Archive for May, 2013

MKZ Back on Track – But Lincoln Still Has Problems

New sedan gains momentum – even as the rest of the line-up slips.

by on May.31, 2013

Jim Farley, Lincoln's brand boss and the global marketing chief for parent Ford Motor Co.

It’s the classic good news/bad news situation for Lincoln this month.

On the positive side, after a painfully slow start due to production snags, the luxury marque’s new MKZ is finally gaining momentum and should set a record for the nameplate when May’s final numbers are tallied. The bad news?  As Lincoln gains ground, the rest of the luxury brand’s line-up has been slipping.

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“We’ll have the best month ever with the MKZ,” predicted Jim Farley, head of the Lincoln brand and the global marketing chief for its parent Ford Motor Co.

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From Track to Street, How Motorsports Improves What We Drive

“Improving the breed.”

by on May.31, 2013

GM President Mark Reuss with the Corvette pace car he'll be riding in during the IndyCar race on Detroit's Belle Isle.

When the field of IndyCars lines up on the grid at Detroit’s Belle Isle race track this Sunday, you can be guaranteed that General Motors will lead the pack. That’s because Mark Reuss, GM’s President of North America, will be riding in the pace car, a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.

There’s no way to know who’ll ultimately take the checkered flag but Reuss and GM clearly hope for a repeat of last week’s Indy 500, the maker’s Chevrolet division powering to a 1-2-3 victory, the first time Chevy has won the celebrated race in 11 years.

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That victory has a number of benefits, according to Reuss. “We’re a company that lost what it feels like to win,” he says, recalling with a grimace the bankruptcy that nearly shut GM down just four years ago. But wins like Indy are “giving us a feel of what it’s like to win again as a company.”

There are other payoffs, the executive says.

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Chevy Does Emergency “Refresh” to Bolster Lagging Malibu Sales

Sedan will get more rear seat space, new center console and updates to the powertrain line-up.

by on May.31, 2013

Chevy does a quick update on Malibu.

General Motors has revealed an updated version of its 4-door Chevrolet Malibu, an unexpectedly rapid “refresh” of the midsize sedan that reflects the less than stellar reception it has received since its introduction last year.

Due to market this coming autumn, the 2014 will feature modest exterior updates and a number of more substantial changes to the interior – all reflecting back Chevy has received both from those who’ve bought the Malibu and from potential buyers that turned to the maker’s competitors, said Mark Reuss, president of GM’s North American operations.

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Though the current version of the Malibu has been on the market for barely a year, development “was done before we went through bankruptcy,” Reuss noted during a conversation with reporters.  The vehicle reflects the way things by GM’s old management team, he added, and “was not aggressive enough.”

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Is Toyota Facing Financial Trouble?

Japanese giant receives unexpected warning.

by on May.31, 2013

Toyota boss Akio Toyoda with the Lexus ES.

There was a time when Toyota was said to have “more money than God by one of its key competitors. And its latest earning report was unquestionably impressive. Nonetheless, the Japanese giant has received an unexpected warning that could signal financial troubles ahead.

Though Moody’s has given Toyota’s latest bond offering a strong “Aa3 rating,” it also has issued a negative outlook for the future that reflects potentially broader problems with the Japanese economy.

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“While disruptions caused by several natural disasters contributed to (a) period of underperformance, the company’s financial results have also suffered from product quality issues, market share erosion, and cost pressures exacerbated by volatile market conditions,” the ratings agency explains. “Because it is more reliant than its peers on units and components exported from Japan, Toyota’s earnings have significantly weakened because of the fluctuation in the currency market since the financial crisis of 2008-09.”

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Tesla Plans Cross-Continent Expansion of Supercharger Network

Battery-carmaker hopes to end “range anxiety.”

by on May.30, 2013

Tesla plans to place "several 100" Supercharger stations across the U.S. and Canada by mid-decade.

Battery-car start-up Tesla Motors hopes to put a quick-charging “supercharger” within the reach of all U.S. motorists – and most of those in Canada – over the next several years, something that could eliminate the so-called “range anxiety” that has so far been a factor in the limited sales of plug-based” vehicles like Tesla’s Model S.

The roll-out of the Tesla Supercharger network will now come twice as fast as originally planned, with about twice as many of them being put in place, according to the maker’s founder and CEO Elon Musk. The fast-charging system will also be upgraded to reduce charging times by nearly half compared to the first chargers now in place, said Musk.

