Episode 604 – Japanese Production Delays, Fisker Karma Kick-Off, Attorneys Target Toyota

March 22nd, 2011 at 12:00pm

Japanese manufacturers have further delayed production with Toyota extending its shutdown until Saturday and Honda until Sunday.  Fisker officially started production of the Karma plug-in hybrid at its plant in Finland.  Just when you thought it was over for Toyota . . .  it’s not.  Plaintiff attorneys are challenging NASA’s findings and demanding to look at the company’s computer source code.  All that and more, plus a look at McLaren’s racing simulator.


Runtime 9:03

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This is Autoline Daily for March 22, 2011. And now, the news.

We’ve said all along that if Japanese car factories were back up and running now, there would be little impact on the auto industry. But guess what? They’re not back up and running. Toyota is extending its shutdown until Saturday, Honda until Sunday. IHS Global Insight estimates Japan has lost 338,000 vehicles’ worth of production and says it will take seven weeks of overtime to make up for one week of shutdown. The Detroit Free Press reports Honda is delaying orders from American dealers for Japanese-made imports including the Fit, CR-Z, Civic hybrid and others. Here’s my Autoline Insight. You can bet that GM, Ford, Chrysler, Hyundai and Kia are plotting sales strategies right now to take advantage of any weaknesses from their Japanese competitors. Same goes for the luxury segment. Mercedes, BMW and Audi will exploit any shortage they see with Lexus, Acura and Infiniti. It’s not as if they’re all going to get a big sales bonanza, but in the dog-eat-dog automotive business, every advantage will be exploited.

Speaking of luxury cars, Cadillac was late to the party with its own performance line of luxury vehicles. But GM’s president of North America, Mark Ruess, say the Cadillac V-Series is selling very well and will carry a lot of momentum this year.

What Reuss is saying is that the V-Series now outsells the AMG line from Mercedes, the M-series from BMW and the S-cars from Audi.

FISKER KARMA JOB ONE (subscription required)
Just like a mermaid riding a unicorn across a rainbow I never thought it would happen, but according to Ward’s, it has.  Yesterday Fisker officially started production of the Karma plug-in hybrid at its plant in Finland.  So far the pace is very slow, with few cars coming down the assembly line.  These early cars are demo models headed to dealerships in the U.S. and Europe.  Just a recap: this $100,000, four-seat sedan is a lot like the Chevy Volt.  It features a 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that’s good for a range of about 50 miles.  Its two electric motors put out a combined 403 horsepower.  When the juice is done, a 260 horsepower four-cylinder engine takes over.

Just when you think it’s over . . .  it’s not.  Even though the United States threw its best brains from NASA at trying to find problems with Toyotas over sudden, unintended acceleration they couldn’t find anything wrong with the system. Now the plaintiff attorneys suing the automaker are challenging NASA’s report. The lawyers are blaming microscopic crystalline structures called “tin whiskers” as the cause of the problem.  They claim these things can cause catastrophic problems in electronic components. The sad part is they are going to convince more than a few juries to award them tens of millions of dollars based on claims that our best scientists call hokum. And it’s all because no one wants to admit that maybe the driver made a mistake.

TOYOTA’S COMPUTER “CROWN JEWELS” (subscription required)
In related news, the Wall Street Journal reports Toyota is fighting to limit access to its vehicles’ computer source code, calling the software its “crown jewels.”  The company says attorneys should only be allowed to view small parts of the code in a secure room protected by iris and palm scanners.  It also says documents should be protected by RFID tags!  Talk about tight security.

Volkswagen of America announced Tony Cervone is its new Executive Vice President of Group Communications. He will report to the head of VW America, Jonathan Browning. Most recently Cervone was the head of communications at United Airlines, but before that he was GM and at Chrysler. Presumably he replaces Jill Bratina who had held the top PR job there.

Are you looking for a job? Do you like to work on cars? Rolls-Royce is recruiting apprentices to work alongside its skilled craftspeople in its paint, wood, leather, motor vehicle, engineering and business areas. The apprenticeships are open to anyone between the ages of 16 and 24 and can last up to four years. Rolls-Royce doesn’t guarantee it will lead to a job with the company but since the program was launched back in 2006 it’s hired more than 30 apprentices.

These days simulation is not only important in how to design a race car, but also in how to race it. That’s next.

Computer simulation is taking over all parts of the automotive industry. But the most sophisticated simulation programs are coming out of the racing community. That’s why we found this inside look at what’s going on at McLaren to be particularly interesting.

Even with regular, everyday production cars, automakers can simulate every step of the product development process from design, to engineering, to testing and even manufacturing. The software is simply amazing.

Hey, did you catch RoundAbout this week? Click on the video on our website, AutolineDetroit.tv. Jim Hall was the guest of honor, and you know, he never disappoints, so check it out!

And that’s 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

12 Comments to “Episode 604 – Japanese Production Delays, Fisker Karma Kick-Off, Attorneys Target Toyota”

  1. shan Says:

    I never really had a taste for the Cadillac brand. I know they have progressed into world class cars now, but the sharp angle designs is getting a bit long in the tooth and outdated.

  2. dcars Says:

    I think the original intention was that by limiting practice time F1 teams would save money. They may save some money, but they may have given the rich teams a an advantage by letting them us this type of simulator.

  3. dcars Says:

    This was a very interesting show today, thanks.

  4. Chuck Grenci Says:

    No simulation; the Australian Grand Prix kicks off the F1 season this Sunday, I’ll be watching.

  5. HtG Says:

    tj, I have something for you

  6. SalvadorG. Says:

    JohnMc, what about electronic parts that are produce in Japan? won’t foreign automakers be affected as well? or is it that these are already back into production?

  7. cwolf Says:

    Becha it will take a good two weeks or longer for autos and especially parts to be sent from Japan. May have the people and operations running,but qualifying machines and/or product could take a week in itself.Transportation has to be an issue and shipping ports must be log jammed. They’re good,but no one can escape Murphy’s law.

    I’m one of the other guys who likes the Caddy style.

  8. tj Martin Says:


    Just returned from a family funeral ( unexpected ) and will be back tomorrow ( look out H/S i rented a KIA for the week and my report AINT GOOD )

    So vas ist das vas you havern fer me ?

    Let me know on Wednesdays report

  9. HtG Says:

    I’m sorry to hear your news, tj

  10. shan Says:

    Speaking of Kia, I totaled a Kia Rio rental car in Pittsburgh back in 2003, needless to say, it disintegrated upon a very slow 30 mph front end collision. Luckily my insurance coughed up the money for the damage. Always, always get insurance from the rental company!

  11. dcars Says:

    I also love caddy styling. They have a totally different look than all the rest of the luxo brands and look nothing like the rest of GM.

  12. Adam White Says:

    I would like to play that video game. Best racing arcade game to date: Sega Ferrari f355 challange: SUGO Japan Road Course in full Race Mode: Start in 2nd gear and there are about 28 gear changes per lap. Unweighting characteristics are well transmitted and coming over a crown in the course and can result in rear tire spin under hard acceleration. Once you learn your line and corner speeds searching to shave a lap time down by just 10ths of a second takes commitment! BTW- Toyota’s single potentiometer accelerator circut? Many by-wire systems are dual. ?