Detroit Bureau on Twitter

Author Archive

Opel to Build Mini Car Without German Incentives

New 2013 B car requires €90 million from U.S. taxpayers.

by on Sep.27, 2010

A small Mini competitor is coming from Opel courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

Opel/Vauxhall will build its latest model, an all-new car smaller than the sub-compact Corsa, at its Eisenach plant in the East German state of Thuringia, General Motors Company has confirmed.

Earlier this year the German government – facing a taxpayer revolt and big deficits – refused to provide €1.1 billion in subsidies GM wanted for Opel, saying the company had enough cash to keep Opel running by itself. The cash, of course, came from U.S. taxpayers, who along with the United Auto Workers Union now own the biggest stakes in the company, which employs about 24,000 people in a reunited Germany. The GM bankruptcy bailout by taxpayers remains politically unpopular in the U.S.

The €90 million investment announced by GM appears minimal since an existing production line will be used. Nonetheless, because it will be U.S. taxpayer financed, it could cause controversy during the upcoming U.S. Congressional elections.

“This is a further milestone in the growth strategy for our business,” said Opel/Vauxhall CEO Nick Reilly, who is attempting to reverse precipitous drops in both sales and market share at the ailing maker.


Ford Will Build a Second Engine Plant in China

Chinese industrial policy prompts $500 million JV reinvestment.

by on Sep.27, 2010

Reinvesting in China is mandated by an industrial policy that in practice requires it .

Ford Motor Company and its government dictated partners are building new engine plant in China that is due to open in 2013. With the additional capacity of 400,000 units at the new facility, Ford’s joint venture, Changan Ford Mazda Automobile Ltd (CFMA), is more than doubling its existing engine capacity of 350,000, to 750,000 engines annually.

Ford Motor Company CFO Lewis Booth joined Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan, Chongqing New North Zone Administrative Committee Director Xiong Xue, Chongqing Changan Automobile Company chairman Xu Liuping, as well as Ford China chairman and CEO Robert J. Graziano in Chongqing at an official signing ceremony over the weekend.

China is now by far the world’s largest auto market, and Chinese industrial policy in effect requires that all profits earned there are reinvested in the country and its local partners. The U.S. remains alone among industrialized nations – with elected or totalitarian governments – without any such job and investment protecting policy.

The $500 million (RMB 3.4 billion) investment will be funded entirely by CFMA and will be located in Chongqing’s so called New North Zone.


Toyota Ups 2011 Prius Pricing

World’s best selling hybrid can now cost more than $30,000.

by on Sep.24, 2010

Prius remains the sales leading hybrid. It is unchanged this year after a revision last year.

Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc., has just slightly raised the price of its Prius hybrid in an attempt no doubt to raise revenues as the Japanese Yen remains strong. Year to date the Japanese-produced Prius has posted sales of 91,940 units, down from 93,810 in 2009.

Sales in August 2010, the most recent reporting period, plummeted 35%, as gasoline prices remained relatively low and down significantly from their record $4 a squirt highs in the U.S. Some of the drastic drop in sales was due to the end of the taxpayer subsidized “cash for clunkers” program, which was in effect a year ago.

After ten years of sales in the U.S., the latest generation Prius will now have a Manufactures’ Suggested Retail Price Range (MSRP) of $23,050 for the Prius Two model to $28,320 for the Prius Five model, an increase of $250. MSRP excludes shipping and deliver charges of almost $1,000. The relative restraint used in the increase demonstrates how weak the market remains, as well as Toyota’s tenuous position in it. Nonetheless the increase is worth somewhere between $25 and $50 million in increased revenues at a time when Toyota’s post recall marketing costs remain high.

The Toyota Prius leads the market for hybrid automobiles that it started more than a decade ago. With its 50-MPG fuel economy rating, Prius is the most fuel-efficient passenger car available in the U.S. – a spot once occupied by Honda. Prius’ fuel economy comes in what’s dubbed a 5-passenger midsize car by the EPA. Toyota has sold 880,000 Prius models in the U.S. since 2000.


15 Minute Recharging Underway for Electric Vehicle Owners from Eaton and Murphy Oil

Inventing a new industry to address EV range anxiety.

by on Sep.24, 2010

It looks like a gas pump back there behind the Mitsubishi, but it's actually a 15-minute recharger.

The Achilles’ heal of electric vehicles is range all,  except fanatics admit, and in every problem there’s an opportunity. At least that’s the thinking behind the latest announcement from Eaton Corporation and Murphy Oil USA that starts an alliance to provide fast charging for range-challenged EVs at Murphy’s gas stations.

