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  #61  
Old Posted Jan 8, 2006, 5:13 PM
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January 8, 2006
Is There a Future in Ford's Future?
By MICHELINE MAYNARD
DEARBORN, Mich.

MARK FIELDS has no time to waste - and no time to become acquainted with employees at Ford Motor, where he is the new president of its American operations.

That is why Mr. Fields, who recently returned to Ford's headquarters here in October after three promotions that had taken him to Argentina, Japan and England in the last eight years, has been firing off "Dear Team" e-mail messages to employees, outlining the steps that he thinks the company needs to take, and serving as host for internal Webcasts.

Borrowing tips from the business books he devours as late-night reading, Mr. Fields has also written long lists, which he keeps in a binder that sits on a shelf behind his desk, of what he expects from his staff - and what they should expect from him. He displayed them last week in his first interview since his promotion; the lists cover topics like the way he wants to run meetings (no secret BlackBerry surfing, no wall-sitters who do not take part in decision-making) and his personal values (candor, humility and a sense of humor). He wants reports on white paper, and memos delivered ahead of meetings - so that executives know what they will discuss. And he wants managers to wear enameled pins bearing the blue Ford oval insignia.

All of those might seem like the latest executive whims at a company that has been through every management trend to hit the business world in the last 25 years, from Japanese-style quality circles to global development teams. But Mr. Fields has an enormous challenge ahead in fixing the sickest part of Ford - its sprawling operations in the United States - and he does not want employees to spend months figuring him out. The detailed instructions are necessary to speed up his acclimatization, he said, because "they can't read my mind." Indeed. But no one can misread Mr. Fields's challenge.

The difficulty of his task was underscored just last week, when Standard & Poor's cut Ford's credit rating an additional two notches deeper into junk status, moving the company even further away from regaining the top investment grade rating it had used as a competitive tool throughout much of the 1980's and 1990's.

After meeting with Ford officials last month about the turnaround plan that Mr. Fields is drafting, S.& P.'s analysts warned that Ford could also be swamped in the event of a bankruptcy filing by General Motors, which is grappling with its own radical restructuring program. G.M. would be able to cut its labor and other costs under court protection, giving it an advantage.

Further crowding Mr. Fields's plate is the strength of Toyota, which is poised to pass G.M. this year as the world's biggest auto company, and which, at one point last year, came within a hair's breadth of catching Ford to become the second-biggest auto company in the United States market.

When William Clay Ford Jr., the company's chairman and chief executive, was asked what he wants from Mr. Fields, he replied bluntly: "I want him to turn the place around."

JUST five years ago, the talk in Detroit was about whether Ford could eventually outsell G.M. Now the talk is about which of these two companies is worse off.

Dealing with G.M. is particularly treacherous these days for Ford, which is about a third smaller in the United States. G.M. proved again last summer that it was still willing to sacrifice long-term performance for short-term gain, offering consumers the deep discounts it usually reserves for employees.

Ford and Chrysler were forced to match the deals, which caused sales to soar. But sales crashed just as quickly when the offers ended, and the gimmick did little to help G.M. or Ford stave off the threat posed by Toyota. By contrast, Ford found a way in the mid-1980's to confront Toyota, by introducing the Taurus sedan, which initially outsold Toyota's Camry.

"It feels like a lot of obstacles hitting a weakened company when the competition is moving from strength to strength," said John Paul MacDuffie, an associate professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mr. Fields will take a big step in trying to reverse that momentum by introducing the first of Ford's next wave of new vehicles aimed at recapturing at least some of its lost sales. They include a crossover vehicle called the Edge - no relation to the U2 guitarist - as well as the MKX, a replacement for the Lincoln Aviator sport utility, and an eye-catching concept car, the Ford Reflex, whose low-slung lines and rear-hinged, flip-up doors are meant to show that Ford believes a small automobile can still be imaginative.

The tougher - but equally crucial - job comes later this month. On Jan. 23, he will give the details of the Way Forward, a name he chose for his turnaround plan at one of his earliest meetings after his arrival in Dearborn. The plan is expected to include plant closings, thousands of job cuts, new brand images for the Ford and Lincoln-Mercury divisions and a renewed effort to streamline the company by paring expenses and eliminating white-collar workers.

"He's got a lot of things to do," Mr. Ford said in an e-mail interview last week. "But I believe he can do them."

The details that Ford executives shared on the plan did not convince S.& P.'s analysts, who issued their downgrade last Thursday, nearly three weeks before Ford officially introduces the program.

While S.& P.'s veteran analyst, Scott Sprinzen, declined to discuss the plan's details, he said that Ford had to overcompensate for anything G.M. might do as it worked out its own strategy for survival. "G.M. is one factor in the marketplace that Ford has to consider in setting its own restructuring plan," Mr. Sprinzen said. According to news reports, G.M. will soon announce extensive price cuts on its cars and trucks. Rick Wagoner, G.M.'s chief executive, declined to comment on the reports.

Many of the elements in the Way Forward were part of Ford's last comeback, deployed in 2002, soon after the company's chairman, Mr. Ford, ousted Jacques Nasser as chief executive and took the job himself. In that turnaround, Ford cut billions of dollars in costs, shut factories and returned to profitability. But its market share in the United States, which Mr. Nasser had once pushed above 25 percent, kept falling as the S.U.V. lineup that Mr. Nasser had championed faded in popularity.

Ford ended 2005 with just 17.4 percent of the American market, its lowest level since the early 1980's. And for the first time since then, Chevrolet beat the Ford division last year as the top-selling brand among Detroit companies. "In some ways, Ford never recovered from the woes of the Jacques Nasser era," Professor MacDuffie said.

Now comes Mr. Fields, who owes Mr. Nasser some of his reputation as a rescue artist, albeit one who has historically been sent someplace else before he could see his plans fully bear fruit. Mr. Fields, a former I.B.M. manager whose first job was selling Selectric typewriters, was running Ford's operation in Argentina when Mr. Nasser phoned in 1998 and convinced him to transfer to Japan to help run Mazda, of which Ford had gained management control.

Four years later, Mr. Fields was on the verge of introducing an entire new lineup of Mazda vehicles when he received another phone call from Dearborn, this one asking him to move to England to run the Premier Automotive Group, the collection of luxury brands including Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover that Mr. Nasser had assembled in hopes of expanding Ford's profits.

Mr. Fields was still in the midst of a turnaround effort at Jaguar last year, when Ford was hit by a wave of executive departures, including those of seven senior managers who retired or quit. That turbulence resulted in his latest promotion, which sent him back to Ford's home office for the first time in more than a decade.

There, the woman who became his No. 2 executive, Anne L. Stevens, the chief operating officer in the Americas, was already in place. Trained in manufacturing, Ms. Stevens had never before worked with Mr. Fields. But they shared two things: a mentor in James J. Padilla, Ford's president and chief operating officer, who had worked with both in different parts of the world, and a fondness for New York-ese.

Both Mr. Fields, who was born in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn and raised in Paramus, N.J., and Ms. Stevens, a Pennsylvania native who has lived in Manhattan and Hoboken, have the same "you gotta problem with that?" chemistry that allows them to cut through red tape and get to the point. No need for any black binders here: the pair can sit down, "talk fast, have a drink and talk New York," said Ms. Stevens, who was in charge of Ford's operations in Canada, Mexico and Latin America before her own promotion last year. The executives have become inextricably linked with each other; Mr. Ford refers to them in one breath as "Mark-and-Anne" and calls their skills "a great fit."

