News watch March 2012: today's auto industry news

Published: 30 March 2012

Welcome to CAR Magazine's news aggregator as we round up the daily stories in the auto industry. Top tip: news summaries are added from the top hour-by-hour


Friday 30 March 2012
• Fiat is suffering from its decision to suspend new product innovation during the recession, argues ANE. It is losing ground on account of delays to its Punto range, which won't be replaced until 2014, and the ageing Bravo, which was launched in 2007 and has no successor in sight (Automotive News Europe)
• Mercedes plans to build the new four-door coupe spun off the A- and B-class architecture at its new Hungarian factory (Automotive News Europe)
• Opel denies rumours it may sell the Eisenach factory in east Germany where it builds the Corsa supermini (Automotive News Europe)
• Mercedes is cutting the time it takes to build a car from 43 hours in 2008 to nearer 30 hours by 2015, according to production boss Wolfgang Bernhard. How so? Becuase it is halving the number of platforms it uses to just two by 2015 - despite doubling the number of model variants to 30 (Automotive News Europe)
• Prices of palladium are soaring and it's likely to overtake the price of gold by the end of the year as car manufacturers continue to use more of the precious metal; 65% of the world's demand is from catalytic converters (Bloomberg)

Thursday 29 March 2012
• Peugeot will not sell an estate SW or CC coupe-cabrio version of its new 208, according to Automotive News Europe. Instead a 2008 baby SUV to challenge the Nissan Juke is more likely (Automotive News Europe)
• Opel and Vauxhall will continue talks with unions over a planned restructuring in Europe, reports ANE. The 20-strong supervisory board of GM Europe met in Russelsheim, Germany, yesterday as it discusses cuts which could affect Ellesmere Port in the UK and Bochum factories in Germany (Automotive News Europe)
• Meanwhile GM has appointed Alfred Rieck as sales chief of Opel. He was previously Volkswagen's sales chief in China (Bloomberg)
• Mercedes this week opened Europe's newest car factory in Kecskemet, Hungary. It's spent €800m on the new B-class facility - it's Merc's first new factory for 15 years, and likely to be the last major new plant in Europe, according to analysts (Bloomberg)

Wednesday 28 March 2012
• Subaru says sales of the new BRZ sports coupe in Japan have quadrupled its initial forecast of 900 units in the first two months. Between 3 February and 27 March, it sold 3551 BRZs, two thirds of them as six-speed manuals (Fuji Heavy Industries)
• PSA Peugeot Citroen has completed a €1 billion capital increase through a preferential subscription rights issue. It raised €999,013,089 by issuing 120,799,648 new shares (PSA)
• Like CAR Magazine, Vauxhall and Opel's plants in Ellesmere Port, UK, and Bochum, Germany, are celebrating their golden anniversaries in 2012. But both are facing the spectre of closure and CEO Dan Akerson warns that there are probably 10 factories too many across Europe (Automotive News Europe)
• Toyota and BMW have begun joint research into the next-generation lithium-ion batteries. The two companies are also cooperating with BMW supplying Toyota's European cars with diesel engines from 2014 (Automotive News Europe)
• Three out of every 10 Fords sold are fleet purchases, according to Bloomberg. The Blue Oval has increased its share of the US corporate market to 27%, up from 22% five years ago - and it insists it's profitable business (Bloomberg)

