auto

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."
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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.

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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.

Auto/Economy
11:33 am
Fri May 13, 2011

Chrysler moves up summer plant shutdowns to June

Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
user fiatontheweb creative commons

DETROIT (AP) - Chrysler is moving its normal summer shutdowns at three factories into June from the usual July closings because of parts shortages from the earthquake in Japan.

The company says its pickup truck plant in Warren, Mich., and its Toledo, Ohio, North assembly plant will be idled the weeks of June 20 and 27. Both plants had been scheduled to close the weeks
of July 11 and 18.

In addition, a Toledo parts operation will close the week of June 20 instead of July 11.

The company says its other plants will have their normal summer shutdowns in July and August.

Nearly all automakers have lost production due to parts shortages from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan. The quake damaged parts supply plants or knocked out electricity.

Auto/Economy
12:14 pm
Tue May 10, 2011

Car production in Japan could return to normal earlier than expected

Car production in Japan could return to normal earlier than expected.

From the Associated Press:

A report says Toyota's global car production, disrupted by parts shortages after Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami, will likely return to normal two to three months earlier
than expected.

Japan's top business daily Nikkei said Tuesday that Toyota's output will normalize earlier than the end of this year as parts shortages are easing. It didn't cite any sources.Toyota said last month its worldwide production will likely return to normal levels by November or December.

Toyota Motor Corp. spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto could not confirm the report.

The disasters destroyed many factories in northeastern Japan, causing severe parts shortages for Toyota and other automakers. The supply crisis has cost the company production of 400,000 vehicles in Japan, and 100,000 overseas.

Auto/Economy
2:12 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Stabenow and Peters push for investments in advanced auto technologies

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Congressman Gary Peters say the government should do more to help the auto industry mass-produce fuel-efficient technologies.

The two Democrats were at Bosch auto supplier headquarters in suburban Detroit today to urge Congressional support for the Advanced Vehicle Technology Act.

The bill would authorize $300 million a year for private sector fuel-efficiency research.

Peters says "this is just the right thing to do" with Michigan gas prices at record highs:

 "You’re going to hear a lot of ideas about drilling and other types of ideas, but really the best idea is to push the technology," said Peters. "Push innovation. And that’s what we do here in the Detroit area better than anybody else in the world, and that’s innovate with vehicles and automobiles."

Peters says the legislation has support from both environmental and business groups.

The bill passed the U.S. House with bipartisan support last year, but it couldn’t get through the Senate.

Auto/Economy
12:15 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Officials investigate fuel tank problem on F-150s

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking at Ford F-150s from the 1997 through 2001 model years. It's investigating a fuel tank problem that could affect more than 2.7 million pickup trucks.
user cogdogblog Flickr

The government is investigating the safety of some Ford F-150 trucks.

From the Associated Press:

U.S. safety regulators are investigating a fuel tank problem that could affect more than 2.7 million Ford F-150 pickup trucks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says on its website that the steel straps holding up the gas tank can rust and break, possibly causing a fuel spill and fire.

The agency says it is looking into trucks from the 1997 through 2001 model years. The F-150 is the top-selling vehicle in the U.S.

NHTSA says there are 243 reports of the tanks falling and causing two fires. No injuries have been reported.

The agency began looking at the problem last year when it had received 32 complaints.

Ford says it's cooperating with the investigation. Anyone with concerns should contact their dealer.

Auto/Economy
3:50 pm
Tue May 3, 2011

Automakers release sales numbers today

The Chrysler 200 helped lead the "best month for Chrysler Group mid-size sedans since March 2008."
IFCAR wikimedia commons

Sales numbers for April are coming in today, and there are more signs that the American public has pent up energy to buy new cars. As they did in 2008, higher gas prices are driving demand for smaller, fuel efficient cars. U.S. Automakers are more prepared for that demand this time around.

Update 3:50 p.m.

Chrysler announced the "best April sales since 2008" - a 22% increase compared with sales in April 2010. The company sold 95,703 cars in April.

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Auto/Economy
9:23 am
Thu April 28, 2011

Chrysler intends to repay government loans by end of June

Chrysler's headquarters in Aurburn Hill, Michigan. The company says it plans to pay back government loans by the end of June.
user fiatontheweb Flickr

Just ahead of a visit from U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Chrysler says it intends to pay back the government loans it received by the end of June. Geithner was one of the main architects of the government bailouts for Chrysler and GM.

