The Truth About Cars » import http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 13 Sep 2014 17:39:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » import http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com TTAC Project Car: Citizen Sierra http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/ttac-project-car-citizen-sierra/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/ttac-project-car-citizen-sierra/#comments Mon, 28 Oct 2013 12:03:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=635937 It’s been a while since our last update on TTAC’s intercontinental project car: a UK-spec 1983 Ford Sierra Ghia finished in Rio Brown.  Since then the Sierra’s gifted creator passed away and more positively, Ford wisely ditched its Titanium trim level for a famous name befitting a premium offering with brown paint…even if it isn’t […]

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It’s been a while since our last update on TTAC’s intercontinental project car: a UK-spec 1983 Ford Sierra Ghia finished in Rio Brown.  Since then the Sierra’s gifted creator passed away and more positively, Ford wisely ditched its Titanium trim level for a famous name befitting a premium offering with brown paint…even if it isn’t Ghia.

Jealous much of TTAC’s sweet ride, FoMoCo?  

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We ended our last story with the Sierra’s hood cable unable to release the “bonnet”. Which was fixed one year ago this week: reaching between the front fascia and the radiator to grab the release lever and pop it free.  From there, two zip ties eliminated the slack in the cable and it’s been fine ever since.  A surprisingly easy fix!

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Any hope of getting Citizen Sierra nice and legal started with its horrible exhaust leak, probably stemming from the Nürburgring workout given by Capt. Mike at said famous race track.

I grabbed a 2.3L Mustang manifold gasket, pulled the cast iron lump off and realized that the 2.0L Pinto motor has a unique cylinder head.  With no matching gasket in sight, I swapped my unopened part for Mr. Gasket’s sheet of “make your own” gasket paper.  In less time than it took to watch a football game, I crafted a set of four gaskets. About a week before Christmas 2012, I finished the Sierra’s exhaust. Ironically, that was also the day I confronted my inner and outer demons.

Making a concerted effort to change my attitude/personality that evening, the Sierra–in some twisted way–became my catalyst for that change. So it became that Citizen Sierra joined my personal quest for continuous improvement.

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Considering the number of cars in the Mehta garage, a unique key chain was needed.  I found these vintage units (modeled after a promotional button Ford made in 1982) on eBay in the US, and they were mine in a couple of days. Nice.

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Shameless Plug: in February I scored specialty car insurance, quite affordable thanks to the extraordinary customer service at the National Corvette Museum. With proof of fiduciary responsility in hand, I motored out of the warehouse for a state inspection, a simple task with any 25+ year old car in Texas!  The ride there was surprisingly serene, and it easily passed the test.

With the Sierra legal (enough) to begin the path to citizenship, I hit another roadblock: the head lights and brake lights went berserk.  I tried fixing them: repairing frayed wiring, replacing bulbs, a new brake pedal switch, a multifunction switch from a Merkur, all to no avail.  By mid March I was 100% frustrated: so I quickly reassembled my work and drove to a friend’s shop. And a little over three months later…

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Sadly that friend had even more existential concerns than myself: after his cell phone was disconnected, I went to claim my Sierra, in whatever condition it may sit.  Mercifully he fixed it well, charged next to nothing and I learned a lesson…or three.

Soon after I took a few hours off work to get the Sierra titled. Except not: the county wasn’t pleased with the paperwork.  The Sierra is pictured here (above) in July at the Houston Police Department’s Auto Theft division, where they quickly processed/approved Form 68-A: a crucial part to obtaining citizenship in Texas.  While this was one of the creepiest, covert operations I’ve seen (they don’t even let you inside) the people were certainly pleasant enough.

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Victory!  Sort of: between an international title that wasn’t signed by Capt. Mike and two ownership changes between here and the UK, I needed a bonded title to get legal.  My friends in the classic car trade recommended a local title company. In less than a week, they made the impossible happen.  While I enjoy working instead of waiting in lines, there was a singular downside. Their handiwork set me back a painful $750.

