auto

Auto/Economy
3:15 pm
Thu January 19, 2012

GM retakes "top selling automaker" crown... sort of

General Motors claims "top automaker" crown.
user paul (dex) Flickr

For those of you keeping score at home, it's GM 9,030,000 to Toyota's 7,900,000 for 2011.

Those are "around" numbers for the number of vehicles sold in 2011 by the automakers from the Associated Press.

GM has retaken a crown it owned for 77 years before Toyota snatched it away in 2008.

Since that time, Volkswagen has been an up and comer as well. That company is the no. 2 automaker. It sold around 8,160,000 vehicles last year.

But some argue there's some fuzzy math going on to make GM the "top automaker" in the world.

More from the Associated Press:

Some analysts have said that VW is the world's biggest automaker because GM's figures include vehicles made by its Wuling joint venture in China. Many don't count Wuling because GM doesn't have controlling interest in the company, but GM includes it in global sales figures.

Excluding Wuling, GM would have been topped by Volkswagen.

Being the world's top-selling automaker doesn't mean much for the bottom line. But GM retaking the title is an example of how far the company has come since its 2009 bankruptcy.

Bloomberg Business Week's Tim Higgins quotes one analyst saying the top automaker crown means "bragging rights" and might help with stock prices.

Higgins writes GM's stock did go up with the news, but the stock would have to go up significantly before the U.S. government would break even on its investment:

GM rose 0.5 percent to $24.63 at 11:26 a.m. New York time.

The U.S. government still owns almost a third of GM. The government would have to sell its stake at an average of $53 a share to break even. GM earned $6.17 billion in 2010 and $8.47 billion in the first nine months of last year.

Auto/Economy
11:59 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Ford salaried workers to get raises, bonuses

Marcus Wong creative commons

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) - Ford is giving pay raises and bonuses to about 20,000 white-collar workers, mainly in the U.S. and Canada.

Letters sent to workers last week say they'll get 2.7 percent raises on April 1. They'll also get bonuses based on performance.

The raises are a sign that Ford is confident in its turnaround and in the U.S. economy. Ford Motor Co. made $6.6 billion in the first three quarters of last year. It reports fourth-quarter earnings this month. The company's U.S. sales rose 11 percent last year.

Spokeswoman Marcey Evans says the raises are needed to keep pay competitive with other Fortune 100 companies.

Salaried workers last got raises in 2010. Only performance bonuses were given in 2011.

Ford has made a huge turnaround since 2006, when it lost $12.6 billion.

Auto/Economy
5:27 pm
Tue January 17, 2012

Boring, but important: Fuel economy standards getting tougher

Ford is upping it's fuel economy numbers with its "C-Max" cars.
Ford Motor Company

New, more stringent fuel economy standards are the topic of conversation in Detroit today at the first public hearing for the proposed 2017 to 2025 model year CAFE standards (Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards).

Today's meeting in Detroit is the first of three meetings. The others will take place in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

So far, the remarkable news for a proposed standard that calls for fleet-wide average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg by 2025 is the lack of any formidable opposition.

Read more
Auto/Economy
10:52 am
Tue January 17, 2012

People holding onto their clunkers, average age reaches a record 10.8 years

Reaching waaay back. This Pinto takes holding on to an old car to a whole new level.
Brian Teutsch Flickr

O.k. - just because it's old doesn't mean it's a clunker.

There still could be plenty of good miles left on that engine.

A Southfield-based auto research firm says Americans are holding onto their cars and trucks for a longer period of time.

The average age has reached a record 10.8 years, according to Polk.

From the Associated Press:

The Polk research firm said Tuesday that the average age of a car last July was 11.1 years, while the truck average was 10.4.

Unemployment and the sour economy have caused people to put off buying cars and trucks.

Polk says the average vehicle age has been rising since 2008. But the firm says a sales rebound last year is likely to slow the aging rate.

Car companies sold 12.8 million vehicles in the U.S. last year, up from 11.6 million in 2010.

In 2010 the average vehicle on U.S. roads was 10.6 years old, up from 10 years in 2008.

The numbers for the Polk analysis come from national auto registration data.

The group estimates that as of July 2011, there were 240,504,646 cars and trucks on the road - down from a record of 242,081,704 cars and trucks on the road in July 2008.