From the Detroit News:

Chrysler Group LLC today confirmed its intention to repay its $7.4 billion in loans to the U.S. and Canadian governments by the end of June, as long as market and other conditions remain conducive.

In a statement prior to CEO Sergio Marchionne hosting a visit from U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner later today, Chrysler said it plans to repay its government loans with a new term loan facility and newly issued debt securities that will be sold to institutional investors in a private offering.

The Detroit Free Press reports Chrysler wants to pay back the debts because the interest rates on the government loans are high:
 

Marchionne has said he wants to refinance Chrysler’s debt because the interest rate is higher than commercial market rates. The effective interest on the borrowings from the U.S. is as high as 14% and as much as 20% on the Canadian debt.

In order to find investors, the Detroit News reports that senior executives will head out on a "road show" to court financial institutions. They report the automaker is currently working with Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp.

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Auto/Economy
11:34 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Ford makes out big in the first quarter

In the first three months of the year, Ford made $2.5 billion.
Marcus Wong Flickr

Ford Motor Company announced a profit of more than $2.5 billion in the first three months of the year.

That's the company's best quarterly performance since 1998.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally expects the rest of 2011 to be profitable as well - despite some headwinds like low U.S. consumer confidence and rising commodity and gas prices:

"Even though it's a slower recovery and the fuel prices are moving up, the demand is there and we are really pleased to have the product line that the consumers really do want and value."

Mulally says he's  optimistic that car sales will continue improving:

"In the automobile industry, the pentup demand is tremendous, you know the average age of car ownership is over ten years now."

Mulally says Ford also improved its balance sheet by reducing its debt by another $2.5 billion in the first quarter.

Ford took out a huge loan in 2006 before the recession.  That loan enabled the company to improve its cars during the economic downturn and avoid bankruptcy.

Since last year, the company has paid off $17 billion of debt.

Auto/Economy
3:30 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Report: Japanese automakers check exports for radiation

The aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Crippled nuclear power plants have fueled worries of radiation exposure.
Douglas Sprott Flickr

From the Associated Press:

An auto industry group says Japanese automakers have begun checking the level of radiation on cars to be exported from Japan amid a nuclear leak crisis.

Hirokazu Furukawa, a spokesman for the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said Friday the move was to ease worries among foreign consumers about radiation leaking from a tsunami-crippled nuclear power plant in northern Japan.

The automakers will inspect radiation inside a car and on its tires before shipment.

No radiation has been detected on cars to be exported from Japan, Furukawa said. Automakers are currently checking the level of radiation on cars to be shipped from eight ports.

Furukawa said around 10 cars out every 5,000 are being checked for radiation.

Auto/Economy
12:37 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Warren Mayor says GM likely to add more jobs in city

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts says GM will invest in its Powertrain facility and Tech Center in Warren, Michigan
Manoli Katakis creative commons

A final decision has not been made, but Warren Mayor Jim Fouts released a statement saying GM is considering two investments in its Technical Center and Powertrain Facility in Warren.

Fouts says the investments add up to $450 million and would create 426 new jobs.

From Fouts' statement:

"These possible projects are the result of several meetings between city representatives, including me, and GM officials. I cannot stress too much how important these new investments would be to our city. They mean more jobs and ultimately more tax revenues for Warren. I am confident GM will choose these locations for new investments because the corporation realizes Warren is a business-friendly community that will go the extra mile to encourage businesses to expand or relocate here."

The mayor said Warren became a city in 1957 because of the construction of GM's Tech Center in the city. And he encouraged other business to move there.

Auto/Economy
9:33 am
Thu April 21, 2011

Fiat moving closer to a majority stake in Chrysler

Chrysler Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
user fiatontheweb creative commons

Updated: 

News that Fiat will soon acquire a bigger stake in Chrysler is another sign the merger is working.

Jim Hall is president of  the auto consulting firm 2953 Analytics.  He says the merger benefits both companies.  Fiat gets access to the U.S. market and to Chrysler’s more profitable vehicles, and Chrysler gets access to Fiat's global markets and its fuel-saving technology. 

And the merger could save the companies money on parts.

