AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Chrysler Minivan Sales Down, but Up

March 15th, 2008 at 8:00am

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Chrysler Town and Country

Chrysler’s minivan sales are down, but the company says that’s actually pretty good, and the way they explain it actually makes sense.

Sales of the Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan fell 30 percent and 40 percent last month, respectively. But Chrysler says that’s actually pretty good news because all of that drop-off in sales came from them cutting back on their sales to fleet customers.

From a retail standpoint, Chrysler says sales of its minivans are actually going up. So it says all these reports that the minivan segment is sinking are not really accurate.

And that may be true, but the company is still going through an alarming drop-off in sales of minivans. And this just shows how dependant Detroit’s automakers had become to fleet sales and how painful it is to try and reduce those sales.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Brazilian Market is Red Hot

March 14th, 2008 at 4:10pm

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Even though China is getting all the attention, Brazil may be the hottest car market in the world right now. While new car sales continue to crater in the American market, the exact opposite is true in South America, especially Brazil. GM just announced it’s going to add 900Brazil more jobs there to try and keep up with demand.

Car sales in Brazil this year are up a staggering 50 percent, and both Ford and GM are making big, fat profits there right now. In fact, despite all the attention GM heaps on how well it’s doing in China, last year GM made more money in Brazil than it did in China.

All this shows how important it is for the Big Three to play in the global market, because while their U.S. operations are dragging them down, their global ones are keeping them alive.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Ford Taurus Redo Isn’t Working

March 14th, 2008 at 8:00am

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2008 Taurus SmallOne of Alan Mullaly’s first decisions at Ford was to bring back the Taurus name. It was a bold move, but it isn’t working.

Last year Ford dropped the Five Hundred, renamed it the Taurus, gave it a face lift, put in a new power train, and made a bunch of other improvements. They did the same with the wagon version of the car, which2008 Taurus X Small was called the Freestyle and is now called the Taurus X.

But the results are mighty disappointing. Sales of the Taurus are off a lot, nearly 30 percent, which is worse than the overall drop in the market. The Taurus X is off even more. Which is pretty puzzling because these cars are a lot better than they were before.

Insiders at Ford tell me “Wait until you see the 2010 redesign of the Taurus.” So I guess we will have to wait to see if things get better then, because changing the name of the current Taurus hasn’t done anything for the car.


AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Hans List Award for Engineers

March 13th, 2008 at 4:53pm

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AVL Logo

OK all you young engine engineers out there. How’d you like to make an extra 75 grand this year?

AVL is the name of a company in Austria that does consulting and development work on advanced power trains. And it just announced that it’s going to sponsor an award for young engineers who have come up with new developments in power train engineering.

To win the award you have to submit achievements in complete power train systems or just in components. It can also include breakthroughs in theoretical areas, as long as they’re practical and can be used in mass production.

It’s called the Hans List award, because Hans List is the name of the guy who started the company, AVL. And they’re giving a prize of 50,000 Euros, which is about $75,000. You can find all the info you need to win the big prize on the website for AVL.

Now You’re Cooking With Gas!

March 13th, 2008 at 9:00am


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There are countless ways to cook a good meal. You can barbecue, grill, sauté, braise, blanch, bake, deep-fry, pan-fry, stir-fry, steam and even boil. But here’s an unusual method you’ve probably never tried. It’s called manifold cooking, and you don’t do it in the kitchen, instead, on the open road. With manifold cooking there are no dirty dishes to clean up and the only appliance you need is your car.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Chrysler Could Easily Sell Jeep

March 12th, 2008 at 3:43pm

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Jeep LogoAnalysts are speculating that Chrysler could end up selling Jeep, and it turns out it would be easier to sell than any other part of the company.

The financial analyst community reported that Mahindra, the Indian automaker, is interested in buying Jeep. I don’t think Chrysler is anywhere near doing something that drastic, but it turns out it would not be that hard to do.

Remember, all of Jeep engineering is located in its own separate building on Plymouth Road in Detroit, it’s not at the Tech Center in Auburn Hills. Moreover, the Jeep plants in Toledo and Detroit are all exclusive to themselves. All they build are Jeeps.

The point is, with almost completely separate facilities it would be pretty easy to break Jeep off and sell it. But like I said, things will have to get a lot worse at Chrysler before they take any kind of action like that, but it’s probably a key part of Plan B.


March 11th, 2008 at 6:00pm

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WWJ Newsradio 950


Click the above image to see more photos of the Mazda 5.

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They say the minivan market is going away, but don’t tell that to Mazda.

If you ever get a chance to see the original Chrysler minivan you won’t believe how small they look. But today there’s nothing mini about minivans — in fact, most of them are downright huge.

The Mazda 5 on the other hand is a people mover that’s very close in size to the original Chrysler vans. It has sliding doors, seating for six and for 2008 Mazda completley restyled the front-end and added LED taillights while inside they redesigned the center console and instrument cluster. Mazda also added a new five-speed automatic transmission and recalibrated engine to deliver better fuel economy — up to 22 city and 28 highway.

The original minivan is what saved Chrysler from disaster and the Mazda 5 is doing the same for Mazda.

Small04 Small01 Small05

Click an above image to see more photos of the Mazda 5.


AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Automakers Paying for Poor Suppliers

March 11th, 2008 at 1:09pm

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Like it or not, a lot of car companies are paying the price for allowing their suppliers to bid on business they really couldn’t afford.

The purchasing departments at the car companies are really good at negotiating with suppliers to get the lowest possible prices. Sometimes they’re too good at it. A lot of financially-stressed suppliers have bid on business that left them no room for profit.

The suppliers did it because they felt that getting some amount of money coming in was better than getting none. What they really should have done was downsize their companies to where they could make a profit.

But they didn’t, and here’s the kicker. In most cases the car companies had to know they were awarding business to suppliers that would lose money on those contracts. And now the OEMs are spending a small fortune to bail out a lot of those companies, which means they really didn’t get a cheap price by giving those suppliers the business in the first place.


Pontiac’s Group of Eight

March 10th, 2008 at 4:07pm

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The G8, short for Group of Eight, is an international forum that brings together the eight wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world. This meeting gives the heads of these states a chance to openly discuss pressing issues facing the planet.

For 2008, GM’s Pontiac division is launching a new, full-size sedan that for all practical purposes could have been named after the global summit. And just like the G8 conference, the Pontiac G8 is truly an international affair. The rear-wheel-drive architecture that underpins this all-American, V8-powered, four-door rocket was developed in Australia of all places by GM’s Holden subsidiary.

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AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Chrysler’s Jim Press Sees Tough Year Ahead

March 9th, 2008 at 11:00am

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Chrysler’s Jim Press says that the economy and car market will pick up in the second half of this year. But it won’t help the Big Three.Jim Press

Chrysler’s co-chairman Jim Press tells Bear Stearns that the Big Three are going to be in trouble even if the economy and car sales pick up later this year. Detroit’s automakers continue to lose market share, and upcoming fuel economy and safety regulations are competing with the capital they need for new models.

Jim Press agrees with industry analysts who say these regulations are going to add somewhere between $6,000 to $7,000 to the cost of a car. And I would add that that is going to hurt the Big Three more than most of the import brands since import buyers typically have higher incomes.

On a positive note, Jim Press says he believes Cerberus is enabling a culture change at Chrysler that’s going to turn it into, quote, “…the best little car company in America.” But it’s pretty obvious he does not think that is going to happen this year.