Tuesday 27 March 2012
• Skoda UK has a new brand director: Alasdair Stewart, who replaces Robert Hazelwood, himself switching to the same position at Volkswagen. It's all part of a wider reshuffle at the VW Group in the UK; Bentley has a new sales and marketing director, too: Kevin Rose, formerly of VW Automotive in China (Skoda)
• BMW is recalling around 1.3 million cars globally over fears that a wobbly battery cable cover could spark a fire. The recall involves 5- and 6-series models built between 2003 and 2010 (BBC News)
• More foreign cars are being imported to the US, making juicy profits for the cargo ship operators landing them at American docks. Bloomberg forecasts that 3.07 million cars will be imported in 2012, 7.8% up on 2011 and the biggest rise in six years (Bloomberg)
• Union leaders at loss-making Vauxhall and Opel are rejecting talking about individual factory closures and say they want to talk about a Europe-wide series of improvements. 'We will not negotiate with you on a local level,' union leaders said in an open letter to GM Europe chief Karl-Friedrich (Automotive News Europe)
• Geely plans to become China's number one exporter within two years. It plans to leapfrog Chery by focusing on developing markets (Bloomberg)
• Nissan may ramp up production at its Brazilian plant, as Latin America's biggest car market makes imports from Mexico less attractive. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, who was born in Brazil, said the company's plant there would become even more important over the coming years (Bloomberg)

Monday 26 March 2012
• The UK Government is training soldiers to deliver petrol nationwide as it prepares for the eventuality of further fuel tanker driver strikes. The Unite union is balloting drivers over a pay dispute and ministers are trying to stave off a repeat of 2000's strikes which ground the country to a halt (BBC News)
• Fisker Automotive is planning to achieve at least $100 million of fundraising by the end of March, according to Bloomberg. It is aiming to raise $1 billion, regulatory filings in the US suggest - as it plans to improve the Karma, invest in new models and resume work on a stalled plant in Delaware (Bloomberg)
• Daimler has extended the contract of Joachim Schmidt as executive vice president of sales and marketing for Mercedes-Benz until September 2015 (Daimler)
• Transmission giant BorgWarner has struck a deal to supply torque-on-demand two-speed transfer cases for the 2012 Ford F150 truck range (BorgWarner)
• Honda Automobile Thailand (HATC) is the last of the Thai car factories to restart full production after the floods in October 2011. The plant in Ayutthaya has the capacity to build 240,000 vehicles a year (BBC News)

Friday 23 March 2012
• GM is preparing a business plan to be presented on Wednesday which will suggest closing factories in Germany and the UK as part of a radical restructuring to streamline capacity. Insiders have told trade newspaper ANE that closing two plants in Europe would trim capacity by 30% - and, if correct, that could spell the closure of Ellesmere Port in the north-west of England (Automotive News Europe)
• The price of petrol in the UK has hit an all-time record. A new survey by Experian Catalist reported the UK average for a litre of unleaded is now £1.40 (BBC News) 
• The sales and marketing chief of Volkswagen, Christian Klinger, has opposed a call by Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne to involve Brussels in coordinating decisions to cut European capacity. VW says the open market should decide rather than blaming over-capacity on some companies' weak performances (Automotive News Europe) 
• PSA Peugeot Citroen says its alliance with GM Europe may expand to include new vehicle ranges and technologies; in a statement, it said larger vehicles, dual-clutch transmissions and a potentital small car for emerging markets could all be part of phase two of the collaboration (Automotive News)

Thursday 22 March 2012
• Jaguar Land Rover has announced a deal with Chery Automobile to create a JV to build cars in China. JLR said it would establish an R&D base in China as well as production facilities (BBC News)
• In a statement, Jaguar Land Rover chief exec Ralf Speth said: 'Demand for Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles continues to increase significantly in China. We believe that JLR and Chery can jointly realise the potential of these iconic brands in the world's largest car market' (JLR)
• General Motors will continue to build cars at its Holden factory in Australia for at least another 10 years after securing a $288 million subsidy (Bloomberg)
• Honda is installing more American staff into senior management positions at its American operation. Honda was the first Japanese car maker to manufacture in the US and it is the most reliant on the market out of its rivals (Bloomberg)
• Volkswagen plans a new budget brand for emerging markets, according to German media reports. R&D chief Ulrich Hackenberg said the car would sell for around €5000 in markets such as India and China (Automotive News Europe)

