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DETROIT (AP) - Moody's Investors Service is considering upgrading General Motors Co.'s credit ratings based on improvements in its finances and the expected ratification of a new contract
with the United Auto Workers union.

GM currently has a Ba2 corporate family rating and a Baa3 secured credit rating from Moody's. Both are several notches below investment grade. GM lost its investment-grade ratings in 2005,
when it was losing billions of dollars.

GM and the UAW reached a tentative agreement on a new contract last week. Workers are expected to finish voting on it by next Thursday.

Moody's said that after an initial review, it expects the contract would let GM remain competitive in North America. The deal would pay workers a $5,000 ratification bonus and profit-sharing
checks, but it helps GM lower costs by not giving annual raises to most workers and offering buyouts to clear out older, more expensive workers.

"A critical issue in our review is whether the new contract will preserve's GM's new-found  competitiveness and support its ability to contend with increasing volatility in the global economy," said Bruce Clark, a senior vice president at Moody's.

Moody's review also will consider GM's long-term commitment to the discipline it has adopted since its 2009 government bailout and bankruptcy. Moody's said it will look at whether GM will continue
to limit production and incentives, improve quality and limit acquisitions and shareholder returns in order to strengthen liquidity.

GM's stock fell 72 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $20.56 during a broader-market selloff. The Standard & Poor's 500 was down 3 percent in late morning trading.

Fiat USA

MILAN (AP) - The ratings agency Moody's has downgraded the credit rating Fiat SpA citing financial risks tied to the integration with Chrysler Group LLC.

Moody's on Wednesday downgraded the Italian automaker to Ba2 from Ba1.

The ratings agency said it expects integration of the two automakers will mean they will have "to support each other in the event of financial difficulty."

Fiat took an initial 20 percent stake in Chrysler in exchange for engine technology and management prowess. It currently holds a 53.5 percent share.

Moody's said it made the downgrade even though Fiat does not guarantee Chrysler's debt, and that the two companies' finances remain separate.

gmmedia.com

Update 2:31 pm:

This story was clarified at 2:00 pm to say that the $5,000 bonus was for ratification of the contract.

Pay raises for entry-level workers, five-thousand dollar bonuses for ratification, and better profit sharing. Those are among the highlights of the four-year contract local UAW leaders will recommend to General Motors’ 48,500 hourly workers.

UAW President Bob King says the union bargained a “great framework” for all three Detroit automakers.

    "They’re in different states of financial health, different states of debt. We’re hoping that this country bounces back and the European situation gets resolved – they all could be impacted by that. And we think we’ve got an agreement that helps us get through those periods of time, because we didn’t add many fixed costs to this agreement."    

The tentative contract promises to add or save 6,400 workers. Nine hundred of those are at Michigan plants.

It also provides for a $5,000 dollar ratification bonus, and raises for entry-level workers. UAW President Bob King says those workers will also see generous health care provisions – including free emergency room and urgent care visits.

"What worker being hired at any employer today starts out with the kind of health care plan that workers hiring into General Motors will have? What workers have unlimited doctor visits, $25 co-pay? Nobody."

The contract also calls for $10,000 dollar bonuses for eligible employees who retire in the next two years. Skilled tradesmen who retire between November First and the end of March would qualify for additional $65,000 bonuses.

Ratification is expected at the end of next week.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett is at the United Auto Worker's press conference in Detroit today.

She's reporting on some details of the UAW's new contract with General Motors:

  • Entry level wages will be bumped up to $19.28/hr over the life of the contract plus a $5,000 ratification bonus.
  • Unlimited doctor appointments with $25 co-pay.
  • $10,000 bonus for eligible employees who retire within the next two years.
  • Additional $65,000 bonus for skilled trades who retire between November 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012.
  • Jobs will be added in Michigan at facilities in Warren, Saginaw and Romulus.

UAW President Bob King says the next target for negotiations has not yet been determined.

From the Associated Press:

Union leaders from General Motors factories around the country have endorsed a new four-year contract with the company.

They are recommending that GM's 48,500 factory workers approve the deal in votes during the next week.

