Detroit auto show: Chinese company suggests electric car for Bush ranch

Jan 15, 2008 18:40 UTC

chinacar.jpgMost U.S. auto industry officials when asked about the expected Chinese invasion of the American market in the next several years react with scorn or fear (or a mixture of both).

One Chinese company, however, showed at the Detroit auto show that it can evoke laughs.

Bei Jing Li Shi Guang Ming Automobile Design Co displayed three electric cars, sporting names like “The Book of Songs” and “A Piece of Cloud,” but it was the company’s suggestion for its “Detroit Fish” amphibious vehicle that raised eyebrows.

On the small information stand next to the bulbous, yellow 5-seater was a separate plaque that read: “Suggestion: Renowned environmentalist – President Bush, ordering this car for his Texas ranch.” 

A spokeswoman at the Chinese company’s stand said it was a joke. Although to make sure everyone got the punch line, it was translated into Chinese characters.

Detroit auto show: GM has eyes for Mini market

Jan 15, 2008 17:00 UTC

mini.jpgWho says cute little British cars can have all the fun and the market to themselves?

General Motors’ North American sales chief said at the Detroit auto show that the U.S. automaker is weighing a rival for BMW’s Mini luxury small car (pictured right).

“We are not ready to announce anything, but we are looking at it very seriously,” Mark LaNeve told Reuters. “There is a lot of space in the luxury market that we are not currently occupying. If you look at sophisticated urban transportation, the Mini Cooper, the Audi A1 … that is certainly a segment that has some opportunity for us.”

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.

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.