Fiat Reinvents Chrysler

Sergio Marchionne

Sergio Marchionne at Fiat

Detroit seems buzzing today with news about the Chrysler restructuring under Fiat. The word is that Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, a “no-nonsense” kind of guy, is setting a rapid pace to revamp the organization, its manufacturing processes, and its product lineup for the future. For the present, Chrysler is galumphing along with its Jeep, Dodge, and Chrysler offerings that not too many people are buying.

Jim Press at Toyota

Deputy CEO Jim Press is also leaving the company, it was announced last week, and we can only speculate as to why. He was brought on by Cerberus in 2007 to bring the company to life with his long-term Toyota experience. Instead, as a “dealer guy,” he pushed more cars on dealers before the company’s fall, even though they were gagging on inventory, and then he terminated 789 of them, per new company policy. I would say this man’s life may be in danger.

Anyway, Fiat has been leaking some news about its transformation plans. We should know more on September 1. As Mr. Press departs, a new management structure will employ 23 managers, each of whom will report to Marchionne. All will have to identify value in their actions, even in sales calls. Wow, that should make the Feds happy.

The shop floor will take on a very different look.

In Chrysler factories across North America, workers are being reorganized into larger teams of about 10, from five now, and trained to perform every job instead of just one, Chrysler officials said. The number of supervisors is being reduced, and team leaders are gaining more responsibility…

If a problem is detected in a vehicle, it must be fixed immediately, stopping the line if necessary, which is similar to the approach used by Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp.

While the old Chrysler system was also based on the Toyota model, the practice was to finish the vehicle and then pull it aside to make repairs.

Judging from what we know about Chrysler quality, that repair area must have been like a parking lot. I wonder what Jim Press thought about that. Well, we wish him luck in his new job: ferrying Fiat 500s to dealers.

The Detroit News also reports that Chrysler will be “potentially selling Alfas as Dodges in the United States and putting an Alfa Romeo badge on Dodges for sale in Europe.” Let us have your opinion on that marketing maneuver.

—jgoods

Majority of drivers text, read emails while driving

CarGurus survey finds more than half (52%) of respondents admit they have used a cell phone to text or email while driving in the last 12 months.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., August 24, 2009CarGurus®, a leading online automotive community, today announced the results of its latest survey of 2,881 online automotive consumers worldwide. More than half of respondents (52%) said they have used a cell phone to read/write email or text while driving in the last 12 months.

According to a July 2009 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study, truck drivers face a 23 times greater risk of a crash or near crash while texting than when not doing so. Given the known risks of texting and reading email while driving, it seems surprising that a majority of consumers appear to be doing exactly that.

Just last month, the Senate proposed a bill (the ALERT ACT), which would ban truck and car drivers from texting or emailing while driving. Fourteen states already have laws barring texting while driving.

“Most consumers would agree that texting and emailing while you drive is dangerous. I was surprised to see that the majority of respondents admitted to distracting themselves from driving,” remarked Langley Steinert, CEO of CarGurus. “Clearly this is not a small problem, but rather a widespread trend. It’s encouraging to see that Congress is moving to enact laws to curb this growing problem.”

Survey Results

Across the CarGurus Network, 2,881 respondents answered the question:

Have you read/written an email or textedusing your cell phone while drivingin the last 12 months?(Total Votes = 2,881) Yes  52% No  48%

About CarGurus LLC Located in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, CarGurus LLC is a leading online automotive community founded by Langley Steinert, formerly Chairman/co-founder of TripAdvisor LLC, the 3rd largest online travel site in the world. CarGurus’ founders, board, and investors bring a wealth of experience from such leading web companies as TripAdvisor, eBay, Expedia, and Yahoo. For more information about CarGurus, visit us at www.cargurus.com.

CONTACT: Steve Halloran, Editor, CarGurus LLC 617-354-0068, x12 press@cargurus.com

2010 Mazdaspeed3: The Most Hideous New Car Ever?

2010_mazda_mazdaspeed3

Look away, it’s hideous!

