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Toyota Quality Chief: “A Trying Few Months”

Automaker insists it still can’t find vehicle electronics problem.

by on Aug.06, 2010

Toyota's quality czar has had some "trying" times.

For most of his presentation, Steve St. Angelo stood stoicly behind the podium, stiffly reading the teleprompter with the expected explanation for Toyota’s difficult year, rarely making eye contact with the audience.

Then, the chief quality officer and executive vice president for the embattled Japanese automaker stepped out onto the platform at the Management Briefing Seminars, in Traverse City, and suddenly started speaking directly from the heart about the trials Toyota experienced earlier this year.

“Obviously, it has been a trying few months,” St. Angelo said, suddenly animated.

Few would dispute that considering the challenges that have landed on the back of a company that once seemed to do no wrong.

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Since announcing its first recall for unintended acceleration, last October, Toyota has more than 9 million cars to the callback list for a wide range of problems, everything from sticky accelerators to excess corrosion and leaky fuel tanks.  It has paid a record, $16.4 million fine to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to reveal defects in a timely manner.  Its leaders have been caustically grilled by Congress.  Its products have plunged on the quality charts.  And it is facing potential criminal charges from two grand juries.


GM’s Whitacre Wants To Sell Off Government’s Stake ASAP

But CEO won’t discuss timetable for IPO.

by on Aug.05, 2010

GM wants to sell off the government's 61% stake "as soon as possible," says CEO Ed Whitacre.

General Motors is working on its initial public offering, but the only timeframe Chairman and President Ed Whitacre would offer for the IPO, during an appearance Thursday, was “as soon as possible,” in his latest non-news statement.
“It’s number one on our list,” Whitacre, who also serves as GM’s chief executive officer, told the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.  “We don’t like this label of ‘Government Motors.’ It turns customers off and it turns us off.”

Late last month, rumors began to circulate that GM would set out details of his planned stock offering around August 16th, following the release of its second-quarter earnings – about which Vice Chairman Steve Girsky today said analysts would be “encouraged.”

It is anticipated that the offering will be timed just before the upcoming mid-term Congressional elections, though neither Girsky nor Whitacre would confirm that timing. Ruling Congressional Democrats, along with incumbent Republicans face the wrath of voters this fall.

Following his speech at the annual industry confab, Whitacre told reporters that GM must file a massive application with the Securities Exchange Commission, something it is now working on.  But when GM does issue its IPO, Whitacre said he doesn’t expect any backlash as an automotive stock.

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“I think the appetite in the marketplace is going to be really good for GM stock,” he said. In fact, he added, some analysts said the automaker’s IPO could be the biggest ever.

When the stock does go public, Whitacre said he hopes that the government will be completely removed from any significant GM ownership.


Premium Automakers Must “Reimagine Mobility”

New technology will eventually spread across the industry, contends BMW president Jim O’Donnell.

by on Aug.05, 2010

Is the Vision Concept the shape of things to come as BMW "reimagines mobility"?

As the auto industry reinvents personal transportation, in the coming decades, expect luxury automakers to lead the way.

Premium-segment automakers have a responsibility to lead in innovations such as new engine technology and lighter materials, Jim O’Donnell, president of BMW North America, told the Management Briefing Seminars, in Traverse City, Michigan that those advances will eventually filter down to more mainstream models.

“We know we have the opportunity to reimagine mobility,” O’Donnell said.

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Like all automakers, the 2008-09 economic meltdown had a major impact on BMW, but the verdict is still out on the long-term effects, he said – even though the German marque is showing strong signs of recovery, with a solid second quarter profit.


Experts Debate How Cars Will Talk to Each Other

Vehicles that interact with each other could save lives and fuel.

by on Aug.04, 2010

Talk to me. The next big safety breakthrough could come from having vehicles talk to each other - a concept called IntelliDrive.

It seems like such a simple concept: get cars to talk to one another and they should be able to not just save fuel, but also save lives.  Yet as a group of sometimes disagreeable panelists proved at an industry confab, this week, simply getting people to talk about how to interconnect tomorrows cars is a difficult challenge.

Then again, designing the technology could be the easy part.

Most experts actually seem to agree that technology allowing cars to communicate with each other — and the infrastructure – could make our highways safer and more efficient.  But they disagree about who should have access to vehicles’ computer systems – and at what level.  Right now, automakers rigidly control access to the automotive operating system in a way that even Apple Computer might find constricting.

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Frank Weith, technology strategy manager in the Electronics Research Lab at Volkswagen of America, said the automakers are reluctant to give access to the vehicle’s systems.  But what became increasingly clear during a session at this year’s Management Briefing Seminars, in Traverse City, Michigan, is that they may need to.

“The firewalls have to shift,” said John Waraniak, vice president of advanced vehicle technology strategy for the Specialty Equipment Market Association. “Open frameworks are the way forward.”


Toyota’s Toyoda: Industry Needs Reinvent Itself

Giant automaker also fast-tracking new, affordable sports car.

by on Aug.05, 2009

The auto industry "needs to reinvent itself," says Toyota Motor Co. President Akio Toyoda, though his company's push into green power won't prevent it from launching a new, "affordable" sports car.

The auto industry "needs to reinvent itself," says Toyota Motor Co. President Akio Toyoda, though his company's push into green power won't prevent it from launching a new, "affordable" sports car.

The auto industry is “set to make its biggest transformation in 100 years.” declared the head of Toyota Motor Co., during a meeting with industry leaders, Wednesday.

With global demand for oil rapidly approaching the point where it exceeds production capacity, Akio Toyoda, heir to the giant automaker’s founding family, warned that the industry is “back where we began, 100 years ago,” when the fledgling car business was looking for the most effective form of power.

“It calls for true breakthroughs,” said Toyoda, who recently assumed his post as president of Toyota. “We must reinvent the automobile.”

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Speaking to several 100 industry leaders attending the annual Management Briefing Seminars, in Traverse City, Michigan, Toyoda said this reinvention will require a higher degree of cooperation among erstwhile competitors.

Toyota has tried to position itself at the forefront in the switch to greener power, a transformation similar to what pioneers like Henry Ford first faced, when it was unclear whether gasoline, steam or battery power would take the lead. But while petroleum ultimately won out, Toyoda asserted that, in the future, “There (will be) no one solution…but the need for many, because energy solutions that work for Traverse City may not be the best for Shanghai or Sydney or Sao Paolo.