Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Toyota recalls Tundra pickups on rusted-frame concern

Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling 110,000 Toyota Tundra pickups for the 2000 to 2003 model years after reports that rusted frames in cold weather may cause spare tires under the truck bed to break loose and fall onto the road.

Corrosion of the rear cross-member, which supports the spare tire, also eventually may affect the rear brake line and lengthen vehicle stopping distances, increasing the risk of a crash, Toyota said in a statement Tuesday.

Toyota will contact owners of vehicles in 20 cold-weather states that have high road salt use--including New York, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania--the statement said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received about 300 complaints, including reports of three injuries but no deaths.

Toyota will contact owners of 2000-2003 Tundra vehicles in 20 cold-weather states that have high road salt use--including New York, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

NHTSA on Tuesday urged owners of the recalled Tundras to remove the spare tires before bringing the vehicles to the dealer for repair.

Last month, Toyota announced a recall of 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles to replace a floor mat that could cause the accelerator to stick.

Read more: http://www.autoweek.com/article/20091124/CARNEWS/911249989

Airlines Fined for Stranding Passengers for Six Hours

There is some good news for travelers and a warning to air carriers heading into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend: The government is getting tough with airlines that strand passengers on airport tarmacs.

The U.S. Department of Transportation fined three airlines a total of $175,000 for their role in the stranding 49 passengers -- and two children held on laps -- overnight in a plane at Rochester, Minn. on Aug. 8 saying that the passengers were forced to spend an "unreasonable period of time" on the airplane.

This is the first-ever fine against an airline for such an incident.

"I hope that this sends a signal to the rest of the airline industry that we expect airlines to respect the rights of air travelers," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, said in a statement.

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Continental Express flight 2816 was flying from Houston to Minneapolis when thunderstorms forced it to divert to Rochester International Airport. It landed there at 12:30 a.m. but the airport was closed for the night.

Mesaba Airlines employees -- the only airline employees at the airport at the time -- refused to open the terminal for the stranded passengers. The passengers were trapped aboard the aircraft until approximately 6:15 a.m. when they were finally allowed into the terminal.

Passengers inside the tiny jet had to deal with crying babies, little food or water and a smelly toilet even though they were just 50 yards from the terminal.

The captain of the flight repeatedly pleaded to allow the passengers to deplane and enter the terminal but was told they could not enter the terminal because there were no Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners on duty at that hour, despite the fact that TSA rules would have allowed the passengers to enter the airport as long as they remained in a secure area.

The government's actions come as Congress weighs passengers' rights legislation that would place a three-hour cap on how long airlines can keep passengers waiting on tarmacs before they allow them to deplane or return to a gate. The measure would give a flight's captain the authority to extend the wait an additional half hour if it appears that clearance to takeoff is near.

Continental Airlines and its regional airline partner ExpressJet, which operated the flight for Continental, were each fined $50,000. Mesaba, now part of Delta Airlines, was fined $75,000.

"A conclusion that there was some wrongdoing or negligence is more important to me than the amount of the fine," Link Christin, a passenger on the stranded jet that day, told The Associated Press.

Continental said in a statement that it agreed to the government's consent order "to avoid costly litigation."

Continental Express jets line up outside a terminal at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport. There is some great news for travelers heading to the airports this Thanksgiving weekend: the government is getting tough with some airlines that stranded passengers for hours on a tarmac in August.

It said that ExpressJet "worked throughout the night to safely deplane the customers at the earliest possible time" and blamed the Mesaba ground crew for failing "to provide reasonable assistance and accurate information." It also pointed out that it's fine was less than the one leveled on Mesaba.

John Spanjers, president of Mesaba, the Delta subsidiary however said in a statement that his airline believes it "operated in good faith."

"Mesaba continues to feel it operated in good faith by providing voluntary ground handling assistance to ExpressJet during this delay," Spanjers said in a statement. "However, customer service is paramount, and we are reevaluating our policies and procedures for the courtesy handling of other airlines' flights to do our part to mitigate this type of delay."

ExpressJet spokeswoman Kristy Nicholas told the Associated Press that the airline can avoid paying half the fines if it spends the same amount of money on additional training for their employees on how to handle extended tarmac delays.

Besides the fine, Continental also provided a full refund to each passenger and "offered each passenger additional compensation to tangibly acknowledge their time and discomfort," the DOT said.

There were 568 flights delayed on runways by three or more hours this year through Sept. 30, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, has opposed the so-called passenger bill of rights saying it could cause more problems than it fixes by leading to an increase in canceled flights.

Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, co-authors of the passengers' rights bill, said in a joint statement that they were pleased by the department's action, but legislation is still necessary to establish standards for airlines' treatment of their customers and to hold airlines accountable for meeting those standards.

