Episode 535 – Chinese Buyers Shun Green Cars, BMW Is Hiring, Kia Picanto Sketches Released

December 7th, 2010 at 12:00pm

Runtime 7:59

Just like American consumers, Chinese car buyers are shunning green vehicles.  BMW is hiring-back some 1,300 workers this year to speed the development of hybrids, electric cars and advanced engines.  Sketches of Kia’s redesigned Picanto city-car are out it looks good.  All that and more, plus Autoline Daily caught up with Ralph Gilles, CEO of the Dodge brand and Chrysler’s Senior Vice President of Design, to talk about the look of the company’s vehicles.


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This is Autoline Daily for the day that will live in infamy: December 7.

We start out in China today. Yesterday we reported on how sales of hybrids in the American market are not doing very well, and today, Gasgoo reports that they’re facing the same problem in China. After investing hundreds of millions to develop a hybrid, automaker Changan pulled it off the market when it failed to sell even one of them. As we reported yesterday BYD dropped out of the EV market when it only sold 54 electric cars. And even the Toyota Prius, the best-selling hybrid in the world, is doing abysmally bad in China. All this despite the fact the Chinese government is offering sales incentives of $9,000 for people who buy electric cars, and $3,000 for hybrids.

Now to Europe. BMW says it will hire 1,300 workers this year and the same number next year, primarily to boost development of electric cars, hybrids and cleaner engines. Bloomberg reports the company laid off a number of workers during the economic crisis of the last two years and is now adding a number of them back.

KIA PICANTO IS SKETCHY (subscription required)
Ok, let’s head over to Korea. No, actually let’s stay in Europe. Kia is one of the hottest brands in the global market, and now the company has just released sketches of a new city car that it’s going to bring out. Called the Picanto, it will officially debut at the Geneva motor show next year. If you ask me, it kind of looks like a Toyota Yaris, only better. But here’s why I say this story is from Europe. The Picanto was actually designed in Germany by Peter Schreyer’s design team. He’s the guy Kia hired away from Audi, and what a brilliant move that was.

TURKEY ON THE MOVE (subscription required)
And now this news from Turkey, which is becoming an automotive powerhouse . . . sort of. According to the Wall Street Journal, it just surpassed the Czech Republic in auto manufacturing to become the largest in Eastern and Emerging Europe, aside from Russia. It’s producing one-third more cars this year than last and sales are growing. Through November, they’re up more than 30 percent. It’s not hard to see why. Ford builds its Transit and Transit Connect vans there, Renault is expanding its operations and last month Chinese automaker Chery committed to build a factory in the country.

Speaking at the annual United Nations climate talks, which are taking place in Mexico right now, Steven Chu, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, said electric vehicles will start to become competitive with their petroleum-powered counterparts in about five years. Bloomberg also reports the Nobel Prize-winning physicist said EV batteries will “soon” improve by a factor of two, whenever that is. What Steven Chu is talking about is the second generation of battery packs, which most automakers are working on now. They believe they can double the energy density of their batteries, and cut the cost.

Wow, someone on Capitol Hill is actually asking tough questions. The Detroit Free Press reports Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, wants to know why the U.S. Federal Reserve – the nation’s central bank – spent nearly $5 billion during the financial collapse two years ago to help foreign automakers. Mitsubishi and, surprisingly, Toyota and BMW were beneficiaries of these loans. Yesterday Senator Sanders sent a letter to Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Fed’s Board of Governors, voicing concern that anyone who has gone through the records must be “truly shocked by the sheer amount of lending the Fed provided.” Good question.

Chrysler is going to shock a lot of people with all the new product is has coming out in the next year. Coming up next, we’ll talk to the guy who was responsible for styling all those vehicles.

Recently I caught up with Ralph Gilles. Not only is he the CEO of the Dodge brand, he’s also in charge of all styling at the Chrysler Group. As you know, Dodge is coming out with six new or redesigned models. Amazingly, a lot of the sheet metal on these vehicles is completely new. They’re not just mild face-lifts. So, I asked Ralph, if you’re making so many changes to the sheet metal, why did you decide to evolve the designs, rather than go for an all-new look?

I also asked him if they used computer-simulation software to do these designs or not.

