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News watch March 2010: today's auto industry news

Tue, 30 Mar 2010 00:00:00 -0700

Tuesday 30 March 2010
• Mercedes has dismissed claims that its Maybach brand is for sale, after reports in the Chinese media claimed Chinese car company BYD was considering a bid for the upmarket offshoot. BYD has also denied the claims (Reuters)
• Toyota president Akio Toyoda has promised his company will listen more carefully to customers and react faster in a bid to regain credibility after the Japanese car manufacturer was forced to recall millions of vehilces over safety fears (BBC)
• The Obama administration is expected to unveil its finalised fuel economy and tailpipe emissions through to 2016 this week, to coincide with the opening of the 2010 New York auto show (Detroit News) 

Monday 29 March 2010
• Toyota has agreed to licence the hybrid technology in the Prius to Mazda, which will combine the electric system with its next-gen Sky engines. It’s part of Mazda’s plans to increase the average fuel economy of its vehicles by 30% by 2015 (compared to 2008 levels) and it hopes to have its first hybrid vehicle on sale in Japan by 2013 (Mazda)
• Ford and Chinese car company Geely have signed a stock purchase agreement that will allow the latter to acquire 100% of Volvo (along with related assets including intellectual property rights). The agreement was signed by Geely’s chairman Li Shufu and Ford’s chief financial officer Lewis Booth at a ceremony in Gothenburg. The deal is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2010 (Ford)
• Renault has announced UK prices for the Twingo Gordini. The bright blue hot hatch will cost £14,500, compared to £12,762 for the standard RS Twingo. Just 200 will come to the UK (Renault) 

Friday 26 March 2010
• BMW has registered a raft of new possible badges, according to the latest trademark filings. Potential names include: i1 through to i9, as well as E1 through to E9 – presumably for the new MegaCity cars being developed under project i banner (BMW Blog)
• Other standalone names registered include M 50 d, Urbanic, Gran Coupé, Compactive and Compactive Tourer (BMW Blog)
• GM says it will make its second loan repayment to the US and Canadian governments on 31 March. By repaying $1bn this month, The General will be well on the way to clearing the state debt of $6.7bn by mid year (Automotive News)

Thusday 25 March 2010
• Daimler and Renault may swap 'symbolic' equity stakes, reports the FT. It is understood to be working on co-development of engines, transmissions and platforms for smaller cars – and the two could swap around 3% stakes, just above the level at which they would have to be disclosed. The FT reports that an announcement is due in April (Automotive News)
• Volkswagen has launched a capital increase of up to €4.5 billion to fund its takeover of Porsche and keep its credit rating; VW said this week it would issue up to 65m preference shares (Financial Times)
• Orders for Honda's CR-Z hybrid coupé are running 10 times ahead of its monthly sales target in Japan. It's taken 10,000 orders already (Automotive News)
• Ford insiders are tipping a final agreement to sell Volvo to Geely next week; originally a low-key signing was planned, but Detroit News reports it's now escalating into a major international event with Chinese vice president Xi Jinping will fly in for the signing (Detroit News)

Wednesday 24 March 2010
• Daimler is accused of paying bribes to a large number of foreign governments. The US Justice Department accuses Daimler of paying tens of millions of dollars to officials in at least 22 governments, to persuade them to buy their vehicles. Reuters reports that the company is preparing to pay a fine of $185 million to the US Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission (BBC News)
• Fiat will take over the running of Chrysler's sales in Europe, starting next month reports industry newspaper AN. Eleven countries will swap logistics and parts distribution, while employees of Chrysler's national sales companies in the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Holland, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland will be gradually phased from Chrysler to Fiat ownership over the next 18 months (Automotive News)
• Doctors in Britain are calling for smoking in cars to be banned. The Royal College of Physicians says it's no different to a workplace or public space (BBC News)

