29th November 2011

News & Rants: MotherProof.com Coverage Moves to Cars.com

MotherProof.com joined the Cars.com family several years ago, and just as our families are growing up (like the photo of my girls and I from several years and many shoe sizes ago), so is our business. Cars.com is taking the excellent work of the MotherProof.com team and placing it front and center at Cars.com. Starting today, our family-centric MotherProof reviews will be found in Cars.com’s expansive Research section, and other items, like our car seat checks, will be highlighted on KickingTires.com, Cars.com’s news channel.

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29th November 2011

Nikko Levin

Because there’s no such thing as too many 86 shots. Levin Coupe in the rain at Nikko Circuit.

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29th November 2011

Maryland Court: No Redress When City Violates Speed Camera Law

Maryland state law prohibits municipalities from paying contractors to operate speed camera and red light cameras on a per-ticket basis. In an October 27 ruling, the Court of Special Appeals found that localities are free to ignore this legal requirement.

A group of motorists in 2008 filed a class action lawsuit against Montgomery County, the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, and Chevy Chase Village because each paid Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) $16.25 for each ticket the company issued, in violation of the statute.

“If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of Montgomery County, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid,” state code section 21-809 states.

According to the county’s original contract, ACS was to “install and support all traffic camera equipment” and “supply an automated violation processing services solution that is capable of supporting high volume program operations.” Montgomery County was first given authorization to use cameras over the veto of then-Governor Robert L. Ehrlich (R) in 2006 and the grant was later expanded to all other jurisdictions in 2009. The motorists argued they have the right as private citizens to pursue a claim against the state government to remedy an illegal act. The General Assembly took no action to bar such suits. The appellate court insisted the legislature only allows fighting a ticket in a lower court and that broader challenges taken to a circuit court are not allowed.

“Although appellants argue that it is impractical to bring an action challenging the propriety of a contingency fee in the district court, we see no other way to interpret the plain language of this provision — appellants are permitted to raise any defense in the district court regarding the legality of the citation,” Shirley M. Watts wrote. “Appellants, therefore, had the opportunity — which they failed to exercise –to challenge in the district court the speed citations they received, presenting the argument that the contracts between appellees and ACS were unlawful.”

Prince George’s County district court judges have already stated that they will not consider evidence that a driver is innocent of a speed camera accusation at trial. On September 4, 2008, Montgomery County changed the wording of its contract to state: “Contractor provides vehicles and equipment, but does not operate the speed monitoring system.” The appellate court accepted this as sufficient, even though there is no difference in the way the system is operated.

“We are aware of appellants’ insistence that the amendments to the contracts between appellees and ACS do not resolve the contention that ACS is an operator of the speed cameras,” Watts wrote. “We discern, however, no basis to look beyond the plain, unambiguous language of the contracts, which specifically provides that appellees and not ACS are operators of the speed cameras in Montgomery County.”

A copy of the decision is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.

Source:  Baker v. Montgomery County (Court of Appeals, State of Maryland, 10/27/2011)

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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29th November 2011

Tokyo bound

Just getting round to packing my bag ready for the trek to Tokyo on Monday morning for the Japanese Show.

It will be an interesting one because the Japanese car industry has been through the mill over the past two or three years. Two years ago, the Tokyo Show was badly affected by the economic crash which saw all the non-domestic carmakers pull out.

The Makuhari Show Halls looked very bare in 2009. For this year the show has moved to the Big Sight exhibition hall in Tokyo Bay, and more manufacturers are coming back.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the Japanese industry has recovered from the Tsunami and earthquake of last March and how the domestic carmakers are dealing with the strength of the yen ……. Just the latest knockback for the industry.

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28th November 2011

Manufacturing Troubles Remain a Drag on Recovery, Trade & Jobs

via The Seattle Times

by Jon Talton

Top of the News: The Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index seems consistent with recovery, coming in at 53.6 for November; any number above 50 signifies expansion in the sector. Unfortunately, the reading sagged from 55.7 the month before, tripping up what economists had hoped would be a steady climb out of recession.

