Nine Japanese auto suppliers and two executives have agreed to plead guilty and pay more than $740 million in fines for participating in a price fixing conspiracy, the U.S. Department of Justice said yesterday. The two executives, one an American citizen, the other Japanese, will have to serve prison terms. According to the DoJ, thirty different components were involved and they were sold to all three domestic automakers as well as the U.S. operations of Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Fuji Heavy Industries, which owns the Subaru brand. The automakers have cooperated with the investigation. More than 25 million vehicles sold in the U.S. were affected by the conspiracy, raising costs to automakers and consumers alike, U.S. Attorney General Eric holder told a press conference in Washington yesterday. (Read More…)
Visteon, the large automotive supplier, continues to reshape itself from a vendor of interior trim to one that focuses on electronics. Visteon announced that it is selling its half of Yanfeng Visteon Automotive Trim Systems to it’s Chinese joint venture partner Huayu Automotive Systems, for ~$1.2 billion. At the same time, Visteon will be buying majority ownership of the JV’s electronics unit, Yanfeng Visteon Automotive Electronics Co., for $68 million. (Read More…)
Carmaking is a cyclical business. In crisis times, it’s “we are all in this together.” When business improves, relations between automakers and their suppliers revert to the old arrogance, to hurry up, make more for less. It’s that time again. (Read More…)
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?
Germany’s Autobild continues to bang the drum about HFO-1234yf, an air-conditioning coolant sold by US supplier Honeywell as an “environmentally-friendly” alternative to other refrigerants. Problem is, C02 seems to be not only more environmentally safe, but safer for humans (notably rescue workers) as well…
Crains Cleveland reports that NASA will be offering some 38 technologies developed for its space program to the auto industry at a trade show next week at the Glenn Research Center. With 100 OEMs and suppliers attending, the event will bring materials and technologies chosen for their usefulness in automotive applications to an industry that is anxious to develop solutions for upcoming fuel economy standards. And hopefully bring some licensing fees to an agency that is anxious to find private sources of income. In the words of NASA’s Paul Bartolotta
NASA is open for business. We’re opening our safe, so to speak
So, what’s on offer?
Bloomberg [via the Financial Post] reports that “one of the five biggest European banks” is “close” to loaning Saab $157m so that it may pay workers and suppliers, in order to move towards restarting production. According to DI.se, the deal is predicated on Saab securitizing the loan with shares of Saab Great Britain or other “alternative assets.” But apparently whatever the banks ask for, Saab will try to give, as Theodoor Gilissen Bankiers analyst Tom Muller explains
They need the money immediately. I hope they solve it this week, otherwise I think it’s over for Saab. It’s a very dire situation.
He’s not kidding…
Saab has already warned its workers that paychecks due tomorrow could be delayed until “committed” funds from investors arrive, but Bloomberg reports that the warning may not be enough. According to the report
Any delay in the August payments will prompt the unions immediately to start a process aimed at ensuring state coverage of wages in the event of the carmaker’s failure, officials from the IF Metall and Unionen labor groups said. The unions, after gaining employees’ backing, would first file payment requests with Saab. If salaries remain unpaid in seven days, the unions may then ask a district court to declare Saab bankrupt.
That could put Saab into bankruptcy in as little as two weeks. Saab’s long nightmare seems to be drawing to a close.
