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GM hopes the Chevy Bolt will make long range electric cars affordable.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

General Motors officials introduced a concept car, the Chevy Bolt, today at the North American International Auto Show. The car company claims the all-electric car has a range of up to 200 miles on one charge and will be affordable to the typical consumer. The company puts the price of the Bolt at $30,000 including a federal tax credit.

If it’s released, the Bolt would compete with the electric car-maker Tesla. Tesla’s Model S has a range of 265 miles on one charge, but the car’s price tag is out of reach for many consumers with a base price of nearly $70,000.

The 2015 VW Golf (left), and the 2015 Ford F-150 (right) at the North American International Auto Show.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The Volkwagen Golf was named the North American Car of the Year, beating out the other two competitors nominated for the award – the Ford Mustang, and the Hyundai Genesis.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra.
Dave Pinter / flickr

Two weeks after Mary Barra took charge of General Motors, she faced a sudden challenge that could have tested even a seasoned CEO.

The automaker was forced to admit it had delayed a recall of 2.6 million Cobalts and other small cars for 10 years, leading to dozens of deaths that might not have happened had the recall been timely.

Soon, Barra was called before several congressional committees, where she endured sometimes merciless questioning about the scandal. 

IIHS / Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Analysts expect another good year for auto sales in 2015. 

But automakers may have to lean more heavily on techniques that boost sales.

Jeff Schuster of LMC Automotive says it looks like the economy will grow this year - albeit slowly. 

Economic growth supports car buying.

"But the real wild card is going to be interest rates," he says.

Auto sales grew in 2014
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It was a record year for recalls in 2014.  But that didn't appear to hamper new car sales in the slightest.

Analysts expect 16.4 million in car sales for the year.

flickr.com

The National Insurance Crime Bureau tracks car thefts by just about any variable you can think of, including holiday car thefts. 

The Bureau's Frank Scafidi says in many states, the lowest number of car thefts take place on Christmas Day, "so maybe there's still a little holiday Christmas spirit among thieves, too."

But the most popular holiday - New Year's Day - is just around the corner.

FCA

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is changing the name of its American division.

Chrysler (actually Chrysler Group, LLC) is now FCA US LLC.  Or FCA US for short.

FCA explained the change this way:

user futureatlas.com / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Oil prices worldwide continue to slide. Gas prices haven't been this low in five years, with Michigan averaging $2.41 a gallon.

Colorful used cars
Zelda Richardson

After six years of stagnation, it’s looking like the European car market could end the year with some growth. Our partner at the BBC Russell Padmore joins us from London to talk about what’s behind the sales, and what it means for American auto companies.

Listen to our conversation with Padmore below. 

IIHS

Auto sales continue to perform well in 2014, say analysts, even though one of the usual ingredients in that success is missing -- strong GDP growth.

"The economy has not necessarily cooperated yet," says Jeff Schuster of LMC Automotive.  "Not to the level, that 3% level, which is typically expected to support auto sales.  And we haven't really had that."

Schuster thinks 2014 vehicle sales will end up around 16.4 million.

Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.com is just slightly more optimistic.  She thinks the industry could sell 16.7 million by the end of December.

Auto dealers are once again jumping on the Black Friday sales phenomenon.

Analyst Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.com says last year, dealerships and automakers offered special Black Friday incentives to lure shoppers.

The result: Car sales during Black Friday weekend were 105%  higher than the three other weekends in November.

"So it does seem as if, we started to embrace it, and then it worked so well, no surprise that this year, we expect it to work well again, says Caldwell.

Fred Thompson / Flickr

2014 is nearly over, but we won't know how much ethanol the U.S. EPA will require to be blended into gasoline for 2014, until 2015.  The EPA announced last week it will delay issuing the standard.

The ethanol industry and refining industry are on opposite sides of the Renewable Fuels Standard debate.  The RFS requires increasing amounts of ethanol in gasoline every year, unless there are compelling economic reasons to depart from the practice.

Earlier this year, the EPA indicated it was planning to lower the Renewable Fuels Standard for the first time since 2007 – because it appeared the amount of ethanol in gasoline would have to exceed 10% – and the effect of higher ethanol blends on older engines is unclear.

The delay on issuing that standard has generated relief among corn ethanol lobbyists.

