Industry Report: Sept. 4, 2006

September 4, 2006

Ford Offers Up a Piece of Aston

2006 Aston Martin Rapide concept

2006 Aston Martin Rapide concept

In a briefly worded release on Thursday, Ford put into motion a next, deeper phase of its Way Forward plan by announcing its interest in selling Aston Martin. The ultra-luxury brand could be sold in part or in whole, according to the release. "Aston Martin Lagonda has flourished under Ford ownership, which is why we believe it is prudent to consider a sale of all or part of this prized brand," Chairman Bill Ford said. Aston's separate dealer network and vehicle architecture make it a relatively simple choice to put up for sale; Jaguar and Land Rover, more difficult prospects to sell and to separate from Ford as a whole, were also singled out in the release, hinting that Ford would like to hold on to the other British brands. "We continue to be encouraged by Jaguar's progress and by the strength and consumer appeal of the Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo product lineups." No interested parties have announced themselves but recent reports in the Detroit newspapers suggest that former Ford CEO Jac Nasser could be among those seeking, with capital backing, to acquire the brand.

RELEASE: Ford Mulling Aston Sale (8/31/2006)


Sebring, Aspen Priced

Chrysler announced pricing for its two new 2007 models on Wednesday, pegging the Sebring sedan at a base price of $18,995 including destination and the Aspen SUV at $31,490, including destination. The Sebring comes standard with a 173-hp four-cylinder and a four-speed automatic, as well as curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and tire pressure monitors, and a CD player with MP3 capability. The $20,195 Touring edition adds premium trim and 17-inch wheels, while the 2.7-liter, 189-hp V-6 is an option. The Limited model begins at $23,995 and has a 235-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 coupled to a six-speed automatic standard. The Aspen also comes in a $34,265 4x4 "E" model, and a "Limited J" edition with a HEMI V-8 that starts from $36,905 for 4x2 versions and $39,225 for 4x4s.



GM Adds Spiffs

2006 Chevrolet Impala

2006 Chevrolet Impala

General Motors on Tuesday put cash rebates that range from $500 to $1,500 on many of its 2006 and 2007 models. In most cases, the rebates are in addition to low-interest financing programs GM has been offering. The one-week program, timed to coincide with the Labor Day holiday, started today and is scheduled to end Tuesday, Sept. 5. In general, the bonus rebates are $500 for cars, $1000 for pickups and crossovers and $1500 for SUVs. Hot sellers like Pontiac Solstice, Chevy Suburban and HUMMER H3 are excluded from the program.-Jim Burt

GM Plans Diesel Expansion by Joseph Szczesny (8/28/2006)
Fuel-frugal powertrains no longer a dirty idea at GM.


Toyota Gives Farley More Duties

Toyota's Jim Farley will become an even busier guy. The Japanese automaker said on Tuesday that it would make him a group vice president and corporate officer, in addition to his duties as head of the Toyota division. Farley reports to Jim Lentz, who now heads Toyota Motor Sales, with Jim Press leading the corporation's North American efforts as a whole.


Ford Bonds and Stocks React To FMC Speculation

Bonds issued by Ford Motor Credit Co., the financing arm of Ford Motor Co., spiked Monday as investors reacted to a Detroit News story saying the automaker may to sell a controlling interest in its profitable credit arm.

In afternoon trading, FMC's 9.875 percent notes due in 2011 were up more than ten points, or cents on the dollar, at 105.50 cents on the dollar, according to MarketAxess. FMC's 6.625 percent notes due in 2028 were up more than two cents, at 74.75 cents on the dollar.

While The Detroit News article stirred anew the idea that Ford may sell part of FMC, it is not a new idea. But these days, speculators will seize on any news concerning Ford.

Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin resigned from Ford's board of directors last week citing potential conflicts between his role as a member of the chairman's office at Citigroup and the possibility that the bank giant may be involved in some of Ford's transactions in coming months. One of those conflicts is believed to be a possible bid Citi may make for a majority stake in FMC.

FMC could bring Ford around $8 billion at the outside for a 51-percent stake. Citi may be one of the only suitors. Analysts say that FMC is a pure auto financing business, unlike General Motors's GMAC unit, which has attractive mortgage financing and insurance businesses to augment auto financing.

Investors and analysts have been calling for a sale for months, as junk credit ratings have dramatically raised Ford Motor Credit's cost of funding and eroded its earnings.

Shares of Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co. rose five cents to close at $8.05 on the New York Stock Exchange. -Jim Burt


Tower, Unions Agree on Pact

Members of the United Auto Workers and the United Steelworkers have ratified amended labor agreements that will result in substantial cost savings for bankrupt Tower Automotive.

The ratification votes end the threat of strike that would have threatened production at Ford, General Motors, and DaimlerChrysler.

Tower said the new agreements cover about 1000 employees in Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. In return for the union concessions, Tower agreed to maintain operations at the Bluffton, Ohio, plant, which had been scheduled to close, and to withdraw motions seeking court approval to void Tower's collective bargaining agreements with the UAW and the USW. The new agreements are subject to court approval.

In addition, UAW members at Tower's Clinton, Mich., plant have ratified a two-year contract extension, with no major changes in wages or benefits. Contracts at UAW-represented plants in Plymouth and Traverse City, Mich., and Kendallville, Ind., will continue for the term of the respective agreements without changes. USW members at Tower's Milan, Tenn. plant, which is scheduled to close later this year, voted to accept a severance agreement.

In Bluffton, Ohio, UAW members voted to accept wage reductions of approximately four percent, or about 75 cents per hour. In Elkton, USW members voted to accept wage reductions of approximately $1 an hour. When the new contracts are in effect, production workers at these two plants will still earn the highest hourly wages of any unionized Tower workers. USW and UAW members at both plants also agreed to combine certain work classifications, reduce paid vacation time, and increase employee payments for health insurance coverage.

UAW members at Tower's Granite City, Ill. plant, which is also slated for closing, however, have voted down a proposed severance agreement and more negotiations are now expected. -Joe Szczesny


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