As I noted earlier this week, GM’s decision to bring a pure-electric version of the Chevy Spark to the US opens up an interesting challenge to its “range anxiety”-centric marketing approach. But WardsAuto reports that there’s another challenging question coming out of the decision: where will the baby EV be built? And as I’ve found, GM’s reticence on the topic of the Spark EV program only deepens the mystery for Wards, which writes
Some media are reporting the EV will come from South Korea, where gasoline- and diesel-powered Sparks currently are produced. If so, that’s news to the folks at GM Korea.
Light-weight materials such as carbon-fiber, aluminum and magnesium are widely touted as key components of the drive towards greater fuel economy. Which explains why the automotive steel supplier industry is suddenly calling for an end to tailpipe emissions testing and a switch to the more holistic life cycle analysis testing. According to a press release from WorldAutoSteel, an industry group, the production of steel alternatives can create up to 20 times the carbon emissions of steel.
Editor’s note: GM has officially confirmed what the UAW already let slip: Chevy’s new midsized Colorado pickup will be built at the Wentzville, MO plant and sold in the US. More details on that decision are forthcoming, but in the meantime, here’s Edd Ellison’s report from the global launch of the Colorado in Bangkok, Thailand.
Chevrolet has launched its new-generation Colorado in Thailand where it will be built and exported to 60 global markets. In true GM style, the ceremony was lavish – a cluster of truck ploughed their way through a large field of crops planted in a Bangkok exhibition hall watched by the media, dealers and VIPs packed into several grandstands – and the message was just as upbeat, the automaker feeling it has a product that can compete in the crowded mid-size segment.
Of all the persistent questions faced by the auto industry in these tumultuous times, perhaps the most pressing is: how many consumers would actually consider buying an electric car? There’s no single answer to this question, but we do have one new perspective on it today, courtesy of a study by Deloitte [PDF] which analyzed potential EV demand around the world through some 13,000 survey respondents. The major takeaway?
The reality is that when consumers actual expectations for range, charge time, and purchase price (in every country around the world included in this study) are compared to the actual market offerings available today, no more than 2 to 4 percent of the population in any country would have their expectations met today based on a data analysis of all 13,000 individual responses to the survey.
That assessment is well in line with other studies we’ve seen, most of which estimate global EV demand at somewhere between one and five percent of the market. But because potential EV demand has a lot of moving parts, from government regulations to the state of EV technology, there’s more to the study than that conclusion alone…
Hyundai and Kia are technically separate companies, with Hyundai owning less than 50% of its junior partner. But as the two major divisions of the Hyundai-Kia Motor Group, the two firms share resources and align their strategies through carefully-maintained relationships in the classic Korean chaebol (conglomerate) fashion. Hyundai has long been the senior partner in the relationship, getting the newest technologies and the most expensive new cars. But in both Korea and abroad, Kia is beginning to catch up with its big brother, raising questions about the future shape of its delicate relationship. Together, Hyundai and Kia enjoy a dominant position in Korea, earning 45.2% and 33.2% of the overall Korean market in 2010 (including commercial vehicles). But if you just look at sedans and SUVs, the Korea Herald reports that their 2010 market share numbers are much closer: 39.6% and 35/7% respectively, and converging
Hyundai Motor Group is focusing on the possibility that Kia will catch up with Hyundai within one year in terms of monthly market share ― for sales of sedans and sport utility vehicles ― domestically for the first time…
The gap for sales of sedans and SUVs have continued to narrow ― 22.9 percentage points in 2007, 17 percentage points in 2008, 15.4 percentage points in 2009 and 3.9 percentage points in 2010.
And this fresh-brewed sibling rivalry isn’t just about Korea: around the world, Kia is catching up. And this shifting relationship is shaking things up at the highest levels of the group’s leadership.
Like the Chevrolet Cruze before it, the new Malibu was supposed to debut in Korea (probably as a Daewoo) a good year before it arrived in the US. But a few things have changed in GM’s relationship with its Korean unit, no longer called Daewoo but GM Korea. The Daewoo brand is gone, for one, replaced by the Chevrolet bowtie. And with Bob Lutz’s blessing, GM CEO Dan Akerson pulled forward the US Malibu launch by some six months, which means we should be getting it in the first quarter next year.
