Episode 184 – Rattner Calls It Quits, Larry Burns Retires, Visteon Bonuses Opposed

July 14th, 2009 at 12:00pm

Runtime 6:52

The head of the Automotive Task Force, Steve Rattner, quits. General Motors’ VP of R&D and strategic planning, Larry Burns, will retire. Ford tells Visteon it better not pay any bonuses to its executives. All that and more, plus a look at the newest Lexus drop-top, the ISC.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. Rattner quits the Task Force. Larry Burns leaves General Motors. And Ford tells Visteon it better not pay any bonuses.

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

This is Autoline Daily for Tuesday, July 14, 2009. And now, the news.

Steve Rattner, the car czar who ran the automotive task force, has left the Obama Administration to return to his private career. He successfully ramrodded GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy in record time. The Wall Street Journal reminds us that Rattner is part of a government investigation of alleged payments by Rattner’s company to get business from the New York state pension fund. Some political observers thought Rattner might use his task force experience to pursue a career in the Obama Administration. But I would point out no one knows how this mess in the auto industry is going to turn out. Better to step down now and declare victory, while there’s still a chance to call it a victory.

In a brazen move, automotive supplier Visteon wants to pay its top 100 executives $30 million in bonuses. That would be an average of $300,000 each. Reuters reports that the Ford Motor Company, which just provided $125 million to Visteon to help in its bankruptcy financing, is completely opposed to Visteon paying these kinds of bonuses in this economic climate. GM says that it too is against them.

A decision from the Chinese government on Sichuan Tengzhong’s bid to buy Hummer could happen this month. But Reuters reports the decision is being delayed because China’s top economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, opposes the deal while its Ministry of Commerce is in favor of it. Sichuan Tengzhong needs that approval if it wants to build Hummer’s in China.

General Motors’ vice president of R&D and strategic planning, Larry Burns, will retire. According to the Detroit Free Press, Burns told CEO Fritz Henderson of his decision a month ago. Burns joined the company’s R&D staff in 1969 and has been a VP since 1998.

GM now says the Pontiac G8 is not going away. It could live on in the U.S. as the Chevrolet Caprice, a great opportunity for Holden, GM’s Australian subsidiary, that makes the car. And Autoblog reports Cadillac will offer a coupe version of the CTS V.

Last May Daimler bought 10 percent of Tesla, but now Ward’s reports that it’s selling 40 percent of that to Aabar Investments (subscription required) based in Abu-Dhabi. That’s a strange move. You buy part of an electric car company then turn right around and sell almost half of it. I think we’ll discover that there’s more to this story.

Coming up next, a look at the newest Lexus drop-top, the ISC, we’ll be back right after this.

Several luxury automakers are about to drive into the convertible segment. Infiniti will offer a drop-top G37, Audi is readying an open-air A5 and Lexus has launched a convertible version of its IS.

The ISC comes in two different flavors – mild and spicy. For tamer palates, the base car sports a 2.5-liter V6 with 204 horsepower. It delivers decent performance and a combined fuel economy rating of 24 miles per gallon. It’s available with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.

The zesty IS350C gets a bigger, 3.5-liter V6. It whips-up 306 horsepower which should make 60 miles an hour available in less than six seconds. It’s slightly thirstier though, averaging around 20 miles per gallon. This will be the version of the car that goes after performance-minded Infiniti and BMW drop-tops.

Both engines have plenty of get-up-and-go, but the big-block six delivers noticeably faster acceleration and a more satisfying sound. An automatic is the only transmission available with the 3.5.

The defining feature of the new ISC is obviously its roof. Made of aluminum, Lexus claims it’s fastest-opening three-piece metal top in the world. Along with open-air driving the company hopes the car will open customers’ minds and guide them into the open arms of their local Lexus dealer.

It’s a solid car with strong performance and fun driving dynamics, but other than that, there’s really not much to say. Like every other Lexus it’s very comfortable, has a slick interior and it’s probably be as reliable anything out there. It excelled at everything we asked it to do on our short test drive. Our only complaints are its small back seat and tiny trunk when the top is down.

So, what’s it cost? The base price is about $39,000 while the up-level IS350C starts right around 44 grand, which is all over the BMW 3 Series. Look for the drop-top IS at Lexus dealers soon, just in time for summer.

And that’ll do it for today’s show. But tune in to Autoline After Hours when our guest will be Michael Sprague, who’s in charge of sales and marketing at Kia, a brand that’s been doing petty well despite the recession. That’s Thursday night live at 7 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

20 Comments to “Episode 184 – Rattner Calls It Quits, Larry Burns Retires, Visteon Bonuses Opposed”

  1. Tony Gray Says:

    G8 lives! GREAT decision, but I’d call it an Impala SS or Chevelle.

  2. APMeterman Says:

    I wonder if the G8 will transfer over 100% or will it be retuned to be less sporty. If it could come with more fuel efficient engines for the main stream (25 highway for the V6 G8 vs 29 for the Impala) I think it would be a great Impala replacement. The Impala seems like almost an afterthought now with GM making the Malibu the hot ticket.

  3. Michael J. Brown Says:

    Okay, did I miss something or did the gentleman speaking on behalf of Lexus’ new ISC say that they have “never had a product that put them in a position to complete in the coupe or convertible segment of the entry luxury market”?

    WHAT?!?!? HELLLOOOoooooo… SC300 & SC400 (Super Coupes) and SC430 (Lexus’ first ever hard-top convertable coupe). The SC has only been around since 1992! And it definately is a “luxury” coupe. But, oh forgive me, the ISC is what allows them to compete in a segment they’ve never had a product offering to fill…

    Am I missing some technical distinction here, John? Because this fella’s statement seems to make no sense whatsoever.


