Episode 622 – Toyota’s Production Woes, Sonic’s Z-Spec Accessories, Ford Plans Big Growth in China

April 15th, 2011 at 12:05pm

Runtime 7:12

Toyota will run at 50 percent capacity at all of its plants in Japan for nearly a month starting in May due to supply shortages. Chevy just announced a lineup of aftermarket parts for the Sonic called Z-Spec accessories. Ford plans to introduce 15 new vehicles and double the size of its dealer network in China by 2015. All that and more, plus guest host Murray Feldman from Fox 2 News, Detroit shares his thoughts on whether or not the growth in the auto industry is too much, too soon.


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This is Autoline Daily for Friday, yes, FRIDAY, April 15, 2011. The weekend is so close you can almost taste it. I’m Murray Feldman from Fox 2 News, Detroit. Here’s what’s going on in the global automotive industry.

The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last month are still having an effect on Toyota’s manufacturing operations. The AFP reports the company will run at 50 percent capacity at all of its plants in Japan for nearly a month starting in May due to supply shortages. Earlier in the week Toyota announced it will halt production at five plants in Europe for several days in April and May. Also, in North America it will stop production at most of its facilities for a few days later in the month. Hyundai-Kia sees this as an opportunity– they’re running Korean plants on overtime and planning to pump out more vehicles here in the USA. Marketshare, marketshare, marketshare.

Fiat just introduced the convertible version of the 500 for the American market. Its unique feature is a sliding cloth roof that can retract at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour. Customers can choose between three colors for the roof. Not many other details about the car are known, but pricing for the standard, hard-top model starts at $16,000.

Audi teamed up with Renovo Hardwood Bicycles, the only all-hardwood bike maker in the world, to build a bike that’s inspired by its cars. Called the duo, it features innovative components, like a belt drive instead of a chain, aluminum and carbon fiber parts, disk brakes and LED lighting. Audi says it’s coming out with the duo because it’s “an embodiment of its core principles of progressive innovation… that also blends craftsmanship and styling with performance and technology.” Three models of the bike are available, and prices range from $6,500 to nearly $7,500. The duo is made at Renovo’s studio in Portland, Oregon.

The Sonic is Chevy’s latest b-segment car. It’s due to hit the streets this fall. With the launch still months away the company just announced a lineup of aftermarket parts for the subcompact. The list of Z-Spec accessories . . . as they’re called . . . will initially include things like ground-effects add-ons, mirror and door-handle caps, grille inserts, body graphics and more. They’ll give buyers an array of different ways to customize their cars. But I’ve got to ask, where are the performance parts? Maybe those are coming a little bit later. Z-Spec accessories can be purchased individually or all at once. When they’re installed by a dealer the cost can be rolled right into the monthly payment . . . how nice . . . you’ll never see it, but you’ll feel it.

Ford is on the warpath in China. The automaker plans to introduce 15 new vehicles in the country by 2015! The move is part of its greater plan to bring 50 new products and powertrains to market in the Asia/Pacific region in roughly the next four years. In that time Ford also plans to double the size of its dealer network in China from the 340 stores it has today. The company expects 70 percent of its growth in the next 10 years to come from this part of the world.

On this week’s Autoline, Ralph Gilles – chief designer and CEO of Dodge – joins John to talk about the renaissance going on at Chrysler. A big part of that comeback, Ralph believes, is thanks to teamwork across the entire organization . . . with a good example being the company’s now famous Eminem Super Bowl spot.

“Imported from Detroit” indeed. And remember; now you can watch “Autoline” as it’s exported from Detroit each week. Check the local listings of your nearest public television outlet to see when it airs in your area. And if you can’t find it be sure to contact the station’s programming department and tell them you’d like them to carry “Autoline.”

Let’s take a quick break and I’ll be right back with some questions on whether it’s too much too soon for today’s auto industry.

The shrinking auto industry . . . is it growing again? Yes. Is that good? Yes. Can that be bad?  Yes, if it grows too much.

The domestic car makers shed thousands of workers because they got too big.

They cut out dozens of models because they made too many. . . especially when they looked alike with different names.

Now we see Chrysler is hanging out the help wanted sign, looking for some 500 people, many in communications. Guess it’s to replace many of the people who were offered — or forced — into taking early retirement.

John carried a report right here on Autoline a couple of weeks ago that General Motors is considering an upscale Volt.  Bloomberg news says it’ll look like the Chevy Volt but with a different front end, and it’ll be a Buick.  Didn’t they used to do that kind of thing when they were getting too fat?

The domestic Big Three cut so much fat over the past few years that they can now turn a profit with a little as 10 and a half million units sold here in North America. I hear projections, especially from Lonnie Miller, the Vice President of Marketing at Polk, that this year we could see nearly 13 million units sold. So I guess there’s an argument for hiring more people. But with gas prices rising and Uncle Sam strangling the industry with red tape and the jobs crisis still a factor, how much growth is healthy? And how much is too much? And most importantly, will we know the difference before we have to wreck people’s lives again?

