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This Day in Automotive History
|7/17/1920:||Three-point seatbelt inventor Nils Bohlin born|
Chrysler’s new Sterling Heights paint shop will open in early 2014
11:23 PM, July 16, 2013
By Brent Snavely
Detroit Free Press Business Writer
That version of the midsize sedan will be produced in Sterling Heights, where Chrysler is spending about $1 million to build a new paint and body shop as well as two nearby stamping plants.
“From a long-term perspective, this is a great endeavor for the city of Sterling Heights,” said John Powell, senior manager of paint facilities and launch programs for Chrysler.
The plant was built in 1953 as a jet engine plant with Chrysler as a contractor. Chrysler purchased the plant in 1983 and planned to close it as part of its bankruptcy restructuring in 2009.
Chrysler, with Fiat as its controlling shareholder, later decided to invest in the plant, instead.
“This plant is a plant that has nine lives,” Powell said. “There were many times it was on the brink of doom and it came back.”
The 425,000-square-foot paint shop — which will be the most flexible and advanced with Chrysler’s manufacturing system — will ensure new products and work for thousands of workers for years to come, Powell said.
“It is a flexible enough paint shop … that I am able to handle all of Chrysler’s portfolio along with Fiat’s portfolio except for the big Ram,” Powell said. “This is definitely going to be our future standard.”
Inside the sprawling, three-floor building, about 450 construction workers and subcontractors are busy putting the final touches on the equipment.
Much of the project is being overseen by Auburn Hills-based Giffin, which specializes in the building and constructing conveying systems for manufacturing.
The paint shop is adjacent to Sterling Heights Assembly, where Chrysler currently builds the Chrysler 200 and the Dodge Avenger.
The redesigned Chrysler 200 will share its basic architecture with the Dodge Dart and the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee.
That underbody was developed by Fiat and also is used in Europe for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
Chrysler also is investing $165 million for a 1-million-square-foot body shop at the plant.
About 2,200 people work at Sterling Heights Assembly. About 300 of those employees work in the older, existing paint shop, and most will be transferred to the new paint shop next year.
Chrysler recalling nearly 46,000 2013 Ram trucks
12:37 PM, July 16, 2013
DETROIT — Chrysler Group is recalling 45,961 Ram trucks because their electronic stability control systems may not turn on when the vehicles start.
Ram 1500 4×4 trucks built between June 26, 2012, and Feb. 5, 2013, are involved in the recall.
Chrysler says a software problem may disable the electronic stability control system when the pickups start.
Electronic stability control helps vehicles stay upright and maintain the right direction even if the driver swerves or loses control. A disabled system increases the risk of a crash.
Chrysler began investigating the issue after getting some warranty complaints. It says no accidents or injuries have been reported due to the problem.
Dealers will update the software for free. Chrysler will begin notifying owners next month.
It’s time to get clicking. The Chrysler Group’s employee calendar photo
contest has officially begun, and the website to submit images is now live.
The winning photos from employees and contractors that best depict the
theme, “Your Vehicle, Your Community,” will be featured in the 2014
calendar distributed at the end of the year.
As was the case for the 2013 calendar, the top 24 images will be selected
by an outside judge. To enter the contest, go to the website
(www.calendarcontest.chrysler.com) and read the official rules, register
and upload your photograph.
The deadline for submissions is Sept. 6.
Labor lawyer Nancy Schiffer may be headed to NLRB
8:44 PM, July 16, 2013
By Todd Spangler
Detroit Free Press Washington Staff
WASHINGTON — A deal to avoid what could have been a significant procedural change in the U.S. Senate may send a labor lawyer with ties to Detroit to the National Labor Relations Board.
The Associated Press and other news organizations were reporting that as part of an agreement to let votes on several Obama administration appointees go forward, two previously nominated appointees to the NLRB would be replaced by Nancy Schiffer and Kent Hirozawa.
Schiffer, who most recently worked as associate general counsel for the AFL-CIO, began her career at the NLRB’s Detroit regional office. She later joined a law firm in the city before — according to testimony she gave to Congress in 2007 — spending 18 years in the UAW’s Legal Department in Detroit.
Hirozawa is counsel to NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce.
President Barack Obama’s original appointees — Sharon Block and Richard Griffin — were never confirmed but were installed as recess appointments. A court later invalidated those appointments.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had threatened to use a parliamentary procedure that could have altered Senate precedent, allowing for administration appointees to be confirmed with a simple majority vote. Republican opponents — and some Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan — argued that such a change could lead to a rewriting of Senate rules and allow for a simple majority vote to close off debate, violating longstanding Senate traditions.
Contact TODD SPANGLER at 703-854-8947 or at email@example.com
Ram 1500 is the best truck, Consumer Reports says
8:15 AM, July 16, 2013
By James R. Healey
The Ram 1500 pickup is the best big truck, Consumer Reports says.
For how long, though?
CR notes that it hasn’t finished testing the redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Silverado, and will report on that this summer. Initial impression Silverado “is a well-rounded and refined truck that will strongly challenge the Ram in our Ratings.”
Too, CR points out that Ford’s F-150, currently a strong contender, is redesigned for 2015.
And, Ram didn’t outscore the Chevrolet Avalanche, but that’s discontinued after the 2013 model. Chevy managed to sell about as many last month as it did a year ago, so dealer lots hardly are bare of Avalanches.
For the nonce, however, the widely consulted publication favors Ram: It “now tops Consumer Reports’ rankings of full-size pickups,” the magazine says.
Ram earned the magazine’s “Recommended” rating because it scored well in the publication’s tests and in crash tests, and previous versions have had at least average reliability.
“The Ram 1500 is surprisingly luxurious and refined — but still fully capable of doing hard work when needed,” says Jake Fisher, director of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Conn. “Continued interior and powertrain improvements make the Ram a particularly well-rounded choice.”
The publication says that the truck “delivers one of the best rides of any pickup, thanks to its unique coil spring rear suspension. It has a super-quiet, super-roomy crew cab, and the optional UConnect infotainment touch screen is one of the best in the business.
“On the downside, the step up to the cabin is very high, and — unlike some other pickups — the Ram’s tailgate isn’t damped or sprung, so it’s heavy.
CR’s test vehicle: Ram 1500 Crew Cab four-wheel drive, with the most popular engine option, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, and new eight-speed automatic transmission. The publication says it got “a class-leading 15 mpg overall in CR‘s own fuel economy tests.”
The Chevrolet Avalanche still has a higher score in the magazine’s tests, but Avalanche is no more, discontinued after the 2013 model year.
