Chrysler’s Fiat-Based Sedans Might Hit U.S. in 2011

AutoWeek reports that Chrysler’s Fiat-based compact cars could be coming to America sooner than anticipated. During a conference call on Monday, Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne said that the cars could potentially be on the market as early as the fourth quarter of 2011. Previous predictions had placed the cars as not being available in the United States until early 2012.

“We’ve run extensive clinics on the first vehicles. We’re 98 percent there on styling,” he said. “My expectation today is we’ll be able to get this car into the market Q4 2011. We continue to work pretty aggressively on timing.”

The Fiat-based cars would help Chrysler become competitive in an area of weakness for it in the American car market: the compact sedan. Marchionne also said that Chrysler Group is planning on addressing one of its other pressing needs before the launch of the Fiat-based compact. According to him, by the end of 2010 Chrysler plans to come out with new versions of its Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger lines.

“We have carried out significant surgery on the architecture of those cars and made significant improvements of the interiors,” he said.

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California Prop. 17 Auto Insurance initiative, good or bad?

Prop. 17 is set to appear on the June 8 ballot, promises annual savings of up to $250 for in auto insurance California drivers who maintain continuous insurance coverage, even if they change carriers. Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? But there’s a catch.

Prop. 17, according to the official summary prepared by the state Attorney General’s Office, also “will allow insurance companies to increase cost of insurance to drivers who do not have a history of continuous insurance coverage.”

Backers say letting drivers carry discounts from carrier to carrier would aid most drivers. Foes say the measure would make rates unaffordable for many new drivers.

Opponents also contend that the initiative would make rates unaffordable for many new drivers and those with tarnished records, boosting the number of uninsured cars on the road and thereby raising safety risks and eventually premiums for everyone.

The  proponents of Proposition 17 contend that passage would benefit more than 80% of California drivers because it would allow them to enjoy their continuous-coverage discounts — as much as $250 a year for some drivers — even if they switch carriers to take advantage of lower prices elsewhere.

In short, there will be winners and losers if Prop. 17 passes. Those that want cheap insurance will still save money but many more will pay more for car insurance.

GM mulls sale of Saab to Beijing Auto

The days of the Saab brand might be over soon, as BusinessWeek reports that General Motors is considering closing down the brand and selling several major pieces to the Chinese automaker Beijing Automotive Industry Holding.

The move comes a week after General Motors saw a potential deal to sell Saab to a joint partnership of the Koenigsegg Group and Beijing Auto fall through after the Koenigsegg Group withdrew their interest. However, Beijing Auto still appears to be interested in several parts of Saab, including assets such as production machinery, and appears to be looking complete a deal sooner rather than later.

Anonymous sources told BusinessWeek that both Merbanco and Renco Group have approached GM about purchasing the Swedish-based Saab. GM has recently rejected an attempt by Beijing Auto to buy its Opel brand and shelved the Saturn brand after a deal with the Penske Automotive Group fell through.

Consumer Reports Gives Lexus GX 460 Rare “Don’t Buy” Rating

In another PR nightmare for Toyota, Consumer Reports has issued a rare “Don’t Buy” rating to its Lexus GX 460 model because of handling problems that make the luxury SUV vulnerable to overturn. According to USA Today, Toyota is currently working on testing to attempt to fix the problem and will provide loaner vehicles in the interim to any current Lexus GX 460 owner who is concerned about the safety of the car.

According to Consumer Reports, the newly-designed rear end of the Lexus GX 460 is far too loose, causing it to slide too easily when a driver lifts off the gas while cornering. The magazines says that testing showed that the problem is so severe that the rear wheels can easily slide over a curb during tight cornering at fast speeds, causing the car to flip.

The “Don’t Buy” rating is the harshest ranking that Consumer Reports can give a product. The last time it was applied to a vehicle was in 2001.

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First Preproduction Chevy Volts Roll Off Line

The first three preproduction models of the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car rolled off the production line at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant last week to cheers from a spontaneous crowd of onlookers, according to the Detroit Free-Press. GM officials expect to produce 500 preproduction models before official production of the car begins in November.

Already, the preproduction of the Chevy Volt has spurred interest from outsiders and improved morale within the plant. GM officials have said that they expect a significant interest from tour groups, schools and industry executives to tour the plant when production begins in earnest.

