Fiat 500 fumbles out of the gate 2012 Fiat 500 Front Impact Test
2012 Fiat 500 Front Impact TestEnlarge Photo
An Italian pedigree, ads by J-Lo--what could go wrong with the launch of the Fiat 500? Plenty, from the plan to require dealers to build new stores, to the idea that Americans would go for something even smaller than a Fiesta, to the notion that a new 500 alone could refurbish the damaged brand. To cap off the Fiat 500's slow sales launch, the car recently earned a three-star crash-test rating. Far shy of its 50,000-unit sales goal, with no second model waiting in the wings, Fiat is about where pundits expected it to be--a diversion when Chrysler's turnaround is in full swing.
Ottawa resident Ricardo Borba takes delivery of the first consumer Nissan LEAF in CanadaEnlarge Photo
Electric, hybrid car sales still lag
History has officially been made, and now that the first electric and extended-range electric vehicles are on sale, the sales numbers aren't exactly encouraging. Through eleven months this year, Nissan has sold 8,720 Leafs (including 18 in December of 2010) and Chevy has sold 6,142 Volts (including 326 last December). Both are significantly below initial original projections, with a few complications factoring in--the Leaf, with the March earthquake in Japan, and the Volt with a production changeover at its Hamtramck plant. While GM leadership may want to boost Volt production, and while the Leaf's ambitious global business plan includes more related EVs and factories around the world, the facts are sobering. Even in a healthy global economy, electric cars were going to be a tough pitch. In today's changing economic climate, electric vehicles will need generous incentives for the foreseeable future, to convert the doubters, if they're ever to become a mass-market success story.
Hyundai Elantra from Save The AsterisksEnlarge Photo
The headlong downsizing of the nation's new-car fleet is underway, and gas mileage numbers are on the rise. From the Ford Focus to the Chevy Cruze, big automakers are trumpeting their gas mileage, and none is advertising it more than Hyundai. The South Korean carmaker says it sells more cars with 40-mpg EPA ratings than anyone, and it's tweaking its competition by pointing out the asterisks they use to denote the special 40-mpg editions in their fleets. The flurry of airborne asterisks that dropped on crowds at the 2011 New York auto show made a vivid point, but it may have started a less savory chain reaction. Other automakers have questioned whether they should continue to certify their own ratings, or if the EPA should test all cars instead. Consumer Watchdog has called for the EPA to re-test the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, saying many owners report far lower gas mileage than its 29/40/33-mpg rating. On its behalf, Hyundai points out evidence that its real-word mileage compares favorably with its EPA ratings.
Alan Mulally, 2011 NADAEnlarge Photo
Ford plans ahead for the post-Mulally era
Ford is the healthiest of the American car companies. Getting the lion's share of the credit: CEO Alan Mulally, who has shorn the company down to size and rationalized how, where, and why it builds cars. But this year, the usual background noise--lots of debt to retire from a 2007 flirt with disaster--has been joined by the buggy launch of MyFord Touch and the PowerShift automatic. Ask anyone at Ford, and those are things that can easily be fixed. But can it fix other problems later, when Mulally isn't around? This year, Detroiters have begun to wonder openly how Ford will manage the hand-off, and whether the "Mulally miracle" will keep its momentum. Ford has the deepest bench in Detroit, and though it only says it has a succession plan in mind, other reports say the field's already been narrowed to four, with President of the Americas Mark Fields in the lead. Other in-house candidates are in place, and one obvious name from outside the company also has surfaced. That name? John Krafcik, who's led Hyundai to record sales in the U.S., and came to Hyundai from--where else?--Ford.