Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio

Detroit automakers are introducing cars at this year’s Detroit Auto Show that could help them make gains against foreign-based competitors. 

Ford Motor Company is unveiling its new Fusion, hoping to topple the traditional midsize sedan leaders, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.  

The Fusion will also come in hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions, with the plug-in getting the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon.  

Ford CEO Alan Mulally says the company sold a record number of Fusions in 2011 -

"It had its best sales year ever," Mulally told reporters after revealing the Fusion at Joe Louis Arena.  "So the new Fusion is going to build on that success and be very, very popular with consumers."

But Ford Executive Chairman, Bill Ford, Jr., says the company is not going to pursue an increase in market share for the coveted midsize sedan segment just for the sake of market share.

"We are not going to play that volume game," he says.  "If it happens organically, great, but we don’t have some magic number on the wall that we’re all pushing toward."

Meanwhile, Cadillac on Sunday introduced a new small luxury vehicle, the ATS, to compete against BMW and Mercedes Benz.   GM North American President Mark Reuss says the car is a "true driver's car," and can compete head to head with the Mercedes Benz C class and the BMW 3 series.

BMW North America head Ludwig Willisch says a new competitor is always a concern, but he's confident that upgrades to the new 3-series will enable the company to keep its leadership position.

For its part, Chrysler introduced a new small car called the Dodge Dart.  The car will compete against small cars made both by its Detroit rivals and foreign-based companies including Toyota, Honda and Hyundai.

General Motors says it will modify all of its Volt models. The announcement comes after federal side-crash tests resulted in three battery fires.

The fires occurred up to three weeks after the tests when coolant leaked into the cars' batteries.

There has been no recall of  GM’s electric Volt, but the automaker is voluntarily asking owners to bring their cars in for a fix.

"We've added some structure that allows the load to be spread, so it doesn't cause intrusion into the battery pack or coolant leak," says Mary Barra,  GM’s senior vice president of Global Product Development.

GM sold about 8,000 Volts in the U.S. over the past two years. No fires have been reported by customers.

Volt owners will be notified when dealers get the repair parts – probably in February. GM says the modification should not take more than a day and a loaner car will be provided.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saab filed for bankruptcy in Sweden on Monday after its former owner, General Motors, opposed a plan that could have bailed the company out. 

Saab developed severe cash flow problems almost immediately after GM sold it to a Dutch company, Spyker. Saab had to stop making cars this year while it sought new investors. 

The company found a buyer in China, but GM  said no to the deal.   

Selling the company triggered contract clauses that required GM to sign off on transfers of technology used in many Saab vehicles.

A GM spokesman said the company didn't want to lose control of its technology and allow Saab to become a competitor's shortcut into the thriving auto industry in China.

AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan says there's now little hope the quirky little brand can be saved.  

"[Saab] was a vehicle that could easily be seen on the road as a Saab," says Sullivan. "It could never be mistaken for anything else, and I think we’re losing an iconic design."

Saab sold only a few thousand cars in the U.S. last year.

United Auto Workers members are voting on whether to authorize a strike at General Motors’ Lansing Delta Township plant.   The vote centers on several workplace issues.   

The Delta Township plant produces the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave.  Tracy Handler is an analyst with IHS Global Insight.    She says if UAW members strike at the Lansing plant, the effect would not be immediate on GM.   

Associated Press / Associated Press

Former GM Chairman John Smale led the company from late 1992 until the end of 1995. He died today in Cincinnati at the age of 84. He was a board member of the automaker for more than two decades starting in  1982.

Smale also led Cincinnati based Procter & Gamble from 1981 to 1990.

The Canadian with German ancestry graduated from Miami University (Ohio) in 1949. He joined P&G in 1952, working for what was then called the toilet goods division. He rose through the company, becoming president in charge of all U.S. operations in 1974 and chief executive in 1981. He added the chairmanship in 1986.

