Check Your Mirrors
Odds and Ends About Cars and the Car Business
By Brendan Moore
AUDI is bringing out their A1 in Europe (only) in 2009, after they introduce it at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, and it promises to make the boys over at BMW and MINI quite nervous. The A1 will get gasoline engines putting out 80 BHP, 100 BHP, 140 BHP and 170 BHP and seven-speed sequential automatic transmissions, but the really intriguing mode of power is the hybrid setup shown at the Paris Auto Show last fall. The hybrid components are the standard 1.4 liter engine paired with a 27 BHP electric motor, which take the A1 Hybrid to 100 KPH (62 MPH) in 7.9 seconds. But the big deal is that it does this while putting out only 92 grams per kilometer and returning 72 MPG. And it will go 60 miles just on the battery charge. Audi says the A1 hybrid is a concept but it is production-ready and you can expect to see it at some point, probably when gasoline goes way up in price again.
PININFARINA says it will not take on more contract work from auto manufacturers in the future and will focus on building electric cars only. Pininfarina, in partnership with Bollore, a French industrial group has commited to producing an EV pilot vehicle in 2010 and mass production of same in 2011. The strategy represents quite a gamble for the Italian design firm, and if the market for electric cars does not materialize by 2011, Pininfarina is effectively finished.
SEMA (the Specialty Equipment Market Association show) pulled in over 125,000 visitors in 2008. And it’s not even open to the public. Those were all trade people and automotive journalists and they came from over 100 countries. But, then again, the aftermarket industry is valued at $36.7 billion USD, so that seems about right.
PHILIP EGAN, one of the designers of the 1948 Tucker Torpedo, passed away on December 26, 2008 in Fairfax, California at the age of 88. After the meltdown of Tucker, Egan designed appliances for Sears in Chicago as a senior designer. He started his own design firm after leaving Sears, then joined Walter Landor and Associates in California, which he worked at until retirement. Egan was hired as a consultant for the 1988 movie about Preston Tucker, his car and the Tucker Corporation, Tucker: The Man and His Dream. That movie was produced by George Lucas, who lives in San Rafael, the next town over from Fairfax in Marin County. The Tucker biopic was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who also lives north of San Francisco. So they didn’t have far to travel for those script meetings.
THE DETROIT AUTO SHOW, otherwise known as the NAIAS, happens this month. It will be interesting to see just what the mood is, so quickly after an abysmal 2008. It seemed like everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the auto industry last year. There are some people that think sales in the US have hit bottom, and can only go up. I’m not one of them. I think US sales in 2009 will come in at a little bit under 11 million units, which will be a big drop from 2008 volumes. Frankly, it will be very difficult for any manufacturer to make money if sales come in below 11 million units. On a somewhat related subject, there is increasing chatter about increasing the federal gas tax so that there is no return to buying gas-guzzlers among the American consumer population. Considering that there is a very good chance that the federal government will demand a focus from GM and Chrysler on small, energy-efficient vehicles as part of the terms of the federal aid given to both companies, that might be the best thing that can happen to the domestic automakers.
VECTRIX CORP, a US company, says that they are the world leader in zero emission electric scooters and high-performance bikes. Vectrix builds its Electric Vx1 and Vx1e scooters in Poland. But Vectrix may not enjoy that status much longer as Honda has announced that they will start selling an electric motorcycle in 2010. Honda, who has some experience building motorcycles, says it is all part of their push to bring more efficient vehicles with lower emissions to the market as soon as possible. It is expected the new electric motorcycle will use the same litium-ion battery technology from GS Yuasa Corporation, Honda’s supplier of battery technology for their electric vehicles.
GM has already taken more than 10,000 orders for the upcoming 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. The pent-up demand is a ray of sunshine in what has been a pretty dark environment for General Motors lately, and has prompted talk of increasing production. However, GM executives are wary of over-committing to higher production in such a volatile environment. GM is keen to match production to demand on what will be one of their halo cars.
CITROEN has got to be happy with their new C3 Picasso. The new MPV has already been named 2009 Family Car of the Year by Top Gear magazine. “This is what Citroen does best – small, utilitarian, and funky- and as functionally beautiful as Apple’s ubiquitous iPhone. This is what a 21st century family car should look like”, said the magazine. Having seen the C3 in person in Paris a few months ago, I would have to agree with that statement. The new Citroen is going to considerably raise the standard by which all vehicles in its segment will be measured.
PROTON is actually improving its financial performance, but that hasn’t stopped the Malaysian prime minister from saying out loud what a lot of people have been thinking in Malaysia; that is, that Proton should get a major car company as a partner as soon as possible. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi made the statement a couple of weeks ago in a press conference that was called to reveal that Proton has been sued by its former Chinese joint-venture partner, Goldstar Heavy Industrial Co. Ltd., for 1 billion yuan ($146 million USD) in compensation for breach of contract.. Abdullah indicated in an interview with The Associated Press that Proton should be willing to give majority control to a partner in a joint venture if necessary but refused to be drawn on specifics. Asked if a foreign partner can hold a majority 51 percent stake, he said: “It doesn’t matter as long as Proton, the mother company, is entirely ours. This (joint venture) is our investment in collaboration with another company. We will (find) what is the best arrangement which will be entirely commercial,” he said. Proton is state-owned and has been since it the genesis of the company.
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