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“It does mean quite a lot to mainstream customers, being able to drive you (battery) car wherever you want to go…at a moment’s notice,” said the South African-born executive. “So (this is) very important to accessing a broader audience” for battery-electric vehicles like the Tesla Model-S sedan that went on sales last summer.

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Justice Dept. Ending Oversight of Daimler

DoJ says maker cleaned up after bribery case.

by on May.30, 2013

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche and other senior execs will soon have the Dept. of Justice off their backs.

The U.S. Department of Justice is moving to wind up the bribery case it filed against Daimler AG more than three years ago. The DOJ has filed a motion to dismiss the case in Federal Court after being satisfied that the German industrial giant has reformed its internal code of conduct and business practices.

The corporate cleanup, which included the dismissal of senior executives, the demotion of others and appointment of an official with the authority to enforce the new anti-corruption dictates, followed a landmark settlement with the Justice Department.

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As part of the settlement, Daimler AG entered into a “”deferred prosecution agreement” and agreed to the accept a single charge that  the company conspired to violate the books and records provisions of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, along with one count of actually violating those provisions.

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Desperate for Sales, EV Makers Slash Prices

Honda trims lease on Fit EV by a third.

by on May.30, 2013

Honda will trim the price of its Fit EV by a third.

Honda will slash by a third the cost of leasing its new Fit EV making it the latest maker to try to boost demand for battery cars by reducing their hefty price premium.

Other makers who have already taken steps to improve the affordability of their electric vehicles include Nissan with the battery-electric Leaf, and Chevrolet with the plug-in Volt. High prices are one of the key reasons potential buyers have steered clear from so-called advanced propulsion vehicles, according to industry research.

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Honda says it will reduce the price of the Fit EV lease from $389 to $259 a month, and customers will no longer face mileage limitations.  Existing customers will see their lease prices adjusted, as well.

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Younger Women More Likely to Die in Crashes

But for elderly, men are more vulnerable.

by on May.30, 2013

Women are generally more likely to die in a crash than a man of similar age.

Young women are more likely to die, in otherwise equivalent crashes, than men of the same age, according to a new study by federal safety regulators.

That goes for both women drivers and female passengers between the ages of 21 and 30, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But NHTSA also says the situation reverses itself in old age, when it’s men who have a significantly higher risk of being killed in crashes.

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“Young adult females are more fragile than males of the same age, but later in life women are less frail than their male contemporaries,” said the NHTSA report.

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Fiat Loosens More of its Italian Ties

Sends new signals its HQ could move to Michigan.

by on May.29, 2013

Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne continues to signal a move to the US is likely.

Fiat took another step towards loosening its ties to Italy as Fiat Industrial’s board of directors met this week and approved a merger of its principal Dutch and Italian subsidiaries.

The move comes as rumors and speculation continue to mount that Fiat S,p.A. will ultimately shift its headquarters from Turin to the Detroit suburbs once the maker finalizes its acquisition of Chrysler. The fear of losing the company has led Italian government leaders to look for ways to keep Fiat from picking up and moving.

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The Fiat Industrial Board of Directors approved the cross-border merger of the wholly-owned subsidiary Fiat Netherlands Holding N.V. with Fiat Industrial S.p.A, the company said in a brief statement. The merged company is expected to reside neither in the Netherlands or Italy but in England where Fiat officials have said the company will be domiciled for tax purposes.

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Spending More and More Time Behind the Wheel, Motorists Want Upgraded Auto Interiors

It’s all in the details, designers suggest.

by on May.29, 2013

GM made the interior of the 2014 Corvette Stingray one of its highest priorities in the development of the new C7.

If you haven’t bought a car in recent years, you may be in for a surprise to discover the way the demands for greater fuel-efficiency, connectivity and fashion are transforming vehicle interiors.

“There is a coolness factor involved,” Johann Jungwirth, president and chief executive officer of Mercedes-Benz research and Development in Silicon Valley. “The basic ability to connect digitally is important,” particularly for younger consumers not only in the U.S. but in Europe and China, which has spawned a major research effort on the part of Mercedes.

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The ultimate goal is to find apps that enhance the driver’s needs without compromising safety, Jungwirth told the Wards Auto Interiors Conference.

Mike VanNieuwkyuk, executive director of global vehicle research at J.D. Power & Associates, noted motorists now spend more time in their cars but are also being pressed to use the smart phone technology to be more productive while they are commuting. Consumers want the same access to connected technology in their vehicles they have in the home or office.

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