Episode 949 – IIHS Debuts New Test, BMW Stop… Start, Less Alternative-More Fuel

August 14th, 2012 at 12:11pm

Runtime: 10:32

The IIHS just found a new way to destroy cars. The organization recently developed a test to simulate crashing into a tree, with numerous models failing with flying colors. BMW is allowing its dealers to reprogram its Stop-Start system so owners will not have to disable it each time the car is started. John talks with Candice Wheeler, a Technical Fellow at GM R&D about alternative fuels that are less alternative and more fuel. All that and more, plus a look at Chrysler’s quality testing.

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Hello and welcome to Autoline Daily for August 14th. I’m John McElroy and here are some of the latest developments in the automotive industry.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is making its crash tests tougher. It just added a new small overlap frontal crash test, in which 25 percent of a car’s front end on the driver side strikes a 5-foot-tall barrier at 40 mph which is supposed to mimic crashing into a tree or utility pole. Eleven mid-size luxury or near luxury sedans were tested and only the Acura TL and Volvo S60 received good ratings while the Infiniti G earned an acceptable rating. The Acura TSX, BMW 3-series, Lincoln MKZ and VW CC were rated marginal. The Mercedes C-class, Lexus IS and ES, and Audi A4 were rated poor. The IIHS says this will help reduce the number of deaths from frontal crashes but to me it looks like this test is just designed to peel the side of a car off.

Start/Stop systems help automakers meet fuel economy standards but many drivers don’t like them. In our experience BMW may have the worst stop/start system in the business, especially in the 328 and 528. And maybe that’s why BMW will allow dealers to re-program the system. Owners can already turn off the stop/start by pushing a button on the dash, however once you turn the car off, it is reactivated the next time you start the car. Now BMW is allowing owners to activate a system that will start the car in the same mode as it was when it was shut down.

Automakers are getting to be very bullish on what they call “drop-in” fuels. These are synthetic fuels that can be used in gasoline or diesel engines without any modifications. They can be made from bio-mass, which gets melted down in a pyrolysis process without any oxygen. That forms a sort of sludge that is like crude oil that can then be processed into anything from bunker fuel to high octane gasoline. Or drop-in fuels can be synthesized from natural gas. The advantage is that it’s a liquid that could be distributed just as gasoline is today. Here’s Candace Wheeler, a Technical Fellow at GM R&D, and one of the foremost experts on fuels in the world.

That segment is from an upcoming episode of our television show, Autoline This Week, and we’ll let you know when that show is going to run.

Officials in the Chinese city of Xi’an are backing off a proposal to limit the number of cars in the city. They wanted to deal with the city’s traffic and pollution problems, but the public raised a howl, because they want to buy new cars. Other cities including Guanzhjou and Beijing already limit car registrations and have seen car sales plummet. According to China Daily, sales in Beijing fell 56 percent after limits were enacted. And these limits hit domestic Chinese automakers harder than the foreign automakers. Even so, analysts in the People’s Republic believe other cities will adopt limits to ease congestion and pollution problems.

Have you ever wanted to be a car designer? Well, here’s your chance. Domino’s Pizza says its drivers cover over 10 million miles every week delivering pizzas. To make those miles a bit more interesting the company is launching a five-part contest today, asking the pizza eating public to design the ultimate delivery vehicle. After the contest ends February 19th, the company says it will build a prototype based off the winning designs. Better get your crayons out now!

Chrysler has not exactly set the charts on fire when it comes to any of the quality ratings. Coming up after the break we’ll show you what the company is doing to make sure its cars are defect free, particularly the new Dodge Dart.

To help control variability, Chrysler is staggering the launch of the Dart. It just started building models with the dual clutch transmission last week. And other models will be phased in only as the company is sure that the quality is right. Unfortunately, it will be another year before these improvements are reflected in the quality ratings from J.D. Power and Consumer Reports. So we’re going to have to wait and see it Chrysler’s new quality procedures are really paying off.

