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Suzuki Grand Vitara Wins AutoPacific 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Compact Sport Utility Vehicles

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In Suzuki’s first win ever, owners of the all-new Grand Vitara rate it best in the Compact SUV class in AutoPacific‘s 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards. New styling, larger, up-graded interior, up-graded powertrain, affordable pricing and a more-than-competitive warranty, make Grand Vitara a satisfying value proposition. With the introduction of the new Grand Vitara Suzuki proves they can achieve impressive satisfaction results with their customers.


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Honda's Building a New Auto Plant

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Site to Be Determined
Among news of manufacturing facilities in all kinds of industries leaving the United States, several auto manufacturers are continuing to invest in expanding and building more North American production, and the latest news is from Honda.
Honda has steadily and consistently expanded its North American production base since their first plant here. Back in September 1979, Honda began building motorcycles in Marysville, Ohio, and still does. That was followed in November 1982 with auto assembly at a new plant, also in Marysville. Since then, Honda has consistently increased its manufacturing presence in the United States and Canada, with engine and transmission facilities as well as additional vehicle assembly plants.

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Honda has capacity to build 1.4 million vehicles in North America from six auto plants, supported by several engine and transmission facilities. With the latest CR-V joining the assembly line in Ohio, there will be only a few products in Honda’s U.S. lineup not built here for 2007 model year. These are the newly introduced Fit, the low-volume S2000, and the even-lower-volume and now-cancelled Insight, though the Hybrid Civic is also imported. And we’re not even mentioning facilities for motorcycles, generators, and lawn mowers.
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Honda has announced more increases for the last half of this decade. Though Honda already knows what locations are in contention and isn’t telling, during 2008 an all-new vehicle assembly plant will go on-line somewhere in the United States. This new plant will eventually have capacity for 200,000 units and Honda expects it will bring in another 1500 jobs. Which vehicles will come from the plant has not been announced, but if the Fit does well, building the next generation in the States is a logical choice. Honda’s also develops plants that are flexible and can build several different models; the new facility will also be able build several models. Along with the new assembly plant, a new engine plant is also going up next to the Alliston, Ontario, plant. Engine and transmission capacity is also being expanded in existing Ohio and Georgia facilities.
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Summary: Honda’s North American Auto Assembly
Alliston, Ontario, Canada: Honda Pilot and Ridgeline, Honda Civic sedan (Canada only), Acura EL (Canada only), and Acura MDX
Lincoln, Alabama: Honda Odyssey and Pilot
East Liberty, Ohio: Honda Civic sedan, Civic coupe, Civic GX, Element
Marysville, Ohio: Honda Accord sedan and coupe, Acura TL
Mexico: Honda Accord sedan (Mexican market)


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AutoPacific 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards

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AutoPacific has released the results of its 2006 model year owner satisfaction research. AutoPacific’s VSA (Vehicle Satisfaction Award) study is an industry benchmark for objectively measuring how satisfied an owner is with their new car or light truck. VehicleVoice automotive Internet panel members also contributed to this research.
The vehicle registering highest overall satisfaction in 2006 is the Lincoln Navigator Luxury SUV. The highest rated car is the new-for-2006 Hyundai flagship – Hyundai Azera.
Unlike 2005, when Nissan North America had seven winners, the 2006 results are distributed across the industry. There are eighteen Vehicle Satisfaction Award categories. Honda won four categories, General Motors won three categories, Ford won three categories, Nissan won two categories, Hyundai won two categories, Mitsubishi won two categories.
Top 2006 model year performers are:
TOP VEHICLE: Lincoln Navigator
TOP PASSENGER CAR: Hyundai Azera
TOP TRUCK: Lincoln Navigator
PASSENGER CARS:
Premium Luxury Car: Lexus LS
Entry Luxury Car: Cadillac CTS
Luxury/Large Car: Hyundai Azera
Premium Mid-Size Car: Volkswagen Passat
Mid-Size Car: Mercury Milan
Image Compact Car: MINI Cooper
Compact Car: Honda Civic
Sports Car: Chevrolet Corvette
Sporty Car: Acura RSX
LIGHT TRUCKS:
Large Light-Duty Pickup: Nissan Titan
Large Heavy-Duty Pickup : Chevrolet Silverado HD
Sport Utility Truck: Honda Ridgeline
Compact Pickup: Mitsubishi Raider
Luxury Sport Utility: Lincoln Navigator
Large Sport Utility: Nissan Armada
Premium Mid-Size Sport Utility: Mitsubishi Endeavor
Mid-Size Sport Utility: Hyundai Santa Fe
Compact Sport Utility: Suzuki Grand Vitara
Minivan: Honda Odyssey


