Tag Archive | "General Motors Co."

Electric Cars No More Prone to Fires Than Gas-Powered Vehicles, U.S. Says

U.S. regulators, who ended their investigation yesterday into the Chevrolet Volt, said electric- powered vehicles do not pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline cars.

“Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in an e-mailed statement.

The conclusion by NHTSA came two weeks after General Motors Co. told Volt owners to bring the vehicles to dealerships for repair.

The government started investigating the Volt after a side- impact crash test in May led to a fire three weeks later. During that test, the lithium-ion battery pack broke open and coolant leaked into the battery. When the car was physically rotated as part of the test, more coolant leaked into a circuit board, leading to a fire. NHTSA replicated the fire in November and started an official probe Nov. 25.

“GM is proud of the technological innovation the Volt represents,” Greg Martin, a GM spokesman, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “We appreciate the confidence our Volt customers continued to provide during the investigation.”

The June fire occurred following a May 12 crash test at a facility in Wisconsin run by contractor MGA Research Inc., which notified the regulator that the blaze burned a line of cars parked near the Volt, NHTSA said yesterday in its report.

The agency and its investigators concluded in July that the fire originated in the Volt battery and performed another side- impact test on a Volt in September. That crash, which didn’t penetrate the battery compartment, didn’t lead to a fire. NHTSA, which tested Volt batteries in November with the Energy and Defense departments, hadn’t previously disclosed the September crash test.

The June Volt fire was reported Nov. 11 by Bloomberg.

The Volt blaze had little effect on sales of the vehicles, so there may not be any significant improvement with the government completing its investigation, said Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of auto-researcher Edmunds.com, in an e-mail.

“Volt buyers tend to be passionate about their vehicle,” Anwyl said. “They really want an electrified vehicle. The small risk represented by the potential for fire wouldn’t have been an obstacle for this group of buyers.”

The attention focused on the Volt fire was, in part, a result of the vehicle’s new technology, Anwyl said.

“We see gasoline powered vehicles blow up in the movies all the time,” he said. “A vehicle with batteries catches fire and it is portrayed as a big deal.”

Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, plans to hold a hearing on Jan. 25 about the fires and the regulator’s handling of the incidents. GM Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson and NHTSA Administrator David Strickland are scheduled to testify.

Issa has asked whether President Barack Obama’s administration kept silent about the fires because of its interest in the success of GM’s government-backed restructuring and a U.S. goal of having 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters in December it was “absolutely not true” that his agency withheld information about the Volt’s safety.

GM, based in Detroit, said Jan. 5 it would provide a fix to the 8,000 plug-in hybrids it has sold, to reduce the risk of a post-crash fire. Strickland said in Detroit Jan. 8 that the agency was pleased with GM’s plan.

The Treasury Department owns 32 percent of GM’s stock, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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GM’s 2011 Auto Sales Spark Feud Over Count

General Motors Co. on Thursday reported 2011 sales that appeared to show it once again seized the title of world’s largest auto maker by volume, eclipsing Volkswagen AG and setting off another auto-industry dust-up over how to count affiliate sales.

GM, which held the spot for almost eight decades before being dethroned by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2008, on Thursday disclosed it sold a bit more than nine million cars and trucks worldwide last year, a 7.6 percent rise over 2010. That would put it ahead of VW, which recently reported global sales totaled 8.16 million vehicles last year, reported The Wall Street Journal.

But shortly after GM’s disclosure, Volkswagen argued it, in fact, was the top-seller last year if sales of its affiliates are included. Volkswagen’s figures don’t include the contributions of majority-ownership stakes in truck makers MAN SE and Scania AB, which will be added in a few weeks, a Volkswagen spokesman said. The truck makers might add 200,000 vehicles to VW’s sales total.

GM’s rivals also point out that the big U.S. auto maker’s numbers are boosted by ownership stakes in China’s SAIC Motor Corp. and Liuzhou Wuling Motors Co. While SAIC builds GM cars in China, Wuling’s 1.2 million vehicles last year are mostly cheap commercial vehicles used only in China.

