March 1, 2013

Auto Execs to Speak on U.S. Manufacturing in House Hearing
Top executives from Ford Motor Co., American Honda Motor Co. Inc., and Toyota Motor North America Inc. are scheduled to testify next week at a U.S. House hearing on the outlook for U.S. auto manufacturing. Honda will send Jim Wehrman, a senior vice president at the company's Marysville, Ohio, operations, while Ford will send Joe Hinrichs, executive vice president and president of the Americas. Toyota will likely send Chris Nielson, who leads the assembly plant in San Antonio, Texas, that builds the Tundra and Tacoma pickup trucks. According to Automotive News, the hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade will take place Wednesday morning. Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), who chairs the subcommittee, wants to "examine the current status of auto manufacturing in the United States and discuss opportunities to improve it," the committee said Wednesday. The executives may also debate the idea of trade negotiations between the United States and Japan. The hearing marks one of the first appearances by automotive executives on Capitol Hill since the start of the new Congress. Read more about next week’s auto manufacturing hearing on Capitol Hill here.

Most Cars Can't Come Close to the Top Speedometer Numbers
The speedometer on the tiny Toyota Yaris goes up to 140 mph. In reality, the bulbous subcompact's 106-horsepower engine and automatic transmission can't push it any faster than 109. So why do cars such as the Yaris -- and most other cars sold in the U.S. – have speedometers that show top speeds they can't possibly reach? According to The Detroit Free Press, the answer has deep roots in an American culture that loves the rush of driving fast. The automakers' marketing departments are happy to give people the illusion that their family car can travel at speeds rivaling a NASCAR racer. And companies often use one speedometer type in various models across the world, saving money. But critics say the ever-higher numbers are misleading. Some warn they create a safety concern, daring drivers to push past freeway speed limits that are 65 mph to 75 mph in most states. "You reach a point where it becomes ridiculous," says Larry Dominique, a former Nissan product chief who now is executive vice president of the TrueCar.com auto pricing website. "Eighty percent plus of the cars on the road are not designed for and will not go over 110 mph." Click here to read more about speedometer reality in today’s cars.

Best Cars Under $20,000
You don't need to spend a fortune to get a good, reliable, safe vehicle and many models can be bought for under $20,000, reports MSN Autos. Most of the models on its list of the best cars under $20K are small cars, which are the best in their class, but cannot necessarily be compared to the best in other vehicle categories. Each model here is a good all-around choice that meets the publication’s requirements for being recommended. Prices include destination charges and features like air conditioning; antilock brakes; power windows, locks, and mirrors; automatic transmission (unless otherwise noted); CD player; and cruise control. Prices do not reflect rebates or incentives. On the list: the Elantra sedan. It combines nimble and secure handling with a fairly comfortable, well-controlled ride. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic deliver solid performance and a very good 29 mpg overall. Also on the list is the Mazda2 Touring. The Mazda2 is a subcompact hatchback about the size of the Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris. Power comes from a 100-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The standard manual transmission shifted slickly, but the optional four-speed automatic saps some zip. Click here to see the rest of the cars making MSN Autos’ list of the best cars under $20K.

Continental-BMW Team to Develop Autonomous Cars for Freeways
According to Ward’s, Continental, the first supplier to have an autonomous car licensed in Nevada, has agreed to work with BMW for two years to develop a robotic vehicle suitable for traveling on freeways. Engineers from the two companies expect to define the prerequisites for autonomous cars that could drive themselves on limited-access highways sometime around 2020. “Driving cannot be automated overnight,” says Elmar Degenhart, chairman of the executive board of Continental. “It is much more a gradual process, stretching out over a period of over 10 years.” The German automaker and supplier intend to build several prototypes to analyze the requirements of freeway driving, including interchanges, toll gates, and work zones. Tests will be made on German autobahns as well as freeways in other European countries. At the Detroit auto show in January, Degenhart said the basic technologies required already are developed, including “long- and short-range radar sensors, stereo and monochromatic camera systems and sensor fusion.” By 2016, Continental’s customers will begin using low-speed autonomous driving in traffic jams, for instance, but that full high-speed automatic driving could be as far away as 2025, he says. Read more about Continental and BMW’s plans to develop autonomous vehicles.

Why the Auto Industry Isn't Scared of the 'Sequestration' Crisis
If you have watched even a few minutes of television news in the past few days, you are probably well aware the United States is one day away from another fiscal crisis. The $85 billion in spending cuts – or "sequestration" – will hit federal programs this year if Congress and President Obama can't strike a deal by today. The outlook in Washington, D.C., is bleak. So why isn't the auto industry panicking? For the auto industry, there is not much to fear in the cuts. Many of the programs crucial to the auto industry are paid for by the Highway Trust Fund, which is filled by the proceeds of the gasoline tax and is not affected by sequestration. Other programs, like vehicle safety investigations or fuel economy testing, are less vulnerable because they are less cash-intensive than, say, staffing every airport in the country with security guards. According to Automotive News’ Gabe Nelson, the main concern for an automaker, or one of its suppliers, or one of its dealers, is that sequestration will ding consumer confidence and stop people from buying cars. Read more about sequestration’s impact on the auto industry here.

Around the Web 
Dealers Do the Harlem Shake [Dealer Communications]
Zipcar Survey Says Younger Drivers More Dependent on Phones Than Cars [AutoblogGreen]
8 Fast and Sexy Cars to Debut at 2013 Geneva Motor Show [Forbes]
Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth's Real Life Cartoon Cars [CNN Money]

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