Whenever a CEO says “bankruptcy is not an option,” you know the game is up. After complaining in this Swedish Radio interview (in English) that his court-appointed administrator is trying to sell Saab off wholesale to the Chinese, Victor Muller trots out Churchillian and Nietszchian calls to arms… in fact, he does everything short of bursting into a spirited rendition of “I Will Survive.” Unfortunately, Muller’s credibility is long gone, and he doesn’t help himself by trying to portray Lofalk as some traitorous backstabber. With Saab months (years? decades?) into its death-flails, and the most recent “rescuer” turning out to be a non-player, is it any wonder Lofalk wants to hand over the mess to the only viable companies involved (especially when Muller calls North Street a “strong partner”)? Muller continues to labor under two basic delusions: first, that he can sell a majority share to the Chinese while keeping Saab an essentially Swedish (or at least European) company and second, that anyone cares whether Saab becomes a Chinese company. Sorry Victor, there’s just nothing left here to fight for…
Electric sports carmaker Tesla Motors has lost a major part of its high court libel claim against the BBC’s Top Gear programme, but is still suing the corporation for malicious falsehood over an episode that showed the company’s Roadster model running out of battery in a race.
Ruling at the high court in London on Wednesday, Mr Justice Tugendhat said that no Top Gear viewer would have reasonably compared the car’s performance on the show’s airfield track to its likely performance on a public road.
Lotus invited a considerable amount of schadenfreude when, about a year ago, it introduced not one new car, but an entire new lineup. And there have been plenty of opportunities to steal a mirthless laugh at Lotus’s expense, including when the firm backed away from Toyota engines, talked up the “authenticity” of a rolling chassis, ran into Chinese branding problems, and drew inadvertent comparisons to Reebok by hiring rapper/producer Swizz Beatz. And the hits keep coming. Lotus Senior Adviser, Former BMW executive Karl-Heinz Kalbfell tells Autocar
The brand is well known but the products are not. We are focusing on a new range of cars, but we must sell more cars now.
But how well can the brand be if the cars aren’t selling? Speaking as someone who spends bit of time interacting with auto enthusiasts, I’d argue there are actually some serious questions out there about what a Lotus is, what with all the talk of hybrids, folding hardtops, performance sedans and generally increased weights. But Kalbfell was just scratching the surface of the host of problems to be found in the land of the Lotus eaters…
With ‘ring times back in the news thanks to a new feud between Dodge’s Viper ACR and Lexus’s LFA, GM took its forthcoming Camaro ZL1 to the Eifel Forest to record its own time. The best lap time of 7:41:27, according to Motor Trend, was set by lead development engineer Aaron Link (some outlets are reporting the time was actually set by GM NA President Mark Reuss himself), although Reuss does have some his own impressions to add, telling MT
“It’s power all the time, capability all the time, and the steering and tractability of the car is just phenomenal,” he told us. Reuss also told us that this Camaro easily (and often) hit speeds of 170 mph on the ‘Ring’s back straight, and that even from those speeds the ZL1 exhibited, “Some serious braking power.” Reuss added, “We never faded the brakes on it… It’s one of the easiest cars I’ve ever driven to drive fast and hard. Everybody’s going to have a good time with it.”
State highway officials are using their public offices to lend credibility to a public relations front group created by a foreign red light camera company. On September 27, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) held its annual meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio where it celebrated the “special achievement” of the Traffic Safety Coalition. This group, which is run by a public relations firm retained by the Australian photo enforcement firm Redflex Traffic Systems, accepted the Peter K. O’Rourke Special Achievement Award.
GHSA is a non-profit organization that “receives a substantial part of its support from a governmental unit or from the general public,” according to its tax returns. Its primary members are state transportation officials who use GHSA to lobby on behalf of programs that increase the issuance of traffic tickets.
Is the Chevy Volt a flop? It’s a question that plenty of folks both inside the industry and beyond seem awfully curious about, and one that I’ve tried to stay away from until we had some strong data to go on. And with nine months of 2011 under our belt, we’re starting to get a sense of where the Volt is going… and it’s not been all reassuring news. Jalopnik notes that such unloved GM models as the Buick Lucerne and Chevy Avalanche outsold the Volt last month, but failed to look at the important stuff: production as compared to deliveries, and inventory. Jalopnik does quote a Cars.com inventory figure of 2,600 Volts on dealer lots, although the latest data we have from Automotive News [sub] shows 1,400 units in the national inventory as of September 1… which at that point constituted a 121-day supply. Add in the 1,644-unit differential between Volts built and Volts sold in September, and the estimated Volt inventory across the nation should be closer to 3,000 units. We will be sure to update when AN gets new inventory numbers, but for now, the signs aren’t promising.
