Episode 620 – Shipments By Rail Delayed, Chrysler Develops CNG Cars, Lexus LF-Gh Concept

April 13th, 2011 at 11:45am

Runtime 8:28

Detroit automakers are having trouble delivering new vehicles by rail due to a shortage of freight cars and delays are taking anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Chrysler is developing compressed natural gas vehicles that could go on sale by 2017 in the U.S. Lexus revealed its LF-Gh hybrid concept before its debut at the New York Auto show next week. All that and more, plus guest host Rod Meloni from WDIV Local 4 News, Detroit answers your questions and comments in the “You Said It!” segment.

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It’s Wednesday, April 13, 2011. Welcome to another installment of Autoline Daily. I’m Rod Meloni, Business Editor at WDIV Local 4 News, Detroit. Across town and around the world here’s what’s happening in the automotive industry.

AUTO PROGRAMS FACE BUDGET CUTS
Last week the White House and Congress agreed to budget cuts to avoid a government shutdown, unfortunately for the auto industry several programs were part of that cut. According to the Detroit News, over $400 million was trimmed from an Energy Department program that funds vehicle research. Another program that’s aimed to help automakers retool in order to build advanced vehicles had $10 million in administrative costs cut. This was a program that was already under fire for taking too long to hand out loans and cutting administrative costs will probably just make things worse. The budget deal also gets rid of the so called “car czar” but this is somewhat meaningless because no one currently holds that position.

SHIPMENTS BY RAIL DELAYED (subscription required)
A few weeks back we reported that GM and Chrysler were in a dispute with a car-hauling company which led to a delay in vehicle shipments. Now the Detroit automakers are having trouble delivering vehicles by rail due to a shortage of freight cars. According to the Wall Street Journal, railroad operators stored cars and cut staff during the recession but now that demand has picked up it’s taking anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for dealers to get new cars. Because of this, automakers are being forced to store thousands of cars near their plants around the country.

AUTO INDUSTRY TO ADD THOUSANDS OF JOBS
Things are definitely getting better in the auto business. You can really feel it. According to the Detroit Free Press a report from CAR – that’s the Center for Automotive Research – says the industry could add some 35,000 jobs by 2015. Good news to be sure, but that’s a far cry from the 230,000 that were eliminated between 2000 and 2009. The report estimates most of that hiring will be in Michigan, which has been ravaged over the past 10 years. In related news, GM is investing $100 million and adding 30 jobs at its plant in Rochester, New York. The upgrade will allow it to purchase new machine tools so it can produce its next-generation small-block engine.

CHRYSLER WILL SELL CNG CARS IN U.S.
In a move that should make T. Boone Pickens proud, Bloomberg reports Chrysler is actively developing vehicles powered by compressed natural gas. They could hit the U.S. market by 2017. Fiat already offers an array of CNG cars in Europe so it shouldn’t be that difficult to bring the technology home to North America. Right now Honda is the only automaker that sells natural-gas vehicles to retail customers.

BMW HIRES VOLT ENGINEER
BMW has hired the lead engineer in the development of the Chevy Volt. According to the Detroit Free Press, Frank Weber will be in charge of BMW’s vehicle architecture and integration. In addition to working on the Volt, Weber ran product planning for Opel and Vauxhall.

LEXUS LF-GH CONCEPT
Now for some product-related stories. The New York Auto Show starts next week – there should be a lot of exciting stuff there – but Lexus couldn’t wait. It revealed its LF-Gh hybrid concept early. It’s a four-door sedan with an aggressive design. Other than that, details are pretty sketchy. The company hasn’t even shown the interior yet, so stay tuned for more.

CADILLAC SRX GETS UPGRADED ENGINE
Cadillac is giving the SRX crossover a nice performance boost by making a 3.6-liter V-6 engine available. With direct fuel-injection it delivers an estimated 300 horsepower. Not too shabby. It’s also flex-fuel capable, which means it can run on E85. Look for “upgraded” SRXs at dealerships this summer. Pricing hasn’t been announced.

