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Toyota’s plug-in hybrids getting companion charging stations next year in Japan

December 27th, 2009 admin No comments

What’s the best complement to a trial run of plug-in hybrids? Why, matching solar stations, of course! Toyota Industries Corp has announced that it’s been developing solar charging stations for its new Prius models. The first place to test out the chargers is unsurprisingly Toyota City in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, where 21 stations will be built across 11 locales including government offices and train depots. Probably not worth planning a trip around, but if you want to be that extra special sort of tourist, schedule your vacation for sometime after April 2010.

Toyota’s plug-in hybrids getting companion charging stations next year in Japan originally appeared on Engadget on Sun, 27 Dec 2009 01:41:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Steve Parker: Our Top Ten auto industry stories, 2009

December 24th, 2009 admin No 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.

America can’t make things because managers all learn finance instead of production

December 21st, 2009 admin No comments

In a provocative New Republic article, Noam Scheiber proposes that the collapse of American manufacturing is due to a general shift in management to people who have MBAs, and to a shift in MBA programs to an emphasis on finance instead of production:


Since 1965, the percentage of graduates of highly-ranked business schools who go into consulting and financial services has doubled, from about one-third to about two-thirds. And while some of these consultants and financiers end up in the manufacturing sector, in some respects that’s the problem. Harvard business professor Rakesh Khurana, with whom I discussed these questions at length, observes that most of GM’s top executives in recent decades hailed from a finance rather than an operations background. (Outgoing GM CEO Fritz Henderson and his failed predecessor, Rick Wagoner, both worked their way up from the company’s vaunted Treasurer’s office.) But these executives were frequently numb to the sorts of innovations that enable high-quality production at low cost. As Khurana quips, “That’s how you end up with GM rather than Toyota.”

Upper Mismanagement

(via Making Light)

(Image: Venn Diagram – Happiness in Business a Creative Commons Attribution image from budcaddell’s photostream)


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The Mac Versus PC Debate Has Never Been Clearer

July 24th, 2009 admin No comments

mac-pcOur goal is not to build the most PCs. It’s to build the best.

That was Apple COO Tim Cook two days ago during Apple’s quarterly earnings call. Sure, it may sound like spin from an executive who doesn’t have a better answer as to why Apple isn’t competing in the low-end of the market, and thus, gaining market share. But it’s not.

You need look no further than numbers released today by NPD to understand Apple’s strategy. Its revenue share of the “premium” price market — that is, PCs over $1,000 — is a staggering 91%. This means that 9 out of every 10 retail dollars that is spent on PCs in that price range, goes to Apple, as Betanews’ Joe Wilcox points out. That, for lack of a better word, is insane.

Analysts and journalists are often quick to point out Apple’s relatively low overall market share (less than 10%). But that completely misses the point of Apple’s Mac business. If Apple wanted to make a range of low-end PCs, it absolutely could. And such machines would sell like crazy, boosting Apple’s market share. But there would have to be some trade-off in quality, and perhaps more importantly to Apple, to its high margins. And as it has proven time and time again, it has no desire to give up either.

Instead, Apple is content to keep churning out its high-quality, high-margin machines, and watch the profits roll in. If it happens to gain market share as a byproduct of that, that’s great. You can’t be so naive to think that Apple doesn’t care about that at all, of course it does, but it’s clearly a secondary goal, which most people don’t seem to understand.

It’s a metaphor that’s often used, but a way to think about it is if Windows-based PCs as a whole are thought of as a top selling car like the Toyota Camry, Apple’s Mac PCs would be more like a luxury car, like a Porsche. Porsche sales are just a fraction of Camry sales because it does not sell any models in the low-end price range. But at the same time, Porsche makes more money on each car sold and maintains a premium branding. If Porsche started selling cheap cars, it would move a lot more units, but it would no longer be the Porsche brand that we know.

That’s not to say the Camry sucks or that the Porsche is perfect. They’re just two different cars that cater to different markets. And they represent the two different goals that most Windows-based PCs have (market share) versus Apple’s Mac PCs (high-end revenue share).

