Auto Outlook: Chicago Auto Show, Tesla's cross country trek

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer
Charging ports of the 2015 Kia Soul EV, Kia's first all-electric, zero emission vehicle, unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show on Feb. 6, 2014. The Soul EV goes on sale in California and Oregon later this year. UPI
Charging ports of the 2015 Kia Soul EV, Kia's first all-electric, zero emission vehicle, unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show on Feb. 6, 2014. The Soul EV goes on sale in California and Oregon later this year. UPI

The Chicago Auto Show is known as a "consumers" show and this year is a good time to be in the market for a new vehicle.

Potential buyers, or anyone who just wants to get out of the cold to kick some tires, will find an astounding array of cars and trucks at the McCormick Place exposition center made better by state-of-the art technology, tough competition and historically low interest rates.


The number of high-mileage, fuel efficient vehicles produced has increased more than four-fold since 2006.

Automakers sold 15.6 million vehicles in the United States in 2013. Joe Hendricks, Ford's president of the Americas, says the Dearborn, Mich., automaker expects 16 million vehicles will be purchased domestically in 2014.

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Hendricks said Ford's $400 million investment in its Torrance Avenue Assembly facility and Chicago Stamping Plant a decade ago is paying off in sales of Ford Explorers, Taurus sedans and Lincoln MKSes and 4,000 good-paying jobs.


Ford is introducing 23 new or refreshed vehicles globally this year, 16 models in the United States, including the 2015 Lincoln Navigator and the 50th anniversary 2014 Ford Mustang.

The first Mustang sold, a baby blue 1964 1/2 convertible purchased by then 22-year-old school teacher Gail Brown for $3,347.50 in 1965 will be on display. Now 71, and a mother of four grown children, Gail Wise and husband Tom restored the classic car which spent 27 years in their garage. The 260-horsepower V-8 Mustang has just 68,000 miles on the odometer.

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Hendricks said Ford is currently the largest exporter of vehicles made in America and called on the Obama administration to address currency manipulation in a proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. He said three Japanese automakers have a $2,000 per car advantage in the marketplace because of Japan's economic policies keeping the value of the yen low.

"The real elephant in the room right now is currency manipulation, and we need to make sure that is not ignored, Hendricks said in a speech Thursday to the Economic Club of Chicago. "It represents the major trade barrier of the 21st Century -- and it must be addressed in any future U.S. trade agreements.


"Countries like Japan have historically manipulated their currencies in order to gain unfair advantages in the global marketplace and protect their home markets."

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Hendricks said 94 percent of all vehicles sold in Japan are made in Japan because tariffs and currency manipulation make foreign vehicles more expensive.

U.S. car companies aligned capacity with demand during the Great Recession, he said, but Japanese companies have not done that and have to sell 6 million units a year overseas. The Trans-Pacific Partnership has "no net benefits for us if it doesn't directly address currency manipulation. We believe markets should be open like air," Hendricks said.

Toyota, which manufactures in the United States, exported a record 130,000 U.S.-built vehicles last year to 32 countries, an increase of 5 percent, said Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales USA at a Midwest Automotive Media Association breakfast.

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Toyota exports U.S.-assembled Camry and Avalon cars to Asia and the Middle East, and plans to sell Highlander SUVs built in Indiana in Russia. The automaker sold 9.98 million new vehicles in 2013 and its U.S. sales rose 6.7 percent with a 14.3 percent market share. Toyota projects global profits around $18.8 billion, better than Ford, GM and the Chrysler division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV combined.


The 106th edition of the Chicago Auto Show opened Saturday for a 10-day run.

My mother, the car

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If cars and trucks talked to each other, what would they say?

The question is not Disney movie stuff and it's not science fiction.

The government wants vehicles to skip the pleasantries and wirelessly exchange basic data like speed, direction and position as often as 10 times per second.

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The Transportation Department last week began taking baby steps toward mandating vehicle-to-vehicle [V2V] technology expects say could reduce road accidents by 80 percent in the next decade potentially saving thousands from death or injury.

The V2V system under discussion would allow vehicles to communicate within about 300 yards -- three football fields -- of each other, and would warn the driver via a display screen, sounds or vibrating steering wheel or seat, to take action to avoid a crash.

"V2V crash avoidance technology has game-changing potential to significantly reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths on our nation's roads," David Friedman, acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in a release. "Decades from now, it's likely we'll look back at this time period as one in which the historical arc of transportation safety considerably changed for the better, similar to the introduction of seat belts, airbags and electronic stability control technology."


The Transportation Department wrapped up a pilot year-long, $25 million "model deployment" of 3,000 vehicles in Ann Arbor. Mich., in August to determine whether connected cars can avoid road crashes. Analysis of more than 12 billion real-world messages sent from vehicle-to-vehicle during the study will be released in a few weeks.

