NEWS News Briefs: March 28, 2012

  • The National Transportation Safety Board defended a proposal last December to ban drivers making calls on cell phones, even those with a hands-free function, The Detroit News reports. NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman praised officials in Chapel Hill, N.C., for enacting the nation’s first ban on cell-phone calls by drivers, including hands-free calls. States have yet to adopt the recommendation, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last month he wanted to see more studies on the distractions posed by handheld and hands-free devices before endorsing the recommendation. NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt, meanwhile, pointed to a study showing handheld and hands-free devices posed an equal crash risk. The Detroit News didn’t specify which study, but here’s a likely candidate. The December recommendation wouldn’t ban calls made through telematics systems such as GM’s OnStar, but it would ban calls made via Bluetooth — a widespread feature in cars today.
  • Speaking of OnStar, GM will offer Family Link as an option with its long-standing telematics service later this year. For another $3.99 a month, OnStar subscribers can get texts or calls with a vehicle’s location. Family members — presumably parents with teen drivers — can also log in to a website to see the car’s location.
  • Chevrolet created a new company, Commonwealth, to handle global advertising, The Detroit News reports. The consolidation should save GM some $2 billion over the next five years. Detroit-based Commonwealth, a joint venture between ad agencies in San Francisco and New York, will supplant 70 agencies across the world and “find ways to have a more clear, concise and consistent message globally,” GM marketing chief Joel Ewanick told reporters. Ewanick hopes Commonwealth can decide by this summer whether to keep or abandon the brand’s “Chevy Runs Deep” tagline.
  • Kia resumed production this week at its Georgia facility, which builds the Sorento SUV and Optima sedan, Reuters reports. The plant incurred delays last week after a supplier’s facility caught fire.
  • In a speech to the Automotive Press Association, Ford defended its fleet business, which made up 31% of U.S. vehicle sales through the first two months of 2012, Bloomberg News reports. That’s down from 33% a year ago, but it still ties Chrysler for highest fleet share. GM sells 27% to fleet, followed by Nissan (24%) and Toyota (17%), according to Automotive News. Hyundai-Kia and Honda are in the single digits. Fleet sales, especially those to daily rental fleets, are less profitable and can stymie resale values on a given model. But Kevin Koswick, director of Ford’s North American fleet, lease and remarketing operations, told the APA that the fleet business was worth $57 billion last year — “a very productive and profitable business” for Ford.
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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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