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Biden: Saving Auto Industry Was Right Thing to Do

But anecdotes about Ford and GM show Chrysler has much to do to reenter the conversation about the domestic auto industry.

by on Aug.23, 2010

Vice President Joe Biden tells Chrysler employees at the Jeep assembly plant in Toledo that the Democratic administration saved the auto industry.

Vice President Joe Biden says he’s a Corvette guy. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown tells a story about his daughters picking the color of the Ford Thunderbird he bought. Are we in a Chrysler plant?

Biden visited the Jeep plant in Toledo, giving the expected stump speech about how Democrats – particularly President Obama and himself – were the only ones who believed in Chrysler and GM 21 months ago when the companies went to Washington, hat in hand to ask for help in saving the companies.

Speaking before about a thousand Jeep employees, with the Jeep Wrangler assembly line as a backdrop, Biden said Democrats saved the American auto industry as naysayers suggested that the industry needed to die before it could be reborn.

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The lack of focus on Chrysler illustrates how desperately Chrysler needs to get new product into its dealers. With a dearth of new product, politicians are left to tell anecdotes that are too far away from the focus of the event.

The story of saving these two automakers is a good one.


Dodge Durango will live again

New sport ute will be based on same platform as new Jeep Grand Cherokee.

by on Aug.16, 2010

Dodge will keep the Durango name for a new three-row sport utility vehicle that it will launch this fall.

Chrysler has posted a short montage of images showing details of the new Dodge Durango, while also confirming that it will carry the Durango name.

Click here to watch the 28-second video is posted

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Chrysler has already indicated that it was working on a Durango replacement, but offered no new details other than the images of the new vehicle.

Expected GM IPO Likely Delayed Until Next Week

Sources say automaker had wanted to file today to take advantage of positive earnings news.

by on Aug.13, 2010

Big Ed heads back to Texas with millions of taxpayer dollars coming his way.

General Motors will likely delay the filing of its much-anticipated Initial Public Offering until early next week, according to numerous un-sourced media reports.

Several media outlets reported that the IPO filing, which had been expected Friday so it would follow Thursday’s announcement of GM’s big 2nd-Quarter profit, was delayed because of the allegedly sudden departure of Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre.

Whitacre announced Thursday that he would step down as CEO on Sept first, but would remain as chairman through the end of the year. (See Ken Zino’s GM Q2 Results Tomorrow. IPO Filing Friday?, GM Posts a $14 billion Q2 Turnaround, GM CEO Whitacre Steps Down in September!)

“We’re not commenting on anything regarding the IPO,” the spokeswoman, predictably,  said.

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Dan Akerson, an outsider who joined the GM board in July 2009, will take over for Whitacre.

Whitacre said at the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City last week that the IPO is a very complicated and inches-thick document but the only time frame he would give at the time was as soon as possible.


New UAW President Challenges Transplants

King says union can help makers become more successful.

by on Aug.02, 2010

The new president of the UAW is calling on non-unionized auto companies in the U.S. to offer to their employees the opportunity to join the union.

Bob King says union can help automakers become more successful. Not all will agree.

Making his first public remarks since ascending to the presidency in June, Bob King said at the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City that the United Auto Workers wants to see workers across the world have the right to organize to obtain better working conditions, pay and benefits. To do that, he wants to start at home, focusing on transplant automakers, all of which are currently not unionized.

The UAW of course has been spectacularly unsuccessful in doing so for generations now, and in fact has just lost its only unionized plant with an offshore maker, a joint venture in Fremont California between General Motors and Toyota.

“We want workers to have a free, democratic choice,” King said. “That doesn’t happen in America today.”

King said he would prefer to work cooperatively with employers to offer unionization to companies. But he repeatedly said that if the companies won’t work with the union, the UAW won’t be afraid to fight. The question is how?

“We offer respect and we expect respect in return,” King said.

If employees turn down unionization in a fair election, the union will respect that, King said.

Fighting to build the middle class is at the core of what the UAW has done since it was founded 75 years ago, King said.

King said that the UAW has shown a willingness to work cooperatively with the Detroit Three automakers, making the controversial decision to accept concessions. Now, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have all shown signs of sustainability. Additionally, quality scores show that UAW workers are helping to build quality products, he said.

