Payday Loans

Toyota issued a “safety advisory” today regarding the risk that the accelerator pedal could be forced into the full open (“floored”) position if the driver side floor mats are unsecured or incompatible.  This condition could result in very high speeds and result in crashes with serious injury and/or death.  Toyota does not yet have a fix for the problem, and is instructing owners of all affected vehicles to remove the floor mats immediately and not replace them with another mat.  The affected vehicles are:

  • 2007 – 2010 Camry
  • 2005 – 2010 Avalon
  • 2004 – 2009 Prius
  • 2005 – 2010 Tacoma
  • 2007 – 2010 Tundra
Toyota is giving owners of the affected vehicles the following instructions if they find themselves in a vehicle that is accelerating unintentionally:
Should the vehicle continue to accelerate rapidly after releasing the accelerator pedal, this could be an indication of floor mat interference.  If this occurs, Toyota recommends the driver take the following actions:

First, if it is possible and safe to do so, pull back the floor mat and dislodge it from the accelerator pedal; then pull over and stop the vehicle.

If the floor mat cannot be dislodged, then firmly and steadily step on the brake pedal with both feet. Do NOT pump the brake pedal repeatedly as this will increase the effort required to slow the vehicle.

Shift the transmission gear selector to the Neutral (N) position and use the brakes to make a controlled stop at the side of the road and turn off the engine.
If unable to put the vehicle in Neutral, turn the engine OFF, or to ACC. This will not cause loss of steering or braking control, but the power assist to these systems will be lost.

-If the vehicle is equipped with an Engine Start/Stop button, firmly and steadily push the button for at least three seconds to turn off the engine. Do NOT tap the Engine Start/Stop button.

-If the vehicle is equipped with a conventional key-ignition, turn the ignition key to the ACC position to turn off the engine. Do NOT remove the key from the ignition as this will lock the steering wheel

“This is an urgent matter,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “We strongly urge owners of these vehicles to remove mats or other obstacles that could lead to unintended acceleration.”

The recall was sparked by an Aug. 28 accident in San Diego during which four people were killed in a Lexus, said Irv Miller, a spokesman for Toyota.

This is the largest recall for Toyota and is more than 70% higher than their total 2008 sales in the US.  Toyota’s previous recall record was 900,000 vehicles recalled in 2005.

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GM CEO Fritz Henderson issued the following news release this afternoon:

“Today we learned that Penske Automotive Group (PAG) has decided to terminate discussions with General Motors to acquire Saturn. This is very disappointing news and comes after months of hard work by hundreds of dedicated employees and Saturn retailers who tried to make the new Saturn a reality. PAG’s announcement explained that their decision was not based on interactions with GM or Saturn retailers; rather it was because of the inability to source new products beyond what it had asked GM to build on contract.

As a result of PAG’s decision, we will be winding down the Saturn brand and dealership network, in accordance with the wind-down agreements that Saturn dealers recently signed with GM. Pursuant to the terms of those agreements, the wind down process will be determined and communicated shortly.

Saturn customers and owners will continue to be able to purchase and have their vehicles serviced at Saturn retailers during this process. Once the wind down is complete, Saturn owners will still be able to have their vehicles serviced at other GM dealerships. We will be communicating with our customers very soon to explain the next steps in this process.

Today’s disappointing news comes at a time when we’d hoped for a successful launch of the Saturn brand into a new chapter. We will be working closely with our dealers to ensure Saturn customers are cared for as we transition them to other GM dealers in the months ahead. I’d also like to thank every GM employee and Saturn retailer who worked so hard to try to make this new beginning happen for Saturn.”

To say this is a shocking announcement is an understatement.  Roger Penske, who some wanted to take over GM, was considered a white knight for Saturn dealers.  If anybody could have saved their butts as GM discarded them like day-old coffee, it was Penske.  Those dealers deserved so much better than the fate which will now be theirs.  Saturn consistently has ranked as one of the highest brands in dealer satisfaction, despite years of product neglect by the General.  That means they really worked their tails off to make the customers happy.  And what was their reward?  Selling out-of-date, less than adequate product for more than a decade.  Only recently was the lineup overhauled, making it one of the best around.  But it was too little; too late.  The damage was done.  Now there is only the task of shutting off the lights as the last employees of the once-proud dealers go home for the last time.  Like I said about Pontiac recently, RIP Saturn; you will be missed.

That’s what I think – how about you?

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Chrysler’s “Plan”

29th September 2009

Automotive News reported last week that Chrysler-Fiat has a product strategy that includes the Chrysler brand moving way upscale, Dodge emphasizing driving dynamics and Jeep just staying Jeep, with a little fine-tuning.  Fiat, since taking control of Chrysler, has reorganized each of the brands under a CEO, who has total P&L responsibility for the brand.  That will work fine, as long as there is a referee who will decide which segments are appropriate and to make sure that overlap between the brands’ offerings are minimized.  As each of the brand CEOs report to Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, he seems to be the referee.

