Episode 601 – Japan’s Currency Crisis, Sulfur Reduces Efficiency, Fiat Cinquecento

March 17th, 2011 at 12:07pm

Runtime 8:39

As if Japan wasn’t going through enough turmoil it’s now facing a currency crisis as the value of the yen surges.  Sulfur in gasoline is a surprising roadblock to more efficient engines.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering fuel economy window stickers for used cars, and anyone can print them out.  All that and more, plus John sits down with Roberto Giolito, the head of Fiat and Abarth design, to chat about how the company created a modern version of its iconic Cinquecento.


»Subscribe to Podcast | iTunes | Zune | RSS | Listen on Phone Stitcher

This is Autoline Daily for Saint Paddy’s Day. And now, the news.

As if Japan wasn’t going through enough turmoil, now it’s facing a currency crisis. The yen is surging in value. It’s trading at about 78 to the dollar, and that is going to drive up the cost of Japanese cars and components that are exported to other countries. So why is the yen going up when the country is in so much trouble? Analysts say it’s because speculators are anticipating the country will have to repatriate yen, that is, bring money back into the country to pay for all the reconstruction that’s needed.

SULFUR ROADBLOCK (subscription required)
Sulfur in gasoline is a surprising roadblock to more efficient engines.  The stinky yellow element doesn’t hurt fuel economy on its own, but according to Ward’s, it prevents automakers from selling cars in the U.S. with lean-burn engines.  These powerplants, like Honda’s CVCC from the early ‘70s, run a special “stratified charge” combustion cycle.  In Europe where the sulfur content of gasoline is around 50 parts per million, Mercedes-Benz offers vehicles with these kinds of engines.  It can’t in the U.S. because our fuel has anywhere from 80 to 95 PPM, which would lead to very high NOx emissions.  Refiners have already pulled sulfur out of diesel fuel – the limit is 15 PPM.  It shouldn’t be too difficult for them to do the same with gasoline.

Speaking of fuel economy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering fuel economy window stickers for used cars.  Anyone can print them out.  Just visit the website FuelEconomy.gov for more information.  For any given vehicle these ratings will typically be a couple miles per gallon less then they were originally because they’re based on the updated 2008 testing procedure, which takes into account higher freeway speeds, air-conditioning systems and faster acceleration.

The Corvette is America’s iconic sports car, but the current version has been on the market for quite a while. Mark Reuss, the president of GM’s North American Operations, says they’re already deep at work on the next generation. Here’s what he has to say.

Mark Reuss is the guest on an upcoming episode of Autoline Detroit.

Earlier this week Chrysler started selling merchandise with its “Imported from Detroit” tagline, but at the same time the company is suing a small clothing retailer called Pure Detroit for selling clothing with the same slogan. According to the Detroit News, Chrysler submitted three trademark applications to use the slogan on its vehicles, clothing and merchandise, but it hasn’t received a trademark yet. The automaker plans on donating some of its profits from the merchandise to charity. However, Pure Detroit will fight the lawsuit and points out similar phrases have been denied trademarks by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Chrysler also claims it tried to settle the issue out of court and that Pure Detroit even agreed to stop selling the clothing at its website but has continued to sell the products at its retail stores.

TATA EXPORTING NANO (subscription required)
Tata is going to export the Nano, the world’s cheapest car, to South East Asia and Africa by the end of the year. The Nano, which is currently only sold in India for a little over three grand, will be shipped to Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Africa in December according to two parts-vendors.  That ought to boost sales significantly and Tata won’t have to make many modifications to the car because those markets are similar to India’s.

Talk about tiny little cars, I’m pretty excited about the newest car they just dropped off for me to test drive. Here’s a little tease of what that’s about.

And still talking about small cars, I’ll sit down with the head of design at Fiat and take a nostalgic look back at how the original Cinquecento was born. Back right after this.

FIAT 500
It’s not easy reinventing an automotive icon.  If you go too retro with the design people will call it a rip off.  If you don’t go far enough the car won’t look right.  Recently we caught up with Roberto Giolito, the head of Fiat and Abarth design.  He’s the man responsible for the appearance of the new 500.  Here he talks about how the company was able to deliver a modern version of this legendary car.

Did you catch what he said there? Fiat was able to reuse the steel from stamping out the windows as part of the inner structure of the doors. This is a classic example of how you design cost out of a car.