CHALLENGER FIRE ON ASSEMBLY LINE
Finally, Chrysler may be hot right now but it’s having more than its share of trouble with fires. Yesterday we told you about a Dodge Durango that burst into flames while pulling a parade float AND about China halting sales of the Jeep Wrangler. Today, Autoblog reports a Challenger went up in smoke on the assembly line in Brampton, Ontario. Luckily this time it’s not Chrysler’s fault. Apparently a heat lamp got too close to some paperwork and, well, you can see the result. Ouch!

Coming up next we’ll tackle some of your questions and comments. That’s right; it’s time for another edition of “You Said It!”

And now it’s time for some of your feedback.

Every day you, our loyal audience, share all kinds of questions and comments with us. “You Said It!” gives John . . . or in this case me, a chance to respond.

First up, G.A. Branigan commented on last week’s episode of Autoline, show number 1515, which focused on distracted driving. He wrote: “Hands free Bluetooth devices abound, and are inexpensive compared to a ticket. I make and answer calls without taking my hands off the wheel, no problem, and it’s even safer than talking to a passenger when you take into account the inadvertent looking at said passenger. Common sense folks, try it. It’s easy.”

I agree with you G.A. I’ve got a Bluetooth headset and use it all the time. It’s A LOT easier and safer than fumbling around trying to answer the phone, especially if I’m behind the wheel. If you haven’t tried one yet do it, they’re great.

Frequent commenter tj Martin also shared his two cents on this issue. “My future cell phone is right here and now . . . an iPhone left in the OFF position until I’m in a damn good mood, or out of the car to answer it. Amazing how effective voicemail can be.”

Of course that’s another option. I’m not sure I like it as much as Bluetooth but it’s certainly an option.

HtG, Herman the German had some interesting things to say about Volkswagen’s latest sedan. He said: “Call me a chubby chaser, but those Jettas look real pretty a jigglin’ down the road.”

You guys crack me up! Herman, Vee Dub made the Jetta a little bit bigger, but it’s not that much bigger. And I agree, it’s a pretty sharp looking car, if a little boring.

The prolific Pedro Fernandez saw our report from a few days ago about the cricket team in India winning the sport’s World Cup. He wrote: “I read that the Indian cricket team was supposed to get Tatas, but when they threatened to quit the team, they changed to Hyundai.”

Harsh words, Pedro, harsh words! That being said, the Verna does look like a MUCH nicer car than the rickshaw-grade Nano.

Salvador G. had a few things to say about my commentary from yesterday. “Rod Meloni, I think you’re a bit too early to start singing the praises for a company (let alone Sergio Marchionne), after news of spontaneous Durango combustion and the Chinese government (of all things) suspending sales of spontaneous Jeep Wrangler combustion. Come back with those praises in 3 to 4 years and then we’ll see.”

Lastly, Lex wanted to know if we had any free tickets to the New York Auto Show. Unfortunately you’re on your own for that one. We do not have any.

As always, thank you for your questions and comments. We really appreciate getting them.

And with that we’re across the finish line for today. Once more, I’m Rod Meloni, Business Editor at WDIV Channel 4 News here in Detroit. I invite you to check us out on air or online. Visit our website ClickOnDetroit.com for the latest news and the best local coverage. Thanks for watching guys, and I’ll see you around.

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

38 Comments to “Episode 620 – Shipments By Rail Delayed, Chrysler Develops CNG Cars, Lexus LF-Gh Concept”

  1. HtG Says:

    Local Gas Price Variation Report

    Mobil 4.04
    Gulf 3.99
    Sunoco 4.14

    These three stations were within a half mile of each other.

  2. pedro fernandez Says:

    The day after we read that a couple of Chrysler’s finest caught fire while in use, we get that the same company is working on natural gas vehicles, ok, hey TJ get in line for the first CNG Jeep.

  3. tj Martin Says:

    Marchionne’s madness Part Deux;

    Lest we forget amongst Sergio’s many accomplishments over the last four months ;

    1) He called the US Government ” A bunch of Shysters ” ( because the US wasn’t willing to change the terms of the contract Marchionne had agreed and signed to a year after the fact .

    2) Called the Italian Government ” Tartuga testa’s ” ( because in light of FIAT’s exorbitant debt the Italian Government refused to loan FIAT any more money .

    3) Called the Canadian Government ” a bunch of stubborn block heads ” for the same reason he insulted the Italian Government .

    Ahhhh yes . Stronzetto Marchionne . Diplomat extraordinaire . Business man of the highest order . With an excess of morals and character .