Milestones: Marysville Produces 10-Millionth Honda; Anna Marks 25 Years of Engine Assembly

Honda went from motor scooters to a global auto, motorcycle and small engine leader because of its U.S. assembly plants.

by on Jul.21, 2010

Anna Engine Plant has grown to become Honda's largest powerplant factory, with an annual capacity of 1.18 million four- and six-cylinder engines.

The Marysville Auto Plant in Ohio has become the first Honda plant outside of Japan to assemble 10 million vehicles. This milestone passed with the production yesterday of an Accord sedan.

The Accord was immediately moved into the plant’s West Cafeteria for display alongside the first generation of the Accord produced at the plant. (See Driving the 2010 Honda Accord)

And just this morning, government and community leaders joined Honda associates at Honda of America Mfg.’s Anna engine plant to celebrate 25 years of manufacturing there.

In addition to producing the engines that power many Honda and Acura automobiles, Anna Engine has provided the basis for the creation of numerous supporting parts plants in Ohio.

Since starting with just 94 associates on 22 July 1985, the Anna Engine Plant has grown to become Honda’s largest auto engine factory, with an annual capacity of 1.18 million four- and six-cylinder powerplants, which Honda says is enough to stretch from Cincinnati to Cleveland and back again. The Anna plant supplies engines to five Honda assembly plants in Ohio, Indiana and Ontario, Canada.


The Accord, of course, was the first Japanese-nameplate car assembled in the United States starting in November 1982 when it was being made both in Japan and in what was then a brand-new automobile assembly plant in Marysville, Ohio.


Will Your Taxi Of The Future Be Yellow or Green?

Bye, bye Crown Victoria. Hello hybrids.

by on May.17, 2010

it's the end of the line for this traditional six-passenger American sedan.

In a recent posting on Green Cabs, I promised a follow up on the radical changes in American cities’ street scenes that are coming.

For more than three decades, the taxi market has been dominated by the “full-sized” Ford Crown Victoria, with its V8 engine, rear-wheel-drive and heavy-duty frame mounted underneath. Attesting to Crown Vics “bullet- proof” reliability reputation most of those in service are former police cruisers, disposed of by the cops when they felt their service life was over (or when the agency’s budget permitted).

Both taxi and police fleet managers are familiar with these cars and experienced in maintaining them. In one state where the attorney general banded together with plaintiff lawyers for an ill-fated attempted shakedown of Ford on alleged safety issues, the state police defied the AG. Indeed, when Crown Vic Police Interceptors have outlived their taxi second life, their reputation is such, according to a West Coast fleet administrator, that they may be exported to other countries for continued service in either taxi or police fleets.

I do not know about cars having nine lives, but three lives are certainly beyond expectations.

However, this is all coming to an end. Ford has announced that it will permanently close its St. Thomas, Ontario, assembly plant in September 2011, ending production of the Crown Vic (which has been sold only to police and taxi fleet sales for several years). This also means the demise as well as of the Mercury Grand Marquis favored by retirees and the Lincoln Town Car that forms the basis of most limo fleets and executive cars.


Green Taxi Fleets

Are hybrids about to take over the cab business?

by on May.14, 2010

Michigan Green Cabs has a dozen 2008 model year Toyota Prius hybrids in its fleet.

It’s no surprise that with “Green That” and “Green This” catching the public- and especially the media’s – fancy, that the concept of Green taxi cabs would not be far behind.

My attention was drawn to this a few months ago by sighting, within a few minutes, several different-make hybrid “Green Taxis” while visiting my daughter in Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C. I spotted taxi versions of Ford Fusion, Toyota Prius and Camry, and Honda Accords – presumably all hybrids – according to their obvious “green” branding paint schemes.

Tracking down facts about them was a different matter. The loudest voice among hybrids because of Prius sales, Toyota, professed to have no fleet sales department and no overall knowledge of hybrid taxis.

It turned out that there was a green taxi fleet operating right under my nose in Oakland County, Michigan, for all practical purposes part of Motor City.

Indeed, from her volunteer work at a neighborhood hospital, my wife called my attention to a local Green taxi company summoned when visitors or discharged patients asked that a cab be called for them.

