DAILY EDITION: Jan. 16, 2003

January 16, 2003

TCC'S DAILY EDITION: Jan. 16, 2003


FORD GRANTS EARLY OUTS ON LEASES
Current lessees of four Ford vehicles can turn in their vehicles early if they buy or lease a new Ford vehicle, the company said on Wednesday. The “Red Carpet Lease Early Bird Program,” Reuters reports, allows those folks leasing a Focus, Windstar, Ranger or Taurus the opportunity to get out of their leases without penalty provided they buy a new Ford, so long as they have no more than eight months left on the lease. The program runs through February.
Preview: 2004 Ford F-150 by Marty Padgett (1/13/2003)

2003 Dodge Durango concept

2003 Dodge Durango concept

CHRYSLER SEEKS SEXY SUV ALTERNATIVE
While the demise of the SUV is being greatly exaggerated, there's no question Chrysler is looking for some more socially conscious alternatives. President and COO Wolfgang Bernhard said his company is shifting resources from truck-based vehicles to passenger cars, though "they might not be the three-box" designs of the past. "They might look different," borrowing some of the more attractive SUV attributes but yielding lighter weight and more lower fuel consumption. The challenge, Bernhard stressed, is to find a way to "get emotional vehicles that resonate with customers" the way SUVs and other light trucks do in today's market. "It's gotta be sexy to drive in a vehicle that doesn't consumer so much gas, and we as an industry have to get there." The proportions and performance afforded by rear-wheel-drive powertrains may be part of the process, Bernhard added.

2003 Dodge Tomahawk concept

2003 Dodge Tomahawk concept

CHRYSLER CRUISING THE TOMAHAWK?
While Chrysler has no clear plans to put the Viper-powered Tomahawk motorcycle into production, the automaker's COO, Wolfgang Bernhard, hints that at least one running model will be built. The prototype shown at the Detroit auto show has all the necessary elements, from brakes to radiator to fuel tank, "all the necessary ingredients are there." And Bernhard himself may very well be the man to drive it, or so it seems, with the Tomahawk likely readied to participate in the annual Summer car event, Detroit's Woodward Dream Cruise. But Bernhard also cautioned that going forward, Chrysler will likely shy away from extremely low-volume "halo" cars, such as the Plymouth Prowler. "It is difficult to make money on very small vehicle runs," he explained. So, "in the future, if we do (such) exciting vehicles, we will do them in larger numbers," or not at all.
Dodge’s V-10 Tomahawk Bike
GOOD NEW/BAD NEWS FOR GM EUROPE
“In general terms, Saab is in worse shape than we expected,” says General Motors Europe’s chief executive, Mike Burns. On the other hand, he tells TheCarConnection, “Opel/Vauxhall is better than we expected, even on lower sales.” For the Swedish subsidiary, its continuing poor performance is expected to result in 1300 job cuts, even as it looks for ways to improve output. Saab’s problems run deep and Burns acknowledges “very few companies can build (just) 130,000 cars and make money.” But with an expanded range of offerings off its new 9-3 platform, Burns insists GM is far from the point where it would have to make any tough decisions about Saab’s long-term viability. –TCC Team
Flint: GM’s Foreign Affairs
GM GAME-PLANNING FIAT OUTCOME
Meanwhile, GM is quietly taking steps, where it can, to help its troubled affiliate, Fiat, says GM Europe CEO Mike Burns. “We’re going to do everything we can to help them.” But Burns cautions that GM can and will only go so far. “We also have to keep our own interests in mind.” While GM officials have been reluctant to discuss the ongoing Fiat crisis, Burns hints the U.S. automaker is following events closely and strategizing on the various possibilities. “You can be assured we’re talking about the possible outcomes and you can be sure we’re not going to damage our interests.” Along with owning a 20-percent stake in the ailing Italian automaker, GM has set up a variety of joint ventures with Fiat, affecting, among other things, overseas purchasing and powertrain operations. –TCC Team
Flint: GM, Leave Fiat Alone