Consumer Reports’ rankings for 2013-model standard-duty pickups, listed by total score in the magazine’s testing. All won the “Recommended” rating except Nissan Titan, the bottom finisher.
•Chevrolet Avalanche (discontinued), 80
•Ram 1500, 78
•Chevrolet Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500, 70. (The 2014 Silverado currently is undergoing CR testing.)
•Toyota Tundra, 69
•Ford F-150, 68
•Nissan Titan, 65.
Consumer Reports ranking of 2013 heavy-duty diesel-power models. None won “Recommended” status:
•GMC Sierra 2500HD/Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD, 69
•Ford F-250, 65
Group sues Ford, claims touchscreen systems defective
A proposed class-action lawsuit was filed against Ford Motor Co., alleging that the MyFord Touch, MyLincoln Touch and MyMercury Touch infotainment systems are defective.
In a 41-page compliant filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the Center for Defensive Driving alleges that the system — which was tested in a 2013 F-150 Lariat pickup leased by the organization — often freezes, fails to respond to voice and touch commands and has a poor connection with mobile phones and MP3 players.
The CDD offers free educational presentations on defensive driving to the public, according to its Web site. The organization’s three directors are volunteers; it has no paid staff.
The complaint alleges that Ford knew about the defects but did not disclose the problems to potential customers. Ford has issued several technical service bulletins regarding system errors, and the company upgraded and extended the warranty on the system following complaints last year.
In 2011, Ford CEO Alan Mulally acknowledged problems with the system, but said that customers would be satisfied after the upgrade that was released last year.
In November 2012, Ford reported that there were 400 problems with the MyFord Touch system for every 1,000 vehicles, according to Reuters. The company has pledged to resolve at least 40 of those problems by August, the report said.
A Ford spokesman said the automaker does not comment on pending litigation.
The suit cites several NHTSA complaints regarding the defect and also points out that David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates, told The New York Times that the infotainment system was a primary reason for Ford’s decline in the firm’s rankings.
Although the suit claims that the faulty system represents a safety risk, the main aim of the suit is to seek damages related to the inconvenience of the product defects, Jason Zwieg, an attorney for Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, said. The firm is representing the CDD.
Zwieg said the monetary value of damages alleged in the suit will be determined during the discovery phase. He said interest in the suit has been high, but declined to comment on additional plaintiffs.
CDD President Chris Knox said the defective systems present a safety issue because they force drivers to use their mobile device manually instead of using voice commands. He said Ford should discontinue the MyFordTouch system instead of trying to improve it.
“Ford needs to scrap it, not update it,” Knox said in an interview.
Ironically, the CDD claims on its Web site that the Ford Motor Company Fund, a charitable arm of the automaker, is a founding sponsor. A spokeswoman for the chartable fund confirmed that it had issued a grant to the CDD.
You can reach Adam Rubenfire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Talk about a public-relations backfire. Who allowed this to be released to the public when they found out it couldn’t be done? I bet some McDonald’s and Visa PR people are looking for new jobs as they just proved their critics were correct all along.–Ed Meyer)
Public Relations Nightmare
McDonald’s Literally Cannot Imagine How Its Workers Would Survive on the Minimum Wage
Mexico’s auto boom is about wages
Mexico’s star is ascending these days. Nissan just revealed plans to spend $2 billion on a new factory there, which is twice as much as an automaker typically spends on a big new factory. It signals that Nissan is laying the groundwork for what is sure to expand into a massive assembly plant in a few years.
Honda is also investing in Mexico, and so is Mazda. Others are eyeing the region as a carmaking location. The Detroit 3 have been there forever. Parts suppliers are newly investing there. Mexico is booming and beckoning.
And Mexico has a lot going for it, not least of which is proximity to Mexican and South American consumers. But it is hard to attribute the new investment wave to much more than labor rates. The automakers are shy about saying so, but the reality is that in 2012 Mexican wages are still very low.
Even after years of Mexico’s cost of living inching up and American wages going down, Mexico’s labor rates are still a fraction of U.S. rates. Mexico’s auto assemblers nowadays pay $4 to $5 an hour. U.S. rates differ all over the map now, from $28 an hour in wages for the Detroit 3, to $14 an hour for new Tier 2 Detroit 3 workers, to hourly wage rates at the transplants that vary from $15 into the high $20s.
But all of them are far higher than Mexico’s $5. And the going rate at Mexican parts plants these days is about $2 an hour. Throw in the benefits that are standard in Mexico, and a parts worker’s hourly compensation package is closer to $3.
As attractive as those savings are, they look even better when overtime is factored in.
Do the math: Pay time-and-a-half or double-time to run a U.S. assembly line on Saturdays, or pay double-time to have workers in a Mexican plant work on Saturdays? And don’t underestimate that — there is a lot of overtime going on at North American auto factories right now.
Deciding where to build a new auto factory tends to be advanced calculus. Planners have to factor in soil conditions, railroad schedules, utility rates and even political outlooks. Worker wages represent just one piece of the equation.
But when the potential savings on hourly wages is that large, it sure looks like pretty simple arithmetic.
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at email@example.com.
Ladies life-long love affair with a 1954 Buick Special
What is it about me finding elderly ladies who bought their Buicks brand new?
At a local Buick-Olds-Pontiac show held here in Phoenix a couple of months ago, I wandered the aisles to see what jumped out at me. A black 1954 Special four-door sedan I spied seemed a particularly clean specimen, so I took a look. It had been spit-shined to a high degree of polish. Posted in the window was a sign: Original Owner, 220,000 Miles. A quick search for the owner brought out Marie Mueller, who couldn’t be more than about 4 foot 8; her Buick simply dwarfed her. She greeted me with a handshake that threatened to break the bones in my hand, and a look straight into my eye – friendly, although almost seeking to size me up. Decked out in a pair of saddle shoes that matched her ordered black-and-white Special sedan, she gave me the Cliff’s Notes version of her 60 years with her Buick that day in the baking parking lot; her recall was instant, and the conversation never wandered. She was proud of her car, and she was going to let you know it.
The parallels between Mary-Louise and Marie were striking. Military service for both ladies: Though a civilian, Mary-Louise was a real-life Rosie the Riveter, while Marie entered the Air Force not long after the Korean conflict ended. Neither woman ever married, and both maintained long-lived careers. And, of course, both bought brand-new Buicks – big, honking luxury cars generally bereft of options that you wouldn’t expect to be driven by elderly ladies, yet were done so regularly.
Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota Mobility Vans
We Investigate Wheelchair Conversion Vans From Braun Ability and VMI
About our Testing
None of the MT staff are wheelchair users, so we called on Greg Febbo, father of associate editor Mike Febbo, to offer insight from a wheelchair user’s perspective. While Greg uses hand controls to drive his own vehicle, none of our vans featured such controls, so instead Greg offered his opinions on ingress/egress and ride comfort and noise as a passenger in a manual wheelchair. All four of our vans featured ramp entry to the passenger area, rather than lift-type systems. Because of limited time with the vehicles, and in an effort to focus more on functionality and usability, rather than performance, we did not run our standard battery of dynamic testing (acceleration, braking, figure eight, etc). This test merely encompasses our general impressions of each vehicle as newcomers to the mobility vehicle industry. We hope to offer a more in-depth look at mobility vehicles in the future.
VMI Toyota Sienna (Base MSRP: $24,995 + cost of van)
The Toyota Sienna is Phoenix, Arizona-based VMI’s bread-and-butter mobility van. VMI sells more Siennas than any other model, and, like Braun, works directly with Toyota in the conversion process. While all modifications are made at VMI’s headquarters, Toyota was a consultant on the integration of VMI’s mobility-specific features and the vehicle alterations needed to make everything fit properly.And those modifications are significant. The VMI Sienna’s rear axle and seats are moved rearward by 12 inches to extend the amount of usable passenger space inside the minivan, while the floorpan is dropped 12.75 inches to allow more headroom and a lower ramp angle for easier entry and exit. The structural revisions require a revised rear suspension, exhaust system, fuel tank placement, and the alteration of other smaller components. The modified vans have been crash tested to ensure that they maintain at least the same safety rating as they did before the conversion.
Once we were strapped in, we found the VMI Sienna to be pleasant enough to drive and ride in. The van rode and performed much like a standard Sienna, with a couple notable exceptions. Despite making sure both front and rear passenger side doors were shut properly, we heard a larger-than-average amount of wind noise coming from those areas. We also heard quite a lot of exhaust noise coming from underneath the front of the vehicle, and it often was louder than the wind noise and more irritating. We suspect the former is a typical side effect of the VMI conversion, but wonder if the latter may be an abnormality. While there were a few small creaks and rattles while driving, the overall level of such noises was much lower than any other vehicle in this test. We were also most impressed with the ride quality of the VMI Sienna, because it felt the most like a stock Sienna.VMI offers a 3-year/36,000-mile warranty on its ramp equipment, along with any modified section of the van on each model it sells. Toyota’s warranty coverage remains intact for any un-modified portion of the vehicle. VMI’s recommended annual service on the in-ramp system is free of charge.
Braun Ability Toyota Sienna (Base MSRP: $26,600 + cost of van)
Though Indiana-based Braun Ability represents the fold-out school of ramp design more than the in-floor school, citing lower cost and less complexity as key advantages, we requested an in-floor version of its Sienna for a more-or-less apples-to-apples comparison to the VMI product. (More on fold-out ramps later.). We mention this in the sake of fairness — while VMI tends to favor its in-floor tech, Braun is enthusiastic about fold-out ramps, and each company’s sales of those products reflect that idea.
Removing the front passenger seat for Greg was equally arduous in the Braun van as it was in the VMI product, though there’s a piece of rear plastic trim to unsnap from the base of the seat before accessing the foot-operated release lever.On the road, the Braun Sienna had a quieter ride overall considering the lack of both excessive wind noise and exhaust noise that was annoyingly present in the VMI. Braun claims to have reduced noise suppression by 25 percent starting with 2012 models. Unfortunately, we heard slightly squeaking and rattling coming from the Braun Sienna’s structure — possibly a byproduct of what felt like a much firmer ride than the VMI version.Similar to VMI, Braun also warranties all modified aspects of its vehicles for 3 years and 36,000 miles and offers a free ramp service recommended at 4-6 month intervals, depending on usage.
VMI Honda Odyssey (Base MSRP: $24,995 + cost of van)
Both VMI and Braun Ability offer mobility vehicles based off multiple platforms. Among those options are VMI’s Honda Odyssey conversion. Like the Sienna, VMI offers Odyssey conversions of any trim level that offers power doors.
Braun Ability Chrysler Town and Country (Base MSRP: $23,300 + cost of van)
Braun’s Chrysler Town and Country was the only van of our group to feature a fold-out style ramp — one of this conversion company’s specialties. In contrast to the ramp extending from underneath the floor, a fold-out system is stowed vertically, folded in half behind the front passenger seat. When the ramp is deployed, it lowers outside on a downward-angled plane, extending the folded portion before it makes contact with the ground. Braun claims that a key advantage to the system its ability to extend next to the majority of curbs. Because the ramp folds down more vertically than horizontally, the ramp theoretically will land on top of a curb, instead of hitting it on the side. Though VMI says its in-floor ramp will deploy on any surface up to 10 inches tall, Braun’s fold-out ramp would potentially be able to go taller.
Which van for you?
We encourage anyone in the market for a mobility vehicle to cross-shop several conversion companies as well as several vehicle manufactures to determine which van best meets your needs and budget. We’d also recommend comparing in-floor to fold-out ramps, taking into consideration the type of use they’ll see during your ownership. If you’re based in a rainy or snowy area, an in-floor lift might help keep your interior clean. Live in an area with lots of curbs or hills? That fold-out lift might be worthwhile despite its drawbacks.As with any vehicle purchase, the mobility van that makes the most sense for you will depend on your personal preferences. Including conversion and van purchase costs, a new mobility vehicle will often run in the $55,000-$70,000 range — not a decision to take lightly. Both Braun and VMI offer conversions on used vans to help keep costs lower, but the donor vehicle must meet mileage, age, and other conditions. For more information: Vantage Mobility International Vantagemobility.com Braun Ability Braunability.com
2015 Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon Spied Hot Weather Testing
Camouflaged prototypes of the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon have been spotted hot weather testing in the Southwestern U.S. These spy shots hint at the front end styling of the midsize pickup duo, and also give us our first glimpse of one of the available engines.
Compared with the overseas model already on sale, the U.S.-market Colorado and Canyon sport a more aggressive front end similar to that of the full-size Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 pickups. U.S. consumers will likely find the Silverado-esque styling more appealing than the global front end, which looks similar to the pre-facelifted 2012 Traverse crossover.
While the Colorado/Canyon engine lineup hasn’t been confirmed for the North American market, two different Duramax diesel four-cylinder engines are available throughout Southeast Asia. U.S.-spec models will likely be available with the larger 180-hp 2.8-liter with 324-346 lb-ft of torque as well as gas at least two gas engines, possibly the 2.5-liter Ecotec I-4, 2.0-liter turbo I-4, or 3.6-liter V-6 adapted from the Cadillac ATS. In one of the engine compartment shots, “V6 VVT” appears on the plastic engine cover, which could confirm the 3.6-liter engine for the midsize pickups.
