Smartphone apps for Mercedes-Benz

Smartphone applications have helped luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz collect about $2.5 million in lease or loan payments since they launched six months ago.

Andreas Hinrichs, the company’s vice president of marketing, told the Wall Street Journal that its Mercedes-Benz Financial Application, which allows customers to manage their accounts and performs several other functions, has been downloaded by 11,000 people.

"We wanted to be the first out there and now we have seen rapid customer adoption," Hinrichs told the news provider.

This summer, Fox Business reported that Mercedes Benz, a unit of Daimler AG, will launch two more applications for the iPhone and BlackBerry that can remotely control the car or locate it in a crowded parking lot.

The phone applications will be integrated into the car’s Mbrace system. By using the phone’s online connection, for example, one can tap their smartphones in New York to unlock a Mercedes in Washington, D.C., the report added.

The Mbrace car assistance service comes free for the first six months for new-car buyers, but it can also be purchased for older Mercedes models for $280 a year for the basic service.

General Motors supports crash recorder legislation

General Motors has thrown its weight behind a legislative proposal to make event data recorders (EDRs) mandatory in all new vehicles.

In a news release, GM said that New Mexico Senator Tom Udall’s proposal to mandate black boxes in cars is crucial in the country’s public safety campaign. The American automaker said crash devices contain important data that could help national databases analyze causes of accidents.

“It is essential that decisions on important safety issues be supported by the best available data, and we are convinced that EDRs can help that process,” Michael J. Robinson, GM’s vice-president of environment, energy and safety policy.

The device is used to record vehicle telemetry, such as speed and driver inputs, has been a fixture in GM cars since 1990 and became a standard equipment in its light-duty vehicles in 1995. Ten years ago, the device allowed for limited public retrieval of the data.

According to Motor Trend magazine, some people view EDRs as incursions to personal privacy. “Making the units mandatory in all new vehicles add fuel to the ‘Big Brother’ fire for many people,” the report said.

EDRs are not mandatory but the data they collect will be standardized by 2013, it added.

Daimler races with BMW in carbon fiber quest

German automaker Daimler has signed a joint development agreement with Toray, a leading carbon fiber manufacturer, to produce car parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP).

Under the agreement, Toray will study how to mass-produce CFRP and handle the design and molding processes of the new materials. Daimler, on the other hand, will be responsible for developing joining technologies, the two companies said in a statement.

Carbon fiber has long been used in race cars because it is lightweight and strong. However, the material is very expensive compared to the commonly used car materials like steel and aluminum.

Daimler earlier said the use of CFRP will help them achieve their goal to reduce the weight of its Mercedes-Benz series by as much as 10 percent to improve the vehicles’ fuel efficiency rating and reduce exhaust gas emissions.

The announcement comes two weeks after its competitor BMW announced in early April that it is making a move toward carbon fiber. BMW signed an agreement with GL Automotive Carbon Fibers to open a carbon-fiber production facility in Moses Lake, Washington, for its MegaCity line of electric vehicles, which will be released in 2013.

Chrysler renames Sebring as Nassau

Chrysler has reportedly dropped the Sebring name in favor of Nassau for its updated midsized sedan that will be rolled out later this year, according to the Detroit Free Press.

A company spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, but industry analysts say this could be one of Chrysler’s moves to improve the image of the Sebring, which was criticized for its poor quality and cheap interior.

“Chrysler is desperately looking to restore its credibility with the public, and dropping the Sebring name, long associated with cheap interiors and spotty overall quality, seems a no-brainer,” writes Motor Trend.

Chrysler has in the past named its models the New Yorker, Fifth Avenue, Cordoba, Saratoga, Windsor, and, most recently, the Aspen and Pacifica. Nassau, the capital of Bahamas, may just be an addition to its string of touristy nameplates, MLive.com reports.

The Sebring dates back to the mid-90s when Chrysler launched the “cloud cars,” mid-sized four-door sedans which includes the Chrysler Cirrus, Dodge Stratus and Plymouth Breeze.

Car sales in April expected to rise in double digits

In yet another sign of economic recovery, car sales in the U.S. will likely hit 11.4 million units this month, up from 9.3 million in April last year, a Thomson Reuters poll of 12 economists showed.

Though the 22-percent gain still fell short of the 16 million vehicles that automakers saw before the recession, it has put the American auto industry back on track after last year’s bankruptcy filings by Chrysler and General Motors, Reuters reported.

“Consumer confidence is a little bit better,” Hyundai U.S. sales chief Dave Zuchowski told the news provider. “Credit is loosening up a little bit. And there are more buyers out in the marketplace. We’re certainly benefiting from that.”

The gain was largely fuelled by strong sales from Asian brands Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota, which recalled millions of vehicles in recent months, as well as American automakers Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.

Edmunds.com projected a combined sales increase of 35 percent for Hyundai and Kia this month from a year earlier, 51 percent rise for Nissan and 33 percent for Toyota. It also expects sales for Ford to be up nearly 26 percent, Chrysler sales to increase about 19 percent and GM sales to grow by 4.1 percent.

