Ontario looks to liquidate its holdings in General Motors

General Views of General Motors Co. Oshawa Assembly Plant

The late-80s and early-90s saw the Canadian government divest itself from some of its largest state-owned businesses (known in Commonwealth countries as Crown Corporations) – particularly when it came to transport and energy companies. In a sweeping implementation of Thatcherism led by Conservative premier Brian Mulroney, Ottawa privatized aerospace companies Canadair and de Havilland in 1986, sold off Air Canada in 1988, liquidated its majority stake in Petro-Canada in 1991 and finished selling off its shares in CN (the Canadian National Railway Company) in 1995. But after General Motors emerged from bankruptcy in 2010, the Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments (and, when it comes down to it, Queen Elizabeth II) found themselves among the largest shareholders in one of the biggest automakers in the world. And so they remain today, but that’s all about to change.

In a public address on Friday, Finance Minister Charles Sousa announced the implementation of a new policy that would see the Ontario provincial government sell off a large portfolio of assets. On the docket are such state-owned assets as the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (which has a monopoly over alcohol sale across the country’s second-largest and most populous province), utility companies Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation, some valuable pieces of real estate… and the province’s shares in GM.

According to Bloomberg, the provincial government is convening a panel to determine how best to sell off the assets, to be chaired by TD bank chief Ed Clark and populated by such notables as former provincial finance minister Janet Ecker and former Canada Pension Plan Investment Board chief David Denison. Funds raised by the sale of these assets will be reinvested in infrastructure and not applied towards the provincial debt that is fast approaching $300 billion (in Canadian dollars).

Back in August we reported that the Canadian federal government was also planning to sell its stake in GM, but today the government-owned Canada Development Investment Corporation remains the company’s second-largest shareholder with over 110 million shares, behind the UAW healthcare trust with precisely 140 million shares. The Canadian governments may, however, want to wait for GM’s stock prices to recover in the wake of the recall scandal before it begins offloading.

Investigation reveals GM’s Mary Barra knew of trouble in 2011

General Motors Recall Congress

Mary Barra received a letter warning of steering problems associated with certain models of the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion.

An investigation into ignition-switch defects in several General Motors vehicles revealed Friday the company’s current CEO knew of trouble with the models as early as 2011.

One of the two Congressional subcommittees probing GM released an email that showed Mary Barra received a letter warning of steering problems associated with certain models of the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion, two of the cars recalled in February because they contained a deadly flaw.

It remains unclear how – or if – the steering problem mentioned in the email relates to the ignition-switch defect, which has caused at least 13 deaths and 31 crashes. Rep. Fred Upton, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, cautioned “there’s much left to examine.”

In a written statement issued Friday night, GM spokesperson Kevin Kelly said the steering issue was “completely separate” from the ignition-related recalls. “The email in no way contradicts Ms. Barra’s previous statements or testimony before the House or Senate subcommittees,” he said.

The email in question, sent on Oct. 3, 2011 by GM engineer Terry Wojchowski, warned Barra the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had upgraded an investigation of Saturn Ions over a “heightened concern that a sudden loss of electric power steering could cause crashes.”

At the time, the federal safety agency had 846 related complaints on file, and the email says GM had almost 3,500 of its own regarding that problem. While the link is not definitive, a sudden loss of electric power steering would be one symptom of the ignition-switch problem, in which the switch inadvertently moves from the “run” to “accessory” positions, and turns off the engine, electrical systems such as steering, and safety systems like airbags.

Barra testified before Congress that she did not know of the ignition-switch problem until January of this year.

“This situation has been evolving,” Wojchowski wrote to Barra. “We will meet and understand the latest data.”

It is unclear if or when that meeting took place, and Barra’s response is not part of the documents released by the House subcommittee Friday.

NHTSA regulators argued the Ion should have been included in an earlier recall to fix steering failures in more than one million Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s in 2010. But the email says, “GM had resisted the Cobalt and G5 recall, saying that even if the power assist suddenly failed, the driver would be able to control the car, although it would take more effort to turn the wheel.”

Earlier this month, Barra testified before Congress that she did not know of the ignition-switch problem until January of this year, when she became CEO. In 2011, she served as GM’s executive vice president of global product development.

Two Congressional committees, the Department of Justice and NHTSA have all launched investigations of GM’s response to the ignition-switch problem in recent weeks, searching for answers on why the company, which knew about the fatal flaw in 2001, took no action to recall more than 2.5 million affected vehicles until this February.

“Mary Barra has approached the situation with a desire to uncover the truth and be very forthright,” said Karl Brauer, a senior industry analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “We don’t know how close she was to any of these problems in her prior roles. We’ll have to wait until all the documents are reviewed before making any final judgments.”

Five US senators said General Motors has conducted itself in a “fraudulent and reprehensible” manner.

