, but the company is looking to expand its use of the eco-friendly fluid. According to Ward’s, a recent patent filing reveals that it is researching how to use soy materials in rubber. It could replace a significant amount of petroleum in these types of parts – up to 25 percent. It can be used in things like door seals, cup-holder liners and even floor mats. Researchers say that soy-based rubber is actually better because it has superior stretchabiltiy. The automaker has no timeline for the introduction of soy rubber in its vehicles, but says the technology is promising.

Bloomberg reports that Porsche’s 918 Spyder supercar could be priced at 500,000 Euros, or $630,000! That would put the new drop-top above the Carrera GT as the brand’s most expensive model, which is priced at a mere 453,000 Euros. According to the article, at least 2,000 people have expressed interest in the 918, which features a 500 horsepower V-8 engine and an electric-drive system with a range of up to 25 kilometers. That’s enough power for a top speed of 320 clicks an hour or 199 miles an hour.

No doubt you heard last week that Chrysler stopped producing the PT Cruiser. It was a smash hit when it came out 10 years ago, but after such a sensational start, it was pretty much left to languish on its own. Chrysler only gave it one very-minor freshening over that 10-year period. Originally there were supposed to be additional models, and a convertible did make it into production. But there was also supposed to be a panel-wagon version that never saw the light of day. The PT was originally designed to be a Plymouth, but when that brand was dropped it was badged as a Chrysler. It was also designed to meet truck specifications so that Chrysler could use it to boost the Corporate Average Fuel Economy of its truck fleet. To ensure that its fuel economy would be good, it was purposefully designed so that it could not accept a V-6 or V-8 engine. Who knows what might have happened if Chrysler had handled this car differently?

And that’s it for the most important news in the global automotive industry, thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog, The Auto Channel, Car Chat, WardsAuto.com and WWJ Newsradio 950

48 Comments to “Episode 432 – Toyota Hires Outsiders, Intel’s New Black Box, Nissan Evaluates Chinese Steel”

  1. Tony Gray Says:


  2. pedro fernandez Says:

    For those of you who welcome more and more electronics in your cars, congrats! soon it will be like having officer Smith riding along with you!

  3. Salvador G. Says:

    Welcome back, JohnMc.

  4. Don B. Says:

    We Know what the PT Cruisers Panel would look like. Here’s a hint the designer of the PT is working for GM and design the HHR.

  5. Tony Gray Says:

    Ya know, Soybeans and Ford aren’t a new thing. Recall back around 1941, they built a car with Soybean panels and showed it at the Dearborn Days and later the Michigan State Fair.

    There is also a pretty famous photo of Henry Ford whacking the trunklid of his personal car with an ax…the steel lid having been replaced with a soybean plastic version. This was long before the similarly famous Pontiac Endura nose commercials.

  6. Tom Geauvreau Says:

    It’s seems strange to me that the Fiat takeover of Chrysler is supposed to be so great since Fiat will supply nifty small cars that Chrysler lacks.
    Chrysler didn’t know what to do with the nifty small car they already had.
    What were they not thinking??

  7. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Welcome back John. And by the way, what did you think of all the 20/20 hindsight our membership issued upon you holiday ‘car of the century’ shows? (perhaps you’ll mention this in this week’s ‘you said it’ segment) And give us your top-five.

  8. G.A.Branigan Says:

    Tesla using laptop batteries.Hmmm,would these be the same ones that cook down and burn?

  9. pedro fernandez Says:

    This electronic monitoring of your car is really bad news, just thin how it could be used by communities to catch speeders by using your own black box to send data to some roadside device which in turn alerts police that you’re speeding, not matter how little you go over the posted speed, your own freaking car will turn you in, scary stuff!

  10. LEX Says:


    Toyota invested in Tesla some that it could use their electric vehicle technology and the production capacitiy of the Nummi Plant if oil prices spiked over $4.00 per gallon for a prolonged period of time. This price point would make hybrids and even electric vehicles very desirable. Toyota had been producting the Matrix at the Nummi Plant in California and could make an electric vehicle on that same vehicle platform to go toe to toe with the GM/Chevy Volt.

