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Crunch watch Sept 09: the auto industry in crisis

Wed, 30 Sep 2009 00:00:00 -0700

By Tim Pollard

Motor Industry

30 September 2009 11:30

Welcome to CAR's news aggregator as we round up the seismic change in the auto industry. Top tip: news summaries are added from the top hour-by-hour  

Wednesday 30 September 2009
• Mitsubishi's global production in August was 62,924 units, a decline of 32.1% compared to August 2008. It was also the 18th consecutive monthly decrease for the Japanese car company (Mitsubishi)
• Fernando Alonso has signed a three-year deal to drive for the Scuderia Ferrari F1 team. The driver line-up next season will be Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, with Giancarlo Fisichella as reserve driver. Kimi Raikkonen leaves the team with mutual consent one year before his exisiting contract was due to expire (Ferrari)
• GM and Chrysler dealers who outlets were rejected by the two American car companies are now posting their stories on YouTube (Automotive News, subsription required)
• One of the key members of GM's Volt development team, Bob Kruse, has left the American company to become a consultant on hybrid and electric vehicles (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Toyota and Lexus are recalling a combined 3.8m US vehicles to fix faulty floor mats that may jam the accelerator pedal. The recall is expected to cost an estimated $50m-$100m (Automotive News, subsciption required)

Tuesday 29 September 2009
• Hyundai has reportedly pulled out of the 2009 Tokyo motor show (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Fiat and Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne will not stand for re-election to the board of Swiss bank UBS AG in 2010 (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Mazda will unveil a new direct-injection petrol engine, a new diesel engine and a new automatic transmission at next month's Tokyo motor show (Mazda) 

Monday 28 September 2009
• The UK government is to extend its Scrappage Scheme. Originally the initiative was to run until the end of February 2009, or sooner if the allocated £300m ran out. Now business secretary Lord Mandelson has promised to extend the scheme to cover another 100,000 cars. That's another £100m from the government, and it'll need to be matched by car manufacturers who contribute half of the £2000 discount towards each Scrappage Scheme car (BBC News)
• Kuwait's Investment Dar, the group that owns half of Aston Martin, has admitted it is struggling to refinance its debt, raising fears for the future of the British brand (The Guardian)

Friday 25 September 2009
• The GMB union says it will fight yesterday's Jaguar Land Rover's decision to close either Jag's Castle Bromwich plant or the Land Rover Solihull factory in the West Midlands. 'The GMB will be opposing everything we have heard so far,' said regional union officer Bert Hill. 'We will fight the company on this – of that I have no doubt' (BBC News)
• Renault has been hit by the withdrawal of its title sponsor ING. The Dutch finance group will leave immediately after the Crashgate row. It reportedly supplied half of the Renault F1 team's sponsorship (BBC Sport)
• Dodge is planning to make its Ram range into a whole sub-brand, specialising in vans, SUVs, commercials and pick-ups (InsideLine via Autoblog)
• Qu Li, the consultant named in the UK Government's recent report into the collapse of MG Rover, has complained of her treatment in the media. First she was outed as receiving a £1.7 million payment for consultancy from director Nick Stephenson, who was briefly her lover, now the tabloids have seized on her role in the bidding for failed van maker LDV (Financial Times)
• At long last, GM is able to concentrate on what it does best: building cars, rather than focusing on healthcare costs, labour disputes, debt and recession, chief exec Fritz Henderson tells the local paper (Detroit News)

Thursday 24 September 2009
• Britain's business secretary, Lord Mandelson, has written a letter to the European competition chief Neelie Kroes questioning the viability of Magna's plan to buy Vauxhall Opel. The FT has seen the letter, which says the restructuring plan is too expensive and susceptible to 'political intervention' (Financial Times)
• Thousands of GM workers and unionists descended on the Opel plant in Antwerp on Wednesday to protest at its earmarked closure (Financial Times)
• As tipped, Goldman Sachs has invested $334 million in Chinese car maker Geely – and many observers see it as a precursor to a fully fledged bid to buy Volvo Car Corp from Ford. Shares in Hong Kong listed Geely leaped 26% on the news (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Daimler is considering moving some C-class production to the US from Germany, according to newspaper reports (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)