Just three weeks after Saab narrowly avoided being pushed into bankruptcy by supplier SwePart, SvD.se reports that three other suppliers have now initiated the bankruptcy process by requesting that Sweden’s national debt bailiffs pursue their debts. One Spanish supplier is reported to be foreclosing on €2m ($2.8m in debt), while two of the rebelling German firms are said to be owed at least €5m each. And though Saab says it is meeting with the Spanish firm to try to hammer out a deal, SvD reports that four of the 14 outstanding claims against Saab have run out of time. Lars Holmqvist, head of the European Association of Automotive Suppliers argues that, by paying some suppliers and not others, Saab is de facto bankrupt, and that a trustee should be brought in to pay suppliers in order of priority, rather than order of Saab’s necessity. Meanwhile, Saab CEO Victor Muller has been in Brazil and the US, trying to bring new investors on board, as its Chinese funding won’t be approved for two-to-three months, if ever. Meanwhile, “taxes and fees” must be paid by Friday, August salaries are due in just two weeks, and Muller cut his latest money-raising trip short to reassure workers back in Trolhättan. But according to thelocal.se, even the most optimistic of union leaders hope Saab will have a new CEO soon. Do I hear the fat lady warming up her vocal cords?
AlixPartners, the consulting firm that led GM’s reorganization efforts, has put the perennial optimism of auto industry analysts on notice, introducing its 2011 Automotive Outlook by arguing
The AlixPartners 2011 Automotive Outlook finds that while automakers and suppliers have seen profits bounce back handsomely – North American original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) posted $12.5 billion in 2010 profit on a net margin of 4.6% and North American suppliers reaped $8.2 billion on a net margin of 4.3% – no one should be tempted into thinking that things are now back to “normal,” or at least the normal defined by the consumer-incentive-induced sales levels of the past. In sync with its past annual auto studies, AlixPartners continues to predict that U.S. auto sales will climb slower, and to a lower peak, than many others are predicting. Specifically, the firm estimates U.S. auto sales will reach just 12.7 million units this year and only 13.6 million in 2012.
This is a tough moment for us: on the one hand, pessimistic economic forecasts don’t make anybody happy… on the other hand, the AlixPartner outlook is a significant validation of TTAC’s longtime bearishness. So rather than either moping or self-congratulating, let’s just take a look at why AlixPartners is so gloomy about the near-term outlook.
Now that it has been first leaked then confirmed that the European Investment Bank EIB will not let Russian financier Vladimir Antonov get close to Saab, Antonov says he had known that all along.
Antonov’s spokesman Lars Carlstrom told Reuters that his boss “has known for a few weeks that the EIB would not let him invest in the iconic Swedish car firm,” Reuters reports. That revelation should come as another blow to Saab’s crumbling bastion of enthusiasm, Saabsunited, which had reported just yesterday that “Antonov is trying to save the situation.”
With the troops left dazed and demoralized, the generals practice the ancient art of finger pointing. (Read More…)
Over the weekend we told you Saab-watchers to “expect a run on the bankruptcy court in the coming days and weeks,” and according to Bloomberg the process has already begun. Christina Lindberg of the Swedish Debt Enforcement Agency tells the news service that eight suppliers have requested that their portion of the 104 debts registered with the agency be collected and that
We will start the collection process in a few days.
The good news? A previous request to place a Saab subsidiary in bankruptcy has been revoked as the supplier in question there was paid off. Now, however, with eight more debts going to collections (worth an undisclosed amount, we know that one debt alone is worth around $70m and estimates put the total at around $1b), the situation has become dire once again. The answer? Vladimir Antonov, of course! Thelocal.se reports that suppliers are pushing for the EIB to approve Antonov’s ownership stake, seeing the Russian as the only way out of the situation. And because the EIB will clearly never approve Antonov, another report that’s just breaking now says that Saab is seeking to “replace” the EIB loan in order to bring Antonov on board. The looming question: who on earth is going to lend this bleeding-out corpse of a company $350m? Does Antonov even have a billion to spare for his pet project? Needless to say, nobody has the faintest clue… they just know it has to happen. Yikes!
