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Auto Outlook: Growing pains, GM eAssist hybrids recalled

  |   May 12, 2013 at 5:30 AM
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With any technology there's a learning curve and hybrids are no different.

Toyota's gas-electric Hybrid Synergy Drive, which powers several models of Prius, has been around for a decade, but other hybrid drivetrains are much newer and there are kinks to be worked out.

General Motors recalled 38,197 new Chevrolet and Buick hybrids to fix control module problems that could cause engine stalling and trunk fires on 2012-13 Buick LaCrosse and Regal and 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco models with eAssist.

EAssist is a mild hybrid system that stops and restarts the engine to save fuel.

GM said circuit boards in the trunk potentially can overheat, causing the car's 12-volt battery to drain. The Los Angeles Times said the problem is not related to the vehicle's rechargeable lithium-ion battery that powers the eAssist system.

The issue usually surfaces before the vehicle has gone its first 1,000 miles.

GM halted production of eAssist cars last fall to fix the problem, which only affects vehicles built before December.

A trunk fire in March led to the recall. GM advises owners of eAssist vehicles to contact a dealer if they notice any warning light illuminated.

"If these warnings are ignored, eventually the engine may stall and or the vehicle may not start. In addition, there may be a burning or melting odor, smoke and possibly a fire in the trunk," the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a posting on its website.


U.S. roadway deaths up 5.3 percent.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates vehicle safety standards, says U.S. traffic deaths jumped 5.3 percent last year, to 34,080.

That's the highest number of traffic fatalities since 2008 and traffic fatalities remain the No. 1 cause of death for Americans ages 5-33.

NHTSA said traffic deaths were up during all four quarters of last year, rising to 1.16 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. Road deaths had declined every year since 2005, when 43,510 were killed and remain down 26 percent from seven years ago.

There were 32,367 U.S. traffic deaths in 2011, a 60-year low.

"While the newest data show an increase in 2012 traffic fatalities, the historic downward trend over the past several year -- 2011 data showed deaths at a 60-year low -- means any comparison will be to an unprecedented low baseline figure," a NHTSA spokeswoman said.

"The agency is continuing to collect information on the fatal traffic crashes that occurred during 2012 and is analyzing the data to determine where the increases may have occurred."

Separately, NHTSA is seeking public comment on six areas of vehicle safety, including better safety for rear seat occupants, improving crash safety information, adding new rules to protect pedestrians, a new "family star" safety rating, comparative data on the safety of vehicles in a front-end crash and evaluating technologies to prevent crashes.

The public comment period on proposals to change the crash-testing program ends July 5th.


U.S. Treasury selling more GM shares

The U.S. Treasury is moving full-speed ahead with its plan to divest government holdings in General Motors Co. by next March.

Treasury filed a new plan to sell its remaining 241.7 GM shares when the stock was trading at nearly two-year high of 32.10 per share. GM shares closed at $31.42 on Friday.

Treasury, which acquired 60.8 percent of GM as part of a $49.5 billion bailout in 2009, sold nearly 20 percent of its remaining shares in the first quarter and currently has a 16.4 percent stake in the Detroit automaker.

The government has recouped $30.4 billion and at current share prices would lose about $11 billion on the bailout.

"Earlier this year, Treasury launched an effort to sell its remaining shares in GM Common stock. We are pleased with the progress to date and will continue exiting this investment in accordance with our previously announced plan and timetable, and in a manner that maximizes returns for taxpayers," Assistant Treasury Secretary for Financial Stability Tim Massad said.


'Used' now means 'Like New'

Am I the only one who hates the term "pre-owned?"

Used cars, use to be just that -- used cars. But now dealers and manufacturers are expanding warranty coverage to give some meaning to the word "pre-owned."

General Motors is offering bumper-to-bumper warranty coverage on certified pre-owned Cadillac vehicles to extend the original factory warranty of four years or 50,000 miles to six years or 70,000 miles.

For the second owners of those Caddies that's significant. Although many luxury automakers like Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and BMW, have warranties extending to 100,000 miles, some don't transfer coverage to the second owner purchasing a reconditioned vehicle.

Buy a certified pre-owned Cadillac and you'll get free 24-hour road service like the original owner did, free transportation for repairs covered under the warranty and 90-days of OnStar and SiriusXM satellite radio.

What the program says is that GM has confidence in the mechanical prowess of Cadillac and it's willing to put some money into backing the product's resale value to bring in buyers who might not otherwise be able to afford a luxury car.

Owners of 2011 and newer Caddies can also purchase Cadillac's Premium Car Maintenance package for $399, which covers oil changes, air and cabin filters, tire rotation and other routine maintenance.

"For a brand like Cadillac, who has made a very conscious effort to improve its image, its vehicles ... this is the next logical step for them to beef up what they're doing on the (certified pre-owned side)," Jessica Caldwell, Edmund.com's director of pricing and industry analysis for automotive research, told The Detroit News.

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