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Posts Tagged ‘World Auto Report’

GM and NASA Engineers Prepare R2 for Space Work

Technology on R2 robot could easily displace line workers.

by on Jul.07, 2010

Not exactly a job creating technology.

General Motors and NASA engineers continue to prepare Robonaut 2 for its planned September mission to the International Space Station aboard the space shuttle Discovery, GM said today in a statement.

This new generation robot can use its hands to do work beyond the scope of prior machines.

Using dexterous, human-like robots capable of intricate work is not new to the aerospace industry, of course. The original Robonaut, a humanoid robot designed for space travel, was built by the software, robotics and simulation division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in a collaborative effort with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency 10 years ago

R2 can work safely alongside people, a necessity both on Earth and in space. This new generation robot can use its hands to do work beyond the scope of prior machines.  (See NASA and GM Working on Robotic Technology)

Human Written!

GM and NASA engineering teams are currently checking on some of the key technologies employed by the “humanoid” robot, including advanced sensor and vision systems.

R2, while not nearly as cute as R2-D2 of Star Wars fame, is faster, more dexterous and a more technologically advanced robot than previous, non-movie versions.

No word if R2 has a taser, though.

At least people, so far, are doing the design work. Moreover, a human writes this story.


April U.S. Retail Auto Sales Projected at Slightly Up

Economy remains stuck in park; jobless recovery continues.

by on Apr.22, 2010

April new-vehicle retail sales are expected to come in at 804,200 units, which represents a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 9.8 million units, according to J.D. Power and Associates.


U.S. Sales and SAAR Comparisons, April 2010

April 2010 March 2010 April 2009
New retail 804,200 units (+22% April 2009) 849,735 units 659,458 units
Total vehicle 1,008,800 units (+23% April 2009) 1,063,987 units 819,126 units
Retail SAAR 9.8 million units 9.6 million units 8.0 million units
Total SAAR 11.5 million units 11.7 million units 9.2 million units
J.D. Power and Associates. Figures for April 2010 are forecast based on the first 15 selling days of the month.


When compared with an admittedly bad April 2009, retail sales are projected to increase by 22% in April 2010, and the selling rate is expected to increase by 1.8 million units.

Retail transactions are the most accurate measurement of true underlying consumer demand for new vehicles, according to Power, which gathers real-time transaction data from more than 8,900 retail franchises in the United States.


U.S. Automobile Industry Makes $500 Billion Dollar Contribution to the Economy

Latest study shows more than eight million jobs created.

by on Apr.22, 2010

There are sound economic reasons why all industrialized nations, except the U.S., protect their auto industry.

The U.S. auto industry provides a substantial contribution to U.S. economic health, according to the latest study released this morning by the Sustainable Transportation and Communities group at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

The non-profit research organization looked at the economic and employment impact of automakers, parts suppliers, and dealerships in contributing to the economies of all 50 states.

The automotive industry spends $16 to $18 billion dollars a year on research and product development, half a trillion dollars on employee compensation, and is the major leader of the overall manufacturing contribution to the gross domestic product.

“It is difficult to imagine manufacturing surviving in this country without the automotive Sector, said Kim Hill, director of the Sustainable Transportation and Communities group at CAR, and the study’s lead.

“The industry’s impact is huge on a host of other sectors as diverse as raw materials, construction, machinery, legal, computers and semiconductors, financial, advertising, health care and education. In this time of national introspection concerning the value of the U.S.-based auto industry, it is clear the value is quite high,” Hill said.


China to Maintain Number One Auto Market Spot

Five-year outlook predicts 55% growth, as U.S. languishes.

by on Apr.22, 2010

China claimed the global sales crown for 2009 and will likely retains it for years, if not forever.

Sales of passenger vehicles in China  are expected to increase from 8.7 million units in 2009 to 13.55 million units in 2015. This increase in sales of passenger cars, SUVs and minivans of more than 55% does not include the sale of millions of light commercial vehicles annually.

If the forecast by J.D. Power and Associates holds true, China will easily remain the world’s largest auto market during the decade to come.