Remember, we have a great show coming up Thursday night when that Autoextremist and I head over to Woodward Avenue to do Autoline After Hours with the Dream Cruisers as the backdrop. Our pals Jim Hall and Mark Phelan will be joining us, and we’re also going to have our friends from Mopar and some surprise guests stopping by, so catch all the action this Thursday night right here at Autoline.tv.

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

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22 Comments to “Episode 949 – IIHS Debuts New Test, BMW Stop… Start, Less Alternative-More Fuel”

  1. Stu Says:

    As an engineer for a Tier 1 underbody supplier, I can tell you that this new “narrow-offset” crash test is a very difficult test to pass. It’s certainly giving us headaches!
    The test hits just outside of the frame rails, which are what is designed to carry the crash loads. Like you said, John, it’s designed to rip the side of the car off, but I do see the reason behind it. It will be very interesting to see how the different OEMs handle this new crash mode.

  2. G.A.Branigan Says:

    I don’t trust Chrysler ‘quality’any farther then I could throw my last (08)Wrangler that was junk from the get go.

    And they are still at it.Manley and Macaroni need to talk or something.Their ‘quality’ just isn’t making it into jeeps it seems.

  3. Lex Says:

    I still say that there must be a way around using Stop Start Techonology to improve fuel economy. VCM Variable Cylinder Management taking a V6 or Straight 4 to a 2 Cylinder which I believe is the way to go. There must be some engineer(s) out there working on it.

    I like the fact that Honda/Acura put their VCM V6 in the 2013 RDX. This allows a consumer like myself who wants good fuel economy and plenty of horsepower to have the best of both worlds.

    What I understand about China is that 400 million people have a moderate to great standard of living while the remaining 800 million live in poverty and below. This will bring a great deal of social unrest in the next couple of generations and might make Chinese Government and Economy implode under the weight of this imbalance. The only thing we can hope for is that our debt held by China is forgotten in the internal social turmoil between the economic classes.

  4. Brett Says:

    Something tells me that the piece on the Dart was produced by Chrysler and handed to Autoline on a DVD. Production values, narrator, access, etc. That sort of thing.

  5. kurt Says:

    IIHS remarked that Volvo has done similar narrow impact crash testing on its vehicles for years. Perhaps that’s why the Volvo S60 did well in that “new” test.

  6. C-Tech Says:

    The question I have for the IIHS is how many drivers are involved in this type of crash? It just seems to me that IF you as a DRIVER are that close to a tree, utility pole, or wall at 40 mph, then you probably are distracted, disabled, or plain dumb. Do we really need to add weight and limit design choices because of a careless few?

    As a former pizza delivery driver (how I bought my 1st car!) I am looking forward to the Domino’s contest – Who’s coming in second :)

    Have fun for me at the Dream Cruise this year!

  7. Mark Says:

    I hate to be a cynic about Chrysler’s new emphasis on quality, but we’ve heard it before. You could have played the same story any year over the last 40 years. Same story and unfortunately same outcome; they continue to lag the industry. Hopefully this time will be different.

  8. Drew Says:

    The new IIHS test cannot be about reducing deaths. All 4 of the vehicles that received an overall Poor rating scored Good in their dummy injury values for head, neck and chest. All vehicles scored Good in these categories. It is the “structure component of the IIHS rating scheme that relegated those vehicles to Poor. John, could it be IIHS has devised a very graphic test to shame auto makers to make wider bumper beams… to address the insurance industry’s highest cost outlay – damageability?!?!?!

  9. G.A.Branigan Says:

    @ #7: One would hope that Chrysler’s lack of quality wouldn’t be repeated…….yet again.But it does seem that they hand everything off to their pr firm and continue ‘business as usual’,maybe no one will notice….who knows how they justify junk.

  10. Lex Says:


    Your reports from the conference you when to last week which had a prediction that Renault-Nissan would become the third largest OEM behine Toyota and VW but ahead of Chevrolet got me very interested in Nissan USA. I know that the Nissan NV200 will be the taxi for both New York (Yellow Version) and London (Black Version). Why doesn’t Nissan sell a passenger version of the NV200 to the gereral public? I believe the NV200 would be a great vehicle for inner city families who want the features of a minivan without the bulky size of the Nissan Quest. My vision is a NV200 which seats seven, two in the front and five in the rear with the rear seat that fold flat onto the floor for those times to need to transport large items.
    The NV200 has rear sliding doors of a minvan and a turning radius of only 25 ft which makes it ideal for city driving and parking. This vehicle could replace either or both the Cube and/or Juke. I hope someone at Nissan takes my suggest under consideration.