The average age of vehicles on the road has climbed steadily in just about every year since 1995, when the average age was 8.4 years.

In its press release, Polk said the vehicle market is changing:

Polk expects this trend may change in the coming years as CUV and small SUV populations in the U.S. market have risen in 2010 and 2011 due to their continued success in the market. Additionally, the rebound in new vehicle sales in 2011 and for the next couple of years will most likely slow down the aging rate seen in the market over the past three years, according to Polk.

Auto/Economy
5:30 pm
Thu January 5, 2012

Chrysler "embracing its Detroit heritage," announces more jobs in Motor City

Chrysler's headquarters is in Auburn Hills, but the new jobs will be in Detroit, according to the company.
user fiatontheweb creative commons

Chrysler has announced that it will add 1,250 more jobs in the city of Detroit. The company says it is "embracing its Detroit heritage and weaving it into the fiber of its future plans."

More from a company press release:

Chrysler Group LLC is strengthening its ties with the City of Detroit by adding a third crew and 1,100 new jobs at its Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit (JNAP), expanding the Jeep Grand Cherokee lineup to include a diesel version for North America in the city and reaffirming plans to add 150 jobs by reopening its Conner Avenue Assembly Plant, also located in the Motor City for production of the ultimate American sports car – the SRT Viper.

“Our future, like the history of our brands, is interwoven with the City of Detroit,” said Chrysler Group Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne. “Detroit long has been home to renowned innovators and craftsmen. So it is in the Motor City, home of our industrial heritage and a resilient people, that we are entrusting the manufacture not only of the ultimate American sports car, the SRT Viper, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee – the most awarded SUV ever – but also a diesel version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee for North American markets.

Auto/Economy
4:34 pm
Thu January 5, 2012

Volt batteries unsafe? "Hogwash."

GM is asking Volt owners to come in for a modification to the car.
user citizenofthedeep creative commons

In her post on Forbes, auto writer Joann Muller says the idea that Chevy Volt batteries are unsafe is pure poppycock... balderdash... hooey... or as she puts it:

Hogwash. GM and its battery partner, LG Chem, have tortured that battery to death. They’ve abused it, mutilated it, jarred it, twisted it, and even punctured it with nails. There’s nothing wrong with the Volt or its battery that can’t be fixed with a couple of minor tweaks.

The minor tweaks are coming after a government safety test found that the batteries can catch fire seven days to several weeks after a crash. No fires were reported in real-world circumstances.

The company announced today that it will add parts to ensure the batteries will not catch fire.

Muller reports that the government has crashed a Volt with the new parts - no fire yet - but they'll give it another week to see if one starts up:

In a statement, NHTSA said  it crashed a Volt retrofitted with GM’s newly designed steel reinforcement device in a side-pole impact test on December 22. The results of that crash test showed no intrusion into the vehicle’s battery compartment, and no coolant leakage was apparent. As a precaution, NHTSA has monitored the crashed vehicle since the test and will continue to do so for one more week. But the agency said the preliminary results of the crash test indicate that GM’s fix should solve the problem.

Offbeat
11:17 am
Thu January 5, 2012

Will.I.Am announces new car company on Tonight Show

The new car the pop star Will.I.Am says he will begin building in East Los Angeles. The car is based on Chrysler parts.
rap-up.com

The front man for the pop music group the Black Eyed Peas, William James Adams, Jr., more commonly known as Will.I.Am, announced that he will start a car company in East Los Angeles, the neighborhood he grew up in.

"I invested my money in building my own vehicle, because I want to bring jobs to the ghetto that I come from, so why not invest like I invested in making a demo to start the Black Eyed Peas," said Adams.

He's not building a car from the ground up - more like modifying a car with existing Chrysler parts.

Here he is announcing the new venture, IAMAUTO, on the Tonight Show (apologies if you have to suffer through a commercial):

Jalopnik, the Gawker website of the automotive world, didn't take the announcement too well.

Here's what Matt Hardigree wrote in his post "Will.I.Am Launches Crappy Car Company":

I didn't watch Leno last night, so all of this is coming via one online report attached to this picture. I'd like to think it's a hoax but it's so bad it seems like it could credibly be a BEP byproduct.