Mr. Ford wrote in an e-mail message: "In some ways, they're so much alike. They're both tough, but personable. Their skills are very complementary. He's very strong in sales and marketing, and she's strong in manufacturing and product development."

And they have become the latest celebrities in Detroit, a city where senior automotive executives are akin to Hollywood stars.

"Now it's the Mark-and-Anne show," said James P. Womack, the author and expert on manufacturing efficiency, who has studied the company for 25 years.

People are watching closely, to the point where many Ford executives have taken to wearing blue rubber inspirational wristbands like those prominently sported by Mr. Fields and Ms. Stevens.

Recently, The Detroit News breathlessly described Mr. Fields, with his jet-black hair, as "movie star handsome," although his slightly rough-edged demeanor may be best suited to a Martin Scorsese film or an episode of "The Sopranos." ("You don't sound professional when you say 'uh' all the time," one employee said in an anonymous e-mail message to Mr. Fields during a recent company Webcast.)

That's all fine, Mr. Womack said, but given the drain of executive talent and the mounting problems at Ford, Mr. Fields and Ms. Stevens still have to prove that they are more substance than style. "The history of Ford is that nobody is able to make any decisions, and they go down all kinds of irrelevant cul-de-sacs," he said. "Within the next year, an awful lot of this has got to get resolved."

Mr. Fields has to do that with an admittedly skeptical work force. Privately, Ford executives said they were alarmed when a proposal that would make modest cuts in the company's health coverage for blue-collar workers was barely approved in late December by members of the United Automobile Workers union. Last week, three union members said they would demand a recount, although U.A.W. officials have said they stand behind the results.

While Mr. Fields does not have direct responsibility for union relations, he will have to develop relationships with union leaders, including the U.A.W.'s president, Ron Gettelfinger; contract talks loom in 2007.

That is where his time overseas is a drawback, said Brett D. Hozelton, an analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets and a former financial analyst for Ford. "The U.A.W. is going to look at Mark and say: 'Mark, you're a whiz-bang guy. You may even be a likable guy. But frankly how do I know that if you tell me you're going to close this plant, that will be the last one?' " Mr. Hozelton said.

Mr. Fields, however, said he had had experience with unions elsewhere in the world and did not consider dealing with the U.A.W. a daunting prospect. He added that he had received hundreds of e-mail messages of support for his efforts, although Ford's salaried staff, which was already reduced under Mr. Ford's first turnaround effort, is also seeing its benefits cut.

Mr. Fields acknowledged that Ford's business is "under stress," but both he and Ms. Stevens expressed a resolve to restore Ford's profitability. Details are scant, though determination is not. "There is no 'can't,' " Ms. Stevens said, a touch sternly, when asked last week if the pair had a backup in case the Way Forward did not pan out.

Mr. Fields can take heart from the turnaround at Chrysler, which was the only Detroit company to increase its sales and market share last year. After two waves of job cuts and cost-cutting programs this decade, the comeback at Chrysler has taken wing, largely on the strength of a single car: the eye-catching 300 sedan, which has made the company seem hip again.

"There is a formula that can be very, very effective," said Jeremy P. Anwyl, the chief executive of Edmunds.com, a Web site that offers car-buying advice to consumers. "You have to decide what you are going to be." He said that Ford had good products, notably the new Fusion midsize sedan, but added that they had been ill-served by its lackluster marketing efforts, which have failed to create a clear image for the company or its products.

IN a speech last week, Mr. Fields vowed that that would change. Ford, he said, wants to be known as "red, white and bold," stressing its American heritage and its latest emphasis on innovation. Mr. Fields said that the phrase, which is embossed on the company's blue wristbands, "is not about wrapping ourselves in the American flag." But Ford, he said, cannot escape the fact that Ford, Lincoln and Mercury are American brands - even if the industry in which they were born has inextricably changed.

Like Dieter Zetsche, the former Chrysler chief executive who recently took the helm at its German parent, DaimlerChrysler, Mr. Fields said he believed that the Big Three's years of dominance were over - as were Ford's chances of getting back to one-quarter of the domestic market. "Those days are gone," he said. "We have to act like a smaller company - not necessarily be a smaller company. But we have built up the bureaucracy of a company that once had 25 percent, and we don't any more."

To him, the market is the Big Six - G.M., Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan - and to think otherwise is foolhardy. "This is not a cyclical change," he said of G.M.'s and Ford's decline. "This is a secular change."

And Mr. Fields does not expect it to be easy. On one of the sheets in his black binder is a definition of "what a turnaround feels like." The sensation, Mr. Fields told his managers, is "uncomfortable and exhilarating at the same time."

Depending on whether the Way Forward actually is a way forward, Mr. Fields may end up wondering when the second part of that description begins.
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  #62  
Old Posted Jan 11, 2006, 7:29 AM
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Well, it sure was nice to see the new Camaro and Challenger at the Detroit auto show. I'm not trading in my truck for the Camaro, but it's nice to see some style come back to GM.
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  #63  
Old Posted Jan 14, 2006, 1:28 PM
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Foreign Carmakers in the Passing Lane as GM, Ford Sputter
By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 14, 2006; A01

DETROIT -- While the two largest U.S. automakers are in a painful fight for their financial well-being, surging foreign rivals are dealing with more refined issues.

This week at the North American International Auto Show, Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor Corp. rolled out a Camry with seat fabric coated with moisturizer gleaned from silkworms and an air-conditioning system that removes odors and bacteria.

Toyota's luxury Lexus line showcases a new LS sedan that parallel-parks almost entirely on its own. There are a back massager, a leg rest and reclining seats in the back. The LS will be the first car in the industry with a gas-electric-hybrid-powered V-8 engine, a technological breakthrough designed to merge horsepower with fuel efficiency. Both Toyota models are due this year.

Toyota and other foreign automakers are using the auto show, the biggest annual U.S. display of products, buzz and insight into the mind of the globe's automakers, to capitalize on Detroit's weaknesses. As big U.S. automakers grapple with union contracts, the bankruptcy of a major parts supplier and shareholder unrest, Toyota is rolling out new models and new technology in a bid to knock General Motors Corp. from its 75-year perch as the world's No. 1 automaker, perhaps as soon as this year.

The prospects of such a realignment have energized the auto world and given new momentum to competitors from South Korea, Europe and China. It promises to feed another round of sticker wars, with automakers offerings rebates and price cuts to win over fickle customers.

All told, the world's automakers will introduce 27 redesigned and 23 new models in the coming year, according to J.D. Power and Associates. "The world is converging," said Michael Robinet, vice president of vehicle forecasting at CSM Worldwide, an auto industry research firm. "Trade is becoming freer, no matter how many trade hawks are on the horizon. We are down the road to freer trade, and it will not end. The quicker countries and governments accept this, the better off they will be."

The fierce competition comes as the top two U.S. automakers, GM and Ford Motor Corp., struggle to put 2005 in the rearview mirror.

Later this month, Ford will release its restructuring plan, expected to contain tens of thousands of job cuts and other draconian cost-slashing measures. GM lost nearly $4 billion in its North American operations in the first nine months of 2005. The company is laying off 30,000 workers, shutting down or scaling back at 12 plants and scrambling to cut billions of dollars in overhead costs. But even that isn't enough for some. Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, who owns 7.8 percent of GM's shares, is demanding that the company move into "crisis mode" and pare back operations even further, suggesting that GM sell off its Hummer and Saab brands.