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2nd Annual Clean-Air Car Showcase

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Ford Motor Company, including Ford and Mercury vehicles, and Volvo Cars were the sponsors of Los Angeles radio station KABC 2nd Annual Clean-Air Car Showcase. Using The Block at Orange in Orange County, California as the venue, KABC, Ford and Volvo attracted Southern Californians interested in their new green offerings. While Ford showed the hybrid Escape and Mariner SUVs, other vehicles on display were almost-as-clean PZEV powered vehicles. Ford also brought its fuel cell Focus down from Sacramento for the day.
I decided to mosey on down to The Block to see what the Showcase was all about. When I got there at about 2PM, the morning haze had burned off and the temperatures were approaching 80. Wow, are these VehicleVoice folks dedicated!
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There were vehicles on static display with folks there to discuss their merits with mall passers-by. After completing an insurance waiver, people who were interested were given the opportunity to drive the vehicle accompanied by Ford and Volvo dealer personnel.
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All of this was designed not only help Ford and Volvo convert lookie-loos into prospects, but also to educate the typical Southern Californian about the merits of clean-air technology. Naturally, the hybrids got most of the attention and a common question was “Where do you plug it in?” Ford has been selling PZEV vehicles in California for several years and is expanding availability of these very, very clean gasoline powered vehicles.
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John Clinard, Ford’s Western Regional Public Relations Manager
The 1st Annual Clean-Air Car Showcase was held in 2005 at the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. Ford Motor Company and Toyota Motor Sales were the principals in the 1st Annual event. As a low-key, relatively low expense event, Ford has found this an effective way to leverage its resources to get the word out to the public.


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Latest Toyota vs. Honda Hybrid Faceoff: Camry vs. Accord In Another Dimension

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Camry Hybrid Launches with $25,900 Price Tag
Toyota has just announced pricing for its latest hybrid, the Camry. Sitting at the heart of the car market, this family sedan has a 187HP four-cylinder hybrid system that offers almost as much power as the launch V6-powered 2002 Camry. For a mere $25,900, one can get a hybrid powertrain and standard equipment including automatic headlights, premium audio, cruise control, Bluetooth, power driver’s seat, sixteen-inch wheels, heated side mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, and an ECO button that further improves fuel economy by controlling the HVAC system in certain situations. It arrives in dealers in May 2006.
This is an issue that VehicleVoice and AutoPacific has been tracking. Will a performance-oriented hybrid be more persuasive than a fuel economy biased hybrid. Honda has adopted the performance strategy with Accord, but not with Civic. Toyota has gone the fuel economy route with its Toyota brand hybrids, but with performance-oriented strategies with its Lexus brand hybrids. Over time, it will be very interesting to see how these differing strategies play out.

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Accord Hybrid Versus Camry Hybrid
Camry launches with a price about $5000 less than Honda‘s Accord hybrid sedan, which uses a V6 and, with 253HP, offers significantly more horsepower. This dramatic difference in horsepower ratings presents an interesting case study. So far, hybrids have been primarily for improving fuel economy, as with the Prius and Civic hybrids, or for getting luxury performance with a smaller hit at the pump, as with the Lexus hybrids. But the Camry and the Accord hybrids go head-to-head in segment and size with slightly different philosophies, giving the market an the opportunity indicate a preference for hybrids with improved overall performance versus for hybrids focused more purely on improved fuel economy.


