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Category: Jerry Hirsch

VW's Super Bowl teaser video 'The Bark Side' goes viral

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

A Volkswagen teaser that features dogs dressed as "Star Wars" characters barking out the "Imperial March" theme song associated with the evil Darth Vader has gone viral, generating more than 3 million views on YouTube since Wednesday night.

VW created the teaser, called "The Bark Side," in advance of a commercial it plans to air during the third quarter of the Super Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 5.

The teaser aired during Wednesday's episode of "The Middle" on ABC. It was also posted to YouTube that evening.

Volkswagen gained both critical acclaim and sales publicity during last year's Super Bowl, when it aired "The Force."

That commercial also used the "Imperial March" music from "Star Wars" and showed a child in a Darth Vader costume attempting unsuccessfully to use the movies' legendary "force" on a variety of household appliances and other objects. To his surprise, he's able to use the force to start a Passat -– with a little unobserved help from his father.

[Updated at 12:31 p.m., Jan. 19: Mike Sheldon, chief executive of Deutsch LA, the Marina del Rey firm that does the creative work for Volkswagen, told The Times' Meg James that "The Bark" was the firm's way of trying to stay "one step ahead" of the competition. He added that the teaser was trending "faster than 'The Force did, and this isn't even a Super Bowl ad."]

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-- Jerry Hirsch
twitter.com/LATimesJerry

State website overwhelmed after article on motor oil change

Oilchange
California has launched a campaign to stop drivers from changing their oil so often, but the plan has run into a hiccup –- a cranky website.

Many automobile owners are spending more than they need on motor oil, believing that it should be changed every 3,000 miles even though almost no manufacturer requires such an aggressive oil-change schedule.

To stop that, the state set up CheckYourNumber.org, a website on which drivers can look up the suggested motor-oil change interval number for their vehicles.

But after The Times published an article about the campaign, the site was overrun with traffic and has been going down periodically or operating slowly.

State officials say they are working to keep the site online and speed it up.

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-- Jerry Hirsch
twitter.com/LATimesJerry

Photo: An auto mechanic in Beecher, Ill., repairs a car. Nationally, 51% of vehicle owners said they believe oil should be changed every 3,000 miles or three months, according to an NPD Group survey. Few manufacturers require such an aggressive maintenance schedule. Credit: John Zich / Bloomberg News

California leads venture funding for electric vehicle technology

Tesla
California is fast becoming a global center for electric-vehicle innovation and jobs.

Businesses in the state collected $467 million in electric vehicle venture capital investment during the first half of this year, or 69% of the global total, according to a study by Next 10, a nonprofit founded by Silicon Valley venture capitalist F. Noel Perry.

California also is now tied with Michigan, the traditional center of the U.S. auto industry, in the number of patents filed for electric vehicle technology. Both states generated 300 patents for electric vehicle technology from 2008 to 2010.

Globally, California trails only Japan and South Korea in electric vehicle patents and leads other nations, including Germany, Taiwan and France, Perry said.

Employment also is taking off. Tesla Motors has hired 300 workers in California so far this year, bringing its national workforce to about 1,400. It plans to double its employment next year, with most of the jobs coming to an auto factory in Fremont that it is refurbishing to launch production of its Model S electric sedan in 2012.

“We have a huge hiring plan for next year,” said Arnnon Geshuri, Tesla’s vice president of human resources.

Tesla’s growth is starting to trickle to vendors and contractors. Geshuri said Tesla is busy upgrading and building more office space at the Fremont factory.

“That means we will need more carpet, tables and desks, and that has an economic effect on the trade groups that provide those services,” he said.

Other companies, from small electric drive manufacturers to businesses that install electric vehicle charging stations commercially and in homes also are growing rapidly, with many having doubled their workforces or grown even faster this year.

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Tesla offers sneak peek of new electric Model S [Video]

Tesla Model S

Tesla, the Palo Alto electric car company, released a sneak peek of its Model S prototype zipping around a test track. Tesla, which apparently doesn't want gawkers or competitors watching the tests, doesn't provide much footage and wouldn't say where the video was shot.

With its Jaguar good looks, the Model S is expected to be the first premium all-electric sedan when it comes to market next year.

Based on the prototypes, the vehicle offers ample seating for five adults and there will be an option for an additional two rear-facing children’s seats. The sedan will have some zip too, with an anticipated 0 to 60 in under 6 seconds.

The car will start at $57,400 and have three battery pack options, providing from 160 to 300 miles per charge, depending on the battery pack. It is expected to qualify for federal and state incentives and car-pool lane permits.

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-- Jerry Hirsch

Twitter.com/LATimesJerry

Photo: Tesla Model S. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

Video: Tesla Model S Sneak Peek: Alpha Drives. Credit: Tesla Motors via Vimeo.

New technology aside, Willie Nelson still tops list of road-trip songs

What's on your radio?

