It’s Friday once again, which means it’s time for another round of my Five For Friday: Five Thoughts about the Auto Industry for April 26, 2013. NHTSA issues distracted driving guidelines, the Prius sales slowdown, BMW Competition packages, Fisker's disappearing act, and a new Lexus crossover - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
01. Distracted Driving Guidelines Issued By NHTSA
The NHTSA has released voluntary guidelines to automakers, with the aim of reducing driver distractions behind the wheel. Although the guidelines do not have the force of law, they are taken seriously by car companies, which have been given a grace period of three years to bring their current mix of infotainment systems into compliance with the NHTSA document. At the heart of the changes that the Administration wants to see made is the disabling of certain types of text displays such as text messages and emails, as well as the elimination of social media and web content from the driving environment while the vehicle is underway.
02. Is The Prius Brand Losing Momentum?
Toyota has put a lot of faith in the power of the Prius name over the course of the past several years, expanding the number of hybrid models wearing the Prius badge from one to three with rumblings that eventually the models might be spun-off into their own sub-brand, like Scion. Although a respectable number of Prius models were sold in 2012, 2013 has been much slower for Toyota, and a Bloomberg article quotes Toyota's North American CEO as stating that the company will most likely fail to meet its 250,000 vehicle sales target for the Prius by the end of the year.
250,000 cars would represent a 5.6 percent increase compared to 2012, but it's just not happening for Toyota, which is facing close to an eight-and-a-half percent drop in 2013 first quarter sales for the Prius. This is in contrast to an overall rosy sales picture for Toyota as a whole, which begs the question of whether the market for the Prius has reached its saturation point.
03. BMW Adds Extra Speed To Already-Quick M5 And M6 Models
Do you want your BMW M5 or BMW M6 (both based on the same platform) to be slightly faster? If so, then you will be encouraged by news from BMW Blog that a Competition package is on its way from the German automaker that will squeeze a few extra horsepower out of each of these models. 575 horsepower will be produced by Competition packaged-equipped M5 and M6 sedans, which is a modest 15 horse boost over the stock output of their 4.4-liter, turbocharged V-8 engines. A tighter suspension system and quicker steering are also in the cards for this grouping of performance goodies. Pricing - as well as official confirmation of the package - has yet to be released by BMW.
04. Fisker Automotive Disappears From The Web, Has Funds Seized By Feds
Fisker Automotive signed off from the Internet earlier this week when its website disappeared completely for a number of days, only to return with a 'New Site Coming Soon' message as its only real content. The digital disappearing act came on the heels of a move by the U.S. Energy Department to seize $21 million in cash in order to repay part of a substantial $192 million in loans that the company had access to via the Department. Fisker has consumed $1.5 billion in public and private funding on its way to its current meltdown, and has not produced a hybrid automobile in close to a year's time.
05. New Lexus Crossover On The Way
The Detroit Bureau is reporting that Lexus will be building a new compact crossover to sell alongside the mid-size Lexus RX. The luxury car company recently decided to move production of the Lexus ES mid-size sedan to the United States, a move that has been designed to free up capacity at Toyota's Japanese facilities in order to facilitate the building of the new vehicle. Choosing to introduce a small crossover could also lead to the paring of the brand's current offerings, as it pursues younger buyers more interested in compact, efficient cars rather than large, comfortable cruisers. Lexus is receiving significant financial assistance from the state of Kentucky in order to upgrade its current plant for the coming of the ES.
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