Whoops, time for a correction. I made a mistake two days ago when I said Ken Lingenfelter would be our guest on Autoline After Hours tonight. I meant to say he’ll be here next week. Our guest tonight is Scott Burgess, the auto critic for the Detroit News, or I should say the former critic because he resigned unexpectedly yesterday when a Chrysler dealer called the newspaper to complain about Scott’s review of the Chrysler 200. The Detroit News edited out parts of his review and it seems that prompted Scott to resign. I’ve got a feeling we’ll learn a lot more about this tonight. So join me and the Autoextremist, Peter De Lorenzo, for the insider’s view of what’s going on in this auto industry. And Sharon Terlep from the Wall Street Journal will also stop by.

But that brings us to the end of today’s report on the top news in the global auto industry. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog and WardsAuto.com

36 Comments to “Episode 601 – Japan’s Currency Crisis, Sulfur Reduces Efficiency, Fiat Cinquecento”

  1. HtG Says:

    I think I just heard Mark Reuss say Corvettes are going to be offered in V6 and V6 turbo configurations.

    On AAH tonight John, it looks like you’re going to have to bring in the bag of burgers instead of Scott. Is that right, a DEALER complained loud enough for the Detroit News to to take a wide stance?

  2. Gearhead Says:

    I just listened to it and didn’t hear Reuss saying anything about a V6. Are you reading something into it???

  3. Al Says:

    “Refiners have already pulled sulfur out of diesel fuel – the limit is 15 PPM. It shouldn’t be too difficult for them to do the same with gasoline”
    Does that mean the cost of a gallon will only got up $.50 in stead of a $1.00??

  4. Chuck Grenci Says:

    I’ve always found Scott Burgess to be a straight-shooter (when I’ve seen him on AAH). I can now put him in the ‘John McElroy’ category for integrity (in beliefs). Kudos to both of you for your high standards of personal ethics.

  5. Dave Says:

    The new Fiat looks good, but it is based on the 2gen 500 started in 1939. The first, and the one my father has with a 350 chevy, was nicknamed the Topolino in 1936, but it was a Fiat “500″

  6. pedro fernandez Says:

    I wonder if Scott got an offer he could refuse from Sergio’s people. I just hope he doesn’t own a horse, or a dog. I would love to read his original review on the Sebring (200)

  7. pedro fernandez Says:

    this Fiat guy forgot to say: Hey, we madeit the trunco molto bigger so you can fitin Tony the fiat mecanico whenyou takethe familia alonga tripa

  8. Bob Says:

    Happy St. Pat’s Day, McElroy!

    Here are the sordid details about BURGESS’s Resignation. Scott is a Profile in Courage, he did the right thing to tell that Fu King Dealer and the corrupt Detroit News to take his job and shove it up theirs! Tonight’s AAH should be very interesting.

    From THE TRUTH about cars’ ED Niedermeyer:

    “The first time I saw Scott Burgess’s review of the Chrysler 200, I very nearly posted a screengrab of the headline to TTAC as a conversation-starter. Why? Because when a Detroit automaker re-launches a worked-over vehicle in a crucial segment and then hypes it with a Detroit-boosting Super Bowl ad, the local paper just doesn’t go and slam the car in question. In fact, it’s rare to ever see a negative review of a Detroit-made vehicle in either the Detroit News or its sister paper the Detroit Free Press. Ultimately I decided against pointing out the DetN’s slam, as one headline does not a story make… unless, of course, it does. Jalopnik.com reports that Burgess has resigned from the Detroit News, and that a number of his bon mots have been excised from the online version of his 200 review. Lines like “regrettably, the 200 is a dog,” as well as his conclusion that

    It’s vastly improved, but that’s only because it was so horrendous before. Hopefully, this car is a placeholder until the real redesigned 200 arrives – eventually.

    The only thing this 200 proves is that good enough is never going to be good enough.

    The Detroit News hasn’t yet commented on the story, but Jalopnik’s investigation creates a pretty damning case against the paper [Ed: for all we knock 'em, we have to acknowledge El Jalop's fine work here]. The DetN may have lost a huge amount of credibility by forcing out Burgess for daring to tell the truth, but this story will only help draw more awareness to the ugly reality that still defines too much of the automotive media. Painful incidents like this one will ultimately leave the automotive media more healthy for having forced writers to stand up for the truth.”

  9. pedro fernandez Says:

    TTA just ran an article going against Burgess’ 200 bashing pretty much saying it’s not a bad car and how much improved it is. Never once mentioning that it is impossible to turn a joke of a car into a true competitor in such a short time without a major redesign or over haul.

  10. pedro fernandez Says:

    The Truth’s report I read was written by a fellow named Jack Baruth.

