February 27th, 2012 at 11:50am
The Chinese government says it will only buy domestic vehicles for government fleets. Fiat will build two factories in Russia to make Jeeps. Meet Toyota’s $83,000 luxury minivan. All that and more, plus an eerie look into the past as we dissect some historical footage.
This is Autoline Daily kicking off a new week of news about the auto industry, and with a hauntingly intriguing film from over 100 years ago that’s coming up after the break. But now, the news.
CHINA CHANGES THE RULES
China really wants to see its domestic auto industry grow, even if that means taking business away from foreign automakers. Last week China announced that it would no longer favor foreign automakers building more plants in the country. That really hurts Ford and other automakers who have been slow getting in there. Now the Chinese government says it will only buy domestic brands for government cars. Currently foreign brands account for 80% of that segment, worth about $13 billion a year. And that segment is dominated by Audi, with GM getting another chunk of the business. Just to give you an idea of the size of the market, there are over 5 million government cars in China.
JEEPS IN RUSSIA
Of all the brands that Fiat got when it bought Chrysler, it has always seen Jeep as the gem of the group. Sergio Marchionne speaks glowingly of the brand and how much they can boost sales around the world. Now comes word that Fiat will build two plants in Russia to make Jeeps. The deal was signed with Sberbank, the largest credit institution in Russia, that is also controlled by the Russian government. You may recall that it was involved in Magna’s attempt to buy Opel from General Motors a few years back.
BUT IT’S A LUXURY MINIVAN!
Speaking of Russia, Toyota is launching a luxury minivan there. Called the Alphard, it has only been sold in Asia so far. According to WardsAuto.com it will be powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and feature an eye-watering price of $83,000! Is it me or does this thing remind you of the Toyota Previa minivan from the ‘90s?
CALIFORNIA WARMS UP TO CHRYSLER
California is import country. It’s the largest vehicle market in the U.S. and it’s dominated by Toyota, Honda and the like. Buyers haven’t been very kind to the Detroit Three over the last few decades. As recently as 2010, Chrysler got clobbered, selling fewer than 31,000 vehicles there. But it hasn’t given up on the Golden State. It’s been making a big push to regain a toe-hold. It’s opened 17 new dealerships and 20 Fiat studios there PLUS a new California-specific business center, located in Irvine. The effort seems to be paying off. RETAIL registrations were up 55 percent last year to nearly 51,000 units. That’s a healthy improvement but it’s still nowhere near where it needs to be.
LAND ROVER COPIES THE CROSS CAB
Nissan’s Murano CrossCabriolet has been panned by most critics. “White elephant,” “blunder,” “mistake” are words that crop up in most reviews. But watch out CrossCab, you’re about to have some serious competition. Joining the fray for convertible crossovers, Range Rover will show off a roofless Evoque concept at next month’s Geneva Motor Show. It follows exactly the same formula as the Nissan: two doors, ungainly proportions and horizon-to-horizon views. You know, some things just weren’t meant to sell in big volumes – like a coupe with sliding doors – and convertible crossovers can be added to the list.
Coming up next, a look at a film from over 100 years ago that is fascinating, informative and haunting all at the same time.
Maybe you’ve seen the film I’m about to show you before. 60 Minutes did a piece on it, Wikipedia has an entry about it, and some automotive historians are very familiar with it. But even if you’ve never heard about it before, I’ll bet you find it fascinating.
This film was shot in April of 1906 in San Francisco by three film pioneers, three brothers, the Miles brothers, Harry, Herbert and Earle. They were pioneers in using 35 millimeter film, and figured out how to modify their cameras to shoot longer segments than anyone else was doing over 100 years ago.
They mounted one of their cameras on the front of a cable car in San Francisco and let it run, while the cable car rumbled down the street. Watching what a typical street scene from 1906 looked like is really captivating.
It’s surprising to see how many cars there are. Historians have identified models from the Middleton Car Company, Autocar, and the Reliance Automobile Company. And notice how they all have the steering wheel on the right hand side. In fact, all drivers of the horse carts are sitting on the right hand side. Left hand steering really didn’t become popular until around 1910.
But historians also noticed that it’s the same cars that keep running past the cable car. Obviously, the Miles brothers hired the owners to keep driving their horseless carriages past the cable car to make it look like there were a lot more of them in the city.
After shooting their film, the Miles brothers brought it back to their studio, developed it, packed it up, and shipped it by train to New York City to be shown in movie theaters there. That was on April 17, 1906. The next day the great San Francisco earthquake hit, flattening just about every building you see in this film, or burning them to the ground. And I want to thank David Kiehn, a film historian in the Bay Area for filling me in on all the details.
And that brings us to the end of today’s report. Thanks for watching, and please join us again tomorrow.