March 30th, 2010 at 12:02pm
NASA scientists will be taking a deeper look into Toyota’s unintended acceleration problems. Ford promises bonuses to salaried employees for 2010 if the automaker hits certain targets. Reports from China say BYD is interested in buying Maybach from Daimler. All that and more, plus Mark Phelan from the Detroit Free Press shares his thoughts on the new 2011 Hyundai Sonata.
Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .
Here are today’s top headlines. NASA gets involved in Toyota’s problems. Ford announces the possibility of bonuses. And could the Maybach brand be for sale?
Up next, we’ll be back with the news behind the headlines.
This is Autoline Daily for Tuesday, March 30, 2010. Hello again, I’m Mark Phelan, columnist for the Detroit Free Press, taking another turn in the anchor chair for John McElroy who’s covering the New York Auto Show. He should be back later in the week, but in the meantime, here are today’s top stories in the global automotive industry.
Topping the news today is Toyota, once again, as the U.S. government expands its investigation of unintended acceleration. And now NASA is getting involved. You heard right. In a story you can find on our site, freep.com, nine NASA scientists on loan to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, will be taking a deeper dive into possible problems stemming from electromagnetic radiation, software issues and even cosmic rays. At the same time, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that a separate National Academy of Sciences study will be examining sudden acceleration issues. Both studies should be done this summer and will cost around $3 million.
Meanwhile, my Free Press colleague on the Ford beat, Brent Snavely, writes about more good news for the Dearborn automaker. In an e-mail sent out to its more than 21,000 salaried staff, Ford promised bonuses for 2010 if the automaker hits certain targets, which is the same plan upper management is on. That would be the first bonus payout in three years. In addition to the bonus news, Ford also announced it would make a $3 billion payment on its $34.5 billion debt.
Recently, the U.S. imposed tariffs on China to stop the country from dumping low-cost tires on the market. Apparently the move worked. According to Gasgoo.com, the duties have caused Chinese tire exports to decline. The U.S. is one of China’s biggest markets, with about one-third of its tire exports going to America. The tariff has also led to a decline in natural rubber exports.
In other China news, yesterday there were reports from the country that BYD is interested in buying Maybach from Daimler. Recently there have been rumors Daimler could axe the brand. But according to Reuters, Daimler is backing off those rumors and both it and BYD deny having talked about a sale. Last year only 200 Maybachs were sold.
Mirroring the auto industry’s other problems, the Detroit News reports that UAW membership has dropped to its lowest level since the end of the Second-World War. Last year the United Auto Workers Union lost nearly 76,000 members – an 18 percent decline! Only about 355,000 people are involved with the organization – roughly half its size in 2001. Experts disagree as to whether the union has hit bottom yet, but it’s poised to lose another 4,600 members next week when the NUMMI plant in California closes. This is a far cry from its peak back in 1979 when it represented some 1.5 million people.
The Focus RS is one of the best compact performance cars in the world. As good as it is, Ford doesn’t offer it in the U.S. To taunt us even more, the company will introduce a special, limited-production version of the car. The RS500 is more powerful than the standard Focus RS, with 350 PS, or about 345 horsepower from its enhanced turbo five-cylinder engine. It also gets massive 19-inch wheels. But the most noticeable feature of the car is its matte-black paint, which Ford is calling a “foil” finish. It really gives the RS a sinister look. Production is limited to just 500 units. Look for the Focus RS500 to debut in the flesh, or rather, in the steel, at next month’s Leipzig Motor Show.
Coming up after the break, a few of my thoughts on Hyundai’s redesigned Sonata. We’ll be back before you know it.
Hyundai surprised people when its Genesis sedan won the North American Car of the Year Award two years ago, but for my money, the 2011 Sonata is the best car the Korean automaker builds.
The Sonata takes the value Hyundai’s known for, wraps it in a beautiful design and throws in best-in-class fuel economy and value.
It’s sure to give favorites like the Chevy Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry a run for their money. In addition to better fuel economy and a great price, the new Sonata has more room than any of them.
With luxury-car looks and a budget-conscious price tag, the 2011 Sonata looks like a hit. It should be a blockbuster.
Sonata prices start under $20,000, and you can get a loaded model with a first-class navigation system for less than $26,000.
The Sonata gets its power from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Linked to Hyundai’s new six-speed automatic transmission, the engine gives the Sonata very good performance.
The Sonata’s system for hands-free phone calls and iPod controls still need some work, though, and the coupe-like roof reduces visibility.
The Sonata also joins the new Hyundai Tucson in setting an appealing and modern new design theme for the Korean automaker.
You can read my full review of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata in Thursday’s Detroit Free Press and at freep.com.
And that’ll just about do it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry. Again, I’m Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press filling in for John who should be back from New York AND back in the anchor chair later this week. Anyway, thanks for watching, we’ll see you next time.