GM focuses on growing Brazil market

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General Motors Co., a strong player in Brazil for 87 years, is stepping up its game with Fiat and Volkswagen, as it fends off newer contenders in this emerging market.

As South America’s biggest market and the world’s fourth-largest, Brazil is seeing a wave of fresh cars, trucks and manufacturing investment from European and Asian brands, notably Renault, Nissan and Hyundai.

GM is leaning heavily on its extensive research, design and production capabilities in Brazil. It is expanding its product range and spending $450 million to increase output at its plant in neighboring Argentina.

GM ranks third in overall Brazilian sales, close behind Fiat and VW. Each holds about 20 percent of the market, expected to hit 3.8 million units this year. Ford, the other member of the Brazilian Big Four, has about 10 percent.

In South America as a whole, GM has an 18.5 percent share and has led its rivals for 11 years. It outsells other brands in Columbia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela with its Chevrolet nameplate.

The total market size approaches 6 million vehicles annually, which is larger than Japan, notes GM South America President Jaime Ardila.

While GM in the future may import Cadillacs to Brazil to cater to a small but growing luxury car market, for now the focus is very much on Chevrolet. “Chevrolet is considered a local brand by many consumers here,” says Ardila, whose organization includes 2,000 engineers and designers with global responsibility for compact pickups and several emerging-market cars, including the Cobalt, Spin and Onix.

Bentley unleashes $211,000 classy muscle car with lighter V-8

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Driving the new V-8 version of Bentley’s best-selling Continental GT, I could think of only one thing: It’s about time.

The Continental coupe is the “small,” more modern Bentley, and over the years I’ve tested all of its variations: the GTC convertibles, the peppier Speed versions and the Supersports model (which has a $270,000 base sticker price).

They were all powered by versions of the W-12 engine, a big, heavy lump weighing down the front nose.

This new one runs on a 4.0-liter V-8 and, for a Bentley, it feels like a flyweight. It’s as if the world has just fallen from its shoulders and the car is ready for a WeightWatchers sponsorship deal. This is a lighter, freer machine.

And cheaper? Sort of. The V-8 still starts at a boggling $174,000. And my test car came to a wallet-singeing $211,300. Perhaps this is a car meant for medium-worth moguls, not mega ones.

The W-12 engine, both noble and unusual, is central to the company’s character. Bentley proudly proclaims that its Crewe, England-based factory is the largest producer of 12 cylinders in the world. Abandoning the W-12 entirely would be like McDonald’s forgoing its Golden Arches.

Ford puts succession plan in motion

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Ford Motor Co.’s elevation of Mark Fields to chief operating officer cements his position as heir to CEO Alan Mulally after 2014, and that the automaker is confident it has the homegrown talent needed to continue its revival.

The methodical succession plan announced Thursday also suggests stability in the executive suite of a company long known for what Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. called “empire building and back biting.”

With at least 26 months before his retirement, Mulally, 67, will have time to see through his plans to build up Ford’s presence in Asia and shore up its European operations, as well as to mentor Fields.

Thursday’s move also should reassure investors concerned about an abrupt handoff from Mulally, whose vision is largely credited with saving Ford without the bankruptcy and federal bailout required at General Motors and Chrysler.

As chief operating officer, a position that had been vacant since Mulally took over in 2006, Fields gets the opportunity to further prove his mettle. He is 51, and has been Ford’s president of the Americas.

“This appears from the outside to be an elegant solution for a handover period of succession,” said industry analyst Adam Jonas of Morgan Stanley Research.

U.S. truck, car sales up 6.9 percent in October

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Automakers on Thursday reported mixed U.S. sales results for October as Superstorm Sandy put a damper on East Coast vehicle purchases at the month’s end.

Overall, new car and truck sales were up 6.9 percent on volume of 1,092,205 units compared with 1,021,313 a year ago. The impact of high fuel prices was again evident, as car sales increased 13 percent while truck sales edged up 1.6 percent.

General Motors Co.’s sales rose 4.7 percent to 195,764, but the company’s share of the market fell to 17.9 percent from 18.3 percent in 2011. GM said its sales were buoyed by demand for smaller vehicles such as the Chevrolet Cruze and Buick Verano.

The sales impact from Sandy could be in the “thousands” of vehicles, said Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president of U.S. sales operations. He said a “large quantity” of cars and trucks were damaged by the storm, as some dealerships are under water, though the automaker was still working to quantify sales losses and lost vehicles.

“Probably half of our dealers in the state of New Jersey are without power,” McNeil said.

Ford, GM stock prices climb

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Investors are reacting strongly to the latest news from Detroit’s automakers, but not all the reaction has been positive.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. saw their shares soar after reporting third-quarter profits and significant downsizing moves in Europe. But Fiat SpA, the parent company of Chrysler Group LLC, saw its shares tumble after CEO Sergio Marchionne announced that he is doubling down on Europe.

Ford was the big Wall Street winner Wednesday as investors sent the company’s stock price north of $11 for the first time since early May.

The company’s shares closed up 8.24 percent at $11.16.

Ford posted a $2.2 billion third quarter pre-tax profit Tuesday, a week after the company announced a plan to downsize its European operations.

“Ford’s North American auto operations are on track to earn a record $8.5 billion in pretax profit in 2012 and a record margin of 10.7 percent,” said analyst Michael Ward of Sterne Agee in a report released Wednesday. “The combination of cost reduction, revenue enhancement and its strongest product line-up in decades, in our view, have contributed to the strong performance.”

