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In its April auto issue, the magazine Consumer Reports calls the Chevy Volt is a "tough sell."

It's not the kind of review GM has been accustomed to after the car was released with much fanfare.

The Volt was named "Car of the Year" at the Detroit Auto Show.

The Detroit News says that harsh review from Consumer Reports questions whether the car makes "economic sense."

David Champion, the senior director of Consumer Report auto testing center said:

"When you are looking at purely dollars and cents, it doesn't really make a lot of sense. The Volt isn't particularly efficient as an electric vehicle and it's not particularly good as a gas vehicle either in terms of fuel economy. This is going to be a tough sell to the average consumer."

The car costs around $40,000, but with a government tax credit (a credit some lawmakers want to turn into a rebate) the cost comes down to around $33,500.

The criticism came from the car's range in cold weather. The Volt's electric motor range is 40 miles under normal driving conditions, but that range dropped significantly when Consumer Reports tested the car in Connecticut this winter - the range dropped to 25 to 27 miles on electric power alone.

A GM spokesman said his range was better in cold weather. Again, from the Detroit News article:

GM spokesman Greg Martin noted that it's been an extremely harsh winter — and as a Volt driver he said he's getting 29-33 miles on electric range. But he noted that in more moderate recent weather, the range jumped to 40 miles on electric range or higher.

Other criticisms of the Volt were its 5-hour charging time, and a heating system that leaves your hands and feet cold.

The magazine gave the Volt praise for its acceleration and for its "taut yet supple ride."

USA Today reports that in the April auto issue, Consumer Reports gives foreign automakers Honda and Subaru top honors with Ford positing the "largest gain" in rankings overall.

IFCAR / wikimedia commons

If you own a Toyota or a Lexus, your floor mat or the floor carpet could inadvertently help you put the pedal to the metal.

Toyota has announced two recalls and has amended it's 2009 "Potential Floor Mat Interference Recall."

Altogether, more than 2 million vehicles are involved.

The company says the recalls are "voluntary," but the federal government says it requested that Toyota recall these additional vehicles after their investigation into Toyota's unintended acceleration problems.

From USA Today:

This should be the end of it, according to NHTSA administrator David Strickland. "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reviewed more than 400,000 pages of Toyota documents to determine whether the scope of its recalls for pedal entrapment was sufficient. As a result of the agency's review, NHTSA asked Toyota to recall these additional vehicles, and now that the company has done so, our investigation is closed."

Here are the cars involved in the recalls and amended recalls:

  • Lexus GS 300 - model year 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus GS 350 All-Wheel Drive - model year 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus  RX 330 - model year 2004 through 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus RX 350 - model year 2004 through 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus RX 400h - model year 2004 through 2006 and early 2007
  • Highlander - model year 2004 through 2006
  • Highlander HV- model year 2004 through 2006
  • 4Runners - model year 2003 through 2009
  • Lexus LX 570 - model year 2008 through 2011
  • RAV4 - model year 2006 through 2010

You can also check to see whether your car is recalled by entering your Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN on Toyota's website.

The company says Toyota and Lexus dealers will implement the new and amended recalls at no charge to the vehicle owners.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton is following this story and will have an update later today.

collection.chrysler.com

For $29.95 you can continue the buzz that started with the "Imported from Detroit" Super Bowl ad.

Chrysler is selling t-shirts with the "Imported from Detroit" logo on its Chrysler Collection website ('imported' from the USA, according to the website).

The Detroit Free Press asked a Chrysler spokesperson if the design will be on other items:

Chrysler spokeswoman Dianna Gutierrez said, “It’s too early to discuss. I don’t have any formal details to share at this time.”

The epic two-minute ad is still running on television in edited down one-minute and 30 second versions.

Jeffrey Simms Photography / Flickr

Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin says he will introduce legislation next week in Congress to create electric vehicle charging stations on Capitol Hill.

As the Associated Press reports, "Levin says establishing the charging stations at no cost to the federal government would help encourage electric cars in the Capitol complex... Levin has said he plans to buy a Chevrolet Volt, General Motors' rechargeable electric car."

Earlier this week, Michigan's other Democratic Senator, Debbie Stabenow, said she planned to introduce legislation that would change government incentives for buying electric cars.