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Honda Prices 2007 Fit

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New Entry in Dealers April 2006
Honda has just announced pricing for their newest entry, the Fit. This five-door hatchback has been offered in international markets for a few years, and joins the U.S. lineup after an introduction at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2006.
According to AutoPacific, the Fit competes in the Economy Car segment, populated with several other all new or fresh entries. Fit competition includes the Toyota Yaris (all-new for 2007MY), the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent (both all-new for 2006MY), the Chevrolet Aveo (gets a major change for 2007MY), and the Scion xA. While these are all basic transportation entries, the segment itself is poised for some growth over the next few years.

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Though a $12,000 base price point was expected, Honda launches the Fit with a base price of $13,850. The base price gets you the same engine as at any other price point, a 109HP 1.5L DOHC 16v I4, six standard air bags (driver and front passenger, seat-mounted side airbags, and side curtain airbags), and an anti-lock braking system. The standard car gets a five-speed manual transmission, though another $800 gets you a four-speed automatic. The uplevel model is the Sport ($15,170), and it adds a rear roof spoiler, fog lights, keyless remote entry with security, cruise control, upgraded stereo, aluminum alloy wheels, and an aero body kit. Opting for the automatic in the Sport for the same $800 also gets you steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles.
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It will be interesting to see how pricing the Fit at the high end of the segment affects their 60,000-unit annual sales target. Fit slots below the Civic in Honda’s lineup, but in pricing it only $500 below the cheapest Civic, the clear space is not as distinct as it should be. It helps that the Fit is offered in a different bodystyle than Civic and therefore there is no directly comparable model. Civic is offered only in two-door coupe and four-door sedan forms and Fit provides a hatchback, but the Civic offers more standard equipment and a 140HP engine.


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Bricklin's Vision Much More Grand Than Geely

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While Chinese automaker Geely has been seen at the Frankfurt Auto Show and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Chery has been notably absent from the big international auto show scene. Maybe Chery is more cautious with its image; waiting until it has its cars exactly right for the international auto show circuit.
But the contrast in United States distribution plans could not be more dramatic. Malcolm Bricklin is head of Visionary Vehicles the North American distributor of Chery Automobiles. John Harmer is Chief Operating Officer of Geely-USA. Malcolm Bricklin is no John Harmer and John Harmer is no Malcolm Bricklin. Bricklin’s high profile promotion of Visionary Vehicles and Chery Automobiles is night and day different from the low key approach being taken by Geely.
Where Geely would like to dip its toe in a Puerto Rico test market, Bricklin would love to be national immediately.

Visionary Vehicles’ Initial Financing Has Finally Come Through

Bricklin’s original intent was to have the initial investments by dealers in acquiring VV territories cover a substantial investment in a line of mid-size products from Chery. This did not pan out for Bricklin and he went to investment bankers to acquire the cash. You wonder what pound of flesh was required to pull that off, but that’s a story for his book someday.
In February, Bricklin landed $225 million in financing to invest with Chery for product development. Using this capital, Chery will develop the first line of vehicles for Visionary to sell in the USA. This $225 million buys Visionary 40% of the platform which will include a sedan, a sport coupe and a sport utility vehicle. Bricklin describes these vehicles as Audis for the price of Hondas. He wants high style, high quality, reliable cars that can compete head-to-head with the best the Japanese have to offer.


