Archive for December, 2011

Marty’s Marketing Minutia: NBA Edition

Kia scores triple double with NBA sponsorship.

by on Dec.30, 2011

Kia is betting big on the resumption of play at the NBA.

After a three month lockout delay the National Basketball Association finally returned to the boards, tipping off on Christmas day with five season-opening games broadcast on three television cable networks. Millions watched as millionaires played hoops – with major sponsors, like Kia Motors America, betting heavily that the fans would tune back in.

Kia has bet heavily on the hoop hoopla. It may be the fourth ranking NBA advertiser behind T-Mobile, Taco Bell and Warner Bros-Pictures but Kia it is the biggest automobile advertiser in the game. Kantar Media noted that last year the brands expenditures were in the $17 million neighborhood, a number Sprague did not dispute.

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The maker’s vice president of marketing and communications Michael Sprague telling me in an interview last week that, “The shortened season (66 games, rather than the usual 82) has not diminished the fans or their interest in the game, its players, the opportunities and sponsorships.”


First Drive: 2012 Honda Civic Si

Tuners’ favorite ride goes on strange budget program.

by on Dec.30, 2011

The Honda Civic Si is available as a racy coupe or stealthy sedan.

It’s not often that an automaker admits shortly after introducing an important new model that it may have missed the mark.

But in October, a Honda spokesman told Automotive News that the automaker would accelerate a mid-cycle refresh, normally scheduled for 2014, to answer criticism of the new car’s boring interior.

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So, we thought it was worth taking a look at the new Civic to see if the criticism was warranted.

This is arguably Honda’s most important model, the best-selling compact in the country. Through nine generations of the Civic, buyers have found much to like. So much, in fact, that the Civic line now boasts six different models ranging from the fuel efficient hybrid to the racy Si, two-door hatchback or four-door sedan. There’s even a natural gas-powered model.


Fisker Recall Triggered by Potential Battery Fire

Impacts entire initial run of plug-in hybrids now on the road.

by on Dec.30, 2011

The Fisker Karma is recalled due to a potential battery fire problem.

In a potentially embarrassing turn of events, the California-based battery-car start-up Fisker Automotive will recall all of the cars it has sold so far due to a potential defect that could cause the $102,000 Fisker Karma plug-in hybrids to catch fire.

The problem is only remotely similar to the issue believed to have caused several fires involving Chevrolet Volt plug-ins after they were tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  An improperly installed hose clamp, Fisker said, can result in the leak of coolant that could, in turn, short out the Karma’s lithium-ion battery pack.

“If coolant enters the battery compartment, an electric short could occur,” a notice on the NHTSA website says, “possibly resulting in a fire.”

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As a result of the defect Fisker will recall 232 of the plug-in hybrid sports cars to repair the clamp.  But less than 50 are actually in the hands of owners following a slower-than-expected launch of the Karma – which is assembled at a plant in Finland then shipped to the United States.  Spokesman Roger Ormischer indicated there have been no reports of any problems with the vehicles that have already been sold.


Toyota Narrowly Misses Third Year Atop Recall List

Overall, recalls down for 2011.

by on Dec.30, 2011

Toyota recalled 200,000 Sienna minivans in 2011, the third year in a row in which it topped the U.S. recall list, with 3.5 million of its vehicles impacted overall.

Editor’s Note: This story has been revised to reflect a last-minute Honda action and final federal recall numbers for 2011.

It isn’t always good to be number one, as Toyota clearly understands.  While it slipped from first to third in the global automotive sales sweepstakes when the books are closed on 2011 the Japanese giant might be more pleased that it narrowly missed having the most recalls of any automaker in the U.S. for the third year in a row.

That dubious distinction now goes to Honda, which expanded its ongoing series of airbag defect-related actions to end the year having recalled 3.8 million vehicles.  Honda closed 2011 with 15 separate campaigns compared to Toyota’s still sizable 13.

Despite the maker’s claim that it has put its quality and safety problems behind it, Toyota — and its Scion and Lexus brands — still were forced to recall 3.5 million vehicles this past year, significantly more than the third-highest manufacturer on the government’s list.  And that doesn’t include a sizable number of vehicles for which the maker issued technical service bulletins, which encouraged dealers to fix nagging problems that didn’t wind up getting tallied on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s formal recall chart.

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In all, automakers recalled 15.5 million light vehicles in 2011, according to an analysis by WardsAuto, a sharp decline from the 20 million year before when the industry – largely due to Toyota — saw callbacks jump to 17.2 million cars, trucks and crossovers.  Toyota alone had 7 million vehicles involved in its 2010 campaigns. The worst year for the auto industry was 2000 when 24.3 million vehicles were involved in safety-related recalls.


Mystery of the North Korean Lincoln Solved

How the Supreme Leader got his last ride in a stretch Lincoln.

by on Dec.30, 2011

It's a real Lincoln carrying Kim Jong-il to his final rest.

Eagle-eyed–and certified car-nutty—auto enthusiasts have been mystified the last couple of days by an obvious anachronism in the funeral procession of Dear Leader Kim-Jong-il: a real, if elderly, Detroit Lincoln stretch limousine leading the parade, coffin on top.

Such a picture was circulated on December 27 by the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DKPR) propaganda machine.

The first question was, is this for real or some cheap Commie trick? Everyone knows the U.S. is still technically at war with North Korea, only an armistice in 1953 having ended regular fighting. So how could a mammoth 1970s Lincoln have crossed the de-militarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas?

