Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016

Miscellaneous

01/12/2015

U.S. regulators hit Honda with record fine of $70 million for unreported deaths, injuries

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Federal authorities levied a record $70 million fine on Honda Motor Co. on Thursday for its failure to report more than 1,700 deaths and injuries in its vehicles.

“Today’s announcement sends a very clear message to the entire industry that manufacturers have responsibility for the complete and timely reporting of this critical safety information,” said Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “The actions we are requiring will push Honda to significantly raise the bar on the effectiveness of its . . . reporting program. Our ongoing oversight will ensure compliance and determine if there is cause for additional actions.”

Honda has agreed to pay the fine, federal officials said.

The punishment signals that recalls and penalties against automakers that set records in 2014 will continue this year. More than 60 million vehicles were recalled last year, nearly double the record set in 2004, and manufacturers faced an unprecedented $126 million in fines.

Honda, which blamed the underreporting on “inadvertent data entry or computer programming errors,” faced fines of $7,000 per day per violation, a maximum civil penalty of $35 million for failure to report the deaths and injuries. It was fined another $35 million for failing to report warranty claims to federal regulators.

Rosekind said the Department of Transportation would seek to have the maximum fine per violation increased to $300 million.

“We need to increase the cap, and only Congress has the ability to do that,” Rosekind said.

Honda said the reporting errors were discovered in a third-party audit conducted after the company received a demand from federal regulators for information.

“We have resolved this matter and will move forward to build on the important actions Honda has already taken to address our past shortcomings in early warning reporting,” Rick Schostek, Honda’s executive vice president for North America, said in a statement. “We continue to fully cooperate with NHTSA to achieve greater transparency and to further enhance our reporting practices.”


Honda Fined $70 Million For Underreporting Auto Problems: Slap On The Wrist Or Serious Fine?

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Back in November, we told you thatHonda  had failed to report more than 1,700 death and injury claims to U.S. regulators, and as a result, the Japanese automaker was facing fines of $35 million -- the maximum that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could impose.

NHTSA has now ruled on the matter, and Honda is going to shell out twice that sum:$70 million.

How is that possible? As is often the case in legal matters, it all comes down to a technicality. Or in this case, two of them. NHTSA sums up the situation nicely:

"The first civil penalty is a result of Honda's failure to report 1,729 death and injury claims to NHTSA between 2003 and 2014. The second civil penalty is due to the manufacturer's failure to report certain warranty claims and claims under customer satisfaction campaigns throughout the same time period."

And that's not all. Honda has also been ordered to

Develop a comprehensive, written policy for complying with U.S. laws about early warning reports;
Conduct annual training sessions for employees tasked with recording and filing those reports;
Submit to two third-party audits to verify compliance with the above.

And of course, Honda has to provide NHTSA with extensive details about the 1,729 incidents it failed to report to see if the agency can spot any patterns ofsafety  flaws (like in, say, its airbags).

OUR TAKE

Some have applauded Honda for owning up to its shortcomings. To many of us, that seems generous. If Honda hadn't been caught, would those 1,729 missing incident reports ever have come to light ? Honda is simply agreeing to do what it was obligated to do in the first place. (Honda isn't the only automaker to find itself in this position, but it's the most recent.)

If anyone deserves applause, it's NHTSA for getting aggressive with penalties. In 2014, the agency levied over $125 million in fines against a range of automakers and dealers, including a $35 million fine for GM, a $17.35 million fine for Hyundai, and a $3.5 million fine for Ferrari .

The problem is, as the auto market continues heating up and competition becomes much stiffer, automakers  may be tempted to cut corners. No, $70 million fines aren't a drop in anyone's bucket, but with annual company profits reaching into the billions, a few million could be a small price to pay for staying ahead. Pending legislation would increase the cap on NHTSA's...



12/12/2014

WHY FORD DUMPING MICROSOFT'S AUTOMOTIVE SOFTWARE WAS INEVITABLE—AND PROBABLY LONG OVERDUE

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YEARS AGO, THE CARMAKER TOOK AN EARLY LEAD IN INFOTAINMENT. THAT HELPS EXPLAIN WHY IT'S NOW FORCED TO START ALL OVER AGAIN

Ford is announcing a new infotainment system for its Ford and Lincoln vehicles today. Among its features: a streamlined, tablet-like interface with gestures such as swiping and pinch-to-zoom; smarter voice recognition; easier access to apps like Pandora and Spotify; Siri support for iPhone users; and the ability to update itself over your Wi-Fi network as your car sits in the garage or on the driveway. Some models will get the new system in 2015, and the company expects it to be available across all of its lines by the end of 2016.

Its name—Sync 3—suggests continuity, evolution, and close ties to the systems which preceded it. But in fact, Sync 3 isn't the third version of anything.

Previous versions of Sync were created in collaboration with Microsoft and based on an operating system currently known as Windows Embedded Automotive. In a move which first surfaced as a rumor last February, Sync 3 ditches Microsoft entirely in favor of QNX, an industrial-strength operating system owned by BlackBerry. (It also provides the underpinnings for BlackBerry 10 phones such as the Passport.)

