The Truth About Cars » PR http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:00:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » PR http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Editorial: The Future Is Here At Nissan – Just Not In The Way You’re Expecting http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/editorial-the-future-is-here-at-nissan-just-not-in-the-way-youre-expecting/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/editorial-the-future-is-here-at-nissan-just-not-in-the-way-youre-expecting/#comments Wed, 28 Aug 2013 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=501481 The big news this past week from Nissan: lots of old iron at Pebble Beach, concept car test drives for sympathetic journalists and a pledge to have autonomous cars ready (but not on sale) for 2020. More interesting than that is news of Nissan’s booming exports from America. Some say that this is the “new […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

The big news this past week from Nissan: lots of old iron at Pebble Beach, concept car test drives for sympathetic journalists and a pledge to have autonomous cars ready (but not on sale) for 2020. More interesting than that is news of Nissan’s booming exports from America. Some say that this is the “new normal” – Japanese OEMs expanding their manufacturing base in America as they leave Japan en masse to both insulate themselves from a volatile yen, take advantage of America’s welcoming manufacturing climate and shed a reliance on Japan’s aging and declining population. And even more interesting than that is how it was presented.

The clip above, which is packaged like a broadcast news report, actually comes from Nissan’s internal communications team in Tokyo. Rather than just issuing a press release, Nissan is looking to have an even greater role in influencing the conversation (awful word I know, but it’s apt). They aren’t just disseminating information to journalists: they are cutting them out entirely. Whatever discussions we may have at TTAC over the efficacy of automotive media or the competency of its press corps, this is a significant development. I don’t think it’s inconceivable that one day, brands will have a stranglehold on the automotive discourse.

Press cars and press trip invites are one way that brands currently manage who has access to product and people, and these are used as both carrots and sticks. In a way, it’s hard to fault PR people for this practice. PR staff, by definition, are committed to disseminating their client’s story, even if it runs counter to the findings of a journalist. Not caring about these perks is one way to subvert the established order, as former EIC Ed Niedermeyer successfully did during his tenure. Even when doing so, it’s possible to get information from internal sources and third-party outlets. But Nissan appears to be going a step further.

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QOTD: Is Hyundai Growing Too Fast? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/qotd-is-hyundai-growing-too-fast/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/qotd-is-hyundai-growing-too-fast/#comments Wed, 10 Apr 2013 17:46:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=484247 A Reuters article on Hyundai’s recent quality problems raises an interesting question. Has the company grown too fast following an unprecedented image makeover? Reuters quotes a Korean professor of automotive engineering discussing Hyundai’s recent quality issues “Hyundai has built factories very fast around the globe until recent years, but its quality improvement has failed to keep […]

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A Reuters article on Hyundai’s recent quality problems raises an interesting question. Has the company grown too fast following an unprecedented image makeover?

Reuters quotes a Korean professor of automotive engineering discussing Hyundai’s recent quality issues

“Hyundai has built factories very fast around the globe until recent years, but its quality improvement has failed to keep up with its rapid volume growth,” said Kim Phill-soo, a professor at Department of Automotive Engineering at Daelim University College in Seoul. “The latest recall highlighted loopholes in Hyundai’s quality system.”

The most recent recall, which involves a brake lamp switch, affects 1.9 million vehicles in the United States alone, according to Reuters. There have been other recalls as well, including rusty subframes and self-deploying airbags. Despite these problems, Hyundai has managed to ride a wave of goodwill on the strength of their products and their image turnaround. Hyundai has become an underdog company that people are willing to root for, and the recent fuel economy snafu, that ended up becoming a non-event for many people, is strong evidence of how effective they are at managing their PR affairs.

On the one hand, I have to wonder if the latest recall is a result of the increasing standardization of auto parts. The nature of this phenomenon suggests that when parts fail, the failure can cascade across mass quantities of vehicles, resulting in the mega recalls we’ve seen over the past few years. With the implementation of modular architectures and further standardization, the potential for these mega recalls only increases. Just wait till Volkswagen’s MQB cars suffer their first recall for a look at the “new normal” of recalls will be.

But that shouldn’t discourage us from asking if there may be underlying quality issues at Hyundai. Jack Baruth noted that the Elantra he rented last year looked a little worse for wear compared to other cars of a similar vintage – though notably, the car’s fuel economy did meet his expectations.

Lacking the requisite manufacturing and engineering knowledge, I’ll put this one to the B&B, rather than submitting my theory as a definitive answer. Have at it.

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Clemens Gleich Explains How Press Trips Work http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/clemens-gleich-explains-how-press-trips-work/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/clemens-gleich-explains-how-press-trips-work/#comments Mon, 11 Jun 2012 13:50:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=448334 If you’ve ever had a friend or relative who was both eager and nervous to show off a painting, piece of music or other creative work (“Tell me what you really think. Don’t sugarcoat it.” Who hasn’t heard that one before), then you’ll understand how PR people must feel when they’re tasked with introducing a new […]

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It's a tough job. Our author, working his tail off evaluating product on a press junket to South Africa

If you’ve ever had a friend or relative who was both eager and nervous to show off a painting, piece of music or other creative work (“Tell me what you really think. Don’t sugarcoat it.” Who hasn’t heard that one before), then you’ll understand how PR people must feel when they’re tasked with introducing a new vehicle.

While your budding-actor-buddy may cajole you into attending his experimental theater show, PR types do things a bit differently; they just have to book a hotel and then invite every single person with an online presence. Journalist from a major outlet? Welcome, sir! Amateur sex blogger? Here’s your plane ticket! Cram them all in! If they can operate a keyboard to amuse an audience, they can come along. It’s gotten to the point where some press trips have you arrive in the morning, with four hours set to drive and take photographs, and then it’s already back to the airport for you. This way, the host also saves on bar bills.

Contrary to popular belief, there also is no advance briefing for newbies to only write good things. The reason is very simple; You don’t need it. Here’s an example. I love motorcycle riding. So when there was an uninterrupted layer of snow on my street (to the point where I was able to get my snowboard out and turn it into an impromptu downhill run) I really began suffering from an extreme form of PMS (parked motorcycle syndrome). I had the bluest balls a bike rider can have. The bike in question (a 600 Kawasaki Ninja with a delightful Lucy Liu squint) couldn’t even be considered just “parked” any more. It was buried. As I wallowed in my misery by watching fresh snow fall from my balcony, I received a message from Berlin; “Want to go ride a BMW in South Africa? Gimme a call at the office. Pronto.”

I obeyed. I went to South Africa. I rode. On my return, a friend at Honda was very interested. “How was the new BMW?” he asked. I looked at him for moment and answered: “It’s February. My street is full of snow. For all I know, my motorcycle is also full of snow now. I rode the BMW in glorious summer weather in a wonderful country. How do you think it was? It was perfect, of course. The best bike I have ridden in a very long time.”

Seeing the future: In a few days I will be driving this Toyota GT86 around the Nürburgring. It will be great, therefore I will write a slightly overenthusiastic text about a slightly underpowered car.

Manufacturers have nothing to fear. Everyone will love driving around no matter what is on offer. In a few days, Toyota will let me have a go with their GT86 (marketed as a Scion in the States). At the Nurburgring. Guess what; It will be great. And by “it” I mean the experience, which you cannot separate from the surroundings. They could send me around the track in an otherwise stiflingly boring Toyota Borreliosis 1.6 automatic station wagon and I still would have a blast.

The Aprilia RSV4 is the most different superbike experience money can buy. This experience includes an engine that destroys its own piston rods and guzzles its fuel tank bone dry in 75 miles, but I can practically guarantee you will love it if I let you experience an exhaust noise like a thunderstorm on the brilliant Jerez racetrack

All that talk about “ringers”, specially prepared press vehicle with more power, better handling and cushier interiors, isn’t true either. It doesn’t have to be. When Aprilia showed the world the first batch of their superbike RSV4, most of the piston rods broke. Didn’t matter. In Italy, nobody lost a word about it in any publication. It’s simple behavioral science. If you, as a human being, are invited to a gorgeous locale, put up in a nice room, fed wonderful food and wonderful drinks and a chance to run wild with a beautiful machine, you will respond in kind. It’s easy to hold back, partly because cars are at a level now where there nearly aren’t any really bad ones left, but mostly because you can always say to yourself “Well, I only logged four hours in this. Seems hardly fair to hate it already. Especially since they were such a nice bunch of people…”

Yes, we at Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. absolutely adore your work. Here's the Gallardo Superleggera. Here are some Alps along with it. Have a go. And then you will tell me and everyone else about how you have deeply fallen in love. Grazie.

This expands from inviting somebody to just giving somebody something. If I give you a car, you will have some amount of good will towards me, simply because a car represents a significant value: “Not everyone gets a car, you know, and we at Cadillac Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. love your work, man, we really do and we think this CTS-V wagon Superleggera version will ensure you’ll write nice things about other GM products and slag our competitors fits perfectly into your perfect weblog.” What will you write? Something nice, I assure you. I work for both sides. I produce texts for magazines, but I also produce texts or think of activities for manufacturers to use in advertising (these two sides of work are much more similar than you might think). So I can give the advice I got a long time ago: Be nice and give them your products. Don’t tell them what to do, because they will do what you want anyway: They will write about it and they will almost exclusively write nice things. It’s free PR.

