The Truth About Cars » Overseas The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 10:00:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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 (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 » Overseas Italy Seizes Gaddafi’s Stake In Fiat Wed, 28 Mar 2012 22:51:44 +0000

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.

So, did Fiat lie? Not exactly. The Libya Arab Foreign Bank did sell back its shares in 1986, but the Wikileaked memo claimed that a successor entity, the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company, was the more recent Libyan investor. Not being well-versed in the structure and history of Libya’s sanction-avoiding foreign investment shell companies, and lacking the resources to effectively pursue the story (tracking Gaddafi-era investments is a chore), I left it there. And even now that Italian police confirm that a Gaddafi-controlled stake in Fiat has been seized, it’s not at all clear whether Fiat’s management was aware of this.

The AGI has the most detailed account, reporting

The Guardia di Finanza Corps of Rome has seized property worth more than 1.1 bln euro from members of the Ghaddafi family upon a warrant of the International Criminal Court of The Hague. The property seized includes real estate, company shares and bank accounts that belong to members of the Ghaddafi family or to people of Ghaddafi’s entourage with an overall value of more than 1.1 bln euro

Property investigations carried out by the GdF of Via dell’Olmata, in Rome have enabled to discover two financing companies through which leaders of the former Libyan regime had made investments in Italy. [emphasis added]

That covers Fiat management fairly well: at the very least, it appears that they didn’t know about Libyan investment until police were involved. I might suspect that this very Gaddafi stake in Fiat was frozen by Italian authorities prior to my request for comment, and Fiat’s representative misled me about it… but I have no way of proving it. Time will (hopefully) tell.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, it’s only a little strange that this wasn’t somehow brought to light in pre-bailout vetting of Fiat. Sure, a foreign enemy of the United States was a significant shareholder in the firm that was handed a bailed-out Chrysler for no cash down. On the other hand, Libya was not on the War On Terror radar at the time, and the auto task force had enough to worry about without investigating Fiat’s shareholders. All the same, chalk this up as yet another example of the unintended consequences of government intervention in the economy.

Finally, there’s the real question: did Gaddafi actually benefit from his Fiat investment? It all depends on when this second investment in Fiat shares took place. The Wikileaked memo says Libya owned two percent of Fiat as of 2006, which means it was enjoying the short-lived Marchionne boom (financed in part by General Motors) after years of decline and stagnation. And when things headed south in 2008, snagging Chrysler for nothing sent Fiat stock on its last real bounce… which means the Gaddafi regime did benefit to some extent from the auto bailout. Still, with Fiat’s shares pricing at all-time lows the Libyan dictator almost certainly lost money on his Fiat investment over the years. Unless the Guardia di Finanza find evidence that Fiat’s management knew about Libyan investment, this might well be a case of “no harm no foul.”

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Never Mind The Showcars, Here’s How Daihatsu Gets It Done Thu, 10 Nov 2011 02:05:51 +0000

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?

Of course you can’t mention Daihatsu without referencing the fact that it is majority owned by Toyota, and the two firms work hand-in-hand. For example, the MPV advertised at the top of the post is sold as both a Daihatsu Xenia and a Toyota Avanza. Interestingly, the outgoing Toyota Yaris was put on sale in Europe as the Daihatsu Charade just this year… apparently the brand’s last “new” model before disappearing from its toehold in Europe.

Speaking of obligatory references, here’s Top Gear’s love song to Daihatsu’s Terios.

Though the Asian national disasters have not left it untouched, Daihatsu is one of the few Japanese makers to actually raise its profit outlook (pending damage reports from the Thai floods). And though its export models like the Terios are being hit by the Yen increases just like everyone else, joint ventures in China, Indonesia and elsewhere keep Daihatsu diversified. Besides, not being dependent on the American and European middle classes for sales is a good way to be weathering a “mature market” downturn (especially in contrast to its city-cousin, Scion). And that is reason enough to keep the funky, futuristic concept cars coming..

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Chevrolet Global Colorado Debuts In Thailand Mon, 10 Oct 2011 19:09:16 +0000

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.

In ten days time Thai customers will be able to pass judgment on whether GM have got this right, quickly followed by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The New Colorado has to make up ground – the outgoing model, introduced seven years ago, never gained traction with consumers, particularly in the U.S. where robust initial sales tailed off very quickly. In the developing world, customers continued to prefer offerings from Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Isuzu – the latter somewhat ironically, as it shares its architecture with the Colorado.

GM is confident it has dotted all the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s in developing the new Colorado. It has been a long and expensive project, involving the refitting of the Rayong factory, the construction of new engine plant next door to produce the new family of diesel engines, while styling was carried out in the carmaker’s Sao Paulo studios and extensive R&D was undertaken in Thailand and elsewhere. “It’s the most clean-sheet mid-size truck programme,” in GM history, said Martin Apfel, President GM Thailand/South East Asia.

According to Brad Merkel, GM Global Vehicle Line Executive, the big lesson which came from listening to customers was that they perceive pickups as “rough and tough” – but they don’t want “rough” to be a fundamental characteristic anymore, or even see why it should be. Growing aspirations and consumer demand that sees half of all pickups in Thailand bought as private cars has seen all OEMs scurrying to improve the comfort and luxury of their trucks. Toyota, the mid-size market leader, improved its Hilux this summer, and the others are following suit. Merkel says that the truck is now “refined” and points to the lack of vibrations, improved stability, and the dialing out of wind noise and rattles as key achievements. “It feels car-like,” he reckons.

The new Colorado will start from a low base here – 7,347 sales for the year to the end of August. That compares with 100,187 Hilux sales for tsunami-hit Toyota, 91,161 for the Colorado’s twin, Isuzu’s D-Max, 41,508 for Mitsubishi’s Triton and 16,032 for the Nissan Navara.

GM is anxious to emphasise the new project hasn’t been conducted in tandem with Isuzu, the two focusing on different directions after developing a common architecture. Addressing perceptions that the Colorado is more expensive to run has been a priority – the new model will go 20,000 km before its first scheduled service, while 100,000 km of running should be achieveable for a cost of no more than 20,000 baht.

Styling-wise, much of the design language has been carried over from the acclaimed Colorado “show truck” displayed at several major motor shows this year; however, some of that impact has been lost in the translation to production reality. The front end is dominated by Chevrolet’s twin-grille ‘family’ look which works quite well on what aims to be a big, butch pickup. It’s grown, too – the Colorado is now 5347mm long and there is a healthy choice of seven body colours. Inside the cabin is quite well laid out, but – as is to be expected with a pickup – there is a lot of hard plastic. The air-con controls are nicely laid out and backlit, there are umpteen storage areas and decent seats, but a number of areas, such as the instruments and door catches, feel basic and a bit clumsy.

The new four-cylinder diesel engines are based on the 6.6-litre V8 Duramax. They come in 2.5 and 2.8 litres and can be mated to 5-speed manual or 6-speed auto transmissions. The 2.5 (which should account for 75-80 percent of Thai sales) develops 150 HP and 350 Nm while the 2.8 has 180 HP on tap and 440 Nm (manual) or 470 Nm (auto).

Underneath, the body-on-frame chassis has been stiffened in torsion, and there are the expected safety features including front airbags, ESP, ABS, BA, CBC, HBFA and a deformable steering column.

GM is cautious about putting numbers on targets. The Rayong plant will assemble 12,000 new Colorados up to the end of this year, but management say they will be following demand. Capacity is likely to be around 100,000 units a year with a split between domestic and export. Only the 2.5 has been priced so far; it starts at 537,000 baht for the single cab, rising through extended/double cab, low/high ride and 2/4WD before reaching a range-topping 808,000 baht. That leaves the Colorado pretty much in line with existing pickup pricing here.

Edd Ellison is a Thailand-based auto journalist, covering the ASEAN markets and beyond. He can be contacted at Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Soon to be available in Colorado... (All images courtesy: Edd Ellison) IMG_4795_resize IMG_4767_resize IMG_4765_resize IMG_4700_resize IMG_4661_resize IMG_4653_resize IMG_4597_resize IMG_4454_resize


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Costa Rica Unveils Most Burdensome Speed Camera Program Yet Fri, 07 Oct 2011 14:17:36 +0000

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.