The vehicle will be built using "OEM parts from Chrysler" with a Beats by Dr. Dre audio system. Given he drives a Chrysler 300 in his new video it's likely this is the basis for the car. Lord help us if it's a Chrysler 200.

Will.I.Am wants Leno to test drive the car when it comes out.

Auto/Economy
2:05 pm
Wed January 4, 2012

U.S. vehicle sales continue to rise

Consumers appear to be more confident in the economy, and it showed in the salesrooms of American car companies last year.  

Chrysler saw the biggest improvement, with sales up 26 percent over 2010.

The company says its Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler 200 sedan were the most popular of the 16 new or revamped models it rolled out.

Ford sales rose 11 percent, driven by demand for its trucks and SUVs.

General Motors reports a 14 percent increase for 2010 bolstered by its passenger car sales, including the new Cruze and Sonic.

Don Johnson is GM’s vice president for U.S. Sales Operations. He says the company predicts more growth next year, but is keeping an eye out for bumps in the road:

"Clearly we have to, as always, keep our eye on oil and gas prices, and on the political environment as we prepare for an election in November.”

Altogether, U.S. automakers sold nearly 6 million vehicles in 2011.

Auto/Economy
10:55 am
Thu December 22, 2011

Toyota aims for 8.48 million vehicle sales in 2012

user danielctw Flickr

TOKYO (AP) - Toyota says it aims to sell 8.48 million vehicles next year as it attempts a comeback from a year battered by the March disaster in Japan and the flooding in Thailand.

Toyota said in a release Thursday that its target for calendar 2012, which does not include group companies, would represent 20 percent growth from its global sales this year.

The manufacturer behind the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models said it plans to sell 8.95 million vehicles around the world in 2013.

Auto/Economy
1:45 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

Increased competition for small cars forces Honda to revamp new Civic

The 2012 Honda Civic will get a new look mid-year.
IFCAR wikimedia commons

Car companies revamp their models just about every year now. Honda recently announced that they'll revamp their Civic model mid-year. From the Associated Press:

Honda is revamping its Civic ahead of schedule because of intense competition for small-car buyers in the U.S.

The company is telling dealers it will have a revamped model by the end of next year, even though the 2012 Civic just hit showrooms over the summer.

The move is unprecedented for any carmaker because new models aren't usually revamped for at least three years.

Honda executives confirmed the Civic is being redone early. They say they're trying to stay ahead of the competition. There are more compact models available to consumers now.

But Honda might also be reacting to poor reviews of their latest Civic model.

The Detroit News reports that criticism new Civic "has shown a chink in the automaker's product line...":

A new Civic was introduced this summer and has been criticized for conservative styling, cheap materials in the interior and unimpressive driving characteristics. The car scored too low in Consumer Reports testing to be recommended.

Politics
10:17 am
Mon December 19, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara

Saab files for bankruptcy

Saab Automobile filed for bankruptcy in Sweden this morning. The announcement came after officials from General Motors rejected support for a proposal designed to save the company.

From a Saab press release:

After having received the recent position of GM on the contemplated transaction with Saab Automobile, Youngman informed Saab Automobile that the funding to continue and complete the reorganization of Saab Automobile could not be concluded. The Board of Saab Automobile subsequently decided that the company without further funding will be insolvent and that filing bankruptcy is in the best interests of its creditors.

Benton Harbor schools working to avoid an emergency manager

The Benton Harbor Area Schools are one of several entities in line for a possible state takeover by an emergency manager. State officials are expected to release findings of a preliminary review of the school system's finances this week.

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported on the cuts Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent Leonard Seawood, and members of the school board are proposing in hopes of avoiding a state-takeover:

He and the school board have agreed to close 2 schools and lay off 20 employees. Teachers have agreed to work for less money as the district and the union renegotiates a contract with concessions. Seawood is looking to get a 10-percent pay cut for teachers and increase their health care contributions to 20-percent.

The board agreed to demolish some old buildings and list others for sale. BHAS had already privatized bus drivers, custodians, grounds and maintenance and food service.

Protests at Lowe's in wake of "All-American Muslim" controversy

After Lowe's pulled its ad from TLC's reality show "All-American Muslim," protesters picketed outside a Lowe's store near Detroit this past Saturday.