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Legal issues cleared, the work began: first the horrible radio. While the factory unit supposedly picked up FM, it seemed to miss the land of BBC radio. Then the tape deck broke, taking away my MP3 interface!  I grabbed the same (Blaupunkt) radio from a 1980s USA Audi in hopes it would work. No dice.

Then I bought a stunning vintage, NOS, perfect DENON cassette deck, which wasn’t amplified and therefore useless to the Sierra. Stereo #4, a “so cheap its worth a shot” NOS Pyramid deck with a graphic equalizer did work, but made the original speakers crackle and pop like that “snappy” breakfast cereal.  $50 later on eBay and I was installing new 4” Kenwood coaxial speakers into a very chocolatey cabin.  The rears were a snap, but the fronts were…well you see the photo.

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While the craptastic Pyramid was an improvement, it was still a horrible radio.  Back to eBay, and this Hitachi tape deck with an AUX jack and an ingenious spring-loaded pull out mechanism (no grab handle) was mine for a fair price.  Lesson learned: vintage Kenwood/Alpine audio fanbois pay waaaay too much for cassette decks!

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After a few more miles of weekend cruises and plans for a short trip to judge a LeMons race, the Sierra developed some annoying problems. A ripped spark plug boot (that I destroyed during inspection/removal) needed attention, but ordering tune up parts for a Sierra (i.e. not of the GMC variety) at the parts store is cumbersome. And the word “Merkur” doesn’t help, either. Luckily an Autozone cut-to-fit kit (USA made!) combined with new Motorcraft plugs worked perfectly. A nice repair for less than $25.   4_1

The exhaust had problems at the rear, too.  $150 later and a local shop replaced the crusty rear resonator and it looks factory. Surprisingly, the new assembly is louder than the original, probably because it isn’t full of rust flakes.

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Then a front-end alignment: I’m stunned at the number of shops that refuse to work on a car if the alignment specs aren’t in their machine.  I had the Ford factory shop manual (purchased from a UK re-seller of discarded library books) with the specs in hand, but nobody would play…until I found a Meineke with the balls to read books, not just computers.

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Then tires: these Romanian-made Vikings were not only a poor tribute to Nordic heritage, they were past it thanks to the (mis) alignment. Since the usual places don’t stock a 165/80/13 tire, I found a vendor in California selling China’s finest speed rated radials for $34 a pop. Apparently this is a common tire size for Honda Accords from the same era, so I got lucky!

5The Sierra’s fan clutch puked its fluid at the LeMons race in late September, making it hurl coolant as I extorted bribes from cheaty racers.  Determined to find a local replacement, I realized European Ford clutches use the same removal tool as BMWs.  I was lucky to find a brilliant night manager at the local O’Reilly’s, as he hammered away at his computer to find a ($100) clutch from an E30 that dropped right in. Thirty minutes later, the Sierra was running cooler than Jonathan Goldsmith in a booth fulla hot women.

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Last month I added this custom-made LeMons bribe to the Sierra’s hatch.  One race team had a talented graphic company in tow, and it’s certainly good to be a corrupt judge with a penchant for exotic machines ending in “RI”!

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Our man in Czechoslovakia, Mr.  Vojta Dobeš befriended me shortly after my initial purchase.  Turns out he grew up with Fords from the 1970s and 1980s, so his love of Sierras is strong. Even better, his ability to find valuable parts is even stronger.  I literally bounced off the walls when his box of Ford goodies arrived. We are very lucky to have this guy in our ranks.

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As alluded to in last week’s Piston Slap, I ran into problems while installing these parts.  Bad grounds, blown fuses, dirty connections and a truckload of time with wiring diagrams to make it all work: but the result is brilliant. Now I have a well-mannered RWD hatchback with enough head lamps to bake your legs on an autumn winter morning. Yes, really.

The plan was to put the finished Sierra* back in the warehouse…but screw that!  I’ll keep TTAC’s project car in my garage until summer rears its ugly head (no A/C) once more. Citizen Sierra is now, after all, a big part of my past, present and future.

And now you know The Truth About TTAC’s Ford Sierra. I hope you have a fantastic week.

