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Nutson's Automotive News Summary June 12-18, 2017: RIP Vic Edelbrock Jr; Dream Cruise Sans Chevrolet; Waymo NoMo; Deiselgate 2; Takata Bankrupt; Bolt Bolting; US Auto Sales Dropping; Gas Prices Dropping; SUV Headlights Suck


AUTO CENTRAL CHICAGO, June 18, 2017; Every Sunday Larry Nutson, Senior Editor and Chicago Car Guy along with fellow senior editors Steve Purdy and Thom Cannell from The Auto Channel Michigan Bureau, give you TACH's "take" on this past week's automotive news in easy to digest mega-tweet sized nuggets.

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Nutson's Nuggets: June 18, 2017

* Just in time for summer vacation, the average nationwide gasoline price at the end of last week was the lowest for this point of the year since 2005, according to GasBuddy. The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline fell to $2.35, a drop of 3 cents in the past week and more than 2 cents below last year at this time, according to AAA. The break may be short lived, so hit the road now.

* Auto industry analysts are mostly predicting that the last two years of record light vehicle sales will not repeat for calendar 2017. David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, addressed an industry conference this week listing a number of factors in play including difficulty finding qualified people to fill key positions, particularly in manufacturing, changing business models and uncertainty in the political climate, namely what will happen with CAFE standards, NAFTA and tax policy.

* InMotion, Jaguar Land Rover’s mobility services business, announced a $25m investment in Lyft, the rideshare company in the U.S. The investment will support Lyft’s expansion and technology plans. It will also provide Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures with the opportunity to develop and test its mobility services, including autonomous vehicles, and to supply Lyft drivers with a fleet of Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles.

* GM has built 130 self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV test vehicles on the same Orion Township, MI assembly line that produces the consumer-bound Bolt EVs. Earlier vehicles GM built as self-drivers were all custom built so theses are the first self-drivers to be built on the regular line. GM plans to deploy the vehicles in Detroit, San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona. They're equipped with next-generation technology including lidar, cameras, more than 40 sensors and other hardware. They will join more than 50 already being tested in the three locations, bringing the company’s test fleet to 180.

* The cute, little, jellybean-shaped Waymo self-driving car prototype we’ve all seen - in service since 2014 - has been retired, replaced by a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans that will carry on as Waymo’s test platform. Waymo has also shifted its focus from making its own car eventually to providing the self-driving technology to others. Waymo says it is equipping the new Pacificas with the all-new AI (artificial intelligence) computer platform and newest, radar-based sensors. The initial fleet of 600 minivans will be focused on use by the public rather than just testing engineers.

* The West Virginia University’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions--the same folks who discovered VW's cheating, stopped short of accusing Fiat Chrysler of emissions cheating, but said on-road tests of Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs and Ram 1500 pickups revealed nitrogen oxide levels at three to 20 times what is permitted by U.S. clean-air rules. FCA responded by saying "U.S. pollution standards for emissions are based on laboratory testing, so a comparison with on-the-road tests is "invalid." The researchers’ appear to have obtained some of the results by driving faster and with more weight in the vehicle than the regulators call for, according to the statement. "Despite the report, there is no regulatory protocol for conducting on-road emissions testing," the company said. We happen to agree with FCA.

* A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released this week found most SUV headlights unsafe by industry standards. IIHS tested 37 vehicles and only two - the 2017 Volvo XC60 and 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe - received the top “good” ratings while 12 others received “acceptable” scores. The rest were deemed “marginal” or “poor.” Senior researcher at IIHS, Matt Brumbelow, said the main shortcoming is that the lights “only provide a short view down the road at night,” adding that most buyers don’t test drive these vehicles in the dark before buying. The range of light shed by headlights had a range of 148 feet for poor compared to 315 feet for the top rated Volvo XC60.

* A new report from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute's authored by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle examined the current status and recent progress regarding various technical and public acceptance-related issues that have historically hindered the more widespread acceptance and adoption of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), which includes both battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). The report concludes that recent advances and improvements have led to PEVs becoming increasingly more competitive with conventional gasoline-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Furthermore, future costs of the vehicles and fuel, coupled with rising public interest and increasing numbers of charging locations, are expected to make such vehicles even more capable of replacing ICE vehicles for the majority of U.S. drivers in the relatively near future.

* Takata, the Japanese maker of airbags, appears to be planning to file for bankruptcy as early as next week in the U.S. and Japan, according to a report in Automotive News. With billions of dollars of liabilities linked to defective airbag inflators facing the company, it has been working with Key Safety Systems, a U.S. auto parts maker, on a deal for financial backing. Details of the deal have not been revealed. The defective airbags are blamed for 16 deaths and 180 injuries worldwide and the company agreed to plead guilty to criminal wrongdoing and pay $1 billion in U.S. damages

* Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is recalling 297,000 minivans in North America because of a wiring problem that can lead to inadvertent airbag deployments. The recall of 2011-2012 model year Dodge Grand Caravan minivans.

* From the Detroit News we read that Chevrolet has quietly dropped its longstanding presenting sponsorship of the Detroit-area's Woodward Dream Cruise. "Brands such as Chevy are being more strategic in spending as they seek the most value for their marketing dollars. And while Chevy has a long heritage of performance cars, many of its new vehicles such as the all-electric 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV represent its future and future buyers," Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs said. "Millennials are the hot group to focus on, and the Woodward Dream Cruise is not necessarily a millennial event," she said.

* Racing, as we’ve been told for generations, is a means by which advanced automotive technologies can be tested and proved. Don Panoz, owner of Road Atlanta and developer of a variety of advance race cars like a hybrid car in the 1990s and more recently the weird DeltaWing car that raced at LeMans in 2012, is planning to bring a fully-electric racer to the 24-hour LeMans race next year. The car was revealed in France this week ahead of this year’s 24-hour race. Because of limited electric range it would have to pit every 45 minutes for battery swaps, so it would make it uncompetitive for the overall race but could demonstrate the advantage of electric propulsion, along with Panoz’ race car building expertise.

* From our friends at AutoWeek we learned that Vic Edelbrock Jr. passed away late last week at the age of 80 after complications from a cold. Vic Edelbrock Jr. took over the aftermarket performance parts company that bears his name after the untimely passing of his father, Vic Edelbrock Sr. Vic Jr. was just 26 when his father died in 1962. The first speed parts for the Ford flathead V8 and then the Edelbrock intake manifold for the small-block Chevy became the foundation from which the company springboarded into a legend.