Tag: Overseas

By on March 28, 2012

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.
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By on November 9, 2011

Since the Tokyo Auto Show and some Scion scuttlebutt have us on something of a Daihatsu theme here, I thought I’d show a bit of what the small car specialists are up to these days. The truth: despite the brand’s futuristic showcar image projections, Daihatsu mostly plays in the rough-and-tumble entry-level segments of emerging markets, where the cars are small and the margins can be even smaller.

And it’s had better luck there than in the so-called “mature markets.” Though the third generation Charade flopped on the American market amid much popular ridicule of its name (and, according to gearhead lore, oversight of other favorable qualities), the previous generation became the FAW-Tianjin “Xiali,” one of China’s most ubiquitous cars. Now Daihatsu is ditching Europe and  hustling strangely cool little mini-MPVs built in Indonesia with the taglines “it’s very cheap” and “we build them compact.” Who needs developed markets?
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By on October 10, 2011

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.

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By on October 7, 2011

Since September 8, motorists in Costa Rica have been racking up speed camera fines worth 308,295 colones (US $600) each. Sixteen speed cameras have been flashing around the city of San Jose at a rate of a thousand per day as part of the brand new program. Those fines — among the world’s highest — are not being mailed to vehicle owners, as is the case elsewhere. Instead, motorists are expected to check their plate number on a regular basis to see if they need to pay up.

On September 26, the first set of license plates was published in the form of a 120-page list in La Gaceta, the government’s official journal. The alleged violations are sorted by day, so all of the country’s vehicle owners must scan each day of the week looking for their vehicle. Those among the 15,429 plates that have been listed so far have until October 17 to come up with the $600 in cash.

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By on September 30, 2011

The NYT’s opinion page has a provocative piece by Siddhartha Deb today. It explores the role that automobiles play in the class dynamics of a modernizing India. Deb writes

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.

By on September 29, 2011

[Editor's note: I want to be clear that, despite the unconventional, somewhat light-hearted tone of this post, the editors of TTAC take the right to drive very seriously. Sometimes, however, the absurdity of injustice can only be captured with more absurdity]

Najalaa Harriri lives in a sad little world where women are still forced to dress like Halloween ghosts. Besides spending a miserable lifetime as someone else’s property, Ms. Harriri was sentenced to ten lashes for the ultimate sin of driving an automobile in Saudi Arabia (the sentence has since been suspended by the king). I have to wonder about this. Was it a Yugo? A souped up Corolla that did powerslides? A car imported from Zionist occupiers who still give Muslims more rights than the Saudi monarchy?

No to all the above.

She was just drivingA carA machine that offers freedom in ways that infuriate ass sitting mullahs who have nothing better to do than to rarely shower and treat women like obedient sex objects.

On the brighter side of life though,  at least she won’t have to worry about getting stoned.

By on August 12, 2011

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.

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By on July 30, 2011

Each weekend, TTAC turns its attention to some of the more obscure news and stories from around the world, taking you from Jakarta to Haiti to Monaco… and now to New Zealand. Hungarian Skoda blog stipstop.com takes us to New Zealand in 1966, when Auckland-based Motor Lines were able to adapt a Jowett Bradford-based utility vehicle made by Kawerau into a Skoda Octavia-based Land Rover lookalike… and the Trekka was born!  Only 2,500 of the little runabouts were made in steel-paneled wagon and “ute” bodystyles (specs here), of which five served duty in Vietnam and one was purchased for unknown reasons by General Motors, which shipped it to Detroit in 1969. The Trekka was an “icon of the Kiwi can-do spirit” by the time it went out of production in 1973, and it was much loved in New Zealand, although it was never as capable as its Landie-alike bodywork suggested (a limited-slip differential was eventually developed for it). But the low-cost Trekka (it cost £895, less than a Morris 1100) was ultimately a product of New Zealand’s import tariffs, and as these began to fall in the 1970s, the Trekka’s day had passed. Today, fewer than 30 remaining models have been documented by trekka.co.nz.

By on July 30, 2011

The 19th Indonesian International Motor Show (IIMS) is currently taking place at the JIExpo in the capital city, Jakarta, with almost all the world’s major automakers represented at a show which is quite simply bigger, bolder and brasher than ever before. There is a real spring in the step here as this huge, underdeveloped nation of 238 million people, the fourth-most populated in the world, stands poised to unlock the potential of its auto industry and become a major player on the world stage. Indonesia is standing at a crossroads and everyone is preparing to join the party.

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By on July 17, 2011

An extravagant ceremony at Bangkok’s Impact Arena has seen the launch of Toyota’s new Hilux and Fortuner – key models in its developing market portfolio. The pair are products with big, tough reputations, and importantly, the profit-generating ability to match.