And though the possibility of a simultaneous global launch is still out of reach (video of the Korean launch can be found here), this model is a key element in GM’s globalizing effort, replacing not only the US Malibu, but also the Daewoo Tosca (a.k.a Chevy/Holden Epica). We knew GM has way too many architectures across its global lineup, but were you aware that the Tosca/Epica had optional Porsche-designed transverse straight-six engines, in 2.0 and 2.5 liter configurations? Neither did I. But with the new Malibu, it’s straight-up-and-down GM: the Epsilon II platform, with 2.0 or 2.4 Ecotec engines (in Korea, anyway… an all-new 2.5 liter engine is on tap fro the US). We may be quick with the Daewoo jokes, but this new Malibu is doubtless making the automotive world a much smaller, more homogenous place. Welcome to the future… [Hat Tip to our man in Korea, Walter Foreman}
Considering the United Auto Workers’ VEBA fund is still Chrysler’s second-largest shareholder, CEO Sergio Marchionne is taking an amazingly hard line with the union. With a GM deal long done, and Ford’s deal moving towards approval, Chrysler is the last automaker on the UAW’s to-do list… and Marchionne tells Bloomberg he’s up for a fight if necessary, saying
I sincerely hope that we don’t have to get to arbitration. But if necessary, Chrysler will go there. We and GM are completely different
Marchionne is reportedly pushing the UAW for a number of tough concessions, including a mere $3,500 signing bonus (compared to $5k at GM and a reported $6k at Ford), and the elimination of a planned 2015 cap on entry-level “Tier Two” workers (at 25%). And though both of these are tough asks, he’s using UAW boss Bob King’s concept of union internationalism as a cudgel against the UAW, playing Italian unions off their American counterparts. And as a result, he could earn Chrysler a favored place among America’s unionized autoworkers. (Read More…)
Until the mid-1990s, cars had been mainly available in two models in India: the unglamorous, onion-shaped, sturdy Ambassador and the more aerodynamic Maruti 800. Both were produced by state-run companies (though the latter had a partnership with the Japanese company Suzuki). But when India began to open its markets, a wide range of cars became available, just as rising middle-class incomes and cheap consumer credit made buying such cars feasible.
In many ways, the marriage between the Indian middle class and the automobile culture has been disastrous. Roads remain awful, drivers continue to be erratic, and traffic in cities like Delhi and Bangalore is worse than ever. And yet the car has become deeply enmeshed with upward mobility, while also complicating that mobility. In the India of the Ambassador and the Maruti, the distinction was largely between those who owned cars and those who did not. In the India of Ford, Fiat, Hyundai and Mahindra — where there is even a very cheap indigenous model called the Tata Nano — distinctions are parsed in terms of the model one owns.
Drom the Bollywood producer’s suit-matched Bentley Continental to a struggling middle class couple’s divorce over the wife’s aspirations to a red Mitsubishi Pajero, Deb documents the cars, and other forms of transportation, which help define the emerging class order in India. It’s a brief but intriguing glimpse into the social impact of cars in a rapidly-growing economy, and it illustrates how cars both affect and reflect the fabric of social order. Give the whole thing a read if you’ve got a spare minute.
The prospect of a Chinese auto industry growing at insane speed thanks to a booming market and resiliently low wages has long kept auto industry execs up at night, most notably inspiring Sergio Marchionne’s acquisition of Chrysler. But basic economic principles dictate that you can have a high rate of growth or low wages… but not both. Growth inevitably drives inflation, which drives up wages, which in turn slows growth. And according to a report in the Wall Street Journal [sub], that dynamic is already taking hold.
Jae-Man Noh, head of Hyundai’s joint-venture operations in China, said average manufacturing-worker wages in China—about 27,000 yuan ($4,200) a year per worker in 2009—are likely to double by 2015 from current levels.
Auto makers are expected to be affected as much as other industries by the trend, if not more, Mr. Noh said, adding that wage costs for many foreign auto manufacturers already have doubled in less than a decade. He said that a rival foreign auto maker that Hyundai has researched has seen worker wages in China rise to 49,000 yuan a year per worker in 2010, up from 24,500 yuan a year in 2003.
