Posts By: John Horner

By on June 29, 2009

Ford is jumping on the recently-signed Car Allowance Rebate System (a.k.a. Cash for Clunkers) to lure customers into the showroom. Ford’s home page includes a highlighted link to the “Recycle Your Ride” program. A prospective Ford buyer can enter details about their current vehicle into a drop-down menu system and quickly see if it qualifies for scrappage. They can also discover which Ford models earn the $4500 or $3500 federal voucher against the crusher candidate. So far the Dodge, Chevrolet, Honda and Nissan websites have nothing. Toyota and Volkswagen both offer primitive informational pages, but nothing to match the sophistication of Ford’s effort. You would think the government-owned auto companies would be all over the government-run incentive program. But no. And get this: KBB’s man tells the New York Times that the consumers might be better off without the vouchers . . .

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By on June 16, 2009
This morning the AP has the news you already knew about, but a few more details have emerged. First up, the now obligatory government backing, this time in the form of a $600 million loan from the European Investment Bank, guaranteed of course by the Swedish government. That explains why minuscule Koenigsegg picked up Saab for free. It’s all about being Swedish. “With a full-time staff of 45, Koenigsegg makes around a dozen cars a year, customized for every buyer.” Wow, talk about a micro-niche. But fear not, Saab has an innovative strategy for competing going forward. More about that in a moment.
By on June 11, 2009

BusinessWeek has an interesting piece on Marchionne’s speed dating interview technique. “Chrysler executives say that Marchionne has taken what for them seemed an unorthodox approach to sorting out the talent pool he inherited. He did fast, 15- or 20-minute interviews with more than 100 executives, often asking what they thought of their superiors, what their strengths and weaknesses were, as well as what they thought of certain peers. ‘The questions were very blunt,’ said one staff executive. ‘It was a drill the likes of which I had never been through before.’” No signs of analysis paralysis here.
By on June 9, 2009

After a short, suspense filled couple of laps under the yellow, the US Supreme Court has dropped the green flag on the Chrysler-Fiat deal. The New York Times sums up the court’s view that “the Indiana funds ‘have not carried the burden’ of proving that the Supreme Court needed to intervene.”  Also, earlier today, the Chrysler dealer slaughter was also given the go ahead when Judge Gonzalez approved that aspect of the deal. So, that pretty much closes this chapter of the saga. The deal is going down as planned by Fiat and the US Treasury. Now the really hard part begins.

By on June 3, 2009

Although Judge Gonzalez has so far given Chrysler-Fiat just about everything it has asked for, approval of the dealer cull still isn’t a done deal. The AP reports that: “U.S. Judge Arthur Gonzalez will hear arguments Thursday on the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker’s motion to eliminate the franchises. Chrysler executives are also expected to testify. The motion was expected to be heard Wednesday.” In parallel actions, the Senate is holding hearing today on the very same issue. Again from the AP : “Lawmakers contend the dealership closings will put thousands of people out of work and offer few savings to GM or Chrysler, which have received billions in federal aid as they attempt to restructure and return to profitability.”

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By on May 25, 2009

The grand poobahs at the PTFOA are Wall Street bankers and political insiders. None of them have built or run real businesses designing, marketing, selling and supporting high priced consumer products. Everything they think they know they learned from books and lectures, not from actually doing stuff. The old story goes: “When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” To the Wall Street types, slash and burn is the hammer they know. Even President Hope has taken to using their favorite phrase “Lean and Mean.” Surely we need lean, productive companies, but who needs mean?

By on March 17, 2009

Credit reporting agency TransUnion has released its analysis of the US’ auto loan situation and finds that, unsurprisingly, things have deteriorated. “The national 60-day auto delinquency rate (the ratio of auto loan borrowers 60 or more days past due) edged upward between the third and fourth quarter of 2008 from 0.80 percent to 0.86 percent. Year-over-year the delinquency rate increased 8.86 percent in the fourth quarter.” That works out to about one out of 116 auto loans being delinquent. ”Delinquencies were highest in Mississippi, at 1.62 percent, followed by California, at 1.46 percent, and Louisiana, at 1.37 percent. The states with the lowest auto loan delinquency rates were Alaska, at 0.19 percent, North Dakota, at 0.34 percent and Wyoming, at 0.41 percent.” Oddly enough, these delinquency rates by state only roughly track unemployment rates.

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By on March 11, 2009

Senator Corker must be so proud of himself. He held Ford’s feet to the fire . . . oh, no, wait, Ford didn’t bother with that meeting. Anyway, today Ford is crowing [via AP] that its revised UAW contract gets close enough to wage parity with the transplants to call it a done deal. Which is kind of strange, because Ford’s accounting puts the all-in costs under the newest deal at $55/hour compared to the $48-$49 number people toss around for the transplants. Hmmm, maybe I’ll try that kind of “close enough” math when I pay my bills. Ford’s spin-meisters could have pointed out that nobody outside the transplants really knows what they are paying, but they didn’t. Absent a published union contract, all we can do is guess.

