February 24th, 2011 at 12:42pm
General Motors reported its earnings for 2010 and overall the numbers look pretty good. In a sign that the global industry is turning around Daimler announced it plans to hire over 10,000 workers this year. Tiny Dutch automaker Spyker is selling its sports car unit to a Russian businessman in an effort to reduce its debt and allow it to focus more resources on saving Saab. All that and more, plus the one, the only Jim Hall shares a few his thoughts on Cadillac’s controversial Urban Luxury Concept. Find out why it may not be such a bad idea after all.
Why hello there! James Hall, the evilest host of Autoline Daily ever. From my secret lair at the earth’s West Pole I’ve been masterminding a plan to control the media. With McElroy out of town the time is ripe to strike a crippling blow. Soon 2953 Analytics will be the world’s sole source of high-quality automotive analysis. All others shall bow before me, COLONEL HALL! AH HA HA HA! In the meantime, here’s the freshest, best and most aromatic news from the cyberweb’s murky depths.
HIGH COURT RULES AGAINST AUTOMAKERS
In a move that’s sure to make all automakers nervous, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a family can sue Mazda over seat belts. According to the Detroit News, a woman was killed in an accident while only wearing a lap belt in a 1993 Mazda MPV. Federal regulations did not require shoulder belts for all seating positions for 1993 light trucks. The family of the victim says Mazda should have installed shoulder AND lap belts in the vehicle, which, at the time, weren’t required. The Court didn’t find the company liable for any wrongdoing; it’s just allowing the case to go to trial. But this can’t be good news for automakers; this decision will just make it easier for people to sue them over liability issues.
GM’S 2010 NUMBERS
General Motors reported its earnings for 2010 and overall the numbers look pretty good. It posted a $4.7 billion “profit of net income attributable to common stockholders,” whatever that means. However, the company is still losing money in Europe, posting a $600 million loss before interest and taxes. Also, profitability fell in its international operations mainly because of China, dropping to $300 million from $400 million. GM’s profit also fell in South America. But as we reported earlier the company was able to pay its hourly employees over four grand in profit sharing because its overall numbers were strong. Oh yes, GM will be paying shareholders of the new company a $3.11 dividend as well.
In a sign that the global industry is turning around, Daimler announced it plans to hire over 10,000 workers this year. According to the AP, strong demand in the U.S. and China is spurring the hires. Daimler plans to hire nearly 7,000 skilled workers worldwide, and in the U.S. the company plans to hire 1,300 workers for its truck plant.
VW/PORSCHE MERGER DELAYED
Talk about slow motion . . . Volkswagen and Porsche’s merger seems to be stuck in first gear as the two automotive giants face one roadblock after another. Blame the ever-thorough German legal system for some of the latest delays. According to Bloomberg, prosecutors are investigating allegations of share-price manipulation by two former board members. There are also some tax disputes and U.S. lawsuits to take care of. Because of these issues – and others – the official, final, functional merger probably won’t take place until next year, which is, like, two years LATE.
SPYKER SOLD TO SUPPORT SAAB
Spyker is in the news again. Last year it took on the failing Saab brand and now Bloomberg reports the tiny Dutch automaker is selling its sports car unit to a Russian businessman in an effort to reduce its debt. Vladimir Antonov – no relation to the Ukrainian aircraft manufacturer . . . that we’re aware of – is a former chairman and shareholder of Spyker. He’s paying 15 million Euros – roughly $21 million – for the company’s supercar division, which sold just 36 cars in 2009. But to be fair they were 36 really, REALLY expensive cars. Spyker is doing this to help its balance sheet which will cut its interest payments and to focus more of its limited resources on resuscitating Saab.
