Bankruptcy: The Aftermath
History is literally being written daily as America's auto industry tries to survive the current economic crisis. As a monthly magazine, we can't hope to bring you fresh updates on what's happening at Chrysler or GM because of print lead times-you're reading this about three months after we wrote it. However, what we can do is bring you updates from a 4WD-centric point of view, which is often left out of the daily news.
Do You Want a Chinese Hummer?
In early June GM announced it was in "advanced talks" to sell its Hummer brand to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co., Ltd., a privately owned Chinese manufacturer of road, construction, and energy industry equipment. If the sale goes through, it should protect Hummer's 150-dealer network and some 3,000 U.S. jobs. Hummer's headquarters will remain in the U.S., and its management team will remain intact. Yang Yi, Tengzhong's CEO, said his company "will be investing in the Hummer brand and its research and development capabilities, which will allow Hummer to better meet demand for new products such as more fuel-efficient vehicles in the U.S." Fuel economy will be one of the Chinese owner's biggest hurdles, as new regulations call for truck fleet averages of around 30 mpg by 2016 (see "Earth Watch"). Today's five-cylinder H3, the gas-sipper in the Hummer line, gets just 14 mpg city, 18 highway.
Next Grand Cherokee Delayed
As Chrysler sorts out its post-bankruptcy life, expect several upcoming models to be delayed, including the '11 Grand Cherokee. Plants have shut down while the details of Chrysler's eventual ownership are being hammered out, and prototype development has stopped as well. In the case of the Grand, we'll just have to wait to see if the Mercedes ML-based SUV will live up to its Trail-Rated heritage.
How Will Fiat Run Chrysler?
As many industry pundits have said that Fiat will ruin Chrysler as have said that Fiat will be great for Chrysler. Our call? Too soon to tell. It is encouraging to hear Fiat insiders (via Automotive News) say they want a more brand-driven company with more differentiation between Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep. Maybe Jeeps will go back to being real Jeeps.
Wrangler, the Silver Lining
Chrysler announced that May was its best sales month so far in 2009 (though 30 percent below May 2008), and that Wrangler sales "continued to gain momentum for the fifth month in a row." Year-to-date Wrangler sales were up 11 percent, and it had captured 33 percent of the compact SUV segment. Some of these sales were, no doubt, from dealers forced to close who offered their Jeeps at liquidation prices, but the iron is still moving out the door.
Baja 500 win disputed
Unofficial results right after the Tecate/SCORE Baja 500 named Robby Gordon's Monster/Toyo-sponsored Chevy Trophy Truck the overall winner. But days later a review by SCORE changed the official results to show Rick D. Johnson's General Tire F-150 as the winner and Gordon in Seventh Place, due to penalties levied against Gordon for a pit-area speed infraction and a violation of SCORE's pit rules. Gordon immediately appealed the penalties, saying he had video proof of his speed in the pit area in question and that the pitting activities deemed illegal by SCORE did, in fact, adhere to SCORE's rulebook.
SCORE replied that Gordon's taking on fuel while stopped in the northbound lane of Mexican Highway 1 was "completely unacceptable." The highway is not closed during the event and is part of the race course, so racers share the road with local traffic. The rules don't allow a pit stop on the race course, said SCORE. "We wonder how NASCAR would respond if Robby stopped on the track during a race at the California Speedway and his crew ran onto the track to service his race vehicle?"
College Grads get Rebate
Toyota Financial Services is offering a $1,000 rebate to qualified college graduates on the purchase or lease of several Toyota models, including the Tacoma pickup. Some restrictions apply, among them a college degree and proof of present or future employment-so that Toyota is sure you can make those payments! Drop by www.toyotafinancial.com/collegegrad to learn all about it.
Lexus Wins Baja 500 Too
You read that right. The race-prepped Lexus LX 570 driven by cancer survivor and high-performance driving instructor Joe Bacal won the Stock Full class in this year's Baja 500. Bacal, with co-drivers Paul Williamsen and Ted Moncure, finished the race in 16 hours 22 minutes, with an average speed of 26.41 mph. Sure, they were slower than the Trophy Trucks, but do you think their victory tasted any less sweet?
Bacal's race efforts are backed by the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which helped him fight his Hodgkin's lymphoma. He plans to enter the Lexus in several more desert races this year, including the Vegas to Reno 1000 and the Bilek Silver State.
New Chrysler museum website
Times are tough. Why not go live in the past for a while? The excellent Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan, has launched a website providing access to its exhibits, programs, and even the museum store. As we write this, one of the featured exhibits is "Jeep in the Movies." To do some browsing yourself, visit www.wpchryslermuseum.org.
Arnold and the Electric Hummer
California's most famous Hummer owner (oh yeah, and governor) Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up at this year's Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit to check out the Hummer H3 ReEV, which stands for Range-extended Electric Vehicle. This is not a GM effort but a one-off demonstrator vehicle built by FEV, a Michigan-based powertrain and vehicle engineering company, using range-extending technology developed by a second firm, Raser Technologies. The H3 is powered by a 200kW (268hp) traction motor that's charged by a 100kW generator, which is driven by a 2.0L turbocharged gas engine. The system gives the H3 a 40-mile range on electricity alone and fuel economy that tops 100 mpg. FEV says it has achieved this level of efficiency with "only minimal sacrifice of acceleration performance, cargo space, or towing capacity."