The agreement reached Friday includes a $5,000 signing bonus and improved profit-sharing instead of hourly pay raises for most of the workers. About 2,400 entry-level workers will get raises. They now make $14 to $16 per hour, about half the pay of a longtime UAW worker.

Profit-sharing will be a minimum of $3,500 next year.

The union now will focus on negotiations with Chrysler, and Ford will be next.

Since Chrysler isn't making as much money as GM, workers there probably won't see as good of a deal.

 

Ford Motor Company

"You couldn't kill it no matter what you did to it."

So said Ford spokesman Octavio Navarro of the Crown Victoria in CNN Money:

The last Ford Crown Victoria rolled off a Canadian assembly line Thursday, marking the end of the big, heavy Ford cars that have been popular with taxi fleets and police departments for decades.

Since 1979, almost 10 million Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Cars -- so-called Panther Platform vehicles -- have been sold.

The last "Crown Vic" rolled off the assembly line at 12:30 p.m. yesterday, according to the NY Times City Room blog. They write that the car will likely be exported to Mexico or Saudi Arabia.

The Canadian auto plant where the Crown Victoria was made, the St. Thomas Assembly Plant in Ontario, is closing.

CNN Money reports that Ford "is offering $100,000 cash payments or relocation offers, among other programs, for the workers at the plant."

So with the Crown Victoria out, what will future cop cars look like? CNN put together this gallery.

Imagine going home out at night while your computer keeps doing your job. That’s the basic idea behind a trend in manufacturing called “lights-out machining.” You punch out. The machines keep working. It’s a way to make a lot more product with a lot fewer people … and fewer jobs. Here’s the story of two Michigan companies that are trying to boost productivity and stay competitive by turning out the lights and going home.

First, a little perspective. Man’s love/hate relationship with automation has been around a long time. Take the 1936 classic Modern Times.

Charlie Chaplin is in a frenzy. He’s tightening bolts on the factory line. The boss straps him into a person-feeding machine, so his hands can keep working while his mouth eats lunch. It’s a nightmare of productivity, where men are captive to machines. But manufacturers today have a different vision.

“At the end of the shift, my operators go home. Their machines continue running in the building with nobody in it,” says John Hill.

Hill owns a small business called Midwest Mold Services. The company designs and builds metal molds for plastic parts. These parts wind up in cars, medical devices, and even as the emblem on the back of a Cadillac. Hill says in the old days, shaping these metal molds was a job for one machine and one operator.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

Negotiations between UAW and automakers might go down to the wire

Contracts between the UAW and Detroit automakers expire this week. The sides have been negotiating for the past month and will likely continue to negotiate through the middle of this week. The Detroit Free Press reported that "GM's agreement... is likely to add thousands of jobs at U.S. plants, offer buyouts for skilled trades workers and enhance the profit-sharing formula.":

Chrysler has been in lockstep with talks at GM and out-of-state union leaders were told that they might need to travel to Detroit soon to review a tentative deal.

Talks were continuing at Chrysler over the weekend. CEO Sergio Marchionne said in Canada that he would be involved in the talks, even though he was traveling from Calgary, Alberta, to Detroit and then to Frankfurt, Germany, over the course of the weekend.

Meanwhile, talks lag at Ford, where economic issues have barely begun being discussed.

State to decide whether to increase testing standards this week

The state Board of Education might decide to raise school testing standards at a meeting tomorrow, according to the Detroit News. If the scores are raised, fewer schools in Michigan will be found to be proficient in key subjects:

Education officials say the changes are necessary because existing standards reward students for average work and have disguised dismal ability levels. For instance, just 10 percent of third-graders are not proficient in reading, according to last year's Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) tests. State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said the newer scores will show that more than 60 percent are not proficient.

F-16s scrambled to follow a passenger plane on 9/11

Two passengers behaving suspiciously raised concerns of terrorism on a Frontier flight from Denver to Detroit yesterday. More from WXYZ.com:

People on the plane tell Action News the two men in question spent long periods of time in the plane’s lavatories. It's not clear how the woman was involved.

