Episode 961 – GM’s Brain Drain, Nissan Russia-Ready Almera, Audi Space Frame Getting Scrapped?

August 30th, 2012 at 11:45am

Runtime: 8:44

It looks like GM is suffering a brain drain in its R&D department. The latest senior leader to depart the company is Chris Borroni-Bird. Nissan just introduced the all-new Almera at the Moscow International Autosalon. This large sedan is specifically designed to handle Russia’s rough roads. Audi could be scrapping its all-aluminum space frame. The next-generation A8 may ride on a completely different platform. All that and more, plus a look at the Land Rover LR4.

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Hello and welcome to Autoline Daily, It’s the 30th of August. I’m John McElroy, and here’s the news.

Looks like General Motors is going through a brain drain. Four senior technical leaders have left the company’s R&D operations in a relatively short amount of time. The latest is Chris Borroni-Bird, who played a crucial role in the development of the GM Autonomy and EN-V. Earlier this year Alan Taub, who was vice president of R&D retired from the company well before retirement age. The same goes for his predecessor Larry Burns, who left three years ago. And the same goes for Bob Purcell, who played a key role in the development of the EV-1. He left the company two years ago. Earlier this year GM cut its research staff based in the United States by 25 percent. I don’t think we’ve ever seen so many top technical people leave a car company well before their retirement ages.

Speaking of GM, there’s an internet rumor making the rounds claiming that 79 percent of GM’s sales are going to the government. It goes on to say that this is just another Obama Administration bail out of GM and the UAW. Well, let’s examine the facts. So far this year about 3 percent of GM sales have gone to government agencies. Of that, three-quarters were to state and local governments, not the feds. And while GM’s government sales did shoot up in June and July, half of those were police cars. Bottom line: if the Obama Administration is buying less than 1 percent of GM’s sales, then it’s not doing a very good job of bailing them out again.

More news from Russia today. Nissan just introduced the all-new Almera at the Moscow International Autosalon. The large sedan was specifically designed for the Russian market and features higher ground clearance, more underbody protection, and anti-corrosion chrome treatment to handle Russian roads. The car is powered by a 1.6-liter gasoline engine with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. The Almera will be built in Russia and goes on sales early next year.

Yesterday Ford broke ground on an all-new $760 million plant in China, which will start production in 2015. Ford is going to bring seven new models to China in the next three years, including a low-priced small car to the market. However, Ford will not develop a separate Chinese brand and says the new low-priced car will not be the Figo, which it makes in India and starts at $6,800, because that is a right-hand drive car. But I say how hard can it be to move the steering wheel over to the other side?

Speaking of new models, the next-generation Volkswagen Golf should be revealed to the world in just a few days but supposedly a product presentation about this MK VII model already landed on the internet. The Golf will supposedly lose 100 kilograms of mass, or roughly 220 pounds. Yet, it will be a little bit longer and slightly roomier, and should get better fuel economy. Look for more details next week and the full story later in September when the car officially debuts at the Paris Motor Show.

Vee Dub is also hard at work on its super-efficient XL1. The car was spotted enduring some hot-weather testing. There have been several concept versions of this low-slung bullet-shaped two-seater but the company is rumored to be close to offering a production model. Fuel economy is supposedly in the neighborhood of 235 miles per gallon. That’s thanks to a super-low curb weight and coefficient of drag of just .186! At least that’s how slippery the latest concept was.

And sticking with the Volkswagen Group, Car and Driver reports the next generation Audi A8, which is expected to debut in the 2016 to 2017 timeframe, could jettison its all-aluminum space frame! This has been the flagship car’s defining feature since 1994. It’s rumored the upcoming model will share an aluminum-hybrid platform with Porsche and Bentley. Apparently it will incorporate high-strength steel and composite materials to save even more weight. We’ll see if Audi makes the switch to this dedicated rear-wheel-drive architecture.

After the break we’ll take a peek at one of the most expensive SUVs on the road . . .

The large- and midsize-SUV segments are doing pretty well in the United States. Despite high fuel prices sales are flat to slightly up. We recently put one of the biggest and most luxurious to the test. This American-grade SUV hails from Great Britain of all places. Craig Cole has more . . .

According to data provided by WardsAuto, calendar-year-to-date sales of the LR4 are down roughly 9 percent through July, making it one of the brand’s least popular models. Interestingly the Range Rover Sport is their top seller, while the newly introduced Evoque is coming on strong. It is in second place.