During his tenure, Smale moved P&G businesses into new markets in huge developing countries such as China, setting the stage for P&G's rapid growth in Asia in recent years. P&G also acquired Richardson-Vicks, which broadened the P&G portfolio to include Pantene shampoo, Olay skin cream and Vicks cough medicines, which are major brands today. In a smaller acquisition, P&G obtained the CoverGirl makeup brand that also is still growing.

At GM, Smale help change the structure of the automaker's management and put a renewed focus on customers.

The heads of two of Detroit’s car companies say they’re concerned about the debt crisis in Europe. 

European consumers are pulling back from buying cars because of fears about the Euro and the economy.   

Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne on Wednesday said he’s hopeful the new leadership in Italy will help turn things around in that country.  But he says car sales in Europe could worsen through next year.   

At the Detroit Economic Club Thursday, GM CEO Dan Akerson said the crisis could damage more than car sales.  But he’s hopeful the U.S. economy has become more resilient.

"Could the United States withstand a recession in Europe?" he asked rhetorically.  "I think it could. "

Ford CEO Alan Mulally earlier this month took the most optimistic view, saying he expects some global economic growth next year, despite sovereign debt concerns.

General Motors made $1.7 billion in the third quarter of this year.

That's down from $2 billion in the same period of 2010.

Financial turmoil in Europe contributed to GM's continued losses in Europe, although GM did cut those losses in half compared to last year, to $300 million.

GM is also not doing particularly well in South America.  The company broke even in that region.  GM officials say that's due to increased competition in the region and an aging lineup there.

General Motors officials say the company will invest $215 million in the GM Saginaw Metal Casting Operation to tool the plant to build components for future GM vehicles. 

The plant makes engine blocks and cylinder heads for GM vehicles, including the Buick LaCrosse and Chevy Malibu.

GM says the investment will create or maintain 275 jobs at the plant, which currently employs 630 people.

Later today, Nexteer is expected to announce a large capital investment in its Saginaw operations. 

Governor Rick Snyder will attend both events today.

White House

President Obama will be in southeast Michigan today to promote a new  free trade agreement with South Korea.  President Obama is scheduled to tour General Motor’s assembly plant in Lake Orion.   South Korea’s president will accompany Obama. 

Congress this week approved a new free trade agreement with South Korea.  South Korea is the world’s 13th largest economy.  

The free trade pact is the largest such deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in the mid-90’s. 

Soaring rates of car ownership in China’s biggest cities are causing huge problems, from days-long traffic jams to choking smog. Even car companies say the trend is not sustainable. 

General Motors says one solution could be to reinvent the vehicle. Introducing the Miao, the Jiao, and the Shiao –  three cute, tiny cars with a serious mission.  

Car ownership in China has a dark side. Last year, a nine-day and a three-day construction-related traffic jam on the highway leading to Beijing were the most dramatic examples.

Analysts expect the auto industry to post very good sales numbers on Monday.  

IHS Global Insight automotive analyst Rebecca Lindland says September was a very good month at car dealerships.   She says the number of car buyers increased last month.  At the same time, Honda and Toyota were finally able to get more vehicles to showrooms, as the disruptive effects of last March’s earthquake and tsunami began to fade.

Union leaders at General Motors' factories across the U.S. are endorsing a tentative contract with the automaker. 

In an unprecedented press conference yesterday, UAW President Bob King discussed details of the 4-year-contract. The rank-and-file will vote in the coming days. General Motors is the first automaker to reach a deal with the UAW. And,  these negotiations are the first since the federal government stepped in to help GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy in 2009.

We caught up with Tracy Samilton, Michigan Radio's auto reporter, to talk about the tentative contract and what it means for GM, the UAW, and the state's economy.

There’s a great deal of celebration going on over the fact that General Motors and the United Auto Workers union have reached tentative agreement on a new, four-year contract.

In the old days, what this would have meant was speedy ratification, followed by a similar settlement with Chrysler within perhaps two weeks, and then Ford maybe a month later.