That is a significant burden in a country where the per capita income is $11,300, or less than a quarter of the earning power in the US. In response to the demand for payment options, Banco Popular is offering speed camera loans that pay off the ticket over five years for a monthly payment of 8588 colones (US $16.70).

The impact was felt in a big way by a 22-year-old woman who found she had been ticketed a dozen times in the first publication of notices. She is expected to come up with 3,699,540 colones (US $7188), or about seven months’ worth of her salary. She is appealing her fines.

President Laura Chinchilla has felt the heat from the public and is now calling for the fine to be lowered. The government set up the controversial notification system after finding no way to reliably mail citations in a country that does not have a system of street addresses. Since colonial times, directions have been given by reference to landmarks, as street signs are rare. Officials have been moving to implement a standardized address system for several years in anticipation of an automated ticketing program.

A copy of the first list of license plates is available in a 900k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File La Gaceta No. 184 (Costa Rica, 9/26/2011)


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“In many ways, the marriage between the Indian middle class and the automobile culture has been disastrous.” Fri, 30 Sep 2011 16:31:24 +0000

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.

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Fun With Youtube: Woman Drives Car. Gets Beaten. Thu, 29 Sep 2011 19:25:57 +0000

[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.

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Review: 2011 Chevrolet Spark 1.2 (Global-Spec) Fri, 12 Aug 2011 17:25:11 +0000

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.

The Spark competes in a super-mini class that’s largely ignored in the United States simply because of the lack of motorboat-towing power and decent-sized cupholders. The old Daewoo/Chevrolet Matiz that GM’s global division has been peddling around is even worse than the norm, with a cabin two sizes smaller than the competition and barstools stapled to the floor in lieu of actual car seats. Crash-safety is only noteworthy in the fact that at one time, it scored the infamous “zero stars” on the EuroNCAP tests.

The new Spark is a completely different vehicle. For one, it scores a commendable four stars on the EuroNCAP (missing the fifth for lack of stability control). Unfortunately, they’ve dumped the classic lines of the Guigaro-penned Matiz and replaced it with a deformed, head-shrunken Cruze.

Like the Cruze, it’s the roomiest in its class by a few hair-widths, with legroom more subcompact than super-mini. The seats are still two sizes too small, but they’re comfortable, at least. There’s enough trunk space for about a week’s worth of groceries, and cubbies for oodles of odds and ends. There are even cupholders big enough for Big Gulps.

The Spark tries to pull a Mini by having the instrument gauges mounted on the steering column, but the steering wheel obscures the top of the speedometer and the tiny digital tachometer doesn’t seem to sync up to the engine. The rest of the cabin is nice, though the body-colored trim is tackier than a Dodge Caliber’s. To note: the shiny black cladding around the side mirrors and the hidden rear door handles is pretty pitiful, even for Chevrolet.

On paper, the 1.2 liter engine provides more than enough power and acceleration to satisfy compact owners looking to downsize. Chevrolet claims a 0-62 time of 12.1 seconds. But in reality, you’d be lucky to get within a second of that time. It suffers from the same issues as the 1.8 Cruze, namely a lack of mid-range punch and a pronounced wheeziness near redline. The five speed manual gearbox is well-mated to the meagre power, but finding third is an adventure, hitting fifth is a chore, and finding reverse requires an instruction manual. The mix of rubbery shifter, short gear ratios and laggy tachometer makes overtaking on the highway more exciting than it really ought to be.

On to the good stuff: The Spark drives with some verve. The chassis balance is great, with good body control and composure. While understeer is the car’s default setting, the Spark responds well to throttle-lift and trail-braking. The turning circle is incredibly tight, yet a slow steering ratio keeps it from feeling darty at high speeds. Though it’s not quite Mazda2 keen, the steering wheel actually feels like it’s connected to the front tires, making for a relatively pleasant driving experience.

None of this comes at the expense of the ride, which is supple and absorbent. Even at speeds in excess of 80 mph, which is as fast as you can go without a tail-wind, the Spark feels as stable as a compact car, with minimal wind and road noise. I wish I could say the same about the engine, which sounds ready to explode at higher revs. Despite the mill’s shortcomings, it’s pretty economical, reaching 35-40 mpg in mixed driving. Not at 80 mph, obviously, but hey, you can’t have everything.

I won’t talk much about amenities and gadgets, because a lot can change by the official launch, sometime between now and the twelfth of never. Maybe GM is waiting for everyone to forget the Spark’s debut as the gold-toothed, jive-talking, racist-stereotype “Skids” in “Transformers”. Considering that this abomination of a movie marketing tie-ins has been immortalized in a line of even uglier toys, that may take a while.

Shame, as the Spark is a good little car with virtually no competitors on the US market. But the longer GM waits to release it, the more likely it is that the Spark’s Korean competitors will get there first and ruin the party for the spunky little Daewoo.

Storage... of sorts. Real estate is tight... Approved for the US market in 2012 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Spark it up... twelve-hundred cubic centimeters... sounds better, right? Like A Rock? ]]> 80
Trekka: Skoda Meets Land Rover In New Zealand Sat, 30 Jul 2011 16:57:57 +0000

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 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 trekka1 trekka2 Hit the beach! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail trekka3 trekka6 trekka5 ]]> 8
Live From Jakarta: Indonesian International Auto Show Coverage Sat, 30 Jul 2011 16:18:19 +0000

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.

In size terms, IIMS is the second-biggest motor show in South East Asia, behind only Bangkok; in terms of exhibits it is now almost an equal – although when it comes to visitor numbers (expected to peak at 300,000 this year), it is still far behind Thailand’s two annual extravaganzas. Since IIMS upped sticks and moved across town to the bigger JIExpo three years ago this event, which includes all the obligatory visitor entertainments from drifting and stunt driving to Miss Motor Show, has grown quickly; this year 38 brands and 227 suppliers and accessory companies have filled out every available space.

Indonesia, the world’s 18th biggest economy, has seen the auto industry really come out of the blocks and production has accelerated over the last half-decade by an average of 20 percent a year. Last year it broke the 700,000-unit barrier, and the one million mark is only two years away on current trends.

The government has made the auto industry one of its five main priorities and wants to reach the two million production mark in the next 5-6 years. That would see ambitious Indonesia pitching to overtake Thailand, the long time “Detroit of South East Asia.” Hatta Rajasa, the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, said confidently at the opening ceremony that he foresaw Indonesia “outperforming Thailand in a few years.” He also expects Indonesia becoming “the largest automobile market in Southeast Asia”, and, significantly, he sees that achievement going hand-in-hand with becoming the region’s production hub. The global carmakers are themselves jockeying for position now – but waiting for the government to roll out incentives that will see an auto boom. Per capita income here is US$3,000 – “motorization” generally kicks off at around US$5,000 – so the duck are being lined up in a row. Through the first half of the year, 417,687 vehicles have been built. However, exports still represent a drop in the ocean, with around 90,000 units exported for the first six months of the year. This figure is split fairly evenly between CKD and CBU, and much potential here remains has to be unlocked. Johnny Darmawan, the Vice-Chairman of the Indonesian Automotive Industry Association (Gaikindo), believes that production could reach 780-830,000 units for the year.

That is the background to IIMS 2011. Last year there were 18 car brands here; this year there are 24. No-one, it seems, wants to miss out on the action, and in terms of bookings, business is already brisk. The biggest OEM here is of no surprise – Toyota has the facelifted versions of the Hilux pick up and Fortuner SUV, which made their world debuts just a couple of weeks ago in Bangkok, on show. Toyota leads the way in emerging markets around the world and it has Indonesia nailed – dependable vehicles for hardworking use, in a country where the road infrastructure is very poor. Adding spice to Toyota’s booth is its hybrid concept pickup, the “Advanced Breakthrough Aero Truck”, or A-BAT for short. It debuted four years ago in Detroit and is still being chattered about as “will they/won’t they” build it; here, however, it’s just a stand halo. Toyota is also showing off the polished FT-86 concept sports car, and another concept that looks little more than a stand filler, the 1/X, which is modeled on the Prius but through ultra-efficient weight saving it comes in at just 420 kg. Both of these have been doing the rounds of the Asian motor shows over the last year and have been seen in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.

