Check Your Mirrors
Odds and Ends about Cars and the Car Business
By Brendan Moore
The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. Treasury Department, the Obama Administration’s proxy in the current auto restructuring efforts, is getting ready to nudge General Motors into bankruptcy early next week. The paper is quoting a source as saying that GM would get approximately $30 billion USD in federal aid in order to steer itself (with a great deal of government help, of course) through bankruptcy, which would bring the total amount of federal aid to GM up to a breathtaking $45 billion. The US government plans to own 50% of GM and retain the right to name board members.
Speaking of GM, Mark McNabb, the head of Cadillac, has quit, and will take a powder on June 1. He was in that position only 13 months. When McNabb was hired, he was tasked to lead Cadillac, Hummer and Saab, but events have eclipsed that goal, with Hummer and Saab up for sale by a battered and punch-drunk GM. McNabb stated that he resigned in order to pursue other opportunities. Stephen J. Hill will be in charge of Cadillac. I spoke to McNabb for a moment at the Detroit Auto Show this year, and asked him about Saab and Hummer and whether GM had buyers for either brand. He gave me the corporate answer; the one printed in all the papers, and delivered it with a wan smile. He didn’t look unhappy, but he seemed a bit played out. We then started talking about the new Cadillac Sport Wagon, and he brightened up considerably.
The “Committee of Chrysler Affected Dealers,” which says it represents almost 300 dealers in 45 states, has filed legal documents that ask Chrysler’s bankruptcy court to delay hearings that would approve the quick sale of the bankrupt company and allow Chrysler to void 789 of its dealership franchise agreements, which is approximately 25 percent of its overall U.S. dealer network. The committee says it is the legal representation for almost 300 of the affected Chrysler dealers and wants the delay in order to do more investigation as well as to adequately prepare their defense. The smart money says that the committee will not be granted the delay, but bankruptcy judges are not entirely predictable.
The Japanese government instituted new tax incentives for eco-friendly cars last month and that measure has helped some of the Japanese automakers. Toyota reported its sales were 20% over the same month last year, and Nissan reported their sales were up 30% over the same month last year. Toyota’s rise in sales, however, was almost entirely due to the introduction of their new Prius. Automakers in Japan have endured many months of falling sales and the new tax incentive has been welcomed in the country, but no one know s how long the bounce will last.
Cars and watches are two of my favorite mechanical things, so this press release from TAG Heuer got my attention – TAG Heuer is producing 1000 limited-edition re-issues of the famous 1969 Monaco chronograph worn by Steve McQueen in Le Mans. The case is signed by Jack Heuer, honorary chairman of TAG Heuer and inscribed with “In tribute to Steve McQueen”. It’s all for the 40th anniversary of the Monaco timepiece. The square beauty is priced at a mere $7900 USD. I’d love to have one. Those of you that have seen the film may remember McQueen waving at the crowd with the watch clearly showing, or, a couple of shots where the watch is visible while he’s talking with the team, etc.
Fiat has given two bids to the German Economy minister for Opel, one with GM’s South American assets in the deal, and one without. Still no word from the Germans about Opel’s fate, but it is very illuminating to see the huge difference in point-of-view articles in the German and the Italian press regarding Fiat’s chances of getting Opel. The Italian press seems to think it’s a foregone conclusion and the German press says that Opel could go to either Fiat or Magna, the other main contender – the chances are exactly equal.
VW says it is pushing ahead with their hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, despite that fact that a lot of governments and vehicle manufacturers are pulling away from the technology. In fact, two days ago the Obama Administration stated that it was reducing funding for all hydrogen cell research. VW has 22 rollers in China that have hydrogen cells, and by all accounts, they act like real cars, more or less. Despite that, VW engineers say that their hydrogen cell cars are at least a generation away (gosh, that sounds familiar) from consumer daily use. VW does their hydrogen cell research in Germany, but the test mules are in China since they were cobbled together for VIPs at the China Olympics.
The Mitsubishi Magna was never sold in the Unites States, but I saw one parked (RHD, of course) on a local road here in the States. I have no idea how the owner got it here, but it had Virginia plates on it, so it was legal. Since I had never seen one before, I didn’t know what it was, so I took some cell phone photos and then looked it up on the internet. Our Australian readers are laughing now, since the car came from Australia’s Mitsubishi unit, and, apparently was popular there in the 1980’s when it was introduced, and was still a popular model there until it halted production several years ago. As far as I can tell from my quick research, it was a Galant with around 2.5 inches added across the width of the floorplan (it looks very wide in the metal) and they loved it in Oz. The quality of my cell phone photos is fairly awful, so that’s out, and I’ll use a recent stock photo instead. The 2nd-gen version showed up in the States as the Diamante (one of our bargain used cars).
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