Wednesday 23 September 2009
• It's rapidly becoming apparent that the Magna takeover of GM Europe will focus the brunt of redundancies in the UK, Belgium and Spain. Sources have told the FT that 1373 of Vauxhall's 4475 UK jobs and 2090 of Opel's 6401 posts in Spain would go – around a third of each workforce (Financial Times)
• Tony Woodley of the Unite union is calling for urgent meetings to protect the jobs in Luton and Ellesmere Port. He blamed the €4.5 billion aid package from the German government for sweetening the deal (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
• A new Fiat powertrain expert, Paolo Ferrero, is to head up Chrysler's engines division (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Ford has announced plans to build a small car in India as part of a £300 million investment in the country. The Figo (Italian slang for 'cool') will be built in Chennai in early 2010 (BBC News)

Tuesday 22 September 2009
• Lamborghini has sold a dozen of the 15 Reventon Roadsters it's committed to building, CAR Online has learned. The remaining three cars 'are in the process of being agreed' an official told us (CAR Online)
• GM is forming a group to discuss the future of Opel's Antwerp, Belgium plant. President Carl-Peter Forster admitted it could close after the General agreed to sell its European arm to Magna (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
• UK garage prices have risen in the past year, according to a survey. Warranty Direct claimed that the average hourly mechanic's price had swollen from £75.17 to £75.85 (BBC News)

Monday 21 September 2009
• Porsche's new CEO Michael Macht has told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that the sports car maker could sell 150,000 cars a year in the medium term, boosted by new models. Brave talk when sales have plunged by a quarter to around 75,000 cars in the year to July (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
• In the same interview, Macht said he envisaged an electric Porsche on sale 'as soon as five to 10 years' away
• Goldman Sachs' private equity arm is poised to invest around $250 million in Geely – China's largest privately owned car maker. Geely is bidding for Volvo, but the investment would be earmarked to treble production at its Hunan factory to 150,000 units a year (Financial Times)
• The boss of oil giant Total warns the BBC that the world could face an oil shortage because of chronic underinvestment. Chief exec Christophe de Margerie said oil prices would rise to around $100 a barrel from today's rate of some $70 (BBC News)
• Volkswagen is expected to take a stake in Suzuki by the end of 2009, giving VW a leg up in to India and south-east Asia while Suzuki would benefit from German tech (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)

Friday 18 September 2009
• Tata's European arm has won a £10 million loan from the UK Government to develop and manufacture the Tata Indica Vista electric vehicle; it's a four-seater going on sale in Europe this year (Tata Motors)
• GM dealers in the US have stunned the struggling manufacturer by requesting four times as many vehicles as it planned to build in October. An internal report revealed that GM projected building 8000 Chevrolet Equinoxes, for example, but dealers wanted nearly 30,000 (Detroit News)
• Sergio Marchionne, chief exec of Fiat and Chrysler, told hacks at the 2009 Frankfurt motor show that he would present a restructuring plan for the US manufacturer in November. He said Chrysler could expect to achieve sales of between 5 million and 6 million vehicles once the market stabilises (Detroit News)
• Hyundai has revealed plans to start building a $600 million plant in Brazil next year. It signed an agreement for the project with Sao Paulo city government last November but the plans had been put on hold due to the economic downturn (Wall Street Journal)
• Lord Mandelson has called on Brussels to ensure that Germany’s offer of £4 billion in loan guarantees to smooth the sale of General Motors’ European arm does not begin a 'subsidy war', with governments using state aid to protect jobs. The UK business secretary’s intervention reflects fears that GM’s 5000 UK employees will be sacrificed to keep Opel’s four German plants going (Financial Times)

Thursday 17 September 2009
• Saab's new owners are considering building cars in China, MD Jan Ake Jonsson said at Frankfurt. 'If you want to be a serious player in China, you need [local] production,' he told the FT. BAIC this month joined the Koenigsegg-led consortium to buy Saab from GM. Final financing to close the deal should be completed by October (Financial Times)
• Bosses at most European car makers are desperate for governments across the EU to renew their scrappage subsidies rather than end them abruptly (BBC News)
• An Environment Agency crackdown on illegal End-of-Life Vehicles and scrap metal operations has led to the closure of almost half of the 370 known sites in England and Wales in just 12 months. Legitimate companies may benefit from up to £30 million of new business as a result (The Environment Agency)
• EU chiefs in Brussels have vowed to conduct a thorough examination of Germany’s plan to provide billions in loan guarantees for the restructuring of Opel. The plans involve £4bn in loans and credit guarantees (Financial Times)
• Toyota is preparing a $1 billion marketing blitz to juice US sales in the fourth quarter and plans to expand its line of gas-electric hybrid models under the Prius name. The strategy was laid out by Toyota President Akio Toyoda at a meeting in Las Vegas with the company's US dealers (The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday/Wednesday 15/16 September 2009
• Sorry for the lack of Crunchwatching – the whole web team was flat-out in Frankfurt. Normal service now resumed!