Tuesday 23 March 2010
• Bosch has made its biggest single investment in its history – to make a new eight-inch semiconductor factory at its Reutlingen facility. It spent €600m on the site, which will make parts for electric cars, cell phones and laptops (Bosch)
• Chrysler has confirmed it will develop the Fiat 500 electric vehicle for the US market – sales will begin in 2012, priced at a competitive level for supermini EVs, vows Chrysler. It will be developed at Auburn Hills, Michigan (Chrysler)
• Saab yesterday started building cars as an independent car maker. The first car down the line was the new 9-5, after a seven-week shutdown (Saab)
• Trollhattan will eventually build five different model lines: the new 9-5 saloon and 2011's new 9-5 SportWagon estate, the 9-3 Convertible (which has been brought back to Sweden after the third-party manufacturing deal was rescinded), the 9-3 saloon and 9-3 estate (Saab)
• Britain's pre-eminent position in world motorsport is at risk because the Government is not giving it enough support, a Commons committee has warned. The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee hailed the race car industry and its 4500 small firms as 'a crown jewel of UK manufacturing' but warned it must not be treated as a niche market (BBC News)
• Ford CEO Alan Mulally took home the equivalent of $17.9 million last year, once you take into account his stock-based reward package. Ford's statement yesterday revealed he earned $1.4m in salary and no cash bonus in 2009. Executive chairman Bill Ford's remuneration would have been $16.8m, but he has declined to take his bonus until the Blue Oval has achieved profitability for a full year (Automotive News)

Monday 22 March 2010
• American politicians will this week restrict the number of GM executives who can earn more than $500,000 in base salary; only exceptional circumstances will make 'pay czar' Kenneth Feinberg approve salaries over this threshold. The US government has this power since it currently owns more than 60% of GM (Automotive News)
• Meanwhile, Ford will today announce how much it paid its top executives in 2009, including the salary details of CEO Alan Mulally. Last year he took home more than $13.5m including deferred stock options (Detroit News)
• It's getting harder to make small cars profitably in Japan – and analysts predict more manufacturing outside the country, like with the Nissan Micra which will now be built in India (Financial Times)

Friday 19 March 2010
• The current boss of Mercedes’ AMG division, Volker Mornhinweg, is taking over as head of the company’s van business. Mornhinweg replaces (and will report to) Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, who was appointed to the Mercedes board in February 2010. AMG’s new managing director is Ola Kaellenius, and while he most recent post was as plant manager in the USA, his CV includes a stint at McLaren and in Mercedes’ engine departments (Mercedes)
• Renault has revealed a new 2.3-litre diesel engine. Based on the 2.0 dCi that’s used in the Laguna and Espace, the new unit will replace the 2.5 and 3.0-litre oil burners in Renault’s Master van, and find its way into other Renault-Nissan products in the future (Renault)
• Lamborghini has been named as guest of honour at the 2010 JEC Composites Forum  on 14 April. The company is investing heavily in lightweight materials as part of its pledge to cut CO2 emissions by 35% by 2015 (Lamborghini)
• Tesla has teamed up with TAG Heuer to do what it claims is the first round-the-world trip in an electric car. Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio drove the first leg of the 24,000-mile trip from Basel as part of the eight-month tour (Tesla)
• GM still has a few interested parties in its closing Hummer brand, Dow Jones Newswires report. The deal to sell to China's Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery collapsed last month (Automotive News)
• Ford's sale of Volvo to China's Geely has hit a snag, the Wall Street Journal reports, but the deal is still on course. 'We're ready to seal the deal,' said Geely chairman Li Shufu. 'If the deal fails, the problem is not on our side. We have not violated any part of the agreement' (Automotive News Europe)
• Human error caused a runaway Toyota Prius crash in New York, federal investigators have said (Detroit News)

