More Bad News for Toyota: Lurching Lexus, Declining Sales, Angry Congress

Jim Lentz, President, Toyota Motor Sales USA

Jim Lentz, President, Toyota Motor Sales USA

First, Congress: House investigators, led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), last week accused Toyota of totally failing to address the still-unanswered problems of unintended acceleration. Further, they found the company hired to do a comprehensive and independent review (Exponent, Inc.) was altering and withholding documents, had no bona fide work plan, and was under contract to Toyota’s legal team hired to defend against class action suits that might be forthcoming.

Mr. Waxman has detailed his objections here, and that document is a very good summary of Toyota’s gross failure, so far, to get to the bottom of the acceleration problems. I urge you to read it.

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2010 Top Satisfaction Rating Goes to Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

The annual vehicle satisfaction study from California-based market-research firm AutoPacific places two new-for-2010 models at the top: the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi and the 2010 Lincoln MKT.

Believe it or not, the Kizashi won its midsize car category, but was also the highest rated of all 2010 vehicles in the 14th Annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards, scoring 99 points above the industry average to place first overall.

“This is an amazing win for Suzuki,” said George Peterson, AutoPacific’s president, in the press release. “The Kizashi is Suzuki’s most important vehicle, and this performance in our research is exceptional.”

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Toyota and Tesla: A Perfect Partnership?

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

Toyota Motors recently announced that it will invest $50 million in electric-car maker Tesla.

What would the world’s most successful auto company get from investing in a relative startup? Well, there are a couple different ways of looking at this new partnership:

At first glance one might think that $50 million could fund Toyota’s own EV research without having to throw money at an unstable new company.

Looking a little deeper, it could just be a loan of sorts… a way for Toyota to unload its New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc., plant in Fremont, California. (As in, “Here are $50 million, buy NUMMI with it.”)

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Four Insane Videos for the Week

The Wisconsin State Patrol in Sparta was having a quiet Thursday when a crazy guy from Canada tore through town in a semi, speeding, weaving, clipping a dump truck, crossing the median, scaring the bejeezus out of drivers.

The cops deployed tire spikes to stop the truck after a 20-plus-mile chase. The Madison bomb squad was brought in, but the truck turned out to be loaded with Monster energy drink.

Driver Beant Singh Gill speaks little English and seemed sleep-deprived, according to police. Hauling the drinks from Minnesota to Canada, he had apparently gotten lost and loony in Wisconsin. According to TwinCities.com,

Gill said he had visited a doctor for a drinking problem, and the doctor gave him some medication he didn’t like. He had heard voices ever since and would have an ‘upset mind now and again.’ He said he had felt or heard voices on this trip that make him go blind.

Watch the dash-cam video after the break, and be amazed that no one got killed during all this.

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Trade-In Tips: Read This Before Selling Your Car to a Dealer

To trade-in or not trade-in?

I am not a huge proponent of trading in cars at the dealer. Customers can usually make more money by selling the car themselves.

Of course, selling a car on your own means you’ll need to advertise, field phone calls, schedule appointments, let strangers take your car on test drives, and probably deal with negotiations. Then, once your car is sold and gone, there’s the gap in time when you don’t have a replacement….

I’d say unless you’re making at least an extra thousand dollars over trade-in value, it’s not worth the trouble. So there is a time and place for trading in. If you go that route, here are some things you need to know:

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Higher Speeding Fines Keep State Heat on the Job

Graphic from cVillian.com

Your speeding fine, in Illinois and other places, is increasingly being used to fund more jobs for state police (or save them, in a time of declining budgets). Not only that, but fines are going up everywhere, and more tickets are being handed out.

How do you like being the patsy for rising deficits?

Our buddy tgriffith touched on this subject last week, but as many of you long suspected, you’re getting socked with more and higher fines if you stray as much as 5 mph over the limit—and sometimes even if you’re within it.

There are plenty of anecdotes on the Web about folks getting a ticket for no cause and either paying the fine (as about 70 percent do) or fighting it in court, which is often the wiser idea.

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Cars Coming Soon->Infiniti Teases, Porsche Pleases and Buick “Excelle”s

Infiniti coupe sketches

Infiniti stunned the auto world with its Essence concept that debuted at the Geneva Motor Show last year. Now, Nissan’s luxury unit hopes to do it again by bringing two new M-based models to Pebble Beach this August.

Even better is that both models are set for production and could go on sale as early as this Fall. How’s that for quick-moving? Infiniti must have some serious confidence in these new machines if it’ll sell ’em just a couple months after their debut.

Perhaps that confidence is well-deserved, though, since one of those models could very well be an M coupe, while the other will be a more performance-oriented model.

Could that mean we’ll see the twin-turbo, direct-injected V6 from the Essence? Consider that Infiniti’s 450-horsepower tease.

Porsche, meanwhile, is getting right to the bottom line with its new 2011 Cayenne.

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GM Happenings: New-Found Profits and Buyer Financing Troubles

GM's Fairfax plant

General Motors—and maybe the U.S. Treasury, hoping for a payback—has been celebrating the company’s first-quarter earnings report, which put out news of a solid $865 million in earnings on global sales of $31.5 billion. This was GM’s first quarterly profit since 2007 and may signal real progress if not a turnaround.

Where did the money come from? Paul Eisenstein says it’s owing to a lot of cost-cutting and trimming of management, a strong presence in China, and buyer acceptance of its new models, like the Chevy Equinox and Buick LaCrosse. But it will take a few more good quarters until the word “turnaround” will apply.

There’s talk about a stock offering (IPO), which may come later this year and help to repay the billions spent on the GM bailout. But there are plenty of hurdles the company will need to clear before that happens.

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Social Media Car Marketing Gone Right…and Very Very Wrong

Ford Fiesta

I can remember a time, not too long ago, when new-car marketing meant placing an ad and waiting for customers to arrive in showrooms. Marketing cars was about putting a ton of messages in front of a ton of consumers, then hoping the right people saw the right message at the right time. Today, things are much different.

Instead of merely presenting messages to consumers, auto companies are forced to actually interact with them. Auto marketing now is all about attempts to actually integrate consumers’ lives into the brand, which through social media outlets can result in huge success or major disaster.

Obviously, some automakers handle social media marketing a lot better than others.

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Green Update–>London Gets Slick New Hybrid Buses

New London bus

Car lovers sometimes forget that we’re all in the transportation business. Urban dwellers don’t, and more cities around the world are adopting hybrid buses for their fleets. Hybrids have been part of the London scene for at least five years. Now, the city has chosen a final design to replace the classic old Routemaster double-deckers that were retired in 2005.

It’s a big deal, because “the new design uses the latest in green hybrid technology and will be 15% more fuel efficient than existing hybrid buses, 40% more efficient than conventional diesel double decks, and much quieter on the streets.” This per Inhabitat, which goes on to say that, compared to conventional diesel buses, nitrogen oxide emissions will be down by 40 percent and particulate matter emissions by 33 percent.

The design is respectful of the old Routemaster yet makes its own dramatic statement. Check out the video after the break (the pictures are better than the blah-blah).

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