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Automotive News Notes – February 7, 2013

Toyota retakes industry crown. Automakers work together to develop fuel cell-powered cars. Driverless cars in your future. These and other stories from the automotive industry in this week’s Automotive News Notes.

Toyota Logo

Toyota Is Again the World’s No. 1 Automaker

Even an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster couldn’t keep Japan’s No. 1 automaker down for too long. In 2012, Toyota recovered from several years of natural and man-made disasters to regain its title as the world’s top car company. The company reported it sold 9.75 million vehicles in 2012, well ahead of its former rivals General Motors (9.29 million) and Volkswagen (9.07 million).

Daimler-Ford-Nissan

Daimler, Ford and Nissan Sign Fuel-Cell Development Pact

Three of the world’s top automakers, Daimler (Germany), Ford (USA) and Nissan (Japan) have signed an agreement to jointly develop technologies that will allow them to put fuel cell-powered cars in showrooms as early as 2017. Fuel cells, originally developed for the NASA space program, produce electricity by combining hydrogen with oxygen, creating water as a byproduct. Engineers believe fuel cell-powered cars will have ranges and fuel times comparable to conventional gasoline-powered vehicles, which will make them more competitive than all-electric plug-ins. Toyota and BMW signed a similar joint development agreement in 2012.

Social Media

Automakers Turn to Social Media to Find Defects

Automakers are reportedly turning to a new source of information to identify widespread product defects: social media. Car companies are now scanning Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to catch wind of problems before customers formally report them. It seems drivers are apt to complain to their friends long before they go to a dealership to log onto a company website to report a malfunction.

Self-Driving Car

The Trillion-Dollar Self-Driving Car

According to Forbes, should Google’s self-driving car ever hit the road soon, it could have a trillion-dollar impact on the economy. It could open up whole new opportunities for companies that make automobiles and their accessories. At the same time, companies and municipalities that make money off auto accidents, bodily injuries, speeding tickets and high fuel consumption could find themselves losing money from these cars. As with all “disruptive” technologies, the net effect should be positive, but expect there to be losers as well as winners.

Google Self-Driving Car

Driverless Car Tech Continues at Google

So when can we expect driverless cars to actually appear on the road? Google’s Anthony Levandowski recently said his company would have one on the market within five years, but that statement was quickly retracted. Most industry experts say we probably won’t see one commercially available until 2015, and then only for highway travel. But some states are looking ahead. California, home to Google, recently passed a law permitting autonomous cars to operate in the state.

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