auto

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Guessing when Ford CEO Alan Mulally will retire has become a favorite game for some auto beat reporters. But now Ford and Mulally have taken all the fun out of it.

TROY, Mich. (AP) - Chemical giant DuPont Co. is opening an innovation center in suburban Detroit that's aimed at speeding the introduction of new products for the automotive industry.

The Wilmington, Del.-based company's facility opened Thursday. It is DuPont's eighth-such center and is located at its Automotive Development Center in Troy. The innovation center connects DuPont's Detroit-area customer base with 9,500 company scientists and engineers worldwide.

DuPont says one aim of the innovation center is to boost collaboration with customers, government, educational institutions and business partners.

The company already had automotive industry-focused innovation centers in India, South Korea and Japan.

General Motors says its U.S. sales rose about one and a half percent last month, as a big jump in car sales was offset by falling truck sales.

Ford says its U.S. sales were flat in September, like GM, Ford was weighed down by lower truck sales even as sales of its cars rose.

But Chrysler had the best September of the Detroit Three, with a 12 percent increase in sales.

More from the Detroit News:

The CAW union and Chrysler have reached a tentative deal similar to the agreements reached with GM and Ford. Ford workers in Canada ratified their agreement earlier this week. GM workers are expected to do so sometime tomorrow. More from CBC Windsor.

A 2008-2010 Chevy Malibu. One of the models being recalled by GM.
IFCAR / wikimedia commons

The Detroit News reports GM is issuing two recall campaigns.

The smaller recall affects bulb indicators on 2013 Chevrolet Sonics.

The larger recall has to do with four-speed automatic transmissions on 2007-10 Chevrolet Malibu, Saturn Aura and Pontiac G6 models.

More from the Detroit News:

The Detroit automaker said Friday it is recalling 426,240 Chevrolet, Pontiac and Saturn sedans in the United States to repair a condition in which the transmission gear position may not match the gear on the shifter. That could lead to the vehicles rolling when drivers think they are in park.

"The driver would be able to remove the key from the ignition, but the door locks may not unlock automatically and the PARK indicator lamp would not be illuminated. The driver may not be able to restart the vehicle and the vehicle could roll away," GM said.

An investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sparked the discovery of the transmission problem.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports the problem has caused four accidents that GM knows about, but no injuries have been reported.

Dealers will either replace the transmission cable or put reinforcement on it.

The Detroit News has an update on the "Big Three" and their negotiations with the Canadian Auto Workers union. The deadline for a deal is midnight tonight.

Henry Ford's great-grandson said it plainly to the Associated Press... Ford Motor Company was once plagued by internal divisions that dragged the company down.

"At the old Ford, you had heroes and villains," [Bill Ford Jr.] said. "Now, it's, `OK, where do we have issues and how do we solve them?'"

Alan Mulally was brought in by Bill Ford Jr. in 2006 as Ford's new CEO.

Mulally has been credited with righting the ship. Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton wrote about how Mulally has changed things at Ford over the last six years.

She writes about how Mulally's retirement has been a point of speculation ever since he turned 65:

...one question invariably comes up during media scrums at Ford Motor Company events. "When are you going to retire?" some reporter or other asks. Now that he's 67, the question is being asked even more frequently

Yesterday, Bloomberg News broke a story about moves the company plans to make:

Ford Motor Co. (F) directors are preparing to promote Mark Fields to chief operating officer from president of the Americas, a move that anoints him as probable successor to Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, according to a person familiar with the plan.

Bloomberg writes Mulally is expected to retire at the end of 2013. Really? So far the company itself is mum.

But the retirement talk, has AP auto reporters Dee-Ann Durbin and Tom Krisher writing about life at Ford after Mulally.

They highlight six points about the company.

3 of which they say should worry investors, and three of which they say are encouraging signs.

Reuters reports on the numbers behind the Volt - "There are some Americans paying just $5,050 to drive around for two years in a vehicle that cost as much as $89,000 to produce."

Jeff Smith / Flickr

There's one week left in contract negotiations with the Canadian Auto Workers union, and it appears there are still some major sticking points in negotiations.

