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A shifting landscape marks the beginning of 2016

It’s little surprise the start to 2016 has been busy for the automotive industry. While the fallout from the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal lingers, the industry has also shifted its attention towards an abundance of motoring issues. Here’s a roundup on the most pressing motoring issues from the first quarter of 2016.

Manufacturing

The year started with the US Department of Justice filing a $46bn civil lawsuit against Volkswagen for breaching environmental laws with its ‘cheat’ system that bypassed diesel emissions tests. Volkswagen’s CEO apologised to customers, and sales took a hit – six months after first making news, half a million US cars are still waiting for a solution. Renault was embroiled in a similar controversy, recalling a popular model after its emissions filtering system was found to be faulty.

Meanwhile, Ford pulled out of the Japanese and Indonesian markets following a lack of popularity and high local competition inhibiting sales. In keeping with the Asian theme, Hyundai declared it would take on BMW and Mercedes in the luxury segment through its Genesis G70.

Closer to home, there were promising signs local manufacturing would be spared a lifeline. However, talks between Guido Dumarey (Punch International) and General Motors broke down after neither party could foresee a deal to operate the Holden manufacturing plant in SA.

Holden and Ford enthusiasts reflected on what might be, as both companies announced the final models in their respective Commodore and Falcon ranges. To round things out, the Mazda MX-5 claimed the ‘Wheels Car of the Year’ and also scooped up the ‘World Car of the Year’.

Safety

The biggest story of the quarter rested with Takata, a manufacturer of inflator parts found in airbags. While an ongoing issue, the manufacturer’s recalls exceeded 40 million vehicles worldwide following reports of faulty parts that could deploy metal fragments. Locally, the most prominent recall was that from Toyota, recalling 98,000 Rav-4’s due to potential seat belt issues.

Design ideas were at the forefront of the safety spectrum, with numerous manufacturers agreeing to implement auto emergency braking in most cars by 2022, and others working on particular solutions such as external airbags.

Technology

Autonomous cars took centre stage across the early motor shows of 2016 as manufacturers envisage a future of self-driving cars. Locally, Mercedes has taken the lead on the issue with driver assistance technology slated for next year. But it hasn’t been a one-way road, with two incidents of note (a near-miss involving the Australian Mercedes; and a Google car accident in the US) accompanying comments from Audi and Porsche that they won’t be adopting the technology any time soon.

Other initiatives included: BMW designing an all-camera rear-vision system; General Motors developing technology to alert drivers to check for children before exiting their car; Volvo’s plans to transition from a car key to a phone; and the Australian government promoting hydrogen powered cars.

Sales

Authorities acted on several issues across Australia, including several cases involving unlicensed dealers and odometer tampering. The start of 2016 also saw confirmation of a downward trend in Australian-made cars sold during 2015, with Ford sales slumping 11.6% (its worst performance in 49 years, and behind Mitsubishi for the first time) and Holden’s sales declining 3%.

Regulatory Issues

Parallel imports were the hot topic. As we previously wrote about, the Australian government paved the way to allow the direct import of new (or near-new) right-hand-drive cars from the UK and Japan. This decision has been met with mixed opinion, including opposition from dealer networks and luxury car manufacturers. Meanwhile, no changes are proposed to the luxury car tax, and Australia’s lemon laws remain a point of contention.

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