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Five Thoughts about the Auto Industry for April 8, 2011

April 8, 2011 – 4:20 pm | 2,242 views

Another week has come and gone, and with it a number of interesting trends and stories in the automotive industry that don’t always get covered by the mainstream press.  Let’s take a quick look at a few of the goings-on that caught my eye over the past seven days.

1 – Rental Car Recalls – Is A Two-Tier System Safe?

Rental car companies have a history of not always answering the recall bell when prompted by NHTSA announcements of safety defects that need to be taken care of.  This can be a particular issue for those who buy secondhand rental cars and who aren’t informed of the fact that outstanding recalls might apply to their newly purchased vehicles.  Adding to the confusion is the fact that the American Car Rental Association is now pushing for a “two-tiered” recall system that would allow rental car companies to keep some vehicles in circulation – as in, actively rented – despite the requirement of safety-related repairs.  The ACRA is claiming that the severity of certain recalls does not warranty an immediate response.  The bottom line for consumers could be twofold:  increased worry over the safety of rental cars while still in service, and new concerns about the recall history of models put up for sale at the end of their tour of duty with the major chains.

2 – Diesel Jeep Models a Distinct Possibility

Jeep has offered common rail diesel (CRD) engines in a few of its models in the recent past (such as in the Jeep Liberty and the Jeep Grand Cherokee), and while emissions concerns eventually took those torque-laden power plants out of the model lineup, the brand is considering re-introducing them in North America.  Jeep CEO Michael Manley is keen on efficient diesel motors in certain models as long as emissions regulations can be satisfied using available technologies.  Fuel mileage for CRD engines is typically much better than that of their gasoline equivalents, but even with the current squeeze on gas prices diesel Jeeps are most likely two to three years away from production.

3 – Fruity Goodness for Future Car Parts

Imagine a dashboard made out of pineapples and bananas.  No, this isn’t a sketch from Sesame Street, it’s a very real possibility being advanced by scientists behind the development of fruit-based plastics.  With companies like Ford pushing forward with plant-based seating materials and other interior components, the concept of plastics made from fruit is not quite as far-out as it might initially seem.  Given that current automotive plastics are largely derived from petroleum products, the move towards more sustainable plastics is definitely a positive one.

4 – Texas Boosts Speed Limit to 85-MPH

There was once a time when Montana could claim America’s fastest daytime speed limit (“Reasonable and Prudent” read the signs between 1995 and 1999, when it dropped down to 75-mph), but that honor was eventually bestowed to Texas, which currently boasts 520 miles of 80-mph highways.  In an effort to match the vaunted reputation of Germany’s unrestricted autobahns, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill this week that will enable the state’s DOT to raise speed limits to 85-mph on roads which meet certain engineering and traffic criteria.

5 – Jaguar Teases About Its Upcoming 3 Series Competitor

Jaguar has had a compact gap in its lineup since the disappearance of the poorly received Jaguar X-Type a few short years ago.  As part of its efforts to become a more fully-featured luxury automaker, the brand is tackling the sporty entry-level premium sedan segment with vigor, promising to introduce a new compact model within a relatively short period of time.  Dubbed the Jaguar XS, the model will undoubtedly be very different from the departed X-Type, which was in no way a sales threat to the class-leading BMW 3 Series.  Look for Jaguar to avoid the mistakes it made in the United States with the X-Type and instead offer a more premium set of features and equipment in the XS.

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