Friday, June 24, 2011

Toyota pos-earthquake recovery moves along

 By Joseph Szczesny
 Toyota Motor Sales has confirmed it plans to launch the Prius V despite the earthquake-related production problems in Japan. Toyota also is increasing its allocation of the current version of the Prius to 75,000  to meet the continuing demand in the U.S, for the vehicles.   TMS had previously announced deliveries of 36,000 Prius hybrids this summer.  The U.S. allocation in the second half of the year represents a slight increase over 2010 levels, Toyota officials said.
  "Thanks to the remarkable support of our manufacturing team members and suppliers, the outlook for Prius continues to improve." 
Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager - Toyota Division, said  "We know that demand for Prius is as high as ever, so today's announcement is great news for our customers and dealers," he said.
  Prius was Toyota's first Japan-built vehicle to resume production following the Japan earthquake and tsunami on March 11.  Since then, the production recovery in both Japan and North America has continued to exceed the company's initial expectations. 
  In Japan, production is expected to return to normal levels after July.  In North America, eight locally-built models, including Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Matrix, Sequoia, Sienna and Venza returned to 100 percent production in June.  The remaining four North-American built models, Tundra, Tacoma, RAV4 and Lexus RX 350, will return to 100 percent beginning in September.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chrysler marked down by Consumer Reports

By Joseph Szczesny
  The Chrysler Group is taking another beating at the hands of Consumer Reports.
 The magazine's testing indicated Chrysler's cars are getting better, but "their level of improvement varies considerably," according to a news release issued this week.
 "The Dodge Durango and Charger, which received significant redesigns, have improved the most. Both the V6 and V8 tested versions of the Durango SUV received “Very Good” road test scores which now makes them comparable with the redesigned 2011 Ford Explorer. However, they score well below rivals like the Toyota Highlander and the Chevrolet Traverse. The Charger Rallye also received a “Very Good” road test score and now ranks close to the Ford Taurus and Buick LaCrosse," the magazine sid.
The freshened Town & Country, a virtual twin of the Dodge Grand Caravan, earned a “Very Good.” Its road test score is also considerably improved.
“It’s clear that Chrysler is on the right path, but they still have a long way to go,” said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center in East Haddam, CT. “We see major improvements for models that have had a significant redesign. When Chrysler invests the time and money in a true redesign, the result has been a much more competitive model,” Champion said. However, the magazine test driver were unimpressed by the 200, Avenger, Compass, Journey, and Patriot. "Despite some improvements, they’re still mediocre vehicles overall, scoring at or near the bottom of their respective categories," Champion said.
Most of Chrysler’s models have suffered from below-average reliability, according to Consumer Reports’ Annual Auto Surveys and the company has consistently logged the lowest average road-test score in CR’s yearly automaker report cards. Over the past three years, CR has Recommended only one Chrysler-built model, the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup.
All of the tested vehicles were updated by Chrysler for 2011.  The Charger and Durango were redesigned and the 200, Avenger, Journey, and Town & Country were extensively updated. The Patriot and Compass received some minor updates. Consumer Reports will also be testing the updated Chrysler 300C, Dodge Challenger, and the new Fiat 500. Those vehicles weren’t available in time for testing for this issue.
The full report on Chrysler models is available to subscribers of on June 21st. Updated daily, it’s the go-to Website for the latest auto reviews, product news, blogs on breaking news and car buying information. The report also appears in the August issue of the magazine, on newsstands July 5th.
  Overall, the magazine said it wasn't recommending any of the tested models. "The Durango, Charger, and Town & Country are too new for Consumer Reports to have adequate reliability data to Recommend. The 200, Avenger, Compass, Journey, and Patriot to rate as Recommended.  Consumer Reports only recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s Annual Auto Survey of its more than seven million print and Web subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Saab 9-5 gets highest safety marks from insurance institute

