-Even after a death toll from crashes related to faulty ignition switches that now totals more than 100 people, 2.6-million cars recalled, a $35-million civil fine, and hundreds of millions of dollars set aside to pay victims’ claims, it appears the news for General Motors regarding its defective ignition switches is about to get worse. A report in the Wall Street Journal says that federal prosecutors are close to issuing criminal charges in the matter.
The ignition switches, which were used in the 2003–2007 Saturn Ion, 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5, 2006–2011 Chevrolet HHR, 2006–2010 Pontiac Solstice, and 2007–2010 Saturn Sky, have a weak spring that can allow a heavy keychain to move the switch out of the “run” position, turning off the engine, resulting in a loss of power steering and brakes, the shutting off of safety systems such as the airbags, and possibly a crash.-
An internal investigation revealed that engineers knew of the problem but approved the design anyway, then later redesigned the switch to fix it but did not assign a new part number to the altered switch as required. They also lied about and covered up their actions. GM CEO Mary Barra fired 15 employees over the matter. But the company also has been criticized for taking years to act on the complaints, which it had received both from owners and from NHTSA.-
The U.S. Justice Department’s criminal investigation, headed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, has been underway for more than a year. The question is whether it will prosecute individual employees for wrongdoing—which would be unusual—or just the company itself. In a statement released today, GM said it was “cooperating fully with all requests” but had no further comment.-
Federal investigators have identified criminal wrongdoing in General Motors’ ignition switch recall.
Justice Department investigators are negotiating what will likely become a record penalty to the American automaker after identifying criminal wrongdoing in General Motors’ failure to disclose a defect that resulted in at least 104 deaths. The settlement could be reached as early as this summer and will likely surpass Toyota’s $1.2 billion that was paid last year for the unintended acceleration issue.
What will separate GM from Toyota is that the American automaker has been eager to resolve the investigation, which will earn it cooperation credit. Toyota, on the other hand, fought prosecutors on the accusations rather than cooperating with the investigation.
In addition, former GM employees are under investigation and could face criminal charges as a result of the ignition switch recall. According to the report from The New York Times, federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the FBI investigated whether GM failed to comply with laws that require timely disclosure of defects and misled regulators on the extent of the issue.
Authorities also investigated GM on whether it committed fraud during its 2009 bankruptcy by not disclosing the defect.
[Source: The New York Times]
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What an odd duck the Indianapolis 500 is—embracing the latest in technology while steadfastly holding tight to traditions so old half the audience is unlikely to understand them without an explanation from a helpful pre-dementia graybeard.-
Today, for example, was Carburetor Day, an hour of pre-race practice to allow mechanics to properly adjust the carburetors on the participating race cars. In 2000, bowing to the vernacular of the new century, it was shortened to “Carb Day.”-
This, of course, despite the fact that the last two cars to use carburetors in the Indianapolis 500 were Lotus-Ford teammates Dan Gurney and Jim Clark in 1963. Clark, a rookie—which certainly stretched the definition of “rookie,” as he won the first of his two Formula 1 championships that year—finished second, and Gurney fifth, despite daring to have their little engines behind the driver. Clark won the race in a Lotus in 1965, and by then some of the forward-looking competitors thought that maybe the engine did belong in the back. Incidentally, 1965 was the year gasoline was phased out for methanol, though mechanics continue to work on the race cars in Gasoline Alley. (Now we await the day when Roger Penske takes a long, hard look at the rules and finds some loophole that will allow a carbureted, gas-powered engine to develop like a thousand horsepower, which he secretly builds, enters, and wins with.)-
Previously, the cars, be they Honda- or Chevrolet-powered, wore the same outfit: It was created by the fashion designers at Dallara, which also designed the rest of the car. All along, different body kits were planned, but they finally arrived this year.-
But there was a problem. Chevrolet appears to have done a better job of designing its body kits for the street- and road-course races, which is all the types that have been held this year. Chevrolets have dominated, and they lost only the rain-soaked New Orleans race to Honda’s James Hinchcliffe. Plus, at the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, the complex aero pieces were also fragile when struck by the out-of-practice, overeager field, and they shed parts like a modern-day Yugo.-
