News – October 2011

The last week of October saw me take paternity leave as my new daughter Daisy was born. 

What did I miss while I was away? According to Glass’s, VW Group posted Q3 profits three times higher than 2010, at €7.2bn, while Ford posted profits of $1.6bn – Europe and Asia were down but its home market was up 14%.

Things were less good for PSA though, where automotive revenues were down 1.6%, to €9.3bn, because of a ‘sharp contraction’ in Europe. For this reason, it plans to cut 6k jobs. Enter the French government to have its say soon, I expect…

Great news for Saab, which was sold after a €100m sale to Pang Da and Youngman. HeadlineAuto online review tells me design, engineering and manufacturing will continue in Sweden, with Chinese production coming on stream later. The Chinese firms will invest €500m in new models, starting with the Jason Castriona-designed new Saab 9-3 in 2013. Production is expected to recommence in early 2012.

There was praise for Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne too. He took the reigns in June 2004, when Fiat was 20% owned by GM after a ¢2.4bn deal in 2000. GM was contractually obliged to guy the remaining 80% but, as we know, this didn’t happen. Lucky for Fiat: GM, of course, went bankrupt in 2009, closing Hummer, selling Saab and almost selling Opel/Vauxhall too. What would have happened to Fiat..?

Instead, Fiat has is expected to post a net profit of €1.7bn in 2011, thanks to its growing stake in Chrysler, which also sees it develop from a Euro-centric brand into a true global player with a keen stake in the North American market. Cheers all round, it seems!

24 Oct

  • Saab ends Chinese deal: Saab has terminated the joint venture agreement with Pang Da and Youngman after the two Chinese firms failed to comply with terms of the deal and also failed to provide vital bridge loan funds. An offer from Pang Da and Youngman to purchase Saab outright was also rejected as it didn’t reflect the true value of the company. Saab will now begin discussions with other companies that have expressed an interest in the firm.
  • Maserati to rival Porsche, not Ferrari: Sergio Marchionne says Maserati will rival Porsche and Bentley, not Ferrari: there will thus not be a Ferrari SUV or four-door Aston Martin Rapide rival. It ‘plays in its own box’, he said. A sales record of 7000 cars is expected for 2011 with 10k annual sales the medium term goal. It will be ‘dangerous’ to aim for 15k annual sales. Instead, Maserati sales will grow 10 times over, to 55-60k a year, with the addition of an SUV and two new saloons. (4 Wheel News)
  • Volkswagen may be world no.1 THIS year: Volkswagen Group may jump both GM and Toyota to become the largest car producer in the world this year. Sales are estimated to rise 13%, to 8.1m: GM sales should rise 8% to 7.55m. Toyota sales will decline 9% to 7.27m. Toyota is expected to regain the number 1 slot next year. (Bloomberg)

23 Oct

  • Fisker in US government cash promise: Not a single dollar of the $529m federal loan granted to Fisker will ‘ever’ be spent outside the US, says the firm. $169 has been spent on R&D for the Karma (supporting 500 jobs in California) and the rest is allocated to bringing project Nina to market (Fisker plans to build 100k a year from 2013 in a former GM plant). The announcement comes following controversy over the Karma’s disappointing fuel economy figures, which drew attention to the fact it’s built by Valmet in Finland. Fisker says this is because no US automaker could produce such low volumes (8k a year). (Detroit Free Press)
  • Chinese ‘electric Mercedes B-Class’ leaked: Images of the Daimler-BYD JV electric car for China have leaked. These show a model that is expected to be based on the Mercedes B-Class, but use an electric drivetrain based on BYD lithium ion battery technology. Due for release in 2013, the new EV will not be sold outside China. Warren Buffett has a stake in it: BYD is part-owned by one of his firms. (Left Lane News)

22 Oct

  • Rolls-Royce on a roll: Rolls-Royce has revealed its order books are full and that Goodwood is currently operating three shifts. It expects to break last year’s sales record of 2711 cars. CEO Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes has also hinted at a Ghost Coupe and Cabriolet. (4 Wheel News)
  • US cars older than ever: The average age of a car in the US is 10.6 years – the highest it’s ever been. This is leading analysts from GM and Ford to predict sales growth next year, due to pent-up demand. This year’s estimate of 12.5-13.5m sales is also expected to be broken. Between 1996-2000, 96m cars were sold and the ones still on the road are reaching the end of their useful life. (4 Wheel News)
  • US diesel growth continues: Jeep will launch a diesel-engined Grand Cherokee in the US for 2013, along with diesel Chrysler and Dodge too. The news comes in the same week Chevrolet confirmed it is to build the diesel Cruze in the US too. (4 Wheel News)
  • Fiat’s GM diesel: The Fiat Auto 3.0-litre V6 diesel built by VM Motori was commissioned by GM when it still had a stake in Alfa Romeo (and designed for both longitudinal and transverse applications). Fiat now has a 50% stake in VM.
  • Green Ford best-seller winning fans: As of September 2011, Ford had sold 73k EcoBoost F-150 in the US, out of 416k total sales. The new eco engine costs $895 more than the 5.0-litre V8 alternative. The take rate of EcoBoost in the F-150 was estimated at 40%: now, it is expected to be 45%. The F-series will be America’s best selling vehicle this year. (Motor Trend)
  • China ups C-NCAP standards: China has toughened its C-NCAP crash test standards. From July 2012, rear seat passengers will be included, the offset crash test speed will rise from 56km/hm to 64km/h and safety aids such as ESC will be included. Overall points will also rise, from 51 to 62. The move is to counter a poor safety reputation: a Chinese brand was famously asked to close its Frankfurt IAA show stand after failing to meet roadworthiness standards. (IOL)
  • Ford boosted by union: Ford’s credit rating has been upgraded two notches, to just shy of investment grade, after it reached a deal with the UAW union on a new labour contract. An improving financial positon also helped the upgrade by S&P. (Detroit Free Press)