Free PR also means that even TTAC gets a press car. “Yes, Mr. Baruth, whatcha say about having a go at the Nürburgring? You are the best for this, I just love your fashion sense. I’ve even ordered my own golden jacket.” The reason not everyone sees it like this is insecurity or pride or a number of other human emotions that get in the way of efficient conduct in press and PR. Ferrari is notorious for being mortally offended by anything less than extreme superlatives. In Germany, Porsche is so loved (and worshipped even) that they are truly astonished if someone doesn’t write that their car is “perfect”. Volkswagen PR is a crass control freak. There is a guy at Daimler who seems to dislike some publications for reasons only he knows. I could extend the list all the way to the bottom of your scrollbar. There is an element of deterrence in this, of course. One of the biggest fears for a motoring publication is not (or no longer) being invited to press events. Because of that, they print extremely boring stuff of such low originality that a machine could do the same and pass the Turing test. This is still free PR, but it’s no longer very remarkable or very viral, which is bad. The PR people in these examples could do much better for their company by remembering what they learned in school: There still is no such thing as bad publicity.

Let’s take BMW again. The Bavarians are a confident people and the company reflects this. I once did a whole article about the best-selling bike in Europe (BMW R 1200 GS) just to get under their skin. It is a good bike, but I just don’t like it, which is a pointlessly evil reason to write, albeit a very fun one. I compared a new GS to my old Aprilia RSV Mille, a repeatedly crashed Frankenstein monster of a track whore, and the Bimmer lost — badly. The readers loved it (or wrote bitter letters). BMW didn’t even comment. The article had no influence on anything. I also recently did an article about why Audis traditionally drive like they have a dung heap on the bonnet. Shortly thereafter, Audi showed me around their R&D facilities for a later article and everything was just König Ludwig. These companies know they have good products and they also seem to know something hard to accept: A scathing review people talk about is much better PR than the standard mediocre fluff the readers’ brains immediately chuck into the sea of forgetfulness. Confidence is the best thing PR can have.

So now you know why there are practically no evil articles written from press trips. But you also know what to do if you create something to sell yourself and need free PR: Give it to as many people you can afford to. And don’t worry. Be confident.

If you want to know how advertising in the motor industry works, write to Clemens. He might get around to explaining it.

Clemens Gleich is an evil communist Nazi goosestepper who writes for money in Germany. You can find his propaganda central at www.mojomag.de.


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Italy Seizes Gaddafi’s Stake In Fiat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/italy-seizes-gaddafis-stake-in-fiat/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/italy-seizes-gaddafis-stake-in-fiat/#comments Wed, 28 Mar 2012 22:51:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=436968 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 […]

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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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Blind Spot: The Twilight Of The Volt http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/blind-spot-the-twilight-of-the-volt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/blind-spot-the-twilight-of-the-volt/#comments Mon, 05 Mar 2012 00:44:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=433724  “Do you want to accompany? or go on ahead? or go off alone? … One must know what one wants and that one wants” Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight Of The Idols This week’s news that GM would stop production of the Chevrolet Volt for the third time in its brief lifespan came roaring out of the […]

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 “Do you want to accompany? or go on ahead? or go off alone? … One must know what one wants and that one wants”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight Of The Idols

This week’s news that GM would stop production of the Chevrolet Volt for the third time in its brief lifespan came roaring out of the proverbial blind spot. Having watched the Volt’s progress closely from gestation through each month’s sales results, it was no secret to me that the Volt was seriously underperforming to expectations. But in the current media environment, anything that happens three times is a trend, and the latest shutdown (and, even more ominously, the accompanying layoffs) was unmistakeable. Not since succumbing to government-organized bankruptcy and bailout has GM so publicly cried “uncle” to the forces of the market, and I genuinely expected The General to continue to signal optimism for the Volt’s long-term prospects. After all, sales in February were up dramatically, finally breaking the 1,000 unit per month barrier. With gasoline prices on the march, this latest shutdown was far from inevitable.

And yet, here we are. Now that GM is undeniably signaling that the Volt is a Corvette-style halo car, with similar production and sales levels, my long-standing skepticism about the Volt’s chances seems to be validated. But in the years since GM announced its intention to build the Volt, this singular car has become woven into the history and yes, the mythology of the bailout era. Now, at the apparent end of its mass-market ambitions, I am struck not with a sense of schadenfreude, but of bewilderment. If the five year voyage of Volt hype is over, we have a lot of baggage to unpack.

When a history of the Volt is written, it will be difficult not to conclude that the Volt has been the single most politicized automobile since the Corvair. Seemingly due to timing alone, GM’s first serious environmental halo car became an icon of government intervention in private industry, a perception that is as true as it is false. I hoped to capture this tension in a July 2010 Op-Ed in the New York Times, in which I argued that

the Volt appears to be exactly the kind of green-at-all-costs car that some opponents of the bailout feared the government might order G.M. to build. Unfortunately for this theory, G.M. was already committed to the Volt when it entered bankruptcy.

But by that time, the Volt was already so completely transformed into a political football, the second sentence of this quote was entirely ignored by political critics on the right. The culture of partisanship being what it is in this country, any nuance to my argument was lost in the selective quoting on one side and the mockery of my last name on the other. One could argue that that this politicization was unnecessary or counter-productive, but it was also inevitable.

The Volt began life as a blast from GM’s Motorama past: a futuristic four-place coupe concept with a unique drivetrain (which still defies apples-to-apples efficiency comparisons with other cars), a fast development schedule and constantly-changing specifications, price points and sales expectations. It’s important to remember that the Volt was controversial as a car practically from the moment GM announced (and then began changing) production plans, becoming even more so when the production version emerged looking nothing like the concept. But it wasn’t until President Obama’s auto task force concluded that the Volt seemed doomed to lose money, and yet made no effort to suspend its development as a condition for the bailout, that a car-guy controversy began to morph into a mainstream political issue.

At that point, most of the car’s fundamental controversies were well known, namely its price, size, elusive efficiency rating, and competition. Well before the car was launched, it was not difficult to predict its challenges on the market, even without the added headwinds of ideological objections (which should have been mitigated by the fact that they were actually calling for government intervention in GM’s product plans while decrying the same). But GM’s relentless hype, combined with Obama’s regular rhetorical references to the Volt, fueled the furor. Then, just two months after Volt sales began trickle in, Obama’s Department of Energy released a still-unrepudiated document, claiming that 505,000 Volts would be sold in the US by 2015 (including 120,000 this year). By making the Volt’s unrealistic sales goals the centerpiece of a plan to put a million plug-in-vehicles on the road, the Obama Administration cemented the Volt’s political cross-branding.

When GM continued to revise its 2012 US sales expectations to the recent (and apparently still wildly-unrealistic) 45,000 units, I asked several high-level GM executives why the DOE didn’t adjust its estimates as well. But rather than definitively re-calibrate the DOE’s expectations, they refused to touch the subject. The government, they implied, could believe what it wanted. Having seen its CEO removed by the President, GM’s timid executive culture was resigned to the Volt’s politicized status, and would never make things awkward for its salesman-in-chief. And even now, with production of the Volt halted for the third time, GM continues to play into the Volt’s politicized narrative: does anyone think it is coincidence that The General waited until three days after the Michigan Republican primary (and a bailout-touting Obama speech) to cut Volt production for the third time?

Of course, having used the Volt as a political prop itself from the moment CEO Rick Wagoner drove a development mule version to congressional hearings as penance for traveling to the previous hearing in a private jet, GM is now trying to portray the Volt as a martyr at the hands of out-of-control partisanship. And the Volt’s father Bob Lutz  certainly does have a point when he argues that the recent Volt fire controversy was blown out of proportion by political hacks. But blaming the Volt’s failures on political pundits gives them far too much credit, ignores GM’s own politicization of the Volt, and misses the real causes of the Volt’s current, unenviable image.

The basic problem with the Volt isn’t that it’s a bad car that nobody could ever want; it is, in fact, quite an engineering achievement and a rather impressive drive. And if GM had said all along that it would serve as an “anti-Corvette,” selling in low volumes at a high price, nobody could now accuse it of failure. Instead, GM fueled totally unrealistic expectations for Volt, equating it with a symbol of its rebirth even before collapsing into bailout. The Obama administration simply took GM’s hype at face value, and saw it as a way to protect against the (flawed) environmentalist argument that GM deserved to die because of “SUV addiction” alone. And in the transition from corporate sales/image hype to corporatist political hype, the Volt’s expectations were driven to ever more unrealistic heights, from which they are now tumbling. Beyond the mere sales disappointment, the Volt has clearly failed to embody any cultural changes GM might have undergone in its dark night of the soul, instead carrying on The General’s not-so-proud tradition of moving from one overhyped short-term savior to the next.

Now, as in the Summer of 2010, I can’t help but compare the Volt with its nemesis and inspiration, the Toyota Prius. When the Toyota hybrid went on sale in the US back in 2000, it was priced nearly the same as it is today (in non-inflation-adjusted dollars), and was not hyped as a savior. Instead, Toyota accepted losses on early sales, and committed itself to building the Prius’s technology and brand over the long term. With this approach, GM could have avoided the Volt’s greatest criticism (its price) and embarrassment (sales shortfalls), and presented the extended-range-electric concept as a long-term investment.

