November 22nd, 2011 at 11:45am
In a move that probably did not surprise anyone, Laura Soave was let go as head of the Fiat car brand in the American market. Speaking of personnel moves, General Motors appointed its vice chairman, Steve Girsky, as the chairman of the supervisory board of Opel. If you thought that the Volt is expensive here in the U.S., good thing you don’t live in China! All that and more plus a review of the new Chevrolet Sonic.
This is Autoline Daily for November 22, and here’s what’s happening in the industry.
SOAVE SWEPT OUT
In a move that probably did not surprise anyone, Laura Soave was let go as head of the Fiat car brand in the American market. Sales of the little Fiat 500 came nowhere near the 50,000 unit sales goal that Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne set for the car. According to Ward’s, sales through October were only 15,826 cars. A key reason why Fiat missed its target by such a wide margin is that it was extremely slow to sign up American dealers. And that is why Laura Soave is being replaced by Timothy Kuniskis, who has worked at Chrysler for 19 years, most recently as head of Fiat marketing in the U.S. But here’s my Autoline Insight. Soave was handed an impossible sales goal. No way is Fiat going to sell that many 500s in the U.S., especially when the dealers only have one model in the showroom. They need at least three more models to bring in more customers. But even with that, I think Fiat would be lucky to sell 50,000 Cinquecentos in all of North America. But this is also indicative of Sergio’s MO. If something isn’t working, he doesn’t waste time. He gets rid of who ever is in charge and tries someone else.
GIRSKY MOVES TO OPEL
Speaking of personnel moves, General Motors appointed its vice chairman, Steve Girsky, as the chairman of the supervisory board of Opel. And just to make sure he’s got the muscle he needs, GM CFO Dan Ammann is joining him there, as well as the President of GM’s International Operations, Tim Lee. Opel needs to take drastic actions to get its costs and capacity in line with market realities. That means closing plants and laying off workers in Germany, and that is going to be a battle royale, hence the reason to give Girsky some backup.
UAW (STILL) TARGETING TRANSPLANTS
Now that the UAW and the Detroit automakers have reached labor agreements, the union says it’s going after those pesky transplants. The Detroit News reports that the UAW is training organizers for “informational picketing” at foreign dealerships. They’ll hand out leaflets explaining the benefits of joining a union, but foreign car dealers are hopping mad about that. They don’t want customers distracted from buying a new car.
BRING YOUR LITTLE RED CHECKBOOK
If you thought that the Volt is expensive here in the U.S., good thing you don’t live in China! The Detroit News reports that the Volt will cost more than $75,000 when it goes on sale in eight cities in the Middle Kingdom. Since the Volt is built in Detroit and exported to China, it gets hit with a hefty tariff, and it doesn’t qualify for a tax credit of nearly $20,000 for EVs. GM CEO Dan Akerson says if the Volt starts selling well in China, it will consider building it in the country. Well, at 75 grand it ain’t gonna’ sell at all!
WULING ‘ROUND THE WORLD
Three carmakers really dominate automotive exports from China: Chang’an, Chery and Great Wall. Not wanting to miss out on all the fun – and profit – SAIC-GM is challenging them with its VERY inexpensive Wuling vans. They’ll start building the Chevrolet Move in Egypt starting next year, assembled from knock-down kits, with a goal of about 5,000 a year. Very smart of GM and SAIC to compete against domestic Chinese automakers in emerging markets.
Interesting article from Bloomberg. Fiat is working on a common design language for sister-brands Chrysler and Lancia. The move is aimed at saving money and more than doubling global sales to 800,000 a year by 2014. The common design cues will have to work on wide-array of different vehicles, from subcompacts to minivans, AND in a number of different markets. That’s a VERY tall order. With the shaky economy and Euro-Zone debt issues, moving more metal in Italy, where Lancia sells about 90 percent of its cars, will be very, very challenging. That tells me the lion’s share of the growth will have to come from Chrysler.
Coming up next, a look at the Chevy Sonic, we’ll be back right after this.
2012 CHEVROLET SONIC
The subcompact segment has never been a bright spot for Detroit. The Ford Aspire and Geo-slash-Chevy Metro spelled this failure out with a capital “F.” But Motown’s latest B-segment offerings are revving things up. The Fiesta is a great choice and GM’s newest subcompact promises to atone for some of its past sins.
I’m talking, of course, about the Chevrolet Sonic. This spunky little car is available as either a sedan or hatchback. Either way, it hits the road with big-car features like a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, OnStar connectivity and a roomy, quiet interior.
When it comes to target markets for the Sonic, Chevrolet sees college campuses and urban areas, like San Francisco, as great opportunities because, according to their research, they’re home to the prefect kind of buyer.
And one thing these younger buyers will appreciate about the Sonic is its affordable price, just $15,000 for an entry-level model. That includes a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and 138 horsepower. A five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic are the two transmission choices.
More performance-oriented customers can opt for a one-four turbo. Horsepower is the same as the base engine, but it delivers a much fatter chunk of torque, with a peak of 148 pound-feet. For now, a six-speed manual is the only gearbox available with this engine. An auto will be available in the spring.
Safety is another key component of the Sonic. It’s something that was baked right into its architecture from day one.
The car’s safety ratings and fun driving dynamics are great news for buyers, and they’re things GM is very proud of, but that’s not all the company has to brag about. Right now it’s the only subcompact sold in the U.S. that’s actually made in the U.S. – it’s built in Orion, Michigan. The Fiesta can’t make that claim, nor can the Fit, Versa, Accent or Yaris.
The Sonic is the second in a trio of small cars Chevrolet is introducing. It’s a ‘bridge’ between the compact Cruze and the A-segment Spark, which should launch in North America in about a year or so. Reporting from San Francisco, California for Autoline Daily, I’m Craig Cole.
Another way Chevy is helping the Sonic stand out from the crowd is through personalization. It’s offering buyers a variety of different body graphics to choose from so they can really personalize their cars. The selection was created by GM’s design staff and can be added to any Sonic as a dealer-installed option.
And that wraps up today’s show, thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.