Archive for August, 2008

Rental Car Companies Driving Chrysler Sales

  When it was introduced in 2006, the Dodge Caliber was so hot that buyers sometimes waited two to three months for the Belvidere-made sporty crossover. But the craze faded. And with the auto industry struggling to find U.S. buyers, Chrysler LLC sold more Calibers to fleet customers — 28,256 — than to the general public — 21,682 — in the first six months of the year. Chrysler officials have taken great pains to say a large part of the company’s 23 percent decline in overall sales this year compared with 2007 are planned reductions in fleet sales. Sales of all of the major automakers are down compared with 2007. But according to statistics compiled by R.L. Polk & Co., an automotive market research firm, fleet sales aren’t just propping up the Caliber. They’re carrying much of the Chrysler lineup. Eight of the top 20 …

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Auto sales improve over July figures however still down from last year

  With gas prices still near record highs, the overall economy in a slump and continued trouble in the credit markets, just about everybody expects August vehicle sales to be down significantly from a year ago. But analysts say August’s numbers probably won’t be as bad as July’s record lows, mainly because of General Motors Corp.’s late-month employee pricing offer. Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates, said he expects August’s seasonally adjusted annual sales rate to be a little over 13 million when automakers release their monthly sales data Wednesday. That compares with 16.2 million in August 2007. The rate, known as SAAR, indicates what sales would be for the full year if they remained at the month’s pace all year, with adjustments for seasonal fluctuations. “Sales could be even closer to 13 million if it weren’t for …

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Cars powered by natural gas still not popular

  Running a car on the same fuel you might use to cook your dinner or heat your home may sound odd to most drivers, but it’s music to the ears of John O’Dell. A year ago, faced with a 116-mile round-trip commute to his office in Southern California and a $100 weekly gasoline bill, O’Dell switched from a Subaru Outback to the Honda Civic GX, a factory-modified model that runs exclusively on natural gas. So far, the results have been pleasing, says O’Dell, senior editor at automotive research Web site Edmunds.com. To fill his car’s tank, O’Dell visits natural gas fueling stations in Southern California and uses Honda’s home refueling kit (called the “Phill”) that taps into the same gas line that could be used to fuel home appliances. Instead of $4 for a gallon for gasoline, he’s paying on average between $2.12 …

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Chrysler may sell off Viper Nameplate to third party

  Chrysler  said Wednesday it may sell off its hot rod Dodge Viper nameplate, becoming the last of the Detroit auto makers to consider such a move amid escalating costs and the financial pressure to return to profitability. Chrysler Chief Executive Bob Nardelli said he has been approached by unnamed third parties “interested in exploring future possibilities for Viper.” Nardelli said he has retained Lazard Ltd. to help in a strategic review of Viper’s future, although there is no timetable. About 110 employees produce eight Vipers daily. The third-largest U.S. based auto maker had been the lone holdout on selling off pieces of its portfolio until this point. General Motors Corp. announced in June that it was reviewing the future for its Hummer brand before posting a second-quarter loss of $15.5 billion. Ford Motor Co. earlier this year sold its Jaguar and …

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Honda vehicles still selling well despite auto market downturn

  If there’s a downturn in the auto market, Honda doesn’t know about it. While U.S. car makers closed factories and announced layoffs last year, American Honda Motor sold nearly 1.5 million vehicles, thanks to gas-friendly cars such as Civic and Accord, said Richard Colliver, American Honda’s executive vice president. Honda has stayed with a formula adopted in the ’70s: Offer dependable, fuel-efficient cars, said Colliver, here to celebrate the opening of Bob Lindsay Acura, 7500 N. Allen Road, where the public grand opening starts at 9 a.m. today. Acura is Honda’s luxury brand – akin to Toyota’s Lexus line – but with a difference, said Colliver. “Lexus provides that softer ride – what Cadillac used to be. It’s a great car, but Acura is more sporty,” he said. “Acura is in transition. We’re moving the brand to a higher level over the next five …

