MONEY Autos

Corvette Stingray: All American Muscle

TIME's Bill Saporito test drives the new Corvette Stingray and finds it's as fast and powerful as advertised.

The guy standing on the traffic island seeking donations didn’t want one from me. He just walked over to the car, gave the thumbs-up and then moved on to the unremarkable vehicle behind me.

The 2015 Corvette Stingray ZF1 convertible I was driving is the type of car that can do that. You park it at Home Depot and guys start circling, taking pictures. Parking lot attendants, who see everything on wheels, nod in admiration. New cars that attract this kind of attention are relatively few: The awesome Audi R-8 comes to mind, as do the recently remade Camaro and the old Jaguar XK8. Even that funky little Fiat 500 was a head turner when it first landed.

For Chevrolet, the Corvette is an iconic automobile and you redesign it at your peril. Yet as Ford proved with its Mustang this year, and Chevy itself with Camaro, you can remake trophy cars without denting their heritage. This Vette is a perfect example of heritage brought smartly—and swiftly— forward.

The Stingray did show up with a surprise: an eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters. The automatic trans adds $1,725 to the base price of $58,000, and the other goodies on the car I drove—including a performance data and video recorder—pushed the price up to $71,255. Who would want to drive a Vette with an automatic? Turns out, lots of people, and fully 65% of new Vettes being sold are automatics, according to the company. And it’s not just Corvette owners. Manual transmissions simply can’t match the efficiency of a new generation of 8-, 9-, and 10- speed automatics now being introduced into high performance cars. (In fact, the new Porsche GT3 isn’t available with a manual transmission. It rides a dual-clutch automatic called a Doppelkupplungsgetriebe.) The manual transmission is going the way of the manual window. Do you miss cranking?

Although I absolutely doppelkupplungsgetriebed at the thought of a stickless Corvette, any disappointment disappeared when I stomped on the pedal at a highway on-ramp. Very instant gratification. Chevy has equipped this Vette with its LT1 6.2 liter V-8 engine, the latest version of a famous power plant known as the small block V-8. In GM lore, this engine actually saved the Corvette when it was introduced in 1955, because sales had been languishing with the underpowered 150-hp engine then in use. The small block V8 put the muscle in muscle cars. This updated one has variable valve timing that deactivates cylinders when you don’t need them—say cruising when the tachometer’s barely pushing 1,500 r.p.m.—which helps the car’s impressive 29-m.p.g. highway fuel rating.

But when you want’em, all eight cylinders snap to attention and report for duty, ready to throw out 455-to- 460 h.p. —the higher figure if you get the optional multimode exhaust option ($1,195) that is exquisitely tuned to zoom. This Vette will get you from here to there—0 to 60 mph—in a throaty 3.7 seconds. The eight-speed automatic is even a tick faster than the seven-speed manual, although the thrill of rocketing up the speedometer is very much the same. And if you insist on shifting the gears yourself, go right ahead and use the paddles. Automatic or no, this thing is still low, wide, and nasty. The two competition seats in the Z51 version come with adjustable side bolsters to lock yourself in on tight turns.

It’s not all about speed, I guess. The Stingray includes a 5-position Drive Mode selector (Sport, Track, Tour, Eco, Weather) that adjusts the performance to suit conditions or your whims. And on nice days, there’s that drop-top, which can be popped while moving at up to 30 m.p.h. if you’d like to really show off.

Chevy is also making the convertible available on a supercharged Z06 racing model rated at 650 h.p. that it will introduce next year. Which is going to provide a whole new definition of driving with the wind in your hair. You are probably going to need that automatic. Because you’ll be too busy hanging on to your hat to work a stick.

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TIME Autos

Auto-Safety Head Admits Major Reform Is Needed

David Friedman, the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as he testified on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 2014.
David Friedman, the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as he testified on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 2014. Evan Vucci—AP

He says we need a "new normal" when it comes to assuring human safety in cars

A week after facing blistering criticism for his agency’s handling of the recent General Motors (GM) auto recall, the man charged with running the nation’s auto-safety administration acknowledged that his office needs to improve.

