TIME Recalls

What You Should Do About the Massive Airbag Recall

Car Dealerships Ahead Of Total Vehicle Sales Figures
Honda Motor Co. vehicles are displayed for sale at the Paragon Honda dealership in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Millions of cars from ten automakers are subject to an airbag recall. Here's what you need to know

Takata produces about 300,000 airbag replacement kits per month, possibly increasing to 450,000 or so. At that rate, it will take from 2 to 3 years to recall and replace the defective airbags in the 16-million to potentially 30-million affected vehicles in the U.S.

So what do concerned vehicle owners do in the meantime?

Takata is the only airbag manufacturer to use ammonium nitrate as a propellant for its inflators. Ammonium nitrate is affected by heat-and-cold cycling over time, plus humidity, that can cause it to become too forcefully explosive when ignited in a crash.

To fix this potentially lethal default the company says it has (1) changed the compression density force with new press machines; (2) rejected products that are not meeting quality standards; and (3) changed humidity control during production and assembly. Takata also says it also improved the hermetically-sealed package to minimize effects of moisture that would deteriorate the chemicals and make them less stable. Perhaps NHTSA should consider outlawing the use of ammonium nitrate in the first place, or at least use a safer chemical in the recall campaign.

But there are safer alternatives. It should be feasible to re-program the software in the vehicles’ airbag control modules (ACM). By changing the software, including the thresholds of activation and the control algorithms, the system could be made safer— as a temporary solution. The threshold to trigger the airbags could be raised so that it would take a crash at 30 mph, rather than 18 mph. In these low-speed collisions, the driver and passenger would still be protected by wearing their seat belts.

Since the driver and passenger airbags are dual-stage designs, they could be re-programmed to inflate only at the lower-pressure level to help ensure that the explosive force does not exceed levels that cause the metal canister to become lethal shrapnel. Because of the inherent instability of ammonium nitrate, such lower pressures in the canister cannot be absolutely guaranteed, but the risk would be reduced. (On the other hand, passenger risks would rise in a high-speed crash.)

To re-program your car’s Takata airbags, you’d drive over to your local dealership and download new software into your car’s ACM computer. It would likely take less than an hour, and then you’d drive away with a less-risky airbag system that could still offer protection in a crash. If the automakers and Takata cooperated, such software could be developed and tested and available probably within a month…. or maybe even a week.

I believe it should also be a requirement that each affected vehicle have a label attached permanently on the instrument panel, advising that the vehicle has been recalled and that a replacement airbag system has been installed. The date of such recall and replacement action should also be noted on the label.

Finally, I believe that all Takata airbag systems should have a “failsafe” pressure-relief mechanism to prevent any over-pressurization of the airbag. In the late-1970’s I became aware that too many pressurized beer kegs were exploding and propelling lethal shrapnel that injured or killed college students. I showed there was a solution, a simple device that would vent out any over-pressurization before it could cause the metal keg to explode. Lives have been saved by adopting such an inexpensive, simple device for beer kegs. Why not a use a similar device to prevent excessive forces from rupturing the metal canister that holds the airbag’s propellant? And yes, the canisters should be made stronger, too.

Byron Bloch has over 30 years of experience as an independent consultant and court-qualified expert in Auto Safety Design and Vehicle Crashworthiness. Over the years, he has inspected accident vehicles to evaluate how and why the occupants were severely injured, and exemplar vehicles to evaluate their structural details. He has qualified and testified as an expert in auto safety defect cases in Federal and State Courts coast-to-coast. He also lectures, writes, and appears on TV reports on auto safety design and vehicle crashworthiness.

TIME Autos

Ford Recalls 65,000 Fusion Vehicles

There are no known accidents caused by the issue

Ford has recalled 65,000 Fusion cars for noncompliance with a regulation on “theft protection and rollaway prevention.

The automaker announced Tuesday said that it is not aware of any accidents or injuries caused by the issue, but said that it would voluntarily fix the more than 56,000 affected vehicles in the United States, as well as 6,000 in Canada and 2,300 in Mexico.

The 65,000 vehicles recalled Tuesday is small in comparison to General Motors’ notorious recall this year, when more than 1 million vehicles worldwide were pulled over a faulty ignition switch that caused the deaths of at least 30 people.

TIME Autos

Toyota’s ‘Mirai’ Fuel-Cell Car Gets 300 Miles to a Tank

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A customer admires Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor's fuel cell vehicle which will go on sale end of this year at Toyota's showroom in Tokyo on November 5, 2014. Yoshikazu Tsuno—AFP/Getty Images

Toyota disclosed the vehicle's name, 'Mirai,' hours before a Honda news conference

Toyota unveiled its hydrogen-powered concept vehicle ‘Mirai’ on Monday, stealing thunder from a scheduled press conference on a hydrogen-powered vehicle from rival automaker Honda.

“The future has arrived, and it’s called, ‘Mirai,'” said Toyota chief executive Akio Toyoda in a video announcement posted to YouTube (the word ‘mirai’ actually means ‘future’ in Japanese). Toyoda said the vehicle could travel 300 miles on a single tank of hydrogen.

