Week of November 8, 1999

November 8, 1999




SEMA SHOWS OFF THE AFTERMARKET If you think of the automotive aftermarket as a place for whitewall tires and curb feelers, this year’s Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas might have changed your mind. Last week, the annual SEMA show in Las Vegas featured more than 5500 booths and hundreds of exhibitors, not to mention a huge presence from the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) — such as Ford, GM and Honda. The SEMA show is growing in importance to the major carmakers: witness GM’s stunning array of 52 tuner concept vehicles.

CURTAINS FOR PLYMOUTH Plymouth will produce its last car in 2001, according to DaimlerChrysler officials, who confirmed longstanding expectations that the troubled 71-year-old division would not be revived. "It is a decision long coming," said DC President Jim Holden during a news conference at the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association convention in Las Vegas. But, he insisted, "This is a strategy for growth, not retrenchment." Plymouth’s best days were back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when it had some of the market’s hottest muscle cars. In more recent years, it has become little more than a copycat division, marketing lower-priced versions of Chrysler and Dodge brand products. While the Plymouth Breeze will be dropped from the lineup, the Voyager minivan will simply be rebranded as a Chrysler. DC also intends to phase out the Plymouth Prowler, the world’s first "factory-built hot rod," by 2001.

FORD, GM SUPPLIERS GO ONLINE Both General Motors and Ford Motor Co. intend to launch new Internet trading networks to slash both the cost and time it takes to purchase components from their vast array of suppliers. While they didn’t offer specific targets, the two manufacturers hinted they could cut costs by several billion dollars a year. Ford spends about $80 billion annually on parts and components, GM nearly $95 billion. Ford will launch AutoXchange as part of a joint venture with the database giant Oracle Corp. GM is partnering with California-based Commerce One to create TradeXchange. While Ford said participation will be voluntary, GM warned it will probably stop doing business with suppliers who don’t actively use TradeXchange. There could be a big payoff for consumers, according to company officials, in the form of lower costs and shortened order-to-delivery times.




ECLASSICS.COM COMING TO THE NET Classic-car collectors should find it a lot easier to locate the vehicles they’ve been looking for, thanks to a new Internet site dubbed eClassics.com. It’s the soon-to-launch product of a joint venture between the cable network Speedvision, the classic-car publishing house Hemmings Motor News, and Barrett-Jackson, the nation’s best-known classic-car auction house. When the project is fully operational, it will permit Web browsers to buy and sell classic cars through online classifieds as well as live auctions. Some events will be offered live at Barrett-Jackson events, and on the Speedvision network, as well. "It’s designed to be the ultimate destination for (classic) vehicle enthusiasts," said Speedvision founder and CEO Roger Werner.




FORD TURNING TO CUSTOM CENTERS Ford Motor Co. plans to set up special centers to allow customers to "mass customize" their vehicles. "For most customers, ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t fit anymore," said Ford marketing chief Bob Rewey during a news conference at the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association convention in Las Vegas. The automaker intends to start offering more special packages on select vehicles, such as the F-150 pickup, designed to reflect niche needs. Those customers who want something even more exotic will be able to turn to special centers, where local installers will come out and do additional work customizing Ford products, company officials said. They did not say when the new centers will begin operations.

Get all the stories from SEMA by clicking here.



OCTOBER SALES FIND DOMESTICS DOWN Between Ford, GM, and the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrysler, new car and truck sales were down a combined 5 percent in October. However, sales of Asian-brand cars rose 16 percent, and European sales jumped 38 percent higher than in October 1998. GM's total sales were down 4 percent, Ford's total sales were down 6 percent, and DaimlerChrysler's declined 4 percent compared to last October. Among the rest, Toyota reported a 16-percent sales gain, and Hyundai registered a 156-percent gain over last year. Volkswagen and Audi had their best October in 25 years and posted a 72-percent increase; Jaguar bested them by 4 percent to increase 76 percent over last year.



TOP 20 SELLERS The 20 top-selling vehicles in the United States through October 1999, as reported by the automakers, are the following:

1. Ford F-Series pickup 727,707
2. Chevrolet Silverado pickup 522,831
3. Toyota Camry 386,003
4. Dodge Ram pickup 363,418
5. Ford Explorer 353,751
6. Honda Accord 344,755
7. Ford Ranger pickup 309,135
8. Ford Taurus 306,275
9. Honda Civic 275,744
10. Jeep Grand Cherokee 252,373
11. Dodge Caravan 248,762
12. Ford Escort 247,171
13. Chevrolet Cavalier 235,289
14. Pontiac Grand Am 201,600
15. Chevrolet S-Series pickup 201,349
16. Ford Expedition/Bronco 194,920
17. Toyota Corolla 194,018
18. Ford Windstar 185,939
19. Chevrolet Blazer 184,248
20. Chevrolet Malibu 183,490




NHTSA MODIFIES AIRBAG STRATEGY The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has changed its proposed rules for crash tests used to evaluate airbag safety, after automakers objected to the agency's 1998 plan, Reuters reports. The agency is now offering a compromise in which automakers crash a vehicle into a rigid barrier at 25-35 miles an hour, or at an angle into a deformable barrier at 30-35 miles an hour. NHTSA's proposal last November called for a 30-mph crash into a rigid barrier. Automakers were concerned that a return to the higher-speed test would result in more powerful airbags, which have proved to be less safe than today’s lower-powered bags. The new proposed standards, to be adopted by March 1, 2000, after a period of public comment, would take effect in model year 2003.



GM CARS TO HOOK INTO INTERNET The "Web car" is near. GM says within the next year, it will offer an advanced version of its OnStar service that can access the World Wide Web and gather e-mail for drivers, all with spoken commands. The new service will appear in a GM luxury vehicle starting in mid-2000, says GM President Richard Wagoner. Users will choose which information is sent to their cars through their own personalized Web page; aside form voice commands, the system will use the same three buttons as the current version of the OnStar in-car communication system.



MAZDA TO SELL CARS ONLINE Japan’s Nihon Kezai daily says Mazda will start selling its cars on the Internet, through partnerships with Microsoft Carpoint and Autobytel.com. Mazda, Japan’s fifth-largest carmaker and an affiliate of Ford, is moving online to counter a 40-percent reduction in dealerships it undertook in the early 1990s.

The paper says the Web sites will provide customers with information about new models, prices, dealerships, loans and other services.



DELPHI AND HARLEY HOOK UP Cutting another apron string from the GM mothership, Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. announced last week that it will begin supplying parts for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, beginning with the 2000 model year. Delphi, GM’s former captive parts-making operation, will provide the speedometers, tachometers, cruise control, ignition coils, warning lights and other components for all 2000-model year motorcycles, some 175,000 bikes a year. Along with Harley, Delphi has also developed a version of its Monsoon audio system for a range of Compaq computers.




ALABAMA BENZERS GET TIMELY RAISES As Mercedes-Benz employees in Alabama wrestle with the issue of unionization, the company’s management is raising their pay and increasing benefits, in what some observers are saying is a move to prevent the UAW from taking hold in the M-Class assembly plant. Recently, DaimlerChrysler signed a rich four-year pact with the UAW for workers at other DC plants; the pact did not include easy access for the UAW to unionize the workers at the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, plant that builds the M-Class. Now, the plant’s management has raised workers’ pay by 5 percent, on top of a 3-percent raise in April, has added retirement medical benefits, and granted three extra vacation days. No UAW vote is currently scheduled in the plant, but the union’s courtship of the work force is expected to gain steam as Honda begins construction of its new assembly plant 65 miles to the northeast in Lincoln, Alabama.

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