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I confess my eyes weren’t glued to the TV report about Kim’s funeral. But fellow auto historian and some-time co-author (Ford Dynasty: A Photographic History, 2002, Arcadia) Jim Wagner brought it to my attention.


GM Could Cut More White-Collar Jobs

Maker wants to match margins of rivals like Ford, Hyundai.

by on Dec.29, 2011

GM's goal of boosting margins could mean significant white-collar job cuts.

Like a late-to-the-party Grinch, General Motors could sap some of the holiday cheer from its white-collar workforce.  Frustrated that it isn’t generating the sort of profit margins seen at some of its key competitors, GM is looking at ways to boost its efficiency – which could mean more cuts in its salaried staff.

That’s one of the possibilities under study by the Miami-based management consulting firm Hackett Group, which GM has hired to explore its options, reports the Bloomberg News Service.

For the first three quarters of 2011, GM delivered a 5% operating margin, compared with 6.7% at Ford Motor Co., 7.7% at Volkswagen and 10% for Hyundai.  As part of his Power 88 Plan, announced earlier this year, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn declared a goal of boosting the Japanese maker’s margins to 8% — along with an 8% global market share target.

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A GM official would not provide details of GM’s strategy to boost margins, nor even confirm Hackett’s hiring but did acknowledge to Bloomberg’s Dave Welch that under CEO Dan Akerson, “We are streamlining our business, looking for efficiencies,” adding “there will be some headcount reductions” on a global basis.


Pontiff Wants a Green Popemobile

The geeks shall inherit the earth?

by on Dec.29, 2011

The current Popemobile.

“The geeks shall inherit the earth”?

We’re not wont to quote from scripture very often — and for obvious reasons — but we’ve heard some intriguing interpretations, of late, from those who insist that the Bible would have us all driving electric vehicles.  Among the many citations from the King James edition we’ve heard is that while the supreme being has reserved the heavens for himself, “the earth hath he given to the children of men.”

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We’ll leave the rest of the debate to the theologians but it appears that Pope Benedict XVI is taking the concept quite seriously, and wants the next “popemobile” to go green.

The current vehicle, a modified Mercedes-Benz, features a decidedly heavy and aero-inefficient bulletproof cabin in which the pontiff – and up to two guests – can sit and wave at the crowds.


AMP Takes on Tesla With Two AWD Battery SUVs

Ohio start-up will reveal Jeep, Mercedes battery-utes at NAIAS.

by on Dec.29, 2011

Amp's battery-powered version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee will go on sale in 2012.

Amp Electric Vehicles will be taking its place alongside some of the industry’s biggest players when it rolls out a pair of new battery-electric vehicles at the upcoming North American International Auto Show.

To be more precise they’re not entirely new; Amp is converting both the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Mercedes-Benz ML-350 to run entirely on battery power.  Nonetheless, the Ohio-based start-up is betting that this approach can position it as one of the major players in the emerging electric vehicle market – and set it up as a key competitor to California’s Tesla Motors, which will launch its own mainstream battery-electric offering, the Model S, later in 2012.

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“Given SUVs make up one of the market’s biggest segments it just seemed the right place to focus on,” explained Amp founder and chairman Steve Burns.

It also helps that the underlying platform is shared between the Jeep and Mercedes utes – development having gotten well underway before the former DaimlerChrysler split apart.


Book Excerpt: Jim Dunne’s Car Spy

This sleuth trades his handgun for a Minox.

by on Dec.29, 2011

Jim Dunne pens a tell-all about the business of car spies.

His name is Dunne.  James Dunne.  And if Ian Fleming had written about the world of automotive espionage, this is the man who might have served as his role model.  But where some spies sleuth for competing car companies, this septuagenarian Grosse Pointer serves a more noble purpose.  Or so he’d prefer to think.  The fact is, you’ve probably seen some of his work over the years in the pages of monthly magazines, in countless newspapers around the world, or on various internet sites, including TheDetroitBureau.comJim Dunne is the undisputed king of automotive spy photographers.

Dunne insists he’s retired – though the spy shot of the 2013 Nissan Altima he provided us with yesterday suggests otherwise.  (Click Here for that story.) It’s a way of life and not something someone easily walks away from…especially if they still keep a camera close at hand. 

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As accomplished a story-teller as he is with the camera, Dunne is finally revealing some of the secrets of his successful career, captured in his new book, “Car Spy,” which you can find via  (Here’s the link to .) We’ve done a little spying of our own, however, and nabbed one of the more interesting chapters, the story of Dunne’s incursion into the top secret GM Design Dome.  Here’s the excerpt:


Nissan Launches Third Recall in a Month

Latest problem focuses on defective engine bolts.

by on Dec.29, 2011

Nissan's latest recall impacts a number of vehicles, including the 2012 Infiniti M.

Nissan Motor Co. announced its third safety recall in December, more than a half-dozen different models impacted by the various problems.

The latest safety-related service action involves 14,000 vehicles – including the 2011 Infiniti FX, 2012 Infiniti M, and the 2011-2012 Nissan Frontier, Xterra, Pathfinder and NV models.  The recall is designed to fix faulty engine bolts.

The defective bolts in the vehicles may break, leading to oil leaks and engine failure. The automaker began the investigation – which covers vehicles manufactured between June and September of this year — after receiving several reports of bolts breaking.

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Earlier in the month, Nissan announced that it would recall 34,000 Sentra sedans due to a problem with their battery cables.  That problem could cause engines to stall. The recall included 2010 and 2011 model-year vehicles equipped with Nissan’s MR-20 engines and manufactured between May 11, 2010 and May 22, 2010, and from July 8, 2010 to October 25, 2010.