21 Oct

  • Why are good RVs important? Because, shows Kia US, they mean you can lease more cars (vital in a new car market that has an average 21% lease rate). Higher RVs cut the amount customers have to borrow, as this loan sum is the difference between the retail price and the RV: it’s the same for PCPs in the UK too. Kia RVs have improved 50% since 2009, from 37% after three years to 55%: that’s why its lease rate has grown from 6% to 15%. (Automotive News)
  • GM is launching another ad agency review which will likely affect its biggest brand, Chevrolet (51% of GM sales are Chevrolet cars) most of all. Last year, $4.3bn of GM’s total $5.1bn marketing spend went on advertising last year. GM North American accounted for $3.4bn and GM Europe $800m. (Automotive News)
  • Chevrolet is on a roll: it’s sold 3.6m cars so far this year, and 1.2m in the last quarter, a company record.
  • There will NOT be an AWD version of the current BMW M5; torque vectoring is overly complicated and unnecessary; there won’t be a Touring as the last one sold only 1056 units worldwide; BMW head of product development Albert Biermann would rather there weren’t a manual F10 M5 either, but the US (the car’s largest market) demands it. (Autoblog)
  • Alfa Romeo’s relaunch in the US is taking priority over Europe says Fiat Auto boss Sergio Marchionne. Alfa is, he says, one of the best brands in the world but reviving it is ‘one of the most difficult things I have to do’. The RWD coupe 4C and Jeep-derived mid-size SUV are key launches, and coming ahead of the Chrysler 200c-based Giulia which will arrive in 2013. By 2014. Marchionne aims to sell 85k cars in the US, out of a totoal of 400k worldwide. Alfa’s historic average annual sales is 150k. By early next year, Alfa in the UK will be selling just two models following the demise of the 159. (Autocar)
  • Motability (which has 575k cars on its books) is the UK’s only single customer with the ability to change the entire way the industry sells cars, says Nissan MD Jim Wright. Nissan is the third-largest supplier to Motability. (Nissan Insider)
  • Chevrolet will build a Cruze diesel in Ohio, US, from 2013. It will spend $5.5m on retooling during 2012. The diesel Chevrolet Cruze will be the first diesel sold by the brand since the 1980s Chevette. (Detroit News)
  • Lexus is planning a compact crossover to rival the Audi Q3. Rumoured to be called CX 300h, it will be derived from the CT 200h and debut in late 2012. (4 Wheel News)
  • Audi currently builds 300k cars in China, with JV partner FAW: The A4L, A6L and Q5. By 2015, it intends to boost this to 700k. Audi is already the Chinese premium brand leader, selling a third of all luxury cars there: by 2015, China will be its largest market overall. (4 Wheel News)
  • Hyundai has revealed a 204hp 1.6-litre T-GDI engine, boasting a twin-scroll turbo integrated in the exhaust manifold, plus direct injection and dual CVVT. The new engine cost $61m to develop and took over four years. It will initially be fitted to the Hyundai Veloster, creating a MINI Cooper S rival. (4 Wheel News)

20 Oct

  • The next Audi R8 will use a carbonfibre and aluminium hybrid chassis saving 100kg and offering very high torsional rigidity levels (40,000Nm/deg is being rumoured). It will have a hybrid carbonfibre rear subframe and an aluminium front section. It is expected to debut in 2013. (Car Advice)
  • Audi is also to launch a manual-gearbox Q5 2.0 TSI in China. Such base-spec cars are colloquially called ‘poverty spec’ in the UK: in China, it’s known as ‘beggar edition’. (China Car Times)
  • GM has started production of the Chevrolet Malibu at South Korea’s Bupyeong #2 plant. The brand’s first global mid-size saloon, it is Chevy’s new range-topper and means the #2 plant, like GM’s other South Korean plants, is operating at full capacity. UK sales of the Malibu are yet to be confirmed. (4 Wheel News)
  • Slovakia, with a population of 5.4m, was the world’s biggest car producer per capita in 2010. VW Group has boosted production in 2011 but it isn’t all good news: PSA is cutting production at its Slovak plant by 50% due to falling sales of the Citroen C3 Picasso and Peugeot 207. Last month, PSA sales overall were down 13.3% to 133k: they are down 7.6% YTD, to 1.3m. (Automotive News)
  • Mazda wants to use ‘real world 40mpg’ cars to boost US sales from 250k this year to 400k by 2015 (a 74% increase). This real world fuel efficiency gain (48mpg UK equivalent) will be led by SKYACTIV technology, and take Mazda’s US share from 2% to 2.5%. (Bloomberg)
  • The Chinese market for small cars is in its infancy, which is why the Audi A1 (introduced into China earlier in the month) will not yet be manufactured there yet. The Audi A3 will be though, via the FAW-Volkswagen joint venture. This will commence soon. (Gasgoo)
  • The current Land Rover Defender may live on until 2017 or beyond, despite the launch of a new Defender in 2015. This is partly because the current model has been reclassified as a commercial vehicle, which may allow it to meet 2015/16 Euro 6 emissions regulations at a later date. Passenger impact laws were also set to be enforced in 2015 but, says Autocar, Land Rover has been informed a ‘derogation’ law exemption may apply until 2020. (Autocar)
  • VW Group tech boss Ulrich Hackenberg created the Audi TT and R8, but reckons the VW up! is a bigger achievement than either due to the constraints of low cost yet high standards and the completely clean sheet design. Group marketing chief Luca de Meo also revealed to Steve Cropley that two-thirds of buyers will be conquest: VW expects to build 250k up! a year, to sell into an European city car sector worth 1.4m sales a year. (Autocar)
  • Saab is selling shares and borrowing $60m off North Street Capital, as it doubts the partly-paid bridge loan from Youngman will come through in time for tomorrow’s deadline: that’s when a Swedish government wage guarantee scheme runs out. The money is needed to pay wages and is thus required immediately.
  • North Street Capital is also trying to buy Spyker from Saab parent company Swedish Automobile.
  • The Kia Venga is now being produced in the firm’s Zilina, Slovakia plant, after being made by sister firm Hyundai in the Czech Republic to date. It joins cee’d and Sportage at Silina, following a €40m investment. A third shift, second engine shop and 1000-strong employee boost to 4000 workers will also boost production.