MAKING A MOVE IN THE MINIVAN MARKET
Chrysler’s minivan sales slipped 5 percent last year “in the face of brutal competition” from the likes of the Honda Odyssey, says the automaker’s product development chief, Rich Schaum. But he tells TheCarConnection that is better than some might have predicted because “we still have as loyal a following as we do.” Still, the situation is likely to get even more challenging, Schaum acknowledges, as new products and more import production capacity comes on-line. So Chrysler is looking for ways to ensure that the minivans maintain their market – or at least the factories building them have alternative products to keep operations steady. The Kahuna, one of the more popular concepts at this year’s Detroit auto show, illustrates the possibilities “we could exploit in the future,” the product chief suggests. The new Pacifica “cross-tourer” is another “pre-emptive” product, and more may be on the way, Schaum hints, adding “There are other ideas in the same genre.” Meanwhile, look for Chrysler to echo general industry trends and move towards more car-like sport-utility vehicles. The replacement Durango will remain truck-based, notes Schaum, “but that’s all we need. We don’t need a whole stable” of conventional body-on-frame SUVs. –TCC Team

CHRYSLER SIGNS UP FOR SUPER BOWL SPOTS
The Chrysler Group, in another sign of renewed confidence, is lining up to advertise during the Super Bowl for the first time since 1996 or nearly three years before the merger that created DaimlerChrysler. The new spot will focus the group's Chrysler Group and should air during the first quarter of the upcoming telecast January 26 on Super Bowl XXXVII. Chrysler group advertising executives, however, have not yet decided whether pop singer Celine Dion, who recently signed an multi-year contract to help sell the new Chrysler image, will actually appear in the Super Bowl spot, Bill Morden, BBDO chief creative officer, said Wednesday. –Joe Szczesny

WORLD REPORT: Europe by Ian Norris

Euro Registrations Drop in ‘02

Figures from the European automobile manufacturers’ trade association show that registrations of new cars in the region for 2002 dropped by 2.9 percent over the previous year. Of the 18 countries recorded, only five showed an increase, with Denmark up 15.3 percent, Finland up 7 percent, the U.K. up 4.3 percent, Sweden up 3.2 percent and Luxemburg up 1.4 percent. Every other market showed a decline, from 11.4 percent in Portugal to 2.6 percent in Germany.

Total registrations for the 15 countries of the European Community plus the 3 countries of the European Free Trade Association were 14,390,163, compared with 14,817,679 in 2001. The month of December bucked the trend, with a total of 988,392, which was 11.5 percent up on December 2001. The figures were heavily influenced by big rises in Holland (+135.2 percent), Ireland (+84.6 percent) and Italy (+51.4 percent), which were said to be due to the real or perceived end of incentive schemes.

Among the manufacturers, the Ford group marked strong growth in December, 18.8 percent up on 2001, but was down just 0.8 percent on the year as a whole. Jaguar was particularly strong over the twelve-month period, with a 22-percent increase, but it was the only member of the Ford family of Ford, Volvo and Land Rover to post a decrease in sales for December 2002 over 2001. A drop of 3.7 percent could be due to a lack of product due to the XJ sedan model changeover or a slowing in X-Type sales.

Thanks to the Mini, BMW showed a healthy increase of 13.8 percent in annual sales, but apart from Peugeot/Citroen, up 1.1 percent, all the other European manufacturers saw a decrease. The VW Group was down 2.9 percent, Renault dropped 2 percent, DaimlerChrysler lost 0.9 percent, while MG-Rover was 10.4 percent off and GM figures were 10.4 percent behind those of 2001. Worst performer, not unexpectedly, was the troubled Fiat group, which was 16.8 percent less than the previous year. Japanese imports grew by 6.6 percent, with Honda (+16.6 percent), Toyota/Lexus (+13.9 percent) and Mazda (+13.3 percent) in the lead. Korean manufacturers’ sales were down 5.2 percent.

MINI Factory Goes On the Webcam

The selection of BMW’s British-built MINI as America’s Car of the Year, together with extremely healthy sales figures, show the little car is a real hit in the U.S. Fans who want to know more about it can now go on the web to see the production process at the factory in Oxford, England. The university town has been a center of car production since the 1920s when British pioneer William Morris started to build the cars that carried his name in the city. The MINI plant is a direct descendant of the original Morris factory in terms of its position, but like the ax that chopped down George Washington’s cherry tree, which had three new handles and two new heads during its life, it has little in common with the old premises.

