Archive for September, 2011

UAW Ratifies GM Contract by 2-1 Margin

Talks pick up pace at Ford, Chrysler.

by on Sep.28, 2011

UAW President Bob King confirmed the GM contract had been ratified by a 2-1 margin.

The United Auto Workers Union’s rank-and-file has approved a new four-year contract with General Motors by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

The new four-year contract is effective immediately and also is expected to lead to the creation of 6,500 new jobs over the next couple of years at GM plants in the U.S. – perhaps more as it may prompt GM to bring work back to the U.S. from Mexico and Canada.

The final vote tally was 65% in favor of the agreement among production workers, and 63% in favor among skilled trades workers. Retirees, many of whom were angered by contract lack of pension improvements, were not eligible to vote.

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The vote in favor of the contract while more than enough to ensure passage was actually  low by historical standards, indicating a sizeable number of union members were dissatisfied with the pact.  And it suggests the union could face rugged ratification votes after it settles contracts with Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC


Diesel Industry Adds 1.25 Mil Jobs to U.S., Claims New Report

Industry worth $480 bil annually.

by on Sep.28, 2011

Audi of America can barely keep up with demand for diesel products. CEO Johann De Nysschen is shown here with the A3 TDi, the 2010 Green Car of the Year.

Diesels are big business, or so claims an industry trade group that today revealed new research that finds that when you add up everything from engine manufacturing to the production of fuel it generates $480 billion annually and supports 1.25 million jobs.

The timing of the report couldn’t be better for proponents of “oil burners.”  After years of largely being ignored by American consumers, diesels are starting to gain traction in the U.S. market, sales of existing models like the imported Volkswagen Jetta TDi surging, while General Motors has announced plans to launch a diesel-powered version of the compact Chevrolet Cruze that could deliver better highway mileage than the best of today’s hybrids.

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“Diesel is a major economic factor and job creator in the U.S. economy and is vital to America’s economic recovery and growth,” said Allen Schaeffer, the Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum, during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  “Diesel not only provides jobs in the manufacturing and refining industries, it provides equipment and engines to our agricultural, mining and construction industries, and transports virtually every commodity available to American consumers.


Ford Pulls Controversial Ad

Maker takes heat for fake “news conference” criticizing Detroit competitors.

by on Sep.28, 2011

A "customer" tells "reporters" he wouldn't buy a car from a company that took a bailout in this controversial Ford commercial.

Ford Motor Co. has pulled a controversial ad in which a “buyer” tells a staged news conference he wouldn’t buy a car from Ford’s unnamed Detroit competitors because they took federal bailouts.

The campaign was clearly aimed at helping Ford market itself as the only domestic carmaker that didn’t go broke in 2009 and reply on a government handout to stay in business.  Company officials acknowledge that was a factor that helped drive sales Ford’s way after the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler, though it hasn’t been as much of a factor in recent months.

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“I wasn’t going to buy another car from a company that was bailed out by our government,” declared shopper “Chris” speaking to what was made to look like a news conference in the Ford ad.

The spot reportedly drew the ire and concern of the White House, which invested roughly $60 billion to bailout GM and Chrysler – and which continues to have billions invested in GM even after that maker sold off a major stake of the U.S. Treasury’s holdings in a November 2010 IPO.


What Does Washington Make?

Detroit builds cars, DC makes crises, says capital city columnist.

by on Sep.28, 2011

Crises are built here like an assembly line, says our Washington columnist.

Conventional wisdom says this city makes nothing, that we are just a place of words and bureaucracy.

Conventional wisdom is not quite right.

Washington manufactures crises—big-time crises, completely unnecessary crises, costly crises, the kind that drain money and opportunity from current and future generations while resident politicians complain that we now have a debt crisis stemming from our previous crises.

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What happened here in the last few weeks is sadly representative. Nationwide, fifteen American cities had been devastated by fire and water. People lost lives and property in sweeping Texas wildfires and the flood waters spawned by Hurricane Irene. Folks hurt by those disasters turned to Washington for help. Washington gave them a crisis.


September Sales Steady Despite Double-Dip Recession Fears

Market showing “unexpected strength.”

by on Sep.28, 2011

A strong Labor Day helped boost Sept. sales.

Despite economic turmoil and increasing fears of a double-dip recession, sales of new vehicles continued to hold steady during September, according to preliminary industry estimates.

For September 2011, new light vehicle sales in the U.S., including fleet, are expected to be somewhere between 1.04 and 1.06 million units, depending on whose data you trust.  Either way, that would bring a roughly 10% jump from year-earlier numbers.

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While “The uncertain global environment, specifically the debt troubles in Europe, continue to be the major source of downside risk” to the U.S. economy and auto sales, in particular, said John Humphrey, chief of automotive operations at J.D. Power and Associates, his associate Jeff Schuster found that, “Coming off a solid Labor Day sale, retail sales exhibited unexpected strength in the second week of September, as the recovering inventory levels have helped to bring buyers back into the market.”


Bob Lutz Tries Retirement, Says No Thanks

Celebrated auto exec picks up yet another advisory role, his third

by on Sep.28, 2011

Alan Perriton, Bob Lutz, Kraig Higginson pose in front of VIA's Extended-Range Electric Truck

Maximum Bob is back. Again. Someone should talk to him about the definition of “retirement.”

