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 June 21, 2013. Audi parts ways with its R&D head, backup cameras are pushed into the future, Nissan gives Leaf owners an upgrade opportunity, Dodge to lose the Grand Caravan, and the NHTSA and Chrysler make nice - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
01. Audi Fires R&D Head
Car and Driver has published an article that explains how conflict between VW Group CEO Martin Winterkorn and Audi research and development head Wolfgang Dürheimer has resulted in the latter being unceremoniously relieved of his position. Dürheimer's credentials as the former executive in charge of R&D at Bugatti and Bentley weren't enough to save him from Winterkorn's wrath after clashing with the CEO over styling issues as well as how much investment Audi should be putting into electric vehicles. Dürheimer will be replaced by Ulrich Hackenberg, who will undoubtedly ramp up Audi's EV program in order to meet Winterkorn's expectations.
02. Backup Camera Law Gets A Breather
Rearview cameras are going to become mandatory on brand new vehicles sold in the United States, but not quite as soon as everyone had expected. The NHTSA will be delaying the implementation of a backup camera law until the year 2015 in order to perform a more in-depth cost/benefit analysis of the rule. The federal regulator is considering moving to a system where car companies would see their products given higher ratings if rearview cameras are included, rather than making them a must-have on every model. This is a direct response to complaints from manufacturers that it would cost close to $3 billion to install so many cameras, including automobiles that might not 'need' the additional visibility that they provide. This is the third delay in imposing backup camera requirements since 2008.
03. Nissan Offers Better Battery For Leaf Owners
Nissan is hoping to banish range anxiety amongst the owners of the Nissan LEAF compact electric vehicle by giving them the choice to exchange their old battery pack for a new one. The program will allow Leaf drivers to trade in their old battery for an up-to-date lithium ion unit at any point during their stewardship of the vehicle. Currently, the brand offers a 60,000 mile or five-year warranty on its batteries that promises to keep them above a certain level of performance (70 percent capacity). An unusual twist in the program - which can be signed up for even if the car's warranty is kaput - is that it costs $100 a month for the new battery over an unspecified period of time. The new battery design being offered charges more quickly than the original Nissan Leaf battery.
04. Another Nail In Dodge's Coffin? No More Grand Caravan
The Windsor Star is reporting that Chrysler has decided to keep the Chrysler Town & Country and axe the Dodge Grand Caravan for 2015. The move from two to one minivans in its portfolio is no surprise, and I have mentioned this eventuality several times in the past. What is somewhat unexpected is the decision to keep the Town & Country name on a minivan instead of slapping it on the new luxury crossover that Chrysler is currently developing, as it would seem that this upcoming model will gain its own moniker. The departure of the Grand Caravan is likely to hasten the end of Dodge as a brand, as discussed in last week's column.
05. Chrysler And NHTSA Come To Recall Terms
Remember when Chrysler and the NHTSA were feuding over a potential recall of millions of Jeep vehicles due to a higher risk of fire death in rear-end collisions? The two combatants came to terms this week, with Chrysler agreeing to recall certain models to install a gas tank shield while performing a voluntary inspection of the remaining SUVs associated with the original recall request. Specifically, Jeep Liberty owners (2002-2007) and those driving early Jeep Grand Cherokees (1993-1998) will have the new part installed, while remaining 1999-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees will have any aftermarket tow hitches replaced with Mopar units. Those without hitches will not be modified in any way. 2.7 million shields will be installed in total, with 1.2 million Grand Cherokees potentially getting brand new hitches.