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Auto blogFri, 15 Feb 2013 17:16:00 EST
The unintended acceleration brouhaha at Toyota led to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration tightening the vise on recall procedures. Likewise, the fuel economy kerfuffle that blew up with Hyundai and Kia's admission of overstated fuel mileage claims could lead to the Environmental Protection Agency policing automaker assertions by performing more audits.
At least, that's what a senior engineer with the government agency said while in Michigan giving a talk, according to a report in Automotive News. What that actually means, however, is still in question. Just ten to 15 percent of new vehicles - something like 150 to 200 cars per year - are rested by the EPA to verify automaker numbers. The EPA's own tests include a "fudge factor" to adjust lab mileage for real-world mileage, and the agency still relies on automakers to submit data for tests that it doesn't have the facilities to perform. How much more auditing can the EPA really expect to do, or perhaps a more relevant question would be how much more accurate could the EPA's audits become?
The price of gasoline, the psychological importance of 40 miles per gallon to a frugal car buyer, an automaker wanting to further justify the price premium of a hybrid, all of these things contribute to fuel economy numbers that insist on creeping upward. Perhaps the senior engineer encapsulated the whole situation best when he said, "Everybody wants a label that tells you exactly what you're going to get, but obviously that's not possible. A good general rule of thumb is that real-world fuel economy is about 20 percent lower than the lab numbers." If the lesson isn't exactly 'buyer beware,' it's at least 'buyer be wary.'
France has been vocal, but not alone, in noting the rise of the South Korean automakers in Europe. The signing of a free-trade pact in 2011 between South Korea and the EU, along with the especially value-conscious buyers in a crisis-stricken Europe, has seen market share increases measuring in the double digits for Hyundai and Kia - analysts expect 14-percent growth for the two in 2012.
A report in Bloomberg has found that there's pain at the other end, too: The pact more than halved import tariffs on European cars headed to South Korea to 3.2 percent, and prices are now close enough to domestic offerings for more South Koreans to pay the premium for foreign luxury nameplates and the cachet they confer. Products sold by the five domestic automakers hogged 92 percent of the market last year, and sales have dropped 5.2 percent this year whereas import sales have risen by 24 percent. This will mark the first year that imports claimed ten percent of the market; compare that to 2002, when domestic market share in the world's 11th largest auto market was 99 percent.
The Germans are at the head of the arrow, counting for 65 percent of imported car sales, but every foreign maker has seen double-digit gains. Analysts think foreign makes could ultimately grab 15 percent of the market.
We're going to go ahead and give Kia the benefit of the doubt - the automaker brought us a bathing-suit-clad Adriana Lima in its Super Bowl spot from last year. That kind of thing doesn't go unappreciated.
But, if we're really honest, and judging solely on the "teaser" video below, the space suit-wearing, baby-star from Kia's commercial this year is really creeping us out.
In any event, the Kia ad (sorry, "mini-movie") called Space Babies will be set on the distant planet of "Babylandia," and will attempt to present some kind of lie about where babies come from in the ultimate service of selling the 2014 Kia Sorento. Don't let the panda, dog, pig, giraffe, rhino and unholy baby stare make you take your eye off the ball, folks - there's a car on sale here.