February 1st, 2011 at 12:00pm
More Japanese automakers are moving or planning on moving production out of the country as the strong yen cuts into their profits. Chrysler workers will cash in as CEO Sergio Marchionne prepares to hand out bonuses. BMW is developing a smart key fob that could allow drivers to do things like check up on their vehicle or even book travel arrangements. All that and more, plus a look at the enhanced 2011 Jeep Patriot.
This is Autoline Daily for the first day of February, 2011. And now, the news.
YEN AND YANG (subscription required)
Twenty years ago Japan looked like it was ready to take over the automotive industry. Today, Japanese automakers are moving out of the country as fast as they can. The Wall Street Journal reports Nissan plans to significantly reduce the number of cars it makes in Japan. Wards reports Subaru is looking at moving production of the Forester and Impreza out of Japan and to the United States. Suzuki and Toyota are also considering moving production out of Japan. It all has to do with the strength of the Japanese yen, which is currently trading at 81 to the dollar. Indeed, Honda blames the strong yen for a 40 percent drop in its profitability in its most recent fiscal quarter. And all the signs point to a strong yen for years to come.
CHINA STILL BOOMING
Meanwhile, in China, automotive production keeps on booming. Last year General Motors sold more cars in China than it did in the United States, and yet GM can barely keep up with demand. It says it could have sold more vehicles if it could have made them. Now, Reuters reports GM is looking at building more assembly plants in China. In fact, GM’s sales in China are growing by more than one assembly plant every year. And it’s not just GM. All the major automakers are looking at boosting production in China.
CZECH PRODUCTION MILESTONE (subscription required)
But that’s not to say China is taking over the auto industry. Wards reports the Czech Republic just passed a production milestone by building more than one million cars last year. The country has five assembly plants which build cars for Skoda, Hyundai, Toyota, Peugeot and Citroen. Pretty impressive from a country with a population of only 10 million people. Actually, it’s about the same population as the state of Michigan, which makes roughly the same number of vehicles in a good year.
CHRYSLER WORKERS CASH IN (subscription required)
Even though it just posted a loss of more than half a billion dollars Chrysler is taking an unusual step and paying out bonuses. Hourly workers will get about 750 bucks. Sergio Marchionne says the company owes them a lot and it would be inexcusable to ignore them. But is that really why is Chrysler doing this? It could be a ploy to earn brownie points with the unions. Labor leaders and workers will no doubt appreciate the bonus. But according to Ward’s, CAW President Ken Lewenza says the gesture will have NO effect on future bargaining. Also, white-collar workers will be included in this “performance reward.”
HYUNDAI’S HYBRID CNG BUSSES (subscription required)
Hyundai is developing a new CNG-powered hybrid bus it’s calling “Blue-City.” The automaker plans to have a test fleet of 30 on the roads in major South Korean cities this July with full-scale production expected to start in 2012. The busses will feature a 240-horsepower natural-gas engine and a six-speed manual transmission. Augmenting the powertrain is an 82 horsepower electric motor that’s juiced by a 3.8 kWh lithium-polymer battery. Fuel efficiency is 30 to 40 percent better than Hyundai’s existing CNG-powered buses. Those are some pretty impressive gains.
BMW DEVELOPING SMART KEY FOB
Currently most key fobs can only lock and unlock doors or start the engine but BMW is developing a car key that can do that and a whole lot more. It’s designed to make traveling much easier and not just in your car. For example, you can book a ticket for a train or subway with it by using the iDrive controller in the car to select the destination and to confirm the purchase. You can also book a hotel room from the car and then use the car key as your hotel key. It can store information about the car, like where it’s located, if it’s locked, and how much fuel is left, which can be accessed with a smartphone even if you’re not near the car. So how does it work? Good question. But it would take to long for me to explain. Just click the link in today’s show notes to learn more.
RED-LIGHT CAMERAS BOOST SAFETY
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted a study that proves red-light cameras can reduce traffic deaths. The agency studied nearly 100 cities in the U.S. with populations over 200,000 during two time periods to see what happened after cameras were installed. The study found that fatal crashes decreased by nearly a quarter with cities that used cameras. The IIHS concludes that fatalities decrease with cameras because people are more cautious if they know a camera is around. But here’s my Autoline Insight: they also think these cameras are just another example of big brother looking over their shoulder. That’s why you don’t see many of these red light cameras. What do you think? Are they a good safety technology, or represent too much government intrusion? Post your comments on our website.
Coming up next, a look at how Jeep is completely revamping its lineup.
2011 JEEP PATRIOT
As we’ve already shown you, Jeep is making a big push to improve its products. The Compass, the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee have all been redesigned or upgraded, but that’s not all. Craig Cole has more.
For 2011 the Patriot benefits from an increased ride height which makes it a lot better off road, it also gets a new front fascia AND, like the rest of Jeep’s lineup, a brand-new interior.
As we’ve already seen, the brand has made some big improvements to its products that are helping make 2011 a banner year for Chrysler. Its Grand Cherokee is redesigned from the ground up; the Wrangler has a completely new interior; and the Compass got an updated front end, plus a bunch of other tweaks to its passenger compartment and powertrain.
And then there’s the Patriot. It’s kind of the middle child in Jeep’s lineup, but it hasn’t been forgotten. It too reaps some important enhancements for the new year, but its changes are far less radical than what the Compass received, and for good reason.
With these changes the Patriot definitely fits in with the rest of the Jeep lineup. Some of the other improvements it’s received include an updated suspension with retuned springs and a larger rear sway bar. The available “Freedom Drive II” off-road package also gives buyers a best-in-class 19:1 crawl ratio for serious mudslinging. It can also ford up to 19 inches of water! How’s that for capability?
2011 is going to be a BIG year for Chrysler, and all of these updated Jeeps are just a small part of that equation.
And that brings us to the end of today’s report on the top news in the global automotive industry. Thanks for watching we’ll see you tomorrow