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Archive for January, 2010

First Drive: 2010 Hyundai Tucson

Another surprise from the Koreans.

by on Jan.28, 2010

Longer, wider - and lighter, the 2010 Hyundai Tucson is also more fuel-efficient than the outgoing model.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Korean-made products lagged low on the list of models automotive journalists sought to review.  And they weren’t held in all that much higher esteem by the motoring public.  But anyone who still thinks of cars like the Pony when the name, Hyundai, is spoken, is in need of some reeducation, and a simple way to do that is to spend a little time behind the wheel of the 2010 Hyundai Tucson.

To be blunt, there wasn’t all that much to like about the original, 2005 edition.  It was the sort of product about which kinder critics will use the phrase, “cheap-and-cheerful.”  Not so now.  The latest generation of the Korean carmaker’s entry-level crossover maintains the positive value story of early Hyundai products pitched on price alone.  But the ’10 Tucson is a surprisingly attractive, solidly built and well-equipped offering that should give some of the better-known entries in the segment, like Toyota’s RAV4, a real run for the money.

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Like most of its competitors, Hyundai has moved away from traditional truck-like SUV design.  The 2010 Hyundai Tucson has a sweeping, graceful appearance that reflects what the maker dubs its new “Fluidic Sculpture” language.  There are a number of nice details and, thankfully, the Korean maker’s stylists avoided buling up with too many of the lines and creases that seem to be de rigeur in today’s automotive world.

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CTS Says Toyota Responsible for Pedal Recall

Maker says it’s a mechanical, not electrical problem. Fix is already in production. Toyota knew of the problem "for a while."

by on Jan.28, 2010

The chairman of CTS, a global manufacturer of  recalled gas pedals by Toyota Motor Sales, told investors during an earnings conference call today that the problem was caused by environmental conditions that went beyond Toyota’s design specifications for the assemblies.

CTS Chairman Vinod Khilnani said that the company provides gas pedals for use by other makers that are “very different” pedal designs. The  electrical sensor in the pedal has nothing to do with the issue.

Condensation makes the Toyota pedal “harder to depress, slower to return to the idle position, and in rare situations, Toyota believes, it may get stuck in a partially depressed position,” said Khilnani.

He said the company has no knowledge of an accident or injury caused by its pedals.

Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc, a TMC subsidiary, announced last week  it would recall approximately 2.3 million vehicles to correct sticking accelerator pedals on eight Toyota Division models.

Three of the CTS’s plants are already making redesigned pedals,  and Khilnani added that CTS had been working with Toyota “for a while” on a revised pedal, which included testing by both companies.

“It has been agreed as the solution,” Khilnani said.   (more…)

U.S. Taxpayers Lend Nissan $1.4 Billion

D.O.E. supports production of Leaf EV and battery at Smyrna.

by on Jan.28, 2010

As many as 1,300 jobs will be created when the plants are operating at full capacity.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced today that the Department of Energy has closed a $1.4 billion loan agreement with Nissan North America, Inc.

The loan will be used to modify Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee manufacturing plant so it can produce the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle and the lithium-ion battery packs to power them.

The loan was issued as part of the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, a $25 billion program authorized by Congress under the Bush Administration as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The program is designed to accelerate the development of vehicles and technologies that increase U.S. energy independence, create cleaner means of transportation and stimulate the American economy.

Capacity to build 150,000 Leaf EVs per year.

“Nissan applauds the Department of Energy’s support of the development of innovative, advanced vehicle technologies and the creation of clean energy jobs,” said Scott Becker, senior vice president, Administration and Finance, Nissan North America.

The loan will result in the creation of as many as 1,300 jobs when the plants are operating at full capacity.

Modification of the Smyrna manufacturing plant begins later this year, and includes a new battery plant and changes in the existing structure for electric-vehicle assembly.

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When completely operational, the vehicle assembly plant will have the capacity to build 150,000 Nissan Leaf electric cars per year, and the new plant will have an annual capacity of 200,000 batteries.

How long it will take to reach those production numbers is a matter of considerable debate, as the EV market is uncertain.

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Ford Uses Same Pedal Supplier Involved in the Toyota Unintended Acceleration Stop Sale

Ford Chinese Transit production halted. Pedal comes from CTS, which also supplies Toyota with the pedals in its recall.

by on Jan.28, 2010

JMC board chairman Wang Xigao gives Transit to Mao Xinyu, the grandson of Mao Zedong.

