29th February 2012

GM, Peugeot tout mutual gains in pact

General Motors said today it has forged a strategic alliance with PSA Peugeot that will aid both companies financially and improve their competitiveness in Europe.

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29th February 2012

Honda expands duties of N.A. boss Iwamura

Honda Motor Co. is expanding the role of North America COO Tetsuo Iwamura — making him the automaker’s second-highest global executive and marking the first time such a position has been based in the United States.

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29th February 2012

Japan Through an iPhone – One

I’ve been home for a week now, dealing first with jetlag and now a pesky cold that was probably brought on by a lack of sleep. Fantastic.

Anyway, while in Japan I shot a massive number of photos with my iPhone. The 7d got troublesome to lug around all the time, so I ended up relying on the good old cell phone cam quite a bit.

Here’s the first batch of iPhone photos I selected randomly. I don’t think the results are all too bad really.

Used bikes for sale at Up Garage in Tsukuba.

Snow. Shot through the Shinkansen window somewhere near Gifu.

Crown spotted outside the yakiniku place.

Shinjuku on a rainy night. SO Blade Runner.

Osaka’s famous Glico dude.


BRZ at the Subaru Showroom in Shinjuku.

Damp Yamanote-sen.

Partying outside of Universal Studios Japan.

Will upload more when I have some time.


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29th February 2012

Chatting about platforms with Fiat’s A-segment R&D boss

Vaulting over the iron walls erected by media handlers to get self and dictaphone in front senior industry engineers can often be a tricky process. But Fiat’s PR team is more enlightened than some.

So it was that earlier today I was able to chat to the head of A-segment vehicle R&D for Fiat (and Chrysler), Gianfelice Formento. While as guarded as men and women at his level always are told to be with the likes of me, he was refreshingly open on some topics – always a plus.

Curiously, Fiat has changed the name of the platform that underpins the 500. Formerly known as New Small, in modified form for the new Panda, it becomes ‘Mini Architecture’, but this is mostly a working title as the PR people don’t like the possible association with a certain BMW Group division.

Signore Formento, certainly one of the more courteous execs I have interviewed, also took the time to make sure there was clarity on how the engineering of vehicle architectures within Fiat and Chrysler now works. Responsibility for B-segment models will remain in Turin alongside A-segment vehicles. But when it comes to the C segment, yes this starts in Turin, but Chrysler then creates its own derivatives for the EPA’s Compact class in North America, not to mention crossovers and SUVs.

Sadly he wouldn’t tell me anything about Fiat’s future C-segment model for China, but there was a smile when I asked about its supposed strong connections to the new Dodge Dart.

One last point. I hadn’t realised until I was told, that the Mexican-made Fiat 500 sits on what is effectively a unique and re-engineered platform: US collision tests mean that the rear floorpan had to be bespoke. More on that topic, as well as the engineering elements of the new Panda, in my forthcoming PRODUCT EYE of that car.

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29th February 2012

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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28th February 2012

Fisker Founder Out, Former Chrysler Chief LaSorda To Be New CEO

Just the Facts:

  • Co-Founder Henrik Fisker surrenders reins at Fisker Automotive.
  • Former Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda takes over as Fisker’s new chief executive.
  • Company confident of “bright future,” despite apparent loss of $396 million federal loan.

ANAHEM, California — Fisker Automotive co-founder Henrik Fisker has stepped out of daily operations, replaced as chief executive of the luxury hybrid maker by former Chrysler chief Tom LaSorda.

The move, announced earlier today, will see Fisker move into the role of executive chairman, responsible for global expansion and design strategy for the company he co-founded with longtime business associate Bernard Koehler.

The management shakeup has been expected since mid-December, when LaSorda was named vice chairman of Fisker Automotive’s board and head of strategic planning for the company. It follows news earlier this month that the company had lost access to $396 million in federal loan guarantees after missing several production and sales targets and had temporarily stopped work on its Delaware production plant and laid off 26 of the 100 workers there.

Fisker and LaSorda portrayed the management change as amicable and part of a long-term plan. But speculation remains that LaSorda was brought in under pressure from investors who have pumped nearly $860 million into the company only to see production and sales goals slip and that huge federally backed loan disappear.

In a brief press conference this morning, Henrik Fisker characterized the management move as “really exciting news” as the four-year-old company starts “the next chapter as a full-fledged” carmaker.

It isn’t unusual for an entrepreneurial company founder to step aside in favor of a trained operations specialist — sometimes willingly, sometimes at the behest of investors who want to see progress that will bring them profits. Founders are often visionaries with little in the way of day-to-day management skills.

Tesla Automotive Co-Founder Martin Eberhard was booted out of his company altogether in 2008 when investor Elon Musk grew impatient with progress at the company. Musk, also a company co-founder, has been chairman and chief executive of Tesla ever since and last year took the company public in a $226 million stock offering that valued the company at more than $1.3 billion.

Fisker had been a top automotive designer at BMW and Aston Martin before teaming with fellow Aston Martin design shop executive Koehler to start a custom auto design company in 2005.

That company, Fisker Coachbuild, morphed into Fisker Automotive in 2007 when Fisker and Koehler decided the timing was ripe for a high-end plug-in electric sport sedan. Their first car, the Fisker Karma, has just gone on sale after more than a year of delays.

It was those holdups that apparently cost the company continued access to its federally guaranteed loan after drawing down $196 million — most of which was used to complete engineering on the Karma. To date the company has produced about 2,000 of the $97,000 plug-in hybrids and has delivered 800 to customers around the globe. About 3,000 of the cars had been ordered in advance of production.

Fisker had intended to use the remaining loan funds from the Department of Energy’s advanced automotive manufacturing loan program to complete the outfitting of the Delaware plant that it had acquired from General Motors and plans to use for a new line of smaller, less-expensive ($47,000 before incentives) plug-in hybrids called the “Project Nina” cars.

LaSorda said the Nina cars are the “growth builders” for Fisker Automotive and that the company intends to move forward as soon as additional funding is arranged. He and Henrik Fisker both said that the company is talking to private investors and continues renegotiating its loan guarantee terms with the Energy Department; they are confident that adequate funding is available.

Fisker investors include green-technology funding giants Palo Alto Investors and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — former Vice President Al Gore is a partner — and the investment arm of the oil-rich emirate of Qatar.

“This company has a bright future,” said LaSorda, who co-founded a private investment fund after leaving Chrysler in 2009 and himself has invested in Fisker Automotive.

LaSorda said that Fisker is considering partnerships with other automakers as part of its strategy. “As part of our future strategy, we will be seeking strong partnerships and alliances as Fisker continues to grow as a brand,” he said.

Inside Line says: You gotta break eggs to make omelettes.

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