Daily Edition: Feb. 20, 2006

February 20, 2006

TCC Previews the  Geneva Motor Show

2006 Dodge Hornet concept

2006 Dodge Hornet concept

With a little more than a week to the press preview days, the whispers of Geneva introductions are being confirmed - or in a couple of cases, denied. TCC details those yeas and nays this week with twin Geneva previews that give you the latest on the new Porsche 911 Turbo, VW Concept A, Dodge Hornet Concept, and Aston Martin Rapide:

2006 Geneva Motor Show Preview, Part I (2/19/2006)
Geneva gets into gear with Aston, Bentley, Ford, and Lotus.

2006 Geneva Show Preview, Part II (2/19/2006)
New VW Concept A, Porsche 911 Turbo, BMW WRC car.


Can GM Turn Itself Around?

Workers at General Motors' Pontiac Assembly Plant, a half-hour's drive north of Detroit, got a rare bit of good news last week. The increasingly troubled automaker will not only invest $545 million to upgrade some of its Michigan factories, but it will also add an estimated 280 jobs at the Pontiac plant later this year.

The announcement comes in sharp contrast to others the automaker has made in recent months. Just weeks ago, GM revealed plans to sharply cut back on salaried pension and healthcare, while also "sharing the pain" with stockholders, who'll lose half their dividends, and senior executives, who'll lose up to half their pay. Last autumn, CEO Rick Wagoner announced plans to close five assembly plants and trim around 30,000 jobs.

Even the latest, upbeat announcement has fueled skepticism. The Pontiac plant is being readied for a new line of full-size pickups GM will start producing in October. They share their underlying platform with a generation of new sport-utility vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Tahoe, which went on sale in January.

When the giant automaker began work on those SUVs, it envisioned a market segment of at least one million vehicles annually. Now, however, it's more likely to run in the range of 750,000, according to vice chairman Bob Lutz. Even if GM can maintain its current share, an eye-popping 60 percent, that's a significant shortfall.

Can GM Turn Itself Around? (2/19/2006)
Is there enough time, analysts ask?


Delphi Sets Final UAW Deadline

The bankrupt Delphi Corp. has once again delayed confrontation over the company's expensive labor contracts. However, Delphi has imposed what officials described as a hard deadline at the end of March on contract talks with the United Auto Workers and other unions.

Delphi officials said they were hopeful the three-way discussions, involving General Motors and the UAW will produce an accord by March 30. However, without an agreement, Delphi will have no choice but to seek help from bankruptcy court in canceling the contracts, the company said.

Robert "Steve" Miller, Delphi Chairman and chief executive, said he wanted to reach an agreement with the unions and without court intervention. But Miller also has said Delphi, which is GM's largest supplier, is not competitive paying the kind of wages and benefits mandated by its current labor pacts.

Delphi Sets Final UAW Deadline (2/19/2006)
Will there be a strike on March 30?


Ghosn Puts His Stamp on Renault

Just as he did at Nissan, Carlos Ghosn is planning to use a new product offensive to boost the fortunes of Renault with a combination of judicious cost-cutting and a move upmarket.
At the same time, Ghosn also is ordering Nissan to move deeper into the commercial vehicle market and to maintain a close watch on costs, including those in North America, where the company has moved to limit its future liabilities for retiree healthcare.

At Renault's annual press conference in Paris, Ghosn unveiled his plans for the French automaker, including a bold plan to raise sales volumes by almost one-third within four years. The plan includes bringing 26 new Renault models to market including a number of upscale models. "That's not a forecast, it's a commitment," said Ghosn, who used the same approach to launch the Nissan turnaround in 1999.

The new product offensive also is designed to reduce Renault's dependence on the Mégane compact. "This heavy dependence on a single product is a source of vulnerability for the company," Ghosn said. Ghosn also ruled out any attempt by Renault to enter the North American market before 2009.

Ghosn Puts His Stamp on Renault (2/19/2006)
New plan includes major move upmarket.


