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GM Goes From Crisis to Chaos
Mar09

GM Goes From Crisis to Chaos

By Brendan Moore

03.09.2009

When I was at the Detroit Auto Show in January, I was impressed with the organization and focus of the many General Motors executives that I talked to during the show. Despite the reeling auto market, their looming financial insolvency and the tenuous status of government aid, the people at GM seemed to have a plan and seemed intent on executing it; the situation was seen as temporary until the plan started working.

But, now, I just don’t know. Crisis planning seems to have given way to the chaos of little or no planning.

The wind-down of different businesses and the shedding of brands is happening, but in the instance of the brands, GM seems to have decided to just basically cut those brands loose without a lot of effort to make their landing a little easier. This is understandable with Hummer, but the sorry way GM has booted Saab and left them twisting in the wind is unbelievably careless, to say the least.

Pontiac is going to be….what? No one knows, no one seems to have any ideas (that they’re saying out loud, anyway) about what Pontiac might be, and what the future might hold. All that anyone at GM will say is that Pontiac will be a boutique brand, and what a boutique brand is to GM is anyone’s guess.

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2009 Ford Focus SES Coupe Review
Mar08

2009 Ford Focus SES Coupe Review

By Kevin Miller

03.08.2009

dscn9603When the Ford Focus was redesigned for the 2008 model year, we North Americans got the proverbial short end of the stick. While Europeans got a new Focus riding on a new platform, we got a sort-of-new Focus on the old platform that debuted in 2000. Worse still, the good-looking, versatile three- and five-door hatchbacks were discontinued, leaving only a four-door sedan and a two-door notchback coupe. The new North American Focus was introduced with a generic new-Ford style, with a horizontal-bar grill. It also had appallingly garish “fender vent” decorations on the front fenders. Our review of the 2008 Focus SES sedan found the car to be capable though not outstanding.

With the new-for-2008 Focus so recently introduced, it was a bit surprising to read last May that the 2009 Focus coupe was being mildly re-styled, losing the fender vents and gaining a spoiler at the top of the rear window, as though the coupe wished it was a hatchback. Those two stylistic changes, along with 17” painted alloy wheels help to give the Focus coupe a bit more aggressive look, although the car still has a fairly slab-sided appearance and is clearly derived from a sedan.

While the car has a new look, many features betray the car’s decade-old roots. The Focus’ key and separate unlocking seem to be from another era- I’m sure my father-in-law’s ’99 Taurus used the same ones. Once inside, the instruments are handsome and very easy to read, though dash and console materials are decidedly low-rent. Hard plastic materials comprise the dash top and face, though the heated seats in my car were upholstered in nice looking leather, and there was a stitched faux-leather upholstery on the doors as well. The door and center armrests are nicely padded.

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Auditors Raise Doubts on GM’s Ability to Survive
Mar05

Auditors Raise Doubts on GM’s Ability to Survive

By Chris Haak

03.05.2009

deloitteWe mentioned just last week in our “Check Your Mirrors” news summary that GM’s auditors, Deloitte & Touche, were likely to slap the company with a statement that raised doubts about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.

Today, , and indeed, that statement is in there.  It reads, in part:

There is substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.

Our independent public accounting firm has issued an opinion on our consolidated financial statements that states that the consolidated financial statements were prepared assuming we will continue as a going concern and further states that our recurring losses from operations, stockholders’ deficit and inability to generate sufficient cash flow to meet our obligations and sustain our operations raise substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern. Our plans concerning these matters, including our Viability Plan, are discussed in Note 2 to the accompanying audited consolidated financial statements. Our future is dependent on our ability to execute our Viability Plan successfully or otherwise address these matters. If we fail to do so for any reason, we would not be able to continue as a going concern and could potentially be forced to seek relief through a filing under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Doesn’t sound good, does it?  There’s more with the next paragraph in the 10K; all of this is found in the “Risks Related to us and our Automotive Businesses” section of the 10K, on page 20 of the document.

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2009 Hyundai Genesis 3.8 V6 Review
Mar05

2009 Hyundai Genesis 3.8 V6 Review

By Chris Haak

03.05.2009

006_2009genesisv6Anyone who follows the car business – even those who don’t follow it as closely as we do here – is aware that Hyundai has been making serious strides in the real and perceived quality of its products over the past few years.  Folks also seem to be very aware of the newest Hyundai, the Genesis sedan.  It’s the first rear wheel drive Hyundai to be sold in the US, the first V8-powered Hyundai to be sold in the US, and represents Hyundai’s flagship model.  Just as I said last year that the Lexus LS600hL was, by default, the absolute best car that Toyota was capable of building, I believe that the Genesis represents the best car that Hyundai is capable of building.

Before I even unlocked the door for the first time, I could tell that the Genesis was something built to a different set of standards than any other Hyundai or Kia product.  The styling has grown on me over the past year; where I was once annoyed at the obvious cribbing of styling cues from other manufacturers (it borrows most liberally from the BMW 7-series and Lexus LS), I now can appreciate the Genesis for at least stealing the best features of other cars.  It’s really a good-looking car, and I consistently admired the detailing on the front end as I approached it each morning enroute to the office.  The proportions are attractive and modern, and the detailing such as body color moldings and door handles with chrome accents, projector-style headlamps (albeit not xenon HIDs as you’d expect in most luxury cars), and a taillamp design that looks really neat at night, with horizontal lines across the bottom and LEDs covering the upper two-thirds.  The design certainly isn’t groundbreaking in any way, but it’s a handsome, clean design that wouldn’t look out of place with any luxury brand’s logo on the grille (which, incidentally, has no logo on it).

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Is the Traditional Concept of Car Ownership on the Ropes?
Mar05

Is the Traditional Concept of Car Ownership on the Ropes?