  11. dcars Says:

    I always thought the PT was kind of cool. I had one as a loner while my car was in the shop. It wasn’t a favorite of my family and they refereed to it as the PT loser! I thought it was a nice car and it’s owners were very loyal. I wondered how it would look as a panel van and thought that Chrysler needed to develop the concept in more depth. Another reason why it may have been canceled was it sat on the same chassis as the Neon and the that car was killed by Daimler a long time ago. I was hoping that Fiat would have given it another chance, but I guess not.

  12. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Intrusion of ‘black boxes’ would in all likelihood be taken to court and be fought as being against the Bill of Rights, Fifth Amendment, which protects yourself from self incrimination. Since the black box should be construed to be the car owner’s property, or if not, shouldn’t the car owner have the option of removing or defeating the operation of said item in his own property. I admit it could get a little dicey.

  13. G.A.Branigan Says:

    I do not want a “black box” in whatever I drive…period.It would be used against us in a NY minute despite whatever court ruling came down.I have little trust in law enforcement and our government,especially our government.I don’t have or want….or need a gps in either of my vehicles.I still know how to read a map and follow signs,which is rapidly becoming a lost art or so it seems.

  14. pedro fernandez Says:

    A neighbor has an original Neon, I like the fact that it has a long wheelbase and little overhang, a bold design move for the mid 90′s. Giving it a lot of interior space, more than the competitors. But the car was crud, horrible engine, fall apart body and interior. This guy’s got rust holes in hood and trunk, dashboard falling apart and engine smokes and sounds like a freight train, he says it’s got 125k miles, I just hope they can do a better job under Fiat, building small cars.

  15. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Whatever is wrong with Toyota right now, they have one, really appealing car, the Prius. It is so appealing that I bought one a couple days ago. I figure it is safe to assume that my Malibu Maxx would never be worth more, or much more, and that a Prius will never be cheaper and the price more negotiable than now. It might have made more sense to keep my Malibu a few more years, but if gas gets a lot more expensive, as is likely, I’ll be glad I have the Prius.

    So far, I really like the Prius. It drives decently, has almost as much space as my Malibu had, and uses barely over half as much gas. My favorite part of is knowing that, when I let off the “gas” or step on the brake, I am recovering energy, rather than just converting to to heat.

  16. dcars Says:

    The Neon had it’s issues, they should have put some engineering dollars into some mid cycle refreshing but Diamler had other plans (Caliber.) The Corrola is much better than either of those cars.

  17. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The original Neon was a good race car for SCCA autocross and track events, but yes, it was crude. When raced, they were not particularly less reliable than other cars under the same conditions, but in that environment, it doesn’t matter if the interior falls apart.

  18. dcars Says:

    The Neon as a racer! I’ve heard that before, seems kinda funny.

  19. pedro fernandez Says:

    Congrats, Kit and many happy and safe miles, just curious: was the dealer trying to stick it you with the trade and all? at one time when gas was over $4 they were getting MSRP + on these cars, but now I wonder if they’re sitting on the lots like most other models?

  20. pedro fernandez Says:

    Kit: on the Neon, I did mean CRUD as in CRAP but yes it was crude also!

  21. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I got my car at a Ford/Toyota/Honda dealer in central Indiana. They had about 8 or 9 Prii. They had three like I wanted, Prius 2 (base model) with floor mats as the only option. MSRP was the best they would if I bought it without a trade, and there was a $1000 rebate. I suspect most other Toyotas they had could be bought for a thousand or two below MSRP.

    Then, I found out what they would give for my ’06 Malibu Maxx. I was pleasantly surprised, as they offered the high end of KBB’s “trade in” number, which is ~$1300 more than Edmunds’ trade in value. The offer was good enough that I traded, rather than trying to sell the car myself.

    In May, a dealer in the “Space Coast” area of Florida had $2000 of “additional dealer profit” tacked on to their Prius stickers. I suspect that was negotiable, up to a point, but I imagine central Indiana is a better place to trade a Chevy on a Prius than any place in Florida.

  22. Kit Gerhart Says:

    They had an “ACR” (American Club Racer) version of first generation Neons. They had much better suspension than the base car. I don’t know if they are still being raced, but they did very well for the first few years in SCCA autocross, and showroom stock track racing.

  23. Alex Kovnat Says:

    The PT Cruiser has always impressed me as a big econobox. But it was an econobox with style!

  24. pedro fernandez Says:

    I rented a PT Cruiser about 3 yrs ago and I thought it was the worst new car I had driven in a long time, only beaten by the lowly Accent of 4 yrs ago.