This is significant because the Beaumont Hospital System is the largest employer in Oakland County. With nearly 13,700 employees, Beaumont has been the county’s #1 employer since General Motors shut down its various manufacturing plants in and around Pontiac. Not even the Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills has more employees than the hospital.

It turned out that Michigan Green Cabs has a fleet of a dozen 2008 Toyota Prius cabs, according to general manager Ryan Tobias. In addition to Beaumont Hospital, the cab company also has contracted for taxi services with more than 20 suburban Detroit hotels, including the boutiquey Townsend Hotel in Birmingham favored by visiting Hollywood types and major league ball players.

Michigan Green Cabs rates ($2.50/mi up to 20 miles, $2.25 per over 20) work out to a significant savings over conventional cabs or limo companies. For example, the tab for going to Detroit Metro Airport from the Townsend in the greenie is $65 while a Town Car limo would set you back $85.

The company boasts that it is “saving the planet one ride at a time” and is “anything but your typical cab company.” Customers of Michigan Green Cab report high satisfaction with their rides, noting particularly that they are cleaner and newer than most cabs (no surprise since most Ford Crown Victoria cabs were police cars in their prior lives), and that the drivers are especially courteous, tributes to the cab company rather than the vehicle.

Veterans of the business, the Tobias family has been operating this particular enterprise since May 2008. They bought the cars from dealers “all over the country” with no special deal from Toyota. General Manager Tobias told me that he picked Prius for the cab fleet rather than a Camry Hybrid or Fusion Hybrid “because it was bigger on the inside.”

Technically, he was correct because that is how the SAE “recommended practice” for measuring interior dimensions makes it come out, with Prius passenger-plus-cargo space amounting to 115.3 cubic feet and classification by the EPA as a “family” car, same as Camry and Fusion. The SAE-measured Prius cargo space comes to 21.6 cu. ft., more than the 20.7 of a Crown Vic, the most familiar cab in North America.

Realistically, though, Prius passenger space is cramped compared to a Crown Vic, the rear seat width, or shoulder room, being only 53 inches vs. the CV’s 60. Three big people can sit comfortably in the back seat of the “big Ford,” but would be, well, seven inches tighter in a Prius. Put another way, two couples wanting a comfortable taxi ride would have to summon two Priuses but only one Crown Vic.

Okay, so maybe a Prius is not the ideal green taxi. Indeed, Ford has been pushing its Escape Hybrid as the green cab of choice,

Of the nearly 13,400 cabs licensed by New York City at the beginning of 2010, an astounding 2,465 were Escape or Mariner Hybrids, versus 296 Camry Hybrids, 263 Altima Hybrids, 155 Highlander Hybrids, 75 Malibu Hybrids, 70 Prius, 6 Lexus RX 400H and a single Civic Hybrid. Of Crown Victoria cabs in NYC, there were 8,473.

The taxi scene in America’s big cities is going to change radically—and sooner than you might think. Look for a subsequent article on the coming changes in the nation’s taxi fleet.

Tips for Teens Coping with Dangerous Winter Roads

Slick, snowy roads can fool even the more experienced driver.

by on Dec.29, 2009

Slow down! Antilock brakes and all-wheel drive won't help you stop faster.

Now that winter is firmly entrenched in our northern latitudes, drivers are trying to cope with the ice, snow, and other hazards that turn roads treacherous and contribute to the more than 1.5 million annual weather-related car crashes, according to the National Research Council.

Teen drivers, many of whom facing wintry conditions behind the wheel for the first time, need guidance to safely navigate the roadways through the upcoming months. To help, Liberty Mutual Insurance has a host of winter safety resources for teens click here.  And if TDB’s experience is representative, more than teens need to think about navigating a two-ton car through the slop.

“Driving in wintry conditions is no easy task, even for seasoned drivers, and it is especially difficult for younger drivers with limited experience to adapt to slippery roads and poor visibility,” said Dave Melton, a driving safety expert with the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety.

“Teen drivers need to take extra steps to protect themselves this winter, and parents need to promote and enforce safe driving habits to keep their teens safe.”

Driving Tips!

