By Brendan Moore
Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, has hurled invective against Toyota this week, saying that the company’s plant in Venezuela doesn’t make enough four-wheel drive vehicles for Venezuelans, doesn’t transfer technology to Venezuela, and furthermore, Chavez is threatening to oust the Japanese car company from the country if these changes are not made soon.
Chavez also angrily railed against the other Asian and American auto companies producing cars in Venezuela regarding their operations, stating, “We’re not interested in these traditional companies that have been here 50 years or more, they’ve never transferred technology. I suggest they gather their things and go, and we’ll bring in the Russians, Belarusians and Chinese who want to make cars here.”
In addition to Toyota, Japan’s Mitsubishi, Korea’s Hyundai and America’s Ford and General Motors have production facilities or assembly plants in Venezuela, whose citizens love cars, particularly thirsty ones. The retail cost of gasoline in heavily subsidized by the government, and is currently around 19 cents (USD) a gallon.
By Andy Bannister
Some countries, it seems, are pre-destined to be car builders, others acquire an auto manufacturing industry almost by accident, while a third category simply try their best but fail.
In the latter grouping sits Israel, today the centre of a politically-troubled region which generally has more to worry about than producing automobiles.
Half a century ago, however, it was a different story. Little Israel was busy gearing up for an improbable assault on what was then by far the most advanced car market in the world, the United States of America.
Behind this audacious move was a bold outfit called Autocars Ltd, based beneath the slopes of the biblical Mount Carmel, in the port city of Haifa.
Israel then was a new and young country, born somewhat controversially in 1948 out of the horrors the Jewish people had suffered in the Second World War, and suffused with an optimism that anything was possible.
By Brendan Moore
Automotive News is reporting that Chrysler has sent the initial required letter regarding arbitration to 789 rejected dealers, starting a process that potentially could reinstate the dealers, one that is required by recent legislation.
The terms of the measure require the dealers to respond to Chrysler by January 25, 2010, if they wish to seek arbitration. The new law requires the arbitration process to be resolved within six months.
Chrysler also stated in the form letter that the company is “assessing its rights and remedies with respect” to the legislation, which would suggest that it is still considering legal action to challenge the legality of the legislation as an option to the arbitration process.
Chrysler plans to follow the first form letter with a second, individual letter to each dealer that will detail the company’s list of reasons for rejecting the dealer. That follow-up letter must be sent before January 16.
Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne stated to reporters a few days ago that Chrysler is considering going to court to prevent Congress from forcing Chrysler into arbitration between it and the terminated dealers, or, forcing the company to reinstate the dealers that Chrysler shed during bankruptcy proceedings.
After Suzuki throws in with the guys from Wolfsburg, Toyota suddenly hears VW’s footsteps
By Andy Bannister
With car industry growth next year likely to be led by emerging markets like India, Toyota is about to pitch in with a new budget car to be shown in concept form at the New Delhi Auto Show next month.
According to Autocar India, the new model will be called Etios and will be priced at around $10,000.
This means the company has shied away from direct competition with the much-hyped Tata Nano, which competes in a much lower class and price range.
Instead, the Etios – its name means “the origin of” – will be aimed squarely at the highly successful Suzuki Swift, made by Suzuki’s Maruti subsidiary in India.
Maruti has long been one of the country’s leading brands, and Suzuki’s recent alliance with the resurgent Volkswagen group heightens the urgent need for Toyota to make inroads into India.
By Brendan Moore
Fiat’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne, has committed to purchasing a majority stake in Zastava Automobili, according to a statement issued from the office of Boris Tadic, president of Serbia.
Serbia and Fiat ginned up a 700 million euro ($1 billion USD) joint venture early last year, in which the Turin-based manufacturer acquired 67 percent of the Zastava carmaker, while the government in Belgrade kept the remainder.
Fiat has held off on actually writing the check for their part of Zastava, though, because of last year’s swoon in the wordwide auto market, leaving the nascent joint venture to be financed and operated by Serbian government aid.
According to Tadic’s office, Fiat will make the first payment of 100 million euros before the end of 2009, and then make quarterly payments against the balance going forward.
Zastava is not a familiar name to many people in North America, but their former progeny, the Yugo, holds a special place in the annals of cheap car history for some. The Yugo was a former Fiat model.
In that same vein, Fiat did allow the Zastava factory to produce the Fiat Punto under license, which they did, to the tune of 15,000 units, in 2009. The agreement called for the cars to be offered for sale only in Serbia and the Bosnian Serb sector of nearby Bosnia. All of the cars were snapped up by buyers in those areas.
