Episode 249 – Big Ford Recall, Tesla Offers House Calls, Vauxhall Plants Stay Open

October 14th, 2009 at 12:20pm

Runtime 6:39

Ford announced a recall of 4.5 million vehicles over a cruise control switch that potentially can catch fire. Tesla announced it will offer its customers house calls for maintenance work. Vauxhall announced that two plants in England will remain open until at least 2013. All that and more, plus a look at Volkswagen’s new TwinDrive EV.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. Ford gets stuck with another big recall. Tesla starts making house calls. And Vauxhall will keep a couple plants open.

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

This is Autoline Daily for Wednesday, October 14, 2009. I’m Frank Markus, Technical Director at Motor Trend Magazine filling in for my friend John McElroy. Anyway, here’s the news.

Most of 2009 has been a good news year for Ford. That was until yesterday when the company announced a recall of 4.5 million vehicles (subscription required). WardsAuto.com reports that the culprit is a cruise control switch that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration discovered during an 18-month investigation that potentially can catch fire even when parked. The recall effects some seven Ford vehicle models plus a motorhome produced over a decade starting in 1993.

Meanwhile, General Motors, who’s spent much of this year delivering bad news to many here in Michigan, finally has a little good news to share on the investment front. Autoblog tells us that the company is going to spend $230 million on facilities that’ll support both the new Chevrolet Cruze compact car and the “can’t wait until it gets here” Chevy Volt. The factories are in Flint with most of the investment going to revamp an engine plant to produce the 1.4-liter Family Zero engines that’ll be used in the two vehicles.

Tesla announced it will offer its customers house calls for maintenance work. The technicians, known as the Tesla Mobile Service Rangers, will visit your home or office to perform annual checkups or diagnose and fix any other problems. The service costs $1 per round trip mile from the nearest Tesla service center, with a minimum charge of $100. The company plans to have at least 20 service and sales locations around the country within the next two years. And it eventually plans to offer the service anywhere in the world Tesla’s are sold.

Last week we reported that Magna’s attempt to acquire Opel was running into roadblocks because Britain was afraid of job losses at Vauxhall plants. According to the AFP, that won’t happen…for now. Vauxhall announced that two plants in England will remain open until at least 2013. Employees agreed to a two-year pay freeze and other concessions. Magna is still seeking loan money from the British government in order to keep operations in the country.

You may love it or you may hate it, but Porsche’s controversial new sedan, the Panamera, is off to a strong start (subscription required). Ward’s reports that the company is already a quarter of the way to meeting its sales goal of 20,000 units for the first year – and the car isn’t even out yet. It launches in the U.S. on October 17th. Porsche has 5,000 firm pre-orders in the bank, with 1,000 of those coming from America. The company expects the U.S. to account for 20 to 30 percent of total sales.

Apple’s iPhone is THE hot gadget to have. Besides a slick interface, it offers tens of thousands of applications. Adding another one to the list, Viper car alarms now offers some hardware and an app that allows you to remotely start your car. Available for $299 if you already have one of their systems, or $499 if you need everything, the setup allows you to lock and unlock the doors, pop the trunk, and of course, start the engine all from your phone. Pretty cool.

Coming up next, a look at Volkswagen’s new TwinDrive EV, we’ll be back right after this.

Last week I visited Germany and had a chance to sample a new plug-in hybrid from Volkswagen, called the Golf TwinDrive. Chevy’s Volt has hogged the plug-in spotlight of late, and like that car, the TwinDrive will use electricity stored in a lithium-ion battery pack to drive the car for 30 miles, after which an engine spinning a generator turns on to keep the car running. But the “People’s” plug-in varies from the Volt in some pretty meaningful ways.

First, the combustion engine is a 1.5-liter diesel. That raises serious questions about cost, but a 1.4-liter TSI gas engine is also engineered for the system. The biggest difference is that, unlike in the Volt, at certain speeds above 30 mph the TwinDrive’s combustion engine can drive the wheels directly, which VW says provides more efficient propulsion. There’s no multi-speed transmission, so this only works under certain speed/load conditions. Drive is purely electric the rest of the time.

Another unique feature is the ability to tell the car how far you plan to drive before plugging in again, and how far you may need to drive in pure-EV mode at the end of the journey, for maneuvering through a zero-emissions city center for example. That way, the controller can devise a combustion/electric operating strategy that utilizes as much of the available battery capacity as possible before returning to the charger. TwinDrive is designed for either front-drive, using an 85-kilowatt motor, or all-wheel-drive operation, using three 30-kW motors—one in front and one at each rear wheel. Either setup is said to perform on par with a base gasoline Golf. A fleet of 20 TwinDrive Golfs is on test in Germany now, and while no official date has been announced for production, the level of investment suggests Volkswagen is serious about offering a people’s plug-in. Just don’t expect it to undercut the Volt by much in price—even with the gas engine.

