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Crunch watch Jan 09: the auto industry in crisis

Published: 30 January 2009

Friday 30 January 2009
Honda is about to close the Swindon factory for four months when Friday's shifts are finished; the shutdown will affect 2500 of the 3700 staff, who will receive full pay for two months and then 60% pay for the next eight weeks (BBC News)
Porsche has announced a sharp drop in sales and likely profits. It forecasts a 27% drop in 911, Boxster, Cayman and Cayenne sales to around 34,000 units in the six months to the end of January 2009 (Financial Times, subscription required)
Ford wants Washington to do more to stimulate car sales, after posting a record loss of nearly $14.6 billion earlier this week (Detroit News)
Honda's quarterly profit has crashed by 90% – forcing the Japanese car maker to halve its annual profit target (Detroit Free Press)

Thursday 29 January 2009
Ford of Europe is a bright spot in the Blue Oval's quarterly results today, making $1.06 billion pre-tax profit in 2008 (up from $997m in 2007). It's the first profit of more than $1bn since 1989 (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
Volvo suffered a 'disastrous 2008' with a pre-tax loss of $1.46bn. In 2007, Volvo made a loss of $164m. Owner Ford, which is looking to sell Volvo, blamed a collapse in sales from 482,000 cars in 2007 to just 359,000 last year
Ford reports a net loss of $5.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with $2.8bn last year. Its cash reserves stand at $13.4bn – and it needs at least $10bn to run its operations, say analysts. As it's burning through $1.83bn a month, some fear the Blue Oval could be in trouble by the end of February (Ford Motor Company)
Ford is poised to announce on Thursday a big fourth-quarter loss for 2008. All eyes are on the Blue Oval's cash-burn rate and prospects for 2009 – as yet it is the only one of the Big Three not to require state assistance (Automotive News, subscription required)
The Spanish authorities have cancelled the May 2009 Barcelona motor show after a string of manufacturers pulled out. GM, Peugeot, Citroen and Nissan refused to sign up amid cost cutting and weak Spanish car sales (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
VW chief exec Martin Winterkorn warns that the crisis in the car market is deepening. He estimates that global sales have slumped by a quarter in January 2009 (Financial Times)
Ford's US credit arm, Ford Motor Credit, is making a fifth of its staff – 1200 people – redundant. Spokeswoman Margaret Mellott points out the company no longer finances Jaguars or Land Rovers, while Ford sales have also slowed down (Automotive News, subscription required)
Oil giant Shell posts a sharp fall in profits... to 'just' £3.4 billion in the final quarter of 2008. Oh how we feel for them! (BBC News)
Chrysler LLC is demanding a fresh round of supplier price cuts as it prepares for its 17 February deadline to justify the federal aid package (Automotive News, subscription required)

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Aston Martin has put all its production line staff on a three-day week (BBC)
• GKN, which supplies car parts for Ford, Land Rover and other manufacturers, has confirmed it has cut 2800 jobs worldwide since October (242 in the UK) and may have to shed more in 2009 (BBC)
• Mitsubishi's global production volume in 2008 was down 7.8% compared to 2007, at 1,301,373 units (Mitsubishi Motors)
Lord Mandelson has been criticised for not making the UK government's more extensive, as Vauxhall and JLR will swallow most of the £2.5bn lifeline (Financial Times)     
• Nissan's global production volume in 2008 was down 1.1% compared to 2007, at 3,394,830 units (Newspress, subscription required)
• Lotus chief exec Mike Kimberley has welcomed the UK government's aid: 'It has been a long time coming but I welcome the announcement. I am delighted that the UK Government has recognised the vital importance to the automotive industry of research into green, environmental and low carbon vehicle solutions.' (Newspress, subscription required)
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has welcomed the Government's aid but questioned the usefulness for the consumer. SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt said: 'As an industry, we emphasised the lack of specific proposals to stimulate demand in the market and ease consumer credit' (SMMT)