Even now, GM can still redefine the Volt as a long-term play that will eventually be worth its development and PR costs… but only as long as it candidly takes ownership of its shortcomings thus far and re-sets expectations to a credible level. And whether The General will defy and embarrass its political patrons by destroying the “million EVs by 2015″ house of cards in order to do so, remains very much to be seen. One thing is certain: as long as it puts PR and political considerations before the long-term development of healthy technology and brands,  GM will struggle with a negative and politicized image. And the Volt will be seen not as a symbol of GM’s long-term vision and commitment, but of its weakness, desperation, inconstancy and self-delusion.

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UAW Backs Off Transplant Organizing Goal, Attacks Hyundai http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/uaw-backs-off-transplant-organizing-goal-attacks-hyundai/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/uaw-backs-off-transplant-organizing-goal-attacks-hyundai/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2011 20:23:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420851 At the beginning of this year, the United Auto Workers pledged that it would launch a campaign to organize the foreign-owned, non-union “transplant” factories in the US, threatening to tar uncooperative automakers as “human right abusers.” The campaign initially lost steam, but the UAW stuck to its pledge, re-iterating on several occasions that it would […]

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At the beginning of this year, the United Auto Workers pledged that it would launch a campaign to organize the foreign-owned, non-union “transplant” factories in the US, threatening to tar uncooperative automakers as “human right abusers.” The campaign initially lost steam, but the UAW stuck to its pledge, re-iterating on several occasions that it would organize “at least one” transplant factory by the end of 2011. With one month left to accomplish that goal and no signs of progress in sight, the UAW has officially called off that goal. In fact, the UAW now hopes to simply pick an automaker to target by the end of 2011. Spokeswoman Michelle Martin tells Bloomberg

At this point, our hope is to make a decision about who we’re going to target by the end of the year. But obviously, we won’t have the organizing campaign completed by the end of the year.

This is not too surprising, considering the UAW announced last week that it would be focusing on dealership pickets initially rather than factory organizing. And sure enough, the first dealership picket has begun, targeting Hyundai dealerships. And yet, says Martin

This has nothing to do with the domestic organizing campaign. Hyundai is not the target.

Huh? If the UAW is not committing to organizing Hyundai’s assembly workers, why picket Hyundai dealerships?

The Freep explains that the union is targeting 75 Hyundai dealerships, in order to show international solidarity, a recurring theme in the presidency of UAW boss Bob King. Says King

The UAW has embraced a global vision of social justice and will mobilize its membership to defend labor rights here and in other parts of the world

So, what is the UAW picketing in solidarity with? Martin tells the Freep that Hyundai’s Korean unions are picketing across Korea to protest the firing of a worker whistleblower. According to Martin

The worker, who is employed by a Hyundai subcontractor, was fired after she reported the sexual harassment in 2010 to Korea’s National Human Rights Commission… The commission ruled in the worker’s favor and ordered the subcontractor to pay damages and rehire the worker, but the subcontractor has refused.

A UAW statement adds

Holding banners that read, “Stop Sex Discrimination at Hyundai” and “Reinstate Ms. Park,” UAW members from Los Angeles to New York, at more than 75 different dealerships, informed American auto buyers about an injustice to an autoworker on the other side of the globe.

“Though we may work for different companies and in different countries, as workers, we support each other’s struggles and know that one of the best ways to hold our employers accountable is through consumer action at dealerships,” said Mike O’Rourke, an 33-year employee and president of UAW Local 1853 at General Motors’ Manufacturing Facility in Spring Hill, Tenn.

Hyundai Motor America’s response: the worker was an employee of a subcontractor at Glovis, a Hyundai “affiliate,” therefore

the issue has nothing to do with Hyundai Motor Company

In other words, the UAW will be alienating itself from Hyundai’s US workers and dealers over one person who doesn’t even work for Hyundai. Standing on principle is great, but trying to block sales of cars will not exactly endear Hyundai’s assembly workers to the union. Meanwhile, similarly to the UAW’s last protest against Hyundai, there doesn’t seem to be as much moral clarity on this issue as the UAW would like it to appear. Of course sexual harassment has no place in the workplace, and  the circumstances of this case in particular do not sound good, but by hammering on the treatment of contracted employees, and by associating the contracter “affiliates” with the automakers they work for, the UAW opens itself up to criticism along the same lines.

The Freep is also reporting today that the UAW has called off a protest that was planned at GM’s Orion Assembly plant, over contract negotiations with a supplier at that plant. Workers at the GM affiliate supplier LINC, who organize and deliver parts for the Orion plant, make ten dollars per hour, less even than the “Tier Two” wages that most Orion assembly workers make. And yet, with GM’s stock (which funds part of the UAW’s VEBA account) remaining weak, it seems unlikely that the union will actually protest, let alone strike, over the LINC wages. Which raises a tough question for the union: why are they so concerned about transplant workers making $14.50 per hour and up when they are working alongside folks making $10 per hour? And if workers at a Hyundai supplier are Hyundai’s responsibility, why isn’t the UAW livid at GM for allowing LINC to hire workers for such low wages? And in light of these fundamental contradictions, a single case of apparent injustice half the world away seems even less relevant.

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Our Daily Saab: Muller Losing Faith, Antonov Going Down http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/our-daily-saab-muller-losing-faith-antonov-going-down/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/our-daily-saab-muller-losing-faith-antonov-going-down/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2011 19:09:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420806 A TTAC tipster sent us a Teknikens Värld  interview with Saab’s long-suffering would-be rescuer, Victor Muller, in which the eternal Saabtimist seems ready to admit defeat. In essence, he admits that GM is unlikely to ever approve a plan involving Chinese firms, that the Chinese firms are throwing “money into a black hole” and that all […]

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A TTAC tipster sent us a Teknikens Värld  interview with Saab’s long-suffering would-be rescuer, Victor Muller, in which the eternal Saabtimist seems ready to admit defeat. In essence, he admits that GM is unlikely to ever approve a plan involving Chinese firms, that the Chinese firms are throwing “money into a black hole” and that all the previous plans are off the table. Of course, Muller does seem to think that some kind of rescue may yet be possible, but he admits

If I doze off Saab would disappear in an instant

If Muller is losing faith, and doesn’t even have a hairbrained scenario to hype, it seems that the end may well be near. But then, the whole rescue of Saab is beginning to be eclipsed by questions about Muller’s erstwhile partner, Vladimir Antonov, who was recently bailed out of British jail, where he was being held on charges of embezzlement and document forgery. But first, to the Muller interview…

The following is an interview titled “Muller Does Not Believe In Th Chinese”:

Victor Muller doubts that GM will ever accept a Chinese Saab business. According to him, Youngman, Pang Da and Guy Lofalk sabotaged the whole business when they went from the original plan. It says Muller in an exclusive interview with the Teknikens Värld.

On the way home from Britain hits Teknikens Värld Erik Gustafsson, an unusually outspoken Victor Muller. The gate at Heathrow Airport, the plane to Stockholm, he says frank about Saab’s situation.

- This is how it goes when you put his partner in the back, says Muller continues:

- The deal was long time and the arrangement with a Chinese shareholding of 54 per cent was approved. Then began administrator Guy Lofalk run government affairs, to persuade the Chinese to a 100-percent ownership stake and GM slammed on the brakes.

Late yesterday evening, Swedish time, had GM in Detroit, a further meeting on Saab’s future, but Victor Muller strongly doubt one acceptance.

- I understand GM fully, it is clear that they do not want to jeopardize its market in China. But right now I understand the other side is not why the Chinese continue to pump money into the company. As the situation is, it just means to put money into a black hole, without getting anything back. The relationship with GM is so damaged that they (Youngman and Pang Da) can not even go back to the original plan.

While he acknowledges that the situation is tough, he means that there is a solution. He can not tell you how it looks, but he promises to fight till the end.

- If I doze off Saab would disappear in an instant

Muller may still be fighting for Saab’s future, but as prosecutors unwind the Vladimir Antonov situation, Muller could soon be forced out of the process. After all, Muller is said to have a personal debt to Antonov of upwards of €100m, and it seems highly likely that Antonov was using Muller to launder funds embezzled from his Baltic banks. Antonov ‘s sports business has been placed into bankruptcy, and he has stepped down as Chairman of the British soccer team Portsmouth, reports ESPN. And Latvian officials seem to be clear on the Saab connection as well, as the Moscow Times reports

Latvian officials on Wednesday said about 100 million lats ($200 million) was stripped out of Latvyas Kraybank to fund Antonov’s investment projects, including the ill-fated Saab bid.

And the investigation is ongoing, as BBC reports that

[Lithuanian prosecutors] said they were investigating everything that might have links to criminal offences.

They added they would be taking “all the necessary steps” to freeze assets belonging to Mr Antonov and Mr Baranauskas.

It seems inevitable that this investigation will eventually catch up to Muller, at which point he’ll have to plead ignorance of Antonov’s alleged crimes. And even if Muller does escape prosecution, his ability to organize a deal to save Saab will be fundamentally compromised by his association with Antonov. And as Muller himself says,

If I doze off Saab would disappear in an instant

The countdown continues…

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Inside Nissan’s Content Factory: Steal This Idea Immediately! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/a-visit-of-nissan%e2%80%99s-content-factory-steal-this-idea-immediately/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/a-visit-of-nissan%e2%80%99s-content-factory-steal-this-idea-immediately/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2011 17:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=419885 Tucked into a corner of the communication department of Nissan is a Japanese rarity: A closed room. Usually, a Japanese office is a sea of people, working elbow-to-elbow without even the suggestion of a cubicle. Most of the floor in Nissan’s swank headquarters in Yokohama is just like that. Behind the closed doors however works […]

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Tucked into a corner of the communication department of Nissan is a Japanese rarity: A closed room. Usually, a Japanese office is a sea of people, working elbow-to-elbow without even the suggestion of a cubicle. Most of the floor in Nissan’s swank headquarters in Yokohama is just like that.

