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 May 23, 2014. The unseen cost of the FIAT 500e, the GMC Sierra All Terrain HD, Subaru's new airbag, hackers stealing cars, and GM's safety belt ignition interlock - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
01. Just How Heavily Subsidized Is The Fiat 500e?
Most electric cars are built for a very specific reason: to satisfy government regulations. Whether it's because a certain number of zero-emissions vehicles must be sold in certain markets or due to the need to lower overall corporate average fuel economy, EVs aren't typically designed to be profit centers for car companies. In fact, the inverse is usually true, with automakers taking a significant loss on each model sold. A perfect case in point is the Fiat 500e, which Fiat Chrysler automobiles recently revealed costs $14,000 per unit sold. That's an incredible number for a brand to absorb, although the modest sales figures associated with the 500e will most likely keep the hurt from spreading too deep. Keep that in mind the next time a sales manager winces when you sign the paperwork on an electric vehicle.
02. GMC Gets Into The Off-Road Game With 2015 Sierra All Terrain HD
Ford has the Raptor, Ram has the Power Wagon, and now GMC has the Sierra All Terrain HD. The 2015 GMC Sierra All Terrain HD will go on sale this summer, and it bundles together the contents of the Z71 off-road package (Rancho shock absorbers, skid plates, hill descent control) along with four-wheel drive, additional exterior chrome trim, LED driving lights, 18-inch rims, a spiffier interior, and 4G Wi-Fi. If that sounds not quite as hardcore as either of its competitors, then you would be right: the All Terrain is mostly an appearance package married to the already-available Z71 package. You can get it with either 2500 HD or 3500 HD trucks, as well as with the choice of either a gas or turbodiesel drivetrain.
03. Subaru Introduces Seat Airbag In 2015 Subaru Legacy Sedan
The 2015 Subaru Legacy will go on sale soon and it brings with it not just a redesigned platform but a unique front airbag system. The two forward positions feature an airbag that's actually mounted inside the lower seat cushion, and in the event of a serious collision the airbag inflates slightly just below the legs of occupants to help keep them from 'submarining,' or sliding out from under their seatbelts. Subaru has introduced the system instead of installing a knee airbag, because its safety engineers feel it's a better idea to prevent riders from escaping their seatbelts than have them slam into an airbag should the worst-case-scenario occur. It's hard to argue with that logic.
04. Hacked Cars A Significant Theft Threat
An article in the Daily Mail claims that car thieves are increasingly turning to high tech, yet inexpensive locksmithing tools to hack their way behind the wheel of luxury models. The report mentions a $20 'CAN Hacking Tool,' which is available on the open market, and can be used to introduce new code into a vehicle's computer systems and eventually drive off in the car after bypassing security features. The Daily Mail quotes a London police spokesperson as saying half of vehicle thefts in the city show no signs of forced entry, indicating that the CAN Hacking Tool might be just the tip of the iceberg for professional wheelmen.
05. General Motors Introduces Seatbelt/Ignition Interlock Feature
Remember the ill-conceived automatic seatbelts that were outfitted onto certain cars in the 80s and 90s? The ones that slid across your torso as soon as the car was turned on, and which were always in the way as you got in and out of the vehicle? That was my first thought when reading about GM's plans to introduce a new safety feature that would make it impossible to drive a car unless the seatbelts were buckled up front. The system allows the vehicle to be started with unbuckled riders, but the shifter will not engage on automatic-equipped cars unless everything's been clicked. A similar system was attempted in the mid-70s at the behest of the NHTSA, but it ultimately abandoned due to lack of technological execution.
Personally, putting on my seatbelt is the first thing I do when I enter a vehicle, but I can think of many situations where I would have my belt off and still need the car to operate - in particular, when trying to get unstuck from a snow bank, or when reversing and needing to lean out of an open door at low speeds. BMW and Mercedes-Benz already automatically put the car in park if you open the driver's door, which makes it really hard to free a car from snow and ice if you are all by yourself, and it seems like GM could be going down a similar road. The system will become optional on pickups (Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, GMC Colorado) and a single car (Chevrolet Cruze) for the 2015 model year.