30th June 2011

Deutsche Bahn bridges gap

To ANE’s annual Congress, this time in the North-West German ancient German city of Cologne – home to Ford’s mega-selling Fiesta.

No direct flight to Cologne was available, so it was a hop to Düsseldorf, followed by a very rapid trip on Deutsche Bahn’s gleaming double-decker train down the banks of the Rhine to the city whose huge cathedral has survived everything with which the centuries have had to challenge it.

In the UK, we’re constantly being told we can’t have double-decker trains because of our bridges of all things. Er, well that doesn’t seem to have worried the Germans too much, why on earth can’t the Brits build something similar (OK, the country’s broke at the moment) to relieve some chronic overcrowding?

Ford kindly invited us to its mammoth plant just outside the city and by the colossal Rhine, whose proximity and access to Germany’s ports made it such an attractive proposition to Ford in the first place.

The automaker fed and watered us before the plant tour in a room stuffed with some iconic brands that formed a major part of my youth – old Ford Cortinas replete with vinyl roofs, a Granada – and of course for us Brits of a certain age the best of all – the magnificent Ford Capri.

ANE held its ‘Rising Stars’ awards last night at Cologne’s impressive Wolkenburg building, while tonight Ford of Europe chairman and CEO Stephen Odell follows up his recent thought-provoking comments with a speech at the Gala event.

Interestingly the evening is being sponsored by the US State of Kentucky and a chat last night with some of their representatives revealed the region to be somewhat of a hotbed for automotive suppliers. They’re in Cologne to make that more widely known.

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30th June 2011

Manufacturing Troubles Remain a Drag on Recovery, Trade & Jobs

via The Seattle Times

by Jon Talton

Top of the News: The Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index seems consistent with recovery, coming in at 53.6 for November; any number above 50 signifies expansion in the sector. Unfortunately, the reading sagged from 55.7 the month before, tripping up what economists had hoped would be a steady climb out of recession.

A deeper look shows that the index provides no relief for the biggest immediate problem facing Americans, unemployment. Only six of 18 manufacturing industries reported growth in employment. Only 11.7 million Americans worked manufacturing as of October. That compares with 17.3 million in October 1999.

Not only do manufacturing jobs pay better than their counterparts in service industries, they tend to add real value to economic activity (as opposed to selling mortgage swindles). They are also twined with our trade issues. Even fewer manufacturing jobs are now in industries that export, a key part of our huge manufacturing trade deficit.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon was happening even before the Great Recession. A report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that manufacturing employment between 1965 and 2000 never dipped below 16.5 million. This even as manufacturing shrank as a share of the economy (take out Boeing and it would be much smaller). This changed as imports surged after China joined the WTO and other Asian factory centers upped their game. By 2004, the number was lower than any time since 1950.

“It is often claimed that declines in manufacturing employment stem entirely from productivity growth,” according to EPI economist L. Josh Bivens. “However, rapid productivity growth is the norm, not the exception, in manufacturing. What is new about the manufacturing job crisis of the last four years is the sharp downturn in the ratio of domestic production to demand.”

Indeed, American steelmakers are shrinking yet again.

The Back Story: The official unemployment rate including discouraged workers and part-timers seeking full-time work is 17.5 percent. But Shadow Government Statistics, a provocative and reliable site, argues even this underestimates the problem. Try…22 percent.

Complete Article

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30th June 2011

Gordon Murray Unveils T.27 Electric Car, Updates Specs

Just the Facts:

  • The British-built three-seater makes its first public appearance at the Royal Automobile Club, as its designer shops for a manufacturing partner.
  • Gordon Murray Design has released updated technical specifications on the T.27.
  • The electric car’s public road debut is slated for November 5 at the RAC Future Car Challenge.

LONDON — Gordon Murray Design and its development partner Zytek Automotive have released additional technical specifications on the T.27 City Car as the tiny three-seater made its first public appearance at the Royal Automobile Club here.

South African-born Murray, the acclaimed designer of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and F1 racecars for Brabham and McLaren, conceived the T.27 as a pure electric companion to his earlier T.25.

With financial backing from the British government’s Technology Strategy Board, Murray continues to shop for manufacturing partners for the T.27, which is about the size of a Smart Fortwo and features a 1+2 seating layout.

Aimed primarily at urban dwellers, the T.27 features a 25kW Zytek electric motor and a 12kWh lithium-ion battery pack. With motor and battery, the car weighs only 1,500 pounds.

The T.27 is designed for a top speed of 65 mph, with 0-60 acceleration in less than 15 seconds. Targeted range between charges is 100-130 miles.

Inside Line says: The electric car’s public road debut is slated for November 5 at the RAC Future Car Challenge.

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30th June 2011

2012 Chevrolet Cruze Cuts Navi Cost by 50%, Now $995

As we reported earlier, the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze gets a new navigation system for the model year. We confirmed today that the system will cost $995, about 50% less than the $1,995 optional navigation system offered on the 2011 Cruze.

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30th June 2011

$36m Bridge Loan “Saves” Saab, Workers Paid, Production Could Resume. So What’s Sweden’s Problem?

Almost two months ago, Saab was able to restart production after Gemini Investment Fund extended a €30m six-month convertible loan to the struggling Swedish automaker. Now, after another shutdown, it seems that Gemini has once again ridden to Saab’s rescue, as the company announces another six-month convertible loan from Gemini.

Swedish Automobile N.V. (SWAN) announces that it entered into a EUR 25 million convertible bridge loan agreement with Gemini Investment Fund Limited (Gemini), thereby securing additional short-term funding.

