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Archive for July, 2012

Designer Dave Lyon Also Out at GM

Was to have headed Opel/Vauxhall.

by on Jul.30, 2012

GM designer Dave Lyon with the GMC Acadia Denali at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show.

The revolving door at General Motors continues to spin ever faster.  And designer Dave Lyon is the latest to fly out onto the street.

His unexpected departure was confirmed just as GM announced the “voluntary” termination of global marketing chief Joel Ewanick.  But at least a half-dozen other senior executives have either left or been shoved out from the maker’s global empire in recent weeks, including the head of GM’s battery-car program.

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The 43-year-old Lyon was considered a rising star within the GM design world and could have firmed up his future in the assignment he was expected to take in the coming days as head of styling for the troubled Opel/Vauxhall subsidiary.

Lyon had already earned a solid reputation for his work on products as diverse as the GMC Acadia Denali and the new Cadillac XTS.  He oversaw development of the interior design for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, as well.

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Recalls Rising Fast; Over 400,000 Vehicles Added to 2012 Tally

Latest Targets: Mazda, Hyundai.

by on Jul.30, 2012

Hyundai's 2012-2013 Sonata is just one of the latest models facing a recall.

Taking its lead from Ford Motor Co., Mazda plans to recall more than 200,000 of its Tribute SUVs due to potentially sticky throttle cables that could cause the vehicles to race out of control.  Ford last week recalled the virtually identical Escape to deal with the same problem.

Meanwhile, Hyundai will recall another 200,000 Santa Fe and Sonata models to correct problems with their airbags that could make it difficult to react properly if a small adult is seated up front. The Korean carmaker also is recalling about 20,000 other vehicles due to a separate airbag problem.

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While year-over-year comparisons are not yet available, industry observers are noting a sharp run-up in recalls this year – even as various studies suggest the industry is producing its highest-quality vehicles ever.  But manufacturers have come under increasing pressure from regulators and consumer watchdogs to act fast when they discover potential safety problems that might have once been ignored or dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

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GM Marketing Czar Ewanick Unexpectedly Resigns

The man who shook things up is latest shaken out.

by on Jul.29, 2012

GM Marketing Czar Joel Ewanick shown during a Chevrolet news conference two months ago.

Joel Ewanick, the agent of change brought in by General Motors just over two years ago to shake up its moribund marketing operations, has unexpectedly resigned.

In a terse statement issued Sunday evening the maker said only that the 52-year-old executive “has elected to resign immediately.” Alan Batey, GM’s vice president of U.S. Sales and Service, will step in as global marketing chief on an interim basis.

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Exactly what led to Ewanick’s sudden departure isn’t clear but it takes even those working close to the marketing czar by surprise.  In fact, it appears to have taken Ewanick himself by surprise.  The former Hyundai marketing chief appeared on the Internet TV show Autoline After Hours barely a week ago and it was clear, “This was not a guy who saw this coming,” said host John McElroy.

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Ford Betting on Aluminum with Next-Gen F-Series

Maker reportedly looking for massive weight reduction.

by on Jul.27, 2012

Ford reportedly plans to go "aluminum-intensive" to cut 700 pounds off the weight of the replacement for the current F-Series.

Pickup truck buyers are a stubborn lot, or so goes the conventional wisdom.  What matters is payload and towing capacity, all else be damned.

But recent trends suggest that’s not necessarily the case.  The latest generation of full-size trucks now offer the sort of high-tech, high-touch features you might expect in a luxury car.  And, perhaps most shockingly, Ford Motor Co. is now selling more than half of its F-Series pickups equipped with V-6s, rather than the classic, heavy-hauling V-8.

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But the Detroit maker could take things are big step further when it launches the next generation of what has been, for more than a quarter-century, America’s best-selling automotive line.  The upcoming remake of the F-Series will reportedly make a major shift away from steel to aluminum in a bid to shave as much as 700 pounds off the big truck’s hefty girth.

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Updated: Lotus Pulls Back on Ambitious Product Plan – Is VW Bid in Offing?

Lutz and advisory board dumped.

by on Jul.27, 2012

Lotus originally developed the Evora GTE for the Le Mans circuit but had hinted it might do a version for the street.

This story has been updated to reflect the latest development involving the Lotus advisory board.

For long-time Lotus fans it seemed too good to be true: the British maker promising to turn out a whopping five new cars in a five-year burst of activity unlike any period in its long but oft-troubled history.

Well, indeed, it was too good to be true.  After discharging Chief Executive Dany Bahar, the automaker’s parent, DRB-Hicom Bhd, has scrapped that ambitious plan and is aiming at what several observers are referring to as a “much more realistic,” meaning downsized, product roll-out.

Meanwhile, former General Motors car czar Bob Lutz confirmed he and the rest of the Lotus advisory board have been terminated as part of the maker’s cost-cutting efforts.

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Could Lotus be leaning out its product plans to make the company seem more appealing for a buyer? That’s one possibility, industry sources suggest, new reports surfacing that suggest Germany’s Volkswagen AG might be interested in buying both the Lotus Group but also Hicom’s Malaysian-based Proton.

“In this day and age, with the cost of developing a new vehicle, building the tools and homologating a sports car,” said analyst Joe Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting, the Lotus plan to turn out five new product seemed “overly ambitious.”

