Episode 235 – Donoughe Leaves Tesla, Marchionne Wants 5 Facelifts, Honda’s Wild U3-X

September 24th, 2009 at 12:10pm

Runtime 7:57

Tesla is losing its head of engineering and manufacturing. Chrysler’s new CEO, Sergio Marchionne, wants face lifts on five different models by 2011. Honda comes out with an electric unicycle . . . that you’ve just gotta see. All that and more, plus how General Motors came up with the fuel economy number for the Chevy Volt.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. Tesla loses its head of manufacturing. Marchionne wants five face lifts in 18 months. And Honda comes out with an electric unicycle . . . you’ve gotta see this.

Up next, we’ll be back with the news behind the headlines.

This is Autoline Daily for Thursday, September 24, 2009. And now, the news.

The Detroit News reports that Tesla is losing its head of engineering and manufacturing. Mike Donoughe, a former Chrysler executive is leaving Tesla to join a product development company called St. Clair Consulting. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, says with the company getting closer to finding a manufacturing plant to make its Model S that it’s a logical time for Donoughe to leave. To which I say, “What?” Just as you face your biggest manufacturing challenge its logical to get rid of your manufacturing guy? Believe me, there’s a lot more to this story, and we will get to the bottom of it.

Maybe Chrysler will want to hire back Mr. Donoughe. The Detroit Free Press reports that Chrysler is starting to hire back some of the key people it let go while going through its bankruptcy. It also says Chrysler’s new, CEO Sergio Marchionne, wants face lifts on five different models by mid-2011, including the two minivans, Dodge Caliber, Jeep Patriot and Compass.

Jaguar or Land Rover are going to close one of their factories in central England by 2014. According to the AFP, Jaguar’s owner, Tata, will decide next year to close either an assembly plant at Castle Bromwich which produces Jaguars or a plant at Solihull that makes Land Rovers. In related news, Russian automaker Avtovaz, which produces the Lada, will cut over a quarter of its workforce. According to the AFP, the company will eliminate over 27,000 jobs due to the economic slump. Renault owns a 25-percent stake in the company.

As we reported yesterday, Honda and Nissan will start exporting out of the U.S., largely thanks to the weak dollar. Now the AP says Mercedes-Benz is moving some C-Class production from Germany to its plant in Alabama. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with Daimler’s union which says that moving production will cost 3,000 jobs at the plant that makes the C-Class in Germany.

From the automaker that brought you Asimo and the walking assist device, Honda has come up with another bizarre gadget. Think of the U3-X as a battery-powered unicycle. It fits between the rider’s legs and can move forward, backward, side-to-side and diagonally thanks to a unique wheel design. It has a series of small motorized rollers that form one, large-diameter wheel. This gives the U3-X the ability to move in all four directions. Like a Segway, the rider controls the device by shifting his or her body weight. Overall, it should weigh less than 10 kilograms – about 22 pounds – and have a runtime of around an hour thanks to a lithium-ion battery. Honda plans to premiere the bizarre contraption at the Tokyo Motor Show late next month.

Contrary to popular belief, the Volt isn’t GM’s only electric vehicle project. According to the BBC, the company is developing a small, cheap electric car for India. The General has partnered with Reva, an Indian manufacturer that’s sold EVs since 2001. Production is expected to begin next year. No details yet on pricing or availability.

But speaking of the Volt, when GM announced that it would get 230 miles to the gallon people just stared in disbelief. So how did GM come up with that number? We’ll answer that, after the break.

Earlier this week we did a live webcast with Tom Stephens, the head of product development at General Motors. In the course of the conversation we asked him how in the world did GM come up with the fuel economy number of 230 miles to the gallon for the Chevrolet Volt? Here’s a clip of that conversation.

As you all know, sharing that number kicked off a firestorm of controversy over the “fuel economy” of electric cars. And I’m sure the EPA will be refining that procedure as it gets more experience with electric vehicles.

Hey, don’t forget to join us tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern time for another live edition of Autoline After Hours. Peter De Lorenzo is out on the road tonight, but my guest will be Tim Leuliette, the chairman of Dura Automotive, but he’s someone who has been CEO at quite a number of automotive supplier companies. Tim is clever, conversational and really knows product. If you’ve never heard this guy before, you’re going to enjoy getting to know him. That’s tonight, live at 7 p.m. Eastern, or 2300 hours GMT.