In one of the most disappointing debuts in the history of automobiles, the 2010 Mazdaspeed3 is almost laughably ugly. Uglier than an Edsel. Uglier than an Aztec. This car, based on the front end alone, is destined to land on every future top 10 list of ugly cars from now until eternity.

The grinning front end looks like a combination of Ronald McDonald, that guy in the Smilin’ Bob commercials, and the inside of fish gills.

I’m shocked that the good people over at Mazda ever thought this was actually a good design strategy. Maybe all the effort went into the car’s performance, which I admit is impressive, and styling was just an afterthought left to an overly happy intern.

The thing is, I don’t care that the new Mazdaspeed3 is rated at 262 hp or puts down 280 lb-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. Heck, I wouldn’t care if it had the engine from Aston Martin’s screamin’ new One-77, I’m not getting within 20 feet of a car that looks like a rolling Enzyte commercial.

The hood scoop looks out of place, and the bluntly rounded front end looks like a dead, bloated dolphin.

Reviewers really dig the Mazda’s exhilarating track performance, but that doesn’t change the fact that its ridiculously silly face looks like a pukey cutesy Pokemon character. Does Mazda seriously think a young hip adult will go for this happy-faced new 3 over a WRX or Mitsubishi Evo?

Studies have shown that buyers prefer cars with angry faces. That’s especially true with young, brooding 20-somethings, who won’t spend $25K on a car that looks like it belongs in a Candy Land game.

I sure hope disgusting front-end treatments don’t start getting popular. Acura did it and now Mazda. As much as I despise Acura’s cringe-worthy new beak, I think I’d rather have that than this new Mazda.

What do you think of Mazda’s new face on the 2010 Mazdaspeed3?

-tgriffith

Good News and Bad for Chrysler and GM

gm-and-chrysler-logos

So GM’s eBay program is a smashing un-success. Chrysler is discontinuing it’s lifetime powertrain warranty. GM is rumored to be considering a $4,000 car. Chrysler’s Deputy CEO is leaving.

Ahh, the week in auto news!

When GM launched its eBay program, we were quick to pan the idea as nothing new. I guess consumers agree, because according to this article, GM listed 16,228 vehicles and 45 have sold. Not forty-five hundred, but 45. Total. Nice.

Chrysler introduced a lifetime powertrain warranty in 2007 in an effort to lure consumers to the company’s lackluster product and one-up the likes of Hyundai, Kia, and Suzuki. Now the company is yanking that warranty off the table. There is some good news though: The replacement 5-year, 100,000-mile warranty will apply even to vehicles that weren’t covered by the lifetime warranty (including SRT models and the Dodge Viper).

You know the world has gone topsy-turvy when GM follows in the footsteps of Tata Motors. Just months after the official introduction of the world’s least expensive car, the Tata Nano, GM announced plans to pursue a sub-$4,000 car to compete in emerging markets. We Americans know from experience that GM is really good at producing cheap cars, and now one will finally have the price tag to match. Not in the U.S., though. Pity.

Finally, Chrysler’s Deputy CEO Jim Press will reportedly quit his job by the end of the year. Press began running Chrysler in 2007, but was demoted when Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne took over as the new CEO. This is good news, as removing Chrysler’s old blood can only result in better management and ultimately, better products.

Have a nice weekend, and drop us a comment if you see any other car news, good or bad, you think people should know.

-tgriffith

From Aston Martin to Willys: The Best Car Museums on Earth

Inside the Porsche museum

Inside the Porsche museum

Whether you’re into the latest exotics, extravagant classics, original American muscle, or have an appreciation for the bizarre, there’s a car museum that caters to your tastes.

Visiting museums in person is the best way to experience them, but since traveling the globe in search of automotive lore is impractical, we’re proud to present you with the websites of some that should be on the top of your “to visit” list. In no particular order, here they are:

1. The Porsche Museum, Stuttgart, Germany

Open since January 2009, this is perhaps the most state-of-the-art auto museum in the world. Divided into three main areas, visitors can follow the chronological history and development of Porsche.