    Tell you what !

    All of you singing the praises of Marchionne . Let Sergio run your finances and business for a year . But do let us know if you do . So we can all wait in anticipation to buy up any of your more interesting assets at the Impending Bankruptcy Sale for pennies on the dollar !

  4. tj Martin Says:

    @pedro fernadez ;

    Sheesh . And here I thought we were onsite friends .

    (one minute I’m defending the guy , next he’s wishing me to become a well done BBQ’d spare rib )

    :o )

  5. pedro fernandez Says:

    TJ come on man, I am positive those CNG Chrysler products will be thoroughly tested and safe to use, have you no confidence in their engineering?

  6. SalvadorG. Says:

    I also said “Where’s Scott Burgess.. ?” (reference pun) and 3 to 4 years is Fair, but to believe Mr. Marchionne is Jesus raising Lazarus from the death, that’s a bit too much; might as well thank Obama for that matter or our tax payer money.

  7. Chuck Grenci Says:

    It’s nice to see that Cadillac’s SRX is getting the 3.6L in the new 2012 model (should have been there to begin with but that’s another story).

  8. tj Martin Says:

    @pedro re; post # 5

    NOPE !!!!!!!!!!

  9. tj Martin Says:

    Cadillac SRX w/3.6L

    Having done a week and several hundred miles in an SRX , the 3.6 might address the lousy performance , but will do little to resolve the : Abysmal Handling , Horrid MPG ( might even make it worse ) Hideous Blind Spots , Miserable Luggage Capacity , Spanish Inquisition Seats ,Illogical Radio etc controls etc

    For reference and a reminder . I’m comparing the SRX to the Mercedes GLK I’d rented for a week as well as the two Infiniti FX35′s previous .

    All the SRX’s direct competition . All completely overwhelming the SRX in spite of any price differences .

    Try again GM . This one’s an abject failure !

  10. pedro fernandez Says:

    But TJ, under Sergio’s leadership and intelligence, I am sure soon enough Fiat/Chrysler will be the envy of every car manufacturer in the world, the Honda of the 21st Century.

  11. pedro fernandez Says:

    Tj have you ever driven the Equinox? the SRX is based on it and I was wondering if you felt the same about it.

  12. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The 3.6 should have been in the SRX from the start, but they wanted to differentiate it from Equinox by using that Saab turbo as the “performance” engine.

    I plan to visit my local Cadillac/Nissan dealer one of these days to see if I like the SRX as much as tj.

  13. Chuck Grenci Says:

    @tj “Try again GM . This one’s an abject failure !”

    You’re entitled to your opinion, but sales don’t back up your statement. I’ll agree, it’s not the ‘Cat’s Ass’ but it’s not a bad vehicle.

  14. Alex Kovnat Says:

    >CHRYSLER WILL SELL CNG CARS IN U.S.

    I suggest starting with pickup trucks instead of cars. Since a pickup truck is bigger than a typical sedan, there’s more room for the CNG cylinders.

    At this moment I’m at the SAE Cyber Cafe at the annual SAE Congress, having a great time.

  15. Lex Says:

    Rod,

    Too bad about no tickets for the NY Auto Show.

    When are the Fat Cats in Washington DC going to help out the ordinary taxpayer by either reducing the Federal/State/Local gas taxes or cap the price at the pump? Gasoline is already $4.00 plus dollars in the New York City Area. The Chinese have no problem regulating gasoline prices. There may need to be another “Cash or Clunkers” program which will make it affordable for people to downsize / rightsize their vehicles once gasoline hits $5.00 per gallon.
    Another alternative is to increase the tax credit for electric vehicles form $7.500 to $15,000. What is your opinion?

  16. tj Martin Says:

    @ Chuck Grenci ;

    Again ; Sales Numbers DO NOT Equal Quality of Product .

    Folks are still lapping up JEEP Wranglers in spite of the multiple recalls , horrid reliability record etc. as well as them chasing after the 458 in spite of its Instant BBQ record : so what does that tell you about the average consumer and his/her ability to make discerning purchases ?

    As well as 20 minute test drives to buy the thing not equaling several days and 100′s of miles of driving .