A deeper look shows that the index provides no relief for the biggest immediate problem facing Americans, unemployment. Only six of 18 manufacturing industries reported growth in employment. Only 11.7 million Americans worked manufacturing as of October. That compares with 17.3 million in October 1999.

Not only do manufacturing jobs pay better than their counterparts in service industries, they tend to add real value to economic activity (as opposed to selling mortgage swindles). They are also twined with our trade issues. Even fewer manufacturing jobs are now in industries that export, a key part of our huge manufacturing trade deficit.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon was happening even before the Great Recession. A report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that manufacturing employment between 1965 and 2000 never dipped below 16.5 million. This even as manufacturing shrank as a share of the economy (take out Boeing and it would be much smaller). This changed as imports surged after China joined the WTO and other Asian factory centers upped their game. By 2004, the number was lower than any time since 1950.

“It is often claimed that declines in manufacturing employment stem entirely from productivity growth,” according to EPI economist L. Josh Bivens. “However, rapid productivity growth is the norm, not the exception, in manufacturing. What is new about the manufacturing job crisis of the last four years is the sharp downturn in the ratio of domestic production to demand.”

Indeed, American steelmakers are shrinking yet again.

The Back Story: The official unemployment rate including discouraged workers and part-timers seeking full-time work is 17.5 percent. But Shadow Government Statistics, a provocative and reliable site, argues even this underestimates the problem. Try…22 percent.

Complete Article

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28th November 2011

Toyota 86 Sport Coupe Officially Launches in Japan

Just the Facts:

  • Toyota arranges a big coming-out party in Japan for the 86, its new rear-drive sports coupe.
  • The 2.0-liter coupe, jointly developed with Subaru, was unveiled at the Gazoo Racing Festival at Fuji Speedway by Toyota President Akio Toyoda.
  • The new sportster will be badged in Japan as the Toyota 86, but will be marketed in the U.S. as the 2013 Scion FR-S.

TOKYO —Toyota’s long-awaited, new-age sports coupe, hitherto known to the world and sundry as the FT-86, is out in the open at last, rechristened Toyota 86 in Japan.

Unveiled in a blaze of publicity on Sunday at the Gazoo Racing Festival in Japan, this new 2.0-liter sports coupe is still officially a prototype. Even so, this is all but the final shape of the much-anticipated 1998cc boxer-engined, rear-drive sports coupe that Toyota and Subaru have jointly developed together and which is all set now to go into production in spring 2012.

Two years after Toyota showed a first concept of the FT-86, the final design seems not so dramatically different although the sheet metal is all-new. We are told that Toyota has carefully left room for the tuner crowd to tweak the whole package, so more aggressive versions are surely not that far away.

In the badge department, the FT designation is gone; in Japan, the car is to be known as just 86 (or hachi roku), a homage to the classic AE-86 Corolla GT coupe of the 1980s whose exuberant handling so inspired this car. In the U.S., the badging will change to Scion FR-S.

In his briefing to the media, chief engineer Tetsuya Tada was keen to stress that the 86 is not a “numbers car” and that compact size, fun, rear-drive handling and low center of gravity were paramount. He also was keen to put some distance between pricey turbocharged 4WD sportsters of the Evo/STI/GT-R ilk. Instead, like the Mazda Miata, Toyota’s newcomer is more about light weight and intuitive feel at the wheel than outright speed and grip.

The 86, as shown, comes with a unique, naturally aspirated 198-horsepower Subaru flat-four (with 151 pound-feet of torque) and choice of six-speed manual or auto transmission. Media who had a brief taster around Fui’s short course discovered a car with good balance, a keen front end and broad spread of power. It feels quick and light on its feet, with controls nicely weighted and precise.

The throbby Subaru engine may seem unusual in a car wearing a Toyota badge (Subaru’s own BRZ version of the car will debut this Wednesday at the Tokyo auto show), and a debate has already begun in Japan as to which version — Toyota or Subaru — will do better in the market.

No word yet on price. Somewhere in the region of $25,000 and up is one guestimate in Tokyo, but we won’t know for sure until the coupe officially hits the market next spring.

Inside Line says: A promising start for this long-awaited, new-age Toyota sportster.

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