According to the September sales report, Saab sold a grand total of 429 units in September in America, down 62 percent compared to September 2010. With 4,647 sold for the year, that’s about par for the course as far as the monthly run-rate goes.
Whether or not the White House pressured or even contacted Ford Motor Company after the company released their recent ad appealing to anti-bailout sentiments we’ll probably never know. We’ll also probably never know if this was all just a symphony of leaks and disclaimers orchestrated by Ford. What we do know, thanks to a Rasmussen opinion poll [Sub. required, some data here], is that Ford had good reason to stoke American consumers’ resentment against it’s domestic competitors because they were bailed out by the government. The poll shows that the bailout is clearly a factor, sometimes an overriding one, in automobile purchase decisions. Not only did nearly one in five recent Ford buyers say that they or family members specifically chose Ford products because they didn’t take a government bailout, about half of all consumers surveyed said that they were more likely to buy Fords than GM or Chrysler products specifically because Ford didn’t get bailed out. [Note: Yes, Ford took Dept. of Energy loans and other government funds, but this survey was looking at people's opinions, not facts.]
The Detroit News reports that the only Republican in Washington with subpoena power, Rep Darrel Issa has written a letter asking Ford CEO Alan Mulally for “a full and complete explanation of Ford’s decision” to stop running an advertisement that was critical of the TARP-funded auto bailout.
In a letter, Issa asks Ford if any White House, Treasury or other federal employee discussed the ad with any Ford employee “at any time via any manner of communication” and asks the automaker to turn over any documents connected to any discussion by Oct. 12.
Spokeswoman Meghan Keck said Ford will cooperate, but reiterated that the White House didn’t pressure the Dearborn automaker.
Ford took the ad off of Youtube after “individuals inside the White House questioned whether the copy was publicly denigrating the controversial bailout policy CEO Alan Mulally repeatedly supported in the dark days of late 2008,” according to Daniel Howes of the Detroit News. The same day Ford restored the video, and denied that White House pressure led to the takedown. Color us curious as to how Mulally is going to explain this little episode…
UPDATE: The Washington Post’s Plum Line reports
I just got off the phone with Detroit News managing editor Don Nauss. “We stand by our column,” he told me. “It was based on multiple sources. It’s written by a busines columnist who can draw conclusions based on the reporting that they do.”
The story contains no attribution for the central charge of White House calls to Ford. Asked about this, Nauss declined to comment.
Asked to clarify if the column was alleging any White House pressure on Ford (the story hints at it up top but quotes someone later saying there was no pressure), Nauss declined to say. “The story speaks for itself,” he said.
When contacted about his column, Howes referred me to Nauss’s comments above.
As I noted in the comments of this morning’s piece on the Ford Bailout ad controversy, if the White House did contact Ford about the ad and the company did take down the video in response to the pressure, it certainly wouldn’t admit as much. After all, the whole point of caving to White House pressure would be to defuse, not inflame, a political standoff. And sure enough, one hour ago, Ford reposted the video (currently with around 300 views) and shared it on its Facebook account. Ford says the ad “ran as part of a planned rotation and continues to run online,” predictably avoiding any reference to reports of White House concern. And though the low view count proves that Ford took down, then reposted the video, a Youtube message to the uploader of what earlier today was the only remaining version on Youtube reveals that mainstream media news reporters were unable to find other copies of the ad.
The White House has not yet commented on the situation, but hit the jump for more details on Ford’s curious response…
Under attack from privacy advocates and US Senators, Onstar will be dropping plans to automatically track vehicles that are not subscribed to its service, and will make post-cancellation tracking an opt-in option, rather than opt-out. A GM statement reads:
DETROIT – OnStar announced today it is reversing its proposed Terms and Conditions policy changes and will not keep a data connection to customers’ vehicles after the OnStar service is canceled.
OnStar recently sent e-mails to customers telling them that effective Dec. 1, their service would change so that data from a customer vehicle would continue to be transmitted to OnStar after service was canceled – unless the customer asked for it to be shut off.
“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers,” OnStar President Linda Marshall said. “This is why we are leaving the decision in our customers’ hands. We listened, we responded and we hope to maintain the trust of our more than 6 million customers.”