Under questioning by analysts in Detroit yesterday, GM chief executive G. Richard Wagoner Jr. said the automaker could not forecast when its North American operations will again be profitable.

Wagoner said GM is on track to cut $6 billion in costs by the end of this year, but he added that the company's outlook remains clouded by a number of uncertainties. At the top of the list is parts supplier Delphi Corp., which is under bankruptcy protection and seeking relief from GM, its former parent, as well as concessions in pay and benefits from the United Auto Workers. "For 2006, our focus is very clear: The absolute top priority for me and the entire GM team is to turn around the North American business," Wagoner said.

GM and Ford are seeking help from Washington. Ford wants tax cuts and subsidies for the industry so U.S. companies can catch up with Toyota's lead in technology. GM says the industry needs relief from health care expenses, pension bills and other "legacy" costs that are a result of promises made to workers when GM had more than 50 percent of U.S. market share. By 2005, that share had dropped to 26 percent.

DaimlerChrysler AG's U.S. division has been alone among the Detroit automakers in holding its ground. Chrysler has already been through a wrenching overhaul at the hands of its German parents. The automaker's U.S. share grew slightly last year, and it had a lively show in Detroit with a number of new vehicle showings, including a Chrysler Imperial that looks like it borrowed more than a little from a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

As if Detroit didn't have its hands full with operational problems and rivals from Japan and Korea, analysts see a second wave of Asian automakers storming the U.S. market in the future, perhaps including an entrant from India or China. This year, Geely Automobile Co. became the first Chinese automaker to exhibit at the Detroit auto show, displaying a snappy little sedan. The automaker says it plans to enter the U.S. market in two years, though it faces significant distribution and regulatory hurdles.

Automakers from around the world are taking a page from Toyota's playbook, fueling their charge into the U.S. market with vehicles built at U.S. factories. In recent years, auto plants have been popping up in Southern states, including a Hyundai Motor Co. plant in Alabama and a Nissan Motor Co. plant in Mississippi. Toyota is finishing a new factory in Texas that will pump out thousands of pickup trucks this year. The world's automakers are increasingly looking beyond Detroit as competition heats up. For example, Robert F. Cosmai, Hyundai's U.S. president, mentioned Lexus and BMW sport-utility vehicles as chief competitors to the Hyundai Santa Fe, failing to name a single American rival.

Then there is the latest vehicle from Hyundai.

"The scariest picture in town is the Hyundai Sonata," said Sean P. McAlinden, chief economist at the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit auto industry watcher. "It's the best value in the automotive market. It has everything that a Honda Accord and a Toyota Camry has, and it's built in Alabama."

McAlinden called the Sonata "an embarrassment to Detroit." "Why haven't we done that in the last 30 years when they've done it in four?" he said.

McAlinden says he expects U.S. sales to grow to 20 million by the end of the decade, up from 17 million last year. He expects market share for Detroit automakers to slip to 50 percent, from 56 percent today. "Maybe we ain't that big no more," he said. "It's hard for us to swallow around here, even for me."

The American automakers play down such gloom and doom and say they are not cowed by the competition. GM, Ford and Chrysler all rolled out rosters of new models this year. And in some cases, they hope to find a bit of their future in their past, when Detroit was king.

GM showed a futuristic version of the Chevrolet Camaro, its classic pavement burner. Chrysler wheeled out a Dodge Challenger concept, its design paying homage to the venerated early 1970s model. Ford promised more iterations of the made-over Mustang that went on sale last year and proved popular. With the throwback designs, U.S. automakers say they are trying to reignite passion and interest in the car brands that they hope could translate to other cars in their lineups.

At the auto show, GM's Wagoner vowed that his company will continue to parry with new vehicles. He said GM officials recognize that they can't fix the business by solely by cutting costs and closing plants.

"We're going to keep bringing out new cars and trucks. We've got to do that for success," Wagoner said. "We are in the very early stages of the soccer game. A lot of time is left and we're going to be ready to play."
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Old Posted Jan 18, 2006, 9:13 PM
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Tuesday January 17, 06:37 PM
Toyota has no plans to overtake GM in volume: exec

DEARBORN, United States (AFP) - Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Company has no intention of overtaking its US rival General Motors in terms of global sales volume, a senior executive said.
"We're not interested in seeing GM declining," said Jim Press, President and Chief Operating Officer of Toyota Motor Sales USA. "We have no intent on being number one. We don't think it is going to happen."

Toyota recently announced plans to build 9.06 million vehicles in 2006, a move which prompted many analysts to speculate that it was vying for the position of the world's largest automaker.

GM, which posted multibillion dollar losses following a sharp drop in sales in the US market, has vowed to reverse its declining market share at home. The Detroit-based automaker recently reported global vehicle sales totaling nearly 9.2 million during 2005.

Speaking at an auto industry trade conference in a suburb of Detroit, Press said if Toyota Motor Co. decides it needs to add engine capacity in the United States, Michigan would be considered as a potential location for the facility.

He said the Japanese automaker would make a decision "in the short-term" as to whether it needs to add engine capacity in the United States.

The added capacity would be needed to feed two Toyota plants under construction in the United States and Canada.

The automaker will open its San Antonio, Texas, truck plant in the fourth quarter, capping an 800 million dollar investment plan.

Additionally, Toyota is investing 800 million Canadian dollars in a manufacturing plant in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, which will begin assembling the RAV-4 sport-utility vehicle in 2008.

"We need to have engine (capacity) very close to our plants. There is no reason why we wouldn't consider Michigan," Press said, adding Toyota's Woodstock plant would be within close proximity to Michigan, if the automaker chose the state for an engine manufacturing plant.

Earlier Monday, Toyota said it had produced a record 1,558,828 vehicles at its North American manufacturing facilities in 2005.

GM has yet to announce production figures for 2005.
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Old Posted Jan 24, 2006, 9:11 PM
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Patriotism doesn't sell cars today

By Rick Popely and Deborah Horan
Tribune staff reporters
Published January 24, 2006

When domestic automakers had their backs to the wall 25 years ago, they could count on a "Buy American" sentiment to keep some customers from defecting to fuel-efficient foreign cars.

Today, many loyal domestic vehicle owners say they would be comfortable buying an import.

Chuck Sonne, a Country Club Hills electrician, drives a 1997 Chevrolet pick-up and has owned two Fords in the past, but asked if he would only buy an American vehicle in the future, Sonne said, "No, whatever runs better and is cheaper."

As Ford, which announced a massive restructuring Monday, tries along with struggling GM to regain market share in the U.S., it faces an uphill climb. Asian rivals, such as Honda, Toyota and Hyundai are luring buyers with a relentless supply of new and compelling models.

But while the competition has intensified, the comforting old idea for Ford and GM that Americans will make patriotic purchases carries less and less weight.

For one thing, it isn't even clear anymore what "Buy American" means when it comes to cars and trucks. Many of those new models from Toyota and others are built in places like Kentucky, Indiana and Alabama, while the Chevrolet Aveo is imported from South Korea. Meanwhile, some Dodge Ram pick-ups are built in Mexico. Dodge, of course, is a domestic brand, but it's owned by Germany-based DaimlerChrysler.

This blurring of vehicle origin means that Ford or GM can't rely on a "Buy American" marketing campaign.

Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research, says the confusion over national origin means consumers are less likely to try to help fellow Americans by buying a domestic vehicle.

"Basically, they throw their hands in the air and just buy what they like," Spinella said.

Different world

The lack of stigma attached to buying a foreign product goes beyond the auto industry.

