Questions abound over unintended acceleration

Toyota has come under fire for an unintended acceleration problem in its vehicles, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says may have accounted for over 80 fatalities. The NHTSA slapped the Japanese automaker with a 16.4 million dollar fine for not responding quickly enough to the problem.

Now, NHTSA head David Strickland is saying the cases need further investigation to prevent future accidents, according to BusinessWeek. While Toyota claims that faulty floor mats stuck on pedals caused the problem, there is widespread speculation that the true cause might be in electronic control systems.

"We must do everything possible to fully understand if there are vulnerabilities in these systems to cause this happening," Strickland told the news source. He went on to say that problems similar to Toyota have been reported for “every major automaker,” although not as widespread. NASA is currently looking into the matter on behalf of the agency.

The problems marred Toyota’s previous sterling reputation for safety. Until the cause of the issues are found, safety-conscious drivers may want to look at used cars without electronic control systems.

PT Cruiser fans will have to search used car market

Chrysler has announced that it will retire the instantly-recognizable PT Cruiser model next month, marking the end of a successful run for Chrysler’s small car. Those who love the design will be able to find PT Cruisers on the used car market after the car ceases production.

The car enjoyed initial success upon its debut in 2000, far outperforming Chrysler’s sales expectations. Despite the SUV craze at the time, drivers flocked to the unique design of the PT Cruiser, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“For a while, it was the best-selling Chrysler-brand vehicle,” Jim Hall, managing director of consulting firm 2953 Analytics, told the news provider.

The model was also notable for kicking off the small car retro craze. Sales of the PT Cruiser, along with the Volkswagen Beetle, paved the way for the Mini Cooper and Fiat 500 to make their comebacks.

Despite the initial success, Chrysler could never capitalize on the vehicle, and will cease production this year after only selling 5,452 units.

“It’s plugged along and still has a loyal fan base,” said Hall.

That fan base will have to turn to the used car market in order to find the once-celebrated vehicle.

“Finnjet” puts conventional vehicles to shame

Sometimes, used car owners are inspiring in how they can breathe new life into an old vehicle. That’s certainly the case with Antti Rahko, a Finnish immigrant who constructed a Frankenstein-esque monster of a ride out of two used Mercedes station wagons and parts of more than 40 other vehicles.

Rahko’s “Finnjet” certainly catches the eye, a 29-foot vehicle that puts limos to shame. The car boasts 36 mirrors, 89 lights, a microwave, TV, freezer, two air-conditoners and a sauna. It seats ten comfortably and achieves a surprisingly efficient 25 mpg.

The sight truly has to be seen to be believed. While some might jest at the car’s ridiculous nature, car enthusiasts consider it a work of art and engineering ingenuity. The Finnjet took top prize in two Houston Art Car Parades and has won numerous awards at similar festivals.

Rahko says the car is fully drivable, and even had the foresight to include a special system that allows it to negotiate tight corners. Rahko and his wife, Eini, recently drove the car from Florida to Canada.

Now, the eccentric owner will put the car up for sale on eBay, due to his failing health. Potential buyers will need to be quite serious bidders- the first bid had a price tag of $950,000, but failed to sell, so Rahko plans to relist it.

NYPD busts car thieves

New York used car drivers are a little bit safer after authorities busted a car theft ring that was targeting Toyota SUVs, Mercedes, BMWs, Infinities, and Range Rovers and reselling them in the U.S. and Senegal.

According to the New York Daily News, the thieves used a complicated system that involved two employees of Toyota dealerships. Several thieves were sent a description of a particular make and model, then the thieves found a car matching the description, using either a swiped key from the dealership or a laptop to hack the car’s computer system. In total, the extensive network comprised over twenty individuals, all of whom served specific roles within the organization.

“This is a big case for us – a yearlong investigation,” Attorney General Andrew Cuomo told the news source. “They had a sophisticated operation, but we had a sophisticated collaboration with the police force.”

The crooks stole cars off the streets in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. They also used contacts at dealerships and parking garages to swipe vehicles right off the lots. The cars were then shipped out of Newark to buyers in Senegal or sold elsewhere within the country.

Ford continues turnaround, paying off debt

Ford has announced that it will pay off nearly $4 billion in debt to the United Auto Workers retirement trust fund, defying investors’ expectations for the automaker.

Although the company has been profitable for several quarters now, investors were hesitant about the company’s turnaround because of its outstanding debt, the largest of which was owed to UAW. However, increased sales have allowed the automaker to pay the deficit off ahead of schedule, using cash rather than stock options.

“We expect to continue to improve our balance sheet as we deliver on our plan. Importantly, our business results make it possible to take these actions while still accelerating the investments we are making in our business to serve our customers with the very best cars and trucks," CEO Alan Mullaly said in a statement.

The company has pulled off a remarkable turnaround as of late, shaking off the effects of the economic downturn. Its new models, especially the Mustang and Fiesta, have won considerable critical acclaim, and the company’s finances seem primed for future growth.

