2005 Detroit Auto Show, Part VI

January 9, 2005

2005 Detroit Auto Show Index by TCC Team (1/8/2005)

Return of the Four-Door Convertible?

2005 ASC Concept

2005 ASC Concept

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It’s been nearly four decades since a major manufacturer – Lincoln – last produced a four-door convertible. But is there another one heading to market in the near future? Tucked away from the crowds in the back end of the lower level at Detroit’s Cobo Hall, supplier ASC is displaying a prototype of a four-door ragtop 300C. Though not formally authorized by Chrysler Group, the automaker is keeping a close eye on the project, CEO Dieter Zetsche told TheCarConnection.com. “We would not go for a camel,” said Zetsche, “but what we saw looks pretty nice.” The next step, he said, is to get the show car up to the Chrysler Technical Center, in Auburn Hills, “and see, technically, what it will do. It has to be a solid, strong body,” especially if it’s going to handle all the power of the popular Hemi engine. While Zetsche wasn’t ready to say if he’d like to do a production version, he hinted that “We are a fast company, and there wouldn’t be a chance to do this if it were to take more than four years.” Chrysler isn’t the only automaker intrigued by the idea of a four-door convertible. Its German sibling, Mercedes-Benz, is reportedly exploring its options. Bentley, meanwhile, originally considered making a four-door version of its prototype Arnage Drophead, but ultimately settled for a more conventional, two-door convertible.

Workforce Cuts Misinterpreted, Says GM

General Motors will rely largely on attrition to eliminate about 8000 jobs in 2005, CEO Rick Wagoner announced during an auto show meeting with reporters. But he quickly asserted that the cuts will largely be the result of attrition, not big layoffs, as had been reported by the Detroit Free Press. The paper had indicated GM was planning to trim seven percent of its U.S.workforce, which would have been well beyond what Wagoner insisted is in store. Adjusting for new hires and those brought back to the company payroll, a GM spokesman said ongoing headcount cuts have and will be close to five percent annually. Indeed, added Wagoner, the automaker has been steadily trimming back its workforce for several years as it finds ways to improve productivity. “What we’re planning is not anything new.” There have been rumors circulating in Detroitfor months that a more significant cutback was in the works, and a well-placed source told TheCarConnection one such plan was under consideration late last year. Further cuts could follow, Wagoner did admit, possibly at the field sales level. And some layoffs may yet result from factory closures and cutbacks. At the end of the third quarter of 2004, GM’s U.S.hourly workforce stood at 112,000, down from 119,000 at the end of September 2003. The white-collar rolls, according to a report by the Associated Press, fell from 40,000 to 38,000 during the same period.

Toyota Decision Soon on U.S.Hybrid Build

Toyota Motor Co. is still struggling to get out from under a backlog of up to eight months for its Prius hybrid, though CEO Fujio Cho said that recent increases in production are paying off. “Within the year 2005, we will be able to eliminate all these backorders,” he said during an interview at the Detroitauto show. That would suggest that Toyotais in position to meet its goal of selling 300,000 hybrid-electric vehicles, or HEVs, this year. That should include at least 100,000 copies of the Prius in the U.S., another 70,000 in Japan and 10,000 in Europe. Meanwhile, the automaker is launching gasoline-electric spinoffs of the Lexus RX and Toyota Highlander. Over the long-term, added top American executive, Jim Press, “It’s safe to say, ( Toyotawill add) a whole lot more hybrids.” And that would mean still more production increases. There is no question, CEO Cho acknowledged, that Toyota will eventually produce hybrids in a U.S.plant. And it is now studying what product to start with and where it would go. “By the middle of the year,” said Cho, “we’d like to reach some conclusion.”

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