Volkswagen

Manufacturing jobs - in particular, auto manufacturing jobs - used to pay better than other types of jobs.

After 2007, that was no longer the case, according to a new analysis by the National Employment Law Project.

The trend continues to worsen.

The report finds that manufacturers earned 7.7% less than the median wage for all occupations in 2013.

More than 600,000 manufacturing workers make just $9.60 an hour, or less. 

Cadillac logo and grille
Flickr user Eric E Johnson / Flickr

Cadillac is moving its headquarters, and over 100 employees, to New York City. Detroit News Business Columnist Daniel Howes tells us the move shows that Cadillac is looking to gain more customers of money and influence on the East coast.

Cadillac’s vehicles will still be developed and engineered here in the Midwest.

Listen to our conversation with Howes below.


All Things Nav

Nineteen automakers that operate in the U.S. have agreed not to share data from cars with third parties, without the drivers' consent. 

Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Auto Alliance, says cars are increasingly becoming connected to satellites, the Internet, and each other.

Those connections create a lot of personal information about where drivers go – and how they drive.

But Bergquist says people should also remember that connected cars will also bring many benefits.

Historic Belle Isle
Flickr user Don Harrison

Bill Loomis, author of a Detroit News piece "Detroit Before Motors: The Horse Age," talked to us about the 12,000 horses that crowded the streets of Detroit in the late 1800s.

Loomis tells us about the logistics of using horses to get around in the city and horse racing in Detroit.

You can listen to our conversation with Loomis below:


Tracy Samilton/Michigan Radio

Ford Motor Company's Dearborn truck plant is back online.

The automaker stripped the plant to its bare bones to remake it for building an aluminum F-150.

The lighter truck will get significantly better fuel economy, as well as better hauling and towing capacity.

During a media tour of the new body shop, Chief Engineer Ron Ketelhut pointed out that some things are missing –sparks, for example, and a deafening wall of noise.

Instead of welding the body together, (noisy, dirty, and hot work), the robots use rivets.

Andrea_44 / Flickr

Emails just released in a court case reveal General Motors ordered a half-million replacement ignition switches, nearly two months before reporting the defective switch problem to the government. The defect has been identified as a factor in 32 deaths.

Jeff Bennett broke this story for the Wall Street Journal.


commons.wikimedia.org

  Brynne Belinger is frustrated.  Really, really frustrated.

In June, Belinger found out her 2009 Impala was among the millions of cars being recalled by General Motors, many of them for ignition switch problems. 

But when she called her local dealership, she was told she'd need to wait until GM sent her an official notice of the recall. 

That letter didn't arrive until October.

Belinger called her dealership, only to receive more bad news.

"They're hoping they will get the part in four to six weeks, but what they've found is it's taking more like six to eight weeks.  And once they get the part in, it will take between two to four weeks to get me in for an appointment."

GM says vehicles with ignition switch problems can be safely driven as long as only the key is in the key ring -- no heavy objects, no extra house keys, etc., on the ring.

Belinger, a manager at Western Michigan University,  isn't buying it. 

auto.ferrari.com

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, FCA, will hold a public stock offering to sell off 10% of Ferrari and dole out the remaining 80% of the company to current shareholders.

Piero Ferrari will hold onto his 10%.

Michigan Radio's automotive reporter Tracy Samilton discussed this sale with us.

Samilton says that about 7,000 Ferraris are made a year, which along with their price, gives the vehicle an “unattainable mystique.”

The dispute over stretching that number to make more sales is a contributing factor to the split between FCA and Ferrari.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Today’s announcement that General Motors plans to spend $300 million in Michigan is good news not only for GM employees, but also for auto parts suppliers.

GM had previously announced the automaker's plans to invest $240 million in its Warren transmission plant. The plant will make the electric drive unit for the next-generation Chevy Volt. 

Morgue File

 

The candidates for governor agree something needs to be done about Michigan's crumbling roads.

In our recent conversation with MSU economist Charlie Ballard, he reminded us that we're going to pay for road repairs one way or another. Maybe higher taxes or, in Ballard's case, paying now, with blown tires and bent rims.

But, is there some kind of silver lining to the crummy roads? Maybe for local repair shops?

Rick Kilbourn owns 4th Street Auto Care in Royal Oak. He's been in business since the 1970's.