Currently, the incentive for buying an electric vehicle comes when you file your taxes in the form of a tax credit. Stabenow's legislation, the Charging America Forward Act, would give consumers a rebate of up to $7,500 at the time of purchase.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reported on Stabenow's plan earlier this week:

Currently, cars that qualify for the full rebate include the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf, and the Tesla Roadster. Coda and Wheego also make an electric vehicle that qualifies for the credit. Ford, Fiat and Toyota plan to launch electric plug-in cars within the next year.

Stabenow’s legislation would also commit the federal government to spend two billion dollars to help companies that make advanced lithium ion batteries for vehicles. That’s on top of the two billion dollars the federal government has already spent to help the new industry. 

The Congresswoman admits the legislation is being proposed during a tough budget year, but, she said, "I think that strategic investments in innovation like battery innovation and manufacturing equals jobs – and so I’m hopeful that this will be a priority."

Michigan received the lion’s share of the last round of federal grants for advanced battery development– more than one billion dollars.  Michigan now has more advanced battery companies than any other state.

Rich Evenhouse / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

Profit-sharing checks to GM's 45,000 workers are expected to break a record. The news comes as GM is tallying its profit numbers for 2010. The company will release the amount of the checks soon.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

General Motors Co. is planning to pay its hourly workers in the U.S. at least $3,000 each in profit-sharing payouts, the largest amount ever, after the company's return to profitability in 2010, people familiar with the matter said...The auto maker is trying to tow the line between fiscal prudence and expectations that it will share recent gains with workers as the company heads into labor negotiations with the United Auto Workers.

Other U.S. automakers are also sharing the wealth.

Ford Motor Company paid hourly workers more than $5,000, "more than the company was required to pay under the profit-sharing formula in its contract with the UAW," according to the Wall Street Journal.

And Chrysler gave their workers $750 despite the company's losses in 2010.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the checks are expected to be handed out in the months ahead, and the size of the checks could help the automaker in its negotiation with the United Auto Workers union. From the Freep:

The Detroit Three, which will negotiate new labor contracts with the UAW this year, may be giving higher-than-required payments to autoworkers as part of a strategy to convince the rank and file to keep labor costs flat in return for bigger profit sharing in the future, labor experts previously told the Free Press.

Rebecca Bolwitt / Flickr

After a ten-month investigation, the results are in.

From the Associated Press:

A government investigation into Toyota safety problems has found no electronic flaws to account for reports of sudden, unintentional acceleration. Transportation officials and engineers with NASA say two mechanical safety defects previously identified by the government - sticking accelerator pedals and gas pedals that can become trapped in floor mats - are the only known causes for the reports of runaway Toyotas. Both issues were the subject of large recalls by Toyota.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the department's 10-month study has concluded there is no electronic-based cause of unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas.

Toyota has recalled more than 12 million vehicles globally since fall 2009 for a series of safety issues. The company has denied that electronics are to blame.

The "Imported from Detroit" commercial stirred a lot of pride around these parts, and on Michigan Radio's Facebook page.

We posted it last night and the "likes" and comments about pride started flowing:

  • "Gave me chills and made me proud to be a born in Detroiter."
  • "This is the kind of thing we need for our area. This commercial gave me goose bumps."
  • "Great commercial! I'm proud to be from Michigan!"
  • "Chills...I almost started crying! But, I have had almost 14 beers."

Just up I-96, the profs at MSU's Department of Advertising, Public Relations, and Retailing, who release an annual ranking of Super Bowl commercials, put the Chrysler ad in third place – tied with the ads from Audi, PepsiMax, Hyundai, and Bud-Light.

First and second place went to German car-maker Volkswagen (first went to the Darth Vader ad, and second went to the VW Beetle ad).

When I asked them, "why third?"  MSU instructor and the organizer behind the MSU rankings, Bob Kolt, said the margin between 1st and 3rd was quite small, "If a few professors had changed their ranking of the commercial slightly, it could have easily been put in the top spot."

Michigan Radio

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow plans to introduce legislation that would change government incentives for buying electric cars.

Right now, the incentive for the purchase of an electric car comes when you file your taxes in the form of a tax credit.

Stabenow's legislation, the Charging America Forward Act, would give consumers a rebate of up to $7,500 at the time of purchase.

