May 1st, 2012 at 12:06pm
Automakers and other organizations are fighting a battle that’s reminiscent of the clash between Westinghouse and Edison. There’s lots of labor strife going on in the automotive world today. GM is laying off a huge number of workers at its tech center in Warren, Michigan. All that and more, plus a test drive of the 2012 Toyota Yaris.
Welcome to Autoline Daily for the first of May. I’m John McElroy and here’s the news.
BATTLE OF THE PLUGS (subscription required)
In a battle reminiscent of the fight between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison over alternating current and direct current, automakers and other organizations are quarreling over what type of plug to use for EVs. WardsAuto.com reports there are three different quick-charge connectors in the running – one from Japan, another advocated by European OEMs and a third proposed by the SAE. While they all argue, governments and businesses are already installing different types of public chargers, meaning EV owners could soon run into problems trying to plug-in their cars.
WORKERS DECLARE WAR
Lots of labor strife in the news today. In the U.S., Caterpillar workers that manufacture hydraulic parts rejected concessions on health care and the use of temporary employees and are planning to go on strike. In Canada, Chrysler temporarily shut down its minivan assembly plant due to a supplier strike with the Canadian Auto Workers Union. And in Germany, IG Metal workers walked off the job at Daimler’s Rastatt plant. Porsche and Audi will soon face problems too. German workers want a 6.5 percent raise and better treatment for apprentices and temporary employees. Of course none of this should surprise management. You can’t go around bragging about big profits, then turn around and tell workers they need to cough up more concessions.
DR. HONDA’S TRAFFIC DECONGESTANT
Honda is developing technology to smooth out traffic jams. The system analyzes the driving pattern of a vehicle to monitor how it accelerates and decelerates. A display on the dashboard helps the driver accelerate and brake more smoothly to prevent trailing cars from bunching up or stretching out behind it. The idea is to get all the cars travelling at a constant speed. Initial tests show that the average speed of the vehicle was increased by nearly 25 percent and fuel efficiency of the trailing vehicles was increased by 8 percent. The company says even more improvement is possible if cloud servers and adaptive cruise control is used. Honda will conduct its first public road tests starting this month in Italy and Indonesia.
CADILLAC SUPER CRUISE
And speaking of technology designed to make driving less of a hassle, autonomous vehicles keep moving closer to reality. Last week Google said it’s ready to partner with an automaker to develop the technology and now Cadillac is showing off its own driverless system called Super Cruise. It’s not fully autonomous but it can steer, brake and keep the vehicle centered in the lane while on the highway. As of now, it can only work during good weather conditions. The system is comprised of radar, ultrasonic sensors, cameras and GPS data. Super Cruise is currently being tested in an SRX and the company says it could be ready for production by the middle of the decade.
R&D = REDUCTION AND DISMISSAL
At a time when automakers are worried they can’t get the technical talent they need, General Motors is laying off one quarter of its R&D workers at its Tech Center in Warren, Michigan. GM says those 100 layoffs are part of a larger R&D restructuring that will also close an R&D center in India, which opened in 2003. Here’s my Autoline Insight, GM has quietly been moving more and more R&D work to China, where it has opened three tech centers and hired hundreds of engineers in the last decade. This is a disturbing development. The word we get from insiders at the Warren Tech Center is that morale is bad, management is mad, and that it should come as no surprise that the company is laying off scientists, engineers and technicians in the United States.
RACE TO REPLACE AKERSON
At a conference sponsored by the Wall Street Journal yesterday, GM CEO Dan Akerson said the company’s executive in charge of product development, Mary Barra, is clearly a candidate to replace him. And that brings us to this week’s series of looking at who will win the race to replace Dan Akerson. Since he was saying Mary Barra is in the race, let’s take a look at her background. Mary Barra is 50 years old and largely came up on the engineering and manufacturing side of the business. She started with GM in 1980 at the Pontiac division as a co-op student from Kettering University. But it was especially in the last decade that her career really took off. She became executive director of vehicle manufacturing engineering in 2004 and promoted to vice president in that position in 2008. In 2009 she was name vice president of Global Human Resources, and in 2011 became senior vice president of product development. She is also on Opel’s supervisory board. It would be a real coup for GM’s board to name Mary Barra as the first female CEO in the automotive industry. But she faces some formidable competition, and we’ll be introducing you to them the rest of this week.
Coming up next, a look at the Toyota Yaris.
2012 TOYOTA YARIS
(Our review of the 2012 Toyota Yaris is only available in the video version of today’s program.)
In the first quarter of this year, sales of the Toyota Yaris were up nearly 50 percent in the American market.
That wraps up today’s report, thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.