“They were going back and forth through the aisle,” passenger David Mungia said, describing the behavior of the two men who were taken away by police.

“One of the guys was in the bathroom for at least ten minutes,” Mungi said.

Authorities are not saying what was going on inside the lavatories but ABC News is reporting the unidentified passengers were making out.

 

Update 11:47 a.m.

The Detroit Free Press reports that reports of amorous activity on the flight are false:

Three passengers detained at Detroit Metro Airport Sunday after the crew reported suspicious activity were actually just using the rest room, according to an FBI spokeswoman in Detroit.

FBI Detroit spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said reports about sexual encounters taking place in the rest room are false, describing them as "stories spinning out of control."

user S 400 HYBRID / wikimedia commons

Saab Automobile AB filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday.

Saab used to be owned by General Motors. GM sold the company to Spyker Cars in January of 2010.

From the Associated Press:

The owner of cash-strapped car maker Saab filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a brand crippled by production stoppages, withheld salary payments and mounting debt.

Swedish Automobile, formerly known as Spyker Cars, said the move would buy it time to receive funding from Chinese investors, currently awaiting regulatory approval, and avoid bankruptcy.

The Wall Street Journal reports this is an attempt at reorganization, similar to Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S.:

Saab Automobile has struggled with its finances for months. Production at its plant in the Swedish town of Trollhattan has been halted since April.

In a bid to solve its long-term funding needs, the car maker this summer signed agreements with two Chinese companies. But Saab will receive no money until regulators in China and Sweden approve the deal, so the company is still strapped for cash.

Arrests have been made in Detroit and San Diego after a vehicle theft ring was uncovered.

From the Associated Press:

More than a dozen people have been arrested in the theft and transporting of luxury rental cars and sport utility vehicles from the United States to Canada for shipment and sale in the Middle East.

The U.S. attorney's office in Detroit says nine people were arrested in Michigan and four others in San Diego following a two-year investigation dubbed "Operation Hot Wheels."

An indictment unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit says members of an organization rented vehicles from national chains in Michigan and Ohio and drove them into Canada.

Police reports later were filed claiming the vehicles were carjacked or stolen in Detroit.

Five vehicles were found in containers at a Montreal port awaiting shipment to Iraq.

One man still was being sought by authorities.

MSU

The United Auto Workers and Michigan State University collected oral histories from about 125 workers, managers, and others connected to the Fisher Body plant in Lansing.

The plant closed in 2005 after more than 70 years of production. Fisher Body in Lansing was one of the longest operating auto factories in the U.S., according to a Lansing Car Assembly Facebook page.

An MSU labor relations professor, John Beck, headed up the project.

Beck said the oral history recordings "gave a lot of people a voice that they would not have had otherwise."

From an MSU press release:

The plant’s closing in 2005 threatened to effectively bury the workers’ experiences. But through the MSU/UAW partnership, these stories – which run the gamut from first and last days on the job, to tales of racism and sexism, to statements of pride and teamwork – are now part of a digital catalogue at MSU’s G. Robert Vincent Voice Library. The catalogue is called the Lansing Auto Town Gallery.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Democrats in the Michigan Legislature say they want to revive tax incentives specifically set aside for advanced battery manufacturers.

The industry-specific tax credits are among those scheduled to be phased out under tax policy changes approved by the Republican-led Michigan Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder.

Democrats say Monday they'll support bills that would continue the industry-specific credits for battery production, facility construction and related activities.

The Democratic plan also would include tax credits for buying electric vehicles and charging stations.

Michigan's tax credit program and federal assistance have helped several battery manufacturers get started in the state. Credits that already have been granted will be honored. But Snyder and Republicans say they don't want to pick winners and losers with industry-specific tax credit programs.

New York Times: "Does America need manufacturing?"

Aug 29, 2011
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

“You can drive almost anywhere in the state of Michigan – pick a point at random and start moving – and you will soon come upon the wreckage of American industry.”

That’s the first sentence in a story in this week’s New York Times Magazine about the seismic downturn in manufacturing over the past decade and its tenuous future in the U.S.

