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+++ The last Australian-made six-cylinder FORD Falcon rolled off an assembly line on Friday, marking the end of Ford’s 91-year history of car-making in a country that simultaneously fell out of love with big cars and manufacturing. The end of operations – to be mirrored by General Motors’ Holden and Toyota next year – coincides with a move by the famed car company to close in Japan and Indonesia, where it sees “no reasonable path to profitability”. The impending death of car manufacturing in Australia has sparked heated debate over the future of the economy and the role of government in propping up ailing sectors, after the governing center-right coalition cut subsidies to the sector. Dave Smith, national vehicle division secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, said the Ford workers “handled themselves with magnificent dignity” on their last day. “It’s a shame for Australia because I think we lose so much when we no longer have vehicle manufacturing. But, you know, that’s part of history now”, Smith told journalists at the Ford factory in the Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows. About 600 Ford workers are losing their jobs on Friday, all in the state of Victoria, where Ford’s Australian operations are headquartered. Separately, 160 Ford manufacturing employees are being redeployed to design and engineering roles with the company. Ford Australia chief executive Graeme Whickman said while it was a difficult day, it was an honor to see the last Falcon XR6 produced. He said the last manufactured cars would be put on show rather than sold privately. The decline of Australia’s manufacturing industry – employment in the sector out of total employment dropped from 13.4 percent in 2005 to 7.8 percent last year – has not been helped by changing tastes as motorists turn against the locally made, big passenger cars Ford and Holden are traditionally known for, for overseas-made small cars and SUVs. Car manufacturers started making decisions to close down Australian operations in 2013 when the Australian dollar was above parity against the U.S. dollar, making local manufacturing uncompetitive. Retired Ford dealer Martin van Koldenhoven, from rural Western Australia, told Reuters the car-maker dominated sales in the 1980s with its sedans and “utes”, or utility vehicles, but then fell behind when buying trends changed. “Be it light commercial or four-wheel-drives or small cars, they seemed to be a step behind”, van Koldenhoven said. “The market shifted and Ford didn’t shift fast enough. It’s a sad day – perhaps I’ll fly my Ford flag at half-mast”. Even though Australian car enthusiasts grew up watching Ford battle Holden at the Bathurst 1000 touring car race in New South Wales, and both car-makers have large supporter networks, that has not translated into sales. Both brands trail Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai, according to September sales data for the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. Paddy Boylan was among a handful of Ford fans who drove more than 400 km to Melbourne to pay respects. “We came to pay homage as humble pilgrims”, said Boylan, who drove up in a 1962 XK Ford that he bought 18 months ago. “I’ve just always loved Falcons, and it’s the end of an era”. +++

+++ JEEP is building a business case to sell a new pick-up version of the next-generation Wrangler as part of a major sales expansion when an all-new model goes on sale in 2018. “We are seriously considering that model”, Jeep boss Damien Dally told at an event last week. “It won’t be big sales numbers but more of a lifestyle model”. The arrival of a Jeep pick-up would be the first time the US brand has offered this bodystyle in Europe. The new Wrangler pick-up is understood to feature a single cab, rather than the doublecab design that Jeep showed as the Crew Chief 715 Kaiser concept earlier this year. The Kaiser concept had a bed built onto a fourdoor body, but its unwieldy dimensions didn’t find favour among reviewers who drove it. Kaiser is one of the dormant brands that Jeep parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) acquired when it bought AMC in 1987. Kaiser owned Willys, originator of the Jeep. The new ‘C9’ model incorporates multiple technical advances for a Jeep, although the styling will remain true to its heritage. The steel frame is all new and clad with aluminium panels. The core engine will be a 3.0-litre VM diesel, which is also used in the Grand Cherokee, and a four-cylinder turbo petrol unit with around 300 hp is in development, alongside an 8-speed automatic transmission. Jeep is investing $700 million to raise Wrangler output from 250,000 a year to around 350,000. Conservative estimates suggest the new pick-up could provide 50,000 more sales. The arrival of the new Wrangler will coincide with the all-new Land Rover Defender, which is due to roll out of a new factory in Slovakia in 2018. +++

+++ MASERATI has announced plans to introduce an all-electric model before the end of the decade. Most premium and luxury brands will enter the highly-competitive EV segment before Maserati, but the Italian marque plans to stand out by not simply building a Xerox copy of the Tesla S. For starters, its first electric model will likely take the form of a coupe instead of a sedan. Also, the company isn’t chasing all-out volume, and it’s not interested in bringing electric mobility to the masses. “We will be last (with a production EV), and we have to arrive to the market with something different. Very different”, affirmed Roberto Fedeli, the company’s engineering boss, in an interview with Car & Driver. Fedeli — who joined Maserati from BMW’s i division — explained that Maserati has a fourth reason for not imitating Tesla. “The execution and quality of the products of Tesla are the same as a German OEM in the 1970s. Their solutions are not the best”, he pointed out without going into more specific details. Maserati is hard at work on bringing an electric vehicle to the market, but it’s starting from scratch because the only battery-powered model in parent company Fiat-Chrysler’s portfolio is the Fiat 500e. With that in mind, an electric Maserati won’t arrive until 2020 at the very earliest, though it could be previewed by a thinly-veiled concept in the next couple of years. +++