That's the question Pioneer Electronics USA, which makes car navigation and entertainment systems, asked 3,000 travellers about to hit the highway for the holidays this year. Willie

Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” grabbed the top spot in the list of favorite road-trip songs with 27% of the votes.

The rest of the rankings were: 
2.   “Born to be Wild,” Steppenwolf
3.    “Take it Easy,” The Eagles
4.    “I Get Around,” The Beach Boys
5.    “Highway to Hell,” AC/DC
6.    “Free Falling,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
7.    “Riders on the Storm,” The Doors
8.    “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night,” Kiss
9.    “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” Bon Jovi
10.    “Free Bird,” Lynyrd Skynyrd

There was some variation depending on age and region. People from the Northeast as well as male respondents nationally favored “Born to Be Wild.” Singles between 18 and 34 listed “Highway to Hell” as their top pick.

“It’s cool to hear that the classics are still king, although now instead of cassette tapes, the tunes are delivered seamlessly through iPods, iPhones and other digital devices as well as satellite and Internet radio like Pandora,” said Ted Cardenas, director of marketing for the Pioneer's car electronics division.

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-- Jerry Hirsch

Twitter.com/LATimesJerry

Photo: Willie Nelson. Credit: Getty Images

Hertz will rent electric Smart car fortwo

Car-rental giant Hertz Corp. said it planned to offer the Smart fortwo electric vehicle as part of a car-sharing program in three metropolitan areas starting later this month. Smart

Hertz will make the tiny vehicle -– a two-seater smaller than a Mini or even the new Fiat 500 that’s about to hit the U.S. auto market -– as part of the Connect by Hertz car-sharing program in New York later this month. It is part of an effort by Hertz to offer a variety of electric and plug-in hybrids worldwide.
 
Later, it will be available for rent as part of Connect by Hertz and at Hertz Rent a Car locations in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.

“We are thrilled to place vehicles with Hertz and offer consumers the opportunity to experience the joy of driving a Smart fortwo while showcasing the benefits of electric technology,” said Jill Lajdziak, president of Smart USA, a subsidiary of Penske Automotive Group Inc. that distributes the Smart in the U.S. The Smart vehicles are built by Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler AG of Germany.

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-- Jerry Hirsch

Photo: Smart fortwo. Credit: Smart USA

Safety officials want backup cameras in cars

The federal government wants automakers to install backup cameras in all new vehicles starting in late 2014.

The systems, which allow drivers to see what’s behind them in a video display on their dashboard, are available in some models now, but usually as an expensive option. Backupcamera

The proposal, issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is designed to keep drivers from running over pedestrians who might be crossing behind their vehicles. It could also prevent parking lot bumper thumpers. The systems typically come with a bell or alarms that alerts the driver if something is located closeby within the field of view of the camera.

“There is no more tragic accident than for a parent or caregiver to back out of a garage or driveway and kill or injure an undetected child playing behind the vehicle,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “The changes we are proposing today will help drivers see into those blind zones directly behind vehicles to make sure it is safe to back up.”

NHTSA estimates that, on average, 292 fatalities and 18,000 injuries occur each year as a result of back-over crashes. The agency said that children and the elderly are the most common victims. Children are killed in about 44% of such fatal accidents. A third of the fatalities are people over 70.

To meet the requirements of the proposed rule, 10% of new vehicles must comply by September 2012, 40% by September 2013 and 100% by September 2014. The proposal and information about how to submit comments is at: www.nhtsa.gov/Laws-Regs.

-- Jerry Hirsch
Twitter.com/LATimesJerry 

Photo: Cadillac Escalade rear camera view.

Credit: Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times.

First production Chevrolet Volt rolls off line into an auction

The first production Chevrolet Volt rolled off the assembly line at a General Motors Co. factory Tuesday in Detroit and anyone who wants to purchase the electric drive vehicle is going to have to bid for it.  Volt_auction2

The Volt -- bearing the vehicle identification number ending in BU100002 – will be auctioned with all proceeds benefitting the Detroit Public Schools Foundation, the automaker said. Details on the auction can be found at bidonthevolt.com.

“Every aspect of the Volt -– from its aerodynamic shape to its battery chemistry -– is a testament to the importance of math and sciences,” said General Motors North America President Mark Reuss. “By encouraging Detroit-area students to pursue these topics, we hope to cultivate the next generation of engineers who will build upon the Volt’s innovative technologies.”

The Volt is the first of a new generation of mass-produced electric vehicles to hit the U.S. auto market. It will retail for $41,000 when it hits showrooms in December -– but will have a less expensive lease
deal -- and is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit. 

The compact sedan has a range of about 40 miles using only electricity. It also has a gas engine to generate electricity when the batteries run out and extend the range by another 300 miles. By
year's end, Nissan Motor Co. will launch its Leaf, which is powered only by batteries. Ford will come out with an all-electric version of its Focus compact car next year.

The Volt has been a publicity boon for GM, which for years has faced critics who have accused the giant automaker of suppressing the development of electric and alternative fuel vehicles.

