Episode 179 – BAIC’s Plans for Opel, Mini Hits 1.5 Million, Toyota Won’t Host Grand Prix

July 7th, 2009 at 12:00pm

Runtime 7:23

The 1.5-millionth Mini was built at the company’s plant in Oxford, England. More details have emerged in Beijing Auto’s bid for Opel. Toyota won’t host next year’s Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. All that and more, plus a look at the aerodynamic design of the 2010 Prius.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. Mini hits a milestone. BAIC says what it wants to do with Opel. And Toyota stops supporting the Japanese Grand Prix.

Up next, we’ll be back with the news behind the headlines.

This is Autoline Daily for Tuesday, July 7, 2009. And now, the news.

More details have emerged in Beijing Auto’s bid for Opel. According to the Financial Times, if BAIC wins out, it plans to spend $2 billion to build a factory in China and begin building vehicles there in 2012. The company also would close Opel’s Antwerp plant in Belgium and cut Opel’s workforce across Europe. BAIC offered 660 million euros or nearly $1 billion for Opel.

The Lear Corporation, one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers best known for supplying seats to the auto industry, filed for Chapter 11. But the bankruptcy filing only applies to its operations in the U.S. and Canada. The Wall Street Journal reports that it has to restructure some $3.6 billion in debt. Two years ago investor Carl Icahn offered to pay over $37 a share for Lear. But shareholders rejected the offer, saying the company was worth twice that. Today those shares are going for 29 cents.

GM faces tough times ahead. That’s what the media are saying today. The Detroit News says “New GM has hard road to revival.” The Wall Street Journal says “GM and U.S. Backers Face Rough Road Ahead.” The Free Press headline says, “What GM, Chrysler need to speed ahead.” Kind of curious that similar stories with similar headlines all hit on the same day.

A sign of the economic trouble Toyota is in – the AFP reports the company won’t host next year’s Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. The race was to be held at Toyota’s Fuji International Speedway. Local media reports say it costs up to 3 billion yen, or about $30 million dollars to host the race. It’s not a huge sum, but Toyota’s strategy during this economic downturn is to cut all non-essential expenses.

Even though it only came out in 2001, the new MINI hit a major milestone. They’ve now built 1.5 million MINIS at the company’s assembly plant in Oxford, England. The milestone model itself, number 1.5 million, is a red Clubman. When production of the new model is combined with those of the original MINI, the number grows to 6.8 million.

More is always better, right? First Mercedes came out with a seven-speed transmission, then Lexus trumped them with an eight. BMW must feel left behind because Ward’s reports that the company is rolling-out a new eight-speed automatic (subscription required). BMW says the ZF gearbox will cut fuel consumption by 6 percent on V12-powered cars. But transmission designers tell me you can get all the gear ratio spread you need with six gears. Anything beyond that is just for bragging rights.

Coming up next, a look at the aerodynamic design of the 2010 Prius, we’ll be back right after this.

The Toyota Prius is in a class of its own. Even though there are 20 hybrid models on the market right now, the Prius accounts for half of all hybrid sales. I’ve been test driving one this week, and here are some of my observations.

One last thing, we got about 56 miles to the gallon with this Prius, which is 4.2 L/100 km. That’s with a good combination of city and highway driving, without any hypermiling techniques. And that is downright impressive.

And that’s it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry. And don’t forget to tune in to Autoline After Hours Thursday night at 7 p.m. Eastern or 2300 hours GMT. And we do have an announcement to make that night, not about who’s coming on, but about who’s not. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

20 Comments to “Episode 179 – BAIC’s Plans for Opel, Mini Hits 1.5 Million, Toyota Won’t Host Grand Prix”

  1. Tony Gray Says:

    Inquiring minds want to know if the rear view mirror shakes at speed.

    (See, we actually DO retain some things from previous shows.)

  2. Michael J. Brown Says:

    John, as I watched your segment on the aerodynamics of the Prius’s front hood vs. that of the Insight’s, you pointed out a distinction that I must say (and I’m sure you know) is nothing new. The rubber seal (attached to the hood itself on the Insight, and on the top edge of the front bumper on the Prius) designed for continuous airflow over the front bumper has been around for a little while now.

    At least as long as 1992. I should know because Lexus used it in the exact same location on my ’93 SC400.