The Senator says a rebate would do more to spur consumers to adopt electric vehicles. From Stabenow's statement:

"Michigan is already a leader in emerging hi-tech battery and electric car production. Other countries are acting to develop their own advanced vehicle markets because they realize the tremendous economic potential this new technology represents.  These initiatives will allow Michigan innovators to continue to out-compete the world and create new jobs here"

Naturally, GM spokesman Greg Martin says the company likes the rebate idea, saying "we are pleased to see Senator Stabenow's legislation that integrates all of the components necessary for successful acceleration of electric vehicles in the marketplace.  We look forward to working with Congress on legislation that leads to widespread adoption of electric vehicles."

The Associated Press says Stabenow also wants the incentives to go beyond just consumers:

Stabenow also wants tax credits for investments into electric vehicle recharging stations and for businesses that buy hybrid trucks. It also seeks more funding to develop the nation's advanced battery industry.

And the Detroit Free Press says this bill supports the Obama Administration's plan to get 1 million "plug-in or advanced-technology" cars on the road by 2015. The Freep says it's a goal that "can be reached only if it is supported by aggressive government incentives that also spur the development of infrastructure."

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton is following this story, and will have an update later today.

Toolshed4 / Flickr

Ford Motor Company is recalling nearly 365,000 F-150 pickup trucks in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. The problem is faulty door handles that could lead to the doors flying open in a crash.

The F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Most of the recalled trucks were made in the 2009 and 2010 model years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says a spring in the interior door handle can break, which means the door may not latch properly. So the door could potentially fling open if the truck is hit on the side.

Ford says there have been no crashes or injuries tied to the problem. Ford is also dealing with a large and expensive recall of nearly 600-000 older model Windstar minivans. That one is for corrosion in the axles that could cause the axles to break.

Auto workers get bonus checks

Feb 3, 2011
Jeff Wilcox / Flickr

Detroit automakers are preparing to send bonuses to workers around the region. Even some temporary workers will get a share of growing profits.
Terri Houldieson is technically a temp worker, or a "long-term supplemental employee." But she’ll still get a piece of Ford’s $6.6 billion profit from last year.

Workers like Houldieson should receive, on average, about $2,000 each compared to the $5,000 for regular employees.

"We’ve all put work in and it just shows that they respect us too. Kind of like a pat on the back," says Houldieson.

Ford employs a couple thousand long term temps and most work at assembly plants in Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Houldieson said she’ll buy some new clothes for her two boys, and maybe some expensive shoes to protect her feet during those long hours at the plant.

user citizenofthedeep / Flickr

Michigan Congressman Fred Upton met with the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce this morning during its "Legislative Connection Series" (tickets for the event went for $25 to $50).

The Kalamazoo Gazette reported that Upton talked about the future of energy in the country.

According to the report, Upton said gas prices might hit $4 a gallon by Memorial Day because of political instability and a moratorium on new off-shore drilling.

Higher gas prices, said Upton, will lead to more people buying up plug-in hybrid electric and fully electric cars. Something Upton feels the power grid is not ready for. From the article:

"We're going to need 30 to 40 percent more electricity by the end of the next decade, and we're not prepared," said Upton, Republican of St. Joseph.

Upton said he favors the development of more nuclear power plants and is going to look into why it takes so long to build a nuclear power plant in this country.

Tooshed4 / Flickr

Ford Motor Company announced this morning that it had its best annual performance in more than a decade. Ford earned $6.6 billion last year as sales jumped by 20 percent. Revenues rose 3 percent to almost $121 billion.

UPDATED:  11:40 a.m.  Ford CEO Alan Mulally says salaried and hourly workers will share in the good news in the form of profit-sharing checks.  Hourly workers will get average payments of $5,000.

"To be able to share the wonderful work, the wonderful success of this, with everybody's that's worked on quality, on fuel efficiency, on safety -- it's a tremendous day for all of us," says Mulally.

Ford made $7.2 billion dollars in 1999, but it sold nearly twice the number of vehicles to get that result compared to 2010.  Mulally says the company is benefiting from what he calls a "home improvement loan" of $23-billion, taken out in 2006, that financed the company's effort to slash operating costs and improve quality.