Behind the closed doors however works an unusual group of people who probably have to be kept away from the general population anyway: An international team of professional journalists that could change the way companies interact with the media.

In May, Dan Sloan started his job as the Editor in Chief and General Manager of Nissan’s Global Media Center. His first assignment was the roughest job one can imagine: Nissan’s engine factory in Iwaki restarted, only miles from the exclusion zone around the exploded Fukushima nuclear plants. People on the other side of the globe were afraid of being irradiated, and Dan Sloan showed Carlos Ghosn walking through a factory while two more reactors had a meltdown.

All other car manufacturers in Japan avoided the story. Carlos Ghosn and Dan Sloan ran with it. Remembers Sloan:

“This story was radioactive in many ways. But when these things happen, you have to get in front of the story in an adult way, you have to become part of the discussion, and make the story work for you.”

It did work. Carlos Ghosn was once more the take-charge man of Japan, and ranked high in a survey of who Japanese would like to lead them out of the crisis.

The global Media Center is a fully equipped TV studio, and a single room into which Sloan and his team are crammed. The General Manager doesn’t have a corner office, he has a corner. All of the people in the windowless room are top journalists, and that is the big difference of this experiment. In-house TV studios are nothing new, but they usually produce yawners of inspirational messages for the workforce, and possibly training segments for dealers. They also aren’t staffed with this concentration of talent. Says Sloan:

“Other companies never hired in-house people with that external degree of quality.”

If I still would own an advertising agency, I would be worried: Crammed into this room is more talent than in most agencies, and it probably comes much cheaper.

Any wire service would be lucky if it had so much talent in one room.

Dan Sloan was Singapore Bureau Chief of Reuters before he came to Tokyo as Senior Correspondent for Reuters Business TV.

His deputy Ian Rowley worked as Tokyo correspondent for Business Week for 5 years. After Business Week was bought by Bloomberg, he was Deputy Team Leader for Asia.

Coco Masters was Tokyo Bureau Chief of Time Magazine. Now she works as Ghosn’s right hand woman  at the Media Center.

Camille Lim did TV documentaries at Reuters Singapore. Now she will document Nissan’s rich history that goes back to 1914.

There is Shotaro Ogawa, Nissan’s own Mobile Uplink Unit. And there are more whose cards and resumes I forgot to collect at my visit today. I played fly-on-the-wall during their strategy meeting for the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show. It wasn’t a corporate conference, it was very much a meeting like at any TV station or magazine before a big event: Who does what, who goes where, are hotel rooms booked, and what happens if we get stuck in Tokyo traffic. The studio is small, but fully equipped. A chromakey can produce the Yokohama skyline as a backdrop, or Waikiki beach, if that is needed. The editing is done via Adobe Premiere on a Mac, in a pinch on a laptop.

Soon, the Media Center will talk about more than just Nissan. Woven into their coverage of the Tokyo Motor Show will be trends at other manufacturers. Soon, there will be a weekly talk show about the car industry in general, and possibly beyond.

When I ask Sloan what’s different from working on the outside, he says not much. He tells the story that in Japan, the media often has a symbiotic relationship with large corporations anyway. His Media Center simply makes it official without maintaining false appearances:

“We still have to pass the ‘so what?’ test with everything we do.What we want is get a buy-in that we are not dishing out unpalatable corporate-speak. We deliver something beyond ‘everything is alright at the mothership.’ We have access people would not get otherwise, we have content traditional media would be envious to get. We want to provide content other media can take advantage of.”

Magazines and TV stations have budget cuts and fire people. They are being replaced by thousands of bloggers with no money, but a lot of enthusiasm. Any website that wants to do more than just regurgitate press releases will become an eager customer of  Nissan’s inhouse content-machine. This is where Sloan is going:

“People always say we are the death of the press release. I don’t think this is going to happen so quickly. We are a value-add to press releases, they can become more concise now. What we want is something that will be redistributed, reposted, watched multiple times.”

Other carmakers should make a pilgrimage to Yokohama and try to get into that closed room. They might learn something.

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CR: VW Press Cars Don’t Match What’s On The Dealership Floor http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/cr-vw-press-cars-dont-match-whats-on-the-dealership-floor/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/cr-vw-press-cars-dont-match-whats-on-the-dealership-floor/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2011 19:54:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=419720 TTAC has long held that reviews of press cars made available by manufacturers at launches and press fleets must be complimented by reviews of vehicles acquired from dealer lots. It’s been a controversial position at times, and I’ve had to do battle with OEMs as recently as a few months ago to explain why dealer […]

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TTAC has long held that reviews of press cars made available by manufacturers at launches and press fleets must be complimented by reviews of vehicles acquired from dealer lots. It’s been a controversial position at times, and I’ve had to do battle with OEMs as recently as a few months ago to explain why dealer car impressions matter. Today, Consumer Reports is proving the point by revealing

When VW dropped off an early media car this summer, I remember looking at the trunk and saying to myself “well, at least both of the cheap hinges are dressed up with plastic covers, unlike the Jetta, which just has plastic on the side with the wiring.” As you can see in these two photos from Car & Driver and Edmunds it appears that the Passats in VW’s press fleet have covers on the hinges.

But not that Passat you just bought. No, your new Passat isn’t as nicely finished as the press version.

Like all the vehicles we put through testing, Consumer Reports buys retail samples at a car dealership. I personally purchased the Passat TDI we’re testing. (We also bought a 2.5 SE and a 3.6 SEL Premium.) As you can see in our images, none of the Passats have the two plastic covers found on the press cars. Consumers apparently only get a cover for the wiring loom hinge; the other one goes bare.

Interestingly, we had a somewhat similar issue with VW when a Passat press car proved to be equipped in a spec that is not actually available at dealerships (V6 with 17-inch wheels). When we noticed the discrepancy (and by we, I mean Michael Karesh, of course), we asked VW how we had received a non-representative model, to which they replied that press fleet vehicles were “early builds” from the new Nashville plant, and therefore not necessarily in market-ready spec. Which is a reason, but not an excuse: the media can only serve consumers well if we’re given representative cars to review. So, while these discrepancies are all relatively minor, details matter when you’re spending upwards of $20k on something. Hopefully VW and the rest of the industry will learn from this experience and make greater efforts to equip their media cars exactly to dealer spec. One also hopes that Motor Trend has driven at least one Passat that’s not from a press fleet

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Are You Safer In A Geely Emgrand, A Fiat Panda, A Jeep Grand Cherokee Or A Jaguar XF? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/are-you-safer-in-a-geely-emgrand-a-fiat-panda-a-jeep-grand-cherokee-or-a-jaguar-xf/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/are-you-safer-in-a-geely-emgrand-a-fiat-panda-a-jeep-grand-cherokee-or-a-jaguar-xf/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2011 19:20:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=419712 Ask a Westerner what he or she thinks of Chinese cars, and the answer will be predictable: unsafe. Thanks to China’s slower crash test speeds and low-cost manufacturing, Chinese cars have largely not met global safety standards, and Youtube videos have long cemented the impression that Chinese cars are fundamentally unsafe. But as with any […]

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Ask a Westerner what he or she thinks of Chinese cars, and the answer will be predictable: unsafe. Thanks to China’s slower crash test speeds and low-cost manufacturing, Chinese cars have largely not met global safety standards, and Youtube videos have long cemented the impression that Chinese cars are fundamentally unsafe. But as with any growing industry, the Chinese are stepping their game up. Far from a global embarrassment, the latest Geely Emgrand even earned four stars in Euro-NCAP testing. That’s not enough to erase China’s reputation for unsafe cars, as five star performances are rapidly becoming the standard in Europe. But it is enough to match the achievements of  other modern European cars, most notably the updated Fiat Panda. Though the Panda is considerably smaller than the Emgrand, and therefore is at something of a safety disadvantage, the price difference between the two cars is likely to be negligible, making the comparison quite interesting. Meanwhile, there are other four-star (or should we call it “Chinese Quality”?) cars in NCAP’s latest round of testing, including the considerably more expensive Jaguar XF and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Check out the reports for the XF, Panda and Emgrand in the gallery below, or surf on over to Autobild for more details on where these cars came up short on safety…

Picture 642 Picture 643 Picture 644 Picture 645 Picture 646 Picture 647

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UAW: The War On Transplants Is Still On, Dealers On The Front Lines http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/uaw-the-war-on-transplants-is-still-on-dealers-on-the-front-lines/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/uaw-the-war-on-transplants-is-still-on-dealers-on-the-front-lines/#comments Mon, 21 Nov 2011 16:32:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=419473 With a tough negotiating session with its traditional employers now complete, the United Auto Workers are turning their focus back to the year’s primary goal: organizing the transplant factories. 2011 was supposed to be the year in which the UAW took down “at least one” foreign-owned auto plant, with the union’s boss even going as […]

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With a tough negotiating session with its traditional employers now complete, the United Auto Workers are turning their focus back to the year’s primary goal: organizing the transplant factories. 2011 was supposed to be the year in which the UAW took down “at least one” foreign-owned auto plant, with the union’s boss even going as far as to say

If we don’t organize the transnationals, I don’t think there is a long-term future for the UAW

But as we found, the UAW is not welcome in the South, where most of the transplant factories are found. And with Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and VW all rejecting the UAW’s advances in some form or another, the union’s options are fairly limited. So instead of taking on the factories directly, the UAW is bringing back a questionable tactic from the days when it was misleadingly bashing Toyota for “abandoning” the NUMMI factory: they are taking the fight to dealerships.

