VW manages to make our blunders list again



The Tesla Model X’s falcon-wing doors proved problematic.

Learning to count

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ 75-month streak of rising monthly U.S. sales ended rather abruptly — that is to say, three years earlier. In announcing a new sales reporting methodology in July and seeking to clarify its past reports, FCA said it had actually understated its total U.S. vehicle sales since 2011 by a net 18,996 vehicles, though month-by-month totals were off in both directions. The restatement, coming amid a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and a lawsuit connected with sales reporting, was a mild embarrassment to a company that has bigger problems, but it works out better than the alternative it considered: “simply ceasing to report this sales data on a monthly basis” and rely on quarterly statements instead.

George Hotz

Geohot goes cold

Turns out disclaimers don’t constitute regulatory compliance. What a bummer for hacker George Hotz, aka Geohot, who in September introduced the Comma One, a $999 aftermarket product that he claimed would provide Tesla-like semiautonomous capabilities to certain Honda vehicles, as long as drivers, you know, paid attention and stuff. But when federal regulators began asking questions about the Comma One — 15 fairly pointed ones in a “special order” issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — Hotz folded like a drugstore beach chair and nixed the product, saying he’d “much rather spend my life building amazing tech than dealing with regulators and lawyers.”

DJ Khaled

Introducing the new Ford phonics

So let’s get this straight: Ford’s EcoSport (EK’-oh-sport) subcompact crossover for the U.S. will come standard with an EcoBoost (EEK’-oh-boost) engine. Will it also come with a spelling and pronunciation guide? Because that would be very helpful to sales staff and to rap artist DJ Khaled, who was called on to introduce the vehicle ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show and, in multiple Snapchat posts, referred to the vehicle as the “EchoSport.” Sorting out the confusion, said Mike O’Brien, Ford SUV group marketing manager, “will be something we’ll have to work really hard on.” (He might want to share notes with the Volt-Bolt de-confusion manager at Chevy.)

Mitsubishi confesses, is taken into custody

Joining the growing ranks of auto industry rogues, Mitsubishi in April admitted falsifying fuel economy test data on 625,000 vehicles (a tally that would ultimately grow), citing failures in internal controls and intense pressure to meet engineering challenges. Some of those vehicles were models supplied to Nissan, which discovered the cheating. So it was awfully nice of the victim/detective to put up the bail money. Nissan agreed to a $2.29 billion investment to incorporate the embattled Japanese carmaker into the Renault-Nissan Alliance and help it recover. “We believe in the value of Japanese car-making,” alliance Chairman Carlos Ghosn wrote in an Automotive News op-ed, “and we want to help ensure its future.”

Tesla’s falcon-wing flap

Elon Musk must have seen this coming when he expressed misgivings about putting too much gadgetry into the Model X crossover. Tesla fired and then sued the original supplier for its falcon-wing doors, Hoerbiger Automotive Comfort Systems, in January over problems that it says delayed the Model X launch. But more problems cropped up after the launch, with sensors detecting nonexistent objects and stopping the doors cold. An August software upgrade may have made the doors more responsive but less safe: A YouTube demonstration video using cucumbers spotlighted the potential risk to limbs and digits. “Digging ourselves out of the hole has been quite hard,” Musk said of the early supplier troubles.

LeEco’s LeSee autonomous concept

LeEco’s LeSee arrives LeLate

Every overhyped newcomer to the auto industry deals with the same skeptical question: Can you deliver? Not looking good so far for the Chinese conglomerate LeEco, which had its LeSee autonomous concept car lined up to appear at a big product presentation in San Francisco. A truck carrying the car from Los Angeles to San Francisco crashed, severely damaging the concept. So LeEco scrambled to free up a different version of the car, called the LeSee Pro, which was in London for a movie shoot at the time. The LeSee Pro arrived intact but minutes too late to appear on stage alongside LeEco CEO Jia Yueting.

Faraday’s Vegas odds

There’s suddenly a lot on the line this week for another EV startup backed by Yueting, California-based Faraday Future, which plans to introduce its first production vehicle at CES as a follow-up to its puzzling FFZERO1 prototype from last year. In October, the company dismissed a threatened work stoppage by a construction firm working on its $1 billion factory near Las Vegas, over millions of dollars in unpaid bills. But work did stop the following month, and a Faraday spokesman said the company is “refocusing its resources” on preparing for its CES moment.

Matthias Mueller

Cleanup in the VW aisle

Matthias Mueller isn’t one of the Volkswagen execs who call themselves “Herr Doktor.” But even he should have known the rule “First, do no harm.” Instead, at his first Detroit auto show as CEO of Germany’s sick patient, Mueller botched a foot-in-mouth operation in an interview with National Public Radio, saying the emissions-test cheating to which his company had already confessed amounted to a “technical problem” rooted in a misunderstanding of U.S. law. “We didn’t lie,” he insisted. After the interview aired, a shocked VW PR team begged NPR for a do-over, in which the chastened CEO said, “We fully accept the violation.”

I thought you told the EPA!

It was a clerical error that cost General Motors a reported $100 million. Engineers changed some pollution-control hardware on 2016-model large crossovers and recalculated their fuel economy ratings, but the updated figures never made it to the EPA or GM’s marketing materials. That resulted in fuel economy being overstated by as much as 12 percent on nearly 170,000 vehicles. GM said it notified the EPA as soon as it discovered the lapse, while preparing the 2017 models. And in a reflection of the climate of mistrust that now surrounds the industry, it rolled out a compensation plan for owners within 10 days.

Take it from the experts

It doesn’t seem fair to pick on these two, but consider them proxies for all the others who got it wrong all year long. In an hourlong political discussion at the NADA convention in April — in the midst of a contentious primary season — former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean and Republican senior presidential adviser Karl Rove agreed on one thing: Donald Trump would not be elected president. “Not gonna happen,” Rove declared, citing Trump’s high negatives. Dean, though, allowed this hedge: “I’ve been wrong about Trump every week since June 16,” when the New York billionaire entered the race. And right up to Nov. 8.

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