Daily Edition: Mar. 16, 2006

March 14, 2006

Spy Shots: '07 Ford Escape

2007 Ford Escape

2007 Ford Escape

We caught Ford's revamped Escape on public roads without its front- end camouflage, revealing the new mini-ute's completely new face for the first time. Early sightings of the Escape in various states of undress left us puzzled, as its bodysides seemed to go more car-like (without its usual chunky side cladding), while its front-end seemed to be more truckish (with its thicker egg-crate grille). Seeing the whole package nearly uncovered, the styling of the new Escape looks much more harmonious than we originally thought. The Ford Edge heavily influences the look of the new Escape, but Ford has shied away from the Fusion-inspired three-bar grille. Instead, the Escape's grille looks a bit more like the Land Rover Freelander's. The bumper juts out aggressively, but the affect is softened by an Explorer-style air intake residing below the grille. In case anyone doubts this SUV's identity, "Escape" is sculpted into the front bumper, towards the left. Although no official confirmation has been given, many expect the new Escape to see its public introduction at the New York Auto Show in mid-April. -KGP Photography

More TCC Spy Shots 



Chrysler Revamps Healthcare Benefits

Chrysler Group CEO Tom LaSorda will see a nine-fold increase in his health insurance premiums, as part of sweeping changes in medical care at the DaimlerChrysler AG subsidiary. Like all Chrysler salaried employees, LaSorda is currently paying $1000 a year towards his medical coverage, plus various out-of-pocket expenses. That will jump to $9000 under the new policies, which will impact about 17,600 retirees and 14,900 active white-collar workers. "We all have to do our part going forward," LaSorda said, in a letter addressed to Chrysler workers, "and we have to do it in a way that is innovative, competitive, equitable, and provides a long-term solution."

In 2005, Chrysler laid out $2.2 billion to cover healthcare for its white- and blue-collar workers - significantly more than its $1.8 billion profit. Overall costs have nearly doubled since 2000, and are expected to climb to $2.3 billion this year. Like its cross-town rivals, the number-three domestic automaker is struggling to reign in those costs. Currently,U.S. salaried employees contribute about 27 percent of their average $11,000 in medical care, or $3000 annually, in the form of premium sharing, co-pays, and other out-of-pocket expenses. (When added in with union-mandated coverage for hourly employees, and healthcare for workers at its suppliers, Chrysler officials noted medical coverage adds $1400 to the cost of every vehicle it sells in the U.S.) Chrysler follows Ford and GM in unveiling a new healthcare program.

The company's new approach will take into account such factors as age, income, and rank. Administrative workers will see little to no increase, but among 9400 mid-level managers, healthcare premiums will jump an average $450 annually. Among executives, the increase will run $1500, and at the top level of the company, senior execs, such as CEO LaSorda, will pay most or all of their own insurance premiums, currently $9000 annually. White-collar retirees, meanwhile, will pay more, as well. The biggest impact will be on those under the age of 65, who will pay a share of increasing medical coverage, depending on how much they made at the time they retired.

Chrysler "may have to revisit" the idea of increasing co-pays and deductibles in the future, said Kate Kohn-Parrott, the director of the automaker's healthcare operations. And Chrysler is still seeking concessions from its union workers similar to those granted rivals General Motors and Ford Motor Co. last year. -TCC Team


Chrysler Tempers Bad News with Good

There should be no need for white-collar layoffs at the Chrysler Group, despite the headcount reductions mandated by the automaker's German-based parent, DaimlerChrysler AG. In January, DC CEO Dieter Zetsche announced plans to trim 6000 salaried slots in the coming year. But Chrysler's chief executive, Tom LaSorda, revealed a "no-layoff strategy," since it appears the American side of the company can meet its unspecified job cut target through voluntary reductions. That announcement came the same day Chrysler revealed a new, white-collar healthcare program that could see significant increases in salaried employee costs, depending on age, income, and corporate rank. But as another sop to an angry and frustrated workforce, Chrysler officials revealed a much-expanded employee leasing program, which will provide thousands more white-collar workers access to up to two cars annually. "We think this will be a real big morale booster," asserted Chrysler's top spokesman, Jason Vines. -TCC Team

Zetsche Focuses on Bribery Scandal by Joseph Szczesny (3/13/2006)
New CEO sets the Schrempp era aside.


Chrysler Names Gillies Design VP

The lead designer of Chrysler's brassy 300C/Magnum siblings is getting a big promotion. Starting in April, you can call Ralph Gillies vice president of Jeep/Truck and Component Design. Gillies will replace Ricardo Aneiros. A Chrysler employee since 1992, Gillies is credited with the design of the Chrysler sedan and Dodge wagon, which have captured numerous Car of the Year awards.


