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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

Archive for April 2009

Holdout Creditors Force Chrysler Bankruptcy

They almost had it. Under the wire and working with the Obama administration, Chrysler nearly avoided the recent announcement they will be forced to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. 

In a bid for further government loans, Chrysler worked a cost-cutting deal with the United Auto Workers and agreed to form an alliance with Fiat. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department coaxed four banks that hold the majority of Chrysler’s $6.9 billion of debt to settle for $2 billion in cash.

That left about 40 hedge funds that hold roughly 30 percent of Chrysler’s debt to be dealt with, but the creditors said the same deal that the banks agreed to did not suit them, and that they would hold out for more money.

A person briefed on the dealings with the creditors said the Treasury Department and the four banks then offered the creditors an additional $250 million in cash, a total of $2.25 billion, but the creditors said that it would still be in their best interest if Chrysler went bankrupt so some of the company's assets could be sold to repay the debt owed to them. 

“They were hoping that everybody else would have to make sacrifices, and they would have to make none,” Obama said in the press conference announcing Chrysler’s bankruptcy, “I don’t stand with them.” “I don’t stand with those who held out when everybody else is making sacrifices.” 

Obama said that the UAW, who had already made “painful concessions,” agreed to further cuts in wages and benefits that would help save union jobs and ensure about 170,000 retirees and their families keep their health care. He also praised Chrysler’s efforts in their attempts to restructure. 

“Chrysler's’ management, and in particular its CEO, Robert Nardelli, have played a positive and constructive role throughout this process,” he said. (1)

CHRYSLER’S FUTURE

- Robert Nardelli said he would step aside as CEO of Chrysler after the company recovers from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Despite media skepticism, Obama said the bankruptcy process should only take 30 to 60 days. 

“Now is an appropriate time to let others take the lead in the transformation of Chrysler with Fiat,” Nardelli said in a statement. “I will work closely with all of our stakeholders to see that this new company swiftly emerges with a successful closing of the alliance.” (2)

-Chrysler will become Fiat-Chrysler with Fiat holding an initial 20% stake in the new company.

The new board of directors will consist of four members appointed by the U.S. Treasury, three of which will be “independent” members. Fiat will pick three members, two of which will be independent. 

The Canadian government will appoint one seat (Fiat has a large presence in Canada and close ties to the Canadian Auto Workers). The UAW will name one member as part of a deal to take equity instead of cash for half of the $10.6 billion that Chrysler owed to a UAW-administered trust intended to pay for retiree health care. 

As part of the alliance, Fiat said it would be allowed to appoint another board member after it meets three benchmarks set in place on a path to reach a maximum 35 percent stake in Chrysler. Fiat will not be allowed to gain a controlling interest in Chrysler until their efforts help repay nearly $7.5 billion of the new federal loans that will be granted to Chrysler since they filed for bankruptcy.

Fiat’s three official tasks designed to repay the loans include: 

1. Help Chrysler sell more vehicles outside of North America.

2. Introduce a fuel-efficient engine to be manufactured in the United States.

3. Introduce a 40-mpg vehicle also manufactured in the United Sates.

The new engines and cars Chrysler-Fiat produces will wear the Chrysler badge, but be more efficient with the introduction of Fiat’s fuel-saving technologies. (3) 

President Obama stressed that Chrysler’s unprecedented Chapter 11 filing should not be viewed as a failure, but a necessary step towards recovery. 

“I have every confidence Chrysler will emerge from this process stronger and more competitive,” he said.

Sources:

(1) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30489906/?GT1=43001
(2)http://www.autonews.com/article/20090430/ANA02/904309968/1178
(3)http://www.autonews.com/article/20090430/ANA02/904309974/1229

Pontiac Dead, Burt Reynolds Not to Blame

Today, General Motors announced the death of Pontiac. What was once known as The Excitement Division will soon be no more than a bed time story to tell the grandkids, of a time when the rebel American spirit was embodied by a mustached man in plaster-tight Levis and a cowboy hat, that boot legged Coors across state lines with nothing more than a ’77 Trans Am and his ties to the trucking industry…and an RV full of good hearted prostitutes.

That man’s name was Burt Reynolds. His story, the story of Pontiac is reborn every time a young child makes a VHS copy from a Sunday afternoon TNT showing of the classic film,“Smokey and the Bandit,” and realizes that when mixed together, horsepower, beer and a playful disregard for law enforcement are a common man’s great leveler against the powers of oppression. 

Burt Reynolds will be fine, daytime programming and a selective memory of the 70’s can guarantee that. Pontiac on the other hand won’t be so lucky. General Motors plans to reduce their offerings to four core brands, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. In earlier versions of their restructuring efforts, Pontiac was supposed to be kept on as a niche marque, but the signs are all too clear that times have changed. 