  4. Alex Kajdi Says:

    I believe once (Fringers Crossed) GM is a viable money making operation the Pontiac Brand will be reintroduced with a Screaming Chicken on the hood of a Camaro based “New” TransAm.

    The Pontiac Brand has much more appeal in the US then Buick. The G8 and Vibe should both survive as Chevrolet’s, but do not call the G8 a Caprice (Old Man’s Car)! Lumina is it’s name in other parts of the world. Even Chevy G8 has a better ring than Caprice. Those guys down-under make some pretty sweet machines.

    The NUMMI Plant in California is pivotal to GM in meeting cafe regulations. The Vibe is a great small CUV. A rebadged Chevy version could eliminate that cheap Aveo / G3 model currently being offered by Chevy and Pontiac.
    What ever happened to the “Heavy Chevy” slogun used make in the 70′s & 80′s to describe Chevy Vehicles. Us middle aged guys like to see & hear familar visions and sloguns from the past, case in point the New Chevy Camaro!

    Chevy once had a slogun “See the USA in your Chevrolet”. I would like to suggest a new slogun for Chevrolet – “See the World Today in your Chevrolet”. Ed Peper if you are reading or listening please contact John McElroy for my email address so you can send me my royalty checks. This would work in all markets around the world as the slogun suggests. Chevrolet as a global brand on global platforms and economies of production scales will revitalize Chevy and General Motors.

    I want to say fanastic job to John, Peter and Associates at Autoline Detroit, Autoline Daily and Autoline After Hours. These are three great avenues for information about the global automobile industry. Keep up the great work!!!

  5. EAB Says:

    I own some Visteon stock and am pulling for them to pay off on my cheap purchase, but you simply don’t pay bonuses to your management team until they “do the job.” VSTN.PK is at 10 cents today so I thinks they got a bit of work to do before there are any bonuses.

  6. diffrunt Says:

    The present Impala is a chinese powered abomination . The badge should be G-eighted

  7. Chuck Grenci Says:

    John, you got two out of three announcements (Chevy Caprice and CTS-V Coupe) but missed Chysler’s announcement of keeping the Viper under the Dodge Brand.
    And now that all GM needs to do is to save the Solstice/Sky under the moniker, oh I don’t know; maybe Buick Sunrise.

  8. Dave E. Says:

    Buick needs a vehicle that appeals to the younger buyers like the Solstice/Sky. I know this will sound strange, but a large group of people in the the younger generation, especially the artistic group have tattoos. The Buick commercial that they showed looks like actors playing the x generation. It’s a small detail, but true.

  9. John McElroy Says:

    @ Chuck Grenci,

    Actually, we covered the Viper story in yesterday’s Autoline Daily (Episode 183). Check it out.

  10. Patrick Says:

    He did not miss Chysler’s announcement of keeping the Viper under the Dodge Brand. That was in yesterday’s show.

  11. Chuck Grenci Says:

    You’re right of course (and I did watch the show; just remembered I saw it somewhere else, but didn’t) Old age or something :)

    p.s. Still think GM should save the Solstice/Sky; guess we’ll have to wait and have faith in Bob Lutz and see if it happens.

  12. Wayne Says:

    What happened with the format of the latest episode of AAH online? Watched it on the weekend and couldn’t enlarge it to full screen and the volume was poor even when cranked using the video presentation volume, the volume control on my computer and the volume on the separate speakers combined!! Did you switch carriers of the video? Also liked the suggestion from another viewer last week about having the ability to rewind the video without having to start from the beginning. Gonna miss Jason’s presence every week. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  13. R. Rufty Says:

    Given GM’s track record the G8 will have a standard 4 cylinder engine with an optional weak-kneekneed 6 cylinder . I hope Government Motors goes broke soon.

  14. C-Tech Says:

    Glad to hear the G8 will be saved. I hope they reconsider calling it the Caprice, preferable they call it the Impala SS. Now if they save the Vibe, send it to Buick as the entry level model, upgrade the interior pieces, and you have the new Skylark ( or give it another name that starts with “E” ). The Solstice becomes the new Buick GT.

  15. Chuck M. Says:

    “Big block V-6.” Now there’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one!

    Also, Caprice is not a performance name for a former Pontiac/Holden performance car! C-Tech has a better idea.

  16. David (autogenau Blog) Says:

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  17. Kit Gerhart Says:

    They should call the re-badged G8 Chevy Bel Air. If you resurrect a name that hasn’t been used in a while, you might not have all of these varied opinions on what is “wrong” with recently used names like Caprice and Impala.

  18. Jeff Taylor Says:

    Good news on the G8! I hope it is true.

    Also, there are rumors that a F version of the ISC is in the works.

  19. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Haven’t the decisions already been made to drop the Vibe and Solstice/Sky?

    From what I’ve seen, dropping the roadsters is probably the right thing to do. The plant where they build them is way under-utilized, and while they look good, in some ways, the cars were underdeveloped from the start. Even the better selling Sky has seen sales decrease recently.

  20. Tom D Says:

    John: I think Steve Rattner has some issues that are being investigated, but not being vell published. Now that he’s stepping down, perhaps we will hear more about his “deal” with the NY state retirement system. Something about supporting a new movie (to be made) by someone in the family of the NY fund leader. This was in exchange for a bunch of money given to invest (for the retiree fund). Hope he is a good money manager, and can keep out of future trouble…
    Bottom line: I think this is why he’s out.