UnitedAuto President DiFeo Retires, Kurnick Promoted

One of the UnitedAuto Group's (UAG) first dealers, Samuel X. DiFeo, is retiring as president and COO of the second-ranked megadealership network. DiFeo, 56, said he would remain active as a UAG consultant for five years and assist with its international operations. DiFeo's group of BMW and Japanese-brand dealerships in northern New Jersey were among the first to be purchased by UAG's predecessor group, Penske Corp., in the mid-1990s.

UnitedAuto Group Chairman and CEO, Roger S. Penske, said that an executive vice president of the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-based company, Robert H. Kurnick, Jr., has been appointed vice chairman.  Kurnick, 44, also serves as general counsel of UAG and president of Penske Corp, which owns a privately held group of dealerships in southern California. Kurnick has been a member of UAG's management team since the Penske purchase of the group in 1999. -Mac Gordon


Lexus Prevails for 48-Year Ford Dealer

A rare Ford dealer with a Lexus franchise is giving up the Ford franchise April 1 after a 48-year run in the tony New York City suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut. Peter Griffin, 75, and his twin brother, Bill, say they need more room for the fast-sprouting Lexus operation and are compelled to allocate the Ford building to Toyota's luxury brand.  Peter Griffin says the Ford store has lost $600,000 over the past two years as its annual sales have declined from more than 1000 vehicles to 400 vehicles last year. Lexus sales in 2005 reached the 2400 mark and the Lexus service department is so busy that it stays open until midnight. Griffin is treasurer and a co-founder of the 1700-member Ford Dealers Alliance, a post he now will give up. -Mac Gordon


FROM THE SOURCE headlines from the latest press releases


American Suzuki Motor Corporation (ASMC) today announced the additions of Gene Brown and Chuck Halper to its talented executive management team. With more than five decades combined of industry knowledge and experience, Brown and Halper arrive at ASMC at a time of record growth. In 2005, Suzuki sold 82,101 vehicles - the most in company history. This year, ASMC continues its impressive sales growth, selling an all-time monthly best 7210 and 8542 vehicles in January and February respectively.


Name Symbol Last Change
Autobytel, Inc. ABTL 4.05 -0.02 (-0.49%)
Autoliv Inc. ALV 54.75 +0.96 (+1.78%)
AutoNation Inc. AN 21.85 +0.06 (+0.28%)
ArvinMeritor Inc. ARM 15.32 +0.17 (+1.12%)
American Axle & Mfr. Holdings Inc. AXL 15.71 +0.13 (+0.83%)
Ballard Power Systems Inc. BLDP 6.22 +0.17 (+2.81%)
BorgWarner Inc. BWA 57.02 +0.70 (+1.24%)
Cummins Inc. CMI 108.17 +2.17 (+2.05%)
Dana Corporation DCN 0.66 0.00 (0.00%)
DaimlerChrysler AG (ADR) DCX 57.86 +0.41 (+0.71%)
Dura Automotive Systems DRRA 2.10 +0.07 (+3.45%)
Eaton Corporation ETN 71.76 +1.09 (+1.54%)
Ford Motor Company F 7.85 +0.12 (+1.55%)
General Motors Corporation GM 21.50 +0.36 (+1.70%)
Gentex Corporation GNTX 16.90 -0.06 (-0.35%)
Goodyear Tire & Rubber GT 13.27 +0.27 (+2.08%)
Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (ADR) HMC 30.66 +0.19 (+0.62%)
Johnson Controls Inc. JCI 74.57 +0.52 (+0.70%)
Lear Corporation LEA 16.23 +0.11 (+0.68%)
Magna International Inc. MGA 75.32 +1.56 (+2.11%)
Motorola Inc. MOT 21.94 +0.62 (+2.91%)
Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (ADR) NSANY 23.36 +0.01 (+0.04%)
Sonic Automotive Inc. SAH 27.67 +0.31 (+1.13%)
Siemens AG SI 92.55 +0.47 (+0.51%)
Sirius Satellite Radio SIRI 4.48 +0.03 (+0.67%)
Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) TM 108.39 +0.35 (+0.32%)
TRW Automotive Holdings TRW 24.96 +0.20 (+0.81%)
Tower Automotive Inc. TWRAQ.PK 0.058 +0.003 (+5.45%)
United Auto Group Inc. UAG 44.68 +0.71 (+1.61%)
Visteon Corporation VC 4.53 +0.04 (+0.89%)
XM Satellite Radio Hold. XMSR 20.55 +0.05 (+0.24%)
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