Tuesday 27 January 2009
UK Government outlines series of aid for domestic car makers: a scheme to guarantee loans for manufactuers and major suppliers; plus state support directed to low carbon technologies to avoid EU rules on state support. More details to be published on Wednesday (BBC News)
Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive, responds to Government's announcement: 'This is an important announcement that recognises the strategic contribution of the motor industry and follows action in other EU member states, the US and Japan. The UK motor industry is productive and globally competitive with a long-term future at the heart of the low carbon agenda. We look forward to discussing the substance of the announcement at our meeting with Lord Mandelson tomorrow.'
Business secretary Lord Mandelson will outline measures to help the car industry at 3.05pm GMT. Measures likely to include credit aid, loan guarantees and grants towards gearing up for a low CO2 sector (BBC News)
Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne fears 60,000 jobs could go from the auto sector in Italy without state help (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
As other manufactures report falling demand, Infiniti reports strong sales for its £55,000 FX50S. 'Demand is exceeding supply in the eight markets we're selling in,' says a spokesman. 'And the waiting time for a factory order is almost seven months.' UK launch is late summer 2009
Honda announces further production cuts in North America and Japan, removing 50,000 units (Financial Times, subscription required)
Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne and other senior group execs visited Chrysler's Auburn Hills HQ at the weekend, as they work out how to progress the proposed alliance (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
The 2010 London motor show could be delayed until 2011 as cash-strapped manufacturers hesitate before committing (Autocar). And the Barcelona show is also in doubt, after GM, Peugeot, Citroen and Nissan pull out (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
New US president Barack Obama indicates that he won't stand in the way of California and other states setting localised car emissions targets (Detroit News)
Obama hints that companies producing cleaner cars will qualify for more state aid (Detroit Free Press)

Monday 26 January 2009
The UK Government is poised to announce a financial aid package for the car sector on Wednesday. It's understood to include grants for training staff and green R&D and a loan scheme to kickstart the car finance sector (The Times)
Chrysler and Fiat's proposed alliance will bring seven new vehicles to the North American market – four badged as Chryslers and three as Fiats or Alfas. All will be built in the US and sold through select Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealerships. Models will include everything from city cars up to D-segment cars – and the 500 will make it to the US (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
Chrysler's Jim Press admits that the company has had 'zero revenue' since 19 December when it closed its plants; dealers have been busy selling leftover stock rather than buying new metal from the maker (Automotive News, subscription required)
GM has collected its second government bailout instalment. The $5.4 billion sum should keep it afloat until 17 February, when a $4bn payout is due. That's also the deadline for submitting a restructuring plan to the government (Financial Times)
Hyundai sales globally rose 6.8% year on year, to 2,796,370 in 2008 the firm reports (Hyundai)
Bentley is stopping production at its Crewe factory for seven weeks from early March to mid-April, cutting supply of the Continental and Arnage model ranges (Autocar)
Production at Ford's Southampton Transit plant is to cease for a further nine days, meaning a shutdown total of 29 days scheduled before the end of April (BBC News)
Italy’s government will meet with Italian car company executives on Wednesday to discuss financial help for the automotive sector. The meeting will involve Fiat, transportation companies and dealers (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)

Thursday 22 January 2009
Audi and Seat are cutting production to counter the slump in demand. Ingolstadt will close for five days at the end of February, trimming A3, A4, A5, Q5 and TT. Seat will lay off 5300 workers for weeks between February and June (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
PSA shares rose on reports that the French manufacturing giant could strike an alliance with Fiat (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
Official figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reveal that UK car production fell 47.5% in December 2008 as plants were shut down over Christmas. But the overall 2008 figure slipped by just 5.7% compared with the previous year. Three-quarters of all production was exported (SMMT)
General Motors’ bosses report the company could run out of cash if it doesn't receive the second $5.4bn federal loan payment by 31 March. The payment was originally due on Friday, but the Treasury has been distracted by the presidential inauguration (Detroit Free Press)
Chrysler and Fiat are busy crafting a strategy to boost each other’s profits since the announcement earlier this week that Fiat plans to buy a significant stake in the troubled American car firm. Plans assume that Chrysler will get another $3bn (£2.1bn) from the US Treasury (Detroit News)
Korean car company Kia has almost doubled fourth-quarter profit in 2008, with its net income rising 97%. The jump is blamed in a weak Won and demand for small cars in their domestic market (Bloomberg)
Toyota’s incoming President Akio Toyoda plans high-level management cuts for the world’s biggest auto manufacturer. The company is posting its first operating loss in 71 years (Bloomberg)

