Episode 288 – More Changes At GM, China Renews Car Subsidies, A Paper Car Battery?

December 10th, 2009 at 12:00pm

Runtime 7:19

The heads of both Chevrolet and Buick-GMC are leaving General Motors. The Chinese government announced it will continue stimulus measures to help car sales. Scientists at Stanford University have made a working battery out of paper. All that and more, plus we’re going to take a look at a radically new type of engine.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. More management shakeups at General Motors. China will continue sales subsidies for cars. And is this the battery breakthrough we’ve been waiting for? One made out of paper?

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

This is Autoline Daily for Thursday, December 10, 2009. And now, the news.

I cannot believe all the changes going on at General Motors. OK, on Monday we announced that Brent Dewar, the head of Chevrolet, would be our guest on Autoline After Hours tonight. Later that day we got a call from GM saying he would not be able to come on the show, and now we know why. Brent Dewar is going to leave the company April 1. He’ll be replaced at Chevrolet by Jim Campbell, who had been running Fleet and Commercial Operations for GM. Why is Brent leaving? He says it’s for personal reasons, but it seems to me that when he was passed over for the vice president job of all sales and marketing, and Susan Docherty got that job, he decided “I’m out of here.”

And speaking of “I’m out of here,” Michael Richards, the brand-new head of Buick-GMC is also leaving the company. Get this: he only hired in eight days ago. In fact, Bloomberg points out, he started working at GM the day Fritz Henderson was forced out. That has got to be the shortest amount of time I’ve ever seen a top executive in a job. Michael Richards had come from Ford and I can only imagine he regrets the day he decided to go to General Motors.

China announced it will continue stimulus measures to help car sales. According to Gasgoo, the government decided to extend aid for the next year with tax cuts aimed at selling small cars with engines of 1.6-liters or less. The government also announced it will subsidize the sale of green vehicles in five select cities. According to Reuters, rebates will be offered to private, first-time buyers of hybrids and electric cars. The program will then be expanded to others cities to allow public transportation fleets to purchase clean vehicles. In the case for a fuel-cell powered bus, the subsidies could come close to $90,000.

It’s that time of year again. Our friends at Ward’s Auto have released their 10-best engines list (subscription required). More clearly than ever, the winners show how the industry has focused on fuel efficiency. Only one V-8 made the cut, Hyundai’s 4.6-liter Tau. Six four-cylinder engines took home gold, including: Audi’s 2.0-liter turbo, a perennial winner; Ford’s 2.5-liter I-4 in the Fusion Hybrid; Volkswagen’s 2.0-liter TDI diesel; the 1.8-liter I-4 in the Toyota Prius; GM’s 2.4-liter Ecotec; and Subaru’s turbocharged, 2.5-liter boxer. Don’t worry though, Ward’s editors left some room for performance. The supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 in the Audi S4 won a spot on the list and so did Ford’s twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. Last but not least, BMW also took home a trophy for its diesel-powered 3.0-liter straight-six.

Earlier this week GM announced it will upgrade its Detroit-Hamtramck plant in order to build the Chevy Volt, and now we’ve learned it will also build one of the company’s best-selling vehicles. According to the Detroit News, a local union leader said GM will move Malibu production from its Kansas plant to Michigan to build the 2012 Malibu. But its still possible that the Malibu could be built at more than one plant depending on how well it sells.

Reuters reports that scientists at Stanford University in California have made a working battery out of PAPER. In the future these batteries could be used to power things like laptop computers and even hybrid cars. How’s it all work? Well, the paper is coated with a special ink made of carbon nanotubes and silver nano-threads. The technology shows promise. Earlier research shows that silicon nano-threads can be used to make cells that are 10 TIMES more powerful than today’s lithium-ion batteries. Some of the obvious advantages of a paper battery include low weight and low cost.

Coming up next, we’re going to take a look at a radically new type of engine.

We get all kinds of announcements at Autoline Daily of people coming up with new types of engines. One of the more interesting ones is from a company called EcoMotors, which has come up with this radically new type of engine. It has four pistons in two cylinders, a design which is half the size and uses half the parts of a conventional piston engine. EcoMotors suggests using two of these engines together, and shutting one of them off in light-throttle applications, then firing up the second one under full throttle. It says this arrangement would provide a 50 percent improvement in fuel economy, since there are no pumping loses when the second engine shuts down. Even with two of the engines together, they’ll fit in the engine compartment of most compact cars.

What makes EcoMotors worth paying attention to is that this engine was designed by Peter Hofbauer, who spent 20 years at Volkswagen designing diesel engines and the VR6, that narrow, 15-degree engine. Also, EcoMotors’ CEO is Don Runkle who was formerly vice chairman at Delphi, and the COO is John Coletti who used to run the SVT engineering operations at Ford. The fact that industry people with a long track record are doing this engine is what makes me believe it might have a shot at getting into production.

