October 17th, 2012 at 12:00pm
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!
Thanks for joining us for Autoline Daily, we’re already halfway through the week! Let’s get to the news.
OUT OF JUICE
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.
HAMTRAMCK GETS ELECTRIFIED
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.
ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS
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.