From the Associated Press:

About 100 people gathered outside the store in Allen Park, a Detroit suburb adjacent to the city where "All-American Muslim" is filmed. Lowe's said this week that the TLC show had become a "lightning rod" for complaints, following an email campaign by a conservative Christian group.

Protesters including Christian clergy and lawmakers called for unity and held signs that read "Boycott Bigotry" and chanted "God Bless America, shame on Lowe's" during the rally, which was organized by a coalition of Christian, Muslim and civil rights groups.

Lowe's pulled the ads after it received pressure from the Florida Family Association. In a letter to advertisers, the group said the show was "attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad."

Auto/Economy
12:33 am
Thu December 15, 2011

U.S. to fight new tariffs on big cars exported to China

American politicians are vowing to fight new Chinese tariffs on large U.S. made cars and SUVs.    

In 2010, the U.S. won a Chinese tire-dumping complaint before the World Trade Organization. 

China has complained about U.S. poultry dumping.  The U.S. is investigating whether China subsidizes solar panels. 

Now the fight is over cars.  Republican Congressman Kevin Brady of Texas heads a trade subcommittee. 

Read more
Changing Gears
5:30 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Report: Developers trend toward repurposing shuttered auto plants

Inside the shuttered GM Wyoming Stamping Plant. A report finds around half of these old plants end up getting repurposed.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Of the 263 automotive plants closed across the country over the past three decades, nearly 49 percent have been repurposed, according to a Labor Department study released Thursday.

And the pace of redeveloping them has accelerated.

The New York Times reported today that, despite the fragile economy, developers have bought as many closed plants in the past three years – 32– as they did in the previous 26 years. Lower property values and a glut of plants on the market have contributed to the trend.

The repurposed plants have welcomed traditional manufacturers, and some of have been turned into housing developments, offices and research centers which has helped affected communities rediscover needed tax revenues, according to the study, which was authored by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research.

Regional differences influenced the fate of plants following their closures. Sites in the South and along the East and West coasts fared the best in finding new users, according to The Times, which said all 14 former plants closed in California and Texas were reused. In Michigan, the state hardest hit by closures, 43 of 105 have been revitalized.

Overall, 135 of the 263 remain vacant, including 24 that have been closed for at least two decades.

“They’re not all going to repurposed,” Jay Williams, executive director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, told the newspaper. “Not every community is going to find a pot of gold at the end of this pathway.”

Auto
12:23 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Toyota could lose "world's largest automaker" title

Could Toyota lose its crown?
user danielctw Flickr

Toyota has sharply downgraded its expectations for what it will earn in the fiscal year that ends in March.

Toyota expects a net profit of $2.3 billion for the fiscal year. That’s less than half the profit it predicted in August.

The automaker is blaming a strong yen, which makes its vehicles less competitive on prices, outside of Japan.

It’s also blaming recent heavy flooding in Thailand, which disrupted the distribution of auto parts.

Auto/Economy
1:36 pm
Wed November 30, 2011

Time for a little bubbly? Analysts say car sales get a Black Friday boost

Analysts say car sales are climbing.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

It could be time to crack open a modestly-priced bottle of champagne.

Analysts say, like the recent good news about retail purchases, November auto sales "may have run at the fastest pace in more than two years."

From Bloomberg News:

Light-vehicle deliveries in November, to be released Thursday, may have run at a 13.4 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, the average of 14 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. That would top the 12.3 million pace of a year earlier and October's 13.3 million rate, which was the best month since sales were helped by "cash for clunkers" in August 2009...

"November was a good retail environment for consumers overall," Erich Merkle, Ford's sales analyst, said . Consumers have been "sitting on the sidelines for quite some time. Black Friday provided that reason to get out there."

The head of Toyota's U.S. sales unit said there's a lot of pent up demand among consumers, "it's starting to push industry sales regardless of whether the economy is flat or going up."

Changing Gears
10:17 am
Wed November 30, 2011

Empty Series: New life for historic GM complex in Flint

The Fisher Body Plant No. 1 in Flint. Crowds gather in support of the sit-down strikers.
Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library Wayne State University

There may be no better example of how the industrial Midwest is changing than the site of the old Fisher Body Plant No. 1 in Flint, Michigan. It’s one of the factories sit-down strikers occupied in the 1930s. The plant made tanks during World War II. It was later closed, gutted and reborn as a GM design center. But GM abandoned the site after bankruptcy and the new occupants don’t make cars. They sell very expensive prescription drugs.