Huseman Dominates TORC
Rick Huseman and his Monster/Traxxas/Toyota/Toyo-sponsored Toyota Tundra has won three of the first four Pro 4x4 events in TORC, the new short-course racing series. Huseman's latest victory was in Perris, California, which marked the halfway point in the new TORC series. Huseman shared the podium with another Toyo-sponsored driver, Kyle LeDuc. LeDuc came in Third in the Pro 4x4 race, wheeling his Rockstar/Makita/Ford Trucks/Toyo-sponsored F-150.
TORC's Crandon, Wisconsin, event is September 4-6 and will be broadcast live on ABC. Should be fun!
Study Finds Off-Roaders are Different
We love our friends at SEMA, the association dedicated to serving the automotive aftermarket. But sometimes we feel like SEMA's researchers need to... well, get out from behind their computers and get out in the world.
Case in point: SEMA's latest Automotive Lifestyles Survey "revealed some stark differences in the way off-roaders treat their modification preferences to those of the general enthusiast." Among the ground-breaking findings: "For the active off-roader, the most popular modifications are those that increase performance, not with speed but with trail-beating agility." And did you know that "activities such as cruising the street, attending and displaying at car shows, and racing appeal less to this group than they do to others in the hobby"? No duh.
"Another difference between this group and the larger body of enthusiasts is its appreciation of outdoor sports, hobbies, and activities," the survey continued. "The actual activity of off-roading is sought out by 83 percent of these enthusiasts. Moreover, on average, enthusiasts list camping as a hobby 36 percent of the time, while 69 percent of off-roaders listed camping as an activity they participate in regularly. Other large differences include fishing, hunting, and sailing." Who knew?
This Just In
* Anyone who has bought furniture at IKEA is familiar with the "knockdown kit." That's furniture that is ready for assembly, and you have to finish the job with one of those ridiculous S-shaped hex keys. Well, Mahindra may have to do the automotive version of a knockdown kit to bring trucks into the United States. Decades-old tax rules impose a 25 percent tariff on pickup imports, which is why Toyota, Nissan, and others established manufacturing facilities here. Mahindra won't build a factory-not yet, anyway-but it may borrow assembly capacity from another manufacturer to finish building its diesel-powered mini-trucks, thereby circumventing the hefty tax.
* The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that off-road racing is being dealt a one-two punch by a stumbling economy and drug-related violence in Mexico. The entry list for the recent Baja 500, with 275 2WD and 4WD vehicles, was "substantially below recent numbers," said the story, and SCORE elected to run this year's race over the same course it used in 2008 so teams wouldn't have to spend big bucks prerunning. The story also gave voice to rumors that the sanctioning body was thinking of moving its races from Baja California to the Mexican mainland because of the escalating violence on the peninsula. To those rumors, SCORE spokesman Dominic Clark responded, "The only thing that would keep SCORE from racing in Baja California is that if there was no racing in Baja California."
* Auto workers forced out of their jobs by recent plant closures may want to explore a career in the Navy, according to a recent Automotive News story. The branch of the service responsible for building and maintaining Naval ships is finding that an autoworker's skills are a good match. Composite materials are seeing increased use in ship building. "After all," said the story, "if you've designed a Hummer, a battleship shouldn't be much of a stretch."
* New standards proposed by the Obama administration would raise corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) targets to 35.5 mpg by 2016; specifically 39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for trucks. The new plan will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions, since carbon dioxide is released in direct proportion to the amount of carbon-based fuel burned. This federal ruling would eliminate individual states trying to establish their own emissions standards. Automakers aren't exactly pleased at the thought of having to design, produce, and charge for these new efficiencies, but they are relieved that they won't have to build different emissions systems for various states. SEMA, which brought us this information, said the program won't be finalized until late in 2010.
* In late May, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that he was eliminating General Fund support for state parks as part of his effort to balance the state's budget. This would mean the closure of more than 230 state park units, or 80 percent of the state's park inventory. While the state's off-highway vehicle (OHV) and state vehicular recreation areas (SVRAs) aren't immediately threatened, some parks adjacent to these riding areas, like Anza-Borrego, are. The California Association of 4WD Clubs has a list of proposed closures on its website, www.cal4wheel.com. The California State Parks Foundation has email templates on its website (www.calparks.org) that you can use to write your state representatives about just how bad this idea is.
* SEMA is working to include provisions in the "cash for guzzlers" bill making its way through Congress that would lessen the bill's potential damage to collectible vehicles. As it stands, car buyers would receive a $3,500 voucher if they scrapped a vehicle that got 18 mpg or less (15 mpg for pickups and vans) and bought either a new passenger car that got at least 4 mpg more than their older vehicle or a new pickup truck/SUV that got at least 2 mpg more than their old truck. They would receive a $4,500 voucher if the new car got at least 10 mpg more, or if the truck/SUV got at least 5 mpg more. The program would mandate that the engine block and drivetrain be destroyed. SEMA wants to add the provisions that the scrapped vehicles be less than 25 years old and that the engine and drivetrain could be recycled, not destroyed, if they've been disassembled.