January 20th, 2011 at 12:10pm
GM CEO Dan Akerson is really putting his stamp on the company by shuffling some of its top-level executives. It looks like the UAW is targeting Toyota first as it aims to organize foreign transplants in the U.S. Chrysler, in partnership with the EPA, is developing hydraulic hybrid technology with the goal of using it in large passenger cars and other light-duty vehicles. All that and more, plus John answers your questions and responds to your comments in another installment of “You Said It!”
This is Autoline Daily for January 20, 2011. And now, the news.
AKERSON’S MANAGEMENT MOVES
GM’s CEO Dan Akerson is really putting his stamp on the company. And women in the auto industry will be thrilled with the moves he’s making. Earlier this week he moved Chris Preuss out as President of OnStar and replaced him with Linda Marshall, who has extensive experience in the telecommunications industry. Yesterday he moved Tom Stephens out as the head of product development and replaced him with Mary Barra, who is 49 years old. Interestingly, she had been the head of Human Resources for GM, but she also has extensive experience in manufacturing and engineering. Clearly with these two moves Akerson is moving old-time GM executives aside in favor of fresh blood to bring in new perspectives. And the fact that he’s promoted two women is going to help project the image that this is a new General Motors.
UAW TARGETS TOYOTA
Looks like the UAW could go after Toyota, first in its effort to organize the car plants of foreign automakers in the U.S. The Detroit News reports that while the union hasn’t officially announced its first target, it acknowledges that Toyota is on the list. The UAW has published a list of fair bargaining principles it wants the automakers to follow, otherwise it’s going to brand them as human rights violators and organize protests in the U.S. and in their home countries. It plans to recruit protesters from college campuses and even organize protests at the International Monetary Fund and Wall Street, as well as at dealerships and the automakers’ headquarters. Here’s my Autoline Insight. No matter what these car companies do, the UAW will brand them as human rights violators. The union says that if workers decide they don’t want a union, then it will just walk away. But you watch; that’s not going to happen.
CHRYSLER’S HYDRAULIC HYBRID
Yesterday Jim Hall told you about Chrysler’s hybrid plans, which include the 300 and a minivan. Today, we have more details. The company partnered with the U.S. EPA to develop a hydraulic hybrid system. The technology is already being tested in many industrial applications, including garbage trucks and large delivery vehicles, but the challenge here is size. Engineers have to make the package smaller – small enough to fit in a Town & Country minivan. Another hurdle they’ll have to jump is noise. Hydraulic hybrids can be pretty loud. Chrysler plans to combine a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with a 117 cc engine pump, a 45 cc drive motor and a two-speed automatic transmission. Fluid for the system would be stored in a 14.4-gallon high-pressure accumulator. The EPA developed this hydraulic technology about eight years ago and has been trying to get an automaker to use it ever since.
NISSAN’S NV COMMERCIAL VANS
Production of Nissan’s new NV commercial vans started today at its plant in Canton, Mississippi. The Japanese automaker is targeting a segment traditionally owned by the Big Three, but it’s come prepared. The 2012 NV series, which includes two heavy-duty models plus two different roof heights, are built on top of rugged, full frames – just like pickup trucks. Two engines are offered: a 4.0-liter V-6 delivering 261 horsepower and a 5.6-liter V-8 with a stout 317 horsepower. Both are matched to a five-speed automatic transmission. MSRP for the base, 1500 model is about $25,000. It’ll be interesting to see if Nissan can make a dent in this Detroit-dominated segment.
CHINA CLAMPS-DOWN ON RARE-EARTH METALS
Over the last couple months we’ve been following how China is tightening its control of rare-earth metals mined in the country. Now the government is taking even more control. According to the AFP, the country nationalized 11 rare-earth mines because it wants to strengthen “protection and reasonable development” of the industry. But analysts fear all this will do is drive up the price of rare-earth metals which are needed to make hybrid and electric cars. Last month China said it would cut export quotas by 35 percent for the first half of this year.
CHANGAN MOVING TO MICHIGAN
In other China news, Changan Auto announced it will establish a research and development center in the Detroit suburb of Plymouth Township. The state of Michigan approved a tax credit of $1.7 million over seven years to convince the company to come to the state. Changan plans to invest $7 million in order to set up the R&D center.
TOYOTA TWEAKS TV COMMERCIAL
Toyota was asked by the National Football League to edit one of its commercials that airs during its games. According to Reuters, the ad discusses how Toyota technology could potentially help understand and prevent brain injuries and shows a helmet-to-helmet hit and images of brain scans. But concussions and brain injuries are a hot topic in the NFL right now because of their long-term effects. So the league complained to Toyota and even threatened to not air the ad. In response, Toyota edited the commercial to remove the “offensive” material so it can continue to run it.
Coming up next, it’s time for You Said It!
And now it’s time for some of your feedback!
I can’t believe how many of you reacted to the news that Ford will drop the rear-wheel-drive Falcon in Australia. tj Martin writes in, saying, “So now the Falcon RWD bites the dust. What’s next? A front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder Mustang? A Hybrid all-wheel-drive Camaro? The Dodge front-wheel-drive EV Challenger? Next they’ll be selling us gerbil-powered Shelbys, Ferrari diesels, along with a two-cylinder four-door Corvette. Why not make things simple and get it over with. Make every car EXACTLY the same and let’s not pretend any aspect of driving is intended to be enjoyable or fun anymore.”
Ford, did you have any idea what dropping the Falcon would trigger?
C-tech wrote in to ask about what’s going on with Chrysler and Fiat in the U.S. market. “When will the new Fiat Dealers be up and running? The sales dates keep slipping back. The convertible 200 looks good. Why did everyone change from the traditional cloth-and-frame convertible to these metal shells and the inherent complications?”
Well C-tech, the Fiat dealers will come on stream all year long. I think the first one will be open in another month or so. They should have about 130 of them in place by the end of the year. And the reason you’re seeing so many hardtop convertibles is they’re a lot quieter, easier to live with during the winter and they provide the perception that they’re safer in case of a rollover when the top is up. For a lot of buyers, that’s worth the trade off of weight and complexity.
john787 saw the news that Toyota is working on electric motors that don’t need rare-earth metals and says, “Toyota working on a breakthrough by using an electromagnet, for the field of the motor instead of using rare-earth permanent magnets? I find that funny! The electromagnet has been used for close to a century. Using rare-earth magnets has only a slight advantage and that is weight. It sure sounds good for Toyota, but Toyota is trying to make itself look like an innovator.”
John787, they have to do this. Otherwise, China has them in a headlock.
And finally, Pedro Fernandez reacted to the new-side impact rules by saying, “SEAT BELTS MUST BE USED BY ALL PASSENGERS, stick to that simple rule and all those regulations would not be necessary.”
Amen Pedro. In the U.S. seat-belt usage is at 85 percent of all motorists, and while that’s a lot better than it used to be it’s still below the rate in Europe, which is about 95 percent. If we hit that rate, we’d see a big drop in traffic fatalities.
Don’t forget to tune in to Autoline After Hours tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time when our guest will be Joe Veltri, the head of product planning for the Chrysler Group. In fact, we’re going to do tonight’s show right in the Chrysler styling dome. Join me and the Autoextremist, Peter De Lorenzo, for some of the best discussion on cars and the people who make them happen. That’s tonight on Autoline After Hours.
And that’s today’s report on the top news in the global automotive industry. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.