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staff / media.chrysler.com

DETROIT (AP) - U.S. safety regulators have cleared the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee after an investigation into possible engine fires.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began checking 107,000 of the SUVs in July after getting complaints about power steering hoses coming loose and leaking fluid onto the engine.

We got what looked like good news for the auto industry yesterday. Americans bought fourteen and a half million new vehicles last year -- nearly two million more than the year before.

True, that’s still considerably below total sales five years ago, before the Great Recession nearly put Chrysler and General Motors out of business forever. But still, it is progress. Except that those figures mask something troubling.

More cars were sold, but the Detroit three continue to lose market share. 50 years ago, in discussions about the auto industry nobody ever talked about foreign vs. domestic market share.

media.gm.com

DETROIT (AP) - General Motors is recalling nearly 55,000 pickup trucks, SUVs and vans because they can roll away unexpectedly.

The recall affects certain 2013 models of the Chevrolet Silverado, Suburban, Tahoe, Avalanche and Express. Also included are the GMC Sierra, Savana and Yukon as well as the Cadillac Escalade.

Italian automaker Fiat, already Chrysler's majority owner, has announced plans to acquire another stake in the Detroit car company.

Fiat currently owns 58.57 percent of Chrysler.  The rest is held by VEBA - the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association.  The VEBA was given stock in Chrysler in lieu of cash payments to cover union retiree health care costs, which were shifted to the UAW in 2007.

Fiat says it intends to exercise an option for 3.3% of VEBA's stock, for $198 million.

GM MEDIA

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - A federal judge says General Motors workers in northeast Ohio can move forward with a lawsuit against the automaker and the United Auto Workers.

The union's request to dismiss the lawsuit was turned down late last week.

Nearly 30 workers at GM's Lordstown factory say they were improperly classified as temporary employees after losing their jobs and then being rehired.

They say the change in classification cut their pay by more than 40 percent and are seeking back pay of $3 million to $4 million.

A local union official at the Lordstown plant where GM makes the Chevy Cruze has said that the workers weren't misrepresented.

Both the union and the company have denied the allegations in court documents.

The North American International Auto Show will be starting at Detroit’s Cobo Center in a couple weeks, and anyone who cares about cars can go see virtually every new model in existence.

This has been an annual tradition for more than a century. But I’ve thought for a long time that we don’t do nearly enough to celebrate the amazing heritage of our signature industry.

Think about it. Motor vehicles, primarily cars, are what transformed Michigan from a farm state not all that different from Iowa into the industrial powerhouse that put the world on wheels.

That’s fascinating, and there are few of us whose lives are not connected to the auto industry in some way.  But where do you go to learn about and celebrate that heritage? Sadly, fewer and fewer places.

Ford Motor Company

I recently interviewed Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor Company's manager of Global Trends and Future.  Call her "futurist" for short.   Sheryl spoke with me about how she goes about "predicting" the future, and how it helps Ford develop and market its vehicles, and about Ford's latest report, "Looking Further With Ford: 13 Trends For 2013."

Q:  I want to talk with you first about your job.  What has Ford tasked you with doing?

A:  What most people don't realize is that it takes three years to bring a vehicle to market, so even if we come up with some sort of breakthrough or innovation today, it may not resonate or be relevant by the time the rubber hits the road.  And since we can't predict the future, what we do is track trends, in social, technological, economic, environmental and political arenas, because we think this will give us some insight into the forces that will shape consumers attitudes and behaviors.  It's never looking at automotive; in fact we try to stay away from that for the work that I do, so we come up with the insights, and then I pass it off to the designers, engineers and the marketing teams, that take their subject matter expertise and turn it into something meaningful in terms of product offerings.

Q:  So how do you track trends?  Are you constantly on Twitter or how do you do it?

A: Well, I've been doing it for nine years, so it's gotten a little easier over time, but it's really about pattern recognition -- looking for recurring themes, and seeing things that re-emerge and starting to have an eye for something, what are the drivers behind this, why does this seem like it's going to be important, and will it have staying power?