“Any life lost is one too many; anything that we can do to improve in a situation like this, we’ve got to do,” David Friedman, interim head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), tells TIME in his first interview since the hearing. “We need a new normal when it comes to recalls.”

A more combative relationship that keeps “every car company on their toes” is at the heart of Friedman’s “new normal” and carried out through increased financial penalties on car companies and an expanded budget.

“Dropping the ball will not be tolerated,” Friedman said.

In the months since GM announced its first recalls for ignition switch problems, critics have hounded the automaker for taking so long to address an issue that affected millions of cars and killed at least 21 people. More recently, criticism has turned to NHTSA. The agency, created in the 1970s to oversee a powerful industry, is charged with ensuring automakers meet safety standards on everything from brakes to windshields. But its actual authority remains hampered: it can levy a maximum fine of $35 million for a violation and has no power to bring criminal charges.

Friedman wants to change that, and advocates say he should step on it. “This is the best opportunity to reform NHTSA, really, since the original Safety Act was passed in 1966,” says Center for Auto Safety executive director Clarence Ditlow. “When a GM president has to apologize for their safety inaction, that shows you how bad the situation is.”

The reaction centers on faulty ignition switches in millions of GM vehicles that in some cases abruptly shut down the engine and kept airbags from deploying in the subsequent crash. The automaker had been aware of issues with the switch—though perhaps not the extent of the problem—for more than a decade prior to issuing recalls, investigations have shown. NHTSA also received strong evidence of the safety issue in 2007, when Wisconsin officials told the federal agency about what they suspected was a link between ignition switches and airbags. NHTSA officials “either overlooked or failed to understand” the implications of the Wisconsin report and didn’t follow up appropriately, according to a congressional report released last week.

Supporters of reform, both in Congress and among the ranks of safety advocates, say the needed changes are multifaceted: The agency requires expanded enforcement power, increased funding and greater transparency so that the public can hold it accountable.

The agency was granted just over $10 million to investigate defects in 2014, a paltry sum considering the 250 million vehicles on the road in the United States. Overall, the agency devotes about $130 million annually to vehicle safety research—a total that outrages auto-safety advocate Ralph Nader. “It’s about the cost of three months of guarding the US embassy in Baghdad,” Nader tells TIME.

“If Congress would give us another 20 people and $20 million, we could do a lot more for the American public to save lives,” Friedman says.

Increased authority also ranks high on the list of the changes safety advocates say NHTSA needs. Currently, the agency can fine automakers a maximum of $35 million for safety violations, a pittance for an industry that brings in billions each year. Friedman, along with President Obama and transportation secretary Anthony Foxx, wants to raise the cap to $300 million.

But changes to funding or regulatory authority would require Congress to act. A number of legislative proposals have been introduced, but it remains unclear whether this opportunity, as good as it may be, can overcome gridlock.

Friedman says his agency will do its best to improve, even if it doesn’t receive help from Capitol Hill. “If Congress fails to act, we’re a scrappy organization. We punch above our weight,” he says. “We’ll do everything with the resources we can.”

Nader, along with others, says he is skeptical, but ultimately, external pressures may make the question of whether NHTSA officials want to change irrelevant.

“I think the agency will change,” says Joan Claybrook, who ran the agency during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. “If it doesn’t they’re in trouble.”

TIME Autos

More Than 200,000 GM Cars Have Been Recalled for a Brake Defect

Los Angeles Auto Show Previews Latest Car Models
The Cadillac 2013 XTS is unveiled during the LA Auto Show on November 16, 2011 in Los Angeles. Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images

The problem has been reported in the 2013-2015 Cadillac XTS and the 2014-2015 Chevrolet Impala

The latest in a series of recalls from General Motors was announced over the weekend, with hundreds of thousands of cars being pulled off the roads due to defective parking brakes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that brake-indicator lights in at least two GM models failed to illuminate when the brake was not retracted completely, according to Reuters.

“Brake pads that remain partially engaged with the rotors may cause excessive brake heat that may result in a fire,” NHTSA said.

