Auto Outlook: Honda Accord, GM bailout, Ford recalls

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer
Toyota Motors "FCV concept" is seen on display during press day at 43th Tokyo Motor Show 2013 in Tokyo, Japan, on November 20, 2013. UPI/Keizo Mori
Toyota Motors "FCV concept" is seen on display during press day at 43th Tokyo Motor Show 2013 in Tokyo, Japan, on November 20, 2013. UPI/Keizo Mori | License Photo

The contenders were the redesigned Mazda3 sedan, new Toyota Corolla, Audi A6 TDI turbodiesel, BMW 328d (diesel) and Honda Accord.

And the winner of the 2014 Green Car of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show is the Accord.


No domestic vehicles made the final cut for the award won by the Ford Fusion for 2013 and Honda's Civic natural gas model in 2012.

The Accord comes with either a conventional four-cylinder gasoline engine, a V-6, a gas-electric hybrid and a plug-in hybrid with a range of 115 miles per gallon equivalent. The V-6, the most powerful Accord is EPA-rated at 34 mpg.

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The plug-in hybrid model is rated at 46 mpg highway and 47 mpg in the city.

"With its efficient internal combustion, hybrid and plug-in choices, the 2014 Honda Accord delivers exactly what consumers are looking for today," said Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal. "It all comes together this year for the Accord in ways that speak to significant environmental performance built into a mainstream, volume model that's a joy to drive."


Recalls for Ford Escape SUVs and Lincoln MKZ hybrids

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Ford Motor Co. is recalling more than 161,000 2013 Ford Escape crossover SUVs worldwide because their engines may overheat and catch fire.

The latest recalls come after several reports of fires involving Escapes with 1.6-liter engines in the United States and Canada. Ford says the engine head may crack causing oil leaks. In another recall -- involving 9,468 2013 Escapes in the United States and 11,821 worldwide -- potential oil and fuel leaks could cause an engine fire.

Thirteen engine compartment fires have been reported, but no injuries.

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Owners of the recalled sport-utes should receive letters in January telling them to schedule service at a dealer. The fix adds more engine shielding and tweaks the cooling and control systems.

Ford said the automaker "has received warranty reports of fuel odor and leaks related to engine compartment fuel lines on 2013 model year Ford Escape vehicles that were previously fixed" under an earlier recall.

Ford said some of the engine compartment fuel lines may have been installed incorrectly in that recall campaign.

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Ford recalled 89,000 Escapes and Fusion sedans in November 2012 in its third recall for fire risks. The hot-selling Escape went on sale in 2012.


Separately, Lincoln is recalling 7,329 MKZ Hybrids because the cars can shift out of park without the driver first applying the brakes.

Ford blamed the problems on a manufacturing defect with the transmission range sensors but says it has received no reports of accidents or injuries because of the issue.

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The recall covers 2013 and 2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrids built at the Hermosillo, Mexico, Assembly Plant from April 26, 2012, to Sept. 24, 2013.

Auto bailout to end months early

By the end of December, the U.S Treasury should be out of the auto business -- at least as a company owner.

Treasury said it will hold no shares in General Motors Co. by year's end, four months earlier than announced, after holding more than 60 percent of GM stock after its bankruptcy. U.S. taxpayers loaned GM a total of $49.5 billion under the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2007 and 2008.

Former President George W. Bush started the rescue loans rolling and the Obama administration completed the bailout credited with saving hundreds of thousands of good-paying manufacturing and other auto-related jobs.

Treasury has recovered $38.4 billion so far and could recoup more than $1.2 billion on its remaining 21.1 million GM shares, leaving the taxpayers on the hook for about $10 billion.


"It [the bailout] was absolutely necessary that it happened," David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, told the Detroit Free Press. "The cost of it -- some complain about the cost -- it was very small compared to the impact had we gone into a national depression."

The Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said since 2010 GM has spent $8.8 billion at 34 operations in the United States creating or saving more than 25,000 jobs. GM has been profitable since 2010 after killing its Saturn, Hummer, Pontiac and Saab brands.

The Detroit automaker had 92,000 employees in 2008 and the leaner restructured company now has about 85,500, The Detroit News said.

"Treasury's investment in the American auto industry was part of President Obama's broader response to the financial crisis, and it helped save more than 1 million jobs," Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary Tim Bowler said in a statement. "Had we not acted to support the automotive industry, the cost to the country would have been substantial -- in terms of lost jobs, lost tax revenue, reduced economic production and other consequences. Our actions have enabled the industry to rebound."


The government's equity exit is good news for both stockholders and executives. GM gets to shed the nickname "Government Motors," shareholders will be able to collect dividends on common stock and top executives will no long be subject to government restrictions on their pay.

GM Wednesday said it would convert about 100 million shares of Series B convertible junior preferred stock into common stock on Dec. 1. Each preferred share will convert to 1.2736 common shares, GM said

NHTSA supports self-driving vehicles

The nation's vehicle safety regulators support efforts by automakers to develop autonomous vehicles, but concede it will be years before fully self-driving cars are on U.S. roadways in numbers.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head David Strickland told Congress last month that for now self-driving cars will only be permitted on public roads for testing.

NHTSA has encouraged automakers to develop technologies to detect impending collisions and to steer a wandering vehicle back into its traffic lane. But NHTSA chief counsel Kevin Vincent told The Wall Street Journal it's premature "for anybody involved in the industry to be jumping ahead to fully autonomous cars."

Japan's Nissan and Germany's Daimler AG both have announced plans to sell self-driving vehicles by 2020.


Hydrogen fuel-cell cars will be on U.S. road before then if Hyundai, Toyota and Honda have their way.

The three Asian automakers hope to be selling fuel-cell vehicles in the United States by 2015, and Hyundai unveiled a hydrogen-powered Tucson crossover utility vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The fuel-cell 2014 model SUV will be offered for lease for 36 months in southern California only with the South Korean automaker picking up fuel and maintenance costs.

It will cost $499 a month plus a $3,000 down payment to lease a fuel-cell Tucson.

Honda hopes to have a consumer version of its fuel-cell powered FCEV concept ready for showrooms in 2015, the same timetable shared by rival Toyota.

A fuel-cell stack converts hydrogen gas and oxygen into electricity to power an electric motor with only heat and water as by-products.

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