For decades, The Times says, the federal government has largely maintained a policy of letting the marketplace dictate the economy. That is, it hasn’t propped up ailing sectors of the economy nor tinkered with aid packages to strengthen niche industries the way China and Japan have maintained active hands in shaping industry.

That’s changed in recent years under the Obama administration. Notably, the federal government rescued American automobile manufacturers and parts suppliers through approximately $82 billion in loans and other incentives. In particular, the government has delivered $2.5 billion in stimulus money to 30 or so companies exploring advanced battery technology. One White House official tells The Times the battery money goes to “the far edge” of how far the federal government is going to create new jobs and boost a nascent industry.

“It’s naïve to believe that we just have to let the markets work and we’ll have a strong manufacturing base in America,” Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D) tells The Times.

The alternative raises questions. What is the federal government’s new role in spurring industry? What’s its responsibility in ushering a transition to a knowledge-based economy? And, as The Times asks in its provocative headline, does America need manufacturing?

Tino Rossini / Flickr

Disappointing economic data seems to be rolling in more frequently these days. The U.S. economy grew "a meager 1 percent" from April through July (a downgrade from an earlier 1.3 percent estimate), and unemployment numbers show no signs of improving (here's a cartoon of people looking for work in downtown Portland).

Now, news of cuts in production at GM.

From the Associated Press:

General Motors is cutting its production of pickup trucks next month, a sign that truck sales aren't as robust as the company had hoped.

A GM spokesman says the company cancelled five scheduled overtime shifts on Saturdays in September and October. He didn't know how many vehicles would be involved, but the Flint, Mich., plant where the pickups are made can produce 900 trucks per day.

Full-size pickup truck sales were up 9 percent for the year through July in the U.S., compared with a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp. But that increase was smaller than the industry saw as a whole. Continuing weakness in the housing and construction sectors has dampened demand for trucks. Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado, GM's best-selling truck, were up 7 percent.

Chrysler Group / Flickr

The head of Chrysler and Fiat says the U.S. auto industry can meet tough new fuel efficiency requirements.  The tentative proposal will more than double the miles per gallon average for cars by the year 2025.

Federal officials, automakers, and the UAW agreed to raise the average miles per gallon to 54-and-a-half within the next 14 years. Right now, the average is 25 miles per gallon.  Critics say the new goal may not be technically feasible.  But Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne thinks it is:

"The powertrain guys...  are an incredible resource, an incredible talent.  Let them do their job."

But Marchionne is a skeptic when it comes to the role electric cars will play in meeting the new requirement.  He thinks it will be easier and cheaper to dramatically improve gasoline engines and transmissions.

UAW

The United Auto Workers formally kicked off negotiations today with Detroit automakers.

Current UAW contracts with Chrysler, GM, and Ford expire in mid-September.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reports that Chrysler Group LLC management and the UAW emphasized unity at the press event today:

Scott Garberding is a Senior Vice President for Chrysler. He says the company and the UAW worked together to get Chrysler through bankruptcy. Garberding says it’s important for the new contract to recognize the sacrifices Chrysler workers have made.

"And at the same time, establishing a legacy for our organization to ensure that we remain competitive long-term. And I can’t think of a better team that could collectively come together and craft that type of arrangement. "

Last week, UAW President Bob King said he wanted workers to see the benefits of increased profit sharing. The UAW is also expected to seek wage increases for entry-level workers, and job guarantees. After huge layoffs, King said remaining workers want to count on their jobs:

“They want stability,” he said. “They want to know they’ll be working next week and next year, and that they will be able to send their kids to college.”

Talks are expected to take at least a month, and if things don't go well in negotiations with Chrysler and GM, the UAW is compelled to enter into binding arbitration. The UAW cannot strike under the terms of the government bailouts:

This year, for the first time, the UAW is bound by an agreement that it reached with Chrysler and General Motors in 2009 that requires the two sides to enter into binding arbitration if they reach an impasse.

King said Chrysler and the UAW have formed a committee to set up the ground rules for arbitration, even though he said that is a last resort.

“If arbitration happens … then I would say we haven’t done our job,” King said.

