The violent anti-Japanese demonstrations in China appear to be over, and intestinal complications aside, it seems to be safe again to eat sushi in Beijing or Shanghai. State-owned media however is trying its utmost to keep the matter on the front burner, so to speak, in a very insidious way. (Read More…)
A year ago nearly to the day, I was investigating the connection between Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and Fiat. With an American-led intervention in Libya underway, Reuters had reported that a Wikileaked State Department document revealed that the Libyan Government owned a two-percent stake in the automaker Fiat as recently as 2006. When I contacted Fiat’s international media relations department for comment, I received this response:
Dear Mr Niedermeyer,
Further to your email, I would mention that the Reuters report you refer to is incorrect. As too are other similar mentions that have appeared recently in the media concerning the LIA’s holdings in Fiat.
The LIA sold all of its 14% shareholding in Fiat SpA in 1986 – ten years after its initial stake was bought. It no longer has a stake in Fiat SpA.
I trust that this clarifies the matter.
It didn’t, actually. In fact the matter remained as clear as mud to me until just now, when I saw Reuters’ report that Italian police have seized $1.46 billion worth of Gaddafi assets, including “stakes in… carmaker Fiat,” under orders from the International Criminal Court.
“Do you want to accompany? or go on ahead? or go off alone? … One must know what one wants and that one wants”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight Of The Idols
This week’s news that GM would stop production of the Chevrolet Volt for the third time in its brief lifespan came roaring out of the proverbial blind spot. Having watched the Volt’s progress closely from gestation through each month’s sales results, it was no secret to me that the Volt was seriously underperforming to expectations. But in the current media environment, anything that happens three times is a trend, and the latest shutdown (and, even more ominously, the accompanying layoffs) was unmistakeable. Not since succumbing to government-organized bankruptcy and bailout has GM so publicly cried “uncle” to the forces of the market, and I genuinely expected The General to continue to signal optimism for the Volt’s long-term prospects. After all, sales in February were up dramatically, finally breaking the 1,000 unit per month barrier. With gasoline prices on the march, this latest shutdown was far from inevitable.
And yet, here we are. Now that GM is undeniably signaling that the Volt is a Corvette-style halo car, with similar production and sales levels, my long-standing skepticism about the Volt’s chances seems to be validated. But in the years since GM announced its intention to build the Volt, this singular car has become woven into the history and yes, the mythology of the bailout era. Now, at the apparent end of its mass-market ambitions, I am struck not with a sense of schadenfreude, but of bewilderment. If the five year voyage of Volt hype is over, we have a lot of baggage to unpack.
As a “glass-half-empty” kind of guy, I would need a minute to think about the most fascinating story I’ve ever written, but could easily tell you about the most infuriating. That dubious honor goes to the Facebook launch campaign for the 2012 Ford Explorer.
Are in-car CD players the mark of a vehicle aimed at geezers? According to an Automotive News report, the CD may be going the way of the cassette or 8-track player in certain cars – namely those aimed at younger, “Gen Y” buyers, who use smart phones as music devices.
I remember looking at the then brand new Ford Five Hundred and thinking to myself, “This would make one heck of a Volvo.”
Like the Volvos of yore this Ford offered a squarish conservative appearance. A high seating position which Volvo’s ‘safety oriented’ customers would have appreciated. Toss in a cavernous interior that had all the potential for a near-luxury family car, or even a wagon, and this car looked more ‘Volvo’ than ‘Ford’ to me with each passing day.
Something had to be done…
First it was Honda that had issues with TrueCar. Now, it is regulators in several states, along with dealer associations that claim that TrueCar’s business model is at odds with “long-standing state laws designed to protect the interests of car dealers and shoppers,” as Automotive News [sub] reports. Says AN:
“Regulators in Colorado, Wisconsin and Virginia have issued bulletins to dealers or sent letters to TrueCar concluding that legal problems exist with TrueCar’s business model of charging dealers for leads that turn into a sale. And dealer associations in three more states — California, Kansas and Ohio — say members who use TrueCar may be violating state law.”
This looks like an opening volley of an all-out war. (Read More…)
All told, this has been a successful holiday season for your humble editor. I have showered myself with gifts, avoided annoying family entanglements, kept my pimp hand
weak strong, and made sure there’s a three-hour gap in my Christmas to re-watch Michael Mann’s Heat in its glorious entirety.
And yet… I’m dissatisfied. Perhaps because there are ten simple things the automotive industry and/or its various players could do to make this the best season ever, and as of yet, none of them have been done. So here’s my list, delivered nice and late. Warning: mixture of hatred, sarcasm, and foolish sincerity ahead.
It’s been a fascinating year for the compact car, as all six of the segment’s leading competitors brought out new or updated models over the last 18 months. But as our Chart Of The Day shows, the competition has hardly sent the segment into overdrive, as after an early-year boom, compact car sales have slackened considerably. Intriguingly though, Honda and Toyota, which lost sales early this year due to supply interruptions in the wake of the Japanese Tsunami, seem to be the only brands with recovering compact sales. What’s especially interesting about this is the fact that Toyota’s modest refresh and Honda’s poorly-received new Civic were once widely considered by automotive pundits to be under threat from the resurgent competition. Indeed, Honda’s Civic has been especially hard-hit by media criticism, earning a harsh review from TTAC’s Michael Karesh, losing its coveted “recommended” rating from Consumer Reports, and engaging in some ugly media-bashing. But now that the Civic seems to be one of the only compacts to enjoy a late-year sales rebound, Honda’s announcing that it will be upgrading the Civic for the 2013 model-year, just one year after the new model was introduced.
Having read most of the latest raft of auto industry books, with titles like “Car Crash,” “Overhaul,” and “Sixty To Zero,” I have to say, Bill Vlasic’s “Once Upon A Car” is my favorite of the bunch. Not only does it lack the parochial form and voice that define too many of theses tomes, it populates its narrative with rich dialogue and intriguing character studies. In short, it’s got all of the lessons about industry, culture, and competition that you’d expect from a modern study of the auto industry, but it presents them in such a way that they never feel like a lecture or a business school study. Instead you get a well-spun yarn, still-newsworthy anecdotes and an unvarnished look at industry dynamics on their highest level. If ever there were to be a modern movie based on the auto industry, Vlasic’s book should be its basis. Read my full review over at The Wall Street Journal.