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Steve Parker: Our Top Ten auto industry stories, 2009

December 24th, 2009, 09:12 am admin Leave a comment Go to comments

1- GM – The bankruptcy (which is ended) and the ongoing revolving door for top executives at GM haven’t give the public a lot of confidence in the company. It’ll take two to three years of stability for GM to have a chance of staging a big comeback. The corporation closed Saturn after a failed sale involving Roger Penske, sold Hummer to a Chinese company, cancelled the sale of Opel to the German government and unions, is closing Saab and shuttered Pontiac and now consists of Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC. The irony? GM is making the best cars and trucks they’ve ever produced.

2- The entire family of Ford Fusion cars won the 2010 Motor Trend Car of the Year award. I think that’s the only award people pay attention to because it’s the oldest and the advertising for cars and trucks which win it runs all year mentioning the award. Ford didn’t need a federal bailout and is headed in the right direction, showing a profit the past two quarters. One of the most anticipated cars coming from Ford is their new 2011 Fiesta, based on the Euro version of the car, one of the most popular over there. Ford also responded quickly to the V6 300-horsepower Camaro, coming out with their own Mustang V6 matching the Camaro in horses. Rumor is a new V8 will be introduced at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show to challenge Camaro’s 400-hp unit. Ford has also just sold Volvo to China’s Geely.
2009-12-24-FordFocusCCC.jpg Ford Focus in rally racing trim

3- Chrysler has only one new model for 2010, but the new 2010 Ram truck won Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year prize. Chrysler cold use a boost and Motor Trend gave them a big one. The company, now controlled by Fiat, will concentrate on building mid- and large-size cars to be marketed by Fiat worldwide. Fiat will build small cars for Chrysler to market. Just announced, Chrysler will display an electric Fiat 500 at the Detroit Auto Show. The 500, or Cinquecento, is essentially the Italian version of the Mini. Jeeps will now be built on the all-wheel drive Fiat Panda platform, so you hard-core off-roaders should get your hands on a Rubicon edition and fast — it’s the last “real” Jeep.

4- Toyota has gone through a year from PR hell. As GM found out, being the world’s biggest carmaker can lead to slips in quality. Toyota’s now the world’s biggest, and they might be having that same problem. They announced the biggest recall in US history (almost 4 millions cars and trucks for acceleration problems), another for rust problems with their Tundra pickup and more. What the company said was a problem with the driver’s side floor mat catching the gas pedal and holding it open, the company looked bad when the government said the problem stemmed from the throttle-by-wire system. The company’s sales continue strong, and their announcement of a plug-in Prius hybrid coming next year caught everyone’s attention.

5- Nissan is spending the next few months displaying a close-to-production version of their Leaf electric car throughout the US. Leaf is on-track to become the first mass-produced EV which does everything a “regular” five-door hatchback can do. Company chief Carlos Ghosn made a decision years ago to skip developing their own hybrid and jump right into EV R&D and production. Late next year, sales will begin, with the car initially being made in Japan, the UK and Tennessee.
2009-12-24-130.JPG Nissan’s Leaf EV at its first coming-out party in the US, in Santa Monica, CA

6- GM’s Volt will go on-sale late next year. Volt is an “extended range hybrid”; a small gasoline engine keeps the batteries charged in this five-door hatch. There is no connection between the battery system and the Volt’s (front) drive wheels; that’s all done EV-style with an electric motor. GM says Volt allay “range anxiety” (my favorite new auto term of the year), which people worry about in EVs but GM says Volt will get over 340 miles per thankful of gas. I’ve driven Volt and it could be a huge winner for GM and help get the company back on track as an innovator. We hope that happens.

7- Korean car-makers are thriving in a down market. Hyundai was the only car-seller in the US to see a rise in their sales this year. What’s the secret over at Hyundai/Kia? It took a few years, but those cars and trucks have risen in quality to that of Japanese vehicles. Also, and perhaps most important, prices are kept low versus comparable cars made in other countries. One more thing: their new cars and trucks are damn good-looking. “Hyundai” is no longer the butt of jokes across America.

8- Chinese EVs are going on-sale in the US, probably next year. BYD is one of the best-known EV makers and has grown into a gigantic auto and electronics conglomerate in less then ten years. The company sells their cars for much less than competitors. BYD’s secret to keeping their costs lower than other EVs? The company is making the batteries and other components by hand, not on assembly lines with robots as most other makers do. The employees are happy to have jobs and the Chinese minimum wage is just that – minimum.
2009-12-24-_mg_0652.jpg Chevy’s Volt, Nissan’s Leaf and Toyota’s Prius plug-in hybrid all go on sale in 2010

9- Smart car sales have dropped 38% in the US this year. The tiny, quirky cars are distributed in the US by Roger Penske. Sold in the “smile belt” from Southern California to Florida, the drop in sales indicates most people feel gas prices have stabilized. Pickup truck sales are traditionally used to gauge the economy; dropping sales of small, very high-mileage cars shows gasoline is steady for the time being. I still wouldn’t want to be on the I-10 with a big rig trying to pass me in one of these.

10- There’s not much doubt that North American-built cars and trucks are at least as high-quality as imports. It’s taken 35 years, but Ford and GM have plenty of vehicles high on the quality surveys. At Consumer Reports, some 90% of Dodge Challenger owners surveyed said they’d buy another – possibly the highest number in CR’s history.
2009-12-24-2010cadillacsrx.jpg Cadillac’s all-new 2010 SRX

What did we leave out? What should not be on the list? And happy, safe holidays.

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