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

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30 Comments to “Episode 235 – Donoughe Leaves Tesla, Marchionne Wants 5 Facelifts, Honda’s Wild U3-X”

  1. Ron Paris Says:

    “Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, says with the company getting closer to finding a manufacturing plant to make its Model S that it’s a logical time for Donoughe to leave. To which I say, “What?” Just as you face your biggest manufacturing challenge its logical to get rid of your manufacturing guy? Believe me, there’s a lot more to this story, and we will get to the bottom of it.”

    Welcome to reality John! I’ve never believed a word that Musk has uttered about anything. This guy is in it for the subsidies and grant monies and, IMO, nothing will ever come out of Telsa other than a few hundred rich boy toys. Can you say DeLorean?

  2. dcars Says:

    Is Chrysler/Fiat canceling the Sebring soon? That car needs a face lift too!
    Honda has got to be very profitable with all the gadgets they come with.
    Your right Ron Paris, Tesla does sound like DeLorean!

  3. Lee Dawson Says:

    The reality, details and costs associated with assembly of a car to today’s quality expectations must have taken its’ toll on the relationship of Mr Donoughe (Realist) and Tesla (Dreamers).

  4. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Tesla, Fisker, etal: DOA

  5. Paul Says:

    Tom Stephens comment regarding the MPG of the Volt; “…I expect that there will be changes in it over time…”
    Translates to: “We pulled the number out of our butt and hoped no one would quesstion it”

  6. Alex Kajdi Says:


    I think Pedro Fernandez is right Tesla and Fisker are both going to be DOA once they get their acts together. Sergio Marchionne has it right. Chrysler needs to update the styling and power plants especially in their minivans. Toyota is the only OEM that still offers an AWD minivan. I believe the minivan market would see an increased in sale if there were more offered with AWD. I like to think of AWD minivans as “People Movers with Confidence”!

    I read that Hollywood is going to make a Green Hornet Movie. If I was Sergio Marchionne, I would contact the producers of that movie and encourage them to use the Chrysler 300C as the “New Black Beauty”, Green Hornet’s car in the original 1960′s TV series. I believe the original Black Beauty back from the 60′s series was a Chrysler Imperial. The Chrysler 300C would be perfect for the job! Remember what “Smokey and the Bandit” did for the sales of Pontiac Trans Am’s!

  7. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    This is what Sergio Marchionne said when he saw Chrysler’s line-up: “Mamma mia, questo es merda, tutto merda. va fangul Chrysler.

  8. Chuck Says:

    Paul – Do you have any clue how EPA requires companies to come up with numbers?

  9. John V Says:

    Alex Kajdi: Chrysler quit making AWD minivans because people would not buy enough of them. I think they got to less than 5% of the mix.

    I agree that new powertrains would help with any facelift of the people movers. I think the minivans could get better mileage. If they take weight out, they should not do it by getting rid of Stow ‘n Go seating – it makes Chrysler’s minivans more useful than any others on the market. It’s great not needing a place in the house or garage to put the seats when they are not in use.
    The press coverage and ratings of the Sebring and Avenger are so bad they should be killed. It is too bad because the cars don’t seem so bad as the ratings, but the competition in their class is much better. With the 4 cylinder engine, they are currently Chrysler’s highest mileage vehicles.

  10. jim sachetti Says:

    ” Paul Says:
    September 24th, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Tom Stephens comment regarding the MPG of the Volt; “…I expect that there will be changes in it over time…”
    Translates to: “We pulled the number out of our butt and hoped no one would quesstion it””

    Excellent Translation. And I was not at all impressed with that Stevens guy overall either.

    He is typical of whaty went wrong aty GM. Wagoner, Henderson, Laneve, Stephens: The gallery of idiots.

  11. jim sachetti Says:

    PS guys, Maybe Musk’s error was NOT that he fired the MANAGER (NOT Engineer), but that he hired the Chrysler Flunkie in the first place! But apparently bhe fround it far more difficult to hire talent from a SUCCESSFUL, or at least not BANKRUPT, automaker!