It may be if Nissan/Renault and Project Better Place have their way.

By George Straton

03.05.2009

image-2Over a century ago, Henry Ford wanted to make his products affordable to all Americans. He foresaw the exponential growth of urban sprawl and economic prosperity as a result of personal transport. The proliferation of cars occurred through more or less traditional means of ownership. Ownership of automobiles was considered a sign of prosperity.

In its infancy few could have predicted the transformation of the wireless phone to the ordinary. The wireless phone was not proliferated through traditional notions of consumer ownership. The consumer signs a contract for service for a fixed period of time. They purchase a non-user serviceable handset which is locked to the carrier. Part of the purchase price of the handset is subsidized by the monthly service fee to the carrier. Typically the device battery starts to malfunction a few months past the warranty’s expiration. By that time handset features have so evolved further. Instead of paying for a new battery the majority of consumers just re-up and sign another contract for which they select another handset in return.

It is part of a potentially endless cycle.

Which is what may become of the automobile if a joint venture between the world’s third largest auto maker Nissan/Renault and Project Better Place is successful. This is the same joint venture that will set up pilot programs for municipal vehicle fleets for the cities of San Francisco and Portland. Those pilot programs were outlined by Techshake’s Brendan Moore in his November 2008 article.

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February 2009 Sales Results Are In
Mar04

February 2009 Sales Results Are In

By Chris Haak

03.04.2009

auto-salesSurprising nobody, US light-vehicle sales in February 2009 were down 41.3% versus February 2009.  The only make with a positive sales number was scrappy Subaru, which managed to eke out a 1.4% gain.  Hyundai – the big winner in January 2009 – was a relative winner as well, with only a 0.7% decline.  GM’s sales decline was the worst among the six major brands at a staggering 53.1%.  Ford’s sales declined 49.5%, Chrysler’s sales declined 44.0%, Honda’s declined 38.0%, Nissan’s declined 37.1%, and Toyota’s declined 39.8%.

Many smaller brands sufferered even worse than did the larger ones; Isuzu – in the midst of winding down its sales operations – had a 60.7% decline.  Suzuki – a company that sells mostly fairly inexpensive, small cars – should seemingly do much better than its 60.3% decline.  Mitsubishi was down 50.8%, and Maserati was down 71.4%.  Mazda was down by a better-than-the-market 30.4%.

The European luxury brands did better than the overall market in most cases, but still fared poorly.  BMW sales (including Mini and Rolls-Royce) were down 34.6%, Daimler AG’s sales (including Maybach and smart) were down 20.4%, Volkswagen (including Audi and Bentley) sales were down 19.9%, and Porsche sales were down by a less-poor 11.5%.

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Geneva 2009:  2010 Volkswagen Polo
Mar04

Geneva 2009: 2010 Volkswagen Polo

By Chris Haak

03.04.2009

DB2009AU00242Volkswagen’s subcompact (B-segment) 2010 Polo made its worldwide debut at the 2009 Geneva auto show.  The all-new Polo was engineered to ace the tough Euro NCAP crash tests with five stars and offers improved structural rigidity, but cuts the weight of the previous Polo by 7.5%.  The weight reduction helps performance, handling, and fuel economy – and is a perfect example of intelligent engineering and shatters the notion that additional safety equipment and a stronger structure have to result in a heavier vehicle.

The Polo will be offered in Europe with a choice of seven different engines – three diesel and four gasoline – and will also achieve impressive fuel economy figures, particularly in the TDI models.  The 1.6 liter, 90 PS TDI engine, when combined with the available BlueMotion package, gets an impressive 62 mpg in European testing.  The 1.2 liter, 102 PS TSI (direct-injection, turbocharged four cylinder gasoline engine) gets about 43 miles per gallon.  In addition to the lighter weight versus the previous model, the new Polo’s fuel economy and performance improvements can be attributed to a new seven-speed DSG.

The exterior of the Polo is updated with the new VW corporate face that resides on the Scirocco and Golf.  The car overall looks pretty good – partucularly with large aluminum wheels – but not unlike just a smaller version of the Golf.  The bottom of the doors have an interesting scallop on them, fender bulges, and nicely detailed headlamps.  The interior has a clean design (if not a little to Germanic-looking with the black plastic and fabric nearly everywhere) and includes chrome accents around the gauges, center stack, and gearshift.  The car also has more interior room than its smaller but heavier predecessor.

Sales in Europe begin at the end of June; pricing has not yet been announced.  Although the press release below does not say so, it’s expected that the Polo may be sold in the US.  If so, and if it’s priced right (something that VW seems to have trouble doing), it could prove a worthy competitor to the Honda Fit.

A photo gallery and the full press release from Volkswagen are available after the jump.

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Pricier, Grown-up Tata Nano Heads for Europe…Eventually
Mar03

Pricier, Grown-up Tata Nano Heads for Europe…Eventually

By Andy Bannister

03.03.2009

tata-nano-europa-frontOne of the more remarkable new cars of last year, the micro-sized, micro-priced Tata Nano, will be exported to Europe after all, with a beefed-up version of the Indian tiddler going on display at this week’s Geneva Motor Show.

Unfortunately for Tata, and possibly for European consumers feeling the pinch, the Euro-spec car won’t make it to the old continent until at least 2011. A new ultra-low priced car might be just the gimmick dealers need at the moment.

To be known as the Nano Europa, the car has been significantly modified for its introduction to the European market.

Most noticeable are the bigger bumpers front and rear to comply with European crash regulations, more sensibly-sized wheels and a wider track. It sounds like the car will be loaded with extra equipment compared to the Indian version (yet to go on sale on its home market, after a series of production delays).

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