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The clouds have been lifting for  U.S. car makers.

With car sales and America's economy picking up, there are some who are looking further down the road.

They have been wondering  if deeper, bigger challenges lie ahead for the companies who put the world on wheels.

One of those wondering is automotive writer Micki Maynard. She recently published a couple of pieces in Forbes Magazine exploring what she calls "The Secret Fear of the World's Biggest Auto Companies".

Micki Maynard spoke with us to explain exactly what is the "Secret Fear" of the World's Biggest Auto Companies.

To hear the full story click the audio link above.

General Motors hopes to rid itself of the 'Government Motors' stigma over the next year or so. After announcing a big sell-off at the end of 2012, the U.S. Treasury has been quietly working on selling off the rest of its stake in GM.

But the government still wants a say in what the company pays its top executives.

The Detroit Free Press' Todd Spangler and Nathan Bomey reported early this morning that GM wants to give Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson a $2.1 million raise:

General Motors is proposing an $11.1-million compensation package for Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson this year, $2.1 million more than it paid him in 2012, according to documents obtained Monday by the Free Press.

But those reports have since been denied by General Motors, here's Bomey's report from later this morning:

wikimedia commons

U.S. safety regulators will investigate problems with stalling or surging engines, in about 725,000 Ford cars and SUVs.

The probe includes affects Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner SUVs from the 2009 through 2011 model years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Ford have received almost 1,500 complaints about the problem.

Meanwhile, regulators are considering whether to investigate a complaint from an auto lab in Virginia, that the steering can fail on the Toyota Prius.

A probe would affect the Prius gas-electric hybrids from the 2004 through 2009 model years.

Having a Maserati built in Detroit was seen as a symbolic win for the comeback of manufacturing in Michigan. But now it turns out that won't be happening.

Hershey's

Car companies like Ford Motor Company aren't above using gimmicks if it will get reporters to notice something they're doing.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. 

This one worked.

General Motors

General Motors made nearly $5 billion in 2012.

That's down a lot from 2011, when the company made $7.6 billion.

But GM CEO Dan Akerson says it was a strong year for the company nonetheless.

He says G-M "planted the seeds of growth in every region of the world."

The Detroit automaker reduced its pension obligations, bought an international finance division, and put new cars in the pipeline for 2013 and beyond.

Chrysler

J.D. Power reports that average vehicle dependability was better than any year since the study began in 1989.

The study looks at problems reported for three-year-old vehicles.  So, the 2013 study looks at vehicles purchased in 2010.

On average, there were 126 problems reported for every 100 vehicles - or, put another way, not much more than one problem per vehicle.

Lexus once again led the pack, improving from 86 problems per 100 last year, to 71 this year.

Porsche followed with 94, and Lincoln was third best, with 112.

Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company set an all-time record for hybrid sales in December, selling nearly 8,000.  About half were C-Max sales, and about half, the hybrid version of the Fusion.

The company also beat its previous January record for hybrid sales by more than 500%.

Granted, the total number of hybrid sales for the company isn't much compared to its higher-volume sellers.  Ford sold more than 19,000 non-hybrid Fusions in January, dwarfing the hybrid Fusion sales of 3,043.

General Motors reported today it sold more than 300,000 vehicles in the month of January, 2013 - it's best month in China ever.

From a GM press release:

General Motors and its joint ventures sold more than 300,000 vehicles in a single month for the first time ever in China last month. January sales totaled 310,765 units, an increase of 26.0 percent from the same month in 2012 and 15.9 percent above the previous all-time monthly high of 268,035 units in January 2011.

Domestic sales by Shanghai GM and SAIC-GM-Wuling, and their Buick, Chevrolet and Wuling brands all set new single-month records as well in January.

The company wholly owns two foreign enterprises in China, and has 12 joint ventures.

It employs more than 55,000 people in China.

Ford Motor Company

Many of the claims for better fuel economy from new turbo-charged engines are more hype than reality, according to tests by Consumer Reports, the independent consumer advocacy group.

The agency tested a number of vehicles that offer regular four or eight cylinder engines, and compared them to the turbo-charged version.  Turbo-charging is a technology that gets more power from a smaller engine with direct injection of extra spurts of air and fuel.

DETROIT (AP) -Last year's momentum in U.S. auto sales is continuing into this year.

Ford, Chrysler and GM are all reporting double-digit gains for January.

Sales at Ford rose 22 percent compared with a year earlier. GM and Chrysler each reported 16 percent gains.

Ford's sales rose on strong sales of pickup trucks and new vehicles.

GM

General Motors is expanding its Global Powertrain Engineering Headquarters in Pontiac, and consolidating some major research and development operations there.

The company says investing $200 million in a new test wing there will allow them to bring work that’s being done all over the country under one roof, and move faster in developing next-generation powertrain technologies.