Right opposite Toyota is eternal rival Honda; it has an array of bread-and-butter models and is showing off four models in Indonesia for the first time – the new, low-cost Brio which recently debuted in Thailand, as well as three innovative models: the CR-Z (sports hybrid) and two versions of the Fit: hybrid and EV. The Fit EV is significant in that it represents Honda’s approach to the electric car market. It is likely to reach production next year, although EV isn’t in the sights in Indonesia, while the Brio could well be an option for Honda to sell here. The 10-day show will give them a great chance to judge customer feedback.

Daihatsu is a key player here and in its ‘A-Concept’ it has possibly the most significant car at the show. The first serious concept to be built in Indonesia, it is a low-cost A-segment project that is being pushed by the Japanese carmaker as the car that will “motorise” the nation. Daihatsu hit the two million production mark here last October, one million of that coming in the last five years – and as demand grows, it’s just broken ground on a new plant that will raise local capacity from 330K to 430K a year. Mr Sudirman, President of the local operation says: “I’m sure these excellent staff and our new plant will bring the Indonesian automobile society onto the next stage.” A-Concept is fairly generic, but has neat touches, good ergonomics inside, and has been thoughtfully executed overall. Mr Sudirman is upbeat – with A-Concept, he’s batted a fast ball at the government, the pitch has been made. Daihatsu’s local operation meanwhile wants to become equal in status for the carmaker to Japan, and significantly Mr Sudirman has become the first Indonesian to be elected to the parent company’s board. Also notable is that the President of DMC Japan, Mr. Koichi Ina, is here to unveil A-Concept.

Daihatsu has the most lavishly appointed booth at IIMS, with a focus on family entertainments. As well as A-Concept, the Sirion, a rebadged version of the brand-new Perodua Myvi 5-door hatchback, also made its debut at the show. Perodua’s Managing Director Datuk Aminar Rashid, who was at IIMS, says that around 350 units a month will be shipped over CBU from Malaysia. The Sirion is the star of the stand and immediately the covers came off, an unmissable media advertising campaign kicked into gear. Also new to this market at the show is the latest version of the Move minivan.

Infiniti has a booth inside Honda’s floorspace and its showing off its current range, the G37 (coupe), M37 (sedan) and FX37 (SUV), as it eyes up a slice of the luxury market here. Also on show is the Essence, a hybrid concept sports car equipped with a 3.7 V6 twin turbo engine which was built two years ago to mark the 20th anniversary of the Infiniti brand – this is the first time that it has been shown off in South East Asia. Eye-catching, it’s a draw with visitors.

All three of Detroit’s big players are also here. Ford and GM are both in the market for the long-haul, but Chrysler Group, which is almost invisible throughout Asia, has chosen the Indonesian market for a fresh push as it feels the portents are good.

Ford has previewed the new Ranger at IIMS. It will be built in Thailand and arrive CBU around the end of the year. Last year Ford sold 8,200 cars here, and the Ranger accounted for the bulk of this – 5,000 units – making it the Blue Oval’s key model. Ford Indonesia President Will Angove has high hopes for the new Ranger as he sees oil, gas and mining operations continuing to boom here and he “expects to see the [pick up] segment continuing to grow.” As well as commercial use, Angove says the Ranger – just like in pick-up obsessed Thailand – is experiencing “increasing retail demand.” He reiterated the Asean ‘One Ford’ plan which is seeing eight significant new models introduced across the region over the next five years. That kicked off with the Fiesta, which Angove bullishly says is already “transforming our business in Indonesia”, while the new Ranger will be followed next year by the new Focus. All three models will be built in Thailand and arrive CBU. Angove says Ford Indonesia has “no plans to do [CKD].”

Chevrolet has debuted the facelifted Captiva crossover and also unveiled the new Colorado pick-up which has been partly developed in Thailand and will arrive early next year. The Spark has also picked up an award for ‘Best Interior Design’ from the ‘Car & Tuning Guide Awards’ at the show. Giving a halo effect to its booth, Chevrolet is showing off a bright-yellow Camaro convertible.

Having long since dropped under the radar in Asia – even missing out on the lucrative Chinese market party where it has failed to develop a beach head so far – Chrysler has popped its head above the parapet at IIMS, where all three of its brands are on show along with a swathe of new models. Chrysler is expanding its dealer network here and says it is considering Indonesia as a future production hub. Jeep takes centre stage with no less than two stands – the first is a standalone, in-between Mini, Mercedes and Audi, making a statement of intent, while the other it shares with sister brands Chrysler and Dodge. All its models are new or refreshes, kicking off with the tidied-up Patriot 2.4 at IDR585 million, alongside the Wrangler range, which is priced between IDR690 million and IDR895 million. Topping the range, the new Grand Cherokee starts at IDR1.15 billion for the 3.6 V6 Limited. Meanwhile, in rapid time, the Dodge Journey also made it to the show with the 2.4 four-cylinder unit. It is priced at IDR510 million. Chrysler completes the line-up but it has to make do with the old 300 series, so these are consigned to the corner slot. The 300C here is priced at IDR1.05 billion for the 3.5 Executive and IDR1.35 billion for the 6.1 SRT. All are CBU and at these prices will only sell in tiny numbers, but for Chrysler this show is more about gaining some brand awareness.

Mazda is another OEM with a vibrant display packed with cars, and it presented two new models for their Indonesian premières: the Mazda8 (premium MPV) and MX-5 (sports car). Last year Mazda sold 6,012 cars here; this year’s target is to reach five figures. For the first half of the year, sales stand at 3,997 units, with April, May and June all posting records. The two new models both slot into the niche bracket – Mazda is expecting to shift around 70-80 units of the Mazda8 a month, and around 35 of the MX-5.

It also has a limited edition version of the Mazda2 on the stand which can be ordered exclusively at the show. It comes in a new colour – ‘Passion Orange’ – and is specced-up with leather seats, entertainment system including GPS, 16-inch alloy wheels, cosmetic add-ons and a distinctive bodykit. Only 17 will be sold.

Mazda Motor Indonesia was established in 2006 and all its models arrive CBU from Thailand or Japan. There are no current plans for CKD here. “Bearing in mind Indonesia’s continuously improving business climate and automotive industry, we of course continue to weigh-in the possibility of opening an assembly plant here,” says Marketing Manager, Ms. Astrid Ariani. “For the time being, however, there has not been any concrete plan for us to do so in the near future.”

The two Korean brands, Hyundai and Kia, are on a real global roll these days, with a raft of products that are perceived to finally be able to cut it with the Japanese brands. At IIMS it’s the same story, with both pushing hard for market share and a ‘foot in the door’.

Hyundai pitched up in Indonesia in 1995 and with a raft of new products it’s looking aggressively at increasing sales here. Last year it sold 3,800 units on this market – its target for 2011 is to double that to 8,000 units, and it’s going down the CKD route. At IIMS it rolled out the New Sonata, and – for its world première – the Grand Avega. The latter is a 4.115 m long 5-door hatch based on the B-segment Accent and ‘Euro-ised’ from the version it sells in China. It is powered by a 1.4 four-cylinder twin-cam engine with 108 bhp and 13.9 kg/m of emissions, and comes with a 5-speed manual priced at IDR159.8 million (the 4-speed auto is an extra 10 million). The New Sonata, meanwhile, is priced at IDR449.5 million.

“Hyundai Indonesia’s strategy is [to] follow the Hyundai Motor Company’s global strategy to launch a new product and create some variant products for the current one,” says Febri Astuty, Corporate Communication Head. “We are very happy so far to see the response since day one of IIMS 2011, especially for Hyundai Grand Avega.” Over the first three days of the show, Hyundai took 141 orders and its stand was one of the busiest on the halls. Just up the hall Kia gave the latest Picanto and Sportage their local debuts.

