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Ram Diesel, Toyota Highland Hybrid Win Consumer Reports Nods

Both deliver unexpected mileage, magazine says.

by on Aug.27, 2014

The Ram EcoDiesel delivers sedan-like mileage, according to Consumer Reports testers.

Consumer Reports has placed Fiat Chrysler’s Ram 1500 EcoDiesel at the top of its full-size pickup truck ratings due to its performance in fuel-economy tests, while the influential magazine also lauded the Toyota Highlander SUV.

The choice of the Ram Diesel underscores the growing intensity of the competition in the full-size pickup segment, which is undergoing a technical revolution as truck makers roll out new, more fuel-efficient powertrains and make other significant improvements meant to boost fuel-economy.

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Ford Motor Co. will launch a new, aluminum-bodied F-150 this fall that sheds up to 700 pounds and is expected to gain significant mileage, but the all-new truck wasn’t included in this round of tests by Consumer Reports.

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Car Sales Still Hot, Even as Summer Cools Down

Month likely to bring best sales - and highest prices - for 2014.

by on Aug.22, 2014

New products - such as the redesigned Toyota Corolla - are helping push car sales higher.

Robust sales of new vehicles during the early summer months have continued in  August, with demand for new cars, trucks and crossovers on pace to surpass May for the  highest levels in 2014, according to a monthly sales forecast developed jointly by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.

That echoes the findings of another new study showing that U.S. motorists have run up record levels of automotive loan debt this year.  John Humphrey, senior vice president of the global automotive practice at J.D. Power, notes that continued high levels of consumer expenditures on new vehicles demonstrate continued improvement of the health of the industry.

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“We expect consumer spending on new vehicles in August to approach $39 billion, the highest level on record for the month of August and second-highest month ever behind July 2005 when it was $39.7 billion,” said Humphrey. “The record consumer spending is fueled by both high sales volumes and high transaction prices.”

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GM Tech Center Still Reeling from Flooding

R&D and Design operations hard hit.

by on Aug.21, 2014

The GM Tech Center was one of the premier projects of architect Eero Saarinen.

General Motor Co. is still struggling to get its huge, suburban Detroit technical center back in operation 10 days after it was flooded by a huge storm that dumped more some five inches of rain on the Motor City.

The rain and flooding, which claimed three lives in the Detroit area, also forced GM, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group to shut down production at some key plants around Detroit.

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But the largest disruption was at the General Motors Technical Center in the suburb of Warren, which is normally home to more than 19,500 full-time employees and contractors. Almost all of them were forced to abandon their work stations in the immediate aftermath of the flooding, which began during the late afternoon and early evening of Monday, August 11 when what has been described as a 100-year storm hammered the city.

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Auto Sales Soar – But So Does Auto Loan Debt

Sub-prime lending and delinquencies raise concerns.

by on Aug.20, 2014

Sub-prime lending has sharply increased - though it remains lower than before the recession.

Car sales may be soaring to their highest levels since the depths of the recession but, in the process, U.S. motorists are running up record auto loan debts.

The combination of rising car prices and a negligible growth in wages has only compounded the problem, buyers going deeper into debt to drive off showroom lots. Outstanding auto loans hit an all-time record of $839.1 billion during the second quarter, a whopping 11.7% year-over-year increase, according to debt tracking service Experian Automotive.

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It marks the 13th consecutive quarter auto loan has increased, according to a separate report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Overall, outstanding household debt was essentially flat, the Fed noted.

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Russia Ready to Retaliate – and Automakers Could Take a Big Hit

One unexpected winner could emerge.

by on Aug.19, 2014

A worker on the AvtoVAZ assembly line in Togliatti, Russia, a plant now run by Renault-Nissan.

Slammed by sanction for its role in the Ukranian revolt, Russia is warning it may tighten retaliatory sanctions against the West by banning automotive imports.

The crisis in the Ukraine has made stock traders around the world nervous, leading to some major swings in key indexes and raising fears about the overall strength of the European economy, which is just beginning to recover from a steep recession.

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But retaliating against Western automakers could have unforeseen consequences for Russia itself as it struggles to build momentum for its own economy. Car sales in the heart of the former Soviet Union also slumped badly along with the rest of Europe.

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Ford Pitches Innovation as it Prepares Launch of Aluminum F-150 Pickup

But nagging concerns remain.

by on Aug.14, 2014

It all adds up - the new sliding rear window on the 2015 F-150 saves about a pound.

(The story has been updated to include results of a new survey of pickup owners.)

