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Exhaust Notes #32: More Detroit Merger Talk

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Are we nearing the end of Chrysler? Or the beginning of a new blended family? Or just another day at the rumor mill?
Late on Friday, the first stories began appearing about GM and Chrysler in possible merger talks. And at least in Detroit, dominated the weekend news cycle. GM’s stock went up this morning, but given that the Dow was up 5.6% and GM went up only about 3%, the stock bump might have happened without merger talk. GM closed on Friday at $4.89, a number some say is actually less than the company would be worth in capital assets alone.

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All of this merger talk, whether these deals are realistic or not, does nothing good for public perception. The economy is weak, last week’s events on the stock market don’t reassure anyone, and talking about GM and Chrysler perhaps needing to merge to survive only further erodes confidence in American business. While GM and Chrysler LLC, as well as any other maker in trouble right now, needs to consider even unthinkable options and test our common assumptions as they get out of this trouble, this merger does not inspire hope.


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2007 Frankfurt Motor Show: The Color this Fall Was Green

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I spent two days crisscrossing the massive Frankfurt auto show, and the focus on reducing emissions and improving fuel economy and “green” solutions could not be missed. Very few manufacturers were not talking about fuel economy gains in their powertrain lineup and many announced hybrid plans or showed hybrid concepts. What we’re seeing here is the culmination of years of research, rather than fiberglass what-if models. Many of these hybrids or other technology-based solutions will be on the roads later this decade.

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Mercedes-Benz will, during the 2009CY, offer a hybrid powertrain in the S-Class and the M-Class, while a smart fortwo mild hybrid system goes on sale in October. Porsche gave updated the Cayenne’s diesel for more power but also promises a parallel series hybrid using the existing 3.6L V6 by the end of 2010CY. General Motors took the system shown under the Chevrolet Volt in January, replaced the gasoline engine with a diesel one, and created the Opel Flextreme as well as showing off an Opel Corsa Hybrid. Volvo put a plug-in hybrid into the C30 to create the Recharge concept. Land Rover is adding stop-start systems in 2009CY, and Audi will bring a hybrid to the Q7.
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Small cars are more prevalent on international roads and therefore more prevalent at auto shows outside the United States. Toyota brought us the iQ, Volkswagen the up!, and Ford the Verve. Renault’s latest Twingo was on the show floor as well, though this was not its debut.
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Notable exceptions to the small and green game were Ferrari and the 430 Scuderia (introduced by Michael Schumacher himself), the Aston Martin DBS (officially introduced at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance), the Bentley Continental GTS Speed, the Lamborghini Reventon (of which only twenty will be made, with a price tag around $1.4 million), and Maserati.
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Day two of Frankfurt’s show holds most of the supplier press conferences, leaving us a chance to take photos and see some general reaction. Frankfurt’s convention center has 10 halls, with at least seven of them holding the major manufacturers and others holding aftermarket and supplier stands. Walking the full show requires much time and comfortable shows and several hours. Interest was strong in the Mercedes-Benz F700 Concept (previewing the next S-Class), the Audi A4, Opel’s Flextreme, Ford’s Verve and Kuga, and Jaguar’s XF. Peugeot and Citroen concepts, the 308RCZ and the Airscape, saw plenty of attention, as did Nissan’s very odd-looking Mixim.
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The Volkswagen Tiguan stand was flocked with people getting a chance to get in and crawl around the new model, with plenty also checking out the up! city car. Interestingly, every time I went through hall 6, home to Italian makes Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, Ferrari, and Maserati as well as Porsche and Hyundai it was completely mobbed. On the other hand, Kia’s Kee coupe concept and BMW’s X6 concepts didn’t seem to grab attendees as much.
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While going green may be good for us, hybrid systems and new engine developments don’t make for great pictures or put the enthusiasm into driving that a great-looking design can. Over the coming weeks, we’ll bring you more detailed coverage of many of these. Stay tuned.
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LA Auto Show – Opel Anta…errr… 2008 Saturn Vue Launched in Los Angeles

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Saturn’s Stars Finally Align for a Bright Future
Actually, the Opel Antara was introduced in Paris in September, and I’m not really confusing shows. It is a good thing for Saturn there are some solid designs coming out of the Opel/Vauxhall studios, because after having seen both in the tin, we can conclude there is practically nothing different between Opel’s Antara and the Saturn Vue, as was true of the Antara and PreVue concepts. Saturn’s Vue goes on sale in the second quarter of 2007, the fourth all-new Saturn since 2006.