When the Colorado and Canyon go on sale around mid-2014, they will be the only domestic midsize pickups competing against the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier — two models not offered with a diesel engine. The Canyon and Colorado names could also change by the time production begins.
Photo Source: Glenn Paulina
Concours d’Elegance of America set for July 28 in Plymouth
July 17, 2013
By Mark Phelan
Detroit Free Press Auto Critic
Concours d’Elegance of America
July 28 The Inn at St. Johns, 44045 Five Mile Road, Plymouth 10 a.m.-4 p.m. $25 general admission
Classic cars old and new will take over the 200-acre grounds of the Inn at St. Johns in Plymouth on July 28. Concours d’Elegance of America expects 265 vehicles, including tributes to the 50th anniversary of twin icons, the 1963 Mercedes-Benz SL and Chevrolet Corvette.
Unlike car shows that celebrate only the oldest or most expensive cars, the concours focuses on technology and design. That frees it to exhibit vehicles ranging from a 125-year-old Edison Electric to a 1969 Pontiac GTO modified by legendary Royal Oak tuner Royal Chevrolet, a 1948 Fiat 500 Topolino, million-dollar Duesenbergs, Packards and a Bugatti.
Auto show spokesmodels will be on hand in vintage gowns from the 1920s to ’90s.
Award-winning actor and Grosse Pointe Farms native Edward Herrmann — well-known for recurring appearances in “The Gilmore Girls” and “The Good Wife” — will be master of ceremonies, a role he also has played at the Pebble Beach and Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
The concours will run 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The $25 general admission includes parking, a free shuttle and a program. Plymouth and Northville plan free shuttles from their downtowns.
For info: www.concoursusa.org/ or call 248-643-8645
Tesla shares take a big tumble
July 17, 2013
By Megan Durisin
Tesla Motors shares fell the most in almost seven weeks after Goldman Sachs Group set a target price more than 30% lower than the electric-car maker’s close Monday.
Tesla fell 14.3% to $109.05, its biggest intraday decline since January 2012. Shares of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company had more than tripled this year through Tuesday, compared with an 18% increase in the Russell 1000 Index.
Patrick Archambault, a Goldman Sachs auto analyst, set a Tesla target price of $84, the average of three scenarios. That compares with Tesla’s close of $127.26 Monday and its record $129.90 close Friday. The report’s best-case scenario was a target price of $113. Goldman Sachs cited “sustainability of demand longer term” as among the risks for Tesla.
Tesla shares have surged as the popularity of its $69,900 Model S sedan helped generate a first-quarter profit, the company’s first. The automaker is ramping up production of the car and is preparing to introduce an SUV next year.
Other automaker’s stocks were down Tuesday, but only slightly. Ford and General Motors shares, which had been trading near two-year highs for the past couple of months, fell 3.1% and 0.9%, respectively.
“Auto stocks typically lag when rates rise,” Archambault wrote. “This has occurred even in the face of rising demand.”
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last month the central bank will begin easing the pace of its current bond buying purchases, leading to rising interest rates, once unemployment improves. The announcement didn’t immediately hurt the auto industry, which posted its fastest sales pace in June in more than five years.
Ford to offer free software upgrade for gas-electric hybrids to boost fuel economy
8:33 PM, July 16, 2013
By Alisa Priddle
Detroit Free Press Business Writer
Ford is responding to complaints that its gasoline-electric hybrids are not delivering advertised miles per gallon by offering owners a free software upgrade that should improve their real-world fuel economy.
Letters will go out by the end of July to about 77,000 owners of the 2013 Ford C-Max, Fusion and Lincoln MKZ hybrids. They will be instructed to make an appointment with their dealers for a half-day of work adjusting the software at no charge. New 2014 models will have the upgrades done at the factory.
Ford made a big advertising splash last fall, boasting that the new Fusion hybrid had an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 47 m.p.g. for combined highway and city driving. The new C-Max hybrid also was stickered for 47 m.p.g. The Lincoln MKZ hybrid went on sale earlier this year with a rating of 45 m.p.g.
Many consumers reported they were unable to get close to those figures in their driving experience. Some owners joined class actions alleging the numbers represent false advertising on Ford’s part.
Raj Nair, Ford’s head of global product development, said the voluntary action is not related to the lawsuits, but rather is part of continuous improvement efforts.
He would not say how much better mileage will get nor did he estimate the cost of the dealer actions. But he did say the software changes will not change the EPA ratings and the government agency is aware of the program.
The calibrations are designed to reduce the variability of the mileage different drivers get on the road with hybrids, more so than with gasoline-powered vehicles.
Among the calibration changes:
■ The hybrids will automatically remain in electric-only mode to a top speed of 85 m.p.h., up from 62 m.p.h. now.
■ Active grille shutters will close in cold weather or when the air conditioner is running to warm or cool the cabin faster, allowing the batteries to kick in sooner to run in electric mode.
■ Fan speed will be reduced, requiring less fuel to operate.
■ The engine will warm up 50% faster, which allows stop-start technology to work faster, saving fuel when the vehicle turns itself off when idled.
The changes do not affect Ford’s Fusion and C-Max plug-in hybrids, Nair said.
Ford also is expanding its electrification engineering team by 50%, to 500 salaried employees, as it sees demand for hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles growing, Nair said.
The automaker said it will invest $50 million to augment product development and testing with new equipment and better battery testing by the end of the year.
Contact Alisa Priddle: 313-222-5394 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AlisaPriddle
Hyundai raises tech game
- Karl Henkel
- The Detroit News
Hyundai Motor America’s infotainment and in-car technology strategy has helped improve the company’s quality image and distanced itself from some competitors struggling to get their technology systems right.
While spotty effectiveness of Ford Motor Co.’s MyFord Touch infotainment system has hurt that automaker’s quality rankings, Hyundai’s slow and steady approach to in-car tech systems is paying off at dealerships and in third party quality studies.
“That’s one of the things I advise clients on: not to be the first,” said Thilo Koslowski, a vice president at technology research firm Gartner Inc., when asked about Hyundai’s approach. “Otherwise you’re chasing a goal that hasn’t been defined yet. The more you wait, the better understanding you have of the market.”
Hyundai’s quality — as measured in the J.D. Power & Associates’ annual Initial Quality Study, which now skews more toward issues with design and technology than mechanical problems — improved 10 spots for the 2013 model year. And Hyundai’s easy-to-use yet advanced Blue Link telematics system avoided significant negative impact in the study, impact that hurt other automaker scores.