Earlier Friday, five US senators said General Motors has conducted itself in a “fraudulent and reprehensible” manner, and urged the US Justice Department to act on behalf of those injured and killed by the defective ignition switches.

The five Democrats sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking that the Department of Justice intervene in pending civil actions against the automaker on behalf of victims and require the company to establish a fund that would compensate victims.

The number of lawsuits related to the ignition-switch defect is not immediately known, although NHTSA asked the company to provide that information as part of its response to a query that was supposed to be answered by April 3.

A central concern expressed by the senators is the possibility GM’s 2009 bankruptcy would shield the company from legal responsibility for its defective products.

“Like many Americans, we were appalled and astonished by GM’s recent admission that it knew of these disabling defects and their disastrous effects well before the 2009 reorganization,” read the letter, signed by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Ed Markey, (D-MA), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). “Their deliberate concealment caused continuing death and damage, and it constituted a fraud on the bankruptcy court that approved its reorganization. It also criminally deceived the United States government and the public.”

Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.

Senate committee votes to keep driver black box data private

Automotive Black BoxDrivers are one step safer to having improved privacy behind the wheel. The Senate Commerce Committee has granted bipartisan approval to legislation that aims to protect the information on automotive Event Data Recorders (EDR), also known as black boxes. The committee concluded that the vehicle owner is the one who owns the information stored on the device.

Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) first proposed the rules last year. The legislation stipulates that the owner or lessee of the vehicle is the only person entitled to the data in the black box, outside of a few specific conditions. The information can still be accessed if authorized by a court or if the owner consents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may collect data for recalls, but personal information must not be disclosed in the process. Finally, law enforcement may use the data if needed following a crash. According to the senators, 14 states already have data recorder privacy laws.

“EDRs can serve a useful function by helping to make cars and streets safer, but access to the data should be treated as personal except under very specific circumstances,” said Senator Hoeven in a statement on his website.

Black boxes are already installed in over 90-percent of vehicles and track data like speed, braking, airbag deployment and some even know the vehicle’s location. Previously, NHTSA proposed that all future vehicles must come with data recorders. According to The Detroit News, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and Volkswagen, has given support to the committee’s rules.

News Source: The Detroit News, Senator John Hoeven

Category: Government/Legal, Safety, Technology

Tags: big brother, black box, event data recorder, motorists rights, national highway traffic safety administartion, nhtsa, senate, senate commerce committee

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Author: Chris Bruce

Senate committee votes to keep driver black box data private

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Senate committee votes to keep driver black box data private

Automotive Black BoxDrivers are one step safer to having improved privacy behind the wheel. The Senate Commerce Committee has granted bipartisan approval to legislation that aims to protect the information on automotive Event Data Recorders (EDR), also known as black boxes. The committee concluded that the vehicle owner is the one who owns the information stored on the device.

Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) first proposed the rules last year. The legislation stipulates that the owner or lessee of the vehicle is the only person entitled to the data in the black box, outside of a few specific conditions. The information can still be accessed if authorized by a court or if the owner consents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may collect data for recalls, but personal information must not be disclosed in the process. Finally, law enforcement may use the data if needed following a crash. According to the senators, 14 states already have data recorder privacy laws.

“EDRs can serve a useful function by helping to make cars and streets safer, but access to the data should be treated as personal except under very specific circumstances,” said Senator Hoeven in a statement on his website.

Black boxes are already installed in over 90-percent of vehicles and track data like speed, braking, airbag deployment and some even know the vehicle’s location. Previously, NHTSA proposed that all future vehicles must come with data recorders. According to The Detroit News, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and Volkswagen, has given support to the committee’s rules.

Top Gear up for possible airing in North Korea?

Top Gear

Top Gear has a habit of poking fun at, um, everyone. Considering that, we find the idea that “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-un is thinking about allowing the world’s greatest motoring show onto the ultra-censored screens of North Korea to be kind of surprising. After all, what will happen when Clarkson and Co. crack wise about anything related to the Hermit Kingdom? It won’t be good.

The decision to select TG, alongside British television staples like Dr. Who and Teletubbies, came after many months of negotiations between the Communist regime and the BBC, according to The Independent.

“Extensive inquiries have been made about what these three shows involve and if they would be suitable for the [North] Korean people,” a source in the capital, Pyongyang, told the paper. “Anything too political was not suitable but these are entertainment shows, and one of them is for young children.”

According to The Indepndent, North Korea’s sole broadcaster, Korean Central Television, only airs programming for six and a half hours each night. Citizens who watch unauthorized programs, meanwhile, could face death – 80 people were shot last year for allegedly watching pirated programs from arch-nemesis/neighbor South Korea. That makes expanded programming a pretty solid idea, from a human rights standpoint.

Here’s hoping that this deal doesn’t fall through, and that however many gearheads there are in North Korea will finally get to enjoy Jeremy, Richard and James.