19 Oct

  • The Toyota iQ is to take on a third guise: it will go on sale in the US this December as a Scion iQ. (Detroit Free Press)
  • Next month, all new cars sold in the US must be fitted with a standard tyre pressure monitoring device. Goodyear says tyres naturally lose 1-3% of inflation pressure every month: the US government says that 30% of cars have at least one tyre that’s 25% underinflated. This costs $3.7bn in wasted fuel and causes 660 tyre-related fatalities. (Motor Trend)
  • Foreign cars sold in the US are commanding the biggest price premium over domestic-built cars in 12 years. The weak dollar has curtailed imports of cheaper cars such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, helping domestic makers GM and Ford to gain market share with models such as the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Fiesta. The average price of an imported car in August 2011 was $31,536, $7164 than a domestic-built car. Asian brands are worst affected as they sell cars in the cheaper volume end of the market: premium import brands are less affected due to their higher prices. (Bloomberg)
  • Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn says there is ‘very great uncertainty’ over 2012 prospects, due to financial market uncertainty and the slowing global economy. He also said Renault will sell more cars this year than in 2010, when it sold 2.6 million cars and made €39m in revenue (September sales were up 1.5%, to 110k). The target is free cash flow of more than €500m. (Automotive News)
  • VW’s aim to sell 10 million cars a year will require more employees: by 2018, VW Group CEO estimates the global workforce will total half a million people (with a million more in the supplier and dealer network). VW Group currently employs 435k people. (4 Wheel News)
  • VW’s Winterkorn predicts the annual Chinese new car market will have grown 50% by 2018, to 28 million cars.
  • GM has already sold more than 2 million vehicles in China so far in 2011. (4 Wheel News)
  • Volvo has scored the greatest reduction in average CO2 emissions of all major European manufacturers. The average reduction in 2010 was 2-6%: Volvo’s CO2 reduction was 9%. The firm is aiming for a range average of 95g/km CO2 by 2020.
  • CAP guru Martin Ward has given the new Hyundai i30 the thumbs up, and gives a lesson to Europe’s vehicle manufacturers in the process:  ‘We keep on saying: ‘Style sells’. The new i30 certainly possesses plenty of this. (CAP)

18 Oct

  • VW wants to keep its stake in Suzuki and is planning a series of discussions ‘exclusively conducted internally’. This is in contrast to the highly-publicised public falling-out between the two brands. (Left Lane News)
  • Chinese vehicle sales rose 15% in September compared to August, to 1.65m (including 1.32m cars). It’s the third consecutive monthly sales boost. China is thus not ready for car sales return, replacement and repair laws, says the Chinese Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM). Recall laws have currently hit a sticking point due to the complexity of the market: these need to be introduced first before sales return and repair regulations can be imposed. (Gasgoo)
  • Chery is demonstrating ‘vision its peers don’t’ in focusing on exports from China. It’s the country’s biggest vehicle exporter and has hit its 2011 export target three months early: an 80% year-on-year rise means it may export as many as 180k cars this year. Key markets are Brazil, Russia and Ukrain. (Paul Tan)
  • European new car sales were up 0.7% in September – but only because the German market was up 8.1%. All other markets were down. Year to date, Europe is down 1.1%, with 10.1m new cars sold. Germany is up 10.8%, France is up 0.2%, the UK is down 5%, Italy is down 11.3% and Spain is down 20.7%. (ACEA)
  • MINI will launch in India in 2012. BMW India is plannign12 dealers and is aiming not for volume but brand perception: it is yet to be confirmed which models will be sold there. BMW India builds the 3 Series and 5 Series in India, and sells the 7 Series from CKD kits: it is likely the MINI will be CKD too. (InAutoNews)
  • BMW is the largest premium manufacturer in India and aims to sell 20k units by 2020.
  • The average pretax profit of a BMW sold in China in 2010 was €11,200, compared to a global average of €2700. China is the world’s largest market for 7 Series, 5 Series and X6, and the second-largest for X3, X5 and 3 Series. Last year, 40% of 7 Series, 26% of 5 Series GT and 20% of X6 production went to China. (Just-Auto)