Ford Motor Company is taking steps to check on whether the pedal on the Transit Classic van built by one of its Chinese partners,  Jiangling, could contribute to unintended acceleration.

The investigation is, thus far, confined to the Chinese made vehicles, but Ford has halted production until it clarifies the situation, according to CEO Alan Mulally, who said he demanded further explanations when he found that the pedal design was similar to the same one used by Toyota.

Mulally said he wanted Ford to get out in front of the issue as quickly as possible.

Ford’s Chinese partner, Jiangling, recently switched to using the same supplier, CTS, as Toyota uses.

“We have not yet determined we have a problem,” Mulally said during a conference call. “But we know we have no issues with the customers in China,” Mulally said.

Ford officials subsequently stressed there have been no questions raised about the pedal possibly contributing to incidents of “unintended” acceleration.

A spokesperson said as a routine precaution Ford always reviews recalls by competitors to see if they share suppliers. After the latest Toyota recall, Ford found that Jiangling had started purchasing the pedal assemblies from CTS.

“We have our own design for pedals and accelerators,” the spokesperson said.

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Renault TV Launches Today

First broadcast channel from an automaker?

by on Jan.28, 2010

The maker is the message and the medium.

Renault TV debuted this morning with the claim it is the first international television station from an automaker.

Renault TV in France is on channel 349 on Canalsat, and in the UK on Sky Guide 883. The potential audience is 30 million.

Whether British viewers take this as another Norman invasion is subject to wry speculation on our part.

The channel offers news on the latest models and has “magazines and entertainment” for all audiences.

“Renault is not a brand like the others – Renault innovates for everybody, not just the privileged few! It is a real ‘people-centric’ brand, perhaps the only one of its kind in the world today,” claims Stephen Norman, Senior Vice President, Global Marketing at Renault.

Renault TV is an extension of www.renault.tv, which launched in March 2009. The company claims that its average visit time of 15 minutes, rivals with the best video program sites on the internet, citing 20 minutes for BBC iPlayer.

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The latest broadcast TV development is counter to the major trend among automakers, who are increasingly abandoning television in favor of what is thought to be more targeted, and therefore more efficient, internet marketing.

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Toyota Expands Recall; Rental Firms Pull Toyotas

by on Jan.28, 2010

Yet another million vehicles added to recall list, while daily rental companies pull Toyotas from their fleets.

The blowback from Toyota’s recent spate of safety recalls keeps mounting – as does the actual number of vehicles involved.

The automaker has quietly revealed that the recall it first announced last October is expanding by another 1.1 million cars, trucks and crossovers.  At the time, Toyota said it would need to make safety-related repairs to 3.8 million vehicles in which it determined floor mats might inadvertently “entrap” accelerator pedals, leading to a loss of control.  That number was previously increased to 4.2 million and now stands at 5.3 million Toyota products.

Meanwhile, a number of major car rental chains have announced they will be removing Toyota products from their fleets in a move one firm described as “an abundance of caution.

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“It’s bad,” said Dave Sargent, head of automotive research for J.D. Power and Associates.  “Their image and their success has been based on building high-quality, safe and reliable products.”

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Ford Turns In First Annual Profit Since ‘05

Maker continues gaining momentum.

by on Jan.28, 2010

Ford posts a huge turnaround during the worst year for the auto industry since the Great Depression.

Ford Motor Co. reported net income of more than $2.7 billion, or 86 cents per share, a $17 billion improvement from a year ago, as its comeback plans exceeded expectations by the delivering the maker’s first full year of profitability since 2005.

The full-year profit included net income of $868 million or 25 cents per share in the fourth quarter, $6.8 billion better than the company reported a year ago when many analysts were predicting Ford would be forced into bankruptcy right alongside General Motors and Chrysler.

The fourth-quarter numbers included a pre-tax operating profit of $707 million in North America, a market which many observers had written off as hopeless. Last year, Ford’s North American Operations lost $2.6 billion in the fourth quarter.

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Ford also posted pre-tax operating profits of $454 million for the full-year, a $7.3 billion improvement from a year ago, with significant help from Ford Credit, which itself rebounded in 2009 to post a $1.3 billion profit.