"You think about back then (1999) and now, this is a complete transformation of Ford," he says.

Mulally says the biggest challenge this year is not specifically a Ford problem.  He says the U.S. needs to exercise sound fiscal policy so the economy continues to recover.

Ford Motor Company is forecasting higher profits in 2011 than 2010. 

The company's stock dropped Friday morning, however, as investors reacted to Ford's fourth quarter results.  The company's profits were lower than expected because of costs associated with restructuring some debt.

Mulally says the company has made swift progress in paying off that "home improvement loan."  Debt was reduced 43% in 2010.

Democratic Congressman Sander Levin of Royal Oak
http://www.house.gov/levin/

A Michigan Congressman says U.S. automakers need more help to sell large numbers of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The Obama administration has set a goal of one million plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015.

There’s already a federal tax credit of $7,500 to help defray the cost of buying a hybrid or electric car.   But there’s a cap on how many of the credits are available to each automaker. 

user santoshkrishnan / wikimedia commons

The new GM has been turning a corner of late. It posted three profitable quarters last year:

  • $865 million in the first quarter
  • $1.6 billion in the second quarter
  • $2.1 billion in the third quarter

(still waiting on fourth quarter numbers)

Now, in another sign of financial health, the auto company says it will no longer seek government loans to help it modernize factories:

From the Associated Press:

Chicago Auto Show organizers like Detroit's trend

Jan 25, 2011
Chicago Auto Show

For the second year in a row, attendance at the North American International Auto Show increased.

It's not just good news for Detroit. It could also be good news for Chicago.

The 2011 Chicago Auto Show kicks off in two weeks.

Its organizers say they’re encouraged by the figures out of Detroit where 735,000 people attended this year’s show.

That’s about 20,000 more than last year.

It's not a huge increase, but it is a change from years of steady decline.
Paul Brian works with the Chicago Auto Show, which attracts a lot more people than the Detroit Auto Show. Brian says regional rivalries aside

"It's kind of like whether you’re Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines - everybody’s playing on the same team. If it’s good for the Detroit show, it’s good for Chicago, and New York, and LA, and it’s good for the industry."

After all, buzz is buzz.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Update 11:30 a.m.:

Steve Carmody called in with this update from the news conference:

GM announced that it will add 750 jobs to its Flint Assembly Plant by adding a third shift. No new hires will be made. The pool of workers will come from two places:

  1. people being reactivated from various layoff pools
  2. workers who would like to return to Flint after they were transferred to another plant

10:21 a.m.:

GM is planning a news conference at 10:30am this morning.

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit
Steve Carmody

More signs that China's economy is growing.

The Associated Press reports:

General Motors says it sold more cars and trucks in China last year than it did in the U.S. for the first time in its 102-year history.

The company sold 2.35 million vehicles in China. That's about 136,000 more than it sold in the U.S.

The AP report says GM sold 2.35 million vehicles in China - 136,000 more vehicles than it sold in the U.S. in 2010.

The country's population is 4 times bigger than the U.S. population (according to World Bank numbers):

  • China's population: 1,331,460,000
  • U.S. population: 307,006,550

With the New Year, Michigan Radio began a new series called, "What's Working." Every week, we'll take a look at an idea that's helping to improve the state's economy and our lives.

Today, we hear from Joe Faris, founder of Motor City Denim. When the auto industry downsized, auto suppliers were affected. Many of them lost business, got rid of employees, or even went into bankruptcy. What’s left are the suppliers' factories, and a highly-skilled workforce. Faris is working to mold the infrastructure of former, or smaller, auto suppliers into one that can support a fashion industry. Motor City Denim is now a subsidiary of TD Industrial Coverings. TD Industrial Coverings used to only manufacture protective coverings for the robots used to assemble cars. Now, TD industrial is getting ready to also make jeans.

You can listen to the interview here:

Roger Hart / Auto Week

Editors at Auto Week perused the offerings at the 2011 North American International Auto Show and named their top picks.

Executive Editor of Auto Week, Roger Hart, said the show had more than two dozen new models on display, and most had one thing in common:

 "There were no fancy, pie-in-the-sky, dreamlike concept cars. Nearly everything billed as a concept looked as if you could buy one tomorrow at your local dealership and drive it home."