We posted last week that the union voted to authorize a strike if they determined one was needed.

Reuters reports plans for a potential strike are moving forward.

Strike captains at the union, which represents about 20,000 members at the three companies, were to meet in Toronto on Monday to advance plans for a triple strike.

"All three bargaining committees are determined to reject these demands and reach a fair deal," the CAW said in a leaflet distributed to members on Monday.

"The union recognizes the fragility of the industry and the need to stabilize fixed costs, while finding a solution rewards members' work. Unfortunately, our efforts have not been met with equal willingness by the companies to negotiate fair terms," the leaflet said.

The last time the Canadian Auto Workers went on strike was in 1996.

Let's give a shout-out to a man who may have set the new "gold standard" for generous bosses.

Long-time Ann Arbor auto dealer Howard Cooper is retiring this month.

As his employees reported for work this week, they got an unexpected "expression" of Mr. Cooper's appreciation: a check for $1,000 for every year of service.

Auto sales grew in 2014
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

August was a good month for U.S. automakers compared to a year ago. In total, the big three sold more than 585,700 vehicles last month.

Chrysler had its best month since August 2007, according to the AP, and had sales of more than 148,000 vehicles. They say their sales were led by demand for the Dodge Ram pickup truck.

Ford sold 197,249 vehicles in August, and in a press release said high gas prices led more people to their lineup of vehicles.

“As fuel prices rose again during August, we saw growing numbers of people gravitate toward our fuel-efficient vehicles – cars, utilities and trucks,” said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service.

And General Motors sold 240,520 vehicles in August. More than Ford or Chrysler.

In their press release, GM said it's ready for gradual improvements in the economy.

“The single message Chevrolet communicated this summer was ‘confidence’ and it rang true with customers when they saw how our product lineup is being transformed,” said Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations. “All four of our brands are building momentum behind new products so we’re very well positioned as the economy continues to slowly improve.”

The 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid.
Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company is taking on Toyota in a market the Japanese automaker once dominated - fuel efficient passenger vehicles. The 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid and Ford C-MAX Energi plug-in Hybrid are going on sale this fall.

Ford announced today that the 2013 Ford C-MAX can go further on a tank of gas than the Toyota Prius v.

  • 570 miles for the C-MAX vs. 450 miles for the Prius v.

The 2013 C-MAX hybrid gas-electric vehicle has an mpg rating that is the same for the city and the highway - 47 mpg. Ford notes that is 7 mpg better than Toyota Prius v on the highway.

Toyota publicity still

Toyota is recalling 778,000 RAV4 SUVs and Lexus HS 250h sedans to fix a suspension problem that could cause crashes.

The company says if rear suspension nuts aren't tightened properly after a wheel alignment, the arms can rust and separate from the vehicle. Toyota reported nine crashes and three minor injuries from the problem.

RAV4s covered by the recall are from the 2006 to 2011 model years. The Lexus sedans are from 2010 only.

Toyota says it's developing a plan to fix the problem. It will notify owners by mail when it's time to take the vehicles into dealers for a free repair.

In the meantime, the company is telling drivers to contact their dealers if they hear an abnormal sound in the rear of the vehicle.

Hyundai publicity still

Hyundai Motor Co. is recalling some Santa Fe SUVs and Sonata sedans because of problems with their air bags.

The Santa Fe recall involves nearly 200,000 vehicles in the 2007 to 2009 model years. Hyundai dealers will reprogram the front passenger air bag sensors so they will accurately detect when a small adult is seated.

Hyundai said it has received complaints from some adults under 130 pounds (60 kilograms) whose air bags didn't deploy. No injuries have been reported. The air bags were originally programmed not to go off to protect children.

The company is also recalling 22,500 Sonata sedans from the 2012 and 2013 model years because their side air bags could go off without warning.

Hyundai says it has received 16 complaints about the Sonata's air bags, but no injuries have been reported.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

General Motors’ big hope to grab a share of the luxury compact segment rolled off the assembly line in Lansing today.  Tomorrow, the Cadillac ATS rolls on to the world stage.

Ford Motor Co. intends to prove that good things come in small packages — really small packages. The company has taken engine downsizing to a new level with its new three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which has been introduced in Europe and is set to hit the U.S. market next year.

