Episode 238 – GM Marketing Is Working, Acura ZDX Stamping, FedEx Hybrid Conversions

September 29th, 2009 at 12:00pm

Runtime 7:32

General Motors’ new marketing campaign is working, for the most part. Honda works on new stamping techniques. All that and more, plus a look at how delivery company FedEx is retrofitting older trucks in its fleet to convert them into hybrids.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. GM’s new marketing campaign is showing promise. Honda works on new stamping techniques. And FedEx converts older trucks into hybrids.

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

This is Autoline Daily for Tuesday, September 29, 2009. And now, the news.

We’ll get September sales numbers for the American market this coming Thursday, and early reports say they’ll be the second worst for the year. Automakers are anticipating a drop off for two reasons, one: the cash-for-clunkers program ended, and two: that program cleaned most dealers out of their inventory. However, the Detroit Free Press reports that sales started picking up in the second-half of this month as production started to restore some of that inventory. And it quotes analysts as saying we’ll have to wait for October sales to get a clear indication of how the market is truly performing.

A report from Edmunds says that GM’s new marketing campaign is working, for the most part. Thanks to a 60-day, money-back guarantee and by using its chairman, Ed Whitacre, in television ads, Edmunds says customers shopping for GM cars and trucks increased by 10 percent. It says Cadillac and GMC are getting new buyers, Chevrolet is getting new shoppers but not new buyers, and Buick is not attracting new customers but is bringing back previous ones.

In the past, the Detroit automakers would pile-on incentives to sell a bloated inventory of vehicles, now according to Bloomberg, they’re starting to wean themselves off doing this. GM, Chrysler and Ford vehicles sold for an average of $2,000 more during the second quarter compared to last year thanks to slashing incentives. And the average price of Detroit cars sold for $1,000 more than the industry average. The incentives on Detroit Three vehicles were higher than the industry average, but they’re clearly coming down.

The Persian Gulf country of Qatar, which last month invested in Volkswagen, wants to increase its stake in the company. According to Bloomberg, the country would like to boost its stake once VW completes its takeover of Porsche. As part of last month’s deal, Qatar received 10 percent voting rights in Porsche and options that gives it as much as a 17 percent stake in Volkswagen. Porsche will also set up R&D and testing facilities in the country. Eventually, Qatar would like two board seats once the two companies combine.

Mazda will reveal two new engines and a transmission at the Tokyo Motor Show next month. The “SKY-G” is a gasoline engine with direct fuel injection and the “SKY-D” is the company’s new clean diesel. Keeping the same naming theme, Mazda’s new automatic transmission is called “SKY Drive.” The company makes it sound like a dual-clutch transmission, but it’s not. This new under-hood hardware is part of the company’s strategy to increase the fuel economy of its vehicles 30 percent by 2015. The company’s Kiyora concept will also make its homeland debut in Tokyo. This compact city car was first unveiled at last year’s Paris auto show.

Engineering has its challenges, especially when designers are involved. The upcoming Acura ZDX had at least one interesting technical issue (subscription required) Honda had to overcome. According to Ward’s, the company wanted a one-piece side stamping, but the depth of the draw on the rear quarter – that’s how far the metal has to be stretched when it’s stamped – was huge. Honda had never done anything this big or complex before. It could have been made in two pieces, but designers didn’t want any seams. After four or five months of simulation and testing, engineers were finally able to deliver the one-piece part.

Coming up next, a look at how Federal Express is retrofitting older trucks to convert them into hybrids. Back in a jiffy.

So far all the activity in hybrids involves brand-new passenger vehicles. But what if you could retrofit older vehicles and convert them into hybrids? And what if you could use them in commercial applications? Well, it’s not “what if” any more. FedEx is already doing it.

Interestingly, the Eaton company says it will soon be unveiling its hydraulic hybrid for commercial trucks, where energy is stored as hydraulic power, instead of storing it in batteries.

Don’t forget to join us this Thursday night for Autoline After Hours. Our guest will be Erich Merkle, the automotive analyst from Autoconomy. That’s Thursday night at 7 p.m. Eastern, or 2300 hours GMT.