The problem has been reported in the 2013-2015 Cadillac XTS and the 2014-2015 Chevrolet Impala, and General Motors said 221,558 vehicles have been recalled so far.

“GM is not aware of any crashes, injuries or fatalities as a result of this condition,” the company said.

General Motors has already recalled more than 15 million cars this year, because of a problem with ignition switches that has resulted in at least 19 deaths.

[Reuters]

TIME Automobiles

GM Lawyer Increases Death Toll From Recalled Cars

General Motors CEO Mary Barra Testifies Before Senate Committee About GM's Recalls
Attorney Kenneth Feinberg testifies during a hearing before the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee July 17, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The subcommittee held hearing on "Examining Accountability and Corporate Culture in Wake of the GM Recalls." Alex Wong—Getty Images

The figure has now been raised to 19 and is expected to go even higher

A lawyer for General Motors has raised the number of eligible compensation claims for deaths related to defective ignition switches in millions of recalled cars.

The death toll from the recalled cars is 19, not 13, as GM had originally indicated. That’s according to an assessment released Monday by GM lawyer Kenneth R. Feinberg, who manages a compensation program for accident victims and surviving families.

The Detroit-based automaker in February recalled more than 2 million of its cars after it acknowledged that switches in the vehicles were prone to shifting, cutting the engine’s power and deactivating airbags and other safety systems. The company had previously said it believed that the faulty switches had led to 13 deaths.

GM has given Feinberg “complete and sole discretion over all compensation awards,” and has waived its right to disagree with his numbers, the company has said. GM said on Monday that it accepts the new, higher assessment of the death toll, Bloomberg reports.

“Ken Feinberg and his team will independently determine the final number of eligible individuals,” a spokesman for GM told Bloomberg. “What is most important is that we are doing the right thing for those who lost loved ones and for those who suffered physical injury.”

GM has so far received 125 death claims, and it is not known how many of those claims might be found eligible in the coming weeks or months. The auto giant is expected to receive even more claims before its Dec. 31 deadline.

GM has also received 58 claims for serious injuries, including brain damage, pervasive burns, double amputation, paraplegia and quadriplegia. Four of those claims have been deemed eligible. Another 262 claims have been received for lesser injuries that required hospitalization or outpatient treatment, eight of which have been accepted.

GM has said its compensation program has no cap and that it will pay any sum that Feinberg “deems appropriate in each and every individual case.” In July, it said it had allocated between $400 million and $600 million for the fund, though it has not yet said how much each individual claim so far approved is worth.

TIME Companies

GM to Offer Car That Will Almost Drive Itself

Talking cars are no longer a thing of the future

(DETROIT) — General Motors says that in two years it will offer cars that talk to each other and can almost drive themselves at freeway speeds.

The company announced Sunday that the semi-autonomous freeway system called “Super Cruise” will be an option on a new Cadillac that goes on sale in the summer of 2016. The company also plans to put vehicle-to-vehicle transmitters and receivers on all Cadillac CTS models during the same time frame.

The announcements were made at the start of an intelligent vehicle conference in Detroit.

GM CEO Mary Barra says the system would allow you to drive long distances with the car doing much of the work. But GM says it’s working on a system to make sure that drivers still pay attention.

TIME Autos

GM Will Make Cars With Motion Sensors to Keep Your Eyes on the Road

Detroit Exteriors And Landmarks
A general view of the Cadillac showroom in the General Motors Renaissance Center on August 14, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. Paul Marotta—Getty Images

Eye and head tracking sensors will make it harder to text while driving

General Motors is reportedly installing sensors in its next generation of cars that will detect drivers’ eye and head motions and alert drivers to prolonged moments of distraction.

The Financial Times, citing unnamed sources, reports that GM’s safety parts supplier, Takata, has signed a deal with Seeing Machines to purchase upwards of 500,000 tracking devices that use cameras to detect subtle signs of distraction, such as the rotation of the head or frequency of blinks.

GM declined to comment on the deal, but people with knowledge of the plan confirmed to the Financial Times that the devices would be used to keep drivers’ attention on the road.