The announcement went live several hours before Honda was scheduled to disclose new details of its own fuel cell vehicle, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Mirai is expected to go on sale by the end of the year, once again getting the jump on Honda’s hydrogen-powered vehicle, which is expected to go on sale by spring of 2016 at the latest.

TIME Automakers

Tesla Motors’ New ‘D’ Cars Are All-Wheel Drive, Not Self-Drive

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Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk unveils a new dual-engine chassis at the Hawthorne Airport in Los Angeles on Oct. 9, 2014 Mark Ralston—AFP/Getty Images

The “D” in Tesla’s big reveal stands not for “self-driving," but for “dual motor”

Tesla Motors on Thursday night disappointed some auto-market watchers’ expectations that it would put out a self-driving car — but the electric car juggernaut did announce the release of a higher tech version of its Model S car, with all-wheel drive and rapid acceleration rivaling that of luxury vehicles, USA Today reports.

The tripped-out new Model S will have all-wheel drive, plus acceleration of 0-60 mph in just 3.2 seconds, says the newspaper. It can also reach a top speed of 155 mph, up from the Model S’s peak velocity of 130 mph.

“This car is nuts. It’s like taking off from a carrier deck,” Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, told press assembled at Los Angeles’ Hawthorne airport, where his commercial space travel company SpaceX is also based.

The “D” cars will also come with a package of new safety features, including the ability to read speed-limit signs and shift speeds, USA Today says.

Tesla will release three versions of the upgraded car under the “D” designation. The all-wheel drive version without the acceleration boost will be a $4,000 add-on to the basic and mid-level models of the Model S, which starts at $71,000, says the Associated Press. The base price for the all-wheel drive car with boosted acceleration, dubbed the P85D, is $120,000.

The P85D will go on sale in December, while the other versions will go on sale in February, the Associated Press reports.

Musk had fueled speculation about the announcement in Los Angeles with a tweet that the company would roll out something he referred to just as “the D,” plus “something else.” He also tweeted a photo that appeared to be of Tesla’s Model S car.

Some Tesla fans had speculated that the unveiling might be of a ramped-up version of the Model S — but observers had debated if the “D” referred to an automated driving feature, or all-wheel drive.

TIME Automakers

Lamborghini Just Unveiled a Beautiful Plug-In Hybrid That Can Go Almost 200mph

Now you can be environmentally conscious and really, really fast

Pull over, Prius drivers: Lamborghini just unveiled a 910-horsepower supercar called the Asterion at the 2014 Paris Auto Show.

The Asterion, seen here in blue, has a 5.2-liter V-10 engine putting out 610 horsepower of its own before getting a jolt from three separate electric motors.

All told, the Asterion can do zero to 60mph in about three seconds before topping off at nearly 200mph. It’s also got a tablet in the dash for GPS and some other functions, taking a page from other high-tech car manufacturers like Tesla, whose cars offer touchscreen controls in lieu of the knobs and switches of yesteryear.

Lamborghini’s message? Hybrids aren’t just for the environmentally-conscious anymore — now speed demons can get their hands on them, too. No word on cost, though. Start saving your pennies now, Lambo fans.

TIME Automakers

Chrysler Recalls Up to 800,000 Jeeps Over Ignition-Switch Problems

A 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolls down the assembly line Wedn
A 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolls down the assembly line Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2004, at Chrysler's Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, Michigan. John F. Martin—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Older Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Commanders may have a faulty ignition switch

Around 800,000 older Chrysler Jeeps could be affected by a recall due to a problem with the ignition switch, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

The company said it is aware of one reported accident associated with the defect, but no injuries.

The recall will affect a still-undetermined number of model year 2006-2007 Jeep Commanders and 2005-2007 Jeep Grand Cherokees. In vehicles affected by the problem, contact with a driver’s knee or other outside force can move the ignition switch from on to off, causing the engine to stall and cutting power brakes and power steering.

The company said its investigation is ongoing but that around 792,000 vehicles could have faulty switches, including 659,900 in the U.S. and others in Mexico, Canada, and elsewhere. Newer models have been redesigned are unaffected, the company said.

Chrysler’s recalls come as rival automaker General Motors has recalled nearly 28 million automobiles worldwide for similar ignition switch issues. The GM problems have been linked to at least 13 deaths, and the company has faced federal investigation over its handling of the situation.

Chrysler also announced that 21,000 vehicles, including certain 2014 Ram pickups, 2015 Jeep Cherokees and 2015 Chrysler 200 sedans, will be recalled for inspection and, if necessary, have their shocks and struts replaced.

TIME Innovation

Ford President Says Aluminum F-150 Is All Engines Go

Ford

Ford says the truck will ship on time this year, despite analyst concerns that manufacturing plant retooling will impact availability.

Investment firm Morgan Stanley is publicly fretting the truck might be delayed, but Ford says its new lightweight aluminum Ford F-150 pickup is on track and we’ll see it later this year.

“Everything is on schedule and everything is going as planned,” Ford Americas President Joe Hinrichs told reporters, speaking at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan (via Automotive News), adding that he was “very confident in this vehicle.” Morgan Stanley’s analyst Ravi Shanker had said earlier that Ford’s planned factory retooling, which it has to perform in order to produce the new pickup, would result in “slow changeover, with tight supply.”

