By J. Smith
Maverick. The name conjures images of smooth-talking card hustlers and, to contemporary ears, war heroes. It delves deep into American iconography and out mythology of the West. Add “Ford” in front of the word and the meaning changes entirely, moving from carefree frontier adventure to three-box automotive blue-light special.
Ford has a long history of providing reliable-but-spartan transportation devices. The Model T, for instance, was designed for rugged use, simple service and a low, low price. This tradition continued through at least the Model A, but after that, Ford needed to keep up with more technically sophisticated offerings from Plymouth and more stylish ones from Chevrolet. 1930’s Fords may be more collectible than Chevy’s of similar vintage, but at the time, Chevy was considered the style leader.
By Brendan Moore
Chinese government officials are making a lot of noise about the 35% tariff imposed by President Obama last week, mentioning that they just might investigate dumping of chicken products and automobile parts from the US. They also were fueling speculation they might file a counter-complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO).
It was the WTO that recommended a 55% tariff on Chinese tires to the United States government. The Obama administration demurred, and instead went with the lower 35% tariff.
Some trade experts say the Chinese are simply blustering and that the dispute will blow over fairly quickly, but others are not so sure. Some trade analysts fear a tit-for-tat environment could establish itself between China and the US, and quickly spiral out of control. Given the fragile global economy, that prospect is not an encouraging one.
In a statement, Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming said the Obama decision “sends the wrong signal to the world. This is a grave act of trade protectionism. Not only does it violate WTO rules, it contravenes commitments the U.S. government made at the G20 financial summit.”
This year’s G20 Summit is coming up this week in Pittsburgh, and China is dropping hints that the US government could make it up to China somehow during the summit.
The automaker tries to make the nervous less so…
By Brendan Moore
Fed up and impatient with the reluctance of the US public to even put their cars on their shopping list, General Motors is kicking off a program that will allow any buyer of a GM vehicle in the United States to return it within 60 days of purchase if the purchaser is unhappy with the vehicle for any reason.
The program kicks off on Monday, September 14, and will last until the end of November. Of course, if it is successful, there is a good chance it will be extended, but the plan at this point is to end the promotion November 30.
Prominent among the many ads that are planned to promote the program is an ad that features Ed Whitacre, GM’s new CEO. In the ad, Whitacre reflects on the fact that when he took the job as head of GM, he himself had doubts about the quality of GM’s vehicles and the company behind those cars, and, that he knows consumers have those same doubts. He then issues an invitation to try a GM car, with the guarantee that it can be returned within 60 days if the consumer decides they don’t like the vehicle, with no questions asked.
The obvious comparison cannot be ignored – the now-iconic advertisements featuring Lee Iacocca, CEO of Chrysler when it was on its deathbed, telling consumers some variation of, “if you can find a better car, buy it”. Bob Lutz, head of marketing for GM, remembers those ads well, and also remembers the galvanizing effect the commercials had on sales. Chrysler pulled out of its death spiral and lived to fight another day.
By Brendan Moore
After months of sometimes-contentious discussions over Opel’s fate, GM has announced that they will sell 55% of Opel and Vauxhall to Magna Intenational and its Russian partners, the automaker GAZ and the government-controlled bank, Sberbank. The deal calls for GM to retain 35% ownership and for Opel employees to have a 10% stake in the new structure.
GM has over 80 years of history with Opel in Europe, and now enters a new era of that history as minority owner. At the same time, the deal offers both Magna and its Russian partners a chance to be something important in the world of international auto manufacturing, a new experience for those entities.
Magna, the Canadian-Austrian parts supplier, has long been a major player in the auto parts supplier sector, and will now be a full-fledged manufacturer. GAZ and Sberbank have mainly confined their business efforts to their home country of Russia in the past, and are now on a larger stage.
Magna was the heavy favorite of the German people and the German government to get Opel; it was believed that the other potential bidders would eliminate a much greater number of German jobs under their proposals.
