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Archive for February, 2009

Ford Executives Meet With Treasury Department

Company maintains an emergency loan is not needed. Suppliers remain a worrisome issue.

by Joseph Szczesny on Feb.27, 2009

Ford is trying to put its best face forward.

Ford is trying to put its best face forward.

Despite terrible sales, and a record smashing $14.6 billion loss in 2008, Ford Motor Co. executives continued a campaign to draw a bright line between their current extreme difficulties and those facing General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC.

Ford officials did travel to Washington D.C.  to meet with officials from the Obama Administration. Missing from the Ford delegation, however, was Ford chief executive officer Alan Mulally. Both GM CEO Richard Wagoner and Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli made a point of attending the meetings in Washington D.C.

“The Ford team has ongoing dialogue with all policymakers, and we were pleased with the chance today to discuss the state of the industry,” said Ford spokesman Mike Moran. “Ford is in a different position, and our situation has not changed. We did not and are not seeking emergency financial assistance from the government.”


Sneak Peak: 2010 Cadillac SRX

You can’t fight Lexus, so Cadillac is finally joining them with a front-wheel-drive cross-over.

by Ken Zino on Feb.27, 2009

Cadillac SRX looks to be a solid entry in a declining segment.

The Cadillac SRX looks to be a solid entry in a competitive, and declining segment.

Of all the nonsensical opinions held by enthusiast writers, none is more pervasive or wrong headed than the proposition that luxury vehicles have to be rear-wheel drive. The Lexus RX series, built from the Camry no less, demolished that assertion a decade ago. Not only did the RX300 catapult Lexus to the number one sales spot in the U.S. luxury segment, where it still resides, but it ended the reign of body-on-frame, rear-drive trucks as the basis for luxury vehicles. And Lexus had customer satisfaction and quality levels that embarrassed German and American makers. It still does.

Cadillac, once the uncontested U.S. luxury vehicle leader, is coming off a disastrous rear-drive SRX model built from an aging platform. It’s finally seeing things the way Lexus envisioned. The next-generation 2010 SRX crossover is built from a GM front-wheel-drive architecture that promises relative efficiency in a mid-size package for five adults.

Two V6 engine choices, and front- or all-wheel-drive, allow customers to decide what is best for them. And if previous experience on changing from a rear-drive to a front-drive platform holds, significant fuel economy increases are possible.

Unfortunately, this is still an overweight vehicle at more than 4200 pounds and higher, depending on equipment. My experience in this class says that 18 mpg is as good as it gets. And this requires driving finesse. Still, in the oft misunderstood area of fuel economy, replacing 12-14 mpg vehicles with 20 mpg ones provides a significant benefit for all of us.

Sneak Peak: Chevrolet Spark

Here's the latest attempt at igniting sales in the mini segment.

by Henny Hemmes on Feb.27, 2009

Small is growing in market share as buyers shift down a class.

Small is growing in European market share as buyers shift down a class or two.

Small is the trend in Europe. Last year in my own country, The Netherlands, there was a clear shift towards smaller, more fuel-efficient and consequently cleaner cars. The market share of the A-segment grew to 11%, more than double the 5% of 2007. The B segment, Ford’s Fiesta or VW’s Polo are representative, increased to 35 % from 17%.

So timing is good for Chevrolet to debut its new Spark at Geneva this year. Spark enters the A-segment, or mini-car, as the successor of the Matiz. More than one million Matiz models were sold by the end of 2007.

Chevrolet has not officially confirmed that the Spark will be available in North America, but sources within GM Europe say that there is a chance of, oh, 80%. American GM insiders are somewhat more skeptical, since fuel prices in the U.S. have dropped again to about $2 a gallon and the Obama administration is proposing a fuel tax increase of only 10 cents.

Opel Proposes Plan for Survival

Total subsidy requests are almost $8 Billion, with $1.2 billion in cost reductions and plant closings coming. Details are skimpy.

by Ken Zino on Feb.27, 2009

To keep running Opel needs cash not hydrogen.

To keep itself running Opel needs cash not hydrogen.

General Motors Europe and the Opel Supervisory Board approved a long-term plan for financial survival at its Rüsselsheim, Germany, headquarters this morning that will be submitted to government representatives.

German Government officials have been skeptical about granting Opel aid, even in the face of worker demonstrations and protests over the roughly 25,000 jobs at stake. It wants more detail.

GM’s Saab unit is facing similar doubts from the Swedish government in its attempt to become independent. GM has said that it will stop supporting Saab this year, but will continue to support Opel for the time being, once the center of its international auto empire.

What Opel terms a “confidential comprehensive” plan includes a funding request for €3.3 billion (US $4.2 billion at current exchange rates) in government support from German and other governments, and $3.8 in support from GM. Opel would also make $1.2 billion in structural cost reductions, presumably by eliminating jobs, manufacturing plants and cutting models. GM or Opel has operations in Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom as well as Germany.

Opel maintains the plan uses conservative market assumptions and that GM Europe and Opel would become profitable by 2011 if it was implemented. The company has about an 8% market share in Europe. Further details were not publicly released. GM says it is working with representatives of the German government to answer questions and provide additional information that may be required to move the funding process forward. Since workers have representation on the Supervisory Board,  there appears to be some union support for cutbacks. (more…)

Design Sustainability and the Race to Green

Pasadena Art Center summit features car design experts plus a green racer girl.

by John DeCicco on Feb.27, 2009

Chevrolet Volt: Wishing will make it so?

Chevrolet Volt: Wishing will make it so?

The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California is a storied institution that has brought forth numerous automotive styling luminaries, including Wayne Cherry, J Mays, Henrik Fisker and Chris Bangle. For the past several years, the Art Center has hosted a Sustainability Summit that explores the role of design in addressing key environment challenges.

