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Archive for January, 2012

Obama Admin Presses Success of Auto Industry

President at D.C. Auto Show, VP Biden off to Michigan supplier.

by on Jan.31, 2012

The President checks out a Chevrolet Volt at the Washington Auto Show.

Barely a week after declaring “the U.S. Auto industry is back,” in the state-of-the-union message, President Barack Obama and VP Joe Biden took that message on the road,  the two men pressing for still more job growth – and for a political advantage in the upcoming election.

The President, who has had to defend his decision to bail out both General Motors and Chrysler, paid a visit to the annual Washington Auto Show to get a look at the latest models and to make it clear he will stand by his controversial decision.  Meanwhile, VP Biden  will be landing in Grand Rapids on Wednesday to visit an automotive supplier and promote the administration’s call for manufacturing jobs to return to the U.S.

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“It’s good to remember the fact that there were some folks who were willing to let this industry die,” Pres. Obama said during his tour of the auto show – a direct reference not only to the general position of the Republican party but specifically the stand taken by Mitt Romney, the apparent front-runner for the GOP’s presidential nomination.

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First Look: MOPAR 12 300

Chrysler parts division also reveals three other special editions.

by on Jan.31, 2012

"Big Daddy" Don Garlits stands alongside the new MOPAR 12 300.

It started out selling antifreeze but, 75 years later, MOPAR has become a key part of Chrysler’s global growth strategy – and a brand in its own right, with its third specially badged model in three years soon to roll into showrooms.

The new MOPAR 12 300 is a muscled-up version of the new 2012 Chrysler 300S that promises to cut nearly a full second off the stock sedan’s 0 to 60 times, while also improving braking performance.

Meanwhile, the Chrysler parts and service unit marked the start of its 75th anniversary by unveiling three other special kit models. Including a ruggedized version of the Jeep Compass, performance and appearance enhancements for the Fiat 500 and a bulked-up version of the all-new Dodge Dart sedan.

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Originally created in 1937 to market a line of antifreeze for Chrysler products, MOPAR has long served as the Detroit maker’s replacement parts and performance upgrade brand. But it has a much bigger role in store as part of the alliance between Chrysler and its Italian partner, Fiat, noted the brand’s president, Pietro Gorlier, during a media presentation.

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Dodge Offers First Tease of Reborn Viper

Hints of retro for snake charmer.

by on Jan.31, 2012

Dodge offers a first hint of what's to come when the Viper makes its return.

With the reborn Dodge Viper scheduled to make its return debut at the upcoming New York Auto Show, the Detroit maker is offering a first vague hint of what’s to come in the form of this stylized silhouette on the SRT Facebook fan page.

The original Viper roadster,  designed to be a pure American muscle car, not even offering anti-lock brakes or airbags in its original incarnation.  A coupe roof was grudgingly added in 1996, with ABS, airbags and a few other niceties eventually becoming part of the package.  But from Day One, the snake was all about muscle and that’s expected to remain the heart-and-soul of the all-new Dodge Viper when it finally returns to showrooms next year.

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The front-view teaser suggests the design is a bit retro, though the new version of the Viper will be all-new, this time with a platform borrowed from Fiat’s Maserati division – though it is expected to feature a unique-to-Viper engine.

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Denso, Yazaki Plead Guilty in Massive Bid-Rigging Case

Fines top $500 million.

by on Jan.31, 2012

Japan's Denso and Yazaki will pay almost $550 million in fines for bid-rigging, while key executives will serve jail time.

Two of Japan’s largest suppliers of automotive electrical components–Yazaki Corp and DENSO Corp. –have agreed to plead guilty and to pay more than a half billion dollars in criminal fines for their involvement in bid-rigging conspiracies in the sale of parts to automobile manufacturers in the United States, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced.

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Four executives from Yazaki Corp. North American operations in Detroit, all Japanese nationals, have also agreed to plead guilty and to serve prison time in the United States. The conspiracy targeted companies such as Honda, Toyota and Subaru which have manufacturing operations in the US, according to document filed by the DOJ.

By itself, Yazaki has agreed to pay a $470 million criminal fine–the second largest criminal fine obtained for a Sherman Act antitrust violation–and DENSO has agreed to pay a $78 million criminal fine.

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Folded Like Origami

Spanish city car shrinks to minimize space needed for parking.

by on Jan.31, 2012

Everything is smaller when folded, but could that work for cars as well?

A consortium of technology companies in the Basque region of Spain is planning to produce a tiny city car that was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Called Hiriko, European Commission President José Manuel Durao Barroso said the car “is an answer to the crisis,” the crisis being the problem with parking in Europe’s densely packed urban centers.

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When parked, the rear wheels slide toward the front and the two-person passenger compartment tilts up and forward, making it less than two-thirds the length of a Smart fortwo. Three of them can fit in one standard parking spot. Passengers exit through a single clamshell door on the front of the vehicle.