Nissan has picked itself up in the last few years, and here it is also looking to muscle its way to the front. Last year Nissan hit 42K sales in Indonesia; this year’s target is an ambitious 60K, with the brand sitting on 24K units for the first half of the year. It has a full line in this market, from the A-segment March hatchback through to Navara (pickup) and Elegrand (premium MPV) – all reflected in a booth that has 17 cars on show. It’s now the number three here in terms of retail sales and as President Takayuki Kimura told the press, “Nissan is not a niche player [in Indonesia] anymore.”

Nissan has three new models at the show, the March ‘Sport Version’, an improved Gran Livina SV Auto, which Mr Kimura believes “meets customers needs”, and the 2011 X-Trail with a refresh that includes new bumpers and wheels.

However, it is with the Juke that Nissan is poised to have a new star in Indonesia, and that is reflected in initial bookings: 5,000 since the order book opened last month. Demand for the Juke here has surprised no-one more than Nissan; it had targeted 500 units a month. Small wonder Mr Kimura sees this model as “redefining the segment in Indonesia.”

Another company with worldwide ambitions is Suzuki, and here it is also looking to ride the wave. It’s a key player here, with first half sales hitting 40,000 units. Suzuki’s current footprint includes three factories – one assembling cars, one focused on engines/transmissions, and the final one building bikes. It also has 52 dealers and 151 outlets, with the whole operation employing more than 5,000 staff. It is also planning a significant new investment that will turn Indonesia into one of its global low-cost car production hubs. The Swift, APV, Gran Vitara and Super/Mega Carry are all built CKD here. The latter model, with its ability to be converted to multi-function use, taps straight into huge Indonesian demand for compact LCVs. At IIMS Suzuki has given the refreshed SX4 its local debut, while the stand is also showcasing the new Alto-based Concept-G for its debut, and to further burnish its ‘green’ credentials, the hybrid-prototype Swift Range Extender.

Isuzu has a range of commercial vehicles on show. It still sells the Panther here at attractive prices – the Minibus starts at IDR208 million and is a popular sight on the roads, while the pick-up version starts at IDR 136 million. Above that comes the dependable D-Max, starting at IDR262 million.

Several Chinese OEMs are eyeing up the potential of Indonesia, but their hopes at the show rest on Geely, which has an array of models on display including the locally-built MK and the new Panda. The latter comes with a 1.3-engine and slots in at the bottom of the Geely range, opening at IDR107 million for the basic specification manual, rising to IDR129 for the auto. The MK2 (hatchback) meanwhile starts at IDR125 million, while the MK (sedan) opens at IDR144 million.

Meanwhile, at the premium end of the market, the perpetual battle between the three German brands – Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW – goes on here, just as it does across the globe. In Asia Mercedes is the leader and it’s just the same story in Indonesia where it outguns its rivals. Half-year sales are up 9 percent to 2,515 units and it’s yet another brand to have doubled its floorspace since last year. Mercedes has a three-quarter share of the premium market, with the C-Class having 64 percent of its segment, the E-Class 71 percent, and the S-Class 72 percent. The C-Class (676 units year-to-date) debuted here four years ago. Also making their local debuts are the C-Class coupe and SLK. Mercedes is also pushing its Smart brand here and several versions, including a Brabus-tuned performance model, face off MINI across the aisle. The Smart is on 183 units for the first half of the year. The company’s bus chassis/truck sales are also up three-quarters this year – the always impressive Unimog leads out the outdoor LCV booth.

For its part, BMW has recently announced new investments here, and the X1 will join the range within the next two months, arriving CKD to join the 3-series which has been built here for more than five years. Taking the fight to Mercedes, BMW recently announced plans to expand its local plant to assemble the 5-series later this year. Last year BMW sold 1,247 cars here, up 20 percent on 2009, and for the first half of this year sales have hiked 42 percent. Its stand is displaying the eye-catching GT M3 “Art Car” that raced at Le Mans this year.

Audi is also eyeing up a slice of the premium pie and it presented the brand new A6 for its local debut. While Mercedes and BMW are established premium brands across Asia, Audi is only really chipping away at the edges so far, except in China where it is booming. Rounding out German representation is VW; it’s been here for two decades and builds a couple of models CKD. The new Polo received its local debut at the show – and just like anywhere else the German brands packed in the media for their press conferences, and not least for their abundance of leggy models.

jakarta5 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Welcome to Jakarta! (Photos: Edd Ellison) Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail jakarta7 jakarta jakarta4 IMG_2161 jakarta2 jakarta6 jakarta1 ]]> 9
Launch Report: Toyota HiLux and Fortuner Sun, 17 Jul 2011 16:20:14 +0000

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.

The Hilux has unrivalled street cred as one of the workhorses of Asia, Africa and Latin America – its reputation for rock-solid reliability goes hand-in-hand with the hard-working image Toyota has painstakingly built up over decades. The Fortuner is its mid-size SUV spin-off – a developing-world successor to the old Hilux Surf/4Runner [Ed: please note, the Fortuner is not related to the 4Runner]. A focus on giving the Fortuner an integrated form means it looks, feels and acts like an SUV, with customers thus more inclined to overlook its less-refined underpinnings and a cab that feels almost exactly like its pick-up sister. With Toyota charging a good sized premium for the Fortuner over a Hilux, churning them out means churning out profits.

The new models come at a sensitive time for the Japanese giant, which finds itself under pressure from all flanks. Mass recalls over the last couple of years have dented its reputation for safety and reliability, while March’s tsunami swept the rug from under its domestic base, with ensuing knock-on effects across the globe. Meanwhile, Hyundai and Kia are looking to do to Toyota what it did to the American domestics some thirty years ago, and the Chinese remain a distant menace on the horizon.

Toyota was the first manufacturer to establish a presence in Thailand, almost fifty years ago, and has dominated the industry since, currently sitting atop a 40 percent market share (the market share of Japanese brands in total is 90 percent). It is worth noting that Thailand is the world’s largest 1-ton pick-up market and the second-biggest for all sizes of these utilitarian vehicles. And naturally, the Hilux sits right at the top of the tree. Last year 165,000 units were sold in Thailand alone with its only serious challenger Isuzu’s D-Max, a little under 25,000 units adrift. (The third best-seller, Mitsubishi’s Triton, is the best of the also-rans, only just managing to break the 30,000 barrier.) Worldwide, the Hilux is sold on 113 countries, selling more than 2.3 million since 2004, when the current Hilux and its Fortuner offspring were released.

Predictably, the story of the new Hilux is one of evolution, with Toyota’s R&D operations in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Australia all pitching into the program. The Hilux has always had to be many things to many people, and with the new model an emphasis has been placed on tweaking the pick-up for different markets, with ‘one-size-fits-all’ no longer fitting the bill. Indeed, during the launch presentation, the slides made the point that in Thailand, the Hilux will rarely see a hill worthy of the name, while in Latin America it is forced to pound never-ending constant gradient inclines. In Thailand the Hilux is a daily driver – the supermarket car parks are full of its ubiquitous shape – while in South America, it is more likely to be a recreational toy. Sardonically, the slides noted a Thai propensity for ‘overload’, with a clutch of images that would not out of place in a typical ‘crazy loads’ PowerPoint email circular. And that’s without even getting onto ‘technicals’ – notwithstanding the impact of the Chinese in this segment, the Hilux remains the vehicle of choice amongst any self-respecting freedom fighter or terrorist with sufficient folding.

‘Radical’ an is not a word that immediately springs to mind when playing word association with ‘Toyota’ – ‘improving the box’ is, as ever, the name of the game. Cosmetically, the Hilux gets a new front clip, evolved from the design language of the outgoing model. Mr. Kaoru Hosokawa, Chief Engineer of Toyota, is in town for the launch, said that they have aimed for a “tough” and “modern” appearance, while the new headlights apparently imbue a “sporty” feel. The side-on changes seek a “more powerful” look and a sensation of “forward motion”, while at the rear, sharper, more fashionable tail lights are slotted in. In the cab it’s still a sea of hard plastics, but effort has been made with the detailing and there is a new instrument cluster. Half of all Hiluxes in Thailand are bought as private cars, so there has also been a focus on improving comfort. For this market, the new model gets softer springs, aimed at improving the ride.

