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Archive for July, 2011

Chrysler Reveals Management Realignment

“Time to step on the accelerator.”

by on Jul.29, 2011

The only exec staying in his current spot will be Sergio Marchionne, who'll remain CEO of both Fiat and Chrysler.

Delivering on a promise to streamline his trans-Atlantic alliance, CEO Sergio Marchionne announced a broad realignment of the management structure that will increasingly result in Chrysler and its ally Fiat operating as one global company.

Significantly, the move will plant the nexus of power for the two automakers in the Detroit suburb of Auburn Hills, Michigan, though Fiat’s headquarters will remain based in Turin, Italy.  That vote of confidence comes as a sharp rebuke to what happened during the unsuccessful and eventually abandoned merger of Chrysler and Daimler AG, where power clearly shifted to Germany.

One concern for industry analysts is whether Marchionne has moved far enough, particular when it comes to the dozens of senior executives who will continue to report directly to the Canadian-educated CEO.

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“These appointments are the result of an extensive process of evaluation of the technical and leadership skills of the individuals who have been appointed to the GEC,” or Global Executive Committee, said Marchionne. “But equally important is the fact that they reflect the multicultural geographically diverse nature of our businesses.”

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Obama Reveals New Mileage Standards; Garners Broad Support

Industry, consumer, environmentalist groups largely heap praise on 54.5 mpg compromise.

by on Jul.29, 2011

Few expected the fuel economy compromise that was announced by Pres. Obama today - at least not anytime soon.

With many of the nation’s automotive leaders surrounding him at the White House, President Barack Obama revealed details of the unexpected compromise that will set the nation on a course of drastically improved automotive fuel economy over the next decade-and-a-half – something he dubbed “the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

The new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard demands that manufacturers deliver a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, roughly twice the fuel economy of the typical vehicle being sold in the U.S. when the current administration came to power in January 2009.

While some environmentalists had hoped to push the figure to 56.2 or even 62 mpg, the final number is significantly higher than what industry lobbyists had been campaigning for – in fact, barely a week ago, an automotive lobbying group was preparing an advertising campaign designed to thwart the White House push for a new CAFE standard.

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Instead, as demonstrated  by the presence of top executives — including General Motors’ Dan Akerson, Jim Lentz of Toyota Motor Sales USA, Ford’s Alan Mulally and Hyundai Motor America’s John Krafcik – the industry came onboard with very public support, triggering praise from the president, who declared that while the new 54.5 mpg number is “an aggressive target…the companies here are stepping up to the plate.”

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First Look: BMW i3 and i8 Electric Concept Cars

Maker also announces ParkAtMyHouse smartphone app.

by on Jul.29, 2011

CEO Norbert Reithofer unveils the new BMW i3 and i9 battery cars - which will make a public debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

BMW has finally taken the wraps off two concept cars that signal the strategy of its long-anticipated electric car sub-brand, BMW i.  The prototypes, which are set to make their formal public debut at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show, show the Bavarian maker positioning itself as the environmentally friendly leader in the competitive luxury car market.

During a Frankfurt news conference, BMW officials not only revealed both the BMW i3 and i8 concepts but also announced their investment in a new service called Parkatmyhouse.  Using the Internet or a smartphone app, the service would permit homeowners and other individuals to rent out their parking spaces on a short or long-term basis.

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Declaring the upcoming launch of the BMW i3 and BMW i8 a “milestone,” the German automaker’s Chairman Norbert Reithofer said the goal is to “offer customers purpose-built electric-drive cars,” rather than simply stuffing a battery-based drivetrain under the hood of a conventional automobile.

The potential advantage is that a dedicated battery-electric vehicle can be designed to minimize aerodynamic drag, reduce mass and improve weight balance to maximize performance and handling – critical attributes of the BMW brand.

