News: Police cars to save Holden?

Holden Commodore Police

Naturally, the death of the Pontiac brand in America has put the skids on global sales plans at Holden (click here for news item). The popular Pontiac G8 is essentially a lightly reworked version of the Holden’s own Commodore sedan. Now, according to an Aussie website car website, a new player may be preparing to make up for the sales short – a consortium led by the Los Angeles Police Department.

Currently, Ford in America sells about 60,000 Crown Vic police cars each year for fleet use, with the majority of those going to various units around the United States, but production of the ancient rear-drive Ford isn’t likely to continue past next year, and it’s thought that Dodge’s Charger probably won’t cover the fresh demand, so alternatives will be needed. With that in mind, Melbourne-based company the National Safety Agency has created a new prototype patrol vehicle based on the Pontiac G8/Commodore that could be rebadged as a Chevrolet and sold to law enforcement units in the United States and possibly other foreign markets.

There’s even rumour that the new model could be made available for American retail sale at Chevrolet dealerships. Holden has naturally expressed interest in the project, though it’s taking a cautious approach given the current state of the American automobile industry.

Naturally, the death of the Pontiac brand in America has put the s ...

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News: BMW Z2 concept to debut at Frankfurt show

BMW Z2 concept

Recently the internet rumormill has been in overdrive with speculation that BMW would introduce a new Z2 concept vehicle at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Some sources are now confirming those reports, though the production version isn’t likely to reach market until 2013. Built atop BMW’s next-generation 1 Series platform, which will be prepared to allow for front, rear or all-wheel drive, the Z2 is likely to feature all of the German automaker’s latest fuel-saving Efficient Dynamics tech, including a potential plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Powering the eco-friendly model will be both gas and diesel engines with 2.0-litres or less displacement. The Z2 sounds like an intriguing machine and may even get a sequential transmission borrowed from BMW’s line of high-end motorcycles. Weight will be minimal thanks to good use of composite materials, and adjustable aerodynamics should offer high downforce when tackling the bends and minimal drag when cruising on the motorway.

Recently the internet rumormill has been in overdrive with specula ...

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News: Pontiac is dead – what now for Holden? An AU$1billion loss! (+video)

Pontiac is dead

We were quite bullish on Holden’s future until this morning when we read GM’s press release. We were of the opinion that it would cost GM too much to ditch Holden, but it seems that by any measures necessary, GM will slash costs, even if that means ditching brands that could once again flourish.

The problem for Holden is that now Pontiac has gone, there’ll be no more orders for the G8, which is based on the Commodore. Holden was banking on selling 30,000 of these in the US and another 70,000 worldwide. US$77m was spent upgrading the Port Elizabeth factory in Australia to build left-hand drive vehicles.

Holden’s only hope is to rebadge the Commodore/G8 as a Chevy – something that’s already done in some markets.

The words fire sale come to mind as GM heads towards Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Here’s GM’s full press release, and a video of the press conference.

PRESS RELEASE:

FOR RELEASE: 2009-04-27

GM Accelerates its Reinvention as a Leaner, More Viable Company

Updated Viability Plan Speeds, Deepens Restructuring of U.S. Operations

DETROIT — General Motors (NYSE: GM) today presented an updated Viability Plan that will speed the reinvention of GM’s U.S. operations into a leaner, more customer-focused, and more cost-competitive automaker.

The Viability Plan is included in an exchange offer whereby GM is offering certain bondholders shares of GM common stock and accrued interest in exchange for certain outstanding notes.
Revised Viability Plan goes further and faster

The Viability Plan announced today builds on the February 17 Viability Plan submitted to the U.S. Treasury. The revised Plan accelerates the timeline for a number of important actions and makes deeper cuts in several key areas of GM’s operations, with the objective to make us a leaner, faster, and more customer-focused organization going forward.
Significant changes include:

* A focus on four core brands in the U.S. – Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC – with fewer nameplates and a more competitive level of marketing support per brand.
* A more aggressive restructuring of GM’s U.S. dealer organization to better focus dealer resources for improved sales and customer service.
* Improved U.S. capacity utilization through accelerated idling and closures of powertrain, stamping, and assembly plants.
* Lower structural costs, which GM North America (GMNA) projects will enable it to breakeven (on an adjusted EBIT basis) at a U.S. total industry volume of approximately 10 million vehicles, based on the pricing and share assumptions in the plan. This rate is substantially below the 15 to 17 million annual vehicle sales rates recorded from 1995 through 2007.