Ford would rather that people focus on Sync 3's new features than on corporate intrigue involving its software partners. In fact, its press release about Sync 3 mentions neither Microsoft nor QNX—a pretty striking omission given that it once trumpeted its partnership with Microsoft. (Ford vehicles with existing flavors of Sync even have little plaques mounted on their dashboards touting Microsoft's involvement.)

Even if Ford isn't anxious to talk about it, the switch to QNX is an eminently sensible move. The software already has over 50% market share in the automotive business, counting BMW, Chrysler, GM, Honda, Mercedes, Toyota, and others among its customers. Ford is pretty much adopting an industry standard.

But I cheerfully concede that I'm not receiving this news as a calm, objective reporter. A year ago, I bought a Ford Focus hatchback with MyFord Touch, which has been Ford's top-of-the-line system until now. The only way that I and other owners of current versions of Sync will be able to get Sync 3 is with an entire new Ford or Lincoln wrapped around it: The new system, which replaces the resistive touch screen of previous Sync systems with a more responsive screen based on capacitive technology, will not be available as an upgrade.

Ford connected-car honcho Don Butler took pains to emphasize to me that the...


Ford Dropping MyFord Touch Name on New Dashboard Controls

Ford Motor Co. (F:US), which debuted a new dashboard touchscreen infotainment system today, is dropping the MyFord Touch brand name associated with technical glitches that dinged the automaker’s quality rankings.

Sync 3, as the new system is called, comes with smartphone-inspired features and replaces the old name on all of the company’s latest models, Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields said. Ford developed the new system with Blackberry Ltd’s QNX unit and Panasonic Corp., Fields said. Ford worked with Microsoft Corp. on the development of Sync, which debuted in 2007. 

Malfunctioning technology on MyFord Touch screens caused the second largest U.S. automaker to drop in quality rankings from J.D. Power & Associates and Consumer Reports after the system was introduced in 2010. The new system is simpler, faster and features a pinch and swipe screen similar to smartphones and tablets, Ford said. It was developed by tapping more than 22,000 suggestions from customers, the company said at an unveiling in Dearborn, Michigan.

“The MyFordTouch label (and Sync before it) has been the modern-day equivalent of Edsel for the automaker, so good riddance,” Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst for automotive researcher AutoTrader.com, said in a statement, referring to the famous flop of the horse-collared Edsel sedan that Ford debuted in 1957 and discontinued after only three years.

“What’s more important than the name, however, is the ease-of-use and quality function of Ford’s infotainment system.”

The new system adds the Siri voice control function for owners of Apple Inc.(AAPL:US)’s iPhone. The screen has larger virtual buttons and high-contrast fonts that don’t get washed out by the sun’s glare. A feature known as “AppLink” automatically finds apps on the driver’s smartphones, such as the Pandora music-streaming service, and displays it on the dashboard screen, according to the statement today. The system also can receive over-the-air software updates using Wi-Fi.

“Clearly, we had some quality issues” with MyFord Touch, Fields told reporters today. “We addressed that. We’ve listened to customers.”

For Related News and Information: Mulally Says Microsoft Sync Partnership Is ‘Big Deal’ for Ford Ford Reliability Plummets as Toyota Tops Consumer Reports Survey Ford Said to Drop Microsoft for BlackBerry in Sync Systems



12/04/2014

NASA’s Orion Launch Delayed After Booster Malfunction

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NASA scrapped its planned test flight of the Orion spacecraft today after a valve malfunction on two of the boosters. It plans to reattempt the effort tomorrow or Dec. 6, weather permitting.

The scheduled 7:05 a.m. launch was delayed four times, once for an unauthorized boat in the range, twice for high wind gusts and then, when the weather improved, a problem with the boosters was detected. Orion had a 2-hour and 39-minute window in which to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The mission will be NASA’s first new manned program since the space shuttle’s 1981 debut, designed to give the agency a ship for long-range missions to asteroids next decade and to Mars in the 2030s. Built by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT:US), Orion is named after one of the largest constellations in the night sky.

“We have scrubbed for the day. Setting up for a 24-hour recycle for an attempt tomorrow,” United Launch Alliance said in a Twitter post. United Launch Alliance is a venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co. (BA:US) that made the Delta IV Heavy rocket being used for the launch.

The weather forecast for Dec. 5 shows a 40 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for the launch, Lockheed Martin said in a statement. If the launch can’t proceed tomorrow, it will be pushed back to Dec. 6. NASA has a limit of wind speeds of 21 knots, a level that was breached twice today, causing delays before the problem with the boosters emerged.

Just before a fourth attempted launch, there was a warning that the liquid hydrogen fill and drain valves on both the port and center common booster cores didn’t properly close. Engineers from the National Aeronautical and Space Administration worked to troubleshoot the issue but ultimately time ran out on the 9:44 a.m. deadline.