17 Oct

16 Oct

  • Nissan was placed 25th for dependability in this year’s US J.D. Power survey, the same position it scored last year and down from 18th in 2009. The problem is perceived quality rather than actual quality: Nissan is thus aiming to improve touch, feel, fit, finish and intuitiveness. Senior vice president Kazumasa Katoh says the growing dissatisfaction rates were a surprise: one immediate solution is to produce extra pages for US owner’s manuals that better explain issues raised in the survey. (4 Wheel News)
  • Nissan is aiming to be in the top three for dependability amongst non-premium brands by 2016. Improvements will include making the climate control system easier to operate as US customers say it’s button laden. (Car Advice)
  • Tata originally aimed to sell 500k Nano a year: it has actually only just passed the 100k mark following the car’s launch in September 2008. Sales last month were down 47% on 2010. It has been hit by a year-long production delay, a lack of rural Indian dealers and adverse publicity over vehicle fires. Car Advice also quotes an FT correspondent, who says the Nano clashes with the Indian psyche: ‘nobody wants to buy the world’s cheapest car’. (Car Advice)
  • Ford will introduce a new sub-brand in China, with joint venture partners Mazda and Chang’an, to comply with Chinese government stipulations requiring foreign brands to develop homegrown brands if they are to build new plants. Ford intends to build four new plants by 2015: it wants to sell 8m cars by 2015, up from 2010′s 5.3 million, and 60-70% of the growth will come from the Asia-Pacific and African regions. (Autocar)
  • Ford sold 580k cars in China last year; GM sold 2 million. (Autocar)
  • Porsche is planning to sell 140k cars in 2012, up from 120k this year, 97k in 2010, and thus setting a new sales record. This is ‘ambitious but achievable’, an analyst told Bloomberg. In September, sales were up 38% to 10,560: year to date, they’re up 31%. In January, Porsche will add a third shift for the Cayenne, boosting production by 10-20%: currently, 220 cars a day are built. (Bloomberg)
  • Could the BMW i3 use a motorbike engine as the range-extender unit? BMW has a very robust and compact 652cc single-cylinder motor in the GS range, whose very impressive economy your former GS650-owning correspondent can well vouch for… (Consumer Reports)
  • The average UK car retailer lost £15k in August, compared to a £13k loss in 2010. In the first eight months of 2011, the average return on sales was 0.6%, compared to 1.1% last year. In 2010, the average retailer made a £44k overall profit, although the final quarter was only break-even. (Auto Retail Network)
  • The US NHSTA is investigating MINI Cooper S engine fires: there have been 12 reported cases, including five total vehicle losses. Eight occurred when the car was turned off. The investigation was announced over the weekend, after complaints showed an increasing trend over the past year: around 36k MINI Cooper S built between 2007-08 are affected. (Automotive News)
  • Sergio Marchionne is worried that politicians will mismanage the debt crisis and cause the Euro to fail. However, carmakers are better placed to survive a recession, he reckons: steps taken in the last crisis of 2008/09 have protected cash reserves, reduced inventories and improved labour flexibility. Car makers should thus be able to survive a year-long recession. A global recession is, however, unlikely – and Latin America, North America and China would be ‘totally immune’ from any European woes. (4 Wheel News)

15 Oct

  • Suzuki is taking legal again against VW, because chairman and CEO Osamu Suzuki says it has breached the partnership agreement signed in December 2009. This was meant to grant Suzuki access to VW core technology, but Suzuki says he remains ‘disappointed that we have not received what we were promised’. If VW won’t allow Suzuki access, it must return the shares it owns in Suzuki: VW has a 20% stake in Suzuki, with the Japanese company holding a 1.5% stake in VW. (Autocar)
  • A four-year legal battle between Fiat and Great Wall may be coming to a close: Great Wall will not appeal against a Fiat claim that the Great Wall Peri copied the Fiat Panda. The model is no longer made and was never exported to Europe. Great Wall is also not pursuing a claim that Fiat was spying on it – the firm was said to have evidence of Fiat employees taking pictures at its Chinese R&D site. (Gasgoo)
  • China has revised downwards its estimates for car sales this year – for the second time. The Chinese Association of Automobile Manufacturers says growth will be 3% for 2011, down from a previous 5% estimate, that itself revised estimates of 10-15% growth. The Chinese government has reduced subsidies for new cars as it switches from focusing on growth to controlling inflation. The Chinese car market grew by 6% in 2008, 46% in 2009 and 32% in 2010. Around 18.6 million cars will be sold this year. (Gasgoo)
  • Hyundai has launched a new budget car in India, the Eon, to challenge the dominance of Maruti Suzuki. Mini and compact cars account for 75% of all car sales in India: Maruti Suzuki commands 43% of the market, mainly thanks to the best-selling Alto. Hyundai has a 20% share. (4 Wheel News)
  • Chevrolet has launched the Sonic (sold in the UK as the Aveo) in Japan. It is GM’s first small car to go on sale in Japan since the 2000 Opel Vita (the Vauxhall Corsa). The car, which is being introduced with the fanfare of a TV ad campaign, costs 1.89m yen, below the 2m yen barrier that is said to define affordable cars in Japan. (4 Wheel News)
  • Chevrolet has also to launch the Spark city car in the US and Canada (a key marketing draw is the fact it is 14 inches shorter than the Chevrolet Sonic/Aveo). It will debut at next month’s LA Auto Show, further adding to the sales markets for Chevrolet’s smallest car: it is also sold in Europe, Korea, India, Mexico, South America and Australia. (GM News)
  • The Chinese government has realised China’s cars are not good enough to be successful in export markets. The Ministry of Commerce (via the departement of the mechanic, electronic and hi-tech industry) is to raise standards of cars via a series of initiatives. These will include reorganising the business structure for automotive companies and increasing standards for sales networks. The Chinese government is keen for homegrown makers to export more cars: the export peak is 680k cars, from a total market of over 18 million. (Gasgoo)

