By on July 18, 2011

It’s been 27 months since I wrote a check for $5,000 to Tesla Motors, my deposit on a Model S sedan. As owner number P717, I’ve gotten some modest bennies to keep me interested till the expected delivery date of mid-2012: a test drive in the Roadster, an invitation to the opening of the New York Tesla store, and some nice promotional swag (T-shirt, coffee mug, and, most recently, a cool little remote-control toy Roadster) .

Last week I was invited to an owners-only preview before a Model S promotional event in Greenwich, Ct. Set in the posh clothing store Richards, just across the street from an Apple store, the event featured a sinuous dark red early proof-of-concept prototype of the Model S. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to drive, sit in, or even touch the car (“It cost more than $2 million to build,” we were told). But the black-clad Tesla reps on hand offered some intriguing technical info about the car that, to my knowledge, had not been previously revealed. Among the more interesting tidbits:

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By on May 27, 2011

Three times now, GM has planned to build a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of its Theta-platform crossovers, once with the Saturn Vue, once with the Buick “Vuick” and now, according to Reuters

General Motors Co has canceled plans to develop a plug-in hybrid vehicle based on the current Cadillac SRX crossover platform, deciding the project was not financially viable, three people with direct knowledge of the project said.

While two of the sources said the plans could still be revived on a future platform, they and two others familiar with the matter said engineers involved had been reassigned to other projects.

Back in early days of the program, the plan was to bring a Vue PHEV to market as soon as 2010, but the death of Saturn (and other difficult-to-identify issues) forced a change of plans. The Buick version was literally laughed out of consideration in what was the first-ever Twitter-based future product killing. But given that hand-picked members of the public were driving mules nearly two years ago (see video), we figured enough development had been done that GM essentially had no choice but bring the troubled Theta PHEV to market. Today’s cancellation of the SRX version is therefore just a little confusing…
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By on May 17, 2011

Yesterday we gave GM kudos for addressing its lingering vehicle weight issues by redesigning the head of its popular 3.6 liter V6, and shedding 13 lbs in the process. It was, we noted, the kind of news that showed GM is staying focused on the nitty-gritty of product development, sweating the details. But, according to a fascinating piece by GMInsideNews, new-product development at GM still has its issues. Specifically, Cadillac’s development of a new BMW 3-Series fighter, known as ATS after its “Alpha” Platform, has faced more than its fair share of what GMI calls “drama.”

Turf battles, unnecessary “wants” on checklists and ultimately a severe case of “Mission Creep” have created a vehicle that now needs a crash diet, according to GMI’s sources both within GM and at suppliers working on the Alpha/ATS program. For a vehicle that’s taking on an institution like the BMW Dreier (not to mention costing a billion dollars to develop), these are troubling signs indeed.
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By on June 14, 2010

Doubtless somewhat shocked and surprised about GM Chairman/CEO/Non-Car-Guy Ed Whitacre’s decision to take over product planning responsibilities, Automotive News [sub] did some digging into the decision, and offers a full report. According to AN’s GM sources, the decision comes down to one fundamental goal: holding lower-tier executives accountable for decision making. By reducing executive reviews of forthcoming vehicles by one third, or about four times per development cycle, lower-level executives and engineers will have more freedom to make decisions, and will spend more time developing and less time preparing data for executive reviews. And lest you think this decision doesn’t merit your attention, consider this: though GM’s bureaucracy had created incredibly long lead times, most automakers hold about ten executive reviews per new product. By cutting to four, GM is taking something of a step into the unknown.

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By on June 5, 2010

The executive shake-ups show no signs of stopping at GM, as Ed Whitacre ended the week with yet another re-shuffle. And this time Whitacre himself is the big winner. Automotive News [sub] reports that Whitacre has assumed control of GM’s global product planning, leaving former planning boss Tom Stephens with the more prosaic responsibility of overseeing new product development. Whitacre will be assisted by new VP for product planning Steve Carlisle, who, unlike Whitacre, actually has some experience in product planning. Carlisle replaces Jon Lauckner, who will head up GM’s new venture capital unit. But the big news here is that a man who only just learned the term “segment” about five and a half months ago, is now in charge of GM’s global product planning. Quick learner or egomaniac?