Wednesday 21 January 2009
Toyota is now the biggest car manufacturer in the world, ending General Motor’s 77-year reign. The General flogged 8.36 million vehicles in 2008 – behind the Japanese firm's 8.97 million (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
Jaguar-Land Rover today opened an academy to train technical staff and dealers at a new centre in Warwick, despite all the doom and gloom surrounding the company's fortunes (BBC News)
Proton is speaking to rally ace Petter Solberg about a partnership in the 2010 WRC season. The Malaysian company plan to race a Satira in the hope of gaining a cult following similar to Subaru in the 1990s (Autosport)
The French Government announces it is to inject £5.5bn into its motoring industry 'to prevent large-scale economic collapse'. Grant is conditional on recipients staying in France (The Guardian)
Nissan is storing thousands of unsold cars at one of its test tracks following news that it will be cutting 1200 jobs at its Sunderland plant (The Guardian)
Entrepreneur Johnathan Palmer has purchased the Brands Hatch group of racetracks, including Outon Park, Snetterton and Cadwell Park as well as Brands Hatch itself. He plans to develop a racing series to feed directly into Formula 1, 'undercutting GP2 by 85%' (Financial Times, registration required)

Tuesday 20 January 2009
• Announcement just in from Chrysler: 'Auburn Hills, Mich., Jan 20, 2009: Fiat S.p.A., Chrysler LLC (Chrysler) and Cerberus Capital Management L.P., the private investment majority owner of Chrysler LLC, announced today they have signed a non-binding term sheet to establish a global strategic alliance' (Chrysler)
• Fiat vice chairman John Elkann confirms that Fiat Group is in talks with Chrysler LLC. 'It is not a mystery we are talking with Chrysler,' he tells an Italian news agency. An announcement is due on Tuesday afternoon (Automotive News, subscription required).
• Under the proposed strategic partnership, Fiat would get a 30-35% stake in Chrysler, with an option to acquire up to 55% over time (The Wall Street Journal)
• The proposed Fiat-Chrysler partnership would enable the American car maker to build Fiat small cars to sell in the US, while the Italians would have accelerated access to the American market and Chrysler's dealer network (Financial Times, subscription required)
• BMW has cut production to cope with falling demand. Four of its German plants – Dingolfing, Regensburg, Landshut and Berlin – will run shorter hours in February and March (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Jaguar halts production at Castle Bromwich for two weeks. The site makes XJ, XF and XK models (Automotive News, subscription required)
• As predicted, Toyota appoints founder's grandson Akio Toyoda, 52, as president elect to take over in June. He's tasked with getting Toyota back to profitability, after a 4% sales drop last year (Financial Times, subscription required)
• United Auto Workers union president Ron Gettelfinger warns that the 17 February deadline for GM and Chrysler to complete restructuring plans may be 'unattainable' (Detroit News)
• Audi set a new sales record in China in 2008, selling 119,598 vehicles in China and Hong Kong – up nearly a fifth on the previous year (Audi)
• French ministers indicate that government aid to the auto sector will only be forthcoming if makers guarantee to keep jobs in France (The Times)