  11. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Start/stop is just one of many ways to improve fuel economy, and we need them all. It can work well and be unobtrusive, but BMW doesn’t have it figured out. I’m sure they will, in time.

  12. aliisdad Says:

    #2 and #7, You guys are right on!! I will never give them another chance after my experiences…It is not just the poor quality and cutting corners, but they are not helpful in solving problems once “it’s yours”…I have heard it before that “This time, we’ve changed our quality” and I just can’t afford the losses to get rid of new cars that turn out to be absoulute junk…By the way, we now have a Subaru and a Mercedes, and they only go to the shop for routine service instead of quality problems, and their dealers actually treat you nicely rather than a bother…
    On a more positive note: I can hardly wait to see this year’s Woodward Dream Cruise…I have enjoyed this Autoline After Hours show for several years, now…It is a lot of fun!!

  13. Chuck Grenci Says:

    The crash test segment of today’s show reminded me of what a motorcycle helmet manufacturer told a customer when the customer asked, ‘what kind of helmet is the best all round helmet’. So what was his answer; he said, ‘tell me what kind of accident you are going to have and then I can tell you which helmet it the best’. My point is, if you know what kind of tests that they are going to perform you can make a vehicle (safe) for that kind of a test. Alternately, and we’ve seen this before, the vehicle makers respond to a scenario, and the testers pull another test out of the hat. So now we have another arbitrary test: pole at a certain angle and at 40 mph. I’m not saying it is totally wrong to add tests, but as mentioned by others, are these some of the highest incidence crashes?

  14. HtG Says:

    In The Year 2000;

    -the IIHS will devise a test that measures the ability of cars to automatically avoid accidents in the first place.

    -the IIHS will test on board silicon HAL units’ judgements about when to let you use your phone or sip you ice coffee(global warming has obviated the hot kind)

    -the IIHS will keep score of whether you’ve paid your highway maintenance tithe.

    Just you wait

  15. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I guess I must be the only person in the world who has had reliable Chrysler products. I’ve even had reliable VW’s.

  16. HtG Says:

    15 correct operation and maintenance, Kit?

  17. Chuck@GM Says:

    Not that I particularly have an issue with safer cars, but IIHS members should start dropping their rates in accordance with the safer cars they demand. Here’s the sqeeze as I see it. They apply pressure to drive up the cost of an auto to make it safer, We don’t get a break on our insurance, and they pocket the difference. Sweet deal if you can get it.

  18. Gene E Says:

    Re #15

    Kit that makes 2 of us…..Since my 1st MoPar in the 60′s I have only owned 1 that I didn’t put in excess of 200,000 miles on and I gave it to the former wife’s daughter (still running strong).

    The only problem that I had with a VW was service station attendants didn’t know the difference between a metric and “Merican” dipstick, thus over-filling the oil and blowing out seals.

  19. cwolf Says:

    Chry products don’t tickle my fancy,but after seeing my first Dart on the road,I soon found another on a dealers lot. Based upon my first impressions,I like it! It sure is bigger than I expected and I wonder why it isn’t thought of as a mid-size. I like the rear end and the tail lights the best. C&D says it’s pretty slow from 0-50 because of the weight, which confirms my size observation. For me, I don’t care how fast I can go between stop lights. For now,I believe the Dart is headed in the right direction. Even if this car proves to be of quality,it is only one in the pack and Chry service sucks at best.

  20. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Correct operation. Little maintenance.

  21. Andrew Charles Says:

    Chuck, the trouble with safer cars is that they may save money in rehabilitation/death benefits, but they don’t save the auto insurer any money in cost of repair or write-off. In fact with the cost of replacing airbags, seatbelts and interiors, they probably cost insurers more in an accident, not less.

  22. W L Simpson Says:

    John, let the Woodward cars do most of the talking.