auto

Auto/Economy
3:20 pm
Thu July 21, 2011

U.S. government ends Chrysler investment; Fiat takes over

The U.S. government is no longer invested in Chrysler.
Ricardo Giaviti Flickr

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.

Auto/Economy
12:40 pm
Wed July 20, 2011

UAW chief to push for bigger profit-sharing checks

In a 2007 photo from left, Bob King (current UAW President) is with Ron Gettelfinger, (former UAW President), Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company, and Alan Mulally, President and CEO, Ford Motor Company.
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.

Economy
12:47 pm
Tue July 19, 2011

AP analysis: Economic stress rises in Midwest

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.

Economy
12:36 pm
Wed July 13, 2011

Russian steelmaker gets US loan for Michigan plant

Making steel at the Severstal North America plant in Dearborn.
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.

Auto/Economy
11:46 am
Wed July 13, 2011

Developing electric vehicle charging stations (and where you can find them now)

The location of electric charging stations online now in Michigan.
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)."

Auto/Economy
11:27 am
Wed July 6, 2011

Dow Chemical teams up to make battery electrolytes

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.

Auto/Economy
10:14 am
Wed June 29, 2011

Toyota to recall 82,200 vehicles in the US

The safety recall involves some Highlander and Lexus brand hybrid SUVs from its 2006 and 2007 lines.
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.

Auto/Economy
4:18 pm
Mon June 27, 2011

Auto dealer group responds to 56 miles-per-gallon efficiency goal

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

Auto/Economy
1:00 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Chrysler to reopen part of plant in Trenton, Michigan

Increased demand for Chrysler's Pentastar V6 engine helped to reopen part of the Trenton North engine plant.
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.

Auto/Economy
10:28 am
Tue June 14, 2011

Honda profits plunge as it seeks to recover from earthquake

The remodeled Honda Civic was supposed to be a big sales driver, but Honda has had to scale back its release. Reuters says the company won't go back to "full production of the best-selling model until after summer."
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."

Auto/Economy
2:36 pm
Fri June 10, 2011

Toyota expects fiscal year profit to fall 31 percent

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.

Auto
10:11 am
Tue June 7, 2011

Drivers have big impact on gas mileage

Poor driving, a trunk full of junk, and flags on the roof can adversely affect your miles-per-gallon.
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.

Read more
Auto/Economy
2:33 pm
Thu June 2, 2011

Ford announces its smallest engine ever

A Ford Focus being built in Germany. Ford's not saying yet which cars will get their new 1.0-liter, three-cylinder engine.
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.

Read more
Auto/Economy
1:20 pm
Tue May 31, 2011

First quarter late payments on auto loans lowest since 1999

Fewer late payments on auto loans.
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.

Auto/Economy
12:36 pm
Wed May 25, 2011

Were the auto bailouts worth it? (poll)

The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee has won awards and is one of the vehicles contributing to Chrysler's resurgence. The company announced that it paid off it's TARP loans yesterday. Today, a public radio program is asking whether the bailouts were worth it.
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?

Environment
11:44 am
Wed May 25, 2011

Government unveils new fuel economy labels for cars and trucks

The new EPA label will have more information about fuel economy, and will rate cars and trucks on smog and greenhouse gas emissions. The labels will be on model year 2013 vehicles.
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:

Read more
Auto/Economy
10:14 am
Wed May 25, 2011

General Motors to add 2,500 jobs at Detroit-area factory

General Motors' headquarters in downtown Detroit. GM's North American president, Mark Reuss says the company "is dedicated to helping rebuild this city."
user paul (dex) Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - General Motors Co. will add 2,500 jobs at a Detroit-area factory that now makes electric cars, investing $69 million so the plant can make two new Chevrolet sedans.

The factory, which straddles the border between Detroit and the small enclave of Hamtramck, now makes the Chevrolet Volt and its European counterpart, the Opel Ampera.

But GM announced on Wednesday that it will upgrade the factory so that it can run around the clock making the new Malibu midsize car and a revamped version of the aging Impala large sedan.