“There's no denying the awareness and image boost the Volt has provided to GM over the past few weeks, and given the automaker's recent history that alone may justify the car's $1-billion
investment,” said Karl Brauer, an analyst at Edmunds.com, the auto information company.

GM also said Tuesday that it will hire 1,000 engineers and researchers in Michigan over the next two years to expand its electric vehicle development. The new jobs will help the automaker develop and
manufacture automotive battery, electric motor and power control technology and components.

“We want to give our customers energy choices other than petroleum and to make the automobile part of the solution when it comes to the environment,” said Dan Akerson, GM’s chief executive.

But whether consumers are interested in such vehicles remains a question.

Kelley Blue Book, the auto pricing information company, said Tuesday that only 7% of car shoppers say they are likely to consider an electric vehicle for their next new-vehicle purchase or lease.  The
data come from Kelley Blue Book’s Market Intelligence study.

The majority of survey respondents, 87% and 84% respectively, said they worry about how far they will be able to drive on a single charge and the availability of charging stations.  Most, 91%, said that
electric vehicles are expensive, and 43% thought they would not retain their value as well as conventional gasoline-powered cars.

-- Jerry Hirsch

twitter.com/latimesjerry

Photo: Chevrolet Volt. Credit: General Motors

General Electric to buy 25,000 electric vehicles to spark market

General Electric Co. said it plans to spark the electric vehicle industry by purchasing 25,000 electric vehicles for its fleet by 2015. Volt

The Fairfield, Conn.,-based company said its strategy represents the largest-ever electric vehicle commitment by a company or organization. The plan includes buying 12,000 Chevrolet Volts, which GM will start selling by year-end.

“Electric vehicle technology is real and ready for deployment and we are embracing the transformation with partners like GM and our fleet customers,” said Jeff Immelt, GE’s chief executive. “By electrifying our own fleet, we will accelerate the adoption curve, drive scale, and move electric vehicles from anticipation to action.

Michelle Krebs, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com, said that a company with such a large fleet of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles “could certainly become an important driver behind the build-out of car charging infrastructure.”

The Volt uses a gasoline engine to create electricity and power the car when its battery charge runs down. That extends the range of the Volt to hundreds of miles and beyond pure battery electric vehicles but also classifies the car as a plug-in hybrid.

Immelt noted that GE makes technology that “touches every point of the electric vehicle infrastructure” and is involved in updating the electrical transmission grid to handle the proliferation of electric autos. GE also makes a charging station called the WattStation.

GE said it will benefit from growth in electric auto sales and estimates that its varied divisions including Capital Fleet Services, Energy and Licensing & Trading will benefit from an emerging electric vehicle market that could deliver up to $500 million in revenue over the next three years.

GM was pleased with GE’s selection of the Volt.

“GE’s commitment reflects confidence that electric vehicles are a real-world technology that can reduce both emissions and our dependence on oil. It is also a vote of confidence in the Chevrolet Volt,” said Dan Akerson, the automaker’s chief executive.

Krebs said that a large fleet will allow GM to study the use of their cars, deal with issues that crop up and lead to improvements for future generations of plug-in vehicles.

“GE's purchase will drive sales to help GM offset the vast investments it made in pioneering technologies. Automakers are unlikely to make money on new technologies out of the starting gate, but a big purchase like this helps accelerate their return on investment,” Krebs said.

 GE will convert at least half of its 30,000 global fleet and will partner with its fleet leasing customers to deploy a total of 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015.

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-- Jerry Hirsch
Twitter.com/LATimesJerry 

Photo: Chevrolet Volt

Credit: General Motors

Insurance industry wants to block texting while driving

Texting Almost one in five drivers -- 18% -- report texting while driving in the past 30 days, according to a survey by the Insurance Research Council.

The trade group said Tuesday that texting while driving is a big-enough problem to warrant new products and services designed to block individual cellphones or smartphones from sending or receiving text messages while in a moving vehicle.

More than half of the respondents in the survey said they would consider such a product as long as it was free. But interest dropped off when people were asked if they would pay for a blocking service.

Younger drivers were the biggest culprits -- 31% of drivers 24 and younger and 41% of drivers age 25 to 39 reported texting while driving.

That compared to just 5% of drivers 55 and older.

They survey talked to more than 1,400 licensed drivers. “These findings confirm that a large number of drivers are engaging in very dangerous behavior,” said Elizabeth Sprinkel, senior vice president of the IRC. “The need to find an effective response to this behavior is becoming increasingly clear.”

Distracted drivers are about four times as likely to be involved in crashes as those who are focused exclusively on driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Drivers who are texting can be more than 20 times more likely to crash than non-distracted drivers.

Driver distraction was involved in 5,474 fatal crashes in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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-- Jerry Hirsch

Photo: A motorist who appears to be texting while driving in Beverly Hills. Credit: Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times

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