High-tech observatory only uses decades-old diesel trucks

old trucks at NRAO

Head on out to Green Bank, WV, and you’re likely to notice what looks like a giant satellite dish on the horizon. Only it’s not a satellite dish. It’s actually a fully steerable radio telescope – the largest of its kind in the world. It’s funded by the federal government through the US National Science Foundation and operated by National Radio Astronomy Observatory. In short, it’s one of the most advanced telecommunications devices in the world. So you’d expect them to service it with suitably advanced vehicles, right?

Wrong. Radio telescopes are hyper-sensitive to interference. That’s why this one is located (alongside the NSA installation at Sugar Grove) inside the United States National Radio Quiet Zone. It’s also why the NRAO only uses old diesel trucks to get anywhere near the telescope. Some of those trucks are 45 years old, but because they don’t use spark plugs, computerized ECUs or even door chimes, they don’t mess with the telescope. Head on over to Driving.ca to read exactly why.

Ferrari threatening to fine journalists $69,000 for breaking LaFerrari embargo

Ferrari LaFerrari

In automotive journalism, we deal with embargoes on a regular basis. For the uninitiated, these are agreements between publications like Autoblog and manufacturers. While news embargoes (where pubs are provided with information and images and agree to hold until a predetermined date) are fairly common, today, we’re focusing on drive embargoes. These are what we generally end up signing when we attend a vehicle launch. Generally, these are in the media’s best interest. As drive programs are spread out over a week or two with multiple different “waves” of media, drive embargoes put the biggest and smallest publications on level footing when it comes to publishing reviews.

According to a report from Autocar‘s Steve Sutcliffe, Ferrari has taken its drive embargo for the LaFerrari hypercar a bit too far. See, initial reviews from the few publications that attended the drive event for the hybrid-powered monster can hit the newsstand or internet on April 30. Originally, syndicated stories – those sold by freelancers or publications to other outlets – couldn’t be published until May 12. These syndicated reviews are big money for larger magazines and, in the case of freelance journalists, are a primary source of revenue. Inexplicably, though, Ferrari has pushed the syndication embargo back to May 26, which is bad news for everyone involved (aside from Ferrari).

This could have been nothing more than an annoyance. The stories would still get sold (although it might be for a bit less coin, considering the initial reviews will be nearly a month old) and you’ll still be bombarded by reviews of the LaFerrari not once, but twice, just as Ferrari planned.

What’s truly weird, though, is what Ferrari is doing to try and enforce its syndication embargo – the Scuderia is threatening to fine journalists 50,000 euro ($69,000 at today’s rates) if their embargoed copy or images are published before May 26. Let’s keep in mind, this isn’t a leak of driving impressions – those are almost certainly going to be published at 12:01 AM on April 30 by every publication that attended the drive program – it’s merely the secondary publication of an old review.

Not only is the reasoning for this absolutely bewildering – Ferrari doesn’t seem to gain anything by limiting secondary publishing of LaFerrari reviews – but as Jalopnik‘s Matt Hardigree points out, it basically puts a price tag on breaking an embargo. Publications that aren’t invited to drive the LaFerrari but can afford to pay the $69,000 fine have no reason to follow the embargo (they obviously weren’t invited to drive the car, so why worry about angering Ferrari?).

Sutcliffe has a more concise breakdown of the entire affair over at Autocar. Have a look, and then head back here and let us know what you think.

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Michael Schumacher sued in Spain for motorcycle accident prior to coma

Formel 1: Grosser Preis von Deutschland.

Seven-time Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher has been in a French hospital since a December 29 accident left him in a coma. Now, the German driver is being investigated for another accident, although he was behind the wheel for this one.

A few weeks before his devastating accident, Schumacher was driving a rented Audi A4 in Spain when he allegedly hit a motorcyclist at a roundabout after failing to give the right of way. The cyclist broke his wrist in the incident, and damaged his bike, clothing, watch and helmet, according to The Irish Independent.

The cyclist is pressing charges, as it’s the only way to receive compensation for his medical expenses, as well as damaged property. At this point, it seems likely that insurance companies for the two sides will be able to work the matter out without going to court.

