Daily Edition: Mar. 7, 2006

March 7, 2006

GM Cutting Suzuki Stake

General Motors Corp. says it will reduce its stake in Suzuki Motor Corp. from 20.4 percent to 3.0 percent by selling 92.36 million shares of the Japanese automaker through an open-market buyback program. GM expects to net between $550 million and $750 million from the sale. Rick Wagoner, GM chairman and CEO, said in a statement that the deal will allow GM to preserve its business relationship with Suzuki while further building up GM's liquidity position during the company's turnaround. The companies also are partners in CAMI Automotive, Inc., inCanada, which builds vehicles such as the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent as well as new Suzuki crossover vehicle that will make its debut at the New York Auto Show next month. In addition, GM and Suzuki plan to work together on a proposed new automatic transmission. Nevertheless, the sale of the Suzuki shares marks another step backward from the company's highly touted alliance strategy of the 1990s. GM's partnership with the Italian carmaker Fiat ended last year with a writeoff of more than $2 billion. GM also sold off its take in Fuji Heavy Industries to Toyota last fall. -Joe Szczesny

2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara by Bengt Halvorson (12/12/2005)
Short of an all-out transformation - but a lot prettier.


DaimlerChrysler Spells Out Risks

DaimlerChrysler has listed a number of risks to global business in the company's new annual report. One notable threat, the report noted, is that the U.S. economy is increasingly dependent on the inflow of foreign capital to finance its rapidly growing current-account deficit, and this situation has become a source of considerable risk potential. If the capital inflows cease to be available in the required volumes, the country's current-account deficit will have to be corrected. This could be done by means of higher interest rates and a drastic depreciation of the U.S. dollar, leading to significantly lower growth in the United States and in other regions of the world. Additional risks that would weaken economic growth in the United States are a further increase in capital-market interest rates and a fall in real-estate values, which to a certain extent are inflated by speculation. Both of these factors "would substantially reduce private consumption" and, as a result, sales of new cars and trucks would fall. The irony, of course, is that DaimlerChrysler has lived for years off exports to the U.S., which another part of the report spelled out, is the company's largest market. DaimlerChrysler also predicted that the sales of commercial vehicles will slow significantly in 2007. -Joe Szczesny

Spy Shots: '08 Chrysler Minivans by KGP Photography (3/6/2006)
More upright and more international, by design.

Ford Fusion Gets "Poor" Crash Rating from IIHS

2006 Ford Fusion

2006 Ford Fusion

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the Ford Fusion ranks "poor" in its latest crash tests. The industry-funded research group points to the new sedan as evidence of the effectiveness of side airbags. The IIHS tested a Fusion without side airbags for side-impact protection and gave the four-door its lowest "poor" rating for side-impact protection. Similarly, a Pontiac G6 tested with and without side airbags earned acceptable and poor ratings for side-impact protection. In frontal-impact tests, the Fusion earned an "acceptable" rating. The new BMW 3-Series sedan and Lexus IS sedan were ranked at the top of the IIHS' ratings for both front and side impact crash tests, while the Hyundai Sonata received a good ranking for front impact and acceptable for side impact. The IIHS tests vehicles at 40 mph in front impact tests and 31 mph in side impact tests.

2006 Ford Fusion by John Pearley Huffman (9/6/2005)
Taking Ford beyond the Taurus. Hopefully.

It's Official: Charlotte Gets NASCAR Hall of Fame

NASCAR Hall of Fame

NASCAR Hall of Fame

In a press conference at the Charlotte Convention Center on Monday afternoon, NASCAR CEO Brian France announced that the North Carolina city had won the bidding competition to land the proposed NASCAR Hall of Fame.

"To NASCAR fans everywhere, it is my distinct honor to announce that NASCAR has selected Charlotte, N.C., to be the home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame," France said in making the announcement.

Charlotte emerged with the winning bid after competing against Atlanta, Daytona Beach, Richmond, Kansas City, Birmingham, and the State of Michigan over the past 13 months. The list was pared down to Charlotte, Atlanta, and Daytona Beach in the final weeks of the process.

Most of the details of the deal had been leaked prior to the announcement, including the futuristic building designed by the renowned architectural firm of Pei, Cobb & Freed Partners, which also designed the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the John Hancock Tower in Boston, the modernization and expansion of The Louvre in Paris, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The Hall is expected to include exhibit space, a Great Hall, a Hall of Honor, interactive entertainment restaurants, retail outlets, and a state-of-the-art media center for the industry. The proposal also specifies a ballroom for the neighboring Charlotte Convention Center.

One surprise announced today was the possibility of a 300,000-square-foot office tower adjacent to the Hall of Fame, which would house NASCAR's licensing and merchandising operations and its media facilities, which already exist in scattered locations around Charlotte. NASCAR has 180 days to decide if it wants to proceed with the office tower, which may also rent space to "NASCAR partners."

According to the Charlotte Observer, NASCAR will get city land on the Hall of Fame site for $1 per year, plus $4 million in city money toward parking spaces for the office building. The addition of the office tower adds $17 million to the proposal, bringing the total to $154.5 million.