Wednesday 21 March 2012
• PSA and Renault will both unveil luxury saloons at next month's Beijing auto show. Citroen's 'DS9' will be based around the Metropolis concept, according to ANE; the Renault luxury car will be called the Talisman (Automotive News Europe)
• Europe's second largest tyre maker Continental says it is factoring in a slowdown in Chinese demand into its business plan. However, it forecasts a growth of 5% in China tyre sales. Conti shares dipped 4.6% yesterday (Bloomberg)

Tuesday 20 March 2012
• Nissan is bringing back the Datsun brand 31 years after killing it off. It'll be for a new budget brand aimed at Indonesia, Russia and India, with the relaunch planned for 2014 (BBC News)
• Fiat chief exec Sergio Marchionne predicts 'painful' restructuring, job losses and factory closures in Europe to end the over-capacity in the reigon (Automotive News Europe)
• Ferrari has no plans for an IPO offering, according to Fiat and Ferrari scion Luca di Montezemolo. 'No, there is nothing on the agenda,' he told Sueddeutsche Zeitung. 'And we are not planning anything. Fiat does not need any money at the moment, they are doing fine. If you ask me what will happen in 10 years: no idea. But at the moment it is not on the agenda' (Automotive News)
• Profitability in China is called into question by a new survey suggesting that Mercedes has been offering discounts of up to 25% on S-class models. Website has researched pricing data back to 2009 and says that most European premium companies have been forced to give significant double-digit incentives (Bloomberg)
• Daimler is increasing its stake in Russian truck maker KamAZ as it seeks a 64% rise in lorry sales by the end of the decade (Bloomberg)
• Bosch is reportedly considering scrapping its joint venture to build batteries with Samsung. The Financial Times' German edition reports a disagreement between the two parties over future strategy (Automotive News Europe)

Monday 19 March 2012
• GM has admitted to analysts that the outlook in Europe is 'clearly deteriorating' - with weak prices and demand pointing to major restructuring. Deutsche Bank analysts say Europe's car pricing has 'worsened significantly' in the past four months (Bloomberg)
• The UK Government is to call on the private sector to invest in new trunk road and motorway capacity, it emerged today. Prime minister David Cameron will call for private investment at pinch points on the UK's road network (BBC News) 
• Fiat is unlikely to strike any new alliances this year, reports Reuters. It is focusing on its operations in China and Russia (Automotive News Europe)
• Many of the world's biggest car makers, including GM, Ford and VW, are eyeing growth in Iraq. Post-war, they reckon the world's fifth biggest oil producer and its population bigger than Saudi Arabia's will cotton on to new car sales. The market is forecast at a conservative 120,000 vehicles in 2012, but has greater long-term prospects (Automotive News) 
• Renault UK has cancelled the long-running Formula Renault UK championship because of a low number of entries. The first race was in a fortnight as a support race for the BTCC at Brands Hatch, but just six cars had entered. The series has run every year since 1989 (Renault UK) 

Friday 16 March 2012
 Subaru announces it has started building the new BRZ and GT-86 coupes at its main factory in Japan - some seven years after it struck a deal with Toyota to jointly manufacture the rear-drive sports cars (Fuji Heavy Industries)
 The former Brazilian lover of a union chief at Volkswagen has been charged for aiding in breach of trust during the bribery scandal at VW. It is alleged that she received $457,000 between 2002 and 2005, as part of a reputed corruption case where union leaders were allegedly given trips, luxury goods and prostitutes in return for shaping policy (Automotive News Europe)
• Fisker has developed a software update to fix the glitch which made its Karma shutdown during a review by the influential American mag Consumer Reports. New CEO Tom LaSorda said the Karma behaved correctly (Bloomberg)

Thursday 15 March 2012
 Fiat chief exec Sergio Marchionne was paid $19 million in 2011, mostly in stock grants, ANE reports. However, he took no remuneration from Chrysler last year (Automotive News Europe) 
 Volvo is considering a factory in North America, according to chief Stefan Jacoby. It would hedge the company's dependence on the Euro - and a plant in the US or Mexico could be a solution (Automotive News)
 Ford has extended its credit line by two years and increased its size. It's a $9bn revolving credit line and was due to fall mature in 2013, but won't now be due until 30 November 2015 (Bloomberg)

