Episode 488 – Toyota’s New Task Force, Text Bans Don’t Work, GM Develops Electric Opel Meriva

September 29th, 2010 at 12:29pm

Runtime 7:45

Toyota has setup a task force on rare-earth metals following reports that China banned exports to Japan. A new study done by the Highway Loss Data Institute shows that texting bans while driving don’t work. GM will develop electric versions of the Opel Meriva for research purposes. All that and more, plus the Autoextremist, Peter De Lorenzo, shares his opinion on why the Volkswagen/Porsche merger is not a good thing.

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No, your clocks aren’t wrong; it really is time for another episode of Autoline Daily. It’s Wednesday, September 29th, 2010. I’m Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist – like you didn’t already know that. I’m stepping UP by sitting DOWN – in the anchor chair – for John who’s still living it up in Paris. Here’s the latest news we could dredge up from the murky depths of the Internet.

As we’ve reported, the age-old rivalry between China and Japan is heating up. This friction has far-reaching consequences, even for the auto industry. According to Bloomberg, Toyota has setup a task force on rare-earth metals following reports that China banned exports to Japan. Apparently the company has struck a deal with Lynas Corp., a Sydney, Australia-based mining operation. Toyota is looking to diversify its supply of these important metals which are a vital part of hybrid and electric vehicles. China controls 90 percent of the global market for rare-earths. The ban disproportionally affects Japan because it consumes 65 percent of China’s exports.

Yesterday the Obama administration backed legislation that would push states to toughen standards for young people getting their driver’s license. According to the Detroit News, the law would mandate three stages of licensing: a learner’s permit, an intermediate stage and then a full license. It makes 16 the earliest age drivers could get a learner’s permit and makes them wait until they’re 18 before they can get an unrestricted license. Additionally, young drivers wouldn’t be allowed to drive unsupervised at night, plus they face other restrictions. States that don’t comply within three years would lose federal funding for highway construction. A very good thing I might add, if they can actually pull it off.

And speaking of driving laws, a new study done by the Highway Loss Data Institute shows that texting bans don’t work. Researchers studied four states that recently enacted bans and compared them to nearby states without ones. They found that the bans don’t reduce accidents, AND, in some states, accidents were higher than before. This doesn’t mean it’s safe to text and drive, it just means a ban won’t reduce accidents. So why aren’t they cutting crashes? The researchers hypothesize that people are just ignoring them.

Dodge’s days are numbered – at least in the UK. According to Autocar, the brand will disappear once its slow-selling Journey crossover is pulled from the market – it’s currently the only Dodge vehicle offered in the UK. The Nitro and Caliber were axed in May following weak sales. The brand will maintain a presence in other European markets but only as a niche player.

More evidence GM is hedging its bet with the Chevy Volt. Last week we reported that the company is getting ready to launch a test fleet of all-electric Chevy Cruzes in South Korea, and now the Detroit Free Press reports that it will develop electric versions of the Opel Meriva. GM is teaming-up with MeRegioMobile with funding from the German government to develop the vehicle. GM says it’s a “pure research-vehicle” and it will be used to study “the practicality, user friendliness and acceptance among consumers.” Whatever… it seems like GM just doesn’t want to get left out of the EV market if the Volt doesn’t catch on.

Europeans LOVE hatchbacks and wagons, Americans do not. This is practically a law of physics, but Ford is having some surprising success with its recently introduced Fiesta. The five-door hatch is attracting more buyers than expected, with a take-rate exceeding 60 percent! This flies in the face of common knowledge. According to Ward’s, hatchbacks accounted for just 8.3 percent of U.S. sales last year. Because of this unexpected popularity of the Fiesta hatchback, the company is expecting the five-door version of the 2012 Focus in America, which goes on sale next year, to be a stronger player in the car’s product mix. Could this signal a big shift in the market?

Next, we’ll get to my opinion on the Volkswagen/Porsche merger. That’s coming up, right after this.

Volkswagen’s “grand plan” to absorb Porsche into the VW Group empire is shaping up to be a giant bowl of “not good.” The plan revolves around the hoary idea of using multiple platforms to dumb-down Porsche in the interest of gaining more volume and ultimately, more profits.

