Check Your Mirrors
Odds and ends about cars and car business
By Brendan Moore
DAIMLER and RWE (Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk AG, until 1990), a German utility company, have revealed plans to offer charging stations for electric vehicles in Germany by the end of 2009. RWE is quick to point out that this development is only a market test, and will only be offered in Berlin initially. “This is a pilot market and more will follow. Then we will see how this does in practice,” RWE CEO Juergen Grossmann told reporters. The reason Daimler was involved is because the company intends to produce a limited run of lithium-ion battery powered Smart minicars in 2009. There will be other production EVs or PHEVs for sale in Germany by 2010, though, most notably the Honda Insight, the Toyota Prius, the Bollore-Pininfarina EV and Nissan’s as-yet-unnamed EV.
GM plans to show a production version of the Volt this month (speaking of electric vehicles). Speculation was rampant that GM would debut the production version of the Volt at the Paris Auto Show, but GM says the first showing will be at an internal GM event for employees at which some media will be present. September 16 is the 100-year anniversary of General Motors and the Volt is expected to be shown at that event. Bob Lutz, Vice-Chairman of GM worldwide, told reporters at Automotive News Europe that pre-production models of the Volt will be built next year and 2010 ahead of the final production version in 2010. A European version will follow in 2011. “Everything is looking good,” Lutz said. “We have quite a few running around now in old Chevy Malibu bodies, so we can modify the engine and battery configuration.” It’s not an overstatement that the Volt EV is highly anticipated by the public, industry analysts, and GM itself. Lutz himself has referred to the Volt as GM’s most important model launch in the history of the company, and he views the Volt as one of the crowning achievements of his career.
TOYOTA has built up a lot of positive brand equity over the years, and nowhere is this more true than in California. Want an example? Toyota dealers in Southern California have been taking $500 deposits from customers for Toyota’s PHEV (plug-in hybrid vehicle) version of the Prius, which the company says should be able to go 10 miles on electricity alone.
The problem with this scenario is that Toyota has not announced when this car might actually be for sale. Toyota doesn’t plan to even start delivering test vehicles to commercial lessees until the end of 2009, and the company has already stated that they plan on many months of extensive road-testing before any production version of a car consumers can buy will be made available. So, these people are putting deposits down for a car that may not show up for years, but, that they already KNOW will be worth buying. Now, that is faith in a brand for you. That type of faith almost approaches a religious level of faith, where you just simply suspend any sort of disbelief and fervently believe in something because it just seems like it should be reality. Kudos to Toyota for fostering such a strong belief system around their cars. Although, its worth noting that Toyota has requested that the dealers in question stop taking deposits on the future Prius PHEV and return whatever deposits they already have in-house.
FORD says that Lincoln might just get a C-Class car in their lineup. That would be something new for Lincoln, but Ford officials aren’t saying much than that about it. If Lincoln gets a compact (C-Class) vehicle, it wouldn’t happen until after 2010, when the next-generation Escape shows up, state Ford executives. Which leads one to believe that Lincoln would get a small crossover if they get a compact-size vehicle. Which also means it will probably be based on the Ford Kuga, since that’s the expected replacement for the Escape.
HYUNDAI will show off its new i20 next month at the Paris Auto Show. The small i20, Hyundai’s replacement for the six year-old Getz model, will be shown in two engine configurations. The 5-door hatchback will be shown with a standard gasoline engine and a 1.4 liter clean diesel engine. The i20 will be manufactured in India. Hyundai retailed 74,360 Getzes in Europe last year, down from a high of 95,514 units in 2006. Hyundai will also show the new Genesis sedan at the show, a gasoline-electric hybrid based on the Santa Fe and iX55, a Veracruz crossover that has been extensively modified for European buyers.
TATA has decided to pull out of their West Bengal State manufacturing facility that was slated to produce the Nano, the world’s cheapest car. What this does to the launch date of the Nano is unclear at this point. The Nano was supposed to swing into full production by the spring of 2009. Ratan Tata, Chairman of Tata, says that a political war between two factions in the West Bengal State, and, the ensuing violent protests, has doomed the enterprise. In August, Tata issued a public statement saying they would cease construction of the production facility if need be if their employees’ safety continued to be at risk. Apparently, Tata has now reached that point.
CHRYSLER showed some hybrid concepts at the Detroit Auto Show in January of this year, but reportedly, the company is now showing their dealers hybrid prototypes that are much further along in the development pipeline than the concepts were. The vehicles being shown are still nowhere near production-ready, but the company says their Envi subsidiary, the unit launched last year to design and engineer EVs and PHEVs, is making good progress on several fronts with some of the concepts they’re working on. Chrysler dealers are not exactly a happy bunch these days, so any promise of better days to come is most welcome, and that’s just what Chrysler is trying to accomplish by showing dealers the stuff the engineers are working on now.
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