  11. pedro fernandez Says:

    TTaC also has an article pointing out how some new models score worse than the one they replace, one I think they forgot to include in the list is the Corolla, as popular as ever, the few new owners I have spoken to have expressed their disappointment with things like interior quality and sloppy handling. I wonder if Toyota’s management understand that they need to bring up their game and forget about being the biggest.

  12. paulstewart Says:

    My Wife and I spoke to Susan Carney / Business Editor of the Detroit News this morning and cancelled our E-Subscription to the Detroit News . Shame how they handled the situation !

  13. Bob Says:

    As you may have noticed, I only posrt about once a week these days. I got a TON of stuff to write about and too little time. Some highlights:

    I’vr seen one more Fiesta around here, a silly green color that 15 year olds may like, looked like a 70s retro POS.

    I also saw 2 Cruzes, the Cruze I saw in Europe at night in shiny white looked far better than the black and dark blue Cruzes I saw here.

    I saw a couple Equinoxes and a couple Cadillac SRX’s. both looked great in white both. SOme cars look better in black, these are usually high-end MErc S-classes and Rollers.

    I got detailed inventory data for March but do not have the page with me now. This will all change as production drops due to the quake in Japan. The infamous Transit connect was finally able to reduce its inventory to a 2-month supply (I still have to see one around) but at the same time, they only sell 3,000 a month ior less, vs to the 30,000 Equinoxes-terrains and SRXs sold each month. ANd if you don’t approve of that comparison, compare the Connect’s 3k to the 5-times as many full size Ford Vans sold each month.

    Somebody explain to Kit why hard plastics suck. Maybe Scott Burgess? I did try once, and it did not register, obviously.

    Last Thu I had my annual eye exam (everythiong looked great, according to my optometrist, I saw my eye enlarged 20 times on a huge screen, and all the littke veins and arteries in it pointed to also excellent circulation, blood pressure etc, he said). He drives a 430S 4matic, and his place is close to all the local dealers, so I did the scenic drive.

    I stopped at the BMW dealer where, 100% free of charge, they resert the oil indicator (I changed the oil with synthetic as always at a shop close to where I live, and they could not reset it even tho they had the tool they needed). Then I went next door to the Lexus dealer and took a look at the compact Hybrid hatch ct200h which is advertised all the time on TV. It looked good except for the front overhang. It has limited space in the trunk, tho. Its driver’s seat can travel a long way back. Its imitation leather was very convincing, but it has no wood inside. It has a very reasonable base price of less than 30k, but factory nav is 3-4k extra in a package. Also there is no sunroof, even optional, I believe. And there is a big mouse pad that looks bad unless you also get the Nav and can use it.

    The compact hybrid is rated 42 or so MPG, and is a prius powerplant with worse aerodynamics. The trunk is shallow and can;t carry too much stuff.

    I also went to the Nissan dealer curious to see the GT-R but they told me that few dealers are authorized to carry it.

  14. Lex Says:

    Scott Burgess is an honesty journalist who in entitled to his opinion. Maybe Scott can get a job with Fox News are their Automotive Expert!
    When someones is fired by the Liberal Media they find themselves on FOX!

    Dan Neil seems to be doing well for himself on the Speed Channel.

  15. Bob Says:

    PEDRO: there were at least TWO articles in TTAC on the Burgess mess. I quoted the first one which had the exact lines the paper deleted, then I saw another one, which may be the one you mention.

  16. Bob Says:

    “pedro fernandez Says:
    March 17th, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    TTaC also has an article pointing out how some new models score worse than the one they replace,”

    This is from Consumer Reports. Some of the six model were purposely made cheaper, like the Jetta, BUT others like the X5, i read the reasons and was not convinced the new 3-row X5 is wiorse than the older, smaller, 2-row X5. Especially the X5 DIESEL is an OUTSTANDING vehicle.

    We know, from Michael lKaresh’s meticulous research, that MANY Consumer Reports are DEEPLY FlAWED, and these have to do with models with very FEW units sold each model year, such as top-end German Luxury cars and a few Caddys. They draw conclusions from lAUGHABLY SMALL< statistical samples, and any Statistician worthy of his salt would find it OUTRAGEOUS.

  17. Bob Says:

    Still, I owe Consumer Reports a HUGE debt of Gratitude! Because of them recommending that buyers AVOID the BMW 7 series, I was able to get a 7 year old 740iL six years ago at LESS than even the most GOD AWFUL Hyinday Accent sells for today, and for 10% of what the car costs new NOW (and mine has FAR better styling and even MPG!)