Bloomberg reports

The United Auto Workers union, whose leader has staked its future bargaining power on organizing U.S. plants of Asian and European automakers, plans to start pressuring the companies through dealership campaigns.

Regional UAW representatives trained members about how the campaign will work at UAW Local 2209 on Nov. 19, said Mark Gevaart, president of the local in Roanoke, Indiana. The union hasn’t selected the automaker it will target and didn’t discuss when the drive will begin, he said in a phone interview.

The problem: as mentioned earlier, the UAW has already tried this on Toyota. And at the time, Toyota fired back with a pretty legitimate complaint, arguing

I still don’t understand why they are picketing our dealerships when the dealerships have nothing to do with the workers. Our workers make the ultimate decision if they want to unionize or not and for the past 25 years they have said no… Our team members want to make cars for people to buy. They don’t like it when people try to stop you from buying.

And here’s the funny part: the UAW has admitted that the dealership-picketing tactic didn’t help its cause, as President Bob King put it when he called off the last round of Toyota dealer protests

We said we were going to be the UAW of the 21st century and didn’t feel like that was accomplishing that goal

But hey, why not try it again? What’s the worst that could happen?

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Saabistas Occupy GM’s Facebook Page http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/saabistas-occupy-gms-facebook-page/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/saabistas-occupy-gms-facebook-page/#comments Wed, 16 Nov 2011 17:07:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=418441 Say what you want about Saab fans, the guys have some dedication. At a time when most have finally accepted the fact that Saab is at the end of the line, Saab’s hard-core “dead-enders” are taking up their social media arms to rescue their beloved brand. After all they have a perfect opportunity: after months […]

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Say what you want about Saab fans, the guys have some dedication. At a time when most have finally accepted the fact that Saab is at the end of the line, Saab’s hard-core “dead-enders” are taking up their social media arms to rescue their beloved brand. After all they have a perfect opportunity: after months of wading through a quagmire, uncertain whether to support Victor Muller, Vladimir Antonov, or one of Saab’s Chinese suitors, all Saab fans can now rally against their old enemy, GM. Long blamed for Saab’s decline despite the fact that the brand’s peak sales came under its ownership, GM has long been the bête noire for Saabistas. And with GM now taking the wheel of Saab’s fate, Saab’s rabid fans have taken over GM’s Facebook wall, posting images of their favorite Saabs and demanding The General “let Saab go.” Will it be enough to convince GM to go against its carefully-crafted Chinese relationships and interests by giving Saab carte blanche to ship its technology wherever its new Chinese masters want? Don’t count on it. But for the moment GM has to sit through the online equivalent of an “Occupy” protest.

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Inspector General: NHTSA Needs To Rethink Defect Investigation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/inspector-general-nhtsa-needs-to-rethink-defect-investigation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/inspector-general-nhtsa-needs-to-rethink-defect-investigation/#comments Mon, 14 Nov 2011 17:49:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=418153 Remember the uproar over Unintended Acceleration in Toyotas? After more than a year of investigation, NHTSA has yet to find a definitive cause for the furor… although the experience was not an entire waste. In fact, the most interesting result of the entire situation was that it cast light on NHTSA’s inefficacy as much as […]

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Remember the uproar over Unintended Acceleration in Toyotas? After more than a year of investigation, NHTSA has yet to find a definitive cause for the furor… although the experience was not an entire waste. In fact, the most interesting result of the entire situation was that it cast light on NHTSA’s inefficacy as much as it did embarrass Toyota’s quality control. And to help clarify what exactly the lessons of the Toyota flap were, the DOT’s Inspector General has released a report detailing its criticisms of the federal safety regulators. According to the report [PDF], NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation (ODI) has not

  • Adequately tracked or documented pre-investigation activities.
  • Established a systematic process for determining when to involve third-party or Vehicle Research and Test Center (VRTC) assistance
  • Followed timeliness goals for completing investigations or fully implemented its redaction policy to ensure consumers’ privacy. [Ed: gee, you think?]
  • Established a complete and transparent record system with documented support for decisions that significantly affect its investigations.
  • Developed a formal training program to ensure staff has the necessary skills and expertise.

In his response, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland largely concurred with the audit’s findings, and is working with the ODI to improve investigation processes, transparency, privacy controls, staffing, training and more. In short, the government has reached the same conclusion that I reached on the day of the angst-filled Toyota testimony before congress, to wit:

Congress holds hearings like these to uncover shocking evidence and to impress its constituents with its dedication to their safety and well-being. Having been enticed into believing that sinister conspiracies exist in Toyota’s software code and the halls of the NHTSA, the House Energy Committee uncovered only one actionable solution to the ongoing scandal: [improving] NHTSA’s investigative capabilities. Put differently, after hours of posturing congress finally met the enemy and he was them.

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Elon Musk And Bob Lutz Mix It Up On Charlie Rose http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/elon-musk-and-bob-lutz-mix-it-up-on-charlie-rose/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/elon-musk-and-bob-lutz-mix-it-up-on-charlie-rose/#comments Sat, 12 Nov 2011 00:07:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=417818 The post Elon Musk And Bob Lutz Mix It Up On Charlie Rose appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

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From the first part of this clip from Bob Lutz and Elon Musk’s recent appearance on the Charlie Rose, in which the two discuss “The CO2 Thing,” you might guess that the two are at odds with each other. After all, Bob’s the gruff, “Global Warming is Bullshit” type and Elon is the sensitive, change-the-world type. But by the end of this brief clip, the two industry mavericks are falling all over themselves with mutual admiration. But then, both have learned from the other (however indirectly) over the past few years: Lutz’s legacy of the Volt was in part motivated by Musk’s endeavor, and Musk himself has a lot more respect for Detroit’s “old school” manufacturing know-how now that his firm is actually trying to build its own cars in volume. It’s a study in contrasts watching these two iconoclasts from such separate worlds going at it… and yet you get the distinct impression that these two guys aren’t quite as different as you might think.

Watch the complete Musk-Lutz interview here.

Watch Lutz’s one-on-one interview here.

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OICA President Walks Back Criticism Of US Auto Industry http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/oica-president-walks-back-criticism-of-us-auto-industry/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/oica-president-walks-back-criticism-of-us-auto-industry/#comments Wed, 09 Nov 2011 18:25:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=417361 A week ago the president of OICA, Patrick Blain, ruffled some feathers on this side of the Atlantic by laying into the US auto industry with such bon mots as If the American manufacturers had gone years ago to the government and said, ‘Listen, we have a huge project’ – electric cars, for instance, the […]

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A week ago the president of OICA, Patrick Blain, ruffled some feathers on this side of the Atlantic by laying into the US auto industry with such bon mots as

If the American manufacturers had gone years ago to the government and said, ‘Listen, we have a huge project’ – electric cars, for instance, the government could at least have studied it. But they never tried.

Take the Chevrolet Volt (extended-range electric vehicle launched in 2010). Without government help, at least in the developmental stages in which certain economies of scale must be reached, it is too expensive. It’s just another example of the American industry being too late. They have missed many trends.

Because the sign of an innovative automaker is entanglement with the government… just ask Blain’s compatriots (and former colleagues) at Renault! Oh, and incidentally, Detroit did approach the government for help developing green cars back in the 1990s and managed to waste a cool billion dollars building three prototypes (see: PNGV). But there I go taking Blain at his word… when he’s already walking back his nonsensical comments.

Wards Auto was kind enough to give Monsieur Blain the opportunity to mitigate his unnecessarily inflammatory comments. Unsurprisingly, however, Blain’s walk-back is just as incomprehensible as his initial comments:

In a new auto world, with so many different power technologies (electric, hybrid, classical) things are getting more and more complex, and we must understand each auto world.

Every government, every nation has its own automotive culture. What I wanted to highlight is that manufacturers, with different technologies, gas prices, taxes, government incentives are all reducing, in a drastic way, (carbon-dioxide) emissions. That is definitely not what I explained. Some started sooner, some later, but they drive all in the same direction.

Apparently Blain’s volte-face came after the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents American-based automakers, entered “discussions” with Blain. Apparently it wasn’t hard to convince Blain that he was talking nonsense, but it seems to have been much more difficult to get him to actually start making sense. Meanwhile, Americans are now free to continue ignoring OICA as they have for decades.

