Archive for March, 2009

Top Toyota executive says they will never need a bailout

  Toyota Motor Corporation’s Jim Lentz didn’t flinch when confronted with probing questions from Colorado residents on Your Show. And, when asked if he thinks his company would ever need the type of multi-billion-dollar federal loans that other auto companies have received, his answer was straight-forward. “No. We will definitely not ever need a bailout,” he said. “We still have a very strong cash reserve.” Lentz, who runs North American operations for Toyota, says the company has enough money to survive the dramatic drop in the auto industry’s profits. “No one could have ever predicted anything like that. But we have the reserves to get through this time. And we will get through this.” Lentz made his comments just as a source close to General Motors revealed that its CEO Rick Wagoner planned to step down. Auto dealers know that, to win customers, …

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President Barack Obama to announce next steps to help GM and Chrysler

  President Barack Obama will announce the next steps to help General Motors Corp and Chrysler LLC on Monday, the White House said, amid signs of progress for GM in talks aimed at slashing its debt and cutting costs in response to slack demand. GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner was in Washington on Friday to meet with the autos task force, led by former investment banker Steve Rattner, which Obama has charged with overseeing emergency lending to the automakers and their suppliers. Shares of GM gained almost 6 percent and have rallied by more than 30 percent over the past 10 trading sessions amid growing confidence that officials will not push the top U.S. automaker into bankruptcy. A White House spokesman said the panel was in the process wrapping up about six weeks of closed-door meetings that have included industry executives, analysts and others …

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GM is increasing advertising for both Saturn and Pontiac brands

  One month after General Motors announced that it was preparing to spin off or drop Saturn as part of the effort to regain viability, the beleaguered automaker is now spending millions of dollars on ads for Saturn during the telecasts of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. “We’re Still Here,” one ad emphatically says, as if to squash rumors to the contrary. “It was an odd thing to see because it’s a short-term fix. It’s obviously part of a holding action,” says Alan Baum, an analyst with The Planning Edge in Birmingham, Mi. (See the 50 worst cars of all time.) GM Chairman Richard Wagoner said in February that as part of the company’s ongoing restructuring the automaker was withdrawing its support from Saturn at the end of 2011 model year. Vice Chairman Robert Lutz told reporters at the North American International Auto …

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Chrysler contract talks continue with Canadian Auto Workers

  Chrysler LLC, seeking $2.3 billion in aid from the Canadian government, has been unable to reach an agreement with the country’s auto union to reduce costs ahead of a March 31 deadline. Talks with the carmaker are proceeding as the two sides try to reach an accord, Ken Lewenza, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, said today in a call with reporters. Chrysler needs the savings to qualify for Canadian assistance. The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company seeks $5 billion more in U.S. loans after receiving an initial installment of $4 billion to keep operating. “Two times we were within inches of a collective agreement to establishing a collective agreement,” he said. “Both times, the deal was pulled back, and both times, the goal post shifted.” The union said it is committed to further talks with Chrysler until March 31. Chrysler wouldn’t commit to contract …

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The future of the American auto industry is getting off to a slow start

  The U.S. Energy Department has $25 billion to make loans to hasten the arrival of the next generation of automotive technology – electric-powered cars. But no money has been allocated so far, even though the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan program, established in 2007, has received applications from 75 companies, including start-ups as well as the three Detroit automakers. With General Motors and Chrysler making repeat visits to Washington to ask for bailout money to stave off insolvency, some members of Congress are starting to ask why the Energy Department money is not yet flowing. The loans also are intended to help fulfill President Barack Obama’s campaign promise of putting one million electric cars on American roads by 2015. “Politicians are breaking down the door asking why the money isn’t being sent out,” said Michael Carr, counsel to the Senate Energy Committee, which oversees …

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Toyota’s overhaul makes the Prius almost fun to drive

