November 2nd, 2011 at 12:25pm
October sales numbers reveal that the fourth quarter may end up better than we thought. Toyota gets in the robot game with an exo-skeleton that assists in walking. Leaf sales are beating the Volt by a wide margin. All that and more, plus Peter De Lorenzo reflects on GM stylist Bill Mitchell.
Greetings campers. It’s Autoline Daily for Wednesday, November 2nd 2011 with yours truly, Peter De Lorenzo, filling in for my After Hours tag team partner Mr. McElroy as he winnows his list of car of the year candidates. John’ll be back on Friday. Until then it’s two days of High Octane Truth – or as close as our producer will let me get to it.
And speaking of truth, why don’t we start with October sales because it looks like the 4th quarter may be stronger than we initially thought. The roller coaster SAAR is back on the upswing coming in over 13.2 million units led by Chrysler up 27 percent primarily because of Ram truck and Jeep. The turnaround in Auburn Hills continues with 19 consecutive months of year-over-year gains.
The news wasn’t quite as bright for the rest of the Detroit Three but still not bad for a lousy economy. Ford sales were up 6 percent thanks to Explorer and Escape while GM rose only 2 points driven by Chevrolet.
Meanwhile the big news continues to be the South Koreans as Hyundai notched another 23 percent increase over last year with Kia not too far behind.
And though things are looking better for the Japanese brands it’s still a struggle for at least two. Toyota registered an 8 percent drop from a year ago while Honda was down 1 percent, but good news for Nissan whose numbers were up 18 percent setting a new record for the month selling more than 75,000 vehicles with almost a thousand of that number the new NV Commercial van.
Now those of you who watch this show religiously, and why wouldn’t you, know that just two days ago we talked about NV sales for September and how low they were. Well, you can put two and two together and figure out that unless Nissan started giving the vans away in October nobody increases sales over a thousand percent in four weeks. So Autoline Daily has to take this one on the chin and we apologize to Nissan for the mistake.
LEAF CHARGES AHEAD OF VOLT
And now for news that is mistake-free, let’s move to the electric front as Nissan and its Leaf leads the category with more than 8,000 sales so far this year charging ahead of the Chevy Volt by more than 3,000 even though the Volt did in fact outsell the Leaf last month for the first time since April.
ORDER YOUR FOCUS ELECTRIC TODAY!
And if that didn’t shock all you electrophiles out there enough then get ready because today Ford throws its three-pronged plug into the ring. Orders for the Electric Focus go live today from Ford’s site. Now you won’t see the nearly 40-thousand dollar all-electric car until next year and it’s only available in 19 markets around the country. But if you’re breathless to be part of the club just click on the link in our transcript and it’ll take you right there.
JAPAN WANTS WIMPY YEN
Earlier this week we looked at net profits for the major automakers for the first half of the year and found out just how much the strength of the Yen had cut into the Japanese automakers earnings. To combat the problem the Japanese government wants to lower the value of the Yen but not everyone is happy with that. According to the Detroit News, GM, Ford and Chrysler condemned the move and say a weaker Yen will subsidize exports to the U.S. while putting U.S. exports at a competitive disadvantage. The American Automotive Policy Council also says Japanese automakers will be less likely to make more investments in the U.S.
TOYOTA OFFERS A LEG UP
Automakers like GM and Honda have experimented with building robots for use outside of the auto industry. Now Toyota is showing off robotic technology to help people who are sick or injured regain their balance and perform everyday activities like walking. The company says the technology can be used outside of medical use to assist in moving heavy objects in factories. Toyota is aiming to commercialize these technologies within the next two years.
Coming up after the break, I’ll give you a personal look inside the bowtie.
REMEMBERING BILL MITCHELL
It has been interesting to read all of the articles about Chevrolet and its 100th Anniversary over the last couple of weeks. Chevrolet the brand, like Ford, its arch competitor across town, has been inexorably linked to the American fabric for a century. Regurgitating what has already been written is something I won’t do. But shedding light on my own Chevy stories is something I can do. Following is just one of them.
First of all, to say that the ‘50s and ‘60s were a different era in automotive history is not painting a proper picture of just how different it was. Detroit was much more of a freewheeling mindset back then. Car executives were bold, decisive, conniving, creative and power-hungry personalities who inevitably went with their gut instincts. It was a world that was 180 degrees different from what goes on today.
And no one represented the spirit of the business more than Bill Mitchell, GM’s chief of design, or “Styling” as it was called back then. Mitchell was bold, powerful, flamboyant, recalcitrant, maniacal, brilliant, frustrating and probably every other adjective you can think of for someone who was one of a kind. He was smart enough to know that he had inherited the legacy of the great Harley Earl, GM’s first styling chief, and he never for a second forgot that fact, or let anyone else forget it either. And he played it for all it was worth with a swagger and strut that haven’t been seen in this town since.
Having heard countless first-hand stories about the man and his ballistic fits in the styling studios while cajoling his troops to go further and reach higher, I can shed light on a slightly different side to him too. Because, after all, he lived just a block away from my house growing up…
Back then Mitchell liked to have his favorite car toys of the moment delivered to his house on Friday afternoons so he could enjoy several of them over the weekend. That meant everything from the original Corvette Stingray racer or the famed XP700 Corvette “bubble-top” show car, to the first Mako “Shark” Corvette and a concept called the Corvair Sebring Spyder, a wild racing-inspired show car with dual cut-down racing windscreens and three pipes curling out and around each side in the back.
Once I got this Friday Afternoon Ritual down pat, I would case out Bill Mitchell’s driveway to see what cars were delivered for his amusement. Then, early Saturday morning I would ride my bike over to his house and basically camp in his driveway inspecting every inch of the machines in repose there, waiting for Mitchell to emerge. One Saturday morning Mitchell came out and had me “hop in” for a ride up to the local drug store in the Corvair Sebring Spyder. The run up to the drugstore took 15 minutes, start-to-finish. But from that moment on I was hooked on the automotive “thing” and over a couple of year’s time I got to ride in every significant GM Styling concept car of that era, including the original Stingray racer, which to this day is still my all-time favorite car.
You can read more of my stories in my column this week in Autoextremist.com.
And before we go today, let me put in a shameless plug for After Hours. This week John and I will be talking with Stuart Norris, the lead designer of the Cadillac CUE. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about think mixing an iPhone with a luxury car’s entertainment system and you’re on the right path. From the Cool zone, no doubt.
Well, that’s The High-Octane Truth for now, my unvarnished ones. I’ll load up and see you tomorrow. Until then, rock on… and stay hungry.