Bigger Is Better in Chicago
If last year's oil shock changed the way Americans are
driving, the message was apparently lost on those showing off their wares in the
. The 2006 Chicago Auto
Show puts plenty of emphasis on large trucks. Toyota
will roll out its next-generation Tundra
pickup on Thursday, while General Motors rolled out yet another variant of its
all-new big truck platform -- the 2007 Chevrolet Avalanche. Dodge's mid-size
Nitro SUV was nearly the smallest truck on display. And at Lincoln
, the new Navigator
showed up with an even larger L model.
2006 Chicago Auto Show
Coverage by TCC Team
GM Following Yellow Line; Who's
2007 Chevrolet Avalanche
The billboards plastered all over Chicago
's McCormick Place
generated a bit of
confusion when the media hordes descended on the WindyCity
convention center. "Live Green, Go
Yellow," they declare. And it turns out they're the slogan for General Motors
big push for ethanol, a campaign teased with a pair of commercials aired during
last weekend's Super Bowl. The automaker hopes to see a rapid increase in
production and distribution of E85 - a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15
percent gasoline, said marketing executive Brent Dewar. Since ethanol can be
produced from a variety of grains, such as corn - hence the reference to yellow
- it is a renewable alternative to imported oil, and said Dewar, part of the
process of "ultimately removing the automobile from the environmental debate."
So far, GM reported, it has
produced more than 1.6 million flex-fuel cars, trucks and crossovers, vehicles
that can run on any blend of gasoline or ethanol. The problem is that few
consumers actually use the fuel. At the moment, there are no more than 500 E85
pumps in the United States. But "the intent is to build the
infrastructure," asserted Beth Lowery, who heads GM's environmental efforts. The
more E85-capable vehicles, she added, the more likely energy companies will
provide the fuel. The effort is also getting a push from the President, who
spotlighted ethanol during his State of the Union speech. With automakers like
GM and Ford partnering with Shell, VersaSun and other ethanol providers,
industry prognosticators are hoping there'll be 2000 E85 pumps dotting the
U.S. map by the end of
GM Slashes Exec Pay, Dividend by TCC Team (2/7/2006)
Still more "shared pain" could be in the
offing, CEO Wagoner suggests.
Ford Gets E85 Out with
Kermit and Anne Stevens
Ford had some E85 announcements of its own to make in
rolled out a prototype Escape Hybrid that can run on gasoline or ethanol, with
the help of Muppet Kermit the Frog. Like GM, Ford is partnering with various
energy suppliers to expand availability. "Consumers aren't willing to drive 50
miles" to find ethanol, said Anne Stevens, Ford's second-in-command in the
But more pumps mean more
motorists will actually fill their flex-fuel vehicles up on E85, rather than
gasoline, she contended. But not everyone is quite so confident. For one thing,
ethanol is currently a good bit more expensive than gasoline and doesn't deliver
quite as much mileage-not to mention the fact it competes with food production
from the same basic grains. "There are still a lot of questions about what the
real benefits (of ethanol) will be," cautioned Jim Press, CEO of Toyota's
Bush Takes Ethanol Message on
Road by Joseph Szczesny
Follow-ups to State of the Union press for break from
Press: Fuel-Economy Numbers
Press's skepticism could also
reflect the fact that Toyota has been betting its environmental
reputation on its growing lineup of hybrid-electric vehicles - products that
have generated some controversy of their own. The EPA is proposing changes in
mileage tests, and some observers estimate products like the Toyota Prius could
see their own fuel economy ratings dip by 20 to 30 percent. Press said he
supported the new rules because, "the advertising (of current mileage estimates)
is misleading." Toyota is investing $7 billion a year on the
development of higher-mileage and alternative fuel vehicles, Press added.
Ultimately, he suggested, there is likely to be a "matrix" of different
powertrains - gasoline, ethanol, hybrid, diesel and even hydrogen - filling the
varied needs of American motorists.
2007 Toyota Camry by Bengt Halvorson
Ready to spoil a new round of frugal family buyers - and
keep its best-selling title.