That was the era of pretty much one-size-fits all pattern bargaining agreements. But that was before the near-death and the resurrection of Chrysler and GM, and it’s now a different world.

I spent some time yesterday with one of the best industry analysts around -- Kristin Dziczek, who heads the labor and industry group at CAR, the non-profit Center for Automotive Research based in Ann Arbor. Dziczek knows the management spokesmen and the economists, and has friends and relatives who are in the UAW. She eats, breathes, and sleeps this stuff.

General Motors

Contract talks between the United Auto Workers and Chrysler and Ford continue this week, after GM became the first to settle on the terms of a tentative agreement with the union, late Friday.

Officials with the union and the automaker will release details of the contract on Tuesday at an 11:00 a.m. press conference.

The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press report that the GM contract probably includes a signing bonus for workers if they agree to the deal, and a pay increase for entry-level workers.

Plus, GM is expected to agree to add more jobs in the U.S.

Andrea_44 / Flickr

General Motors Co. and the United Auto Workers, sobered by the government bailout and bankruptcy at the automaker just two years ago, reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract without the public acrimony or strikes that have plagued the talks in the past.

General Motors executives says the company is becoming less complicated, and less wasteful, than it was in the past.   

GM CEO Dan Akerson says that simplicity -- along with a "fortress" balance sheet, and a lower cost structure will help GM break even in bad times, and make money in good times. 

Akerson and other top executives gave investors an in-depth briefing of the company's post-bankruptcy progress and plans for the long-term future.

GM has reduced its brands in the U.S to four, will focus on Chevrolet and Cadillac as its primary global brands, and will use regional brands such as Opel to help the company compete in specific markets like Germany.

GM's drastically reduced debt load also frees the company to follow through with product plans.  In the past, the company had to abandon car programs during recessions because of the pressing need to make debt payments.

"We think, just on cancelled product programs, we’ve probably blown a billion dollars a year in the last few years, as a result of having to pull back from things we’d already started," said Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann.

GM regained its number one global sales position in the first six months of this year.  But Akerson says being number one is not the goal.

He says GM must make the customer the first priority.  And GM will focus on profitability, not market share.

GM's head of global marketing Joel Ewanick said GM will also set its sights on a new "stretch" challenge: being the first automaker to get one of its brands on the list of the top twenty-five most recognized global brands. 

That list includes a number of U.S. brands, including Apple and Coca-Cola.  But no car company's brand has yet made it onto the list.

General Motors

A top GM executive said Thursday that the automaker wants to peg United Auto workers' pay to their job performance. Workers who turn out quality vehicles would benefit financially.

"We want to pay for the performance," GM North American President Mark Reuss told reporters at an industry conference.   “All of those things that I get measured on, I want everybody else measured on, too.”

That would be a big change at GM, where the current UAW contract expires Sept. 14.

James Marvin Phelps / Wikimedia Commons

General Motors made $2.5 billion in the second quarter. 

That’s slightly more than GM’s cross-town rival, Ford Motor Company made in the same period.    Ford made $2.4 billion.

But both companies are forecasting a dip in profitability in the second half of this year. 

Most of GM’s second quarter profit came from North America, as truck and Chevrolet brand car sales rebounded.  North American President Mark Reuss says the strong performance came despite the slow economy and some unexpected events.

“I didn’t think the debt ceiling crisis was going to happen, " Reuss told reporters at an annual auto industry conference in Traverse City.  "I didn’t think the tsunami was going to happen, all those things you don’t know what’s going to happen.  But if you’ve got a business and an operational model that can handle it and adapt quickly, then I think that’s the key."

General Motors may have beaten analysts’ expectations, but the company is not yet meeting investors’ expectations.

This is GM’s sixth quarterly profit in a row, a dramatic improvement compared to the years leading up to the bankruptcy.