Thursday 18 March 2010
• UK car production was up 63% in February 2010, the fourth successive monthly rise in output. Britain built 97,255 cars last month (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders)
• Britain's £24 billion secondhand car market has been slammed by watchdogs. The Office of Fair Trading said the used car industry drew more complaints than any other sector last year – with one in five of the 3.6m people buying old cars experiencing a problem. There were 650,000 official complaints to watchdog Consumer Direct (BBC News)
• Geely Holding and Ford say they are on track to sign a deal this month to sell Volvo to the Chinese. The price is tipped to be $2 billion (Automotive News Europe)
• The Nissan Leaf will be built in the UK from 2013, it was announced today. Sunderland had been competing with other European manufacturing sites and won the contract to build electric cars (BBC News)
• Nissan, which manufactures around a third of all the cars built in the UK every year, will be aided by £21m grants from the Government and £220m from the European Investment Bank

Wednesday 17 March 2010
• Small BMWs will go front-wheel drive, confirmed CEO Nobert Reithofer. While the 1-series will remain rear-drive, a new family of smaller models will go FWD (Automotive News Europe)
• Peugeot will launch a new upmarket line called hors-série to mirror Citroën's DS sub-brand. The RCZ coupé – driven this week – is the first hors-série model and will be joined by a brace of other low-volume models, one of which will be a station wagon of the new 508. The French phrase will be used globally and means literally outside of mass production (Automotive News)
• Porsche's holding company announced a €329 million operating profit in the first half of the tax year to 31 July 2010. Revenues rose 3.7% compared to a year earlier, despite sales dipping 1.7% to 33,670 vehicles (Porsche)
• Ousted GM CEO Fritz Henderson is working as a consultant for turnaround specialist AlixPartners – a company helping to sell old GM's assets shed in bankruptcy (Automotive News)
• Saab has launched its new US HQ in Royal Oak, Detroit. The Michigan authorities are providing a $1.2 million high-tech tax break over five years (Detroit News)

Tuesday 16 March 2010
• Volkswagen has renamed its Individual division, responsible for the R models and aftermarket styling kits, R GmbH (Volkswagen)
• Tata Motors announced a 59% sales increase in February – up to 89,768 vehicles. That includes 17,197 Jaguars and Land Rovers, itself up 60% on the February before (Tata)

Monday 15 March 2010
• All change at two Brit sports car specialists: northern firm Ginetta today confirmed it had bought south-west based Farbio, maker of the GTS (née Farboud) (Ginetta)
• Nissan today confirmed it would add a fifth global design centre in China. The Beijing styling studio will initially employ 20 designers (Nissan)
• Lotus and Cosworth will work with established IndyCar outfit KV Racing Technology to run in the 2010 IndyCar series in the US. The Lotus-Cosworth IndyCar will use the classic racing green and yellow livery (Lotus)
• The UK's road infrastructure needs a 'radical overhaul', warns the CBI business group today. It proposes staggered commuting times, increased car sharing and more working from home if the UK is to remain competitive (BBC News)
• Chinese car firm BYD has posted a record fourth quarter profit of 1.46 billion yuan ($214m), according to Reuters (Automotive News)

Friday 12 March 2010
• Business secretary Lord Mandelson has announced a £270m loan guarantee to GM Europe from the British Government to help secure Vauxhall's future. 'We need Vauxhall to thrive as part of Britain's automotive manufacturing base and following our negotiations with GM Europe I am confident it will do so,' Lord Mandelson said in a statement (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)
• Toyota has been forced to hand over a 2006 memo to then-CEO Katsuaki Watanabe from a union worker outlining concerns over cost-cutting and the use of temporary workers (The Telegraph)
• Volkswagen and BMW have both reported falls in profits for 2009. VW announced profits of £872m, down 80%, and BMW declared group profits of £191m, down 36%. Both companies expect growth in 2010 (BBC)
• VW finance chief Hans Dieter Poetsch has outlined plans for the company to raise £3.5bn by issuing bonds and selling shares as the carmaker needs to raise funds to complete its purchase of Porsche (Automotive News)
• Fiat and Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne has appointed 37-year-old Laura Soave to head up Fiat's return to the US after a 27-year absence. Her appointment to the Chrysler Group comes following a spell at Volkswagen as a marketing manager (Bloomberg)  
• Skoda plans extra shifts on its Roomster, Yeti and Superb production lines in the second quarter of 2010. Cuts were made across the board to save money following a drop in demand after Germany’s scrappage scheme ended in January. The Czech company sold a record 685,000 cars in 2009 (Automotive News Europe) 
• EU car production plunged 17% in 2009 according to figures released by the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association. It warned that production cuts would lead to drops in sales in 2010. British production figures were worst hit, dropping by a third (Reuters) 