The UAW can, however, strike against Ford Motor Company. Analysts are curious to see if UAW negotiators are able to secure better terms with Ford.

chrysler logo
Ricardo Giaviti / Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Treasury Department says it has ended its investment in Chrysler LLC after Italian automaker Fiat SpA purchased the U.S. government's remaining holdings in the auto company.

Fiat paid $560 million to the Treasury Department for the government's 98,000 shares. Fiat has run the company since it emerged from bankruptcy protection in June 2009.

Treasury provided a total of $12.5 billion to Chrysler and its financing arm after the recession hampered auto sales and sent Chrysler and General Motors to the brink of collapse. The funds came from the government's $700 billion bank bailout fund.

Since then, $11.2 billion of the assistance has been repaid, Treasury says. Chrysler repaid $5.1 billion in loans from the government in May. Treasury said it likely won't recover the remaining $1.3 billion.

Ford Motor Company

DETROIT (AP) - The head of the United Auto Workers union says if his members agree to profit-sharing instead of pay raises from Detroit's automakers, the companies will have to write bigger checks than they do now.

UAW workers at General Motors got $4,300 profit-sharing checks this year, while Ford paid out $5,000 and Chrysler paid $750.

President Bob King has told The Associated Press that profit-sharing or other flexible methods of compensation will be discussed when the union formally begins contract talks with the Big Three next week.

Yet King, who has preached cooperation with the companies over confrontation, said that while he wants workers to be fairly compensated, he also wants deals that keep down the companies' fixed costs so they are competitive with foreign-based automakers.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Counties in the Midwest and South that have a high number of autoworkers have seen a jump in economic stress levels, according to an Associated Press monthly analysis.

But Midwestern states also have seen the largest decreases in economic stress since the recession ended. That's primarily because of growth in manufacturing. Ohio has added 7,600 factory jobs in the past year.

The AP's Stress index calculates a score from 1 to 100 based on unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates. A higher score signifies more economic stress.

Under a rough rule of thumb, a county is considered stressed when its score exceeds 11. By that standard, about a quarter of the nation's 3,141 counties were stressed in May, roughly the same as in April.

Severstal North America

DETROIT (AP) - The U.S. Energy Department says it has loaned $730 million to the North American arm of one of Russia's largest steel companies to modernize its Detroit-area plant.

The government and Severstal North America on Wednesday officially announced plans to upgrade and expand facilities in Dearborn that make steel for the auto industry. They say the project will employ around 2,500 construction workers and create 260 factory jobs.

The money comes from a $25 billion low-interest loan program created in 2007 to help car companies retool older factories to build green cars.

Severstal bought the Dearborn factory in 2004.

Google Maps and the U.S. Department of Energy

One group in west Michigan wants to encourage more people to buy electric cars by building more charging stations.

From the Grand Rapids Press:

The West Michigan Strategic Alliance is proposing the development of at least 4,000 charging stations across eight counties. Alliance President Greg Northrup is seeking approval from county boards in Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon for the project, which would be financed through the sale of bonds and be repaid over a 10-year period.

“We’ve got $3 billion invested in battery projects in West Michigan,” Northrup said. “Why shouldn’t we have the infrastructure to go with it?”

So those are 4,000 proposed electric charging stations.

How can you find charging stations that are online now?

Google and the U.S. Department of Energy to the rescue. You can enter your address on the DOE's website to find alternative fueling stations near you.

Fast Company says "eventually, this Google/DOE partnership will serve as the primary EV charging station data source for GPS and mapping systems (like the one that may be in your car already)."

Midland, Mich. (AP) - Dow Chemical Co. and Japanese chemical company Ube Industries Ltd. said Wednesday they've agreed to form a joint venture to manufacture electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries
which are increasingly being used in cars among other things.

The 50-50 joint venture, named Advanced Electrolyte Technologies LLC, is expected to be finalized later this year pending regulatory approval.

Dow said the joint venture will allow it to expand its alternative energy offerings.

"The growing demand for alternative energy production and energy storage systems places technologies such as advanced batteries for electric/hybrid vehicles and power generation at the very center of the global mega-trends," said Heinz Haller, Dow executive vice president and chief commercial officer.