    I’d love to see the stats on how many purchasers of the SRX are still happy with it now . I can tell you the first 30 miles I thought I would love the car . The next few hundred miles shot that thought to hell .

    Can’t wait to hear Kit’s opinion . But remember I had the SRX for some 8 days in CO High Country , Denver City driving and I-70 Interstate . So I put the beast thru its paces , and it tripped up like a drunken pig on a bloody slaughter house floor .

    @ pedro ;

    Ohhh…… so now you play nice , after wishing me a BBQ’d fiery demise :o )

    No I’ve had a look see , but never driven the Equinox .

    FIAT/Chrysler ; The Dante’s Inferno of the Automotive World

  17. tj Martin Says:

    @Lex

    Since when could the Fat Cats in Washington give a rats behind about the common man or his worries ?

    Democrat , Republican , Tea ( urp ) Party . The ONLY thing any of them seem to care about is stuffing theirs and their closest buddies back pockets .

    You , me and everyone else not on their List be damned !

  18. Phoenix Mark Says:

    Chrysler will sell CNG cars in U.S. But wait in 2017. What it takes 5 year for the coversion engineering? We do need more auto engineers!

  19. Phoenix Mark Says:

    conversion not coversion

  20. G.A.Branigan Says:

    CNG is a great idea but unfortunately it lacks infrastructure.At least to rural America for the most part.Same same with E-85.As my chebby is flex fuel I wanted to try out a tankful.A google search shows zero E85 pumps for a 200 mile radius.So much for going green.Until there is a meaningful approach to revamping/adding to our fuel options on a nationwide level,many of the alternate fuels will merely be for large population based areas I fear.

  21. G.A.Branigan Says:

    @ TJ: “tripped up like a drunken pig on a bloddy slaughter house floor”.C’mon bro,how do you really feel ;}>

  22. G.A.Branigan Says:

    Should have read “bloody”,not bloddy.Oh well,sssstuff happens.

  23. cwolf Says:

    Come on guys! CNG just ain’t going to happen,as Branigan said,due to lack of infrastructure.Besides,the country is too broke to fund anything for years to come.So what makes Chry. think they can make something of this by 2017 and be profitable to boot? This is one project that should’nt be gov’t funded,yet pushing diesels or diesels in a hybred may be more deserving.I wonder how CNG engine fires compare to gas?

  24. pedro fernandez Says:

    TJ if you read Edmunds.com reviews of the SRX it is mostly positive, but then I wonder about those reviews, after you spend some serious $$ on some car, are you gonna bad-mouth it?

  25. pedro fernandez Says:

    Cwolf I suppose it would make a hell of a tailgate party.

  26. cwolf Says:

    Pedro,it’s one way to keep the food hot.

    I just like the SRX for its looks and admit to be lured by the Caddy emblem;least I’m honest. If I had that money to waste,I wouldn’t care about cargo space,MPG or blind spots.I see the SRX like that one camera:”Point and Shoot.”

  27. HtG Says:

    But fleets may make more sense for CNG. If you’re UPS or FedEx you can have your own filling station at a local hub. And didn’t GE buy a lot of Volts?

    Do I have a point? Can I get tj’s slippery image out of my head? It’s that beyond consumers, oil use can be lowered which meets the gummints wish to reduce imports. Maybe even Canada will have to stop wasting natgas heating up bitumen. Don’t even get me started.

    Sorry guys, too much free time.

  28. Jim Thykeson Says:

    Dosn’t make any difference if Pickens likes Chryslers producing CNG cars or not. Until the ‘big-oil’ companies that run this country decide its in their interest to change; they won’t. So, the U.S. will again be the last ones to the dance when it comes to alternative fuel. ‘Big-oil’ can’t dictate policy in Europe like they can here; thank God!

  29. cwolf Says:

    HtG: CNG would be perfect for large carriers and WOULD clean the air, esp. in cities.So you do have a point-along with the one on your head(funn’in). The fleet numbers would have nill effect on oil use,thus import reduction. Even if these large corp.,the same ones who have boat loads of stored cash, go for CNG,they will most likely lobby congress for the tax payer to pay for the costs and their money stash for bonuses.

  30. Kit Gerhart Says:

    If I still lived in Indiana full time, I could use CNG for most of my driving. A duel fuel CNG/gas car would be kind of like a Volt, except I would be burning natural gas rather than coal for most of my driving.