*NOTE: the Sierra is currently running European style plates with the correct license number for the State of Texas.  This, along with keeping the real plates in the spare tire well, is a temporary measure until I figure out how to install a Texas plate without modifying the body or the plate itself.  More to come.

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Only A Nutcase Would Import A Car To America. B.S. Wants To Change That, And He Needs Your Signature http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/only-a-nutcase-would-import-a-car-to-america-b-s-wants-to-change-that-and-he-needs-your-signature/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/only-a-nutcase-would-import-a-car-to-america-b-s-wants-to-change-that-and-he-needs-your-signature/#comments Wed, 20 Feb 2013 16:31:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478336 As a worldly American and car nut, on one of your world travels, there will be a time when you fall in love with a car in a foreign land. The crush on that thing will be so big that you will want to take the irresistible beauty home with you. Just ask Sajeev or […]

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As a worldly American and car nut, on one of your world travels, there will be a time when you fall in love with a car in a foreign land. The crush on that thing will be so big that you will want to take the irresistible beauty home with you. Just ask Sajeev or Frau Murilee.

My advice: Resist that urge at all cost. Trust me, it is easier to import a new wife from Pago-Pago to America than to bring-in a lightly used Euro-spec Porsche from Zuffenhausen. There is one man who wants to change all that: A man with the initials B.S. petitioned the White House to liberalize the immigration rules for used cars. No, it’s not THAT BS.

Benjamin Sharabani of Venice, CA, wants the Obama administration to “lower non-federalized vehicle importation requirements with NHTSA & EPA to 10-years from the current 25-years.”

This is a worthy cause, because America is for all intents and purposes closed to cars that have not been “federalized” – in itself a time- and money consuming exercise, which only very large or very rich and determined importers can afford. Unless that car is more than 25 years old, a non-federalized car needs to stay out of the country – or else.

The Department of Homeland Security warns:

“The Federal agencies that regulate the importation of non U.S. version or nonconforming vehicles are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These agencies do not encourage the importation of non U.S. version or nonconforming vehicles for on-road use because converting a nonconforming vehicle is usually very expensive, and sometimes impossible or impractical. It is possible that a car will conform to one agency’s requirements but not another’s.”

If you go to the EPA for guidance, you will hear:

“EPA strongly recommends that prospective importers buy only U.S. version (labeled) vehicles, because of the expense and potential difficulties involved with importing a non-U.S. version vehicle. EPA strongly recommends that current owners of non-U.S. version vehicles sell or otherwise dispose of those vehicles overseas rather than ship and import them into the U.S., because of the expense and potential difficulties involved with importing a non-U.S. version vehicle.”

The NHTSA is a bit more circumspect:

Since the cost of modifying a nonconforming vehicle, or the time required to bring it into conformance, may affect the decision to purchase a vehicle abroad, we strongly recommend discussing these matters with a Registered Importer before buying and shipping a vehicle to the U.S.”

Basically, the NHTSA leaves it to the Registered Importer to tell you: “Are you nuts?”

They will explain to you that you must post a bond of three times the value of the car to U.S. customs, and then again a bond of one and a half times the value of the car to the DOT, before the Registered Importer even can start trying to bring the car in compliance “with all applicable DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).” If you have not declared bankruptcy at this point, and/or committed yourself to an asylum, you will have to deal with the EPA.

Trust me: It will be easier to get green cards for a whole harem than to import a foreign car that was built after 1988.

Forget about bypassing these regulations. Even if you stick the car in a container and pile bales of Marijuana on it to throw the Feds off scent, Homeland Security will tell you: “You will need the CBP Form 7501 to register the vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicle. CBP will not give you this form without approval from the EPA and DOT.”

There is a “List of nonconforming motor vehicles that are eligible for importation.” Importation not by mere mortals, mind you, it must be done through a Registered Importer. Don’t get your hopes up. Most of the cars on that list are there because they are “substantially similar to a U.S.-certified vehicle”. As in Jeep or Chevy. Even if that’s the case, extensive paperwork is required.