Last year, the U.S. car market sold 10.4 million units, the lowest level since the early 1980s. Industry experts say it could take years before the country surpass the 16 million units it sold in 2007 before the downturn hit the industry.

BMW launches Motorsport parts catalogs in the U.S.

German automaker BMW has released its factory Motorsport parts catalogs intended for track and racing use to customers in the U.S. for the first time.

“Now, for the first time ever in the United States, you can purchase authentic BMW Motorsport parts to offer true BMW performance, available at select BMW centers. It’s the only way to push your track-approved BMW model to its limits,” the company announced in its website.

The launching of the Motorsports catalogs, which were previously available only in Europe, aims to increase BMW’s impact on motorsports as it competes at the American Le Mans Series through a partnership with the Rahal Letterman Racing Team, the company said in a statement.

The catalogs include parts and components for the Z4 (2009 to current) M3 (1995 to current ) and 3 Series sedan (2006 to current). They feature parts from full-on race engines and body pieces to the smallest O-rings and assorted gaskets.

Motor Trend reported that currently only four BMW dealers in the U.S. have been authorized to handle these parts, which included BMW dealerships in Westmont, Illinois; Atlanta, Georgia; Stratham, New Hampshire; and Solon, Ohio.

Honda announces free repair of power steering hose for Acura TSX

Owners of Honda Acura TSX can go to their dealers starting in late May to replace their car’s power steering hose, which has been the subject of a recent recall by the Japanese automaker.

“The recall is being conducted due to the potential for premature deterioration of the exterior surface of the hose as a result of prolonged exposure to high under-hood temperatures,” Honda said in a statement.

The announcement comes a day after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pointed out that high temperatures under the hood can cause Acura’s power steering hose to crack and leak power steering oil.

In response, Honda is recalling approximately 167,000 Acura TSX models with the 2.4L inline 4-cylinder engine released between 2004 and 2008 in the U.S. The free repair involves installing a new power steering hose, O-ring gasket and fluid, Honda added.

Honda spokesman Chris Naughton said the carmaker had received one report of a minor fire connected to the power steering hose, but there have been no reports of accidents or injuries, the Associated Press reported.

This is the second recall announced by Acura in April. Earlier, it announced the recall of 1,850 2010 ZDX crossovers because of a dashboard material that was cut wrong, which can cause the passenger-side airbag to deploy improperly.

Oprah Winfrey campaigns to make cars a ‘no phone zone’

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey has launched a campaign to designate Friday as a “No Phone Zone Day” in cars, joining a chorus of private and public transportation safety groups in vowing not to text or make calls while driving.

Winfrey has asked people in the April 30 episode of her show to sign an online “no phone zone” pledge – a promise not to text text while driving, not text and use hands-free calling, or not text or make calls while driving. The campaign had gathered almost 250,000 signatures by late Friday.

“A call or text isn’t worth taking a life,” Winfrey said in a statement. “We must not allow more mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers to die before we take action against distracted driving.”

Texting while driving increases the risk of a crash by 20 times, a report from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute concluded in 2009. California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington have banned all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Meanwhile, 24 states have laws banning text messaging for all drivers.

Survey shows BMW on top of most valuable car list

German automaker BMW has overtaken the perennial frontrunner Toyota by a slim margin as the world’s most valuable car brand, according to an annual ranking of the world’s top brands.

The BrandZ Top 100, a survey compiled by the market research company Millward Brown, pegged BMW’s brand’s value at $21.82 billion, higher than Toyota’s $21.77 billion.

Peter Walshe, Millward Brown’s global brand director, told the Automotive News that Toyota will likely bounce back on top once recall issues are addressed and media scrutiny subsides.

“It is likely that Toyota’s brand has suffered further in recent months, but it is a strong brand and is trying hard to overcome the damage through a major communications campaign,” Walshe told the news provider. “All of our evidence shows that strong brands are much more likely to recover from a crisis.”

Rounding up the top 10 list are Honda ($14.3 billion), Mercedes ($13.7 billion), Porsche ($12 billion), Nissan ($8.6 billion), Ford ($7 billion), Volkswagen ($7 billion), Audi ($3.6 billion) and Renault ($3.3 billion).

Honda expands dealership of CNG-powered Civic

Japanese automaker Honda has expanded the dealership of its compressed natural gas-powered Honda Civic GX with the recent addition of Oklahoma as a sales base.

Oklahoma became the fourth state in the U.S. to sell the GX, which was launched in California in 2005. Since then, retail sales have expanded to New York in 2006 and Utah in 2009.

“Honda seeks market opportunities for the Civic GX where strong natural gas refueling infrastructure exists,” Elmer Hardy, senior manager at Honda’s alternative fuel division, said in a news release.

KTUL-TV reported that Oklahoma provides a tax credit of up to $2,500 for motorists who buy CNG equipment to fuel their vehicle at home. At the same time, consumers can also claim a 50 percent tax credit for CNG vehicles, such as the Civic GX.

The 2010 Civic GX boasts an EPA rating of 24 mpg city and 36 mpg highway and was named the “greenest vehicle” by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. It is the only OEM-built, CNG-powered passenger car assembled in the U.S.