GM Europe / Flickr

Reports have swirled that GM plans to sell its European division, Opel, for more than a month:


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. / staff

General Motors will invest $328 million in its Flint Assembly Plant, to prepare the facility to build the next generation of Chevy and GMC full-size pickup trucks.

The plant just added a third shift earlier this year.

Joe Ashton is the UAW's GM Vice President.

He says the profitable trucks made at the Flint Assembly Plant are an important source of revenue for GM.

The UAW heads into contract negotiations next week with Ford, Chrysler and GM. 

Ashton says workers want a lot of different things from their new contract. 

Brandon C / Flickr

A state board has approved tax incentives for projects connected to General Motors and other companies in Michigan.

The Michigan Economic Growth Authority on Tuesday approved an amended brownfield tax credit valued at $10 million for GM's Van Slyke complex in Flint. The new project is expected to retain up to 185 jobs.

HP Enterprise Services is a subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard and was awarded a tax credit valued at $3.5 million over the next seven years. The credit will support a project in Pontiac expected to create up to 250 jobs.

Magna Exteriors and Interiors USA will receive a $1.5 million tax credit over the next three years connected to facilities in Howell, Benzonia and St. Clair County's China Township. More than 300 new jobs are connected to the projects.

When a massive quake struck Japan on Friday, March 11th, Bill Hurles was up north with his sons on a snowmobiling trip.  Hurles is head of supply chain for General Motors. 

After he saw the first footage of the tsunami slamming into the northern coast, Hurles cut his trip short and returned to Warren.   By early Sunday morning, he and his team were in the War Room, desperately trying to get information.

Both Ford and General Motors today predicted they will expand their global presence, despite rising energy and commodity prices. 

GM held its first public stockholders meeting in Detroit – and Ford held its annual Investors Meeting in New York. 

GM CEO Dan Akerson told stockholders to consider the company a long-term investment, not short-term.  GM stock has lost a fair bit of value since the IPO in November.    

General Motors will invest 130-million dollars in a new high-tech computer command center in Warren. 

The announcement follows a string of other investments by GM in North America. 

GM says the high performance computers at the new command center in Warren will help the company keep pace with the increasingly complex computer simulations required to build cars. 

It will also allow the company to keep its own data and customer data more securely.

President Obama will visit a Chrysler plant in Ohio today, a day after the U.S. Treasury reached a deal to sell its remaining 6.6% stake in Chrysler to Fiat. 

Meanwhile, the Treasury still owns 26% of General Motors.  But GM North American President Mark Reuss says it’s up to the U.S. Treasury to decide when to get out of the car business completely. 

Reuss says the government’s part-ownership of GM matters to American taxpayers and customers.   It also matters to GM executives and workers.

But it's not up to GM when the Treasury sells its stock.

Ford, GM and Chrysler are getting along with their suppliers better than they used to.  

But an annual study says the companies have a ways to go to catch up with their Japanese counterparts. 

John Henke is President of Planning Perspectives, which studies the working relationship between parts suppliers and their customers, the car companies. 

He says that relationship has long been adversarial for the Detroit Three, which means suppliers often don’t give them the best prices for parts, or the first crack at new technologies.

State tax breaks worth $10 million are leading to an investment in GM's Warren Tech Center.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts indicated an announcement like this would be coming last month.

From the Detroit News:

General Motors Co. won $10 million in tax incentives from the state today to build a new information technology facility at its Warren Tech Center.

The $130 million project — expected to create about 25 permanent jobs — will add on to the Cadillac Building on the campus and occupy about 30-acres of land located along Van Dyke Avenue. The new jobs will pay an average of $44 an hour, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The brownfield tax credits valued at $10 million were approved this morning by the Michigan Economic Growth Authority board.

The state brownfield tax credits involved in this deal won't be around for long. In Governor Snyder tax overhaul plan, approved by state legislators, the tax credits will be replaced with a system that will grant redevelopment money up front.

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.