If OnStar ever offers the option of a data connection after cancellation, it would only be when a customer opted-in, Marshall said. And then OnStar would honor customers’ preferences about how data from that connection is treated.
Maintaining the data connection would have allowed OnStar to provide former customers with urgent information about natural disasters and recalls affecting their vehicles even after canceling their service. It also would have helped in planning future services, Marshall said.
“We regret any confusion or concern we may have caused,” Marshall said.
[UPDATE: Ford has restored the video to Youtube. More details here.]
Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes reports in a column that Ford has pulled its controversial “bailout ad” after the White House asked “questions” about it. And apparently the take-down decision makes this a threatened piece of footage: in addition to yanking the spot from the airwaves, the version of the video we posted two weeks ago has been taken down from YOutube as well [a home recording of it can still be found here]. So what happened that Ford would throw its most popular ad in ages down the memory hole? Howes is cryptic…
Ford pulled the ad after individuals inside the White House questioned whether the copy was publicly denigrating the controversial bailout policy CEO Alan Mulally repeatedly supported in the dark days of late 2008, in early ’09 and again when the ad flap arose…
With President Barack Obama tuning his re-election campaign amid dismal economic conditions and simmering antipathy toward his stimulus spending and associated bailouts, the Ford ad carried the makings of a political liability when Team Obama can least afford yet another one. Can’t have that.
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Approval rating, based on the question “Do you think each of the following generally do a good or bad job of serving their consumers?”
Auto industry rejoice: you are no longer as despised as the banking industry! Harris Polls didn’t release data for the years 1999 and 2010 exaggerating some of the swings you see in this graph, but it’s safe to say the auto industry has clawed its way out of a post-bailout PR hangover. Sure, Big Auto is still trailing such glamorous industries as Online Retail and Packaged Food, and only barely beat Electric and Gas Utilities for the hearts of consumers… but after nearly falling into negative approval numbers in 2009, this is still a big comeback. And compared to the industry that Big Auto is most closely tied to, namely Big Oil, even 2009 was a “what PR problem?” kind of a year. Which is more than a little strange when you think about it…
Editor’s note: When I wrote about OnStar’s latest round of privacy concerns, I didn’t realize that the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law had voiced his own concerns in a letter published just the day before. Here is the letter, as published at Senator Franken’s website. OnStar has already said it will respond to specifically to the concerns of Senators Franken and Coons.
Ms. Linda Marshall, President
400 Renaissance Center
Detroit, MI 48265
Dear Ms. Marshall:
We are writing to express our serious concern with OnStar’s announcement earlier this week that it would continue to track the GPS locations of its customers’ vehicles even if those customers have affirmatively ended their contractual plans with OnStar. In this email announcement, OnStar informs its current and former subscribers that it reserves the right to track their locations “for any purpose, at any time.” It appears that the only way to stop this tracking is to actually call OnStar and request that the data connection between OnStar and the vehicle be terminated; this service is not available online. OnStar further reserves the right to share or sell location data with “credit card processors,” “data management companies,” OnStar’s “affiliates,” or “any third party” provided that OnStar is satisfied that the data cannot be traced back to individual customers. See OnStar, Privacy Statement: Effective as of December 2011. In a nutshell, OnStar is telling its current and former customers that it can track their location anywhere, anytime—even if they cancel their subscriptions—and then give or sell that information to anyone as long as OnStar deems it safe to do so.
Concerns over privacy have haunted GM’s OnStar business for as long as it’s been around, and responses like this video have become something of an annual routine for OnStar’s executives. The latest round of furor involves changes to OnStar’s policies, which the New York Times describes thusly
The first regards what happens when a customer cancels the service. Until now, when OnStar service stopped, so did the vehicle’s two-way communications system. As of Dec. 1, however, that will not necessarily be the case. Vehicles of owners who no longer subscribe could still be monitored via the system’s still-active two-way cellular link.
The second policy change concerns the potential use of the data collected by OnStar, which includes information like the vehicle’s speed and location, current odometer reading, driver seat-belt use and air-bag deployment. Under the new terms, OnStar reserves the right to share that information with other companies and organizations, even data culled from motorists who no longer subscribe to the service but who have left the two-way communications connection open.
Of course, OnStar says GM customers can opt out of the service, but it’s making the case that by only sharing anonymous data, it can limit meaningful privacy concerns. But OnStar doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and as it continues to sell Americans on the notion that security is worth sacrificing some sense of privacy for, it will find itself increasingly pulled into a national debate.
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