2. The Volo Car Museum, Volo, IL

No, not Volvo. The Volo Car Museum in Illinois makes the list because of its Hollywood collection, featuring the original Batmobile, K.I.T.T., the General Lee, and many more.

3. The National Packard Museum, Warren, OH

Compare their website to Volo’s and you’ll get a sense of how vastly different car museums can be. From the 1903 Model F to the 1958 Packard Hawk, these are true classics.

4. Hostetler’s Hudson Auto Museum, Shipshewana, IN

Three words: 1954 Hudson Hornet. Okay, one number and two words, but this car alone is worth the visit!

5. National Auto Museum, Reno, NV

Cars from 1892 all the way to 1994 grace the halls of this automotive hodgepodge. Want to see what a 1937 Airomobile Experimental looks like? How about a gold-plated 1981 Delorean? These, plus Ferraris, Fiats, and more await you in Reno!

6. The Aston Martin Heritage Trust Museum, Oxfordshire, England

Housed in a 15th-Century barn, some of the best (Lagonda, anyone?) British cars ever assembled are here.

7. Galleria Ferrari, Maranello, Italy

It’s a Ferrari museum at the home of Ferrari. Do I need to say any more? Well, okay: From famous F1 racers to nearly mythical sports cars, this is pure automotive heaven. (If you don’t speak Italian, look for the “English version” button on the website.)

8. Lamborghini Museum, Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy

I just figured, you know, since you’re in Italy, you might as well check out the other Italian supercar maker.

9. The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, MI

A 9-acre display floor with 40-foot ceilings does justice to the automotive spirit that invented the American auto industry.

10. The National Corvette Museum, Bowling Green, KY

I just put this one up here for my die-hard muscle-car horsepower-loving friends. I easily could have mentioned this Mustang museum or a Camaro museum, but I couldn’t find one. If you know of one, let me know!

Do you have a favorite car museum?

—tgriffith

Cash for Clunkers Will End Monday

Only for one more weekend!

Only for one more weekend!

Regardless of how it will be remembered, the already infamous Cash For Clunkers plan will end on Monday.

The program was launched with $1 billion in funding, which was blown through in the first week of the program, creating a tense on-again off-again couple of days. Congress then refilled it with $2 billion more, which is expected to be gone by Labor Day.

While the program sent hundreds of thousands of people flocking to dealerships with their trade-ins ready and their wallets open, dealers are complaining that they’re not getting reimbursed quickly enough. Even the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) spoke up and asked for a resolution to the program. (You know things aren’t working when the NADA asks to end a program that’s sending people to dealers!)

Cash for Clunkers is largely responsible for increasing production at Ford, GM, and Chrysler, but what happens now that the program is ending will be interesting. I’m watching for a drastic drop in demand, resulting in more overstock at dealers and then production slowdowns at manufacturers’ plants. Again.

If you’re at all considering taking the government up on its $4,500 offer on your car, this is your weekend to act.

Did you, or will you, take advantage of Cash for Clunkers before it’s history?

-tgriffith

Porsche Headquarters Raided in Market-Manipulation Investigation

Porsche HQ

This spring when we were reporting on the convoluted attempts of Porsche to take over Volkswagen, I mentioned some of what I had written to the guy who works on my GTI. He told me, in effect, “You haven’t heard the half of it,” and went on to describe dark rumors of financial manipulation, derivative squeezes, and other things.

I didn’t pursue it or ask where he got his information. Just shooting the car-talk breeze, you know. Turns out, as we learn today, that Wendelin Wiedeking, former Porsche CEO, and Chief Financial Officer Holger Haerter are part of an investigation of alleged insider trading and market manipulation. Officials raided the company’s Stuttgart headquarters (above) this morning, seizing documents. Imagine this kind of uproar in a firm of such echt-Deutsch rectitude. Why it’s like a Swiss bank turning over its depositors’ names to the IRS!