That being said, consumers are unlikely to find the recession-buster deals at the new car lot they did in the past. Drivers who see themselves in a Ford might want to take a look at the used car market in order to find a good deal.

Mercedes coupe-crossover in the works?

Mercedes-Benz may be developing a coupe-crossover model to compete with the likes of the Acura ZDX and BMW X6.

According to Motor Authority, the company is planning to introduce a smaller version of the its GLK model, dubbed the GLC, in order to truly enter into the emerging coupe-crossover class. Crossovers built on compact coupe platforms have become especially popular at luxury car manufacturers, who already have the technology in place with coupe platforms and traditionally sell a large amount of crossovers.

The new model will be based on the upcoming new B-Class platform. The news source theorizes that Mercedes will likely use one of its four-cylinder engines on the crossover, either the 1.8-liter with 204 horsepower or 2.2 with 250. At just fifteen feet, the GLC will be smaller than its competitors.

However, a new, smaller coupe-crossover class may be emerging. The Range Rover LRX will be very similar to the proposed GLC, and BMW may be planning to introduce a smaller version of the X6 in the near future.

Those who don’t want to wait for the new models may want to search for used BMW X6s or Mercedes GLKs at their local pre-owned dealer.

Ford Explorer will showcase safety features

Ford has announced that the 2011 version of its popular Explorer SUV will demonstrate several safety features that have not yet debuted on any other vehicles.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Ford will include its new “curve control” technology on the model, which automatically slows the vehicle if it determines that a driver is approaching a curve too quickly.

The technology is based off the company’s electronic stability control, which collects data about speed and wheel tilt to safely control the vehicle. Ford has said that the new feature did not require any additional hardware, and integrated the software into the existing system. Ford said it began to develop the system after government crash data found that 50,000 serious accidents occur each year due to high speeds on curves, also a cause of rollovers on SUVs.

The new Explorer will also feature inflatable seatbelts in the rear seats, which protect passengers like airbags in case of crash.

Those looking for a safe vehicle at an affordable price may want to look at a used Ford with electronic stability control.

Ford dominates “most wanted” awards

As the only company not to accept a government bailout, Ford has been watched closely by auto industry experts. If the results of Edmund’s Inside Line “Most Wanted” awards are any indication, the automaker is getting something right.

The website surveyed readers in a poll of 15 categories of cars in different classes and price points. Ford took home top marks in eight of the categories, and it was only entered in ten.

Three different Mustang models accounted for three of those categories, as the 2010 model has been celebrated for its efficient 30 miles per gallon while still packing 305 horsepower. Other Ford models included the F-150, Flex and Fusion.

Audi took home three awards, mainly in luxury and performance categories. The most wanted concept car went to the Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid. BMW had one entry on the list, as did Jeep with its Wrangler SUV.

Those who have Fords on their own personal “most wanted” list can save off the popular cars by buying used Fords on the pre-owned market.

Japanese automakers see increased demand in Asian, American markets

Increased demand from car buyers led Japanese automakers to ramp up production in May, a sign that consumer confidence is returning. If the economic turnaround has drivers thinking about spending the money to buy a new car, they would do well to look at the used car market in order to find deals as the economy recovers.

All five of the major Japanese automakers reported an increase in production in May as opposed to last year. According to the Associated Press, Toyota produced the most units, at 637,675, although it also grew the least as compared to last year with a 27 percent increase.

Conversely, Mitsubishi posted an 85.8 percent increase as compared to last year, but also produced the fewest amount of cars, with 83,418. Honda, Nissan, and Mazda all saw growth of around 45 percent.

The automakers all agreed that an increase in demand, especially in the American and Asian markets, led to the surge in production.

This trend has also continued around the world, with Mercedes-Benz and BMW recently reporting that they were increasing production to respond to consumer’s increased confidence.

Mercedes and BMW to open used car business in India

The Indian market is a quickly growing one in terms of auto sales, and Mercedes-Benz and BMW, who just recently expanded into the country, have announced plans to open up used car dealerships in the area soon.

According to Business Standard Motoring, Mercedes dominates the luxury market share in India, starting sales there in the late nineties. The company currently estimates that there are 30-35,000 Mercedes on the road in India.

BMW, while leading luxury sales worldwide, is far behind in India. The company only began selling cars there in 2007, and less than 8,000 cars are on the road, although the brand is rising in popularity.

India does not yet have an outlet for pre-owned luxury car sales. Both companies hope that selling lightly-used cars at a price comparable to popular new models like the Honda Civic will encourage drivers to switch to a used Mercedes or BMW and build brand loyalty.

“[The] used car segment is something that every car manufacturer in the country would like to explore, depending on the initial volume base. Now these two big luxury car makers in the country seem to have a desired car park to make the business viable,” Rakesh Batra, an industry expert at Ernst & Young, told the news source.