Wednesday 14 March 2012
CAR's story yesterday that Audi has first dibs to buy Ducati has set tongues wagging. 'You really have to push the envelope to see obvious benefits for a car company to own a motorcycle business,' Erich Hauser, analyst at Credit Suisse told Bloomberg. 'One could be forgiven for seeing this as just another attempt by VW in empire building' (Bloomberg)
• Mazda is cutting 100 jobs at its European HQ as it attempts to stem losses. The head count in Germany will fall from 306 to 190 (Automotive News Europe)
• India is considering a tax rise on diesel cars, as buyers jump onto the derv bandwagon (Bloomberg)
• VW is doubling production of its new small cars at its Slovak factory as demand perks up for its Up city car and spin-offs (Automotive News Europe)

Tuesday 13 March 2012
• Porsche finished the 2011 financial year with new records in sales, revenue and operating profits. Against the 2010 financial year sales were up 21% to 116,978 units, revenue was €10.9bn (up 18%), and operating profit climbed for €1.67bn to €2.05bn (Porsche)
• BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer announced at the BMW Group's annual accounts press conference that he expect the BMW Group to grow faster than the market in 2012, and for Mini and Rolls-Royce to set new sales records (Headlineauto)
• Land Rover is creating 1000 new jobs at its Halewood factory in Merseyside, as it adds a third shift to meet demand for the Evoque (BBC)

Monday 12 March 2012
• Volkswagen predicts a record year in 2012, forecasting growth from 2011's 8.3 million sales. And it says profits should be stable, matching last year's net profit of £13.4bn. 'We remain on track on our way to the top of the automotive industry,' said CEO Martin Winterkorn (BBC News)
• One of the reasons why VW is so profitable is that it has far greater liquidity than its indebted European competitors. As VW hosts its annual press conference, it reported net liquidity of €17 billion, compared with PSA Peugeot Citroen’s net debt of €3.36bn and Renault's €299 million debt (Bloomberg)
• Maserati plans to double the size of its global dealer network by the end of 2013 as it gears up for the arrival of the Kubang SUV, which will take it into new markets. Its target is roughly 500 dealers, according to chief exec Harald Wester (Automotive News Europe)
• BMW is seeking around 4000 extra staff this year to cope with its expansion. That'll take the number of BMW employees worldwide to around 104,000 staff, said CEO Norbert Reithofer (Automotive News)

Friday 9 March 2012
• The Chinese car market has had the worst start of any year since 2005, reports Bloomberg. Sales of cars have slumped 4.4% to 2.37 million in January and February (Bloomberg)
• Volvo and the parent company of its owner Geely have struck a deal to encourage more cooperation. It'll mean that Volvo and the Chinese car maker will work more closely on things like electric powertrain technology and shared small-car platforms (Automotive News)
• The Detroit News reports how Europe's car makers now face decisions that Detroit came across in the collapse a few years ago. But who will blink first? 'Like the guy who says he needs to lose 50 pounds, they'll get started later' says their columnist (Detroit News)
• Fiat and GM discussed merging their European operations, it has emerged in The Wall Street Journal. Chief execs Dan Akerson and Sergio Marchionne had informal discussions, but it never progressed to board level - and then PSA Peugeot Citroen snuck in and closed the deal (Automotive News) 
• Toyota is recalling 681,500 vehicles in the US, including 70,500 Camry and 116,000 Venza models to fix leaks which may prevent the cars starting. A separate recall affects 495,000 Tacomas over dodgy airbags (BBC News)