Most of these were Honda parts, thanks to a nose that was seemingly designed by Salvador Dali. The Chevrolet, noted defending champ and Chevy driver Will Power, “doesn’t have as much crap on it to fall off,” a comment made minutes before he was likely asked to attend a media-training refresher. One of those parts, as you may have heard, was apparently booted off the track by another car and landed on the head of (presumably former) race fan Brigitte Hoffstetter, fracturing her skull. The pregnant Hoffstetter supposedly was 100 yards from the track at a concession stand. The body kits were reworked before the Long Beach, New Orleans, and Barber Motorsports Park races and seem to shed fewer parts, but the Hondas were still slower than the Chevrolets.-
But those are not superspeedway oval races, and an entirely new body kit is being utilized for Indy. Team owners were concerned about the lack of testing of the new kits.-
Some team owners were more than just concerned, and not just about the Indy body kits, but about the “new look” in general, assuming anyone can tell the difference in the Honda and Chevy bodies at more than 200 mph. Said Michael Andretti, who is fielding more Hondas than anyone else: “All I can say is that I’ve been talking about this from day one. I said, ‘Guys, you’re doing two things: You’re putting a huge expense into the series, and you’re messing with our product on the racetrack, which I think is the best product out there.’ You can only lose in this scenario—you’re not going to gain. Now we have a split field. Why? Millions and millions of dollars have been spent by manufacturers and the teams, and I don’t see that it has put one more person in the stands.”-
And this was before he, or anyone else, had gotten the opportunity to real-world test the superspeedway kits at Indianapolis. And when they did: Yes, the Hondas were still slower.-
But it also seemed like the Chevrolets were crashing and going airborne. First was Penske veteran Helio Castroneves, who got loose, corrected, spun, and took off like a V-22 Osprey. Then Josef Newgarden “cut a tire on debris,” said Firestone, hit the wall, and took off—not like an Osprey, but he still could have sold advertising on the bottom of his car. And then Ed Carpenter, polesitter the last two years, spun earlier than anyone would have expected in a turn, hit the wall, and did not exactly launch, but still went upside down, sliding on his roll bar.-
Which brings to mind the time NASCAR driver Rick Mast flipped at Talladega and slid on his roof for what seemed like 20 minutes. A TV broadcaster asked the uninjured Mast what he was thinking as he slid down the pavement. Mast said: “I was thinking, ‘Please stop!’ ”-
Derrick Walker, veteran car owner, former driver, and in-general level head, is the chief of IndyCar’s competition side, and he pointed out that the three airborne Chevrolets were different wrecks, with different causes. Castroneves’s crash was by far the most dramatic, as it possibly pointed up some genuine oversights in the aero package. IndyCar responded by telling Chevrolet teams to remove an odd little wickerbill-thing that is essentially a little vertical strip that ran from nose to cockpit. No one made any guarantees that it was the problem, but it was easy to address.-
Indy officials mandated that for qualifying the teams abandon their lower-downforce, higher-speed qualifying bits and pieces, as well as give back the added horsepower IndyCar was allowing for qualifying only, which made for a careful, processional, uneventful qualification on Sunday after Saturday’s rain. Nobody went airborne.-
Honda teams were upset that they were required to make the same changes to their setups as were Chevrolet teams since no Hondas had gone airborne, but the company and the teams kept that mostly to themselves. And it didn’t help that eight of the top 10 qualifiers were Chevrolets.-
Indy’s 99th Airborne squad might have still been in the headlines had it not been for Honda driver James Hinchcliffe’s horrible crash in Monday practice, where the right-front suspension rocker arm broke, sending him into the wall at 125 g’s. Parts of the front suspension penetrated the cockpit, as well as, reportedly, Hinchcliffe’s leg and pelvis, and we came very close to losing him. Everyone in Gasoline Alley is checking rocker arms.-
As far as the airborne incidents go, only the Castroneves crash was a true blowover; the other cars went airborne primarily because of the attitude at which they struck the wall. Castroneves simply started going backwards at more than 200 mph. All those aerodynamic aids that help press the car to the ground when you are going forward do little to help you stay on solid ground when you go backwards.-
“You have a 1600-pound object that is essentially designed as a wing, designed to push the car down to the ground. But that is when you are going forward. Airplanes take off at speeds between 60 and 150 mph. We’re going 230 mph. When something goes wrong, and you are going backwards, bad things can happen,” said driver Townsend Bell, who will start his ninth Indy 500. “It’s always been that way at Indy, for a hundred years. The track is about one thing, and one thing only: How fast can you go around this oval? It’s a speed contest first, a race second,” Bell told Car and Driver.-
“When something happens at Indy, it’s often like an airplane crash. Always has been. I don’t want to downplay the severity of the crashes we’ve seen, but to say I’m surprised, or have any increased fear, would be very naïve of me. Because that concern is always there, from your first race on.” And, no, Bell says, he can’t feel any difference in this year’s Chevrolet aero kit and last year’s Dallara aero kit.-