Chrysler brand CEO Peter “The Fongster” Fong says that the Chrysler brand needs to go upscale, but he is also considering a subcompact model.  That might work in Europe, where his boss works, but Americans generally equate luxury and status with size.  Bigger is better.  He adds that Chrysler will be “a notch above Lincoln, a notch above Cadillac.”  That is an admirable goal, but I sure hope he has a LONG time to accomplish this.  It takes YEARS and BILLIONS of dollars for new product programs to come to market and YEARS and HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of dollars more to establish or change a brand identity – once you have the product.  The Fongster better hope Sergio doesn’t mind waiting a decade or 2 for results.

Dodge is going after the “driving dynamics” market, which sounds suspiciously like they’re going after BMW.  Good luck.  Everybody (Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Cadillac to name a few) has been going after BMW for many years, with only small degrees of success.  Now Dodge hopes to get in on this?  Please.  Dodge needs to be the affordable, sporty brand.  They must stay affordable because they don’t have another brand that can realistically sell affordable cars.  Maybe they should bring back Plymouth?

Jeep will stay Jeep.  At last, a good plan emerges from the rubble.  Jeep needs to cut back on its product lines and make darn sure it only sells products that are true to the Jeep brand.  That means no Compass or Patriot.  Jeep started calling its own products that still would meet the Jeep standard “Trail Rated” a few years ago, in anticipation of their slide into soft-utes.  Jeep should not produce anything that isn’t trail rated.

Also getting in the way is Fong’s point that the need to have “a broad array of products across every one of the segments.”  Wrong.  What each brand needs is a reasonable selection of products that are high quality, get good fuel economy for the segment and are true to the brand image they are trying to project.  Because all of the dealers will carry all of the brands going forward, each brand does not need to fill every segment or even many segments.  They only need to fill the segments that are true to the brands and enough of them to keep a viable, profitable dealer base.

That’s what I think – how about you?

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Mazda2 Coming to NA

21st September 2009

Mazda announced that they will bring the subcompact 2 to the US and Canada in late 2010.  “As consumers’ tastes and attitudes toward small vehicles have changed, we now believe strongly there is a place in our lineup for a car below our current least-expensive car, the Mazda 3,” Jim O’Sullivan, Mazda North American Operations president, said in a statement.  Mazda didn’t say where the 2 will be produced, but as it shares a platform with the upcoming Ford Fiesta, will they make it in Cuautitlán, where the Fiesta will be produced beginning next year?  It sure seems to make sense.  Mazda gets local production for the North American market, saving logistics costs of shipping from Japan.  Ford gets another vehicle for its plant, which helps ensure that the plant will be at a high utilization rate, which reduces the risk of discounting.  Customers get better choices and better prices, and North American workers get more jobs.  Everybody wins, right?  Maybe not.  Ford recently divested most of its stake in Mazda, which might make them hesitant to help Mazda sell cars.  They should ignore that kind of thinking and worry about making money for themselves, which producing the 2 at Cuautitlán will do.  However, if I know how Ford thinks, and I do, they probably have overly optimistic volume projections for the Fiesta and think they can’t spare the capacity for the Mazda2.  They should reconsider this (if I’m right) based on:

  • their spotty record of forecasting their own sales
  • the fact that the Mazda2 will likely be sold in VERY small numbers, even compared to the Fiesta, and
  • the lack of any coherent energy policy in the US means that gas prices will likely continue to fluctuate wildly, leading to further volatility in the sales of fuel-efficient vehicles -so they should hedge with this car and the Fiat 500 for the Cuautitlán plant.
That’s what I think – how about you?
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Toyota has told its dealers that it will use the Prius name on other hybrids in its lineup.  This was disclosed in a meeting of Toyota executives and its 60 largest US dealers last week.  They said Prius will not become a sub-brand like Scion, but the name will be attached to other hybrids in an undisclosed manner.  There are at least a couple of ways they could accomplish this, with varying degrees of intelligence.  It has been suggested that they might follow the lead of Oldsmobile in the 1980s, which seemed intent on badging every vehicle as a “Cutlass” – Cutlass, Cutlass Supreme, Cutlass Calais, etc.  In this method, we would have Prius, Prius Highlander (or “Prius SUV”), Prius Camry (or “Prius Sedan”), etc.  This would defeat the whole point of using the Prius name, which Toyota dealer Earl Stewart said, ““The Highlander hybrid and Camry hybrid do OK, but calling it ‘Synergy Drive’ never resonated with consumers,” Stewart says. “But they can make hay on the Prius name. It’s a magic name. If somebody says ‘I drive a Prius,’ everybody knows what he means.”  If they use the Prius name as a separate group of vehicles in the showroom, like in the above examples, the name Prius will lose its cache and its meaning, killing the very advantage they hoped to leverage.

