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Ford Credit Rating Raised Two Levels by Moodys

On: Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 3:14PM | By: Sherry Christiansen

Ford Credit Rating Raised Two Levels by Moodys test 1-1

According to Moody’s Investors Service, Ford Motor Company has achieved another rise in its credit rating, this time by 2 levels, Moody reported that Ford’s performance has “significantly exceeded expectations.” This was the 5th upgrade that Moody has given Ford in the last year, raising the Detroit automaker’s rating from B1 to Ba2. Moody stated it has a very optimistic outlook toward Ford Motor Credit Co., Ford’s finance auxiliary.

“The company is well positioned to continue generating strong earnings and cash flow through 2011, and to further strengthen its balance sheet,” J. Bruce Clark, Moody’s senior vice president, said in a statement. “At the same time that the industry’s business practices have become more disciplined, Ford is coming to market with an exceptionally strong product portfolio.”

Lewis Booth, Ford CFO, stated that moving back into investment grade for the first time since 2005 has “become a rallying cry within the company.”
Ford has been able to pay off $7 billion in debt as a result of its profitable second quarter although it continues to have more financial debt than General Motors after GM claimed bankruptcy last year.

Ford earned $4.7 billion in the first 6 months this year, the biggest first half profit since 1998. Sales of the redesigned Fusion and Taurus sedans were instrumental in propelling Ford’s sales to 21% through September of this year.

Bentley and Audi Teaming Up on 4.0-Liter V8 Engine

On: Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 3:12PM | By: Chris Weiss

Bentley and Audi Teaming Up on 4.0-Liter V8 Engine  test 1-1

If you take a look at a list of the 10 or so least efficient cars in America, you'll see the name "Bentley" pop up more than once. The 2010 Bentley Continental GT, for instance, brings home just 11 mpg city and 17 mpg highway. When you make cars stacked with luxurious accents (read: weight) and powered with giant W12 engines, you're bound to find yourself on that uncoveted list.

With U.S. and global fuel economy regulations clamping down over the next few years, Bentley will need to find a way to cut its emissions. Toward that end, Bentley is working with Volkswagen stablemate Audi on a new engine that will help it cut its embarrassingly large footprint.

The new engine is direct-injected 4.0-liter V8 to be used in both Bentley and Audi models. So far the only model being mentioned is the dirty, ol' Continental GT, which currently uses a 6.0-liter W12 to deliver the aforementioned EPA figures. Bentley plans to offer the V8 option on the Continental GT toward the end of next year and indicates that the smaller, cleaner V8 will cut emissions by 40 percent over the W12.

Bentley's director of chassis and powertrain Brian Gush assured future Continental owners that the new engine will still deliver the Bentley experience. He told auto guide Whatcar: "We are adapting it for our purposes so that it delivers Bentley driving characteristics. It does not have a conventional layout."

Honda Declared America's Greenest Automaker

On: Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 12:25PM | By: Chris Weiss

Honda Declared America's Greenest Automaker  test 1-1

According to a newly released study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Honda is officially the nation's greenest automaker, edging out Toyota and Hyundai. More than just a nod to high-profile green models, the study looked at the overall emissions performance of each automaker's entire fleet. Honda's win marks the fifth consecutive time it's topped the study.

Honda topped the field of eight automakers, who together made up 92 percent of the market for the 2008 model year. Toyota and Hyundai tied for second place, each just one point behind Honda. In scoring that works more like golf than basketball (less is better), the Honda received an all-around score of 86 vs. Toyota/Hyundai's 87. Trailing those three were Volkswagen (90), Nissan (93), Ford (108), General Motors (109), and Chrysler (113). I'd presume that the study was looking at the Volkswagen brand and not the entire auto group, because several of the country's least efficient cars hail from the VW group, including the least efficient (Lamborghini Murcielago) and second least efficient (Bugatti Veyron 16.4).

The USC's study looks at two deciding factors: the per-mile smog of an automaker's fleet and the global warming emissions. Each one is weighted equally. The numbers are compared with the industry average of all eight automakers to make the final score.

“It was a photo finish, but Honda is still the champ,” Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer in UCS’s Clean Vehicles Program and the author of the rankings report said in a press release. “Toyota was poised to take the lead, but stalled in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Meanwhile, Hyundai’s fleet saw dramatic efficiency improvements, pushing the company into a title contender spot.”

Credit Requirements Ease Helping Recovery of Auto Industry

On: Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 11:35AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

Credit Requirements Ease Helping Recovery of Auto Industry test 1-1

The news for the auto industry just keeps getting better and better; now auto buyers are having an easier time getting credit which may be the turning point in the industry’s decline. Last month auto sales in the U.S. were the highest since the government launched the “Cash For Clunkers” program in the fall of 2009.

In July, federal loan programs started to loosen up standards for auto lending which “rejuvenated the market for securitized auto debt", said Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, Ford's chief economist. Research data showed that along with credit terms easing up, auto sales numbers have also increased.