The MINI was going to be built in the factory that built the original MINI, in Birmingham. However, as part of the complicated deal that saw BMW sell the Rover company for $15, all the manufacturing plant and facilities were swapped to Oxford, some sixty miles away. The equipment designed to build the Rover 75 sedan made the trip in reverse, concentrating all Rover and MG manufacturing in the English Midlands and giving BMW a single site for the new car.

Building the factory from scratch gave BMW the opportunity to incorporate all the latest manufacturing technology, and that’s what is on show in the special manufacturing section of the British MINI website, at www.MINI.co.uk. Among the attractions are interviews with staff, a 12-minute time-lapse video that shows the whole build process from start to finish, and even interactive games.

Among the aspects of production covered on the website is the degree of individuality that can be built into a MINI in terms of options. It’s said that thanks to the varying standard specifications and over 50 interchangeable options, it’s possible that only 10 MINIs in a million could be built with identical specifications.

There is also a section showing the accuracy with which the cars are assembled. The production line incorporates U.S-developed Perceptron equipment, which uses cameras to measure and constantly monitor body manufacturing dimensions to within 0.05 millimetres, or half the width of a human hair.

Spyker Gives Individual Attention

Another European manufacturer is offering web access to the manufacturing process, but on a much more limited basis. Customers that order a new car from Spyker, the Dutch specialist sports car builder, will be given a password that opens up a Web cam in the factory to enable them to watch their own car being built.

The software that controls the cameras and enables the customers to access information on their own car has been developed by Tresparc, a Dutch company that is supplying similar programs to the medical, financial and education markets. In addition to a central database, each Spyker has its own individual data file, readable by the owner, the factory and dealers, which creates a unique record of every car. The owner can communicate with the factory personnel responsible for building his or her car as well as with other owners, creating a ‘family’ of Spyker enthusiasts.

Spykers, which are powered by mid-mounted 4.0-liter Audi V-8 engines and are designed for a top speed of around 200 mph, don’t come cheap. The price range for open and coupe models starts around $200,000-plus, so the website is unlikely to be over-burdened with traffic. However, Tresparc sees its program as being applicable to manufacturers with bigger customer bases and views Spyker as a prestigious business card.

FROM THE SOURCE

PRNewswire

The Chrysler brand, in an agreement with AEG that deepens and expands its partnership with Sony recording artist Celine Dion, announced today that it is the presenting sponsor of "A New Day..." premiering March 25 at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. Chrysler will receive name-in-title presenting status for the new show "Celine Dion A New Day... Presented By Chrysler." The show is produced by Concerts West, a division of AEG Live. The sponsorship builds on Chrysler's existing multi-year brand partnership with Celine Dion.

THE TICKER

Name Symbol Last Chg
AUTOLIV ALV 22.04 +0.21
AUTONATION INC AN 12.55 +0.06
ARVINMERITOR ARM 17.30 -0.03
AMER AXLE & MANU AXL 24.73 -0.22
BALLARD PWR SYS BLDP 11.528 +0.028
BORG WARNER BWA 53.90 -0.25
COLLINS AIKMAN CKC 4.83 +0.40
CUMMINS INC CUM 28.02 -0.54
DANA CORP DCN 11.59 -0.14
DAIMLERCHRYSLER DCX 30.86 -1.02
DELPHI CORP DPH 8.99 +0.03
EATON CORP ETN 75.50 -1.34
FORD MOTOR CO F 10.30 -0.23
GENERAL MOTORS GM 40.20 -0.30
GENTEX CORP GNTX 29.25 -0.80
GOODYEAR TIRE GT 6.98 -0.29
HONDA MOTOR CO HMC 17.96 -0.19
JOHNSON CONTROLS JCI 82.25 -0.97
LEAR CORP LEA 39.26 +0.15
MAGNA INTL MGA 58.12 0.00
MOTOROLA INC MOT 9.25 -0.21
NISSAN MOTORS NSANY 16.28 +0.06
SONIC AUTOMOTIVE SAH 16.35 -0.21
TOWER AUTO TWR 3.95 -0.09
TOYOTA MOTOR TM 52.65 -0.21
UNIT AUTO GRP UAG 13.17 -0.38
VISTEON CORP VC 7.13 -0.23

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