UAW workers at Corvette factory authorize strike

2014 Chevrolet Corvette StingrayUAW members have voted nearly unanimously in favor of authorizing a strike at the General Motors factory in Bowling Green, KY, home of the Chevrolet Corvette. As we explained yesterday, though, just because the plants 800 workers have authorized a walkout doesn’t mean a strike is a sure thing.

According to the Local 2164’s Facebook page, 93 percent of the workers who submitted ballots voted in favor of authorizing a strike. Still, the decision needs to be booted up to the regional and then national levels before any action can actually be taken. Eldon Renaud, the president of Local 2164, seems to think that the strike authorization will serve as a sort of saber rattling, getting the “immediate attention” of the facilities management.

“We’re like everybody else, we’re strike-shy,” Renauld told the media, according to the Associated Press. “Nobody wants to have a strike. Who really benefits by it?”

According to Renauld, there are issues with both safety and quality control behind the move to strike. There have been “near misses,” he says, which could have seriously injured workers at the facility. According to the AP, Renauld said the union is also concerned by a decision to eliminate quality control positions.

The ball now seems to be in the court of GM and its Bowling Green factory. “We’re confident that we can work together and have a strong track record of creative problem solving,” the facility said in an official statement.

While the odds of a strike still seem somewhat low, we’ll be sure to keep tabs on this one as it develops.

Texan tries out new Camaro ZL1 Underwater Edition [w/video]

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in a swimming pool

Texans, please stay away from water in your sports cars. Now, this latest fiasco isn’t quite so dire as the Lone Star State’s last attempt at an amphibious sportscar – a waterlogged Bugatti Veyron – although that’s largely because the Veyron in that story cost $1.6 million and this submerged Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 only cost about $57,000. Still, it’s a sad state of affairs for the supercharged, 580-horsepower rocket.

According to witnesses, the young driver was, naturally, driving too fast and lost control, charging through a wrought-iron fence and into a community swimming pool.

“I was driving right behind him the whole time,” the driver’s friend, Ashton Brantley, told NBC affiliate KPRC Houston. “He lost control, and I think he took his traction control off. And then he just hit the curb, and then went into the fence, and then he hit the pool.”

Thankfully, there was no one in the pool at the time of the crash. As for the ham-fisted John Doe behind the wheel, he managed to swim out through an open window. He may face charges from the police, while his insurance will be responsible for any damages to the swimming pool.

Take a look below for the news report from KPRC Houston.

San Francisco sees spate of Smart tipping [w/video]

Smart Tipping

Among the ten commandments of the car guy, near the top is “Thou shalt not mess with thy neighbor’s vehicle, regardless of how awful it may be.” That said, we can’t help but giggle every time we look at the image above.

Apparently, some delinquents in San Francisco, bereft of bovines to tip, have taken to tipping Smart ForTwos, like some absurd, real-life version of the tractor-tipping scene from Cars. Witnesses told KRON-4 in San Francisco that eight people, wearing hoods, were responsible for tipping three Smarts. While the vehicle above was tipped on its rear hatch, the other two were tipped on their side and roof, respectively.

“All of a sudden I just see eight hooded figures walk up to the car,” witness Brandon Michael told KRON. “I thought it looked like they were up to no good. And then sure enough they walk up to this smart car right here, all huddle around it, and then lift it up and set it on its hind legs.”

As of right now, the suspects are still on the loose. Take a look below for the full new report from KRON 4.

America has too much parking, just not in the cities that need it

Winter Weather

It always seems that parking is easy to find when you don’t need it, and it turns out that there might be a reason for that. New studies conducted by the University of Connecticut have found that the US might actually have too many spaces, especially in cities where they are needed least.

The studies looked at available parking and their economic and social impact in six cities from 1960 to 2000 – Arlington, VA; Berkeley, CA; Cambridge, MA; Hartford, CT; Lowell, MA and New Haven, CT. For example according to Bloomberg Businessweek, over that time, Cambridge increased its parking by 39 percent and boosted its building area by 46 percent. However, Hartford added 158 percent more spaces and just 27 percent more buildings. The result is that the people in Cambridge pay more to leave their cars because there is relatively less parking available.

While people might be paying more in some places for parking, cities often profit from fewer spaces. In fact, the studies found that a single space might cost a city over $1,000 a year in lost revenue. Motorists might find ample lots convenient, but most cities receive a vast majority of their tax income from buildings. Parking, by comparison, brings in relatively little money. Investigations also found that cities which force developers to incorporate a minimum number of new parking spaces with their new projects are making traffic worse, because they are bringing in more cars instead of incentivizing other forms of transport.

These results suggest that if cities want to increase revenue, their leaders need to put a plan in place that actually reduces parking. Of course, a portion of that money must be spent on public transport and other automotive alternatives, otherwise no one will be able to get around.