June 24th, 2011 at 11:50am
Lots of news about electric cars. Think, the electric-car company out of Norway, filed for bankruptcy yesterday. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says the LEAF will be profitable by 2014. And GM just unveiled an electric version of the Beat in India. Ford dropped to 23rd place in J.D. Power’s latest Initial Quality Survey, after being the highest-rated non-luxury brand last year. Volkswagen just demonstrated a semi-autonomous vehicle that it calls the Temporary Auto Pilot, or TAP. All that and more, plus a preview of this week’s Autoline Detroit with Derrick Kuzak, the head of all product development at Ford.
This is Autoline Daily for June 24, 2011. And now, the news.
THINK PULLS THE PLUG
Lots of news about electric cars today. Some good, some bad. First, the bad. Think, the little electric car company out of Norway that used to be owned by Ford, filed for bankruptcy yesterday. Over the last 20 years the company only sold 2,500 electric cars, according to Bloomberg.
GHOSN: LEAF WILL BE PROFITABLE (subscription required)
But that doesn’t phase Carlos Ghosn at Nissan. He tells the Wall Street Journal that the Nissan LEAF will be profitable by 2014 and will become one of the most profitable cars that Nissan sells. Yet, Nissan and Renault have recently delayed plans to open battery manufacturing plants in the United States and France. The companies blame the delay on technical issues.
FISKER HIRING EMPLOYEES
Meanwhile, Fisker is hiring about 120 employees at its assembly plant in Wilmington, Delaware. These are the first engineers, technicians and line workers who will make what Fisker is calling Project Nina at the former General Motors plant that used to make the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. The Project Nina car will be an extended-range electric midsize luxury sedan.
GM UNVEILS BEAT EV IN INDIA
And General Motors announced it will demonstrate an electric version of the Chevrolet Beat in India. It uses a 20 kWh battery pack that weighs 270 kilos and powers a 45 kW electric motor. GM says this is part of a program to try and make electric cars more affordable.
VW SHOWS SEMI-AUTONOMOUS CAR
Here comes yet another step in the advancement of autonomous vehicles. Volkswagen just demonstrated a vehicle that it calls the Temporary Auto Pilot, or TAP. Think of it as cruise control that also can steer a vehicle. The system can drive up to 80 miles an hour or 130 kilometers an hour. The driver can override the system at any time. TAP consists of radar, camera, and ultrasonic-based sensors supplemented by a laser scanner and an electronic horizon. I keep saying, autonomy is the next big automotive breakthrough.
INTERNET RADIO EXPANDS INTO CARS (subscription required)
But in the short term, internet radio is a biggie. TuneIn, one of the most popular internet radio streaming services, is expanding into automobiles. According to Ward’s, TuneIn, which is already available in 2011 BMW and Mini models in North America, is discussing deals with other auto companies. It’s also the most downloaded paid music app on iTunes. It’s software aggregates more than 50,000 radio stations in 140 countries. You can type in an artist you want to listen to or search by genre on your smartphone or tablet. In BMW’s case, the service is integrated with its iDrive system. However, TuneIn faces tough competition from similar providers as well as satellite radio and customized internet services like Pandora.
J.D. POWER INITIAL QUALITY SURVEY
J.D. Power just released the latest Initial Quality Survey, which measures problems reported by drivers during the first 90 days of ownership. The big news is what happened to Ford. Last year the automaker was the highest-rated non-luxury brand in the business. Now it’s sitting in 23rd place. Complaints about its MyFord Touch infotainment system in the new Edge and Explorer dragged it down. But it’s not just the blue oval. Across the board grumbling about in-vehicle technology was up 18 percent, and surprisingly so were powertrain problems. Toyota surged in the survey compared to last year and its Lexus division took top honors. Some of the other brands that did extremely well include Honda, Acura and Mercedes-Benz. But be careful people, did Ford’s quality really plummet? No. Just like Toyota’s quality did not plummet the year before. Sometimes these surveys can be like popularity contests.
CHERY POPULAR IN BRAZIL
Here’s an interesting tidbit. Brazil is Chery’s No. 1 overseas market. Sales in the Latin American country are up a staggering 414 percent from 2010, though the numbers are not that big, 13,600 vehicles through May of this year. Even so, I wonder how long the Brazilians will tolerate a flood of Chinese cars. If they’re building them locally, no problem. Otherwise, you can expect Brazil to step in and protect its domestic auto industry.
Ford keeps saying its going to do more to differentiate Lincoln from the Ford brand. But specifically, what are they going to do? We have Derrick Kuzak from Ford coming up after the break.
THIS WEEK ON AUTOLINE
Derrick Kuzak, the head of all product development at Ford, is my guest on Autoline this week. In the following clip from that show he talks about some of the specific technology that is going to be exclusive to Lincoln.
You can watch that entire interview on our website right now. By the way, in the U.S. and Canadian markets you can find Autoline on a lot of public television stations. We’ve been holding a contest each week this month where people can win a copy of Bob Lutz’s new book, “Car Guys vs. Bean Counters,” by sending a letter to your local public television station requesting that it carry Autoline. And the winner of the last book we have to give away is Amado Arceo III who wrote in to WDCQ in the Flint, Michigan area. Thanks Amado.
We’re almost at the end of today’s show, but one more thing before we go.