    I owned the car for six years now, and its reliability is even better than my 1990 Accord Coupe’s Monumental Reliability for 14 years! DESPITE the fact that the “Magnificent 7″ has ten times the number of systems the plain jane (but high guality and NO hard plastics, Kit!) Accord had.

  18. Bob Says:

    I went to the EPA fuel economy site and was impressed how much TOUGHER the 2008 EPA MPG ratings are for 3 cars I own or used to own:

    My 93 Pontiac 2000 was THEN rated 28/46, but NOW is rated 25/37 MPG! It could ACTUALLY get 42 hwy without A/C and at 55 MPH average.

    My 90 Accord 5 speed was rated 24/31 but now is rated only 21/27. This is lAUGHABLY LOW, since I routinely was able to get 32-37 HWY on LONG trips, actual MPG, at 65-75 MPH

    My 98 740iL was rated 18/25 but now is rated 15/22, and I routinely get 22 MPG Actual Highway MPG, BUT at much higher speeds than with either of the other cars!

  19. shan Says:

    I guess if I would be caught dead in a small car, it would be the Fiat Cinquecento. It really is a cute, well executed design that’s timeless and not in your face like VW Beetle or the Mini.

  20. paulstewart Says:

    The Detroit News is considered a conservative paper not like the Detroit Free Press which has a liberal slant.

  21. Jim Says:

    I don’t know about anybody else but I am already over the Fiat 500, we heard everybody say the Volt was talked about to long before introduction. Atleast they had not ever built another car like it. The 500 IS ALREADY A OLD CAR in many parts of the world.

  22. Jim Says:

    Also a thumbs up to Scott for taking a stand unlike a lot of journalists that are really on the take instead of honest reporters.

  23. XA351GT Says:

    Wait did I hear right ,the current Corvette has been around a long time?? He’s kidding right? The Gen 6 Vette has been around 7 years so far, Gen 5 lasted 8 years ,Gen4 was 13 years ,Gen 3 15 years Gen 2 was the shortest and best at 5 years and the Gen 1 lasted 10 years. So it has been no more than most.

  24. Andrew Charles Says:

    7 years may not be long for a Corvette, but it’s a long time for most car models. Five years is still the norm for at least a major overhaul (new body on old platform).

    Pedro, the Corolla owners you’ve spoken to complain, yet, they still bought one. For those in the industry, the crappiness of the Corolla is no secret. years ago the current generation came 11th out of a test of 13 compacts in Australia (the Nissan Versa came last), and several competitors have since been replaced, or soon will be. But yet the sheeple still prefer them over much superior vehicles. They’re not roomy, not economical, not powerful, not fun, not attractive, not connected, not anything that makes a car worth buying except well-built. And yet not the Civic, not the Jetta, not the Focus, not the Cruze has any chance of dethroning it on the sales charts. Baaaaa!!!

  25. Alex Kovnat Says:

    >Sulfur in gasoline is a surprising
    >roadblock to more efficient engines.

    A nice thing about ethanol (or methanol) is that its sulfur-free.

  26. pedro fernandez Says:

    Ah!, but A.C. you neglected to mention one very important fact about the corolla, very reliable and even when you need service or repair there are alternatives as far as parts and any tech can work on one. The one guy that does mine tells me he has dozens of clients with Corollas dating back to the late 80′s and he prefers the older ones. The 2 people who I remember not liking it much used to own Camry and due to the economy, they went downmarket. (dumbasses could have just bought used) You can’t blame Toyota for putting a lot of $$ into a more upscale Corolla, they’re selling very well the way they are.

  27. Kit Gerhart Says:

    We all realize that you think hard plastics suck, and a lot of “professionals” who write about such things feel likewise. Whatever you or anyone else says, they are a very practical, and adequate material for many interior parts of a car. Burgess might well agree. My Mini and Prius are full of hard plastic, as was my Malibu Maxx. So effing what? It’s functional and durable, and properly done as in the Mini, it looks decent.

  28. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Japan’s Currency Crisis will become America’s Currency Crisis soon enough.

    Thos country has to pay, and sadly it will be my generation that will have to pay for the sins of our fathers.

    This “Greatest Depression” we are about to go under is the second to the last Depression befor the day of the Lord.

    This will cause social problems that will make the 60s look like it was ran by a bunch of Hippy cry babies.

    After this “Greatest Depression” my generation will be given the keys to the castle and rebuild everything much much better than it ever was- even in the 50s.

    However, we will blow it. In fact, we will blow it so much with debauchery and greed that it will require nothing short, but “The day of the Lord” to fix it.