Mercedes Sprinter vans with leaky A/C units prompt class-action suit [w/video]

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Mercedes-Benz is known for packing its cars with luxury features, but the rear passengers in some Sprinter vans are getting a shower that they don’t expect. The rear air conditioning system is reportedly leaking in some models, and owners are boiling mad. A class-action lawsuit was filed in California alleging that Mercedes knew about the problem and didn’t fix it.

Bad seals around the rooftop, rear air conditioner on some Sprinter 2500 and 3500 models allegedly cause the leak. Drivers claim that it’s bad enough to seem like it’s raining in the vehicle, and some owners say that it leads to mold and water damage around the headliner.

Sharky Laguana is among the litigants in the suit, and he owns a vehicle rental company in San Francisco. He claims in the lawsuit that at least 45 of his 97 Sprinters have leaked. He told to NBC 6 in South Florida that the repairs and discounts to customers have cost his business over $100,000.

We’ve contacted Mercedes for more information on the problem. We will update this story when we hear back. Scroll down to watch a report on the problem from NBC 6 showing the leak in multiple Sprinters, and the entire text of the lawsuit can be read on its website.

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UAW drops appeal of VW Tennessee unionization vote

VW Announcement

The United Auto Workers’ attempt to unionize Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, TN, factory may be off the table for a while. Since shortly after workers there rejected organizing, the UAW has been appealing to the National Labor Relations Board for another vote citing interference. Now, the union has dropped its case with the NLRB.

The union claims it wants to help VW. The appeal process with the NLRB can be incredibly slow, and it would be “unfair to keep Volkswagen mired down in the appeals process, which could take years to complete,” said Gary Casteel, the UAW’s district director, to the Detroit Free Press. The sides have struck an agreement not to call for another election through the NLRB for at least a year. Casteel claims the two sides could hold a private election, but he isn’t planning another vote “anytime soon.”

The UAW’s appeal with the NLRB has faced some setbacks. The board voted to allow anti-UAW employees at the factory the right to defend casting a ballot against the organizing. Also, a group called the National Right to Work Foundation filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of five workers against VW and the UAW for allegedly working together to unionize the plant. The organization claimed the automaker forced workers to attend pro-union meetings.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the goal at the factory now is to work out a tax incentive plan with the state to build a midsize SUV, likely a production version of the CrossBlue concept. The Tennessee government reportedly offered VW $300 million to build the truck in Chattanooga but later rescinded the offer because of the union vote.

Aston Martin requests exemption from stringent US safety regulations

Aston Martin Vantage GT

If you were intrigued by the chance to buy a new Aston Martin Vantage GT for $99,900, it might be best not to wait too long. There is a slim chance that the Vantage and DB9 may not have much life left in the US because they don’t meet new crash standards. Aston Martin has filed documents with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asking that the new pole and moving barrier crash safety requirements – internally referred to as FMVSS 214 – be waived for the two models. The company is claiming “substantial economic hardship” and says that it can’t afford to bring the vehicles into compliance.

We aren’t talking about a huge number of vehicles here. The Rapide and Vanquish comply with the new rules, and Aston Martin predicts that it would import 670 Vantage and DB9 models into the States between September 1, 2014 and August 31, 2017. The automaker estimates it would cost around $30 million to make them compliant.

The company has indeed been in rough shape in the not-too-distant past. According to the documents, sales volume decreased by about 48 percent from a high of 7,281 units in 2007 to 3,786 vehicles in 2012. The automaker had planned to have new models ready in time so that it wouldn’t need an exemption, but the global economic crisis delayed it. Interestingly, the paperwork reveals that Aston currently plans to launch a replacement for the DB9 between September 2016 and August 2017.

Aston Martin doesn’t have very long for NHTSA to deliberate. The new rules go into effect for them on September 1, 2014 for hardtops, and September 1, 2015 for convertibles. While it would still be able to sell its other models here, it would certainly be a shock if it had to pull the the Vantage and DB9. Both documents are available in PDF format to download and read.