And that’s why Microsoft’s recent Laptop Hunter commercials really never made a lot of sense. Sure, from a marketing perspective, I understand the idea: It’s a down economy, lets play up the fact that our PCs are cheaper. But in many of the spots, the shopper’s stated desired PC was simply not something that Apple even made. In the famous first commercial, Lauren wants a laptop with a 17-inch screen for under $1,000. Okay, Apple doesn’t make that product. So of course she’s not going to buy a Mac.

The real point is that people who are shopping for PCs where price is the key factor, were never going to buy Macs anyway. They never have. There is a reason Apple still has less than 10% market share. Did Microsoft need to spend millions of dollars on commercials to tell us that?

Instead, those commercials set up a narrative around the bifurcation of the PC-buying public. And today’s NPD numbers are the perfect ending to that story. If you’re a consumer looking for a bargain PC, you’re happy to save money buying a PC. If you’re looking for a premium PC, you’re happy to spend more money buying a Mac.

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Toyota Provides Solar Flower Power to the Flatiron

July 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

Toyota’s solar-powered flowers on display in Boston.Toyota is “planting” a bunch of 18-foot-high plastic flowers in Manhattan’s Flatiron Plaza starting Thursday to promote the new third-generation Prius hybrid.It’s more than urban beautification. Each of the five flowers in the cluster has solar cells behind its petals and at the base of the stems, and can supply power for anyone needing to charge their cellphone or portable computer. The flowers also provide a Wi-Fi network so folks can connect

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Tim Armstrong Prepares AOL For a Fragmenting Web

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

The days of the Web portal are long gone. Everyone knows this, especially the people who run the largest destination sites on the Web. AOL’s newest CEO, Tim Armstrong, acknowledges this fact. “We think the Web will fragment in the future,” he tells me. “I think you have to be agnostic about where your content goes. If they want to get it on Twitter, you should let them get it on Twitter. If they want to get it on your destination site, then let them do that.”

Last week marked the first 100 days since Armstrong left Google to take over as CEO of AOL
. He’s spent most of that time trying “to figure out what the company does today, what it is strong at, and what it is not strong at.” After digesting all of that information, he is now zeroing in on five areas where he thinks AOL can excel at (and social networking is not one of them, thankfully). The five areas of focus are:

  1. Content
  2. Advertising
  3. Local and Mapping
  4. Communications
  5. AOL Ventures

When he talks about the first two, he talks about “scaled content” and “scaled advertising,” yet he is very much pursuing a niche content strategy married to a highly targeted, brand advertising approach. AOL is already going down this path with its collection of MediaGlow sites (which include, Engadget, TMZ, and Love.com). We’ve called this the “Toyota strategy” because it consists of creating standalone online media properties which appeal to niche audiences much like magazines used to do in the world of print media.

Which is not to say that Armstrong is chucking the AOL brand out the window. He is just being selective about where he uses it. “My guess is that there are places where the AOL brand will be very helpful,” he says: “A good housekeeping seal of approval. In other places, you don’t want it because it means something different.”

On the advertising front, he thinks AOL jumped into the ad network game at the wrong time right as the economic downturn hit. AOL was left with too much generic ad inventory and not enough inventory appealing to brand advertisers. (Hence, the niche content/magazine-like approach).

Another market he is bullish on is localized content and mapping. AOL owns Mapquest, which needs to be reinvigorated. It also just bought local news site Patch and local events listings site Going. (Armstrong was a shareholder in Patch, but didn’t accept any profits from the transaction beyond his initial investment). Local content remains a huge opportunity on the Web.

I asked Armstrong how he feels about the center of attention on the Web moving away from destination sites to personalized streams of data such as what you find on Twitter and Facebook. “Real-time messaging feeds have a wide spectrum of usage,” he replied. “In some places speed is more important than depth. In others, depth is more important than speed.” He is pretty much agnostic about where people find AOL content, as long as they return to AOL to read it (and maybe click on an ad or two while they are there).

At the same time, AOL is trying to leverage AIM to get into the lifestreaming game. Communications (email, IM, SMS) is one of AOL’s core areas Armstrong wants to strengthen. And to the extent that he can combine personal communications with public streams, he can play there as well.