Oil companies have been notably silent, of course, on the potential threat that EVs, especially pure EVs, pose to their monopoly on transportation fuels. One of the reasons no doubt is how few of them there are now, and likely will be in the immediate future, given the fact that an EV leaves the driveway fully charged with about the same range as a gasoline-powered vehicle has when the gauge reads empty and the low fuel warning light is on.

The Eaton Murphy collaboration will attempt to address this “range anxiety” that electric vehicle drivers will face with from weak batteries and the limited – virtually non-existent – availability of installed and operating charging stations.

Charged Up!

After an initial test at one location in Tennessee, the home state of the 47+ mile range Nissan Leaf (allegedly, your mileage may vary), the joint venture could expand during the next three years to the more than 1,000 retail gasoline stations in 22 states that Murphy owns and operates.


Mini Scooter E Debuts at Paris Motor Show

Electric motorbike offers CO2 free mobility – depending on how the recharging juice is generated, that is.

by on Sep.23, 2010

Can BMW transfers Mini’s driving fun and premium pricing to the two-wheel segment?

Mini will introduce a Scooter E Concept at the Paris International Motor Show next month. It could be the premium small car brand’s first two-wheel vehicle.

The electric drive unit, concealed beneath a painted cover inside the rear wheel, is powered by electricity supplied from a lithium-ion battery pack. Apart from the compact battery, a charging system and connecting cable are integrated in the rear of the Scooter E Concept. The charging cable has a plug which fits into a conventional domestic socket. This has a potential advantage of eliminating higher voltage special charging stations but will drastically increase the time to recharge the scooter.

Plugs and cables are accommodated underneath a cover similar to the round tank flap in a Mini car. After opening the illuminated flap, the plug and charging cable can be pulled out to a length of five meters. After the battery has been charged up, a button-operated spring mechanism ensures that the cable is retracted and coiled in a space-saving compartment. However, no range or performance or pricing data were released.


The cockpit of the Mini Scooter E Concept has a “Centre Speedo” in the circular shape of the four wheel Minis, with a smartphone integrated in the middle. The wraparound speedometer is in the form of a tube filled with fluid, the content expanding in line with the speed like a thermometer. In the lower area of the Centre Speedo, a battery charge level display indicates the range currently available. The design of all the control elements for lights, directional indicators and other driving functions corresponds to the buttons on the multifunction steering wheel of Mini cars.


New VW Engine Plant Confirmed in Mexico

German maker will redevelop an existing site in central Mexico.

by on Sep.22, 2010

The VW expansion given current U.S. sales and Japanese competition appears extremely ambitious.

The Volkswagen Group confirmed this afternoon that it will build a new engine plant in Silao, Mexico as part of its long-term expansion strategy in North America. (See Paul Eisenstein’s New Mexican Engine Plant to Support VW’s Chattanooga Assembly Line )

Beginning in 2013, the new plant in Silao will supply the latest generation of engines to VW vehicle plants in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Puebla, Mexico.

Volkswagen Group has previously said it is planning sales of one million vehicles in the U.S. – including 800,000 VWs – annually by 2018. The core element of this ambitious strategy is vehicles tailored to the demands of U.S. customers, such as the all-new Jetta and the New Midsize Sedan (NMS). Year-to-date VW brand sales are 173,000 units.

Plant Growth!

The all-new Jetta is built in Puebla and the NMS will be produced in Chattanooga beginning next year. Both vehicles have a high degree of localization.


Ready For Two-Cylinder Cars? Fiat Thinks So

Two-banger 500 models will be at the 2010 Paris Motor Show.

by on Sep.22, 2010

Downsizing is taken to an extreme in the quest for better fuel economy.

At the center of the Fiat display at the upcoming Paris Motor Show will be four of the diminutive 500 models equipped with two-cylinder engines. That’s right two.

Fiat Powertrain Technologies has developed a 900 cc engine with direct injection and turbocharging that delivers 85-horsepower and 145 Nm torque. The tiny powerplant is dubbed TwinAir after the already in production MultiAir system(gasoline direct injection), and is just starting to be available in Europe in 500 sedan and convertible models.

The performance of the twin-cylinder is roughly the equivalent to a traditional 1.4-liter 16 valve engine, but its fuel consumption is said to be 30% less.

A two-cylinder might actually make the most sense in a hybrid as an onboard recharger.