Before getting behind the wheel, a driving safety video at the site will help teens and parents get winter road-ready and ensure their cars are safe and in good working order.

Website visitors also will find car maintenance tips and a checklist for a winter driving safety kit. These tips include:

  • Before you get on the road in bad weather, check your local news stations and their websites for detailed, up-to-the-minute weather and traffic information.
  • If your trip is absolutely necessary, give yourself extra time.
  • During inclement weather put extra distance – at least five or six seconds -between yourself and the vehicle in front.
  • Antilock brakes, all-wheel and four-wheel drive won’t help you stop faster.
  • Turn on your headlights so other drivers can see you. In snow, fog and rain, don’t use high beams – they increase glare for both you and other drivers.
  • Signal your intentions early; don’t surprise other drivers.
  • Do not use cruise control when roads are hazardous.
  • And, slow down!
  • Did we mention slow down!


Honda Production Declines for 12th Straight Month

Asia and China remain bright spots by setting records.

by on Nov.30, 2009

Honda was first Japanese automaker to assemble motor vehicles in the United States. Starting with a small motorcycle sales office in Los Angeles in 1959, Honda has grown into a multi-line operation throughout the country to include automobiles, power equipment, powersports, engines and jet aircraft.

Honda, the first Japanese maker to make cars in the U.S., is now so integrated that the declining Yen is less of a problem for it than other makers. Still, production in the U.S. is off 32%.

Honda Motor Company reports for the month of October that production in Japan declined for the 12th straight month. In other regions Honda operates in it was the 13th monthly decline, although production in Asia and China set records.

This means the number two Japanese automaker has thus far been unable to shake off the negative effects of the ongoing global Great Recession that began more than a year ago with the collapse of the financial markets.

In relative terms Honda is in much better financial shape than the two ailing Japanese companies flanking it, number one Toyota and number three Nissan, both of which have been posting far higher financial  losses and are vulnerable to the declining value of the Yen.

Total Honda exports from Japan in October 2009 experienced a year-on-year decrease for the 13th consecutive month.

In the all-important U.S. market, the company’s most profitable, Honda saw production decline 15%, a slight improvement from trend. Year to date, though, Honda is off 32% compared to the same period in 2008. In U.S. sales Honda year-to-date is off about 300,000 vehicles, the equivalent output of almost two final assembly plants.

Japan’s second largest automaker predicts net income of ¥155 billion (about $1.7 billion) in the year ending next March, compared with its earlier forecast of ¥55 billion.

Charts follow.


Honda Fiscal Q2 Income Drops 56%

The Great Recession and stronger Yen hurt financial results.

by on Oct.27, 2009

Honda remains in better financial shape than its Rivals Toyota or Nissan.

Honda Motor remains in relatively better financial shape than its rivals, Toyota or Nissan.

Honda Motor Co., Ltd. announced results for the fiscal second quarter that showed net sales and other operating revenue amounted to ¥2,056.6 billion, a decrease of 27% compared to the same period last year.

The sharp drop was primarily due to decreased sales in its automobile business and the unfavorable impact of currency translation of a weakening U.S. dollar back to Japanese Yen.

As a result, Honda’s consolidated operating income amounted to ¥65.5 billion, a significant decrease of 56.0% when compared to the same period last year.

Nonetheless, Japan’s second largest automaker predicts net income of ¥155 billion (about $1.7 billion) in the year ending next March, compared with its earlier forecast of ¥55 billion.

Second-quarter profit totaled ¥54 billion yen, surpassing some analyst estimates. And clearly puts Honda ahead of number one but loss making Toyota and number three and loss making Nissan in the Japanese industry.

All  will face ongoing challenges if the U.S. dollar continues its collapse.

We have a "yen" for News!

We have a "yen" for News!

Honda raised its full-year forecast for global vehicle sales 3.2% to 3.4 million units in a statement issued this morning.

All the usual suspects were involved in the drastic quarterly decline — decreased profit from lower revenue; the unfavorable currency effects caused by the ongoing appreciation of the Japanese yen; and increased fixed costs per unit because of reduced production. These were only partially offset by decreased selling, administrative expenses, R&D expenses, and other ongoing cost reduction efforts.