And that just about does it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry, but don’t forget to tune in to Autoline After Hours tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time. John will still be out of town, but Mr. Peter De Lorenzo will be in the captain’s chair and I’ll be making my big debut on the show. Also joining us are Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics and Rod Meloni of WDIV Channel 4 news, Detroit. Anyway, I’m Frank Markus, Technical Director at Motor Trend Magazine, thanks for watching.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog, The Auto Channel, vLane, WardsAuto.com and WWJ Newsradio 950

29 Comments to “Episode 249 – Big Ford Recall, Tesla Offers House Calls, Vauxhall Plants Stay Open”

  1. Jim Sachetti Says:

    “Porsche has 5,000 firm pre-orders in the bank, with 1,000 of those coming from America. The company expects the U.S. to account for 20 to 30 percent of total sales.”

    For a large, heavy car, and especially since it is named the… “PanAMERA”, one would think that US sales would be a far bigger percentage. Unless if US buyers have become impoverished…

    I do not hate the panamera styling, except I am afraid that, just like its distant relative the 928, which was 2 door but still more of a touring, heavy coupe with a large engine than the 911, it may not hold its resale value aqs well as the iconic, classic 911 has.

  2. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Frank: Is that enthusiastic “can’t wait until the Volt gets here” remark coming from you or GM promotions folks? Frankly, I don’t share that feeling, I’m more interested in the Cruze.

  3. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I might be interested in Cruze at some point, IF they sell a wagon or hatchback version.

  4. Willi Says:

    notice it’s been fairly quiet?
    not much chat going on … not much news – waiting for numbers, the electric concept … yes, concept, we have a long way to go to get decent figures, but i think they’ll be low – then there is the war, cost of oil, although i don’t think it’ll change much, better chance of getting hit by a meteor – but we’re waiting … to see how the government decisions impact all, stocks seem to be ok with that so far, but not housing – bound to have more jobloss, and that’s the key to it all – can’t buy anything if you don’t have a job … not looking good

  5. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    @Kit: my interest in the Cruze is mostly to see if one of these technologically challenged companies can actually make a “world” car that competes with the best, or is it gonna be another “It’s better that the previous model, but….”

  6. Jim Sachetti Says:

    The Cruze is not made by GM, at least not any of its US, mexican or Canadian factories.

    It is as much a Korean Daewoo as the accursed Aveo, only better.

  7. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    @ Jim, I believe you have the Cruze mixed up with the Korean-built Spark, the replacement for the lowly Aveo. GM announced the Cruze would be built in good old USA. If I’m wrong. please correct me.

  8. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    ps. Just read an article dated Sept 21 09. Gm announced the Cruze will sell for more than the Civic and Corolla, well, so much for the good news.

  9. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The Cruze will be built in Lordstown, Ohio. I don’t know if it will be built in any other North American plants.

  10. Kit Gerhart Says:

    From what I’ve read, a direct injection turbo will be the standard engine in Cruze. If that is the case, no wonder it will cost more than Civic or Corolla.

  11. Jim Sachetti Says:

    WHile you may be correct that the Cruze will be Assembled in the US, and in OH in particular, the car was indeed designed and developed at GM-owned Daewoo in S. Korea.

    It should be interesting to see the % of “domestic (US) content it will have, I’d guess no more than the Camry or the Accord, which are also built in the US and use US made parts very extensively, more than even some Ford and GM models..

  12. Jim Sachetti Says:

    # Pedro Fernandez Says:
    October 14th, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    ps. Just read an article dated Sept 21 09. Gm announced the Cruze will sell for more than the Civic and Corolla, well, so much for the good news.

    Really! Then it BETTER be really, really good. Most consumers, except for the die-hard Detroit buyers, will laugh and dismiss it anyway.

    And yes it has some kind of a direct injection turbo, BUT it is a mere 1.4lt engine. If it had a Diesel that gets 50 MPG, as many same-sized Euro models have, then the price could be far easier justified.

  13. Kit Gerhart Says:

    For what it’s worth, from C&D’s web site:

    “The Cruze was engineered at GM’s Russelsheim, Germany, development center, and was designed in Korea by GM Daewoo. The car will be assembled in plants around the world, including the U.S. and Mexico, various parts of Europe including Russia (GM is building a new plant in St. Petersburg), South Korea, and Brazil.”

  14. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Maybe that 1.4 turbo will match, or nearly match the 2 liter diesels in fuel economy. If it does, that would be appealing. It will match them in power, but at much higher rpm.

  15. Jim Sachetti Says:

    Thanks for the info, Kit. Makes sense, since the Cruze will be sold in many countries. But they should price it right, if they want it to sell the kind of volume Civics and Corollas sell world-wide.

    Diesels are also turbos, for the most part. 2 lt TDs are really big dogs. I know VW has soem sweet 1.4 gas direct injection engines, had them more than three years before GM wised up and used them itself, but they are not cheap. A colleague in Europe bought a VW GOlf with that premium 1.4 and paid 21,000 Euros (30,000$!!) and the little hatchback probably has neither leather nor any real or fake wood in the interior!

  16. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The VW TDI’s are very low rpm engines compared to gas engines. The current 2 liter’s 140 hp arrive at 4200 rpm, rather than the ~6000 more typical of similar size gas engines. These diesels certainly feel different from gas engines, but I like them. The old 90-100 hp VW 1.9 liter TDI has plenty of power for normal driving, at least with a manual transmission. I haven’t driven the new 2 l, but I’m sure I would like it.