“We are taking tough but necessary actions that are critical to GM’s long-term viability,” said Fritz Henderson, GM president and CEO. “Our responsibility is clear – to secure GM’s future – and we intend to succeed. At the same time, we also understand the impact these actions will have on our employees, dealers, unions, suppliers, shareholders, bondholders, and communities, and we will do whatever we can to mitigate the effects on the extended GM team.”
Fewer U.S. brands, nameplates, and dealers

As part of the revised Viability Plan and the need to move faster and further, GM in the U.S. will focus its resources on four core brands, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. The Pontiac brand will be phased out by the end of 2010. GM will offer a total of 34 nameplates in 2010, a reduction of 29 percent from 48 nameplates in 2008, reflecting both the reduction in brands and continued emphasis on fewer and stronger entries. This four-brand strategy will enable GM to better focus its new product development programs and provide more competitive levels of market support.

The revised plan moves up the resolution of Saab, Saturn, and Hummer to the end of 2009, at the latest. Updates on these brands will be provided as these initiatives progress.

Working with its dealers, GM anticipates reducing its U.S. dealer count from 6,246 in 2008 to 3,605 by the end of 2010, a reduction of 42 percent. This is a further reduction of 500 dealers, and four years sooner, than in the February 17 Plan. The goal is to accomplish this reduction in an orderly, cost-effective, and customer-focused way. This reduction in U.S. dealers will allow for a more competitive dealer network and higher sales effectiveness in all markets. More details on these initiatives will be provided in May.
Sales volume and market share projections

The Viability Plan anticipates improved financial results despite more conservative U.S. sales volume expectations going forward. The lower volume expectations are the result of managing the business with fewer nameplates and dealers, leaner inventories, and reduced market share. To address the inventory issue, GM on April 23 announced U.S. production schedule reductions of approximately 190,000 vehicles during the second and early third quarters of 2009.

The Viability Plan also reduces GM’s market share projections to adjust for the impact of the brand and dealer consolidation, as well as for the short-term impact of speculation regarding a GM bankruptcy. The plan assumes a 19.5 percent share in 2009, with share stabilizing in the 18.4 to 18.9 percent range in subsequent years.

“We have strong new product coming for our four core brands: the Chevrolet Camaro, Equinox, Cruze and Volt; Buick LaCrosse; GMC Terrain; and Cadillac SRX and CTS Sport Wagon and Coupe,” said Henderson. “A tighter focus by GM and its dealers will help give these products the capital investment, marketing and advertising support they need to be truly successful.”
Lower structural costs, lower breakeven point

The Viability Plan also lowers GMNA’s breakeven volume to a U.S. annual industry volume of 10 million total vehicles, based on the pricing and share assumptions in the plan. This lower breakeven point (at an adjusted EBIT level) better positions GM to generate positive cash flow and earn an adequate return on capital over the course of a normal business cycle, a requirement set forth by the U.S. Treasury in its March 30 viability plan assessment.

GM will lower its breakeven point by cutting its structural costs faster and deeper than had previously been planned:

* Manufacturing: Consistent with the mandate to accelerate restructuring, we plan to reduce the total number of assembly, powertrain, and stamping plants in the U.S. from 47 in 2008 to 34 by the end of 2010, a reduction of 28 percent, and to 31 by 2012. This would reflect the acceleration of six plant idling/closures from the February 17 plan, and one additional plant idling. Throughout this transition, GM will continue to implement its flexible global manufacturing strategy (GMS), which allows multiple body styles and architectures to be built in one plant. This enables GM to use its capital more efficiently, increase capacity utilization, and respond more quickly to market shifts.