Last year China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest auto market as a result of targeted government incentives and aggressive bank lending, which lasted all year, while U.S. politicians wrangled for six  months over what was a short lived but effect Cash for Clunkers program.

Worse, U.S. banks stopped lending to consumers, even as taxpayers poured billions of dollars into them. Most U.S. market forecasts see it languishing in the 12-13 million unit range for the next five years. (See Chinese Auto Market Grows to 40 Million Annually? )

Automakers have recorded substantial profits during  the past few years in China, whose industrial policy requires joint ventures and substantial investment  by western automakers. Moreover, the Communist party controls the hiring in joint venture plants, thereby ensuring the loyalty of workers.

It is the stated policy of the Chinese government to consolidate the auto sector around Chinese companies, while diminishing the role of western automakers’ once they have learned all they can from them.

Thus far the clearest evidence of the plan is state owned SAIC taking 51% controlling interest of Shanghai GM late last year by forcing a cash-starved GM to sell 1% if its 50% share. (See SAIC Takes Controlling Interest of GM Joint Venture)


First Look: Volvo C30 Polestar Concept

Volvo Cars' racing partner reveals performance streetcar.

by on Apr.21, 2010

Who says Volvo is only interested in safe, boring cars? The Polestar Concept could take some fans by surprise.

Chinese-owned Volvo Cars is continuing its attempt to leave behind its staid safety image this weekend as the new Volvo C30 Polestar Performance Concept Prototype is revealed.

Volvo Cars and Polestar are now enter their  fifteenth consecutive motorsport season in the Swedish Touring Car Championship (STCC) as reigning champions.

Polestar has a long and successful competition history with Volvo, racing with 850, S40, and S60. In 2009, Polestar won the STCC for Volvo Cars with the C30, a car they developed completely from scratch.


GM Pays Back Loans from U.S. Treasury and Canada

This is only a small portion due to taxpayers, on the hook for roughly $50 billion, and need an IPO to succeed for the rest.

by on Apr.21, 2010

Still working for the taxpayers - U.S. and Canadian.

In a ceremony at GM’s Fairfax, Kansas plant late this morning, Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre said that GM has made its final payment of $5.8 billion to the U.S. Treasury and Export Development Canada, paying back the cash part of its government loans in full, and ahead of schedule.

This confirmed news reports earlier this week that the company would do so in an attempt to remove the right wing stigma of “Government Motors” from the vocabulary of critics and more importantly potential buyers.

Ken Zino, editor of  TDB, had an exclusive report – see Limbaugh Carrier Airs GM Loan Repayment Ad – about how a right wing talk radio station revealed the payback ahead of the announcement by running a taxpayer paid spot, many versions of which are now airing on TV and radio stations. Presumably, print ads will follow tomorrow.

The announcement came along with the promise of an investment of $257 million at the Fairfax and Detroit Hamtramck assembly centers.

The money will prepare Fairfax to build the next generation Chevrolet Malibu, and make Detroit Hamtramck a second source for Malibu. This is an optimistic step taken to “ensure that Chevrolet can meet demand” for its new mid-size sedan.

Whether such demand appears remains to be seen.

However, in fairness, GM’s recent product launches have been more successful than the previous ones leading up to its bankruptcy last year.

GM is able to repay the taxpayers in full, with interest, ahead of schedule, because more customers are buying vehicles such as the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse “we build here in Fairfax,” said Whitacre.

Follow the money

The U.S., Canadian, and Ontario governments, as part of the launch of the new GM, provided controversial loans of $8.4 billion and took large equity stakes in the new company. Today’s payment of $5.8 billion ($4.7 billion to the U.S. Treasury and $C1.1 billion to Export Development Canada) completes the payback of these loans, but does not get taxpayers or GM off the hook.

Under the loan terms, GM had until 2015 to repay the cash part of the loan it closed out today. Overall, this return of what now totals ~$8.4 billion is only a small portion of the actual amount due to taxpayers, who fronted roughly $50 billion in the U.S. alone. For the balance due, taxpayers instead own a 61% stake in the privately held company, and a successful public offering or IPO remains crucial to the government getting its money back – as it subsequently sells or attempts to sell the stock to private investors.