Technology like adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and automated braking that use onboard sensors, sonar, radar and lasers already exists but yet to be resolved are issues involving privacy -- just what a "talking" vehicle should be reporting -- and protection from computer hacking.

As envisioned, V2V communications would not track the GPS location of vehicles or record and exchange personal information. It merely contains basic safety data like speed and road conditions, NHTSA said.

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Current safety applications, like blind spot monitoring, can warn the driver of the danger of an imminent collision but do not take over to prevent one. However, some systems on high end vehicles do activate the brakes or turn the steering wheel to avoid a collision.

NHTSA technology experts said V2V systems will give drivers "360-degree situational awareness to address crash situations -- including those, for example, in which a driver needs to decide if it is safe to pass on a two-lane road, make a left turn across the path of oncoming traffic, or in which a vehicle approaching at an intersection appears to be on a collision course."


"By helping drivers avoid crashes, this technology will play a key role in improving the way people get where they need to go while ensuring that the U.S. remains the leader in the global automotive industry," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

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Musk: Tesla cross country rally a 'milestone'

Sometime in the near future the date Feb. 3, 2014, may have special significance.

Last Monday two Tesla Model S sedans completed a 3,464.5 mile rally from Los Angeles to New York using only Tesla quick charge stations to recharge their batteries.

The time was 76 1/2 hours -- a record for an electric vehicle traveling coast-to-coast -- and perhaps more significant, the route was across the northern United States in the middle of a harsh winter.

"After three days of enduring blizzards, a blinding sand storm, freezing temperatures and driving rain, the Cross County Rally came to its conclusion on a surprisingly mild New York morning," a Tesla writer posted on the company's blog.

The rally was done by 15 sleep-deprived drivers who were greeted by Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk at the finish line.

Other than the $71,000 cost of each of the two Model S sedans -- called Thunder and Lightning -- the electricity was provided free of charge at the company's solar-powered supercharger stations. Tesla currently operates more than 85 supercharger stations nationwide, that can give the Model S a 50 percent charge in as little as 20 minutes.


Musk, the billionaire founder of the private aerospace firm Space X, called the trip a milestone.

The cars did "very well," Musk said during an interview on "CBS This Morning."

"They completed the journey despite multiple road closures and blizzards and, in some cases, traversing 12 inches of snow. The gasoline support van ... broke down, but otherwise, it was great," he said.

Musk said superchargers are in about 80 percent of the country, meaning a Tesla owner driving coast-to-coast would have to follow the rally's route. But he said the company expects more than 90 percent of the country to be near a supercharger by year's end and he said a cheaper third-generation Tesla car is about three years away.

It "will be about half the price of the Model S. It'll be a bit smaller," he said.

Tesla's record-setting accomplishment came about a week after an independent father-daughter team drove a Tesla across the country using only superchargers, albeit slower.

The trek provided a public relations lift for the California electric carmaker after recent car fires were blamed on striking road debris.

Musk recently issued apology to more than 1,000 Tesla owners meeting in Oslo for charging glitches that have affected the Model S in Norway, Tesla's second largest market outside the United States.


The Wall Street Journal said Tesla has sold 2,100 electric cars in Norway, and that some Model S sedans which went on sale there in August had technical problems linking to the Norwegian power grid through an adapter.

Musk blamed the problem on software and said a fix had been issued.

Tesla plans to introduce its next vehicle, the Model X crossover utility, this fall or in early 2015 and is building a supercharger station network in Europe.

Nearly 22 million auto recalls in 2013

Automakers will tell you recalls, unfortunately, are part of the cost of doing business, and there were lots of them last year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said car companies issued 632 recall campaigns in 2013, affecting nearly 22 million vehicles -- the most in a decade. That came as automakers sold 15.6 million new vehicles in the United States.

As bad as it seems, in 2004 automakers recalled 30.8 million vehicles in 600 campaigns.

Toyota had 15 recalls affecting 5.3 million vehicles. But that's far fewer than the 14 million vehicles the Japanese automaker recalled worldwide as a result of claims of sudden acceleration. Toyota agreed to pay more than $1 billion to settle those claims.


"If we see a problem we want to jump on it as quickly as possible," a Toyota spokesman told the Detroit News. "That number reflects our determination if we find a problem we want to address it right away."

Chrysler Group -- now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles -- was second, recalling 4.7 million vehicles in 36 campaigns. Honda was third with 2.8 million vehicles in 15 recalls; Hyundai, fourth, with 2.2 million vehicles in nine campaigns; followed by Ford with 1.2 million vehicles recalled in 16 campaigns.

General Motors recalled 760,000 vehicles in 23 campaigns.

South Korea's Kia recalled 1.1 million vehicles in three campaigns; Nissan, 17 recalls involving 958,148 vehicles; BMW, 757,677 vehicles in 14 recalls, and Suzuki, which stopped selling cars in the United States in 2012, 405,605 vehicles in four recalls.

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