Tundra Has Michigan Roots
hubbub over Toyota's new Tundra pickup truck has
been building for months, with the Japanese automaker nearly done with a new
plant in San
Texas, where it will produce the
truck. It turns out, though, that the first "production" truck ready for public
viewing at the Chicago Auto Show was built not in Texas but by a team of technicians in a secretive pilot
plant near Ann Arbor, Mich., in a part of the ToyotaTechnicalCenter. The new San Antonio-built truck
will reach the public in about 11 months and Toyota is targeting sales of 200,000 units in
2007, according to Jim Press, Toyota Motor Sales, chief operating officer. The
San Antonio plant simply wasn't ready to produce
the pilot version in time for its official introduction in Chicago, Press said.-Joe Szczesny
Spy Shots: '07 Toyota Tundra by Hans
Lehmann/Hidden Image (1/30/2006)
The first pictures, ahead of Chicago's launch.
Ahead of Schedule
the bad news piling up, General Motors is basically betting the company on the
success of the GMT 900. Gary White, the vehicle line executive responsible for
the trucks and sport-utility vehicles in the 900 family, said the program is
ahead of plan. "We're ahead of schedule," he said in Chicago when
TheCarConnection caught up with him after watching rival Ford roll out the
makeover of the 2007 Lincoln Navigator at the Chicago Auto Show. White said GM's assembly plant in
Arlington, Texas, is already building the Chevrolet Tahoe and
Yukon and two
weeks ago added the 2007 Cadillac Escalade to the mix. GM's assembly plant in
Janesville, Wisc., also began building the Tahoe
and Yukon last
month and GM is soon planning to move ahead with the long-wheelbase versions of
the new SUVs and then add the Avalanche to the mix in March, he said. The
success of the various GMT900 models is considered critical to GM's hopes of
regaining profitability, analysts have said. An accelerated production schedule
also enhances GM's cash flow and relieves more of the financial pressures faced
by the company.-Joe
Keeps Part of "Way Forward" Secret
Motor Co. isn't prepared to offer any more details about its "Way Forward"
restructuring plan, said Anne Stevens, Ford executive vice president and one of
the chief architects behind the effort to revive Ford's struggling automotive
business. Stevens also said the company was still evaluating specifics such as
what additional plants it will closes as part of the restructuring. Ford
assembly plants in Wixom, Mich., Atlanta and St. Louis are preparing to close as
part of the effort to reduce the company's assembly capacity. Ford also is
discussing closing two additional assembly plants to further reduce capacity.
Stevens, however, noted that Ford also wants to retain some flexibility as it
moves ahead with the plan. In 2002, Ford outlined most of the details of the
plan right from the start but wound up painting itself into a corner, she said.
As circumstances change, Ford found it was difficult to alter the plan because
of its earlier public statements. Ford would like to avoid repeating the
mistakes of 2002, she said. Other Ford officials also said the company is still
wrestling with what to do with the Lincoln Town Car and the platform on which it
rides. So far, Ford hasn't found a
home for the Town Car, which will be evicted next year from its long-time home
in Wixom. Ford is still looking at various scenarios for moving and/or enhancing
the Town Car, Ford officials said in advance of the Chicago Auto Show. The final
decision isn't far off but it has not been made yet. Stevens also declined to
say whether in the wake of the planned cuts spelled out in the restructuring
plan, the company's automotive business will return to profitability in 2006.
"We're not saying anything in connection with 2006," she said.-Joe Szczesny
FROM THE SOURCE headlines from the
latest press releases
The purchase of an
average-priced, new vehicle during the fourth quarter of 2005 took 27.0 weeks of
median family income, according to the Auto
Affordability Index compiled by Detroit-based Comerica Bank. The latest reading is up 0.6 weeks from
the prior quarter, resulting in the worst reading for affordability in six
years. Including finance charges, the total cost of buying an average-priced
light vehicle was $29,200 in the fourth quarter, up 11 percent from a year ago.
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