auto

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.

Chrysler Media

Toyota reported a sales increase in May of 87% compared to the same month a year ago - when the company's vehicle production had plummeted due to the tsunami hitting Japan in March.  

There were more selling days this month than last May, but it is still a robust recovery from the disaster, which reduced inventories on Toyota dealer lots and sent some customers to other car companies.

Toyota remains number three in overall sales in the U.S., however, just behind Ford, which saw its sales increase 13% in May.

railroad tracks
Ian Britton / creative commons

A strike by Canadian railway workers threatens to slow or shut down production at some U.S. auto plants.

5,000 Canadian Pacific Railway workers walked off the job early Wednesday because of a dispute with management over a new contract.

Large numbers of finished vehicles and auto parts come to U.S. factories via Canadian Pacific.

Ford and General Motors say they don't expect the strike to affect production - at this time.

Chrysler says it is actively working to mitigate any impact to its operations through alternative shipment methods, such as trucks.

The longer the strike goes, the greater the chance it could affect the U.S. auto industry.  The Canadian Labor Ministry says it has the authority to intervene and will do that if the two sides haven't reached a deal by Monday.

Ford

Harold A. Poling, a former Ford Motor Company chairman and CEO who was credited for reviving the company in the 1980s, died at age 86. The Detroit Free Press reports Poling passed away on May 12 in Pacific Grove, Calif.

Ford Motor Company released this statement after the news of Poling's death.

“Red Poling was an extraordinary leader who had a profound impact on Ford Motor Company and everyone who worked with him.  With a list of accomplishments that span 43 years, including leading the company through a remarkable turnaround during the 1980s and 1990s, Red was respected by all for his leadership, his passion for being the low-cost producer and  his genuine affinity for people.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”

The Detroit News reports Poling made difficult decisions in the 1980s, including decisions that led to plant closures and layoffs, that returned the company to profitability.

But earlier than most American car executives, he studied Japanese practices such as just-in-time parts delivery.

"I took some very harsh actions back then," he told The Detroit News in 1993. "Ford was losing large sums of money, and there were no road maps for turning a company around. So it was all up to me."

Poling focused on quality. During the 1980s, Ford was counting on the new Escort to shore up sagging sales. But Poling delayed the introduction of an automatic transmission for the car until quality problems had been solved.

He also delayed the introduction of the Taurus by nine months until quality issues had been resolved.

The Detroit Free Press reports when Poling retired in 1994 "the company was preparing to launch a new Mustang, introduce its first minivan with the Windstar and sell the tiny Aspire subcompact car," and that he was part of a management team that "approved $3 billion to develop the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable." 

As a child, Poling said he spent a lot of time with his father who was a mechanic. “We’d grind valves, change piston rings and clutches and do lots of other jobs. It was serious work but to me it was interesting.”

One of four children, he enlisted in the Navy and then went to graduate from Monmouth College before receiving his MBA from Indiana University.

The Freep reports Poling's "all-time favorite car was the 1932 Ford Model A, the first car he bought, used, but in good shape."

A French auto parts maker says it plans to buy a parts plant in Saline, Michigan. Faurecia SA says the interior components plant will be part of a joint venture.

From the Associated Press:

Faurecia and Rush Group announced Thursday that they're creating Detroit Manufacturing Systems, a joint venture to build and automotive interior components in Detroit.

The companies say the venture expects to employ about 500 people in Detroit within the next three years and will make parts at first for Ford Motor Co.

Here's more from a Faurencia SA press release:

Faurecia will acquire the Saline business, which generates $1.1 billion annual sales supplying cockpit modules, instrument panels, door panels and center consoles for 12 vehicle programs assembled at eight Ford plants throughout North America. With this acquisition, Faurecia’s objective is to create a new operation that is optimized for efficient production, in line with the Faurecia Excellence System.

In conjunction with the Saline acquisition, Faurecia will enter into a new joint venture with Rush Group Ltd., one of the Rush Group of companies that together comprise one of the largest Native American and woman-owned businesses in North America. The joint venture, called Detroit Manufacturing Systems (DMS), will do injection molding, assembly and sequencing of interior trim components from a new facility in Detroit. Rush Group will hold the majority of the capital and the management of DMS, while Faurecia – with 45% of the capital – will bring its technology and manufacturing expertise to the joint-venture. As a result, the Saline plant will focus in the future on core technologies such as injection molding, skin manufacturing and foaming operations with annual revenues of nearly $400 million.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The Dart will help make Chrysler a full-line auto company once again. It's a compact car, or so-called "C-segment," car.

