Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tesla Shares Soar On First Day of Trading While Market Tanks

Tesla (ticker: TSLA), the electric car maker, sold 13.3 million shares in its initial public offering on June 29th, a fifth more shares and at a higher price than the originally planned.  Offered at $17, above the expected price range of $14 to $16, the stock opened trading at $19 dropped and then raced ahead by 41% to close its first day of trading at $23.89 per share. The IPO raised $226 million. All this on a day when the Dow fell 268 points.

Started by by Pay-Pal co-founder Elon Musk 7 years ago, Tesla came out with its $109,000 Roadster in 2008 and despite the high price tag has sales of over 1,000. I have not driven the Roadster but a good friend who has was blown away by the 3.6 second zero to 60 time and says it compares to the best gas-powered high performance sports cars. (Shown above in September 2009 in Frankfurt.)

 The anticipation is that its $50,000 (after rebates and credits) Model S launching in 2 years could be a big hit based on pre-orders. It's being manufactured in the Fremont, California, New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) plant where the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe were made in a GM-Toyota joint venture. (Tesla Model S shown above in Detroit in January.)

Covering The Auto Industry: An SPJ Event

 (left to right: Mike Michels, Chris Woodyard, Richard Saxton, Jeremy Anwyl, Chris Hosford)

The Society of Professional Journalists - Los Angeles Chapter went up against the NBA Championship Lakers-Celtics' Game 7 on June 17 with an event entitled “Covering the Automotive Industry.” Panelists were Edmunds.com CEO Jeremy Anwyl, Hyundai Motor America Communications VP Chris Hosford, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. VP of External Communications Mike Michels, and USA Today auto writer Chris Woodyard. The panel was moderated by SPJ secretary yours truly.

Anwyl provided attendees with a look at how recent automotive trends from the Edmunds.com data team indicate a possible so-called "double dip recession" because fleet sales have been unusually high due to spending triggered by the federal stimulus package. He warned that when these purchases slow down soon, a sales downturn is inevitable. Many news sources will then report that the Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) has fallen without noting the actual buying behavior that caused the sales decline. Unseasonably high incentive offerings and other unusual offerings that shift consumer psychology also undermine the accuracy of the SAAR, but reporters tend to cover SAAR as a simple black and white picture of industry health – a practice that is often misleading and potentially damaging to consumer confidence. We'll keep a close eye on June sales numbers this week.

Hyundai's Chris Hosford made the point that like cars themselves, the industry is quite complex, so there's rarely a simple answer to issues that may seem basic. He also pointed out that journalists shouldn’t forget the importance of current technologies despite the allure of future technologies.

Toyota's Mike Michels presented the audience of journalists and educators with a list of ten points worth knowing about the auto industry, including “Autos are everyone’s business” -- meaning the auto industry affects the economy in many more ways than the average person – or reporter – may realize. Michels also discussed recalls, and acknowledged that government regulations regarding timing often result in a recall announcement taking place before a fix is determined, causing potential confusion and uncertainty for consumers and dealers.

USA Today's Chris Woodyard, the only writer on the panel, expressed that a critical part of being an automotive writer is taking very complex issues and breaking them down for readers so that they can understand and draw value from those issues. Woodyard who had covered other beats like retail, says automotive reporting brings you much closer to the executives and also provides the widest variety of story choices because cars are involved in almost everything. He cited a stories about going through the contents of trunk of a car to the latest industry trends.

The key message was use the resources available to research your story - from Edmunds.com data compiled from 14 million views per month to those provided by the media reps like Michels and Hosford.

My thanks to Edmunds.com for hosting this event which ended with 4 minutes left in the game so that many of us could dash upstairs to the big screens to see the Lakers capture another NBA title. I'll be sure to schedule the next event when the L.A. Dodgers or Kings are in a crucial  play-off game to bring them luck, too.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

2011 Honda CR-Z Starts At $19,950 In Late August

The all-new 2011 Honda CR-Z sport hybrid coupe is set to debut at dealers on August 24, 2010, with a manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) starting at $19,200, plus a destination and handling charge of $750.

The gasoline-electric hybrid has a 1.5-liter iVTEC 4-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission which works with Honda's Integrated Motor Assist. An automatic Continuously Variable Transmission is available and includes steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual-like gear-ratio control.

A new, exclusive 3-mode drive system allows the driver to configure the vehicle's responsiveness for Sport, Normal or Econ (Economy) driving modes. Driver efficiency tools include Eco Assist™ and Eco Scoring, which together can help drivers find improvements to efficient driving styles, while also comparing economy achievements to previous trips as well as the life of the vehicle.

The CR-Z is available in two equipment grades – the CR-Z (base) and the CR-Z EX. Standard features on the CR-Z include an AM/FM/CD/USB audio system with six speakers, automatic climate control, power windows and door locks, remote entry, cruise control, and more.