“While we still face significant business environment challenges ahead, 2009 was a pivotal year for Ford and the strongest proof yet that our One Ford plan is working and that we are forging a path toward profitable growth by working together as one team, leveraging our global scale,” said Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally, who also noted that Ford gained market share around the world last year.    (more…)

Unions Target Weakened Toyota

Washington demonstration planned for Thursday.

by on Jan.27, 2010

Plans to close a California plant building this model, the Matrix, along with recent recalls, will have union members out demonstrating against Toyota on Thursday.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Auto Workers Union are taking aim at Toyota Motor Corp. while it is reeling from the fallout of its decision to suspend sales of eight of its most popular models due to a safety defect.

Teamster president James P. Hoffa and UAW vice president Bob King will lead a delegation of labor representatives, environmental advocates and consumer protection advocates in a protest outside the Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

The union leaders also plan to deliver a letter to embassy offiicials for Japanese Minister Yukio Hatoyama.  The letter will express concern that Toyota’s plan to shut a plant in California will ultimately hurt America’s perception of Japan.  It calls on the Japanese government to meet with union representatives and with Toyota management, Teamster and UAW officials said. The facility, known as NUMMI,and located outside San Francisco, has been Toyota’s only unionized plant in the U.S.

“After receiving millions in the taxpayer-funded Cash for Clunkers bailout, Toyota plans to close its New United Motors Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) assembly plant in Fremont, CA, which will mean a loss of 5,400 direct jobs and up to 50,000 jobs at suppliers and other supporting businesses. This would be the biggest factory layoff in California since the beginning of the recession,” union officials said in a statement.

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Environmental advocates at the event will express their disappointment that Toyota, a company that markets itself as a leader in emissions reduction, will greatly expand its carbon footprint by shipping vehicles once made at NUMMI back to the U.S. from Japanese plants.

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GM Aiming New Incentives at Toyota

Recall costs likely to be huge, both to cash reserves and image.

by on Jan.27, 2010

Have one of these to trade? GM is offering an extra $1,000 if you do.

All’s fair in love, war and automotive marketing, it seems, and General Motors is hoping to make some gains off Toyota’s latest round of quality problems with a new $1,000 incentive program.

The cash offer is good for any potential customer that wants to trade in a Toyota product.  GM buyers will have the option of getting $1,000 in cash, cutting $1,000 off their lease payments or taking a zero-interest, 60-month loan.  The program, which began today, runs through the end of February, said a GM spokesman.

“Our dealers were getting inundated” with calls from Toyota owners looking to trade in, said GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson, adding that “carmakers are always looking for a competitive advantage.”

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That deluge was triggered by a series of setbacks to the Japanese giant which last week announced it would recall 2.3 million vehicles due to problems with “sticky accelerators.” Then, on Tuesday, Toyota said it would halt U.S. sales of eight vehicles impacted by the recall and halt production at five North American plants will it tried to assess the cause of the safety problem and come up with a solution.

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Indiana Toyota Supplier Denies Making Bad Pedals

CTS says it has no knowledge of accidents or injuries.

by on Jan.27, 2010

CTS Corporation (NYSE: CTS) said this afternoon that the pedals it supplied to Toyota met its design specifications. The company made at least some of the pedals involved in the recall.

“Based on information that Toyota has provided us, we are aware of fewer than a dozen instances where this condition has occurred, and in no instance did the accelerator actually become stuck in a partially depressed condition,” CTS said in a carefully worded statement.

The assertion comes as Toyota Motor Corporation considers expanding its pedal recall from the North America to other global markets.

Toyota’s credibility about its assertions of the causes of runaway or unintended acceleration accidents has been damaged by recent events. Although the company continually said that it was caused by a floor mat interference problem, at least one accident, involving multiple fatalities, has been reported where the floor mats were removed from the car and locked in the trunk when the deaths occurred.

The company announced yesterday that it would stop sales of about 60% of its vehicles (by volume) in North America while it searches for a root cause.

Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc, a TMC subsidiary, announced last week  it would recall approximately 2.3 million vehicles to correct sticking accelerator pedals on eight Toyota Division models.

This action is separate – thus far — from the on-going recall of approximately 4.2 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles to reduce the risk of “pedal entrapment” by incorrect or out of place accessory floor mats. Approximately 1.7 million Toyota Division vehicles are subject to both recall actions.   (more…)