Chrysler

Chrysler has gone from being the automaker nobody wanted, to the goose that lays the golden egg for its majority owner, Fiat.

While Chrysler made $1.7 billion in 2012, Fiat lost $1.4 billion, as the fiscal crisis in Europe deepened, creating a new bottom for car sales that even the most pessimistic analysts didn't see foresee.

But while Chrysler is making money, and Fiat is losing it, the two companies' CEO, Sergio Marchionne, reiterated in an analyst and media conference call that he has no intention of stripping cash from Chrysler to help Fiat.

Jeff Kowalsky


For the average person, there's a lot of "wow" at the North American International Auto Show.

But for reporters and auto company executives, that "wow" can sometimes be more like "ow."

Especially during the impromptu, free-for-all press conferences that are known as "scrums."

Problem is, nobody tells you what a scrum is before you attend your first Detroit auto show.

They all wait until it's too late to back out. It's almost a kind of hazing.

Staff / bmwusanews.com

TOKYO (AP) - Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW Group are working together on next-generation batteries for green vehicles called "lithium-air" as their collaboration, first announced in late 2011, moves ahead in fuel cells, sports vehicles and other fields.

BMW AG board member Herbert Diess told reporters Thursday the cooperation with the Japanese automaker will help both companies boost competitiveness in new technologies. The automakers said they are aiming to complete a fuel-cell vehicle system by 2020, and a concept for a mid-size sports vehicle by the end of this year.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

After General Motors bought 200 million shares back from the U.S. government last month, the government's stake in GM was down to about at 19 percent.

Today, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it has a "pre-arranged written trading plan" for selling its remaining 300.1 million shares of GM stock.

The process is expected to take place over the next year to 15 months ("subject to market conditions"), and will end almost four years of partial government ownership of the car maker.

GM / Facebook

In another blow to the Flint area, GM announced it will close its Weld Tool Center in Grand Blanc.

The plant is located just southeast of the city of Flint.

Workers at the plant make robotic welding tools used to build cars like the Chevy Cruze, the Volt, and the Sonic.

GM spokesman Tom Wickham said the plant's 323 hourly workers and 28 salaried workers will be offered jobs at other GM plants in the region, according to MLive:

The employees were notified this morning the plant would be shut down, Wickham said...

There are no immediate plans as to what the facility will be used for in the future, Wickham said.

Shaun Byron of MLive talked with some of the workers at the plant who were shocked by the news:

Brad Keskinen of Davison worked with GM since 1977 and at the Grand Blanc Township plant since 2007.

“I’m really disappointed. I thought we had a smart, productive workforce. But it’s evident that the work model was set up for failure,” Keskinen said. “And the announcement comes to a shock to us.”

GM recorded the 'economic impact' of the plant as follows:

  • Wages: $46.5 million (2011)
  • Payroll Taxes: $9.7 million (2011)
  • Property Taxes: $866,000 (2011)

Operations at the plant are expected to wind down in July of this year.

The plant was first built by the U.S. government in 1942. Sherman and Pershing tanks were built there.

staff / media.gm.com

DETROIT (AP) - General Motors says it will invest $1.5 billion in its North American factories this year.

GM is revamping 70 percent of its U.S. models as it switches from the oldest lineup in the industry to the newest.

Reuss says the investment is in addition to the $10.2 billion GM already has spent on its factories since July of 2009. The company has added about 2,000 U.S. jobs since then.

GM recently unveiled new full-size pickup trucks, a completely redone Chevrolet Corvette and a Cadillac luxury version of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car. It says more announcements are coming.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The press conferences are over. The automakers have released their new models to the media.

Starting next week, the public will have a chance to see the cars for themselves.

Here are a few images from our time at the North American International Auto Show at the Cobo Center in Detroit.

Ford Motor Company

This year's North American International Auto Show coincides with the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Henry Ford's birth.

Ford Motor Company is giving people an opportunity to meet the great inventor and businessman.

Ford has hired actors to represent Henry Ford at different stages of his life.

People can sign up for a tour of the Ford exhibit led by one of eight Henrys.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - General Motors says it expects only a modest increase in pretax profits this year, as it rolls out many new cars and trucks worldwide.

The company also expects global auto sales to grow modestly this year, driven by the U.S. and China.

The company told investors at a Deutsche Bank industry conference in Detroit that its pretax profit margin in North America should rise from 8 to 10 percent in the next three or four years. Profit margin is a measure of how much the company earned after costs of doing business.

GM posted nearly $4 billion in net income during the first nine months of last year, including almost $1.5 billion in the third quarter. The company will announce fourth-quarter and full-year earnings in a few weeks.

Green confidence at the North American International Auto Show

Jan 15, 2013
Cars.com

With the Detroit International Auto Show only just beginning, GM and Chrysler are already receiving good news.

