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Archive for July, 2011

Ford’s Big Bet on India

Late to China, maker hopes to move faster on subcontinent.

by on Jul.28, 2011

The Ford Figo will be joined by at least eight new models as the maker presses into India.

Ford will invest nearly $1 billion in India in a bid to gain ground in what many see as a market that could potentially rival the long-term growth of China.

Most of that money – about $900 million – will go for a new plant, the company’s second, that could boost Ford’s Indian production capacity from the current 240,000 vehicles a year to 600,000.  The announcement comes as Ford begins expanding its product portfolio with the Indian launch of the Fiesta, its global subcompact.

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“We don’t see the fundamentals changing here in India and the rest of Asia, and that is that growth is going to be the order of the day,” said Michael Boneham, head of Ford’s Indian operations.

Earlier this year, Ford CEO Alan Mulally outlined an aggressive growth plan that calls for boosting worldwide sales to 8 million this decade, a 50% jump.  The executive stressed the importance of the Asia/Pacific region in meeting that goal.

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Inside the 2013 Chevy Malibu

We get our first chance to crawl all over Chevy’s next-gen midsize sedan.

by on Jul.28, 2011

The next Chevrolet Malibu will make its debut for 2013.

It’s not often you get a chance to crawl inside a major product more than a year before its official launch, but even as most makers are starting to push their 2012 products, we found ourselves this week getting up-close-and-personal with the all-new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu.

The Malibu, you may recall, created something of a shock wave when the current version made its debut as a 2007 model – quickly grabbing an array of awards including the coveted North American Car of the Year trophy.  It remains a solid seller, but the market has moved on and with all-new versions of the top-selling Toyota Camry and Honda Accord soon to market – never mind offerings like the Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion to deal with – Chevy is wisely hoping to wow us with the next-gen Malibu.

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We got a first glimpse of the midsize sedan at the New York Auto Show, a few months back, but the General Motors division had a prototype on hand – along with some of the key designers and engineers working on the 2013 program – as we headed out to its sprawling Milford (Michigan) Proving Grounds.

There’s no question that Chevrolet isn’t planning to play it safe.  As senior GM officials have stressed, the worst thing you can shoot for is simply a “competitive” vehicle.  Inside and out, if Chevy ever hopes to seriously tackle the imports it has to be bold and aggressive.

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GM-UAW Find Common Ground as Talks Begin

"We are playing to win"...together.

by on Jul.28, 2011

GM CEO Dan Akerson and UAW President Bob King shake hands at the opening of contract talks.

General Motors and the United Auto Workers Union opened contract negotiations with a determined show of unity emphasizing what they had in common rather than their divisions.

The ceremonial handshaking at GM came two days after the UAW opened the latest round of contract talks at Chrysler – with union and management negotiators significantly showing up wearing the same maroon pullovers.

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“We want the new GM to succeed and when it does, everyone will benefit,” said Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson. “We are playing to win, and we’re counting on our work force — hourly and salaried — to take on the challenges together and forge new partnerships as a competitive advantage, ”

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Obama, Automakers Agree on New Mileage Rules

Announcement expected at White House on Friday.

by on Jul.28, 2011

President Obama is expected to announce a compromise on fuel economy standards during a Friday White House news conference.

The contentious debate over the nation’s future fuel economy standards has ended, industry leaders and government regulators reportedly coming up with a compromise that President Obama is expected to announce at the White House on Friday.

The changes, according to inside sources, will provide the industry a bit of breathing room on the light truck side – though not by much.  The compromise is expected to call for the industry to meet a target of 56.2 miles per gallon with passenger cars and 54.5 mpg for light trucks by 2025.  Currently, automakers are aiming for 35.5 mpg in 2016.

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The new rules are expected to call for a two-stage phase-in, with mileage for passenger cars rising 5% annually while light trucks would see fuel economy climb 3.5% a year from 2017 to 2021, then by 5% through 2025.

Administration spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that the changes to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standard is expected to save jobs and improve market demand while also reducing oil consumption and pollution.

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GM CEO Akerson Confirms Opel Not for Sale

by on Jul.27, 2011

Opel is still not for sale, insists Akerson.

General Motors’ top executive has made another attempt to head off rumors that the maker’s long-troubled Opel subsidiary is for sale.

“We don’t comment on speculation,” GM chairman and chief executive officer Dan Akerson said before doing precisely that during a brief news conference at a GM assembly plant in Detroit called to officially discuss the opening of contract talks with the United Auto Workers

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“Opel is not for sale,” Ackerson emphasized, reiterating a comment he made earlier in the month – which apparently did little to quell reports in Germany that the subsidiary would be placed on the market.  Whether his latest comment will finally quash speculation remains to be seen in light of Opel’s ongoing problems.

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Daimler Earnings Jump 30%, While Nissan Minimizes Impact of March Quake

German maker hits new quarterly record - but investors worried by results.

by on Jul.27, 2011

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche promises a great year - but investors worry about a Chinese market slowdown.

Credit China.  That’s the message from two major automakers as they report earnings from opposite ends of the globe.  For Daimler AG, a worldwide resurgence in luxury car demand – especially in the fast-growing Chinese market helped it come in with an all-time quarterly record that was up 30% year-over-year.

The numbers weren’t nearly as good for Nissan, but that was no surprise considering the devastating hit the Japanese industry, overall, has taken since the devastating earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 20,000 on March 11 and left the industry in a shambles.  If anything, the 10% decline in net income was less than many had anticipated, while revenues – also driven by China – were up markedly.