14 Oct

  • Growing numbers of UK new and used car buyers are using motor finance: a 17% rise in August takes the total up to 57.9% of buyers over the past 12 months, the highest proportion in four years. Leasing was up 38% in August and PCPs 24%. (Glass’s)
  • BMW will launch the 7 Series LCI (Life Cycle Impulse) next spring. The F01 will get styling tweaks including full LED headlights, plus a tri-turbo six-cylinder diesel dubbed 750d. (BimmerPost)
  • Autocar reports Vauxhall is to overhaul its engine range, ready for Euro 6 legislation. New engines will be built at a new £420m plant in Hungary, capable of producing 500k units a year. Key highlight will be a new 1.6-litre turbodiesel to replace the current 1.7-litre diesel (the best-selling engine of all in the Astra line). The new ‘MDE’ (Medium Diesel Engine) will produce between 100-140hp and will launch in 2013. A bi-turbo version of the current 2.0-litre diesel is also planned, producing around 200hp.
  • Vauxhall is also planning a new SGE (Small Gasoline Engine) range between 1.0-1.4 litres, with the smallest being a sub-100g/km three-cylinder set to appear in the Vauxhall Junior city car. A new MGE 1.6-litre petrol is also planned: all new petrol models will be direct-injection.
  • A Chinese bank holiday is partly behind the delay in Saab receiving bridging loan funds from Youngman (it was signed on 12 September and the first payment was due on 26 September). However, it has also emerged Youngman was not happy with the collateral it was receiving in return for guaranteeing the loan. This led to the original agreement being renegotiated. (Marketwatch)

13 Oct

  • Proton says Lotus is not for sale, but it IS open to discussions about outside investment. Autocar reminds us the plan is to boost sales from less than 3000 to 7000 a year by the end of 2015.
  • Will BMW continue selling the old Brilliance-built E60 5 Series in China, when the new F10 arrives in 2012? (Car News China)
  • VW passenger car registrations hit 472k in September and total 3.81m between January-September, a rise of 12.3%. They are up 11% in China, VW’s largest single market, and 46% in Central and Eastern Europe. Sales in Germany are up 10%, to 449k.
  • Hyundai is expected to launch a new value sub-brand for the Chinese market at the Guangzhou Auto Show next month. The car will probably based on the current Hyundai Elantra and is rumoured to be a pure EV. The new brand will go on sale in 2012. (China Car Times)
  • Saab has received $15m of the £97m bridge loan guaranteed by Youngman. This money will be used to pay wages when the Swedish government wage guarantee scheme runs out next week (21 October). It may also allay concenrns that Saab is not meeting conditions of the voluntary reorganisation protection it won in court last month. (Reuters)
  • Mitsubishi president Osamu Masuko is warning of forthcoming automotive ‘Mega Competition’, which will see the Chinese and other emerging car producing nations shake up the existing order of EU, US and Japanese dominance. (China Car Times)
  • £4bn has been invested in the UK automotive sector so far this year, says the SMMT - with low carbon and ultra-low carbon technologies commanding a big slice. There are plenty more investment opportunities in niche volume manufacturers and low carbon suppliers, though: the SMMT detailed energy storage & management, electric motor & power electronics, IC engines, lightweight vehicles and intelligent mobility as prime growth opportunities.

12 Oct

  • Honda has confirmed to Autocar it is planning a successor to the NSX which could go on sale next year. A concept is expected at the Tokyo Motor Show in December, R&D chief Mibo Toshihiro told Autocar: it may use an electric or hybrid powertrain. Honda will also launch its first full electric and plug-in hybrid car for Japan, the US and China in 2012.
  • Volvo is working on a five-door VW Golf rival for launch in 2013. The V30 will be based on the current Ford-derived ‘P1′ platform also used in the C30, S40 and V50. Volvo is also said to be working on a baby SUV version called the XC30, using a four-wheel drive version of the platform. (Autocar)
  • More news of a new Chinese brand for Europe will emerge next month, when Chery is expected to detail its joint strategy with Israeli holding company Quantum. The Qoros brand will include three models: Magna will help with R&D, design, production and getting quality control up to European standards (Magna also also engineered and builds the MINI Countryman and Peugeot RCZ). (Gasgoo)
  • BMW’s production facilities are operating ‘at 110%’, production chief Frank-Peter Arndt says. He was quoting analysis by Harbour Report, which defines 100% as two shifts operating five days a week. (4 Wheel News)
  • Nissan Micra sales are being penalised by a lack of a diesel engine and the car’s production move to India. Carlos da Silva of IHS Automotive told Automotive News the move to petrol-only was ‘too risky’ and that lower assembly costs come with a lower-quality feel: EU Micra sales are down 9.5% in H1 2011, despite the car being a newly launched model. (4 Wheel News)
  • Autocar has pictured the Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake outside the firm’s Sindelfingen R&D/production base. It arrives in the UK in a year’s time, as a rival to the Audi A7 and BMW 5 Series GT. Mercedes will also in time launch a CLC Shooting Brake based on the new B-Class’ MFA platform.

11 Oct

  • Lotus is not selling enough cars, and is set to renew its focus on shifting the current models over the next 18 months. Karl-Heinz Kalbfell told Autocar it must ‘beef up’ its sales effort: in the first eight months of 2011, Lotus has sold 272 cars compared to 358 in the same period last year – a 24% decline.
  • Energy secretary Chris Huhne says the proposed 80mph limit could be applied to EVs only, as ‘there would be absolutely no extra carbon emissions’. (Autocar)
  • BMW remained global premium number 1 brand in September, with sales up 9.3% to 128k. Mercedes grew 2% to 120k – and Audi was up 17% to also hit 120k: Mercedes’ lead was just 782 cars… (4 Wheel News)
  • GM China sales rose 15% in September (its second-highest ever). Toyota China sales were up 10.5%: FordChina sales rose 40%. (Automotive News)
  • Saab’s future is in fresh doubt tonight as rumours emerge the court administrator may withdraw the voluntary reorganisation granted to the firm last month. Delays in a €70m loan backed by Youngman, combined with reports the Chinese government’s NDRC may reject the joint venture with Youngman and Pang Da, are apparently why. (MSN Cars)
  • Alfa Romeo 159 production is on wind-down: UK models are no longer available to factory order, but a stockpile of 230 cars remains in the UK. The 159 will be replaced by the Alfa Giulia in 2014. No major Alfa Romeo action is planned for 2012, although a MiTo TwinAir will arrive in early 2012. (What Car?)