“We always had in the back of (our) head that we’d learn for a year or so,” said Barry Ratzlaff, Hyundai’s executive director of customer connect and service business development. “When we reached a point of critical mass, we would expand the offering.”
Coupled with the company’s Assurance Connected Care package — a package of safety and car care service features which the automaker now offers free for three years on all Blue Link-equipped vehicles — Hyundai has doubled down on its focus on quality. It’s a change from from Hyundai’s early days in the U.S. market in the late 1980s, when it was the butt of jokes about reliability, and last year, when the Environmental Protection Agency investigated Hyundai for overstating fuel efficiency of its cars.
“We’re taking a very rigorous approach in respect to quality,” Ratzlaff said.
Hyundai slowly rolled out its system, Blue Link, in a select number of models two years ago. Within the next year, all Hyundai vehicles will come equipped with Blue Link, Ratzlaff said.
Unlike MyFord Touch, Blue Link is an embedded telematics system — allowing the driver to access information about the vehicle from outside the car itself — instead of enabled technology, which uses in-car hardware and smartphone connectivity.
“There isn’t an argument of which is better,” Ratzlaff said. “The answer is yes, both have a place in the marketplace.”
The embedded Blue Link technology has more than 30 cloud-based safety and convenience features that alert customers of service appointments and even find their stolen car.
From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130717/AUTO0104/307170036#ixzz2ZKKi3v2s
European car sales hit 20-year low
- Mathieu Rosemain and Scott Hamilton
- Bloomberg News
European car sales slumped to a two-decade low, German investor confidence unexpectedly dropped and euro-area exports fell for a second month, adding to signs that the region is struggling to emerge from recession.
Auto registrations decreased 6.3 percent in June from a year earlier to 1.18 million vehicles, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association said Tuesday. The ZEW index of German investor and analyst expectations fell to 36.3 in July from 38.5, while economists forecast a gain to 40, according to the median of 37 estimates. Euro-region exports dropped 2.3 percent in May from the previous month.
The reports suggest the “subdued” recovery predicted for later this year by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has yet to materialize at a time when unemployment remains at a record. Executives at Peugeot and French competitor Renault SA reiterated predictions this month that the region’s car market will fall 5 percent in 2013 in the sixth annual drop.
The data are “still consistent with the picture that the ECB has, that it will take quite a while until the economy will stabilize,” Jens Kramer, an economist at NordLB in Hanover, said. “In those countries that are still in deep recession, which is not the case in Germany, the challenges are huge.”
Exports from Germany, Europe’s largest economy, slumped 9 percent in May to 38.1 billion euros ($50 billion), data from the European Union’s statistics office in Luxembourg showed. French shipments fell 4.6 percent, while Italian and Spanish exports rose 3.6 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively.
The region’s car sales in the first half fell 6.7 percent to 6.44 million vehicles. The June figure was the lowest for the month since 1996, and the six-month number was the least since 1993, said Quynh-Nhu Huynh, the ACEA’s economics director.
“It’s still a weak car market, and I don’t think that it will get better in the very near future,” Sascha Gommel, a Frankfurt-based analyst at Commerzbank AG, said by phone.
The ACEA figures come from the 27 nations that were European Union members prior to Croatia joining this month, plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. Deliveries in Western Europe, which excludes countries that have joined the EU since mid-2004, fell 6.2 percent to 1.11 million vehicles in June and 6.6 percent to 6.06 million units in the first half.
Four of Europe’s five largest automotive markets shrank last month, with deliveries in Germany, the biggest, dropping 4.7 percent, and demand falling 8.4 percent in third-ranked France. U.K. sales rose 13 percent.
“By any standards, the region remains a dreadful zone for most manufacturers,” Carlos Da Silva, a Paris-based analyst at IHS Automotive consulting company, said in an e-mail. Even so, figures excluding calendar effects “indicate that west European sales have eventually started to bottom out,” which is “not the same thing as saying they have started to recover.”
From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130717/AUTO01/307170035#ixzz2ZKKz4wrT
Ally explores other options to repay U.S. Treasury
- David Shepardson
- The Detroit News
Washington— Ally Financial, which has struggled to exit government ownership since receiving $17.2 billion in bailouts, said Tuesday it is considering other options to repay the U.S. Treasury and comply with the Federal Reserve’s latest stress-tests.
The Detroit-based auto lender and bank holding company is 74 percent owned by the Treasury and is working to repurchase some government-owned stock and reach agreement with the Fed on its capital structure, known as the “Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review” before it can move forward with an initial public stock offering.
The company had put a planned IPO on hold in 2011 as it worked to resolve claims from creditors of its bankrupt mortgage unit. The company agreed to pay $2.1 billion to resolve claims from creditors of Residential Capital LLC to complete its bankruptcy restructuring. ResCap expects to exit bankruptcy by the end of the year.
“Ally is exploring a number of alternatives in furtherance of repaying Treasury and supporting its Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review resubmission to the Federal Reserve Board, including a possible primary issuance of common stock by Ally, and the use of available cash (and the proceeds of any stock issuance by Ally) to address Treasury’s mandatorily convertible preferred shares,” Ally said in a securities filing Tuesday. “ No decision has been made to pursue any approach under consideration and the implementation of any such approach may require regulatory and other approvals.”
Treasury still owns $5.9 billion in mandatory convertible preferred stock in Ally and the company has been working to win permission to repay the stock that carries a 9 percent dividend. In March, the Federal Reserve said Ally didn’t have enough capital in the event of a severe economic meltdown. Ally disagreed with the Fed’s assesement and working on a new plan that meets the Fed’s approval.
Ally has been selling off its international operations and is likely to use some of that cash to repay the Treasury. Ally has repaid $6.1 billion to the U.S. Treasury.
During the financial crisis, the Treasury tapped Ally — formerly known as General Motors’ in-house lender GMAC — to provide financing for GM and Chrysler dealers and customers. That arrangement for Chrysler dealers expired on April 30.
GM has since supplemented its financing arrangements by buying AmeriCredit in 2010 and renaming it GM Financial. It also bought most of Ally’s auto finance business in Europe and Latin America in a deal.
From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130716/BIZ/307160116#ixzz2ZKLPaRPo
GM sales up 3.9% in first half of 2013
- Melissa Burden
- The Detroit News
General Motors Co. said Tuesday that the automaker sold 4.85 million vehicles globally during the first half of 2013, up 3.9 percent from the same period in 2012 as North America and China posted strong gains. Global sales for GM in Europe fell 6.5 percent during the first six months of the year, while sales in South America also slipped by 1 percent.
