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Archive for January, 2009

Ghosn Goes Biblical?

Are automakers facing Old Testament's seven lean years?

by on Jan.28, 2009

Carlos Ghosn sees Old Testament wrath facing auto industry.

Carlos Ghosn sees Old Testament wrath facing auto industry.

Dire forecasts continue to proliferate around the car business but the prize probably goes to Renault-Nissan Carlos Ghosn, who is warning that the global automakers are facing the equivalent of the Old Testament’s seven lean years.

Ghosn warned during an economic conference in Saudi Arabia that, “This is going to be a long recession.,” He predicted world auto sales would fall to 55 million vehicles in 2009, a decline of almost 14 percent, compared to 63 million in 2008. The trend was certainly set, in 2008, with sales down 9 percent from the 69-million figure of 2007.

“We are the first victim of the financial meltdown,” Ghosn said. The global financial crisis had slashed credit for car buyers, two-thirds of whom buy on credit, Ghosn noted.  The recovery would not take place before 2011 and it could take as long seven years before sales reached the pre-recession peak, he added.

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A Geneva Surprise From Bentley

New model will be marque's fastest, most powerful production car ever.

by on Jan.28, 2009

Bentley's Geneva surprise

Bentley's Geneva surprise

Take a close look at this picture. It’s all you’re going to get to see, at least for the next five weeks, of the new supercar that Bentley plans to unveil at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show.

What little the automaker is revealing, for now, is that the new model will be “very much the extreme Bentley,” and will rank as the fastest, most powerful production car the British luxury marque has ever brought to market.

A little short of a year ago, and also in Geneva, Bentley sketched out plans to go “green,” Bentley CEO Franz-Josef Paefgen noting, at the time, that, “the security of our fuel supply and climate change.” According to Paefgen, the amount of CO2, the prime culprit in global warming, emitted by Bentley products by will be reduced “at least 15 percent” by 2012.

How to deliver more power and performance – and less CO2? Maybe it’ll become more apparent when we see the new Bentley in person, as the 2009 Swiss show. For the moment, we’ll have to settle for the suggestion that the car we’re seeing – likely the replacement for the current Continental line – will be capable of running on biofuel.

Bentley, we should add, could use a bit of a boost, whatever powers it. It’s long been conventional wisdom, in the auto industry, that luxury products, especially in the Bentley range, are immune from recession. The current downturn has proven that wrong, with the British maker showing losses in line with more mainstream brands. But so far, we’ve also been told, Volkswagen AG’s top-line brand has been able to keep its operations in the black.

Brand X-ed?

Some brands just need to go away, says AutoNation CEO

by on Jan.28, 2009

Jackson tosses Mercury onto the trash heap

Jackson tosses Mercury onto the trash heap

The top executive at America’s largest auto retailer is not known for his shy demeanor, reluctance to express his mind or not having an opinion – quite the contrary, as Jackson once again demonstrated during an appearance in Detroit, where he made it clear which automotive brands should be tossed on the industry’s trash heap.

While not Vice President Biden-like, Mike Jackson is not afraid to speak his mind on CNBC, at stockholder meetings or at the 2009 Automotive News World Congress, in Detroit. If he were not as successful in a varied automotive career his articulate, often funny, remarks and views might not be acknowledged, accepted, much less admired as they are.

Following his what ails the auto industry speech and the subsequent Q&A follow-up, Keith Crain, publisher of Automotive News, asked Jackson for his opinion on what he’d do, “Buy, sell or hold,” as he read a list of auto franchises. Here are his remarks as I recorded and transcribed them.

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Th!nk Again

Little electric carmaker looking for a recharge

by on Jan.27, 2009

Th!nk City Car could use a charge

Th!nk City Car could use a charge

Like so many other green-minded automotive wannabes, the Norwegian-based Think Global saw a silver lining in the record fuel prices that hung, like a storm cloud, over the rest of the auto industry, in early 2008.

After years of trying to find a niche in the market – including a several-year run under the ownership of Ford Motor Co. – the electric vehicle maker was ambitiously laying out plans to ramp up production of its $30,000 Th!nk city car to 10,000 units a year. And why not? Other new, fuel-efficient entries, such as the BMW Mini and Daimler AG’s Smart fortwo, as well as Toyota’s Prius hybrid, were scoring huge sales, even as demand for most other vehicles began to plummet.

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ROI on Audi’s Media Splash

Audi gets big payoff on Obama inauguration bet

by on Jan.27, 2009

Audi bet big on Obama

Audi bet big on Obama

History was made last Tuesday in politics and media coverage as Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States.

According to the latest Nielsen Media Research, Comcast and other research types (it’s still being updated) broadcast television networks – ABC, CBS and NBC – combined was watched by almost 38 million people, slightly less than the coverage of JFK’s event. Data showed NBC won the broadcast net race.

