The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday it is investigating reports of three major fires in Jeep Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicles.
The agency said a preliminary investigation into 146,000 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokees was prompted by reports from consumers the vehicle headliner near the passenger side sun visor had caught fire, The Detroit News reported.
"The customers reported a burning odor and visible smoke coming from the headliner while the vehicle was being driven," NHTSA said. "This was followed by flames from the headliner itself."
The agency said vehicle operators opened windows to try to clear the smoke, but that only provided more oxygen and the fires intensified. All three fires burned after the engines were shut off, and all three were put out with a fire extinguisher.
In one case, a sunroof shattered and in another, flames spread to the passenger seat when the sun visor fell onto the seat.
Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne said company "engineers are investigating this concern while also fully supporting the Preliminary Evaluation opened by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration."
"The Jeep Grand Cherokee is among the safest vehicles on the road today," Mayne said. "It also is the most awarded SUV ever."
Chrysler said in June it would recall 1.56 million 1992-98 Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Libertys, the newspaper said.
Fiat, Chrysler said closer to China production deal
Fiat and Chrysler may be set to announce a joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile Group to produce Jeep sport utility vehicles, Chinese media reports indicate.
Citing a report in Chinese Business News, the Detroit Free Press said an agreement might come in the next few months. Fiat and Chrysler said in January they had agreed on the framework of a deal with Guangzhou to build SUVs in China.
Such a venture would result in the first overseas production of Jeeps, at a time when Chrysler and Fiat are looking to expand the brand's profile globally, the Free Press said.
China is the world's largest automotive market. A joint venture between the U.S.-Italian automaker and Guangzhou would require approval of the Beijing government, the report said.
Mike Manley, chief executive officer of Jeep and chief operating officer of the Asia Pacific region for Fiat and Chrysler, said last spring at the Shanghai Auto Show U.S. manufacturing and employment would not be hurt by production of Jeeps in China, the Free Press reported.
"For us to continue the growth of the Jeep brand and therefore be successful because of that, you need to produce locally for the local market," Manley said.
Fiat produces the Viaggio compact sedan in China, in a joint venture with Guangzhou.
Neither Fiat nor Chrysler would comment on the report.
Georgia is most expensive state for operating a vehicle
A consumer financial services company in North Palm Beach, Fla., says its first survey of the cost of driving in all 50 U.S. states found Oregon is least expensive.
Bankrate Inc. measured costs associated with operating a motor vehicle -- including repairs, taxes, fees, gasoline and insurance -- and found Georgia is the most expensive state in which to operate a car.
The Car Cost Index, posted on bankrate.com, found the annual cost of operating a motor vehicle in Oregon was $3,201, compared to $4,233 in Georgia.
Indiana ($2,698), Montana ($2,660), South Dakota ($2,343) and Alaska ($2,227) join Oregon as the five least-expensive states for operating a car, while California ($3,966), Wyoming ($3,938), Rhode Island ($3,913) and Nevada ($3,886) join Georgia as most costly.
The national average was $3,201.
The survey information could be helpful to the growing number of U.S. managers relocating for new jobs -- as outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said14 percent of managers and executives moved to a new job in the first half of 2013, more than twice the 6.7 percent from the same two quarters of 2012.
Bankrate said it used median insurance premiums provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, repair costs from CarMD.com; and taxes and fees from Kelley Blue Book. Estimates of spending on gasoline were based on analysis of government statistics and 2012 prices from GasBuddy.com using average pump prices.
Survey: Millennials go for style, innovation in car
U.S. consumers ages 16 to 32 are more open than older consumers to buying imported automobiles, an online survey indicated.
The survey -- conducted in January by Harris Interactive for the car shopping website AutoTrader.com -- found so-called millennials are putting off getting driver's licenses, and when they did, decided to purchase a vehicle, about 50 percent said they want "a car that reflects their personality" and nearly 40 percent said their car should "reflect their accomplishments," The Detroit News reported.
AutoTrader.com released the survey -- "The Next Generation Car Buyer" -- Friday at the Automotive Press Association meeting in Detroit.
Isabelle Helms, senior director of research and marketing analytics for AutoTrader.com, said in a statement it's "essential to have a deep understanding of [millennials] wants and needs" because they represent the future of auto sales.
More than 70 percent of those ages 16 to 24 say they require so-called infotainment features in cars.
The survey of 1,657 millennials, 993 generation X-ers and 1,062 baby boomers found younger buyers -- while partial to style and innovation -- are most likely to buy mainstream brands. Millennials rate BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Audi as the most stylish brands, and regard BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Honda and Ford as the most innovative.
Rick Wainschel, vice president of automotive insights for AutoTrader.com, said those vehicles may be too expensive for millennials but "the brand-fit metric is a good way to look at where the market is headed.
"Lower price-point vehicles like the Mercedes CLA, BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 are making luxury cars more attainable for millennials earlier in life, which could help these brands establish long-term consideration and loyalty."
The report did not provide survey methodology details.
Introducing ... the folding car
South Korean researchers have come up with a micro electric car -- the Armadillo-T -- that can be folded so it uses less space when parked.
The car is 110 inches long but can be folded to 65 inches, researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daedeok Innopolis, Daejeon, said Tuesday when they introduced the prototype.
To fold the car, the operator first gets out of the vehicle and then uses a smartphone to issue a command for the rear of the vehicle to fold up and over the front part, The Wall Street Journal reported. Once the folding is complete, smartphone commands maneuver the 900-pound car into place.
The cost of the car -- for now anyway -- is estimated at $895 million to $1.3 billion, but Professor Suh In-Soo of the KAIST Graduate School for Green Transportation said the vehicle won't be available commercially for at least three to five years.
"It will be sold in a niche market or a new market. Demand will start from places like golf resorts or amusement parks, as large carmakers tend to wait until their own market becomes mature first," he said.
"Our role is to attract society's attention to environment-friendly vehicles, not commercialization."
Suh said he expects the Armadillo-T will provide an alternative for urban consumers who "shift their preferences from bulky, petro-engine cars to smaller and lighter electric cars."