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LAPD apologizes for tampering with patrol car recording equipment

LAPD Revenge Killings

Perhaps you’ve heard this line from a police officer or some other person of authority, “If you haven’t done anything wrong, what do you have to hide?” That would probably be one of the many questions being asked by the Los Angeles Police Commission – the civilian oversight board of the Los Angeles Police Department – of the LAPD itself, after it was revealed that officers had tampered with devices in police cruisers meant to record what they say.

The quick backstory: LAPD patrol cars are fitted with devices to videotape traffic stops and encounters, and officers wear transponders on their belts that capture audio and send it back to the vehicle recorder via an antenna on the car. In summer 2013 an internal LAPD audit found that antennas on patrol cars had been removed. Doing so doesn’t disable the recorder, but it lessens the range over which it works.

After the investigation, Police Chief Charlie Beck told a then-recently-elected Police Commission member who’s now the commission president, Steve Soboroff, about the problem and said that it had been resolved, with measures put in place to deter future incidents. But it went no further than that until this February, when the Commission noticed poor quality recordings being used in a shooting investigation; that’s when the oversight board was officially informed of the tampering.

Chief Beck, an assistant chief and two deputy chiefs publicly apologized to the Commission this week, saying that the department “fell short” but that “The department did not try to hide this issue.” The policemen also defended their decision not to conduct an investigation, saying it would be futile since numerous officers will use a single car throughout the day and there’d be no way to figure out who removed the antennas.

The chiefs said they have developed new protocols to ensure there’s no more tampering, including officers documenting the presence of antennas at the beginning and end of each shift and spot checks by supervisors, but it isn’t clear that the situation is solved: one antenna has been found missing, and “dozens” of the transmitters worn by officers “were found missing or damaged” in one single division.

NTSB offers NHTSA advice on semi truck safety

Highway Crash

Based on studies conducted last year, the National Transportation Safety Board has sent seven recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “to improve the safety of tractor-trailers.” The suggestions range from changing actual physical components on tractor-trailers, like adding protection along the sides of trailers to keep cars from going under them, to recording VIN information on trailers – which isn’t currently collected – in accident reports.

The NTSB research revealed that more than half the time, truckers who hit pedestrians after pulling away from a stoplight weren’t aware they had done so until other motorists or bystanders told them. When it comes to “underride events” – when a vehicle goes under the trailer – the NTSB said many of the 500 deaths caused by such incidents come from collisions with the sides of trailers, and reaffirmed the assessment by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that rear trailer guard regulations aren’t up to scratch.

The full list of recommendations also believes the NHTSA should mandate blind-spot reduction systems. NHTSA hasn’t responded to points laid out, but it already does a lot of research in heavy truck safety, such as the recently concluded five-year study on Integrated Vehicle-Based Safety Systems.

Chrysler dealers terminated in bankruptcy still stuck in court

Car Dealers Push House Bill To Save Dealerships Cut By GM, Chrysler

Part of the deal for the federal bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors was that both organizations were required to trim their vast array of dealerships. This move did not sit well with the people that would be losing out on franchises, though, and in Chrysler’s case, 148 of the shuttered dealers have fought for money they feel they are entitled to.

These dealers believe that they should be compensated by the federal government, as Chrysler wouldn’t have trimmed its sales centers had it not been ordered to by Uncle Sam. Now, thanks to the ruling of three judges on the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the dealers will get a chance to argue their point.

According to Automotive News, the dealers argue that the mandatory shuttering of dealers was unconstitutional, because the federal government was taking property without compensation. If the dealers are victorious, not only would the government be out millions of dollars, but a precedent could be set that would allow similarly closed GM dealerships to cash in.

To win, though, the dealers will need to prove that the government actively coerced Chrysler into closing down dealers. There would also need to be a demonstrable value to the dealership franchises, had there not been government interference.

“We have to show the government bailout was not the only avenue,” said Leonard Bellavia, the lawyer in charge of the dealership team. “If they would have pursued another, those dealers would not have been terminated.”