Monday 19 January 2009
• The Fiat Group is talking to Chrysler LLC to strike a strategic partnership – giving the US maker access to Fiat's small platforms and tech (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Audi's A4 was the best-selling compact exec in its homeland last year, outselling the 3-series and C-class (Autoguide.com via Autoblog)
• Troubled US car manufacturer Chrysler has been given a lift thanks to a further $1.5bn loan from the US Treasury to help it endure the economic downturn. Chrysler has announced 0% finance for 60 months on some models (Financial Times)
• The proposed widening of 220 miles of UK motorway has been scrapped in favour of a plan to open up hard shoulders in times of congestion. The tax payer could be saved £5 billion (Daily Mail)
• General Motors has announced a renewed plan to double sales in Japan after figures slumped to just 2000 units a year, down from 50,000 annually in 1996 (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Aston Martin is feeling the pinch, chairman David Richards admits. The entrepreneur tells the Telegraph that it's likely to breach its banking covenants later this year – despite recently announcing plans to cut 600 jobs and suspend product development for six months (Daily Telegraph)

Friday 16 January 2009
• Honda will shut its Swindon, UK, factory for a further two months in April and May 2009 – on top of February and March already announced – making it the longest continuous UK plant shutdown (BBC News)
• The Senate has voted to release a second round of $350 billion in federal aid. The cash could provide further aid for auto makers (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Ford boss Alan Mulally warns the FT that the US car market is unlikely to return to its pre-crash highs (Financial Times, subscription required)
• Toyota says it will make further cuts to north American plants 'for next few months' to cut vehicle inventories in half (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
• The 2009 Detroit auto show has been a show for Congress more than customers, argues Motor Trend blogger (Motor Trend)
• Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne calls for urgent help from the European Union, after credit agencies risked downgrading the company (Financial Times, subscription required)
• European industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen warns the 2009 auto sector is 'brutal' and not all car makers may survive (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
• Readers of Detroit newspaper vote the 2010 Ford Taurus as their car of the Detroit auto show (Detroit News)

Thursday 15 January 2009
• Chrysler vice chairman Tom LaSorda says reports Chrysler is looking to sell its Jeep brand are 'absolutely false... We will not separate the brands from the company'. Instead, he admitted the business may sell tooling and IP for previous-generation models (Justauto, subscription required)
• Ford, GM and Chrysler won't attend the 2009 Tokyo motor show, throwing further doubt over its viability (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Russian car maker Sollers is seeking to buy the rights to Ssangyong's SUV; the Korean manufacturer has filed for bankruptcy protection (Automotive News, subscription required)
• China has announced tax cuts and subsidies to boost its car manufacturing industry. It's part of Beijing's $585 billion stimulus package for the economy (Financial Times, subscription required)
• Engineer Sergio Cravero is the new CEO of Alfa Romeo. The 48-year-old has been at the Fiat group since 1986 (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Business secretary Lord Mandelson today pledged government support for the auto sector after Jaguar Land Rover yesterday cut 450 white-collar jobs (Financial Times, subscription required)
• Organisers cancel the UK's CV Show after a lack of interest from exhibitors. The van show was going to run from 28-30 April 2009 at Birmingham's NEC (SMMT)

Wednesday 14 January 2009
• Jaguar Land Rover announces it will cut a further 450 jobs. JLR is consulting unions to make 300 managers and 150 salaried agency staff redundant, blaming 'the credit crunch and severe reduction in demand for new cars.' No manager will receive a bonus or pay rise before the year end at the earliest. JLR employs some 15,000 people and made 850 staff redundant in November 2008. CEO David Smith said: 'We don't expect sales conditions to return to normal levels for some time... It is critical that Jaguar Land Rover becomes a more efficient and dynamic organisation' (Jaguar Land Rover)
• BMW claims bail-outs 'distort competition and demands fairness in state aid (Financial Times, subscription required)
• GM product chief Bob Lutz paints a grim picture for the future of Saab, Pontiac and Saturn under the radical shake-up GM is being forced to enact (Motor Trend)
• Wolfgang Bernhard's appointment as an advisor to Canadian parts supplier Magna fuels speculation that it might bid for Chrysler. Magna has previously expressed interest (Detroit Free Press)