Don’t forget to join us tonight for Autoline After Hours when our guest will be Sandy Munro, one of the smartest design experts in the world. You’ll be amazed to find out what he’s worked on, and what he thinks this industry needs to be doing. Plus, with all the changes at GM, we’ll have no shortage of things to talk about.

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

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

45 Comments to “Episode 288 – More Changes At GM, China Renews Car Subsidies, A Paper Car Battery?”

  1. David Sprowl Says:

    When Mahogany row becomes a revolving door, that is certainly not a good sign. With so many deals that did not close after bankruptcy, Failed SAAB, Saturn, Opal, and as yet to close Hummer, and still not making money, GM is going to have a tough tough time in 2010 just staying alive still.

  2. Nick Stevens Says:

    In fact, the two-engine package may be new for cars, but has been around in WArships for a long time, and has names such as “father and son” engines, or sometimes “father and sonS!”.

    These are configurations where you operate only one of the two engines for regular design speed or less, and both of them for “battle speed”, or the max speed the ship can go at. The three engine design is more symmetric, having the big engine in the middle powering the central sdhaft and propeller, and the two smaller engines on the sides powering smaller shaft-propeller combinations.

    Water resistance being far, far stronger than air resistance at higher speeds, due to the far greater density and viscosity of water, allows not just 50% but 150% savings when you go from 2 or 3 engines to just one.

    The question is, how often will you need the second engine in your car, and does it make sense to iuncrease its weight by the considerable amount of the second engine to achieve it. Not to mention the extra space eaten up by the 2nd engine?

  3. Nick Stevens Says:

    Re the dramatric changes at GM.. instead of firing the failed and incompetent, socially promoted auto illiterate Susan DOherty, they go fire the Chevy and Buick chiefs, one only 9 days after he joined the company? Ridiculous, and does not bode well for bankrupt Welfare Queen Government Motors…

  4. Nick Stevens Says:

    “but 150% savings”

    Yeah, I know, this is math impossible… I meant that if you go at a decent speed you may burn 14 tons fuel a day, but at battle speed you will burn 44, a more than 150% INcrease.

  5. Richard S Says:

    Let’s take a much closer look at Mr. Whitacre. Either he is VERY difficult to work with or he has a vision for the company that will force it to succeed like no other since Alfred P. Sloan!

    We need to hear exactly what his plan is for GM. He has been very elusive thus far. For example, he fired Fritz because …”he was not moving fast enough.”
    Fats enough to do what, exactly? And where is he actually trying to go with all that speed?
    I wonder if he knows something we don’t – or he just doesn’t know(?)

  6. dcars Says:

    GM is starting to sound like it’s going through a “Stalinist” purge of the intellectuals! Seriously I believe that GM has to be so radically different that the current management won’t find it’s able to adapt to its new corporate culture. I never like seeing some one lose their job and these cases are no different.

  7. Nick Stevens Says:

    Ed Whiteacrer has no credibility left after he fired the new buick guy after only 9 days in office, and did not fire the serially failed Susan Docherty, but instead promoted her to her highest level of incompetence, just like the Peter Principle says.

  8. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Question for you guys: Do you think buyers of cars, (not those who follow the industry like us) really consider what’s happening at GM when they decide which vehicle to buy ? Or they don’t really give a crap about all the changes in GM leadership positions?

  9. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    ps. just spoke to a guy who used to tow for AAA, now he’s towing repos for the banks and he’s working 7 days a week, nonstop. Guess must be all those C4C buyers that can’t make the payments.

  10. Nick Stevens Says:

    That’s great.. will do wonders for the resale values..

    PS Pedro, I think most buyers of GM cars would not be very well informed on executive changes

  11. Alex Kovnat Says:

    >It’s that time of year again. Our
    >friends at Ward’s Auto have released
    >their 10-best engines list ….

    I rememember years ago, the Buick 3.8 liter V-6 was among the top 10 engines year after year. Did any of Buick’s V-6′s earn at least an honorable mention from Ward’s this year?

  12. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    I wonder if this Ward award looks at long term reliability when considering an engine. What good does it do if an engine only lasts as long as the warranty period, then you’re on your own.

  13. Nick Stevens Says:

    No, they focus on performance and maybe recently fuel economy, not reliability, longevity or durability.

    But I never had a main engine fail on me before, neither the Accord’s (for 18 years) or my German v8 (for 12 yrs and 129.700 miles) had any problem, ever. The problems are in peripheral systems, radiators, hoses, electronics etc, not engine or transmission.

  14. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I remember the Buick 3.8 being on Wards’ list of “10 best engines of the 20th. century” along with all the engines that truly changed and created the world of cars that we know it, like the Model T engine, the Ford flat head V-8, and the Chevy small block V-8, and VW flat four. I never understood the Buick V-6 being on the list. The Buick engine deserved an award for “most improved,” considering how horrible it was in its original unbalanced, uneven firing iteration, but one of the ten best of the 20th. century? After I saw that list, I’ve had less respect for Wards list of ten best engines of the year.

  15. Nick Stevens Says:

    Wards, like this show, is based too close to the Detroit 3, so some bias for their engiens would be understandable. I guess a reason they chose the 3.8 was that GM used it in so many models that sold so many millions units over the years.

  16. Kit Gerhart Says:

    To me, the engine that should have replaced the Buick 3.8 in Wards’ “best of the 20th. century” list would have been the 51-58 Chrysler hemi. What other engine was sought out in junk yards for years to provide power for race cars running in classes which have essentially no rules defining the engine? For years after the junk yard supply of old hemis was exhausted, near-clones of them were used for fuel dragsters. That must have been a pretty good design.

  17. EAB Says:

    The Buick guy getting let go after less than 10 days…there has to be more to it than we know. I am sure that one of you tonight on the show will know, but probably will be zip lipped about it.

  18. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Considering how crappy most of GM engines were including the oil leaking mess of the Northstar, that Buick 3.8 was pretty good, it had good power and was not a gas guzzler. it was good enough to go into the top of the line Buicks of that era. Plus it was very reliable to boot. Now of course it’s like a dinosaur.I find it weird that Lexus engines with the smoothness that they have, are not on the list.

  19. Nick Stevens Says:

    Did the list of best ten for the 20th century have any Honda or Toyota engines? it should..

  20. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    These GM execs stick around even less than Tiger’s mistresses.

  21. Nick Stevens Says:

    Or Merc, BMW, Porsche and Audi for that matter…

  22. JBB Says:

    FYI: Richards didn’t come from Ford. He left there in 2008.


  23. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Nick Stevens Says:
    December 10th, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    “Did the list of best ten for the 20th century have any Honda or Toyota engines? it should.”

    Honda CVCC 2.3
    Lexus V-8 first used in LS400
    BMW inline sixes, 1968-present (at the time)
    Porsche boxer sixes


  24. Richard S Says:

    Do you think buyers of cars, (not those who follow the industry like us) really consider what’s happening at GM when they decide which vehicle to buy ? Or they don’t really give a crap about all the changes in GM leadership positions?

    I agree, the majority of buyers would not really be aware of the executive operations and machinations. What they ultimately care about is that the company built a good car or supported them well when things went wrong. GM gets a D on the quality and an F grade for the support.

    Lots better out there on both counts. It’s a good thing there are loads of loyalists out there because GM is going to need all they can get!

    Honda, Toyota and BMW engines are pretty sweet!

  25. Nick Stevens Says:

    Yes, transmissions too…

    CVCC stands for 1,500 (CC) in Latin Numerals but also stands for something else in the Honda engine, (forget what exactly) so CVCC 2.3 is not a contradiction.

  26. Nick Stevens Says:

    “Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion” is what CVCC stands for, it is trademarked by Honda.

    And I was probably wrong about the roman numerals above, 1500 is not CVCC.

  27. Nick Stevens Says:

    In fact it is MD, M=1000 and D=500.

  28. dcars Says:

    I agree Richard S. no one cares who’s in the top spot of a company. Perception of a good long lasting stable company that will stand by its product is another issue. GM and Chrysler’s bad PR hasn’t helped it convince people that they can stick around for the long hall.

  29. Nick Stevens Says:

    Worship the Google Search Engine!

  30. Jim Thykeson Says:

    The Buick 231 V6 was better than their small-block V8. There were unlimited applications for that engine. The all time lap record of 238mph came from the Quaker State Buick, driven by Guierro fielded by no other than ‘King Kenny Berstien! When sportscars were trying to get back into prototypes in the mid-eighties March, Fabcar, and other independents used the V6 and the power was phenom! The sky was the limit on these little, pressure-cookers, the only drawback is more chose to turn up the boost knob too far! From dependable workhorse to speed king the 231 had no equal.

  31. Edward Lipman Says:

    When the F(*&^K are the American car manufacturers going to get the message that you FIRST have to have a product the the customers want before you can make money selling that product.
    The manufacturers have also forgotten the “Win on Sunday Sell on Monday” slogan too ! Sposoring races and auto sport events , especially if your brand wins , bring in sales the next week.
    Having Sports or High Performance cars bring customers into dealers too. Even if they want a family car the customer will come in to look at the Sports or Hi Perf car and then go to the family car. They may even buy the hot car too !
    Keep Pontiac as a REAR DRIVE SPORT DIVISION . Bring back the G8 and the Solstice .
    Get rid of GMC , it sells the same vehicles as Chevrolet.
    Lets have an Impala SS built off of the new Chevrolet police car WITH a manual 6 speed.

