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500 Million and Counting

GM no longer sets the lead – but competitors have a long way to go to catch up.

by on May.04, 2015

General Motors CEO Mary Barra (center) tours the GM Fairfax Assembly plant with Plant Manager Bill Kulhanek and UAW Local 31 President Vicki Hale during the celebration of the 500-millionth vehicle.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra put in an appearance today at the maker’s Fairfax, Kansas, assembly plant, as part of a celebration meant to mark the roll-off of the 500 millionth vehicle the company has produced during the last 106 years.

While scholars might quibble a bit – this is, after all, the “new,” post-bankruptcy GM – few would deny the significance of this milestone. Industry observers say no other manufacturer has so far come close to the half-billion mark, and likely won’t for a number of years.

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But while this might allude to the days when General Motors dominated the global auto industry like no other manufacturer, it is today far from the towering monolith of decades past. In fact, it very well could slip to fourth place among global automakers this year, at least when measured by global unit sales. (more…)

Chevy Cuts Price While Extending Range of New 2016 Volt

Most owners expected to go as much as 1,500 miles between fill-ups.

by on May.04, 2015

The gen-2 Chevrolet Volt is designed to spend even more time operating in electric mode.

Chevrolet is once again cutting the price of its Volt plug-in hybrid – but this time, the $1,175 discount comes with the launch of an all-new version of the extended-range electric vehicle. The 2016 Chevrolet Volt will cost as little as $26,495 when federal credits are taken into account, and some states offer additional financial incentives.

And, at the same, time, the 2016 Chevrolet Volt will be getting a big boost in range, the compact battery car expected to deliver an EPA-rated 50 miles in electric mode alone.

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“The next generation Chevolet Volt delivers more technology, the ability to drive further between gas fill ups and now with even more value to our customers,” said Steve Majoros, director of Chevrolet marketing. “We are confident we will continue to attract new customers to Volt with the vehicle’s product improvements and attractive price.”

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Senate Bill Would Bar Rental of Vehicles with Unrepaired Recall Problems

Measure has support of major rental firms - but dealers oppose it.

by on May.01, 2015

The Houck sisters were killed instantly when their vehicle spun out of control and hit a truck head-on.

A new bill facing the Senate would ban car rental companies from offering vehicles to consumers until outstanding recall problems are repaired.

Dubbed the Rachel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2015, the measure is named after two sisters killed in the 2004 crash of a Chrysler PT Cruiser they had rented which had a serious defect that hadn’t been fixed.

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“Whether they come from the renter’s lot or a dealership, cars under recall should be not be on the road until their defect is repaired,” said NY Senator Charles Schumer, and one of the lead sponsors, along with California’s Barbara Boxer, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill Florida’s Bill Nelson, all Democrats. A similar piece of legislation is facing the House of Representatives.

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Aston Martin Gets Funding to Build DBX Crossover

Battery car also in the works.

by on May.01, 2015

Aston Martin surprised everyone with the introduction of its DBX crossover at the Geneva Motor Show.

Aston Martin has lined up a £200 million, or roughly $300 million, cash infusion from its key shareholders, money that it will use to build several new models including a production version of the DBX crossover revealed at the Geneva Motor Show several months ago.

The goal is to create “the strongest and most portfolio in our history,” proclaimed Andy Palmer, the former Nissan senior executive who joined Aston Martin Lagonda as its new CEO last year.

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“This additional long-term funding, will enable us to add extra model lines and broaden our presence in the luxury market segment by the end of the decade,” said Palmer in a statement. He made it clear that the primary focus is on the DBX.

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GM Hints of Switch to Aluminum Bodies

Nearly $800M investment focuses on work with aluminum and steel.

by on May.01, 2015

GM invested nearly $800 million in three Michigan facilities, in part, to allow them to use more aluminum in production.

General Motors has dropped a big hint about its future vehicle plans this week – and that could mean a major shift from classic steel to aluminum bodies in the coming years.

The move would follow the lead set by rivals such as Ford Motor Co. – which launched an all-new, “aluminum-intensive” version of its F-150 for 2015 – Audi and Jaguar, the latter two adopting the lightweight material for a number of new luxury models. So-called “lightweighting” has become a critical goal for the auto industry as it struggles to meet tough new emissions and fuel economy standards.

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A possible switch to aluminum by GM was hinted at during a news conference revealing the maker’s plan to invest $5.4 billion in new plants and equipment. That includes a revamp of the prototype plant in Warren, Michigan where GM builds the first iteration of new vehicles under development before they are transferred to the assembly plant where the finished product is assembled. (more…)

Tesla Reveals Powerwall Energy Storage System

Base home system to start at $3,500.

by on May.01, 2015

A Powerwall system alongside a Tesla Model S.