GM MEDIA

  DETROIT (AP) - An auto industry research firm says an improving economy and a host of new models should push U.S. auto sales above 15 million this year.

   The Polk research firm says auto sales should continue to lead the country's economic recovery. Polk predicts 15.3 million new vehicle registrations this year, up nearly 7 percent from 2012.

   Automakers release December and full-year sales for 2012 on Thursday. Analysts predict sales of around 14.5 million, the strongest year since 2007.

Andrew Duthie / Wikimedia Commons

Ford is creating 2,350 new jobs in Southeast Michigan. The Ford Motor Company announced a new plan to invest $773 million into six Michigan plants.

As part of last year's agreement with the United Auto Workers, the car maker pledged to create 12,000 new hourly jobs across the country.

Todd Nissen is a spokesman for Ford. He says his company is growing across the country.

GM

General Motors announced today that the next generation of the Camaro will be built at the Lansing Grand River (LGR) Assembly Plant. The Cadillac CTS and ATS are currently assembled at the Lansing plant.

The move could take a few years, according to the Detroit News.

The current model Camaro is built in Oshawa, Ontario.

The announcement sparked concerns that the move would lead to job losses at the plant in Canada.

Dana Flavelle of the Toronto Star reports the effect on jobs is not known yet.

“At this stage, there’s no immediate impact on employment. In the longer term, we really can’t speculate at this time,” GM Canada spokesperson Faye Roberts said in a conference call with reporters.

The timing will depend on when the product life cycle of the current generation Camaro comes to an end. “We haven’t said a specific time,” Roberts said.

In a statement, GM said "lower capital investment and improved production efficiencies" were reasons for their decision.

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit.
John F. Martin / Creative Commons

The U.S. Treasury Department and General Motors announced today that company will buy 200 million of the U.S. government's 500.1 million shares in GM.

GM will pay $27.50 for each share. That's 7.9 percent more than yesterday's closing price of GM stock.

The sale, expected to be completed by the end of the year, will reduce the government's stake in the company to around 19 percent.

IFCAR / wikipedia

Toyota Motor Corp. will pay a record $17.35 million fine for its failure to report a safety defect to federal officials and for delaying the subsequent recall.

The fine, levied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is the highest civil penalty relating to recall violations ever paid out to the organization, the Detroit Free Press reports.

More from the Freep:

Chrysler shutters car museum

Dec 3, 2012
harry_nl / flickr

Chrysler announced last week that it would be closing The Walter P. Chrysler Museum located at its Auburn Hills headquarters.

The museum, which opened in 1999, will merge with the Chrysler Foundation by the end of the year.

Chrysler Group LLC will purchase the 67 historic vehicles housed in the museum, the oldest being a 1902 Rambler Runabout Roadster.

The collection of classic cars will be be closed off to the public except for special events and exhibitions.

From the press release:

Ford

Ford's luxury brand is being renamed Lincoln Motor Company today. Ford execs introduced the new "The Lincoln Motor Company" during an event at New York City’s Lincoln Center Plaza this morning.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reported that's the name the company had when Ford acquired it in 1922:

Ford's Lincoln brand is troubled.  Sales are poor and the quality of the brand has eroded in recent years.  

Ford promises it will revitalize the Lincoln Motor Company brand, just as it revitalized the Ford brand, and Lincolns will become desirable cars once again, starting with the new 2013 MKZ.   

The hybrid version of the M-K-Z get 45 miles per gallon combined and Ford will sell it for the same price as the non-hybrid.  Other unusual features include a retractable glass roof and a push-button gear shifter.

Three other new Lincolns are in the works.

The company says as proof that it plans to invest in the brand, the company plans to air a spot during the next Super Bowl in February. The ad will be developed "in an unprecedented way," they say.

GMC SUVs in a car lot
user ep_jhu / Creative Commons

GM, Ford, and Chrysler all say November sales were the best they've seen in a long time.