The two-cylinder 500 models are showcasing a new family of two-cylinder engines that build on MultiAir technology and also use a start-stop system to turn the engine off at idle.

Fiat says it is taking the concept of downsizing to the “extreme.” No argument here, as the new engine line is projected to deliver from 65 to 105 horsepower. Fiat claims the engines emit 30% less CO2 (a direct function of fuel consumption with a carbon based fuel) than an engine of equal performance. The engine could be the cleanest gasoline engine in the world with its CO2 emission levels of 92 g/km with a “Dualogic” automatic transmission and 95 g/km with manual gearbox.


Honda CR-Z Debuts in 3-D in Times Square Thursday

Is this the first time a 3-D promo is broadcast to a public space?

by on Sep.22, 2010

This is the latest example of automotive marketing moving from traditional media.

Honda will hold what it says is the first-ever takeover of Times Square with  3-D technology to launch the CR-Z sport hybrid coupe tomorrow.

The marketing event marks the first time 3-D footage will be broadcast to the public space, in this case five blocks of Times Square in New York City, according to Honda. No matter about the claim, it is the latest indicator of how event marketing is changing automotive advertising and promotion, with a clear shift from traditional broadcast and print outlets to so-called new media.

As a part of the takeover, Honda will run 3-D CR-Z commercial footage on the Times Square HD Spectacolor (sic) screen located on Broadway between 46th and 47th Street. Sony will provide 3-D Gran Turismo 5 racing simulators. Honda will also sponsor a special performance from the hip-hop trio N.E.R.D.

The Times Square CR-Z event will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, with N.E.R.D. taking the stage at 12:30 p.m. to perform. Attendees will receive special glasses to view the 3-D CR-Z television commercial footage. They will also have the opportunity to “interact” with the all-new CR-Z sport hybrid coupe. Other on-site activities include live screen printing, 3-D photo booths and prize giveaways.


LaHood Opens Second Distracted Driving Summit

New distracted driving regs and employer policies coming. Technology both vilified as a cause and praised as a solution.

by on Sep.21, 2010

It's clear that technology causes the DD problem; there is little data showing that it can solve it. The vehicle is not a mobile device say critics.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood kicked off the 2010 Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, DC today by announcing new anti-distracted driving regulations for drivers transporting hazardous materials, commercial truck and bus drivers, and rail operators.

LaHood said that he is initiating a new rulemaking to prohibit commercial truck drivers from texting while transporting hazardous materials. In addition, LaHood said that two rules proposed at last year’s summit have now become law – rules banning commercial bus and truck drivers from texting on the job, and restricting train operators from using cell phones and other electronic devices while in the driver’s seat.  More than 4,000 people died in heavy truck crashes in 2008, but only 15% of them were in the trucks.

“We are taking action on a number of fronts to address the epidemic of distracted driving in America,” said Secretary LaHood.  “With the help of the experts, policymakers, and safety advocates we’ve assembled here, we are going to do everything we can to put an end to distracted driving and save lives.”

More than 100 million people each day are now engaging in dangerous distracted driving behavior or DD. In 2009, nearly 5,500 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research, distraction-related fatalities represented 16% of overall traffic fatalities in 2009.


Vehicle Thefts Post Sixth Straight Yearly Decline

Latest “Hot Wheels” list shows largest annual drop in decades.

by on Sep.21, 2010

Keeping the chop shops in business are older, but popular models.

The FBI’s just-released 2009 Uniform Crime Report shows that vehicle theft is once again down significantly in 2009, the sixth consecutive year of reductions.  In 2008, 956,846 vehicles were reported stolen – the lowest annual total in more than 20 years. For 2009 the thefts are lower at 794,616.

Using this FBI data, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has just released its list of the Top Ten stolen vehicles in the United States by make, model, and year.  Honda Accord and Civic, Toyota Camry and the Ford F-150 head the list.

Unlike other theft reports, this one covers all vehicles, not just insured ones. That’s a significant difference in the data base since newer, more expensive and insured vehicles are often stolen to be resold with counterfeit vehicle identification numbers or shipped out of the country across our porous borders.  (See Vehicles Thieves Love to See – and Take) Older cars are often chopped up for parts, leaving their less affluent owners out of luck.

“Through the end of August this year there were 97,655 vehicles that were listed as stolen and not yet recovered,” said Joe Wehrle, NICB president and CEO. “Of that number, only 38% had some kind of insurance coverage. So there are a lot of vehicles out there that are being stolen and the owner is left holding the bag with no car and no money to buy another one.