Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: Year of the recall and mixed racing results

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California – Car sales were up in 2014, back to the sort of numbers we fully expected in the years before the Great Recession.

It’s all good, but in my view, the story of the year in the automotive industry was a no-brainer: 2014 was the year of the recall.

Depending on your source, 50 million or 60 million or so motor vehicle recalls occurred in 2014, destroying the previous record.

It seemed like there was a big recall every week.  Over some short periods in 2014, that’s exactly what was going on.

And yet, recalls are not a bad news story, not if you have perspective.

In years past, automakers fought recalls like squirrels scrapping to be first in line at your backyard bird feeder.  The thinking back then was that caving in and proceeding with a recall was a sign of weakness, all but admitting that your vehicles were inferior.

Over time, things changed.  And for the better.

Now, automakers readily jump on the recall bandwagon, even if the publicized problem is relatively minor.  The current environment finds automakers willing to fix any and all vehicle problems, and in the public arena, this is seen as a positive response that carefully considers public safety and consumers’ best interests.

Any effort to fix seat belts or mushy breaking systems or, you name it, is a positive development.

Expect lots more recalls in 2015.

Everybody loves the 2015 Volkswagen Golf (pictured) and its multiple variations.  Sure, a Golf is not the sexiest car on the roadways, but Motor Trend magazine thought enough of the Golf to name it Car of the Year.  Given all that it offers in terms of versatility, environmental friendliness and overall engineering excellence, it’s hard to argue.

It will be interesting to see how the award votes go at the upcoming North American International Auto Show in Detroit.  But as for me, I have no gripes with the Golf.

Finally, looking back at the year in auto racing, it was not exactly a golden 2014.

Yes, Will Power finally got the monkey off his back and won an IndyCar season championship.  And yes, Ryan Hunter-Reay won his first Indianapolis 500 in a sizzling late-laps duel with three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves.

But other top-tier series left me wanting.

The lords of Formula One changed the rules so that four-time champ Sebastian Vettel could not win all the races.  Instead, Mercedes-Benz cars dominated the 2014 races that pretty much were decided at the end of two laps.  Brit Lewis Hamilton claimed his second F1 crown in impressive fashion, but his “competition” boiled down to teammate Nico Rosberg.  Not very heart-racing over the long season.

NASCAR changed things up with a revised “playoff” format that ultimately crowned Kevin Harvick champion.

Good for Kevin, but the new format came within a hiccup of giving winless-in-2014 Ryan Newman the championship.  It also succeeded in eliminating hugely popular NASCAR stars Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski from the hunt before the final round.

Yet, NASCAR saw success in the TV ratings and on other fronts.  Go figure.

My concern in 2015 is NASCAR racing teams getting wise to the system and doing things like deliberately wrecking top competitors at key moments in the playoffs.  Maybe it won’t happen in 2015.  But it will someday.  Unless things change.

That said, I’m already looking forward to the first races of the new year.

Thanks for following along throughout 2014.

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