Cars Help Parents Say 'Buckle Up'

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A friend once told me she and her husband figured they've told their kids to brush their teeth about 3,500 times. It made me wonder how many times I've done the same — and not just brush your teeth, but clear your plate, clean your room and most importantly, fasten your seat belt.

Two automakers have reduced my need to repeat myself; Volvo and Land Rover have gone above and beyond with their seat belt notifications, saving my sanity. The automakers' systems don't just provide a seat-belt light and chime (typically reserved only for front-row occupants), Volvo and Land Rover vehicles will tell you exactly who is buckled and more importantly, who isn't — even in the backseat.

By Sara Lacey | August 22, 2013 | Comments (2)

GM to Add Wireless Smartphone Charging to Some 2014 Models

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In-car wireless smartphone charging has been a long time coming. Back in January 2009, Powermat — a leader in the field — said an in-vehicle charging platform, which replaces a cord with a wireless electromagnetic charging mat, was on the way. Then, in early 2011, the company announced that the 2012 Chevrolet Volt would debut wireless smartphone charging. GM's venture-capital subsidiary would invest $5 million in Powermat to "accelerate the technology's development," the companies said in a joint press release at the time.

Well, the Volt never got its Powermat. Now both companies promise availability in some GM models by the 2014 model year. Powermat CEO Ran Poliakine told the Detroit News that GM would be the first carmaker to integrate wireless charging. Toyota and Chrysler have also said wireless-charging technology may become available for the 2014 model year, the newspaper notes. Of course, you could rig your own in-car setup today by connecting a Duracell Powermat to a DC-to-AC inverter for functional — if inelegant — wireless charging. GM's integrated setup should be a lot more seamless, but it will likely require phones outfitted with Powermat's wireless charging case.

Research firm IHS told the Detroit News it projects worldwide shipments of wireless charging devices to increase twentyfold between 2012 and 2015. Still, we'll believe in-car versions are here when we see them.

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By Kelsey Mays | August 19, 2013 | Comments (2)

GM Reduces Price of 2014 Chevrolet Volt

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A price cut on the 2014 Chevrolet Volt will save buyers of the gas-electric hatchback $5,000 compared with the 2013 version, GM announced today. Prices for the 2014 model will start at $34,995, including an $810 destination charge; the previous year's starting price was $39,995, including an $850 destination charge. Factoring in federal tax credits of as much as $7,500 (depending on individual tax liability), Chevrolet customers could ultimately drive their Volt home for $27,495 when it hits dealerships later this summer.

"We have made great strides in reducing costs as we gain experience with electric vehicles and their components," Don Johnson, a spokesman for Chevrolet, said in a statement. "In fact, the Volt has seen an increase in battery range and the addition of creature comforts, such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and MyLink, since its launch in 2010."

By Matt Schmitz | August 6, 2013 | Comments (0)

The Top 10 Smallest Recalls of 2013

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We recently counted down the top 10 biggest recalls reported by KickingTires in the first half of 2013. This week, we're out to show it's not always size that counts.

As we demonstrated last time out, among the many millions of vehicles for which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issues recalls each year, individual actions themselves can number in the millions — as was the case when Chrysler agreed to inspect and repair 2.7 million Jeep SUVs due to a potential fuel-system problem that could cause fires in rear-end collisions.

At the other end of the spectrum are recalls so small — single-digits-small — that in some cases it might be quicker for us just to shoot an email to the individual vehicle owners than it is to report it. Don't get us wrong; safety recalls are serious business and have the potential to save many lives each year. That said, some households have as many cars parked in their driveway right now as are affected by some recalls.

Without further ado, the smallest recalls reported by Cars.com so far in 2013 are:

By Matt Schmitz | July 29, 2013 | Comments (0)

Ford Hopes Focus EV Price Cut Sparks Sales

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If you've noticed automakers like Nissan, Honda and GM reducing the prices of their electric vehicles in recent months, then Ford's plan to slash the 2014 Focus EV's price won't come as a shock. Despite Ford's insistence that it would not follow suit, the Detroit automaker is now wooing mainstream buyers with a $4,000 discount on the EV for 2014, according to the Detroit News.

The new base price for the Focus EV is $35,995, including a $795 destination charge. That's down more than 10% from the previous base price, though still more than $6,000 costlier than the Nissan Leaf, the newspaper noted. A $7,500 federal tax credit knocks the price down to $28,495, including destination; in California, an additional state tax credit takes the price down another $2,500.

By Matt Schmitz | July 11, 2013 | Comments (0)

Recall Alert: 2012 Chevrolet Volt

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General Motors is recalling just four model-year 2012 versions of the Volt gas-electric hatchback due to a problem with the brakes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The affected vehicles were manufactured from March 1 through April 17, 2012 (check your vehicle's build date on a sticker on the driver-side doorjamb), and use a faulty brake pressure modulator valve. In these cars, brake pressure from the front brakes during a situation when the antilock brake or traction control systems engage is not relieved. If this happens, the brakes may lock up, increasing the risk of a crash.