Compared to the early 1980s, consumers face shelves stocked with foreign-made products--from televisions to running shoes. Often they don't notice the origin of what they purchase.

When CNW surveyed shoppers coming out of Wal-Mart stores, 75 percent said they preferred to buy American, yet an inspection of their purchases found that 90 percent were made in China.

"They don't even look to see where the stuff is made anymore. It's the price that matters," Spinella said.

For about one-third of car shoppers, where a vehicle is built may be moot because they don't include domestic brands on their shopping lists, according to CNW's research.

That's undoubtedly due in part to lingering perceptions about quality problems as well as styling issues.

"There's no real American product I want, except maybe the Chrysler 300C," said Chicagoan Curtis Patterson while browsing new models Monday at an Orland Park Acura dealership.

Patterson said Ford doesn't offer anything that excites him.

"They're not as aggressive in product design for people my age," the 36-year-old security officer said. "It's not contemporary to me. Even GM has a little more style."

Dan Gierlowski, a 19-year-old student at Moraine Valley Community College, is more blunt, dismissing Ford's products as "garbage" while eyeing an Acura RSX, made by Japan-based Honda. "I like sporty compact cars. If you drive one of these you will want one," Gierlowski said. "They're fun little toys, small and fast."

What about a sporty car like the Mustang, one of Ford's hottest sellers last year?

"I don't want to be associated with any of them," he said of Ford. "I don't like the retro style. The new Mustangs have the old look."

Innovation is the key

Though domestic brands get on the shopping lists of two-thirds of car buyers, Spinella said 20 percent of those people wind up buying an import because of better styling, a lower price or a unique feature.

For example, when Honda got into the pick-up market last year with the Ridgeline, the truck came with a novel lockable trunk in the cargo floor that holds a 72-quart cooler or three sets of golf clubs.

"Ford has been building pick-up trucks for a hundred years, yet no one thought to do that," Spinella said.

The only way Ford and GM can combat their Asian rivals is with innovative features like that, or with exciting models like the Chrysler 300, which looks like a Bentley luxury sedan.

"They just need to build some products people want to buy, something that people are excited about," Spinella said.

Ford has such a hit with the Fusion, a new midsize sedan that attracts one-third of its buyers from Asian and European brands, according to CNW, and GM's Pontiac division is attracting attention with the stylish Solstice, a two-seat sports car.

Ford and GM have steadily closed the quality gap with the leading Japanese brands in owner surveys like J.D. Power and Associates' initial-quality study, yet consumers are still leery.

"You can generate interest and excitement with styling and new products, but when it comes time to purchase, people demand a higher level of confidence and security," said Alexander Edwards, chief executive of Strategic Vision, a San Diego consulting firm.

That is one reason the Toyota Camry is America's favorite car, despite frequent criticism that it is bland. Consumers have confidence in the car and "trust in the brand," Edwards said, while domestic brands have failed to build similar trust.

Ford may have improved its quality in recent years, but it won't be enough to win back the business of Mary Jane Quinn. Her last Ford was a 1989 Taurus that frequently died at toll plazas and wouldn't restart.

"I have a total dislike for Ford. It's kind of like, you get burned once you're not going to do it again," said Quinn, 57, of Oak Forest, who now drives a Subaru Forester.

But Donald Wayne, a Chicago engineer shopping at a Home Depot in Orland Park, said he tries to help other American workers keep their jobs. Wayne owns a Ford pick-up and Chevrolet Blazer.

"I try to buy American first," said Wayne, 48. "I live in America, so why not."

Wayne was laid off from Wisconsin Steel in 1980 and sympathizes with autoworkers who are losing their jobs.

"I can feel for them," he said. "We've got to work."
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Old Posted Jan 24, 2006, 9:36 PM
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Old Posted Jan 25, 2006, 10:17 PM
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Posted on Wed, Jan. 25, 2006

Can Ford, GM really change enough to matter?
Asian competitors, a strong union, and entrenched corporate cultures leave some analysts doubtful.
By Dee-Ann Durbin
Associated Press
DETROIT - "Change or die" is the mantra of Mark Fields, the Ford Motor Co. president who crafted the automaker's latest restructuring plan. But with Asian competitors seemingly a step ahead in introducing models that consumers want, and a powerful union that will fight to protect jobs and benefits, some question how much Ford and other U.S. automakers can really change.

Ford announced a plan Monday to cut up to 30,000 jobs and close 14 plants in North America by 2012. The plan echoed General Motors Corp.'s restructuring effort announced in November, which will cut 30,000 jobs and close 12 North American plants by 2008.

GM's shares fell after analysts said its plan did not go far enough. Ford's shares rose, but several analysts were unconvinced the plan would make the company's North American division profitable by 2008, as promised.

"Ford's restructuring plan was widely anticipated, but was more vague and protracted than we expected, which is disappointing," Goldman Sachs analyst Robert Barry said in a note to investors. "We also see sizable North American share-loss continuing, weighing on earnings and offsetting many restructuring benefits."

GM and Ford announced the plans as their combined U.S. market share fell to an unprecedented low of 43 percent in 2005, down from 52 percent five years earlier. By contrast, Asian brands enjoyed a surge and now control nearly 37 percent of the U.S. market.

So far, there is little indication that is changing. Sales of GM and Ford vehicles were down 25 percent in the first two weeks of January, while Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. all had gains, according to the Power Information Network, a division of J.D. Power & Associates.

The losses are taking a huge financial toll. Ford said Monday that it lost $1.6 billion in its North American operations in 2005, and GM is expected to announce an even larger loss tomorrow.

GM and Ford say they are going to the core of their businesses to turn things around. They are vowing to work more closely with suppliers to cut costs, a tactic borrowed from Japanese rivals. They expect to save billions in development costs by sharing components globally and making plants more flexible, and they are promising to rely less on costly incentives.

"At both companies, they're very much attacking the culture of the organization," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. "I think they've got real possibilities."

Ford says it is taking on a top-down corporate culture that has stifled innovation. It is developing an appeals process to make sure employees' ideas are heard, even if they are rejected by a manager, and it will judge employees on innovative thinking in performance reviews. Yesterday, it cut four positions from its staff of 53 corporate officers.

But some analysts express doubts. Most of the plant closures and job cuts Ford and GM are planning must be negotiated with the United Auto Workers in 2007, when the automakers and the UAW draft a new contract.

Others are not sure GM and Ford will be able to attract consumers, despite new vehicles. GM has put lower sticker prices on most of its vehicles and is retooling its marketing. Ford plans to make more distinction between its Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands and will stress its American heritage.

James McTevia, a Detroit-area restructuring consultant, says it is unclear that Ford's tactic will work. "I don't know what Ford is going to be able to do to convince the domestic auto buyer that 'Made in America' is a significant factor when they're buying an automobile," McTevia said. "The competition out there has been building in America for a long period of time."
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Old Posted Feb 13, 2006, 10:56 PM
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Ford: New data show it's No. 1 in U.S.
Automaker uses registration stats; GM standing by its numbers
08:08 AM CST on Monday, February 13, 2006
/ Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. – Ford Motor Co. told dealers Sunday that new data show the Ford brand outsold the Chevrolet brand in 2005, contradicting General Motors Corp.'s claim that Chevy came out on top.