Now what about truly foreign cars? According to the list, less than 50 cars have sufficiently established “that the vehicle has safety features that comply with, or are capable of being altered to comply with, all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards.” Oddly, 14 of them are G-Wagens built between 1997 and 2006.

Ben’s car, The 1997 911 C4S, left. Ben vowed to “one day I will destroy” his friend and his Viper, right. Friend’s tag obscured, Ben’s tag in the buff to show the authorities that he is real

In other civilized parts of the world, such as Europe and in allegedly closed Japan, legalizing a non-approved car is as easy as checking that it has lights and brakes. You have it inspected, you sign a few forms, and you are good to go. If you want to import on a somewhat grander scale, no problem: Both the EU and Japan have special dispensations for low volume imports that are let into the country with a minimum of fuss. This, by the way, is how most of the U.S. makers import their cars to Japan and Europe. Only to bitch that the regulations are too onerous.

Even China is more lenient than the U.S.: Officially, the importation of used cars is bu hao, or verboten, as we say in America. But if you know someone – mei wen ti – no problem.

In America, they have you by the gonads if you bring in a foreign car. Say you paid all the bond money, but somehow you failed to bring the car in compliance. Trust me, the system is built to make you fail. Then, all that is left to you is to junk the car and kiss your bond money good-bye, you think? No, you can’t even do that. Says your friendly DHS: “It is also illegal to dispose of the vehicles in a junkyard. Non-compliant vehicles must be exported, destroyed, or brought into compliance.”

Catch 22, meet Kafka. Kafka, meet Catch 22.

But then, this might all change if Benjamin Sharabani’s petition is heard, right? Wrong again.

Benjamin needs 100,000 signatures by March 21, 2013. Yes, that’s a moth from now. He has 19 signatures now. Only 99,983 to go. Oh, and your 100,000 friends need to give their names and email addresses to the government. The Internet-savvy White House will even keep the petition from being searchable via Google if it has less than 150 signatures. But once 100,000 sign, it will get action, right? You can’t be wronger. Says the White House:

“If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.”

Gee, thanks!

The petition system, by the way, is a Chinese import. There, it has been around for centuries. Except that when you go to Beijing and petition, you might get roughed up in a dark alley when you go home.

Maybe that’s what those email addresses are for.

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U.S. Imports All The Rage In South Korea http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/u-s-imports-all-the-rage-in-south-korea/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/u-s-imports-all-the-rage-in-south-korea/#comments Thu, 06 Dec 2012 17:36:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=469308 While Japan may be a “closed market” in the eyes of some, imported cars from America are all the rage in South Korea. Honda is planning on sending no fewer than six American-made cars; the Civic, Accord, Odyssey, CR-V, Crosstour and Pilot will all be sent to South Korea as Honda attempts to become a net […]

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While Japan may be a “closed market” in the eyes of some, imported cars from America are all the rage in South Korea. Honda is planning on sending no fewer than six American-made cars; the Civic, Accord, Odyssey, CR-V, Crosstour and Pilot will all be sent to South Korea as Honda attempts to become a net exporter of American made vehicles.

The Wall Street Journal cites the abolition of South Korean tarrifs on American and European-made vehicles by 2016 as one factor that should help send more American made cars and trucks to the Asian nation. Nissan and Toyota are getting in on the act too, with vehicles like the Nissan Altima, Infiniti JX and Toyota Venza making their way over.

Imported vehicles in South Korea have long been the sole domain of top-tier luxury brands, and carried appropriately expensive pricetags to boot. But the introduction of more accessible brands like Honda and Nissan should help imports capture 10 percent of South Korea’s auto market – roughly double what they held 5 years ago.

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Japan Opens Up To Imports; Just Not From The Big Three http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/japan-opens-up-to-imports-just-not-from-the-big-three/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/japan-opens-up-to-imports-just-not-from-the-big-three/#comments Mon, 03 Sep 2012 12:00:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=458753 All the complaints about Japan being a “closed market” are hogwash; look at all the imports coming in to Japan from places like Thailand, Malaysia and China. No, Japan isn’t quite ready for a Malaysian or Chinese car, but Thai-made cars, like the Nissan March, are leading a trend against Japan’s mentality of buying domestic […]

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All the complaints about Japan being a “closed market” are hogwash; look at all the imports coming in to Japan from places like Thailand, Malaysia and China.