Chrysler design is also bragging that it’s using hand sculpturing, not computer software to design the interiors of its cars. Naturally, I asked him why they’re doing this.

And finally I wondered how and if Dodge design is going to evolve from here.

Some of these new products, like the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger will be replaced in a little over two years. At that point they’ll be based on platforms from Fiat, and it will be fascinating to see what kind of styling they offer.

That’s today’s report for the top news in the global automotive industry. I’ll be out of town on business for the next two days, and the Autoextremist, Peter De Lorenzo, will be hosting the show then. Have a great day.

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46 Comments to “Episode 535 – Chinese Buyers Shun Green Cars, BMW Is Hiring, Kia Picanto Sketches Released”

  1. Ron Paris Says:

    So sales of hybrids are in the toilet worldwide, eh? There’s an old marketing maxim which says “There’s no right price for the wrong product.” And, I might add, no amount of goverment subsidies will change that!

  2. HtG Says:

    I’m so pleased looking at Chrysler and Dodge cars. Same for KIA. But why have I gotten tired of Hyundai’s designs? It’s like they’re dated and irritating already. Who’s going to back me up here?

  3. tj Martin Says:

    Not only are the sales of Hybrids finally meeting face to face with reality ( junk is junk ) but Honda today announced it will be offering a Gasoline Turbocharged engine for 2011 in the CR-Z ….. because of ……… its lousy sales in the US , EU as well as in Japan

  4. Ralph Kercheval Says:


    No one is buying them! Even the Chinese don’t want them but BY GOD WE ARE GOING TO KEEP SHOVING THEM DOWN THEIR THROAT!! After all WE (the government) know better than they(the buying public) what they need…

  5. tj Martin Says:

    @ HtG;

    Molto Grazzi for the LF-A review . As well as your comments on the IS-F and the IS . Too bad the print magazines haven’t put one third the effort you did last night into their reviews/articles .

    Now you’ve got me wondering if I shouldn’t go have a peak/test drive in an IS . I’ve been wondering if it was any good .

    Opinion ?

  6. pedro fernandez Says:

    HTG Agree, it’s like the Tiburon design gone to the extreme.

  7. tj Martin Says:

    HtG ;

    You’ve got my vote on Hyundai designs . If they tried any harder to copy everyone else they’d have to just start selling everyone else’s car with a Hyundai badge on it . Not an original design in the lot

  8. Phoenix Mark Says:

    tj Martin, What car is the Sonata copied from?

  9. HtG Says:

    tj, I’m glad you liked reading my piece on LF-A and IS-F. Lexus was really making an effort, and they have the goods to back it up.(I have no connection to Toyota or Lexus). If you’re looking for a quick sedan, I’d say check out IS. It’s really the only Lexus I like looking at(save LF-A)and the exterior cues on IS-F are subtle enough that only people who know will know what you’re driving. Expensive car, though.

    Coming out of your Mini, I think you may find the car a bit heavy, but I stepped out of my Miata, to find IS-F wasn’t ponderous at all.

  10. Kit Gerhart Says:

    tj Martin says:

    “but Honda today announced it will be offering a Gasoline Turbocharged engine for 2011 in the CR-Z ….. because of ……… its lousy sales in the US ”

    It sounds like Honda is ready to do something right for a change. This small turbo should be a great engine for the CRZ. Honda hasn’t been very good with hybrids, given the mediocre gas mileage of the current CRZ and Insight, but Honda are one of the best in the world at building small gas engines.

    I obviously have nothing against hybrids, since I have a Prius, but I would not by a substandard hybrid like Hondas recent offerings.

  11. shan Says:

    Memo to CEO of Dodge, hand crafting interiors, improving on existing models without a major re-design is all and well. Now, if only you can eliminate the hard cheap plastics in the interiors and get finally off the ‘worst reliable’ car list of Consumer Report, the one you been on for the last few decades. There is a glimmer of hope, since the patriot and compass will be made in Italy and the Jeep Grand Cherokee is being built using higher Fiat production standards. I actually love the look of the Dodge Nitro, but the build quality if atrocious.

  12. pedro fernandez Says:

    “Higher Fiat production standards” never heard that before!!

