Wednesday, December 30, 2015

These Were the Biggest Automotive News Stories of the Year

Scandals, surprises, records, big names, and bigger numbers all made this a huge year for automotive news. We’ve chosen 16 topics (including a few important cars) that made waves throughout the entire industry—and beyond—in 2015. These aren't necessarily our most-read stories, but rather a recap on the issues, trends, and more that we think mattered most in this automotive year. Read on for more:If 2014 was the Year of the Recall—63.5 million light-duty vehicles were called back in 350 separate campaigns—2015 was the Year of the Government Fines. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration levied $290 million total against Honda ($70 million), Takata ($70 million), Chrysler ($70 million, twice), and BMW ($10 million). That’s more than five times what NHTSA fined three major automakers in 2014. BMW and Chrysler also had to agree to spend a combined $30 million on everything from dealer training to gift cards. While NHTSA had been working within laws that stipulated maximum individual fines of $35 million, the agency actually has no formal procedure in doling out punishments (we’re told that’s coming). Next year, the maximum increases to $105 million. READ MORE ››While Takata’s shrapnel-shooting airbags became huge news late in 2014, the issue didn't real full boil until 2015, when it finally became obvious that the Japanese supplier’s problems were out of control. Even more than a decade after Takata first heard of an airbag rupture and after years of recall expansions by Honda, Takata has not confirmed the precise reasons its inflators may burst and shoot metal fragments through the airbag. The issue has led to more than 100 injuries and nine deaths. It has isolated humidity as the number-one factor for the roughly 19 million cars affected in the U.S. across 11 automakers. Worse still, there won’t be enough replacement inflators to fix every affected vehicle until 2019—and even the replacement inflators may be prone to failure. READ MORE ››General Motors may have settled with families and worked hard to convince the public that it's now a reformed company with a newfound culture of accountability, but its faulty ignition switches that were shown to allow a car to turn off while in motion—thereby disabling all of its passive safety systems—won’t be forgotten. GM’s settlement fund counted 124 deaths and 274 injuries when it closed in August 2015, handing out about $625 million. That’s nearly 10 times the deaths GM originally cited. GM paid a $900-million federal settlement in 2015 (and a $35-million safety fine in 2014). READ MORE ››Unlike the Takata and General Motors conflagrations, Volkswagen’s scandal didn’t directly kill anyone. But in its quest to become the world’s largest automaker, Volkswagen messed up big time. Software designed to detect the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions test procedure made the cars squeaky clean in the lab and dirty in the streets. Roughly 11 million cars produced by Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, and other global brands were found to have the cheat installed. In the U.S., which has the strictest diesel tailpipe laws in the world, some of VW’s cars were found to be pumping out up to 40 times the allowable levels of nitrogen oxide, a smog-forming gas linked to respiratory problems and even lung cancer. The scandal has already cost VW billions in lost market value and irreparable damage to public trust. As of this writing, VW has yet to release a full explanation or a detailed fix for cars in the U.S. READ MORE ››You didn’t think Tesla would be the only mass-produced high-performance electric car on the market forever, did you? When Porsche dropped the Mission E concept in Frankfurt, you could tell Stuttgart was serious. This four-door EV is now confirmed for production by 2020, and promises a 310-mile range and 600 horsepower, as well as a high-capacity charger that’ll give 250 miles of range in just 15 minutes. For now, it’s vaporware. But because this is Porsche and its engineers seemingly laugh at limits, expect those tall tales to come true. READ MORE ››In the 129-year history of the automobile, Americans have never bought more cars in a single year before this one. While final numbers are still being calculated, Wards Auto predicts 17.46 million light-duty vehicle sales for 2015, which would top the previous record of 17.35 million in 2000. That this all happened just six years after a deep recession—in 2009, automakers sold just 10.6 million vehicles in America, the worst year since 1982—is even more incredible. READ MORE ››Semi-autonomous systems that brake, throttle, and steer into corners have been out for at least two years on a few select cars. But all of them, in a tacit admission that they’re highly prone to failure, require the driver’s steering input every few seconds. Not so for Tesla, which wirelessly uploaded its AutoPilot software to Model S customers in October (only to cars built with the proper hardware after September 2014). It works darn well, so long as you’re not actually sleeping. No other automaker is taking this kind of a legal risk at this point, but we all know what Elon Musk thinks of other automakers. READ MORE ››Bugatti has launched so many Veyron special editions that February’s “La Finale” almost made us dismiss it out of hand. But this really was the 450th and final Veyron, ending an extraordinary decade-long run. While Porsche needed less than a year to sell 918 copies of its incredible 918 Spyder, the Veyron always circled in its own orbit. Depending on the