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Fewer Teens Going for a Driver’s License

Makers struggle to appeal to the smartphone generation.

by on Jul.27, 2012

Teens appear to be more interested in texting than driving, according to a new study.

Nearly a third of American 19-year-olds haven’t bothered to get a driver’s license, according to a new study, continuing a downward trend that finds fewer and fewer Millennials plugging into the American car culture.

Instead, suggest researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, (UMTRI), young people are substituting e-mail and text messaging for the traditional forms of socializing that would have required them to get a set of wheels to stay in contact with friends and family.

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“Virtual contact reduces the need for actual contact,” suggested Michael Sivak, co-author of the new UMTRI study.  “We found that the percentage of young drivers was inversely related to the availability of the Internet.”

The report is the latest in a series showing a steady decline in the number of teens getting their licenses. In 1983, only 12.7% of those aged 19 skipped that traditional rite of passage in the U.S.   But the figure had nearly doubled, to 24.5% by 2008.  The latest study looked at U.S. Census and Federal Highway Administration data to determine that in 2010 a full 30.5% of 19-year-olds didn’t yet have a license.

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Ford Recalls 500,000 Escapes for Sticky Throttles

New problem created by old fix.

by on Jul.27, 2012

Ford has decided not to wait for the results of a NHTSA investigation into the 2001-2004 Escape.

Facing an investigation by NHTSA into work done under a previous callback Ford Motor Co. is now recalling nearly 500,000 of its older Escape SUVs because of a problem that could cause cruise-control cables to snag and lead the vehicle to begin racing out of control.

The recall applies only to V-6-powered versions of the popular Ford compact sport-utility vehicles built between the 2001 and 2004 model-years.  But it could add to the embarrassment for the maker which already has had to issue a pair of recalls for the brand new version of the Escape.

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The recall of the older models of the SUV follows word that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would begin an investigation covering both the Escape and the virtually identical Mazda Tribute.  In all, the probe targets 730,000 of the vehicles.  It appears that not all the Escape models included in the NHTSA action are being recalled, however. The latest recall covers just 485,000 of the Ford utes.

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July Sales Look to be Strong

Chugging along despite a weak economy.

by on Jul.27, 2012

Honda regains lost ground with the 2012 CR-V.

Despite fears of an economic slowdown, sales of new vehicles continue to chug along.

July’s new-vehicle retail sales are expected to post the second strongest year-over-year growth rate of the past 12 months, according to a monthly sales forecast developed by J.D. Power and Associates’ Power Information Network and LMC Automotive.

Nonetheless there are signs of a potential slowdown in sales in the coming months. The supply of used vehicles is creeping higher and used car prices are slipping, indicating fewer buyers are out kicking tires these days, noted analyst Art Spinella of CNW Marketing.

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But July new-vehicle retail sales are projected to come in at 969,200 units, J.D.Power noted in its forecast for July. And that would suggest that the auto industry is defying the slowdown that has gripped much of the rest of the economy.

“Retail sales got off to a fast start in July, and while they’ve slowed down a bit as the month has progressed, through the first 16 selling days, they’re still up 15.1%, compared to July 2011,” said John Humphrey, J.D. Power senior vice president of global automotive operations

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Hyundai Defies Euro Downturn; Pushes Up Profits

Strong demand from buyers on a budget helps deliver big surge in earnings.

by on Jul.26, 2012

The Hyundai i30 helped the Korean maker counter the overall downturn of the European car market.

You’d have a hard time telling there are any problems in Europe if you’re only looking at Hyundai’s sales numbers.  Despite the Continent’s economic crisis and the sharp downturn in overall sales, demand for the Korean makers products jumped during the second quarter – driving a 10% increase in the maker’s overall earnings.

Hyundai is one of the few brands that has proven relatively immune to the European crisis that has nations like Greece and Spain on life support while even Germany’s auto market is feeling the economic pinch.  The Korean carmaker appears to be benefiting from its reputation for bargain pricing even as it launches a wave of well-received new products, such as the i40 sedan and ix35 crossover.

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Hyundai’s strong performance comes in sharp contrast to most of the rest of the industry. Ford reported a 57% downturn in Q2 profits, largely the result of European losses, while General Motors is expected to post a major loss in Europe next week. Volkswagen saw earnings rise for the quarter, but largely due to foreign sales with senior executives admitting the situation on the Continent is worsening.

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Wireless Detection System Could Save Pedestrians

GM explores system using new WiFi Direct technology.

by on Jul.26, 2012

A new pedestrian system using WiFi Direct technology is under study by GM.

You begin to make a turn around a downtown corner only to slam on your brakes as a runner jogs into the intersection.  If you’re lucky, everyone is okay – but pedestrian-car collisions account for thousands of fatalities and countless injuries each year.

New technologies are beginning to help, such as backup cameras and radar-based systems like Volvo’s CitySafety. But they can’t help if they can’t see a pedestrian. A new approach under study by General Motors would got a step further, using a technology called WiFi Direct to help spot pedestrians who are out of the line of sight for conventional warning systems.

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“This new wireless capability could warn drivers about pedestrians who might be stepping into the roadway from behind a parked vehicle, or bicyclists who are riding in the car’s blind spot,” said Nady Boules, GM Global R&D director of the Electrical and Control Systems Research Lab.

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