Society itself has become the Sheriff Buford T. Justice that is threatening to chase the cocky, hyperactive gum chewing muscle car mentality from our auto industry, a society that has become too concerned with its financial stability to purchase a car that makes loud noises and accelerates moderately well. “Practical,” “Economical,” “Reliable,” “Handling,” these words used to be synonymous with communist; now they’re poking daggers through the heart of our auto industry one brand name at a time. 

Today, it’s Pontiac we see being led towards the killing floors for being too, “fun,” tomorrow, we can only suspect Cadillac will be next in line for being too, “luxurious,” and then what? Buicks sell better in China than they do over here, are they too “Chinese?” Are GMC’s trucks too, “Professional Grade?” 

Come to think of it, nearly all of GM’s new “core brands” are marque in their own right. Pontiac wasn’t cut because it was too fun, but because it didn’t show enough promise for the future. That means ultimately, the consumer helped kill Pontiac. 

But there sure as hell isn't any blood on Burt Reynold's hands, maybe just some left over vaseline from Striptease. 

In 2007, he endorsed the Burt Reynolds Edition Trans Am, built by classic car builders, Year One. 

For a base price of $129,900, a limited number of fanatical Smokey and the Bandit enthusiasts had the opportunity to purchase their very own Burt Reynolds Edition Trans Am, built from the ’77 thru ’81 model years. The modern era Bandits came in three variations, BAN1 thru BAN3, and everyone one of them would blow the doors off of a stock original. 

Check out these options and features from the ultra-high performance BAN 3:

Interior
-Optional Rawhide leather inserts
-Custom door panels with Burt Reynolds Edition engine-turned insert
-Special autographed console badge
-Roll bar with 5-point racing harnesses

Engine Options:
-515hp 7.0 liter LS7 fuel-injected engine with dry-sump oil system 
-605hp 7.0 liter LS7 fuel-injected engine
-650hp 8.8 liter Pontiac V8 engine with road-race oil pan (1)

In addition, every Burt Reynolds Edition Bandit from Year One came with a standard full body restoration, and CB radio. 

I’m not sure if Year One is still making this salute to the essence of Pontiac, they failed to return my emails or answer my phone calls. The portion of their website that advertises the Reynolds Edition Bandit, (complete with an interview from Burt Reynolds) was copyrighted in 2007, who knows when it was updated. 

See: www.yearone.com

Yet, on their main page, Year One has a posting for a “Bandit Run 2009,” that’s scheduled to travel through Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and down into Georgia. The picture for the event depicts an endless row of late 70’s Trans Ams cruising past what appears to be a penitentiary. 

It's proof that GM can stop making new Pontiacs, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop enjoying the old ones. In a way, vintage cars like the Trans Ams just got all the more special. 

“East bound and down, loaded up and truckin',
We're gonna do what they say can't be done.
We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
I'm east bound, just watch ol' Bandit run.” 

Sources 
(1) http://www.yearone.com/
(2) http://www.autoblog.com/2007/04/19/breaker-breaker-year-one-recreates-bandit-t-as/
(3) http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090427/ANA02/904279978/1078

Government Money Electrifies Carmakers

The government is dishing out funding for battery-powered vehicles and carmakers are jockeying for a slice of the electric cheese. Way back on the campaign trail, President Obama voiced his desire to convert the White House vehicle fleet to battery power within the year, and by 2012 to replace half of the federal government’s cars with plug-in hybrids or electric vehicles. 

Now in office, on April 9, Obama announced plans to purchase 17,600 American-made, fuel-efficient cars and hybrids for government use. If the plans go through, by June1, the government could spend $285 million of the stimulus package to buy the new, more efficient vehicles from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. 

“We look forward to showing him the many GM vehicles we have that will fit this purpose,” GM spokesman Kerry Christopher said. (1) 

In particular, electric cars are increasingly popular with the feds’ checkbooks as the technology shows more promise for practical use, and the car guys are making their bids:

BRIGHT AUTOMOTIVE

The Indiana-based startup is the proud owner of the IDEA, a100-mpg plug-in hybrid electric van the company wants to sell to fleet customers and government agencies. 

“We are ready to provide the necessary automotive leadership our nation is calling for,” Chief Executive John Waters said in a conference call with reporters. 

Waters said the company has applied for a $450 million loan from a Department of Energy program designed to help automakers develop fuel-efficient technology.

