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OnStar, the telematics service of General Motors, announced the addition of Remote Ignition Block to its services.  The new service will prevent a stolen vehicle from starting, if it is confirmed by police.  This service joins Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, which will progressively slow a vehicle until it stops – aiding law enforcement in retrieving the vehicle.

Some conspiracy-types have already claimed that this is just one more step on the road to complete government control of where we go and when.  Like this comment posted on a car magazine website, “You think this is great? For years, many have worried about the Big Brother aspects of OnStar. Now that GM is in government hands, so is OnStar. So now, if our caring and benevolent government decides that you are to [sic] irresponsible to drive your Corvette ZR1, they have a way to stop you.”  Another complained that the service is shut down if you don’t renew the subscription after the free trial period, calling the company “OffStar.”  Does he really think they will provide all of these services for free, just because they are related to safety and criminal activity?

I think this is another useful tool to help reduce crime, and if people are willing to pay for it, they will reap the benefits, if they ever need them.  It’s like an insurance policy.  Sure, there is the possibility that somebody will abuse the power, but there is that possibility with many things.  That’s why we have laws and courts to protect us.

PRESS RELEASE
OnStar Launches Industry-Exclusive Technology to Help with Safe and Quick Recovery of Stolen Vehicles

DETROIT (July 21, 2009) – OnStar is expanding on its Stolen Vehicle Assistance services with the announcement of a new technology that will give law enforcement another critical tool to help safely and quickly recover subscribers stolen vehicles.

This new technology is called Remote Ignition Block and will allow an OnStar Advisor to send a remote signal to a subscriber’s stolen vehicle to prevent the vehicle from restarting once the ignition is turned off. This capability will not only help authorities recover stolen vehicles, but can also prevent dangerous high speed pursuits from starting.

“Remote Ignition Block is a prime example of the rapid pace of technological innovation underway at OnStar. We are developing services desired by our subscribers that deliver important societal benefits as well,” said Chet Huber, OnStar president.

Remote Ignition Block builds on OnStar’s growing suite of Stolen Vehicle Assistance services which includes GPS technology that pinpoints a stolen vehicle’s exact location and Stolen Vehicle Slowdown® which can remotely slow a stolen vehicle to idle speed.

OnStar will make Remote Ignition Block available on select over 2M GM 2009 and 2010 model year vehicles in the U.S. and Canada.

The process for deployment:
An OnStar subscriber reports their vehicle stolen to authorities and requests stolen vehicle assistance from OnStar.

Law enforcement provides confirmation to the OnStar Advisor that the vehicle is in fact stolen.
The OnStar Advisor pinpoints the vehicle’s exact GPS location and sends a remote signal to prevent stolen vehicle from starting the next time someone attempts to start it.

On select models, authorities can also request Stolen Vehicle Slowdown if they have a clear line of sight of the stolen vehicle and confirm that conditions are safe to slow down the vehicle.

“Technology like Stolen Vehicle Slowdown and now Remote Ignition Block will improve the chances of apprehending suspected car thieves and are great assets to the law enforcement community” said Oakland County (Mich) Sheriff Mike Bouchard. “Removing an instrument of harm from the hands of criminals improves the safety of our officers, our highways and our citizens” said Bouchard.

For more than 13 years, OnStar has helped authorities in locating tens of thousands of stolen vehicles in order to assist with their safe and quick recovery. OnStar receives approximately 600 Stolen Vehicle Assistance requests from subscribers each month and has helped in over 28,000 requests over the past decade.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reports, there were 1,095,769 vehicles stolen in the U.S. in 2007, equating to one motor vehicle stolen every 28.8 seconds. Stolen vehicle incidents can turn into dangerous high speed pursuits; at least 300 people die as a result of the more than 30,000 high speed police chases that happen every year. With capabilities such as Stolen Vehicle Slowdown and now Remote Ignition Block, OnStar subscribers have the added peace of mind knowing their vehicle can be prevented from being used as an instrument of harm. In fact, 97% of OnStar subscribers surveyed said they would like Remote Ignition Block capability on their vehicles.