“We need to let go of our perception that the Chinese market is a low-cost production base,” Mr. Noh told a group of reporters at Hyundai’s office in Beijing. He didn’t offer specifics on Hyundai’s wage costs in China.
And though the laws of supply and demand made this development inevitable, the story of the decline of China’s low-wage manufacturing base is a lot more interesting than you might think. After all, economic and historical forces may seem mechanical in the abstract, but on the ground level they work in dramatic, disruptive ways.
Derek Kreindler’s provocative defense of the Maserati Kubang sparked off an interesting discussion among TTAC’s Best and Brightest yesterday, about the the macroeconomic outlook for luxury brands. Sure, the American economy is struggling to stay out of a double-dip recession, credit is no longer as available as it was in the pre-Lehman days, and some argue that worse is still to come… but for the moment, the high end of the luxury market couldn’t be doing better. Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes tells Reuters [via AN [sub]] that his brand will set a new sales record this year, and that the outlook for 2012 is good, saying
I have not seen any reluctance to consider buying a Rolls-Royce. I do not feel that sentiment is deteriorating in the luxury market. We are dealing with people who are unusually wealthy and never really have to ask themselves, can I still afford this or not?
And it’s one thing to just talk, but Rolls is also putting its money where its mouth is, initiating a $16m expansion to its Goodwood plant. And it’s not the only luxury brand that seems to be confused about this “recession” that the peasants keep going on about…
Bloomberg reports that Fiat is considering moving production of planned Alfa/Jeep-branded compact CUVs from its Italian Mirafiori plant to the US, as a rising Euro forces tough production choices. Production of some 280,000 units per year were planned to start at Mirafiori in late 2012, but Fiat may now build an as-yet unannounced subcompact there instead. According to Bloomberg’s reporting, Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio
Marchionne, while confirming his commitment to invest at the Turin facility, told Piedmont Region President Roberto Cota Aug. 29 that he may change the production plans for the plant.
“Fiat is evaluating which model it will build at Mirafiori,” Cota said after meeting the CEO.
Around the time of the founding of the United States, the Mexican state of Guanajuato became home to of the one of the biggest silver mines in the world, which produced as much as 2/3rds of the world’s supply of silver at its peak. Today it’s not precious metal that’s driving Guanajuato’s booming economy, but cars, as the world’s automakers flock to Central Mexico. Between 2005 and 2008, GM, Ford and Michelin dumped $1.8b into production in the state, and the expansion is still picking up steam. In the last year, Volkswagen invested $800m in engine production capacity in Silao, Pirelli built a $210m facility and Mazda just revealed it would build a new compact car plant there in June. Toyota is said to be the next to set up shop in Guanajuato, but for the moment Honda is the latest automaker to announce new operations in Guanajuato, as Automotive News [sub] reports the Japanese automaker will spend $800m on an assembly plant there. Honda, which is fleeing a strong yen which has battered Japanese exports, will start building 200k subcompacts per year in 2014. Clearly Guanajuato’s got it’s automotive mojo flowing… but are the days of new Japanese transplant factories in the US over? Is it only a matter of time before the coyotes start smuggling Detroiters into Silao, Celaya, and the Puerto Interior??
If you have a pulse and a willful ignorance of the local speed limit, you’re probably not interested in the Chevrolet Spark. If you’re a media-savvy hipster who’s on Facebook sixteen hours a day, you’re probably not interested in the Spark, either. If you’re a techno-geek or an eco-geek, you’re probably still not interested in the Chevrolet Spark.
If you need something to get you from point Alpha to point Beta and aren’t willing to pay too much, you might be interested in the Spark. But only after all the alternatives have been removed from your short-list as being too sensible. And even then, a lobotomy might be required to help you make up your mind.
That’s a shame, because the Spark isn’t really that bad.
With GM’s share price currently hovering below $25, well under its $33 IPO price, The General is holding its second annual Global Business Conference in hopes of encouraging investors the world over to buy into its turnaround. A webcast is currently streaming over at the GM Investor Relations website, but the key points are available in slides available in PDF here. The presentation involves nearly every level of GM’s business, so listening in and reading the entire PDF is going to be the best way to make sense of what GM is trying to communicate… but if you just want an overview, check out the gallery below for a few hand-picked slides, illustrating some of the more important points.