September 29th, 2010 at 12:29pm
Toyota has setup a task force on rare-earth metals following reports that China banned exports to Japan. A new study done by the Highway Loss Data Institute shows that texting bans while driving don’t work. GM will develop electric versions of the Opel Meriva for research purposes. All that and more, plus the Autoextremist, Peter De Lorenzo, shares his opinion on why the Volkswagen/Porsche merger is not a good thing.
No, your clocks aren’t wrong; it really is time for another episode of Autoline Daily. It’s Wednesday, September 29th, 2010. I’m Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist – like you didn’t already know that. I’m stepping UP by sitting DOWN – in the anchor chair – for John who’s still living it up in Paris. Here’s the latest news we could dredge up from the murky depths of the Internet.
TOYOTA CREATES NEW TASK FORCE
As we’ve reported, the age-old rivalry between China and Japan is heating up. This friction has far-reaching consequences, even for the auto industry. According to Bloomberg, Toyota has setup a task force on rare-earth metals following reports that China banned exports to Japan. Apparently the company has struck a deal with Lynas Corp., a Sydney, Australia-based mining operation. Toyota is looking to diversify its supply of these important metals which are a vital part of hybrid and electric vehicles. China controls 90 percent of the global market for rare-earths. The ban disproportionally affects Japan because it consumes 65 percent of China’s exports.
TOUGH LICENSE STANDARDS PROPOSED
Yesterday the Obama administration backed legislation that would push states to toughen standards for young people getting their driver’s license. According to the Detroit News, the law would mandate three stages of licensing: a learner’s permit, an intermediate stage and then a full license. It makes 16 the earliest age drivers could get a learner’s permit and makes them wait until they’re 18 before they can get an unrestricted license. Additionally, young drivers wouldn’t be allowed to drive unsupervised at night, plus they face other restrictions. States that don’t comply within three years would lose federal funding for highway construction. A very good thing I might add, if they can actually pull it off.
TEXT BANS DON’T WORK
And speaking of driving laws, a new study done by the Highway Loss Data Institute shows that texting bans don’t work. Researchers studied four states that recently enacted bans and compared them to nearby states without ones. They found that the bans don’t reduce accidents, AND, in some states, accidents were higher than before. This doesn’t mean it’s safe to text and drive, it just means a ban won’t reduce accidents. So why aren’t they cutting crashes? The researchers hypothesize that people are just ignoring them.
DODGE LEAVES THE U.K.
Dodge’s days are numbered – at least in the UK. According to Autocar, the brand will disappear once its slow-selling Journey crossover is pulled from the market – it’s currently the only Dodge vehicle offered in the UK. The Nitro and Caliber were axed in May following weak sales. The brand will maintain a presence in other European markets but only as a niche player.
GM DEVELOPS ELECTRIC OPEL MERIVA
More evidence GM is hedging its bet with the Chevy Volt. Last week we reported that the company is getting ready to launch a test fleet of all-electric Chevy Cruzes in South Korea, and now the Detroit Free Press reports that it will develop electric versions of the Opel Meriva. GM is teaming-up with MeRegioMobile with funding from the German government to develop the vehicle. GM says it’s a “pure research-vehicle” and it will be used to study “the practicality, user friendliness and acceptance among consumers.” Whatever… it seems like GM just doesn’t want to get left out of the EV market if the Volt doesn’t catch on.
FIESTA HATCHBACK SALES SUCCESS
Europeans LOVE hatchbacks and wagons, Americans do not. This is practically a law of physics, but Ford is having some surprising success with its recently introduced Fiesta. The five-door hatch is attracting more buyers than expected, with a take-rate exceeding 60 percent! This flies in the face of common knowledge. According to Ward’s, hatchbacks accounted for just 8.3 percent of U.S. sales last year. Because of this unexpected popularity of the Fiesta hatchback, the company is expecting the five-door version of the 2012 Focus in America, which goes on sale next year, to be a stronger player in the car’s product mix. Could this signal a big shift in the market?
Next, we’ll get to my opinion on the Volkswagen/Porsche merger. That’s coming up, right after this.
VW + PORSCHE = NOT GOOD
Volkswagen’s “grand plan” to absorb Porsche into the VW Group empire is shaping up to be a giant bowl of “not good.” The plan revolves around the hoary idea of using multiple platforms to dumb-down Porsche in the interest of gaining more volume and ultimately, more profits.
Now, as for generating profitability, I never have a problem with that, it’s why they call it “business.” It’s the dumbing-down part that I have a huge problem with.
For starters, there are plans to do a Porsche version of the Audi Q5, called the Cajun, so the Cayenne can have a little brother. I get the whole peppery motif but really? Of all the things Porsche had on their future product wish list do you actually think having a little brother to the Cayenne was priority No. 1 before VW got involved?
A super-light, bare-bones sportscar with a small displacement four-cylinder engine and some form of electric assist that delivers a power-to-weight ratio close to the current Boxster and real-world fuel economy of 50 mpg or more in urban driving? Yeah, I could see that.
Or how about a future Porsche 911 utilizing the technology from the 918 Spyder supercar concept? Yup, I could easily imagine something like that, too.
But another warmed-over VW product that will be wearing the Porsche crest? And yet another truck to boot? Uh, not so much.
I remember issuing a warning about the VW takeover of Porsche when it happened, saying that the official explanation – that this benign takeover would allow Porsche to survive and thrive well into the future – would be superseded by the ugly reality that Volkswagen’s real plan is to extract every last dollar of profitability from this once exclusive maker of sports cars . . . historical legacy and brand image be damned.
After all, if a version of the Audi Q5 works for Porsche, why not a smaller, cheaper version of the Panamera based on the new VW sedan coming out of the new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee? See where this could lead to? You get enough people on the more-profitability-through-increased-volume bandwagon and before you know it all semblance of reality will cease to exist and Porsche will go mainstream with commoditized offerings like the Golf, or even worse, a Camry.
But then again we’ve been down this road before with Porsche and VW. Remember the 924? The cheap, under-powered VW sporty car with a Porsche crest on its nose and with a Porsche price to boot?
When will they ever learn?
And that’s the high-octane truth for this week . . . and the end of today’s show. Once again, I’m Peter De Lorenzo. I invite you to read this column and a decade’s-worth of other content on my website, Autoextremist.com. Anyway, thanks for checking out Autoline Daily – we really appreciate it – keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road and your foot hard-down on the gas. Later!