The irony of ironies, of course, is that Porsche itself is currently in the process of being gobbled up by VW, and the stock of both companies is taking a beating. Reports Bloomberg:

Volkswagen common shares extended their decline in the past six days to 36 percent [our emphasis] as Porsche SE exited the stock and short-sellers increase bets that losses may widen.

The ongoing Wiedeking story promises more twists and turns than the Nurburgring. We’ll keep you posted. Today the putative victor, VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, announced in an interview that Porsche would have to sell 150,000 units by 2012. How the hell are they gonna do that, you may ask, when the company now sells about 75,000 cars a year?

Good luck, Marty. Maybe you should ask Wendelin before he goes to jail—he did bring Porsche out of the doldrums in 1993 when he came aboard.

Give us your ideas about how Porsche will get to 150,000 units in three years.

—jgoods

Cadillac Needs Diesel. We All Do. Badly.

Haven't seen a Bugatti Veyron for rent yet, but hey... you never know

Haven't seen a Bugatti Veyron for rent yet,
but hey... you never know

You wouldn’t think the best part of planning a trip to Ireland would be selecting a rental car.

But it dawned on me today as I browsed the Irish car offerings… I’ll have a whole world of cars at my fingertips that I can’t even touch living here in the U.S. I can rent a Ford Fiesta, an Opel Corsa, a Peugeot 206… a Mercedes C-Class diesel.

Maybe they’re not the greatest cars in the world, but it’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet of nothing but desserts for me – pure heaven.

I’m also wondering (again) why in the world we don’t have as many diesel options in the U.S. as Europeans do. I know the automakers like to say it’s because Americans haven’t gotten over our poor experience with the dirty diesels of the past. Those days are over, though, and cars like the VW Jetta TDI are proving that diesel works.

Edmunds’ AutoObserver posted a story about Cadillac’s diesel plans, which says,

GM product-development higher-ups are adamant that diesels are too costly for the U.S. market. They require complex and expensive exhaust aftertreatment (“onboard chemical factories” is one term repeatedly employed) to comply with the world’s toughest diesel-emissions standards – and U.S. diesel fuel is not taxed advantageously, as it is in Europe, where diesels have captured more than half of the region’s light-vehicle market.

I came to three conclusions from that quote:

GM is putting the idea of a diesel that conforms to U.S. emission standards in the “too hard” pile. (It’s not too hard for VW, BMW, or Mercedes, though.) Selling gasoline provides the government with more tax revenue, so selling more diesel just doesn’t make sense. Europe is smarter than the U.S.

Considering the U.S. is about two decades behind Europe in diesel offerings, we’d better get on the ball, or we’ll completely miss the electric-vehicle movement too.

Consider this:

Germany’s government has announced its intent to get one million EVs on the road by 2020, largely through financial incentives offered to Germans who buy electric.

All I can do is thank the stars that we finally have a president who understands the importance of alternate fuels and is investing in America’s electric automotive future. As a friend recently said,

I think it’s great that Obama seems to take our gas/car problem seriously and has invested significant money in battery technology here. Nice that we got rid of the oilman who seemed perfectly content to let American automakers keep building cars that would ensure his buddies would keep making money hand over fist.

Amen, brother!

Will the U.S. ever catch up with Europe, or will it always trail in automotive innovation?

-tgriffith

GM Was Right to Bet on Cadillac

2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon

In a survey just released by the University of Michigan, it appears that new owners just love their Lexies and their Caddies. Both brands tied at 89 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, and that score was 5 points better than the industry average. That’s pretty good, don’t you think? Especially for a company just emerging from the tremors of bankruptcy.

Customer satisfaction for all Detroit brands grew from just over 81 last year to just below Asian automakers’ score of 84. European companies topped the ranking with 86. This year’s near-parity with Asian companies marks the closest the Detroit-based automakers have come to that group of rivals since outscoring them in 2000.