There’s one group of experts who can always tell you the history and significance of an old factory. They’re the guys at the bar across the street.

Read more
Auto/Economy
2:35 pm
Tue November 8, 2011

The Michigan-China Connection (an audio documentary)

Cars, agriculture, tourism, it’s all fair game for people who want Michigan to tap into the Chinese market.

But what does that really mean and who really stands to benefit?

Governor Rick Snyder recently led a Michigan delegation to China.

He says strong economic ties between Michigan and what is now the world’s fastest growing economy are essential to Michigan’s economic growth.

Part 1

Read more
Auto/Economy
2:01 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

Old General Motors facility sold to industrial contractor

The Associated Press reports that an industrial contractor has bought a former General Motors facility in Pontiac with plans to use the 6-acre property for an expansion.

More from a Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response (RACER) Trust press release:

An industrial contracting company has purchased the former GM ACG Penske facility on Oakland Avenue, with plans to expand its business at the six-acre property.

The RACER Trust sold the property, which includes a 32,000-square-foot building with multiple truck bays, to Lee Contracting, headquartered across the street from the ACG Penske facility, at 675 Oakland Ave.

Lee Contracting Founder and President Ed Lee said he plans to expand his more than 200-employee company, and the former ACG Penske property provides a perfect fit. “This was a great opportunity to build upon our business right here in Michigan,” he said. “Having this great site right across from our current facility provides us with a base to continue expanding the business.”

Lee Contracting is a single-source contractor specializing in complete turnkey solutions for industrial and manufacturing clients.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

Auto/Economy
10:28 am
Tue November 1, 2011

Robots for the sick and elderly, Toyota unveils a plan

Toyota officials demonstrated their violin playing robot back in December of 2007. The company plans to sell robots that can help the sick and elderly.
screen grab from YouTube video

Officials from Toyota Motor Corporation say the company will start selling robots that help elderly and sick people. The Associated Press reports the company is "aiming for commercial products sometime after 2013."

From the Associated Press:

Toyota unveiled its ambitions for high-tech health care Tuesday, displaying experimental robots that the auto giant says can lift disabled patients from their hospital beds or help them walk.

The company aims to commercialize products such as its "independent walk assist" device sometime after 2013 – seeking to position itself in an industry with great potential in Japan, one of the world's most rapidly aging nations.

Prices and overseas sales plans are still undecided.

Several years ago, the company demonstrated a violin playing robot:

The 1.5-metre tall Violin-playing Robot, equipped with a total of 17 joints in each of its hands and arms, uses precise control and coordination to achieve human-like agility. It could also be used to assist with domestic duties or nursing and medical care.

Here's a video of Toyota's robot playing Pomp and Circumstance:

Auto/Economy
1:27 pm
Fri October 28, 2011

Chrysler CEO says two-class pay system is not viable

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says he wants to eventually do away with the two-tier pay system.
user socialisbetter Flickr

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said the two-class pay system currently in place will have to be replaced with a single wage system in the next round of contract talks with the United Auto Workers.

The UAW and Chrysler just approved a 4-year contract with the two-class pay system in place, so the next opportunity to revise the system won't come until the next round of contract negotiations.

More from the Associated Press:

Negotiations for that contract start in 2015.

He says the current system creates two classes of workers. New workers in the bottom tier make about half as much money as longtime UAW members.

Marchionne didn't say how he would come up with one wage. But it's likely he'll try to reduce the pay of top-tier workers. General Motors and Ford could follow and pay could be cut for most of the UAW's 112,000 members.

UAW workers approved a four-year contract with Chrysler on Wednesday. It includes raises for bottom-tier workers.

More on what Marchionne said comes from Changing Gears reporter, Pete Bigelow:

The structure is, “not something that can go on for a long period of time,” he said on a conference call to discuss the company’s second-quarter earnings. Marchionne continued, saying, two-tiers is “not a viable structure on which to build our industrial footprint.”

Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson provided some insights into the two-class pay system in a piece she produced last year for Changing Gears.

At the time, the starting rate for a "two-tier" worker was $14 an hour. The new contracts have pushed the starting rate for "two-tier" workers above $19 an hour.

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