model, the Veyron could hit between 229 and 268 mph, a feat unachieved by every other hypercar since its 2005 introduction excluding Hennessey, which has only built a handful of its recently introduced Venom GT. But it's the Veyron your grandkids will want to hear stories about. READ MORE ››It was a hell of a way to start 2015. Out of nowhere, Ford pulled the cover off the 2017 GT at the Detroit auto show, leaving us—and probably Acura, which debuted the production NSX at the same event—agape at its awesometude. And it really was a surprise, with only the vaguest impressions that it might happen leaking mere days before the show. Ford engineers literally worked in a basement to complete the car in secret, and it kicked off a new era for hot-rod Fords. Look out, Ferrari. READ MORE ››Less exciting—but ultimately a vehicle to which most Americans can relate—is the Ford Ranger. This mid-size pickup is almost certainly coming back to America, and while it won’t resemble the little runt that left us in 2011, hearing the Ranger would be built at a U.S. plant to compete with the Chevrolet Colorado and Toyota Tacoma had us saying, “Duh!” World markets love it, and the mid-size truck market is the second-fastest-growing segment in the U.S. behind small crossovers. So, yeah, we think the Ranger’s a done deal, even though Ford hasn’t officially confirmed it. READ MORE ››What Google does, Apple must also do. The Silicon Valley rivals are like Mercedes versus BMW, and once Google began publicly testing its own koala-shaped autonomous car, work came that Apple has been poaching talent from across the automotive and electronics industries. The Cupertino company has been driving around in black Dodge Grand Caravans to build high-res maps, dropping hints like “the car is the ultimate mobile device,” and acting like it has something special to hide. Will Apple be an automaker, or a supplier? Is it doing this all for fun because it has too much cash on hand? No one knows just yet, but 2015 was the year that told us that mirroring iPhone functions on infotainment screens was only the beginning for car-related Apple news. READ MORE ››Volvo is building its first plant in South Carolina, Hyundai is considering a second one, and more BMW and Mercedes models are on those companies' American lines. Tesla is building the Gigafactory, the largest lithium-ion battery plant in the world. Sino-American EV startup Faraday Future says it’s building a U.S. plant, and even Aston Martin has toyed with the idea. So has Jaguar. Audi, Toyota, and a Daimler-Renault-Nissan venture will build all-new plants in Mexico within the next four years. Escaping tariffs and currency fluctuations are the main drivers, as is the cheap labor south of the border. It's a trend that shows no signs of slowing down—take heed, UAW. READ MORE ››At least seven successful car-hacking exploits and experiments were reported in 2015, proving, in some ways, that automotive electronics were not the foolproof fortresses we believed they were. One experiment forced the recall of 1.4-million Fiat-Chrysler vehicles after two hackers broke into the Uconnect system through a wireless phone connection without physical mods of any kind, and took control of the car’s powertrain from 10 miles away. ---Yet while it might seem scary, the threat of car hacking remains relatively low. All of the hacks involved computer scientists either working with the automakers or acting alone in good faith, and none involved random cars on the roads. And Automakers are working feverishly to close the back doors in their systems and prevent such malfeasance in the future. Of course, until they prove they're up to the task, these friendly demonstrations could eventually become malicious attacks. READ MORE ››It’s not yet a revolution at Lincoln, but the lights are on, the R&D department has a flush checking account, and we got a whiff of the brand's future when the Continental concept debuted in New York. (Of course, even this wasn't without drama when a Bentley designer called for out Ford for copying his company's designs on Facebook.) Now it’s going on sale in 2016, and reviving a nameplate with an illustrious history. Lincoln is seemingly out of chances—it needs this car to be a hit. READ MORE ››Mazda executives kept denying—over and over again—they would ever consider a new rotary engine. But then the oh-so-hot RX-Vision Concept dropped in Tokyo claiming to have an honest-to-Felix new-generation Wankel rotary under its hood dubbed Skyactiv-R. It turns out that Mazda has a team devoted to making this wacky, beloved engine layout (see slides 6 and 7 here) work in today's heavily regulated and efficiency-minded environment, and that the company's top brass really, really want to put such an engine in this sultry coupe. Mazda is still hedging a little, but we really, really want it to happen, too. READ MORE ››We haven’t tested a new Alfa Romeo sedan since the 164 ended production and the entire company pulled out of the U.S. That was in 1995. Twenty years later comes the Giulia, which is both attractive and, especially in Quadrifoglio form, delightfully potent. In that version, we're talking 505 horsepower from a Ferrari-derived V-6. Alfa probably won’t sell many Giulias to Americans, not even in four-cylinder trim, as the company is invisible beyond the sight lines of enthusiasts. But so much the better for those into exclusivity—and this time that audience includes America. READ MORE ››
from Car and Driver Blog http://www.caranddriver.com/flipbook/these-were-the-biggest-automotive-news-stories-of-the-year-2015


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