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Quote Of The Day: “Negative Reviews Are Good For Business” Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/quote-of-the-day-negative-reviews-are-good-for-business-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/quote-of-the-day-negative-reviews-are-good-for-business-edition/#comments Thu, 03 Nov 2011 16:58:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=416744 Like most corporate trends, the rush to social media is often little more than an opportunity for new consultants to sell common sense packaged in the buzzwords du jour. And though it’s easy to just laugh off the process as just another fad, it’s important to remember that common sense is in relatively short supply […]

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Like most corporate trends, the rush to social media is often little more than an opportunity for new consultants to sell common sense packaged in the buzzwords du jour. And though it’s easy to just laugh off the process as just another fad, it’s important to remember that common sense is in relatively short supply these days… if the only way to get it across is to punctuate it with words like “engagement” and “voice share,” so be it. And because social media is forcing companies to come to grips with every possible kind of feedback, the trend is actually helping validate the hard-hitting editorial approach that TTAC has long embraced. At Motor Trader’s social media conference, Richard Anson, CEO of the consumer review site Reevoo, explains the simple truth:

Social content will help drive sales so trust and transparency are vital; we all trust our peers more than any vendor or brand. Negative reviews are good for business. Retailing is all about transparency so perfection is not credible. Customers expect and want negative reviews and they give dealers a great opportunity to engage.

Hear, hear!

This is a lesson that the auto industry often struggles with, especially with in-house social media efforts like The Ford Story (now social.ford.com). But even within the larger automotive media scene, there’s a lack of appreciation for the constructive powers of negative reviews. Due to a long and pointless tradition in the automotive media of trying to objectively evaluate all vehicles on a single rating or “star system,” there’s a sense that negativity in a review implies that a car is not worth considering. In reality, if someone is going to own and live with a car, aren’t they going to be as interested in its flaws as its charms? Consumers aren’t stupid, and if they feel like they’re getting a whitewash from any one review outlet, they’ll look elsewhere. And thanks to the internet and “social media,” they’ve got lots of options.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: GM Hearts Cycling After All Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-gm-hearts-cycling-after-all-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-gm-hearts-cycling-after-all-edition/#comments Tue, 01 Nov 2011 17:40:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=416427 Having royally pissed off all of cyclist-dom with a tone-deaf, multi-brand ad in college newspapers, GM just so happens to have a concept car for the SEMA tuner show featuring a mountain bike. Not that the two are in any way related though, as NASCAR racer Ricky Carmichael is the creative force behind the concept. […]

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Having royally pissed off all of cyclist-dom with a tone-deaf, multi-brand ad in college newspapers, GM just so happens to have a concept car for the SEMA tuner show featuring a mountain bike. Not that the two are in any way related though, as NASCAR racer Ricky Carmichael is the creative force behind the concept. The 15-time American Motorcycle Association champion explains in a Chevy press release

The car looks so cool, colorful and fun to drive. I live my life on the go and this Sonic really represents that active lifestyle and my desire to have fun when I’m off the race track.

See? Cycling is cool… as a hobby. On the other hand, maybe the bike just a way to escape the photoshopped beach when this slammed Sonic inevitably gets stuck in the sand. Or perhaps it’s there as a reminder that even if you want to drive a Sonic you may be stuck on a bike, as Automotive News [sub] reports that GM has to idle production of the subcompact for two weeks over a parts shortage. Either way, it’s an improvement on shaming cyclists into buying cars.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Sonic meets cycle... Chevrolet Sonic All-Activity-Style Concept Chevrolet Sonic All Activity Vehicle Chevrolet Sonic All Activity Vehicle Chevrolet Sonic All Activity Vehicle

 

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In Defense Of: The Press Junket http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/in-defense-of-the-press-junket/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/in-defense-of-the-press-junket/#comments Mon, 31 Oct 2011 16:45:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=416193 You know, it’s getting goddamned hard for a chap to enjoy a decent corporate-sponsored nosebag from time to time what with the ever-imminent prospect of Jack “Banquo” Baruth popping out from behind a silver soup tureen and shouting “J’accuse!” like some sort of admonitory, jort-clad Visigoth. At least, such I was thinking to myself as I lined […]

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You know, it’s getting goddamned hard for a chap to enjoy a decent corporate-sponsored nosebag from time to time what with the ever-imminent prospect of Jack “Banquo” Baruth popping out from behind a silver soup tureen and shouting “J’accuse!” like some sort of admonitory, jort-clad Visigoth. At least, such I was thinking to myself as I lined the walls of my pericardium with the rich yellow fat best produced by overly-sauced food and moderately crappy wines.

This was in the latter stages of a lunch – sorry – launch I was attending in, admittedly, a very unprofessional capacity. I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up here, but I’m one of those people who can’t say no when offered work; here though there would be no byline, and theoretically therefore, no conflict of interest.

Still, I was keeping one eye open, metaphorically-speaking, for our own favourite Sword of Damocles, as – pardon me good sir, but I believe your trotter is in my trough!

Lifer Automotive Journalist the Size of a Small Moon: “Oh, do beg pardon. Snarfle-snarfle-glub.”

Think nothing of it. Now where was I? Ah yes, the dining room. There I was, surrounded by the ambiance of several tonnes of avoirdupois on the hoof rapidly consuming their considerable body weights in alcohol, rich meats and cream-based sauces. The sound was akin to that of creating a vast clone army of Cookie Monsters and then turning them loose to attack the Nestle Toll House central warehouses. Om, as they say, Nom.

As I sat, replete and idly wondering how much leftover ribeye I could secret away in my pockets for homeward economy-flight consumption before I became drunk enough to lose basic motor skills, a voice hissed at me.

“Psssst!” came the hoarse whisper, “Lime-Green Audi S5!”

Thus it was that I received the secret verbal handshake that identifies those of us for whom the gravy train remains a bemusing through-the-looking-glass experience, best described by TTAC contributor Derek Kreindler as a luxury vacation with people you hate. Not that I object to the free bacon of course.

Fast-forward a bit and here I am again at yet another free-for-all, sipping a Stone IPA I didn’t pay for, noshing on some quote-unquote “vintage”  ribeye – hipsterism for carnivores? – with port-wine reduction. As our gracious host rises to his feet to thank the assembled journalists for coming, thus reminding us all about how important we really are, I’m thinking about Jeff Glucker.

A better writer than I has already covered this topic, but moving forward, the immediate fallout of Gluckergate has been the usual 10-10-80 polarization of those who read, follow and comment on the various automotive blogs and websites that are part of Interwebs 2-point-whatever-we’re-at-now. 10% of people were outraged at Mr. Glucker’s ethical mis-step, and applaud Jalopnik’s no-holds-barred outing. 10% of people (including yours truly) were outraged at Jalopnik’s mean-spirited sensationalization of Mr. Glucker’s misstep, their gleeful attempt to score points off a rival blog, and the offensive odour of holier-than-thou adopted by a site that used to be a cool place to get COTD.

For 80% of folks however, it seems to have been no big deal, business as usual, a Pontiac Tempest in a GM-stamped Teapot that showed up in a giftbag in the free hotel room you were flown to on business class. By the way, these are only approximations – I don’t know how accurate my Scion calculator is.

The consensus seems to be, and I apologize in advance as I’m about to start slopping around the whitewash of generalization here, that automotive “journalism” should forever be aware of the invisible quotes surrounding the latter half of its appellation. At the end of the day, to seize hold of one of the most hackneyed phrases available, the public sees us as little different from those who review TV shows or toasters.

For me, it’s even more simple: there but for the grace of God, go I. Like Jeff Glucker, I am no Baruth or Farago when it comes to “tirelessly savaging his enemies”. Quite frankly, the thought of even mildly inconveniencing an enemy makes me yearn for a nice, long, mid-afternoon nap. No, I’ll have to be content with merely savaging the English language.

And really, fat jokes aside, who am I to begin to cast the stones of ethics at my colleagues when I myself am working towards the same equipment list as the current Nissan Altima: full-size spare tire as standard. If there’s a sin too often revisited at the TTAC offices, it’s that of patting ourselves too hard on the back for being independent, and incorruptible, and outside the mainstream.

But when our own Edward N. half-despairingly asks the question, “where is the pride?” I bristle. It’s right goddam here.

No, not necessarily only in the articles and reviews before you now, but in the company I am privileged to keep. It’s in the excellent weirdness found at Glucker’s own Hooniverse website. It’s in the riotous anarchy of the 24 hours of LeMons. It’s in the sensible debate of a Best and Brightest comments section and the in-sensible arguing on the facebook page of a certain be-flipflopped TTAC alum.

Surely, the face of automotive journalism has changed as the face of traditional media has changed; not always for the better, but with a new host of writers and thinkers, and most importantly, with a new kind of audience. Not only that, but also the shoulders of the giants we stand upon are not always as sloping as we New Breed hacks would have you believe: there are many print journalists to whom I humbly doff my cap.

The cogs of the PR machine grind grimly on, just as they always have done, with free lunches and free cars, jewel-like launch settings for economy-grade rides and endless giveaways. But the cogs have chipped a tooth: in internet forum discussions, in the musings of those automotive writers I’m honoured to call colleague and in, quite frankly, a higher calibre of PR folks who actually care about the companies and products they represent, there is pride to be found.

Most of all, dear reader, there is you, the TTAC audience; the some of the people you can’t fool any of the time. It is my humble privilege to lay before you such scribblings as I do and have your own finely-tuned bullshit-o-meters waver the needle if you detect the influence of a comped bar-bill.

In the meantime, I happily wade though rivers of bearnaise to bring you The Truth, ever mindful of my responsibilities to the pull-no-punches ideals set out by our founder, and carried on by the writing and editing staff of TTAC.

Obsequious Waiter: Would Sir laike an aftair-dinnair meent?

No, sod off. I’m absolutely stuffed.

Obsequious Waiter: Oh, but Sir, it’s only wafair-theen.

Oh all right, just the one then.

Kaboom!

