Friday Fun: Tailgate thefts, accountants are a poor risk and Toyota’s wooden car

The wooden Toyota Setsuna, a concept car with a maximum range of about 16 miles. Let's be honest here; it's for looking at, not for driving.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario — April 7, 2016 — This week we dip into the rash of tailgate thefts sweeping through Saskatchewan’s capital city, a study out of the UK that shows accountants are the worst drivers by profession and a report from Moody’s that says autonomous vehicles won’t be widespread until 2055. 

– A spree of tailgate thefts has swept Regina, Saskatchewan. A story in the main daily paper in the city noted the spree of thefts, with a comment from a Regina police officer who said he did not consider this a petty crime, “noting that most of the newer trucks have sensors or back-up cameras on the tailgates.” The story went on to quote Mike Mario of Regina Auto Body, who hit on the point that everyone in the industry deals with every day: Cars are way more complex now and expensive to fix. According to the story older truck tailgates might be plain, but the newer ones do not come cheap. Mario explained that a recent job involving a new tailgate on a GM truck cost $3,000. He estimated higher end truck tailgates could run up to $5,000 to replace. Mario went on to explain how easy tailgates can be to steal and reminded people to lock it.

– People went nuts for the budget Tesla this week. One report notes that the best selling cars in America, such as the Honda Accord or Nissan Altima, generally hit around 300,000 in sales every year. Tesla saw 276,000 people sign-up to buy its newest all-electric Model 3 sedan … in two days. The massive number, according to an analyst, “far exceeded optimistic forecasts, upends traditional thinking about how to sell cars and is expected to spur the auto industry to shift more dramatically to market electric technology to consumers.” The car won’t be released until 2017. One thing to note is that Tesla has an OEM certification program, but it’s not at all widespread.

– When it comes to fuel efficiency America has “taken a few steps backward,” according to a report. “As prices at the pump have fallen, consumers have stopped prioritizing vehicles that use less gas … sales of light-duty trucks like pick-ups and SUVs are up 9.8 percent from 2015, while sales of cars are down 4.1 percent. Sales of hybrids have fallen sharply. In February, the typical new car sold in the U.S. got 25.2 miles per gallon, a noticeable decline from a peak in 2014.”

– Allstate rolled out telematics auto insurance in Alberta. The company announced Tuesday it is using telematics to provide usage-based insurance to customers in Alberta. Allstate is monitoring time of day, distance, excessive speed and hard braking. Allstate will not charge extra for risky behaviour but will give discounts of up to 30 percent for good driving behaviour.

– The ailing auto town of Windsor “should position itself as the location for the first Chinese car manufacturing plant in North America,” says Flavio Volpe, President of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, in a recent story published by the Windsor Star. “The real opportunity (for Canada’s auto industry) is China,” Volpe said Tuesday during a meeting with the Windsor Star editorial board. “Our message to the federal government is: ‘Don’t trade access to that sector without getting investments on this end of the economy. Steer them here,’” he was quoted as saying. It looks like Chinese carmakers, such as SAIC Motor, are gearing up to mass produce vehicles in North America.

– The Polaris Slingshot, a three-wheeler coming onto the market came under scrutiny by Minnesota state senators who debated whether the new vehicle should be treated like a car or a motorcycle.. The Slingshot sells for $21,500 and is described as a “low-sitting and angular vehicle with a steering wheel, two car-like seats and brakes and gas pedals like cars. It is topless, has no doors and power comes from an engine that had been used in small cars.”

– A UK story suggests “Accountants have been labelled the worst drivers in Britain” after a car insurance specialist studied the claims history of more than a million drivers. “Money men (and women) are responsible for more than 16,000 accident damage claims per year … around 44 every single day. Solicitors are equally troublesome, with more than 15,000 annual car insurance claims recorded.” Third place went to doctors. Financial advisers, airline cabin crew and pharmacists were all in the top ten. “At the more desirable end of the scale are roofers, who were responsible for just over 3,850 car insurance claims last year. Farm workers also dipped below 4,000 and into second place. Honourable mentions go to builders, lorry drivers, cleaners, carpet fitters and butchers, who are all among the least likely to make a claim.”

– According to a report in a Detroit newspaper Michigan auto insurance companies reaped an “unintended multimillion-dollar tax credit windfall through a 2012 change in state law that transferred administration of a program that covers the medical costs of individuals injured in accidents involving uninsured drivers.” The “quasi-governmental entity that serves as Michigan’s insurer of last resort for motorists who can’t buy traditional insurance. Combining the two entities allowed auto insurance companies to claim a tax credit on the assigned claims of passengers and pedestrians injured by uninsured drivers — a tax code benefit previously not available to them when the program was administered by the Secretary of State’s Office. As a result, the insurers got a new tax break that is projected to deplete the state’s general fund by $60 million this year and $80 million in the 2017 fiscal year. The insurance industry lobby, business groups and the conservative political group Americans for Prosperity Michigan have defended the credit, arguing that repealing it would result in a $40 per vehicle “car tax” on drivers.

– Toyota built a concept car out of wood to show off at Design Week in Milan. There’s really not much more we can say about that, but we’ll give it a shot. Parts of the Toyota Setsuna are attached without nails or screws, instead using special dovetail joints to hold the pieces together.

– Bond rating firm Moody’s has added a solid dash of skepticism to the now frothy hype that has piled up around automated vehicles (AVs) of late. Turns it is going to be decades before AVs are accepted. Analysts at the bond rating firm said it will be “decades before autonomous cars are widely adopted, projecting they won’t become nearly universal until 2055.”

Marc Pinto, Managing Director at Moody’s Investors Service, is a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the now-fashionable assumption that AVs are going to rapidly emerge. Pinto was quoted as saying that, “In the early stages, we could actually see improved profitability for the insurers” as an expected decline in traffic accidents occurs. “Some of that additional profitability may be offset, however, by a greater cost for replacement parts. Anyone who maybe has had a fender bender recently, (knows) it’s not just always that little dent. Perhaps you’ve just bumped into the onboard sensors that now cost $1,500, whereas in the past it would have been a lot less.”

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