Everybody button down and hold what you’ve got!
By David Surace
In the midst of Toyota’s rather subdued rah-rah over becoming the new, undisputed global leader in automotive sales, executives at the Best Gosh Darned Car Company In The Known Universe are scrambling to reduce inventories and keep them commensurate with the current sub-freezing economy. Toyota is getting ready to offer in an effort to move their ’09 vehicles off the lots as quickly as one can do in temperatures. On top of that, has reported a particularly interesting announcement from Toyota spokesman Bill Kwong: the rollout of the newly-refreshed 2010 Camry, just unveiled at the Detroit Show, will be pushed back to April.
By Roger Boylan
Smug pundits were trumpeting the SUV’s demise as recently as last summer. During the recent $4-a-gallon gas crisis, the nation’s newspaper of record hardly let a day go by without exulting over the woes of some wretched small-town SUV dealer stuck with a backlog, subtext: “We told you so, sucker.” And yet! When I look around there seem to be as many SUVs on the road today as there were back in their bad old heyday. (In a spirit of full disclosure, let me boldly say right from the start that I’ve always liked SUVs; I’ve owned two and rented or borrowed dozens, which is not to say that I’m in favor of gas guzzling, or eternal dependence on the Saudis.) Admittedly, I live in Texas, where the love of bigness is a matter of regional identity; but even on a national level, the big family hauler is still with us. Here comes Chevrolet, for example, with its latest offering, the 2009 Traverse, a seven- or eight-passenger behemoth that may be (and is) called a “crossover” or “family vehicle” but that seems like an SUV to me, and I’ve just finished test-driving one for a week. The Traverse is Chevy’s newborn sibling in the Acadia-Outlook-Enclave family, known as the “Lambda” platform siblings. There are three trim levels, 1LT, 2LT, and LTZ. Mine was the 2LT, with front-wheel-drive (AWD is available), 18-inch alloy wheels, an 8-way power driver seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear parking sensors, remote vehicle start, Bluetooth, 3-zone automatic climate control, a 10-speaker Bose system, rear audio system controls, 7-passenger seating with second-row captain’s chairs, a power lift gate, and a rearview camera integrated into the rearview mirror (I loved the last item). All this you can have for a seriously negotiable sticker price of $39K, but the base Chevy Traverse 1LT’s starting price of $28K is by far the lowest of the four Lambda siblings. It’s also, in my humble opinion, the best-looking of the litter. Its bulk is rendered almost sleek by swoopy styling that owes much to the new Malibu; it’s more of a dolphin than a whale, at least seen from the side.
By Brendan Moore
GM lost their first-place position in sales to Toyota in 2008. Toyota and GM had been running neck and neck in global sales the previous couple of years to 2008, and since Toyota worldwide sales dropped 4% in 2008, and GM worldwide sales dropped approximately 11%, that difference was enough to put Toyota on top.
GM was the sales leader for 77 consecutive years.
But, GM says it’s not that big a deal in contrast to their other problems. In fact, in an unusually blunt statement, Fritz Henderson, the COO of GM, said yesterday, “They passed us in market cap, profitability and cash flow a long time ago”.
GM actually did fairly well in most of the world last year, but the staggering 22.7% drop in sales in North America to 3.6 million vehicles sealed GM’s drop to second-place.
GM put 8.36 million vehicles across the curb last year, putting GM about 616,000 units behind the 8.97 million reported by Toyota yesterday.
The cynical reader might scoff at the notion that GM isn’t heartbroken over losing their sales crown, but I think that notion is probably pretty accurate. In a series of interviews I conducted with half a dozen senior GM executives during the recent Detroit Auto Show, it was obvious that GM was a lot more concerned about surviving first and thriving later.
I would characterize the prevailing mode of thought at GM as a crisis situation where everyone is doing whatever they can to ensure the company lives another day so they can fight the good fight many days in the future. Note that I wrote “crisis”, not “chaos”. What emerged during those interviews was that everyone at GM is pulling awfully hard in the same direction, and it is an extremely disciplined effort.