No, Japan isn’t quite ready for a Malaysian or Chinese car, but Thai-made cars, like the Nissan March, are leading a trend against Japan’s mentality of buying domestic made goods. According to a report by Bloomberg, nearly 40 percent of goods made by Japanese companies will be made offshore, a record number.

The unfavorable exchange rate between the Yen and U.S. Dollar is being blamed for the new trend, and it’s unlikely to change any time soon. On the other hand, Japanese consumers tend to subscribe to the “buy local” mantra, and the rise of the Honda Fit has been attributed by some to the Thai-built March’s decline in popularity due to its origins.

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New or Used: Cefiro! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/new-or-used-cefiro/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/new-or-used-cefiro/#comments Thu, 10 Nov 2011 18:17:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=417131   TTAC commentator bumpy ii writes: It’s definitely going to be used in this case. Anyway, I’m looking to pick up a fun weekend car in another 3-4 years. I like to plan ahead. Here’s what I want: * 4 doors * RWD * manual transmission * normally aspirated inline 6 * (the kicker) curb […]

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TTAC commentator bumpy ii writes:

It’s definitely going to be used in this case. Anyway, I’m looking to pick up a fun weekend car in another 3-4 years. I like to plan ahead. Here’s what I want:

* 4 doors
* RWD
* manual transmission
* normally aspirated inline 6
* (the kicker) curb weight under 3,000 pounds
* preferably built after the Reagan administration (most everyone had their emissions stuff sorted out by then)

From what I can tell, this narrows the list down to 4 cars (in order of preference):

*Nissan R32 Skyline
*Nissan A31 Cefiro
*M-B 190E 2.6
*BMW E30 325i

Am I leaving anything off? Any particular reason to favor or discount one versus another? Budget: I dunno, up to $10k if necessary. I’m in Virginia, and I’m willing to wait until the Nissans hit the DOT import exemption.

Sajeev Answers:

Why narrow your focus to I-6 motors? They are a bit slow by modern standards and are pricey to make more palatable, unless they are fitted with factory turbos. Oh, and they tend to wiggle like a wiener dog when they overheat, eating head gaskets and warping (aluminum) heads in the process. While I understand the premise of your quandary, all of these vintage racers will get their asses handed to them by a Fox Mustang (or LTD, since you want four-doors) with a full Griggs suspension, late model brakes with ABS and a souped up Windsor motor. Hell you don’t even wanna pick a fight with a 265hp, 6-speed (auto) Camry SE with a few chassis mods. There’s no better bitch slap than Toyota’s best Q-ship, especially from a 70mph dig: the 6 to 3 downshift is just nuts in that car!

And to be a real jerk, let me also tell you what 10 grand will buy in a tastefully modified 4th-gen Camaro or Firebird. They are the most underrated piece of “cheap” iron out there, even with the awful interior and terrible reputation from their collective owners. Buy one, twist the key and be better than 90% of the vehicles on the planet, even box stock.

That said, I am importing a brown Ford Sierra Ghia from the UK, so perhaps I need to encourage you. With the Sierra in mind, the only one from my list would be the Cefiro. If you are gonna be spanked by a new Camry, why not do it with class and style?

Hot Rod Griggs Fox Body LTD, son. Think about it.

Steve answers:

Inline 6? My good God man! What on Earth makes you want to drive an engine from the middle ages? Do you have some type of unique fetish for old Celica Supras and E-Classes?

Actually, I think a late 80′s MB W124 four door would actually be quite close with the weight and engine specs… but why? I’m sorry but I just have no love for the inline 6′s other than their supposed ease of maintenance (which is not nearly the entire equation when it comes to these old engines).