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2010 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ

Chevrolet’s Equinox was launched for the 2005 model year in 2004. Like many of GM’s entries into new segments, this one was “a day late and a dollar short”. Designed to compete against more established small SUVs, like the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, and Honda CR-V, the 2005 Equinox was larger on the outside and smaller on the inside than its intended competitors. It also only offered a V6 engine, while all the others had a 4-cylinder engine available. This increased costs and provided worse fuel economy than the competitors’. Interior space was also sub-par, especially in the rear cargo area. A clever shelf could be added to give 2 stories of storage, but the mechanism intruded too much on the space, even when not in use.

For 2010, the Equinox is brand new, and I recently had the opportunity to drive one for several hundred miles. The new Equinox is better than its predecessor in every way, starting with its looks. The 2010 has a better all-around look, as opposed to the cobbled-together look of the previous version. The interior is equally handsome, especially on the LT2 version with leather seats that I drove. The LT2 package includes remote start, Bluetooth, 8-way power driver seat, automatic climate control, foglamps, USB – among other goodies. This one included the 3.0L V6 engine with direct injection, good for 264hp. The base I4 gets best-in-class economy of 22 city / 32 highway. The V6 is rated at 17/25. It drives very smoothly, thanks in part to the 6-speed tranny and the independent suspension at all 4 corners. The kids enjoyed the rear-seat DVD player, which includes dual screens on the backs of the front seats. Their mom and I enjoyed listening to the iPod or XM Radio while they were watching the movies. Our tester was also equipped with a DVD navigation system to help us find our way.

The fit and finish was very good, with no noticeable gaps or color mismatches. The interior was finished in very attractive beige leather, and the seats were very comfortable and supportive for the long drive.

Gripes? Sure, there were a few, notably the IBM Selectric-like array of buttons on the dash for controlling the radio, navigation and climate. While I complained a little about the buttons at first, I quickly became used to them and their layout. Call it a B.

Another issue was the software that controls the navigation system. Having used several systems in the past (both portable and built-in), this one has a “feature” that makes no sense. When a destination is programmed, the system constantly updates the miles and time to the destination, like most or all other systems. However, this system, remarkably, updates based on some running average of the speed you are traveling. For example, if we had 120 miles/2 hours to go and encountered bad traffic that brought us to a stop on the highway, the 2 hours would gradually creep up until we were able to resume highway speeds. Other systems assume that you will drive the speed limit the entire trip, so it is never possible for the remaining time to go up, as long as you stay on your route. This makes more sense unless the ETA is tied into live traffic conditions, which is not the case here. The system is linked to the XM traffic service and thoughtfully tried to re-route us around an accident, which we ignored to our dismay.

The cargo area handled all of our bags with ease (not that we had much for a long weekend).

Overall, we thought the 2010 Equinox is a very strong entry in the small-ish SUV/crossover segment. It’s attractive and comfortable with enough power from either engine and delivers best-in-class fuel economy with the base I4 engine. What more could you want?

Overall Rating: 8 out of 10




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GM May Keep G8 as a Chevy

14th July 2009

Never one at a loss of words, Bob Lutz has publicly spoken what many have said or thought privately – GM may keep the G8 after all. “The G8 has finally been discovered by a broader percentage of the buying public,” Lutz said on GM’s FastLane blog. “The owners are ecstatic about them, many calling it the best sedan they’ve ever driven. We consider it too good to waste. So we’re studying the feasibility of bringing it in as a Caprice for both law enforcement and the public.” Tom Stephens, who replaced Lutz as head of product development, made a similar comment a few weeks ago.

The G8, by most measures, is a great car. Some call it a better BMW than a BMW – and cheaper. So the idea of keeping it makes a lot of sense in many ways. One way it does not is the CAFE way. A big, powerful rear-drive sedan will hurt the company’s CAFE numbers. It will also help sales and (presumably) profits. So what’s more important – satisfying the government’s (read: majority owner’s) need for fuel economy, or that same government’s need to be paid back?