“Credit has begun to ease for automotive in general,” Hughes-Cromwick said in a telephone interview. “We should see consumer credit begin to evidence some recovery, but it is a slow go. I don't think anybody is baking in some sizable cyclical uplift in the next 12 to 18 months.”

Group 1 Automotive Inc.,  and CarMax Inc. both stated that credit is not as much of an obstacle but that it did add to the slow U.S. auto sales last year, the lowest, in fact, in over 2 decades at only 10.4 million units sold.

“Credit is certainly available to meet the consumer's needs,” Peter DeLong, a vice president at Houston-based Group 1 Automotive, said in a telephone interview. “For current sales levels to increase, we need additional showroom traffic.”

The sale of vehicles to subprime credit buyers (with FICO scores below 619) also rose; in fact, the increase of over 9% was the highest since February of 2008.


Toyota Launches New Standard Service Plan In Hopes Of Repairing Its Reputation

On: Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 11:32AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

Toyota Launches New Standard Service Plan In Hopes Of Repairing Its Reputation test 1-1

Toyota Motor Corporation has announced its new service plan for U.S. buyers in an attempt to try to regain customer trust after the company’s “recall crisis.”  The new service plan will apply to all Toyota vehicles as well as the Scion brand.

Every new Toyota and Scion vehicle will now come standard with the new service plan that Toyota is calling "Toyota Care and "Scion Service Boost." These two new plans offer free factory-scheduled maintenance and 24-hour roadside assistance for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first.

The two maintenance plans, which go into effect this month, make Toyota the first full-line brand to offer a complimentary maintenance plan standard on all new vehicles within its lineup. Toyota began offering complimentary maintenance plans this spring as part of its seasonal sales promotion. Due to an overwhelmingly positive response from customers, both plans are now standard on new vehicle purchases across the Toyota and Scion line-up.

“The two complimentary maintenance plans were developed to help improve overall cost of ownership and provide invaluable peace of mind for our customers,” said Bob Carter, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager. “The new programs were inspired by owner feedback and once again reflect how Toyota listens to its customers.”

A recent survey indicated that as many as 73% of the customers who received the free maintenance service plan stated that it “improved their confidence in Toyota,” according to Automotive News.com.

The new plans cover all normal factory-recommended maintenance services outlined in the vehicle’s owners’ manual, including oil and filter changes, tire rotations, lubrication of key chassis parts/components, a 19-point inspection and 24-hour roadside assistance (lockout protection, flat tires, towing, jump starts, and more). Additional details are available through Toyota & Scion dealers.

The Toyota Care program is supported by an advertising campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency. The television ads began airing nationally the first week of October. The message emphasizes peace of mind and worry-free maintenance.

According to Toyota, the new service plan is the first complimentary maintenance plan offered on a full line of products by any automaker.  

LaHood Encourages U.S. Ban on All Mobile Phone Use While Driving

On: Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 11:14AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

LaHood Encourages U.S. Ban on All Mobile Phone Use While Driving test 1-1

Ray LaHood, United States Transportation Secretary, made a recent statement that he believes a ban should be passed on the use of all cell phones while driving, including hands-free calling and texting.  

Lahood has led the campaign against texting while driving that has resulted in 30 states adopting laws that prohibit motorists from making calls and/or texting while operating a motor vehicle. The government transportation secretary also voiced concern regarding programs such as Ford Motor Company’s Sync and GM’s OnStar program as far as causing driver distraction.

“I don't want people talking on phones, having them up to their ear or texting while they're driving,” LaHood said in an interview this week. “We need a lot better research on other distractions, including Bluetooth-enabled hands-free calls and the in-car systems,” he said.

While Lahood’s campaign against mobile phones being used while driving may not necessarily end up in a ban of cell phones in all states, it’s likely that Lahood may influence automakers to reduce the production of technical features such as the Sync.  

According to Olivia Alair, spokeswoman for the NHTSA, “even hands-free phone conversations are a cognitive distraction.”  
Lahood plans to meet with U.S. automakers in order to attempt to gain support for his campaign to limit distracted driving, he announced in a recent interview.

Toyota Prius Takes It to the Next Level With Smart Grid System

On: Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 11:05AM | By: Chris Weiss

Toyota Prius Takes It to the Next Level With Smart Grid System test 1-1

The Toyota Prius is already the best-selling hybrid and probably  the most recognizeable face of the green movement within the automotive industry. That distinction is about to become even more pronounced. Toyota has said that when the plug-in version of the Prius launches in 2012 in Japan, the company will also launch the Toyota Smart Center, a networked home smart grid system that will work toward better energy efficiency.