  25. pedro fernandez Says:

    Kit: was this the first time you drove a CVT equipped car? did you like the feel? I drove the Nissan Rogue and really liked the smooth seamless shifting and it seemed to have better acceleration than traditional transmission cars.

  26. pedro fernandez Says:

    I also remember a Dodge Neon RT or some crap like that, that was popular for kids that used to tune up Civics at that time. but of course, the difference between Honda engine and Neon engine was night and day. also 2nd gen had better driving dynamics but still lagged behind competitors

  27. Robert Morrison Says:

    It is to bad that they have discontinued this PT Cruiser it was great car–lots of space, affordable, great styling that still holds up after 10 years. I am not sure what the guy is thinking about comparing the corolla as a better car, clearly in this case Chrysler has a much better vehicle that did well in JD powers surveys, and you could never confuse it with anything else in a parking lot.
    Yep instead of updating this good vehicle throw it away and maybe in 10 more years you could maybe come up with something as good and spend millions in development and marketing and carve out a niche for the market again in the hopes of having a car sell well for 10years without spending a lot in updates—-good luck there Chrysler.
    I remember traveling to Italy and seeing a bunch of the PT Cruisers around Italy I think they sold well there for an American vehicle.

  28. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    The Pt Cruiser is a car a little larger than a Hyundai Accent. Anything more than a 4 Cylinder is over the top and ridiculous for such a small car.

    My little brother has one of these things, and its such a rattletrap that I refuse to drive it. It handled like a brick around corners, and horrible when wet or snowy.

    If Hyundai made such a POS it would be out of business. Unlike our government the Korean Government would have eventually given up subsidizing such crap.

    PT Cruiser=Excellent Idea-crappy package.

    What a shame, and a real Tragedy!!!

    Kit, to be honest the more I think about it the more I think Toyota should become a Hybrid Only Company. Forget the conventional powertrains, and make everything a hybrid. Costs would come down to scale to where they are very affordable.

    If Toyota is this innovative company they say they are, I think that’s what they should do.

    The Prius should move up to being a PHEV Vehicle only.

    I actually thought this is how Hybrids were going to evolve for every company. I thought all cars would become hybrids of some sort, and experimental products would now be plug-ins, EVs, etc…

  29. Kit Gerhart Says:

    pedro fernandez Says:
    July 12th, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    “Kit: was this the first time you drove a CVT equipped car?”

    I’d driven a Nissan Cube with a CVT, and liked the way the CVT worked. In the Cube, you can tell they they were really trying to maximize city mileage, but it really keeps the rpm down unless you step on the gas hard. I have scooters with very primative snowmobile-type CVT’s, and I like those too. If you think about it, what the luxury car makers are doing with their many-speed automatics, is doing what they can to get the seamlessness of a CVT, but in a transmission that can handle the power of a large engine.

    The Prius is not as seamless as a regular CVT equipped car, because there is stuff going on, like the gas engine starting and stopping. I’m surprised you don’t hear and feel the engine more than you do, but when driving normally, you don’t hear and feel very much.

  30. dcars Says:

    Hi kit good luck with the Prius. My wife and looked at one last year. We liked the car but none were available at the time, so we ended up with the Rogue and its CVT! I still like the Prius cause it has very cool interior to match it’s futuristic exterior

  31. Mike Says:

    So, here I sit at my desk with a pile of stamped metal parts in front of me. Anyone who says that chinese steel is ok is not sitting where I am. The stuff is soft, doesn’t really meet SAE grading and varies all over the map. Worse yet, the Chinese are making a dreadful mess of their environment and ours making this steel. I am told it takes 4 to 5 days for their sulfur and smoke and smog to cross the Pacifac and wind up in LA. Their steel is not cheaper, it just doesn’t include the cost of pollution abatement, carbon fuel taxes, pensions, health care or safe working conditions for their workers. This is the downside of capitalism; all the “nice” things can be sacrificed for a lower cost.

  32. dcars Says:

    If they want to sell their steel products here then it has to meet our standards of quality. I know that mattel had lots of problems with their toys that were made in China that were loaded with lead paint.

  33. C-tech Says:

    Missed opportunity for Chrysler with the PT Cruiser and the Neon. The Neon (2005) is my mother-in-law’s favorite car. Other than motor mounts it holds up well. I guess that says alot about taking care of a car (Pedro). The old Neon ACR Coupe was my favorite. There still are a lot of devoted Neon R/T turbo fans. It was a loud, crude, fast, and most of all cheap performance car! The PT Cruiser, you either love or hate the styling, but the interior is still one of the most versatile designed. It’s too bad they did not take the Hornet concept car, build it instead of the Jeep Patriot and contiued the PT Cruiser. It’s ashame to throw away all that customer loyalty to those 2 cars for the mediore design of the Caliber and Compass.

  34. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I always liked the exterior styling of the PT Cruiser, and still do. The interior was very versatile, but a little cheap appearing. I was hoping they would update the interior and put a Fiat diesel in it, but no such luck. If they don’t throw away the tooling, they could revive the car, but that never happens.

  35. Kit Gerhart Says:

    When I return to Florida in the fall, my Mini will only be “for fun.” When I got the Mini, it returned about 50% better gas mileage than my other car, a Malibu Maxx. Now, my “big” car will get better mileage. The Mini will still be more fun to drive, and looks cooler than the oh-so-utilitarian Prius.

  36. C-tech Says:

    The original interior (2001-2004) PT Cruisers had a better interior, especially the special editions. I drove a first generation Prius (battery pack had been replaced, cost $2,000) and its was the most unusual braking sensation I’ve ever had. I hope the regenerative braking has been smoothed out.

  37. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I’ve driven second generation Prii, and mine is a gen three. The regenerative braking is suprisingly seamless. When you let off the “gas,” it feels much like with a regular car, only it is regen rather than compression braking that you feel. Then, when you step on the brake, there is more regen, and at some point, regular brakes.

    It’s been a year or so since I drove a gen two, but from what I remember, it is not too different from the new one. I’ve never driven a gen one Prius, but I’d like to. I suspect you feel more “hybrid quirks” than in the newer ones.

  38. tom Says:

    the black box idea is really stupid.

    what kind of person would like to buy that… unless legislation makes it mandatory for all cars to have one.

    I know its for saftey.. but it just creates a greater chance for som1 to be liable!

  39. Mouhamad A. Naboulsi Says:

    Good bye PT Cruiser.

    The Chrysler loosers should have given you 4 speed A/T at least, never mind V6 or a V8, but Nooooo, 3 Speed A/T was the most they can count up to.

    AND, how about that hard plastic interior? The design was great, but the execution was pretty bad. Each time I thought about getting a convertible, I remembered my brother PT cruiser, the frequent Engine lights trouble and the poor gas mmileage.

    Too bad.

  40. Nick Stevens Says:

    Kit: Congrasts on the Prius. Even tho I drive the 740iL in the States and a tiny 1.35lt civic hatch here on occasion, I alwasys said that the only carf I’d bother to buy new today would be the EXCELLENT PRius. Those who criticize this car most likely have never driven it. Toyota delalers I know have been amazed at its stellar reliability too, despite its complexity, while they had problems with the Aygo and with UK-made Corollas.

    The Prius is a good buy today when gas is DIRAT CHEAP at less than $3 a gallon, because it will NOT stay that low for long. Over here, gas was less than a euro per liter ($5/gallon) a year ago, but since then the price has skyrocketed to 1.50 eurpos per liter (1.44-1.56 is the range) which means about $8 per US gallon!

    Even with my 44 mpg highway civic here, if I want to go downtown (35 miles from here, about 50%-50% country road and highway), including the steep tolls (2.80 euros each way!) I’d need $20 for a round trip, not including parking etc, and if I had my 740, it would cost me $35 for each trip, again without even parking!

  41. Nick Stevens Says:

    If I am correct, you bought a previous generation Prius? Was it new or used (and how many miles?) ZThat’s the one I’ve driven for 3 days (rental) and it was excellent. The new Prius is even better, has good heasd room in the back and more fluid styling and even better MPG, if that’s possible.

    Re the PT cruiser, it was a far more intelligent design than the Neon, which had one of the silliest ad campaigns (The “Hi” smileyface BS, as bad as Mazda’s “zoom zoom” campaign.. which self-respecting Auto nut would buy one??), shorter but with far more space inside. Its MPG was NOT as good due to the large frontal area at high speed.

  42. Nick Stevens Says:

    Will Kia drop dead in 2011???

    “Wall Street seems to believe that Hyundai’s junior brand could go away in the next year and a half, as it named Kia to its “Ten Brands That Will Disappear in 2011″ list. This despite the fact that Kia’s first-half sales were up 15 percent over the first half of 2009, and Kia’s rolling 12-month sales are over 22 percent higher than its performance in the previous 12 months. So, why does 24/7 Wall Street see Kia disappearing?

    Kia Motors Corporation is one of the two car brands of Hyundai of South Korea. It has always been a marginal brand. Its stable mate, Hyundai USA, has a reputation for high quality cars like the Sonata and Genesis. Kia sells “low rent” cars and SUV nameplates like the Sorento and Rio. As GM and Ford have already discovered, it is expensive to maintain multiple brands and storied car names, including Pontiac, Saturn, and Mercury, are disappearing. Most Kia cars sell for $14,000 to $25,000. Hyundai has several cars in the same price range. Hyundai’s Sonata has quickly become one of the best-selling cars in America, and its Genesis flagship model competes with mid-sized BMWs and Mercedes. The parent company will take a page from several other global car companies and dump its weakest brand.”

  43. Edwin Benson Says:

    Soybean rubber? Old Henry Ford (the first) would be proud. Anybody remember that great photo of him taking a sledge hammer to the soybean-derived trunklid of a 1940-ish Ford?

  44. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Nick Stevens Says:
    July 13th, 2010 at 5:25 am

    “If I am correct, you bought a previous generation Prius? Was it new or used (and how many miles?)”

    I got a new, 2010 Prius 2. It is the “base” car, but has everything you need, and some things you don’t, like the key that doesn’t leave your pocket.

    I’m showing 51 mpg so far on the trip computer, accuracy not yet confirmed, for mostly short trips. My (now sold) Malibu would get about 22 under similar conditions, and my manual transmission Mini, about 35.

    The down side of the Prius, for me, is the the light-colored cloth interior. I’ll have to be very careful with my coffee, or I can mess it up.

  45. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I remember hearing about old Henry Ford using Spanish Moss for seat filler in Model T’s. It had a problem, though. As an “air eating” plant, it kept growing, resulting in blow outs of the seats. I don’t know if the story is true, but it makes a good story.

  46. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Mouhamad A. Naboulsi Says:
    July 13th, 2010 at 12:27 am

    “The Chrysler loosers should have given you 4 speed A/T at least,”

    While early Neons used 3-speed automatics, PT Cruisers had 4-speed autos (and 5-speed manuals) from the start.

  47. Nick Stevens Says:

    # Kit Gerhart Says:
    July 13th, 2010 at 9:17 am

    I got a new, 2010 Prius 2. It is the “base” car, but has everything you need, and some things you don’t, like the key that doesn’t leave your pocket.”

    Did not notice that key, but when you rent a Prius the manual is not in the car and it can be sometimes challenging to use it. So I assume the “Prius 2″ is not the current model, but they kept making it in 2009-10 model year to fight the cheap Prius competitor the Honda Insight?

    “I’m showing 51 mpg so far on the trip computer, accuracy not yet confirmed, for mostly short trips. My (now sold) Malibu would get about 22 under similar conditions, and my manual transmission Mini, about 35.”

    My Prius rental in LAX (makes a big difference, MPG will be much less in Indiana) got low 50s around town, dropped to 47 MPG on a 75-mph cruise from LA to Del Mar and back (near San Diego), but rose to 62 and 67 MPG on a leisurly sunset drive around Palos Verdes. (around 45 MPH). When I filled the tank, it took around 6 gallons for about 320 miles, over 50 MPG, in April 2009, and… infinite MPG in June 2009 (when I did less miles and got the 62 and the 67) since the meedle did not go below full tank and I got away with not filling it up on the return.

    The down side of the Prius, for me, is the the light-colored cloth interior. I’ll have to be very careful with my coffee, or I can mess it up.

  48. Nick Stevens Says:

    “The down side of the Prius, for me, is the the light-colored cloth interior. I’ll have to be very careful with my coffee, or I can mess it up.”

    I had this problem with my Pontiac 2000, which I actually ordered with a maroon exterior and an almost white interior (I’ve seen other cars in Boston, a Volvo 164 and a Buick, both with white leather, and liked them a lot) and it got dirty even without coffee spills. You may want to buy some kind of driver’s seatr covers.