A series of spacecraft accidents this year have put a spotlight on safety. In October an unmanned Antares rocket from Orbital Sciences Corp. (ORB:US), with which the space agency had contracted to carry cargo to the International Space Station, exploded seconds after takeoff. Days later, a spacecraft for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Ltd. tourism operator crashed during a test flight, killing the co-pilot and injuring the pilot.


Weather stalls NASA Orion launch

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NASA's launch plans for the Orion spacecraft today have been hit with unexpectedly strong winds, leaving the first flight of the new capsule on hold as weather conditions are monitored. Orion was meant to blast off from Cape Canaveral at 7:05am EST today, but an automatic shutdown was triggered when systems caught strong winds whistling past the launch platform. A second attempt less than an hour later was similarly blocked by NASA's safety-conscious systems.

NASA uses a program to automatically detect wind speed and trigger a freeze of the countdown should it exceed a 21 knot (24.2 mph) limit.

While the delay was frustrating, NASA was nonetheless confident that it could get Orion off the ground today. The launch window extends to 9:44am/14:44 UTC, the space agency said.

Orion was transferred to internal power at 7:48am ET ahead of the second launch attempt. Permission to launch was given twominutes later.

However, a second automatic shut-down ended the count only seconds after it began.

"There is optimism today," a NASA spokesperson said of the chances of getting Orion - and the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket it sits atop - off the ground.

Update: NASA has cleared an issue with Common Booster Core - the central engine - and has reset the launch for 8:26 AM ET.

Although the craft is designed for deep-space missions, including eventually taking a manned crew to Mars, its journey today will be considerably shorter.

In fact, Orion will jaunt twice around the Earth before splashing down off the coast of Baja, California. Rather than a human crew, it's filled with test equipment to see how factors like radioactivity and heat, not to mention the considerable forces involved, might affect future astronauts.

Their accommodations will be small but incredibly safety-conscious. A full crew of six should be able to survive in a depressurized cabin for up to six days, NASA's criteria demand.



11/12/2014

Missouri governor pledges safety in Ferguson as city awaits grand jury ruling

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WELDON SPRINGS, Mo. — Gov. Jay Nixon on Tuesday tried to reassure residents that the public will be safe no matter the outcome of a grand jury decision on whether to charge an officer in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

“To all Missourians, to people around the country and around the world, we are going to keep this region safe,” said Nixon (D), flanked by officials of several local police departments that will be on guard against any potential violence.

For weeks, residents, businesses and activists have anxiously awaited news of whether Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot Brown, will face charges. Wilson killed Brown, who was African American, 18 and unarmed, on Aug. 9 after an encounter on a street not far from Brown’s grandmother’s home.

Unrest erupted after the shooting, including the looting and burning of some businesses. Many fear more violence will erupt if Wilson is not indicted.

Nixon insisted that officers will respect the rights of residents to protest but stopped short of discussing any specific demands made by protest groupsregarding “rules of engagement,” saying only that “our dual pillars here are safety and speech.”

The governor said that 1,000 officers have undergone training to prepare for the response to potential unrest. He also noted that the National Guard could be deployed, but he would not comment on whether that deployment would happen before the grand jury announcement.

In August, in response to demonstrators, most of them peaceful, local police used militarized equipment, deployed tear gas and rubber-coated bullets and arrested hundreds — including several dozen journalists.

A number of protest groups, which have continued almost daily demonstrations, have said they want demonstrations to be peaceful as well and for weeks have been in talks with police to try to prevent violence. But they have also challenged authorities, saying it was the response of police that escalated events this summer.

“For nearly 100 days, the preponderance of violence has come from the hands of police. We have proven we can peacefully assemble and function at a protest; can the police say the same?” said Damon Davis, a member of the Don’t Shoot Coalition, a collection of scores of groups.

His comments, along with those of other activists, were released in a coalition statement before Nixon’s news conference.

For...


Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon: ‘Violence will not be tolerated’ after grand jury decision

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The National Guard is ready to step in if local law enforcement and extra officers from around the state become overwhelmed.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon spoke to the media on Tuesday about law enforcement preparations to keep businesses and residents safe after a grand jury decision on whether to indict the police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9.

When Brown was fatally shot in August, the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, endured days of protests, some of which were violent. This time, according to Gov. Nixon, “violence will not be tolerated.”

“Our dual pillars here are safety and speech,” Nixon added. “The vast majority of people who want to speak want to do so in a peaceful fashion.”

According to The Christian Science Monitor, police officers in the region have been given specialized training in crowd control and officers from around the region are ready to offer support to police in Ferguson. Nixon also said that the National Guard is ready to step in if local law enforcement and extra officers from around the state become overwhelmed.

“These measures are not being taken because we are convinced violence will occur, but because we have a responsibility to prepare for any contingency,” Nixon explained.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that gun sales in the region have increased by 50 percent in the last several weeks as nervous residents prepare for the grand jury decision.



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