GM’s six-month tally may help the automaker gain some ground on Toyota Motor Corp. for the global sales crown. Toyota, which plans to release global sales for the first half of 2013 on July 25, has sold more than 4 million vehicles worldwide through the first five months of 2013. GM’s first-half figures were slightly ahead of Volkswagen AG, which said Friday it had 4.7 million global deliveries for the first half of 2013, up 5.5 percent from the 2012 period.Volkswagen has not yet reported first half deliveries for its two trucks companies, MAN and Scania.
GM said its largest brand, Chevrolet, had a 1.4 percent sales increase during the first six months of 2013, selling a record 2.5 million vehicles globally. Chevy sold more than 1.3 million vehicles globally in the second quarter, the 11th quarter of increased sales in a row for the bow-tie brand thanks to vehicles such as the Onix subcompact in Brazil and Colorado midsize truck in Southeast Asia. The Chevy brand sold a record 4.95 million vehicles in 2012.
“Chevrolet is in the midst of the most aggressive new product rollout in the brand’s history,” Alan Batey, senior vice president of global Chevrolet, said in a statement. “The continued sales growth around the world is a result of a focused effort to strengthen Chevrolet’s presence in developing markets as well as its relationship with consumers by offering the right products, technologies and world-class customer service.”
The U.S. remained Chevy’s top market through the first half of 2013 with 1.02 million sales, up 5.6 percent over the same months in 2012 as small car sales have shot up nearly 25 percent and full-size truck sales jumped 23 percent through June. Next was China with nearly 322,000 sales, up 6.1 percent; Brazil at 305,000 sales, up 5.1 percent; Mexico at 91,000 sales, up 15.7 percent; and Russia with 80,200 sales, down 16.1 percent.
GM spokesman Jim Cain said the Russian government recently reinstated a loan subsidy program through the end of 2014 that will help boost vehicle demand. GM plans to invest $1
billion in Russia over five years to boost annual capacity there.
Chevrolet, which sells vehicles in more than 140 countries, last week announced it will enter Myanmar this year. It will sell Chevy vehicles through a partnership with Pacific Alpine Pte. Ltd.
“About 90 percent of the vehicle population in Myanmar is more than five years old,” Albert Pang, managing director of Pacific Alpine Pte. Ltd. said in a statement. “The change in policy to allow the import of new cars will see a swift response from global and regional players. We want to put our foot in the door before the floodgates open.”
Ford Motor Co. earlier this year said it would also enter Myanmar and planned to bring many of its most popular vehicles to the country by the end of the year.
(313) 222-2319 Twitter.com/MBurden_DN
From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130716/AUTO0103/307160058#ixzz2ZKLgmTmn
EU Commission backs France in Daimler refrigerant dispute
French authorities refuse to register new Mercedes CLA models.
BRUSSELS (Reuters) — The European Commission has given provisional backing to France’s decision to block the sale of new Mercedes-Benz cars because they contain a banned refrigerant.
The Commission’s assessment is a blow for Mercedes parent Daimler and could also open the way for similar restrictions on Mercedes sales by other EU countries.
“Currently in the European market there are vehicles produced by this manufacturer that, according to the preliminary Commission analysis, are not in conformity with their type-approval,” EU industry chief Antonio Tajani said in a statement on Tuesday.
Further assessment is needed to determine if some Daimler cars produced since May under a previous approval granted by the German authorities are also illegal, Tajani said. Any vehicles that do not conform cannot be sold or registered in Europe.
As a result, France’s refusal to register Mercedes cars built since June 12 may be considered legal under existing EU rules, provided the right procedures are followed, Tajani said.
French authorities have refused to register Mercedes A class, B class and CLA cars, even though German authorities have approved them, because the vehicles contained the R134a refrigerant that is not permitted in the EU.
Daimler has said its refusal to phase out R134a — a potent global warming agent — is justified by safety concerns over the only available replacement, Honeywell International’s R1234yf.
A Daimler spokesman said the cars had been approved by the German authority, the KBA. “Our cars have a valid, European-wide permit. Nothing should stand in the way of their being registered.”
Based on 2012 deliveries, Daimler has said the French block could affect about 2 percent of its global sales, or 29,000 cars.
EU government officials were due to discuss the issue at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.
PSA consumer savings bank beats launch targets in France
Unit may begin operations in Germany
PARIS (Reuters) — PSA Banque, the consumer savings bank created in March by PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, said it had received nearly twice the new deposits in France that it had been targeting in the first few months.
The bank said it may begin operating in Germany after receiving 780 million euros ($1.02 billion) in French deposits as of June 30, exceeding its 400 million euro annual goal.
“We’ve noticed that other savings banks have perceptibly better results in Germany,” said Philippe Alexandre, head of the automaker’s Banque PSA Finance division. The bank will begin offering accounts in new markets next year, he said.
The car loan businesses of PSA and domestic rival Renault have both launched consumer saving products to diversify their funding, dangling generous initial interest rates to lure clients.
PSA’s Distingo account offers a promotional 5.5 percent return until the end of July, when it reverts to a lower basic rate of 2.2 percent.
Banque PSA Finance received a 7 billion euro state guarantee as part of a government-backed rescue last year, after credit rating downgrades triggered by the carmaker’s mounting industrial losses threatened its lending operations.
VW plans to relaunch Phaeton in U.S. as Passat cools
The return of the Phaeton (pictured in 2007) could jar Volkswagen’s recent U.S. strategy of appealing to mid-market buyers.
FRANKFURT (Bloomberg) — Volkswagen plans to relaunch sales of the Phaeton upscale sedan to the United States as the carmaker looks to reignite flagging growth in one of the few markets it has been unable to crack.
The Phaeton, the brand’s most expensive model, could be shown to U.S. consumers at the Detroit auto show in January as VW prepares the car’s return after pulling it seven years ago because of weak sales.
The reintroduction, which would complement the rollout of new SUVs, is aimed at showing off VW’s engineering prowess as the lift from the mainstream Passat sedan fades.
“A brand as large as Volkswagen needs a halo project in the upscale segment,” CEO Martin Winterkorn told Bloomberg at a conference in the company’s hometown of Wolfsburg, Germany, this month, confirming that the Phaeton will return to U.S. showrooms. “We’ve seen what happens to brands that don’t have that kind of project.”
The Phaeton, a pet project of VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech, last year sold about half the volume worldwide that the company initially targeted. Its U.S. comeback is part of a plan to spend $5 billion over the next three years to roll out new models and boost sales in the United States, where deliveries have started to slip after a two-year burst following the 2011 rollout of the Passat and Jetta sedans that were redesigned for American tastes.
The Crossblue concept, a seven-seat SUV that would compete with the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander, was shown at the Detroit auto show this year. It is intended to be a big seller alongside the Tennessee-made Passat.