  12. G.A.Branigan Says:

    Tesla,imho,was never meant to become “viable”.It’s and automotive dog and pony show…..not unlike gm’s volt.

    If Marchionne really wants to give 5 models a face lift,he should also 86 the 3.8 and come out with their new world engine,as well as a clean diesel option.

    Why does it seem that gm is on a self destruct trip?Pulling mythical rabbits out of their hat for a vehicle years away from production is an excellent way to give us all another…YAWN.

  13. Salvador G. Says:

    I take back what I said about Germans/// now Japanese are really weird, maybe there is something to that and a country being able to have a car industry….!!!

    What do they exatly mean by a facelift??
    I don’t think the Jeep or the Caliber or the minivans need a new look(well, maybe the minivans), but the Jeep; it suppose to look like a Jeep.
    -Hey Sergio- How you like it the Chrysler’s.
    Sergio “no-no no, They need like a face lift”

    Am I to understand that the EPA did not actually conduct any test on the Volt themselves, so they told GM do this and that and tell us what you got. that sounds reasonable.

  14. Alex Kovnat Says:

    If Tesla fails, one hopes that the technology that was developed during that program will benefit other manufacturers of EV’s.

    The General Motors EV1 came upon the world stage full of promise for the future. I remember seeing a prototype EV1 at an event held at an elementary school in 1992, not far from where I still live. Unfortunately that car failed. Or was killed; take your pick. But I would like to think that what was learned from the EV1 lives on.

    Hopefully that will be true of the Tesla too.

  15. Paul Says:


    I based my comment on the fact that the EPA released the following statement within a day of the GM presser: “EPA has not tested a Chevy Volt and therefore cannot confirm the fuel economy values claimed by GM.” Knowing that I can only assume that the EPA had nothing to do with the test.

  16. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The main thing Chrysler needs to do with Caliber, Compass, and Patriot is make the interiors less “plasticky” and come up with some more efficient power trains. How about one of Fiat’s excellent 4 cylinder diesels? TDI’s make up a majority of of Jetta wagon sales. Chrysler could compete for some of that market with a diesel.

    Also, the Caliber could use a name change. There are a certain number of people who associate names like Caliber and Magnum with gun violence. Even though the number is small, why not use a different name for the car?

  17. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda lost me as potential minivan customers when the vans went from being minivans, to 4000+ pound tanks. I have a 3200 pound ’89 Caravan which I’ll keep for as long as it keeps running.

  18. Episode 235 – Donoughe Leaves Tesla, Marchionne Wants 5 Facelifts, Honda’s Wild U3-X IM Consultant Says:

    [...] the rest here: Episode 235 – Donoughe Leaves Tesla, Marchionne Wants 5 Facelifts, Honda’s Wild U3-X By admin | category: consulting jobs | tags: are-today, business-reasons, chevy, [...]

  19. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Kit: if your theory was correct, don’t you think more people would choose the Mazda mpv? it’s a good size I believe, but it sells poorly.

  20. jim sachetti Says:


    Kit stated no theory of any kind, just the facts and that the obese minivan makers lost HIM (only) as a customer.

    The Mazda 5 is a niche vehicle. my boss owns both a mazda 6 with leather and v6 and an MPV, his kids are all grown and theyu do not need more space than the Mazda 5.

    HAving said that, I do not know the particulars of Kit’s situation, but the small, lightweight and underpowered Cafravan is, in today’s highway, “unsafe at any speed”, lacks the mose essential safety features, active AND passive, and I would NOT carry any of my kids in it, or other loved ones whose safety I am concerned about.

    It is unfortunagte that the obesity epidemic, and the idiotic SUV craze (crossovers are NOT better, the Buick Enclave is 5,000 lbs too!) has forced me to buy larger and heavier and far more powerful cars than I would need if, say, I was in Europe.

    I need both active and passive safety, so SUVs are ‘verboten’ wirth threir ludicrous instability and rollover proneness. I need to be able to AVOID an accident site in front of me, not a 55 ton sherman tank to plow thru the accidenrt site and have half a dozen deaths on my record!