Ford has noted the planned retooling would temporarily deplete its production by over 90,000 F-Series pickups, reducing company sales and profits. Furthermore, margins are expected to be lower on the new aluminum-bodied F-150. But Ford views all of that as necessary back-stepping to be first to market with a truck that uses a combination of “military-grade aluminum and high-strength steel,” and that’ll weigh roughly 700 pounds less than the version it’s replacing.

Note that Shanker doesn’t say the launch itself is in danger of being delayed, only that supply is going to be very tight in 2014 given manufacturing constraints. If supply is at a trickle, that could mean higher demand-driven dealer pricing, of course, culminating in a scenario where the truck’s debut looks more like a paper launch, and buyers wind up having to wait to lay hands on one until supply catches up.

TIME Automakers

GM Recalls Another 2.7 Million Vehicles

The car giant is recalling about 2.7 million vehicles in the U.S. for issues like a hydraulic brake booster problem, hoping to raise flags early this time, amid a federal investigation into why it waited more than a decade to recall vehicles with a deadly ignition switch defect

General Motors said Thursday it’s recalling about 2.7 million additional vehicles in the U.S., including more than 140,000 cars suffering from brake problems.

Among GM’s newly-recalled vehicles is the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu, which has a hydraulic brake booster problem that can make stopping the vehicle more difficult. The company said it was aware of four crashes, but no injuries, that may have been related to the brake issue.

The fresh recalls come as GM is already grappling with the recent recall of 2.59 million cars over defective ignition switches. GM faces a federal recall over its decade-long delay to address the ignition switch problem, which has been linked to at least 13 deaths.

“These are examples of our focus to surface issues quickly and promptly take necessary actions in the best interest of our customers,” Jeff Boyer, vice president of GM Global Vehicle Safety, said in a statement regarding the new recalls.

The largest of the recalls announced Thursday involves break lamp wiring corrosion affecting 2.4 million previous generation cars. GM said the defect could result in brake lamp failures as well as disable cruise control, traction control, electronic stability control and panic braking assist operations where applicable.

GM said it was aware of two injuries and 13 crashes as a result of the brake lamp defect as well as several hundred complaints. The recall related to the brake lamps involves the 2004-2012 Chevrolet Malibu, 2004-2007 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, 2005-2010 Pontiac G6 and 2007-2010 Saturn Aura. The automaker also said it issued a technical service bulletin about the problem in 2008.

In a third recall, GM said that 477 recently built full-size trucks may have defective tie-rods — part of the vehicles’ steering system — that could separate and cause a crash. The company said it has already fixed the problem on the assembly line and is now warning dealers and owners of vehicles that have already been sent to market.

GM said last month it took a $1.3 billion hit after it recalled 7 million vehicles worldwide, including cars with the defective ignition switch. GM said Thursday it expects the latest recalls to cost the company another $200 million.

TIME Companies

Ford Announces Mark Fields As New CEO, Will Replace Alan Mulally

Mulally is credited with turning Ford around after the recession.

Ford Motor Company announced Thursday that Mark Fields will run the company after current CEO Alan Mulally retires this summer.

Fields, who’s been Ford’s Chief Operating Officer since 2012, is a long-time company executive with substantial experience overseeing international markets.

Mulally, who joined Ford from Boeing in 2006, will retire July 1, the company said. Mulally, 68, has overseen 19 consecutive quarters of profits since the recession took its toll on Ford and other automakers.

“Alan deservedly will be long remembered for engineering one of the most successful business turnarounds in history,” Ford Executive Chariman Bill Ford said in a statement. “Under Alan’s leadership, Ford not only survived the global economic crisis, it emerged as one of the world’s strongest auto companies.”

Fields, 53, has been at the company for more than 25 years. He previously led Ford’s operations in the Americas as well as oversaw transformations in Ford’s European operations and of the Japanese-based Mazda Motor Corporation, which was previously partnered with Ford.

TIME Earnings

General Motors Profits Drop 86 Percent After Recalls

The troubled automaker took a $1.3 billion hit after it had to recall 7 million vehicles worldwide, 2.6 million of them because of problems with ignition switches that have been linked to 13 deaths so far

General Motors said Thursday its first quarter profits dropped approximately 86% from the same period last year after a series of massive recalls cost the automaker $1.3 billion.

The company’s profits in the first three months of the year fell to $125 million, compared to $865 million for the first quarter of 2013. This year’s first quarterly earnings report marks the company’s worst showing since it reported a loss after going through bankruptcy in 2009, the New York Times reports.

But the company’s first quarter profits still trounced analyst estimates. Excluding one-time items, GM’s profit was 29 cents a share, well above the Bloomberg estimate of 4 cents a share.

GM has recently recalled 7 million vehicles worldwide, 2.6 million of which because of faulty ignition switches that have been linked to at least 13 deaths. The company was also hit with $300 million in restructuring costs and $419 million because of a valuation change in Venezuelan currency.

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