* Employment: U.S. hourly employment levels are projected to be reduced from about 61,000 in 2008 to 40,000 in 2010, a 34 percent reduction, and level off at about 38,000 starting in 2011. This further planned reduction of an additional 7,000 to 8,000 employees from the February 17 Plan is primarily the result of the previously discussed operational efficiencies, nameplate reductions, and plant closings. GM also anticipates a further decline in salaried and executive employment as it continues to assess its structure and execute the Viability Plan. More details will be announced as soon as they are finalized with the various stakeholders.
* Labor costs: The Viability Plan assumes a reduction of U.S. hourly labor costs from $7.6 billion in 2008 to $5 billion in 2010, a 34 percent reduction. GM will continue to work with its UAW partners to accomplish this through a reduction in total U.S. hourly employment as well as through modifications in the collective bargaining agreement.

As a result of these and other actions, GMNA’s structural costs are projected to decline 25 percent, from $30.8 billion in 2008 to $23.2 billion in 2010, a further decline of $1.8 billion by 2010 versus the February 17 Plan.
Strengthening GM’s balance sheet

Another key element of GM’s restructuring will be taking the necessary actions to strengthen its balance sheet. GM today took an important step in improving its balance sheet by launching a bond exchange offer for approximately $27 billion of its unsecured public debt. If successful, the bond exchange would result in the conversion of a large majority of this debt to equity.

“A stronger balance sheet would free the company to invest in the products and technologies of the future,” Henderson said. “It will also help provide stability and security to our customers, our dealers, our employees, and our suppliers.”

Another important part of improving the balance sheet will be the ongoing discussions with the UAW to modify the terms of the Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA), and with the U.S. Treasury regarding possible conversion of its debt to equity. The current bond exchange offer is conditioned on the converting to equity of at least 50 percent of GM’s outstanding U.S. Treasury debt at June 1, 2009, and at least 50 percent of GM’s future financial obligations to the new VEBA. GM expects a debt reduction of at least $20 billion between the two actions.

In total, the U.S. Treasury debt conversion, VEBA modification and bond exchange could result in at least $44 billion in debt reduction.

Throughout the Plan, GM will continue to make significant investment in future products and new technologies, with an investment of $5.4 billion in 2009, and investments ranging from $5.3 to $6.7 billion from 2010 to 2014. Very importantly, development and testing of the Chevy Volt extended-range electric car remains on track for start of production by the end of 2010 and arrival in Chevrolet dealer showrooms soon thereafter.

“The Viability Plan reflects the direction of President Obama and the U.S. Treasury that GM should go further and faster on our restructuring,” Henderson said. “We appreciate their support and direction. This stronger, leaner business model will enable GM to keep doing what it does best – provide great new cars, trucks and crossovers to our customers, and continue to develop new advanced propulsion technologies that are vital for our country’s economy and environment.”

# # #

About GM – General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), one of the world’s largest automakers, was founded in 1908, and today manufactures cars and trucks in 34 countries. With its global headquarters in Detroit, GM employs 243,000 people in every major region of the world, and sells and services vehicles in some 140 countries. In 2008, GM sold 8.35 million cars and trucks globally under the following brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, GM Daewoo, Holden, Hummer, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Vauxhall and Wuling. GM’s largest national market is the United States, followed by China, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia and Germany. GM’s OnStar subsidiary is the industry leader in vehicle safety, security and information services. More information on GM can be found at www.gm.com.