Content, advertising, and communications are the areas where he feels AOL can play to its strengths. When I asked about search and search advertising, he responded, “Search has taken up a lot of oxygen in that space and rightly so, it has performed well for advertisers and funded a lot of other things.” But he thinks display brand advertising is poised for a comeback once we come out of the economic downturn. “There are a bunch of large players kicking the search ball,” he adds. “We probably don’t consider ourselves in that quadrant.”

Finally, Armstrong set up AOL Ventures as a place to invest in early-stage startups, as well as to park businesses which need fixing or outside investment, Bebo being a case in point. It’s been shunted to AOL Ventures. Armstrong is clearly distancing himself from the $850 million Bebo debacle. He describes one of the imperatives for AOL Ventures as “to keep things on track that have not been on track.” On the M&A front, he says AOL will continue to make “smaller acquisitions” to pick up key technology, engineering talent, unique content, or more advertising scale. “Will we do acquisitions the size of Bebo? My plan is No.”

Armstrong is getting AOL ready to be spun off from Time Warner in an IPO. As part of that transaction, the original thinking was that AOL’s legacy dial-up business wouldn’t be a part of that, but Armstrong has changed his mind. It is not only the roughly $1 billion in annual subscription revenues AOL still generates from the dial-up business that convinced him to keep it. That is quickly declining. But just as important is the traffic and distribution which comes from those locked-in customers. “If you were going to try to recreate the access traffic it would be very expensive to recreate,” notes Armstrong. (ComScore estimates that about 19 million of AOL’s 106 million unique U.S. visitors a month still come from AOL’s client app). When you are trying to build an advertising business, every eyeball counts.

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Panasonic CF-30 Toughbook Takes a Beating, Survives (Almost) Unscathed

July 14th, 2009 admin No comments

Panasonic approached us a few weeks ago offering a Toughbook CF-30 to test in any way we saw fit. Rather than a lot of fancy lab testing, we decided to run over the laptop with a Toyota RAV4.

The laptop, surprisingly, survived almost unscathed.

These laptops are huge. The model we received is built like a tank. All of the ports are protected by waterproof flaps and the case itself locks with an affirming click when you slap it shut. This is a touchscreen model and comes with a small pen but also works with a tap of your finger.


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GM Expected To Exit Chapter 11

July 10th, 2009 admin No comments

DETROIT — After a night spent signing mounds of paperwork authorizing the transfer of cash, real estate, technology and other property, GM attorneys are expected to officially usher the new General Motors out of bankruptcy protection on Friday and onto a path toward a hopefully profitable future.

Once the world’s largest and most powerful automaker, the troubled company is expected to emerge cleansed of massive debt and burdensome contracts that would have sunk it without federal loans. Spurred on by the Obama administration’s support, the process took just 40 days, even slightly quicker than crosstown rival Chrysler Group LLC’s 42-day timeframe.

On Thursday, a bankruptcy court order allowing GM to sell most of its assets to a new company went into effect. The new GM, 61 percent owned by the U.S. government, will face a brutally competitive global automotive market in the middle of the worst sales slump in a quarter-century.

At a 9 a.m. press conference Friday, CEO Fritz Henderson will announce that GM will cut another 4,000 white-collar jobs, including 450 top executives. The company still employs 88,000 people in the U.S. and 235,000 worldwide.

Henderson also is expected to describe how GM will streamline its bureaucratic management structure to become profitable again. GM has said it will be able to make money even if the U.S. auto market stays at a depressed level of 10 million to 10.5 million vehicles sold.

Yet despite massive cost reductions, experts say GM must produce vehicles that people want to buy, and change its image to one on the cutting edge of efficiency and quality.

“It is the smaller, leaner, tougher, better cost-focused GM,” said George Magliano, an automotive analyst with the consulting firm IHS Global Insight. “But they still have to deal with the problems that they faced longer-term.”

Rep. Gary Peters, whose Michigan district is home to three GM factories, said the company’s emergence signals a new era for the domestic auto industry and the thousands of people it employs.

“With bankruptcy in the rearview mirror, U.S. auto companies will even more aggressively pursue new technologies, become more globally competitive,” he said. “Decades from now, our nation will be glad we did not let a global credit crisis put an end to the American automobile.”