This year's North American Car of the Year award went to the Cadillac ATS, while Truck of the Year was awarded to the Dodge Ram 1500.

According to Bernard Swiecki with the Center for Automotive Research, these awards are more significant in their effects on confidence, rather than their impact on sales.

"Interestingly, both of these vehicles are built in Michigan, so there's a very real local connection there as well. This is kind of an endorsement that both of these critical vehicles were done right by the engineering teams. "

Swiecki mentions that confidence is shown not only in the vehicles, but in the atmosphere of this year's Detroit Auto Show, and is a clear departure from the austerity of the post-bailout shows of the past.

"In the 2009 and 2010 shows, there was almost an atmosphere of allaying the fears that 'We're not going to be here next year', and that's really not the case anymore, and it hasn't been for the last two or three years. Now it's more about a confident approach, showing future products with every certainty that 1) the companies are viable and 2) the products themselves are world-class," he said.

These American vehicles are world-class, and green, according to Swiecki, who claims that green-technology continues to be a pronounced trend in new American vehicles, such as Cadillac's luxurious take on the Chevy Volt. Green technology is even moving across vehicle platforms this year to trucks with Ford's Atlas Pickup concept, which will eventually become the next generation Ford F-150.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

When you walk onto the showroom floor at the North American International Auto Show, the bright lights and polished shine of the cars surround you.

You'd think a wash, wax, and polish for the cars would be good enough.

I mean, these things are indoors. What can muck them up?

Dust. That's what.

And not just dust... fingerprints too! (for heaven's sake)

So at the North American International Auto Show, you see a small army of people hovering over the cars with feather dusters, a little towel, and a spray bottle.

Carlos Bryant has been keeping the Bentleys looking sharp at the Detroit auto show for more than a decade.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

At the North American International Auto Show today, the Chinese-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group, or GAC Motors, announced plans to build Jeeps to sell in the Chinese market.

GAC Motors is a state-owned automobile business located in the city of Guangzhou in southern China.

More on the announcement from Brent Snavely of the Detroit Free Press:

Japanese auto supplier set to invest $150 million in Michigan

Jan 15, 2013
DENSO International America / flickr

Japanese auto supplier Denso has announced a four-year, $1 billion expansion in North America, including a $150 million investment in Michigan.

According to plans revealed at the North American International Auto Show on Tuesday, the auto supplier could hire a combined 400 new workers at its technical center in Southfield and manufacturing plant in Battle Creek.

Nathan Borney of the Detroit Free Press has more:

Ford

Ford is known for putting on a glitzy press conference at the Detroit Auto Show.

The media and auto industry officials filed into Joe Louis Arena to see what the company would unveil.

Company officials spent a good portion of the 25 minute press conference showing off their new line of Transit vans.

But the sparks flew when they lowered their concept truck, the "Atlas," from the ceiling of the arena.

Take a look:

Why trucks? Well, a good portion of the company's profits come from their truck line, with the Ford F-150 leading the way.

Nissan

Nissan found itself in the spotlight at the North American International Auto Show today.  But not entirely for reasons that would please company executives.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

At the unveiling of the all-electric VIA Motors truck, former auto exec Bob Lutz held a conversation with a holographic presentation of Thomas Edison.

VIA Motors is a privately held electric vehicle development and manufacturing company. The company is working to develop a purely electric truck under the VTRUX brand name.

Toyota tops GM in global auto sales

Jan 14, 2013
A.N.M / flickr

With projected vehicle sales of 9.7 million in 2012, Toyota has once again dethroned General Motors as the world’s top-selling automaker.

GM increased its global vehicle sales to 9.29 million but could not keep pace with the Japanese automaker as it unveiled new versions of its popular Camry model.

German automaker Volkswagen followed close behind with 9.07 million in global sales.

Christine Tierney of The Detroit News has more:

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Volkswagen is working to continue to gain market share in the United States.

Today at the Detroit Auto Show, the company unveiled a new concept car aimed at the highly sought after North American SUV market.

The "CrossBlue," as it's called now,  is a six to seven seat SUV with a "plug-in hybrid powertrain that mates a TDI Clean Diesel engine with two electric motors."

That's right...  lift the hood, and you're not likely to know what the heck you're looking at.

But that's the future of cars. Automakers are moving toward cars with multiple power plants that can be engaged in different circumstances.

Volkswagen says the "CrossBlue" would get 35 mpg in "combined mode" (similar to the hybrid mode of today's Prius), and the equivalent of 89 mpg in all-electric mode (with a range in that mode of 14 miles).

Here's the unveiling of VW "CrossBlue" (complete with the 'demographic dancers'):

Jonathan Browning, President and CEO of Volkswagen Group America said the CrossBlue concept is "exactly the right type of vehicle for the U.S. market," but it still has a ways to go before it would be introduced here.

The car is an indication of where the company is headed.

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