Under the bonnet the powerplants and transmissions are essentially the same as before, the key innovation being the incorporation of Toyota’s “Diamond Tech” system. Not, in fact, a ’70s disco band, Diamond Tech denotes a new system that allows the 32-bit ECU to more precisely detect operating conditions within the injection system, improving fuel efficiency. New injectors feature a new “diamond-like” carbon coating that makes the process more efficient, as well as lengthening the life of the injectors and related combustion process components. The variable-geometry turbo also sees its relationship with the ECU improved, for a faster flow of more detailed information.

The Fortuner, meanwhile, arrived in 2004 and raised the low-cost SUV game significantly with a much more integrated SUV design language compared to the preceding 4Runner, which always retained a look of the ‘backyard conversion’ about it. Developed in large part by Toyota’s Thai operations, the Fortuner has piggybacked the success of the Hilux and is now built in a number of countries including India, Argentina and Indonesia, although outside Thailand its success has been mixed.

Over the last half-decade, the Fortuner’s customers have grown more affluent and the focus of the new model was to “reflect the higher standing of customers in society,” said Hosokawa. So ‘luxury’ is the keyword. The new front clip has a bigger (and curiously Chrysler-alike) chromed grille, sharper headlights and a Toyota ‘family’ feel, although observers at the launch felt some of the SUV macho-feel had been taken out of the front end. The side is visually beefed up with bigger wheelarch guards, while the rear view receives uber-‘fashionable’ chrome-effect tail-lights. According to Toyota, focus has also been placed on improving the car’s ride, handling and high-speed stability.

The new models have mark-ups of around USD$300-600 across the ranges. The entry-level Hilux, which is now dubbed the Hilux Vigo Champ, kicks off at $16,187 and rises through single, extended and double cab versions – as well as high/lower rider, 2WD/4WD and manual/auto combinations – to a range-topping $32,600. The Fortuner starts at $35,200 for the 2.5 2WD, rising to $49,493 for the 3.0 4WD.

Both models face tough competition. Ford and GM will start producing their new Ranger and Colorado respectively later this year, and both raise the bar, offering big, tough, attractively-styled and well-specified alternatives to the swathe of Japanese brands which currently dominate Asia. Tempting Thais out of the Hilux will be a big task, but this pair should start the ball rolling. At the other end of the food chain, meanwhile, the Chinese are building low-cost pickups, and finding a ready market amongst those shopping for basic, abuse-ready transportation.

The now well travelled Fortuner also faces plenty of competition in the mid-size SUV segment from cars such as the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento and Ford Everest. Although Toyota still dominates its market, especially in Thailand, where the low depreciation of the Toyota is a source of reassurance for buyers, time will tell if the new one is good enough to keep its manufacturer in front.

Cristiano Ronaldo is to be the face of the new Hilux in Thailand, an entirely appropriate choice in a country that is soccer crazy, injecting a bit of international glamour into Toyota’s staid image. However, the Real Madrid star won’t be endorsing the new pick-up in any of the other 112 markets it’s sold in, since, as Toyota honchos admitted, the multimillionaire was simply “too expensive”. Production capacity for both models will be raised in Thailand ahead of an expected spike in sales.

Edd Ellison is a Thailand-based auto journalist, covering the ASEAN markets and beyond. He can be contacted at

hiluxlaunch1 hiluxlaunch3 hiluxlaunch2 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail hiluxlaunch5 hiluxlaunch4 Not a 4Runner... (all photos courtesy: Edd Ellison)

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Is Toyota Losing the Market for “Technicals” to China? Tue, 05 Jul 2011 21:03:56 +0000

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”.

The Hilux was simple, durable, reliable, easy to fix and you could get parts for it anywhere. A modern day version of the original military Jeep, if you will. I don’t know if it’s good PR to have your product identified with mercenaries, gunmen and rebels, but it’s possible that Toyota was helped by news photos and video showing the Toyota logo on the tailgate of trucks obviously performing in severe duty.

Toyota, though, may be losing its mojo when it comes to the insurgent market [Ed: despite retaining a resilient brand, an interesting parallel to the civilian market]. The Hilux has gained weight and luxury, two things not needed nor desired by a rebel army that must be quick on its feet, er… wheels. It’s also grown more expensive. Toyota was once sort of an insurgent itself in a lot of markets. Now Toyota faces competition from cheaper, perhaps even more aggressive competitors from China. Though you may not be able to get a Ford guy out of his F-150, trading it in on a Silverado, it appears that you can get a warlord or rebel to consider a different brand for their fleet of technicals.

Chinese manufacturers like Greatwall, Huanghai and ZX Auto have made a push into the Middle East. Their trucks are cheap, $10,000 USD or less, about what Hiluxes cost years ago, and they are relatively simple by today”s standards. Actually since those Chinese companies are using old Toyota and Isuzu designs, they are very much like the older Hiluxes.

Eagle eyed followers of things automotive and military have noticed in the fighting in Libya, that ZX pickups are starting to replace Toyotas as the choice of the discriminating technical driver. In the photo above, you can see a bunch of ZX Grandtiger trucks in formation (of a sorts). To be sure, out in the front there’s that ubiquitous Toyota tailgate as a Hilux leads the charge, but it’s clear that recalls and tsunamis aren’t Toyota’s only recent setbacks. ZX now claims to have half of the small pickup market in Libya, The trucks used as technicals in the photo above are possibly part of the shipment of 6,000 trucks in a single shipment to Tripoli in 2009. Recently ZX announced that in January of 2011 they exported 2,250 units of the Grandtiger to Libya. That was just before unrest started proliferating across the Arab world.

Apparently  the Grandtiger pickups in the photo below are part of that January shipment.

If you look at the Libyan technical above, other than the tape strpe, it’s the same four door truck as the technical below, down to the roll bar, running boards and wheels.


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Chevy Beats The Gas Prices Blues In India With LPG, EV City Car Mon, 27 Jun 2011 21:21:57 +0000

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?

It’s already on sale in much of the world, but in India (where the model is known as the Beat) it’s working on improving its fuel economy beyond even its 1.2 liter gas-sipper’s already-impressive frugality. And reflecting the numerous options available for reducing gas consumption, The Hindu Business Line reports GM has built an (in-house) electric version (currently for testing only) as well as a 56 MPG (non-EPA) diesel version and a Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) version. Which explains why GM’s Mark Reuss answered very carefully when asked by the WSJ [sub] if it were possible for GM to meet the rumored 56.2 MPG CAFE standard, saying

These are tough goals; we have to evaluate this. It’s how you get there with cars and trucks [that] consumers want to buy.

Apparently 12 seconds to 60 MPH and a 100 MPH top speed is not Mr Reuss’s version of a “car that consumers want to buy.” At least at current gas prices anyway…

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Pimpin’ Number 39: A Tale From Afghanistan’s Nascent Car Culture Wed, 15 Jun 2011 16:23:38 +0000

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?

According to Reuters, the exact cause of the “39″ taboo is tough to pin down.

Kabul gossip blames a pimp in neighbouring Iran, which shares a common language with much of Afghanistan.

His flashy car had a 39 in its number plate, the story goes, so he was nicknamed “39″ and the tag spread.

But, as is so often the case with such seemingly irrational group manias, there’s a surprisingly rational explanation for how the number 39 actually became “taboo.” Whether or not an Iranian pimp actually made the number infamous, the Afghan license plates just rolled over from five digits starting with 38 to five digits starting with 39. Oh yes, and the police will charge anywhere from $200 to $500 to swap out a plate starting with 39 for a less-offensive plate. Or, in the words of Kabul’s car dealer union boss

It is a scheme by the police traffic department to earn money from buyers

The other perspective: it’s just so much groundless gossip, making its way from one Afghan town to the next. Whatever the case, cars with 39 on their license plate have seen their resale values plummet nearly by half (if, say their owners, they can even be sold at all), intensifying the irrational nature of the meme: after all, why give up thousands in resale over a $500 bribe for a new plate? But registrations have dried up as well, reportedly falling from 70-80 per day to “two or three,” showing how powerful even a wholly irrational taboo can be in Afghanistan’s traditional society. On the upside: mysterious rumors that spread quickly often disappear twice as fast. Hopefully Afghanistan’s motorists will overcome their fear of being mistaken for a pimp soon, and learn to live with the license plate they have.

