Week of November 15, 1999

December 15, 1999




GM TO AXE F-CARS BY 2002 The Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, two of General Motors’ most recognizable models, will disappear from the company's model lineup by 2002. While GM officially denied reports that said the automaker could drop the cars next year, company officials acknowledged they have no immediate plans for producing another version of either the Camaro or the Firebird once it shuts the assembly plant in Ste. Therese, Quebec, in 2002. Buzz Hargrove, president of the CAW, says he has been unable to persuade GM to keep the Ste. Therese plant open after the contract expires. Instead, GM has agreed to discuss building "niche" vehicles at the plant beyond 2002, says CAW spokesman John McClymet.

For more on the death of the Camaro and Firebird, click here



FORD ANTES UP FOR NEW ENGINES Ford announced last week that it will invest more than $1 billion to overhaul four plants to make a new generation of lighter, more fuel-efficient engines. Factories in Dearborn; Chihuahua, Mexico; Valencia, Spain; and Hiroshima, Japan, will be retooled to make some 2 million of the new engines annually by 2004. An in-line four for small cars and an in-line five for compact cars and pickup trucks are two expected versions of the engine.



PESTILLO TO HEAD VISTEON The spin-off of Visteon took another adult-sized step toward reality with Friday’s appointment of Visteon’s Vice Chairman Peter Pestillo as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the unit. Pestillo, also Ford’s labor chief, assumes the position on January 1. Ford is expected to announce a Visteon spin-off by the end of this year. The subsidiary employs 77,000 people in 21 countries, and by virtue of the recent Ford-UAW four-year contract, all those employees will remain Ford employees (as far as payroll and benefits are concerned) for the length of their employment. Pestillo’s place at the Ford labor table will be taken by John Rintamaki, currently vice president and general counsel for the world’s second-largest automaker.




RUBIN JOINS FORD BOARD In a further bid to look nice for Wall Street investors, Ford has elected former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to its board of directors. Rubin, who joined Citigroup’s board in recent weeks, begins on Ford’s board on Jan. 1.

Rubin, 61, served as Treasury secretary from 1995 until this July; he is the first addition since William Clay Ford was added on Jan. 1 of 1999.





FERRARI ABSORBS MASERATI Ferrari SpA announced that it has acquired the 50 percent of Maserati that it didn't already own, as it prepares the once-moribund brand for a revival in the U.S. The shares were bought from parent Fiat SpA; Fiat bought Maserati in 1993 from Italy’s De Tomaso family and gave Ferrari half of the money-losing company. Maserati is scheduled to re-enter the U.S. market next year with the 3200 GT, a four-seat grand tourer powered by a 370-hp V-8.




SAAB DROPS VIGGEN’S TOP The recent California International Auto Show in Anaheim, California was the location for the U.S. debut of Saab’s 9-3 Viggen Convertible, the topless version of the lightning-quick blue angel named after the Saab JA37 Viggen jet fighter. All 9-3 Viggens are now available in black and silver in addition to the Viggen-exclusive Lightning Blue, and have increased horsepower and torque over 1999 models. The top performer in the Saab lineup, the Y2K Viggens feature a 2.3-liter turbocharged 230-hp engine. Owning a 9-3 Viggen Convertible in the U.S. will put you among the elite — just 300 will be available nationwide.



DEALERS SETTING UP SHOP IN CYBERSPACE The number of U.S. new-car dealerships with Internet Web sites increased 13 percent to 74 percent last year, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) said on Thursday, and almost half those without sites plan to have one within the next six months. The NADA says most dealer Web sites are interactive, allowing consumers to view inventory and check prices, while almost 40 percent permit customers to complete finance applications online. In addition to their own sites, more than half of dealerships subscribe to one or more third-party Internet shopping services, such as Auto-By-Tel or CarPoint, up from 31 percent last year, the association said.

Not all dealers are embracing the Web — read more by clicking here



NAV SYSTEMS IN DEMAND, POWER FINDS The demand and use of factory-equipped navigation systems might be greater than many analyst and car companies may have thought, according to the inaugural J.D. Power and Associates Navigation Usage and Satisfaction StudySM. Results of the study of 3000 consumers who leased or purchased vehicles with nav systems showed that two-thirds of the respondents used their system once or twice weekly, 19 percent of them daily. The three most popular reasons for use of the systems are finding the shortest routes to specific destinations, work-related navigation and locating residential addresses. More important for automakers, nearly 90 percent of the respondents would recommend their navigation system to others and roughly two out of three indicate that the lack of a navigation system option for a new vehicle would influence their buying decision.



