By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario -- March 24, 2016 -- A long weekend is no reason to miss out on your weekly dose of the weird and unusual from the automotive world and beyond. This week we take a look at how distracted driving may become the new drunk driving, an artist who has built sculptures of US political figures out of car parts and how one body shop built a wall to beautify their town.
- The big news in Canada this week was that the new Liberal government brought down its first budget. The documents confirms that the Automotive Innovation Fund will be renewed until 2020. There will be lots of spending on infrastructure. There is some money earmarked for apprenticeships; that cash seems to be specifically for union-based apprenticeships. There is also some money for the Youth Employment Strategy, including a boost to the Skills Link program. If, as expected, the budget channels some money to the broad middle class, this could be good for the collision repair industry in a general way. If the mass population is feeling more confident about their financial standing they'll be buying new cars, travelling and getting that year-old dent in the fender fixed.
- Has distracted driving become the new drunk driving? There's a case in Vancouver where police are warning about "a woman in her early 40s who has racked up 14 distracted driving violations in the past five years." Some in the province have called for legislation that would allow drivers to lose their licenses in cases such as this.
- Apparently the auto industry buys every second industrial robot produced. The automobile industry is currently displaying the fastest rate of modernisation within NAFTA, according to a press release issued by the International Federation of Robotics.
"The USA is witnessing very intense investment in the technical renewal of its domestic manufacturing, aimed at improving competitiveness and partly at regaining capacities from abroad," according to the release. "The US economy is one of the front-runners in the global automation race. By 2018, the number of industrial robots sold to 2018 will, on average, rise by at least five percent per annum, to a new record of 31,000 units. About one-half of these will be installed by car makers and their suppliers."
- A tragic story got some coverage in UK papers. An inquiry was held in the case of a pensioner, Janet Machon, 79, who was in fatal crash just five minutes before her insurance expired. She was, apparently, rushing to beat the deadline.
- A Long Island driver accused of drunk driving ended up crashing his truck into an auto body shop. Peter Bradley, 55, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.
- USA Today ran a story throwing some cold water on the current auto sales boom, pointing out three warning signs the US auto industry will not sustain current record high levels of car sales. The points were made at the J.D. Power Automotive Forum hosted jointly with the National Automobile Dealers Association on the eve of the New York International Auto Show. The points are negative equity (drivers owing more on the car than it's worth), rising subprime rates and the now familiar refrain of "millenials don't care about cars."
- It looks like car manufacturers don't need to be scared of Google. Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car project, appeared at a tech conference connected to the recent South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. He made it clear that the company "isn't interested in manufacturing automobiles, but rather plans to partner with industry incumbents to put the technology in consumers' driveways."
- A sculptor has made a representation of Donald Trump out of used auto parts. Joe Kildune is an art school grad who spent 23 years as a designer for General Tire and Rubber. He currently works at a dealership and got the idea for the sculpture there. He's also made representations of Democratic hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton.
- A press release related to the upcoming 2016 Lasers for Manufacturing Event suggests that laser technology is going to show up in auto welding. Ralf Kimmel of Trumpf Laser Technology is to deliver the keynote presentation at the event and says, "Typical metals used for lightweight applications are high-tensile and ultra-high-tensile steels, and non-ferrous metals such as aluminum and magnesium. In addition developers are increasingly focusing on non metals like plastics and fiber-reinforced plastics. Regardless of high-strength steel, non-ferrous metals, (fibre-reinforced) plastics, or even a combination of these, the laser is a suitable tool for joining these materials."
- Tesla is just a few days away from releasing its Model 3, a cheaper version of its electric car. The debate is on whether this is a game-changer or will be a niche product. Charging an electric vehicle can be trick or time-consuming. Gas stations, on the other hand, are all over the place.
- A series of media reports claim ride-hailing service Uber has "sounded out car companies about placing a large order for self-driving cars." Drivers are the biggest cost Uber has. A fleet of self-driving cars would vastly improve the company's profitability.
- Car designer Henrik Fisker has offered up four predictions about the future of cars:
1. The electric car market will experience more growth in the next few years after having a slow start.
2. Electric cars will take over a lot of hybrids quicker than people think.
3. Hydrogen-powered cars are more than 10 years out, but the "tech is possibly better" than electric.
4. Driverless cars won't "have as dramatic a change as people might imagine."
- Massive hailstorms moved through Fort Worth, Texas this past week. The storms could result in $300 million in vehicle repairs. Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas, estimated that 50,000 vehicles were damaged by the Thursday morning storms. "This is a catastrophic event for us," Hanna was quoted as saying. The hail was said to have fallen in two bursts and "varied in size from blueberries to tennis balls." Hanna thought one-third of the vehicles in the area were damaged.
- Investment brokers are moving up their price targets on shares of Fenix Parts. According to Reuters, two analysts have a rating of "buy" on the stock, four analysts have an "outperform" rating, and no analysts have a "hold", "underperform" or "sell" rating on the stock. Brokerage firm Stifel Nicolaus has put a US $9 price target on Fenix. Roth Capital, which recently began coverage, gave the company a "buy" rating and also has a US $9 price target on the stock. Previously, Barrington Research has a US $15 price target on the stock.
- Low gas prices are killing sales of electrics and hybrids. According to Akshay Anand, commercial insights manager for Kelley Blue Book, sales for the Toyota Prius dropped 10.9 percent in 2015, "marking the first time annual sales were down since the hybrid was introduced in 1997." Chevrolet sold 18.1 percent fewer Volts in 2015 than the previous year. Sales of the all-electric Nissan Leaf are down a "whopping" 42.8 percent from 2014 to 2015.
- This is a nice touch. The owner of an auto body shop near San Francisco is building a large concrete wall on his property to give the community a tidier appearance. According to a local newspaper, "Tim Hazlewood, who co-owns Tim's Auto Body at 17 Fayetteville St. in Van Buren with his wife, Jane, is in the process of constructing a 400 foot long concrete wall on the site of his shop facing south and east towards the nearby Old Frisco Train Station. Hazlewood said he conceived this project as a means to make Van Buren look nicer for people using the train station. "We have a wrecked vehicle sitting on our backlot,' Hazlewood said. 'I do not want anybody to see anything but a gorgeous wall when they come in and out of Van Buren on that Excursion Train. The other thing is that I've been successful in Van Buren. (The wall is) my way of giving back to the community.'"