No One's Really Sure How Many Takata Airbags Need To Be Fixed

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Good Morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are the important stories you need to know.


1st Gear: How Many Takata Airbags Need Fixing?

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Mark Rosekind said the recall of 34 million cars with potentially explosive and lethal Takata airbags is not only the largest product recall ever, it’s the most complicated. He’s not wrong. NHTSA officials aren’t even sure how many airbags need to be fixed, according to Reuters’ report “Confusion clouds count of cars hit by Takata air bag recall:

The number of vehicles on U.S. roads with potentially defective Takata air bags appears to be less than half the 34 million initially estimated by federal regulators, according to a Reuters analysis of recall records submitted to the watchdog and confirmed by the car companies.

About 16.2 million vehicles — roughly one out of every 16 cars on U.S. highways — may have one or two defective air bags supplied by Japan’s Takata Corp, vehicle manufacturers confirmed to Reuters. How many times those vehicles may have to be repaired is still unclear.

See, Takata’s actually had numerous smaller recalls for these airbags since 2008, and Reuters’ review of NHTSA data showed some vehicles were counted as many as eight times. They also don’t know how many vehicles may have one or two defective air bags. What a mess.

2nd Gear: Volvo’s Banking On Less Complexity Than Ze Germans

Some fancy newer German luxury cars are high tech to the point of being intimidating. As they kick off a new chapter in their history (and hopefully a renaissance) with the XC90 SUV, Volvo is playing up the fact their cars are designed to be less complex than their rivals. Via Automotive News Europe:

He used three numbers — 55, 37 and eight — to make his point. The numerals 55 and the 37 represent the number of buttons available in recently launched models from the two of the three German luxury brands BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

Eight represents the number of buttons needed to control the main functions in the new Volvo XC90. “No one wants buttons hidden down in the dark areas around the seats,” Samuelsson told the Automotive News Europe Congress here on Wednesday.

His point was that Volvo would not try to match its rivals because it has a newfound confidence in itself and what it has to offer. “No one wants to buy a copy. They buy the original,” he said.

I like this approach.

3rd Gear: GM Figures Out What To Do With Its Batteries Post-Cars

What happens to electric vehicle batteries when they’ve reached the end of their lifespan in cars like the Chevrolet Volt and Tesla Model S? General Motors thinks they can be repackaged for energy storage purposes. Next week they’ll announce their plans for “secondary use” EV batteries, via Reuters:

In 2012, GM and Swiss engineering group ABB showed how they could repackage five used batteries from GM’s Chevrolet Volt hybrid plug-in car into a modular unit capable of providing two hours of electricity needed by three to five average American homes.

“GM’s battery development extends throughout the entire life of the battery, including secondary use,” Pablo Valencia, GM senior manager of battery lifecycle management, said in 2012.

“In many cases, when an EV battery has reached the end of its life in an automotive application, only 30 percent or less of its life has been used,” he added. “This leaves a tremendous amount of life that can be applied to other applications like powering a structure before the battery is recycled.”


I also like this approach. Beats the hell out of letting them rot in landfills, right?

4th Gear: Now OnStar Knows How Badly You’re Hurt

Of all the “concierge” automotive services out there, GM’s OnStar has been around the longest and it’s probably also the best. These days it even summons help if you’ve been in a crash. Now it will even know how seriously you might have been hurt in said crash, reports The Detroit Free Press:

General Motors’ OnStar unit is introducing Injury Severity Prediction, a technology that promises to accurately predict the severity of crash victims’ injuries, and communicate it to first responders so they can quickly determine the best treatment, according to findings of a recent study.

The feature is available through any Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicle equipped with even the entry level OnStar subscription in the U.S. and Canada. The algorithm analyzes such information as force and direction of impact. OnStar Advisors then relay the severity rating to 9-1-1 centers, which may choose to adjust the level and priority of response dispatched to a crash scene.



5th Gear: Maybe All’s Not Well In Detroit

The American auto industry is doing unquestionably well these days — better than it was five to eight years ago, that’s for sure. Products are strong and everybody’s riding high with surging sales numbers.


But in this Detroit News column, Daniel Howes says maybe things aren’t as shiny as they look on the surface. There’s the forthcoming UAW negotiations, set to be the most contentious ones in years. There’s the lawsuits and possible criminal investigation GM faces for the ignition switch fiasco. And there’s Fiat Chrysler’s Sergio Marchionne’s weird insistence on merging with everyone, making people wonder why he wants to try the kind of trans-national tie-up that failed so badly for Chrysler in the past, and Ford, and GM. On the latter:

His is a hard sell, whatever the merits. It’s even harder in relatively good times, as the straight-talking (and undeterred) Marchionne clearly understands. But it’s precisely in good times that he thinks his audacious proposal should be considered. By somebody. Anybody?


Interesting read, for sure.


Reverse: Bueller... Bueller... Bueller...

The hit John Hughes-directed teen comedy “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” released on this day in 1986, stars a young Matthew Broderick as a popular high school student in suburban Illinois who fakes an illness in order to score a day off from school, then leads his best friend and his girlfriend on a whirlwind day through Chicago. The movie’s cast also included Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jeffrey Jones and Jennifer Grey. However, the most memorable performer may have been an automobile: the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California, a custom-built car revered by auto collectors.


Neutral: Are Happy Times Really Here Again For Detroit?

Howes’ column brings up some good points, but there’s no era for automakers that isn’t rife with difficulties as well as triumphs. At least we’re not in bailout mode anymore. Or are things worse than they seem?


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His point was that Volvo would not try to match its rivals because it has a newfound confidence in itself and what it has to offer. “No one wants to buy a copy. They buy the original,” he said.

And yet they’re all about farting out SUVs instead of making these