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Saudi Arabia Doesn’t Want You To See This Video Tue, 24 May 2011 19:03:32 +0000

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…

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Does The New Malibu Trade Interior Space For Trunk Room? Tue, 12 Apr 2011 21:36:22 +0000

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.

In a blog post rather than a news piece, (indicating that GM has not yet officially announced these numbers), Kranz points out that the updated 2013 Malibu is now a global product, and that as such, it’s been altered to serve the needs of consumers in markets outside of the US. Kranz notes:

My understanding is that the passenger compartment will be a little bit tighter… While the overall exterior dimensions are essentially the same as those of the 2011 model, 4 inches have been trimmed out of the wheelbase. Those inches have been shifted to the trunk area. The trunk area also is taller. The bottom line: The 2013 Malibu has more trunk space.

As Jack Baruth (among others) has pointed out, the current Malibu’s small, access-hampered trunk does not win it many friends among family sedan shoppers, so GM’s decision to cut from the rear legroom in order to improve the trunk makes a certain amount of sense. But, opines Kranz

Now this would seem to suggest rear passengers will give up legroom comfort to create a bigger trunk. I would think Americans prefer more rear legroom.

So, can the Malibu afford to give up a few inches of length? At 37.6 inches of rear legroom, the outgoing Malibu bests the Nissan Altima (35.8) and Hyundai Sonata (34.6), while basically matching the Ford Fusion (37.1) and Honda Accord (37.2). Of its direct competitors, only the Toyota Camry enjoys a significant advantage in rear legroom, at 38.3 inches. Even if the new Malibu lost the full four inches that Kranz implies it could in a worst-case scenario (which it likely won’t), it would still be just an inch shy of the Sonata’s 34.6 inch mark.

Go back to reviews of the Malibu, here at TTAC and elsewhere, and you’ll find that complaints about the ‘bu’s cramped rear seat accommodations rarely focus on legroom (although one blog item by BusinessWeek’s David Kiley blast’s the Malibu’s lack of legroom as a taxi). Hip and shoulder width, as well as the “low seat height, relatively narrow bench and unsupportive seating” that I found lacking, tend to dominate negative impressions of the Malibu’s people-carrying talents. In short, if Chevy’s engineers were able to keep rear legroom losses to three inches or fewer while improving the vehicle’s width and the quality of the rear seat, we’d tend to call the compromise largely worthwhile (pending a full test).

Here’s what doesn’t make sense about Kranz’s shortened-Malibu rumor: as a newly global car, GM definitely tweaked the Malibu with an eye towards its largest market, China. But, as Bertel has explained time and again, Chinese car buyers (especially buyers of relatively upscale foreign cars) tend to put an inordinate amount of importance on rear legroom, as many upwardly mobile Chinese prefer to hire a driver while staying camped in the back seat. It was for this reason that Volkswagen stretched the rear legroom of its China-oriented 2011 Jetta by some 2.7 inches, to a current-Malibu-beating 38.1 inches. Ironically, GM’s China-centric global strategy seems to suggest more rear legroom, rather than less, would (or at least should) be on the agenda as it re-engineered the Malibu to be a global vehicle.

Perhaps we should just wait for GM to release specs for the new ‘bu (planned for a week from today) before we start bemoaning American-market compromises in the name of global tastes.

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Parts Paralysis Daily Digest: April 7 Fri, 08 Apr 2011 02:26:02 +0000

We’ve already asked the cui bono question about Japan’s post-tsunami parts paralysis, and though opinions vary about precisely cui will be doing the bonoing, it’s clear that some are already doing better than others. For more clarity on the developing picture, hit the jump for TTAC’s roundup of the latest parts paralysis news.

Honda has reduced production at its  North American sites by up to 50%. This could continue for, in the words of American Honda’s John Mendel “60 to 90 days,” Automotive News [sub] reports. Five of Honda’s six US plants have been operating at reduced capacity for a week now, and the chaos can continue, says Mendel, because of parts “as inconsequential as a speedometer needle.” He explains:

“We can’t drive up to these suppliers to ask what’s going on because there’s debris on the roads three meters deep. In some places, they are still recovering bodies. And even if you have a warehouse full of finished microchips, the roads are ruined, and you are in the radiation zone. What are you going to do?”

Honda ended March with a 47-day inventory, down from a 64-day supply at the beginning of the month. Honda has also already cut output in Canada, India, Mexico the Philippines and Turkey. Honda’s Swindon, UK plant is also operating at about 50% the planned rate.

GM has canceled two overtime shifts at its Arlington, Texas SUV plant that had been scheduled for tomorrow, reports the Detroit Free Press. This in addition to earlier shutdowns at Shreveport and Tonawanda, GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky has been dispatched to Japan to meet with suppliers and get a handle on GM’s parts situation, reports Automotive News [sub]. GM has not yet announced the projected impact of the tsunami on its production, although Girsky could well report details to the media by the end of the week.

Chrysler has also suspended overtime at its Brampton, Ontario and Toluca, Mexico plants, reports the WSJ. A spokesperson explains that, like GM, the slowdowns are simply a precautionary measure at this point, saying

We have not experienced any disruptions to regularly scheduled production as a result of the issues in Japan. We are, however, taking some planned overtime out of our production schedule in an effort to conserve supplier parts that are potentially impacted by the disaster.”

But that doesn’t mean everything is peachy in Chryslerland. In addition to‘s report that Chrysler is rationing Japanese-sourced rods and cams for its Pentastar V6, the WSJ adds

“Meanwhile, most U.S. auto makers have switched their plants away from using Xirallic-based paints. The production of Xirallic, an additive that provides a glitter effect in some auto paints, was shut down after the Japan plant where it is produced was damaged. Merck KGaA said it expects the plant to return to production in June. The plant is the only place in the world where Xirallic is made.

The loss of Xirallic is especially hard on Chrysler’s Fiat dealers, who are no longer accepting customer orders for cars painted in its bright red trademark colors known as Rosso Brillante.”

Toyota has no plans to reopen most of its Japanese production plants next week, reports even Xinhua in ChinaWhat will be open is explained here. In the U.S., Automotive News [sub] reports that Toyota is limiting the size of parts orders from its dealers in an effort conserve parts. AN [sub] also reports that Toyota’s struggles have also extended to the UK, where overtime has been canceled at an assembly plant in Burnaston, England, and an engine plant in Deeside, Wales. About two-thirds of Toyota’s Japan-based suppliers are experiencing production delays.

Nissan says it will also suspend production at its Sunderland, UK plant for three days this month due to parts supply interruptions.


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The Mystery Of The Fiat-Gaddafi Connection Wed, 30 Mar 2011 17:40:35 +0000

Back in 1976, the Italian automaker Fiat had been badly battered by a global energy crisis and the resulting malaise infecting the global auto industry. In what Time Magazine described at the time as “a devastatingly ironic example of petropower,” Col. Muammar Gaddafi instructed his Libyan Arab Foreign Bank to invest some $415m into the Italian automaker, giving it a stake that would eventually grow to some 14 percent of the firm’s equity.

By 1986, Fiat’s Libyan stakeholders were becoming more trouble than they were worth. In the wake of the Lockerbie bombings, the US introduced sanctions on Libya, and Fiat’s Libyan connection left its attempts to bid for US military contracts (particularly those related to Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative) dead on arrival. As a result, Fiat and its shareholders bought back the entire 14 percent Libyan stake in the firm, presenting the Libyan Arab Foreign Bank-controlled Banca UBAE with a $3.1b check. And, according to what a Fiat spokesperson told us yesterday, that is where the story ends. But thanks to the now-ubiquitous Wikileaks, we have found that this story may in fact go farther than that. In fact, as the evidence stands right now, either the US State Department is working with bad information (which major news sources have yet to correct), or Fiat is lying about its ties to the embattled Gaddafi regime.