Ford said it will ask GM to stop referring to Chevrolet as the nation's No. 1 brand in its ads, but GM said it's standing by its numbers.
Full-year sales results released by both GM and Ford last month showed Chevrolet was the best-selling brand in 2005, outselling Ford by about 21,100 vehicles.
But Ford spokesman Jim Cain said Sunday that new data from R.L. Polk & Co. shows Ford beat Chevrolet by 5,000 in the number of new vehicle registrations. R.L. Polk, of Southfield, Mich., collects and interprets automotive data.
Mr. Cain said Ford planned to contact GM as early as today. He said Ford has no plans to run similar ads, saying the company is thinking beyond competing with GM. If the new numbers hold, Ford can claim to be the best-selling brand in the nation for 18 consecutive years.
Registration numbers may not match sales because a vehicle could be sold in one year and registered to an owner the next, GM spokesman Jeff Kuhlman said. He said sales figures – not registrations – give a more accurate picture.
"I know 100 percent that our numbers are accurate," Mr. Kuhlman said.
The spat showed the intense competition dealers are facing in a market that is growing increasingly crowded. Earlier this week, Ford Americas President Mark Fields said there will be 300 nameplates in the U.S. market by the end of the decade, up from 215 in 2002.
Ford released the numbers at a meeting with hundreds of dealers Sunday at the National Automobile Dealers Association's annual convention. Both Ford and General Motors sought to reassure dealers that their businesses are on the right track despite billion-dollar losses and continued declines in U.S. market share last year.
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Old Posted Feb 19, 2006, 6:21 PM
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Fact check: Are American cars really that bad?
Take a good look at vehicle reliability data and the answer may surprise you.
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney staff writer
February 3, 2006: 12:19 PM EST

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - With all the bad news coming out of Detroit these days, many have a disarmingly simple suggestion: Ford and General Motors should simply build better cars.

"I read that Ford plans to cut about 30 000 jobs in North America alone," one CNNMoney.com reader wrote. "How about building better cars instead?'

A perception of poor quality certainly isn't the only reason Ford and GM cars can have trouble in today's market. But it's a factor.

We looked at J.D. Power and Associates Long-term Dependability Surveys to get a sense of where American cars rank in terms of reliability and how much they've improved. That survey measures the number of problems vehicle owners have after 3 years of ownership.

We also checked with Consumer Reports to see what they thought about GM and Ford's performance in terms of reliability.

The answer is that, overall, GM and Ford cars are not that bad. In fact, depending on which survey you believe, they may even have become pretty good.

The problem is that "pretty good" has become "not quite good enough" in a world where quality standards have been raised so high and which many consumers still have bad memories of General Motors and Ford cars that have failed them in the past.

Reliability by the numbers
If you believe J.D. Power's surveys, the story for American luxury brands -- Lincoln, Cadillac and Buick -- is particularly striking.

Of those three brands Lincoln performed best in the 2005 survey, ranking third of all brands -- behind Lexus, as always, and Porsche -- with a score of 151. Buick was fourth overall with a score of 163, matching a score that earned Lexus a top ranking just two years earlier. Cadillac was fifth with 175 problems per 100 vehicles.

Nissan's luxury brand, Infiniti, ranked sixth on the survey while Honda's luxury brand, Acura, ranked 10th, lower than the American luxury brands.

In fact, Lincoln, Cadillac and Buick all out-scored Toyota's Toyota-branded and Honda's Honda-branded vehicles in the same 2005 J.D. Powers survey.

GM and Ford's non-luxury brands didn't do quite as well but the Ford brand and GM's Chevrolet came out above average.

See the table for the details but, as it turns out, a lot of Japanese brands -- everything from Mazda right down to Isuzu -- came off worse in the survey than the worst GM brand, Pontiac.

The nature of the problems reported has also changed markedly over the years, said John Tews, a spokesman for J.D. Power. Major problems, things that would actually make a vehicle not drivable, are rare today, he said. "Problem" now usually means a squeak, a rattle or a stuck knob or switch.

Another view
But the people at Consumer Reports don't have quite as good a view of Ford and GM products as J.D. Powers' survey.

In Consumer Reports predicted reliability ratings, brands like Toyota, Subaru and even Suzuki rank higher than Pontiac, which has average predicted reliablity in Consumer Reports' estimation.

Lincoln, the top-ranked American brand in the J.D. Power survey, is seen as having below average predicted reliability by Consumer Reports.

Still, agreed Michael Quincy, automotive content specialist for Consumer Reports, the quality of Ford and GM cars has improved greatly in recent years.

Looking at Ford in particular, that company's American-branded cars are about average in long term reliability. Again, though, today's "average" is a lot better than the "average" of years gone by.

"It's not like it was in the '70s when 'Ford' did stand for 'fix or repair daily,'" he said, recalling an old joke once commonly hurled against America's No. 2 carmaker.

Some Ford cars are actually "above average" in reliability, according to Consumer Reports own surveys, Quincy said. The Ford Escape Hybrid SUV is "better than average," for example, and the closely-related Mercury Mariner SUV is "much better than average" in reliability.

Still, some other Ford cars aren't so bullet-proof.

The Ford F-150 pick-up, the largest selling vehicle in America, has "below average" reliability according to Consumer Reports. And, Lincoln's performance on J.D. Power surveys notwithstanding, the Lincoln LS sedan and Navigator SUV are both rated as "much worse than average" in reliability by Consumer Reports according to its own surveys.

GM brands, according to Consumer Reports, have mostly average predicted reliability. Hummer and Saturn are seen as below average.

Why are we so sure they're bad?
Given J.D. Power survey results, and even the "not bad" showings in Consumer Reports data, why do Americans seem so sure that American cars are dross?

Three possible reasons:

Reputation: Toyota has, by now, had a lifetime to cement its reputation among American consumers for nearly fool-proof quality. GM (Research) and Ford (Research) spent nearly as long honing a reputation for not caring much about quality. Things may have improved, but it takes a long time for that to sink in.

Recalls: GM, in particular, has had a problem with headline-making recalls. It's a big company, it sells a lot of vehicles and they share a lot of components. When one of those parts goes wrong, eye-popping numbers of vehicles can be affected. That doesn't mean the vehicles are unreliable. Recalls are a different sort of problem. But it does cause concerns.

Reviews: GM and Ford vehicles haven't always exuded the quality that may have been hiding in there somewhere. Cheap-feeling interior materials, raspy-sounding engines and gap-filled construction didn't give potential buyers the feeling of confidence that even lesser Japanese brands manage to carry off.

Both GM and Ford are making strides in this area, too. Some recent GM and Ford products should go a long way to correcting the image of throwaway construction.

GM and Ford deserve credit for what they've done so far. But American consumers have shown they still need lots more proof.
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Old Posted Feb 20, 2006, 8:37 PM
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Old Posted Mar 4, 2006, 1:26 PM
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Posted on Thu, Mar. 02, 2006
Japan sweeps magazine's top 10
Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru fill out best of Consumer Reports
DEE-ANN DURBIN
Associated Press
DETROIT -- For the first time in nine years, all of the top picks in Consumer Reports' annual vehicle guide are made by Japanese automakers.

The Honda Civic is the magazine's top small sedan, while the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the top mid-sized sport utility vehicle, according to results released Wednesday. Vehicles from Nissan Motor Co. and Subaru, a division of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., round out the top picks in 10 categories.

Asian brands also fared best in the magazine's survey of vehicle reliability. Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus brand was first, while Honda was second and the Toyota brand was third. Ford Motor Co.'s Mercury brand was the only domestic nameplate to crack the top ten.

