Week of September 6, 1999

September 6, 1999





SALES COULD HIT 17 MILLION Sales of new cars, pickup trucks, minivans and sport-utility vehicles rumbled through August at full steam, forcing analyst to once again raise their estimates of the final sales total for 1999, which now could approach or exceed 17 million units. So far this year, automakers have delivered 10.2-percent more vehicles to American consumers than they did a year ago, analysts said. In all, automakers delivered a total of 1,485,204 light vehicles in August; meanwhile, the annual sales rate was running at about 17.8 million units, well ahead of the industry's annual record of 16.2 million units set back in 1986. Sales could top 13 million units by the end of the third quarter on Sept. 30.

For more on last month’s sizzling sales, click here



TOP 20 SELLERS While we’re at it, here are your 20 best sellers through the end of August 1999, as reported by the automakers:



1. Ford F-Series pickup 584,741
2. Chevrolet Silverado pickup 405,548
3. Toyota Camry 310,984
4. Dodge Ram pickup 292,413
5. Ford Explorer 281,196
6. Honda Accord 277,784
7. Ford Ranger pickup 270,322
8. Ford Taurus 254,539
9. Honda Civic 223,477
10. Dodge Caravan 213,715
11. Ford Escort 210,066
12. Chevrolet Cavalier 198,612
13. Jeep Grand Cherokee 197,855
14. Toyota Corolla 174,197
15. Chevrolet S-Series 165,602
16. Pontiac Grand Am 163,050
17. Ford Windstar 159,494
18. Saturn S-Series 155,227
19. Ford Expedition 153,878
20. Chevrolet Malibu 148,684




BLUEOVALNEWS.COM BACK UP It’s back online, but this week could determine whether BlueOvalNews.com keeps publishing internal Ford documents. By Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds is expected to decide whether Ford should be granted a preliminary injunction against Robert Lane, the operator of BlueOvalNews.com. A temporary order is in place now. Last week, the site was closed down by Lane’s Internet provider after Ford threatened legal action against both the site and the host. BlueOvalNews.com has been a site for Ford enthusiasts, but lately proprietor Lane has been posting internal Ford documents sent to him anonymously.

A recent set of documents indicates Ford is planning to raise the fuel economy of its trucks by 10 percent through diesel and CVT transmissions.

Need the full story on BlueOvalNews.com? Click here



PRICELINE.COM EXPLANDS The Internet’s "name-your-own-price" specialists are expanding their car-shopping service to five more regions, the company announced last week. Priceline.com’s new-car service is now available in California, Florida, Connecticut, New Jersey, and greater Philadelphia. The service had been offered in New York City and Tampa. Stamford, Connecticut-based Priceline chose the new markets because of high sales. The company plans to roll out its service across the 48 contiguous states in the first quarter of next year.



UNWIRED DEALERS RISK SALES Car dealers who ignore the Web risk losing sales, says an Internet research and analysis firm. Lincoln, Massachusetts-based Gomez Advisors estimates that by 2002, some 20 percent of all new- and used-car sales will be initiated on the Internet, up from 3 percent this year. Gomez senior analyst Adam Weiner says "consumers are now in the drivers' seat and can exert force on dealers to meet or beat prices they have obtained online. …Those dealers capable of integrating their physical and Internet presence stand to gain the most in the future."



GM MANAGERS CHARGED WITH RACKETEERING Three former GM supervisors have been charged with asking for bribes worth more than $2 million from GM suppliers. The three suspects, who no longer work for GM, told suppliers to raise prices on goods and services and submit fake bills, Reuters reports. The suppliers were then paid by GM and returned the favor to the three suspects. Also on the goodwill list: trips to Las Vegas, motorcycles, and a tanning salon membership, investigators told the Flint (Michigan) Journal. Charges against the men include commercial bribery, racketeering, embezzlement, unauthorized use of a transaction device, and extortion. A GM spokesman warned that companies engaging in the practice risked losing business with GM.



FORD TO PAY RECORD ROUGE FINE Ford Motor Co. will pay $7 million — but will not be held criminally responsible — for the February boiler explosion that killed six workers and injured 14. The Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Administration says part of the payment includes a $1.5 million fine, the largest ever levied by the department. The remaining money will finance new safety programs, medical research into burn treatment and set up a scholarship fund in memory of the victims. A seven-month investigation of the Feb. 1 explosion at Ford's Rouge complex in Dearborn revealed 15 workplace safety violations, reports Reuters, along with human errors.



MBUSI TAKES ON THE UAW? Mercedes-Benz International, the DaimlerChrysler unit producing the M-Class SUV in Alabama, has joined 71 other companies in a nonprofit foundation that will assist workers who oppose the United Auto Workers organizing within the MBUSI plant, the Detroit News reports. The companies are banding together to preserve their "right to work" environment — one in which employees can’t be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. MBUSI spokeswoman Linda Paulmeno says her company hadn’t been notified that the nonprofit group, called the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, was setting up a foundation to assist anti-UAW workers.





SMART SAGA CONTINUES The ceaseless drama that is the DaimlerChrysler Smart car goes on this week. The German press is reporting that the Smart project has lost an estimated $540 million so far, and could lose as much as $2 billion for DC by the year 2004. Meanwhile, DC is said to be looking for partners to ease the financial sting of developing a new generation of Smart, including a four-passenger model. Last week, PSA Peugeot-Citroen confirmed it was in talks with DC to supply parts for the next Smart. At the same time, Italy’s Fiat SpA denied it was negotiating the same deal with DaimlerChrysler.





SAAB MOVES DROPTOPS TO AUSTRIA Saab will move production of its 9-3 convertibles from Finland to Austria as part of a deal inked with Austria’s Steyr-Daimler-Puch, Saab officials confirmed last week. At the same time, Saab says it has no plans to drop its cooperation with Finland’s Valmet, which now builds the convertibles. Valmet recently began building the high-performance Viggen variant of the Saab 9-3. The additional partner is expected to help Saab push its production sights from its current 120,000 units per year to more than 150,000 in the year 2000.



DC GOES POSTAL DaimlerChrysler will lease 12 electric vans to the Harbor City, California, post office and create the nation's first fully electric postal fleet, the company announced last week. The Epic minivans – electric versions of the company’s more pedestrian Voyagers and Caravans — will join three other electric vans in use already at the post office. The leases will cost about $15,000 per year per vehicle.



USE YOUR CELL PHONE, GET A TICKET Police have started ticketing drivers for chatting on cell phones in the Cleveland suburb of Brooklyn, under a law believed to be the first of its kind in the country, CNN reports. An ordinance banning cell-phone use while driving was passed in March; on Wednesday, police started handing out tickets. Fines for the misdemeanor begin at $3 for first-time offenders but can shoot up to $100 for a second offense or if the driver is involved in an accident. The law prohibits use of a cell phone while driving unless both hands are on the steering wheel. Exceptions are made for emergency calls, using a phone in a parked car, or using a speakerphone. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, cell phones were a contributing factor in 57 fatal crashes in 1997, the last year for which figures are available.

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