  13. pedro fernandez Says:

    Saw a CRZ up-close yesterday, nice car, but the drive train keeps most people from even considering it.

  14. Chuck Grenci Says:

    8.Phoenix Mark Says:
    December 7th, 2010 at 12:37 pm
    tj Martin, What car is the Sonata copied from?

    Let me see if tj agrees with me; I’d say Hyundai pretty much copied the Mercedes C class (in the Sonata).

  15. tj Martin Says:

    Phoenix Mark ;

    You’re joking right ??? What cars is the Sonata copying would be the better question . Camry , Accord etc etc etc . Actually the better question would be ;

    What car is the Hyundai Sonata NOT COPYING ?

  16. tj Martin Says:

    Chuck Grenci ;

    Yup . Add it to the list . Could be interesting to see how big this one can get

  17. tj Martin Says:

    NEW CRZ drive trains for 2011 include a 180 hp and a 200 hp in the soon to be announced CRZ -R . So yeah Honda gets it finally

  18. Phoenix Mark Says:

    tj Martin:
    I’d say Mecedes C class in closer. By the Accord or Camry you mean 4 cylinder front wheel drive mid-size sedan? The new styling is much better than the old.

  19. Salvador G. Says:

    Have a good work-trip JohnMc. and since Mr. Autoextremist will be hosting, I actually have a question for Mr. Peter De Lorenzo.

    To Mr. Extremist.
    After watching in John’s Journal the first impression on the new Chrysler 200 and new Dodge Journey and how as JohnMc. comments Chrysler have improve the interior (No hard plastics and such) and other overall improvements, I haven’t seem any new TV ad campaign so far.
    So my question to Mr. AutoExtremist is…
    Where is the new Marketing campaign for the new Chrysler models? Is it too early? In general – What’s going on??
    And yes, I have seem those awful minivans TV ads, but besides that.

  20. tj Martin Says:

    Phoenix Mark ;

    ” The new styling is much better than the old ”

    Could it of gotten much worse ? To be honest on the road the only way I know for sure I’m looking at a Hyundai is to get close enough to see the badges . From a distance the Sonata could be almost anything .

  21. Phoenix Mark Says:

    tj Martin;

    Do you have a link to the Honda news about the CRZ?

  22. tj Martin Says:

    Phoenix Mark ;

    Why yes I do . Here it is ;


  23. Phoenix Mark Says:

    tj Martin;

    Thank you. I checked Honda press release site and the latest news was on the BRIO.

  24. Nanny-State Says:

    Dear Secy Chu:

    EVs might become competitive in the showroom in 5-years, but as dials on the electric meter spin faster, and the utility bill exceeds the amount in our checkbook, sales of EVs will have a direct inverse relation to the price of carbon-based electricity. And, no amount of government “gimmes” will make us purchase an EV!

    Please let the market decide future powertrains and not the “STATE!”

  25. Robert Morrison Says:

    I like this guy over at Dodge. He staying away from trendy designs—-this guy has it together I think bright future for Chrysler if they have thinkers like this guy. It is about time they take what they have build on it. Great news!!

  26. D. C. Says:

    Expensive batteries without recycling systems and a cost of electricity that has increased over 40% this year make me scream…..DIESEL, performance and mpg’s at a reasonable cost for the entire country not just city dwellers.

  27. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    It’s nice to see the old out of touch people who’d rather drive their wallpaper paste designs from: BMW, Toyota, GM, Mercedes, Lexus, etc… Hate on New state of the art Auto design.

    Who gives a shit what you guys think. PEOPLE LOVE THE NEW HYUNDAI DESIGN!!!

    By the way, Hyundai plans to drop bombshells at Detroit.


    -The entire Hyundai Brand from i10 to Equus will be moving upmarket globally starting with every new Hyundai debut. Source: AccentPlanetDotOrg/Via Automotive News. http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101206/RETAIL03/312069982/1018

    -Hyundai will replace the ANCIENT 1990s slogan “Drive your Way” with possibly “Luxury for All.” The codename for this project is “Modern Premium.”

    - Accent/i20 based Veloster B-Segment Sports Coupe Debut.

    - Hyundai plans to lure dealers from more upmarket brands into the family.

    -Hyundai plans to be an Attainable Premium (luxury) brand from the smallest cars to the biggest cars.