Multiple studies, of course,  have said that taxpayers will never recover what was actually invested in GM. See Taxpayers Will Take Big Losses on Auto Bailouts.

However,  the same was said about an earlier taxpayer investment in Chrysler Corporation, under the pugnacious Lido Anthony Iacocca, who paid back every cent with interest.


Chrysler Group Loses $3.8 billion in 2009

However, company claims Q1 profit based on lower costs.

by on Apr.21, 2010

Chrysler is struggling with weaning itself off profit sapping incentives while it attempts to peddle an aging product line.

Taxpayer owners in Canada and the U.S. of Chrysler Group received mixed news this morning as the reorganized company posted an operating profit of $143 million during the first three months of 2010, but also posted a large loss for 2009.

Chrysler, managed by 20%-owner Fiat SpA, attributed the positive development to reduced  costs, as well as revenue from the newly introduced Ram heavy-duty pickup truck.

Revenue rose to $9.7 billion in the first quarter, plus 2.7% from the final three months of 2009, Chrysler said in a statement.

Chrysler reported a net loss of $197 million in the first quarter, compared to a net loss of $2.69 billion in the final three months of last year.

“This positive operating result in the first quarter is a concrete indication to our customers, dealers and suppliers that the 2010 targets we have set for ourselves are achievable,” said Sergio Marchionne, Chief Executive, Officer, Chrysler Group LLC, who also has his hands full as head of loss making  Fiat. (€21 million loss vs. €411 million loss for Q1 2009.)

Chrysler said it lost $3.8 billion on revenue of $17.7 billion after its emergence from bankruptcy last June 10 and through the end of 2009. This staggering  number includes $1.4 billion in so-called goodwill, which is posted on the positive side of the ledger, one of those intangible calls by accountants.

It was during the reorganization that Fiat was granted its 20% ownership for a paltry $320 million assigned to its intellectual property in a controversial transaction that saw $15 billion in government support. As a result, Canadian taxpayers now own 2.46% of Chrysler Group. U.S. taxpayers hold 9.85%.

Fiat has the option to increase its stake contingent on government loads being repaid and the  introduction of small car technology, among other terms.

Sales remain problematic at the still struggling automaker

Worldwide vehicle shipments in Q1 were 380,000, which included U.S. vehicle shipments of 268,000, both figures representing an increase of 3% versus Q4 2009. Chrysler Group vehicle sales in the U.S. dropped 5.3% even  though industry sale rose 16% during the first quarter. Market share improved to 9.1% from 8.1% Q4 2009, and to 13.7% Canada from 11.6% percent in Q4 2009.


Recalled! Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus GX 460

Toyota will reprogram the stability software in U.S. and Europe.

by on Apr.20, 2010

There's a lot of programming required to dictate the torque split, shown, antilock braking and VSC systems on an all-wheel drive vehicle.

Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A. today announced it would conduct a voluntary safety recall on approximately 9,400 2010-model year Lexus GX 460 sport utility vehicles in order to reprogram the software of the so-called Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system.

Concurrently, Toyota Motor Europe announced it would recall of 7,500 Toyota Land Cruiser 150 (Prado) and Lexus GX 460 models, also to reprogram VSC software to improve its “responsiveness.”

The affected vehicles in Europe are only left-hand drive versions. The voluntary recall includes the Toyota Land Cruiser 150, available across Europe, and the Lexus GX 460, which is only available in certain Eastern European markets.

The electronic  VSC intervention will be made more agressive.

The electronically-controlled VSC system will now be made more aggressive.

The latest recalls were virtually assured once Consumer Reports – a long time proponent (critics say cheerleader) of Toyota’s engineering and quality issued an almost unheard of “Don’t Buy: Safety Risk” recommendation against the Lexus GX 460 in its April issue.

The magazine claimed the GX 460 was the worst, in terms of rollover potential, among the 95 SUVs in its current automotive ratings.

Rollovers used to be a serious safety problem among sport utility vehicles, but electronic controls, along with an epidemic of more than 5,000 “distracted driving” fatalities annually have made it less deadly, relatively speaking.