I would think about it some more. Years, many years. Maybe to the point of near death. If an inline 6 is a must have then just get yourself a nice old Merc or BMW for about 2 to 3k and just play with it for a while. There is no good reason to blow $10k on a proverbial Reagan era spec sheet.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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Argentina: Want To Sell Porsches? Export Our Wine And Olives http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/argentina-pushes-automakers-into-the-export-business/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/argentina-pushes-automakers-into-the-export-business/#comments Fri, 04 Nov 2011 15:20:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=416898 With a 35% import tax on new cars, Argentina is already a touch market for foreign brands seeking to bring cars into the country. But the Argentinean government has just made it  little bit harder by demanding that importers export an equal amount of Argentina-made goods for every car imported. As a result, Bloomberg reports that Porsche’s importer is […]

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With a 35% import tax on new cars, Argentina is already a touch market for foreign brands seeking to bring cars into the country. But the Argentinean government has just made it  little bit harder by demanding that importers export an equal amount of Argentina-made goods for every car imported. As a result, Bloomberg reports that Porsche’s importer is exporting Malbec wines and olives, Mitsubishi’s importer is getting into the peanut export game, and Subaru’s representative is shipping chicken feed to Chile. BMW, which has had recent difficulties importing into Argentina, is focusing on its core business, exporting auto parts and upholstery… and a little processed rice to make up the difference. But why are these major manufacturers getting into all kinds of strange side businesses just because Argentina wants to improve its trade balance and foreign currency reserves? Simple: Argentina is South America’s second-largest economy, and it’s been growing at over 5% per year since 2007 (i.e. when other markets were shrinking). So if the government wants imports balanced with exports, well, Porsche’s importer is just going to have to get into the wine business, isn’t he?

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San Francisco Loses Last Domestic Dealership http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/san-francisco-loses-last-domestic-dealership/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/san-francisco-loses-last-domestic-dealership/#comments Tue, 10 May 2011 18:06:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=394480 Detroit’s brand managers, particularly those at the resurgent premium and luxury brands, have made West Coast sales a high priority as they seek to bring new buyers into once-moribund brands like Buick and Cadillac. California, in particular, is a huge market for luxury and premium cars, and it’s generally an edgier, more youthful market that […]

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Detroit’s brand managers, particularly those at the resurgent premium and luxury brands, have made West Coast sales a high priority as they seek to bring new buyers into once-moribund brands like Buick and Cadillac. California, in particular, is a huge market for luxury and premium cars, and it’s generally an edgier, more youthful market that has long shunned domestic offerings. Everything from “lifestyle events” to no-cost hybrid drivetrain options on Lincoln MKZ have been introduced in an effort to get California’s copious yuppie population interested in Detroit luxury, but the results just haven’t shown up yet. According to Ford’s Mark “MKF” Fields [via AN [sub]], only about 25% of MKZ buyers were tempted by the free-hybrid deal in March, and meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Golden Gate City has just lost its final domestic auto dealership, a Ford/Lincoln store. Detroit may be California dreaming, but the Buicks and Lincolns of the world are still a long way from gaining ground in the West Coast.

Dennis Fitzpatrick, regional vice president of the California New Car Dealers Association explains to the Chronicle:

When you can sell 100 imports a month as opposed to 25 domestic, and what with the rents and real estate, it’s tough to make a U.S. car dealership pencil… San Francisco is not loyal to anything domestic; its allegiance is to anything but domestic

And he’s not kidding: thriving dealers selling Audi, Scion, Honda, VW, Mazda, BMW and Mercedes-Benz models all exist within a few blocks of the recently-closed Ford Lincoln store. Mike Hollywood, former sales manager at the last Chevrolet/Cadillac store in San Francisco, which closed 2 1/2 years ago, says he’s not surprised that Ford’s last San Francisco enclave has been shut down, noting that his former dealership is currently being renovated into

a flagship Nissan/Infiniti dealership [which Nissan says] “will represent one of the largest automobile retailing locations in the United States,”

Much of the rest of the country is used to quickly dismissing “San Francisco values” as being hopelessly out of touch with the rest of the country, but if Detroit wants to once again become a serious player (especially in the luxury/premium space), it has to do something  to connect with California’s “coastal elite.” At this point, the situation couldn’t be much worse.