Waters explained that the IDEA would run solely on batter power for 30 miles before it switches over to a conventional hybrid (using gasoline and battery power). He said that the IDEA’s proclaimed 100 mpg rating is an estimate based on the assumption that a fleet driver averages 50 miles per day. (2)

CHRYSLER 

When life gives you minivans…go postal? That’s the idea with Chrysler’s ENVI electric vehicle efforts. If the company can manage to stay alive past their restructuring effort plans that are due by the end of this month, Chrysler wants to supply the government with a fleet of all-electric Postal Service minivans that could hit the roads by 2013. 

Assuming that their judgment day passes in a positive manner, Chrysler plans to ask for a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Transportation Electrification stimulus program. 

It could be a smart move as the Postal Service is currently looking to replace its antiquated and generally unsightly delivery vehicles with newer, more fuel efficient and environmentally conscious models. 

“Chrysler and the Postal Service have an established relationship as there are more than 10,000 of our minivans in the Postal Service fleet,” said Lou Rhodes, Vice President-Advance Vehicle Engineering and President of ENVI, Chrysler LLC in a statement regarding the matter. 

“The Postal Service is a recognized environmental innovator and leader, and we are excited at the prospect of continuing our relationship by working to deliver alternative energy postal delivery vehicles in the future.” (3)

TESLA MOTORS

Tesla CEO Elon Musk showed signs of stress in the pursuit for funding from the U.S. Department of Energy when he called New York Times writer, Randy Stross, “A huge douche bag,” and, “an idiot,” in a video interview with Yahoo! Tech Ticker. (4) 

In his article titled, “Only the Rich Can Afford It. Should Taxpayers Back It?” Stross questioned whether the electric car company should qualify for low interest loans from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program, considering that Tesla sells highly expensive cars such as the $109,000 Tesla Roadster. 

After accusing Stross of being a douche bag, Musk explained that Tesla was not asking for government money to fund the Roadster, but the more affordable $50,000 Model S.

The Times issued a correction to Stross’ article to exemplify this point, and Musk remains confident that Tesla will indeed receive the loans to fund production of their relatively affordable and sporty electric. (5) 

Sources: 
(1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/09/AR2009040904319.html?hpid=topnews
(2) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30334501/
(3) http://wot.motortrend.com/6526949/green/hauling-the-mail-chrysler-pitches-all-electric-minivans-for-postal-service/index.html
(4) http://www.observer.com/2009/media/silicon-valley-girl-gets-tough-times
(5) feed://www.autobloggreen.com/category/usa/rss.xml

Future Transportation (Baby Steps)

 

There is a definite compressed sense of time in the auto industry right now. A year’s worth of activity now needs to be crammed into a matter of months as carmakers scramble to innovate the vehicles of future and survive in the process. But let’s take a step back from the whirlwind of gloom and doom for a moment to take note of two plans in the works that could prove to be small steps in the right direction, not just for vehicle sales, but for transportation as well. 

Girl Cars

Girl cars. Strong enough for a man, but specially designed for a woman, these are the vehicles that inarguably represent a serious gender divide on the roadways. The following is a list of the most predominant girl cars the world has ever known. For any of the men out there that might find their little darling included below, don’t be offended. This post is not meant to question or insult your masculinity. If anything it should prove that you aren’t insecure enough to base your manliness on what you drive…Because these are definitely girl cars. 

  

Questioning eco-friendly fuels at I-5 rest stops

You might have heard that West Coast Governors are pushing around plans to checker I-5 rest stops with green refueling stations. The idea is that drivers would be able to use the new businesses to swap out and recharge electric car batteries, fill up with biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen and compressed natural gas. If the plans are approved construction could begin as early as this coming summer. 

“I think people know this is coming. We have got to start somewhere,” said Susan Fahnestock, owner of Green Car Co. in Bellevue, which sells electric plug in, hybrid and biodiesel cars.

Of course Fahnestock supports the fueling stations; she’s likely to profit from them. But what about the average tax payer’s benefit? Do that many people really own electric and alternative fuel cars? Will making it more practical to own one by revamping I-5 to support their extended travel be enough of an incentive for people to trade in their gas burner and ride the green wave? 

More than anything, I-5 sure does appear to be teeming with good old-fashioned gas powered cars with a spackling of hybrids. Alternative powered cars are nearly non-existent so far as the eye can see; pint-sized electrics that buzz like hospital beds still draw stares like a Ferrari. 

It would seem then, that installing green refueling and recharging stations along I-5 is putting supply before demand in hopes of spurring demand. 

On a state level, a green I-5 could put Washington, Oregon and California in the running for some of the $15 billion of federal stimulus that awaits energy-related programs and could create green jobs in the process. Only, how much of a the $15 billion that is supposed to be spread out over the entire country would actually be allotted to our neck of the woods remains to be seen. 