The joint venture's first manufacturing facility is expected to be built at Dow's home base in Midland, Mich. for startup next year.

user anthonares / Flickr

TOKYO (AP) - Toyota Motor Corp. says it will recall 82,200 hybrid vehicles in the U.S. due to computer boards with possibly faulty wiring.

The company's U.S. subsidiary said Wednesday it will conduct a safety recall that involves some Highlander and Lexus brand hybrid SUVs from its 2006 and 2007 lines.

Toyota said the recall covers just the vehicles sold in the U.S., and other models are not affected.

The car giant said in a press release that soldering in a control board in the vehicles' hybrid system is inadequate and could be damaged during high-load driving.

Toyota was recovering from recalls that eventually reached 14 million vehicles worldwide, when it was hit by production disruptions from parts shortages due to the massive earthquake that struck Japan in March.

According to the Detroit Free Press, a spokesperson for an auto group is pushing back on a 56 miles-per-gallon efficiency requirement that the White House said may go into effect for 2025.

From the Detroit Free Press:

While Detroit’s automakers themselves are staying publicly mum so far on what they think of a 56-miles-per-gallon fuel economy target by 2025 floated by the White House last week, other interest groups are already weighing in.

Bailey Wood, a spokesman for the National Association of Auto Dealers, said that requiring an average of 56 m.p.g. for cars and light trucks would “mean a tremendous shift in the types of vehicles consumers would be able to buy,” and could price some consumers out of the market for smaller cars.

“To meet that goal, 55% of market share would be hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles, according to the Center for Automotive Research,” Wood said in a statement, noting that such vehicles made up less than 3% of what U.S. consumers bought last year.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Greg Mason / Flickr

Chrysler says it will invest $114 million in the Trenton North engine plant and save about 268 jobs.

From Reuters:

Chrysler will repurpose about one-fifth, or 400,000-square feet, of the Trenton North engine plant to make parts for the Pentastar engine made at the Trenton South plant.

The plant was closed last month, but the need for these parts has increased as Chrysler replaces seven V-6 engines with the new Pentastar V-6 engine, Brian Harlow, head of powertrain manufacturing said in a statement.

"This investment has also given Trenton North, which has been building engines for nearly 60 years, a new lease on life," Harlow said.

The city of Trenton gave Chrysler some tax breaks in exchange for investing in and reopening part of the Trenton North engine plant.

Crain's Detroit Business reports the tax break as a "50 percent tax abatement for Chrysler for 12 years."

Trenton Mayor, Gerald Brown, said he's happy Chrysler has given the plant a new lease on life. From the Detroit News:

Trenton Mayor Gerald Brown said the city is thrilled Chrysler is reopening the plant...

On Monday, the Trenton City Council approved a tax break for the $114 million project.

"My administration worked very hard to come to an agreement that will provide the city with long-term stability at the site, additional jobs and tax base improvements while further enhancing the relationship that Trenton and Chrysler have enjoyed since the 1950s. Trenton truly is Chrysler Town and we are proud of it," Brown said.

Honda

The Japanese automaker saw profits fall sharply as it struggled to reorganize in the wake of the earthquake and tsunamis that struck the island nation last March.

From the Associated Press:

TOKYO (AP) - Honda says profit for the fiscal year through March 2012 is expected to plunge 63.5 percent as vehicles sales slipped amid a parts shortage caused by the quake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.

Honda Motor Co. gave the forecast Tuesday, more than a month later than usual. Like other Japanese automakers, the maker of the Odyssey minivan and the Fit compact needed more time to assess the
aftermath of the March 11 disaster.

Honda is projecting a profit of $2.4 billion for the fiscal year ending March 2012, down sharply from the previous fiscal year.

Reuters reports that Honda released the numbers later than usual:

Honda, like other Japanese automakers, had delayed providing financial forecasts because of uncertainty over when parts supplies would recover after the magnitude 9.0 quake in Japan's northeast. In late April, it announced a 52 percent drop in January-March operating profit after production came to a virtual halt in the second half of March.