Cable news networks – CNBC, CNN, MSNBC and others who accept advertising dollars which excludes C-Span – had an estimated audience of 18 to 22 million viewers. And the Internet had 22 different sites – newspapers, news magazines, bloggers, and other venues – for several more million viewers.

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Obama Orders Fast Action on CAFE and California Car Standards

Proposed CO2 rules could force a big mileage increase.

by on Jan.26, 2009

Would new CO2 rules bar big SUVs?

Would new CO2 rules bar big SUVs?

As anticipated in our preview post early this morning, President Barack Obama today made some quick moves on the auto industry’s two biggest energy and environmental issues. Although he’s not yet named a “car czar” to oversee financial aid and other federal activities on cars, Mr. Obama established that — whoever the czars or czarinas of his administration might be — they’ll all tow the line when it comes to advancing his agenda.

Signing two executive orders, the president handed one to his Secretary of Transportation and the other to his Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. DOT czar Ray LaHood was directed to quickly finalize a new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rule for model year 2011, and EPA czarina Lisa Jackson was ordered to provide an expedited review of California’s request to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

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Honda S2000 drives off into the sunset

Follows decision to scrub new NSX supercar

by on Jan.26, 2009

Honda's S2000 is ready to drive off

Honda's S2000 is ready to drive off

Wrapping up a 10-year run, Honda’s S2000 roadster will drove off into the automotive sunset at the end of the 2009 model-year. The announcement follows the Japanese automaker’s decision to scrub the launch of an all-new NSX supercar.

Hailed by some, hated by others, the S2000 was a high-revving 2-seater that was originally intended as a short-run celebration of Honda’s 50th anniversary. It became notably popular on the local motor sports circuit, especially after the introduction of the S2000 CR – or club racer – edition.

“The S2000 is a sports car designed by enthusiasts for enthusiasts,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., in a prepared release. “It raised the bar for all future roadsters, and it’s already considered a classic by many Honda fans.”

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More Cuts Coming at GM

No end in sight as automaker balances supply/demand

by on Jan.26, 2009

No sale? GM to slash production of Buick Enclave

No sale? GM to slash production of Buick Enclave

With sales continuing to plunge, General Motors is taking still more steps to bring supply into line with plunging demand. The automaker will slash production at its newest assembly plant, in Delta Township, near Lansing, Michigan, in the face of slow sales of crossover vehicles such as the Buick Enclave.

That move, effective March 30, will be followed by further cuts at GM’s small car plant, in Lordstown, Ohio. That means that the Lordstown plant will move from operating with three shifts to just one, in less than six months time because of falling demand for the Chevrolet Cobalt. After a big push by consumers, in mid-2008, most makers have seen a sharp slump in sales of small cars and fuel-efficient vehicles – notably hybrids.

The cuts at Lansing and Lordstown will put 2,000 GM workers on indefinite layoff. The cuts in Lansing are particularly painful because the crossovers, such as the Enclave, have been heavily advertised and have been described by GM executives as proof GM can build vehicles consumers find desirable. (more…)

Ford’s Coyote V8 Spied!!

Who says the V-8 is dead?

by on Jan.26, 2009

Ford Coyota V-8

Ford Coyota V-8

First, let me clearly state, these pictures were taken in a public area and at no time did my shooter handle or touch any part of the vehicle. The engineers testing this prototype did not assist with the taking of these images, nor were they even aware that photos were being taken!

We just caught the very first proof of Ford’s all-new 5.0-liter V8. Code-named “Coyote”, the 5.0-liter, four-valve, naturally aspired V8 will be offered in the 2011 Mustang, as well as the F150. We’re estimating 400-horsepower, and 400 pounds-feet of torque, with the fuel economy close to that of today’s 5.4-liter engine.

Photo: Brian Williams for Brenda Priddy & Co.

Big Job Cuts May Be Coming at Toyota

Automaker not invulnerable to impact of recession

by on Jan.26, 2009

And the new champion of the world...

Sales crown doesn't ensure job security.

Toyota might have toppled GM as the global sales king, but the Japanese are not in the mood for celebrating. According to the Japanese newspaper Nikkei, Toyota will probably lay off more than 1,000 employees in Great Britain and North America, as sales continue to tumble in those two key markets.

Although Toyota Motor Corp has overtaken GM as the world’s leading automaker, the Japanese giant has to focus on the problems of the moment. Though it originally seemed to sidestep the collapsing American auto market, marketing czar Don Esmond recently told TheDetroitBureau.com, “We are not immune.”

And so, with sales declines pushing beyond 30 percent, in recent months, Toyota has no choice but to cut. The automaker has traditionally tried to find ways to keep its workforce busy during its few, brief production “adjustments.” But this time, the numbers may need to be permanently adjusted, and layoffs may be required, according to Nikkei and other sources.

The Japanese newspaper suggested that Toyota would make a decision soon about the workforce to be laid off, based on information from a source within the company.

Since Toyota is temporarily closing plants, its suppliers, both in North America and in Japan, are facing the impact, as well.