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In Gear

In Gear offers a fresh look at the world of cars – its technology, economics, and future – through the eyes of Monitor staffers and other automobile writers from around the world. 

Vehicles stop at a red light in downtown Shanghai. Stay safe this fall season with these fall driving tips. (Carlos Barria/Reuters/File)

Safety driving tips for the fall season

By Suzanne KaneGuest blogger / 10.21.13

With hours of daylight decreasing and inclement weather a frequent occurrence, the fall season is a time when drivers need to pay a little more attention to road and traffic conditions and use extra caution while driving.

Here are some safety driving tips that can make the fall season more enjoyable and trouble-free. 

Slow down. The faster you drive, especially on wet, slippery roads, the longer it takes to stop your vehicle. Doubling the speed of your car can nearly quadruple the amount of time required to stop safely.  ( Continue… )

An electric car at a charge point in front of city hall in Orlando, Fla. in September. Renting electric vehicles is becoming more and more popular, but teh lenght of rentals is usually quite short. (AP Photo/John Raoux) (John Raoux/AP/File)

Why electric car rentals are usually short

By Antony IngramGuest blogger / 10.20.13

Over the last few years, several large rental firms have helped the electric car cause by adding plug-in vehicles to their rental fleets.

In theory, it's the ideal people to get people into electric cars in general--some seat time is usually enough to convince people that EVs are the way to go.

The good news is that people are certainly renting those cars. The bad news is that they aren't doing so for very long, and it's due to a familiar electric car sticking point: range anxiety.

According to Bloomberg, customers trying out Nissan Leaf electric cars as part of Enterprise's rental fleet are swapping them for more conventional cars after 1.6 days on average--compared to the six or seven day period for cars on average. The number one cause is customers worrying whether they'll make it to a charging station before the battery runs out.

"People are very keen to try it, but they will switch out of the contract part way through" said Lee Broughton, head of sustainability at Enterprise, to Bloomberg. ( Continue… )

The Fisker Automotive electric Atlantic sedan is seen during its unveiling ahead of the 2012 International Auto Show in New York last year. (Allison Joyce/Reuters/File)

Energy Department finds buyer for Fisker Automotive, report says

By Stephen EdelsteinGuest blogger / 10.18.13

Fisker Automotive may have a new savior.

The U.S. Department of Energy will award Fisker's $168 million loan to an investor group led by Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li, Reuters reports.

According to Reuters, buying the loan would allow Li--an early Fisker investor--to restructure the company himself, unencumbered by the obligations of the DoE funds.

With further cash injections to pay outstanding bills, though, it appears that the company may still be at risk of bankruptcy.  ( Continue… )

A Tesla Model S drives outside the Tesla Motors factory in Fremont, Calif. (Paul Sakuma/AP/File)

Tesla Motors, AT&T team up for in-car Internet

By Stephen EdelsteinGuest blogger / 10.18.13

Tesla and AT&T are making a connection.

Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] picked AT&T as its in-car Internet service provider, theWashington Post reports.

The deal puts AT&T in charge of the many functions on the Model S electric car that are already controlled via wireless network. It was formally announced at an event in San Francisco yesterday.

"We’ve been working with AT&T. They’ve been the service provider for Model S" in North America, Tesla spokeswoman Elizabeth Jarvis-Shaen told the Post.

Tesla cars are equipped with AT&T network chips, enabling Internet browsing, navigation, and entertainment functions on the 17-inch center-stack touch screen display( Continue… )

A Toyota car at a Toyota Motor Corp car dealership in Kiev last year. A Toyota recall involves vehicles with an air-conditioning leak that could cause airbags to behave erratically. (Anatolii Stepanov/Reuters/File)

Toyota recall: Spiders are causing airbag problems

By Staff writer / 10.18.13

Just what we all needed: another reason to be afraid of spiders.

Toyota is recalling 885,000 vehicles worldwide due to electrical issues that could cause problems with airbag deployment. Two ‘minor’ injuries but no accidents have been reported in connection to the Toyota recall, according to the company.

Some 803,000 of the affected vehicles, both sedans and crossovers, were sold in the United States. Recalled US models include year 2012 and 2013 Toyota Camry, Camry Hybrid, Avalon, Avalon Hybrid, and Venza vehicles.