Be sure to join that bodacious Autoextremist Peter De Lorenzo and myself for the best insider discussion of what’s going on in the automotive business. Joining us is Randy Stephens the chief engineer of the Toyota Avalon. And we’ll kick that off tonight at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Autoline After Hours.

And that wraps up today’s show, thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog and WardsAuto.com

31 Comments to “Episode 961 – GM’s Brain Drain, Nissan Russia-Ready Almera, Audi Space Frame Getting Scrapped?”

  1. pedro fernandez Says:

    Will tonight’s autoline be sponsored by Geritol and Depends? Brain drain at GM? frankly I thought there were no brains there after Lutz retired and with all the bonehead moves they’ve perpetrated in the last few years, but seriously…. Chrysler did the same after their first near collapse and it took them years to recover, I suppose GM is gonna allow the same geniuses who designed the Aveo to handle their small and midsize segments.

  2. pedro fernandez Says:

    TTAC reports that Dodge dealers cannot sell those manual tranny Darts that were originally released for around $24k, I wonder if this was Sergio’s brilliant idea or some other genius at marketing?

  3. HtG Says:

    2 JB’s article doesn’t jibe with what I see at a local dealer here, Pedro. I see 11 Darts, 10 with auto, and only fully loaded cars getting to the high prices(and no ADPs). The sole manual is a six speed that goes for around 16K.(sometimes those fellas at TeeTac can accuse you of looking at their girlfriend just to start something)

  4. Roland Martin Says:

    When the people who are doing a good job are being accused by management of bringing out inadequate products and the heads of the incriminated departments cannot correct this picture with the leadership, often these department heads resign. Another proof that something is going awfully wrong at GM.

  5. Chuck Grenci Says:

    I wonder if GM is ‘top heavy’ or foolish in the reduction of their technical expertise. Maybe they are allowing a reduction in force (through attrition); good move, bad move, I don’t have the data.

  6. pedro fernandez Says:

    HtG I saw the opposite when I visited a nearby Dodge dealer 3 weeks ago, all their Darts were stick, they did not even have one auto as a demo for interested buyers, don’t they realize manuals are an endangered species?

  7. motorman Says:

    GM brain drain,could this be caused by the fact if GM can’t sell enough volts and small cars they will not be able to sell the large SUVs and pickups where all their profits come from with this new MPG edict ???

  8. Philip Says:

    I realy like the LandRover LR4. Just wish the tailgate was a power one-piece unit.


    Commentary: GM’s BRAIN DRAIN


    And you can quote me on that, RH LONGMATE


  10. Dan Says:

    The acres of Darts around the Belvidere assy plant are supposed to be the dual clutch trans? Right John? Didn’t you mention that earlier in one show with the timeline of ALL Dart production?

  11. gmveteran Says:


    Thanks so much for correcting another of the insidious untruths about GM that abound on the internet. Now, if you could only do the same with our current crop of politicians!

    GM Veteran

  12. G.A.Branigan Says:

    @ gmveteran: At least,for now that is,we can vote out the politicians.We can’t do squat about the big three leadership……sigh…

  13. T. Bejma Says:

    Pedro, enough about the (Korean desinged and built) Aveo. GM has proved we can build a decent small and midsize car here with the excellently reviewed Sonic and Cruze. So give it a break.

    It is not a secret that GM’s cost are high and that affects profit margin. Having a full staff of scientists on the payroll apparently doesn’t have the ROI that our leaders are expecting…

  14. dcars Says:

    Ackerson started in September 2010 can he be blamed for all R&D guys leaving? I don’t think it’s uncommon for employees to leave a company that has a very poor bottom line. Honestly, for the way GM has been for the last ten years I don’t blame anyone for wanting to leave that company. I know lots of ex-GM employees that left just because it isn’t a good place to work anymore. Maybe some new leadership will save this once great company

  15. pedro fernandez Says:

    Why do you keep denying that Daewoo is GM’s small car source for engineering and design, GM tells them what they want and Daewoo complies, the new Sonic, the upcoming Spark and even the Cruze were all partially engineered by Daewoo, they are better than Aveo, but the latter is still sold throughout Europe and Asia. As far a quality, only time will tell.