Thursday 11 March 2010
• Toyota expects US sales in March to rise 30% on the back of incentives introduced to convince waivering buyers at the beginning of the month. Sales dropped 10% in February after Toyota’s recall problems (Automotive News)
• GM boss Ed Whitacre says the company is on track to repay the $8bn loans from the US and Canadian governments before the June deadline. ‘We have restructured and the progress that we've made, I believe, is sustainable’ (Reuters)
• GM is considering ditching the Daewoo name in its home market, South Korea, according to GM Daewoo president Mike Arcamone. ‘We are making some significant changes in our strategy in our home market. Our domestic sales are not acceptable,’ he told the FT (Financial Times)
• Hummer production is restarting for a month as General Motors honours a commercial fleet order of around 800 vehicles. Production originally stopped in January as no suitable buyers were found for the company. GM has said that it is still open to new offers (New York Daily News)

Wednesday 10 March 2010
• Geely has found the £1.2bn it needs to buy Volvo, according to Swedish business paper Dagens Industri. Chinese banks and regional government bodies have already given the money to the company, but the final agreement between Geely and Ford has yet to be signed (Reuters)
• Audi bosses are confident they can increase the 2009 profit of £1.2bn this year. Daimler made a £2.3bn loss during the same period, while BMW is expected to announce a small profit next week. Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said: ‘With a profit margin before tax of 6.5%, we stood out significantly in comparison with our competitors’ (Financial Times)
• Meanwhile, ahead of its financial results, BMW has announced that it is seeing a ‘definite upturn’ in almost all car markets after seeing a 14% increase in sales in February (Automotive News Europe)
• Saab is to restart delivery of cars to North America after a six-month break in supply following its sale to Spyker. The company also intends to knock 4-12% off the list price of its US cars to stimulate demand. The new 9-5 saloon launches in the summer (Automotive News)
• Mazda is considering installing a brake override system on their new cars following Toyota’s recall problems. The system will give braking priority when both the brake and accelerator pedals are depressed (Automotive News)
• Mitsubishi plans to make 100,000 EVs for Peugeot and Citroën based on the i-MiEV over the next five years. The exterior and interior styling on both models is expected to be changed from the i-MiEV, which goes on sale in the UK in 2011 (Automotive News)
• CO2 emissions of new cars sold under the UK scrappage scheme are a third lower than the cars they have replaced, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Scrappage accounted for nearly a fifth of sales in February (SMMT)

Tuesday 9 March 2010
• Toyota has rejected claims that dodgy electronics are behind the 8m-car recall. Toyota held a press conference yesterday at which it presented Stanford University research saying there was 'no real-world' evidence of iffy electrics (BBC News)
• VW is planning to increase its share of the electric car market from 0 to 3% by 2018. Chief exec Martin Winterkorn said it planned 'an unprecedented' drive into the EV market (Financial Times)
• Mazda's new design chief Ikuo Maeda, who took over last April, has admitted to AN that he'd like to revive the RX-7. 'I do have a strong yearning to revive the RX-7 during my tenure, but in order for that to happen we need the US economy to come back' (Automotive News)
• Daimler has sold its 5.3% stake in Tata Motors (Financial Times)

