IIHS: Late-Model SUVs Have Lowest Driver Death Rate; Small Cars Have the Highest

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Remember the old warning of SUVs rolling over and killing you? Thanks to the spread of electronic stability systems, the opposite is now true. Late-model SUVs have the lowest driver death rates among all cars, according to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In fact, the rollover death rate for model-year 2011 vehicles is 75 percent lower than it was among 2004 model-year cars.

Related: Study: Half of Young Driver Fatalities Were in Vehicles at Least 11 Years Old

IIHS analyzed driver death rates for 2011 models and 2008-2010 versions of the same cars (not a previous generation) from the 2009 through 2012 calendar year. During the observed period, two models accounted for zero driver deaths: the Honda Odyssey minivan and the Subaru Legacy sedan. Certain versions of seven other models had zero driver deaths, too: the front-wheel-drive Kia Sorento and all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive versions of the Audi A4, Lexus RX 350, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Toyota Sequoia and Volvo XC90. Other versions of those models either had higher death rates or too small a sample size, IIHS spokesman Russ Rader told us, and the study was too far along by the time 2013 fatality data arrived late last year.

In total, five of the nine zero-death cars were SUVs. By contrast, eight of the 10 cars with the highest driver death rates were small cars:

By Kelsey Mays | January 29, 2015 | Comments (0)

NHTSA Spotlight Could Hasten Spread of Auto-Braking Systems

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Forward collision warning systems are now available on cars as affordable as the Ford Focus and Mazda3, but a new spotlight from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration could hasten their spread. On Thursday, NHTSA announced plans to add more collision-mitigation technologies to its list of recommended features in the government's five-star crash-test ratings.

Related: Number of IIHS Top Safety Picks Spike for 2015

It follows the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's recent move to require the availability of forward collision warning systems with effective auto-braking for its highest award, Top Safety Pick Plus. Under the "recommended technologies" section next to each car's five-star crash-test ratings, NHTSA will highlight systems that automatically brake just before a collision or add braking if you don't brake hard enough.

The features, respectively dubbed crash imminent braking (CIB) and dynamic brake support (DBS), are part of what NHTSA calls automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems. The acronym soup targets more specific action than the larger umbrella of forward collision warning systems, which warn the driver but don't necessarily auto-brake. According to IIHS, more than 51 percent of 2015 models offer forward collision warning as standard or optional, but just 27 percent pair that with auto-braking.

By Kelsey Mays | January 23, 2015 | Comments (3)

What Was the Best-Selling Car in 2014?

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With all major automakers reporting their figures, auto sales in 2014 are up about 6 percent over 2013 for a grand total of around 16.5 million cars. That would be the auto industry's best year since 2006 or 2005, depending on final totals for 2014 from smaller automakers.

Related: Top 10 Best-Selling Cars: December 2014

The Ford F-Series' 753,851 sales for the year put the truck atop the industry's new-car sales ladder for the umpteenth time, which should surprise no one. What's more interesting is the timing of it. The F-150 accounts for roughly two-thirds of F-Series sales in any given year, and F-Series sales slipped 1.3 percent in 2014. But that came with scant sales from the redesigned 2015 F-150 — meaning somewhere around 500,000 F-Series sales in 2014 were from the old F-150. It's a testament to the truck's popularity, as those shoppers didn't exactly come for the deals. For most months in 2014, year-over-year cash incentives on the F-Series stayed roughly equivalent to their year-before levels.

Helped by a strong construction market and sliding gas prices in the second half of 2014, full-size pickups had a strong year. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Ram pickup and GM's Chevrolet Silverado each saw double-digit sales gains, though shoppers found relatively more incentives on both trucks in 2014 versus 2013. We'll see how the new F-150 affects F-Series sales in 2015 and if FCA and GM ratchet up the deals to keep pace.

By Kelsey Mays | January 5, 2015 | Comments (4)

Top 10 Best-Selling Cars: December 2014

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If kids spent December piling into the loot from Santa, parents spent it piling into the trucks at their local dealership. Detroit's full-size pickups led the month's top sellers, followed in fourth place by Honda's popular SUV, the CR-V. It received a substantial update for 2015, and three months after it hit dealerships, demand is still strong. Despite no big incentives and comparatively little inventory — 34 days' supply in December versus 67 days a year ago, per Automotive News — shoppers lifted the CR-V past perennial midsize sedan favorites.

Related: December's Fastest- and Slowest-Selling Cars

It was a trend writ large among all SUVs. Excluding luxury models, small crossovers gained about 12 percent in December. Big three-row crossovers and full-size, truck-based SUVs piled on about 15 percent apiece. Falling fuel prices all month long helped: Between the final helping of Thanksgiving leftovers and the final chorus of "Auld Lang Syne," a gallon of regular gas dropped some 50 cents nationwide, according to AAA. As of Jan. 2, it averaged just $2.23 per gallon across the country — $1.09 cheaper than it was a year ago.

That bolstered pickup sales, but not for the truck you'd think. Ford's redesigned 2015 F-150 trickled into dealerships in December, but it's still in short supply, accounting for less than 10 percent of new F-150 inventory on Cars.com. F-Series sales ebbed (the F-150 accounts for about two-thirds of that), but pickup shoppers snapped up Ram and Chevrolet Silverado trucks. Both had sales gains of more than 30 percent, and neither one did that with big year-over-year incentives.