By Brendan Moore
Checker Motors, the maker of the famous Checker Marathon taxi, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Although Checker ceased production of the Marathon in 1982, the 87 year-old firm has soldiered on since that time as a manufacturer of welded assemblies and metal stampings that it supplies to the domestic auto industry.
Checker has 246 employees affected by the bankruptcy.
Checker’s bankruptcy filing cited the falling market share of its automaker customers, uncompetitive wage structures compared to other bankrupt suppliers that are their competition and rising raw material costs. The company stated it the filing that it intends to reorganize and continue doing business during the reorganization.
And not just any car, but the Checker Marathon, an urban icon to millions of people in the United States.
By J.S. Smith
Thus far, reports have not used the term merger—and certainly not “merger of equals.” These days, FIAT, once enfeebled and towered over by the colossal American pentastar, is clearly more equal than others, to steal a phrase from Eric Blair. Reuters used the term “strategic partnership.” According to the , FIAT is interested in “creating a partnership that would allow the Italian auto company to build and sell its small cars in the United States.”
Although early, this certainly seems like a good partnership. FIAT makes some of the best small cars in the world and has a global presence—except in the USA. It also makes great sporty executive cars—Alfa Romeo and Lancia are in its stable. It lacks full size cars, trucks and SUVs. And it lacks dealers in North America.
By Kevin Miller
As you’ve likely read before, blue is the new green. The BlueZERO concept is the latest proof of that saying from Mercedes-Benz.
Following September’s introduction of the S400 BlueHYBRID, The BlueZERO concept is actually a set of three concept vehicles built on a single vehicle architecture. The vehicle is designed to accommodate various modes of propulsion, each of which is incorporated in one of the three concept cars. The BlueZERO vehicles are constructed with the same unique sandwich-floor architecture first seen on the Mercedes A-Class and continued with the B-Class. All three BlueZERO concepts use the same key technical components and share dimensions. The basic vehicle is 166 inches long, with seating for five adults and a 17.6 cubic-foot luggage compartment with a total vehicle payload capacity of about 1000 lbs.
Each BlueZERO concept car is fitted with a unique electrical propulsion systems. Each of the three powertrains features front-wheel drive, liquid-cooled lithium-ion batteries with storage capacity up to 35 kWh and electric motor with maximum output of 100 kW (134 HP). All three variants accelerate to 62 mph in less than 11 seconds, with an electronically-limited top speed of 93 mph meant to allow rapid travel while preserving travel range and efficiency.
By James Wong
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of deliberation, Singapore has finally lowered the tax on diesels. It’s now financially more sensible to own a diesel car than ever before, but even so it attracts a tax that is 2.25 times that of petrol equivalent models. But, with its high torque as well as better consumption figures, it’s something that might be worth paying for.
Of course, for the latter, you may have to excuse the new Touareg R50.
It’s an extreme, V10 turbodiesel which does the century run (0-62 mph) in 6.7 seconds and has enough power to pull a 747 (no kidding). Its consumption is an average of 16.7L/100km (about 14 mpg US), not too bad for the power, but the car’s weight does mar some of that performance. More on that later.
By James Wong
Recently, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) of Singapore has decided to introduce a pilot scheme of mandatory giving way to buses exiting bus bays.
The news release included a statistic which stated that of the total journey time of buses on our roads, 10% of the time is taken just waiting to exit the bus bays. It may sound absurd, but courtesy schemes were even put forth by the government and bus operators to give way to buses. Such schemes attempted to appeal to people to use their social graces to give way to buses. However, the outcome of those schemes was less than satisfactory. Given this, another solution was needed.
Given the increasing demand for limited road space, the need for a mandatory give-way scheme was inevitable – or so they say. What this means now is that it would be a traffic offence not to give way to a bus exiting from a bus bay if there are road signs indicating so. It’s a bit like giving way to pedestrians crossing the zebra crossing. Thankfully, it’s only going to be on trial for a few key bus stops for now. But if all goes well, this might well be implemented at many more bus stops.