Consumer Reports' rankings are important to automakers, even though companies can't use the ratings in their advertising. Consumer Reports spokeswoman Lauren Hackett said the April auto issue is consistently the magazine's most popular, selling more than 300,000 copies at newsstands. That's twice as many copies as its second-most popular issue, the November electronics issue.

Consumer Reports named its top picks based on road and track tests, evaluations of comfort, convenience and fuel economy, crash protection ratings from the government and insurance industry and readers' reliability rankings. The magazine said it recently tested more than 200 vehicles to come up with its top picks.

Honda had the most winners, snagging top picks in five of the ten categories. The Honda Odyssey was the top minivan and the Honda Ridgeline, which is Honda's first entry in the pickup market, was the top pickup.

Toyota and Subaru each had two winners, including the Subaru Forester for small SUV and the Toyota Prius for "green car." Nissan had one, the M35 luxury sedan, which the magazine called "an excellent balance of performance, comfort and handling."

Winners by Category

Consumer Reports released its 2006 rankings of top vehicles on Wednesday. Consumer Reports bases its rankings on a series of tests as well as crash performance data and reliability surveys. The magazine didn't choose a winner in the pickup category in 2005.
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Old Posted Mar 13, 2006, 10:40 PM
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More foreign automakers building cars in North America.
From: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/13/bu...gewanted=print
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March 13, 2006
Kia to Build Its First Auto Factory in U.S.

By REUTERS
SEOUL, Monday, March 13 — The Kia Motors Corporation, South Korea's second-largest automaker, says it will invest $1.2 billion building its first American factory, in Georgia.

Kia is seeking ways to move more production abroad to shield itself from its surging currency and also to take a bigger share of the United States market.

Kia also said it expected its sales in the United States and Canada to rise 15 percent to 350,000 vehicles in 2006 and to grow to 800,000 by 2010.

The carmaker said Monday that it expected the new plant to begin production in 2009, employing about 2,500 workers and producing up to 300,000 vehicles a year. The plant will be located in West Point, on the western edge of the state.

The Hyundai Motor Company, the parent company of Kia and South Korea's top carmaker, opened its first United States plant in Alabama last year.
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Old Posted Mar 25, 2006, 8:26 PM
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Can GM stop the slide?
Automaker is taking steps to become a much leaner company

By DEE-ANN DURBIN
Associated Press
3/24/2006

Some analysts warn that GM is unwisely seeking to cut its way to prosperity rather than investing in its vehicles to reverse sliding market share.
DETROIT - General Motors Corp. has big plans to become a smaller company, and tried to prove it this week by offering buyouts to more than 100,000 workers and selling a majority stake in its commercial mortgage division.
While some analysts say those moves show the world's largest automaker is making progress in restructuring after losing $10.6 billion last year, others warn GM is unwisely seeking to cut its way to prosperity rather than investing in its vehicles to reverse sliding market share.

GM controlled about half the U.S. market 50 years ago, but that has slipped to less than 25 percent. The automaker's sales rose just 1.3 percent in the first two months of this year, largely due to increased fleet sales. That compares to a 6.9 percent increase for Asian brands and a 9.2 percent increase for European brands, according to Autodata Corp.

To compound GM's problems, the buyout plan will add retirees to the company's already bloated pension rolls even as market share is shrinking, Merrill Lynch analyst John Murphy said in a note to investors.

"Until GM stabilizes market share, rationalizes capacity at every point in the value chain and invests heavily in product, its restructuring actions will only allow it to tread water at best," Murphy said.

Still, GM is forging ahead with its restructuring efforts. GM said Thursday its finance arm, General Motors Acceptance Corp., has sold a 78 percent stake in its commercial mortgage business in a deal worth $9 billion. GM could get a share of that profit as loans or through its annual dividend from GMAC. The automaker is still in negotiations to sell a controlling stake in GMAC.

GM's buyout plan, one of the largest corporate buyouts in the last decade, offers between $35,000 and $140,000 to GM's 113,000 U.S. hourly workers. GM expects the buyouts will bring it close to its goal of cutting 30,000 U.S. hourly jobs by 2008.

GM also said it will bankroll early-retirement buyouts at Delphi Corp., its former parts division and major supplier. Delphi said in a court filing that up to 17,000 workers - or half its U.S. hourly work force - could be eligible for a $35,000 payment to retire. Also, up to 5,000 Delphi workers will be eligible to return to GM under the deal.

And more cuts are on the way. Workers at GM's technical center in Warren have heard rumors GM will cut engineering jobs at several technical centers next week.

GM spokesman Robert Herta said Thursday the company won't respond to rumors, but he said GM has made no secret of its plan to cut 7 percent of its U.S. salaried work force this year. GM currently has around 36,000 U.S. salaried workers.

Burnham Securities analyst David Healy praised GM's efforts, saying the buyout offer was far larger than expected and will accomplish GM's job-cutting goals.

"It's well-executed. It's expensive, but they can afford it," Healy said.

But Murphy said the buyout deal was disappointing because it didn't spell out what will happen to the 17,000 Delphi workers who aren't eligible for the buyouts.

Delphi wants to cut its wage and benefit rates and has set a deadline of March 30 to reach an agreement with GM, the United Auto Workers and other unions. If no agreement is reached, Delphi could ask a judge to cancel its union contracts, an action that could lead to a devastating strike.

Delphi will ask the court separately to approve its buyout plan on April 7. It already has an agreement in place to buy out 13,000 UAW-represented hourly workers, but is still negotiating with its other unions.

Delphi spokesman Lindsey Williams said the company expects to have agreements for those 4,000 workers by April 7.

Another big question is whether workers will take the buyouts. GM expects workers to begin retiring June 1, while the target date for the 5,000 Delphi workers to return to GM is Sept. 1.

JPMorgan analyst Himanshu Patel estimates as many as 39,000 GM workers could take the buyouts by the end of this year, which would cost GM around $4.2 billion but allow the company to accelerate attrition that was expected to take two years longer.

If all 13,000 UAW-represented Delphi workers retire and 5,000 return to GM, the automaker's costs could be close to the $5.5 billion GM has estimated for Delphi restructuring costs, Patel said.

As more workers enter GM's retiree ranks, GM's biggest problem could be soaring health care costs, Patel said. GM already has 2.5 retirees for every active worker, putting it at a significant disadvantage to companies like Toyota Motor Corp., whose U.S. work force is much younger.

GM and the UAW reached an agreement last year that would make retirees pay more for their health care, a plan expected to save GM $1 billion each year. A federal court judge is expected to approve or reject that agreement by April 1. But a new health care battle will come in 2007, when GM and the UAW negotiate a new contract.
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Old Posted Apr 5, 2006, 9:16 PM
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Buick China's cup of tea
GM, yes GM, motors ahead of VW to become the No. 1 automaker in world's 2nd-largest market

By Evan Osnos
Tribune foreign correspondent
Published March 26, 2006

SHANGHAI -- In the storm of losses and layoffs at General Motors Corp. in the U.S., a different recent announcement drew little notice: For the first time, GM has overtaken Volkswagen as the No. 1 automaker in China.

While U.S. carmakers roll out behemoth SUVs that are out of step with gas-conscious Americans, GM in China is microtailoring cars to Chinese tastes in details as fine as horns, dashboard clocks and tea cup holders.

With 13,000 employees and at least $2 billion invested in China, GM is betting big on a nation of 1.3 billion consumers where barely 14 people out of 1,000 have ever owned a car. And with good reason: China has vaulted ahead of Japan to become the world's second-largest market, and is on track to overtake the U.S. by 2020.