Here are their picks:

BEST IN SHOW: Porsche 918 RSR Concept

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

At the Detroit International Auto Show, domestic automakers are celebrating a comeback of their industry. GM and Ford both saw profits last year, and the car makers are expecting a good year this year.

As more proof of the comeback, Bill Vlasic and Nick Bunkley report in the New York Times about profit-sharing checks that are expected to go to GM and Ford workers:

The two big Detroit carmakers will announce profit-sharing checks this month for their hourly workers, perhaps the largest in a decade, company officials and industry analysts say.

The checks are expected to top out at $5,000 at Ford, less at GM.

They report these checks "would be the biggest payout since the $8,000 checks that Ford handed out in 2000." Chrysler, the report says, is not expected to issue bonus checks this year.

General Motors

For people who follow the car business, the big news coming from the North American International Auto Show on Monday was no surprise.    

Still, GM employees enthusiastically cheered and applauded the announcement.

The Volt is GM’s extended range electric car.  GM has big plans riding on the electric car’s small frame.  In fact, the Volt is more than a car for GM. It’s an entire strategy.

Ford Motor Company

Not to be outdone by GM and Nissan, Ford Motor Company says it is delivering on a promise to make more small, fuel-efficient cars for consumers.

At the North American International Auto Show today, the company is showcasing 10 new "C-segment" cars. The company says the vehicles are "fuel efficient smaller cars that people really want."

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody was up early this morning taking some pictures at the auto show. You can scroll through them above, or check out this little video below:

The 'press preview' of the auto show is taking place today and tomorrow.  The show opens to the public on Saturday, January 15th.

user mariodo / wikimedia commons

The winner of the coveted North American Car and Truck of the Year Award will be announced Monday morning at the North American International Auto Show.

The awards are unique in the United States because -- instead of being given by a single media outlet -- they are awarded by a coalition of automotive journalists from the United States and Canada who represent magazines, television, radio, newspapers and web sites. 

The finalists for North American Car of the Year are:

Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Public Citizen / Flickr

Representative Nancy Pelosi, outgoing Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, will visit the North American International Auto Show next week in Detroit.

The Democratic Representative from California says she will visit the show on Monday, which is the first day of previews for the media.  The show opens to the public on January 15th and runs through January 23rd at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit.

As the Associated Press reports:

Pelosi says a string manufacturing base is vital to the nation's security and competitiveness. She says Detroit's automakers are central to efforts to grow a "clean, green economy."

The Detroit Free Press reports that Michigan Democratic Representative John Dingell invited Pelosi to the show.

The Fiat Multipla
user corvettec6r / Wikimedia Commons

The auto analysts have weighed in and the car that tops the list (all together now)... The Pontiac Aztek!

Former Car & Driver editor Csaba Csere says of the Aztec:

If you have ever heard that saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, the Aztek is the application of that concept to a car.

The Pontiac Aztek
IFCAR / Wikimedia Commons

We asked our Facebook friends to give us their picks for ugliest car of the past decade.

As Tanya M. says, "clearly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

That's true Tanya... except when it comes to the Pontiac Aztek (sorry Elizabeth C.!).

If our Facebook friends were stranded on a desert island with twelve strangers, and they were the last ones standing, clearly they would not appreciate being given an Aztek as a tribute to their survival skills.

One one expert calls it "the biggest auto verdict in the state this year."

Danielle Salisbury of the Jackson Citizen Patriot reports a jury awarded James Fairly and his wife Kimberley Fairley $3.5 million in pain and suffering as a result of traffic accident Mr. Fairly was in.

Zelda Richardson / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Perhaps another sign that the 'Great Recession' is thawing. Lending to people with a so-so credit score is on the uptick - at least in the car market.

The Associated Press reports "the percentage of loans going to subprime buyers rose 8% in the third quarter, their first year-over-year increase since 2007, according to a report issued Tuesday by Experian, a credit reporting agency."

Inside Chrysler's Sterling Heights Assembly Plant
Barack Obama's Flickr photostream

Update: 3:20pm:

The Detroit Free Press reports on what we expected from the announcement at Chrysler's Sterling Heights Assembly Plant.

Chrysler will add a second shift in early 2011 of about 900 additional workers. Many of those workers will be workers who are called back from temporary layoff.

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