10 Oct

  • VW’s big TDI engine recall in the US does not affect European cars because the US ‘Clean Diesel’ cars have slightly different engineering.
  • GM will double Chevrolet Volt production in 2012 without resorting to a second shift at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant. A six-week summer shutdown created efficiency gains that speed up production so a 60k 2012 target can be hit on the existing 10-hour, four-day weekly shift pattern. The option to add a second or even a third shift remains an option in the future (the Chevrolet Malibu will be produced at the site from late 2012). (Automotive News)
  • Jaguar Land Rover will announce a joint-venture production deal in China this week, in association with Chery. This will see Jaguars and Land Rovers produced in China for local consumption. Currently, JLR cars are imported into China, where they are subject to steep import tarifs. Chery is China’s largest vehicle exporter, shipping 107k cars out of China so far this year – an 88% rise on 2010. (Autocar)

9 Oct

  • Koreans are less keen on Hyundai’s ‘fluidic sculpture’ styling philosophy than Americans, who rate it second only to warranty in brand appeal, Hyundai chief marketing officer Cho Won Hong told Automotive News. Ultra-conservative Koreans have been ‘very critical’ of it, but it will still continue.
  • GM has agreed to contribute half towards repairs for under-reading fuel gauges on SUVs built between 2005-2007. GMCChevroletBuick and Saab (the 9-7) models are affected. (Reuters)
  • Honda is to halve exports from Japan. One-third of its overall production is currently exported from Japan: this will be reduced to between 10-20% of production, in an effort to counter the strength of the yen: it hit a 10-year high against the Euro last week. (Car Advice)
  • 4 Wheel News reports on Automotive Engineer news that the European turbo market will grow from 18.2m units this year to 30.4m units in 2015, as the trend for engine downsizing accelerates. Honeywell, which controls half the market, will see sales grow from 11.2m units this year to 16.9m units in 2015. It considers Borg Warner its chief rival.
  • Bosch and Mahle will produce their first turbo this year: Continental is also moving into the turbocharger market.

8 Oct

  • 51% of American car buyers are more likely to buy a Ford as it didn’t take a US Government bailout. 1 in 5 have actually bought a Ford because of the lack of bailouts: this rises to 33% for 18-29 year olds. 25% of buyers have avoided buying a GM car because of the bailouts… and 50% are less likely to buy one because of the Government bailouts. (The Truth About Cars)
  • VW will not enter NASCAR but is considering ALMS and Indy Car. Another Pikes Peak challenge is also a possibility. Wolfgang Durheimer, boss of Bentley, also heads VW Group’s motorsport activities and will reveal the Group’s motor racing activities in the next few months. (4 Wheel News)
  • The 2013 Ford Escape will see its Hybrid version axed  for a more fuel-efficient 1.6-litre Ecoboost turbo. Ford group VP of product development Derrick Kuzak said the highway efficiency will be better: there’s also to be a 2.0-litre Ecoboost that will match V6 rivals for pace but offer better fuel efficiency. The new Ford Escape, which will use the platform of next year’s Ford Kuga-replacing Vertrek, will debut at the LA Show next month. (4 Wheel News)
  • White is the most popular new car colour in the world. It has this year toppled silver, which was world favourite for 10 years. (Car Advice)
  • Daimler has guaranteed 130k permanent jobs until 2016 under a worker protection scheme that limits temporary employees to 8% of the workforce. (4 Wheel News)
  • Genii Capital, majority owners of the Renault F1 team, is said to be close to investing in Group Lotussays Autocar. This would see Genii boss Gerard Lopez take a senior management role in the firm. Genii’s last attempt at road car involvement came last year when, in association with Bernie Ecclestone, it offered to buy Saab. The offer was later withdrawn.
  • McLaren has not stopped production of the MP4-12C in the light of quality glitches, reports Autocar, despite reports to the contrary. McLaren is, however, installing a software upgrade in all cars before they leave the factory. Production of five cars a day remains unchanged: so far, around 100 MP4-12C have been delivered.
  • Robert Downey Jr has been pictured driving an Acura-badged supercar on the set of the new Avengers movie. The model is said to hint at a future Honda NSX, which Honda CEO Takanobu Ito has already confirmed is being considered. Auto Express was told the 2001 Dual Note concept’s in-wheel electric motor technology may be used (for four-wheel drive and zero-tailpipe emissions hybrid running).
  • The Skoda Rapid four-door saloon has been unveiled in India. It is bigger than the Fabia but smaller than the Octavia (called Laura in India). (Just-Auto)
  • Land Rover is assessing a 300hp Range Rover Evoque, says Autocar, using a boosted version of the current 240hp 2.0-litre turbo. It may get its own performance sub-brand: hot Range Rovers are currently badged ‘Supercharged’ but this would not work with the ‘Turbocharged’ Evoque – because all models have a turbo…

