Archive for November, 2008

Muscle Cars are Back at Chevy, Ford, and Dodge

  It’s going to be a long, cold, lonely winter for carmakers, but spring could be heavenly for hot rodders (if they have some dough). An all-new Chevy Camaro and a refreshed Ford Mustang are about to make it to showrooms, with prices starting in the low- to mid-$20,000 range, along with a new sub-$30,000 car making more than 300 horsepower from a surprising place – South Korea. Together, the offerings represent a revival of the pony car – the stylish, moderately priced rear-wheel-drive coupe exemplified by the 1960s Camaros and Mustangs that originated the class. At the Los Angeles Auto Show, Mike Kaluza, 60, looked happier than an Obama backer on election night as he watched a 2010 Camaro rotating on a platform. “It’s an amazing time, when you consider what’s being offered by Ford, Chevy and Hyundai,” he said. Yes, Hyundai. The South …

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Big Three Automakers To Present Turnaround Plan

  As they ponder a US$25 billion aid package for America’s beleaguered automakers, US lawmakers could do well to study two past auto bailouts: one a failure, the other a success. The failure is strike-prone British Leyland’s nationalisation in the 1970s. The success, at least until the events of the past two years, was Chrysler’s turnaround in the 1980s. There are some parallels in both cases to the troubles faced today by the Big Three – General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler, owned by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. The main lessons seem to be that the US automakers must produce a viable turnaround plan and the government must set clear benchmarks to measure progress or providing aid may be futile. Congress has demanded the former, it can set the latter. “You can throw all the money in the world at a problem, but if …

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U.S. automakers are on right track now

  Confession is good for the soul, but Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Alan Mulally argued Wednesday that his company is on its way to redemption from its days of filling the road with weighty, gas-guzzling vehicles. “It’s all about the products: We decided to make cars that people really do want. It’s a very sophisticated plan,” said Mulally, combining optimism toward the future with an acknowledgment of his company’s previous bad judgment. “This is a big deal for Ford because in the United States, we had focused on big trucks and SUVs,” he added in a talk to the Seattle Rotary Club. Mulally, a 39-year Boeing employee, headed the commercial aircraft division until he received a fateful call from William Clay Ford Jr. in 2006. Ford needed a turnaround and was reaching out to the man who presided over a rebound in Boeing’s …

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Ford SUV plant switching to compact cars

  Ford Motor Co.’s Michigan Truck Plant isn’t making trucks anymore. The last SUV rolled off the assembly line at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Ford said. The factory in Wayne will be renamed and retooled to make smaller, more fuel-efficient cars from the same global platform as the European Ford Focus starting in 2010. Meanwhile, the company is still “working through the details” related to the about 1,200 employees at the plant, Ford spokeswoman Angie Kozleski said. Some will move to the nearby Wayne Assembly Plant, which makes the U.S. version of the Focus, while others will relocate to plants in other cities, such as the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville. The Michigan Truck Plant, which made Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators, is one of three truck and SUV plants the automaker is converting to build compact and subcompact vehicles. Certified sales planned General Motors Corp. will …

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The Hydrogen Powered Honda FCX Clarity at a Glance

  It’s not every day that you get to kick the wheels on the car of tomorrow. After all, the question of what will power future automobiles is a guessing game, with candidates ranging from electricity and compressed natural gas to hydrogen fuel cells. Honda made an expensive bet in that guessing game by designing the hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity. It’s costly (perhaps $500,000 each to produce), yet the sedan emits only water. Both Honda and Chevy are testing fuel-cell vehicles by making them available for lease by select customers. Hydrogen’s big upside is its cleanliness and ability to be produced from many sources, even water and human waste. Fuel-cell stacks are akin to mini power stations in which the chemical energy of hydrogen and oxygen is converted into electricity, which then powers an electric motor. Since hydrogen is a gas, it’s …

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Import Vehicle Inventories Rise as Demand Falls

  Gleaming new Mercedes cars roll one by one out of a huge container ship here and onto a pier. Ordinarily the cars would be loaded on trucks within hours, destined for dealerships around the country. But these are not ordinary times. For now, the port itself is the destination. Unwelcome by dealers and buyers, thousands of cars worth tens of millions of dollars are being warehoused on increasingly crowded port property. And for the first time, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Nissan have each asked to lease space from the port for these orphan vehicles. They are turning dozens of acres of the nation’s second-largest container port into a parking lot, creating a vivid picture of a paralyzed auto business and an economy in peril. “This is one way to look at the economy,” Art Wong, a spokesman for the port, said of the cars. …

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Big Three Automakers already owe more than $100 Billion to Bankers and Bondholders

  To the long list of troubles plaguing the financial industry, add three big ones – make that Big Three ones. The struggling Detroit automakers owe more than $100 billion to their bankers and bondholders, and Wall Street is starting to wonder how much of that will be paid back. With Congress balking at a rescue for the auto industry, and Chrysler and General Motors warning that they could face bankruptcy without one, investors are worrying about financial companies’ exposure to the Big Three, as well as to automotive suppliers and dealers. The intertwining troubles of the auto and financial industries were partly behind the sharp sell-off in financial stocks last week, when banking shares fell to their lowest levels since the economic crisis broke out and questions swirled about the future of Citigroup. “It’s pretty clear there was a cause and effect,” said Wilbur …

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Chinese plug-in electric hybrid sedan will probably launch in the United States by 2010

  In this far corner of China’s manufacturing heartland, Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s dream of making Oregon home to America’s green car movement is about to roll off the assembly lines. At BYD Auto Co., China’s fast-growing automotive star, a plug-in electric hybrid sedan is just weeks from meeting millions of Chinese consumers. The F3DM, which runs up to 80 miles on a single charge and packs a 7-gallon tank, will probably launch in the United States by 2010. Kulongoski, who clinched a deal last week to bring Nissan’s pure-electric cars to Oregon, is vying for BYD’s bid for a North American pilot site. On Friday, he met with BYD President and Chairman Wang Chuanfu at the company’s mammoth headquarters nearly two hours from China’s booming industrial zone. “We’re hoping to build a critical mass,” Kulongoski said. “We’re laying the infrastructure and hoping to …

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Small cars are much safer today than they were just a decade ago

  You don’t have to look too far into the past to find a time when automakers didn’t see car safety as a “selling point.” But over the last 30 years, car safety has become a prime factor in the minds of car buyers. So, automakers responded – and as a result, cars and trucks are much safer today than they were 30, 20, even 10 years ago. One car segment that has especially benefited from this overall improvement in safety is the sub-compact category. And it’s a good thing, too, because as gas prices have soared in the last two years, more buyers are turning away from big trucks, monster SUVs and gas-thirsty muscle cars in favor of smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Indeed, the small-car category is the fastest-growing segment in the U.S. auto industry, with sales increasing by 12 percent this year, …

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World’s Biggest Automakers Detail Ambitious Electric-car Plans

  Many of the world’s biggest automakers on Wednesday detailed ambitious electric-car plans that promise zero emissions but will demand patience from consumers and subsidies from governments to succeed. Nissan Motor Co, BMW’s BMWG.DE MINI, General Motors Corp and Volkswagen’s Audi were among the automakers who promised, at the Los Angeles auto show, to bring electric cars to market in the next few years. Consumers have been clamoring for greener vehicles amid soaring gasoline prices and increased concerns about global warming. The costly batteries required to power gas-free electric cars, however, are not powerful enough to deliver the long driving range car buyers are accustomed to. “It’s going to be a tough sell,” said David Champion, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports. “People are used to buying their cars and being able to take them anywhere they want. There are a lot of …

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