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By on May 17, 2010

Honda hasn’t always replaced its bread-and-butter compact, the Civic, every five years. The Mk.1 Civic soldiered from 1972 until 1979. The second through fifth generations were replaced on a regular four-year schedule, before Honda settled into a five-year product cadence with the sixth generation (1996-2000). If it were to keep with that cadence, we’d be seeing a ninth-generation Civic sometime this year, replacing the Mk.VIII, which debuted in late 2005. According to Automotive News [sub], however, Honda is holding off on releasing a new Civic until 2011. What gives?

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By on May 7, 2010

Bob Lutz may have left GM, but TTAC’s not through with the man of Maximum just yet. One quote in particular, from an “exit interview” with gm-volt.com, exemplifies the kind of candor that seems likely to disappear from GM along with Lutz. Possibly for good reasons. Well, good PR reasons, anyway. After all, with Lutz unable to deny that GM will lose money and/or battle sticker shock with its forthcoming Volt EREV, he’s the kind of guy who will tell the unspeakable truth instead of playing coy like a good PR man. To wit:

How do we get the cost down without in any way diminishing the value of the car in the eyes of the customer? By just doing some more elegant engineering than we did the first time around where we inadvertently did some belt and suspenders stuff because we wanted to move fast. Now as we look back at the car we say ‘gee I wish we’d done his different,’ …’ gee I wish we’d done that different’ because this is a very expensive solution and we could have done that for a lot less money.

That faint sound you just heard was Ed Whitacre expelling fillet of rattlesnake out his nose after reading that little nugget. Meanwhile, you’ve heard it from the horse’s mouth: the Mk.1 Volt will be expensive, unprofitable, and unpolished. Or, to use a PR term, “belt and suspenders.”

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By on January 28, 2010

The ongoing kerfluffle over Toyota’s recall of over 2m vehicles for a gas pedal defect which (allegedly) caused unintended acceleration has caught much of the automotive media flat-footed. How could it be, many have wondered, that the automaker most associated in the US market with the concept of quality has slipped so badly? As TTAC’s Steve Lang recently discussed, Toyota has been on a decontenting binge since the mid-to-late-1990s, putting profit above the quality obsession that had defined its operations up to that point. As a result, the current generation of decontented Toyotas and accompanying quality issues and recalls can be seen as the culmination of a long-term trend. But why did that transition take place? Though it’s easy to blame greed and mismanagement for the decline in Toyota’s quality, the decline in standards was actually a natural progression of Toyota’s constantly-evolving, efficiency-obsessed production system.

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By on December 10, 2009

By on December 3, 2009

There can be only one! (courtesy:evo.co.uk)

For most of the last 20 years, Ford and Mazda have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship which worked quite well. Ford needed Mazda’s engineering and Mazda needed Ford’s volume to keep their profit margins. In short, everyone was happy. Then came the recession. Ford needed money and it needed it fast, so they mortgaged their logo, cut staff and closed factories. But curiously, Ford divested a huge chunk of Mazda which netted them, in the auto world, very little money. Ford reduced their 33.4% stake in Mazda to 13.4%, netting $540 million, but effectively losing Mazda. Not that Ford’s Mark Fields is worried.

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By on October 30, 2009

Hmm... seems more like a different kind of storm (courtesy:wardsauto.com)

It’s not that GM’s Korean Daewoo division doesn’t need more money. The problem is that the only bank willing to lend a dime, the Korean Development Bank, wants strings attached. Since GM came up with the cash to buy up Daewoo’s $413m rights offering, it says Daewoo is out of trouble for two more years. Or 18 months… depending on that troublesome global car market. Meanwhile, GM-Daewoo’s $5b worth of forward contracts will burn up $300m in cash every month, as the debt matures. Although KDB and GM-Daewoo’s other lenders refuse to roll any of that debt forward and have been firm about enacting safeguards before loaning the automaker more money, GM’s Nick Reilly says Daewoo can now negotiate from a position of relative strength. Emphasis on relative.

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