Bob and whoever else is part of this decision need to be aware that maybe the recent sales spike isn’t what it appears to be.  While it is true that June sales were up 136% from last year, a close look at G8’s sales chart might be interesting:

G8 has only been for sale for 16 months, perhaps the most tumultuous 16 months is GM’s history.  It can easily take that long to establish a new nameplate in the US auto industry – under ideal circumstances.  G8 was launched just as gas prices were starting to spike last year, and you can see that right after the first full month, sales started to creep back down, despite the positive reviews.  After a brief increase in August, sales started to fall again, probably due to all the bad press surrounding GM’s bleak financial situation last fall.  Sales spiked in February, and except for an April slide, have increased since.  Bob would like to call this being “discovered by a broader percentage of the buying public.”  Maybe, but I doubt it.  This is more likely the result of the announcements concerning Pontiac’s (lack of a) future.  Recall that it was in February that the General announced that Pontiac would be reduced to a “niche” brand.  This prompted many to go out and buy the car, as its future was uncertain (speculators, maybe?).  The dip in April is likely because there were no more people who were nervous about the G8’s future.  So why the increase in May and June?  GM announced in very late April that it would kill the Pontiac brand and all of its nameplates.  This has brought out even more pull-ahead sales, as people rush to make sure that they will get their G8 before they’re gone.

So does this mean that the G8 will not be successful as a Chevy or even a Buick (see below)?  Of course not.  It just means that Bob and his band of merry men better be careful reading too much into the sales chart.

So say we assume that GM will keep it in the lineup.  Next question is what do you call it?  Chevy Caprice, as Bob suggested, is a good fit.  The last Caprice was a big, RWD sedan.  It also didn’t win any beauty contests or warm the hearts of any enthusiasts, unlike the G8.  Other suggestions might include Chevy Impala, but the General is already working on a replacement for that car, or Chevelle, a name from the past that might work.  You could go really simple and name it Chevy G8.  How about Buick Grand National?  Buick is in need of a shot of adrenaline, and the G8 would certainly provide that, while resurrecting Buick’s performance heritage.

There are many decisions that GM must make, but let’s hope that they don’t get bogged down in too much research.  GM has long been known to become paralyzed in research, only to make a decision that is too watered down to excite anybody.

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NEW YORK – General Motors achieved another milestone in its reinvention last night when Judge Robert Gerber of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York approved the sale of substantially all of General Motors Corporation’s assets to NGMCO, Inc. (“New General Motors Company”). In connection with the closing of the sale transaction, NGMCO, Inc. will change its name to General Motors Company and continue to operate under GM’s historic corporate and sub brands. The approval marks another step toward the launch of an independent new GM.

The new company will acquire GM’s strongest operations and will have a competitive operating cost structure, partly as a result of recent agreements with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and Canadian Auto Workers (CAW).

The new GM will have lower leverage and a stronger balance sheet, which when combined with a lower break-even point, will allow it to reduce its risk, operate profitably at much lower volume levels, and to reinvest in the business in the key areas of advanced technology and product development. GM’s subsidiaries outside the United States will be acquired by the new company and are expected to continue to operate without interruption.

The new GM will be headquartered in Detroit and will be led by Fritz Henderson as President/CEO and Edward E. Whitacre, Jr. as chairman of the board of directors.

“A healthy domestic auto industry remains vital to the global economy and we deeply appreciate the support the U.S., Canadian and Ontario governments and taxpayers have given GM, and the sacrifices that have been made by so many. This has been an especially challenging period, and we’ve had to make very difficult decisions to address some of the issues that have plagued our business for decades. Now it’s our responsibility to fix this business and place the company on a clear path to success without delay,” said Henderson.

The new GM’s common stock will be owned by:
· U.S. Department of the Treasury: 60.8 percent
· UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust: 17.5 percent
· Canada and Ontario governments: 11.7 percent
· The old GM: 10 percent

Additionally, the old GM and the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust will hold warrants that are exercisable for 15 percent and 2.5 percent of the interests in the new GM, respectively.

The UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust and the Canadian government each may nominate one member to serve on the board of the new GM. The retiree benefits trust has selected seasoned auto industry analyst Stephen Girsky, who was previously employed by GM as a special advisor to then-chairman Rick Wagoner. Also selected to serve on the board of directors of the new GM are six current members of the General Motors Corporation board, including Erroll Davis, Neville Isdell, Kent Kresa, Philip Laskawy, Kathryn Marinello and Fritz Henderson. The Canadian government representative and four additional board members to be identified by the U.S. Treasury will be announced at a later date. Given that the current board must bear a large portion of the blame for the company’s current situation, this decision to keep some of them seems ill-advised.

Judge Gerber’s order includes a four-day stay before closing of the sale can occur. However, GM expects the sale to close in the near future. The new GM’s business is expected to be immediately operational and fully competitive, with an exciting line of new products, a smaller, more focused brand portfolio and the rationalization of its dealer network well underway. Current GM employees will be offered positions by the new company.

In connection with the closing, the current General Motors Corporation will change its name to Motors Liquidation Company. Retained assets will be wound down or sold. A new board of directors will oversee that process and the liquidation of the company under the supervision of the Bankruptcy Court.


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The US auto industry sold 860,000 units in June, a disappointing showing for the month when many analysts had expected a rebound.  The sales equal a Seasonally-Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) of 9.7 million units.  Many analysts had expected June’s sales to be the first of the year at 10 million SAAR.  Subaru, with a 3.4% increase, was the only manufacturer whose sales were up from last year.  Total industry sales were down 28% from 2008, but that is better than the 35% decline for the whole first half of the year.  June marked the 10th month in a row that total industry sales fell below 1,000,000 units after not having fell below that mark in many years.

One major bright spot was Ford, if you can call an 11% decrease a bright spot.  When the entire industry is down 28%, an 11% decline equals a big market share.  Ford’s share was 18% for the month, up from 15% last year.  It was also Ford’s highest share in more than 3 years, since an 18.2% share in May 2006.  Ford has an impressive lineup these days (as does GM), and they are also benefitting from the recent/current troubles of GM and Chrysler.  There are many out there who prefer a domestic product, for a variety of reasons, but are “uncomfortable” supporting either GM or Chrysler while they are owned by the government.  I disagree with those people, but the point is that they have 1 option – Ford.  As a result, Ford’s sales have outperformed many of the other manufacturers recently, leading them to increase their production schedules to meet the demand.

See the table below for the summary by manufacturer:

Volume Market Share
June, 2009 June, 2008 % Change June, 2009 June, 2008 Change
Aston Martin 95 140 -32% 0.0% 0.0%
BMW 20,879 26,192 -20% 2.4% 2.2% 0.2
Chrysler 68,297 117,457 -42% 7.9% 9.9% (2.0)
Daimler 16,286 22,139 -26% 1.9% 1.9%
Ferrari 105 142 -26% 0.0% 0.0%
Ford 154,873 173,462 -11% 18.0% 14.6% 3.4
General Motors 174,785 262,329 -33% 20.3% 22.1% (1.8)
Honda 100,420 142,539 -30% 11.7% 12.0% (0.3)
Hyundai 64,788 78,325 -17% 7.5% 6.6% 0.9
Isuzu 364 -100% 0.0% 0.0%
Lamborghini 50 62 -19% 0.0% 0.0%
Lotus 150 180 -17% 0.0% 0.0%
Maserati 111 213 -48% 0.0% 0.0%
Mazda 13,729 23,771 -42% 1.6% 2.0% (0.4)
Mitsubishi 4,362 7,494 -42% 0.5% 0.6% (0.1)
Nissan 58,298 75,848 -23% 6.8% 6.4% 0.4
Porsche 902 2,650 -66% 0.1% 0.2% (0.1)
Subaru 18,620 18,007 3% 2.2% 1.5% 0.7
Suzuki 2,149 9,784 -78% 0.2% 0.8% (0.6)
Tata 2,875 3,560 -19% 0.3% 0.3%
Toyota 131,653 193,234 -32% 15.3% 16.2% (0.9)
Volkswagen 26,674 31,626 -16% 3.1% 2.7% 0.4
Total 860,101 1,189,518 -28%


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