As with so many of the best stories in recent months, the major point of factual conflict in this tale comes from a Wikileaks-sourced US State Department memo. The memo, which does not appear at, was provided to Reuters by an unnamed third party and was cited in a Reuters piece that focused on Gaddafi’s ownership of Wyndham Hotels. The Fiat connection isn’t made clear until well towards the bottom of the story, when Reuters reports

A 2006 U.S. State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to Reuters by a third party describes LFICO/LAFICO [the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company]as Libya’s largest government-owned investment company, operating under the auspices of something called the “General People’s Committee” which has served as the Gaddafi government’s Ministry of Trade and Economy…

The State Department cable said that, as of 2006, LFICO’s holdings in Italy included 2 percent of Fiat, 15 percent of the Tamoil energy company, and 7.5 percent of Juventus, where a soccer-playing Gaddafi son, Saadi, once sat on the board. The cable said LFICO also had over $500 million worth of investments in Britain.

If the Gaddafi-controled LAFICO/LFICO held two percent of Fiat as recently as 2006, then the public narrative that had Fiat completely buying out its Libyan backers in 1986 is not completely accurate. In hopes of reconciling the discrepancy between the leaked memo (which presumably reflects the conclusions of the US intelligence community) and the public rejection of Libya’s equity stake in Fiat, we reached out to Fiat’s international media relations staff requesting clarification. The response, from Fiat’s Richard Gadeselli, came as follows:

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.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t clarify the matter at all. Either Mr Gadeselli isn’t telling us the whole story (which could be the case for any number of reasons, not all of the nefarious), or the Wikileaks memo cited by Reuters is incorrect, a possibility that is equally likely for a number of reasons. For one thing, we haven’t seen the leaked memo itself, and so we can not verify the exact source of the intelligence reported by Reuters. And even if we could verify that the US State Department and intelligence community had reason to believe that Gaddafi-backed investment funds continued to hold a stake in  Fiat as recently as 2006, it’s conceivable that the US government had experienced a failure of intelligence. As a 2001 piece by reports, Gaddafi’s own money manager Ali El Huwej has admitted that Libya uses a number of techniques to invest in Europe despite US sanctions.
Banca di Roma didn’t violate economic sanctions, because the stake was sold through Libyan companies rather than the Libyan government, Mr Brambilla said.
Though they were sporadically enforced, the sanctions nevertheless limited Libya’s room for manoeuvring in some countries. For example, Libya’s UK bank accounts were frozen and funds such as dividends from the Metropole stake could not be transferred to Libya.
That is why Lafico works to avoid detection when it makes investments, Mr Huwej says, adding that in everything it does, Lafico is aware the US is watching.
As such Mr Huwej sometimes avoids doing business under Lafico’s name. A farming company in Egypt owned by Lafico is registered there as simply Agriculture Investment Co., he says. 

Another strategy employed by Libya is to keep stakes small or indirect, particularly in banking companies. Though bank investments are a small slice of Libya’s holdings, they’re among the most scrutinised by the authorities, as access to banks means access to money and the ability to move it around the world.

In any case, either Fiat isn’t telling the truth or the US Government was misinformed about Libyan ownership of a firm that is poised to take over the bailed-out US automaker Chrysler. In the interests of truth, we call on Fiat and Reuters to help resolve this factual discrepancy. If anyone knows where to find the Wikileaks memo in question or has any information regarding this story, we encourage them to send it to our contact form.
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Ask The Best And Brightest: Which Automaker Will The UAW Target? Tue, 29 Mar 2011 23:09:09 +0000

The WSJ gets a little closer to the truth about the UAW’s incredible disappearing transplant organizing campaign, reporting

On Tuesday, UAW leaders meeting here described plans to reach out to foreign unions and consumers in what would be their first major campaign since failed efforts in the last decade at Nissan Motor Co. and auto-parts supplier Denso Corp. They hope to be more successful by reaching out to foreign unions at the auto makers’ overseas plants and bringing pressure from prayer vigils, fasts or protests at dealerships.

A person familiar with the matter said the union is now planning to target one foreign auto maker and has narrowed its list to three or four companies. Inside the union, much of the talk centers on targeting the now-struggling Japanese auto maker Toyota or Korea’s Hyundai, this person said.

The UAW has set aside tens of millions of dollars from its strike fund to bankroll its campaign. International actions are to be coordinated with foreign unions and run by some three dozen student interns recruited globally, UAW officials said. When the interns return to their home countries after learning about the UAW efforts in the U.S., they’ll be expected to organize protests against the auto maker, UAW officials said.

OK, so it’s a little bit strange that the UAW is entrusting a campaign that UAW President Bob King calls “the single most important thing we can do for our members ” to a bunch of interns. Still, with “tens of millions of dollars” allocated towards the campaign, some automaker somewhere will be feeling the union’s hot breath on its neck in due course. So, which automaker will the UAW target? Which automaker should they target? And with the UAW apparently refusing to fight the two-tier wage structure, will any transplant or foreign workforce want to join up?

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GM’s “Made In America” Fiasco Mon, 17 Jan 2011 21:08:39 +0000

Ruh Roh! A press release from the Made In USA Foundation [via theautochannel] picks the kind of fight that GM has been assiduously avoiding for years (but especially since the bailout):

General Motors, bailed out by U.S. taxpayers and still owned in part by the federal government, is stripping country of origin labels off of its cars at auto shows around the country, says the Made in the USA Foundation. The Made in the USA Foundation has charged GM with violating the American Automobile Labeling Act (AALA) which requires all new cars that are offered for sale to include country of origin information.

The AALA requires new cars to provide information on the window sticker, including where the car was assembled, the U.S. and other country content, where the engine was made and where the transmission was made.

Joel D. Joseph, Chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation, said, “General Motors wants to hide the fact that, even after the government bailout, it has moved production of vehicles offshore. The Cadillac SRX is now made in Mexico. The Buick Regal is made in Germany.”

GM claims that the AALA only applies to cars for sale at dealers not at auto shows. Joseph stated that he worked with Senator Barbara Mikulski, who wrote the law, and that the intent of the law was to inform consumers about the country of origin of new cars. Joseph said, “Millions of consumers get their first look at cars at auto shows. The law applies to cars that are ‘for sale’ and auto show cars, except concept cars. Identical GM cars are for sale at thousands of dealers across the nation, and display vehicles should include country of origin information. The U.S. government saved GM and still owns one-third of the company. General Motors should comply with the intent of the law.”

GM’s response at

GM spokesman Greg Martin countered that the issue seems like almost a non-issue. At major shows like Detroit, Chicago, New York and L.A., the manufacturers display their own fleet of cars unlike regional shows where the cars displayed are largely from dealer stock and thus have Monroney stickers that would show manufacturing content. Manufacturers are not allowed to sell directly to the public.

“We have the highest manufacturing footprint in the United States,” said Martin, adding that GM has invested $3 billion in factories and brought 10,000 people back to work (with more to come in the first quarter) since coming out of bankruptcy. Production of the Sonic begins later in 2011 at the General Motors Orion Assembly Center in Michigan, which received a $545-million investment in upgrades and retooling, and will help restore approximately 1,000 jobs in the metropolitan Detroit area

Silly scandal, or damning irony? We report, you decide.

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Nissan And Mitsubishi Snuggle Closer Tue, 14 Dec 2010 18:20:49 +0000

At a press conference announcing new cooperation between Nissan and Mitsubishi, Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn presented the tie-up as a far-sighted move that will help both sides prosper. The Renault/Nissan boss explained

In the global auto industry, cooperation on specific projects among automakers is becoming increasingly common. It is a signal of how our industry is evolving to sustain success over the long term

But if his words were saying “cooperation,” Ghosn’s body language said “I’m hungry and your company looks bite-sized.”