And that’s it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

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14 Comments to “Episode 238 – GM Marketing Is Working, Acura ZDX Stamping, FedEx Hybrid Conversions”

  1. Tony Gray Says:

    The ZDX stamping is indeed impressive. Now THAT is the kind of innovation that stirrs the blood.

    As for the FedEx deal, I say good for them. I always was a proponent of hybrid technology where it made the most sense, large vehicles in urban delivery settings. While the Prius et al, gets all the press, in sheer volume of fuel saved, getting all of our delivery fleet converted would save a bunch more, per vehicle.

  2. Nick Stevens Says:

    I also always claimed that very few of the 200 or so million US drivers really need a hybrid (unless they just want one for fun), and that hybrids should instead be marketed to urban car and truck fleets that do largely city driving. I congratulate Fedex for this tiny start (I bet is it not even 5% of their fleet) for going in that direction.

  3. John V Says:

    The most interesting thing to me about the FedEx deal is the choice of diesel-electric hybrid.
    My favorite hybrid story is something I read about diesel-hydraulic garbage trucks in San Francisco, CA a few years ago (part of a joint research activity between EPA and a supplier – maybe it was Eaton). Not only did they save about 40% on fuel, but they saved about $14,000 per year on each truck due to regenerative braking saving the mechanical brake linings. If I remember correctly, the whole add-on weighed about 500 lb – not that much for a garbage truck.
    To me it is interesting that Eaton is introducing a new diesel-hydraulic system while FedEx opted for the diesel-electric. I would like to know what drives the choice of electric over hydraulic.

  4. Michael J. Brown Says:

    That Mazda Kiora concept reminds me of one of those extreme Nurf footballs.

  5. Nick Stevens Says:

    John V,

    Thanks for these numbers, but we can only evaluate if it was indeed worth it if we knew the actual total conversion cost. Any info on that?

  6. paulstewart Says:

    Sorry I hurt your feelings t hor during your Pschiatric sessions. Keep taking your meds.

  7. Thor Says:

    Look who is talking about… psych sessions!

    If this is not the pot calling the kettle black.

    I repeat, just in case you ever get it, Stewart:

    Get a LIFE. Try to come here some day and say something of VALUE and RELEVANT to the FOrum.

    Somebody else would be indeed flattered by your obsessive attention…

  8. paulstewart Says:

    Listen , it’s good to see you have come to term about your feelings about liking men, in your sessions.I’ll stay with women though.Don’t forget to drop the comic book hero name, when you can accept your true legal name in the Psych sessions.too. Sorry to hear about the current Euro/$ exchange rate for B beemers.

  9. paulstewart Says:

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  10. diffrunt Says:

    Immaturity should not be allowed to thrive in this venue

  11. John V Says:

    Nick Stevens, Good point. I do not have that information.
    That very information may answer my question about whether to use electric or hydraulic for energy recovery and storage. GVW may also figure into the equation from a performance perspective as well.
    I have always had the opinion that the hydraulic system could possibly be cheaper since it used off the shelf hydraulic motors/pumps. At the time, the hydraulic system may have been lighter because LI-Ion batteries were a dream and large Nickel metal hydride batteries were still new in hybrids.
    This may be a stretch, but lately I assumed all of the big auto companies have done some kind of analysis to rule out the hydraulic option since they are all seem to be going electric.

  12. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Nick S. or John V.,

    Can you explain how hydraulic hybrids store energy? Do they they spin up a flywheel or something like that, or do they compress a gas? I guess the latter would be pneumatic(sp?) rather than hydraulic. Anyway, do either of you guys know the storage medium?

  13. Salvador G. Says:

    JohnMc, that Mazda Kiyora concept is basically taking out from the Mazda Furai concept isn’t??
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/26500004@N07/2488544415/

    Also, is there a reason as to why, VW won’t let Porsche run as an independent company?? VW let’s every other company that they own run as independent, so why not Porsche???

  14. Rafi Says:

    It doesn’t matter what stamping technology Honda uses for the ZDX, the fact that the ZDX is one of the UGLIEST cars ever produced will not change. Their power trains may continue to be good, but Honda/Acura are heading in the wrong direction in styling and interior fit-and-finish of their latest products.