Industry Report: Sept. 6, 2004

September 6, 2004

Power Stifles PIN Data With Media

J.D. Power and Associates is readying a letter to reporters covering the auto industry that the firm will no longer provide manufacturer, brand or model specific data for news stories. The new policy, say executives familiar with the change, was brought about by complaints from manufacturers unhappy that the data was being used to write negative stories.

Power, the recognized authority for measuring quality and customer satisfaction in the auto industry, rose to prominence in the 1970s and 80s by supplying reporters with data and releasing results of its surveys to the media. Power is anxious, though, to sell Power Information Network (PIN) services to OEMs and is being pressured by existing clients.

Manufacturers including General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Ford andToyota have for years privately grumbled that some of Power's surveys do not accurately measure real-world quality. At the same time, though, those same companies are quick to issue press releases and run celebratory ads when their models and brands do well. Power makes millions per year allowing manufacturers to advertise their winning survey scores. Now, those companies are apparently unhappy with how reporters use the data.

PIN data collects new car transaction data across the country, and then mines the data for clients trying to better target rebates and other marketing programs to different regions. Reporters, for example, could, until now, find out how many Jeep owners have been trading to GM and even how many import owners are buying Chrysler 300s. Going forward, media won't have access to such data, and will only be able to obtain industry or segment data on, for example, minivans or crossovers in general.

Until last year, Power only released quality and satisfaction scores of car companies scoring above industry average. But last year, Power began releasing scores of all brands, top to bottom. Car companies were not happy about that. But executives say the new survey release policy will stand. -Jim Burt

Lincoln, Buick Top Power CSI Survey by Jim Burt (7/26/2004)
Domestics lead the luxe pack for the first time in a long time.

Could Saabs Come From Germany?

Now that they're also coming from Japan and middle America, the answer may be yes. A report in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Reuters reports, indicates that GM is considering moving production of the Saab 9-3 to a line it would share with the Opel Vectra in Russelsheim, Germany. The Trollhattan factory that builds Saab's 9-3 sedan could even be shuttered if the plan is approved. The reverse could be true as well, the paper adds, with the German plant on the chopping block if GM chooses to keep the Swedish plant open. More likely, the story indicates, is that the moves could be part of a broader product realignment that could keep both factories working but not necessarily devoted to one GM brand.

Spy Shots: '06 Subaru Tribeca by Brenda Priddy (8/2/2004)
A five plus two crossover with seriously upmarket intentions.

Infiniti Bags I35

Nissan's upscale Infiniti division is doing away with the I35 sedan, a rebadged version of the last Nissan Maxima. The front-drive vehicle has essentially been replaced by the G35 sport sedan; Infiniti's products are now rear- or all-wheel-driven. Reuters reports the best sales year for the outgoing model was 2000, when Infiniti moved 39,532 I30s before an increase in displacement changed the vehicle's name to I35.

2004 Infiniti G35x by Marc K. Stengel (7/12/2004)
All-wheel drive muscles the G35x up to world-class status.

GM Says Half of Parts Will Be American

General Motors is responding to concerns over outsourcing by committing to keep about half of its parts purchases in the United States . Reuters reports that GM's VP of worldwide purchasing, Bo Andersson, says that the automaker's purchasing situation won't change much in the next three to four years. The company spends about $44 billion of its annual $87 billion parts buy in the U.S. GM has drawn attention this year by sourcing its first engine from China , a V-6 powerplant used in the Chevrolet Equinox.

VW: Bernhard's Not Coming Here

Where will Wolfgang Bernhard end up working? If the latest reports from Volkswagen and GM are correct, it's neither of those companies, despite much rumor and grist to the contrary. Automotive News reported on Monday that Volkswagen denied making an offer to the caffeinated Bernhard, who was dumped from the top slot at Mercedes before even taking office after Benz's unions balked at his appointment to succeed Juergen Hubbert. The News had reported that all Bernhard was waiting on was a salary. Meanwhile, sources inside GM told the News that they expected Bernhard to join VW, not GM, which has also been speculated since the departure of GM's former product-development exec Mark Hogan. Hogan left to helm supplier Magna International Inc.

WJR: A Successor for Lutz? by TCC Team (8/23/2004)

Toyota Moving Ahead on Mich.Site

A coalition of suppliers appear ready to pair up with Toyota Motor Co. to set up a pair of engineering sites that could boast one and possibly two separate test tracks. A report by the Detroit News indicates a consortium of Japanese suppliers closely affiliated with Toyota - including Aisin Seiki Co. Ltd., and Denso Corp. - could learn as early as today whether they'll get the go to set up an R&D center on a 755-acre plot of land halfway between Detroit and Michigan's capital, Lansing. Meanwhile, as TheCarConnection.com first reported earlier in August, Toyota itself expects to hear today if it has won the bid for a state-owned, 690-acre site in YorkTownship, south of the university town of Ann Arbor, where the automaker already operates an engineering complex. Both of the new centers could be equipped with test tracks focusing on specific elements of vehicle design, according to sources. Toyota has been sharply ramping up its Michigan design and engineering operations, though well-placed officials caution that Japan will continue to play the lead in vehicle development. And any new track in the Midwest will not replace the 12,000 acre proving grounds in Arizona. But having facilities nearby will sharply reduce delays when only minor road tests are needed. -TCC Team

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