  28. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Stop comparing our cars to Hondas and Toyotas Please?

  29. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Auto journalists should call Hyundai “The brand that Acura should have been.” At least for now.

    Comments like: “Better Value than a Chrysler.” “This Elantra makes Jetta look like a joke.” “This Accent has dethroned the Golf.” “The Accent has a better HP to weight ratio than MINI.”

    Would be nice to go along with every new introductory review.

    “Forget a Honda, buy a Hyundai for an upgrade.”

    This isnt for you guys though. Well the Azera, Genesis, and Equus are for your generational cohort, but the other cars=young/younger professionals.

    Guys, despite what you say, they have a brand called KIA that has Million car a year worthy products now, but people arent giving them a chance because Hyundais are too too cheap and accessible.

    It doesnt help either when Auto journalists compare Hyundais to Hondas knowing for a fact that Hondas arent even on the same planet in features, and for a Honda to have the same features as a Hyundai they would be forced to charge Acura prices, while at the same time looking at a KIA 1 or 2 times, and then ignoring it.

  30. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    We still want Hyundais to be cheap, but cheaper than a Buick with Buick features. Oh, my bad it’s already happened.

    I have this suspiscion that Buick Verano is not going to be as good of a value as the Elantra in terms of equippment and Premium trim. Ill test that Buick verano Base, but for $20K a car that size needs to have premium seating as standard-and the Verano doesnt while the Elantra does.

    Why the 2.4L in a car the size of a bar of soap GM? You totally missed the point in having a premium compact car.

    This will either force brands like Ford to seriously move “upmarket” too. Or, surrender and say “It’s not profitable to compete against the Hyundai brand, but our Lincoln products could be cheaper.”

  31. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    A good compact car whether it’s from a Chinese brand, or its from Mercedes is supposed to have a displacement of 2.2L TOPS!!!

    That’s what Turbos, DI, etc… are for if you need more umph…

  32. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Buick and VW= Old School premium small cars. It’s retarded in fact to have such displacments these companies have in their small cars. V6s, and 2.4L 4s. Are you f-ing crazy? V6 full sized Sedan engine in a Golf/Jetta, and no wonder why VW cant get sales.

    New School premium small cars should have Small Zippy ultra fuel efficient engines with premium interiors, and iconic styling.

  33. HtG Says:

    Smoke, I like KIA designs plenty, and Chrysler Dodge as well. I don’t car for Merc(except SLS) or BMW, but like Audi. Still, I think the Hyundai designs are getting dated fast. I don’t know if you consider my taste geriatric(look it up), but I don’t see a pattern. I like LaCrosse, but also Mazda2. Think the 458 looks better in pics than in the flesh. I really liked the Hyundai designs when I saw them last year, but don’t think they’re aging well. I still like 3 series Bimmers from ten years ago, though not the more recent ones. Your ageist angle just doesn’t work. How much you want to bet Hyundai knows their high energy designs aren’t going to look good for long, and they start toning it down, calling it refinement, as their buyers earn their paunches and saddlebags?

    (why do I think you’re going to be up all night whupping my ass from your aerie?)

  34. HtG Says:

    crxn, Merc CLS is timeless

  35. Bob Says:

    Sec of EnergyyAh-Chooo! Must be out of his mind if he really believes that these HUGELY subsidized, ultra-short range losers, Pure EVS, will make a dent in the market in 5 or even 10 years, UNLESS he buys them all with out hard-earned tax dollars.

    Pure EVs are not ready for prime time PERIOD. WHy don’t these clowns go back to the drawing board, and when battery tech is ready with the necessary MAJOR BREAKTHRUS, and the COST is feasible, THEN they can come to the customer again, this time with a DECENT properly priced vehicle needing NO SUBSIDIES.

    Got it, Ah-chooo!???

  36. Bob Says:

    “just released sketches of a new city car that it’s going to bring out. Called the Picanto”

    There is absolutely NOTHING “new” about the Picanto, it has been on sale all over the world for years, even the sister of a good friend bought one as a second or third car (they already got a Z3 and an X3).