Wikimedia

General Motors is redoubling its efforts to contact people who own cars with defective ignition switches and urge them to get the problem fixed.

The recall has given GM a black eye, after the automaker revealed in February that it knew about the defective switches for more than ten years.

A special GM compensation program has approved 29 claims, so far, for people killed or injured in accidents when the airbags did not deploy, presumably because the ignition switch moved into the "accessory" mode and shut down safety systems.

Car dealership.
GM

 

Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a law that mandates all sales of Michigan vehicles to go through franchised dealers. It's seen as a direct shot at Tesla Motors, which wants to sell its electric cars directly to consumers. 

The governor's move is welcomed by mainline automakers and dealerships. Snyder says Michigan law already prohibited automakers from selling directly to consumers.

Michigan Radio's auto reporter, Tracy Samilton, explains that dealerships could argue that the current franchising system benefits the consumers because it creates tougher competition.

 

The Tesla Model S, first introduced in June 2012
Tesla Motors

Tesla lost a battle today in its bid to sell its vehicles directly to consumers.

Governor Rick Snyder signed HB 5606 today, after fierce lobbying for and against the bill, which clarifies the language in the state's law requiring auto manufacturers to sell their cars through franchised dealerships, and not through direct sales.

Electric car company Tesla wants to use a direct-sales model for its vehicles.

The Governor said it was already illegal for a manufacturer to sell its cars directly to customers in the state of Michigan.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has a lot of Twitter followers.  1, 128,869 to be exact.

On Thursday, Musk sent a link on Twitter to a Tesla blog entry that urges people to ask Michigan Governor Rick Snyder not to sign a bill that requires cars to be sold through franchised dealerships.

Tesla wants to sell its cars directly, in company-owned stores.

So, has the Governor's office gotten many calls?  "Only about 900,000," quipped a spokesman.

The spokesman also says the Governor has "a bunch" of questions about the bill and is doing due diligence.

VW edging closer to its desired no. 1 spot.
user PMillera4 / Flickr

They're rounding the 7.5 furlong mark and the standings are:

  1. Toyota
  2. Volkswagen
  3. General Motors

The Associated Press breaks it down for us:

Volkswagen edged out General Motors for second place in the global auto sales race during the first three quarters of the year, but Toyota was expected to keep its lead to stay in first place.

GM said Wednesday that is sold 7.37 million cars and trucks worldwide from January through September. But VW said it sold 7.4 million to nudge GM out of second place.

Toyota won't release its numbers for the first three quarters until late October. But it was in first place in the first half with sales of almost 5.1 million, and it expects the full-year figure to be 10.1 million.

Toyota finished first last year with a record 9.98 million sales. General Motors Co. finished second and VW third.

User: Robert Heese / Flickr

Global automakers look to China to rev up their global sales, but growth in China's car sales slowed again in September. 

According to The Detroit Free Press, sales in passenger vehicles in China rose 6.4% in September from a year earlier, slowing from 8% in August and 13.9% in May. 

John McElroy is an auto analyst and host of the Autoline Daily webcast. He says the numbers are direct indicators of the economic health of the Chinese economy, which seems to be cooling down.

FCA

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles made its New York stock exchange debut on Monday, beginning trading at $9 a share, and closing at $9.02.

Not bad, for a tumultuous day on Wall Street, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell a full 1.6%.

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne and FCA Chairman John Elkann rang the closing bell together - after giving a joint press conference.

Most of the questions and answers were in Italian.  So, it looks like I'm going to have to learn Italian if I want to continue to cover FCA.

GM CEO Mary Barra, center, at a Congressional subcommittee hearing on the GM ignition switch recall - April 2, 2104.
Sen. McCaskill / Flickr

DETROIT - A special compensation fund set up by General Motors has approved 27 death claims and 25 claims of serious injuries in crashes involving GM cars with defective ignition switches.

The update comes from Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who was hired by GM to run the program.

Feinberg says he has received 178 death claims since August, including the 27 approved for payment.

1,193 injury claims have been received, including the 25 that have received compensation offers.

GM knew about faulty ignition switches in Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars for more than a decade but didn't recall them until February of this year. The switches can slip out of the "on" position, which causes the cars to stall, knocks out power steering and turns off the air bags.

Feinberg will accept claims until Dec. 31.

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