SWAN entered into a EUR 25 million convertible bridge loan agreement with Gemini with a 6 months maturity. The interest rate of the loan is 10% per annum and the conversion price is EUR 1.38 per share (the volume weighted average price over the past 10 trading days). SWAN may at any time during the loan’s term redeem it without penalty and it intends to do so once the funding from Pang Da and Youngman is received, in which case no dilution as a result of this bridge loan will occur.

Attention Chinese, Swedish and European Investment Bank regulators: you’d better cut through that red tape and approve the Pang Da and Youngman investments post-haste, or Saab will be back in the drink when these short-term loans mature. After all, hasn’t Valdimir Antonov been waiting for approval to buy into Saab since.. oh, 2009?

Before we dig into the latest Antonov-related nonsense, here’s what Saab CEO Victor Muller had to say about the most recent news:

I am relieved to report that we made the June salary payments this afternoon from the proceeds of the sale of cars we announced last Monday. We again extend our sincerest apologies to our employees for the hardship the late payment has caused to them. We have clearly gone through a very rough patch in the past few weeks and hopefully we can now reach agreement with our suppliers so as to ensure a resumption of our production in a controlled way. Our mid and long-term funding is secured by the Pang Da /Youngman agreements which are still subject to obtaining certain governmental approvals. Assuming these approvals are obtained, the Gemini bridge loan will be repaid in full.

But again, why would Saab be optimistic about getting approval for Youngman and PangDa any faster than they did for Antonov? If anything approval is more likely to be held up on the Chinese side, ala HUMMER. But even on the Swedish side, Saab and Antonov don’t seem to have many allies left. SaabsUnited notes that even though Sweden’s National Debt Office and GM approved Antonov’s stake in Saab “a long time ago,”  TTELA is reporting that Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt  says the matter is in the hands of the NDO. This prompted an Antonov spokesperson to quip

Now I understand why the trial of Vladimir Antonov took such a long time. Reinfeldt seems pretty lacking insight into the Debt Office, which said yes to Antonov’s ownership over eight weeks ago.

But beneath the bitter humor, there’s a nasty truth: if everyone is saying yes to the Antonov stake, the Prime Minister must have some reason for saying no… and even if he doesn’t, his irrational opposition has been enough to delay the deal so far. Even the Swedes don’t understand what the deal is, and that’s got to be troubling Antonov and Saab. Sure enough, the recent announcement that Minister of Enterprise Maude Olofsson would be stepping down from politics prompted a “personal” letter from Antonov, in which the Russian states

I think you are the person who ensures that Saab is getting the political and moral support needed to weather the storm

And with Olofsson leaving, Swedish authorities could cancel the recent real estate deal, or any other of the deals Saab currently has pending government approval… and Antonov’s letter (described by Olofsson’s secretary as “nice”) shows how worried he is. But if the letter showed signs of Antonov’s desperation a new rumor, if true, confirms that Antonov believes the Swedish government is totally against his involvement and will go to any lenghts to support Saab. According to SaabsUnited‘s parsing of a Dagens Industri report

Antonov will take ownership of GM convertible (lost in translation: redeemable preference?) shares. The value of this is reported to be 2.3 billion SEK (about €248 million), but GM is offering Antonov a substantial discount– between 800 and 900 million SEK (€86-97 million).

When Vladimir tried to buy and lease back Saab’s factory, I was in awe of the generous nature of the deal– it meant he could be a part of Saab’s future, but wouldn’t have any formal ownership in the company by name. Somehow, the EIB and Swedish government still got in the way of the deal. Not deterred, he’s back with another €80-90 million to buy 0.0005% of the company. He’s basically paying GM off in this scenario, taking away one of Saab’s largest creditors, and helping out their future cash position. In other words, he’s saving the day in a very big way for Saab if he’s successful– by taking on their debt. [Emphasis added]

Now, this could easily be wishful thinking… after all, it’s one thing to want to invest in a dying niche automaker, but it’s quite another to pay over $100m to GM simply as a way to take some debt off of Saab’s books. Especially if GM is cool with him investing anyway… and if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be offering this deal. But if this is rumor is for real, it shows that GM is anxious to drop its exposure to Saab, and that Antonov is so emotionally committed to Saab, he’s willing to personally assume over $100m of its debt. And you know what? After all the twists and turns that this story has taken, this wouldn’t even surprise me.

To paraphrase an old communist joke, there are two ways to save Saab: the difficult way and the impossible way. The difficult way is that the archangel Michael descends from heaven and magically fixes everything. The impossible way is that Saab builds a strong business case, starts selling lots of cars and attracts rational investors.

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29th June 2011

Nissan GT-R Agent Orange

AMS Performance’s version of Godzilla is back and still dressed up in the Agent Orange garbs found on their previous model – the Nissan GTR Alpha 9. The Alpha 9 was packing over 900 HP and could complete the quarter mile in the mid-9 second range, but a change of ownership and a new Alpha 10 package later and the GTR can now boast of 1,000HP!

The new Alpha 10 conversion kit features an AMS Alpha 10 Turbo System, a balanced and blueprinted VR38 AMS Race Engine, and an AMS Alpha 10 transmission by Sheptrans, among other things. These additions take the sports car to 1,000 HP and 679 lb-ft of torque running on 93 octane fuel. AMS Performance has already tested this monster and has earned an official quarter mile time of 9.1 seconds at 163 mph.

The Nissan GTR Agent Orange’s fiery growl can now be heard from miles away with a new AMS 90mm downpipes (catalytic converters available), an AMS 90mm resonated mid-pipe (race version available), and an AMS 90mm race exhaust upgrade.

There’s enough additions to the Nissan GTR Agent Orange to make any car enthusiast drool. Check out the full list after the jump, as well as a walk-around video taken by an admirer.

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