VW DEBUTS AD ON THE WEB VW will preview its latest television commercial by posting it on its Web site, Reuters reports. The ad for VW's Cabrio convertible, dubbed "Milky Way," will be shown on VW's Web site (http://www.vw.com) on Monday, Nov. 15, prior to its launch on television a week later. Volkswagen AG will send e-mail to more than 250,000 consumers directing them to log onto the site to view the commercial. In the spot, a group of friends go out for a moonlit drive, listening to a song in their Cabrio. When they reach their destination, they realize they have had a great time just driving around under the stars and decide to turn around and go back.



HYUNDAI BROWN-BAGS ITS CARS In our favorite PR stunt of the month, Hyundai is trying to convince San Diego-area consumers that its cars are just as good as a Toyota Camry — apparently, as long as you don’t know which is which. The company offered test drives this past weekend of its Sonata sedan, back to back with the family-sedan sales leader Camry — with both cars obscured (except their windows) by brown paper. For obscurity’s sake, the cars were marked "A" and "B."



DC SUES ACCUSER IN SEATBACK SUIT DaimlerChrysler AG said on Wednesday it has sued plaintiffs' attorneys who filed what they call an "abusive" lawsuit, one that they assert damaged the company’s reputation. The DC suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, seeks a multimillion-dollar damage award from Philadelphia law firm Greitzer & Locks and from Maryland attorney William Askinazi; also named in the case is Philadelphian Brian Lipscomb, plaintiff in the original case. Last June, said lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit in Philadelphia against DaimlerChrysler, General Motors Corp. and its Saturn unit, and Ford Motor Co., alleging the seat design in their vehicles was unsafe; similar cases were filed in four other states and actions were taken to do the same in 30 more states. DaimlerChrysler and Ford were dropped from the Pennsylvania lawsuit in the fall after Lipscomb, the plaintiff in the case, was shown to have never owned vehicles made by either automaker.




MEXICO CLAMPS DOWN ON U.S. CARS Beginning Dec. 1, Mexico will require drivers of U.S.-registered cars to leave deposits of up to $800 to enter the country's interior, Reuters reports. Drivers going beyond a 15.5-mile border zone will have to leave a deposit either in cash or on a credit card. For cars made in 1999, the deposit would be $800; for model years 1994 to 1998, $600; and for older cars, $400. Refunds can be collected at any border post. The new policy would replace a system along some parts of the border under which drivers of U.S.-registered cars leave a copy of their credit card and pay $11; the credit card isn't charged unless the person doesn't return, and the amount depends on the value of the car. The entire Baja California peninsula is exempt from the new policy. Mexican officials say the policy is necessary to slow black-market car sales, which they estimate account for one million of Mexico's 14 million vehicles.



‘NET CHAIN LETTER IS HONDA HOAX Honda says an Internet chain letter promising respondents a free Honda vehicle is a hoax. The e-mail promises those who pass it on a $1000 credit toward a free car or truck made by Honda; each successive mailing adds $200 to the account and if someone contacted passes the offer on to others, the original mailer receives another $100, Reuters reports. Honda found out about the letter as it began receiving calls from customers about a month ago. The company posted a note on its Web site at www.honda.com, calling it a "false chain letter." Honda has tried unsuccessfully to trace the letter back to its source, according to Honda spokesman Art Garner, who guessed it was being done to collect e-mail addresses for a marketing firm.



CAST YOUR VOTE FOR CAR OF THE CENTURY Will the Car of the Century be the Model T, the Bugatti T57, the Volkswagen Beetle, the Jaguar E-Type or the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost? You can help decide — but you have only two weeks left to act. Two groups are inviting members of the general public to log onto the Internet, cruise through automobile history and cast their votes. At one site, Yahoo! Autos has teamed up with Car Collector magazine in a "Cars of the Century" celebration to allow car enthusiasts to tour the top 20 models they have selected as candidates and cast their vote. By visiting www.autos.yahoo.com and clicking on "Car of the Century," enthusiasts can rank the vintage vehicles based on five criteria: performance, style, innovation, industry influence, and popularity. Voting ends at 12:00 a.m. EST on December 1, 1999. The second group, Car of the Century International NV, headquartered in The Netherlands, is combining results from the public and a group of 132 automotive journalists from 33 countries who have already chosen their top 26 from the same 100 vehicles on the web site. Enthusiasts can log onto www.cotc.com and vote until 12:00 a.m. PST, on November 28. Following the close of public voting, the 10 cars from the public voting will be merged with the 26 from the professional jury. The professional jury will select the top 5 finalists and will ultimately pick The Car of the Century. The winner will be announced December 18 and posted on the web site that night.

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