Zastava Automobili is Serbia’s largest auto manufacturer.
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By Chris Haak
Ford issued a press release this morning (find the full text of the release after the jump) announcing that “substantive commercial terms relating to the potential sale of Volvo Car Corporation have been settled between Ford and Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Company Limited.” The companies did not disclose just what those substantial commercial terms were, but Ford said that the transaction was expected to close by second quarter of 2010, with a definitive sale agreement coming in the first quarter of 2010.
Work still to be done on the deal includes final documentation, financing arrangements, and government approvals (particularly a sticky situation in China, where the central government has to approve all major acquisitions. Just ask Hummer.)
According to sources quoted in the , Geely plans to finance the acquisition – which should cost about $2 billion – with a combination of cash, bank loans, and funds from small investors.
The sale, which has proceeded at a glacier-like pace, is a huge step forward for Geely, China’s largest privately-owned auto company. It gives the company an upscale auto brand with a well-regarded product lineup, and an excellent dealer, parts and service network in North America and Europe. In effect, it makes Geely an important player on the global stage of the automotive industry.
By Chris Haak
While the Fusion Hybrid was in my driveway for a weeklong evaluation, I received my January 2010 Motor Trend magazine naming the car (and the rest of its lineup) its 2010 Car of the Year. While there have been some real stinkers named Car of the Year by MT over the years, they may have gotten the award right this time by naming the Ford Fusion lineup its 2010 Car of the Year. (I won’t delve into the fact that for the past two years, Motor Trend has named two Subaru station wagons as SUVs of the Year over the past two years). While the midsize sedan segment is hyper-competitive and it’s very difficult to pin down the car that’s the absolute “best” overall in that class, I can certainly say that the Fusion Hybrid is the best-driving, best-integrated hybrid on the market. In other words, it’s one that drives most like a conventional car, and that’s a compliment.
The refreshed 2010 Fusion breaks no new ground from design standpoint – either inside or outside – and keeps the greenhouse and doors from the first-generation Fusion. For the 2010 model year, Ford tacked on a new front clip and rear end. I like the update to the front end; it’s far more sleek that the old car’s, and the parts are more integrated into a cohesive whole. The three-bar grille theme, which seems to be eventually on its way out of Ford’s design cue library, is more prominent than ever in the 2010 Fusion at least. The carryover greenhouse and doors, however, are a bit more stodgy and conservative-looking than are the front and rear of the car. Really, though, there are very few design leaders in this segment. Camry? Accord? Please. Even the Malibu, arguably the best-looking car in the class, gets its good looks by cribbing the best features of other vehicles. “Hello, Malibu: the 2004-2008 Acura TL called and it wants its greenhouse back.”
By Alex Kalogiannis
We’ve come a long way in the in a short while, where now ‘climate change’ and ‘carbon footprint’ have entered the lexicon, and the helpless automobile has been borne aloft as the anathema to all things pure and natural. Naturally, alternative fueled cars had their time to shine, and to the staunch petrolhead, this was something to turn one’s nose up at, be it out of pride or, more likely, fear that this heralded the end of “proper” cars. So here we are, at the precipice of a new decade, and powerful, dinosaur-burning thumpers are still here (for now), supercars have begun to embrace electric power, and in the middle of the spectrum we find, puttering along, with no sign of abating, is the hybrid.
The Lexus HS 250h is the division’s first foray into the realm of hybrid-only vehicles, an inevitable direction with the highly successful Prius close in Lexus’ lineage. Those of us without a large amount of hybrid experience will approach the HS with a sense of trepidation and, more optimistically, a fresh perspective on the automobile as we have come to know it. One would first expect the shape to be as bulbous as its Toyota cousin, but the profile of the HS is not as pronounced, just a slightly bloated departure from more familiar sedan shapes. Despite being round, it still incorporates enough moderately clean lines to give certain aspects an element of seriousness. The HS features proximity sensors for keyless entry to the car and push button start, which tends to confuse things in one’s first starting of an unusual car since with push button start, the general methodology is holding start button, electronics switch on, and listening for the engine kicking off. This is not the case here where it is “hold start button, electronics activate….now you can leave.” I’ve always been the type of driver that warms a car thoroughly before heading out, regardless of a car’s vintage, and this came to mind as I wondered how this would be possible if the HS decides to start the engine a few minutes into my journey. Lexus, as I discovered would be a recurring response, had thought of this in advance. The car has no visible temperature gauge, but starting the HS first thing after a cold night will prompt the engine to turn on as it will sense the need to do so on its own.