By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario -- January 7, 2016 -- Welcome to our weekly roundup of the the most interesting auto news bits and bites from the past week. This week we dig into 2015's huge new car sales numbers, the auctioning of Optimus Prime and how Takata has landed in even bigger trouble. We wouldn't have thought that was actually possible, but here we are.
- It's now official: automakers have just announced stunning sales numbers for 2015. This past year was the third-best ever for sales of vehicles. Canadians drove 1.9 million new cars off the lot last year. That is a lot of new cars to fix in the years to come. Reasons for the strong sales are various. The price of a new vehicle has not risen for some years now. Over that same time, inflation and wages have risen, so cars have become more affordable. At the same time, interest rates are at record lows, making financing easy. Throw in cheap gasoline and it seems many Canadians were tempted to get a new car. The boom could be good news for repairers, simply because a newer vehicle hasn’t depreciated very much. In other words, it makes less economic sense for an insurer to write off a new car than an old one.
- Not every car company is enjoying good times. Hyundai and its affiliate Kia are seeing weak performance in China, which is the biggest market for the South Korean manufacturer. The red-hot Chinese car market has been slowing over the past year as the record growth rates in that country temper.
- Legendary auto auction service Barrett-Jackson is going to auction off a couple of novel cars this spring: tow vehicles used in the Transformers movies. Along with Paramount Pictures, the company will auction the “Optimus Prime” vehicle as well as a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS, which starred as Bumblebee in the blockbuster movie, “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”
- You wouldn’t want to be a politician in British Columbia this week. The new rates announced by the province's government insurer, ICBC, kick in. Cleverly, the government announced that the hike in the most basic rate would just be 5.5 per cent. This is down from the 6.7 per cent hike that was originally announced. Buried in the fine print: The actual hike for comprehensive coverage (which applies to 80 per cent of drivers) is a bit over 7.3 per cent.
- Air bag maker Takata is, apparently, in even bigger trouble now. The company is being accused of working to misrepresent and manipulate data related to the airbags involved in the automotive world's single biggest recall. The New York Times has come across internal emails that suggest the manipulation was both “bold and broad.” One of the email exchanges sees a Takata airbag engineer, Bob Schubert, explaining, “Happy Manipulating!!!,” in reference to suggested interpretation of data. That's going to be tough to explain away.
- The first of the VW emissions scandal lawsuits have been launched. Last week an Alabama dealership announced it had launched a suit, and this week the US Department of Justice launched a suit claiming VW violated the Clean Air Act. You can bet there are going to be many more suits launched. Lawyers are going to be making mountains of money off this for years and years.
- The Indian Plywood Industries Research & Training Institute (IPIRTI) in India was working to develop a car body made of corn fibre composite. The idea would see plywood and corn super-compressed into body panels. No idea how a body tech would go about fixing such a car, but it turns out that it’s not going to come up. Researchers were told to halt work for what seems like a trifling reason: car bodies have nothing to do with plywood, and therefore aren’t part of the Institute’s mandate.