  31. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I guess I didn’t explain how CNG would work for me in Indiana. I have a house with gas heat, and for about 2K could put a fueling station in my garage. The 200 mile or so range on CNG would take care of most of my driving.

  32. tj Martin Says:

    G.A. Branigan

    After really really wanting to like the SRX hoping to make it my next car I can honestly say ;

    THE SRX SUCKS !!!!!

    Lets just say that after having been blown past by a JEEP Wrangler 4dr ( with me having extensive Race and Rally experience ) on a rural CO Mt road ( between I-70 and Leadville ) was the final nail in what was becoming a very very DEEP Coffin !

    SRX – JUST SAY NO ! If you enjoy any aspect of driving what so ever or have ANT appreciation for fine cars !!!

    That answer your question completely enough ???

  33. tj Martin Says:

    CNG would be a brilliant short term solution if we could get the Feds on board !!!

    But we won’t ( They’re addicted to E/V’s and Hybrids )

  34. G.A.Branigan Says:

    @ TJ:Man that does have to suck,especially getting passed by a JK.Oh the shame of it all.Are you sure it was a caddy you were driving?Maybe you should take a look at the vehicle with the “big toothy grin”…..no,never mind,LOL.

  35. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Local Gas Price Report in 2 years:

    BP= $8.73
    Shell= $8.69
    Sunoco= $8.71

    Sorry to be the typical proverbial Rain on Your Parade HS, but the gig is rigged. Set-up Revolutions in the Middle East to make gas prices as high as “they” want order to do these 5 things:

    1. Make Americans beg for “Drill Baby Drill.”

    2. Put the Arabs out of the oil business.

    3. Incite a Marie Antoinette “Let them Eat Cake” style Revolution in America

    4. Bring in the Progressive Libertarian government they want for America- A Society where drugs and other Vices are Legal, while Libertarian virtues of “Social Darwinism” by providing ZERO benefits (No Welfare, No SS, No SSI, No Medicaid, No Medicare) to any group is turned loose on the people. If people want insurance, they will be forced to pay for it themselves. Watch, You’ll see.

    5. Oh, and turn America will be a European Nanny State on Steroids, but without the sweet Socialized programs they have. (Includes being: Anti-Cars, Safety Mom, but pro ultra high speeds, and smart road surfacing technology.)

  36. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    5. Into

    6. Drill the untapped American Oil resources that ar. Ge kept secret and classified by the powers that be, which FOIA wont provide access to. The SECRET AMERICAN OIL resources located in: THE ROCKIES, ALASKAN COAST, THE DAKOTAS, that are said to be 6 times more than Saudi, and then charge the rest of the world Rip off prices on gas.

    7. Get 1/3 of the US driving population PERMANENTELY off of the roads, and into HIGH SPEED RAIL.

    8. To create a new Social paradigm in America where: Athiests, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Pagans are at war with each other. This will replace the current Social paridigm of: Whites Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians fighting each other.

    9. To eviscerate the Suburbs to get a Flight back into the Cities to push: Small Cars, No Cars, and a controlled nanny state. These new American cities (Including Detroit) will be some of the world’s brightest Gems, creating the core of future Smart Growth Mega Cities, once the Suburbs are ready to be knocked down, and replaced with 10-50 story tall apartment and condo busildings.

    The masters will then push those in rural areas to move to these even larger cities.

  37. Andrew Charles Says:

    Pedro, it may be a common misconception, but the SRX is NOT based on the Equinox. The SRX uses a new, larger crossover architecture shared with the 9-4X. I would agree the new 5-seat, f/awd SRX is not as a good a vehicle as the old 5-7 seat r/awd SRX (a perennial C&D Ten Best winner), but sales would seem to show it is what the market wants (something a lot more like the MDX and RX350, not known for their handling prowess either).

  38. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The Equinox is built on the GM “Theta” platform. The SRX is on the “Theta Premium,” AKA “Theta-Epsilon,” sharing elements of the Epsilon 2 platform of the current Malibu.

    The Equinox and SRX are similar in size, the SRX only two inches longer and wider than the Equinox. Equinox actually has a two inch longer wheelbase.

    The old SRX on the RWD platform got good reviews for how it drove, but poor reports for reliability.