“I’m expecting that we will have all different kinds of visits,” said plant manager Teri Quigley. “I think it will be five times as many people as normal at the onset,” she said.

According to the article, beginning production on the Chevy Volt has also sparked interest in workers at the plant. Quigley was able to drive one off of the lot and called it a “heart-pumping moment.”

“It’s really, really great that we’ve got this Volt in our system. It’s real. We can touch them and feel them and do our job on them. But at the end of the day, the customer who is buying the DTS in front of that Volt or the Lucerne behind that Volt, doesn’t care that there was a Volt between the two,” Quigley said. “We can be excited, but we have to be focused, we can’t let the Volt distract us from what we’re doing on these other cars.”

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UAW Sues GM Over Delphi Payments

The Detroit Free-Press reports that the United Auto Workers has filed a lawsuit against General Motors, claiming the auto maker owes the union $450 million in retiree health care for workers of its former parts division Delphi.

According to the lawsuit, GM is obligated to make the payments to the UAW’s Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association for Delphi workers because of a three-year contract and the terms of the bankruptcy settlements of both GM and Delphi.

The lawsuit claims that GM rejected UAW’s request for payment in November and has since “failed and refused to make the contractually required payment.”

GM declined comment on the lawsuit.

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Ford and GM See Sales Increases in March

Despite what analysts are calling a “rough market” for cars, both GM and Ford showed significant improvements in U.S. sales last month, according to figures calculated by Automotive News. GM’s sales were up 21 percent over the previous month, while Ford saw sales climb by 40 percent.

However, the news wasn’t rosy for all domestic car makers. After posting its first monthly gain in four years in February, Chrysler saw sales dip eight percent last month. Some foreign car makers also saw disappointing numbers despite sales growth. For example, sales of new Hyundais were up 15 percent from the previous month, a number that was far below analysts’ previous estimates of 30 percent growth.

Many of the sales increases were attributed to car dealers being forced to match incentive offers introduced by Toyota in March as a counter measure to the wave of negative press about the company’s global vehicle recalls.

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Microsoft Gives Boost to Ford EV Car Users

Ford EV car users concerned about managing their energy consumption while recharging are going to get a boost from Microsoft. According to Automotive News, the software giant is working with Ford to develop an online application that will help EV car users manage their energy usage while charging their cars at home.

Ford and Microsoft made the announcement about Microsoft Hohm at the New York Auto Show yesterday. Ford is rolling out five EV car lines by 2013, starting with the introduction of the Transit Connect Electric later this year. Microsoft Hohm will be a free application for all Ford car owners that will help users decide when the best time is to power their cars.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the hope is that Microsoft Hohm will encourage people to power their cars in the evening, when there is less stress on the power grid and energy prices are cheaper.

Ballmer said that the new service is “a significant step in the development of the infrastructure that will make electric vehicles successful.”

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GM Expands Chevy Crossover Production

Recently, General Motors has been dealing with a welcome problem: how to respond to the consumer demand for the Chevrolet Equinox crossover. Dealers have been airing concerns in recent months that they have been dealing with shortages caused by steady interest in the car. Automotive News reports that GM is responding to these concerns by adding a third shift to production at its plant in Oshawa, Canada.

The Equinox is currently built in GM’s CAMI plant in Ingersoll. The company had originally announced plans to expand that plant; the new announcement states that body assemblies will now be shipped to Oshawa for final painting and assembly.chong qi zhang peng

The third shift in Oshawa is scheduled to start in October, and will restore jobs for 600 employees who had previously been laid off. In addition, the expansion of the CAMI plant will not only restore all laid off jobs but require hiring an additional 70 employees by October.

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Ford Releases Pricing for New Mustang

Automotive News reports that Ford has set the sticker price for its 2011 Ford Mustang, and the new V-6 powered car will be priced below its main rival the Chevrolet Camaro. According to Ford, its 3.7-liter V-6 version will start at $22,995, including shipping. The 3.6-liter V-6 2009 Camaro starts at $23,530. In addition, Ford’s 5.0-liter V-8 starts at $30,495 and the V-8 premium starts at $33,695.

Ford’s pricing for the new Mustangs has barely increased over the previous year despite new innovations that have meant an increase of more than 100 horsepower.

Chevrolet has not released pricing for the 2010 Camaro; embargoes for reviews of both cars end this week.

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