  17. Jim Sachetti Says:

    That’s the very old and tired diesel they sell in the US, I believe they have far, far better diesels with far higher HPs they offer in Europe.

    But the main conclusion is, as Pedro noted, if they sell a civic-corolla sized Cruze at a higher price than these two, there is no hope they will sell 100k a year, much less the 300,000 and 350,000 units each of these sell in the US market.

  18. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The 2 liter TDI they now sell here seems to be about the same as the “top” diesel they sell in Golf in the UK. The 1.9 that they sold here until a couple years ago was, as you say, “old and tired” by the time it went away. Still, it worked pretty well and got great fuel economy, at least with a manual transmission. They never sold the old TDI with DSG in the US.

    Yes, if the Cruze is more expensive than Civic and Corolla, it will be a hard sell, even if it is “better” than the Honda and Toyota. It will be hard to sell 300,000 of them, even at the same price, no matter how good the car turns out to be.

  19. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Well, there’s always Mr Rebate Man, coming back for a post-b/k appearance, or better yet another c4c plan,(cashforcruze) after all it’s just paper money.

  20. motorman Says:

    GM says they will build the best cars in the industries.Does this mean there will be no more intake gasket problems and intermediate steering shaft problems that went on for years. These 2 problems have chased away lots of old GM customers as I had the intermediate steering shaft problem with a new 1982 Celebrity and a new 2004 Impala. Lots of people complain about GM using cheap materials in their interiors but using cheap materials in the parts of the car that counts is a bigger problem they have to solve. till GM fixes these types of problems and the customers know this it will be a tough sell for GM

  21. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The 60 degree pushrod V-6 will soon be gone, so that should help with the intake gasket problem.

  22. John V Says:

    I wonder if there are 300,000 buyers looking for a Cruze or if that just happens to be plant capacity at the shifts and rates agreed to in the latest UAW contract for the Lordstown plant. The price is not the issue, everyone knows GM uses high MSRPs and then marks them down some for “sales.” Then there are the incentives.
    The volume prediction looks like the same trap the Detroit three get caught in nearly every time. Marketing by plant capacity seems to be the norm. It has nothing to do with customer demand. They don’t get it – they need to show the buyers the right stuff, then ramp it up when the customers agree that it is the right stuff.

  23. Jim Sachetti Says:

    GM used to sell 1,000,000 Impalas a year back in the 60s. I know today this is impossible, but they could sell 500,000 of their bread and butter cash cow cars. You can’t make a profit when GM has 5 different models in the same exact size category cannbiballizing each other and selling 40,000 a year!

    Ford is much better than GM in that respect, and will be even more so when it finally gets wise and closes down the utterly redundant Mercury brand. Ford has much fewer models in each segment. it only has ONE FOcus and one Fusion and one Taurus. Count how many models GM has in each of these segments. Hopeless!

  24. Nick Stevens Says:

    For GM to be able to demand a premium over the corolla and civic for the unknown compact Cruze, and the consumers to agree to pay it, the car has to overcome really high hurdles.

    First the enthusiast mags like Car and Driver have to test it against these (volume and profit) giants and it has to slay them and ace the test!

    Second, a few years have to pass so the owners can tell COnsumer Reports how great the reliability is, and greater than that of the civic and corolla, an even higher hurdle!

    Only if these two happen would the consumer be willing to pay a higher, instead of the much lower, price for a given size GM car vs a similar size car from Honda or Toyota.

  25. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Just read an article from Popular Mechanics dated 1978 talking about the upcoming GM X cars and how crucial it was for GM to debug these cars before the public got a hold of them, “The future and reputation of GM rests on this”. funny how 30 years later, they’re still in the same predicament.

  26. dave Says:

    Last I heard the Cruze was to be made at Lordstown Ohio, they made the Cobolt and they are about 50 miles from me. It was big new that they would stay open

  27. hermann the german Says:

    The Cruze may seem to have a high MSRP, but as the dollar falls and the yen rises guess who is going to start looking blue in the face.

  28. Jim Sachetti Says:

    # hermann the german Says:
    October 14th, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    “The Cruze may seem to have a high MSRP, but as the dollar falls and the yen rises guess who is going to start looking blue in the face.”

    Not Honda or TOyota! After all, both Honda and Toyota build their civics and their corollas in the USA and with largely US content, so they could not care less about the falling $!

    But even if they were imported, many imports tend to NOT increase their prices for many years after the $ falls. Incl. Luxury German imports.

  29. T. Bejma Says:

    Pedro Fernandez Says:
    October 14th, 2009 at 2:24 pm
    @ Jim, I believe you have the Cruze mixed up with the Korean-built Spark, the replacement for the lowly Aveo.

    You are incorrect Pedro. The Spark will be built in the US as well as the Cruze. Most likely Lake Orion. There is a replacement for the Aveo coming (and it is a LOT better looking). Will be in between the Cruze and the Spark.