Monday 14 September 2009
• The Belgian government demands a probe into GM's decision to sell Opel and Vauxhall to Canadian parts supplier Magna, which is expected to close Opel's  Antwerp plant (BBC News)
• MG Rover's auditors, accountants Deloitte, have emerged unscathed from the scandal over last week's government report into the collapse of the Longbridge car maker. It charged MG Rover £30.7 million over five years, but the report cleared the tax advisors of any wrongdoing (Financial Times)
• US car dealers are facing a sales slowdown now the cash-for-clunkers rebate scheme has ended (Detroit News)
• This week's Frankfurt motor show opens against a backdrop of missed opportunity for reform, say analysts. A BBC business reporter blogs how the current financial crisis should have shaken some dead wood from the industry – but has failed to (BBC News)
• Tens of thousands of used-car buyers have bought ex-rental cars from franchised dealers without realising it. National Car Rental, part of Europcar, was one hire company that used a subsidiary to defleet its cars so buyers wouldn't realise they'd bought an ex-rental car that would have been driven by many drivers – not 'one careful owner' (Daily Telegraph)

Friday 11 September 2009
• UK business secretary Peter Mandelson is 'upbeat' about Vauxhall's future after yesterday's deal to sell GM's European arm to Magna. 'All the workforce, throughout the entire company in Europe, will face some restructuring. There's never been any question about that. But if you're asking me whether I believe that the future of the two UK plants are assured, then I have received that assurance from Magna' (BBC News)
• Magna won the race to buy Opel and Vauxhall because of the €3 billion in guarantees offered by the German government – putting Magna ahead of GM's preferred bidder RHJ. But there are big hurdles ahead as Sberbank and Gaz will likely now insist on technology sharing in Russia (The Times)
• Britain's Luton van plant may be under threat in 2013 when its current model line-up is due to expire. Magna and Sberbank are both 'considering economically viable ways of keeping the Luton plant open' (Financial Times)
• Meanwhile, GM in the US is trying to tempt customers back with a 60-day moneyback guarantee
• Chrysler is severing its engine manufacturing deal withi Hyundai and Mitsubishi under its new Fiat ownership. They had a joint venture in Michigan building four-cylinder engines, but the plant will now build motors for the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass and Patriot alone (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)

Thursday 10 September 2009
• GM's board this afternoon announced its plan to sell a majority stake in Vauxhall Opel to Magna. Magna International and Sberbank will own 55% of the New Opel company, while the staff will hold a 10% stake
• General Motors is reportedly due to announce plans today for its European arm, Vauxhall Opel. Word is that GM is minded to keep them rather than sell to either RHJ or Magna. But any decision has to be approved by the German-based Opel Trust, which has controlled the car maker since its US parent collapsed into bankruptcy this summer (BBC News)
• If GM does keep hold of Vauxhall and Opel, it's good news for the 5000 UK staff at Vauxhall (Daily Telegraph)
• The UK Government has no plans to extend the successful scrappage scheme, warns busienss secretary Peter Mandelson (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)

Wednesday 9 September 2009
• China's Geely confirms it is bidding for Volvo – and wants the whole business (Financial Times)
• Meanwhile, Chinese car sales have leaped 90% year on year in August – pointing to a record 12 million new car registrations this year, according to analysts (Financial Times)
• America's cash-for-clunkers scheme proved most popular in the 'blue' Democrat states, according to USA Today (Autoblog)
• General Motors is poised to shake up its finance arm, and chief financial officer Ray Young is likely to leave (Detroit News)
• McLaren's move into road cars, highlighted today by the launch of the MP4-12C, will help cushion job losses in the F1 division (BBC News)

Tuesday 8 September 2009
• Saab saviour Koenigsegg has presented the Swedish government with a new plan to finance the bankrupted car maker. State secretary Joran Hagglund told Reuters the plan required no extra funding from the Swedish government (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
• UK manufacturing has risen at its fastest rate for 18 months after domestic car production picked up (BBC News)
• GM's deal to sell Hummer to Chinese firm Tengzhong has hit regulatory hurdles, reports industry specialist AN. But the little-known maker of heavy plant machinery is still keen to buy Hummer (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Toyota is hiring 800 extra contract workers in Japan – its first expansion in over a year. Toyota said the growth was to keep up with demand for its Prius hybrid (BBC News)
• US president Barack Obama is expected to announce new plans to mandate a new fuel efficiency standard this week. It's tipped to spell out an average of 35.5mpg by the 2016 model year (Detroit News)