    PS The Honda Odyssey and the orther vans of today are not just 4,000 lbs, as Kit says, but more like 4,400 and 4,600 (empty!!!)

  21. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The Mazda MPV is not even sold in North America any more, and it had been around way too long without updates before it was dropped.

  22. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    I stand corrected, the Mazda 5,7,9 are excellent choices. The “mini” van of today is as big as the old full size vans of a few years ago, not counting the super long 18 pass. vans and cargo vans. Another good choice was the Ford Aerostar RWD which was replaced by the horrendously unreliable Windstar. I wonder if Chrysler went back to the drawing board with the original minivan size if it would do well now that people have gotten used to the bigger ones. Also what do you think would happen if all car makers started downsizing again like they did in the 80′s?

  23. jim sachetti Says:

    My boss bought an MPV. A few years ago. The Mazda 5 would not be much different in size or power.

  24. jim sachetti Says:

    PS the Honda Odyssey is the king of the minivans, and the only one that feels asnd drives like a responsive car. ANd it is extra comfortable on lonmg trips, with its safe, 4,600 lb weight and looong wheelbase, and Honda suspension.

    In fact, if I had young kids and wanted to take them on a long trip, even the above would not feel 100% safe for me, when you got 6,000 lb suburbans roaming the highways and their soccer mom drivers texting and applying makeup all the time.

    So I might buy the safest lar4ge, heavy powerful SUV around instead. Like the Biggest MErc GL, maybe with the excellenty DIESEL and its 400 lbft torque, or the 550 if the diesel is not quick enough to avoiud accident scenes.

  25. jim sachetti Says:

    Actually the Mazda 7 and 9 look terrible and have terrible MPG as well, for their rather modest interior volume andf capabilities.

    The 7 and 9 have curvy exterior designs that make them look flimsy and not solid and also do not go well with tgheir wagon design. it just does not work.

    The Ford Edge, while also obese and low-=MPG, looks far better than its Mazda clone (is it the 9?)

  26. Kit Gerhart Says:

    My ’89 Caravan has plenty of power; it is a 2.5 turbo, 5-speed manual, but I agree that it is not very crashworthy compared to today’s cars. As far as “passive safety,” if you mean handling, it’s probably better than a lot of SUV’s out there. I have 65 series tires on it, but still on 14 inch wheels to keep the center of gravity low for such a vehicle.

    I use it for taking R/C model airplanes to flying sites. I ordered it and bought it new as a 5-passenger van. The rear seat has been removed for almost the entire 20.5 years I’ve had the van.

    I like the Mazda 5, but it would not be very good for my purposes. The rear seats fold down, but not in a way to make a flat floor, and the seats are not intended to be easily removed. If they sold a two seat Mazda 5 with a flat floor, or if they made the rear seats removable in the current version, the 5 would server my purposes pretty well.

  27. dcars Says:

    The Mazda 5 has competitive mileage and price. I almost bought one, I just couldn’t get over the looks and the fact that it was still a minivan. I looked at the new Chrysler T&C and thought the old one was better due to mileage, pricing, reliability and looks, I’m getting the impression that German engineering is a marketing fantasy.

  28. Alex Kajdi Says:

    Does anyone know what percentage of Toyota’s current Sienna minivan sales are the AWD version? Here in the Northeast, The Toyota Sienna XLE AWD & Limited AWD or Honda Odyssey EXL & Touring versions are the minivan’s of choice. As the price of gasoline steadily increases the larger SUV’s will be come more unpopular. My Odyssey EXL has cylinder deactivation which takes it from 6 to 3 cylinders to improve fuel economy, which has a “ECO” light on the dash to encourages fuel conversation driving habits. I am waiting to see if Honda will offer a Touring AWD model on the Odyssey, or what the 2011 redesigned Toyota Sienna is going to look like.

  29. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The fact that the Mazda 5 is “still a minivan” is what makes it so appealing compared to all of these small SUV’s. The sliding doors are much more convenient than hinged doors for loading stuff and people. Also, the Mazda 5, in America at least, is a little different from the CRV’s, RAV4′s, Sportages, etc. that all of these people are driving erratically while talking on their cell phones.

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