It’s always fun to take a peek at the personal finances of automotive executives. No, I’m not some perverted voyeur; it’s just nice to see if they’re really earning their keep. Has Chrysler’s Italian import been delivering? You be the jury. The Detroit Free Press reports Fiat paid Sergio Marchionne roughly $5 million last year, 27 percent less than in 2009. To working stiffs like you and me that’s a ton of moolah, but in the world of top-level executives it wouldn’t get you enough mileage on your Marquis Jet card for a trip to Pomona. When you factor in how much this man works it probably averages out to about eight bucks an hour. Okay, maybe ten. On the other hand, Chrysler has not disclosed how much it pays Marchionne. The government restructuring put a salary cap of $500,000 on the company’s top 25 executives. HOWEVER, Fiat employees – like Sergio – are exempt from this restriction. So who knows what amazing, unbelievable or otherwise fantastical amounts of money he earns. I’d bet it’s in the tens of hundreds of dollars . . . or maybe even more.
Coming up next, you asked for it . . . well, actually not YOU, but I’ll give you my two cents on one of Cadillac’s more controversial concepts.
CADILLAC’S CONTROVERSIAL “CULC”
At last year’s Los Angeles Auto Show Cadillac rolled out a rather controversial concept that can be called the CULC. Okay, the company dubbed it the Cadillac Urban Luxury Concept, but I still prefer CULC, and I don’t care if the design is three years old. I don’t care that Bob Lutz didn’t get it and thought a mini-Escalade was a better idea. I don’t care if it repulses traditional Cadillac owners. General Motors needs to build this car.
For some background, you should be aware that the CULC was a component of something called the “micro exotic” project back three years ago or thereabouts. The idea was to devise a small, fuel-efficient car that could warrant more than bottom-feeder pricing. What the hell, it works for Mini and should pan out for the Cinquecento for Fiat in the United States.
So why not do something like this at GM? Naturally, such a car couldn’t be a Chevy, they’ve got entry-level small cars so that leaves Buick and Cadillac. But when the Micro Exotic was underway, Pontiac, Saturn and Saab were still considered viable endeavors. Not so now. So with only two logical nameplates left at GM for a premium-priced small car and with the way the tri-shield brand is evolving, mayhaps Buick would be more appropriate if you wanted to draw the youngest Y’s.
That said this car is exactly the kind of product Cadillac needs for the second and third decades of the 21st century. A car like this is about tomorrow, not a tip of the corporate hat to times past like the MINI and Fiat’s Cinquecento. The Europeans have done a great job so far with leveraging the retro appeal of both vehicles. There are those who believe the MINI is getting a little long in the tooth and that it has a cartoon interior. As much as I like MINIS, I don’t completely disagree with the observation. Right now the Cinquecento pretty much spot-on for what the company needs to relaunch the Fiat nameplate in North America. But growing Fiat on this side of the Atlantic, building on the Cinquecento, will not be an easy task.
But the Cooper and the 500 aren’t the issue here, GM is missing out on the premium B-car image market, a market that should be used to snag the youngest customers early and bond ‘em to your products before they’re old enough to know better.
Besides, I plain old love this dinky Cadillac’s attitude.
Build this car General Motors! But please with a 1.4-liter turbo four rather than some clunky, rev-resistant lump of a three-pot engine.
And that’s it for today’s installment of Autoline Daily. Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of this week’s mini-series. You don’t want to miss it. And with that we can wrap things up, come full-circle and finish the job, because we are done. But before I, COLONEL HALL – Majordomo of ALL the moonmen, say adieu, you require reminding about this evening’s festivities. Open your web-browser of choice and navigate to our site, AutolineDetroit.tv. Do it around 7:00 p.m. Eastern time and you will be rewarded with the internet’s most entertaining and informative automotive program. That’s right, it’s Thursday night and that means Autoline After Hours. Captain Peter De Lorenzo, the Autoextremist, is skippering the show this week. He is joined in-studio by none other than Commodore Scott Burgess of the Detroit News. Of course yours truly, Admiral Hall, will also be on the bridge so DON’T MISS IT.
And with that, good bye, I will see you tonight. No, seriously, YOU’D BETTER BE THERE! Oh yeah, there will be a test . . .