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Auto/Economy
3:25 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Toyota announces more production cuts at North American plants

Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, after the earthquake. Toyota announced more production cuts today.
Takashi Nakano vis user tex texin Flickr

Parts shortages from Japan continue as Toyota announces more production cuts - from the Associated Press:

Toyota is extending production cuts at its North American factories through May because of parts shortages from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The company says production will be suspended in North America on Mondays and Fridays from April 26 through June 3. During the same period, plants will run at half capacity on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Toyota also said Tuesday that U.S. production will be suspended the week of May 30 after the Memorial Day holiday. Canadian production will be suspended the week of May 23 in conjunction with Victoria Day.

Plans after June 3 will be announced later. Toyota says no workers will be laid off.

The company last week announced Monday and Friday suspensions from April 15 to 25.

Detroit has the "Big Three," but Japan has the "Big Five" (Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Suzuki, and Mazda).

This info-graphic from the Globe and Mail captures how interconnected the Japanese auto economy is to the rest of the world.

Auto/Economy
11:17 am
Tue April 12, 2011

Fiat meets another benchmark - increases stake in Chrysler to 30%

You can buy the Fiat 500 in the U.S. More access to the U.S. market was one reason Fiat took over Chrysler.
Fiat USA

During the U.S. government led bailout in 2009, Fiat took over management control of Chrysler and was given a 20% stake in the company.

The government said Fiat's stake in Chrysler could increase to as much as 35% so long as they met three milestones.

Now, the Italian company now controls 30% of Chrysler after meeting the second milestone set forth by the U.S. government.

From the Detroit News:

Fiat SpA announced today it has increased its share in partner Chrysler Group LLC to 30 percent effective immediately.

The additional 5 percent stake is triggered automatically with Fiat's completion of the second of three performance-related conditions.

The first, achieved in January, was awarded for Chrysler's assembly in Dundee of a fuel-efficient Fiat engine.

The second condition was that the Italian automaker help Chrysler generate cumulative revenue of $1.5 billion outside North America and use Fiat's dealer network in Latin America to distribute Chrysler vehicles.

The third milestone, according to the Globe and Mail, is the development of a 40 mpg Dodge car built on a Fiat platform.

Once that milestone is reached, Fiat could solidify its ownership of Chrysler. From the Globe and Mail:

Dodge is developing a compact car on a Fiat platform that will reach 40 miles per gallon, which would satisfy the third test set by Treasury in 2009.

Mr. Marchionne told analysts on a conference call in October that he expected Fiat would meet all of the Treasury’s hurdles by the end of 2011.

The indications of progress are significant because the sooner Fiat can raise its Chrysler stake to 35 per cent, the quicker it could exercise an option to take majority ownership of the U.S. automaker.

The Detroit News reports that the current ownership of Chrysler breaks down this way:

  1. 59.2% - United Auto Workers retiree health care trust
  2. 30% - Fiat
  3. 8.6% - U.S. government
  4. 2.2% - Canada and Ontario governments combined
Auto/Economy
12:10 pm
Mon April 11, 2011

Automakers face engineer shortage

The auto industry is looking for more engineers.
Michael Gil wikimedia commons

Last year, many automakers brought in profits and announced that they would open up new factories and add new jobs.

But the industry is adding new jobs at a time when qualified candidates are hard to come by.

David Shepardson wrote about the shortage in the Detroit News today:

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Auto/Economy
12:00 pm
Mon April 11, 2011

Average gas price in Michigan is $3.86 per gallon

Michigan gas prices have been on the rise for 8 weeks straight
Futureatlast.com creativie commons

The average cost of gas in Michigan is $3.86. That’s nearly $1.00 more than it was this time last year.

Nancy Cain is a spokesperson for Triple-A Michigan. She says generally prices don’t go up this much so early into spring, "but this is our 8th weekly increase, and we’re seeing prices just going up."

Cain says the price at the pump follows the crude oil price, which she says is "topping $111-$112 a barrel. So that’s up to a 2.5-year high."

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Auto
10:58 am
Wed March 30, 2011

Michigan Radio's auto-beat reporter tries out the assembly line

Tracy Samilton on the "assembly line". The reporters "recorded 22 safety 'incidents' in 20 minutes."
Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio’s auto-beat reporter Tracy Samilton spent the day yesterday at General Motors’ Orion assembly plant outside of Pontiac.

Samilton was one of 16 reporters who were invited by GM and the UAW to see just what it takes to build a car.