Thursday 8 March 2012
• GM Europe's loss-making car makers are set to continue losing money for one to two years, according to global CEO Dan Akerson. He admitted Vauxhall and Opel had been losing money for a dozen years, but said the PSA-GM Europe alliance announced last week would help shore up business (Automotive News Europe)
• As reported in our Geneva show coverage, Nissan has confirmed it will build the Note mini-MPV replacement at the Sunderland, UK factory. Previewed by the Invitation concept car, the new production car will arrive in 2013 - and it's backed by a £125m Nissan investment and a £9.3m grant from the Government's Regional Growth Fund (Nissan)
• Ford reports a 14.5% share of the February UK car market, up nearly 3% on the year before. The Blue Oval says sales are up in January and February (Ford)
• VW has reported a similar jump - with global deliveries jumping 8% in the first two months, to smash through the 800,000 barrier for the first time (Volkswagen)
• Hyundai has switched the provider of its UK finance arm. Santander will now sort finance on new purchases, through the newly created Hyundai Capital UK (Hyundai)
• BMW is shaking up numerous top executive roles in Munich. The most significant is perhaps the new R&D tech chief; Klaus Draeger swaps roles with purchasing and supplier network chief Herbert Diess (BMW)
• Meanwhile, BMW's record profit margin of 11.8% announced this week was impressive - but it trailed that at Audi, which was 12.1% (Automotive News)
• Britain's new car market fells 3% in February to 61,868 units. The only glimmer of hope is that the private retail sector bounced back a little, up 2.1% in the first two months of the year (SMMT)

Monday 5 - Wednesday 7 March 2012
• Team CAR flat-out on the general news and annoucnements at the Geneva motor show.

Friday 2 March 2012
• Audi has set a bunch of records for its business performance in 2011. It has announced sales of more than 1.3 million cars last year - up by 19% or 210,000 extra - and chairman Rupert Stadler calls it the most successful year in the company's history. Revenues leapt 24% to €44bn - generating an operating profit of  €5.3bn, up 60% (Audi)
• Oil prices hit a 43-month high overnight, touching $128 a barrel in New York. That's the highest since July 2008, pushed up by uncertainty in Iran and the Middle East (BBC News)
• Nissan is considering reviving the Datsun brand for its expansion in Russia. The Japanese news outlet Nikkei claims that a low-cost range of cars starting from around 500,000 yen ($6200) could be sold in the former Soviet Union (Automotive News Europe)
• PSA Peugeot Citroen's credit rating has been cut to junk status by ratings agency Moody's after it announced a €1bn share issue as part of its strategic alliance with GM. Moody's said the cost of setting up the alliance would harm earnings and the tie-up may not yield long-term results, either (Automotive News Europe)
• Toyota is outperforming the Japanese market, and reports strong sales of its Prius hybrid. The company has announced a 12% increase in sales of Toyotas, Lexuses and Scions in February (Bloomberg)

Thursday 1 March 2012
• The BBC warns that yesterday's tie-up between GM and PSA Peugeot Citroen will require careful diplomacy if it is to succeed. 'For this to work, the chemistry between charismatic and powerful top executives must work, and the invisible, under-the-bonnet solutions most be stitched together without compromising the integrity of either of the brands involved in any alliance' (BBC News)
• Ford of Europe is likely to lose $500 million to $600m in 2012, according to retiring chief financial officer Lewis Booth. He said the Blue Oval would continue to act to stem losses in the tough European market (Automotive News Europe)
• Chevrolet UK is taking responsibility for importing cars in to the Republic of Ireland from today. It will take charge of all sales, servicing and parts (Chevrolet UK)
• Today marks the arrival of the new '12' plates in the UK. Dealers report brisk business - March is typically one of the two busiest sales months for new cars in Great Britain
• New car sales in Japan have jumped 33% in a month, as the government has introduced incentives of around £800 for fuel-efficient vehicles (BBC News)
• Fiat has announced plans to invest $1.1 billion in Russia as it seeks to boost production there. It's a joint investment with Russian finance giant Sberbank, which will take a stake of up to 20% in the plan to build Jeeps in the St Petersburg area (BBC News)

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet