Episode 202 – Fiat Buys Bertone, Sales Soar in China, Buick Gets A Plug-In Hybrid

August 7th, 2009 at 12:11pm

Runtime 7:35

Fiat buys Bertone, whose facilities will be used to make Chryslers that will be sold outside of North America. Last month sales rose an astonishing 70 percent in China. General Motors announced that Buick will get a plug-in hybrid crossover in 2011. All that and more, plus a clip from last night’s Autoline After Hours with special guest Kurt Ritter, the head of Saatchi LA, which handles all of Toyota’s advertising.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. Fiat buys Bertone (to make Chryslers). Chinese car sales are screaming ahead. And GM unveils its first plug-in hybrid.

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

This is Autoline Daily for Friday, August 7, 2009. And now, the news.

The Cash for Clunkers program in the American market just got $2 billion more in cash. Based on how the program has run so far, that should results in sales of an additional 350,000 to 400,000 vehicles. Now the question is how fast the money will run out. The first billion dollars in the program was gone in less than a week.

Fiat just bought Bertone, the famous Italian design house that has been around for nearly 100 years and did design work for Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Volvo. Bertone also has its own manufacturing facilities. And now the Wall Street Journal reports that those facilities will be used to make Chrysler products (subscription required) that will be sold outside of North America. The Journal says this is part of Fiat’s CEO Sergio Marchionne’s plan to boost Chrysler’s sales around the world.

The Chinese car market is just roaring ahead. Last month sales rose an astonishing 70 percent. According to Bloomberg, this was the biggest gain since January of 2006, as government tax cuts and subsidies helped to fuel sales. That figure drops to a 64 percent increase in sales when buses and trucks are added to the figure. And speaking of China, Audi will open a new plant there next month. According to Gasgoo.com, the capacity will be 200,000 units a year for the Audi A4 and Q5.

Porsche will unveil the new 911 Turbo at next month’s Frankfurt Auto Show with the first entirely new engine for the model in 35 years. It’s a 3.8-liter turbocharged six-cylinder with direct injection that cranks out 500 horsepower. It also has the option to be mated to a seven speed double-clutch transmission. Thanks to the new engine and lighter weight, depending on the configuration, the car gets between 11.4 and 11.7 l/100 km, or about 24-25 MPG. But it’s still able to scream from 0-100km/h in just 3.4 seconds. Pricing for the coupe starts at 122,000 euros or $176,000 and the cabriolet costs 132,000 euros or $190,000. Well, at least you won’t have to worry about paying a gas guzzlers tax.

GM announced that Buick will get a plug-in hybrid crossover in 2011. The unnamed five-passenger vehicle will share the company’s Theta architecture with the new Cadillac SRX, Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain. The plug-in was supposed to be the next Saturn Vue, but with GM getting rid of that brand now Buick gets it first. The two-mode, plug-in hybrid will feature a lithium-ion battery pack and a flex-fuel 3.6-liter V6 engine. This powertrain combination is expected to DOUBLE the fuel economy of other compact crossovers, meaning it could surpass 40 miles per gallon around town! That’s about six liters per 100 kilometers.

Also coming at the Frankfurt Show is a lightweight version of the Mazda Miata. The MX-5 Superlight allegedly takes lightweight engineering “…to a new level…” Could this signal that the industry is starting to embrace advanced technology to save weight? No word yet on just how light this concept car is, or how the company plans to cut the fat, but it does not have a windshield. Well, you’ve got to start chopping someplace.

Coming up next, a look a look at what you might have missed on last night’s Autoline After Hours, we’ll be back right after this.

On last night’s Autoline After Hours our guest was Kurt Ritter, the head of Saatchi LA, which handles all of Toyota’s advertising. At one point the conversation turned to the upcoming Lexus LFA, the exotic sports car that Lexus will be coming out with. The clip starts out with a question from Peter De Lorenzo from Autoextremist. And David Kiley and David Welch, both from BusinessWeek magazine are also in on the discussion.

As always, you can watch the entire episode of Autoline After Hours OR download the podcast version on our website. And next week we’ll be broadcasting live from the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise, the greatest public motoring event in the world that typically attracts about 80,000 cars and 1 million spectators. We’ll be webcasting live from the Auto Zone Hobbies on Woodward Avenue in Birmingham, Michigan, so stop by and say hello.

Alright, it’s Friday, and you know what that means . . . it’s time to announce the winner of this week’s trivia contest! We challenged you to tell us what the letters FMVSS stand for. And the correct answer is . . . Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. All cars must meet these standards if they’re going to be sold in the U.S. As always, we randomly selected this week’s winner from the pool of correct responses. And the lucky person is . . . Tom Mullally of Oakland, California. Congratulations Tom, you’ve just won a Mercedes-Benz coffee mug.

Anyway, that’s it for this week’s top news in the global automotive industry. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you Monday.

15 Comments to “Episode 202 – Fiat Buys Bertone, Sales Soar in China, Buick Gets A Plug-In Hybrid”

  1. pedro Fernandez Says:

    As China becomes more industrialized, the amount of goods sold there, inluding cars, will just keep going up and up, while here we lose manufacturing jobs to China more and more every year and car sales keep going down, down, it’s simple economics folks. If people can’t find work, they can’t buy big ticket items like cars.

  2. Chuck Grenci Says:

    It’s economics, granted, but not as simple as stated. The U.S. is still world leader in technology export. Now, not that I say we should rest on any laurels (as this commodity is also a highly competitive quantity throughout the world), I’m just saying that the U.S. is not ‘dead’ yet. Just saying; it’s not all ‘gloom and doom’ as some may wish to portray.

  3. G.A.Branigan Says:

    Maybe not all doom and gloom,but grime non the less.We are losing our manufacturing base at an alarming rate.With it goes jobs,and the economic downturn that follows in it’s wake.I am not convinced that we are THE world leader in technology export either.In weapons,yes.It seems that europe might have an edge over us in automotive tech,or maybe they are just better and faster at bringing it out.

  4. Alex Kovnat Says:

    We note that:

    >Last month sales rose an astonishing
    >70 percent in China.

    What worries me about the above is, China (and I suppose other developing nations like Brazil, India, etc) are competing with us either for 1) oil or, 2) the atmosphere’s capacity for absorbing carbon dioxide. In other words, either there’s only so much oil to go around or else, only so much carbon dioxide assimilation capacity to go around for everybody.

    If it were up to me, then as I would not encourage export of cigarettes to provide jobs for tobacco farmers, so I would not encourage automobile exports to countries like China to provide jobs for autoworkers.

    The way I look at it, if we encourage exports of cars to China, we are driving the need for ever more draconian “cap and trade” policies to limit possible problems, whether global warming or otherwise, caused by buildup of carbon dioxide in our planet’s atmosphere.

  5. pedro Fernandez Says:

    I do believe that we’re losing technological advantage when it comes to consumer goods and cars. Most of the new ideas come from Asia and Europe. We always seem to be playing catch-up with them, except for military and aerospace, if we ever lose that, then we can all kiss our asses goodbye. One small sample, Toyota build their first V8 for the Lexus in the early 1990′s and right away it was way better than what we had here. it took a few years to come up with the Northstar and it was not nearly as good or durable. Look at the hybrid system, Toyota is way ahead in that too. European diesel technology, same thing we have years of catching up to do, is it indifference? is it lack of motivation? is it the educational system? this is a very complex issue, no doubt.

  6. Fred Cherney Says:

    There is a much easier and less expensive way for Mazda to make the MX-5 (Miata) more economical – just modify the engines to run on regular fuel instead of premium. There’s about a 15% saving.
    Even better, use a diesel!

  7. C-Tech Says:

    As we have this discussion on leading edge technology, I have a question for the group as far as the auto industry. In Europe and Asia there are many more auto companies competing with each other. In the U.S. we only have 3 (at today). Is the lack of competition holding down innovation?

  8. pedro Fernandez Says:

    C-tech: I don’t believe the Detroit 3 took the competition very seriously, noticed they made products for many years just good enough to get by, then when they wouldn’t sell, they would throw money back as rebates year after year, and rely on SUV’s and big trucks for profits which frankly they had market control until Toyota and Nissan came out with full size competition. Then $4 gas hit and the proverbial shit hit the fan and they realized that besides trucks they had nothing to sell. Remember when you make a lot of money like the foreign makes did for so many years you can invest a lot more in R/D and innovations, ex. Hyundai.