Tuesday 13 January 2009
• Luca de Meo, the recently departed Alfa boss, is jumping ship to become group head of marketing at VW (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Ford has cut a shift at its Southampton, UK factory making the Transit van in response to sluggish sales. Although publicly committed to the Swaythling plant, it's widely considered to be holding on to its position by the skin of its teeth (Justauto, subscription required)
• Former DaimlerChrysler and VW group board member Wolfgang Bernhard has joined Magna International as an advisor (Automobilwoche)
• Organisers of the Tokyo motor show say it might be cancelled this year. Both domestic and foreign car makers are questioning the need for a Japanese auto show (Automotive News, subscription required)

Monday 12 January 2009
• Luca de Meo, CEO of Alfa Romeo/Abarth and Fiat Group marketing chief, has today resigned. Fiat has declined to comment, but it's another blow for Alfa. In the last few years Antonio Baravelle, Karl-Heinz Kalbfell and Martin Leach have all (briefly) held the top job at Alfa (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli has admitted his company's month-long plant shutdown until 19 January may be extended, so dealers won't be stuck with unwanted stock (Automotive News, subscription required) 
• Chrysler is not looking for a merger or a buyer and talks with GM are off, according to CEO Bob Nardelli. But Chrysler is instead pursuing a further $3bn in loans from the US government (Detroit Free Press)

Friday 9 January 2009
• New-car sales in China grew by 7.4% in 2008 to 6.43 million registrations, the China Passenger Car Association says. That's growth the west would kill for, but is below the 20% increases of the previous two years (Justauto, subscription required)
• Troubled Korean car maker Ssangyong today filed for court receivership to avoid bankruptcy. The company has posted four consecutive quarters of losses and its car sales in 2008 dropped by nearly a third (Financial Times, subscription required)
• Sources at GM tell Automotive News that the General can't find a buyer for Saab. That'll be two brands GM can't sell, as nobody has pounced on for-sale Hummer, either. GM vice chairman Bob Lutz said the strategic review was 'code for we realise they're not working and something needs to be done' (Automotive News, subscription required)
• On a more optimistic note, GM chief exec Rick Wagoner is confident the UAW union will agree to concessions as part of the restructure required under the $13.4 billion US bail-out (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Jaguar is considering a 2011 launch for its F-type sports car based on the stillborn 2000 concept, Ratan Tata hints (Autocar)

Thursday 8 January 2009
• Analysts JD Power have cut their 2009 forecast for western Europe by 600,000 (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Audi sales globally top a million for the first time in 2008 (Audi)
• The Bush administration will pass its decision on new CAFE fuel economy standards to the Obama administration (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Nissan will axe a quarter of the jobs at its Sunderland, UK plant. In a statement, it said 1200 out of 4900 jobs will go, although it will reinstate one of the dropped shifts in April. The Washington factory builds Micra, Note and Qashqai – but is destined to start production of new compact crossover in 2010 (Nissan)
• Government cuts UK interest rates again – down to an historic low of 1.5%. Good news for consumers and businesses, but is it too late to stop the rot? (BBC News)
• GM says it might not need more government loans if car sales stabilise – but it is probably wrong, says the FT's Lex column (Financial Times, subscription required)
• GM's arts foundation has contacted local orchestras and theatres – including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Michigan Opera Theatre– advising them not to include subsidies from GM with immediate effect (Detroit News)
• Car chiefs in the UK are going straight to banks, small business support schemes and regional development agencies for aid, as they doubt the Government will come to their rescue (The Times)
• It's not all doom and gloom – five car makers post respectable growth in the UK in 2008 (CAR Online)