[FT]

MONEY Autos

WATCH: Americans Still Love Buying SUVs

GM lost billions of dollars due to recalled vehicles, but sales are actually up thanks largely to SUVs.

TIME auto industry

GM Recalls Another 7.6 Million Vehicles

Six recalls announced on Monday greatly expand total number of recalled vehicles to over 25 million

GM announced Monday that there will be six more safety recalls involving 7.6 million vehicles made from 1997 to 2014.

Among the recalled vehicles, GM said it is aware of seven crashes, eight injuries and three fatalities. “We undertook what I believe is the most comprehensive safety review in the history of our company because nothing is more important than the safety of our customers,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement on the company’s website. “Our customers deserve more than we delivered in these vehicles.”

“We have worked aggressively to identify and address the major outstanding issues that could impact the safety of our customers,” Barra said. “If any other issues come to our attention, we will act appropriately and without hesitation.”

The latest recall brings the number of vehicles affected to over 25 million, USA Today reports. GM expects to set aside $1.2 billion in the second quarter for the cost of recall-related repairs, which includes $700 million already announced.

TIME career

Matt Lauer Asked Mary Barra If She Can Be a Good Mom and Run GM

GM CEO Mary Barra Testifies At House Hearing On Ignition Switch Recall
General Motors CEO Mary Barra testifies during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on June 18, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson--Getty Images) Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Just months after Sen. Barbara Boxer said she was disappointed in Barra "woman to woman."

In an exclusive TODAY show interview with Mary Barra, Matt Lauer asked the General Motors CEO if it was possible for her to run a major automaker and be a good mom at the same time.

Here’s a transcript of that part of the interview:

LAUER: You’re a mom, I mentioned, two kids. You said in an interview not long ago that your kids told you they’re going to hold you accountable for one job and that is being a mom.

BARRA: Correct. (smiling.)

LAUER: Given the pressures of this job at General Motors, can you do both well?

BARRA: You know, I think I can. I have a great team, we’re on the right path…I have a wonderful family, a supportive husband and I’m pretty proud of the way my kids are supporting me in this.

Lauer also asked her about the speculation that despite her 30 years of experience at the company, she may have gotten the job because of the desire to have a maternal figure guide the company through a rocky time.

LAUER: I want to tread lightly here. You’ve heard this, you heard it in Congress. You got this job because you’re hugely qualified, 30 years in this company a variety of different jobs. But some people are speculating that you also got this job because as a woman and as a mom because people within General Motors knew this company was in for a very tough time and as a woman and a mom you could present a softer image and softer face for this company as it goes through this horrible episode. Does it make sense or does it make you bristle?

BARRA: Well it’s absolutely not true. I believe I was selected for this job based on my qualifications. We dealt with this issue — when the senior leadership of this company knew about this issue, we dealt with this issue.

This interrogation comes just a few months after Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told Barra during her Senate questioning that “woman to woman, I’m disappointed.”

How’s this for a question: Can Matt Lauer be a good dad and host the Today Show? Let’s discuss.

TIME Autos

General Motors Tells Dealers to Halt Sales of Chevy Cruzes

Due to an airbag issue, 2013 and 2014 models of the Chevy Cruze are being held at dealerships in North America

Chevrolet Cruze models from the last two years have been ordered off dealer lots by General Motors, due to a potential issue with the car’s airbags.

Company spokesmen Jim Cain said in a statement that some vehicles from 2013 and 2014 “may be equipped with a suspect driver’s airbag inflator module that may have been assembled with an incorrect part,” USA Today reports.

The Detroit-based motor company has recalled an unprecedented number of vehicles so far this year. This latest glitch is unrelated to another recall issued earlier this week for the embattled car maker’s Takata airbags, which expel debris when released.

USA Today reports it’s also the second order to stop selling Cruzes issued in 2014. In March, an issue with a front axle shaft led to a stop-sale order and later the recall of over 150,000 cars.

Automotive News broke the story after it obtained a copy of the stop-delivery notice for the Cruze model on Wednesday. The notice had been sent to dealers a day prior.

[USA Today]

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