Forward-Looking Statements – In this press release and in related comments by our management, our use of the words “plan,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “ensure,” “promote,” “believe,” “improve,” “intend,” “enable,” “continue,” “will,” “may,” “would,” “could,” “should,” “project,” “positioned” or similar expressions is intended to identify forward-looking statements that represent our current judgment about possible future events. We believe these judgments are reasonable, but these statements are not guarantees of any events or financial results, and our actual results may differ materially due to a variety of important factors. Among other items, such factors might include: our ability to comply with the requirements of our credit agreement with the U.S. Treasury; our ability to execute the restructuring plans that we have disclosed, our ability to maintain adequate liquidity and financing sources and an appropriate level of debt; the ability of our foreign subsidiaries to restructure and receive financial support from their local governments or other sources; our ability to restore consumers’ confidence in our viability and to continue to attract customers, particularly for our new products; our ability to sell, spin-off or phase out some of our brands, to manage the distribution channels for our products, and to complete other planned asset sales; and the overall strength and stability of general economic conditions and of the automotive industry, both in the U.S. and globally.

Our most recent reports on SEC Forms 10-K, 10-Q and 8-K provide information about these and other factors, which may be revised or supplemented in future reports to the SEC on those forms.

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News: Mercedes toasts anniversary with special CL550

Mercedes CL550 special fq

While so many other automakers have reinvented their logos over the years, Mercedes-Benz has kept with the same old one for 100 years now. One century ago, Daimler-Motoren-Gesselschaft went down to the local patent office and registered the Three-Pointed Star, the logo everyone knows and recognizes today. Only a few weeks later, August Benz & Cie did the same with their logo, the Benz name encircled by a wreath. These two icons later became integrated when the two companies banded together. Now to celebrate the anniversary of their mutual registration, Mercedes-Benz has announced a new special edition of one of its fanciest coupes.

The CL550 4Matic features a number of special touches inside like light tan perforated leather with contrasting stitching and grey accents, gilded brass emblems on the center console and exterior special dark gray paint, new aero kit, and five-spoke 20-inch anthracite wheels with silver brake calipers to differentiate itself from its less aristocratic counterparts. The special edition is available on either the rear-drive or all-wheel-drive 4Matic models around the globe.

The CL550 package commands a hefty €17,850 premium in Europe. But celebrating such a milestone was never going to be cheap.

While so many other automakers have reinvented their logos over th ...

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News: Aston Martin One-77 ready for production

Aston Martin one-77 fq

At this year’s Geneva Motor show the very first One-77 prototype chassis was featured on the Aston Martin stand. By day two it had been be removed and replaced by the puzzling Lagonda concept. The chassis was returned to the UK so that the bodywork and interior could be added. Last weekend, the finished car came out to frolic on the shores of Italy’s Lake Como.

The exterior housed little surprise since renderings had already been seen, but this was the first time the finished interior had been shown. No doubt purchasers of the 77 examples will all have the opportunity to customise the finer details like materials and color combinations before Aston Martin begins deliveries later this year.

At this year's Geneva Motor show the very first One-77 prototype c ...

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News: New Kia Cerato goes on sale in NZ

Kia Cerato fq

The new Kia Cerato has arrived in New Zealand recently and it’s on a special mission to leave other small-medium sedans behind.

Starting at $28,990 and featuring a strong 2-litre engine, tiptronic transmission, stability control and a 5-star safety package, Cerato undercuts the Mitsuibishi Lancer 2.0 auto sedan (rrp from $32,500), Toyota’s 1.8 Corolla auto sedans (at $35,090 and $39,990 respectively for the GX and GLX models) and is more than $12,000 better than Honda’s Civic 2.0 auto sedans (rrp from $41,200).

According to Kia Motors NZ General Manager Todd McDonald, new Cerato pricing takes into account the NZ dollar changes, whereas many others have yet to see the full impact of the lower exchange rate.

“We’ve got one of the best looking sedans in this segment of the market, combined with highly competitive pricing — and the new Cerato will look even better as time goes by,” adds Mr McDonald.

The new Cerato is the first Kia to feature a new styling look that will be adopted across the board by the Korean manufacturer — it’s known as the ‘Schreyer Line’. Named after German designer Peter Schreyer, who left Audi/VW to lead the design team at Kia Motors, the ‘Schreyer line’ is based on his philosophy of “the simplicity of a straight line”. Schreyer says that for too long cars in the C-segment, especially sedans, have been too conservative and his task is to create designs for Kia that raise the bar.