More from the Detroit News:

General Motors Co. said Monday it had its best November sales month since 2007, as its 186,505 sales rose 3.4 percent over the same month in 2011...

Ford Motor Co. posted November sales of 177,673, an increase 6 percent, with retail sales jumping 12 percent...

Chrysler Group LLC earlier reported its best November sales since 2007, as it sold 122,565 vehicles in the month, up 14.4 percent from the same month in 2011.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton will have more for us on these numbers later today.

Ford Motor Company is reaching back into its past, renaming Lincoln, its luxury brand, the "Lincoln Motor Company."

That's the name the company had before Ford acquired it in 1922.

The new name goes with a new design studio and a new car, the MKZ, the first of four Lincolns planned in the next three years.

The Lincoln brand plummeted in popularity and quality in recent years, as Ford focused its attention and resources first on avoiding GM and Chrysler's fate.  Both companies had to file for bankruptcy during the recession.

Courtesy photo / The Lakeshore Advantage

This story was updated to correct that the $120 million goes to a a number of partners including two in Michigan.

Honda revealed its refreshed Civic at the L.A. Auto Show this week.

The automaker made some very significant changes to the car, just a year after the new version was launched.

Consumer Reports and many auto reviewers slammed the car's styling and interior.   

Despite that, customers turned a blind eye to the criticism, making the Civic the best-selling compact car in the U.S. this year.

The always irreverant website Autoblopnik has a nice, Onion-style entry about the car and the controversy.

Automakers and car dealerships are trying harder to please the customer in the showroom - and it's paying off, according to J.D. Power.

Chris Sutton of J.D. Power says sales satisfaction jumped 11 points from last year.

He says dealers are trying to make the negotiating process easier and faster.  They're also working on the delivery experience.

Andrew Duthie / Wikimedia

The Ford Fusion has won the Green Car of the Year award.

The award is given by the magazine Green Car Journal.

Ford also had another vehicle up for the award, the C-Max, a hybrid vehicle. 

From the press release:

The groundbreaking 2013 Ford Fusion not only significantly reduces petroleum use, CO2 emissions and overall environmental impact, but is priced to encourage the kind of sales volume that can truly influence environmental improvement

The 2013 Fusion offers five engine choices, including two with "Ecoboost" technology, a 47 mpg hybrid, and a plug-in hybrid that's expected to top 100 mpg equivalent.

Other finalists included the Dodge Dart Aero, Mazda CX-5 SKYACTIV and the Toyota Prius c.

A jury comprised of the nation's top environmental leaders including Natural Resources Defense Council president Frances Beinecke, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, Ocean Futures Society president Jean-Michel Cousteau, and Global Green USA president Matt Petersen, plus Tonight Show host and auto enthusiast Jay Leno and Green Car Journal staff select the 2013 Green Car of the Year through a majority vote.

This summer, Automotive News got ahold of a document that Ford Motor Company sent to a number of outside agencies, in which the company outlined its plans for the Lincoln brand - including a name change to "Lincoln Motor Co."

That's the original name of the company which was acquired by Ford in 1922.

I called a Lincoln spokesman to try to confirm the name change, but was told firmly, "there is no name change right now."  I got the distinct impression he wasn't very happy about my question.

www.geograph.org

Experts agree that the best way to reduce traffic fatalities involving motorcyclists is mandatory helmet laws.

But only nineteen states have such laws, and the number is smaller than it used to be, as several states in recent years repealed their mandatory helmet laws, including Michigan.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office says barring that most effective strategy, Congress should consider letting states use their federal motorcycle safety grants for more things.

The L.A. Auto Show begins this Wednesday. The big car show on the West Coast is increasingly important to carmakers based in Detroit.

GM, Ford and Chrysler have long struggled to sell their cars on the West Coast.   You'll find a lot of Toyotas, a lot of German luxury cars, and a lot of Lexuses; not so many Chevys, Fords and Jeeps.  

Analyst Jesse Toprak of TrueCar.com says domestic car companies are making progress.