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“Our rapid recovery from the natural disasters in March once again shows the power of Nissan in responding effectively and decisively to crisis,” said Nissan President and CEO, Carlos Ghosn. “Nissan’s performance in the first quarter, despite strong headwinds such as foreign exchange and rising raw material costs, demonstrates our potential to deliver the goals of our recently announced Nissan Power 88 mid-term plan.”

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First Look: 2012 Hyundai Azera

Hyundai’s “tweener” to get a facelift for Los Angeles.

by on Jul.27, 2011

Is this the look of the next-gen Hyundai Azera?

The Hyundai Azera is something of a “tweener,” a product not quite up to the lavish Genesis sedan but definitely a step above the mainstream midsize Sonata – it’s aimed at a buyer who wants something a little bigger but doesn’t want to push into the Genesis price range, like the Toyota Avalon or, on the domestic  market, the old Ford Crown Victoria, perhaps.

Many folks have been expecting Azera to simply go away, but a tweet from John Krafcik, the maker’s U.S.  chief executive, tells us that Azera will stay part of the expanding line-up – but get a decidedly new look for 2012.  And, says the ever-informative Krafcik, we’ll get a first look at it during the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show.

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In the sheet metal, that is, for we first spotted this image on the pages of AutoBlog.com and thought it appropriate to bring it here for a quick glimpse.  What you see is actually the Korean Grandeur, which is likely to serve as the influence for the new Azera, incorporating the latest iteration of Hyundai’s “fluidic styling” language. What claims to be a spy shot of the new Hyundai closely resembles this image and clearly shows the familial resemblance to the Sonata.

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Porsche is Industry’s Most APEAL-ing Brand

But all-new Hyundai Equus is the most appealing new product, according to new J.D. Power study.

by on Jul.27, 2011

The 2011 Hyundai Equus is the market's most APEAL-ing model, according to a new study.

Porsche is far and above the most “APEAL”-ing brand when it comes to American auto buyers, but the all-new Hyundai Equus, the Korean maker’s first premium luxury sedan, was far and away the highest-rated individual model in the latest annual APEAL study by J.D. Power and Associates.

Short for Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout, the APEAL Study takes a very different look at the automotive market compared to traditional defect-based surveys, such as Power’s Initial Quality Study, or IQS.  It looks at what might be called “things-gone-right,” the surprise-and-delight features that might make one model a standout even when compared to a product with a lower overall things-gone-wrong quality rating.

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By that measure, the 2011 models are more appealing, in fact reaching a historic high for the study, which was first conducted in 1996.  On a 1,000-point scale, the average 2011 model scored 781, up from 778 last year.  Significantly, the industry seems to be figuring out what it takes to make their products more enticing, as demonstrated by the class of 2011.  All-new 2011 models, on average, scored 29 points higher than holdover products – the biggest gap since the APEAL survey was launched.

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Slammed By Quality Concerns, Ford Struggles to Fix MyTouch

Maker committed to staying on the bleeding edge of technology, says CEO Mulally.

by on Jul.27, 2011

A Touch of the devil? Problems with the MyFordTouch system hurt the maker's overall quality score.

Though complaints about the infotainment system hammered Ford’s standing in the much-watched J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, the Detroit maker isn’t giving up on its “MyTouch Ford” connectivity system but is working on ways to make it more user-friendly, CEO Alan Mulally says.

Ford, which was the top-ranked mainstream brand in the 2010 IQS slipped to a below-average ranking in the 2011 study, Power analysts saying that complaints about MyFordTouch were the primary reason.  But the infotainment technology has taken other hits from such influential sources as Consumer Reports magazine, which pulled several Ford and Lincoln models using the system off its recommended buy list.

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Mulally said Ford is taking criticism of the system to heart and is working on series of changes. “We believe now that it didn’t have enough computational power,” Mulally told analysts during the company’s quarterly earnings call.

That translates into slow and sometimes inaccurate operation. The fix recommended by Ford’s trouble shooters is being applied right across the line and should help answer the customer complaints, claimed Mulally.

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SpaceShipOne’s Burt Rutan Tries His Hand at a Flying Car

Legendary designer reveals the gas-electric-powered BiPod.

by on Jul.27, 2011

Burt Rutan's final project is the Model 367 BiPod.

If there’s one thing Burt Rutan is good at it’s turning dreams into reality.  His Voyager was the first plane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling.  And his suborbital SpaceShipOne not only claimed the $10 million Ansari X-Prize but is helping in motion the dream of private space flight.  So, who better to transform the long-running fantasy of the flying car into something real?

With the unveiling of his Model 367 BiPod, Rutan and his firm Scalred Composites become the latest in a series of visionaries – dating back to at least Henry Ford – hoping to find a functional way to combine a car with an airplane.

It isn’t quite George Jetson’s briefcase aerocar.  The BiPod uses an unusual design with, as the name suggests, a twin, pod-like fuselage which not only provides two cockpits but protected storage for the wings and tail surfaces while operating on the ground.  The right pod handles airborne duties, the left takes control on the ground.

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But perhaps the biggest surprise of the BiPod is its source of power.  Rutan – who developed the concept before retiring last April – has always been a fan of light and energy-efficient designs.  He’s been experimenting with personal electric aircraft for more than a decade.  And with the Model 367 he has adopted an extended-range electric system that is quite similar to that of the Chevrolet Volt.

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