At a meeting of dealers in Washington last week, Winterkorn said VW needs to “take initiative” in that crucial U.S. segment.
“And we will,” Winterkorn said, according to a transcript of his remarks viewed by Automotive News a sister publication of Automotive News Europe. “I promise you.”
The U.S. push is critical to VW’s strategy to surpass General Motors and Toyota Motor Corp. in global deliveries by 2018. A new version of the Phaeton may be presented in Detroit in January to test the response for an eventual rollout, three people familiar with the matter said.
The car would share underpinnings with the Audi A8 sedan and a hybrid version is planned, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.
At its current pace, the company will come up well short of its target of selling 800,000 vehicles in the U.S. by 2018. IHS Automotive predicts deliveries of 517,000 vehicles to American consumers in five years, missing the target by 35 percent.
The company has been losing ground this year. VW’s sales in the United States fell 0.9 percent to 206,792 in the first six months of 2013, while total light vehicle sales in the country rose 7.7 percent. The Jetta, Beetle and Passat models, which fueled VW’s gains over the past two years, “reached maturity in terms of their sales cycles,” said Tim Urquhart, a London-based analyst at IHS Automotive.
The Crossblue SUV should revive growth, while the Phaeton may offer little help, he said.
Still, the return of the Phaeton could jar Volkswagen’s recent U.S. strategy of appealing to mid-market buyers. The company made the Passat bigger and cheaper than the European version to appeal to U.S. drivers. The Phaeton started at $66,700 before VW withdrew it. In Germany, the car starts at 70,000 euros ($92,100).
Those prices would likely mean the Phaeton would cost more than Hyundai Motor Co.’s Equus, which starts at $59,250. It could also rival the $75,100 A8 from VW’s Audi unit.
The return of the Phaeton “would be a bad decision,” said Jesse Toprak, an analyst for TrueCar, which tracks U.S. auto sales. “No one spends $80,000 on a Volkswagen. The company already has luxury brands that can cater to that segment,” such as Audi.
The 2006 withdrawal of the Phaeton from the world’s largest market for upscale vehicles was a move by Wolfgang Bernhard, the head of the VW brand at the time, to stem losses in the region. The decision helped trigger his departure because the move called into question Chairman Piech’s strategy.
The Phaeton was started by Piech while he was CEO, including the construction of a $238 million glass-walled factory in Dresden. The plant has become one of the city’s top tourist sites alongside the Semper Opera House, attracting about 90,000 visitors a year.
Production areas have parquet floors with workers wearing white robes — sometimes even white gloves — as they assemble cars by hand. The factory’s most eye-catching building is a 131-foot glass tower where finished Phaetons are parked prior to delivery.
VW has already sought to reintroduce the Phaeton to the U.S. public. In May, the New York Philharmonic played a concert at the Dresden factory. A raw body frame of a Phaeton dangled above the stage, the gray aluminum illuminated by a soft blue light.
The performance featured percussionists clanging 43 body parts of the car as part of a special arrangement of Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg’s Kraft (German for “power”).
In the United States, VW’s narrow lineup has cost it customers like David Smith. The former Golf and Jetta driver wanted a bigger car for his teenage son and two dogs and opted for Toyota Highlander in 2011 after considering VW’s Routan minivan.
He’s in the market for a second car and would switch back to VW if the brand had the right car. The Phaeton might be stretching it. “When I was a kid, VW was always an affordable car, and that’s what it should be,” he said.
Gabe Nelson of Automotive News contributed to this report.
Is this the end of the sticker price?
The death of the headline sticker price for a new car may be hastened by the popularity of smartphones and the growth of pay-per-use car-sharing operations.
Smartphone sellers often bundle a phone’s purchase price into a monthly fee. Automakers can now imagine a similar scenario for cars.
“The days of the headline figure are numbered,” said Tony Douglas, head of marketing and sales for BMW’s mobility services, which includes the automaker’s new ‘i’ brand for EVs.
“In the beginning people bought their phones and they cost 400, 500 euros. Now my kids think a mobile phone costs 1 euro,” Douglas told me
A sticker price gives customers an orientation of a car’s price but in reality it has little to do with what people pay from their bank accounts every month. “Very few people pay the headline figure,” Douglas says.
A fixed monthly figure sits easier with a younger customer used to buying their smartphone in a similar manner, Linda Jackson, Citroen’s UK and Ireland chief.
She said 85 percent of all DS3 subcompact sales in those countries are made on Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) finance, where the monthly figure is reduced by setting aside a chunk of the car’s price until the finance period is up.
Younger customers are much more used to buying on that type of agreement,” Jackson said. “It’s no different paying for a car or a phone.”
BMW’s Douglas said the pay-per-use model of car sharing could also accelerate the death of the sticker price. Many car companies are starting to see this as the best way to engage with younger consumers. “The next generation may think in terms of cost per minute rather than sticker prices,” he said.
You can reach Nick Gibbs at email@example.com.
MG Rover hearing will resume to assess accountant’s conflicts of interest
LONDON (Reuters) — Accountants Deloitte will next week return before a tribunal which is assessing whether it failed to manage conflicts of interest in its advice to MG Rover Group and the “Phoenix Four” directors who bought the UK carmaker before it collapsed.
MG Rover was put into administration in 2005 with debts of 1.4 billion pounds ($2.1 billion) and the loss of 6,000 jobs. Four of its directors had set up Phoenix to buy the money-losing carmaker for a token 10 pounds five years earlier. There was public anger when it emerged the four had paid themselves 40 million pounds in salaries and pensions before MG Rover collapsed.
The four faced no criminal charges but were disqualified from being directors of any company for up to six years.
The Financial Reporting Council, which regulates accountants, said last year that Deloitte and an employee, Maghsoud Einollahi, had failed to properly manage conflicts of interest. Deloitte and Einollahi had acted as corporate finance advisors to companies involved with MG Rover and the Phoenix Four while Deloitte was also auditing MG Rover.
Deloitte disagreed with the finding and a hearing of the complaint began at an independent tribunal in March. The FRC said on Monday that the hearing will resume on July 29. If upheld, Deloitte and Einollahi could face unlimited fines.
Deloitte could not comment immediately.
After MG Rover was put onto administration, Nanjing Automobile Group (NAC), a state-owned Chinese company, bought the assets of the carmaker in July of that year for about $97 million.
Another state-owned Chinese automaker, SAIC, lost out on the asset bidding after buying the intellectual property rights to sell the Rover 25 and 75 models in China. SAIC merged with NAC in 2007 and has since restarted production of MG models in the UK.