A GM spokesman said the company no longer focuses on being the world’s largest auto maker. “Our goal is to be the best, not necessarily the biggest,” said Jim Cain, a spokesman for GM. “If we had announced plans on world domination, we probably would have been quibbling with the sales of our competitors and that’s as far removed from focusing on the customers as you can get.”

Some analysts prefer not to count the Wuling vehicles in GM’s global total because GM doesn’t have a controlling stake in its partner. “We have to draw the line somewhere and this at least gives us some consistency around the globe,” said Jeff Schuster, an analyst with forecasting firm LMC Automotive.

The tiff over global sales has parallels to a similar one earlier this month when BMW AG and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz delayed reporting their U.S. sales by a day, each hoping to beat out the other for the title of America’s top-selling luxury brand. BMW won by a nose.

Who is No. 1 and No. 2 globally isn’t the industry’s only unanswered question. Toyota appears to have dropped to fourth in the world behind the alliance of France’s Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co., as long as you accept the alliance’s counting methodology. Nissan-Renault, which essentially operate as a single company and are run by one chief executive, said they sold 8.03 million vehicles in 2011. That includes 638,000 vehicles sold by Russia’s AvtoVAZ OAO, in which Renault holds a 25 percent stake. The alliance has signaled its intention to increase its ownership to 50 percent, but hasn’t done it yet.

Toyota, meanwhile, said in December it expects 2011 sales to be around 7.91 million, down 6 percent, but it hasn’t released official figures yet. Japan’s largest auto maker was slowed because the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan forced the company to cut global production and curtailed sales at home and abroad. In Japan, Toyota’s domestic sales dropped 26.8 percent in 2011, a big contributor to its fall in the global rankings.

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association recently forecast motor vehicle sales will rise 19 percent this year, to about five million cars, trucks and buses. That would be about the same as in 2008, before the global financial crisis hurt economies around the world but is still below the level of 5.7 million to 5.9 million reached in the early 2000s.

While the rankings are mostly about bragging rights, the accounting methods has become a near annual scuffle as the competition between the top several auto makers increases. Whether to count the sales from affiliate auto makers is a point of contention.

Volkswagen has stated an intention to sell 10 million vehicles a year by 2018.

Rebecca Lindland, a senior analyst at IHS Automotive Consulting, said there is no clear guideline for what to count and what not to count, creating a headache for firms like hers.

“It’s sort of like when you have a lot of step-brothers and sisters and someone asks you how many siblings you have,” she said. “It hasn’t worked out so great for the last couple who have been number one.”

Ms. Lindland said she was involved in an internal discussion lasting more than an hour about whether to combine Chrysler Group LLC’s figures with Fiat SpA. “It’s very annoying, and it’s also meaningless. The important thing is whether they are making money.” Eventually IHS did combine the two, she said.

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GM to Extend Most Warranties for Saab

General Motors Co. said Tuesday it will extend warranty coverage to owners of thousands of Saab vehicles sold before February 2010, while Saab’s North American board met to decide its next steps.

Saab North America, which is based in Royal Oak and has about 50 employees, said it is halting warranty coverage on current vehicles and models for sale at dealerships in the wake of Monday’s bankruptcy filing by its parent Saab Automobile AB in Sweden, reported The Detroit News.

Saab spokeswoman Michele Tinson said the company has also stopped dealer incentive payments for vehicles at showrooms. Only a few thousand Saab vehicles are at its 188 U.S. dealer showrooms.

GM spokesman Jim Cain said GM is working to notify Saab customers that it will step in.

“In the event Saab cannot or will not fulfill its obligations to administer the warranty programs with its U.S. and Canadian dealers through Saab Cars North America or otherwise, GM will take necessary steps to ensure that remaining warranty obligations on Saab vehicles marketed by GM in the United States and Canada will be honored,” he said.