Monday 7 September 2009
• The new £150,000 McLaren P11 will be called the MP4-12C when it is unveiled on Wednesday, Ron Dennis says in a newspaper interview over the weekend. He also revealed it would have a Volvo-style 'floating' dashboard, a wi-fi connection, gullwing doors and a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox (Sunday Times)
• The UK has enjoyed the first fall in road congestion for 20 years – because of the recession, says a joint report by the AA and Trafficmaster (BBC News)
• UK new car sales have risen for the second year in succession, up 6% on last August to 66,000 (BBC News)
• The debt-ridden rump of Chrysler, called Old Carco and still residing in Chapter 11, has defaulted on $3.3 billion loans owed to the US government. It was hived off from the more profitable bits of Chrysler during bankruptcy (Financial Times)
• Amercia's chief auto adviser is to head up a new position to inject life in the wider US manufacturing sector (Detroit News)

Friday 4 September 2009
• Lotus appoints Dany Bahar as new chief executive, after the retirement of Michael Kimberly in August. In an unusual move for the Norfolk sports car maker, Bahar was recruited from Ferrari where he was in charge of Maranello's worldwide road car sales, aftersales, marketing and merchandising (Lotus Cars)
• It'll be another month or two before Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne announces his long-term plans for Chrysler (Financial Times)
• Bosch says there are now 1 million of its stop-start systems on the roads, after sales began in 2007 (Bosch)

Thursday 3 September 2009
• Hyundai will tomorrow be announced as the number one retail car brand in the UK, as August's new car sales figures are released. The Koreans will leapfrog Ford as they enjoy booming sales from the scrappage scheme (CAR Online)
• The Mini coupé and roadster twins to be shown at the 2009 Frankfurt motor show will go into production – creating 1000 new jobs at the Oxford Mini plant. Trade secretary Peter Mandelson confirmed the duo would go into production (BBC News)
• BMW chief exec Norbert Reithofer said the company will remain one of two big independent luxury car brands left in the world. He ruled out a tie-up with a volume car maker and claimed its 1.5m-2m production would allow it to go it alone (Financial Times)
• The American 'Big Three' car makers have had an image boost after months of uncertainty. A survey found 81% of US buyers would now consider buying a Ford, GM or Chrysler car (Detroit News)

Wednesday 2 September 2009
• Car makers in the US have reported a strong August, thanks to the cash-for-clunkers rebates. Ford sales leapt 17% on August last year and, although GM dropped a fifth year-on-year, they were up 30% on July 2009 (BBC News)
• Shares in struggling Ssangyong rose 15% today after Korean private equity fund Seoul Invest said it was interested in buying a 51% stake in the bankrupted car maker for as much as $320 million (Financial Times)
• GM is extending its Californian trial where it's selling cars on eBay for another month (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Belgian finance investor RHJ International has increased its bid for GM's European Opel and Vauxhall arms. It informed GM in a letter, it would offer €300 million in cash for a 50.1% stake – €25m more than its first bid on 20 July (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
• UK supercar club Club GT has launched a wave of promotions to stimulate demand, cutting membership rates over the summer by a quarter and offering a free weekend in its Nissan GT-R to new members (Club GT) 

Tuesday 1 September 2009
• UK pump prices have risen 2p per litre overnight, after the third fuel duty rise in nine months (BBC News)
• Tata posted a loss for its first quarter – dragged down by Jaguar and Land Rover sales that slumped 52% year on year (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Japanese new car sales have risen for the first time in 13 months, creeping up by 2.3% in August (Detroit News)
• GM's board of directors was meeting today to discuss the now dragging sale of its Opel-Vauxhall European arm (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
• California held a garage sale of goods, including former police cars and other automobila some signed by governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, to raise reduce the state's budget deficit of $1.5 billion (£925,000) (BBC News)
• Cerberus, which bought Chrysler from Daimler, has been hit by a demand for more than $5.5bn (£3.3bn) from disgruntled investors. It's a big fall from grace for Cerberus, which was once considered the darling of Wall Street (The Times)
• Chinese car maker BYD says it will start selling electric cars in the US in 2010 (Financial Times)


By Tim Pollard