Among the Center’s graduates is Bryan Nesbitt, General Motor’s vice president of design for North America, who opened a panel discussion of what might lie around the many curves ahead on the road to sustainable mobility. Perhaps predictably, that panel — which included Bill Reinert, manager for advanced vehicle technology at Toyota USA, and John Waters, president of Bright Automotive and formerly of GM’s EV-1 team — didn’t agree on what’s just around the bend, let alone farther down the road.


Marty’s Marketing Minutia

New voices, underwater fender-benders, and one very dopey press release

by Marty Bernstein on Feb.27, 2009

The weekly compendium of arcane, interesting, weird or just odd items from the weird and often silly world of automotive marketing, advertising, promotion and publicity.

New Lexus voice-over

New Lexus RX350 Crossover, new ad voiceover.

New Lexus RX350 crossover, new ad voice-over.

For as long as I can recall Lexus television commercials had a very distinctive voice as their VO or voice-over – the voice you hear but never see in commercials – well, he was in one this summer. You listened to the mellifluous, resonant, confident voice of actor James Sloyan.

But as I watched the new RX commercials this week preparing for an article next week, noted a new voice-over for Lexus. Hmmm? Was this a change of talent or just a scratch track mistake. I recognize voiceovers based on producing literally hundreds of radio and TV voiceovers in my ad career.


Sneak Peek: 2010 Audi TT RS

Top-performance from a two-seater.

by Henny Hemmes on Feb.27, 2009

Audi TT RS: Cabrio or Coupe

Audi TT RS: Cabrio or Coupe

Audi’s got an assortment of new products to reveal in Geneva, next week, but is lifting the covers a bit early. We’ll have some pics of the all-new allroad for you, as well as the top-range model of the Audi TT line-up, the TT RS, shown here.

Those add-on initials stand for either Renn Sport or racing sport, as you prefer, but there’ll be no debate about the performance of the new car, which relies on Audi’s inline-five-cylinder engine. The I-5 configuration has a long history within the VW luxury brand. The first time the Germans used an I-5 was in the Audi 100/5000 in 1977. Seven years later, the 200 Turbo, with an inline-five making 170 horsepower, became the world’s fastest four-door model.

The new 2.5-liter five cylinder engine for the TT RS combines direct injection and turbo technology to punch through the 300 hp barrier. The light weight model, based on Audi’s Spaceframe technology, should be able to reach 60 mph in less than 5 seconds.


Sneak Peek: Porsche 911 GT3

Porsche also unleashing 2010 Cayenne Turbo Diesel

by Henny Hemmes on Feb.27, 2009

2010 Porsche 911 GT3

2010 Porsche 911 GT3

Ok, we admit it up front, has already offered a look at the Porsche 911 GT3, which will debut at the Geneva Motor Show, next week. But how can we resist a few more shots, and a bit more detail.

What’s significant is that we expect the handling of the new GT3 again to be even better than of the outgoing model. When driving the GT3 a while ago, I could not imagine what Porsche engineers could improve. But obviously they still are very inventive.

With twice as much downforce, driving the new GT3 should be the dictionary definition of “on rails.” And for the first time, the sleek Porsche has a sporty tuned PSM, or Porsche Stability Management, system that can be switched on or off in steps.

A fuell efficient Porsche? The Cayenne Turbo-Diesel

A fuel efficient Porsche? The Cayenne Turbo-Diesel

The other Porsche debut in Geneva will be that of the Cayenne Diesel. The SUV now has a V-6 diesel making 240 hp, and it can reach a top speed of 133 mph. The maximum torque of 406 pound-feet is available from 2000 RPM. A six-speed Tiptronic S-transmission is standard. The combination propels the Cayenne from 0-60 mph in just 8 seconds. The PSM stability system and the PTM Porsche Traction Management are also standard.

Meanwhile, with a 26 gallon tank, the Cayenne Diesel is expected to deliver a range of more than 620 miles.

Spy Shots: 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe V-series still alive!

The last trick for GM's disbanded high-performance team?

by Brenda Priddy on Feb.26, 2009

2011 Caddy CTS Coupe V-Series: the last trick from GM's high-performance team?

2011 Caddy CTS Coupe V-Series: the last trick from GM's high-performance team?

Last week GM shocked enthusiasts by announcing that the High Performance Vehicle Operations team was being disbanded. The HPVO crew, responsible for the V-series Cadillacs, Chevy Cobalt SS and HHR SS were said to be off working on regular cars now. These photos, shot in the last 24 hours, show the hipo team has one more trick up their sleeve.

The last time we saw a CTS Coupe V-series prototype was August 2008. It’s absence since then combined with GM’s Viability plan submitted to Congress had many thinking the hot rod coupe had been killed off. These new photos show the V-series coupe is alive and well!


Sneak Peek: Alfa-Romeo GTA Mito

Alfa’s next model for the US

by Henny Hemmes on Feb.26, 2009

The Alfa-Romeo Mito GTA may soon join the high-performance 8C in U.S. showrooms.

The Alfa-Romeo Mito GTA may soon join the high-performance 8C in U.S. showrooms.

Despite its long absence, there are legions of American fans desperate for the return of the Alfa-Romeo brand. The Italian maker, a subsidiary of Fiat S.p.A., staged a sort-of comeback, last year, with the launch of the high-performance 8C, but volumes are so low, few will ever see, let alone drive, the sensual sports car.

With Fiat now talking a global joint venture with Chrysler, Alfa’s commitment to a true, U.S. return seems to be taking root. We’ll get a good look at the model to follow the 8C at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show: the GTA version (Gran Turismo ‘Alleggerito’, which means lighter) of the Mito, the small car that that went on sale in Europe last year. With 240 hp, the Mito GTA promises to be a true rocket.