"Over 50 percent of the total growth in the automotive world in the next decade will be in Asia," said Troy Clarke, president of GM Asia Pacific.

"We just know there is tremendous demand, tremendous potential, and we have to be positioned to take advantage of that growth," Clarke said.

It is about to get much harder.

GM faces growing challenges from rivals such as Toyota and Nissan while more than 100 ambitious new Chinese brands also look for an edge--including, in one case, unveiling a look-alike GM model that the American automaker called a case of intellectual property theft.

"It's going to get much tougher for everyone," said Kevin Wale, president of GM China. "It used to be a couple of competitors out here having a slugfest. Now it's like 10 of them out here having a slugfest."

The center of China's car market is changing--from bloated government fleet purchases to thrifty private buyers--and that puts added pressure on automakers to cut costs and raise fuel efficiency.

"The transition is from urban elites with tremendous wealth to more sustainable, typical middle classers. That's where the growth will come," said Michael Dunne, president of Automotive Resources Asia, a consulting firm.

"The winners will be those with low-cost cars of good quality," Dunne said.

Behind China's broadening car market is a cultural shift no less than that of the U.S. in the early 20th Century, when a family car became the signpost of an aspiring middle class, and a growth-hungry government built roads at a breakneck pace. In 1987 China did not have a single expressway. Today it has 21,000 miles of them.

History gave GM an improbable head start.

Long before Chinese consumers could buy cars, they knew that Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China, had driven a Buick, lending it a more refined, prestigious image than it enjoyed at home.

GM has ridden the Buick nameplate to pull ahead of Volkswagen, which had enjoyed a two-decade run as China's multinational leader.

Take Hu Xiangen, 42, who had never bought a car before he paid $16,250 in cash for a Buick Excelle the other day.

Like many Chinese consumers, Hu chose cautiously, bringing friends and relatives to a range of dealers before eventually concluding that the Volkswagen was "too old."

"We considered performance, price, and appearance, " Hu said.

GM has only been in China since 1997. It entered the country through a joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., then took over Korean automaker Daewoo.

That saved time over building a new factory and unlocked a supply of inexpensive, fuel-sipping models, suited to China's new consumers.

Likewise, GM wisely bought a stake in a popular, ultra-low-cost mini-van, the Wuling Sunshine, which costs $5,000, gets over 40 miles to the gallon, and is selling out as fast as it is produced.

For GM the new products took some getting used to. In 2001 Joseph Y.H. Liu, a sales and marketing veteran at GM China, envisioned a simple low-cost wagon called the Buick Sail as a prime chance to tap into China's burgeoning family-car market. He suggested they emphasize its anti-lock brakes, dual air bags and low price as a new family-friendly "recreational vehicle."

"I still remember that when I reached the idea, my partner said, `no forget it,'" Liu said.

But Liu was right. Sales soared, and "that Sail marketing became a legend," said Yale Zhang, a Shanghai-based analyst for auto consultant CSM Worldwide. Today, with the price of oil at around $60 a barrel, the pressure to find ever more value dominates GM's China operation.

"The top three priorities are fuel economy, fuel economy, fuel economy," said Raymond Bierzynski, president of PATAC, GM's joint-venture design firm in Shanghai.

But for success in China, looks are proving no less critical. Design director James Shyr and his staff of 80 consider themselves the "foot soldiers of marketing," making small local adaptations, based on surveys of Chinese tastes.

On a Buick Regal, for instance, that means adding more air-conditioning controls for guests, fancier details, and the seat-back DVD screens that China's image-conscious middle class cherish to convey a wealthy image to backseat visitors.

GM also has tailored its Buick GL8, a plush mini-van, for chauffeur-driven Chinese executives and officials.

GM's Chinese designers scrapped the U.S.-standard cup holder and replaced it with a tall, narrow silo: the exact specifications of the tea bottle toted by millions of Chinese drivers every day.

Forget the Big Gulp; in the cutthroat battle for China, a simple jar of tea can be a kingmaker.
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Old Posted Apr 12, 2006, 8:51 PM
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From: http://www.ajc.com/business/content/...ow_Saturn.html
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GM Hopes to Revitalize Saturn Brand

By DEE-ANN DURBIN
AP Auto Writer
DETROIT — Saturn, the General Motors Corp. brand launched in 1990 as a "different kind of car company," aims to differentiate itself once again with four new vehicles that will debut this week at the New York Auto Show.

At a press preview Wednesday, GM plans to introduce a trio of production-ready vehicles as well as a crossover concept. The company hopes sophisticated features will set the vehicles apart, from projector-beam headlights that wrap around the vehicles to matching leather on the seats, shift knobs, steering wheel and door panels of the 2007 Saturn Aura sedan.

The mid-size Aura, which goes on sale this summer, has won praise for its bold styling. The vehicle shares a platform — and many design cues — with GM's Opel Vectra, which is sold in Europe. The Aura will come with a standard 3.5-liter V-6 engine and a more powerful 3.6-liter V-6 with a performance-oriented, six-speed automatic transmission, GM said. A hybrid version of the Aura also will be released later this year.

The 2007 Saturn Outlook crossover offers three rows of seating for up to eight adults but drives like a sedan. The Outlook shares many of the Aura's design elements and its premium feel, GM said. It also has a sliding second-row seat to make it easier to reach the third row. The Outlook will go on sale later this year.

Saturn is giving its Sky roadster a boost of power with the Sky Red Line, which goes on sale this fall. The Red Line has a 260-horsepower, 2-liter Ecotec engine, GM's first direct-injection offering in North America. The standard Sky has a 177-horsepower engine.

Finally, GM will debut the Saturn PreVue concept, a three-door crossover with a dramatically sloped roof and the muscular stance of a sport utility vehicle. The PreVue, first shown as the Opel Antara GTC concept at last year's Frankfurt Auto Show, continues the close collaboration between Saturn and Opel. GM said the PreVue gives a glimpse of its plans to update the Saturn Vue crossover.

Saturn has fallen on hard times since its debut because its ho-hum designs couldn't draw in buyers despite consistent praise for Saturn's no-haggle pricing. Saturn's sales were down 2 percent in the first quarter of this year. GM is determined to change that, in part because it desperately needs to turn around lagging U.S. sales.

"Saturn's new products demonstrate that GM is committed to raising the bar on product execution as part of our North American turnaround plan," Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president of sales, service and marketing, said in a statement.

Erich Merkle, director of auto industry forecasting with Grand Rapids-based consulting company IRN Inc., said it's not too late to revitalize Saturn.

"Saturn is really starting from scratch," he said. "It's almost as though it's a new car company because there's nothing there."

Merkle credits GM vice chairman and product guru Bob Lutz for giving Saturn the attention it needed. Merkle said Lutz wanted to make Saturn the stylish Opel of North America and take advantage of the brand's large and loyal dealer network. GM spent an estimated $3 billion to revitalize Saturn's lineup.

Merkle said Saturn may finally have the right mix of products to take on Japanese imports and make the brand what GM always hoped it would be.

"They're not going to be Chevrolet, which is all things to all people, but they can be a very good niche brand for GM," Merkle said.
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2006, 4:31 AM
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007 is still trying to prove that quality is synonymous with refinement, and that Saturn is equivalent to Lexus; basically, he's stating a foregone conclusion: that a mountain cavern is a more reliable dwelling than a suburban bungalow - that if we were to extrapolate his theory, GM and Ford's woes are ultimately due to the consumers' collectively skewed bias, and not as consumers and Ford/GM execs themselves purport, to an inferior product. there, that should save us some bandwith.
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Old Posted Apr 15, 2006, 9:34 AM
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Honda Accord? Made in the USA.
Toyota Camry? Made in the USA.
Ford Fusion? Made in Mexico.