 By Joseph Szczesny
 Saab has had its share of problems lately and production of the its Swedish-built models aren't completely secured yet but the struggling automaker did receive some good news this week. The Saab 9-5 Sedan earned the “Top Safety Pick,” the highest rating for crashworthiness in the United States today by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS,, a research and communications organization funded by auto insurers in the US. IIHS performs full tests for front impact (offset) and side impact crashes. Seat/head restraints also undergo a simulated rear impact conducted on a sled to assess protection against whiplash injuries and the roof structure tested to assess vehicle rollover protection. “We are very pleased with the 9-5’s performance. IIHS is an independent body and the results of their tests are easily accessible and objective information for car buyers. It is therefore important for us to achieve good results in this type of testing,” says Per Lenhoff, Head of Safety Development at Saab Automobile.  Vehicles are rated as "Good", "Acceptable", "Marginal" or "Poor" in the various categories. To receive the "Top Safety Pick" award, cars must achieve the highest rating in all four categories and should also be fitted with electronic stability control. Lenhoff said Saab's Real-Life Safety philosophy is based on the fact that no collision is ever the same. Saab safety engineers continuously study how Saab cars behave in real collisions on public roads. The results of these studies are the basis for continued development of both design and safety solutions in cars as well as of Saab's in-house crash testing methods. The Saab 9-5 Sedan has already received the highest rating, five stars, in the crash tests conducted by the European New Car Assessment Programme, EuroNCAP

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

GM invest $20 million in Fairfax plant

 General Motors  plans to invest $20 million in machinery and equipment for its Fairfax Assembly plant to add future technologies and improvements to the Buick LaCrosse including eAssist, a piece electrification technology that will boost highway fuel economy by 25 percent over the current model.  
   "The LaCrosse has been critical to the resurgence of Buick, bringing many new customers to Buick showrooms," said GM Manufacturing Manager Jim Glynn. "This investment to improve an already strong car will help us continue winning converts to the brand." 
  The Fairfax announcement is part of the $2 billion in U.S. investment GM back in May.   So far, GM plants in Bowling Green, Ky.; Arlington, Tex.; Toledo and Defiance, Ohio; Bedford, Ind., and Bay City, Detroit, Flint, Lansing and Warren have gotten new investments that will boost employment and productivity. The investments build on the $3.4 billion invested and 9,000 jobs created or retained in the United States since mid-2009. 
 The Fairfax investment is primarily for manufacturing machinery, equipment and special tooling for the current facility. The plant, which opened in 1987, is home to the LaCrosse and the Chevrolet Malibu.  The plant operates on three shifts and in 2010 produced 320,000 Malibus and LaCrosses.
 Joe Ashton, UAW Vice President-GM Department, added:  The UAW realizes the importance of investments that provide our members with the tools they need to compete.  Today’s investment in the Fairfax plant not only upgrades the facility, it provides our members of UAW Local 31 with a chance to succeed in a very competitive segment of today’s U.S. auto industry.  I am confident that our members will continue to build high-quality, affordable cars for our customers,” Ashton said.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Nissan may delay EV production in U.S

By Joseph Szczesny
  Nissan may be forced to delay start of production of the Nissan Leaf in the U.S.and is falling short of this years production goals for the company's first all electric vehicles, a  key executive said Monday.
 Hideaki Watanabe, Nissan vice president for zero emission vehicles, said Monday the opening of the Leaf assembly line in Smyrna, Tenn. could be delayed because of the fallout from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated part of Japan,
 “After March 11, all the resources of the company were devoted to helping with the recovery (in Japan.) This delayed the planning,” he said. “It put us in a very difficult situation,” Watanabe told a group of reporter over lunch at the Nissan Research and Development Center outside in suburban Detroit.
“We’re trying to shorten the delay but I wouldn’t want to make any predictions,” Watanabe said. 
 So far this year, Nissan has delivered 7,550 electric-powered Leafs to customers in the Japan, the U.S., Hong  Kong and Europe. Almost 5,000 of Leafs have been delivered to customers in Japan and more than 66 Leafs were used in three prefectures heavily damaged in the quake and tsunami. The EVs proved to be more practical than gasoline vehicles because they could plug in an recharge in areas where motor fuel was in short supply, said Watanabe, adding Nissan is also now exploring technology that would turn the Leaf and its lithium-ion battery into an emergency generator. The technology would allow the leaf to dischare electricity as well as drawing it in.
 The Leaf EVs also survived the electricity shortages because the experience of most owners is the drive less than 60 miles per day and recharge at night when electricity is available, Watanabe said. 
  About 2,000 Leafs have been delivered to customers in the U.S. and the company still has the names of 22,000 more potential numbers.  Filling order has been slower than expected because Nissan won’t be able to meet its production 2011 production target of 50,000 Leafs.
 “In 2012, we hope to be in a more normal situation,” he said. 
 However, Nissan plans to begin distributing the Leaf beyond the original seven states targeted in the initial launch of the vehicle, which included California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas and Tennessee. Leafs will be in dealers in a half dozen states along the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard  from Florida to Maryland this fall and in all 50 states by the end of 2012, Nissan officials said.
 “Even before the earthquake, we decided on a very conservative ramp up. We wanted to double check everything. Quallity is our top priority,” he said.                                                         