If the federal government decides to have West Coast tax payers foot a considerable portion of the remaining bill, which wouldn’t seem out of order, revamping I-5 could possibly wind up being a money pit of well –intentioned optimism. The bottom line would still remain that if not enough people actually made use of the new “eco-friendly” rest stops they’ll only wind up costing us money. 

Christine Gregoire, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski are said to be in the initial stages of trying to figure out how to make the plan work. 

Let’s hope that whatever the outcome it’s the right move at the right time. If the plan passes it could be proof that trial and error really is necessary for innovation at this point. Either way it should be a learning experience.

2009 New York International Auto Show Winners/Losers

With the show underway, it’s time to give a tip of the hat or a wave of the finger to several of the more notable cars already revealed from beneath their silky coverings. 

The ultimate goal for carmakers is to sell, obviously, but the game has changed with times being as they are. The stakes for many are set at survival in the coming months, and cars that wont make the grade with both consumers and the new standards set by the Obama Administration are fast becoming a thing of the past. Here’s my picks: 
  

Jeep J8 replicas soon available

Unbeknownst to this Jeep lover, Chrysler LLC began producing a military-spec Jeep Wrangler called the J8 for use by the Egyptian military in 2007. Now, American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) will be making a limited number of AEV J8 MILSPEC Jeeps for sale in the United States. 

According to a Chrysler LLC press release from September 14, 2007 announcing the arrival of the military J8, “With the all-new 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited as the starting point, Jeep engineers increased its capability and versatility.” (1)

  

Concept minivans are not the answer

 

We would all like to see Ford and the other two-thirds of the big three bounce back, but it’s hard to reserve the hope that it will happen any time soon with ridiculous concepts like Ford’s new, “Transit Connect Family One Concept.” If the name were not enough to confuse consumers, the amount of useless gimmickry Ford stuffed into this awkward looking minivan-pipe dream surely would be if it ever saw release. 

At first sight, the Family One appears to be some sort of panel van from the future crossed with the multi-colored Macintosh computers of years past. 

Car and Driver called it, “The perfect vehicular solution for the small, forgetful and disorganized family.” Really? These are several of the “solutions” the Family One has to offer: 

Scooters – They’re attached to the inside of the split rear cargo doors.

Sunscreen/Supergerm-enhancing hand sanitizer – Integrated into the cargo bay. 

Awning – erects from the back of the van to provide shade.

Walkie-talkies (for the kids) – Kept in the recharge rack.

Sounds charming enough, but these are all items that could be brought along in even the most dilapidated Ford Aerostar. Throw the scooters and a large sun umbrella in the cargo space, drop some sunscreen/hand sanitizer in one of the various storage compartments and keep track of the kids over the family plan cell phones that fit comfortably into their pockets. You don't need a concept van to make it happen. 

But that’s not the worst of it. The Family One also comes with Ford’s Work Solutions System normally used in their commercial vans. For families, it’s now called, “The Family Works Package”. It uses RFID tags to track sports equipment, backpacks, musical instruments and anything else a kid destined to live in their parents’ basement would need a tracking device attached to. 

The van’s computer uses algorithms to identify items it thinks are missing, as Car & Driver Describes it, “taking the onus of personal responsibility off of your children.”

For parents as dangerously incompetent as their wee ones, the Works Package can monitor child-safety seats in the van and alert the driver if they are improperly installed or tensioned. 

This feature I can agree with, because most parents I know usually just strap their kids into a safety seat and throw the whole bundle somewhere between the captains chairs in a valium haze before heading off to the grocery store. 

Really Ford? The Transit Connect Family One Concept?

When times are good and Americans want a concept van they go ahead and make one of their own; they’re called custom vans and all it takes to manufacture one is a run down Chevy, a bong and some shag carpet. We’ve been doing it since the 70’s and it’s no secret. 

Now, times are not good. Maybe Ford should be focusing a bit harder on producing some practical vehicles to pull their company out of the gutter instead of burning through money with they’re own half-baked concoctions. 

Right now we need concept cars that are practical. 

Sources:

http://www.caranddriver.com/news/auto_shows/2009_new_york_auto_show_nyias_auto_shows/production_debuts/ford_transit_connect_family_one_concept_auto_shows

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About this blog

Brandon Seiler is a bonafide car guy, member of the Northwest Auto Press Association and proud Washingtonian. He covers the latest auto news, technology, and pretty much anything having to do with car culture. You don't have to like cars to read his blogs, you just have to be able to read.

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