Saab has about 48,000 vehicles registered in the United States, GM said. Most of those would be covered by GM’s warranties.

GM sold Saab to Dutch luxury automaker Spyker in February 2010, one of four brands it off-loaded in bankruptcy.

Saab North America’s board of directors began meeting around noon Tuesday and was still meeting at 5 p.m, Tinson said.

The North American unit is still operating and hasn’t filed for bankruptcy.

It’s not clear what the company’s next step will be.

A deal to sell Saab to Chinese investors was blocked by GM, which provided key technology to Saab and still holds preferred shares in the automaker.

GM refused to go along with the move, citing intellectual property concerns.

Absent a last-minute investment deal, Saab is likely to be liquidated.

Saab has built few cars since March and struggled to pay its bills.

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GM’s Ex-CEO Breaks Silence

RICHMOND — Rick Wagoner spent nearly two decades atop the world’s largest auto company. After almost three years of silence, the former chief executive of General Motors Co. emerged over the weekend.

Mr. Wagoner picked his hometown of Richmond, Va., to make his first public appearance since 2009, when he was ousted from GM by the Obama administration as a condition of the government’s rescue of the company. He addressed 1,100 winter graduates at Virginia Commonwealth University, reported The Wall Street Journal.

His speech was short—roughly 12 minutes. Beforehand, he fended off several interview requests, including one from the local paper that has covered him since he was captain of the high-school basketball team. He barely mentioned GM, but talked to graduates about taking risks and accepting defeat gracefully.

It was a fitting speech for an executive who often was visibly uncomfortable in the spotlight, but popular among those who worked for him.

The 58-year-old former CEO’s only mention of GM came as he tried to convey to his audience the importance of accepting challenges. He said he never wanted to live in New York or overseas, though those were his first assignments from GM, and he benefited from them.

“I was willing to go just about anywhere in the U.S. for the best job—except New York City,” he said. “Of course, I received a job offer from GM—in New York City.”

“Don’t worry about planning every step of your life,” he added.

Mr. Wagoner rose to prominence at age 39 when he was named GM’s youngest-ever chief financial officer and heir apparent to then-CEO Jack Smith.

He succeeded his mentor in 2000, and became one of the highest-profile CEOs in the world and the face of Detroit. The way he ran GM played a major role in shaping the direction of the global auto industry.

He kept car sales going in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with a “Keep America Rolling” campaign and heavy use of incentives.

Detroit’s smaller auto makers, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, were forced to follow GM’s lead and, to some extent, Toyota Motor Corp. and other auto makers did as well.

When Mr. Wagoner entered GM into an alliance with Italian auto maker Fiat SpA, the move triggered a string of similar alliances around the world.

His focus on high-margin trucks and sport-utility vehicles, at the expense of passenger cars, in many ways defined Detroit’s strategy. After GM bought Hummer, the line of military-like SUVs, Ford followed with the purchase of Land Rover.

While Mr. Wagoner’s strategies helped propel GM to multibillion-dollar profits, particularly in the 1990s when he headed the company’s North American operations, they ultimately contributed to its downfall.

GM began racking up losses in the mid-2000s, amid sales declines and skyrocketing health-care costs. By 2008, truck sales were tanking and GM’s cars couldn’t compete with those built by Toyota and Honda Motor Co. of Japan.

Mr. Wagoner closed factories and reduced head count, but many of his steps to shore up GM came too late and fell short.

During his tenure, GM had losses of $85 billion. He struck a landmark deal with the union to offload retiree costs into a union trust in 2005, but three years later the company still owed the fund billions. He fought against a bankruptcy filing, fearing it would cause a customer exodus that would be fatal to GM. And he resisted cutting unprofitable brands and models, moves the Obama administration forced in bankruptcy, along with further job cuts, factory closures and steps to shed billions in debt through bankruptcy.