It's the first vehicle to combine a U.S. design with a Fiat chassis or platform.  The last small car Chrysler made was the Dodge Caliber and that was not very successful.

Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne thinks the Dart will do much better.

"We are looking forward to a successful launch of a C-segment sedan, which is a piece of the market that we've been absent from for a long period of time, so we're expecting great volumes in terms of the Dart for the remainder of the year," said Marchionne.

A version of the Dart that gets 41 miles per gallon is expected later this year.

Ford Motor Company

U.S. auto companies are faced with pent up demand from consumers at a time when their supplies for parts and materials are getting squeezed.

The Associated Press reports the shortages could limit the number of vehicles companies can sell, and squeeze a historic turnaround for the U.S. auto industry.

The most immediate problem — a shortage of a crucial plastic resin, caused by an explosion March 31 at a plant in Germany — could surface in a few weeks. And later this year or beyond, automakers could be confronted with an even bigger crisis, running short of parts simply because there aren't enough factories and people to make them.

The AP points out that the new process for manufacturing makes automakers vulnerable to these kinds of disruptions because auto suppliers don't stockpile parts the way they used to.

Instead, to hold down warehouse and inventory costs, they rely on a "just in time" system in which parts are delivered just days or hours ahead of when they are needed.

Chrystal Foxx / wikimedia commons

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal regulators are proposing cars be required to have throttle override systems to prevent runaway acceleration in instances where the driver steps on the gas pedal and brake at the same time.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday that it's proposing changing safety standards to require brake-throttle override systems in all vehicle models regardless of size, including trucks and buses. The systems automatically brake while overriding the accelerator when both are pressed.

Many car models already come equipped with such systems.

The proposal is an outgrowth of investigations two years ago into claims that mechanical defects had caused unintended acceleration in some Toyota models. Government studies rejected those claims, but the probe uncovered several cases of drivers inadvertently pressing the brake and gas pedal at the same time.

Measuring the costs and benefits of retraining

Apr 4, 2012
Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

Measuring the success of retraining programs used to be straightforward. You just looked at how many people got better paying jobs. Now the emphasis is shifting from how job seekers benefit to how taxpayers benefit too. That’s because some federal funds for workforce development are shrinking, and local agencies have to do more to make their case.

In the Midwest, we hear a lot about retraining. A lot of the money for retraining and other job services comes from the federal government, through the states, to local programs like this one in Jackson, Michigan.

user brother_o'mara / Flickr

With EM decision fast approaching, Detroit City Council will meet again tonight

Instead of voting on a proposed financial stability agreement with the state, Detroit City Council members spent much of Tuesday discussing several court challenges that could derail any agreement. They eventually adjourned without a vote on the agreement despite warnings that tabling a vote could lead to an emergency manager appointment by Gov. Snyder. Snyder's deadline to decide on an EM appointment is tomorrow. Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek was at the meeting and reports council plans to meet again tonight.

Last night, Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis, who has been filling in for Mayor Bing while out on medical leave, issued this statement regarding council's discussions:

We appreciate the seriousness with which the Detroit City Council is deliberating. This is one of the most critical decisions in this City’s history. However, Mayor Bing and the administration believe Gov. Snyder will act on Thursday, April 5, according to law, regardless of any related, current legal challenges to the process.

Auto sales on pace for a strong year

It's early yet, but auto sales figures in the U.S. show automakers are on pace to make 2012 the best sales year since 2007. More from the Detroit Free Press:

New-vehicle sales ran at a 14.4 million annual rate in March, down from a four-year-high of 15.1 million in February. Still, at the pace so far, Americans would buy 14.5 million vehicles this year, up from 12.8 million in 2011. The increase equals more than six assembly plants running two shifts each.

Chrysler led all automakers in sales gains for the month of March at 34.2 percent.

Michigan's unemployment rate drops across areas of state 

Michigan's unemployment rate dropped to 8.8% last month with a slight uptick in overall employment as well.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported new data shows the decline occurred throughout the state:

Fifteen of 17 regions of Michigan recorded declines in unemployment in February, with Detroit and Monroe reporting the largest rate decreases from January to February. Flint, Holland and Jackson recorded the largest declines during the past year.

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