“I’m very much looking forward to a point where we’re operating in clear air, and the name of the company not being associated with bankruptcy and loans and these things,” said Mark LaNeve, GM’s North American marketing chief.

GM ranked as the top global automaker in terms of sales for 77 years before Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. snatched its crown in 2008. The company sold nearly 8.4 million cars and trucks around the world in 2008, falling short of Toyota’s nearly 9 million.

Once the largest corporation in America, GM held the top spot in the Fortune 500 ranking for 20 years before being pushed out of the top spot in 1973 by Exxon Mobil Corp. It reclaimed No. 1 status in 1985 and held it for another 15 years.

Experts say GM’s future success will depend largely on its ability to persuade consumers that it’s a different company, one that builds cars that will equal or outlast Japanese models. To illustrate the change, GM is considering a new name.

Turning a profit will not be easy. GM lost more than $80 billion in the last four years and survives only because it expects to receive $50 billion in U.S. government loans. Without the loans, its executives have said the company would have been sold off in pieces.

The Obama administration has said it does not plan to interfere with day-to-day operations, though it ousted ex-CEO Rick Wagoner and has been involved in picking the new company’s board.

Most of GM’s model lineup is expected to stay unchanged for now. But the company on Friday will probably show off its newer, more efficient models, as well as plans for a U.S.-made subcompact and rechargeable electric vehicles.

Also on Friday, Henderson is expected to announce that Bob Lutz, GM’s product guru, will remain as a special adviser. Lutz, 77, announced in February that he would retire at year’s end.

In addition to the U.S. government’s controlling interest, the United Auto Workers union gets a 17.5 percent stake of the company through its retiree health care trust, and the Canadian government will control 11.7 percent. The remaining shares went to bondholders of the old company.

The parts of GM not moving to the new company will become part of “old GM,” a collection of assets and liabilities that will be sold to pay creditors.

Almost immediately, GM will try to show how it’s a different company, perhaps by changing its familiar square logo from blue to green, to reflect its environmental focus.

“I think that as a corporate identity the color change could well be a smart move,” said Tony Spaeth, president of Tony Spaeth/Identity, a Rye, N.Y., firm that helps companies craft identities. “It lends a little bit more reality and sincerity of intention to ‘We want to change the way we do things.’”

Today’s consumers are sophisticated and will seek out environmental information to help make shopping choices, said Allen Adamson, managing director at branding firm Landor Associates.

“They have to do this just to stay in the game and to win on that dimension. To win on green, this is a very big challenge,” he said.

Toyota, for instance, is known for its breakthrough hybrid gas-electric technology, and GM could accomplish the same thing with its Chevrolet Volt rechargeable electric car due in showrooms by late 2010.

___

Fredrix reported from Milwaukee. Associated Press writers Bree Fowler in New York and Stephen Manning and Ken Thomas in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

More on Auto Bailout


Toyota stung by possible Prius headlight defect?

July 2nd, 2009 admin No comments

Filed under: Hybrids/Alternative , Government/Legal , Green , Recalls/TSBs , Safety , Toyota , Carsumer Advocacy 2007 Toyota Prius – Click above for high-res image gallery We’d wager that the last thing Toyota wants in the midst of the super-important launch of its new third-generation Prius is a negative stigma attached to the previous model. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the Japanese automaker may have on its hands as a number of owners of the 2005-2008 Toyota Priu

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Official BMW X1 SUV photos leaked

July 1st, 2009 admin No comments

The next couple of years will be very busy for BMW as it launches a handful of new models including new versions of current top sellers and some models we’ve never seen before. The new X1 falls into the latter category and will take the carmaker into the compact SUV market currently dominated by the likes of the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.

The latest round photos, which have surfaced on several Internet forums, reveal the vehicle’s details inside and out. BMW family traits can also be found in the front and rear lights, which resemble the recently revealed 5-series GT and the 7-series sedan, respectively.

The shots also confirm that BMW designers have stuck closely to the lines of the Concept X1 showcased at last year’s Paris Motor Show.

The new X1’s running gear is based on the 1-series compact car but its ride height is taller.

2010 BMW X1 SUV

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