Detroit auto show: McCain in the driver’s seat (of a car)

Jan 15, 2008 16:24 UTC

mccain.jpgPresidential candidate John McCain joined his rivals, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, at the Detroit auto show, gawking at the latest hybrid powered cars ahead of the hotly-contested Republican primary on Tuesday.

The Arizona senator and former fighter pilot seemed at ease sitting in Chrysler’s Dodge Zeo concept car (pictured right with Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli) with its batwing door and glass roof.

In what may or may not be foreshadowing of Tuesday’s vote, McCain sat in the driver’s seat. Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who has stumped for votes for McCain in several states, sat next to him and joked about wanting to own a version of the orange concept car.

McCain, like Romney and Huckabee, met with Nardelli and Chrysler co-President Jim Press, who later said McCain was very interested in alternative fuels and helping the automakers with legislation in Washington. Nardelli was the only CEO to meet with all three presidential candidates as Ford sent Mark Fields, head of the Americas, and General Motors sent a top Chevrolet executive. 

Romney, whose father was governor of Michigan and led a company that Chrysler eventually absorbed, spent the most time of the three at the show. When asked what kind of cars he prefers, he responded, “I love sporty cars.”

Detroit auto show: Renault has entered the building

Jan 14, 2008 22:30 UTC

renaultlogo.pngRenault doesn’t sell cars in the world’s biggest auto market, and for that reason historically has not participated in the Detroit auto show. 

That didn’t stop the group’s strategy director, Patrick Pelata — considered the group’s second-ranking executive – from walking around the exhibition with some other company executives during the media preview days. He was spotted checking out the interior of the Infiniti SUV of alliance partner Nissan.

Renault will roll out its own SUV in Europe in 2008, called the Koleos and made by its South Korean subsidiary Renault Samsung.

Detroit auto show: Writers’ strike complicates Nissan marketing plan

Jan 14, 2008 22:06 UTC

mcnabb.jpgFans of “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and other top TV shows aren’t the only ones suffering from the Hollywood screenwriters strike as Nissan’s marketing efforts have been complicated by the battle.

Nissan North America senior vice president Mark McNabb (pictured right) said the two-month-old strike, which has halted production on virtually all scripted shows, was making it harder for Nissan to revamp its U.S. marketing.

“It’s making it very difficult for marketers,” he told Reuters of the walkout, which began in early November. ”Where do we want to go? Where do we want to spend money? The outcome of (the walkout) is going to be very important on what we do.”

Detroit auto show: Volt in 2010 now a “stretch” for GM

Jan 14, 2008 21:27 UTC

volt1.jpgGeneral Motors Corp’s touted all-electric plug-in Chevy Volt (pictured right) may not be built by the end of 2010 as it had hoped after all.
The automaker’s target is a “big stretch,” but it will not be changed, GM vice chairman and product chief Bob Lutz said at the Detroit auto show.

In fact, GM also said at the show that a plug-in Saturn Vue SUV could precede the Volt. And Japanese rival Toyota said it plans to market a test fleet of plug-in vehicles to companies or government agencies by the end of 2010.

While producing a lithium ion battery has not been a problem (and could be demonstrated by June), the project requires a complete re-engineering of a standard passenger vehicle, Lutz said.
GM garnered the spotlight at last year’s Detroit show when it said it would revive its once-failed idea of an electric car for the masses. 
It has been stung in the past by criticism, including a documentary movie, that it conspired to kill EV1. GM also has acknowledged it erred in allowing Toyota to paint itself with the “green” mantle due to the popularity of its Prius hybrid car.
lutz.jpgLutz (pictured left) has repeatedly said in the past that the Volt is not a public relations ploy. It has said the new program would build on what GM learned from the EV1, which was discontinued in 2003.

Detroit auto show: This Ferrari runs on biofuel

Jan 14, 2008 20:54 UTC

logo.jpg    Ferrari may be known for its sexy luxury sports cars, but the question it has raised is: will drivers be able to fill ‘er up on the farm?

    The Italian automaker showed off a “concept car” at the Detroit auto show that can run on biofuel, ethanol — a sort of grain alcohol. The company said the car — not meant for production – reflects its Formula One racing experience and a growing demand for alternative fuels in the United States.

    Ferrari chief executive Amedeo Felisa said the F430 Spider concept was part of Ferrari’s efforts to reduce emission levels by 40 percent by 2012. The Spider runs on the so-called E85 fuel that contains an 85 percent ethanol mix and is becoming more widely available.

Detroit auto show: Chinese automakers lost in translation

Jan 14, 2008 19:39 UTC

Chinese automakers at the Detroit auto show showed off their latest cars as they jockeyed for position in the race to be the first from that country to eventually sell cars in the U.S. market.

While the vehicle designs have improved from past years, the companies still need to work on the translation of their media material if they want to win over skeptical American consumers.

chang1.jpgFor example, Changfeng Motor (showing SUV pictured left) said its Liebao CS6 sport utility vehicle “emanates charm of unrestrainedness” and “it achieves the perfect combination of military industry performance and urban fashion.” The company also talked about “citified consumers loving fashion” and how its car “tightly grasp your eyeballs.”

Detroit auto show: The importance of being ‘Jim’ at Toyota

Jan 14, 2008 18:12 UTC

lentz.jpgYou know a company is ready to move on when it has cracked a joke in public about some unwanted losses.

Jim Lentz (pictured right), the president of Toyota’s U.S. sales operations, made sure of that at a news conference at the Detroit auto show when he made light of the recent defections of Jim Press — the only foreigner ever to be named to Toyota’s board — and Jim Farley, formerly general manager of Toyota’s Lexus luxury division in the United States.

Following Toyota Motor President Katsuaki Watanabe’s labored speech in English, Lentz took the stage.

Detroit auto show: Blue Book analyst sees more used car sales

Jan 14, 2008 16:48 UTC

nerad1.jpgWith the possibility of a U.S. recession on the horizon, American consumers are more likely to look at buying a used car than going for a new model, said Jack Nerad (pictured), executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book, which tracks the value of used vehicles in the United States.

“When a recession looms, consumers traditionally put off the purchase of a new vehicle,” he said at the Detroit auto show. “This has a negative impact on new car sales and in turn slows the economy still further.”

Many U.S. dealers aren’t disappointed with rising used-car sales as their profit margins on such sales are higher.

Detroit auto show: Jaguar aims to rebuild image

Jan 14, 2008 00:08 UTC


Jaguar, on the brink of being sold to an Indian automaker, has worked to sharpen its brand image after earlier strategic missteps, the Ford Motor Co unit’s managing director said at the Detroit auto show. 

According to Mike O’Driscoll, Jaguar’s image was hurt in the 1990s by plans to broaden the British luxury brand’s appeal to a far broader luxury audience. In the end, analysts said the plan backfired and hurt sales.

“We have refocused our efforts on restoring the caché of the brand that was tarnished,” he told Reuters, adding the brand is once more positioned as a premium luxury car.

Detroit auto show: Scion says ‘What me worry?’

Jan 13, 2008 23:37 UTC

scion.jpgScion, the Toyota brand aimed at younger buyers, is not losing its edge and becoming more mainstream, Jack Hollis, head of the unit said.

“Quirky is in the eye of the beholder,” Hollis told Reuters at the Detroit auto show, responding to criticism the brand’s designs are getting safe and boring.

Some critics have said Scion has lost the design cache that has been its trademark and morphed into a safer, less interesting brand — a criticism often made of its parent. Last year, The Truth About Cars Web site blamed Toyota for dumbing down the brand.