Just weeks after General Motors announced that former Vice Chairman Bob Lutz was coming back as a consultant, VIA Motors, a Utah startup, has announced that Lutz would join the company as a consultant. Lutz also serves as an advisor to Lotus.

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VIA plans to convert existing pickup trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles into extended-range electric vehicles similar in concept to the Chevrolet Volt.

Lutz, 79, is coming on board to help raise capital for the venture and help establish partnerships with automakers, according to David West, VIA’s chief marketing officer, Automotive News reported.


GOP Scraps Plan to Cut into Federal Green Car Fund

Tesla now plans to ask for a second DoE loan.

by on Sep.27, 2011

A DoE loan has helped Tesla move ahead on the Model S but the start-up now hopes to get more cash.

A $25 billion fund created during the Bush Administration to help promote the development of clean, fuel-efficient automobiles has survived an assault by Republican lawmakers who had hoped to chip away $1.5 billion for use in disaster relief efforts.

Conservatives, particularly in the House, have been questioning the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program since it was picked up and championed by the Obama Administration.  With the government running a deep deficit they’d hoped to divert some of the fund for relief efforts – including assistance to one of the key Republican’s own state.

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But with the White House refusing to give in, that effort has been abandoned – for now.  With the program going slower than anticipated, even some clean car advocates are questioning its value and observers say the DoE program could yet face cuts – or even be killed off entirely as the budget debate drags on.


Facing Possible Government Inquiry, OnStar Drops “Big Brother” Plans

GM telematics unit will reverse plans to track drivers – even those that unsubscribe.

by on Sep.27, 2011

Most GM vehicles currently offer an initial, free subscription to the OnStar service.

Facing intense criticism from Capitol Hill and calls for a government investigation, General Motors’ OnStar division has dropped plans that would have allowed it to track detailed personal driving information about both current and former subscribers.

The telematics subsidiary had advised users that it was changing its Terms and Conditions to permit it to track a vehicle’s speed, location and other data including whether or not a motorist was wearing a seatbelt.  A driver who dropped OnStar would still be linked to the service unless specifically opting out.  And the company said it reserved the right to sell that information to third-party marketers or even government and law enforcement agencies.

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New York’s powerful Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer termed the move a “brazen” invasion of privacy and called for an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.  Facing mounting criticism from other government and private quarters, OnStar said it has canceled its policy change and will not maintain a link to customers who quit the service.

“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers,” said OnStar President Linda Marshall in a prepared statement. “This is why we are leaving the decision in our customers’ hands. We listened, we responded and we hope to maintain the trust of our more than 6 million customers.”


First Drive: 2012 Mini Coupe

Mini introduces its fastest model ever.

by on Sep.27, 2011

The 2-seat Mini Cooper John Cooper Works edition is the brand's fastest car ever.

Small is big, or so it seems, these days, with all manner of new products, small, smaller and smallest coming to market as buyers put a premium on fuel efficiency.  But no brand has done more to change the perception of what a small car can be than Mini, the British marque showing that downsized automobiles can be much, much more than just econoboxes.

And now, just short of a decade after the 2002 launch of the reborn Mini nameplate, the British marque is getting ready to roll out an assortment of new offerings that will bring to seven its model line-up.  We had the chance to spend a couple days in Nashville, this month, with the first of the next-gen products, the 2012 Mini Coupe.

The good news is that these latest offerings are not just more of the same.  True, many of them are modern takes on models Mini originally offered decades ago.  But there’s no confusing the Mini Cooper with the Countryman crossover or even the new Coupe, which Mini’s U.S. chief Jim McDowell suggests is “not like any Mini you’ve ever before.”

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Our trip through Nashville and into the surrounding countryside suggests he’s right, wherever we headed, passersby stopping to stare at the first Mini to adopt what designers like to call a “three-box” design.  Nor will you confuse the 2012 Mini Coupe with a classic sedan.  Then there’s the steeply raked windshield, angled another 13 degrees compared to the standard-issue Mini.  But perhaps the most distinctive feature is the new 2-seater’s “helmet roof,” which adds to the Coupe aggressive stance.


Economic Turmoil? Where? Not at the Frankfurt Motor Show

Despite worries of a global double-dip recession, biennial German show draws the crowds.

by on Sep.27, 2011

The Ford Evos was one of an estimated 100 new cars, crossovers and concepts to make a debut at this year's Frankfurt Motor Show.

With one of the biggest displays of new cars, crossovers and concept vehicles ever, the biennial Frankfurt Motor Show saw public attendance surge by 10%, according to the show’s organizers, suggesting the auto industry’s future is brighter than the turmoil in the financial markets might suggest.

The Frankfurt show, which describes itself as the world’s “most important mobility trade fair” opened on September 15 and closed its gates 10 days later, with a preliminary count of 928,000 paying visitors, organizers reported.

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“This stream of visitors demonstrates that for many people the fascination exerted by cars continues unabated” proclaimed Matthias Wissmann, President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, in a statement summing up the show.

“In these times of turbulence on the finance markets, the IAA has sent out strong signals of stability in manufacturing and of automotive growth. For the politicians, here it has become visible and comprehensible, just how strong the manufacturing sector is, and the innovative drive for the future that characterizes this industry,” Wissman added.