Wednesday 7 January 2009
• The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders confirms an 11.3% drop in UK car sales last year – as revealed yesterday by CAR Online – down to 2,131,795. The top 10 sellers were: 1) Ford Focus 2) Vauxhall Corsa 3) Ford Fiesta 4) Vauxhall Astra 5) VW Golf 6) Peugeot 207 7) BMW 3-series 8) Ford Mondeo 9) Vauxhall Zafira 10) Vauxhall Vectra (BBC News)
• The fall in UK's December sales not as bad as feared, possibly sparked by the 1 December cut in VAT to 15%. Last month's sales slipped by 21%, compared with predictions of a 35% crash (Financial Times, subscription required)
• GM will receive a second $5.4 billion instalment of its government loan on 16 January (Automotive News, subscription required)
• Hope for a rescue package for the UK auto industry is dwindling (The Times)
• But the FT reports that British car makers have in fact been offered their first meeting with government since November 2008 (Financial Times, subscription required)
• Car insurance premiums in the UK are likely to rise by a fifth in 2009, owing to higher instances of fraud and personal injury claims (Daily Telegraph)
• German billionaire investor Adolf Merckle, who reportedly lost €400 million in the VW short-selling fiasco, has committed suicide, his family confirm (Daily Telegraph)
• Chrysler cuts back its traditionally lavish hospitality at the Detroit auto show. Its Firehouse free bar and restaurant won't be staged this year (Automotive News, subscription required)
• GM cancels the G8 ST sports truck scheduled for launch in autumn 2009, but Suzuki denies reports it will can the Kizashi Mondeo rival

Tuesday 6 January 2009
• UK new car sales are expected to show a 11.3% fall in 2008 compared with 2007, CAR has learned. The SMMT will announce full figures on Wednesday
• US car and light truck sales plunged 18% to 13.24 million vehicles in 2008. Worst hit is Chrysler, which suffered a 53% drop in December; GM fell 31% and Ford 32% in the same month (Detroit News)
• Porsche Automobil Holding SE grows its stake in VW to 50.76% – meaning it gains control of truck maker Scania. Stuttgart says it has 'no strategic interest in Scania and is not interested in acquiring Scania shares' (Porsche)
• Hyundai launches US sales gimmick, by offering to buy back cars from customers who've been made redundant at favourable rates (Financial Times, subscription required)
• Sales of new cars in Japan continue to flounder. Figures for December 2008 slumped by 22% year-on-year. It's still a huge car market, mind; 5.08 million new vehicles were registered in 2008, down 5.1% on the previous year (BBC News)
• Toyota announced overnight that it would shut all its 12 Japanese factories for an extra 11 days in February and March 2009. It's the equivalent of 18 shifts (Financial Times, subscription required)

Monday 5 January 2009
• Ssangyong's main stakeholder SAIC will inject $45 million into its cash-strapped subsidiary. Up to 3000 jobs are in jeopardy at Ssangyong (Automotive News Europe, subscription required)
• Daimler has ruled out buying Volvo (Justauto.com, subscription required)
• Porsche confirms it will launch its Panamera super saloon at the Shanghai motor show in China from on 20 April (Porsche)
• The US car industry will today post its December sales figures – and more gloomy news is expected. Analysts estimate that last month will be the worst in a bad year – with a drop equivalent to the annual output of two dozen assembly plants (Financial Times)
• The US bail-out of GMAC gives GM a competitive advantage over Ford, critics claim. After the cash injection, GM immediately started offering 0% finance on certain models and competitive rates of 1-6% on others (Wall Street Journal via Autoblog)
• 'Europe's Detroit' is suffering from the slowdown, with central European countries having to cut back factory staff after years of growth (Financial Times)
• General Motors will this week launch talks with the United Auto Workers, bondholders, dealers and others to transform the auto maker into a smaller, viable business (Detroit News)
• The price of oil is likely to stay low for the next three years, benefiting UK consumers and businesses, claims the Ernst & Young ITEM Club (BBC News)

Friday 2 January 2009
• Components giant Visteon has put 2050 salaried staff on a four-day week and cut their pay by a fifth after a slump in orders from car makers (Financial Times)
• Lotus is to build a high-performance plug-in hybrid – an electric vehicle with a combustion engine to extend the range. A concept is tipped for the Geneva motor show in March 2009 (Financial Times)

Thursday 1 January 2009
• A slow news day... but happy new year to all our readers!

>> Click here for the December 2008 Crunch Watch feature