In early 2009, as GM pleaded for a government bailout, Mr. Wagoner told President Barack Obama’s automotive task force that he would step down if it meant saving GM. It did, and he resigned in March.

After leaving GM, Mr. Wagoner dug into work at his alma mater, Duke University, where he was named head of the board of directors earlier this year.

Two of his three sons are Duke graduates, and a third now is attending the school. Mr. Wagoner also sits on the boards of Washington Post Co. and Detroit Country Day High School.

Though he doesn’t talk about GM in public, Mr. Wagoner talks regularly to former co-workers at the company, inquiring often about how people are doing, according to several people who keep in touch with him.

Shortly after GM’s current CEO, Dan Akerson, took over last fall, Mr. Wagoner met with him to talk about the company.

“He’s still incredibly loyal to GM,” said one former executive who stays in contact with Mr. Wagoner.

Mr. Wagoner closed his address Saturday with a quote from Mother Teresa: ” ‘What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight,’ ” he said. ” ‘Build anyway.’ “

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GM Won’t Support Saab Sale

General Motors Co. said Tuesday it will not support the latest proposed deal to sell its former Swedish unit Saab to a Chinese consortium.

“We have reviewed Saab’s proposed changes regarding the sale of the company. Nothing in the proposal changes GM’s position. We are unable to support the transaction,” GM spokesman Jim Cain said.

The latest announcement may mean the end of the struggling Swedish luxury automaker as early as this week, according to The Detroit News. Saab’s North American headquarters is in Royal Oak.

GM licenses the technology Saab uses to produce several key models. GM has raised concerns about the intellectual property it has licensed to the company.

In early November, GM said it would not support the sale of Saab Automobile AB to two Chinese automakers.

Saab said Monday it was in talks on a revised deal to sell itself to one of the automakers — Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co. Ltd. — and an unnamed Chinese bank.

Saab, which is reorganizing in Sweden under court protection from creditors, has faced mounting financial problems this year as several funding sources fell through.

It has built few vehicles since late March, its employees have suffered through payless paydays, and it hasn’t been able to pay many of its bills.

Saab’s restructuring administrator, Guy Lofalk, may end efforts to try to revive Saab, the Swedish business daily Dagens Industri reported. “I immediately have to decide if it really is possible to continue this restructuring,” he told the paper.

Last week, GM attorneys met with Lofalk and the Swedish ambassador to the United States, Jonas Hafstrom. The two discussed efforts to save Saab, but the meeting didn’t result in any concrete proposals. Saab sent GM a new proposed ownership structure on Friday, which didn’t meet GM’s concerns.

GM is Saab’s former parent company. Saab was one of four brands GM opted to shed during 2009 bankruptcy restructuring.

In October, Pang Da Automobile Trade Co. and Zhejiang Youngman said they had agreed to buy Saab from its Dutch owner Swedish Automobile NV.

The sale price was $140 million in exchange for $600 million in funding to keep the company afloat.

Reuters reported Pang Da said in China on Monday it is still talking to Saab, though it wasn’t named by Saab on Monday as a possible buyer.

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GM Recalls Some ’12 Cadillac CTS Over Braking Issue

General Motors Co. is recalling 674 2012 Cadillac CTS vehicles after it discovered some vehicles had improperly assembled components that could cause the loss of braking ability.

GM said some vehicles have a power vacuum brake boost pushrod retention nut that was not properly tightened; the nut could loosen and allow the pushrod to separate from the brake pedal, reported The Detroit News.

On Oct. 28, GM discovered the problem and issued a stop-sale the following day for the 2012 CTS vehicles, which means they couldn’t be sold before they were inspected and repaired if necessary.

GM spokesman Alan Adler said Friday no crashes or injuries had been reported because of the condition and that most of the vehicles being recalled were still at dealerships or on their way to dealerships.

GM dealers will inspect the vehicles and if necessary tighten the nuts. GM notified owners and dealers on Nov. 1.

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