7 Oct

  • 20% of new cars sold in the US are white. 25% sold in Europe are black. (Detroit News)
  • Volkswagen of America is recalling nearly 170k VW and Audi 2.0 TDI models to fix a potential leak in the fuel injection system. It has emerged the fuel injection pulses  can coincide with the natural frequency of the injector line, causing a resonance that can lead to a fuel leak.
  • China will become the world’s largest market for electric vehicles by 2015, thanks to the Chinese government’s prioritisation of EVs. Compound Annual Growth Rate will be 40% between 2010-2015, compared to less than 10% for Japan. (China Car Times)
  • There are more than 150 car manufacturers in China. (China Car Times)
  • Car plants need 80% utilisation to be profitable. Volvo is closing the C70 plant because it is only 65% efficient. Last year, the plant that’s co-owned by Volvo and Pininfarina built 10k C70. The two companies agreed to end their joint venture in March: in 2013, Volvo will buy out Pininfarina and close the facility. (Automotive News)

6 Oct

  • BMW US sales increased 19% in September, thanks to the new X3: 146 were sold in September 2010, growing to 1853 last month. BMW has sold 177k cars to date in the UK, a 13% rise. Mercedes sales are up 6.3% on 163k.Lexus sales are down 16%, on 135k. (4 Wheel News)
  • Audi is preparing a long-wheelbase A6 L for China, to be built by the FAW-Volkswagen joint venture. It will be around 100mm longer and boast 2.0 TSI, 2.8 TSI and 3.0 TSI petrol engines. There are also rumours of a 2.5 FSI. The short-wheelbase model won’t be built in China, so S and RS models will be imported from Germany. (Car News China)
  • Saab has not yet received the €70m bridge finance needed to restructure under the voluntary restructuring process it secured last month. The cash is part of a licence agreement with Youngman Lotus. It is unclear how long Saab can survive without the cash, which a spokesman said is due ‘soon’. (Automotive News)
  • Perodua, Malaysia’s best-selling car maker, is expected to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Proton, its second-biggest maker, later in 2011 or early 2012. (Paul Tan)
  • The plant building the Volvo C70 will close in 2013. It only builds the coupe-convertible Volvo: building such low volumes (2011 production is 65% of capacity) is no longer economically viable. The Swedish plant employs 600 people. (Car Advice)
  • Autocar reports the new Range Rover will arrive in autumn 2012. It’s codenamed L405 and will boast a pressed aluminium monocoque: the floor, crash structure and electronic architecture will be shared with the next JaguarXJ, but it will have a unique bulkhead, suspension mountings, seat position (for the Command driving position) and subframe. The substantial rear overhang of today’s car will go: the rear wheels are to be pushed back to create 125mm more rear legroom – vital for the car’s growing Mercedes S-Class-rivalling hopes.
  • Moody’s is soon expected to upgrade the credit rating of Ford and GM. Both are currently sub-investment ‘junk’ status: Ford executives have prioritised a return to investment grade. (Detroit News)

5 Oct

  • Petrol sales have fallen 15% in the UK compared to 2008 levels. Diesel sales are 0.4% down.
  • Ford will launch the new-shape Focus in China next month. It will be built by the Chang’an-Ford joint venture: the old-shape Focus will remain on sale alongside it too. (Car News China)
  • BCA says there is a shortage of two- to five-year old cars in the UK (due to declines in new car sales since 2008). The total car parc will remain at around 30 million vehicles but it is ageing rapidly. The average age of a car in the UK last year hit a 14-year high of 7.25 years. (Motor Trader)

4 Oct

  • Renault’s electric car programme has received a boost from the French government which, according to the Le Figaro newspaper, is to order 15,600 Renault EVs. They will be part of a 25k-strong public tender contract, and used by services such as La poste. PSA will receive a lesser order for 3900 EVs.
  • Nissan is to invest $1.5m in a new plant in Brazil, to boost the Renault-Nissan market share to 13% by 2016. (Le Figaro)
  • French new car sales have surprised analysts by growing 0.2% year to date (with 1.66m cars sold in the first nine months). The were expected to decline 8-10% in 2011, following the end of scrappage incentives. September was down, but only by a marginal 1.4%. Renault sales were up 8.7%, foreign imports were up 5.4%, but PSA sales were down 18%. (Dow Jones)
  • Nissan US sales were up 25.3% in September. Suzuki sales were up 24%. Toyota sales were down 17.5%.
  • 200k Chevrolet Cruze have been sold in the US in a year, showing the growth of compact cars in the US. GM also revealed to Ward’s Auto that the most popular trade-in against a Volt was the Toyota Prius.
  • Chinese brands are said to be reconsidering export plans to Brazil following the introduction of the 30% import tax. Chinese brands entered the Brazilian market in 2008 and, since then, sales have grown 10 times over. JAC,Chery and Hafei rank 14th, 15th and 16th in overall Brazil sales. The move comes as China’s domestic market stumbles too. (Gasgoo)
  • Autocar reports Alfa Romeo is planning a 300hp 1.8-litre four-cylinder MultiAir engine. The 165hp per liter engine will launch in the Giulia, due early 2014. It will meet strict Euro 6 emissions targets.
  • Proton is designing a new range of global cars, which will replace the current range that a Proton spokesman admitted to Car Advice that were designed for Malaysia first, not global markets. The new-gen cars will start with an all-new Persona in mid-2012. Proton is currently protected in its home Malaysian market by high import taxes but the firm admits it needs to do more to be competitive.
  • The Malaysian car market is the largest in south-east Asia, and totalled 536k in 2009. Proton was number 2, with a 27.6% share: Perodua took the biggest share with 31.1% of all new car sales.

