Episode 295 – Last Gasp For Saab, Ford Loses Designer, OnStar in China

December 21st, 2009 at 12:00pm

Runtime 5:13

Though GM says it will wind down Saab, last minute bids could save the iconic Swedish brand. Was it an offer he couldn’t refuse or is Ford losing one of its top designers because of turmoil on its design staff? GM is doing great in China, and GM owns OnStar, so it was only natural that GM would have OnStar start operating in China. All that and more, plus John shares his thoughts on the new GMC Terrain.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. Last minute bids could save Saab. Ford loses one of its top designers. And OnStar moves into China.

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

This is Autoline Daily for Monday, December 21, 2009. And now, the news.

General Motors is getting last minute bids on Saab, including a new offer from Spyker. And while GM says it will look into those offers, it says it will continue to wind down Saab’s operations. And it says it will have no further comment until it evaluates these offers.

Hyundai, which has had a good sales year in America with cars, is now moving into China with trucks. Over the weekend the Associated Press reports that the company agreed to launch a 400-million dollar joint venture with a Chinese partner. It will be a 50-50 deal between Hyundai Motors and — since I don’t want to mangle its name — what we’ll call the BBB Heavy-Duty Truck Company from China. Their target is to sell a 100,000 trucks by 2014.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Honda announced plans for a new passenger car factory. It should boost capacity by 20 percent raising Honda’s total Chinese output to over 730-thousand units. The factory plans to be up and running by 2011.

And finally, big news for Cadillac owners in China as OnStar is rolling out this month in Mandarin (subscription required) no-less! Wardsauto.com reports that the company has been looking to expand its business with the reduction of GM brands and China was an obvious target. One of the biggest challenges though, has been gearing up its voice-recognition software for the difficult language of Mandarin which OnStar seems to have overcome.

Autoblog is reporting that one of Ford’s top designers is resigning from the company. Pat Schiavone, who ran Ford’s truck studios for North America, is reportedly leaving to take a job outside of the auto industry. He’s credited with the last three generations of the F-150, the Ford Flex, and even the 1994 Mustang. We’ll have to find out if this is a case of an offer he couldn’t refuse, or it its an indication of more turmoil at Ford’s design staff.

And speaking of design at Ford, it’s coming out with some wild graphics that customers can buy to customize their cars, or trucks or SUVs. It even has a graphics line it calls Warriors in Pink for survivors of breast cancer. And it has special green graphics for its hybrids. These will be dealer installed graphics that will be available in 2010. And you can see them all at a website called fordcustomgraphics.com.

Coming up next, I’ll give you my instant impressions of the new GMC Terrain.

The Terrain is a pretty good vehicle, but clearly the automotive media prefers its sister vehicle, the Chevrolet Equinox, which made it to the finalist list for the North American Truck of the Year award. The winner of that award will be announced at the Detroit auto show.

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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33 Comments to “Episode 295 – Last Gasp For Saab, Ford Loses Designer, OnStar in China”

  1. G.A.Branigan Says:

    That new gmc crossover has a distinct FORD look to it.Boy I’m tellin’ you,gm has completely lost its self.Maybe Saab should go on and gm just fold their tents and sell hotdogs.

  2. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    GM says they have to hit a home run every time a new vehicle comes out, well I think they just struck out with this GMC. The wheel flares are atrocious and another vehicle styled after a large-mouth lake bass.

  3. Tony Gray Says:

    John, you should have driven the new EV version of that GMC. After the last episode where you mentioned GM working to add sounds to quiet vehicles, you could have tested the musical speakers affixed to alert pedestrians.

    You know..”I hear the Terrain a comin’..it’s comin’ round the bend…”

  4. Find one Says:

    I’m not a fan of the Terrian styling but one thing is undeniable, you can’t find one on the dealer’s lots. Same can be said of the Equinox.

    So when somebody writes about how these vehicles aren’t this or that, sales trump all.

  5. Chuck Grenci Says:

    The Terrain is just different looking; some will find it attractive (probably the same percentage that pick GMC over a Chevrolet truck). You can have an opinion on styling but you can’t make objective critique by personal preference (except of course the Aztec).

  6. Nick Stevens Says:

    The Terrain is the poor man’s Hummer H3, with far better MPG and overall practicality. It is no ttrying to copy any Ford.

    I disagree with Pedro, it is not ugly. It is sure not uglier than any old Pontiac Firebird, also a curvier, exaggerated version of the Camaro as this is of the Equinox.

    it is not Aztec-ugly nor is it Subaru-Ugly, or (Insert recent Lincoln)-Ugly.

    John McElroy described it exactly like it is.

    The Equinox gets an official 32 MPG HWY and the Terrain would not be far behind.

  7. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Nick: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I’m sure there’s someone, somewhere, who finds Rosie O’Donnell attractive. and also the Aztek.

  8. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The Terrain makes the perfect case for why GMC should have been dropped. They spent a lot of money making all of those new body panels to make an uglier Equinox. What’s the point?

  9. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Re. Saab, you would think GM would just try to get any kind of money for it, rather than just closing it down and getting nothing at all, unless of course, they declare it a business loss and get another crapload of taxpayers monies.

  10. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Ford’s loss of Pat Schiavone may not be that big of deal. The design of recent F-150 pickups probably isn’t why they sold as well as the did. There are just a certain number of people who buy F-150′s, no matter what. Regarding the Flex, I kind of like it, but not much of anyone else does, seeing how few are on the road. Even though I kind of like Flex, I wouldn’t buy one because it is much bigger than what I’ll want for my next new car.

  11. LEX Says:


    I saw David Welch on Bloomburg this morning being interviewed by Betty Liu. Betty was asking David about what was happening with the SAAB sell to Skryer. Betty only mentioned that David works for Business Week. Please tell David great job!

    The Terrain will only take sells away from the Chevy Equinox. GMC should be GM’s Heavy Duty Truck Divison and Ed Whitacre should refocus all passenger level vehicles towards Chevy.

    I still say, fold SAAB into Opel as a way to maintain the SAAB Brand using the Opel (GM Global Platform ) underpinnings with the SAAB Top Hat. This will revitalize SAAB into a possible contender against Audi and BMW in Europe Market.

    I watch a show called “Futurecars” which explored alternative fuels for vehicles.
    The one which seemed way out there was Compressed Air. May I suggest doing a show on this subject.

  12. Nick Stevens Says:

    # Pedro Fernandez Says:
    December 21st, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Nick: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I’m sure there’s someone, somewhere, who finds Rosie O’Donnell attractive. and also the Aztek.

    Yeah, and Sofia Loren and Jennifer Lopez and your mother in law.

    PLEASE Pedro.

    Loren IS beutiful, even at 80 or whatever she is. Lopez is NOT.

    The Aztec is Edsel-Ugly. The Terrain is NOT ugly.

    It is NOT a function of the eye of the beholder.

    The vast majority of millions of pairs of eyes do find the aztec offensive, but not the terrain or the f-150 truck that is similarly styled.

  13. Kit Gerhart Says:

    LEX Says:
    December 21st, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    “I still say, fold SAAB into Opel as a way to maintain the SAAB Brand using the Opel (GM Global Platform ) underpinnings with the SAAB Top Hat. This will revitalize SAAB into a possible contender against Audi and BMW in Europe Market”

    It seems to me that for Saab to succeed using an Opel platform, the price premium needs to be much smaller than it is now. In the late 50′s and early 60′s, Saabs sold for about the same price as VW Beetles. Now, the 9-3 should sell for only a little more than the similar Opel Vectra, or in North America, Chevy Malibu. Saab does (or did) have one big advantage over the current Malibu. They have (or had) the wagon.

  14. Drew Says:

    The new GMC suv/crossover is ugly.
    Whoever designed and approved the rock’em sock’em robot looking squared look fender flares ought to be fired.

  15. Len simpson Says:

    Technically, my 2010 equinox is a knockout,but i sure would like to cleanline it a little. It,s a shame that so much clutter has to be added for the sake of individuality.
    My other gripe is—-When is someone going to quieten Macpherson strut suspension?

  16. Nick Stevens Says:

    # Drew Says:
    December 21st, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    The new GMC suv/crossover is ugly.

    I don’t remember the similar looking Ford F150 of recent vintage to have been called ugly. I would not buy either one myself, but I do not find them ugly either.

    Same thing with the previous Camaro-Firebird pair. The Camaro had smoother lines and would be my preference if I had to drive one of these two, while the firebird was too curvy and extrovert etc, over the top, but i did no tfind it ugly either.

    Aztec, Edesl, Subary Tribeca (before they fixed it the 2nd year by just making it bland), that’s Ugly!

  17. T. Bejma Says:

    Although not for me, both the CAMI SUVs are selling like hotcakes (enough that CAMI is adding a 3rd Shift)! Apparently lots of people like their wheel flares square and their grilles gaping ;-)

  18. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Nick Stevens Says:
    December 21st, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    “I don’t remember the similar looking Ford F150 of recent vintage to have been called ugly. I would not buy either one myself, but I do not find them ugly either.”

    I always considered recent F-150′s to be ugly, but that’s a give for large pickup trucks. It’s not a given for mid-size and small crossovers.

  19. HtG Says:

    Pedro, I wonder if you have seen the Terrain in the flesh yet. I ask because I think the photos don’t show how well the design comes together to the naked eye. I saw this car at the NY Auto Show and was truly surprised, and especially liked the interior.

  20. Salvador G. Says:

    I do like the Terrain looks but, I do think the Terrain looks more like a composite of different SUVs…

    is basically the Equinox

    Add the Hummer h3

    plus Fords new three blade grill

    and you get the Terrain, although; I would like to know how is the Equinox better than the Cadillac SRX

  21. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    I don’t care for the fresh water bass mouth look so common in so many cars nowadays and the flares are supposed to give it that manly “professional grade” look, I much prefer the Chevy at a lower price or even the soon to be defunct Saturn version.

  22. dcars Says:

    The GMC Terrain got hit with the ugly stick. The ‘Nox’ is much better looking.
    On a different note ‘Natural Gas’ appears on the verge of a major break through as an abundant energy source. AND found in large quantities in the US. Hey John, any rumblings on this subject in the automotive world?

  23. Richard S Says:

    OK – another vote for UGLY on the Terrain. And while we ar at it, let’s just extend that to the “silver-toothed” Acuras as well as the horse-collar Audis.

    I didn’t see the F150 reflection in the GMC front fenders, perhaps because the rest of the hood/grill was done better. I have noticed the squared fenders on other GMC designs and it just looks like a failed attempt to give them dumb/cheap masculine lines.

    I REALLY hope that the loss of Mr. Schiavone is not a significant loss for the Blue Oval. Their recent designs have been spot-on with great lines and proportions.

  24. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Rosie O’Donnell=kind of attractive, in a special way. Aztek-Nope.

    The Ford graphics look nice now, but in 5 years they will be so corny. I can just tell. I can imagine the chick that gets the Breast Cancer graphic on her Fiesta in 2012 hitting herself upside the head in 2017, after her company didnt get the big contract becuase they saw her Fiesta with the silly graphic on it.

    We’ll see about that Terrain when the Tuscon gets that Turbo, John. I do have to admit the Terrain is a Good work by GM. Its a nice truck.

    This is coming from a Chrysler turned Hyundai guy, who Hates GM with a passion.

  25. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Richard S Says:
    December 21st, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    “I REALLY hope that the loss of Mr. Schiavone is not a significant loss for the Blue Oval. Their recent designs have been spot-on with great lines and proportions.”

    I guess I don’t see how the recent Ford designs are “spot-on,” considering the poor sales of the Flex, the ugliness of the recent Lincolns, and the mediocrity of the new Taurus and Sable. There is one upcoming Ford, though, that does look appealing to me, the Fiesta, which was probably a completely European design.

  26. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    And why hasnt anyone noticed that Ford Blantantly copied the rear 1/3 rd of a Hyundai Accent Hatchback on the Fiesta 2 door Hatch Design? Its not a big deal to me if Ford and Alfa Romeo Copied it. Im flattered that they would use the idea.

    My problem is the Blatant anti-Hyundai Racism involved, even if Hyundai uses a good idea and improves on it.

    If Hyundai did that comments would be:

    1. “Look at them inferior Koreans, POS”

    2. “That’s an inferior company, even if they are the 4th largest car company (Will be 3rd in 12 months if they continue on this sales pace) on the planet. They cant even design their own products.”

    I can keep going on and on, but you should get my point.

    I think there’s an underlying current of something when some people converse maliciously about Hyundai. Racism, Fear, Ignorance whatever it is, its there.

    This company has done everything to prove to most people that its builds great product, yet many still wont take the carrot and stick; kind of like how many people speak about the President.

    I dont care what you guys say. What I think matters to me more, and you cant convince me otherwise.

    Not only John Krafick is tired of it, but his customers like myself are sick of it too.

  27. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    However, us Americans unlike Europeans at least will accept the Idea of Hyundai earning its ropes. Hyundai just never caught on in Europe, as much as it caught on here. I have a feeling that Europe is going to be a really hard nut to crack for Hyundai. However, in percentages KIA does better in Europe than it does here. However, In the Long term, the goal is for the KIA to be the true volume brand for the company everywhere. KIA does face a tougher battle here in the US I think. There are some simple solutions for that, but the company needs to execute.

    Hyundai sells only 40% of US capacity in Europe. Remember, Europe has 150 million more people.

  28. dcars Says:

    Hyundai has come a long way; I love the Genesis and drove their vans. They seamed well made and engineered. Kia will face the same challenges of Chevrolet, a perception of poor quality. GM’s Aveo has a low quality look and feel to it and the cobalt seams out dated. Kia does not have cars like that in their line up.

  29. Dave Says:

    As a KIa owner I have had NO problems and would buy another. I have owned a KIA suv for 5 years and is better than anything the big 3 had to offer for price, size, and warr.

  30. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Don’t worry Hyundai/Kia guy, when the Fiats and the Chinese come here, Kias are gonna seem like Lexus in comparison to those real POS’s.

  31. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Thanks Pedro.

    dcars, yeah with Peter Schreyer over at KIA now our plans are full proof and we cant fail. The Forte is a Civic Successor, the Next Gen Rio is slated to go right for the Throat of the Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit. The next Gen Sportage is testing and its going right for the throat of the CRV. No more Rondo and Sedona for the US Market, and a Forte Hatch similar to the Matrix is coming. There will also be a new Optima, and it looks like Something Acura could have did. That’s going to be a Mailbu CAM/Cord killer.

    The Accent over at Hyundai will be above Fit and Fiesta class, and a better value than a MINI in an overall better car. The Next Gen Elantra will be above the Cruze/Civic/Corollas of the world, and more on par with Astra. As we all know the Sonata is light years ahead of the Sebring. The Tuscon kills Chrysler Pacifica. I can keep going on and on, but you get the picture.

    Dave, yeah my boss owns a Sorrento. The Sportage and the Sorrento are tough trucks, and that new one is no joke. That new Sorento and Sportage will be great contenders for KIA. Next Gen Sorrento will start at $20.790.

    Here goes some Sportage Spy Shots: It will also feature the same class leading 1.6 GDI engine going in to Next Gen Hyundai Accent as a Fuel Economy variant.

    The Fuel Economy Variant on the Sportage will be guaranteed to be the most Fuel Efficient CUV in America. Expect 34-37 MPG.



    KIA Will only make truck products for now on and Hyundai will make car products. Its to help KIA get the reliability up on cars, and Hyundai get the reliability up on Trucks. KIA makes cars that arent as reliable as Hyundai due to manufacturing technique and experience. KIA has more experience making trucks, so they usually turn out better built Trucks/Minivans than Hyundai.

  32. Spencer Says:

    I find the Terrain both distinctive & appealing, & will consider it in the future.

  33. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    John Who designed the Terrain? The answer is Phillip Zak, who now is the Chief Designer for Hyundai North America.