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Honda Hustling Out Civic Refresh http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/honda-hustling-out-civic-refresh/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/honda-hustling-out-civic-refresh/#comments Mon, 31 Oct 2011 14:52:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=416164 After decades of offering some of the best C-segment products available, Honda made the mistake of phoning in its latest generation of Civic just as the entire competition stepped up its game. Compared to the previous generation of Cobalts, Corollas, Elantras and Focii, the current Civic might be a fine car… but compared to the […]

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After decades of offering some of the best C-segment products available, Honda made the mistake of phoning in its latest generation of Civic just as the entire competition stepped up its game. Compared to the previous generation of Cobalts, Corollas, Elantras and Focii, the current Civic might be a fine car… but compared to the new crop of compacts, its barely competitive. In his TTAC review, Michael Karesh called the new Civic “a low point” and “dreadfully dull,” while Consumer Reports struck the body blow by failing to recommend the Civic for the first time in memory. And though Honda’s initial reaction showed signs of a potentially fatal bunker mentality, lashing out at CR and pointing to a second place Motor Trend showing (because that’s proof of an absence of mediocrity), it seems the company is coming around.

 

 

Automotive News [sub] reports that a mid-cycle refresh planned for Spring of 2014 has been pulled forward to 2013, as Honda’s John Mendel says

We take feedback seriously, regardless of who it’s from, and we will act accordingly quickly. I don’t know how much we can do, and how quickly. But the comments of Consumer Reports and our customers have not gone unnoticed. We are appropriately energized.

If the late-2013 refresh date is right, Honda should have a few months before Hyundai’s new Elantra (which is on a four-year development cycle) hits the market, and the Civic refresh should coincide with the Cruze’s mid-cycle update as well. Behind the eight-ball in this segment for the first time ever, Honda is going to have to dig deep and work wonders to return the Civic to its previous greatness.

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Bob King Defends UAW Contract Priorities http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/bob-king-defends-uaw-contract-priorities/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/bob-king-defends-uaw-contract-priorities/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2011 14:18:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=415939 Watch UAW President Bob King on New Contracts: Top Priority Was Creating Jobs on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour. Though UAW boss Bob King has said that organizing transplant factories is a life-or-death struggle for the union, but the real make-or-break issue this year was the contract negotiations with the Detroit Automakers. And though […]

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Watch UAW President Bob King on New Contracts: Top Priority Was Creating Jobs on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Though UAW boss Bob King has said that organizing transplant factories is a life-or-death struggle for the union, but the real make-or-break issue this year was the contract negotiations with the Detroit Automakers. And though King roundly denies that a rift has been formed in his union over two-tier wages, the facts simply don’t back that position up. In the last contract to be ratified (with Chrysler) for example, only 54.8% of the union approved the deal… hardly the “overwhelming support” that King claims. Moreover, 55.6% of the skilled-trades workers at Chrysler rejected the contract, according to the Detroit Free Press. King’s narrative of experienced workers “demanding” higher wages for the Tier Two brothers “in the greatest spirit of solidarity” just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

The divide between skilled-trades and other workers at Chrysler was a particular problem for the union because its contract allows the 5,000 skilled-trades workers to reject their own portions of the contract even if the union as a whole approved it… which is precisely what happened. But, after meeting with skilled-trade representatives, King decided to do what the union has often been loath to do: trample the better-paid workers in favor of newer hires. The Freep reports:

On Wednesday, the UAW held two meetings to resolve the split vote. If the skilled-trades workers had voted against the contract because of changes that specifically affect only their work, then the UAW would have tried to renegotiate a portion of the Chrysler agreement, King told reporters Wednesday.

“It was overwhelmingly clear that the issues were economic issues and not skilled-trades issues,” King said.

King said he doesn’t anticipate a major backlash from skilled-trades workers after the decision. “We did not go against what the skilled trades voted for,” King said. “We went with what the majority of members said — that they thought this agreement should be ratified.”

That was probably the right decision to make, and King should be commended for it, but it exposes his rhetoric of solidarity as pure farce. In recent years the union has already created a backlash by approving the “innovative labor practices” that threaten to push Tier 1 workers at the Orion Assembly plant into the lower wage tier without a union vote. Once again, King is going against the rules of engagement, which say that any union decision must be ratified by members. The only difference: now he’s backing lower-paid workers. Again, it’s a commendable stand and it shows King’s commitment to returning to some form of solidarity, but it also demonstrates and exacerbates the union’s internal divisions.

Meanwhile, at Ford, King admits that negotiations were “very rocky,” which is something of an understatement. Even though Ford offered the most generous contract of all the Detroit OEMs, the contract got off to a bad start, as workers at several of the first plants to vote refused to ratify the contract. Only after Ford said it would hire strike breakers if the contract failed did the UAW leadership threaten that the deal wouldn’t get any sweeter for members, and the contract eventually passed. But at the Ford plants where the contract failed, there are still signs of internal pressure at the union. At Local 900, which represents three Ford Detroit-area plants, workers were most troubled that more Tier Two hires would be brought in in lieu of giving established workers more overtime.

Meanwhile, at GM the Orion Plant’s “innovative labor practices” seem set to spread to the soon-to-be-reopened Spring Hill plant, even though GM and the UAW insisted that Orion would be a one-off deal in order to build subcompact cars in the US. Automotive News [sub] reports

About 40 percent of Orion’s 1,500 workers make an entry level wage. Under the new contract, they’ll be paid $16 to $19 an hour, a little more than half of what traditional UAW workers make.

A 100 percent entry level work force won’t happen. Several hundred former Spring Hill workers who are either still laid off or relocated to other GM plants should get first shot at the new jobs.

But it’s likely that the vast majority of the 1,710 new jobs will be filled by new employees – and there’s no restricton on the use of entry level wage earners.

If that doesn’t inflame divisions between the UAW’s tiers, it’s hard to say what will. The Orion agreement inspired picketing of the UAW’s headquarters, even though it was made as GM was going into its bailout-bankruptcy and was sold as a necessary move for survival. With GM making profits again, it’s proving that the dissidents who said that Orion-style rollbacks would spread across the workforce were right. As details emerge from Spring Hill, expect more protests and further breakdowns in UAW solidarity.

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Quote Of The Day “Bankruptcy Is No Option For Saab” Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/quote-of-the-day-bankruptcy-is-no-option-for-saab-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/quote-of-the-day-bankruptcy-is-no-option-for-saab-edition/#comments Fri, 21 Oct 2011 15:17:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=415429 Lyssna: Saabs vd, Victor Muller, om företagets situation Whenever a CEO says “bankruptcy is not an option,” you know the game is up. After complaining in this Swedish Radio interview (in English) that his court-appointed administrator is trying to sell Saab off wholesale to the Chinese, Victor Muller trots out Churchillian and Nietszchian calls to […]

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Lyssna: Saabs vd, Victor Muller, om företagets situation

Whenever a CEO says “bankruptcy is not an option,” you know the game is up. After complaining in this Swedish Radio interview (in English) that his court-appointed administrator is trying to sell Saab off wholesale to the Chinese, Victor Muller trots out Churchillian and Nietszchian calls to arms… in fact, he does everything short of bursting into a spirited rendition of “I Will Survive.” Unfortunately, Muller’s credibility is long gone, and he doesn’t help himself by trying to portray Lofalk as some traitorous backstabber. With Saab months (years? decades?) into its death-flails, and the most recent “rescuer” turning out to be a non-player, is it any wonder Lofalk wants to hand over the mess to the only viable companies involved (especially when Muller calls North Street a “strong partner”)? Muller continues to labor under two basic delusions: first, that he can sell a majority share to the Chinese while keeping Saab an essentially Swedish (or at least European) company and second, that anyone cares whether Saab becomes a Chinese company. Sorry Victor, there’s just nothing left here to fight for…

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Tesla Loses Top Gear Libel Suit, Still Pursuing “Malicious Falsehood” Charge http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/tesla-loses-top-gear-libel-suit-still-pursuing-malicious-falsehood-charge/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/tesla-loses-top-gear-libel-suit-still-pursuing-malicious-falsehood-charge/#comments Wed, 19 Oct 2011 17:46:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=415246 Earlier this year, when Tesla sued Top Gear for libel (allegedly committed way back in 2008), I argued that Tesla was likely to lose the case. And sure enough, The Guardian reports Electric sports carmaker Tesla Motors has lost a major part of its high court libel claim against the BBC’s Top Gear programme, but […]

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Earlier this year, when Tesla sued Top Gear for libel (allegedly committed way back in 2008), I argued that Tesla was likely to lose the case. And sure enough, The Guardian reports

Electric sports carmaker Tesla Motors has lost a major part of its high court libel claim against the BBC’s Top Gear programme, but is still suing the corporation for malicious falsehood over an episode that showed the company’s Roadster model running out of battery in a race.

Ruling at the high court in London on Wednesday, Mr Justice Tugendhat said that no Top Gear viewer would have reasonably compared the car’s performance on the show’s airfield track to its likely performance on a public road.


Judge Tugendhat ruled

In my judgment, the words complained of are wholly incapable of conveying any meaning at all to the effect that the claimant [Tesla] misled anyone.