At the very least, fewer people on the West Coast give "poor quality" as the reason they don't drive a domestic brand.   Instead, it's image.

"You know, if you live in a wealthy area in L.A., you just simply won't consider a domestic car because you won't fit in," said Toprak.

Toprak says the LA Auto Show is an important venue for Detroit car companies to reach a lot of people and try to change their minds about buying an American brand.

General Motors was a deeply troubled company in 2008.

Eh.  Make that deeply, deeply, deeply troubled.

So was its finance arm, GMAC, which had plunged head-first into subprime mortgage lending, in addition to automotive lending.  That left the company awash in billions of dollars worth of bad mortgages.

The federal government had to figure out a way to bail out both companies - because GM wouldn't survive if it didn't have a place to send customers for car loans, and if its dealers didn't have a place to get financing to buy the inventory.

Chrysler

Consumer Reports says it won't put three Detroit cars on its influential "recommended" list - the Dodge Dart, a compact car from Chrysler, the Lincoln MKS, Ford's refreshed luxury sedan , and the Cadillac XTS.

Consumer Reports:  Dart "stalls out on its powertrains."

This is especially bad news for Chrysler, according to Mark Phelan, auto critic for the Detroit Free Press.

Sean McEntee / Flickr

Automakers and their suppliers are racing to develop technologies to meet strict new CAFE standards.

The rules will require companies to reach a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon, roughly, by 2017, and an eye-popping 54.5 (roughly) miles per gallon, by 2025.

But despite all the stories you've heard about electric cars powered by advanced lithium-ion batteries, chances are, you won't be owning one by 2017 - and probably not by 2025, either.

Electric cars will be just too impractical and expensive for most people in the near future.

Not your grandfather's ICE

Instead, if you buy a new car in the next five years, it's more likely to be powered by that old standby - the internal combustion engine (ICE).

This summer, I reported on Ford Motor Company's new three-cylinder eco-boost engine.

Ford has already put this engine into the Focus in Europe, and I was the first  reporter to drive that car on American highways, rather than a small test track.  

Wikipedia

Chrysler will put more than $240 million into three of its southeast Michigan plants.

The automaker is ramping up its engine-making capacity, and making more trucks.

The biggest chunk of the investment will be at Chrysler’s Mack Avenue engine complex in Detroit, which will re-tool to make the V-6 Pentastar engine.

The Warren Truck plant will add a third shift to make the 2013 Dodge Ram 1500. And the Trenton North Engine Plant will also upgrade its production line.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne outlined the plans at the Mack Avenue plant Thursday.

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

For the first time since 1949, Motor Trend Magazine has given its "Car of the Year" award to a car that DOES NOT have an internal combustion engine.

From Motor Trend:

The 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year is one of the quickest American four-doors ever built. It drives like a sports car, eager and agile and instantly responsive. But it's also as smoothly effortless as a Rolls-Royce, can carry almost as much stuff as a Chevy Equinox, and is more efficient than a Toyota Prius. Oh, and it'll sashay up to the valet at a luxury hotel like a supermodel working a Paris catwalk. By any measure, the Tesla Model S is a truly remarkable automobile, perhaps the most accomplished all -new luxury car since the original Lexus LS 400. That's why it's our 2013 Car of the Year.

In this video, Motor Trend professes its love for the Tesla Model S: 

"But it's not some eco-mobile, with tiny wheels, and dorky proportions. It's wide, long, low, and looks great - especially from the rear."

 

Ford Motor Company is getting back into the minivan segment.

Except, Ford is adamantly refusing to call its Transit Connect Wagon a "minivan."

Instead, the company says the seven passenger van is a "people-mover." 

The company believes the wagon will appeal to young families, most likely people who grew up in the back of a minivan themselves and are looking for something different.

Ford says the wagon boasts better fuel economy than the Toyota Sienna minivan.

Ford has been questioned, frequently, for its decision to leave the minivan market years ago. 

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