Cerato also features the new Tiger-nose front grille that is being adopted on all Kia models to distinguish its cars on the road.

New Cerato is more than just a grand design. It’s built on an all-new platform created for the Kia cee’d in Europe, which has been further refined for Cerato, then equipped with a dynamic independent suspension and steering package.

Equipment levels are among the best in class, with ESP stability control (incorporating ABS braking and traction control) and six airbags (front side and curtain) standard on all models. Also included is a 6-speaker MP3/USB/iPod entertainment system.

The driving force comes from the new Theta II CVVT 2-litre petrol engine, delivering 116kW @ 6200rp and an impressive torque force of 194Nm @ 4300rpm — that’s 15% more power and 7% more torque than the previous Cerato.

A tiptronic-type automatic suspension is standard on the new Cerato range, featuring a new gate shift pattern and a sports mode that enables the driver to select gear changes manually.

Even with the roof height lowered, the new Cerato boasts more room for its occupants than the previous model. Overall legroom is up 5% and shoulder room is up by an average of 17.5%.

New Cerato is available in two models. The LX comes with fabric seating materials, air conditioning, power windows, power/heated door mirror, remote central locking, 16-inch alloy wheels (including full spare), tinted glass and so on, at $28,990.

The upscale Kia Cerato SX model has full leather upholstery (including leather steering wheel and gear knob), trip computer, automatic climate control, 6-cd changer and audio controls on steering wheel, cruise control, rear park assist (which also has a dashboard object indicator to its direction), 17-inch allow wheels with 45 profile tyres (including full spare) and front fog lamps among its equipment level, priced at $33,990.

The new Kia Cerato has arrived in New Zealand recently and it's on ...

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News: Gemballa breaks the ugly stick on Tornado 750 GTS

Gemballa Tornado fq

Aftermarket tuner Gemballa has been responsible for some pretty over-the-top Porsche models in the last few years, but the new Tornado 750 GTS rules supreme for ugly visual impact and unnecessary amounts of horsepower.

Using the Porsche Cayenne Turbo as a base, Gemballa starts by hacking off an incredible 250kg thanks in part to carbon-fibre bodywork that provides increased downforce and vents air to the front brakes as well as away from the engine compartment.

The turbocharged V8 has been upgraded with displacement being increased to 5.0-liters, and upgraded pistons and connecting rods have been added with racing turbocharger providing extra boost. The result is 750 horsepower and 775 lb-ft torque, 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in just 4.3 seconds, and a top speed of 300 kph. In addition all the power can be given exclusively to the rear wheels if the customer requests it.

With astounding performance but unfortunate looks and a ridiculous €400,000 price tag, Gemballa may have a tough time selling many of the planned production run of fifty cars.

Aftermarket tuner Gemballa has been responsible for some pretty ov ...

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News: Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport returns

Corvette Grand Sport s

Chevrolet is bringing back the Corvette Grand Sport, and it’s very different to the last one offered at the end of the C4’s run in the mid-Nineties. The new Grand Sport has a long list of performance upgrades and rather than treat this revival as a special model with a limited run, Chevy has decided to ditch its Z51 package entirely and offer the Grand Sport that takes the standard cars performance even closer to the range-topping Z06.

While the 430-hp (436-hp with the two-mode exhaust) LS3 V8 remains unchanged, extra width is added to the guards to allow for 18- (front) and 19-inch (rear) wheels that are also wider than before. Larger brakes are included and the special suspension tuning is now even sportier. Other Z06 elements are now included like the front splitter, rear spoiler and functional brake ducts behind the doors. But unlike the Z06, you can order a Grand Sport with a choice of manual transmission or six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The manual transmission comes with a dry-sump oil system, differential cooler and rear-mounted battery.

The new Grand Sport was announced at the 12th annual C5/C6 Corvette Birthday Bash at the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky, USA yesterday.

Chevrolet is bringing back the Corvette Grand Sport, and it's very ...

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