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Saab Recasts Itself As Auto Industry’s Answer To Wal-Mart http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/saab-recasts-itself-as-budget-chinese-export-brand/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/saab-recasts-itself-as-budget-chinese-export-brand/#comments Tue, 10 May 2011 17:24:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=394475 Saab has started paying suppliers again (although production hasn’t restarted yet), and CEO Victor Muller is once again all popped-collar confidence as he dismisses the “speed bump” that he blames on negative publicity. But behind Mueller’s yacht-club breeziness and talk of “true Saabs,” major changes are afoot in Saab’s business model. Saab’s deal with Hawtai, […]

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Saab has started paying suppliers again (although production hasn’t restarted yet), and CEO Victor Muller is once again all popped-collar confidence as he dismisses the “speed bump” that he blames on negative publicity. But behind Mueller’s yacht-club breeziness and talk of “true Saabs,” major changes are afoot in Saab’s business model. Saab’s deal with Hawtai, the product of a desperate search for support in the midst of a liquidity crisis, has changed how Muller sees the global car business, and as a result he’s shopping what may be Saab’s last meaningful asset: Western dealerships. Muller explains his thinking to Automotive News [sub]

We laughed when the Japanese came. We laughed when the Koreans came. But we will not be laughing when the Chinese come. The Chinese are like a steamroller. It took 67 years to build up our dealer network. It is the biggest asset not on our asset sheet, and these guys buy into it for free. If they make the proper cars, can you image how much simpler it will be to push product through the distribution network that is already there? It is like a railway network that is already there.

Bertel and I have a running bet about whether the first actual Chinese import to the US (not a converted glider) will be a Chinese brand or one of the western brands… but it’s not much of a bet because neither of us can ever commit to picking one brand that seems most likely to bust America’s Chinese car cherry, and our “bets” change on a weekly basis. In any case, though, think it’s safe to say that neither of us saw Saab as playing much of a role in any of the scenarios we’ve discussed.

Regardless, Muller’s attitude towards the Chinese industry is something akin to a sailor on shore leave, with a “come one, come all” approach to dangling its dealer networks in front of the entire Middle Kingdom. That’s right, Saab and Muller are in the general-purpose Chinese car evangelism business, rather than being tied up in some kind of exclusive deal with Hawtai.

Asked if this would be a vehicle produced by Hawtai, Muller said “there are 120 companies” in China. Saab would be interested in “the one with a strategy,” he said.

And what about branding? Will Saab be careful to pick only the safest, most upscale Chinese cars and brands to sell at its struggling dealer network?

Muller said the first Chinese cars sold here likely would not receive a 5-star safety rating. But he expects a low price would attract buyers.

In China “you can get a $10,000 SUV with air conditioning and electric windows, everything that was ever invented for a car. Do you really worry about a five-star (crash rating)? They look good,” he said.

Sweet. So, rather than using Hawtai’s ridiculous diesel engine production overcapacity to re-cast Saab as a diesel-first, Euro-niche maker, Saab’s struggling dealer base is being dangled as the automotive industry’s answer to Wal-Mart. Sure, there will be a day of reckoning when the Chinese start selling cars in the US, but many of the more legitimate Chinese OEMs have acknowledged that their products aren’t ready for the US yet. Chinese automakers who are tempted by Saab’s siren call of US-market exports should beware: with so much popular suspicion and antipathy towards China here in the US, a premature launch of not-ready-for-primetime products could set the entire Chinese industry’s US market ambitions back by years. Plus, you’d have to go into business with Saab. We’d suggest sitting this one out.