Cars like the CTS Sport Wagon (above), with lots of favorable reviews, are changing the public’s perceptions and moving the marque’s rankings. With the crossover/SUV/wagon categories more muddled than ever, the CTS-SW should be one of the segment’s coolest offerings (and the first American factory-built wagon for Cadillac).

In Europe, a new small sedan to be called the ATS is slated to replace the slow-selling BLS and is aimed at the BMW 3 Series market. So says Motor Authority. This entry-level Caddy is not just for Europe but for all markets.

More GM news: NPR reported this morning—too early by far for me to be fully compos mentis—that GM was going to recall laid-off workers and reopen plants, since current dealer inventory has dried up owing to Cash-for-Clunkers demand. I think I heard that right. Such news could drive a wealthy fool to fumble for his Blackberry and order up more cheap GM stock. Or, if he were sensible, go back to sleep.

Lordstown (Ohio) and Orion (Michigan) are among those plants slated to reopen. Mark LaNeve, a GM sales guy, reportedly said, “We’re adding 60,000 units to our production schedule.” The Truth About Cars had this comment:

And when Cash for Clunkers plays out and leaves a smoking crater where all those pulled-forward sales used to be? GM will go back to right-sizing, shift-cutting, inventory management, fire sales, channel stuffing and the other depressed-cycle tricks of the trade.

You betcha. And I’ll be back in bed. But that’s really a negative, smarmy view of things. If Cadillac continues its march and Chevy its rebuild, the good old General may yet survive.

Will GM make its mark through Cadillac? What other brands do you think show similar promise?

—jgoods

Coming Soon (We Hope) to a Dealer Near You

bugatti_teaser

Quick, name two of the most exciting things in the world.

Okay, I admit that new cars probably didn’t make your list. Still, when a new car is expected to arrive on the scene, people tend to get giddy while discussing what it might look like and how it might perform. While that’s especially true for all-new models hitting U.S. shores, a refresh of a long-loved model is sometimes equally appreciated.

Lucky for us, we’ve got a little of both to share.

First, take a look again at the top of this story. I can’t imagine you missed this on the first look, but that picture is a teaser for an upcoming Bugatti (Autoblog says it could be a sedan) with EIGHT tailpipes. If a million-dollar family hauler with an 8.0-liter, 1,000-horsepower W16 engine that can hit 60 miles per hour in about 3 seconds is in your budget, the Bordeaux could be for you. While there is very little official word on the new Bug, odds are if you’re going to pony up the money, you can get one in the States.

Getting back to Earth, Lexus has released a drawing of a potential new hatchback. In the past I’d have assumed a car like the CT would be designated for the European market only, but with the changing attitude in the U.S. regarding small hatches, there’s a real possibility we’ll see something like this from Lexus in the coming years. More evidence that the new Lexus is U.S. bound comes from Autoweek, which says,

Lexus has patented the names CT 200h, CT 300h and CT 400h in North America.

Looks like it’ll be a hybrid, huh?

As Toyota works to increase Lexus’s product offering, it also needs to supercharge its Scion lineup. That’s where the tiny new 1.3-liter 4-cylinder iQ should come into play. The European version gets 66 mpg. Scion dealers say it’s coming in 2010, but Toyota hasn’t made an official announcement, saying priority is on a redesigned tC, which is also good news for Scion fans. We could see a needed power jump from 161 hp to 200 out of a new 2.7-liter engine.

Finally, Hyundai is prepared to showcase the all-new Tucson at the Frankfurt Auto Show next month. Leftlane says,

Sources are saying to expect only four-cylinder powerplants, including a turbocharged model after the initial launch. This is probably a smart move on Hyundai’s part seeing how sensitive Americans are to MPGs these days. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the next Tucson get close to 30 mpg highway, with an equally impressive 20+ in the city.

Are there any U.S.-bound cars you look forward to seeing, or any you think should appear on these shores?

-tgriffith