Which is the "domestic" choice and why would it matter anyway?
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Old Posted Apr 16, 2006, 2:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by edluva
007 is still trying to prove that quality is synonymous with refinement,
WTF?

I said no such thing - I said that "refinement" is such an ambiguous, immeasurable and ill-defined term it is practically worthless as a measure to determine whether a certain car is "high quality" or not. Nor does it have anything to do with whether a car is "reliable" or not (which was the original point of discussion anyway).

I've said nothing in this thread for months. What is the need for you to suddenly re-hash an argument that I've said nothing about since November?

Quote:
and that Saturn is equivalent to Lexus; basically, he's stating a foregone conclusion: that a mountain cavern is a more reliable dwelling than a suburban bungalow - that if we were to extrapolate his theory, GM and Ford's woes are ultimately due to the consumers' collectively skewed bias, and not as consumers and Ford/GM execs themselves purport, to an inferior product. there, that should save us some bandwith.
LOL, what crap.

Last edited by James Bond Agent 007; Apr 16, 2006 at 2:37 AM.
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Old Posted Apr 17, 2006, 12:56 PM
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From: http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial...16/1049007.asp
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Detroit is losing customer loyalty

Too many models, too little innovation

By SHOLNN FREEMAN
Washington Post
4/16/2006


As recently as a generation ago, brand loyalty meant something for U.S. car buyers. You were a Ford man or a Plymouth family.
The first car for legions of young men was a Chevy. As Americans increased in age and wealth, they climbed the General Motors Corp. status ladder, up through the Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and, ultimately, Cadillac brands.

But today, consumers have a broader range of choices, as foreign automakers have poured vehicles into the U.S. market. Further, three decades of disappointment with the reliability of U.S. vehicles has combined with Detroit's on-again, off-again commitment to building innovative passenger cars. The result: Brand loyalty has continued to slip away.

With that, a run of job cuts, plant closings and model-line paring has emanated from Detroit automakers, the most recent coming last week.

The Big Three have confused car buyers by inundating them with poorly defined brands and too many models. And, compared with their Japanese rivals, U.S. automakers have often shown less interest in upgrading cars after their high-profile rollouts, analysts say.

By contrast, for instance, the Toyota Camry has gone through five redesigns since its 1982 rollout as an economy sedan; America's top-selling car received continuous horsepower upgrades and now has features found on higher-priced luxury vehicles.

As the reliability and sex appeal of certain brand names have waned, Detroit automakers have had to rely more heavily on incentive-laden pricing to lure customers.

GM has tried hard in recent years to recoup some brand loyalty but has had difficulty in wooing customers back. Once at more than 50 percent, GM's market share now stands at 24 percent.

In a recent J.D. Power and Associates survey tracking owners who had traded in their vehicle for one of the same brand, U.S. brands occupied seven of the 10 slots that showed the greatest drop-off in brand loyalty between 2004 and 2005. Four of the top five gainers were Japanese; Jeep was the lone American.

This year - as Ford and GM close all or part of 26 factories and terminate several models - car buyers will watch as a blur of familiar and obscure names begin exiting the market, replaced by a raft of new and retooled models.

All told, the world's automakers will introduce 23 new and 27 redesigned models to the United States this year. Hello to the Honda Fit subcompact, Saturn Aura sedan, Volkswagen Eos ragtop and new SUVs from Dodge, Mercedes-Benz and Jeep.

Goodbye to the Lincoln LS, which caught the eye of enthusiasts such as information-technology manager Ron Browne at the end of 1999, when car magazines began hailing the new luxury performance sedan as an "American BMW." Motor Trend magazine named the LS Car of the Year at its debut.

Browne, who lives in Laurel, Md., bought a 2000 model for $33,000 - about $15,000 less than a comparable BMW. He bought a second one in 2002. But Ford Motor Co., Lincoln's parent, did little to keep the car fresh as the years passed. In January, Ford said the LS would be one of several vehicles to be discontinued by 2008.

"They came out with a great product," Browne said, "but they let the competition surpass them."

Goodbye to some iconic names - the Pontiac GTO and Ford Thunderbird. And goodbye to the Ford Taurus. In its day, the Taurus was hailed as the great American import-fighter in the mid-size car category. Ford sold hundreds of thousands of them before the car bottomed out, bypassed by continually updated, glitzier foreign rivals. The Taurus became, for a time, the quintessential American rental car.

The plants scheduled to end production include a factory that builds GM's entire line of poor-selling minivans, including the Chevrolet Uplander and Buick Terraza. Also on the plant hit-list are factories that build low-volume but high-profile vehicles from Ford and Chevy, including the Ford GT and the Chevy SSR - a retro-styled truck that was a favorite of GM executives.

Some plants are scheduled to close soon; others, by 2008. Automakers assure owners of the discontinued vehicles that parts and service will continue to be available.

Some investors and analysts have suggested that GM and Ford haven't gone far enough - they've questioned whether signature brands such as Lincoln or Mercury should even exist anymore. Billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, GM's largest individual shareholder, wants GM to drop the Hummer and Saab brands it acquired in recent years.

Charles Hughes, a former president of Mazda North American Operations and the founder of Brand Rules, based in Newport Beach, Calif., agreed that GM and Ford have far too many brands compared with rival automakers. Both automakers oversee eight brands. DaimlerChrysler AG has three American brands - Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler - and Germany's Mercedes-Benz.

By comparison, Toyota Motor Corp. has three brands. Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. each have two.

Detroit's product jumble among cars extends beyond mere brand confusion. Basic quality issues - which U.S. automakers have worked hard to improve but seem unable to entirely resolve - still drive buyers away from U.S. offerings, even consumers who want to buy American.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received numerous complaints about electrical problems with GM minivans.

In Consumer Reports' recently released annual vehicle reliability report, GM's Uplander, Terraza, Relay and Montana were rated as the least reliable of all U.S. vehicles. A GM spokesman said the company remains committed to building quality vehicles.

As for the soon-to-be-discontinued Lincoln LS, the sports sedan captured a loyal following early on, including the LS Owners Club www.llsoc.com. Brian Gowing, of Canyon Lake, Calif., started the club, which grew from 30 members to 850 across the country, and to Puerto Rico, Japan and Korea.

In 2004, members of the club drove from California to Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. The caravan started out in Irvine, Calif., and picked up members along the way, cruising through Nebraska 30 cars deep. Hosted by Ford in Dearborn, the club learned about Lincoln's history of technological innovation and standout styling.

Gowing said initially everyone in the group had pride in the car. They had the feeling that the LS was a toe-to-toe competitor with the BMW 5 Series or Cadillac CTS, he said. But then other carmakers pumped up horsepower and added new features while the LS stayed the same. Now, Gowing says of Lincoln, "they seem to be OK at being mediocre."
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Old Posted Apr 18, 2006, 5:01 AM
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bmorescottamanda bmorescottamanda is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fflint
Honda Accord? Made in the USA.
Toyota Camry? Made in the USA.
Ford Fusion? Made in Mexico.

Which is the "domestic" choice and why would it matter anyway?
What the ford fusion is made in mexico. That's is crazy
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