Auto Outlook: Recalls, electric cars and sales, oh my

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer  |  April 7, 2013 at 5:30 AM
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Hyundai and Kia, which admitted inflating gas mileage claims, now have a huge recall on their hands.

The Korean automakers announced the recall of more than 1.9 million vehicles in the United States for electrical and airbag problems. There are three separate recalls involving 13 models, many that share the same parts and components.

Hyundai Motor Co. recalled 1.06 million vehicles for electrical issues. Kia is recalling 623,000 more vehicles for the same issues.

The "condition could potentially result in intermittent operation of the push-button start feature, intermittent ability to remove the vehicle's shifter from the park position, illumination of the "ESC" [Electronic Stability Control] indicator lamp in the instrument cluster, intermittent interference with operation of the cruise control feature, or intermittent operation of the stop lamps," Hyundai said in a statement.

Hyundai models affected by the recall include the 2007-09 Accent, 2007-10 Elantra, 2010-11 Genesis Coupe, 2007-11 Santa Fe SUV, 2011 Sonata sedan, 2008-09 Tucson and 2008-09 Veracruz SUV.

Kia recalled the 2007-10 Rondo, 2007 Sedona, 2011 Optima, 2007-11 Sorento SUV, 2010-11 Soul and 2007-10 Sportage vehicles.

Hyundai separately announced the recall of some 190,000 2011-13 Elantra compacts for possible problems with their air bags.

In September, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration upgraded its investigation of the air bag issue.

Hyundai said during deployment of a side curtain airbag, a support bracket attached to the headliner could become displaced resulting in a risk of injury to a vehicle occupant during a side impact collision. One Elantra driver suffered a laceration to the left ear when a bracket dislodged when a side curtain airbag deployed.

Hyundai will install industrial-strength adhesive strips to headliners of some 2011-13 Elantras to secure the bracket to the headliner.

When Hyundai-Kia admitted its fuel economy results were overstated, they apologized and agreed to reimburse owners for their extra fuel costs.

In other recent recalls, Japanese automaker Subaru of America recalled more than 47,000 2010-13 Legacy and Outback vehicles, 2012-13 Impreza and 2013 Crosstrek vehicles because of an electrical problem that could cause their engines to start unexpectedly.

The vehicles all have automatic or CVT transmissions and remote starting systems. Subaru said if the key fob that operates the automatic starting system is dropped the fob may continue to transmit a start signal and the engine may run for up to 15 minutes or continue to start until the vehicle runs out of fuel.

Subaru, a unit of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., will replace the remote-starter fobs at no cost to the owners.

General Motors is recalling 144 2013 Buick Encore crossover SUVs with heated steering wheels that were not properly installed.

Buick says the steering wheel fasteners may have not been properly installed and the wheel could detach from the steering column. The Encore's were all assembled in South Korea Dec. 9-28.

"All 59 customers who have taken Encore deliveries have been contacted by telephone and their vehicles are being inspected," GM spokesman Alan Adler told The Detroit News. "The 85 unsold vehicles are being inspected at dealerships and none have been found to have the issue."

Electric cars

A red Nissan Leaf glided by me on a busy street. It was like sighting a rare bird in early spring.

Sales of the Leaf have been slow, but lately things are looking up for the bug-like all-electric subcompact. Nissan says the EV posted its best-single monthly sales in March -- 2,236 vehicles -- thanks at least in part to a reduction in the base price for the Tennessee-made Leaf to $28,800.

March was one of the few times Leaf sales topped those of GM's Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, which totaled 1,478 vehicles. Volt sales were down 35.4 percent compared to March of last year, but were 8.4 percent higher for the first quarter of 2013 compared to the same three months of 2012. Chevy sold 4,244 Volts from January through March.

Nissan sold 3,539 Leafs in the first quarter and Toyota sold 2,353 Prius gas-electric hybrids, The Detroit News said.

In other electric car news, California's Tesla Motors Inc. announced it would no longer produce the short-range version of its Model S sedan with a 40 kW hour battery.

Tesla sold 4,700 of the higher-end Model S, with a 60 kW battery, through March, more than the Leaf, Volt and Prius. Dropping the Model S with the smallest battery means the least expensive Tesla sedan will cost about $62,400 after a $7,500 federal tax credit.

Only about 4 percent of Tesla customers chose the 40 kW battery, which could power the car for about 160 miles per charge. The larger battery gives the sedan a range of 230 miles on a single charge and an even larger and more expensive 85 kW battery boosts the range to as much as 300 miles per charge.

"Customers are voting with their wallet that they want a car that gives them the freedom to travel long distances when needed," Tesla said in a release.

In a bid to boost interest in its electric car, Tesla announced a 36-month buyback deal with US Bank and Wells Fargo that would allow motorists to essentially lease a mid-range Model S for around $500 a month by taking advantage of federal and state tax credits.

However, The Washington Post says Tesla makes some fuzzy assumptions in calculating what it calls the "true cost of ownership" and that the actual cost of leasing a Model S would run around $1,200 a month.

Separately, Revived Detroit Electric unveiled an all-electric, carbon fiber and aluminum sports car called the SP:01. The limited edition two-seat, rear-wheel drive vehicle has a top speed of 155 mph and a pricetag of $135,000.

Company founder and chief executive officer Albert Lam told The Detroit News the SP:01 doesn't have radio but has an app that allows the driver to use a smartphone open the doors, charge the car and link as an infotainment system.

U.S. light vehicle sales still hot

U.S. automakers had their best March in nearly six years, selling more than 1.45 million vehicles, about 5 percent more than last March.

General Motors Co. sold 245,000 vehicles and Ford sold 236,160, both up 6 percent over the same month last year. Sales of Ford F-Series pickups totaled 67,513 in March, 6 percent higher than March a year earlier.

Chrysler Group sold 171,606 vehicles, a 5 percent increase from last March. Ram truck sales jumped 25 percent.

"Chrysler Group has now achieved year-over-year sales gains in every month for the past three years," Chrysler's U.S. sales head Reid Bigland said in a statement. "Furthermore, in spite of limited inventory last month on some of our most popular models, we also managed to record our strongest monthly sales since 2007."

Toyota sold 205,342 vehicles last month, a 1 percent increase over March 2012. Honda sales (136,038) rose 7.1 percent, Volkswagen (37,704) gained 3 percent, Nissan (137,726) 1 percent while Hyundai sales slipped 2 percent in the month.

Hyundai sold 68,306 vehicles in March for its second-best sales month since it started selling cars in the United States in the 1980s.

Autodata Corp. estimated automakers will sell about 15.27 million light vehicles in the United States in 2013, compared to 14.14 million in 2012, with the cost of an average new vehicle increasing 1.1 percent in March to $31,087.

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