  3. paulstewart Says:

    Who’s not Obama,Penske,Putin,NewtG. and the list grows on…

  4. Hermann the German Says:

    John, re. the aero on Prius-the squared front corner is also present on Civic and Jaguar sedans.It seems others use this contour. And the rear end corner is very obvious on Volt as well.

  5. pedro Fernandez Says:

    It’s ok about Lear, we’ll just import car seats from China, where they’ll use contaminated material and we’ll all end up with rectal cancer.

  6. Ralph Kercheval Says:

    Maybe GM and Chrysler should take a page from Toyota and cut NON ESSENTIAL expenses such as NASCAR. My tax dollars paying for sponsorship deals seems just plain stupid to me. Just my humble opinion.

  7. Bill Says:

    Is the Buick Open still a go?

  8. craigerzgt Says:

    @ pedro:

    Maybe there will be a study that, in order to combat the rectal cancer that you get with Chinese seats, buyers must increase their level of flatulence. The study would have to be sponsored by a baked beans company of course!

  9. G.A.Branigan Says:

    The main problem that both gm and chrysler share is simple…..they don’t listen to what the customer wants.They just don’t,and probably never will.Gm is spending tons of money on the volt,and there is no way in hell it will ever be more then a micro-niech car.The Toyota prius kicks ass in sales,and will continue to do so.I do see the Insight gaining in sales but still not to the bar that the Prius has set.It seems the the chinese will spend major bux on getting a “name brand”,any name brand.I see in the very near future where only Ford will be left out of the american big 3.Sad…..and it doesn’t have to be that way.

  10. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I wish a few other car companies would notice not only that the Prius sells very well, but it is a HATCHBACK. Who says America doesn’t like hatchbacks, if they are done uniquely and well?

    The car I’d like to buy would have a body similar to a Prius, and a power train similar to a VW TDI. A plain old Jetta TDI wagon will get nearly 50mpg on the highway, so if you put its power train in the low drag Prius body, it would probably get 70, without those expensive batteries and all of the complex technology.

  11. Tony Gray Says:

    I double dog dare John to use craigerzgt’s post No 7 on this week’s YOU SAID IT.

  12. Dan Clemons Says:

    We have a 2010 Toyota Prius package III with Nav and just LOVE the car. There are $35,000 cars that are not as nice as the Prius. The ride is exceptional. Their hybrid Senergy Drive is out of this world. We ask ourselves why all cars are not hybrids like the Prius. When we are coasting, the engine is off and we are recovering that energy back to the battery. The build quality is just perfect. It is a world-class car that is helping America to keep its gas money at home.

  13. Ed K. Says:

    I’d still like to know the downside of bankruptcy for these auto companies. They tear up all their contracts, stiff everybody they owe, and then come out and tell everyone they are “new” and now viable. Where is the downside? Why don’t we all just declare bankruptcy and screw all our creditors? Just doesn’t seem right. They should still have to pay back all their debt but at a slower pay down rate maybe. I just don’t get it.

  14. C-Tech Says:

    Given the recent comments from Bernie Eccelstone (pardon the spelling if I am incorrect) about Hitler, I don’t blame Toyota from distancing themselves from F1.

  15. C-Tech Says:

    By the sales figures, it is more important for GM and Chrysler to build cars and trucks that are stylish and reliable than fuel efficient. Consider the Mini has outsold the Prius by a half million units over ten years. Combined Prius, Insight, and Diesel sales are not close to Ford truck or Chrysler Minivan sales. Bring back the spirit of the great designers and promotions of the past, then GM and Chrysler will be ok.

  16. Bob N Says:

    Why are you comparing the 2010 Prius to the Insight. The new Insight is the one that copied the Prius shape. We have been very happy with our Camry Hybrid. 34-36 mpg in town, 38 mpg on the highway.

  17. Dave E Says:

    If the French can save Renault then we can save GM. The US should make a goal of sticking with them, with a goal of making Gm a world leader again.

  18. Tom Says:

    GM should build the Prius with Toyota in the USA and rebadge it as a Chevy

  19. Stuart Somers Says:

    The new Prius may get good mileage, but it still looks like a turd on wheels.

  20. Jeremiah Says:

    Interesting that you compare the Prius with the Insight when we all know that Honda copied Toyota, for whatever reason they say, when designing their new Insight.

    While I don’t doubt that Honda will sell a good number of Insights, Toyota I think will still come out the winner in the sales wars because of the branding as well as the fact that many, many reviewers do not like Insight at all. Sure, it saves you several thousand, but if that extra money gets you a better car, then why not?