July 20th, 2011 at 12:03pm
GM and OnStar will launch a pilot program for smart-grid technology for EVs later this year. Nissan announced it’s increasing the price of the LEAF because it now comes standard with a battery warmer, heated steering wheel, and heated seats. Sales of convertibles in the U.S. dropped after the economy crashed a few years ago. All that and more, plus John answers questions about Audi and the UAW in the “You Said It!” segment.
This is Autoline Daily for July 20, 2011.
UP AND ATOMS
There’s quite a bit of electric-car news today, so let’s get started. GM and OnStar will launch the first real-world smart grid for EVs later this year. The pilot program in Raleigh, North Carolina will give utilities insight into how and where electric vehicles are charged as well as the impact this has on the grid. Hundreds of employees at energy companies throughout the region will drive leased Chevy Volts. OnStar will track the cars’ electrical consumption via a feature called ATOMS, which is short for Advanced Telematics Operations Management System. The data will help utilities forecast demand and determine the best locations to put charging stations.
GM RESTARTS VOLT PRODUCTION
In related Volt news, GM restarted production of the extended-range electric at its plant in Hamtramck, Michigan. 2012 models are now rolling off the line . . . or maybe I should say FLYING off the line. According to The Detroit News, assembly halted for about a month as the company retooled to make room for the 2013 Malibu. This helped triple, yes, TRIPLE Volt production! Hopefully this will help GM catch up with demand. Only one in nine Chevy dealers that sell the car have one in stock.
PRIUS POWER GENERATORS
What’d I tell you? Still more EV news! Toyota’s hybrid technology will help ease electricity shortages in Japan. How? Well, about 40 Prius cars are being fitted with special power systems that should allow people run appliances from the juice stored in the batteries. Think of them as big, expensive but very mobile emergency generators.
NISSAN INCREASES LEAF PRICING
And in related EV news, Nissan announced it’s increasing the number of markets where it will sell the LEAF in the U.S. . . . as well as the price. The base car now starts at $35,200. That’s $2,500 more than before. The higher-trim model starts at $37,250, $3,530 more than before. Both models now come standard a battery warmer, heated steering wheel and heated seats in both the front and rear. The high-trim model also gets a fast-charging plug. Interestingly, last month GM cut the price of the Volt by $1,000 by dropping Bose speakers and the navigation system. The base Volt now costs just under 40 grand.
DOMINIQUE CRITIQUES MPG CLAIMS
Speaking of Nissan . . . a number of automakers are claiming their compact cars can get 40 miles per gallon on the highway. But we ran into Larry Dominique, the head of product planning for Nissan in North America, who points out that just looking at the highway number may not be the best way to judge which car gets the best fuel economy.
CONVERTIBLE DEMAND DROPS
Traditionally convertibles have made up around 2 percent of the U.S. market, but ever since the economy crashed a few years ago, demand for convertibles went south with it. According to Polk, last year convertibles only made up 1.2 percent of the market. Sales have improved this year, increasing 3 percent compared to last, but this is way behind the overall automotive market, which is up over 15 percent compared to last year. In other words, convertibles are losing market share. The top three selling convertibles in the U.S. through May this year are the Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
HARLEY-DAVIDSON BACK ON TRACK
And in yet another sign the U.S. economy is slowly getting back on its feet, Harley-Davidson more than doubled its net profit in the most-recent quarter. And it was able to do that because its motorcycle sales in the U.S. were up for the first time in nearly five years. The company says consumers are still skittish about the economy, but prices of used motorcycles are so strong, more people are buying new ones. Harley’s overseas sales were also up, but not as strongly as in the U.S.
Coming up next, it’s time for You Said It!
And now it’s time for some of your feedback.
Mark wrote in to say, “John, on your review of the A8, I couldn’t help but notice how huge and oversized the grille is. Do you think the styling trend of oversized grilles has run its course and fuel economy standards will push makers to cleaner noses on their cars?”
No Mark, I think this giant grille thing is just getting going. It’s a way for an automaker to have its cars instantly recognized. As cars get more aerodynamic one way to keep them distinct is with bold front ends. And you’d be surprised how aerodynamic those big grilles can be.
MJB also had something to say about Audis. He says, “I’m gonna have to take your word for it that Audis have ‘The Best’ interiors. Because I just don’t see it.”
Well, MJB, in my view BMWs have somewhat coarse looking interiors, Mercedes-Benz is just starting to look dated to my eye, Cadillac can look a touch busy. And while Lexus does have a rich-looking interior, Audi just seems to do the best blend of modern, luxury and design.
Cwolf says, “Your suggestion about the UAW receiving profit sharing in the form of stock has my gears turning. On the negative side, stocks are speculative. However, there may be an advantage for higher income trades (people). Cashing in the stock at a tax rate of 15 percent just may result in a honey of a deal.”
That’s a great point, Cwolf. I also think that management would be far more generous if they paid profit sharing to line workers in stock, instead of cash. After all, it’s a lot easier for a company to print shares of stock.
ItsmeBill saw our report on the Chrysler workers caught partying on their lunch break and says, “Some of my good friends are UAW & they are great. It’s the ‘dudes’ like those in this story that bring everyone else down to their level and whom the union goes out of their way to protect.”
I’m not sure if the union goes out of its way to protect these workers, but it was disappointing that their fellow UAW workers who turned them in had to go to a local television station to get any action, rather than go through the union or the company.
G.A. Branigan also weighed in on this issue. “I don’t care who smokes weed, hell I do and I’m legal. But doing anything where you work is wrong on every level. Maybe someone should check ol Sergio Macaroni and see if he blazes one or more at work. That would seem to make sense.”
Well, G.A., I sincerely doubt that Sergio is smoking weed on the job. And while there may well be white-collar people who are doing it, the Chrysler line-workers got caught because they were blatantly doing it every day out in the open.
If you missed the LIVE Open Line call this month, don’t forget that you can listen to the podcast version now at bit.ly/OpenLine. Michelle Naranjo and Chelsea Sexton interview Mark Dill from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway about what it’s doing to make racing green. And mark your calendars for the next show with GM’s marketing chief Joel Ewanick, on Tuesday, August 2 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. It’s all at bit.ly/OpenLine.
And that’s today’s report, thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.