One of Saab’s suppliers, SwePart Verktyg AB, asked a Swedish court to declare a key Saab subsidiary, Saab Automobile Tools, bankrupt today reports Automotive News [sub]. Saab Tools owed about $935,000 to SwePart for tooling, and according to the supplier
More than one week has passed from the summons and payment has not yet been made. Saab Automobile should therefore be considered insolvent… We don’t want them to go into bankruptcy, I wish you understand that, that would be horrible, but we are a small company and for us that is a lot of money
Saab Tools was created to guarantee EIB loans for tooling, so had the “subsidiary” been declared insolvent, the whole ship would have gone down. But before a judge could act, Saab somehow managed to put out the fire, as a company press release proclaims
Swedish Automobile N.V. confirms that Saab Automobile Tools AB reached agreement on payment terms with the supplier that filed for bankruptcy, thereby resolving the issue.
Once again, Saab pulls the fat from the fire at the last minute… but the clouds are dark and rolling in fast. Many suppliers are still looking for money, Saab Automobile has 104 claims pending against it, and SwePart’s bankruptcy request won’t be formally withdrawn until Monday. And with the Swedish government and EIB seemingly unwilling to lift a finger to help, even the faithful are losing hope. This feels like the beginning of the end of the end…
In my review of the VW Golf blue-e-motion on Tuesday, I noted that “the holy grail of EV development is a multi-speed transmission,” but that nobody has been able to build one that can reliably handle the 100% torque at zero RPM characteristics of an electric drivetrain. Tesla tried two different multi-speed transmissions (from X-Trac and Magna), before giving up and going with the single-speed setup that every production EV now uses. Nobody has even talked about a multi-gear EV since… until now. With Fisker’s Karma about to go to market, CEO Henrik Fisker tells Autocar that his firm is developing a multi-speed EV gearbox, and that it would improve performance in EVs like the Karma, saying
With the torque at the wheels increased by the use of a gearbox, Veyron levels of performance should be possible.
We’re as excited as anyone else by the idea of an EV with shiftable gears, but this sounds more like Fisker trying to drum up some hype for the Karma launch. After all, the Karma launches to 60 MPH in a leisurely 7.9 seconds in “stealth” (EV) mode and 5.9 seconds in “sport” mode with gas power to up the wattage… a far cry from Veyron performance. As C&D puts it:
The Karma’s initial surge is sufficiently potent to avoid damnation as a slug. But the physics conspire against it keeping pace with other $100K sports sedans.
Lugging over 4,000 lbs is certainly easier with a multi-gear transmission, but given the reliability challenge, we’d be more likely to trust an EV transmission from a reliable supplier rather than a boutique luxury PHEV maker. And until Fisker can back up the Veyron reference with some hard evidence, we’re filing this one under “intriguing but unlikely.” Still, it’s exciting to know that this technical challenge is still out there, unconquered by major manufacturer or feisty startup… in a world where cars are becoming increasingly mundane, the multi-gear EV transmission challenge is a throwback to the golden years of automotive development.
As automakers face slowly diminishing returns in their attempts to make internal combustion engines more efficient (while facing huge challenges in electric, hydrogen and other alt-fuel drivetrains), they are looking ever more closely at alternative materials to improve efficiency (and, to a lesser extent, driving pleasure) through weight-savings. Perhaps the biggest emerging trend in this area, especially at the higher end of the market, is in the use of carbon fiber, which is being actively pursued by automakers like BMW, Toyota, Lamborghini and Daimler. But, as WardsAuto points out, there’s another material that’s trying to earn a place in the lightweight cars of tomorrow: polycarbonate plastics.
Polycarbonate windows weigh half as much as glass, and because they are made with injection molding they can come in shapes that can’t be imagined with glass.
However, the material is more expensive. To get auto makers to convert, Sabic and its main material competitor, Bayer MaterialScience, have to sell the idea of integrating other parts into the plastic mold that makes the window.
For example, says Umamaheswara, “on a liftgate, a lot of features can be integrated, and if the manufacturer is short of room in the factory, it can be delivered as a module.”
A modular liftgate could include the window, cladding for the D-pillar, a roof spoiler, the high-mounted rear brake light, a rear wiper foot, handles and logos. When all those processing costs are included, he says, polycarbonate is competitive with glass and metal.