Though this latest agreement was limited to overseas cooperation, with Nissan providing a van for the Japanese market and Mitsu sharing an SUV for the Middle East, Ghosn apparently couldn’t help but eye up Mitsubishi’s Osamu Masuko like he was drenched in A1 sauce. Nissan and Mitsubishi also recently agreed to share EV charging networks, and both CEOs said they would look for future opportunities to work together. But with Mitsubishi throwing together a new business plan by the end of this month, Ghosn must be smelling blood in the water. And from the looks of these pictures from the press conference, he looks like he’s about to strike.

Yikes! "Marriage of equals," anyone? nissanmitsu2 ]]> 6
Saudi Arabia Builds A Budget Car Thu, 09 Dec 2010 20:34:01 +0000

When you think of cars and Saudi Arabia, you’d be forgiven for thinking of incredibly expensive European cars, typically modified in a particularly distasteful fashion by one of the more crass tuning houses. And indeed, the first Saudi-designed vehicle was a fairly garish SUV known as the Ghazal. But the second-ever Saudi-developed vehicle is actually a very modest, entry-level compact car, known as the Aseela (“Original” in Arabic). This strange little vehicle was developed by the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology’s National Program for Automobile Technology, and debuted this week at the Riyad Auto Show. According to

officials said it was to serve as the basis for a domestic auto manufacturing industry that Saudi Arabia is trying to develop

Yes Virginia, Saudi Arabia is trying to develop an auto manufacturing industry. Well, sort of. According to the report, the Saudis plan on building a $16m production line which will build between 2,000 and 5,000 of the $13,000 Aseelas per year… which makes this more of a “hobby project” than a true “industry.” By contrast, the plan is to build 20k of the ghastly Ghazals over the next three years, at a cost of about half a billion dollars. But then, Saudi Arabia might be one of the few countries where an ugly SUV would fare better than an inoffensive little compact.

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American Roads Safer Than Ever… But How Safe Is Safe Enough? Thu, 18 Nov 2010 19:47:16 +0000

On-road fatalities per vehicle-mile-traveled in the United States have fallen to their lowest level in recorded history (and dropping fast)… so safety advocates must be thrilled with the success, right? Wrong. After all, success is almost more dangerous to a crusade than failure. Luckily for the hand-wringing faction, a study by the National Research Council has re-defined what it means to be safe enough on America’s roads: rather than comparing fatalities to America’s past (which makes the current environment seem great), the key is comparing America’s safety record to completely different countries. Take it away, New York Times:

While France and 15 other high-income nations cut their traffic fatalities by half from 1995 to 2009, the United States showed only a 19 percent reduction over that same time period. Britain dropped the number of fatal accidents by 39 percent over the last 15 years, and Australia by 25 percent.

And what makes the US different than these other countries (other than the fact that we apparently don’t care about traffic deaths)? The problem, it turns out, is our insufficiently intrusive government.

Aye, there’s the rub. The US doesn’t require mandatory driver training, nor does it administer “idiot tests.” Is it any wonder that we aren’t reducing traffic fatalities as quickly? But the report doesn’t even get into driver competence… apparently the cure for our lagging reduction of fatalities is more surveillance and literal intrusion.

The report says that drivers are safer in countries where the national government plays a more prominent role in devising and managing traffic safety initiatives. Wider use of automatic speed limit enforcement in America could save 1,000 to 2,000 lives a year, according to the report, while sustained and frequent sobriety checkpoints could potentially save 1,500 to 3,000 lives a year.

One problem on the face of things: these measures don’t demonstrably make roads any safer. Traffic fatalities actually went up when Australia established speed limits on rural highways, and went down when the US dropped the federal 55 MPH speed limit. Introducing speed cameras in the UK actually caused the rate of decline in road casualties to slow. We could go on, but it’s clear that more government intervention, especially in the areas of speed control and surveillance, don’t consistently improve on-road conditions.

Whether the trade-off of government expansion (and surveillance) troubles you or not, everyone should be able to agree that wasting money on questionably-effective traffic controls is poor policy when rates are already at historically low levels and declining. And comparing conditions to the car-crazed US to safety improvements in countries where driving is generally more restricted doesn’t make the case any stronger.

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GM IPO: Go Ask Opel (Or Daewoo) Tue, 16 Nov 2010 22:45:03 +0000
With news that GM’s IPO price could be headed as high as $33/share (only $10.67 more per share to taxpayer payback!), boosting the offering to some $12b, some might think that the decks have been cleared of skeptics. Not so. Though GM has emphasized its international flavor during its IPO pitch, it’s stayed away from the fact that its overseas operations haven’t been immune to trouble. Take Opel (please). Though invaluable as a development center for GM’s upscale global products, Opel is miles of bad road away from actual profitability. Just ask the guy who tried to buy Opel back when the General was trying to fire-sale its European operations.
There is a lot of euphoria about the IPO, but if you dig into the numbers, they still have a problem in Europe. They are doing worse than when we looked at them two years ago, and it’s going to take a lot of cash to fix Opel. That’s my concern on the IPO.
And Thomas Stallkamp of Ripplewood Holdings was telling Automotive News [sub] the dirty truth: without Opel, GM would be rich. Concerns over Opel have figured heavily into pre-IPO speculation, but unlike most commentators, Stallkamp has had a look under the Opel skirts. And speaking of peeks under skirts, nobody really knows exactly what’s going on over at Daewoo either. Daewoo’s boss calls operational profit this year “solid” but the real results will be lost in the GMIO accounting shuffle which lumps Korean results with Chinese and even African results. Meanwhile, creditors keep rolling over a cool billion ($1.02b) in Daewoo’s maturing debt month-to-month, presumably to keep from having to send a collections letter to the US Treasury Department.
GM just pumped $413m into its Korean branch last October, and even now it’s preparing to take on another billion in debt from its pushy creditor, the Korean Development Bank. And no wonder: Daewoo builds one out of every four Chevrolets sold worldwide, and develops and designs everything from the Cruze and the Aveo to the interior for at least one GMC pickup.But how long that cash infusion will keep Daewoo’s creditors from the door isn’t clear. Both Opel and Daewoo likely need billions of dollars to sustain the hugely important roles they play in GM’s global product strategy, and it’s fascinating that GM has chosen not to address them prior to an IPO. But then, the crowds of clamoring investors seem to prove that this was the right choice.
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Chevrolet Mid-Sized Truck Planned, But Not For US? Wed, 30 Jun 2010 16:11:00 +0000

Yesterday we suggested that this line drawing of a smaller-than-full-size Chevrolet pickup meant that Chevy would be “recommitting” to the US market for compact pickup trucks. Today, however, Bloomberg reports that Chevy is planning a mid-sized truck for production in Thailand, and that GM is focusing its smaller pickup efforts on the developing markets in South East Asia and Brazil (importation to Europe is also planned). GM’s Martin Apfel explains

The logical consequence is to build where the customer wants it, as that keeps your costs down. [Thailand and Brazil are] the two centers of gravity for midsize trucks

Adding insult to injury, GM is building up its diesel egine plant in Rayong, Thailand, as it prepares to build this smaller pickup. Which means that, like Mahindra and Volkswagen, this primarily diesel-powered small pickup likely won’t be brought to America to cannibalize GM’s full-sized lineup. Once again, US small-truck demand and emissions standards will likely conspire to keep this little truck out of America.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Hungry Like A Wolf Edition Tue, 29 Jun 2010 18:50:08 +0000

What, you didn’t know that Amarok is Inuit for “Wolf”? Anyway, Forget Mahindra. Third-world compact diesel pickup fetishists can move their misplaced hopes for US-market salvation on Volkswagen’s Amarok. Not because VW is particularly likely to bring it to the United States, but because Auto Motor und Sport just posted a bunch of photos of the new single-cab version. Plus this sweet angle on the double-cab model. All this Eskimo wolf needs is a fire hydrant. And some magical way of passing EPA tests without an expensive diesel-scrubbing system. Not to mention a free pass on the Chicken Tax. amarokdouble amaroksingle amaroksingle1 amaroksingle2 amaroksingle33 amaroksingle4 We needed that angle to make up our mind... (

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