Schrembri Out at Mitsubishi

In a surprise move, Mitsubishi Motors North America announced the resignations of Dave Schembri, executive vice president of sales and marketing, and Wayne Killen, vice president of marketing. Mitsubishi said they left to pursue other opportunities. However, Schrembri had joined only about a year ago and had succeeded in halting the slide in Mitsubishi sales and also in getting buzz going around the company's advertising and products. Schrembri could not be reached for comment. No replacements were named. For the present, the sales and marketing operations will be directed by president and CEO Hiroshi Harunari, Mitsubishi's official statement said. -Joe Szczesny



Saab Filling In Product Gaps

General Motors' long-struggling Swedish subsidiary hopes to slash costs, increase its product range, and significantly boost sales over the next few years, Saab officials told TheCarConnection.com. The Scandinavian brand expects to see "significant investment" as the result of a five-year business plan approved by the General Motors Board of Directors late last year, according to Saab Managing Director Jan-Ake Jonsson.

Much of that money will go to a new range of products, including a new, "global" crossover vehicle. The crossover is an alternative to that which Saab had been developing in partnership with the Japanese automaker, Subaru. That project was scrapped last year, Jonsson noted, when GM sold off its stake in Subaru. Along with the new crossover, Saab is working on a product to fit in below the automaker's current small car, the 9-3. It will go up against premium hatchbacks, such as the Audi A3, according to Jonsson, and the new Volvo C30. Saab's new product offensive will take time to roll out, however: company sources revealed that a replacement for the brand's flagship 9-5 model won't reach market until calendar year 2009, more than a decade after it was first launched.

Such long lifecycles are a real challenge for the company, acknowledged Jay Spenchian, general manager of U.S. operations. And the automaker realizes it needs to speed up model changeovers significantly, he stressed. To get there, Saab needs to boost sales and slash costs, and in an interview in suburban Atlanta, Jonsson said, "Since 2002, we have reduced our structural costs by one-third." That has had a positive impact on Saab's financial condition, he said, adding that if the company can boost its global volume to somewhere between 150,000 to 200,000 - up from around 120,000 in 2005 - "we can have a good return on our business." In the U.S., the automaker scored a four-percent sales gain last year, to 38,343, and Spenchian said, "we think, by the end of the decade, we can double that."

Saab is planning to unveil a high-style concept vehicle at the Geneva Motor show later this month that will serve "as a statement of our future," Jonsson told TheCarConnection. Neither official would discuss specific details, but Jonsson suggested the show car is part of Saab's plan to craft a "more consistent" brand image. "You can't wobble," as the automaker has in the past, he emphasized. Over the years, he added, Saab has vacillated from extreme stuff, like the original 900 Turbo, to the conservative 9-5. Going forward, the Swedish maker intends to emphasize design, safety, the driving experience, and the functionality of its interiors. The message, concluded Jonsson, "is not (about) quirkiness, but uniqueness." -TCC Team


From TCConfidential

The Week in Reverse

1999 Chevrolet Tracker 4-door

1999 Chevrolet Tracker 4-door

Thank you Volkswagen, for making our life easy by naming concepts for letters. It's like the Electric Company meets Wolfsburg: we've had Concept R, Concept C, and now Concept A. The PBS types would be all over you for putting them in reverse alphabetical order, but our car-addled brains love your simplicity. Now can we talk more about Phaeton and Touareg?

Generous Motors is a thing of the past, our Joe Szczesny writes. Things are so bad at the Renaissance Center, GM even asked him to give one of his consonants back.

Ford says its market share will continue to slide before it stabilizes. Apparently, the Way Forward also includes some side-to-side jiggling and possibly, liquefaction. And who said the domestics don't know California?

It probably goes without saying that if you need a loan in Detroit, Auburn Hills is the place to go. Also, if you need a pickup truck, we hear they have a lot of them on hand.

Our recent TCConfidential tiff here of late with another writer certainly spurred some interesting comments. It shook us so badly we had to make a few phonecalls and line up free trips to more exotic places just to get over the hazing. (Editor's note: insert sarcasm here.)

So, real women drive Bimmer wagons and VW convertibles and such? Then how come Shannen Doherty was in a Range Rover when she went off-roading unexpectedly? (P.S. Knowing she's a Memphian and a Republican only makes us love her more. You go, Brenda Walsh!)


You Too Can Beat the Embargo!

2006 Renault Altica concept

2006 Renault Altica concept

Everybody's waiting for February 28, when the wraps will come off the new models and concept cars at the Geneva Auto Show. One of them is the Altica, a cool-looking cross between a sports car and a station wagon from which Renault design boss Patrick Le Quement will remove the cover on the first press day of the show.