The EcoBoost offers more power than many conventional four-cylinder engines, with fuel economy numbers a hybrid could envy. Early fans are calling it a modern "little engine that could," and Ford is betting that American customers are ready to embrace a three-cylinder engine.

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

Today is the deadline for more than 40,000 General Motors retirees to accept their former employer's offer of a lump sum buyout of their pensions.

Otherwise, their pensions will be taken over by Prudential Insurance.

GM's Randy Arrix said the change is part of the company's efforts to create what it calls a "fortress balance sheet."  Getting underfunded pensions off the books strengthens the balance sheet.

"Pension obligations are very volatile, and they're volatile because they're dependent on some things within our control like contributions, and other things that are not, said Arrix.

Some GM retirees are angry about the change, which they see as a broken promise by GM, but for others, the buyout is an opportunity to control their own money.

Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

Washington and California recently adopted laws that ban all but traces of copper in automotive brake pads by the year 2021. The two states say the metal gets into watersheds and hurts endangered salmon. The decision could change the way brakes are made around the world.

Copper is a great material for brakes. It's durable, and it absorbs heat and noise. But it comes with an environmental price.

"Each time a driver uses their brakes, a small amount of the material gets worn off, and when it rains, that can be washed into streams and rivers," said Ian Wesley, who's with the Washington State Department of Ecology.

About a third of the copper in some watersheds in California and Washington State comes from brakes. And copper is not good for salmon, because it wreaks havoc with their ability to smell.

Salmon release a pheromone when they perceive a threat. Other salmon react to the scent by dropping to the bottom of the water and staying there, very still.

"When they do that, it helps them avoid the predators, but if there's even very low levels of copper in the water, they can't smell this pheromone, and they continue to swim around kind of oblivious to the danger that's nearby," said Wesley.

Robust U.S. auto sales have been helping to keep a floor on the U.S. economy for months, and they kept up the good work in June.

Car sales surpassed the expectations of many analysts.   

The good news included Detroit car companies.  Ford sales rose 7% and Chrysler sales jumped 20% compared to June a year ago.

General Motors sales increased nearly 16%.

GM's Kurt McNeil says he expects a good second half of the year, too.

As car companies struggle to meet growing demand, the third shift is making a comeback. But many factories running on three shifts are doing it differently from in the past. And that new "three crew" shift pattern could make what's normally a hard job even harder.

At Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, employees work 10-hour shifts four days a week. The so-called A crew gets days, while the B crew gets afternoons. But the C crew shift rotates its start time every week. On Fridays and Saturdays, workers start at 6:00 a.m. On Mondays and Tuesdays, they start at 4:30 p.m.

screen grab / WSJ MarketWatch

Update 2:03 p.m.

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson told stockholders at today's annual meeting that "he regrets GM's stock hasn't done well." GM's stock price is hovering around $22 a share.  

That's a big drop from 2010, when GM held an initial public offering and the stock sold at about $33 a share.

"I mean it's great we had a good year last year, why is the stock down? Because there's uncertainty into the future.  The most obvious is, uh, Europe," said Akerson.

Logan Chadde / Michigan Radio

They look like one-person bobsleds. They run on lawnmower engines. And they get incredible mileage.

They’re cars that achieve what’s called supermileage. College engineering students from as far away as Quebec come to compete in the SAE International Supermileage Competition.

It’s held every year at the Eaton Corporation Proving Grounds in Marshall, Michigan.

When we visited last week, a lot of the students were scrambling to finish last-minute improvements to their vehicles before the moment of truth.

Each driver had to complete six laps on a 1.6 mile track. And they had to maintain an average speed of 15 miles per hour. Teams could do as many runs as they wanted.

Laura Pillari is the driver for the University of Michigan team.

"I was a little nervous because there's a lot of stuff to do with my hands, and I'm kind of crammed in there with this little helmet, and it's very, very hot in that car in the sun."

To measure mileage, competition officials gave each team regulation fuel tanks that were weighed before and after each run. These vehicles can get hundreds or even thousands of miles to the gallon.

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