  9. Mouhamad A. Naboulsi Says:

    GM should expand the offering of this upcoming plug in hybrid. All companies talk about it, but none have done it yet. GM will get good leap by adding this to Chevy/GMC and of course Cadillac.

    Does anybody else offer a plugin hybrid? in this class?

  10. C-Tech Says:

    Hey Pedro! I get what you are saying and I agree. As a matter of fact, I believe the problem with the big 3 was that they made money on suv’s and trucks, then spent the money and effort in innovations on suv’s and trucks, leaving the car side behind, unlike Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, etc. What I was getting at was, if there where say a “big 6″ in the U.S. competing against each other, would there have been greater innovation in the U.S. ?

  11. pedro Fernandez Says:

    C-tech: I don’t believe it would have made any diff if it was 3 or 6 domestics. They put forth most of their efforts on trucks and suv’s. Cars took a back seat as far as r/d investments.

  12. FIAT 2 America Says:

    I’ve spent some time in Europe, and know, have owned, and rented FIAT and Alfa Romeo cars. The technology and quality is very good, the style is fantastic, and If you thought having more small cars in America will be a boring hell, then you’ve never driven a FIAT.

    Forget what your college roomate told you in 1974, most of the problems arose from US safety and emissions regs, dealer issues in the US, and Russian steel which the company unfortunately obtained in a barter deal for a factory there. I myself had a 1978 FIAT 131 Mirafiori that was the most enjoyable economy car you could imagine… still on the road 30 years later, too.

    And current FIAT CEO Sergio Marchionne is a genius, if you read what The Economist had to say about what’s he’s done at the company, you’d understand just how well run FIAT is… the only currently profitable European automaker.
    I rented a new 4 door FIAT Panda in Greece… it got 40-50mpg on gas, and was a very sporty drive for an econobox. FIAT also makes what we would call a midsize, the Croma… which is like a Taurus, and they produce all matter of trucks right-up-to big rigs. FIAT owns New Holland tractors and IVECO heavy trucks… and of course Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Maserati.
    And their Ferrari Formula One team possess the most advanced racing car in the world… and they invented the now widespread “single rail” diesel technology, and their smallest cars get 70+ mpg on diesel… who needs hybrids?

    Any portrayal of FIAT as a producer of antiquidated, poor quality little cars is nonsense from the uninformed. IMO, they are going to surprise a lot of people- these guys know what they’re doing…


  13. pappy Says:

    John, i am not appreciating the comparision of miles per gallon to liters per kilometer, or, for that matter, euros to dollars and kilometers per hour vs. miles per hour. Call me crazy. I’m guessing, your broadcast extends to the borders of people who really care about liters, kilometers and euros.

  14. JIm Thykeson Says:

    You know I was watching that excellent show from across the pond, ‘Top Gear’ and the concensus from Europe is electrics are a waste of time. It seems the Japs and Germans are going in a different direction deciding to invest in CNG, Hydrogen fuel-cells, and deisel. After seeing the report on the ‘Clarity’ I’m convinced that the oil companies are playing the same game the big insurance companies are…its called cover your ass! They won’t start producing the new fuels until their forced to. We’re in the wrong direction again.

  15. Thor Says:

    If (A big if) China continues on its outstanding growth rate for another 2 decades, it will be as big an economy as the US, and will have a HUGE and Insatiable COnsumer base. These people now are religiously SAVNG their $ and still have enough left over to buy all these mILLIONS of cars, MORE than in the USA in the first half of 2009 (!!!!).

    This will be GREAT news not only for China and its consumers, BUT for everybody ELSE in the WORLD, and the USA included, if we can EXPORT the goods that they WANT.

    The best cos around the world will survive, and the worst will fail, and this is as it SHOULD be.

    Oh, and another thing, the RICH nations do not have to do ANYTHING, really, they can just use their SAVINGS to INVEST in China and reap the huge returns!