+++ MITSUBISHI Motors plans to sell part of its equity stake in the subsidiary that operates the Urawa Red Diamonds, a professional soccer team better known as the Urawa Reds, informed sources said. The automaker is considering lowering its stake in the Urawa Reds operator to below 20 percent from the current 50.6 percent, the sources said. Mitsubishi Motors is slated to come under the aegis of domestic peer Nissan within this month, in order to rebuild its operations that have been damaged by its fuel efficiency data manipulation scandal. Nissan is the sponsor of another professional soccer club, the Yokohama F. Marinos. Both the Urawa Reds in Saitama Prefecture and the Marinos in Kanagawa Prefecture belong to the J1 top division of the Japan Professional Football League, or the J. League. Mitsubishi Motors’ partial sale of its stake in the unit is being studied so that Nissan will not breach a J. League rule that bans a single entity from controlling two or more teams in the professional soccer league, the sources said. Among other investors in the Urawa Reds operator are the Saitama Prefectural Government, the city of Saitama, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. Mitsubishi Motors is in talks with Mitsubishi Heavy on the sale of shares in the Urawa Reds operator, the sources said. The automaker is also believed to be considering the possibility of selling the stake to local governments and others, according to the sources. +++

+++ Mahindra-owned automaker SSANGYONG has its eyes set on the United States market with two small SUVs. Speaking to AutomotiveNews during the 2016 Paris Auto Show, the brand’s CEO, Choi Johng-sik, recognizes the country’s important role in the segment and admits that the Koreans are almost ready to bring their products on the other side of the pond. “America is very, very competitive, so we need to build a good brand. That’s why we’re now preparing completely new products”, the official said. As for the two vehicles that will be launched in the US by the end of the decade, the first one will be an upgraded version of the Tivoli, while the second one will be a new variant of the Korando. The latter will be underpinned by the same platform as the smaller model and both of them will be available with four-wheel drive. In order to make the two crossovers more competitive in their new market, SsangYong will launch them with two new four-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol engines – a 162 hp 1.5-liter and a 220 hp 2.0-liter – developed specifically for the US. +++

+++ TAKATA, whose defective airbag inflators triggered the biggest recall in auto industry history, hired law firm Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP to help it weigh options that could include bankruptcy or a sale, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The Japanese manufacturer might choose to seek court protection just for its U.S. unit, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. No final decisions have been made and Tokyo-based Takata continues to seek buyers, the people said. Jared Levy, an outside spokesman for Takata, declined to comment, and Amy Fantini at Weil Gotshal did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Takata is evaluating at least 5 bids as it confronts the potentially massive cost of recalling 100 million faulty airbag inflators worldwide and lawsuits tied to at least 16 deaths and numerous injuries. The airbags tend to degrade over time and erupt, sending shrapnel through the vehicle’s cabin. The company hired Lazard Ltd. earlier this year as its financial adviser to pursue strategic options including a sale. All of the suitors have proposed bankruptcy proceedings as one option for Takata, with air bag makers Autoliv Inc. and Key Safety Systems Inc. insisting on that in their bids, a person familiar with the process said last month. Additional offers came from Daicel Corp. and Bain Capital LP, and others from buyout firm KKR & Co. and bumper supplier Flex-N-Gate Corp., the person said. Takata’s customers, which include General Motors, Honda and Volkswagen, are tied to the outcome because they could face partial responsibility for billions of dollars in recall costs and potential legal liabilities. Automakers have been reluctant to help pay Takata’s legal bills, but they also want to ensure a steady supply of air bags, seat belts and other components. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Weil Gotshal had been hired as a legal adviser. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN Chief Executive Matthias Müller had no knowledge of the carmaker’s diesel emissions cheating scandal, Germany’s Bild newspaper said, citing a report by Jones Day, the lawfirm tasked with investigating the scandal. Müller found out about Volkswagen’s emissions cheating software on Sept. 18, 2015, when U.S. regulators revealed the German carmaker had faked pollution tests, Bild reported. Müller, who was Chief Executive of VW’s sportscar division Porsche before the Diesel scandal erupted, was elevated to the position of Volkswagen Group’s Chief Executive a week later on Sept. 25, and tasked with turning the firm around. A spokesman said Volkswagen could not comment on an ongoing legal investigation. +++

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