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Chrysler Operating Earnings Could Near $2 Billion

Maker likely to report first annual net profit since 1997.

by on Jan.30, 2012

A reason to smile for Chrysler CEO Marchionne?

Borrowing the title of a ‘60s-era counterculture novel, Chrysler executives might say, “Been down so long it looks like up to me,” especially if preliminary estimates hold true on Wednesday.  That’s when the long-troubled U.S. maker plans to report its fourth quarter and full 2011 financial figures which – analysts anticipate – could see as much as $2 billion in full-year operating profits.

That would mark the first time Chrysler will have gone into the black for the full year, on an operating basis, since 1997, just before its ill-fated “merger-of-equals” with German’s Daimler AG.  Significantly, the announcement of any full-year profit would come as a stark contrast to the situation the maker found itself in less than three years ago, when it was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

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On a net basis, the maker went $42 million into the red for the first nine months of 2011 – but that figure includes $551 million in second-quarter charges resulting from CEO Sergio Marchionne’s decision to pay off Chrysler’s federal bailout loans years ahead of schedule.  Even with those charges, the smallest of the Detroit makers is expected to land in the black for the full year.

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Fiat 500L to Debut in Geneva

U.S. likely to get only 5-passenger version.

by on Jan.30, 2012

Fiat continues rolling out new models - such as the 500 Gucci Edition, hoping to finally gain some traction.

Bigger is better, or so goes the classic mantra of the American motorist.  So, can Fiat improve its fortunes by going just a wee bit bigger with an extended version of its 500 minicar?

Company officials confirm they will reveal the stretched version of the Cinquecento at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show, what is expected to be called the Fiat 500L likely to land in U.S. showrooms in 2013.

At just over 163 inches, the new model will measure only about 2.5 inches more than the current model, yet Europeans will be offered both a 2-row 5-seater and a 3-row 7-seat version.

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One of several sources confirmed that current plans call for offering only the 5-seat model when the Fiat 500L jumps the Atlantic.

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What’s in a Brand Name? Apparently, a Lot Less Than We Think

Buyers see little difference, shows Consumer Reports study.

by on Jan.30, 2012

Products like the new Prius C have helped build the Toyota brand name, but a new study says its image has slipped sharply.

Manufacturers spend millions – in some cases, billions – to get customers to focus on their brands.  And traditional auto industry research suggests that there are few things more valuable than a good brand image.

Or is there?

That may have been true in years past, but a new study by Consumer Reports magazine suggests “the difference between the top car brands and the challengers is shrinking.  While two Japanese importers and two Detroit marques still lead in overall perception, the gap is smaller than ever.

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That’s the sort of data that can send a chill through the corridors in an automaker’s marketing department, as it opens up the possibility that upstart competitors can gain a leg up with a good new product and a particularly creative ad campaign.  Kia’s hamsters anyone?

“Smaller companies have benefitted from the shift,” reports the non-profit publication, “illustrated by the small electric-car builder, Tesla, breaking into the top 10” in terms of brand perception.

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Opinion: A Waste of a Good Man’s Time

Safety is secondary when politics becomes theater.

by on Jan.30, 2012

GM CEO Dan Akerson at last week's Congressional hearing on the Chevy Volt.

So much of Washington is political theater, meant to do nothing except entertain, advance political ambition, or provide political cover.

Consider what happened here last Wednesday.

The augustly titled House Subcommittee on Government Reform and Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending called a hearing.

Was it to congratulate Detroit’s chief executives and workers on busting their tails to save the domestic automobile industry, the major component of American manufacturing? Was it to congratulate General Motors Co., three short years after going through bankruptcy, for regaining the global sales crown? Was it even to conduct a cursory review on how GM, 26.5% owned by the federal government, has been using taxpayer money?

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No. It was none of those things. Instead, the Republican-controlled subcommittee, which has subpoena power,  was “investigating” already explained and thoroughly understood, by anyone with the practical sense to understand such things, latent fires occurring in a few plug-in electric Chevrolet Volts days and weeks AFTER they had been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Dealers Happiest with Hyundai, Subaru and Lexus

Happy dealers can deliver better sales.

by on Jan.30, 2012

Dealers converge on Las Vegas, this week, for the annual NADA convention.

As many as 10,000 U.S. car dealers will descend on Las Vegas later this week for the National Automobile Dealers Association convention, an annual binge of partying and, in many cases, griping about the problems they have with their manufacturers.

It’s not unusual to hear some angry words emerge from the closed door sessions that make up much of the more serious work at the yearly gathering.  But other “make meetings,” as they’re known in the trade, can be veritable love fests.  Indeed, a new study by the NADA released ahead of the 2012 convention reveals which brands have the best relationship with their retailers.

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Hyundai , yet again, tops the list in the Dealer Attitude Survey, the third year in a row for the fast-growing Korean carmaker.  It’s followed by Subaru, which set its own sales record in 2011, Lexus, Kia and Mercedes-Benz, in that order.

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