  16. pedro fernandez Says:

    Ps I’ve read the Sonic and Spark referred to as “Designed with GM’s Asia partners” I hope they don’t mean China, they should specify it is Korea, if a prospective buyer thinks it may be China, they’ll run away from the dealer.

  17. dcars Says:

    While I’m add it, GM has been a total wreck of a company for a long time. Remember Kirk Kerkorian? The guy was dead on about Chrysler, the Daimler/Chrysler deal and GM, no one listened to him.
    It’s truly amazing that this company is still around at all.

  18. Kit Gerhart Says:

    It’s probably too early to know about reliability, but a friend has had a Sonic for a few monhs, and still likes it. And it’s not like the Sonic replaced an ’81 Chevette. He also has a Boxter and a new Prius, and recently had a Buick Lucerne with the Northstar engine. The Boxter mostly sits in the garage with a battery tender attached, and the Prius, the Sonic, and the motorcycle get driven.

  19. HtG Says:

    what year is that Boxster, Kit? Does your friend ever talk about IMS bearings?

  20. pedro fernandez Says:

    Kit there is no doubt the Sonic is way better than the Avoe it replaced, and I guess the Brits weren’t too harsh about it, they still sell it over there as the Chevy Aveo, the Spark on the other hand has been getting negative reviews mostly due to the fact that for a bit more you can move up to the much better Sonic.

  21. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I’m not sure about the year of the Boxster, but it’s probably ’08 or ’09. He hasn’t mentioned anything about bearings, but it is driven gently, and has few miles. The thing I’ve heard him complain about is the transmission (auto) and they did a software change that made it more to his liking.

  22. pedro fernandez Says:

    These sports cars get so abused that to buy a used one is like opening Pandora’s box, you just can’t be sure what you’re buying.

  23. HtG Says:

    If it’s such a new Bx then I don’t think that bearing is an issue. On older models the IMS bearing which sits below the crank, and supports the gear that times the valves, was prone to break in an ugly, ugly way. Like 20 grand. I only know about it because sometimes I dream.

  24. Kit Gerhart Says:

    My friend’s Boxster would be a great one to buy, for someone who wanted an autobox. The owner is a retiree, substantially older than this retiree. He has had 911′s in the past, and at one time, probably drove them fairly hard. He barely drives the Boxter at all.

  25. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Regarding the “GM government sales” story, there is an incredible amount of misinformation, AKA lies, spread about the internet, and people believe it. Even worse, there are now blatant lies in compaign ads, and the only thing the opposing campaign can do is spend their own money to rebut them.

  26. T. Bejma Says:

    dcars – I have worked at GM for the last 6 year’s and can tell you that after 20+ years working for several automotive suppliers, this is the best job I have ever had, and it has only gotten better, especially with Dan Akerson leading. Internal communication has improved dramatically. Focus on warranty improvement (that was non-existent 5 years ago) has helped raise our quality levels to World Class (believe me I see the global numbers). There was, and still is a lot of left over old style

  27. T. Bejma Says:

    **sorry, continuing…

    …old style GM employees that need to go. The newer, younger incoming crop of employees is trying to make changes, but it is a long road. It took us a long time to get in this mess and will take some time to change one of the largest corporations in the world, but I can see it happening everyday when I come to work.

  28. dcars Says:

    #26 & 26. It’s good to hear that things are looking up at GM. GM needed a major shake up and I their was going to be a lot of unhappy people that didn’t like the changes. It had to be done.
    GM’s financial statement during the Rick Wagoner days was a shell game. So was Fords, they did something about it. GM’s luck ran out in 2008 and as Warren Buffet says “when the tied goes out we get to see who was swimming naked.” GM’s bathing suit was no where to be found.

  29. HtG Says:

    Ford was on its knees by 2006, and had to go into hock. They got billions in loans during the credit bubble, which burst in 2008 denying multiple industries working capital(not just GM and Chry). Who knows if Ford would have even gone BK earlier if not for the Ford family’s need to keep their controlling stock; would that have been better for the company? Still, GM will be the scapegoat no matter what I say.

  30. pedro fernandez Says:

    Ford messed up when they went on a shopping spree,buying all these low volume brands instead of concentrating on FORD/ LINCOLN only, at least GM did the right thing by eliminating brands and unloading the hopeless SAAB, to this day they still struggle with D.O.A. Opel.

  31. T. Bejma Says:

    Sounds like someone that read “American Icon”…

    Thanks HtG, always can count on your understanding of the auto industry.