The bill also includes requirements for the airlines to provide water, food, adequate restrooms and a comfortable cabin temperature and ventilation in the event of a long delay.

Continental and ExpressJet, in separate orders, were found to have violated the prohibition against unfair and deceptive practices in air transportation because ExpressJet failed to carry out a provision of Continental's customer service commitment requiring that, if a ground delay is approaching three hours, its operations center will determine if departure is expected within a reasonable time, and if not the carrier will take action as soon as possible to deplane passengers.

ExpressJet also failed to take timely actions required by its procedures, including notifying senior ExpressJet officials and providing appropriate Continental officials with notice of the delay. Continental was found to have engaged in an unfair and deceptive practice since, the DOT said, as the carrier marketing the flight 2816, Continental ultimately is responsible to its passengers on that flight.

Source: http://www.abcnews.go.com/Travel/BusinessTraveler/airlines-fined-stranding-passengers-travel-nightmare/story?id=9168606

Friday, November 20, 2009

FAA flightplan computer glitch causes airport delays across U.S.

ATLANTA - A problem with the FAA system that collects airlines' flight plans caused widespread flight cancellations and delays nationwide Thursday. It was the second time in 15 months that a glitch in the flight plan system caused delays.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said she doesn't know how many flights are being affected or when the problem will be resolved.

Another FAA spokesperson, Paul Takemoto, said the problem started between 5:15 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. EST. The outage is affecting mostly flight plans but also traffic management, such as ground stops and ground delays, he said.

Regarding flight plans, airplane dispatchers are now sending plans to controllers and controllers in turn are entering them into computers manually, he said.

"It's slowing everything down. We don't know yet what the impact on delays will be," Takemoto said.

An AirTran Airways spokesman said there's no danger to flights in the air, and flights are still taking off and landing.

However, spokesman Christopher White said flight plans are having to be loaded manually because of a malfunction with the automated system.

"Everything is safe in the air," White said.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest airport, has been particularly affected.

AirTran had canceled 22 flights and dozens more flights were delayed as of 8 a.m. EST. Delta Air Lines also has been affected.

The FAA said in a statement that it is having a problem processing flight plan information.

"We are investigating the cause of the problem," the agency said. "We are processing flight plans manually and expect some delays. We have radar coverage and communications with planes."

Passengers are being asked to check the status of their flights online before going to airports.

Only minor delays were being reported at metropolitan New York City area airports, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Flight plans are collected by the FAA for traffic nationwide at two centers — one in the Salt Lake City area and the other in the Atlanta area, Bergen said. She did not know which center was affected Thursday.

In August 2008, a software malfunction delayed hundreds of flights around the country.

In that episode, the Northeast was hardest hit by the delays because of a glitch at the Hampton, Ga., facility that processes flight plans for the eastern half of the U.S.

The FAA said at that time the source of the computer software malfunction was a "packet switch" that "failed due to a database mismatch."

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/money/2009/11/19/2009-11-19_faa_flightplan_computer_glitches_causes_airport_delays_across_us.html

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

GM needs new Buick Regal, Chevy Cruze to be hits

DETROIT—Two General Motors cars due in showrooms next year must be hits to help the automaker turn around sales and pay back its big debt to U.S. taxpayers.

The Buick Regal midsize sedan and Chevrolet Cruze compact, both sold in key segments of the U.S. car market, face stiff competition and other obstacles to success.

GM was to roll out the Regal on Thursday in Los Angeles, and it's counting on the sleek-looking sedan to claw out a new market for the once-stodgy Buick, now the official brand of bingo night at the senior center.

Buick has been absent from the tough midsize market since 2004, while the Cruze was recently put on hold because GM wasn't happy with how it drove.

Executives have high hopes that the Regal, much of it designed by GM's Opel engineers in Ruesselsheim, Germany, can help bring younger buyers to Buick, crucial to the brand's long-term growth. Currently the median age of a Buick customer is around 68, but GM is targeting new models for those in their 40s and 50s, said Craig Bierley, Buick's product marketing director.

"Clearly having a midsize entry is absolutely critical for us," Bierley said.

Buick sales so far this year are down 33 percent compared with last year, worse than the overall U.S. market, which is off 25 percent.

Midsize cars like Toyota's Camry, the perennial sales leader, are attractive to young families and baby boomers who are downsizing their vehicles. They typically can haul five people and have decent trunk space. Also, several entries get well over 30 mpg on the highway, making them the default buy for those who need space but are concerned about the return of $4 per gallon gasoline.

So far this year, the midsize segment is the biggest part of the U.S. car market, making up 47 percent of sales. Camry dominates the segment with 294,000 sales.

GM has no margin for error with the Regal or any other new vehicle, said David Koehler, a clinical marketing professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Their success in the future is riding on these new launches," he said.