"These figures are pretty bad," said Koichi Ogawa, chief portfolio manager at Daiwa SB Investments in Tokyo, adding they could temporarily push Honda's stock lower.

Fumihiko Ike, Honda's chief financial officer, said the company plans to ramp up production in the second half of the year to make up for losses - that includes boosting production at its U.S. facilities in Indiana and Alabama "to achieve a more than 20 percent output rise beyond autumn."

TOKYO (AP) - Toyota says its profit for the fiscal year through March 2012 will fall 31 percent to 280 billion yen ($3.5 billion) in an outlook that underlines a robust recovery in the latter half of the fiscal year from the damage of an earthquake and tsunami.

Toyota Motor Corp. made the announcement Friday. It had not given an earnings forecast earlier because of uncertainties in its production outlook after the disasters on March 11 wiped out key parts suppliers in northeastern Japan.

Last month, it said January-March quarterly profit crumpled more than 75 percent because of the parts shortage that is hurting production.

Chevrolet

When it comes to fuel economy, Roger Clark says, "how you drive matters."

Roger is a fuel economy expert with Chevrolet. He has a few tips for getting more miles per gallon without buying a new car. We tested his driving style against Monte Doran’s, also with Chevy. Roger and Monte drove matching Chevy Cruzes and took identical routes. Both did a little highway and a little city driving on a weekday around 5pm. Roger followed his own fuel saving tips and Monte did exactly the opposite.

Ford Motor Company

In the car world, engine size matters. It used to be the bigger the engine the more appeal it had (more power, and more vrooom!).

But now Ford is going small by announcing the "the smallest engine Ford has ever built."

Ford says the fuel-efficient 1.0-liter engine is a "three cylinder engine that delivers the same performance as a four-cylinder."

Ford says the engine is still being tweaked and is not in cars yet.

Emilio Labrador / Flickr

Late payments on auto loans hit their lowest level since 1999 in the first quarter, providing more data that shows consumers have gotten a handle on their debt.

TransUnion said the rate of payments that are 60 days or more past due reached its lowest point since the credit reporting agency began tracking the figure, dropping to 0.49 percent.

The improvement from 0.66 percent a year ago reflects the stronger auto sales market, which is being fed by higher consumer confidence and low interest rates, says Peter Turek of TransUnion. The number of auto loans started during the quarter rose 22 percent from the prior year.

TransUnion expects late payments to continue to drop this year.

Steve Carmody

It's your turn to chime in on the auto bailouts - online or on-air.

Today, in the second hour of the public radio call-in program Talk of the Nation, host Neal Conan will ask the question "was the auto industry bail out worth it?"

It will air on Michigan Radio today at 3 p.m.

Here's how the show's producers phrase the question:

When taxpayers bailed out GM and Chrysler, many complained it was waste of money, and not the right role of government. Now, Chrysler pays off the last of its $10 billion loan with interest. After GM paid down billions that it borrowed from the US treasury. The auto industry bail out-- was it worth it? Next Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

You can call the program at (800) 989-8255 - and here's the inside scoop on how best to get on the air. You can also send the show's producers comments or questions online.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported that U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner recently said the the government will most likely lose money on its investment in the domestic auto industry, but making money on the investments was never the main goal - Geithner said they had two objectives:

"One is to get these companies back in private hands as quickly as we can, it makes no sense for the government to be in there a day longer than is necessary, but we also want to recover as much of the taxpayers’ money as possible."

So what do you think? Were the bailouts worth it?

epa.gov

It's probably the second sticker you look at (the first being the price sticker).

The new fuel economy and environment labels will take effect with model year 2013 cars and trucks. The EPA is calling the new labels "the most dramatic overhaul to fuel economy labels since the program began more than 30 years ago."

The new labels show more information about fuel economy, such as predicted annual fuel costs (based on $3.70 per gallon), and how much in fuel you would save compared to an average car (an "average" car's mpg is set at 22 mpg). The labels also give a greenhouse gas rating, and a smog rating.

And it wouldn't be an updated label without a way to load it into your smarty-pants phone. Here's a video from the EPA on how that works:

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