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Geely's Designs on North America

Chinese Manufacturer Looking to Supply U.S. Buyers with Basic Transportation
Geely is the second Chinese automaker to announce plans, however basic, to crack the North American auto market. Last year, Malcolm Bricklin of Visionary Vehicles announced aggressive, and seemingly unrealistic, plans for bringing vehicles from Chinese maker Chery to the States by January 2007 and selling 250,000 units in the first year or so. While Visionary Vehicles cannot be written off just yet, the company will not meet its initial launch targets set out at the 2005 Chicago auto show. By Bricklin’s own admission, Chery-made cars won’t begin arriving on American shores until late 2007 at the earliest.
By comparison, Geely is hoping to sell a modest 25,000 units their first year. Ambitious goals and lofty talk aside, when either company arrives and which is first remains to be seen.
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According to John Harmer, COO of Geely USA, however, being first is not the objective. “We don’t care who’s first. We care that when we do [arrive], we are perceived as worthy,” he told a group of industry analysts and journalists at a meeting of the Society of Automotive Analysts in March 2006. Harmer shed a bit more light on Geely’s intentions at the meeting, where he was one of a three-member panel discussing China’s automotive future, and VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were there to hear it firsthand.


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Asian Makers Expand Capacity in USA

On March 13, 2006 Asian automakers announced almost $1.5 billion in new investments in production capacity in the United States.

Kia Announces West Point, Georgia Plant: The most major announcement was that Kia Motors Corporation is investing $1.2 billion in a 300,000 unit capacity greenfield assembly plant in West Point, Georgia. While Kia did not announce what products it will build in the plant it is known that they have been itching to sell a pickup truck in the American market and, to avoid the 25% chicken tax, a pickup has to be built somewhere in NAFTA. We are guessing this will need to be a two line plant with one line devoted to body-on-frame pickups and SUVs with another line providing unit-body vehicles. Kia has ambitions to sell 800,000 units in total in the United States by 2010 – this plant is central to that objective.

The choice of westernmost Georgia as the site of the plant puts the Kia facility nearby the Hyundai Motor Company assembly plant in Montgomery, Alabama. In this way, Kia and Hyundai can share component suppliers when appropriate. Also, this is great news for Georgia. Georgia is about to lose two large UAW plants near Atlanta – the General Motors’ Doraville, Georgia Minivan plant and the Ford Taurus plant in Hapeville at the end of the runway at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL). While West Point will likely not draw many workers from the Atlanta area to man the Kia plant, Georgia gets 2,500 auto workers to add to its tax revenue base.

Toyota Takes Over Subaru Indiana Automotive Capacity: Ever since Isuzu bailed out of what was then called Subaru Isuzu of America, the SIA plant has been operating well below capacity. When Fuji Heavy Industries/Subaru found its long term relationship with General Motors acquired by Toyota Motor Company, the two companies began looking for ways to cooperate.

Toyota announced today that they would invest $230 million in adding 100,000 units of capacity for the Toyota Camry Premium Mid-Size Car to the SIA plant and increase employment by 1,000 workers. This move gives Toyota cheap capacity to add volume for the best selling passenger car in the United States. Already selling over 400,000 Camrys in the USA, this move gives Toyota the ability to boost Camry sales to over 500,000 units.
Fuji Heavy will continue to assembly Legacy, Legacy Outback and B9 Tribeca models at the SIA plant.

Asians Showing NO MERCY: Both of these moves are big deals. As General Motors and Ford close assembly plants to better match capacity with sales, the Asian manufacturers are becoming more aggressive. Clearly, the Asians are showing no mercy in the face of the domestic industry restructuring.


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Mazda Claims First Crossover

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No, Mazda doesn’t claim that the 2007 CX-7 is the first crossover vehicle, but Mazda can claim they had the first crossover SUV on the market in the USA. After a lunch without alcohol, VehicleVoice has to concede that there may be some feeble validity to their claim.

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1997 Mazda MPV All Sport ES

Struggling with a too-small underpowered MPV back in the mid-1990s, Mazda launched the “All Sport” model replete with contrasting bodycladding, tougher grille, more aggressive front fascia and all wheel drive. The fact that the MPV, unlike all other Minivans, had sedan doors leads Mazda to claim they had the original crossover idea before Toyota launched the RAV4 and Honda launched the CR-V.


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