The VSC problem concerns “trailing throttle oversteer,” or the tendency of the Lexus to have the rear end swing wide in a turn if the driver lifts off the accelerator pedal. This points the front of the SUV toward the inside of the turn. Uncorrected by either the driver or electronic controls, the SUV could hit the curb, creating a trip rollover. Oversteer can also lead to a spin. (See Japanese Stop Sales of 2010 Lexus GX460 )

“Our engineers have conducted tests to confirm the VSC performance issue raised by Consumer Reports, and we are confident this VSC software update addresses the concern,” said Steve St. Angelo, Toyota chief quality officer for North America, without offering any explanation about how the calibration of a critical electronic control system could have been released if it is so ineffective.


Limbaugh Carrier Airs GM Loan Repayment Ad

Right wing talk radio station reveals news ahead of announcement in taxpayer paid spot.

by on Apr.19, 2010

Taxpayers to get some greenbacks back.

A New York radio station airing the Rush Limbaugh show this morning aired a commercial from General Motors Company announcing that it had made another payment to the U.S. government for taxpayer loans, which allowed it to emerge from bankruptcy last summer.

Limbaugh and other critics on the right widely derided the taxpayer bailout as creating an unwelcome “Government Motors.”

Moreover, right wing groups are boycotting GM products, but right wing oriented businesses are apparently accepting taxpayer money.

Polls before, during and after GM bankruptcy reorganization also show a majority of Americans as opposing the idea of government intervention in both the automotive and financial sectors.

Click on chart to enlarge.

GM had previously said it wished to pay another some more of $4.7 billion owed to the U.S. government ahead of time, possibly as early as June. Two billion dollars have already been returned. (About $C1.1 billion will also be repaid to Canadian and Ontario governments.)

GM Chairman and Chief Executive Edward Whitacre Jr. was to make the announcement this Wednesday at a media event in Kansas City where the Chevrolet Malibu is assembled.

Under the loan terms, GM has until 2015 to repay the cash part of the loan, but the automaker is pulling ahead its payments in the absence of any pre-payment penalties in an attempt to silence critics of its bailout.

Overall, this return of $6.7 billion is only a small portion of the actual amount due to taxpayers, who are on the hook for roughly $50 billion. For the balance, taxpayers own a 61% stake in the privately held company, and a successful public offering or IPO remains crucial to the government getting its money back. Multiple studies have said that taxpayers will never recover what was invested. See Taxpayers Will Take Big Losses on Auto Bailouts


Japanese Decide to Recall Toyota Sienna Minivans

Spare tire drops onto road, creating hazard for those following.

by on Apr.16, 2010

The salt used in Nagoya, Toyota's home, is mostly in the soy sauce, not on the roads.


Japanese executives have allowed Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A. to announce late this afternoon that it can recall approximately 600,000 first and second generation Sienna 2WD minivans sold in the United States to address “potential corrosion in the spare tire carrier cable.” This number doesn’t  include more than 270,000 vans in Canada.  

The safety defect may appear on 1998 through 2010 model year Sienna minivans that have been operated in cold climate areas tha use salt during the wonter to deice roads. 

TMS, which does not have recall authority from its parent Japanese company, says that continued prolonged exposure to road salts may cause “excessive” corrosion of the carrier cable in some of these vehicles. In the worst case, the carrier cable may fail and the spare tire could become separated from the vehicle, a road hazard for following vehicles that increases the likelihood of a crash. 

Toyota says it is now working to develop a remedy for the corrosion defect. Until the fix is found, customers will receive an interim notice instructing them to bring their vehicle to a dealership for a preliminary inspection. Customers will receive, eventually, a secondary notice advising them of the solution.  

The defect finding without a solution was no doubt prompted by Toyota’s ongoing problems with U.S. safety regulators. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking the maximum civil penalty of $16.375 million against Toyota Motor Corporation for failing to notify the auto safety agency of what turns out to be a potentially fatal “sticky pedal” defect for at least four months. In response to my queries today, Toyota said it had “nothing to report” as to whether it will contest the fine.  Criminal charges are possible.  (more…)