Week of December 6, 1999

December 6, 1999




STRONG NOV. SALES — MINUS GM, DC The sales streak of 1999 continued mostly unabated in November save for disappointing results at General Motors and DaimlerChrysler. For the month, some 1,274,389 vehicles were sold for a 7.4-percent rise over last year. Ford was the big winner among the domestics, with sales of its Taurus and Volvo models leading a passenger-car boost of 18.5 percent; however, Ford light-truck sales shrank 2.4 percent from last year. Toyota rose 11.3 percent, Honda climbed 2.2 percent, Mitsubishi saw its best November ever with a 156-percent boost, and VW and Audi continued their double-digit increases. Meanwhile, sales at General Motors remained flat, and at DaimlerChrysler fell 2.7 percent.

For more on the sales figures, click here



TOP 20 SELLERS The twenty best-selling vehicles for the month of November are as follows:

1. Ford F-Series pickup 799,663
2. Chevrolet Silverado pickup 573,412
3. Toyota Camry 418,130
4. Dodge Ram pickup 395,065
5. Ford Explorer 391,636
6. Honda Accord 372,617
7. Ford Taurus 338,824
8. Ford Ranger pickup 328,941
9. Honda Civic 295,902
10. Jeep Grand Cherokee 275,958
11. Dodge Caravan 269,133
12. Ford Escort 255,365
13. Chevrolet Cavalier 251,682
14. Toyota Corolla 230,595
15. Pontiac Grand Am 217,788
16. Chevrolet S-Series pickup 216,702
17. Ford Expedition 213,525
18. Chevrolet Blazer 203,038
19. Chevrolet Malibu 198,639
20. Ford Windstar 198,202
Source: Reuters




NISSAN TO CUT BACK IN NORTH AMERICA Nissan's operations in North America will be reshaped over the next several months as the Japanese automaker implements its broad plan to become profitable once again. As part of its contribution to the restructuring goals, Nissan North America will eliminate roughly 1,000 jobs. The company now has about 10,000 employees in the U.S. Nissan offered no estimates of how much it expects to save from the changes by the time the cutbacks are complete in March 2001, but worldwide, the restructuring put together by the Carlos Ghosn, the Renault executive put in charge of the turnaround effort, is expected to reduce Nissan's fixed costs by almost $2 billion annually.

For more on the Nissan cuts, click here



IS THE SUV AFFAIR COOLING? Rising gas prices since last winter may be putting some distance between Americans and their beloved sport-utility vehicles, Reuters reports. The vehicles, which have captured nearly 20 percent of the U.S. market, have seen a four-percent drop in sales since August, when gasoline prices began a rise to the highest levels in nearly four years. Reuters adds the SUV sales drop contrasts sharply against last year’s 25-percent increase in SUV sales, when gas prices were at historic lows. Gas prices have risen, the news service says, from an average of 96 cents a gallon last winter to today’s $1.27 a gallon.




HONDA DENIES GM STAKE Once again, Honda is insisting that it’s not the subject of takeover or equity-stake rumors. This time, the supposed partner is General Motors; reports in several international papers last week held that GM would purchase some 100,000 fuel-efficient engines from Honda for use in North American products, and would cooperate further, possibly purchasing an equity stake in Japan’s third-largest carmaker. GM is said to be interested in "broad business links" with more Asian manufacturers as it seeks to boost its market share in the region from 4 percent to 10 percent. A Honda spokesman again reiterated that the company is not interested in alliances.



GM STAKE IN SUBARU, TOO? While pundits placed it in bed with Honda, GM was also busy declining comment that it would take a 20 to 25-percent share in Subaru. GM officials agreed that they had held talks with Subaru in October, but would not comment on the shareholding rumor put out by Japanese media. Giving some credence to Subaru’s search for a new partner, Nissan announced that it would sell its 4.1-percent stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, parent company of Subaru. Currently, GM has a 10-percent stake in Suzuki and owns 49 percent of Isuzu.



EPA BLASTS CITIES’ SMOG PLANS Of the 10 U.S. metro areas required to crack down on air pollution, only one has a plan that the Environmental Protection Agency deems sufficient, the agency announced last week. The ten areas mandated to come up with ways to reduce ozone under the Clean Air Act include Houston, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Hartford (Conn.), Milwaukee, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.; the one city in the group to come up with an "acceptable" plan to reduce pollution by power plants, cars and heavy industry was Springfield, Mass. Most of the cities included planned to cut emissions from traditional sources, but New York had proposed to switch its city buses from gasoline to natural gas.



NHTSA TO ADD BRAKE RATINGS? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may be adding braking ratings to its list of crash-safety tests, the agency said last week. NHTSA announced last week that it was working on test methodology that could be repeated at other test facilities. Last year, the agency tested 10 vehicles for straight-line braking effectiveness on wet and dry surfaces from 62 mph to a complete stop. The vehicles included five passenger cars, two passenger mini vans, on full-size cargo van, one full-size sport utility vehicle, and one full-size pickup truck. NHTSA has been doing crash tests since 1983; the agency recently added side-impact tests.



DODGE DROPS SPIDERMAN Less than a year after taking on a marketing partnership with Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., Dodge says it’s dumping the home of Spiderman and other cartoon characters so it can devote more money to its revived NASCAR effort. A DaimlerChrysler spokesman said the company had decided against doing both programs, and that its Winston Cup return would receive all of its attention. General Motors has a long-standing marketing agreement with Walt Disney World that, like the Dodge agreement, is meant to boost the company’s image among family vacationers.



RENAULT TO REVAMP DEALERS Still working on the fine details of its partnership with Nissan, France’s Renault SA may overhaul its European dealer network as a result of its new alliance, the London Financial Times reported last week. Nissan COO Carlos Ghosn told the paper in an interview that Renault would partly integrate its dealerships with those of Nissan, and would seek out purchasing savings from the combination.

Renault paid $5.4 billion for a 37-percent stake in Nissan in May.



CADDY STS TO PACE LE MANS Cadillac is getting deeper into Le Mans: the brand says that a specially equipped STS sedan will pace the 24-hour race next June. The hopped-up STS, called the Cunningham edition, will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the cars entered by racer Briggs Cunningham. The cars will include a 320-hp version of the 300-hp Northstar V-8, an updated version of Stabilitrak, High-intensity discharge headlamps with Night Vision, 18-inch wheels and 40-series tires, and larger brakes.




MEXICAN CAR TARIFF GONE FOR NOW Mexico’s government has done an about-face and rescinded a tariff of as much as $800 for U.S.-registered cars crossing its borders. Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo demanded the fee be rescinded until further notice after just two days in practice; the former fee of up to $10 will remain in place until further notice. The government had been trying to stop the illegal importation of U.S. vehicles, which accounts for as many as 2 million cars and trucks in Mexico.



THE SCARLET SIGN? Rebecca Escobar, of Wilkesboro, N.C. is guilty of the drunk-driving accident that killed 52-year-old Faye Schnablegger — but she doesn’t think she should have to wear a sign indicating it. Escobar, who drove into Schnablegger’s car on Jan. 27, killing the other driver, pleaded guilty to felony death by vehicle in June, and was sentenced by a Wilmington judge to wear a sign that reads "I am a convicted drunk driver and as a result I took a life." Escobar, when asked if her punishment fits the crime, told wire services, "No, I don’t."

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