Niagara Gazette

January 23, 2014

TOM'S CORNER: From the automotive news desk at America's Car Show

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Well this week is full of news from our news desk here at America’s Car Show. From Steer-By-Wire recalls to Hellcat Dodges roaring to see the light of day! So without further delay, here’s this week’s automotive news!


Infiniti steer-by-wire recall

A problem with Infiniti’s industry-first steer-by-wire system has forced a recall. Known as Direct Adaptive Steering, the steer-by-wire setup actually features no direct connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels in normal driving situations. Instead, it uses a sensor to measure steering inputs and convert them into front wheel movement, while a conventional mechanical steering system stands ready to take over if the electronics fail.

According to a notice posted to the National Highway Traffic Safety administration’s website, the issue stems from a particular version of the steering software that, when confronted with weather cold enough to drive engine bay temperatures below freezing, is liable to disable the steer-by-wire. Even worse, it can delay the engagement of the backup mechanical steering system, leaving the driver without any means to steer the vehicle.


Jeepster ready to debut

A report coming out of Australia indicates the compact Jeep crossover that will replace both the Compass and Patriot will revive the Jeepster nameplate when it is introduced at March’s Geneva Motor Show. Riding on a modified Fiat 500L platform, the Jeepster will borrow design cues from the iconic Willy’s that was used widely in World War II. Pictures are not available yet but rumors indicate the crossover will get round headlights and Jeep’s seven-slat grille that will be taller than the one found on the newly introduced Cherokee. 

The Jeep will be powered by a 160-horsepower 1.4-liter gas-burning four-cylinder. A 1.3-liter turbodiesel four cylinder rated at 105 horsepower and 236 lb-ft. of torque will be offered to buyers in Europe, and Jeep might sell it in the US if diesel sales continue to rise.


NHTSA wants ignition interlocks installed for all DWI offenders

According to Detroit News, NHTSA wants every state to implement laws that would require even first-time drunk drivers to install ignition interlocks on their vehicles. Interlocks typically include some form of mechanism that analyzes a driver’s breath before they can start their vehicle. If the analysis reveals that the driver is over a pre-set alcohol limit, the car won’t start. Various safeguards exist to prevent passengers from breathing into the device, including random re-tests.

Currently, all states have some kind of interlock requirement on the books. Only territories like Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have no interlock laws at all. Whether all states will require all DWI offenders to install ignition interlock systems, remains to be seen. 2014 will be a telling year on this front. We’ll keep you posted as this story develops.


Jeep recall still not fixed

Jeep still has not started a recall issued last June to fix a potential fire hazard in 1.56 million SUVs. After a short battle with the NHTSA, Chrysler agreed to fix 1.56 million vehicles that could be prone to catch fire if involved in a rear-end collision. That settlement came seven months ago, but Chrysler has yet to fix a single Jeep as part of the campaign.

Chrysler told USA Today that it “has finalized replacement-part design and is initiating the tooling process to deliver the required volume.” However, the automaker failed to give a specific date for when the parts might be available. The fix for the Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee models involved is essentially attaching a factory-offered trailer hitch. The NHTSA declined to comment if it planned to take further action against Chrysler.


BMW to introduce laser headlights on i8

BMW’s plug-in hybrid i8 sports car will be the world’s first production car to use laser headlights. Laser lights allow more intricate designs than ever before, and lasers units can be made incredibly small, allowing greater freedom with space under the hood. Another part is efficiency, particularly important in a car using an electric drivetrain.

Energy use is very low meaning less power drawn from the battery for lighting and more for propulsion. But the largest benefits by far are those relating to light output and beam pattern. To clarify, laser headlights don’t mean you’ll be blinding other vehicles as they approach. In fact, it could be quite the opposite, since using lasers allows a beam pattern more strong and precise than ever before for better adaptive light technology. We’ll keep you posted as this develops.


Ford intros solar-powered car

Ford is going off the grid with its latest project, a C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid concept that is capable of fully recharging its on-board battery pack with nothing but the sun. The C-Max Solar Energi Concept uses roof-mounted solar panels to charge its battery pack. However, those solar panels aren’t powerful enough on their own to generate enough electricity to fully charge the C-Max’s battery, so Ford partnered with the Georgia Institute of Technology to make a special concentrator that funnels concentrated sunlight to the vehicle’s rooftop panels.

The concentrator is a standalone unit like a carport, but Ford promises the infrastructure would be “low cost.” Ford wasn’t specific in its recharge times, but it says “a day’s worth of sunlight” is equivalent to charging the C-Max on the grid for about 4 hours.


Fuel-sipping diesel pickup from Ram

Chrysler’s 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel will finally begin production this month, with sales of the diesel-powered light-duty pickup truck scheduled to begin in February. Ram has yet to officially comment on the start of production. The initial batch of diesel-powered Rams will reportedly be pre-spec versions, which are units not ordered by dealers. After that first 1,000-unit production run, dealers will begin taking customer orders in February.

The 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel will be powered by a 3.0L turbo diesel sourced from Fiat-owned VM Motori. The V6 churns out 240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque and promises to deliver up to 28mpg on the highway. The diesel option will tack on $2,850 to the cost of a comparably equipped truck with Ram’s 5.7L gas V8. There ya are… another diesel offering!


Hellcat Challenger roaring to get out

Dodge’s Hellcat-powered 2015 Challenger SRT8 has been the subject of spy photos for the last few months, fan site Allpar — citing inside sources — says the supercharged Dodge Challenger Hellcat is set to bow into the light early this month, maybe even as early as this or next week! Previous rumors suggested that the new Challenger and its Hellcat engine would debut sometime during 2014, but no specifics were given.

Set to rival top-spec muscle cars like the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, the Hellcat’s secret weapon will be a 6.2L-supercharged V8 cranking out between 640 and 680 horsepower. Buyers will have the option of an eight-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. Pricing has not been revealed, but the Challenger will reportedly carry a sticker price in the $70,000 to $80,000 range, putting it just about on par with the $75,000 Z/28.

Well that’s it for this week’s automotive 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.