3 Oct

  • Ford says 50% of its new car sales will be of Econetic-badged models by 2012/13. 50% of Vauxhall/Opel sales are already ecoFlex-badged cars.
  • Land Rover has orders worth £2bn for the new Range Rover Evoque. One-third are to women, double the usual amount for a Land Rover. It will become the firm’s best seller and is expected to contribute one-quarter of its total profits to financial year end April 2012. (Sunday Times)
  • Tesla conducted first drives of its Model S this weekend and confirmed deliveries will begin early next year. The all-electric saloon car will be sold with three grades of battery, offering a choice of 160 mile, 230 mile and 300 mile range. Tesla also confirmed it is planning a faster model S, with a 0-60mph time of around 4.5 seconds: this has led analysts to dub it an electric BMW M5 rival. Tesla CEO Elon Musk also called upon prospective owners to help promote the company via positive word of mouth. The firm employs 1400 people and issued an IPO in June 2010: it also won a $465m loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy in 2009. It has, however, yet to post a profit. (Automotive News)
  • Tesla will reveal a new crossover called Model X in December, prior to debuting at the Detroit Motor Show. It is expected to go on sale in late 2013. (Automotive News)
  • Nissan has launched an approved used programme in the UK. CARED 4 aims to blend the emotional draw of MINI Cherished, the professionalism of BMW Approved and the functionality of used car supermarkets, to give a used car buying experience the equal of a new car one. (Nissan Insider)
  • GM India sales rose 17% in September, on the back of the new Chevrolet Beat (Spark) diesel. Diesel sales are growing in India due to high petrol prices: many other brands are planning to introduce small capacity diesels -Honda has already revealed plans.
  • Chrysler US sales rose 27% in September, to 127k. It’s Chrysler’s best September result since 2007.
  • Fiat is to build a new baby Jeep (and associated Alfa and Fiat variants) at the Miafiori plant in Italy. This reverses an earlier decision to build the Jeep Cherokee (and a future Alfa mid-size SUV) there. Redevelopment will begin next year and the models will go on sale in the second half of 2013. Miafiori currently builds the Alfa MiTo, Fiat Idea and Lancia Musa. (AutoWeek)
  • The new baby Jeep/Fiat/Alfa SUVs will be based on the SUSW architecture, a wider and US-compliant version of Fiat’s European small car architecture. This will be introduced next year on the Serbian-built L-Zerothat will replace the Fiat Idea and, in extended form, the Fiat Multipla. (AutoWeek)
  • Auto Bild has leaked details of the F30 BMW 3 Series model range, which shows the three-cylinder engine will not be present at launch. The line-up is all-turbo, and consists of 136hp 316i, 184hp 320i, 245hp 328i and a six-cylinder 306hp 335i. Diesels include 115hp 316d and a 204hp 323d. There will also be a BMW ActiveHybrid 3, similar to the BMW ActiveHybrid 5.

2 Oct

  • Chinese car exports rose 53.3% between January-June, to 465k. (Car News China)
  • Brazil has introduced a 30% import tax to stem the rapid growth of Asian brands (imports doubled n August 2011; Chinese brand JAC alone was introduced in March 2011 and currently has 11% of the total car market). Brazil wants to protect its four local car industry ‘sisters’: FiatFordGM and VW. (Car Advice)
  • Japan has failed to control the strength of the yen, which is hurting the Japanese car industry and sending more investment abroad, Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn told Reuters.
  • Ghosn added that there is no strength of weakness in the global automotive sector: global car sales are not declining despite the EU debt crisis and economic cuts in the US.
  • The Sunday Times reports Bentley posted a pretax loss of £292m in 2010, compared to a deficit of £292m in 2009. On sales of 5117 cars, this equates to a loss of £5700 for every car sold. Bentley is planning to sell 7000 cars in 2011: sales were up 31% in August and 40% year to date. Half of Bentley sales are the Continental GT Coupe.

1 Oct

  • Volkswagen will return to profitability in the US this year, for the first time since 2003 (Audi achieved profitability last year). VW America CEO Jonathan Browning added sales are up 19% in the first eight months of 2011, to 284k. (Car Advice)
  • Skoda is planning a new model every six months, in the biggest-volume segments, as it looks to double sales to 1.5m units by 2018. It will continue to have more independence in developing variants than sister company SEAT, including a unique new MPV. There will also be a Skoda SUV and a saloon-hatch for 2012 derived from the MissionD concept car. (Autocar)
  • Russia may gain entry into the World Trade Organisation despite apparent protectionist measures in its new car market. Decree 166 states that car makers get incentives if they build more than 300k cars in Russia, with the majority of content sourced locally. This is expected to run until 2018, despite apparently being illegal in the eyes of the WTO. Car makers are targeting Russia as it is set for big growth: from 2m cars today to 4.1m cars by 2020. (Automotive News)
  • BMW is testing carbon ceramic brakes for the new M5, with supplier Brembo. BimmerFile reports they’ll use the same calipers with a different appearance, and can only be fitted with 20-inch wheels or larger. They may be introduced in 2012. (BimmerFile)
  • Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche has written to employees, stating that the next decade will be ‘a Mercedes decade’. In the next four years, Daimler will introduce 10 new models, five in the compact segment. There will also be more variants of the Mercedes S-Class, including an SUV and CLS-style shooting brake. Mercedes, Smart and Maybach are all cited in the letter. (Automotive News)
  • Zetsche also stated that, by 2020, demand for cars will rise quicker than the overall global economy. (Automotive News)
  • Toyota has launched its first ‘kei’ in Japan called the Pixis Space. It’s a rebadged Daihatsu Move Conte, and is the first fruits of a microcar agreement between Toyota and Daihastu that was signed in 2010. Toyota owns 51% of Daihatsu and, in 2010, sold 528k cars supplied by Daihatsu. (Bloomberg)