Already providing a shock to the auto industry, entrepreneur Elon Musk is now hoping to transform the electric utility world. The billionaire founder of Tesla Motors added a new line of business Thursday night, confirming widespread rumors that the electric carmaker would add a line of residential and business battery backup systems.

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In typical fashion, Musk declared the Powerwall system more than just the sort of technology that could keep a computer or TV running in the event of a power outage. Rather, he insisted during an evening news conference, that the system was another step in the goal of saving the environment by moving away from fossil fuels.

“This is within the power of humanity to do,” Musk proclaimed during a media briefing at Tesla’s design center in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne. “We have done things like this before. It is not impossible.”

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Tesla Expected to Add New Product Line Tonight

Maker plans big announcement; expected to get into stationary battery business.

by on Apr.30, 2015

Getting into stationary power would provide a major new business opportunity for the Tesla Gigafactory shown in this rendering.

While it isn’t walking away from the electric vehicle market, California’s Tesla Motors is expected to announce a new line of business this evening during a splashy news conference starring its media-savvy CEO Elon Musk.

Tesla reportedly will reveal it is entering the market for stationary batteries that can provide backup power for home, office and industrial applications. The anticipated announcement has been tempting analysts and investors, the maker’s stock price on a sharp rise in recent weeks. The move could help ensure the viability of the $5 billion Gigafactory battery plant Tesla is setting up in Nevada, even if its electric vehicle sales don’t meet growth expectations.

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Less than coincidentally, Musk also serves as chairman of Solar City, another start-up that provides stationary battery units to back up its solar power systems.

The topic of tonight’s news conference hasn’t been a particularly close-kept secret. On March 30, Musk tweeted that the carmaker would have news of a “major new Tesla product line – not a car.”

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First Drive: 2016 Honda HR-V

Honda delivers some big things in its small CUV package.

by on Apr.30, 2015

The 2016 Honda HR-V shares the basic architecture first introduced on the Fit hatchback.

Small, smaller, smallest. Like a growing number of its competitors, Honda has been both refreshing and fleshing out its utility vehicle line-up. And even as it prepares to launch an updated version of its biggest model, the Pilot, it’s entering an all-new segment with the pint-sized 2016 Honda HR-V.

What was once a modest niche is rapidly becoming one of the market’s hottest segments with new offerings such as the Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X joining earlier entries like the Nissan Juke and Kia Soul. Honda, however, has big plans for the smallest of its utility vehicles, hoping to dominate the market much as it has with bigger offerings like the Pilot and mid-range CR-V.

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Sharing the same Mexican assembly line as the familiar Honda Fit, the 2016 HR-V also shares the same underlying platform as that latest-generation minicar. That’s good news for those who believe that good things come in small packages, yielding a flexible and roomy interior that will surprise those who expected a cramped interior with little space for either passengers or cargo.

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Lofty Price Tag for High-Performance Cadillac CTS-V

2016 model bigger, faster – and $11,000 more expensive.

by on Apr.30, 2015

The 2016 Cadillac CTS-V is larger but also a lot more powerful, with a 640-hp V-8.

Cadillac’s new 640-horsepower CTS-V will not only be the brand’s most powerful model ever, but also its most expensive sedan ever, at $84,990 including delivery charges.

The third-generation performance sedan is aimed at some of the luxury segment’s toughest competitors, including the vaunted BMW M5. But while it delivers more muscle than the Bavarian performance sedan it remains far from certain consumers will accept the hefty price tag which is about $11,000 more than the outgoing version of the Caddy CTS-V.

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“V-Series represents the pinnacle of Cadillac, a brand that now makes drivers’ cars at the highest level,” said Johan de Nysschen, Cadillac president, in a statement. “The new CTS-V is essentially two cars in one: a luxury sedan with sophisticated road manners and a track-capable sports car with awe-inspiring performance.”

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Amidst Management Turmoil, VW Delivers Strong Earnings

German maker takes a sharp knife to costs.

by on Apr.29, 2015

VW scored a strong hit with the launch of its latest-generation Golf family.

While its boardroom may be racked with turmoil amidst the ouster of its long-time chairman, Volkswagen AG managed to salve investors’ concerns a bit with news that its first-quarter earnings rose 19%, to $3.23 billion.

The maker says it was able to cut costs “in the low triple-digit millions” during the January-to-March period, addressing a problem that had begun to worry analysts – and raise concerns within its boardroom. The maker also benefited from the nascent recovery of the European market which is just emerging from its worst downturn in decades.

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The numbers reported by the 12-brand Volkswagen Group came in ahead of what industry analysts had forecast and, with the maker forecasting continued growth ahead, it could bode well for the post-Piech era.

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