Niagara Gazette

August 1, 2013

TOM'S CORNER: From the America's Car Show newsroom

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Recently, there has been some noteworthy automotive news developing, so I bring you yet another edition from the newsroom here at automotive central:


Volvo raising the bar in safety technology

Recently Volvo revealed several new safety technologies that it calls “world-class” set to be incorporated into the 2015 XC90.

“We are introducing the first Volvos with autonomous steering to avoid accidents and make driving more comfortable,” said Senior Safety Advisor Volvo Car Group Thomas Broberg in a prepared statement.

Firstly, the all-new XC90 will have autonomous steering capabilities, which will be implemented in several ways. In a new system called “Road edge and barrier detection with steer assist,” the autonomous steering will be able to apply steering torque to get the vehicle back on track should sensors detect if the car is about to drive off the road. Unlike similar systems from other automakers, the Volvo system does not rely on roadside markings but can rather read where the roadway physically ends.

This autonomous torque steering technology will be applied to next-gen Adaptive Cruise Control. Automatically following the car ahead, the 2015 XC90 will not only follow the flow of traffic but also the roadway itself.

On the latest S60 model, Volvo premiered Pedestrian Detection with full auto brake. The previous version of the technology neither worked after dusk nor did it detect animals. On the new XC90 the system adds in the ability to detect pedestrians as well as animals in the dark as well as in the daylight.


New study says federal government keeping an eye on motoring public

Automated scanners mounted to toll plazas, office buildings and police cars read millions of license plates daily — and in some cases, they hang onto a record of what cars have driven where, a new study published by the American Civil Liberties Union said. The ACLU calls the scanned records, which could be used to track vehicles, a “single, high-resolution image of our lives.”

The study, notes that records of every car with a license plate are sometimes kept indefinitely, although many municipalities and police departments purge their records more often in order to save digital storage space.

While some police departments use their scanners to constantly monitor license plates, others only look to use their databases as a “reactive investigative tool” if they’re seeking out a vehicle related to a crime. 

States that use the scanners to more proactively monitor vehicles typically find that the bulk of suspicious plates are due to minor offenses like suspended registrations or failed emissions inspections. In Maryland, 97 percent of the roughly 60,000 suspicious plates it found while reading 29 million plates between January and May of 2012 fell under one of those two categories.

On the other hand, scanners mounted to police cars have helped law enforcement officers successfully track down criminals and stolen cars. A typical eight-hour shift could net 7,000 license plate images automatically, according to Maryland state police officials.


Chrysler recalls

There are a few Chrysler recalls to tell you about. The first recall will rectify problems related to active head restraints designed to reduce the risk of whiplash injuries in a rear impact situation. A faulty micro-controller could prevent the active head restraints from moving in a wreck.

Chrysler will replace the micro-controllers on the following affected vehicles:

• 2011-2013 Chrysler 200

• 2011-2013 Dodge Avenger

• 2011-2012 Dodge Nitro

• 2011-2012 Jeep Liberty 

Next, the automaker plans to call back about 69,000 Ram 1500 4x4 pickups for a stability control system software update. Some dealers have reported a warning lamp illumination on certain four-wheel-drive Rams when the transfer case position is changed immediately before the vehicle is turned off. The new software will alter the stability control so that it won’t deactivate when the vehicles are turned off.

The recall covers the following trucks:

2013 Ram 1500 4x4

Finally, Chrysler is recalling minivans to replace an airbag control module. On affected vans, they were programmed with incorrect software. As a result, an airbag deployment issue is possible. The affected vans include:

2013 Chrysler Town & Country

2013 Dodge Grand Caravan

Chrysler will soon begin contacting owners of the affected vehicles.


Ford fixing older Taurus and Sable speed control cables

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed its safety investigation into Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable sedans after Ford agreed to replace the vehicles’ speed control cables.

Last October the NHTSA launched a probe into Taurus and Sable sedans from the 2000-2003 model years after receiving several complaints about throttle issues. The NHTSA tracked the problem down to the vehicles’ speed control cables, which are susceptible to damage during routine under-hood maintenance.

Although not being billed as a recall, Ford agreed on June 21 to fix the potential safety hazard. Ford says it will inspect and repair the speed control cables in all 330,000 vehicles covered by the campaign, regardless of mileage.

Ford will also reimburse owners that have already performed the upgrade.

The NHTSA received 100 complaints from owners alleging their Taurus or Sable didn’t slow down, as it should. Although no injuries or deaths were linked to the recall, the defect is blamed for five crashes.


New Garminproduct coming

Attempting to branch out from the portable GPS world, Garmin has unveiled a new $129.99 device that emulates the kind of heads up displays normally found only on luxury cars.

Linked to a user’s Bluetooth-enabled smart phone, the new Garmin HUD projects information onto a special transparent film affixed to a windshield. Among other things, the system displays current speed, the road’s speed limit and, when used with navigation, details about upcoming turns and an estimated arrival time.

Consumers need to download Garmin’s $29 and up StreetPilot and Navigon applications, which are available for Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8. One downside is that the system needs the special film, so users won’t be able to easily move the Garmin HUD system from car to car.

Derived from aircrafts, heads up technology is hardly new — GM in particular, has used it for more than 25 years. But it’s generally reserved for high-end cars. Garmin is the first major firm to offer the technology as a relatively low cost aftermarket item. Garmin says that HUD will hit the market in the next couple of weeks. Another company called Flir sold a thermal imaging system designed for in car use but it was too expensive for consumers to justify spending the money on, consequently Flir dropped the in car technology and pursued other thermo imaging applications.

Well, that about wraps up another edition of America’s Car Show News!

‘Til next time ... Keep Rollin’

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.