I hope so, but I really don’t think so. Let us know what you think, leave a comment on this site.

And that’s a wrap for today’s show and of course for this week as well. Again, I’m Murray Feldman from Fox 2 News. Check us out on air and online. If you’re in the metro-Detroit area, just go to channel 2 or you can always visit our website MyFoxDetroit.com.

And one more thing before we go. Make sure you check out tonight’s episode of RoundAbout. It starts at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time, that’s 3:30 on the West Coast. You can watch the live broadcast on our website, AutolineDetroit.tv. This week’s theme is “Taking it to the MAX,” and the crew’s got a lot of fun stories lined up so don’t miss it.

Anyway, that’ll do it for this week. As always, thank you so much for watching. McElroy should be back in the saddle on Monday.

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

26 Comments to “Episode 622 – Toyota’s Production Woes, Sonic’s Z-Spec Accessories, Ford Plans Big Growth in China”

  1. tj Martin Says:

    ” Too Much .. Too Soon ”

    Will we ever learn ?

    Why no we will not .

  2. tj Martin Says:

    Renovo Bicycles ;

    Beautifully made . Wonderful to look at . But completely irrelevant and meaningless beyond being a piece of Two Wheeled Sculpture in Motion . Innovative ? Not even close .

    No wonder Audi chose to pair up with them . Like Bicycle .. Like Car .


  3. M Campbell Says:

    ‘Too much, too soon’ for those with a job, not so much and not too soon for those without…

  4. HtG Says:

    Soylent green is people, but if you get rid of older, higher paid people, and replace them with young, eager/desperate, lower paid people, you will increase productivity. It’s all strawberry jam at that point, for those old enough to get the reference.

    As for Buickvolts, with a fatter walleted clientele walking into Buick showrooms it makes sense to pull that halo over, especially if you don’t need to spread your marketing dollars too thin like in the bad old days.

    What else would you like to know, Murray?

  5. Chuck Grenci Says:

    “Strike while the fire is hot”, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, “Go while the getting is good”, “Once bit twice shy” All true, all ambigious (to a point), so what it will boil down to is whose wisdom will prevail. I propose cautious optomism.

  6. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The Buick Volt sounds a little too much like the “bad old days” of badge engineering, but if they don’t have to spend too much money in the “conversion” to a Buick, it might make sense. After all, Toyota makes a lot of money on the Lexus of Camrys, the ES.

    Speaking of Volt, the latest issue of A\W, formerly AutoWeek, had a rather positive review. They actually kind of liked the way it drove, and commented on how unobtrusive the gas engine is when it cranks up. They did an experiment to see what happens when you run the battery down, and then run out of gas while going 70 on the freeway. You have enough battery left to have about 3-4 miles to find a gas station.

  7. Dan Clemons Says:

    I just hope Detroit automakers do not soon forget what got them into a pickle. There is no doubt in my mind that the UAW is out to destroy them as quickly as they can. You never want to own anything that is built by workers who hate the company they work for. I lived in Flint, MI for 19 years so I know.

  8. MJB Says:

    Gotta agree with you, Feldman. But instead of “Too Much, Too Soon”, I think it should be “Too Much…”

    Automakers need to keep their offerings slim. Not meaning that they don’t offer choices, but just not overlapping choices.

    I am still befuddled and perplexed everytime I see a Yukon Denali parked next to a Tahoe. From the average buyer’s perspective the Tahoe was the obvious choice based on price-point. But how profitable is it really for GM to have two seperate nameplates selling virtually the same vehicle – directly competing with one another? This type of thing doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to me.

    As Kit touched on already, if the closeness in styling of the Camry to the Lexus ES doesn’t pull the status of the Lexus down, why would GM expect a different result when re-badging a Volt into a Buick?

  9. SalvadorG. Says:

    I didn’t even know they make bikes of Hard-wood?!!.. I get AUDI’s principles, but bikes? really? :)

    Murray Feldman,
    The Chevy Cruze is race internationally and you would think GM would consider bringing a performance model to the U.S., but no; sorry to say, you shouldn’t get your hopes up for the Sonic.

    I thinks things are just too sensitive and it looks that it’s going to be that way for a while (plus) the world seems just to pile more problems every day.

  10. G.A.Branigan Says:

    I don’t know what the sales figures are for the Volt,but I doubt if they sell very well considering the price.As for a rebadged Buick version I would think it would be priced nearer to a caddy.I just don’t see the point of GM doing this.

  11. HtG Says:

    Hey Murray, I’m back. Another reason to sell Buickvolts is the line making Chevyvolts will be more efficient if it runs more cars per day. If Lt Dan(it’s OK to laugh at that, Murray) wants to lower the unit cost of Volts, he needs to sell more Volts, and more Volt batteries and powertrain software, no matter what nameplate or even manufacturer they might let license the brobdingnagian(I pity you H/S) innards.