Deal for former GM plant in Pontiac may create 30-50 jobs

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Lapeer-based North American Dismantling Corp. purchased the former Fiero Assembly property on Baldwin Avenue in Pontiac, RACER said Wednesday.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

North American Dismantling Corp. said it has signed a letter of intent with an employer interested in occupying the property after renovations take place. NADC will identify the company once a deal is finalized. NADC said the new development would initially create 30 to 50 new jobs, with potential for expansion.

GM had used the site as a warehouse until 2009; production, however, ended in the 1980s.

RACER (Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response) Trust was established in March 2011 by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to liquidate and clean up “old” GM properties that were abandoned following the automaker’s 2009 bankruptcy.

RACER Trust began efforts last spring with the third-largest industrial portfolio in the U.S. The list included properties in 89 locations in 14 states. There was 44 million square feet of space in 66 buildings, and 7,000 acres. The trust also has the responsibility to lead environmental cleanup on about 60 properties using nearly $500 million and is responsible for some sites sold by “old” GM, or Motors Liquidation Co.

Report: GM plans to hire former Volkswagen China chief as Opel CEO

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General Motors Co. plans to hire Karl-Thomas Neumann, Volkswagen AG’s former head of China, as Opel chief executive officer if contract details can be worked out, a person familiar with the discussions said.

The unit, which hasn’t had a CEO since Karl-Friedrich Stracke was forced out in July, would like to have Neumann in place as soon as possible, said the person, who did not want to be identified because the hiring is not complete. Thomas Sedran, a consultant who joined Opel in April, has been acting CEO since July.

If hired, Neumann will have a key role in GM’s pledge this week to break even in Europe by 2015, where the automaker has lost $17.3 billion since 1999. GM said it will cut $200 million this year and $500 million annually beginning next year. The automaker will eliminate about 2,600 jobs in Europe this year, mostly through early retirement and voluntary separations.

Johan Willems, a Ruesselsheim, Germany-based Opel spokesman, said the company doesn’t comment on personnel issues. Eric Felber, VW spokesman in Wolfsburg, Germany, said Neumann no longer works for Volkswagen and said he had no details of his departure.

Neumann, 51, was passed over in June when Volkswagen appointed a new executive to run China. Neumann previously left Volkswagen in 2004 to join Continental AG. He was ousted as Continental CEO in 2009 in a settlement with the parts maker’s largest investor. He rejoined Volkswagen later that year to run the electric-car unit.

Hyundai mpg restatement impacts nearly 1.1M vehicles

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Hyundai Motors Co. and Kia Motors will reimburse owners of nearly 1.1 million vehicles in North America after admitting they overstated gas mileage claims on vehicle window stickers.

The Detroit News reported early Friday that the issue affected 900,000 vehicles in the United States after an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency turned up discrepancies between the window stickers and EPA testing. The Korean automakers — which share the same parent company — disclosed the issue also impacts 172,000 vehicles in Canada.

The companies will reimburse owners for the overstated fuel efficiency for as long as they own the cars, plus 15 percent. Hyundai said a typical owner of a vehicle in Florida driving 15,000 miles a year could get a $88 refund this year, in addition to future refunds for as long as they own the car.

The bill could easily top $100 million. EPA’s investigation is ongoing; the agency could seek to impose civil penalties over the misstated claims.

The restatement will reduce Hyundai-Kia’s fleetwide average fuel economy from 27 miles per gallon to 26 mpg for the 2012 model year. Individual ratings, depending on the car, will fall anywhere from 1 mpg to 6 mpg. Most vehicles will see combined city-highway efficiency fall by 1 mpg.

13,200 retirees take GM buyout

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General Motors Co. on Wednesday said it spent $3.6 billion on lump sum payouts to about 13,200 eligible U.S. salaried retirees who earlier this year accepted one-time payments over opting to receive monthly pension checks for life.

GM said it offered lump-sum payments to 44,000 retirees, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. The average check that GM cut was just under $273,000.

“A lot of retirees valued having that alternative put in front of them,” GM Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann said in a call Wednesday with analysts. “It was a good deal for them.”

The Detroit-based manufacturer also said it expects to close its transaction this month with Prudential Insurance Co. of America, which is assuming responsibility for U.S. salaried pension obligations.

The automaker is expected to purchase a group annuity contract today and GM’s U.S. salaried retiree pension plan will terminate effective today, according to the filing.

On June 1, the automaker announced it would offer the lump sums to an estimated 42,000 salaried retirees who left GM between Oct. 1, 1997, and Dec. 1, 2011. That deal was part of a broader plan with Prudential that GM had estimated would cut its pension liability by $26 billion.

Trump’s tweet about Jeep riles Chrysler VP

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Chrysler’s vice president for product design Ralph Gilles on Thursday delivered a four-letter comeback for one of Donald Trump’s outlandish comments.

“Obama is a terrible negotiator. He bails out Chrysler and now Chrysler wants to send all Jeep manufacturing to China — and will!” Trump tweeted to his 1.7 million followers at 8:12 a.m. “Why is Obama’s auto bailout now creating jobs in China? He is ruining American industry,” he tweeted.

Chrysler repeatedly has said it has no intention of moving Jeep production to China — merely to add Jeep production there for Chinese buyers.

Gilles responded to Trump, tweeting an expletive: “You are full of …” More than 4,700 people retweeted or favorited the comment. Later, Gilles tweeted: “I apologize for my language, but lies are just that, lies. Thanks for the support People.”

Trump apparently was referring to comments by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who mentioned the same false claim in Toledo last Thursday, citing an erroneous story that claimed Jeep would move all U.S. production to China. The Obama campaign has hammered Romney for the comments.

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