  The worst possible gas mileage you’ll ever get in the 2010 Toyota Prius is 26.8 miles per gallon. I know this because I did every thing humanly possible to beat this redesigned hybrid into submission. The car’s sticker reads an eye-popping 51 mpg city, 48 mpg highway — 50 mpg combined — and most people will best that mileage without even trying. So I had to see what it would do if I did everything wrong. I rolled the windows down, turned the AC on high and gunned the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine in the parking lot, hoping to spin the optional 17-inch low rolling resistant tires in defiance; let’s put all 134 horses, a combined total from the engine and electric motor, to work. Clicking on the headlights and toying with the sunroof like a 6-year-old, I wanted to leave the car’s batteries depleted …

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Demand for small cars fades with falling gas prices

  Last summer, when gas cost $4 a gallon, buyers snapped up small cars so fast that dealers couldn’t keep them in stock. Now, with gas prices half that level, almost 500,000 fuel-thrifty models are piled up unsold around the country. The turnabout comes at a bad time for the struggling U.S. car industry, which has revamped factories and shifted product plans to produce more small cars in coming years. The moves are prompted by coming stricter federal fuel-economy standards and the Obama administration’s car-bailout plan, which encourages auto makers to boost their vehicles’ mileage. Practically every small car in the market is stacked up at dealerships. At the end of February, Honda Motor Co. had 22,191 Fits on dealer lots — enough to last 125 days at the current sales rate, according to Autodata Corp. In July, it had a nine-day supply, …

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Chevrolet has commenced production of its reborn Camaro

  Since the last pill-shaped F-body Camaro rolled off the line in 2002, the long-fought, often contentious pony-car game has been one of solitaire, played solely by the Ford Mustang. The Mustang went all retro in 2005, and the ensuing craze prompted Dodge and Chevy to rouse their own dormant nameplates (and fans) to take on the foe-less leader. Dodge was first in 2008 with its resurrected Challenger, and now—just as Ford is launching its significantly updated 2010 Mustang—Chevrolet has finally commenced production of its reborn Camaro, completing the new-age pony-car trifecta. While we will save the official comparison test for later, we can aver that the neo Camaro offers the freshest and most modern package of the three. Built as it is on GM’s superb Zeta full-size platform, it sports a fully independent suspension, along with evocative, contemporary styling that …

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Obama launches $2.4 billion program to boost development of plug-in electric vehicles

  President Barack Obama on Thursday launched a $2.4 billion program to boost development of plug-in electric vehicles in the U.S., including grants to finance domestic production of auto batteries. Obama spoke at Southern California Edison’s Electric Vehicle Technical Center in Pomona, Calif., where he said the Department of Energy has now started taking grant proposals from electric-vehicle battery makers. The stimulus plan passed earlier this year set aside $2 billion to jump-start electric-vehicle manufacturing. Out of that total, $1.5 billion is available for U.S. battery manufacturing and $500 million for related technology, such as electric motors. The Department of Energy is making another $400 million available to build and test the infrastructure needed for plug-in electric vehicles. This includes charging stations and training for technicians in electric vehicles. The funding will help meet the president’s goal of 1 million plug-in …

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Honda Motor Company to unveil “The world’s first affordable hybrid”

  The road is about to get a little more crowded for the Toyota Prius. Starting Tuesday, the Honda Motor Company will offer American consumers what it bills as “the world’s first affordable hybrid.” Costing just shy of $20,000, the Honda Insight promises to let drivers respond to both of the leading crises of our day: the environment and the recession. If the Insight’s introduction in Japan is any indication, Toyota should be worried. The car went on sale here on Feb. 6, and orders have soared, reaching 18,000 in just the first three weeks — topping Prius’s current sales. In fact, the Insight pushed Prius out of the top-10-selling cars for February. “I have people asking about hybrids that I never had before,” said Tsuguhito Tokita, a Honda dealer in Tokyo. “With this price, it’s easy to recommend to anyone.” If …

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