Besides being spectacular to see on television, going airborne is especially concerning in open-cockpit cars. If the car comes down on the fence cockpit-first or, as it did in the case of the late Dan Wheldon, hits a fence pole in just the wrong spot—or if another car can’t stop and penetrates the driver’s compartment—well, it’s horrible to imagine.-
Will cars fly on Sunday? We hope the hell not, but if one goes backwards at high speeds, it could, because that’s what cars do. Aerodynamic technology is actively working on the concept of keeping the car planted whether it is going forwards, backwards, or sideways, but we’re not there yet.-
Remember Rick Mast, and that flip in his No. 1 Skoal Bandit Chevrolet in the 1991 Diehard 500 NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway? His 3600-pound car was nudged from behind by Buddy Baker’s car, and Mast spun 180 degrees, the car continued going backwards, and it flipped upside down. And hit the wall and slid on its roof for nearly a quarter-mile. Mast was fine, but he had a roof. IndyCars don’t have a roof. So, in Mast’s words, please stop.-
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The next-gen Porsche 911, due to be launched about four to five years from now, will most likely be available as a plug-in hybrid, according to sources familiar with the project. Internally called the 992, the fully redesigned model will be powered by turbocharged flat-six engines; four-cylinder models are possible, but an unlikely option.-
The plug-in hybrid will draw from technologies developed for other Porsche models, such as the next-generation Panamera. It will allow Porsche to cut fuel consumption and emissions dramatically—maybe not so much in real life, but in the European emissions testing that favors electrified vehicles. The 992 will keep its unique rear-engine layout, which creates challenges in vehicle dynamics, but allows for a rear-seat compartment, and is demanded by 911 purists.-
While work on the 992 is still in its early stages, today’s 911 (known as the 991) is set to receive a facelift later this year. It will lose the naturally aspirated flat-six currently offered in the Carrera and Carrera S, to be replaced by turbocharged flat-six engines. The seven-speed manual transmission will continue to be offered on those entry-level models, but more powerful versions stay with the seven-speed PDK dual-cutch automatic.-
The decision to abort the manual box on the GT3 was controversial, but for the time being, the automatic is all you get on the GT3 and its derivatives. The manual-equipped Cayman GT4, however, proves there is a learning process going on at Porsche. If a manual ever does return to the faster 911 models, we have a request: Go back to six speeds.-
Stylistically, changes to the second phase of the 991—the many variants of which will be launched sequentially, not all at once—are understood to be mild. They pertain to the rear end mostly, which has to be modified for the new turbos’ specific cooling needs.-
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Bad news for Porsche 918 Spyder owners: Porsche is recalling a bunch of the quickest-ever production hypercars for a wiring problem affecting vehicles manufactured up until April of this year. Alert every 918 owner you know.-
The problem has to do with the electric wiring harness for one of the car’s many radiator fans, which can chafe up against a carbon-fiber component in certain cases. Porsche says the fix will involve rerouting the wiring harness, and the production line has been updated with the fix so it shouldn’t affect the car from this point forward.-
Porsche says the recall affects 223 vehicles in the U.S., and diagnosis and repair will take about a half a day. Somehow, we imagine most owners of the $850,000 machine have a second car to drive while their hybrid screamers are in the shop.-
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BMW has a proud history of launching design studies at the famous Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este, on the shores of Italy’s Lake Como. Over the past few years, BMW has worked with traditional coachbuilders; this time around, the project was conceived and executed in-house. That’s entirely appropriate, as the design team under Adrian van Hooydonk and Karim Habib set out to recreate one of the brand’s icons: the 3.0 CSL, the famous “Batmobile,” based on the E9 3.0 CS/CSi and an incredibly successful racer well beyond its production run.-
Painted in a traditional CSL color, with classic proportions, aggressive lighting elements, and liberal use of carbon fiber, it captures the spirit of the 3.0 CSL in a most convincing manner. The concept is not a technology showcase, but BMW’s exterior chief designer Karim Habib envisions a powerful engine with an appropriate sound. “The car is about street racing,” he says.-
Informed by the 3.0 CSL and unhampered by any packaging and regulatory constraints, this is a car with little chance to see production. It is a one-off, BMW insists. Although it doesn’t hint at an upcoming model, we’d be happy to see many of its styling elements on future BMWs.-
And perhaps this concept is the much-needed reminder that BMW can still do more than downsized, hybridized, and front-wheel-drive vehicles. Well played, BMW. You won us over again.-
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