This is because there is a contrast between the style of driving and the nature of the track as compared with the conditions on a public road […] are so great that no reasonable person could understand that the performance on the [Top Gear] track is capable of a direct comparison with a public road

Which is remarkably similar to the argument I forwarded earlier this year:

Since even Tesla has admitted that the first-gen Roadster wasn’t a track car, wouldn’t it have been even more misleading for Top Gear to depict it as a car that is capable of driving its entire claimed range in hot-lap driving?

Justice Tugendhat is expected to rule on the “malicious falsehood” complaint later this week, but don’t be surprised if it’s thrown out. And even if it isn’t, one wonders why Tesla went to all this trouble. Their claim in court is that the 2008 broadcast continues to impact their business because of its availability via download, DVD, and syndication. But really, that can’t be than the negative publicity generated by Tesla’s belated and highly-public attempt to sue the world’s most popular motoring show.

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Lotus: “We Must Sell More Cars Now” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/lotus-we-must-sell-more-cars-now/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/lotus-we-must-sell-more-cars-now/#comments Mon, 10 Oct 2011 21:10:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=414362 Lotus invited a considerable amount of schadenfreude when, about a year ago, it introduced not one new car, but an entire new lineup. And there have been plenty of opportunities to steal a mirthless laugh at Lotus’s expense, including when the firm backed away from Toyota engines, talked up the “authenticity” of a rolling chassis, ran […]

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Lotus invited a considerable amount of schadenfreude when, about a year ago, it introduced not one new car, but an entire new lineup. And there have been plenty of opportunities to steal a mirthless laugh at Lotus’s expense, including when the firm backed away from Toyota engines, talked up the “authenticity” of a rolling chassis, ran into Chinese branding problems, and drew inadvertent comparisons to Reebok by hiring rapper/producer Swizz Beatz. And the hits keep coming. Lotus Senior Adviser, Former BMW executive Karl-Heinz Kalbfell tells Autocar

The brand is well known but the products are not. We are focusing on a new range of cars, but we must sell more cars now.

But how well can the brand be if the cars aren’t selling? Speaking as someone who spends  bit of time interacting with auto enthusiasts, I’d argue there are actually some serious questions out there about what a Lotus is, what with all the talk of hybrids, folding hardtops, performance sedans and generally increased weights. But Kalbfell was just scratching the surface of the host of problems to be found in the land of the Lotus eaters…

Part of the problem: how do you go from building spartan, relatively affordable Elises to Ferrari-fighting supercars? Lotus had actually planned to kill its newest and most expensive car, the Evora, in favor of a new “Elan” that was part of the initial new lineup. Those plans changed earlier this year, when Lotus announced that it was dropping the Elan (weirdly, the model still appears on the Lotus website) and giving the Evora convertible, targa and club racer versions. More importantly, Lotus needs more expensive versions of the Evora (which starts at $64k) to build consumers up to the $150,000-ish projected price of its forthcoming Esprit flagship… which is coming, in the form of an Evora GTE that should come close to matching the Esprit’s price. There’s only one problem, explains Kalbfell

We have some great cars in our range, like the Evora. Many car companies would love to have the Evora in their range. Now the point must be to get the car on the shopping list of buyers… We cannot just jump buyers up from the Elise to the Esprit

Oh no? But Lotus can become a globally-recognized supercar brand despite not having a proper US dealer body or even a US-specific webpage… right, Herr Kalbfell?

We also have to work on the dealer body, the potential customers and what will be the aftersales service

Yes… now that you mention it, that might be a good call. Luckily Lotus’s management team, once described by CEO Dany Bahar as the “Real Madrid” (think New York Yankees) of the car industry, speaks with one voice and can lead their floundering firm to the promised land… right?

The company is not good at coming to a joint decision. So I am also creating a management platform where problems, delays, whatever can be discussed.

Oh. Well that’s not great. But, other than the product range problems, the short-term sales problems, the Chinese branding problems, the US dealer/service/support problems, the overhype problems and the management problems, everything is fine, right? Lotus is on track to become the next Porsche or Ferrari, right? Is that a fair assessment, Herr Kalbfell? Bueller? Anybody?

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Camaro ZL1 Records 7:41:27 Nuburgring Lap, GM Claims “Fastest Production Time Under $75k” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/camaro-zl1-claims-nuburgring-lap/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/camaro-zl1-claims-nuburgring-lap/#comments Thu, 06 Oct 2011 17:16:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413867 With ‘ring times back in the news thanks to a new feud between Dodge’s Viper ACR and Lexus’s LFA, GM took its forthcoming Camaro ZL1 to the Eifel Forest to record its own time. The best lap time of 7:41:27, according to Motor Trend, was set by lead development engineer Aaron Link (some outlets are […]

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With ‘ring times back in the news thanks to a new feud between Dodge’s Viper ACR and Lexus’s LFA, GM took its forthcoming Camaro ZL1 to the Eifel Forest to record its own time. The best lap time of 7:41:27, according to Motor Trend, was set by lead development engineer Aaron Link (some outlets are reporting the time was actually set by GM NA President Mark Reuss himself), although Reuss does have some his own impressions to add, telling MT

“It’s power all the time, capability all the time, and the steering and tractability of the car is just phenomenal,” he told us. Reuss also told us that this Camaro easily (and often) hit speeds of 170 mph on the ‘Ring’s back straight, and that even from those speeds the ZL1 exhibited, “Some serious braking power.” Reuss added, “We never faded the brakes on it… It’s one of the easiest cars I’ve ever driven to drive fast and hard. Everybody’s going to have a good time with it.”

But is the ZL1’s time, as Reuss apparently told TrueCar, “the fastest lap time recorded by ANY production vehicle costing less than $75,000″?

As Bertel has pointed out, there are not yet any agreed-upon rules as to what makes a true “production car,” and the only real authority on ‘ring lap times, Wikipedia (which still doesn’t list the ZL1’s time), counts anything that’s “road legal” in the same category. But in Germany, anyway, “road-legal” and “production” are not the same thing, as demonstrated by the top time being set by a Radical SR8 LM that requires a not-wildly-production-like

45 minute start up procedure involving a laptop plugged into the ECU, 108 octane fuel, engine rebuilds every 30 hours, transmission inspections/rebuilds after every race, etc

And because the ZL1 that set this lap time was a pre-production validation model, there’s clearly some question as to how close to production-spec it was at the time the lap was set. All the more reason the Viper ACR’s hot-off-the-showroom-floor 7:12:13 is so impressive. But, with sales of production ZL1s set for sometime next year, there’s little doubt that GM couldn’t go back and make their ‘ring time statement with a dealer-ready version. After all, as Jack Baruth put it,

‘Ring times are like any other laptimes in the world: subject to weather, chance, and the constant grinding effort of development work. Doesn’t matter if you start with a “stock” car. You can adjust camber, you can crank the toe in back until you either set a record or kill your driver, you can mess around with tire temps, you can use your datalogger to stitch together an “ideal lap” and then go run that lap. Period. No magic. No special significance. It’s a racetrack. Nothing more. Nothing less.

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State Governors Honor Red Light Camera Company Front Group http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/state-governors-honor-red-light-camera-company-front-group/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/state-governors-honor-red-light-camera-company-front-group/#comments Thu, 06 Oct 2011 14:52:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413854 State highway officials are using their public offices to lend credibility to a public relations front group created by a foreign red light camera company. On September 27, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) held its annual meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio where it celebrated the “special achievement” of the Traffic Safety Coalition. This group, which […]

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State highway officials are using their public offices to lend credibility to a public relations front group created by a foreign red light camera company. On September 27, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) held its annual meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio where it celebrated the “special achievement” of the Traffic Safety Coalition. This group, which is run by a public relations firm retained by the Australian photo enforcement firm Redflex Traffic Systems, accepted the Peter K. O’Rourke Special Achievement Award.

GHSA is a non-profit organization that “receives a substantial part of its support from a governmental unit or from the general public,” according to its tax returns. Its primary members are state transportation officials who use GHSA to lobby on behalf of programs that increase the issuance of traffic tickets.

“In 2010, traffic safety camera programs in Illinois were under assault,” the GHSA notice for the Traffic Safety Coalition award explained. “A small but vocal minority of camera opponents were spreading misinformation to media, decision makers, legislators and the general public. In response, the Traffic Safety Coalition quickly assembled a diverse group of safety advocates to conduct a vast education and advocacy program to show how traffic safety cameras are effective at deterring dangerous and illegal driving behavior… Facing opposition from misinformed members of the public and the state legislature, the Coalition worked to reshape public opinion on traffic safety cameras.”

According filings with the Texas Secretary of State, the Traffic Safety Coalition consists of three directors: David Goldenberg, Gregory Goldner and David Smolensky, all of whom are senior staff for Resolute Consulting, a public relations firm based in Chicago, Illinois. Redflex is listed as one of the firm’s satisfied clients.

GHSA’s award material did not disclose the Traffic Safety Coalition’s connection to Redflex. Redflex uses its group to advocate policies that advance its business opportunities through the news media. When comments come from a “coalition” it lends the appearance that the opinions expressed are those of independent, grassroots activists rather than public relations professionals with a direct financial interest in their advocacy.

“At the grassroots level, the Traffic Safety Coalition engaged community members in outreach to legislators and local media outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, WGN and Daily Herald,” GHSA explained. “It produced printed materials to explain the benefits of automated enforcement and built an interactive website.”

Though GHSA and the Redflex group claim opponents of photo radar constitute a minority, traffic cameras opponents have proved to be an actual majority winning sixteen out of sixteen election contests, often by substantial margins.

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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