  12. Lex Says:


    What are the career opportunities for a young woman in the auto industry? My daughter will be going off to college in the fall and shares my interest in the auto industry. Do you have any advice?

    I think the “Sonic” name was a poor choice for Chevy’s “B” class vehicle lineup. I had suggested using the “Tracker” nameplate since you it has history and is better that “Sonic or Aveo”.

    Hyundai wants to up production and market share they should consider joining the other OEM’s and put together a NASCAR team with a Sonata racing head to head with it’s rivals. “Hyundai wins on Sundai and sells on Mondai”!

  13. MJB Says:

    @ #9 Salvador

    Take a look Salvador and you’ll find that this is hardly the first time a luxury automaker as “paired” with a bike manufacturer. Look into BMW, Mercedes and Rolls Royce. Heck, even Jeep did this (with a mountain bike) several years back – but it made much more sense given Jeep’s demographic.

    Actually, I could see this hardwood bike being an excellent fit for the Bentley demographic. You know, people with too much money and too little physical prowess to ride a bike on purpose.

  14. Chuck Grenci Says:

    This question/comment for Peter Delorenzo; what to you think of the new Porsche commercials, you know the ones that show their hot sportcars as everyday ‘trucks’, ‘vans’ and do everything vehicles. I think it is very clever and shows what everybody already knows, that even a purposeful vehicle can do other things that specific built vehicles do, but only to a lesser extent (but in all practicality, adequately).

  15. HtG Says:

    It’s got to be the Asperger’s talking, but the key in bikes is balance. Getting auto designers to think about balancing mass against strength, using different materials for different purposes, considering drag and frontal area, tire pressure and rolling resistance….yeah, you can see how I wasted my youth.

    Have I told the story about the time young Lance Armstrong blew past me in a triathlon? Well, I’ll spare you.

  16. Steve Says:

    “I just hope Detroit automakers do not soon forget what got them into a pickle.”
    “Automakers need to keep their offerings slim. Not meaning that they don’t offer choices, but just not overlapping choices.”

    Most importantly to Lex:
    “What are the career opportunities for a young woman in the auto industry?”

    Most of the new jobs, like 75 plus % are for young people to work the new electric vehicle powertrains coming out, not rebadging. If the local news is to be believed.

    In any case Kettering U in Flint MI is a very good place for getting into Auto’s. Check it out! But she’ll need her “A” game.

  17. WtC Says:

    The “high voltage” story must be why GMs stock price is below it’s IPO. I am surprised Chrysler is still open – give the “Italian Stallion” his due. Ford appears to have listened very closely, as their market share has grown.

  18. pedro fernandez Says:

    Perhaps Gm will learn from Ford’s failure with the Fiesta and make the Sonic more affordable and appealing to those who like to customize their vehicles without spending a lot of dough, today I saw for he first time a Fiesta sedan up-close while I have seen tons of Cruzes even though the latter has not been around as long.

  19. cwolf Says:

    With Ford’s ambitious plans in china,I wonder if that means they are giving up on Lincoln.

    Audi building bikes may improve their image. At least they can claim one thing that may prove reliable!

    Dan Clemons from Flint eh! sound like you may know bob.

  20. cwolf Says:

    A $16,000 base price for the Fiat seems to be a Fiesta priced competator. Between the two, I’d opt for the Fiesta.

  21. pedro fernandez Says:

    I just hope that with the Fiesta, Sonic and upcoming Accent and Yaris, the 500 will be left in the dust.

  22. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The Fiat is a niche, or as some would say, a boutique product, kind of a lesser Mini. I would certainly expect Fiesta, Sonic, and the new Accent to outsell it.

  23. pedro fernandez Says:

    Just met a mechanic for the local county PD and he told me that they’re not happy about the Chargers as police cars, he spoke well of the CV as a reliable and easy to fix work horse while expressing reservations about the Dodge, also wishes the dept would splurge on the Carbon police cars but he know they won’t, it’s just too expensive.

  24. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Did the PD mechanic mention any specific issues with the Chargers? Those CV’s certainly have a following, even though they are really substandard cars in most ways. I suppose they are easy to fix, though, especially the rear suspension.

  25. pedro fernandez Says:

    No, Kit, he just said that the general consensus there was that it was NOT as good a work horse as the CV. He said it reminded him of when the PD used the Dodge Dynasty and Chrysler LeBaron back in the 90′s. This guy breathes cars, in his spare time he likes to bring back to pristine condition neglected American classics, use them for a while and then sell them for a profit. Around these parts, retired PD CV’s come back as taxi cabs and even after that they’re bought by regular people

  26. Brett Says:

    “Uncle Sam strangling the industry with red tape”??? I thought Uncle Sam bailed much of the Detroit auto industries ass out less than two years ago.