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Brilliance! First Chinese Automaker In Europe Calls It Quits http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/brilliance-first-chinese-automaker-in-europe-calls-it-quits/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/brilliance-first-chinese-automaker-in-europe-calls-it-quits/#comments Thu, 29 Apr 2010 14:46:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=354686 We knew Brilliance’s plan to export 158,000 sedans to Europe had taken a bit of a beating when the Chinese automaker’s European export partner folded back in November. Even before then, the ADAC’s now-infamous crash tests of Briliance’s BS6 and BS4 seemed likely to doom the brand’s early attempt at the European market. And now, […]

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We knew Brilliance’s plan to export 158,000 sedans to Europe had taken a bit of a beating when the Chinese automaker’s European export partner folded back in November. Even before then, the ADAC’s now-infamous crash tests of Briliance’s BS6 and BS4 seemed likely to doom the brand’s early attempt at the European market. And now, according to Reuters, it’s official. Brilliance execs admit:

We have stopped exports to Europe. For now, we have no timetable for resuming the business

The chagrined executives blame rapidly-changing European regulations as well as the sedans’ poor reception, but one look at the ADAC’s crash test video tells you everything you need to know. And the videos certainly suggest that Brilliance’s premature attempt at cracking the European market has hurt future efforts by other Chinese firms, by confirming the worst fears about Chinese quality. European executives who have been living in fear of a Chinese invasion will probably sleep just a little bit better tonight.

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Strong Yen Spells Big Trouble For Toyota http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/weak-yen-spells-big-trouble-for-toyota/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/weak-yen-spells-big-trouble-for-toyota/#comments Mon, 30 Nov 2009 18:54:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=337384 Japans currency rose to a 14-year high against the dollar last week, prompting fears that the island nation’s exports could be dramatically affected. And no firm stands to lose as much Toyota, which had been operating under the highest assumed exchange rate of any of Japan’s auto exporters. Reuters reports that ToMoCo had pegged the […]

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Maybe they should have kept the price higher? (courtesy:tsikot.com)

Japans currency rose to a 14-year high against the dollar last week, prompting fears that the island nation’s exports could be dramatically affected. And no firm stands to lose as much Toyota, which had been operating under the highest assumed exchange rate of any of Japan’s auto exporters. Reuters reports that ToMoCo had pegged the rate at 90 yen to the dollar, some five yen higher than rivals Honda and Nissan. With the Yen trading at 86.29 to the dollar, that assumption could add up to big losses: Toyota reckons that for every one yen drop against the dollar, operating profits will decline some 30b Yen due to the fact that it exports over half of its Japanese-made automobiles, most of which head to market in the US. Aizawa Securities analyst Toshiro Yashinaga explains that Toyota, more than any other Japanese firm, is riding the razor’s edge.

Carmakers that issued big profit warnings last year have set cautious forex assumptions this time, so roughly speaking the current rates are within expectations. But there are views that the dollar could sink even further in 2010, to the 70s (yen), and in that sense Honda and Nissan, which are relatively strong in emerging markets, are in the winning camp

Japan’s government has thus far resisted calls to intervene in the Yen’s exchange rate. As if Toyota’s heavy exposure to the moribund US market weren’t bad enough, exchange rate uncertainty could make Toyota’s second-straight loss even worse than expected when the firm announces its fiscal year-end results in March.

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Regal: More Than Just Bred On the Autobahn http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/regal-more-than-just-bred-on-the-autobahn/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/regal-more-than-just-bred-on-the-autobahn/#comments Thu, 12 Nov 2009 14:51:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=335086 The single trim level is what tipped us off, and if we’d looked closer at its spec sheet, we’d have seen that its manufacturing location is listed as “Rüsselsheim, Germany.” Automotive News [sub] reports that Regal will be built in Germany for 15 months before production shifts to Oshawa. Which makes the Regal even more […]

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Born and bred in Deutschland

The single trim level is what tipped us off, and if we’d looked closer at its spec sheet, we’d have seen that its manufacturing location is listed as “Rüsselsheim, Germany.” Automotive News [sub] reports that Regal will be built in Germany for 15 months before production shifts to Oshawa. Which makes the Regal even more of an odd duck. In addition to being stuck into GM’s bursting lineup of Epsi-II midsize sedans, it’s also losing whatever profit it might have made on the dismal foreign exchange rate and the boat ride over from Europe. Or it will be just plain overpriced. Think of it as the love child between a Saturn Astra and a Pontiac G8. And another sign that some things never change.

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