By Chris Haak
For the past several years, performance car specialist McLaren has been building the SLR McLaren for Mercedes-Benz. Now that SLR production has ended, both companies have split off into their own directions for their next supercar projects, with the new Mercedes-Benz model being developed in-house by its AMG performance arm and the McLaren model being developed as McLaren’s first independent roadgoing car project since its F1 of several years ago.
Mercedes-Benz and McLaren could probably not have built more extremely different vehicles if they had purposely tried to (and it’s possible they did – who knows?) Mercedes’ SLS AMG is clearly the spiritual successor to the original Mercedes-Benz SL300 of the mid-1950s. The shape is clearly a tribute to the original “Gullwing” Mercedes – with the shape of its grille, the air extractors aft of the front wheel openings, and of course the use of gullwing doors as the original had. Still, the car – in the photos leaked online yesterday – seems to lack much of the grace and elegance of the 300SL “Gullwing’s” shape. The upright front end, in particular, looks a bit out of place relative to the rest of the car.
By Andy Bannister
In these days of increasing conformity in terms of nearly everything to do with motoring and highway safety it’s interesting that one of the most fundamental issues of all – which side of the road to drive on – still divides roughly two-thirds of the world from the other third.
This has always been a point of international contention. When motor cars were still a relative rarity, it was possible for countries to change sides quite easily – mostly, it has to be said, from driving on the left to driving on the right – but few have done so in recent times.
Full marks for bravery, then, to the tiny country of Samoa in the South Pacific, which has just secured a footnote in history by enacting a switch in the other direction, from right to left, bringing it into line with the bigger powers in the region, particularly Australia and New Zealand.
The rationale for the change as far as the local populace are concerned is the prospect of importing cheap right-hand-drive cars from its larger neighbours.
Despite this apparent benefit, opinion among the people of the two main islands which make up Samoa is – perhaps unsurprisingly – not by any means universally in favour, and some commentators have been predicting traffic chaos and accidents galore. A two-day holiday and drinking ban was put in place to coincide with this week’s change over.
By Chris Haak
The fate of GM’s Adam Opel GmbH European subsidiary may be decided either today or tomorrow during GM’s scheduled two-day meeting of its board of directors – but a decision in that timeframe seems to be increasingly unlikely.
As followers of this continually-evolving situation may recall, GM transferred Opel’s and Vauxhall’s assets to a separate company controlled by a trust. The trust was 35% controlled by General Motors, 10% by Opel employees, and 55% by the German government. In February 2009, GM came to a tentative agreement to sell a controlling stake in Opel and Vauxhall to a Russian -backed consortium led by tier-one supplier Magna International, Inc. The German government agreed to provide financial assistance for the deal with Magna (because Magna was likely to retain most of Opel’s German employees), but as always, the devil is in the details.
By Brendan Moore
Reports out of both Sweden and China indicate that SAIC is considering an investment in the next iteration of Saab.
Sources say the Chinese auto company would pick up the current $420 million USD “gap” that exists in Koenigsegg’s plan to purchase Saab from General Motors. SAIC would consider the investment a passive one as opposed to a partnership that produces cooperation among the auto production units of the two companies, and with that in mind, would have the investment held by the parent company of SAIC, as opposed to the auto manufacturing arm of SAIC.
SAIC is one of GM’s largest Chinese auto partners.
However, the painful legacy of SAIC’s money-losing investment in South Korea’s Ssangyong Motors is giving SAIC pause in terms of taking the plunge on the money-losing Saab, so it is difficult to gauge how far along SAIC is in their decision process concerning a stake in Saab.
SAIC refused to comment on the Saab reports.
Koenigsegg, the tiny specialty Swedish supercar manufacturer, finalized terms of an agreement with GM in August to purchase the much-larger Saab, but has had some trouble lining up all the required financing for the deal.
GM sold Saab to Koenigsegg for a still-undisclosed price and expects the deal will close by the end of this year.
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