If, on the other hand, they use the name “Prius” as a branding of its hybrid system (which is presently called “Hybrid Synergy Drive”), that might work.  In this method, we would have a Camry Prius, Highlander Prius, etc.  It might sound like the same thing, after all, all I did was to switch the words around.  However, no matter how they brand these vehicles, customers will know that it’s a Highlander or a Camry.  Calling it anything else will only insult their intelligence.  Keeping the model name first and using “Prius” as a descriptive term which brands the hybrid system makes sense.

Which way will Toyota go?  No way to tell – they haven’t even confirmed this new direction publicly yet.  At times, it seems that Toyota is bent on becoming the 21st century’s GM – too big for its own good and making bad decisions.  You would think that Toyota’s management is too smart for that, but we also thought GM’s was too smart 40 years ago.

That’s what I think – how about you?

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GM Agrees to Sell Opel to Magna

10th September 2009

GM issued the following statement today:

Zurich. General Motors today announced that its Board of Directors supports a bid from the consortium of Magna International Inc. and Sberbank to buy a majority stake in its European Opel/Vauxhall operations.

Several key issues will be finalized over the next few weeks to secure the binding agreements, including the written support of the labor unions to support the deal with the necessary cost restructuring for viability and the finalization of a definitive financing package from the German government. The definitive agreements should be ready to sign within a few weeks, with closing to follow within the next few months. Under the deal, Magna/Sberbank will purchase a 55 percent stake in New Opel; GM will hold a 35 percent stake and employees will be provided a 10 percent stake.

“The hard work over the past two weeks to clarify open issues and resolve details in the German financial package brought GM and its Board of Directors to recommend Magna/Sberbank,” said Fritz Henderson, GM President and CEO. “We thank all parties involved in the intensive process of the last few months — especially the German government — for their continued support that enables this new venture. I’d also like to thank the Opel and Vauxhall customers for their continued loyalty. GM will continue to closely collaborate with Opel and Vauxhall to develop and produce more great cars, such as the new Insignia and the new Astra,” Henderson added.

The agreement will keep Opel/Vauxhall a fully integrated part of GM’s global product development organization, allowing all parties to benefit from the exchange of technology and engineering resources. The new ownership structure constitutes a new lean, efficient and independent organization for the Opel and Vauxhall brands. The current portfolio of Opel/Vauxhall cars and the models in the pipeline are a strong basis for future success.

Participating in GM’s global technology development and purchasing organizations secures important economies of scale for Opel/Vauxhall and other GM brands. For example, vehicles that represent new propulsion technologies, such as the Ampera extended-range electric vehicle, can only be brought to market in a joint effort.

“GM operates many joint ventures around the world and has proven in the past that this business model delivers the right balance of independence, innovation and synergies,” said John Smith, GM Group Vice President Business Development. “All parties will work hard to close the deal as soon as possible,” he added.

This deal baffles me, unless the agreement contains very strong assurances that GM will retain access to all of the engineers and systems that are so integral to GM’s worldwide product development system.  Several North American products have roots at Opel, including the highly acclaimed Chevy Malibu and Buick LaCrosse and the upcoming Chevy Cruze.  In other words, Opel is responsible for some of GM’s best new products, so they better not let that talent and expertise get away or worse, compete against them.

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With mounting pressure from the board of directors to improve sales AND profitability, GM announced today that it will offer customers a “60-Day Satisfaction Guarantee” which allows customers to return their vehicle to their dealer between 31 and 60 days of purchase and receive a refund of the purchase price for the vehicle.  The program runs from September 14 to November 30, and covers all vehicles from Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC only.  It doesn’t cover the brands non grata (Saturn, Hummer, Saab and Pontiac). Details of GM’s Satisfaction Guarantee:

· Offer covers 2009 and 2010 Model Year Chevys, Buicks, GMCs and Cadillacs (except medium duty trucks)

· Customers (one per household) can return their vehicle between 31 and 60 days with less than 4,000 miles

· Customers will be informed in writing before they buy the vehicle of the terms of the Satisfaction Guarantee

· Customers must take delivery by Nov. 30

· The Satisfaction Guarantee covers the vehicle purchase price and sales tax, but not other add-ons like accessories, negative equity on a trade-in or other fees;  other restrictions apply

· Leased vehicles are not included

The money-back guarantee is also part of a new marketing campaign which will star GM Chairman Edward Whitacre Jr.  The campaign will evoke the famous Lee Iacocca adds of the 1980s, when Lido told us “if you can find a better car, buy it!”  Eddie Whitacre will tell us “May the Best Car Win.”  Using Lee was smart back then; I’m not sure using Whitacre is.  Lee was a celebrity of sorts already, famously going to DC to ask for federal loan guarantees. Nobody outside the telephone industry ever heard of Whitacre before he was named chairman of GM.  He might do very well, but nobody will know who he is – at least at first.  This will reduce the effectiveness.  It also goes against new marketing honcho Bob Lutz’s plan to focus on the 4 core brands and not on the company in its advertising.

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