Monday 8 March 2010
• Vincent Rambaud is the new CEO of Automobiles Peugeot from 2 April 2010; he will report to Jean-Marc Gales, the uber-boss at PSA Peugeot Citroën. Rambaud is 51 and was previously director of PSA's Latin American zone (PSA)
• Gales said: 'Vincent Rambaud's international experience will be a strong factor in successfully meeting the challenge of Peugeot's globalisation, at a time when the marque, on the strength of a new identity and a totally revamped, expanded range, is rediscovering a growth dynamic' (PSA)
• Ferrari of North America's new boss Marco Mattiacci is confident new models such as the 458 Italia will pep up sales in the US (Automotive News)
• Audi sales worldwide leaped 20% in February, boosting the Q1 performance. Global sales and marketing chief Peter Schwarzenbauer said China and western Europe had been the strongest performing areas (Automotive News Europe)
• The new Jaguar XJ has safeguarded around 2000 jobs in the West Midlands, says car industry body Accelerate. Around 400 Jaguar staff work on the XJ, but Accelerate says every JLR jobs supports five others locally in the supply chain (BBC News)
• New GM chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre is flying for free on AT&T corporate jets as part of his severance package with the telecoms giant. Whitacre retired in 2007 with a $158m package that lets him fly on AT&T corporate jets for up to 10 hours a month – bypassing the embarrassment of GM's private jets that were slated when the car maker begged Washington for a bail-out (Detroit News)

Friday 5 March 2010
• More than 60 complaints have been received by Toyota owners who claim their cars are still accelerating unintentionally even after repairs to their throttles (Financial Times)
• Toyota president Akio Toyoda wore a worker's uniform to address 9000 workers in Japan. He spoke of his appearance before the US Congress and his desire to move Toyota forwards again (BBC News)
• GM has dismissed some of its top managers as part of a shake-up including up to 18 senior staff (Automotive News)
• Rental car firm Europcar has placed an order for 500 zero-emissions electric Renaults (Renault)
• Ford has confirmed plans to build five full electric and hybrid cars in Europe by 2013: the Ford Transit Connect Electric arrives first in 2011, the Focus Electric in 2012, two new hybrids in 2013 and a full plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2013 (Ford)

Thursday 4 March 2010
• UK car sales are bouncing back – February registrations rose 26% with the same month last year. The SMMT trade body said 68,686 cars were sold last month and Ford's Fiesta and Focus were the best sellers (BBC News)
• GM grandee Bob Lutz will retire on 1 May. Lutz, who heads up product development globally, has already retired once and then pulled a U-turn to help pull GM out of bankruptcy. 'There is something that gets old about getting up at 4.30am in the morning,' he told AN at the Geneva show. 'At some point you have to do something new' (Automotive News)
• Mitsubishi and PSA considered a tie-up with an equity share, but in the end decided not to. Their chief executives Philippe Varin and Osamu Masuko had been deep in discussions but decided in Geneva on Tuesday to announce they were abandoning a capital alliance (Detroit News)
• The Renault Formula One team has announced a surprise tie-up with Lada (Renault)

Wednesday 3 March 2010
• Nissan is recalling nearly 540,000 pick-ups, sports utes and minivans, mostly in the US, to fix potentially faulty brake pedal pins and faulty fuel gauges (BBC News)
• Meanwhile, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says he is still looking for a global technology partner. He was rebuffed by GM three years ago and Chrysler last year (Automotive News)
• BMW will lease up to 700 electric 1-series to customers around the world in the second wave of its Project i electric car trials. It's already run 450 electric Minis (Automotive News)
• Renault confirms that the Dacia brand will come to the UK in 2012 (Renault)

Tuesday 2 March 2010
• GM will contribute €1.9 billion towards the restructuring of Opel and Vauxhall – more than triple its previous pledge of €600m. Opel CEO Nick Reilly said the payment would be made by equity and loans, giving Opel enough cash to operate throughout 2010 (Automotive News)
• Ford has reported a 43% jump in US sales in February, shooting it ahead of arch rival General Motors. GM itself rose 12%, analysts claiming the Toyota recall has driven its customers to Detroit giants (BBC News)
• Fiat unveils a new Twin-Air – a two-cylinder engine claimed to be the world's cleanest petrol engine. Sales start in the 500 in September and it's claimed to be 30% cleaner than existing four-cylinder engines (Automotive News)

Monday 1 March 2010
• All of team CAR are heading out to the Geneva motor show. A bit light on news gathering today!

By Tim Pollard, Ben Pulman and Sam Burnett