Joanne Muller was one of the other reporters on the scene. In a blog-post published today on Forbes.com Muller writes, “After spending half a day learning how to put together an automobile, I have this to say: it is not as easy as it looks.”

In the post, titled, “My New Appreciation for the American Auto Worker,” Muller explains:

My job was to use a power tool to attach front and rear “bumpers” on a wooden mock-up of a car as it rolled down the assembly line. Then later, I swapped jobs with a coworker and began installing “headlights” and “tail lights."

I was, in a word, terrible at it.

But, it wasn’t just Muller who couldn’t keep up. Apparently, our very own Tracy Samilton had some troubles of her own. Muller writes:

The other journalists were just as bad, or worse, at their jobs. Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton and I were like Lucy and Ethel trying to keep up in the candy factory. She dropped a “bumper” on the floor, meaning the part had to be scrapped and our team would not meet its cost target. Safety was also lacking: the journalists recorded 22 safety “incidents” in 20 minutes — including a worker who was hit four times by a car coming down the line. At the end of our first 20-minute shift, we produced only 13 cars (instead of 18, our target), with a total of 25 defects, which meant we would have to return Saturday for unscheduled overtime to fix the faulty cars and meet our production goals. I learned that’s a very bad thing.

Samilton says the visit to the plant made her realize the pressure and deadlines that today’s factory workers are under, “and I thought it was hard being a reporter,” she noted.

Here's a video of Samilton at work:

Auto/Economy
10:08 pm
Tue March 29, 2011

Minivans fight "Loser Cruiser" stereotype with new sex appeal

The 2011 Nissan Quest

Pity the poor minivan. 

It hauls the family on vacations, never complaining.  

Carries the kids to school and soccer practice.  

Ever ready for a spontaneous trip to the hardware store, but does it get any respect? Nope. 

It gets called names. 

"Loser cruiser."

"Road slug."   

Well, if you make minivans, you can get mad.  Or like Toyota, you can embrace the situation with a tongue-in-cheek rap -- “The Swagger Wagon”  sung by an unhip, white, yuppie, suburban couple, with their two kids jammin' to the beat, next to a Sienna minivan.

"We rock the SE not the SUV, and it's true if I were you I'd be jealous of me, in the swagger wagon, yeah, the swagger wagon, I got the pride in my ride in the swagger wagon...."

Chrysler invented the minivan 27 years ago.  But after being wildly popular for years, the segment has lost customers, first to SUVS, then to crossovers. 

The people who design minivans are the first to admit they’re fighting an image problem.  And they’re doing something about it.  Chrysler has an optional all-black leather interior it nicknamed the “Man Van. “  All four of the biggest players – Honda, Chrysler, Toyota and Nissan – got minivan makeovers this year.  There’s more sculpting, more chrome, more creased sheet metal.  Even jaunty little fins.  Sage Marie is with Honda.    

"If you think of what makes a sports car compelling, it’s that its low and wide, that's what makes it emotionally exciting.  So from a styling standpoint we tried to do that with the Odyssey."

In your FACE, sports car owners.  And cue another tongue-in-cheek song about minivans, this time a Beach Boys-style parody by the Austin Lounge Lizards.

"Hey, little minivan, we're going to the grocery store!/She's got an automatic tranny with overdrive and the radio's tuned to Magic 95/ She gets 30 miles on a gallon of gas and  I can schlep all the girls to gymnastics class/Hey little minivan, we're goin' to the children's museum!"

Well, upping the cool factor may help.  But people really buy minivans for comfort,  convenience, and practicality.  The sliding doors, all that space.  And the seats. 

Minivan designers take fierce pride in their seating configurations.   Honda’s Odyssey has a second row middle seat you can slide really close to the front seat.  That puts the baby within arm’s reach of a parent.  For Chrysler, the bragging point is “Stow and Go seats,”  which, in a matter of a few seconds, can be neatly folded and pushed into a compartment in the floor.

Fold all the seats down and there’s enough room for a refrigerator or two.   But one company thinks some customers could be willing to downsize a little, especially as gas hovers around $4.00 a gallon.  Ford Motor Company’s new small people-mover, the C-Max, will seat seven.  It will have sliding doors.  But Ford’s Paul Anderson says it will get car-like fuel economy.  Just don’t call it a minivan.

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