GM will notify all affected owners starting Friday, and dealers will install a new brake pressure modulator valve free of charge. Owners can call Chevrolet at 866-694-6546 or NHTSA's vehicle safety hotline at 888-327-4236 for more info.

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By Jennifer Geiger | July 8, 2013 | Comments (0)

Plug-in Cars: Where Can You Buy Them?

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Thursday’s pricing announcement for the Chevrolet Spark EV likely piqued some interest on the West Coast, but chances are few others gave it much attention. GM will sell the all-electric hatchback only in California and Oregon; the automaker has announced no plans to sell it elsewhere, spokesman Kevin Kelly told us.

Where can EV fans find their cars? We tallied up the states.

No surprise: Californians get the biggest slice of the EV pie. Thank the state's zero-emissions vehicle mandate, which requires automakers to sell a certain percentage of zero-emissions vehicles, explained Ed Kim, AutoPacific's vice president of industry analysis. Nearby Washington state has adopted California's emissions requirements but not the ZEV quota, and states such as Oregon and a number along the East Coast have adopted both.

The emissions requirement should eventually align with the federal government's 2025 corporate average fuel economy requirements. But it still means "a plug-in car sold in Oregon counts towards California’s required ZEV volume for the automaker that makes that vehicle," Kim wrote in an email. "It’s not a natural consumer market for such vehicles, but rather a market legislated into existence."

By Kelsey Mays | May 24, 2013 | Comments (1)

Talkin' 'Bout Regeneration: Cadillac ELR Lets Driver Harness Power

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A new feature set to debut next year on the Cadillac ELR puts control over energy regeneration in the driver's hands. Equipped with the Regen on Demand system, the extended-range electric compact luxury coupe uses paddle shifters that enable the driver to temporarily control the regenerative braking system, which captures and stores braking energy in the battery pack for later use.

To engage Regen on Demand, the driver removes their foot from the accelerator and pulls back on either the left or right steering-wheel paddle, according to Cadillac. That provides greater deceleration than normal coasting and is similar to when a driver downshifts with a manual transmission, Cadillac stated. Releasing the paddle disengages the feature, allowing the vehicle to coast normally; it cannot stop the vehicle.

"Regen on Demand enables ELR drivers to actively recapture energy when slowing down, such as when approaching slower traffic or setting up for a tight turn," said Chris Thomason, ELR chief engineer. "This allows the driver to take a more active role in the electric vehicle driving experience."

By Matt Schmitz | April 16, 2013 | Comments (2)

Automakers Say EV Noisemakers Too Loud

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Two automaker groups are challenging a proposal for hybrids and electric vehicles to make artificial noises at low speeds. Congress authorized the initiative, aimed to keep drivers from pulling an Andy Bernard from "The Office" on nearby pedestrians or bicyclists, with the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act in December 2010. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration followed with a slew of proposals, which the Detroit News recapped today. Automakers would have to implement sounds that could be heard amid background noise at speeds up to 18.6 mph; automakers could craft their own noises, and the requirement would phase in beginning with the 2015 model year.

Several cars, including the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, already have their own pedestrian-detection noises. But two groups — the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers — representing virtually the entire auto industry declared the rule "too complicated" and "unnecessarily prescriptive," according to a joint statement via the Detroit News. Current noisemakers in the Leaf and Volt would fail NHTSA requirements.

Association of Global Automakers safety director Michael Cammisa said Friday that automakers support the regulation's intent, but the noise requirements are too loud. The Detroit News reports automakers want the noise-making threshold lowered to 12.4 mph, or the phase-in period delayed to 2018 to give the industry enough time to adapt. They're also concerned about global standardization; rules in Europe and Japan don't prescribe noisemaking at idle while U.S. rules could.

By Kelsey Mays | March 19, 2013 | Comments (6)

EV Range Info on EPA's Website is Tough to Find

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Finding the EPA's official combined city/highway range ratings for electric cars is not as easy as it should be. The EPA's website, FuelEconomy.gov, lists the rating in a comparison tool within its electric-car section, but not on the vehicle's main page alongside the prominently displayed miles per gallon equivalent rating. MPGe is not an estimate of how far a car can drive until it runs out of juice, like the EPA's estimated range.

The EPA defines combined range as "When the vehicle is fully charged, this value represents the approximate number of miles that can be traveled in combined city and highway driving before the vehicle must be recharged." In our testing, the EPA's estimated range has proved accurate with our long-term 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevrolet Volt. When driven until it was intentionally drained of power, our Leaf traveled 72 miles before calling it quits; that's a mile short of its 73-mile combined range rating.

By Joe Bruzek | January 23, 2013 | Comments (2)

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