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The issue is with the cars’ air-conditioning units, which could leak onto the airbag control unit and cause a malfunction, and the possibility of the airbags either not deploying when they need to or, in some cases, deploying accidentally.  Toyota is aware of 35 cases of airbag warning lights coming on as a result of the problem, and three cases in which airbags deployed accidentally. ( Continue… )

The Fisker automotive electric Atlantic sedan during its unveiling ahead of the 2012 International Auto Show in New York. Fisker's remaining DOE loan has been auctioned off to a group including Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li, according to a Reuters report. (Allison Joyce/Reuters/File)

Fisker DOE loan sold to Hong Kong billionaire, report says

By Viknesh Vijayenthiran / 10.18.13

Earlier this week it was revealed that the U.S. Department of Energy had started an auction for the remaining portion of a $192 million loan awarded to electric carstartup Fisker Automotive back in 2010 under the government’s advanced-technology vehicle manufacturing program. There are now reports that the winning bidder for the loan is a consortium that includes Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li, an early investor of Fisker.

According to Reuters, which cites people familiar with the deal, the DOE and the Li-backed consortium are now negotiating the final details of the sale. Li was previously reported to be working with Fisker co-founder Henrik Fisker on the bid, though the two are said to have parted ways.

There’s been no mention of how much the DOE plans to sell the loan for, but we do know that bids in its auction needed to be at least $30 million. The remaining portion of the loan stands at $168 million.

Buying the loan would award the consortium a key stake in Fisker, though it’s not clear if control of the company will change. It would also help stave off bankruptcy for Fisker temporarily, although the company does have other debts to suppliers as well as Finland’s Valmet Automotive, the independent manufacturer that built Fisker’s Karma extended-range electric sedan.

Fisker hasn’t built a car in 15 months and to get production running again is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Despite the challenges, a handful of parties have expressed interest in the company. Rival bids are believed to have come from German consortium Fritz Nol and another consortium led by auto industry veteran Bob Lutz.

Stay tuned for an update.

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A male figure with a tablet about the law, sits in front of the US Supreme Court building. The Supreme Court will hear arguments from stationary s (Norman Matheny/The Christian Science Monitor/File)

Supreme Court to review permitting aspect of greenhouse-gas rules

By Stephen EdelsteinGuest blogger / 10.16.13

The Supreme Court is back in session, and Environmental Protection Agency emissions regulations are on the docket.

The court will hear a case challenging EPA regulations of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources like power plants, The New York Times reports.

However, the justices declined to hear any petitions challenging the EPA's regulation of motor vehicle emissions, leaving that authority intact regardless of the outcome of the current case.  ( Continue… )

A sign is painted on a parking space for electric cars inside a car park in Hong Kong. The first car to use regenerative braking technology, now nearly standard on electric cars, debuted in 1967. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters/File)

Electric car charging network Ecotality finds buyer

By Stephen EdelsteinGuest blogger / 10.14.13

The assets of the long-struggling Ecotality electric-car charging network have a buyer.

The Car Charging Group announced it has purchased Ecotality's Blink network of charging stations for $3.3 million.

The purchase includes approximately 12,450 240-volt Level 2 charging stations, 110 DC quick-charging stations, and other assets pertaining to the operation of the network.

Two Ecotality branches--Minit-Charger and Etec Labs--were not included in the sale.  ( Continue… )

A Model S drives outside the Tesla Motors factory in Fremont, Calif. (Paul Sakuma/AP/File)

Pushing a Tesla Motors Model S to the edge of its range

By David NolandGuest blogger / 10.13.13

In the eight months I've owned my 60-kWh Tesla Model S, I've never had occasion to drive it more than 120 miles, comfortably within the car's  EPA-rated 208-mile range. The phrase "range anxiety" was not in my lexicon.

But last week, I got an invitation from Don Sherman, Technical Director of Car & Driver magazine, to meet him in Danville, Pennsylvania. It's 168 miles from my home in New York's Hudson Valley.

Sherman was making a dry run for an upcoming article about a 700-mile cross-country race in a Model S--and Danville, just off Interstate-80, was going to be a charging stop.  We'd e-mailed back and forth about Model S driving and charging strategies, and this would be a chance to meet and compare notes.

The journey seemed short enough to be eminently doable--yet long enough to engender, if not range anxiety, then at least acute range awareness( Continue… )

A sign with a logo is on display at a Toyota car sales and showroom in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters/File)

Toyota announces plans for cars with self-driving features

By Richard ReadGuest blogger / 10.12.13

Autonomous cars are coming -- that much we know.

Nissan promises to debut models by 2020. So does Mercedes-Benz. Tesla may arrive a few years earlier. And Google, the company that most folks currently associate with self-driving vehiclesWho knows?

But what about Toyota, the world's largest automaker? We're glad you asked: Friday, Toyota announced plans to roll out autonomous vehicles by "the mid-2010s".

Well, sort of.  ( Continue… )

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