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By on March 11, 2009

The boss men at Legacy Ford Lincoln Mercury Toyota of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, have arranged a personal economic stimulus program; by running off with 81 cars and trucks valued at over $2.5 million (before or after rebates?). Lacking a “Tales from the Dark Side” section, the AP put the story out as auto industry news. The missing Fords were trucked away on Saturday but the Toyotas had to wait their turn until Monday. By Wednesday, some of the missing vehicles already started popping up at auctions in Utah and Arizona. Floorplan banker Toyota Financial said: “If the dealer and the cars go missing there’s an issue.” Ya think? ”Arrest warrants had been issued for owner Allen Patch, controller Rachel Fait and general manager Rick Covello, who are wanted on suspicion of theft.” Up until now, none of these clowns had an arrest record. Oddly enough, Legacy so far remains open for business. Personally I wouldn’t leave my ride there for service unless I wanted it to disappear. Meanwhile, rumors of a movie deal starring Robin Williams, Chevy Chase and Al Pacino run rampant.

By on March 6, 2009

The Wall Street Journal reports that the usual unnamed “top executives” are saying GM is warming to the idea of bankruptcy after all. “The change in thinking, combined with the disclosure Thursday that GM’s auditor has raised ‘substantial doubt’ about the car maker’s ability to keep going, appears to move GM closer to the possibility it will file for reorganization.” Something about staring at the hangman’s noose brings a new clarity of thought to the fore. The journal’s new owner seems to have brought a bit of dry British humor to the biz: “The increased threat of bankruptcy could prod bondholders into making concessions, since these investors are said to believe a bankruptcy reorganization could harm their holdings, according to a person familiar with their thinking.” Wow, those bond manipulating masters of the universe sure are smart!

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By on February 20, 2009

Earlier this week, we got one of those dreaded “I’m ok, but . . . ” phone calls from our daughter. A combination of completely bald tires and heavy rains led to a nasty three car pile-up. The Highway Patrol issued the offending driver a $1K fine for driving on bald tires. She claimed she knew nothing about cars—except to take her whip in for an oil change from time to time. Nobody at the shop warned her about the worn out tires. I’m all for mandatory annual safety inspections, which aren’t required in the land of the proctological emissions test (go figure). In fact, I’d like the state to check the headlights’ alignment, window tint levels and exhaust noise at the same time. In fact, a British style annual MOT requirement seems about right. The cost and hassle to our family would be significant; I’ve got six cars. But needs must. Your take?

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By on February 16, 2009

My almost-three-years-old Acura TSX has been developing an annoying cosmetic problem: the plastic bumpers and sill trims have slowly but surely been turning a different color from the rest of the car. We live in a mild climate and I work from home, so the vast majority of the time that car sits protected in a garage out of the way of the sun’s UV rays. Even so, the sheet metal is still blue-silver while the plastic bits are turning a pale green. Argh, I know that over time it is just going to keep getting worse, and my warranty is almost up (45k miles down out of 48k).
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By on February 16, 2009

The latest TTAC Bailout Scorecard (PDF) is now available. Updates this week include:

• The US makes sales and excise taxes on new vehicles deductible on federal income taxes

• Chinese market sales were up 4.4% in January at least in part due to government incentives.

• German clunker culling incentives spur huge up-tick in smaller car sales.

• Spain unveils new €4.1B aid and incentive package.

By on February 9, 2009

Ford’s press release lays down markers for its electric powered vehicle offerings. First up, an all electric version of the Transit Connect small commercial vehicle for 2010. But wait, the Electric Transit Connect is actually the work of Smith Electric Vehicles, a UK based company which has been re-powering conventional commercial vehicles for years. No surprise then that Ford’s Electric Transit Connect looks and specs out just like Smith’s “Ampere” (pdf). This makes Ford’s PR spin a bit hard to swallow when they say: “The initiative leverages the “One Ford” global strategy, delivering pure battery electric power for commercial applications on a global platform.” Slapping your name on someone else’s work must be the newest definition of “One Ford.” Further on, Ford is promising a full electric small car for 2011 and its Volt-zapping plug-in hybrid fin 2012. One can only hope the promised ”full electric small car” doesn’t have the name Zap hidden under it somewhere.

By on February 9, 2009

The developed nations of the world have all seen local car demand drop by about a third in recent months and are scrambling to save the home teams. For example, France’s Sarkozy, despite his supposed “center-right” political leanings, is but one of many national politicians speaking in protectionist terms: “We want to stop factories from relocating abroad, and if possible bring them back home.” Despite grumblings and mumblings from the WTO, EU and other multi-national pseudo-governments, little can be done to stop the instinct amongst the nations to take care of their own first. Hence, a rolling thunder of loans, grants, clunker scraping bills and so on; all designed to keep as many people on the home team going to work as possible. Be prepared, this storm is only just getting going. Here’s your latest Bailout Scorecard (PDF).

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