Weekly News: February 12, 2001

February 12, 2001

PORSCHE DISHES HOT SUV DETAILS Porsche AG has revealed some more details about its long-awaited Cayenne sport-utility vehicle. At the Chicago Auto Show, Porsche officials said that the company plans to make about 25,000 Cayennes in the first year, with more than half of them bound for the U.S. The "SUV sports car" will go on sale next year, with a wide price range including V-6, V-8, and twin-turbocharged V-8 models.

For more on the Cayenne, show-floor previews of Ford's pocket-rocket SVT Focus, the sleek Mercury Marauder, and the revamped Subaru Impreza, plus all the concepts, news, and industry buzz from the TCC's coverage of the Chicago Auto Show, click here.

FEDS ADD 26 MORE DEATHS TO FIRESTONE INVESTIGATION Federal investigators have reported an additional 26 deaths involving Firestone tires, bringing the total National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) figures up to 174 fatalities and 700 injuries. An Associated Press report attributed at least 11 of the fatalities to involve tires not included in the recall effort. Firestone recalled 6.5 million ATX, ATX II, and Wilderness AT tires last summer due to tread separation problems. Neither Firestone nor federal investigators have found a single cause of the tire-failure problems, although the defective tires were produced at Firestone's Decatur, Illinois, facility.

GROUPS STILL PUSHING FOR EXPANDED RECALL At least 7500 tires not included in Firestone's August recall have failed due to tread separation, according to a USA Today report. The failures represent several different models and a variety of sizes of Firestone light-truck tires, including some 14- and 16- inch tires and, actually, some tires that may have been used as replacements for the recalled tires. Consumer groups are citing the figure, based on actual National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, in demands for Bridgestone Firestone to instigate a larger-scale recall.

BRIDGESTONE FIRESTONE LAUNCHES SAFETY WEB SITE Bridgestone Firestone have launched TireSafety.com, a Web site that focuses on tire safety information for consumers. The Web site also includes a service that will remind visitors to check their tire pressure at least once per month. The site's launch marks yet another image-building attempt for the company, whose reputation and finances was scarred by last year's Firestone tire recall and tread separation failures.

DC REPORTS 49-PERCENT PROFIT DROP IN 2000 DaimlerChrysler revealed that its operating profit fell 49 percent in 2000, to $4.9 billion, despite a 37-percent rise in earnings. Overall sales in 2000 rose eight percent versus 1999. The company will reveal fourth-quarter 2000 results later this month, and CEO Dieter Zetsche is expected to reveal the company's turnaround plan for the Chrysler division on February 26.

DAIMLERCHRYSLER OFFERS THOUSANDS EARLY RETIREMENT DaimlerChrysler is offering early retirement buyouts to some U.S. employees in order to help eliminate a targeted 6800 jobs cut by the end of March. The company's offer includes full pension benefits to most workers 53 and older, and special payouts and free car vouchers to those 62 years old, according to the Detroit News. Additional early retirement offers for blue-collar workers are being made through the United Auto Workers, and the company hopes to eventually cut 19,000 hourly workers.

SALES SLIDE CONTINUES IN JAN U.S. automakers reported a continued sales slide for January, with Big Three combined sales of domestic brands dropping 11 percent for cars and nine percent for trucks. GM reported a five percent drop overall, while Ford sales dropped 11 percent and DaimlerChrysler sales plunged 16 percent. Automakers are hoping that lower interest rates will stimulate sales over the next few months.

BERKELEY PROFESSOR REVEALS TIRE INVESTIGATION A University of California, Berkeley, professor hired by Firestone has confirmed the results of earlier company investigations by saying that he had not found a single cause for the tire-failure problems that led to the recall of 6.5 million tires last year. Professor Sanjay Govindjee said that he could not find a particular weakness in the tires, and the problems were a result of hot weather, design, manufacturing processes, and tire usage. The investigator would not comment on Ford's involvement in the tire problems. Most of the accidents related to the failure of the tires were with Ford Explorer SUVs.

AUTONATION, CARPOINT PARTNER AutoNation and MSN Carpoint have entered an agreement in which AutoNation will be made the primary distributor for Carpoint sales leads. The three-year agreement, which promises to give AutoNation's dealer network more business while Carpoint reaches more customers, begins in March. The two companies will also use shared customer data to expand their dealer network.

SUPPLIERS RESIST CUT Suppliers are resisting the five-percent price cut that DaimlerChrysler has demanded, effective January 1, and many of the suppliers are negotiating with the automaker over the terms of the cut. DaimlerChrysler intends to cut about $6 billion in component costs from the mandatory cut. Some of the 900 suppliers, already affected by the downturn of the industry, have reportedly refused the cut. DC hopes to find a ten percent savings from suppliers by January 2003.

JAG ENGINE PRODUCTION GOES BACK HOME Ford Motor Company has announced plans to invest $360 million in its existing factory in Bridgend, Wales. The investment will create 600 new jobs, and the plant will produce V-6 and V-8 engines for Jaguar models. The Jaguar engines are currently being built in Cleveland. The decision will return some jobs to the battered U.K. auto industry. Ford decided last year to close operations at its Dagenham, U.K., plant, eliminating hundreds of jobs.

DAEWOO CUTS 1300 JOBS IN POLAND Korea's Daewoo Motor Co. has announced that it will lay off 1300 workers at its Warsaw, Poland, assembly plant, called Daewoo-FSO. The layoffs represent about one quarter of the plant's work force. The Daewoo-FSO operation was profitable until last fall, but lagging sales has caused the plant to cut production by one third.

TOYOTA CONFIRMS ALABAMA V-8 PLANT Toyota has confirmed that it will invest $220 million in a new V-8 engine plant in Huntsville, Alabama. The plant will assemble the company's first V-8 engines to be built outside of Japan. The engines will be supplied for the Toyota Tundra pickup, and potentially the Sequoia SUV. The plant, to employ 350 new workers, will begin producing the engines in summer of 2003 with an expected capacity of 120,000.

TOP MAZDA EXECS TAKE CUT Mazda's board members in Japan will take a ten-percent pay cut to do their part to help the company cut costs. The automaker had announced last year that 1800 workers will be asked to take early retirement, although the company will likely not force layoffs. Mazda is 33.4-percent owned by Ford Motor Company.

GM U.K. JOBS SAVED England has saved production of the Vauxhall Vectra from going to mainland Europe. General Motors will move next-generation production of the Vectra to its Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, plant in the U.K. GM announced in December that production of the model at its Luton plant would end. Since then, British labor unions have contested the decisions, staged walkouts, and threatened strikes. Vectra production at the Ellesmere plant will be boosted to 14,000 units per year.

RENAULT LIKELY TO RAISE NISSAN STAKE Renault is considering raising its stake in Japan's Nissan Motor Co. to 44 percent, according to comments Renault chairman Louis Schweitzer made to the French magazine Valeurs Actuelles. The automakers' 1999 agreement allows Renault to buy up to 44 percent of the company at the same price as the first 36.8 percent.


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