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Ford to Partner with Azure on F-Series Plug-in

Technology to allow SuperDuty models to operate in electric-only mode.

by on Jul.29, 2011

Ford will turn to Azure Dynamics to convert the biggest of its F-Series models into plug-in hybrids.

Can the full-size pickup go from being a gas-guzzling behemoth to the poster child for environmental efficiency?  A new partnership teaming up Ford and Canadian-based Azure Dynamics aims to bring the F-Series truck a big step closer to being earth-friendly.

Early in 2013, the partners plan to come to market with a plug-in hybrid version of some of the biggest of Ford’s popular trucks, starting with the F-550 but later adding the F-450 and F-350 models.  The technology would allow the trucks to operate in electric-only mode at low speeds while also reducing fuel consumption at higher speeds in hybrid mode.

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Azure Dynamics has already been working with Ford on several projects including the battery-powered conversion of the Dearborn maker’s small commercial van, dubbed the Transit Connect Electric, as well as a version of the Ford E-Van converted to hybrid power.

For the moment, the partners aren’t saying much about the specific technology that will replace the conventional F-Series powertrain, though it is likely to be similar to the E-Van conversion, they hint.  The modified driveline, called the E-450 Balance, starts out with a conventional Ford 5.4-liter V-8 with a 5-speed automatic transmission.  But an electric motor connected to that gearbox provides alternative power in electric drive mode, while also adding battery assist during acceleration.  When coasting or braking it goes into regenerative mode to reclaim energy normally lost.

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Despite Dismal Sales, Toyota “Absolutely” Committed to Full-Size Tundra Pickup

“All options on the table,” including heavy-duty truck; but what about hybrid?

by on Jul.29, 2011

Toyota continues to plan for a next-gen Tundra and may look for new ways to build demand, whether with a heavy-duty model, diesels or even hybrids.

Though sale have fallen well short of Toyota’s initial goals, the industry giant remains “absolutely” committed to keeping the full-size Tundra pickup in its line-up, according to a senior company official.

In its bid to boost demand for the truck, “all options are on the table,” Group Vice President and Toyota Division General Manager Bob Carter tells TheDetroitBureau.com. That includes the long-rumored possibility of adding a heavy-duty model to the Tundra line.  Could a hybrid also be in the offing?

“We are actively planning and developing” the replacement for the current Tundra, which Carter suggests may have simply been a victim of circumstance.  The current model launched in 2007, just before gasoline surged to $4 a gallon in the U.S. for the first time and the subsequent economic crash.  That led sales of full-size pickups, in general to drop to barely 1.1 million, off from the industry peak of 2.5 million.

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“I will tell you we’re in the truck business for the long-term,” Carter stresses.  That includes both full-size and compact pickups, even though many of the maker’s competitors are dropping out of the smaller truck segment.  Ford, for example, is killing off its long-lived Ranger and has decided against bringing into the U.S. a new version recently launched in Thailand.

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Unofficial Details Leak out About Next-Gen Ford and GM Pickup Powertrains

Horsepower matters but mileage is the mandate.

by on Jul.29, 2011

Ford's F-150 EcoBoost engine shows there's a lot of room to improve fuel economy without sacrificing performance and payload.

The pickup market, though barely half the size of its one-time peak, is still a viable – and profitable – force in the U.S. automotive market.  So, expect to see Detroit makers, in particular, do everything they can to retain the segment’s viability – though that won’t be easy, especially in light of today’s announcement outlining tough new mileage standards set to reach more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.

Next-generation full-size pickup trucks from Ford and General Motors will have to balance towing and hauling capability with unprecedented frugality to meet the tough new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.

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That has some folks worrying it may be too much of a challenge to pull off, at least not without sacrificing the functionality American truck buyers expect.  But don’t plan on holding onto your big rig ad infinitum.  As we’ve begun seeing with such innovations as the turbo-powered EcoBoost V6 on the 2011 Ford F-150, there are some promising ways to reach mileage never seen before.