Except it isn't a secret: for Parisians, and any lucky TCC faithful who may be in a cold but sunny Paris (well it was last weekend anyway) there's an up-close preview of the car that will be the centrepiece of the Renault Geneva stand right there on Paris tourist central, the Champs Elysées.

Big, manufacturer-supported auto showrooms are a feature of the broad boulevard that leads from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, and there, smack in the middle of the main display window of the Renault building, is the Altica. There are no ropes keeping the crowds at a respectful distance, as there will be in Switzerland, just a barrier set about a foot away that gives a clear view of the concept and its modern interior design. The car looks good, and its unique driving seat set up, sleek lines, and unique rear quarter window treatment certainly enhance its concept-car credentials.

If you're in Paris before the Altica leaves the showroom on Feb 22 to be prepped and polished for Geneva, drop in - the showroom is also a trendy coffee-bar, and a seat looking down on a 'secret' new car is something that Starbucks certainly can't offer.



Street Names: Pick Your Winner

Psycho Path                26%

Count and Basie          2%

Unexpected Rd.          5%

Lonesome/Hardup Rd.  4%

Shades of Death Rd.    3%

Farfrompoopen Rd.

Taterpeeler Rd.

Bucket of

Blood St.

Divorce Ct.                 23%

Clinton and Fidelity      13%


FROM THE SOURCE headlines from the latest press releases


Today, Hyundai Motor Company, now the fourth largest import manufacturer in the U.S., is celebrating twenty years of selling vehicles in the United States. Since its entry into the U.S. market in 1986, Hyundai Motor America has sold 4,327,150 vehicles (through January 2006) with a single-year record of 455,012 established last year, the fifth year in a row of record setting sales. Additionally, Hyundai has invested more than $1.2 billion in research, design, engineering, and manufacturing facilities throughout the U.S., and now features nine models spanning numerous segments.


Name Symbol Last Change
Autobytel, Inc. ABTL 4.80 -0.07 (-1.44%)
Autoliv Inc. ALV 53.00 +1.17 (+2.26%)
AutoNation Inc. AN 21.69 +0.16 (+0.74%)
ArvinMeritor Inc. ARM 16.40 +0.16 (+0.99%)
American Axle & Mfr. Holdings Inc. AXL 17.04 +0.48 (+2.90%)
Ballard Power Systems Inc. BLDP 5.29 +0.07 (+1.34%)
BorgWarner Inc. BWA 57.04 +1.29 (+2.31%)
Cummins Inc. CMI 104.47 +0.37 (+0.36%)
Dana Corporation DCN 4.23 +0.14 (+3.42%)
DaimlerChrysler AG (ADR) DCX 57.92 +0.24 (+0.42%)
Dura Automotive Systems DRRA 2.49 -0.02 (-0.80%)
Eaton Corporation ETN 69.35 +0.33 (+0.48%)
Ford Motor Company F 8.45 +0.06 (+0.72%)
General Motors Corporation GM 21.92 -0.36 (-1.62%)
Gentex Corporation GNTX 16.92 -0.06 (-0.35%)
Goodyear Tire & Rubber GT 14.87 +0.36 (+2.48%)
Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (ADR) HMC 29.35 +0.19 (+0.65%)
Johnson Controls Inc. JCI 68.39 +0.89 (+1.32%)
Lear Corporation LEA 22.87 +0.53 (+2.37%)
Magna International Inc. MGA 73.12 +0.93 (+1.29%)
Motorola Inc. MOT 21.49 -0.71 (-3.20%)
Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (ADR) NSANY 23.42 +0.32 (+1.39%)
Sonic Automotive Inc. SAH 25.09 +0.61 (+2.49%)
Siemens AG SI 91.80 +0.24 (+0.26%)
Sirius Satellite Radio SIRI 5.26 -0.39 (-6.90%)
Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) TM 108.54 +0.94 (+0.87%)
TRW Automotive Holdings TRW 25.99 +0.55 (+2.16%)
Tower Automotive Inc. TWRAQ.PK 0.067 -0.001 (-1.47%)
United Auto Group Inc. UAG 43.45 +0.47 (+1.09%)
Visteon Corporation VC 4.97 +0.05 (+1.02%)
XM Satellite Radio Hold. XMSR 21.57 -2.41 (-10.05%)
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