The Smart Center will link a home's grid with televisions and mobile phones, allowing homeowners to view their consumption, view the charging status of their Prius, and monitor other aspects of power consumption. The system will help homeowners make better decisions about energy consumption, calculating strategies that can cut usage and save money. Toyota aims to use the system and Prius plug-in toward helping homes to become up to 75 percent more efficient than standard homes with gasoline vehicles parked out front.

Unfortunately, for those who own or plan to buy other plug-in cars, the Smart Center will be designed to work only with the Prius Plug-In. If successful, perhaps Toyota will expand the line with a more universal model.

Jaguar/Land Rover to Hit the Market With 13 New Models Over Five Years

On: Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 10:59AM | By: Chris Weiss

Jaguar/Land Rover to Hit the Market With 13 New Models Over Five Years  test 1-1

A new Motor Trend report indicates that Jaguar and sister company Land Rover plan to remain very busy over the next half-decade. The companies will combine to bring no less than 13 new models to market between now and 2015.

After being sold from Ford to Indian company Tata Motors in 2008, Jaguar and Land Rover are ready to hit the market with a surge of new models. The 13-model barrage is actually already underway and began with the 2012 Rover Evoque, which Land Rover introduced over the summer and recently debuted at the Paris Motor Show. That three-door is billed as the smallest, lightest, most fuel-efficient Range Rover ever and features 2.0-liter turbocharged four and 2.2-liter turbodiesel options under the hood. It will be offered with both front- and all-wheel drive configurations.

After the Evoque debuts next year, Land Rover will follow up with an all-new Range Rover in 2012, followed by a new Range Rover Sport. Both those models will be seated on the same platform. Those models will get choices of V6-, V8- and hybrid-based powertrains.

The final piece of the Land Rover puzzle mentioned by Motor Trend is a new Defender coming for 2015. That model will be offered in three different wheelbases and up to six different body styles.

Mitsubishi Offers Online Test Drive for the Outlander Sport

On: Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 10:48AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

Mitsubishi Offers Online Test Drive for the Outlander Sport test 1-1

Mitsubishi Motors has created the first online test drive of its kind in an attempt to improve its image as a highly evolved technical brand and to create positive PR with its customers as well.

The new Outlander Sport 2011 model is now available to test drive online at the new Mitsubishi Live Drive website. An interactive remote control enables the user to actually experience what it would be like to drive the Outlander in a “closed course in Southern California,” according to a recent Automotive News.com article.

The site will be available from the 1st through the 10th of November to U.S. residents who are 18 or older; a valid driver’s license number must be entered in order to register at the site on www.outlandersport.com.   

The online test drive is part of a new marketing campaign to launch the Outlander Sport, that will begin October 15th; the campaign includes television, direct mail, print, and digital media that works by allowing users to drive the Outlander via remote control hardware using the arrow keys on the computer keyboard. The driver’s seat has a camera to provide an online video “feed to computer screens of the virtual test drivers, which steer the vehicle around the closed course,” according to Automotive News.com.

GM to Invest $145 million in Michigan Plant to Build Compact Buick Sedan

On: Fri, Oct 8, 2010 at 4:08PM | By: Sherry Christiansen

GM to Invest $145 million in Michigan Plant to Build Compact Buick Sedan   test 1-1

General Motors plans to invest $145 million to build a new compact Buick to be named the Verano. The Chevy Aveo subcompact will be built alongside the Verano under contract for a new labor agreement. The Aveo is slotted to be the very first subcompact assembled in the United States to be profitable.

GM stated that the tooling for the Verano and Aveo will be installed at the Orion Township assembly plant in Detroit by summer 2011. Production will begin in the second half of the year. Both vehicles be launched in 2011 as 2012 models. Mark Reuss, president of North American GM stated that “the Verano will be Buick's first compact car in 20 years.”

Mark Reuss, GM’s president of North American operations, said the Verano will be a premium car  designed for buyers who want luxury in something smaller than the new Regal sedan. The Verano evolved from a strategy at GM to attract new customers with a wide variety of small, fuel efficient cars. GM is hopeful that the plan will put the company in a better position in the compact car segment market, which is a competitive part of the market in which GM has NOT been on the cutting edge.

Jaguar Doing Production Evaluation On C-X75 Hybrid SuperCar

On: Fri, Oct 8, 2010 at 3:55PM | By: Chris Weiss

Jaguar Doing Production Evaluation On C-X75 Hybrid SuperCar test 1-1

We fell in love with it the minute we saw it. Autoweek gave it the "Best of Show" for the Paris Motor Show. And I think every car journalist, fan, and show-goer has been quietly thinking the same thing: "Please, please, please consider producing the Jaguar C-X75." Porsche did it with the 918 Spyder Hybrid, so crossing fingers doesn't seem like an entirely futile effort, despite the official line that the C-X75 is a concept with no plans for production.

Well, it looks like Jaguar will follow in Porsche's lead in running a production feasibility study of the C-X75, as told to Autocar by anonymous sources. The company will consider the viability of producing between 1,000 and 2,000 models.