Now, as for generating profitability, I never have a problem with that, it’s why they call it “business.” It’s the dumbing-down part that I have a huge problem with.

For starters, there are plans to do a Porsche version of the Audi Q5, called the Cajun, so the Cayenne can have a little brother. I get the whole peppery motif but really? Of all the things Porsche had on their future product wish list do you actually think having a little brother to the Cayenne was priority No. 1 before VW got involved?

A super-light, bare-bones sportscar with a small displacement four-cylinder engine and some form of electric assist that delivers a power-to-weight ratio close to the current Boxster and real-world fuel economy of 50 mpg or more in urban driving? Yeah, I could see that.

Or how about a future Porsche 911 utilizing the technology from the 918 Spyder supercar concept? Yup, I could easily imagine something like that, too.

But another warmed-over VW product that will be wearing the Porsche crest? And yet another truck to boot? Uh, not so much.

I remember issuing a warning about the VW takeover of Porsche when it happened, saying that the official explanation – that this benign takeover would allow Porsche to survive and thrive well into the future – would be superseded by the ugly reality that Volkswagen’s real plan is to extract every last dollar of profitability from this once exclusive maker of sports cars . . . historical legacy and brand image be damned.

After all, if a version of the Audi Q5 works for Porsche, why not a smaller, cheaper version of the Panamera based on the new VW sedan coming out of the new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee? See where this could lead to? You get enough people on the more-profitability-through-increased-volume bandwagon and before you know it all semblance of reality will cease to exist and Porsche will go mainstream with commoditized offerings like the Golf, or even worse, a Camry.

But then again we’ve been down this road before with Porsche and VW. Remember the 924? The cheap, under-powered VW sporty car with a Porsche crest on its nose and with a Porsche price to boot?

When will they ever learn?

And that’s the high-octane truth for this week . . . and the end of today’s show. Once again, I’m Peter De Lorenzo. I invite you to read this column and a decade’s-worth of other content on my website, Autoextremist.com. Anyway, thanks for checking out Autoline Daily – we really appreciate it – keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road and your foot hard-down on the gas. Later!

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35 Comments to “Episode 488 – Toyota’s New Task Force, Text Bans Don’t Work, GM Develops Electric Opel Meriva”

  1. Roger T Says:

    Pete, I’m with you on Porsche, but That’s what I have been saying since they came out with the first Spicy offering – the Cayenne. This has been ongoing for a while, it’s no surprise to me. VW is just accelerating things, that’s all.

  2. Old Gear Head Says:

    John…Regardless of what any survey says, texting while driving (among other distractions) increases the likelihood of having an accident. PERIOD!

    On driver’s license standards, Illinois has had that in place for several years. I just went through it with my 19-year old and the rules are explicit on what they can and can’t do. When they can drive, how many in the car, etc. Getting caught violating any rules could mean suspending or revoking a license, and in turn increased insurance costs.

    I’ve always stressed to my child to do the right thing. When driving, concentrate on your driving and others around you, no distractions. Plus a little warning that facing good old dad after being stopped for a violation would be far worse than getting the ticket! Three perfect years of driving and I’m proud of her.

  3. pedro fernandez Says:

    They used to call us the “imperialist Yankees” now I think we can call them the “bullies from Asia”, well the capitalist greed created this monster that will one day bring us down to our knees.

  4. Chuck Grenci Says:

    GM hedging it’s bets is a good idea; there’s no way to tell in what general direction the auto trends are going to go in the next few years.

    And relating to my last statement, that probably goes for the hatchback offerings as well; wasn’t that long ago that hatchbacks (in the U.S.) weren’t poison. Might as well have one or two in the offing (are you listening GM).

    And I pretty much agree with Peter, in that, the dumbing down of a brand (especially a prestiage brand with great heritage) can’t be good in the long run. These business leaders have got to get back to that kind of thinking, ‘in the long run’; not that difficult a concept is it.

  5. pedro fernandez Says:

    This theory that Americans don’t like hatchs is BS, they don’t like luxo or near luxo cars with hatchs but for small cars, it’s more than ok, as a matter of fact, it is a plus to have a small vehicle with the ability to carry larger objects when needed. Around these parts I see tons of Fits and Yaris hatchbacks and soon we’ll be seeing other small runabouts.

  6. pedro fernandez Says:

    Porsche is enjoying very good quality and reliability for the last 3 years or so, it would be a shame if the VW absorption bring them down to VW’s level of mediocre quality and reliability, so they will have to change their decades old motto to: “Porsche, like everything else on the road”

  7. HtG Says:

    Porsche’s Abomination Express has been running pretty good with the Cayenne and Panamera. I expect more of the same. But when that 2500lb car with instant torque appears, then all will be forgiven.

    ps, I just saw my first Tesla. Looks much better in the flesh, and is it quiet!

  8. LEX Says:

    American Households have begun to realize during the current economic down turn that there maybe a need for only one large vehicle (i.e. SUV or Minivan) and others household members can drive Small to Mid-Size all size vehicles. I therefore see that Minivans (especially AWD versions)and five door Hatchbacks will increase in popularity during the next decade. CUV’s have taken the place of the decades old stationwagon as the vehicle of choice for mature families.

    The European Ford Focus which is coming to the US is one ugly Hatchback vehicle. It is practical, however it should have been styled as the large version of the Fiesta. The Fiesta Front Clip on the Focus would be a sporty and dramatic improvement it the vehicles overall appeal and appearance.

    GM is putting all it’s egg’s in one basket when it comes to the Chevy Cruze. GM realizes that the Volt will be too pricey for the original driver, and dumbing down the Voltrontics into the Cruze is a safer bet at a lower price point. The Cruze will not be able to compete effectively against the New Ford Focus when it comes to increase hauling space. The Rushed Hatchback Version of the Cruze is a poor attempt by GM to compete. The Chevy Orlando (US Version) would have been a better bet to compete against the Ford Focus, Kia Soul and other vehicles in that vehicle segment.

  9. Eric Ecclestone Says:

    When you said “remember the 924″ are you sure you did not mean the 914?

  10. Don MacConnel Says:

    Great, even the perspicacious Peter De Lorenzo endorses Federal legislation that tells the states, “Do it our way or else.” Perhaps we should imitate the Danes who let the kids drink at 15 but not drive at all until they’re 18 and then charge over $2K for license training.

  11. pedro fernandez Says:

    The driver’s licensing procedures are a joke in most states, unqualified people pass the test too easily and when you add texting and cell phone use not to mention the overly complicated controls in many new cars it all adds up to dangerous conditions on the roadways.

  12. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Concur with Pedro, and my take on the statistics about texting and accidents; well, you better go check those numbers again (or do the survey correctly) because there is no way that texting isn’t causing unsafe driving and is some sort of contributor to accidents. I’ll go as far as stating just talking on the phones is a contributor of accidents when in the car.

  13. Alex Kovnat Says:


    There have been times I’ve wondered if, in our well-meaning efforts to protect drivers by requiring things like air bags, we are protecting people from what might otherwise be the consequences of their behavior. Please, let me explain:

    Today where I work, we had a classic car day where one of those whom I work with brought in a 1949 Packard. Beautiful car. But folks like Ralph Nader no doubt would have a fit upon seeing a car with a non-recessed steering wheel (by the time the classic 1955-57 Chevy Bel Aire came out, cars had recessed steering wheels), no collapsible steering column, and no seat belts or shoulder harnesses, let alone air bags. Horrors!

    But then: If we had Blackberries in those days, perhaps people would have been less tempted to text while driving, knowing that if they caused an accident THEY – not just someone else – might be killed or seriously injured.

    I believe anybody convicted of drunk driving or driving while texting more than once, should not even be allowed, let alone required, to have any safety feature that might protect them from the consequences of such behavior. We should also consider letting irresponsible drivers know that if anyone has more than one conviction of the kind mentioned above, if they are again arrested for said offenses, they will go to prison for five years.

    Many cities have reduced their murder rates by focusing on the 100 or so meanest dudes, letting them know that if they are arrested with a gun on their person they will go to jail. Its time we apply this idea to people whom can accurately be described as automotive violence offenders.

  14. HtG Says:

    I learned from an attorney friend in Colorado that if you take away peoples’ licenses because of DUI they will just keep driving anyway.

    BTW, guess what the driver of the Tesla was doing at the stop light? txtng

  15. pedro fernandez Says:

    If you watch COPS, you will see that the majority of people oulled over have no driver’s license or even any ID,not to mention insurance. all they get in most states is another ticket and they’re told that the car has to be towed or driven off by someone with a license. The penalty is just a slap on the writs and they will be back out the next day, driving again. It really pisses me off that the law has no teeth for these habitual offenders.

  16. Brett Cammack Says:

    Americans don’t like five-door hatches? If you strip away the SUV/CUV title and what do you have? A big, freakin’ five-door hatch!

    Americans were cool to the five-door hatch when they were driving sedans and coupes. Now, a small five-door hatch is just a small, economical and easy-to-park version of what they’ve been driving for the past decade.

  17. pedro fernandez Says:

    Yes, Brett is absolutely correct, think back to the good ole station wagons, they all had big hatches in the rear and I believe Ford even had one that could open 2 ways.They were 5 door people carriers.

  18. Robert Morrison Says:

    I believe it was the 914 not the 924 that was the mistake that porsche made by using VW components.

  19. G.A.Branigan Says:

    laws against texting don’t work,okay..no problem.Make it mandatory for the makers of all these cell-phone wonders to install a simple accelerometer into each phone that is text capable.When it senses forward motion,the texting app is shut off.When they come to a stop it goes back on.Simple,cheap,effective.

  20. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Brett, read Autoblog’s Comprehensive Study on Americans and hatches from yesterday. Americans do like hatches now, and prefer to have a hatch in a small car platform.


    Wagons suck, Hatches and SUVs/CUVs are the way to go.

    When I think wagon I think 1995, daddies with fanny packs at soccer games, wearing a visor.

    Also, wagons are only good in D+ Segment cars. B-C Car wagons=looks very awkward unless it’s proportioned right like the BMW 1 series and KIA Forte.

    If you’re a Golf Wagon lover Id would consider a KIA Forte Hatch if I were you. However, unlike the KIA the VW offers the US compliant Diesel.

    Text bans are silly. Let’s be real they dont care about safety. It’s nothing more than a government sponsored shake down scheme to your pockets.

    If they truly cared about Auto Safety they would move everyone to Smart Growth Mega Cities (Lex Troit, San Angeles, New Bos Washa delphia, etc..), and make licensing training programs mandatory for licensure.

    They would:

    1. Allow Autobahn Speed areas on US highways.

    2. Make light rail so efficient the people who “Hate driving” will see it as a viable alternative, while using hyper inflated gas prices as an inducement.

    3. Bust tailgaiters hard, with jail time in certain instances. Or, force cars to have a new sensory system that will disalow opening of the throttle until the car returns to safe distance if cars are too close (1 car length or less) at speeds of 35 MPH or more

    4. Turn signal use should be strictly enforced with a mandatory license suspension for 3 times in 2 years.

    5. Area Centric Speed limits would make better sense. Speed limits shouldnt be a uniform standard, and only the feds with a team of scientists should be allowed to dictate what those limits are for the area. America has plenty of 55-70 MPH zones in areas where it should be an Autobahn zone with drive responsibly speed limits. America also has plenty of residential zones where 25 MPH is too fast.

    This uniform across the board speed system like anythign else uniform and across the board NEVER EVER WORKS. It needs to be needs specific and centric.

  21. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Robert Morrison Says:
    September 29th, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    “I believe it was the 914 not the 924 that was the mistake that porsche made by using VW components”

    Yep, the 924 was a front engine, rear drive car that, while not a favorite among Porschephiles, is generally considered a “real Porsche.”

  22. pedro fernandez Says:

    This hatchback story is a no brainer, if you have a small vehicle with limited space, a tiny trunk is pretty useless except for small items, it makes a hell of a lot more sense to get an extra door back there,and be able to lower the rear seat if needed, even though in the case of the Fiesta, it’s more expensive than the sedan, here I see tons of Yaris and Accents in their 3 door configuration.

  23. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Pedro that problem could be solved with a Fiesta 3 door, and I think with a Fiesta 3 door Ford could garner 1500-2000K more sales a month.

    $11K price would be a good starter.

  24. pedro fernandez Says:

    11k??? you can barely get a motorcycle nowadays with that kind of money. Look at the Mazda2 it’s about 14k w/o options. the Yaris is a bargain among these small cars.

  25. David Says:

    Porsche maybe a Abomination Express as HtG says, but people seem to be buying those vehicles! As far the dumbing down of Porsche, I dought it (Audi,Lamborghini, Bentley, and Bugatti) proves the brand won’t be dumbed down any time soon, as far as VW the brand (SEAt & Škoda) also, thats a different story. I faith that Mr Ferdinand K. Piëch will not allow Porche to be dumbed down as Peter says!

  26. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I’d be interesting in knowing how US sales of VW Golf and GTi split out as far as 3 door and 5 door. That is the only car I can think of currently in the US market where those two body styles are sold.

  27. XA351GT Says:

    Want to effectively ban texting ? You need to enforce the law and make the penalty so high you wouldn’t dare try it. I would suggest to confiscate the phone and fine the offender $500 cash to get it back. If you don’t make the penalty steep enough it’s a joke. Someone who has a $300 doesn’t give a rat’s ass about a $25 fine ,but $500 will get their attention. If their phone means that much to them they’ll pay to get it back.

  28. John V. Says:

    G. A. Branigan is on the right track. Most high content phones already have GPS capability, so they could be disabled while in motion. There has been an active lobby by the big wireless providers to stop legilation that takes this direction, tough.
    I say disable text, apps, and telephone while above five mph. I see too many cyclists (non-motorized) and drivers using wireless devices when they should be more aware of their surroundings.

  29. XA351GT Says:

    that should have been a $300 phone.

  30. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Yeah Pedro, if you can get a $14K Mazda 2 with 5 doors, then you can get a 3 Door Fiesta for $11K-$12K.

    That’s Ford’s profit secret. Dont give them the choice of the 3 door and they will be forced to buy the much expensive 5 door (Of course Im assuming we are talking about a hatch lover here).

    I still hope KIA has a 3 door Rio this next time. A Rio 3 door with 140 HP Standard with over 40 MPG would sell like hotcakes. The sedan is already testing, and is expected to look quite handsome.

  31. HtG Says:

    In my town, the police enforce the no talking while driving law. I know this because I was protesting a traffic citation and got to see all the youngsters come plead to the town attorney one morning. It cost them about 200 bucks to settle for each ‘important call.’

    Any guesses what I got busted for? I’ll help; I was wearing my pants at the time.

  32. Derek V. Says:

    I agree with the concerns about VW’s affect on Porsche. As an owner of two 924s, however, I must point out that the reference at the end of the commentary is out of context. VW dropped the (to be) 924 when the fuel crisis of the 1970s hit. Porsche bought the vehicle and took it from there – it ended up being the 3rd longest production vehicle in the company’s history (behind the 928 and 911). It, essentially, saved Porsche just as the Cayenne did in modern times.

    To imply the 924 was a mistake is just outright absurd. Yes, it initially had many VW and Audi parts – but it was, evolved, and still is Porsche through and through.

  33. Chuck Grenci Says:

    The 914 and the 924 were both rooted in Volkswagen; both had Volkswagen engines and the 924 was built at the Volkswagen factory (though it was designed by Porsche).

  34. Scott Evil Says:

    Why is the Fiesta hatchback selling so well? It looks good, better than the sedan. And it is sans the pretentious chrome grill Ford slaps on most cars. Its proof that Americans will buy good looking cars, hatchbacks, wagons or otherwise. The fact is that most hatchback and wagon offerings from the past look horrible–especially from the domestics. Ford has a winner now. Bring the 2-door hatch too please. RS-model, pretty please.

  35. Mouhamad A. Naboulsi Says:

    Text Banning laws work. Research paid for by the insurance companies is only meant to make us feel helpless so we all pay for the increased risk instead of finding a technical solution that supports laws and benefits from education.

    Just look at the seat belts. They are simple enough to use and do not cost extra, but some people do not use them anyway. Enforcement pushed the number of belt users to 85% nationwide and in Michigan, we are well over 90% compliance. Why? Education backed by Laws and enforcement.

    There are lockouts for DUI and We have developed smart lockouts for cellphones. They allow calls to come in or go out only when the car is at stable driving conditions. We can also allow select functionality for teen drivers so theycan still call home and 911 but not get a text in/or out or get on facebook.

    For details, checkout http://iQ-Telematics.com.