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First Drive: Mazda CX-9

What to drive when family responsibility dictates that your sports car days be put on hold.

by on Jul.29, 2011

Mazda's CX-9 is really just a supersized sports car.

We’ve all heard it before. “You won’t catch me driving a minivan,” the raffish 20-something says. Of course, that is before the invasion of the Little People, and all of their paraphernalia, from diaper bags to portable playpens. Some have turned to sturdier-looking sport utilities and crossovers, but the stigma is even starting to attach to those.

So you’re longing for the days of BLP – before Little People – for the days when the idea of driving a vehicle with three rows of seats was unfathomable. But now there are two kids and another in the oven, so three rows are mandatory if the dreaded – and incurable – Don’t Touch My Syndrome is to be avoided.

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Mazda may have the answer. This is the Zoom-Zoom company, so it designs its cars with the goal of offering the sportiest driving experience in the segment. That includes its big three-row crossover, the CX-9.

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Support Building for Obama Mileage Compromise

Industry, labor, political and environmental leaders lending support in advance of White House announcement.

by on Jul.28, 2011

The typical passenger car would have to deliver 56.2 mpg by 2025, but trucks would get slightly less.

While details are being withheld until tomorrow’s formal White House announcement, there’s a growing consensus building for the apparent compromise on the nation’s future fuel economy standard – one potentially major opponent signaling it is ready to sign on.

Reports that Toyota would oppose the proposed increase in the U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standard “are not accurate,” Group Vice President Bob Carter tells TheDetroitBureau.com. “Toyota is not going to fight the administration’s proposal.”

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Separately, a well-placed company official said it would be a self-destructive move for “the Prius company,” to try to scuttle the compromise that is expected to call for passenger cars to meet a 56.2 mile per gallon mandate by 2025.  To bring the industry onboard, President Obama apparently accepted a reduced 54.5 mpg target for pickups and other light trucks.

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GM Parterning with Solar Power Provider

Maker betting use of sun power will double by 2016.

by on Jul.28, 2011

Sunlogic solar canopies will be used at a variety of GM dealerships and other operations.

General Motors Ventures, GM’s private venture capital fund, will investment $7.5 million in Sunlogics PLC, a firm specializing in solar projects.The investment reflects estimates that the use of solar panels will double between now and 2016.

Sunlogics will shift its headquarters to Michigan and in the process create 200 new jobs in the Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills.

Officials say GM Ventures is looking for more projects in which to invest, and is particularly interested in projects in infotainment, advanced materials and advance manufacturing.

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“There is an obvious bias towards clean energy,” saiid John Lauckner, president of GM Ventures, the $100 million fund created last year to invest in companies with advanced technology.

About $45 million of the initial $100 million GM put into the fund has been invested in six different projects, Lauckner said. The fund has also assumed control of two investments in biofuels made before the fund was created.

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Hyundai, VW Latest to Report Big Earnings Gains

But both makers issue warnings about the future.

by on Jul.28, 2011

Products like the new Golf helped Volkswagen more than triple second-quarter earnings.

Despite the slow global recovery, a weak U.S. economy, rising raw materials costs and other “headwinds,” automakers around the globe have been delivering some solid earnings for the year’s second quarter – though not always enough to keep investors happy.

That’s what Volkswagen found out today as it reported a tripling of its second-quarter earnings, only to have investors sell off its stock due to concerns about the challenges the company faces in the months ahead.

The market gave a warmer response, however, to Hyundai Motor, the Korean carmaker beating analysts’ forecasts with a 37% rise in quarterly profits driven by record vehicle sales and, in particular, gains in the critical U.S. market.  But Hyundai also had some warnings for analysts and investors.

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Hyundai appears to have done the best job of making gains at the expense of its Japanese rivals – who were hammered by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami that nearly shut that country’s auto industry down.  But Hyundai is also riding a wave of new products, from the subcompact Accent to the big Equus, which has proven a bigger success than even company executives had forecast.

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