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Ford to invest $75 million converting SUV plant to produce small cars

  Ford Motor Co. will invest at least $75 million to begin converting a Michigan sport-utility-vehicle plant to small-car production as part of its strategic shift to sell more of the fuel-efficient vehicles in North America starting in 2010. Work to revamp the 51-year-old Michigan Truck Plant, located in Wayne, Mich., will start in November when equipment now used to build the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs is moved to the auto maker’s Kentucky Truck Plant. Navigator and Expedition production at that plant is to resume in the second quarter of 2009. The $75 million investment will be used to retool the plant’s body shop. The auto maker will make additional investments to upgrade other functions such as the assembly line, said Ford manufacturing chief Joe Hinrichs. The 1,000 Michigan Truck workers will transfer to the Wayne Assembly Plant in January, where a …

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Auto Industry Advice from Car Collector Jay Leno

  The type of vehicles America makes best are, unfortunately, not the type of vehicles that people really want anymore. Nobody builds better trucks than the Americans do. Not even the Japanese build as good a truck as the Ford F-150 or the Chevy Silverado. It’s the same with performance cars. The Corvette Z06 has 505 horsepower, comes with a big warranty, and can hit 200 miles per hour. It weighs almost exactly the same as a half-million-dollar Porsche Carrera GT and gets higher mileage—26 miles per gallon. Where we seem to lose it is in the low-bucks econocar. I used to be able to identify any American car from 25 yards. Now they all have this jellybean look. It’s a mystery to me, because the one thing we used to do better than anybody else was build cheap, extremely high-quality cars. …

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Hyundai Genesis to take on Luxury Car Market

  They admit the timing isn’t great to bring out a big luxury car to compete with BMW, Lexus and Mercedes, but Hyundai Motor Co. executives are hoping the new Genesis sedan will catch on with a specific group of U.S. buyers. “Confident nonconformists,” said John Krafcik, vice president of product development for Hyundai North America. “They’re folks who don’t typically need the social badge of a premium brand. They’re confident in themselves and in their own skin.” Conformist or not, there were far fewer luxury buyers out there in the first seven months of this year due to high gas prices, tighter credit requirements, economic uncertainty and declining home values that have cut into the typical buyer’s net worth. Luxury car sales are down nearly 15 percent from the same period last year, and industry analysts say it doesn’t look like recovery is coming anytime soon. …

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Auto Manufacturers showcase Hydrogen Cars and SUVs

  Cars and SUVs that run on pure hydrogen and emit nothing but clean water were lined up for public test-drives Friday morning in Phoenix, part of an unprecedented cross-country Hydrogen Road Tour to promote the “fuel of the future.” The two-week road trip to more than 30 U.S. cities is a joint venture by nine auto manufacturers and the U.S. Department of Transportation to demonstrate to the public that hydrogen-powered vehicles are nearly ready for showrooms. The hand-built demonstration vehicles, all based on existing cars and small sport-utilities, were put into the hands of regular drivers so they could experience how pollution-free driving is visualized for the future, said Paul Brubaker, research administrator for the Transportation Department. “The common refrain we’re hearing is, ‘When can I get one of these?’ ” Brubaker said. “That tells us the public is really interested in energy …

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Canadian built Electric car banned in Canada, however selling well in the US

  Mike Borbely likes his Canadian-made Zenn electric car so much he’s planning to install solar panels on his garage roof so he can charge it for free. “The Zenn really takes care of the lion’s share of my commuting needs,” said Borbely, a 45-year-old home designer from San Jose, California. He drives the boxy two-seater, which has a top speed of 25 miles (40 kilometers) an hour, to visit clients, he said. Good thing Borbely is from California. He couldn’t buy the Zenn in Toronto. Zenn Motor Co. has no customers in its hometown because the Ontario government has banned low-speed electric cars such as the Zenn from public roads, citing safety concerns. At least 40 U.S. states, including California and Washington, and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Quebec deem electric cars like the Zenn to be safe as long …

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