    We will come into power greater than our parents, and lose our power worse than our parents are currently losing it.

    The “Last Depression” in 15-20 years or so,(Brought to you by Gen Y) will be so bad that Africa will come to America. Middle American kids will have distended stomachs with flies poking in their eyes. Americans will engage in Cannibalism to eat. The Ozone will fail, and the heat will be so much that it will crack the crust. This will make the dust bowl of the 30s look like nothing.

    This will cause American Revolution III, and this American Revolution III will invite enemies such as China to invade who will rape and pillage this country and commit the worst attrocities known in human history.

    America will lose thw war, but the Chinese will be kicked out of America- as America has an insurance policy from up above, but only when America learns it’s lesson and purges it’s Social Darwinist Conservatives and Morally Debaucherous Liberals from our land. The Chinese will leave, and America will rebuild better than ever before, but under God- A Neo Garden of Eden this place will become after WWIII and will be an instrumental part of “God’s Army” in the Bible.

    You see, there wont be 3 world wars, there will be 4 world wars.

    Note: we stopped using CFCs 20 years ago, so why are Ozone holes growing again. I know why, and the chemical companies know why, but the government and the bankers who run the world know why too= death to truth tellers. Too bad everybody else doesnt even realize there’s a 3 billion human killer problem ahead, and more concerned about Justin Bieber or Dancing with the Stars, or false 2012 predictions that wont come true.

    It’s a great thing that many of you guys wont live to see it, but I will. I have dreams of it at least once a week, and trust me it’s a horrid sight. However, I will take care of many people during this time.

    By the way, Hyundai will grow to be known as the makers of the most beautiful cars on Earth- and in Automotive history. I will grow to have an expansive collection of these cars, along with an American pickup truck collection retrofitted with diesels that can burn pretty much anything.

    Most people will grow to not drive cars at all by this time and live in “Smart Growth Mega Cities.” But, those with cars will have collections and treat them like baseball cards.

    In fact, most people wont drive cars to the point to where nobody will even want to steal a car, so you can just park your car in the middle of the street for a few hours and expect it to be there.

    Hardly nobody else will drive anyway, so who cares if your car is blocking the way.

  29. FrankCanada Says:

    Only in America can a guy named pedro fernandez make fun of Italians. I’ll take my Ferrari in red. Hows trading up from the ’56 Belair to the ’97 Corolla going for you?

  30. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    If you’ve played the game- Second life. Just say that’s what this country is going to evolve to over the next 10+ or so years. Most people will walk, or share common forms of transit while living in tightly packed cities or off the land in the country (bye bye suburbs), while guys like me will have an unlimited stash of collected cars.

    I was deprived of cars as a kid, and as an adult I must have cars. It’s just that simple. In fact us car collectors will be instrumental in rebuilding the car industry after World War IV and the days of the 1000 years of peace.

    Some guys will collect Corvettes, some will have a Hyundai collection, some will collect supercars, some will collect pickups, etc…

  31. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    I had many Garages, barns, bunkers, etc… full of collected cars.

    An Inventory of one of these garages:

    - 1975 Ford LTD with V8 that ran on natural gas.
    -A Black on Black Electric Powered KIA Soul with Green LED headlights.
    -An old Dodge Cummins Pickup
    -An 83 Camaro with a monster engine that ran on natural gas.
    - A 95 Honda Prelude (the best Japanese car ever made in my opinion)
    - A Hyundai Veloster Electric
    - 1 Electric powered Future Version Hyundai Accent with bling bling
    - The Accent I drive now for nostaligia

  32. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon production has been stopped because of shortages of parts from Japan.

  33. pedro fernandez Says:

    Hey FrankCanada why don’t you go f… yourself, the only time you ever post anything is to ridicule me. Just because I put down my tomato collecting basket for a minute or two to post something on this forum bothers you so much, I won’t post anymore, ok Happy now? you miserable, racist SOB, go pick on someone else now.BTW stupid, I am not making fun of Italians, only the poor quality of their cars.

  34. Kit Gerhart Says:

    When CR has very small samples of reliability data for a car model, they don’t publish results. Among recent cars with “insufficient data” are several BMW’s, Buick Lucerne, 2010 Corvette, and several others. In the recent annual “cars” issue, it looks like they may have increased their required sample size for publishing results, as there are more cars listed as having insuffient than in years past.

  35. Kit Gerhart Says:

    CR’s reliability data is based on a minimum of 100 responses, according to the April 2011 issue.

  36. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Hey Pedro,
    I hope you will keep posting. You contribute a lot here.