The European Union is approving a law to avoid potential conflicts of interest between the auditing and advisory work done by accounting firms.
Automotive News Europe contributed to this report
GM’s first-half global sales rise 4% on U.S., China demand
DETROIT (Reuters) — General Motors Co’s global sales rose almost 4 percent in the first six months of the year as strong demand in the United States and China outweighed sliding sales in Europe, the company said today.
The No. 1 U.S. automaker sold more than 4.85 million cars and light trucks in the first half as demand rose at least 7 percent in each of its two largest regions — International Operations, which includes China, and North America.
The results kept GM ahead of Germany’s Volkswagen AG in the race for bragging rights as the world’s largest automaker. VW reported last week that its six-month sales rose 5.5 percent to 4.7 million vehicles.
Toyota Motor Corp., which sold the most cars globally last year, has not yet released its first-half global sales figures.
Last year, Toyota took back the title of world’s largest automaker from GM as the Japanese automaker’s 9.75 million sales topped GM (9.28 million) and VW (9.07 million). Toyota held the global sales crown from 2008 through 2010 but fell to third place in 2011 due to negative publicity after a U.S. recall crisis and a disrupted supply chain following an earthquake in Japan and floods in Thailand.
Photo credit: Shiraz Ahmed
GM’s smaller U.S. rival, Ford Motor Co., is due to release its six-month global sales figures later this month.
Brand, region breakdown
Among GM brands that increased volume, Chevrolet rose 1.4 percent to 2,479,124. Chevy sales were up in its three largest markets: the United States (up 5.6 percent to more to more than 1 million vehicles), China (up 6.1 percent to 322,000) and Brazil (up 5.1 percent to 305,000).
China sales of Wuling mini-commercial vehicles increased 8.8 percent to 747,424, spokesman Jim Cain said in an e-mail.
Buick climbed 16 percent to 510,537 in drawing about four-fifths of its volume from China. GMC’s sales in its primary markets — the United States and Canada — rose 9.7 percent to 258,403.
Cadillac’s global sales jumped 31 percent to 111,991.
GM’s International Operations, including China, had a first-half sales rise of 7 percent to almost 1.92 million vehicles. In China, where GM is the market-share leader, sales jumped almost 11 percent to a record 1.57 million vehicles.
Sales in North America increased 7.7 percent to more than 1.64 million vehicles. U.S. sales rose 8 percent to 1.42 million.
Sales fell 6.5 percent in Europe to more than 797,000 vehicles, and were down 1 percent in South America to almost 497,000.
Germany’s Schaeffler agrees refinancing deal worth 3.8 billion euros
FRANKFURT (Reuters) — Schaeffler said it signed a new credit agreement worth 3.8 billion euros ($5.1 billion) to replace existing bank loans.
“Through these measures, cost of debt will be further reduced and the capital structure on the holding level will be significantly improved,” the German supplier said today.
The arrangement, struck with several international banks, includes term loans worth 2.1 billion euros with maturities until 2017 as well as a revolving credit facility worth 200 million euros.
Schaeffler, which owns 49.9 percent of fellow German supplier Continental, said the loans and the credit facility have “significantly improved conditions” compared with the 2009 credit financing they replace.
As part of the transaction, Schaeffler will also issue high yield bonds in euros and U.S. dollars worth about 1.5 billion euros, with a term of five years, to institutional investors.
The issue size and the final terms will be determined over the next days, it said, and credit rating agencies Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s will publish their respective ratings for the bonds shortly.
Fiat has released a video to explain the dual clutch transmission that’s used in the Fiat 500L and Dodge Dart (no mention of Dart is made in the video), to make it an easier sell to those used to conventional automatics.
The transmission, originally called “DDCT” and now trading under the name “Euro Twin Clutch,” is essentially a Fiat six speed manual transmission with self-shifting capabilities, including a dual clutch system which increases the smoothness and speed of the gear changes. It is by nature a more efficient transmission than a hydraulic automatic with similar gearing, though state of the art conventional transmissions such as the ZF eight and nine speeds give it a run for the money by using variable fluid pressures and lightning-fast shifts, and by maximizing the amount of time the torque converter is locked. (Thanks, RVC.)
Chrysler: New massive paint shop sets ‘future standard’ for other facilities
STERLING HEIGHTS, MI- Chrysler Group LLC showed off its new state-of-the-art paint shop Tuesday in Sterling Heights, which is expected to save the automaker a “significant” amount of money.
The all-new 425,000 square-foot paint shop (nearly 898,00 square feet including all three levels) is part of a previously announced $850 million investment by the Auburn Hills-based automaker.
John Powell, Chrysler senior manager of paint facilities, planning and launch, said the new facility is about 85 percent complete and is expected to go online early next year.
“There’s a lot of new innovative technology that we have here that we don’t have anywhere else,” he told media Tuesday during a tour of the three-level facility, which can seal, coat, powder and paint an entire vehicle using advanced robotic systems in about eight hours. “This is definitely going to be our future standard.”
The new paint shop replaces a current shop connected to Chrysler’s Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, which produces the Chrysler 200 and 200 convertible and Dodge Avenger.
When the paint facility goes online next year, it will be capable of accepting all of Fiat and Chrysler’s current lineup except the Ram Truck brand’s pickups and ProMaster. The first vehicle expected to go through the new paint shop is the next-generation 200, which could be called a different name.
Chrysler, which idled the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant as of July 1 for normal retooling and to connect the new paint shop with the assembly plant, did not have an exact amount the new facility is expected to save the company annually in recycling, energy and other costs. The assembly facility is expected to be back online in about two weeks.
According to Jim Hanley, conveyor project manager, a new friction drive system conveyor, which is one of the final steps in the paint shop for a vehicle, is expected to save Chrysler $63,583 annually in energy costs.
The new paint shop, which started being constructed in May 2011, also features special chambers, or windows, that allow workers to perform maintenance on one part of the line without stopping the entire line.
“They share responsibilities,” said Heather Montgomery, program management and paint facilities manager. “The minute you send that robot to the maintenance window, the other robots know that they need to pick up … and they basically play a continuous program that covers that robot’s tasks.”
In October 2010, the original $850 million investment was for the new paint shop and retooling at two area stamping plants in Sterling Heights and Warren. The $850 million was part of a $1 billion announced investment that also included a $150 million investment at its facility in Dundee.
Chrysler is not breaking out the amount of investment at each facility for the $850 million.
The Sterling Heights Assembly Plant complex employs about 2,450 hourly and 127 salaried workers on two shifts.
In October 2011, Chrysler also announced that it would invest $165 million to add a one million square-foot body shop, which vehicles will go to after the paint shop.