"This Hall of Fame will expand the dynamic and growing sport of NASCAR racing in a dynamic and growing city," said Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory. "It's a victory not only for the entire region, but for NASCAR fans across the country and internationally. We look forward to welcoming all fans for a unique and entertaining experience."

The NASCAR Hall of Fame could open as soon as 2009. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which will operate the building, will begin the process of hiring the hall's top employees in the near future.

Currently 82 percent of NASCAR Nextel Cup teams, 72 percent of NASCAR Busch Series teams, and 55 percent of NASCAR Craftsman Truck teams are based in the Charlotte region. The industry's current annual statewide economic impact is estimated to be $5 billion. -John F. Gardner



Korean Brands See Sales Soar

South Korea 's five automakers reported a combined 37-percent rise in their February sales, helped by increased demands both home and overseas for their new products.

The five automakers, including top automaker Hyundai Motor and its affiliate Kia Motors, sold a total of 444,506 units in February. Of the total, domestic sales rose 22 percent to 88,119 units while exports jumped 42 percent to 356,387 units.

In February, Hyundai Motor sold 204,110 vehicles, up 23 percent from 165,688 units a year ago, thanks to rising sales of new premium models such as the TG Grandeur sedans and NF Sonata mid-sized cars.

Domestic sales rose 33 percent to 45,486 units in February while exports rose 21 percent to 158,624 units.

The sales of Kia Motors last month rose 44 percent to 115,774 cars, led by a 49-percent increase in exports. During the first two months of 2006, Kia's overseas sales have risen by 5.8 percent year-on-year, with Europe showing the largest gain of ten percent.

So far in 2006, the Sorento SUV has been Kia's top-selling model in overseas markets, with 17,766 units delivered. The Sorento is followed by the Sportage SUV, with 16,566 units sold in January and February. Passenger cars like the A-segment Picanto, B-segment Rio, and C-segment Cerato (Spectra in some markets) continue to be robust sellers in overseas.

Third-largest automaker GM Daewoo posted a 75-percent rise to 102,971 units in overall sales in February, boosted by the launch of its Tosca premium sedan in late January.

Renault Samsung Motors, a unit of French Renault SA, reported 38-percent growth in February sales, to 12,192 cars. Domestic sales fell 1.2 percent while exports jumped more than 12-fold.

Sales of SUV maker Ssangyong Motor, which is owned by China's Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., saw its total sales fall eight percent to 9459 vehicles in February, despite a 16-percent rise in exports. -Peter Chang


FROM THE SOURCE headlines from the latest press releases


Lexus announced that its Web site, recognized by J.D. Power and Associates as the most useful automobile Web site for new-vehicle shopping, has launched a Spanish-language site at lexus.com/espanol. It is the first Spanish-language Web site created by a luxury automotive brand.


Name Symbol Last Change
Autobytel, Inc. ABTL 4.32 -0.16 (-3.57%)
Autoliv Inc. ALV 52.94 -0.30 (-0.56%)
AutoNation Inc. AN 20.89 -0.24 (-1.14%)
ArvinMeritor Inc. ARM 14.61 +0.10 (+0.69%)
American Axle & Mfr. Holdings Inc. AXL 15.64 +0.14 (+0.90%)
Ballard Power Systems Inc. BLDP 6.49 -0.07 (-1.07%)
BorgWarner Inc. BWA 54.87 -0.11 (-0.20%)
Cummins Inc. CMI 105.80 -2.78 (-2.56%)
Dana Corporation DCN 0.66 0.00 (0.00%)
DaimlerChrysler AG (ADR) DCX 54.81 +0.41 (+0.75%)
Dura Automotive Systems DRRA 2.12 -0.01 (-0.47%)
Eaton Corporation ETN 69.35 -0.97 (-1.38%)
Ford Motor Company F 7.69 +0.12 (+1.59%)
General Motors Corporation GM 19.81 +0.60 (+3.12%)
Gentex Corporation GNTX 16.35 -0.06 (-0.37%)
Goodyear Tire & Rubber GT 13.41 -0.01 (-0.07%)
Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (ADR) HMC 28.74 -0.22 (-0.76%)
Johnson Controls Inc. JCI 71.26 +0.46 (+0.65%)
Lear Corporation LEA 18.29 -0.57 (-3.02%)
Magna International Inc. MGA 73.75 -0.24 (-0.32%)
Motorola Inc. MOT 21.98 0.00 (0.00%)
Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (ADR) NSANY 22.95 -0.18 (-0.78%)
Sonic Automotive Inc. SAH 26.62 -0.03 (-0.11%)
Siemens AG SI 90.49 -0.51 (-0.56%)
Sirius Satellite Radio SIRI 4.91 -0.10 (-2.00%)
Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) TM 105.21 -0.51 (-0.48%)
TRW Automotive Holdings TRW 24.06 -0.72 (-2.91%)
Tower Automotive Inc. TWRAQ.PK 0.061 +0.001 (+1.67%)
United Auto Group Inc. UAG 43.32 -0.32 (-0.73%)
Visteon Corporation VC 4.40 +0.08 (+1.85%)
XM Satellite Radio Hold. XMSR 21.36 -0.17 (-0.79%)
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