  37. Bob Says:

    “..Wow, someone on Capitol Hill is actually asking tough questions. The Detroit Free Press reports Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, wants to know why the U.S. Federal Reserve – the nation’s central bank – spent nearly $5 billion during the financial collapse two years ago to help foreign automakers. Mitsubishi and, surprisingly, Toyota and BMW were beneficiaries of these loans…”

    Who writes this text? I hope it is not John himself, since this sounds utterly clueless, as does that socialist idiot Sanders.

    Mitsu, Toyota and BMW are ALL US producers of 100,000s of cars every year, Toyota produces a million cars in the US every year! Some of These companies have got hundreds of millions of ‘sweet deals” from Alabama and other southern states, so why wouldn’t they be appropriate for loans, which, in the last analysis, they will pay back!

    And in my book, a Civic or Accord made in OHIO is far more American than some Ford made in MEXICO or Chevy made in KOREA.

  38. Bob Says:

    The Sonata has nothing to do with the C-class.

    Re the CLS, I am sick and tired hearing everybody say how good it looks, it does not. It is a silly, inefficient design with split personality, neither a coupe nor a sedan, has much less room and utility than the much cheaper E-class on which is based, and I consider anybody who will shell out the megabucks to get it a real, 100%, USDA choice sucker. I don’t even find it beautiful, and if the great CUMBERFORD in Automobile mag dissected it, I am sure he would have found a ton of faults in its design.

  39. Bob Says:

    That Ah-choo dude spoke to the Natl Pres CLub and asked for more funding for energy, claiming that this new gen (or the next one?) of batteries will allow EVs to have 500 Miles range (five TIMES the best one now!!!) at modest cost.

    I am surprised he did not trey to sell them the Brooklyn Bridge too.

  40. Bob Says:

    But if he did, I bet Christie Schweinhund or whatever would buy it.. with OUR tax dollars, of course…

  41. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    LMAO, Kit you’re allright.

    I do find the Genesis Equus to be dated, but that’s me. Who cares though as people want Genesis. Not in droves, but it does well in the F Segment. Not many F Segment executive Sedan/Coupes sell 3K units a month. Gen sales are increasing, despite the fact that it’s been around almost 3 years.

    The RWD Hyundai products will remain conservatively styled, while the FWD products will be designed to pop and be polarizing. The FWD Hyundai cars are designed to be “watercooler talk/twitter” cars.

    The i40 Sedan in Europe should be allowed to come to America. Talk about a CLS/Passat CC like car-this will be it.

    However, that’s the goal with Hyundai-It’s not to attract just everybody you know. They went from non-offensive styling to polarizing styling in a Generation.

    Hyundai is a 500K a year brand tops.

    I predict that Elantra Will become their best seller, and even outsell Sonata.

    Let’s face it Hyundai is replacing Chrysler’s pre-crash niche.

  42. HtG Says:

    bob@37, you say CLS is inefficient. OK. But why does it make you sick to hear so many people call it beautiful? I don’t get Angelina Jolie, you don’t see me gnashing my teeth about it.

  43. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Chrysler needs to pop or they will be killed. Hyundai used to get the sales Chyrsler currently gets, and now Hyundai gets the sales Chrysler used to get.

    With KIA around Dodge needs to pop too. The B-D cars. Id just make Dodge a sportcar and truck brand and sell FIATs. Or, just rebadge and Regrille FIATS as B-D Dodges. FIAT? Dodge? What’s the difference? Americans will buy Chryat small cars if forced, and I have a feeling they will be forced in 3 or so years from now.

    Id have Chyrsler as my Hyundai fighter

  44. HtG Says:

    I think Marchione needs to sell 5.5 million units a year if FIAT is going to be viable. According to FIAT’s US president, younger people here don’t know what the name used to stand for(I always liked the F cars, but then I never had to live with one). So FIAT is going to sell them la dolce vita. This way Sergio will get the scale he needs to pay his bankers. Maybe Chrysler and Dodge tophats or drivetrains will help him make his numbers.

  45. HtG Says:

    crxn, with FIAT drivetrains

  46. Bob Says:

    HtG: I did not just say the CLS is inefficient. I clearly said that it is not as good looking as some think it is, even in exterior styling, incl. the headlights etc. Some simple and far less expensive E-classes look better to me, and of course they have far more room inside.