By Kelsey Mays | January 5, 2015 | Comments (0)

FCA, BMW Expand Takata Airbag Recalls

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Two more automakers have expanded their Takata airbag recalls. BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced major expansions to their campaigns, which affect cars with faulty airbag inflators that could rupture when they deploy and send shrapnel into occupants. Inflators have been reportedly linked to at least five deaths and dozens of injuries, but Takata maintains that the problem only occurs in high-humidity areas.

Related: NHTSA Urges Automakers to Issue National Recall for Takata Airbags

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration remains skeptical, issuing a Nov. 18 recommendation that all 10 automakers involved expand their recalls nationwide. Honda, Mazda and Ford have done so, and last week saw two more players follow suit.

By Kelsey Mays | December 22, 2014 | Comments (1)

Audi Plans Tesla Model S Fighter

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Tesla just beat out Porsche and Audi as the top brand in a consumer satisfaction survey from Consumer Reports, and the industry is taking notice. Now, The Detroit News reports Audi plans to build a competitor to the California luxury-carmaker’s sole car, the Model S.

Related: Tesla Launches Model S Lease Program

But the German brand won't develop a sedan (or hatchback, technically) like the Model S. Rather, Audi says it will likely build an electric crossover as its Tesla fighter. It would come on the heels of electric versions of the A3 compact, due this year, and the R8 sports car planned for next year. Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said the Model S fighter is "probably going to be a crossover, but development work is still ongoing," according to the newspaper.

Click here to read the full story.

Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

By Kelsey Mays | December 12, 2014 | Comments (3)

Goodbye, MyFord Touch; Hello, Sync 3

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MyFord Touch, maligned for its unintuitive touch-sensitive buttons, tiny touch-screen icons and overall lag, will finally head into the sunset. This is exactly 1,800 days since we first reported on the system, which appeared in the restyled 2011 Ford Edge and its 2011 Lincoln MKX sibling.

Related: 2015 Ford Fusion Review

Four years, 11 months and 5 days later, meet Sync 3. The third generation of Ford's Sync system (the automaker already markets Sync 2 in Europe), Sync 3 promises conversational voice recognition, less complexity, smartphone-like pinch and swipe touch-screen motions, better app integration and over-the-air updates through home WiFi networks, according to Ford.

By Kelsey Mays | December 11, 2014 | Comments (0)

Congress Moves Closer to Choosing NHTSA Chief

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You probably haven't heard of Mark Rosekind, a former NASA member who's been on the National Transportation Safety Board since 2010. But he soon may head to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the country's top auto-safety agency. The Detroit News reports the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved Rosekind's nomination on Dec. 9. If nominated, he would replace a chair vacated by outgoing NHTSA chief David Strickland nearly a year ago.

Related: New York Times: NHTSA Has 'Record of Missteps'

Deputy Administrator David Friedman has been at the helm since then, fueling speculation he might be the eventual heir, but that isn't the case. After being nominated by President Barack Obama in November, Rosekind's committee approval moves him to the Senate floor for a vote. One senator told The Detroit News he thinks the chamber will confirm Rosekind this week. His NTSB biography describes eminence in the field of human fatigue, having launched a Cupertino, Calif., consulting firm called Alertness Solutions, which consulted on the science of fatigue management. He also directed an anti-fatigue program at NASA and oversaw human-sleep research at Stanford University's Sleep Disorders and Research Center.

The upshot for consumers? If Strickland's legacy was distracted driving, Rosekind may clamp down on tired driving.

By Kelsey Mays | December 10, 2014 | Comments (0)

Honda Reduces Takata Airbag Expansion to 2.6 Million Cars

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Three days after Honda announced a massive expansion to its Takata-supplied airbag recall, the automaker said Dec. 8 that it would trim the nationwide driver-side airbag recall by some 600,000 vehicles. It still leaves 2.6 million cars in the recall expansion, but that’s short of the 3.2 million announced Dec. 5, The Detroit News reports.

Related: What Cars Are Included in the Takata Airbag Recall?

Pressure has mounted from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recall vehicles from 10 automakers with faulty Takata airbag inflators across the entire U.S., but Japanese supplier Takata has resisted because it claims its own testing confirms inflators only pose a risk in high-humidity areas. Honda is the only automaker to publically extend its campaign across all 50 states; others have recalled cars mostly in the Gulf Coast, Hawaii and various U.S. territories. Honda's national recall will reportedly phase in over several months, with the initial focus on high-humidity areas.

For more details, click here to read the story from The Detroit News.

Cars.com photo by Joe Wiesenfelder

By Kelsey Mays | December 9, 2014 | Comments (1)

Many Automakers Expand Takata Airbag Recall, But Feds Still Want More

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At least six automakers expanded their recalls this week for faulty airbag inflators from parts supplier Takata Corp. The affected airbags can launch shrapnel into passengers as they deploy; incidents were observed in high-humidity areas, prompting 10 automakers to recall scores of 2000s-era models registered in states such as Florida. The total previously stood at nearly 8 million cars, but that figure is rising fast.

Related: What Cars Are Included in the Takata Airbag Recall?

After findings suggested the inflators could fail outside the recalled areas — and were possible with driver's-side airbags, not just the passenger airbags originally investigated — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pressed on Nov. 18 for automakers to recall cars across all 50 states. This week, many automakers expanded their campaigns, but only Honda pushed the recall nationwide. Just this morning, the automaker said it would recall another 3 million cars for the driver's-side airbag, The Detroit News reports. That brings the total to at least 11 million, and it's the latest in a string of developments in a recall crisis blamed for at least five deaths so far.

By Kelsey Mays | December 5, 2014 | Comments (0)

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