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chevy dealers nationwide taking Volt orders

By Joseph Szczesny
Chevrolet dealers in all 50 states will begin taking orders for the 2012 Chevrolet Volt electric car and is lowering the base price slightly.
 The suggested retail price for the award-winning Volt will start at $39,995 (or $32,495 assuming a full federal tax credit of $7,500, which is subject to the customer’s eligibility). The price includes an $850 destination freight charge but excludes tax, title and license fees. The starting price of the 2012 model is more than $1,000 below the 2011 base model.
 The lower base price is possible in part because of a wider range of options and configurations that come with the expansion of Volt production for sale nationally. The 2011 model was available in only seven states, including Michigan, and the District of Columbia.
 “We are giving consumers greater choice of content as the Volt becomes available nationwide by the end of this year,” said Cristi Landy, Volt marketing director. “This gives us the opportunity to be more flexible in our pricing and still provide additional high-tech content to customers who want to purchase it.”
 The Volt will be available in two additional interior accents, white and spiced red and two new exterior colors - Summit White and Blue Topaz Metallic. For 2012, consumers will be able to choose from a total of seven option packages compared with only three for the 2011 model. A loaded Volt, with leather appointments, backup camera, navigation system and premium paint and wheels is priced at $46,265 including delivery or $38,765 net of full tax credit.
  GM announced last month it was closing the Poletown assembly plant where the Volt is built for four weeks beginning in June for planned upgrades to prepare for a significant increase in the rate of Volt production, along with assembly of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan.
 “The Volt will be available to customers nationwide by the end of 2011,” Landi said. “By taking the time to reconfigure the plant, we will be better able to meet the tremendous consumer demand.”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gilles, Diaz, Bigland get new roles at Chrysler

 By Joseph Szczesny
 Chrysler Group LLC has given three executives new responsibilities, including Ralph Gilles, the company’s high profile head of product design.
 Gilles was appointed president and chief executive officer of the newly formed Street and Racing Technology  Brand, Chrysler Group's cross-brand performance unit, and the Company's Motorsports activities.  The appointment indicates  Chrysler is planning to beef up the racing-related activities.
 Gilles will continue as design chief with responsibility for all exterior and interior design activities for all Dodge, Ram, Chrysler and Jeep Brand vehicles, the Chrysler announcement said.
 In addition, Fred Diaz was appointed president and CEO of Chrysler de Mexico, which includes responsibility for Latin America. Diaz continues in his current role as the President and CEO of the Ram Truck Brand.
 Reid Bigland was  named president and CEO of the Dodge Car Brand and head of U.S. Sales.  Bigland is replacing Gilles at Dodge.  In keeping Bigland also will as President and CEO of Chrysler Canada. In addition, the Company appointed David Buckingham to the newly created role of chief operating officer  of Chrysler Canada, reporting to Bigland. Previously, Buckingham was Vice President - Sales, Chrysler Canada.
 All changes are effective immediately, Chrysler said.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mazda plans to pull out of Flat Rock

By  Joseph Szczesny
  Mazda Motor Corp, has confirmed it pulling out Flat Rock that in now shares with the Ford Motor Co.
 Mazda has built cars at the Auto Alliance plant in Flat Rock since the mid-1980s but said it is planning to build the next version of the midsized Mazda6 in Japan rather than the United States.  "Currently, production of the Mazda6 (known as Atenza in Japan) exists in three locations: at our Hofu Plant in Japan, AutoAlliance International in Michigan and at First Automotive Works Car Co., Ltd. in Changchun, China. Our intention is to transfer production of our next CD-car for North America from AAI and consolidate it at Hofu in order to improve production and investment efficiencies and optimize our business," said Takashi Yamanouchi, President and CEO of Mazda Motor Corporation. "The decision was made after carefully assessing all risks and opportunities, including global needs, changing demand in North America, and exchange rate exposure. Going forward, Mazda will strive to maintain and grow our business in America."
"The decision to relocate to Hofu and consolidate the production of the next CD-car makes the most sense for our business," Yamanouch said. "However, we are committed to working with Ford, our joint venture partner in AAI, to identify potential future opportunities for the plant,” Yamanouchi said. 
 The Flat Rock plant is also currently used to build the Ford Mustang.  Mazda  didn’t announce when it expected to end production in Flat Rock but it could be in the next 12 months.