June 7th, 2011 at 12:11pm
Chinese automakers are expanding at a rapid pace and one of them is building cars in Iraq of all places. Geely and Volvo are clashing over the direction the safety-conscious Swedish brand should go. GM CEO Dan Akerson adds Lincoln to the long list of brands he’s bashed. All that and more, plus we evaluate BMW’s fast and fun X5 M.
This is Autoline Daily for June 7, 2011. And now, the news.
When do you know the war in Iraq is coming to an end? When a Chinese car company sets up an assembly plant there, that’s when! Chinese company Lifan just started assembling CKD units in the war-torn country. Interestingly, other top markets for exported Chinese cars include Egypt, Iran and Syria. By opening the plant in Iraq, Lifan has gone where no established automakers have dared venture. Apparently unafraid of sectarian turmoil and political instability, Lifan’s plant in Iraq joins other similar facilities in Vietnam, Russia and Ethiopia assembling Chinese-made components into whole cars for local sale.
LINCOLN (CHARACTER) ASSASSINATION
Dan Akerson is at it again. GM’s head honcho is an outspoken leader, but just like Vice President Joe Biden he’s getting a bit of a reputation for putting his foot in his mouth. Late last year he attacked the Mercedes-Benz C-Class calling it “average,” like a c-student. More recently the “Big A” set his sights on the Prius, branding Toyota’s popular hybrid a “geekmobile.” Now the company’s cross-town luxury rival, Lincoln, is taking heat. According to The Detroit News, Akerson said, and I quote: “They are trying like hell to resurrect Lincoln. Well, I might as well tell you, you might as well sprinkle holy water. It’s over.” Ouch! Them’s fightin’ words! Look, it’s always fun hearing what executives really think, but I don’t think GM’s is doing well enough to trash talk the competition.
Things are off to a rocky start between Geely and Volvo, after the Chinese company acquired Volvo from Ford. According to The Wall Street Journal the head of Volvo, Stefan Jacoby, believes the company should focus on safety and fuel efficiency with small cars and stick with understated luxury. But his new boss the head of Geely, Li Shufu, thinks Volvo needs to charge upscale to compete with BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. He especially wants a large sedan to sell in China’s growing luxury market. But they are reconciling their differences with the Concept Universe that was unveiled in Shanghai. The design hints at the luxurious direction Li wants, but the car is smaller than an S-Class or 7 Series. Jacoby and Li have also compromised on how fast to grow Volvo. Li wanted to build three factories in China to grow sales but now only one will be built. But the company still has ambitious sales goals, it wants to sell 800,000 cars by 2020, more than double what it sold last year. If the two can overcome their culture clash, Volvo could become a much stronger company.
OPEN LINE: TONIGHT!
Tonight is the big relaunch of the best automotive call-in show on the web. If you’ve never tried Open Line, now’s your chance to check it out. Michelle Naranjo joins us via Skype right now.
Again, that’s 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Time 5:00 p.m. Pacific or if you just want to learn how to make fuel out of beer, jump in at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Watch online at AutolineDetroit.tv or listen on your phone. The call-in number is (712) 432-0900 and PIN 911633. See you there tonight for Open Line: car talk that talks back!
FREAK-O-BOOST THREE CYLINDER
Last week Ford announced it will build a three-cylinder, 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine. We pleaded, cajoled and begged Ford to give us some sort of artwork to show what this engine is about, and they finally relented. Here’s the first photo, and some of the engineering details. The exhaust manifold is integrated into the cylinder head. That eliminates enough nuts, bolts and gasket to reduce the weight of the head by two pounds. It also has an off-set crank, so that in the exhaust stroke, the connecting arm is in a directly vertical position, which reduces friction and piston side-loads. The engine first appeared in the Star concept car first shown at the Beijing auto show. We estimate that this three-cylinder engine, which does not use a balance shaft, will produce about 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque and would deliver 48 miles per gallon on the highway in a Ford Fiesta. That’s 4.9 liters per 100 km.
RACE TO REPLACE MULALLY
Speaking of Ford, the company’s chairman, Bill Ford, said that whoever is going to replace CEO Alan Mulally is going to come from within the company. So every day this week I’m presenting the candidates who I think are most likely in the running. And I’ll announce who I think is going to become the next CEO on Friday’s show. Yesterday we zeroed in on the oldest guy in the running, Lewis Booth. Today, let’s look at the youngest. Joe Hinrichs, an electrical engineer by training, actually started his career at General Motors. He spent that time in engineering and manufacturing, even becoming a plant manager. But he was certainly promising enough that General Motors sent him to Harvard to get his MBA as a GM Fellow. At Ford, Hinrichs again climbed the ranks through the manufacturing organization. But he also spent time in Logistics and later ran Ford’s Automotive Components Holdings group, its collection of supplier companies. He ultimately rose to Group VP of Manufacturing and Labor, where he proved he could work well with the UAW. To give him overseas experience Ford recently named him as president of Asia-Pacific and Africa, as well as Chairman and CEO of Ford China. Nothing helps an executive get big promotions more than delivering big growth to the company. And being in charge of markets like China and India is going to help Hinrichs do just that. But Hinrichs is only 43 years old. That means if he became CEO in another year or two he could be in that position for nearly 20 years. And I think the board of directors may decide to let Hinrichs wait for another day.
What’s it like behind the wheel of BMW’s awesome X5 M? Find out after the break.
BMW X5 M
Good things cost money. Great things cost a lot of money. BMW’s X5 M is a fast, fun-driving luxury crossover with a sticker price two bucks short of a fortune. Is it worth the nearly six-figure window sticker? Autoline Daily’s Craig Cole spent a few days driving one.
Thanks, Craig. And that’s today’s report on the top news in the global automotive industry. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.