Week of January 3, 2000

January 3, 2000




A RECORD-BUILDING YEAR FOR AUTOMAKERS Last year’s North American vehicle output was the best ever, according to figured released by the industry data kings at Ward’s Automotive Reports. North American automakers put together 17.62 million vehicles in 1999, up 9.9 percent from last year. In the U.S. alone, production of more than 13 million units bested the 1978 record of 12.9 million cars and trucks. With 1999 sales figures coming in later this week, the industry is charging into the 2000 Detroit auto show having sold nearly 17 million vehicles in the U.S. last year, beating the old record of 16 million units in 1986.

Read all about the Detroit auto show by clicking here.



TOYOTA MAKES A MILLION Vehicles, that is. For the first time ever, Toyota built more than 1 million cars, trucks, minivans and sport-utes in North America. Japan’s number-one brand assembled just slightly more than 1,061,000 vehicles this year in its four plants in Canada and the U.S. Just last week, Toyota confirmed that it will expand its nearly-new Gibson, Indiana, facility to add even more capacity — bringing its total in Indiana to 300,000 vehicles each year.



DC EARNINGS HIT A PEAK DaimlerChrysler AG says it generated $149 billion in revenue in 1999, boosting its annual gain from 1998 by 12 percent. Most of the gains were made from better sales at Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler, with even the costly Smart project beginning to show signs of life. DC sold 80,000 Smart cars last year, far below initial projections of 130,000 vehicles, but the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class (and its much higher profit margin) is off to a strong start.




GAS HITS DECADE HIGH Just in time for the holiday’s record travel, gasoline prices hit a record as well. The average price for a gallon of unleaded was $1.273 a gallon, the highest in a decade for the holiday season — and some 33 cents a gallon more than last year during the same time. While the Department of Energy, which released the figures, showed that the price of gas had only gone up about a penny since the previous week’s $1.269 a gallon, it noted last year’s price per gallon was only 93.7 cents. Take heart, East Coasters: on the West Coast it’s even worse, with drivers paying about a dime more per gallon.




FORD, CHEVY GET 70+ MPG Both Ford and Chevrolet are hopping on the ultra-fuel bandwagon for the upcoming Detroit auto show. Last week, both brands announced concept vehicles that, through the miracles of lightweight construction and diesel-powered hybrid drivetrains, get more than 70 mpg. The Ford Prodigy checks in at just 2387 lb, but rivals the size of the 2000 Taurus, which weighs about 1000 pounds more. It’s expected to lend some technology to Ford’s first all-aluminum vehicle, slated for a 2002 debut (read more on the Mercury/Volvo crossover vehicle below). For its part, Chevrolet is prepping the Precept, a more radical high-fueler that has attained nearly 80 mpg in testing. Both vehicles will be unveiled during press days at the auto show, which begin Jan. 10.

For all our Detroit show coverage, click here

For more on the Prodigy and Precept, click here



MERCURY AND VOLVO TO GET QUASI-UTE? While Ford figures out the future of its Mercury division, it may be plotting a new crossover vehicle to give to Mercury and recent acquisition Volvo a toehold in the burgeoning all-activity market. Reports from various sources say Ford will split the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable, reincarnating the Sable as an all-aluminum tall wagon built at Ford’s Chicago plant and shared with Volvo. Taurus production would be consolidated in Atlanta. The new vehicle may be based loosely on the current Volvo S80 sedan. While Ford execs stated recently that Mercury would receive no new nameplates, a Sable crossover ute would fit neatly with its existing lineup of Villager minivan, Mountaineer SUV, Grand Marquis traditional sedan, and Cougar sport coupe. Mercury sold 410,186 vehicles in 1998, down from 474,673 in 1989.



HONDA AND SATURN GET FOUR STARS Both the Honda Accord and Saturn LS received four out of five stars in the latest safety rankings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Accord and LS sedans received the rating for both front passengers in the agency’s 35-mph barrier test. The tests, the first of the agency’s 2000 examinations, also found the Accord’s rear-seat side-impact safety worthy of five stars. Some 58 2000 model-year vehicles will be tested, while results from 77 1999 vehicles will be carried over since the models underwent little change.



RENAULT FANCIES SAMSUNG Acquisitive French types at Renault have signaled their intent to woo South Korea’s Samsung Motors out of insolvency. Samsung’s main creditor took official notice of two bids for Samsung last week, but did not single out Renault as one of the suitors — instead, Korea’s Munhwa Ilbo newspaper did. Samsung says it will sell off its carmaking unit, which built Nissan-based vehicles, by the end of February.



MAZDA EYES EURO OUTPUT Meanwhile in Hiroshima, boosted by the fortunes of Ford, Mazda is hoping to build cars in Europe to boost its Continental presence. The company, owned in 33.4-percent part by Ford, is considering using excess capacity at a Ford plant to build passenger cars beginning in 2002, says Japan’s Nihon Keizai daily, with Mazda building 10,000 units a year to begin its European effort. Mazda ranks third among Japanese brands in Europe, with just more than one percent of the market. The report also suggested Mazda would buy diesels from current glow-plug guru Peugeot, buying 50,000 diesel engines from the French to put into Euro-made Mazdas.



NEW CENTURY, NEW RECALLS GM, Ford, Honda, and Suzuki are all bitten by the recall bug as we transition into the Age of Aquarius (which should mean exceptionally peaceful and harmonious service visits for affected owners, we think). GM is recalling 272,980 1999-2000 Saturns for seatbelt anchors, 43,204 2000-model Chevrolet Malibus for leaky gas tanks, and 30,605 1999-model Chevrolet Trackers for brake lamps. Ford is bringing back 164,731 19992-1993 Ford Thunderbird and Mercury Cougars for faulty headlight wiring, Honda some 101,159 1998-1999 CR-Vs to repair wiring problems, and Suzuki some 8,408 1999-model Suzuki Vitaras for the same brake-light problem as the Tracker.

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