About 1,200 of the jobs will be new hires, since GM still has to recall about 1,300 laid-off workers in the U.S.

But in Michigan, which has among the highest unemployment rates in the nation, 1,200 new jobs is big news.

GM announced on May 10 that it would create or keep about 4,000 jobs by investing $2 billion in 17 factories in eight states.

The Detroit-Hamtramck announcement adds to previous expansion announcements in Bowling Green, Ky.; Toledo, Ohio; and Flint and Bay City, Mich.

"Filling this plant with new work is very satisfying because GM is dedicated to helping rebuild this city," Mark Reuss, the company's North American president, said in a statement.

GM said last week it would shut the plant down for four weeks starting in June, reconfiguring it to increase Volt and Ampera production from 16,000 cars per year to 60,000 next year in order to meet strong demand.

The shutdown also will let GM add equipment to build the 2013 Malibu midsize sedan at the plant starting next year. The car also will be built in Kansas City, Kansas.

In addition, GM said it will build a long-overdue new version of the Impala at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant.

GM will stop producing two other big cars at the factory, the Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne, later this year.

Auto/Economy
3:12 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Chrysler celebrates after paying back government loans

Chrysler CEO Marchionne said "we owe a debt of gratitude to those whose intervention allowed Chrysler Group to re-establish itself as a strong and viable carmaker."
user socialisbetter Flickr

Chrysler got itself out from under the higher interest loans from the U.S. and Canadian governments today - sooner than it had planned to.

Company officials are celebrating today at Chrysler's Sterling Heights assembly plant.

From the Detroit News:

The automaker has repaid $5.1 billion in loans, as well as $1.8 billion in interest and other fees, releasing Chrysler from all monetary commitments to the governments less than two years after the bailouts kept them in business. Chrysler went to the capital market for lower-interest financing to get out from under the government loans that carried interest rates as high as 20 percent. The refinancing — which is much like refinancing a home mortgage — will save more than $300 million annually.

In a statement, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said: 

Chrysler’s early repayment of its outstanding TARP loans is an important step in the turnaround of this company and the resurgence of the auto industry. Because President Obama made the tough decision to stand behind and restructure the auto industry, America’s automakers are growing stronger, making new investments, and creating new jobs today throughout our nation’s industrial heartland."

The U.S. Treasury gave a total of $12.5 billion to Chrysler under TARP’s Automotive Industry Financing Program. After today's payment, Treasury officials say "Chrysler has returned more than $10.6 billion of that amount to taxpayers through principal repayments, interest, and canceled commitments." The U.S. Treasury continues to hold a 6.6 percent stake in Chrysler. Those shares could be sold when Chrysler's stock goes public or if the Treasury decides to sell its shares to another investor. In their statement today, Treasury officials said the government is "unlikely to fully recover its remaining outstanding investment of $1.9 billion in Chrysler."

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Auto/Economy
11:33 am
Tue May 17, 2011

Ford to expand engine plant in India

The Ford Figo is sold in India. The company plans to expand an engine plant in Chennai, India.
user Ford APA Flickr

Ford Motor Company plans to expand one of its engine plants in India.

From the Associated Press:

Ford Motor Co. says it will spend $72 million to expand an engine plant in India to support sales and export growth.

The company said today the investment in its Chennai engine plant will create more than 300 jobs. Ford plans to run the factory on three shifts per day.

Read more
Auto
4:59 pm
Mon May 16, 2011

Owners of auto parts company charged with fraud

CHESTERFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Two brothers whose Michigan company supplies parts to the auto industry have been charged with fraud in an investigation of the quality of plastic.

Orman and David Bernhardt of Davalor Mold are accused of using less expensive materials than required in seat belt assemblies and then covering it up through false reports.

The fraud charge was filed Monday. Their lawyer is Bob Sheehan, and he says a guilty plea is planned.

He says there's "absolutely no safety issue." Sheehan says the parts were tested by federal regulators.

Davalor Mold is in Macomb County's Chesterfield Township, about 30 miles northeast of Detroit. The company works for Tier I auto suppliers, which supply parts for automakers. The alleged scheme lasted for two years until spring 2010.

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