The new Regal, due in showrooms in the second quarter of next year, is aimed at those who want a car that's fun to drive yet is practical. The Regal has three ride settings (normal sport and touring) and is smart enough to tailor the car to the way people drive, Bierley said.

The 2011 Buick Regal sedan is shown at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Mich., Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009. GM will roll out the sporty Regal on Thursday with an event in Los Angeles, and it's counting on sleek-looking the five-seat car to claw out a new market for Buick. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The Regal is designed to compete with the sporty Acura TSX made by the Honda luxury brand, and the Volvo S60.

Pricing wasn't announced, but it will be between the mainstream midsize Chevrolet Malibu at $21,325 and the $27,835 base price of a larger new Buick, the LaCrosse, aimed at luxury buyers.

The flabby old Regal, discontinued five years ago in part because it couldn't compete with the Camry and Honda's Accord, bears little resemblance to the new one, which Bierley said is equipped only with four-cylinder engines to boost fuel economy.

At first the car will have only one engine choice, a 2.4-liter, 182 horsepower powerplant that gets around 30 mpg on the freeway. By next summer, a 220-horsepower 2-liter turbocharged four with power comparable to a V-6 also will be available.

Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with the AutoPacific marketing and consulting firm, predicts that GM will sell about 40,000 Regals in its first full year, not a huge number but enough to bring critical profits to GM. Last year, Acura sold almost exactly 40,000 TSX models.

"It doesn't really matter how many they sell of the Regal. It matters if it's profitable," she said.

Koehler said even more is riding on the smaller Cruze, which must sell in larger numbers than the Regal because of its lower profit margins. The Cruze will be targeted at younger entry-level buyers as well as those seeking fuel economy. It's supposed to get around 40 mpg on the highway.

But GM postponed the Cruze's April build date about three months, said Mark Reuss, GM's vice president of global vehicle engineering.

The company, he said, wasn't happy with the Cruze's performance, especially with the six-automatic transmission.

"No one was thrilled with where it shifted, how it shifted," he said in an interview.

source: http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2009/11/12/gm_needs_new_buick_regal_chevy_cruze_to_be_hits/

Motorola eyes $4.5 billion home/networks unit sale: Two sources

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Motorola Inc is in the early stages of looking into a potential sale of its $4.5 billion television set-top box and network equipment business, two sources said on Wednesday.

Motorola is in the early stages of seeking buyers for the unit, whose suitors include private equity firms and other communications equipment makers, said one source familiar with the situation.

Motorola may decide to keep the unit in the end, said the source, who was not authorized to speak with the media.

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co and Goldman Sachs Group Inc are advising Motorola on the possible sale, the source said.

J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

Motorola, which has been losing market share in its cellphone business for years, declined to comment, but said it was still focused on its previously stated plan to separate its handset business from the rest of the company.

Analysts said there could be a lot of interest in the home and networks unit, particularly because Motorola has a strong market share in the set-top box segment, where it is bigger than Scientific Atlanta, owned by Cisco Systems Inc.

But RBC analyst Mark Sue said that a divestiture of any of Motorola's other business units could hurt Motorola's money-losing handset business.

"The mobile devices business still needs the rest of the businesses to fund its operations. It hasn't really recovered fully yet so it would be a little too early to cut off the lifeline," Sue said.

While growth in the mobile network equipment market has slowed dramatically in recent years, rival gear makers could see Motorola as a way to increase their market share, particularly in the United States.

Avian Securities analyst Matthew Thornton said a $4.5 billion price tag would represent an 18 percent premium over his estimated valuation of $3.8 billion for the home and networks unit, based on operating earnings.

Analysts at Avian Securities said that their sum-of-parts analysis values Motorola's Home & Networks Mobility Division segment at $4.25 billion, according to an emailed report.

"Simply put, the deal price cited ... is not far off from our valuation," the report said.

Potential suitors could include Ericsson, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, Alcatel Lucent SA or Nokia Siemens, a venture of Nokia and Siemens AG, analysts said.

The Wall Street Journal cited China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and UK based Pace Plc as other potential buyers.

The Wall Street Journal cited potential suitors as Silver Lake Partners and TPG.

TPG declined comment and Silver Lake Partners was not immediately available for comment.

Motorola spokeswoman Jennifer Erickson said the company does not comment on rumor or speculation.

"Separation into two independent, publicly traded companies (Mobile Devices and Broadband Mobility Solutions, which comprises Enterprise Mobility Solutions and Home and Networks Mobility Solutions) is the publicly stated long-term goal of Motorola," Erickson said. "We remain committed to the separation goal and continue to believe that it is the right strategy to position Motorola for long-term success."

Motorola shares were down 15 cents, or 1.7 percent, at $8.70 in afternoon trading on New York Stock Exchange.

source: http://www.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idUSTRE5AA3DS20091111