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This is not a surprise for industry watchers, or to vehiclevoice.com readers who caught our May article on the Opel Antara and Vue (click here), but it is still interesting to listen to Saturn talk about their European design. This brand was launched with a specific mission to take on the Japanese imports and find a way to do business differently than GM’s other brands. Instead, Saturn was starved for product and folded back into the mothership. On the bright side, we get the Antara and the Aura (based on the Opel Vectra), and even the Sky has an Opel design relationship, all three good-looking products with the ability to really make Saturn a brand to be reckoned with. These are further supported by the U.S. developed Outlook, and it becomes clear Saturn is gaining steam, regardless of where the products were styled.
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Opel Antara: First Images Released

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Your First Look at the 2008 Saturn Vue
General Motors is wisely pairing Saturn and Opel brands to help revive Saturn at a minimal cost, as well as getting Opel a couple of new products just as efficiently. This strategy is being implemented with several new models for 2007 and 2008 model year. We’ve already reported on the Saturn Aura, which borrows from Opel sedans in Europe, and the Saturn Sky, which was takes cues from an Opel concept and shares more than a passing resemblance to the new Opel GT. Next to come to market will be the Saturn Vue and Opel Antara.
These four-door, car-based SUVs were previewed by a concept called the Opel Antara GTC at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show and called the Saturn PreVue at the 2006 New York auto show. Differences between the Saturn concept and the Opel concept were found in the badge; both even sported the same 212HP four-cylinder diesel and six-speed automatic powerplant. Opel will get the production version first, just as they showed the concept first. The Opel Antara goes on sale by the end of the 2006 and gets a formal introduction at the 2006 Paris auto show this September. Ahead of the show introduction, however, Opel has released intial photos. AutoPacific and VehicleVoice are happy to bring them to you.

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The 2007 Opel Antara should give us a remarkably accurate peek at the 2008 Saturn Vue. A contemporary and attractive family look is shaping up for Saturn, which the updated Vue should complement nicely, and the inspiration by Opel may prove to be a very smart decision and wise allocation of resources. These two brands can share themes and products more easily than GM’s North American brands. As there is no intention of bringing the Opel brand to the States or Saturn to Europe, there is no need to be concerned with cannibalization of one another’s sales.


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2007 Saturn Aura Unveiled

Saturn Just May Have a Winner
At the 2006 New York auto show, Saturn unveiled its upcoming all-new mid-size sedan and one-third of the 2007 product revitalization. Though the Sky will improve Saturn’s image as a fun-car company, Aura’s job is to bring refinement and style to the brand. In large part, Saturn appears to have succeeded. Though we can’t be sure until we’ve driven it and seen regular production models, VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents are impressed so far. By fall 2006, customers will be able to weigh in on the issue in the only way that really matters: with their pocketbooks.

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Saturn is poised to start providing products that people want for the product as well as for the terrific dealer experience the products come with. Three all-new products arrive for 2007, in the Outlook SUV, Sky roadster, and Aura sedan. All show promise of being nice products to own and drive. Leveraging GM’s ownership of Opel in Europe has helped Saturn get a new design language quickly and cost-effectively, a design language that has potential for the kind of image improvements the brand needs and is distinct from American siblings Pontiac and Chevrolet.
According to GM executives around the introduction of the Aura concept, Saturn is being groomed to compete against the likes of Volkswagen and Honda, while Chevrolet takes on Toyota and Pontiac takes on Mazda. The new Saturns are to be refined, sporty, and stylish. While Sky is a no-brainer for delivering on these attributes, Aura may also capture them. The new Saturns, at least on paper and on static displays, are competitive for this market, not just an improvement over Saturn’s past product misses.
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As all GM products are related, the Aura is related to the Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac G6, and all are derivatives of the Epsilon-based Opel Vectra Signum. With the introduction of new models, Saturn is also revising its trim-level naming structure. Two versions of the Aura will be offered, standard XE and uplevel XR (also true of the Outlook).


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Toyota to Overtake GM as Top Carmaker

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An article in the Saturday, November 19, 2005 Wall Street Journal projects that Toyota may overtake General Motors as the highest selling carmaker in 2006.
While Toyota (Toyota, Lexus, Scion) may not sell more than GM (Chevrolet, Pontiac, GMC, Buick, Cadillac, Hummer, Saturn, Saab) in the United States, it may sell more worldwide. Toyota is concentrating much of its sales expansion in North America where it is pulling sales from General Motors and Ford. GM is bolstering production capacity in China and South America where it sees room for growth where Toyota is not yet strong.
The Wall Street Journal article is one of many recent media reports confirming the results of VehicleVoice research and forecasts by AutoPacific. VehicleVoice research shows a continuing deterioration in General Motors’ (and Ford and Chrysler traditional brands) market share in the United States under the concentrated onslaught of the Japanese Big Three. AutoPacific’s forecast of United States sales shows Toyota, Honda and Nissan increasing market share by adding new assembly capacity and models.


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