Kia Soul and Nissan Urge concepts, Casesa retiring, AFA may restart boycott

Kia "Soul" Concept for Detroit

2006 Kia Soul concept2006 Kia Soul conceptCaught somewhere between Motown and Seoul-town is the latest Kia concept, the "Soul," due out at the Detroit auto show in January. The Soul is a crossover vehicle, Kia says, with cues that resemble its Mesa truck concept from last year's show. Details are thin, but Kia says the concept is geared toward active-lifestylers and is a compact-sized ute with reconfigurable cargo space, including a "drawer" for wet or muddy items.

Nissan Has Urge for Detroit

2006 Nissan Urge concept2006 Nissan Urge conceptFunny, we thought they really liked Nashville ? In any case, Nissan this morning released this view of its upcoming concept coupe for Detroit , the Urge. Set to make its world debut in early January 2006 at the Detroit show, the URGE Concept is a "pure, powerful sports car with motorcycle-inspired styling." Conceived around a rear-drive platform, the Urge has a small-displacement engine, a six-speed manual gearbox and an integrated Xbox 360 inside. Nissan Design America, Inc., La Jolla , Calif. , penned the Detroit concept.

Sales Down Modestly in Nov. by Joseph Szczesny (12/5/2005)
Big Three drop; Japanese brands pick up, except Nissan.

Wagoner Sees Turnaround

The coming year should bring improved revenues for General Motors, CEO Rick Wagoner predicted on Thursday. The improvement is likely to be driven by several factors, Wagoner suggested, during a conversation at GM's annual holiday party for the news media. The most significant factor will be the roll-out of the automaker's new, full-size SUVs, including the 2006 Chevrolet Tahoe, which goes on sale January 3. But Wagoner said that GM also expects to have higher volumes of other popular 2006 products, such as the new Chevrolet HHR, which were in short supply over the last few months.

Wagoner acknowledged that talk of a turnaround is reaching a largely deaf ear on Wall Street, where analysts and investors have grown increasingly pessimistic about GM's long-term chances. "We are working feverishly to get things turned around as fast as we can," the CEO said, adding that "It is sometimes frustrating when you do something and it takes (so much) time to flow through" to the bottom line. Wagoner insisted that the automaker's problems will "eventually get cleared up," but before the market believes it, "we have to demonstrate results."

In a wide-ranging conversation, Wagoner said he expects oil prices will do some "bouncing around" in 2006, though he expects that things should level out in the $50 to $60 per barrel range. That is "another argument…for production flexibility," he said, which would give GM the ability to shift from larger, high-power cars and trucks, to smaller, more fuel-efficient models, according to market demands. GM is betting that there will still be strong demand for full-size pickups, such as the Tahoe. But it is also hoping to cover its bases with the planned roll-out of new hybrid-electric vehicles. The automaker's first true hybrid, a gasoline-electric version of the Saturn Vue, will debut next year, not long after the Tahoe. Wagoner said it is still difficult to make a good business case for hybrids, in part because there's no clear sense of how high demand will go for the high-mileage technology. -TCC Team

Daily Edition: Dec. 14, 2005 by TCC Team (12/13/2005)
Camaro concept, Mazda Kabura and CX-7, Audi Le Mans diesel racer.

Veteran Auto Analyst John Casesa To Retire 

John Casesa, Merrill Lynch's senior U.S. automotive industry analyst, Thursday announced his intention to retire from Merrill Lynch, effective the end of January 2006.

Said Steve Tighe, head of Merrill Lynch's Americas Equity Research: "I would like to thank John for his contributions to Merrill Lynch's Global Autos franchise over the past five years. John has consistently ranked in Institutional Investor's All-American research team survey for the past seven years, and he will be missed by our clients and business partners."

Casesa had become a sort of dean of auto analysts following retirements and reassignments of notable Wall Streeter auto analysts such as Morgan Stanley's Steve Girsky (who went to GM), Joe Phillippi (retired), and Goldman Sachs' Gary Lapidus (reassigned).

Replacing Casesa at Merrill Lynch as senior auto analyst is John Murphy. Murphy has been a member of the company's U.S. autos team since 1999, covering the automotive parts suppliers and distributors. -Jim Burt

AFA Considers New Boycott Against Ford

Following Ford Motor Co.'s ad commitment to gay media outlets on Wednesday, the American Family Association (AFA) said Thursday it is considering reinstating a boycott of Ford products.

AFA chairman Donald E. Wildmon issued a statement stating that the AFA considers Ford's move to be a violation of an agreement it had with Ford and Ford dealers. "We had an agreement with Ford, worked out in good faith. Unfortunately, some Ford Motor Company officials made the decision to violate the good faith agreement. We are now considering our response to the violation and expect to reach a decision very soon," said Wildmon. "All we wanted was for Ford to refrain from choosing sides in the cultural war, and supporting groups which promote same-sex marriage is not remaining neutral," Wildmon stated. A Ford spokesman said this week that no such agreement was struck with the AFA.

Wildmon claims that Ford agreed to pull ad support of gay media and organizations in exchange for his group canceling plans to call on its members and followers to boycott all Ford products. Ford had decided to pull Jaguar and Land Rover ads and sponsorships from gay organizations as part of a broader cost-cutting move. But Volvo, which also advertises in gay media, never changed its plans. Nevertheless, the Jag and Land Rover moves gave the AFA room to publicly claim a victory over gay advocacy groups. On Wednesday, Ford announced it would buy a corporate ad schedule in gay media so its position would be clear and unambiguous.

Ford dealers, already facing slumping sales, are not anxious for a boycott by the AFA. Garland, Texas Ford dealer Jerry Reynolds took the lead in asking Ford to meet with the AFA recently. Reynolds, who has run ads on such issues as protecting "Under God" in the pledge of allegiance, did not return a phone call at press time. But Reynolds and Wildmon conferred Thursday, according to sources. Reynolds, like many Ford dealers, are worried about losing more sales in the Midwest and Bible Belt where Ford's sales, especially for trucks, are strongest. -Jim Burt

Daily Edition: Dec. 15, 2005 by TCC Team (12/14/2005)
Nissan Urge concept, Ford reverses on gay ads, C-Class spied.

Mitsu Co-Joins Harunari, Gilligan at MMNA

Mitsubishi Motors North America is getting a new co-president to join Rich Gilligan in the duties of steering the company's American turnaround. The new co-president and co-CEO is Hiroshi Harunari, who takes on his new task Jan. 1. Harunari has been Mitsu's Managing Director of Overseas Operations since April 2005. Gilligan took over the company's North American operations in January after serving as Mitsu's COO.

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