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By on July 5, 2011

You’ve seen them before, photos from some godforsaken place of insurgent warfare. A half dozen rag tag soldiers, if you can call them soldiers, bristling with Chinese Kalishnikov knockoffs, piled into a Toyota Hilux with a heavy machine gun or some other armament like a recoil-less rifle or ack-ack gun mounted on the roof or in the bed. The Toyota Hilux has been the choice of low level combatants around the world since the 1960s. As noted by China Car Times, when Muammar Gaddafi (is there a world leader whose names, first and last, are spelled in so many different ways?) had one of his snit fits and invaded Chad in 1987 to overturn the government, both sides used so many Hiluxes that Time magazine dubbed it the Toyota War. In the early 90s, the war in Somalia brought us the term “technical”, interestingly enough derived from the NGO practice of hiring local gunmen to protect their employees, and paying them with funds earmarked as “technical assitance grants”.

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By on June 27, 2011

Speaking of GM’s future lineup, there’s no sign in GMI’s 2013 projected lineup of the on-again-off-again Spark city car (A-Segment) that we had heard would be here now. Hell, they’ve had the cupholders ready since 2009. So what’s the Spark up to?
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By on June 15, 2011

The confrontation between modern, Western societies and deeply traditional lifestyles in Afghanistan creates a healthy supply of fascinating car stories, as we’ve already heard about such uniquely Afghan manifestations of car culture as the Taliban’s Toyota Hilux-inspired maple leaf tattoos. And now here’s another one, fresh off the Reuters wire: Afghans are reportedly in a tizzy over (get this) license plates containing the number 39. Yes, really.

Afghanistan’s booming car sales industry has been thrown into chaos by a growing aversion to the number “39″, which almost overnight has become an unlikely synonym for pimp and a mark of shame in this deeply conservative country.

Drivers of cars with number plates containing 39, bought before the once-harmless double digits took on their new meaning, are mocked and taunted across Kabul.

“Now even little kids say ‘look, there goes the 39′. This car is a bad luck, I can’t take my family out in it,” said Mohammad Ashraf who works for a United Nations project.

Other “39″ owners flew into a rage or refused to speak when asked whether their car was a burden.

The Guardian adds:

I did not think it would matter when I got my car,” said Zalmay Ahmadi, a 22-year-old business student. “But when I drive around all the other cars flash their lights, beep their horns and people point at me. All my classmates now call me Colonel 39.”

We’ve heard of huge demand for certain-numbered license plates before, such as the craze in Arab countries for the lowest possible license number… but we’ve never heard of a taboo number when it comes to license plates. So what gives?

(Read More…)

By on May 24, 2011

The NY Times reports:

Manal al-Sharif, one of the organizers of an online campaign encouraging Saudi women to drive en masse on June 17, was arrested on Sunday, days after she posted video of herself flouting the kingdom’s ban on female drivers on YouTube. Traces of Ms. Sharif’s campaign also started to disappear from the Web.

Following her arrest, the YouTube video of Ms. Sharif driving became inaccessible, as did a second clip, in which she outlined how women could take part in the June 17 protest. A Facebook page she set up called “Teach Me How to Drive So I Can Protect Myself,” which had more than 12,000 fans, was deleted. The Twitter account she used to spread news of the protest movement was copied and altered to make it seem as if she had called off the campaign.

As much as we tend to value cars as the ultimate tool of personal freedom, TTAC could definitely do more to cover the plight of those banned from the roads for nothing more than their gender. Though a hugely loaded and controversial issue, it is perhaps one of the most truly principled causes at the confluence of cars and culture. We wish Ms al-Sharif the very best in her struggle to attain a right we too often take for granted.

Bonus challenge for TTAC’s Best and Brightest: can you identify the car Ms al-Sharif is driving in this clip? I’ve wasted enough time today trying to figure it out…

By on April 12, 2011

When I reviewed the current Chevrolet Malibu, I was generally impressed with GM’s effort in a highly competitive segment, but I had a few complaints. One of those complaints had to do with the ‘bu’s back bench, which prompted me to note

the rear seats seem like almost an afterthought compared to the well-appointed front row. Low seat height, a relatively narrow bench and unsupportive seating make for a poor combination

With images of an updated Malibu making the rounds of the blogosphere, and the Detroit News reporting that its production has been pulled ahead by six months by the order of Dan Akerson, you might think GM had taken the opportunity to improve the Malibu’s second-row shortcomings. But, according to Automotive News [sub]‘s product editor, Rick Kranz, it seems that GM has done the opposite of improve rear-seat interior space… because of yet another of the ‘bu’s shortcomings.

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