  32. C-tech Says:

    @Jim Thykeson: Thnaks for the history. I forgot about the Buick Grand National.
    @Edward Lipman: Look forward, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, etc are DEAD (The GM display at the auto show looked STRANGE with all the missing brands). Auto racing is the HALO around good product, it no longer SELLS the product. Nascar racing leverages advertising dollars when your brand wins (Look at the “free” promotion Dodge got from Miller beer promoting the “Miller Lite Dodge” after winning Daytona). Honda seems to be doing just peachy selling non-racing Accords.
    Motor Trend has named the 2010 Dodge 2500 Truck of the Year.

  33. alleycat Says:

    mmmm………..”ecomotors”? Ford has “ecoboost”….sounds like a lawsuit comin’ to me…

  34. Richard S Says:

    Honda has learned how to make a profit on lower volumes by building multi vehicles off very few platforms. Their per-vehicle costs appear to be very stable and when they experience lower volumes, they just reduce production to match.
    Honda reliability does not appear to have suffered either.
    If Honda has a problem at the moment, it is lackluster styling and granny image. Gone are the days of the previous administration when their development program included a new V8, new super car and aggressive racing program.

  35. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Honda’s approach seems to be working well for the Honda division, but less well for Acura. Honda seems to have a real problem now with styling, especially Acura. I guess I wouldn’t consider any Acuras anyway, even if they weren’t ugly. There are too many other good front-drive cars and “crossovers” for a lot less money.

  36. Kit Gerhart Says:

    A lot was done in racing with engines based on the Buick 231, including Indy 500 poles and track records (but no wins). In its later forms, it was a good passenger car engine that got very good highway gas mileage for its time. I had one of them, the supercharged version in a ’98 Pontiac Grand Prix. It had lots of low end grunt, but seemed to run out of steam at high revs, and was a little “rough around the edges” compared to some other engines, even in ’98. This engine started out as a very unpleasant piece in ’61 or ’62, but evolved into a good engine for the 80′s. Still, it is hard for me to see it as one of the ten best, or ten most significant engines of the 20th. century.

  37. John V Says:

    The Buick 3.8L V6 got high marks because it had a simple, old fashioned pushrod and overhead valve design that delivered better fuel economy on larger cars than most of the overhead cam V6 engines that were becoming popular at the time. The electronic controls breathed new life into the engine (3800) in the late 1980s. It was reliable and quiet at crusing speed. The power ranged from about 170 hp to 200 hp for the naturally aspirated version depending on model year. Torque ranged from about 200 to 230 ft-lb. It turned at about 2000 rpm at 70 mph enabling low noise and good fuel economy. I have a 1996 Olds with that engine that is still smooth, quiet and effieicent. The car doesn’t look like much, but I like the engine.

  38. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The 3.8 used in the 1985 Olds 98 and Buick Electra/Park Avenue was rated at only 125hp, but didn’t feel that much different from later ones rated at ~200hp. The 1985 cars were probably somewhat lighter than later versions of those cars, but it would seem that the 1985 3.8′s were under rated in power for some reason.

  39. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    I just dont understand BMWs. For the price, they look very very dry. Inside and outside. Sure they use nice materials, but its time to make them look futuristic. Makes from Cadillac to Hyundai look more up to date these dates, and all cost leass.

    Sure, there are perfectly good reasons why they cost less, but with BMWs 1998 looks there shouldnt be a reason why they cost so much either.

  40. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Let’s be real guys. GM dumped Michael Richards becuase he has the first and last name of a Certifiable Bonifide Racist. I guess they thought it would have been a piss poor PR move to keep him.

  41. C-tech Says:

    @Smoke: Ok, now you can get off the computer and play with your hot wheels, with that last comment.

  42. Kit Gerhart Says:

    HyundaiSmoke Says:
    December 11th, 2009 at 3:20 am

    “I just dont understand BMWs.”

    The thing that makes BMW’s appealing to me are those sweet in-line sixes. They’re not appealing enough to make me actually pay the price to buy one, but if they put that diesel in a 3-series wagon with manual transmission, I might pay the price.

    To date, the only BMW’s I’ve had are of the two wheeled variety, and a Mini.

  43. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Mr Munro has been one of the most informative, honest’ open guest AAH has ever had, Enjoyed it so much I saw the replay today, If GM had people like him, they would not be in the mess they’re in.

  44. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    C-tech its true. Even John Mc Elroy at the LA Auto Show laughed at the idea of GM hiring a guy with the name Micheal Richards.

  45. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Kit I dont know about you but I think that BMW Efficient Dynamics Concept is the way the company should lean towards in styling. Of course clean-up and tame the design, but that “Fludic Sculpture” (Had to add the Hyundai Pun) is the way BMW should go.