Ford Motor Co. is so eager to show off the innovations and weight-savings built into its aluminum-bodied 2015 F-150 pickup, it held a press conference to show off a new sliding rear window that saved just slightly less than one pound.

The maker is racing to get ready for the launch of the new truck and knows there are plenty of concerns about the switch to an “aluminum-intensive” body – made all the more of a challenge by a fire that destroyed a prototype of its next-generation heavy duty pickups, expected to switch to the lightweight metal a year after the launch of the half-ton F-150.

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The 2015 pickup will be as much as 700 pounds lighter than the old, steel-bodied F-150, much of that due to the switch to aluminum. But Ford also has cut mass in a number of areas, large and small. That includes the use of a new “seamless” sliding rear window developed in a collaboration with Canadian-mega-supplier Magna International, noted the appropriately named Noah Mass, the Ford engineering manager responsible for sliding windows and sunroofs.

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GM Loses a Round in Key Ignition Switch Lawsuit

Court lets Melton family reopen lawsuit originally settled in 2013.

by on Aug.11, 2014

29-year-old Brooke Melton was killed in a crash involving her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt.

General Motors’ legal morass continues to deepen, following an adverse ruling by a court in Georgia that allows the reopening of a case it thought it had settled out of the public’s eye more than a year ago.

Cobb County State Court Judge Kathryn Tanksley has denied GM’s motion to dismiss the new lawsuit filed in May by the family of Brooke Melton, a 29-year-old nurse killed in March 2010 when the ignition switch on her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt slipped into accessory mode and the car collided with another vehicle, according to the suit. Melton died in Cobb County, part of the Atlanta metropolitan area.

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Melton’s parents originally sued the company in 2011 and settled in September 2013 for a reported $5 million. The couple decided to try to reopen the case when internal GM documents began to emerge showing it had long known about the ignition switch problem but delayed a formal recall until February of this year. Parents Ken and Beth Melton are now claiming fraud, negligence and concealment in their new lawsuit. (more…)

Designers, Engineers Put Premium on “Lightweighting”

Aluminum, plastics and composites considered critical to meeting new fuel economy rules.

by on Aug.08, 2014

Ford's new F-150 will trim as much as 750 pounds by switching to an "aluminum-intensive" body.

Faced with tough new fuel economy standards that will climb to 54.5 mpg over the next decade, “lightweighting” has become the strategy of choice for automotive designers and engineers, according to a new survey.

The upcoming launch of the “aluminum-intensive” Ford F-150 pickup is just one of the many examples of how manufacturers are putting their vehicles on a diet and gaining significant improvements in fuel economy as a result.

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“The automotive industry is racing to develop safe, fun and affordable vehicles that are much more fuel efficient and produce far fewer emissions,” said Pat Lindner, president of DuPont Performance Polymers, which conducted the survey that was released during the annual Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Michigan.

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Marchionne Downplays Threat to Fiat-Chrysler Merger

CEO willing to wait out opponent shareholders,

by on Aug.06, 2014

CEO Sergio Marchionne is confident any shareholder backlash will only be a temporary roadblock.

Disgruntled Fiat shareholders could –  temporarily – thwart the completion of the Fiat-Chrysler merger, Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of both the Italian and American automakers, conceded.

During a conference call today with analysts and journalists, Marchionne emphasized that an adverse vote would not have a long-term impact on the meshing of the two companies.

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“We have to see how this game plays out,” Marchionne said during the call. “I am absolutely unfazed by this.”

With Italy teetering on the brink of recession and Fiat stock losing value, speculation is mounting that some Fiat shareholders may opt to cash out rather than accept stock in the new company.

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Acura Betting on Biggest Ad Blitz Ever for New TLX

Critical launch comes later this month.

by on Aug.04, 2014

Acura launches an ad blitz for the new TLX this month.

Counting on the all-new midrange TLX sport sedan to reverse years of weak sales, Acura will launch the largest and most expensive  advertising blitz in the brand’s history.

The move could be critical for the Honda luxury marque, Acura sales tumbling 17.6% in July despite the addition of several recent sedans, the base ILX and flagship RLX. The TLX targets what Acura’s top executive Mike Accavitti has described as the “sweet spot” of the luxury market. But the challenge is to reach potential buyers who have largely written off the brand.

Getting the Message Out!

Acura will reveal its new ads this coming Friday – though it is already pitching the car in Canada by emphasizing performance and spirited driving. The American campaign will go live in mid-August, Accatti said, even as the maker and its motorsports partner, Real Time Racing, hope to build buzz with a track version of the TLX sedan.

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