The CR-Z EX adds a 360-watt AM/FM/CD high-power audio system with seven speakers – including a subwoofer – Bluetooth® HandsFreeLink®, leather-wrapped steering wheel and more. The CR-Z EX is available with the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System™ with Voice Recognition.

Looks like alot of car for the money.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

2010 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study Results

 The 21 highest-ranked models in the 2010 Initial Quality Study:

Sub-Compact Car: 2010 Hyundai Accent
Compact Car: 2010 Ford Focus
Compact Crossover/SUV: 2010 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Compact Multi Purpose Vehicle: 2010 Scion xB
Compact Sporty Car: 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Entry Premium Car: 2010 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Entry Premium Crossover/SUV: 2010 Acura RDX
Compact Premium Sporty Car: 2010 Volvo C70
Midsize Car: 2010 Honda Accord
Midsize Crossover/SUV: 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour
Midsize Pickup: 2010 Nissan Frontier
Midsize Sporty: 2010 Ford Mustang
Minivan: 2010 Toyota Sienna
Midsize Premium Car: 2010 Lexus GS
Midsize Premium Crossover/SUV: 2010 Lexus GX 460
Large Car: 2010 Ford Taurus
Large Crossover/SUV: 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe
Large Pickup (tie): 2010 Chevrolet Avalanche and 2010 GMC Sierra 1500
Large Premium Car: 2010 Lexus LS 460
Large Premium Crossover/SUV: 2010 Cadillac Escalade

There are 6 Toyota/Lexus/Scion, 4 General Motors, 3 Ford and 3 Honda/Acura vehicles.

This year, consumers were asked to report problems experienced in eight categories:
    * Features/Controls/Displays
    * Exterior
    * Engine/Transmission
    * Interior
    * The Driving Experience
    * Audio/Entertainment/Navigation
    * HVAC (Climate controls)
    * Seats
Over the years, the most frequent types of problems that owners report will vary. In the 2010 Initial Quality Study, for instance, the top five, most-frequently-reported problems are:
    * Excessive wind noise
    * Climate controls are difficult to use/see, or are in a poor location
    * Hands-free communication system does not recognize user voice commands
    * Front audio/entertainment system controls are difficult to use or are in a poor location
    * Materials that scuff or soil easily

The 2010 Initial Quality Study is based on responses from more than 82,000 purchasers and lessees of new
2010 model-year cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles surveyed after 90 days of ownership. The study is based on a 228-question battery designed to provide manufacturers with information to identify problems, to drive product improvement, and to improve initial quality for new-vehicle buyers. The study was fielded between February and May 2010.

Courtesy of JD Power & Associates

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

2011 Volkswagen Jetta Starting At Around $16,000 In October

The all-new 2011 Volkswagen Jetta, at a starting price point of around $16,000, will be available in the U.S. this October. The all-new 2011 Jetta has been completely overhauled, inside and out with its new wheelbase and exterior length significantly bigger than its predecessor. At 182.7-inches long, 57.1 inches tall and 70.1 inches wide, it is more than 3.5 inches longer than its predecessors. The Jetta comes with a 2.0-liter turbodiesel direct injection (TDI) Clean Diesel featuring common rail injection with 236 lbs-ft. of torque.  The engine runs as quietly as a gasoline engine, but yields the power of a sports car achieving 0-60 mph in 8.7 seconds. Additional engines include the 2.0, 2.5 R5, and as of 2011, the 2.0 TSI.  All Jetta engines will be offered with a manual transmission as standard equipment. An automatic transmission will also be available with each engine version as an option.  On the new 2.0-liter TDI and 2.0-liter TSI, Volkswagen will offer the 6-speed DSG – one of the most advanced and efficient automatic transmission systems in the world.  In the U.S., S, SE, SEL and TDI versions of the Jetta will be available, as will a 2.0-liter GLI.

This is big news for VW with Jetta accounting for about half of its U.S. sales and the push to grow its business aggressively.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

General Motors Statement: Chevy vs. Chevrolet - Really!

Today's emotional debate over a poorly worded memo on our use of the Chevrolet brand is a good reminder of how passionately people feel about Chevrolet.  It is a passion we share and one we do not take for granted.

We love Chevy.  In no way are we discouraging customers or fans from using the name.  We deeply appreciate the emotional connections that millions of people have for Chevrolet and its products.

In global markets, we are establishing a significant presence for Chevrolet, and need to move toward a consistent brand name for advertising and marketing purposes.  The memo in question was one step in that process.

We hope people around the world will continue to fall in love with Chevrolets and smile when they call their favorite car, truck or crossover a "Chevy."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Starts at $16,995 In September

The all-new 2011 Chevrolet Cruze will begin arriving in U.S. dealerships this September, starting at $16,995, including destination. This is the long-awaited Opel-based Chevy replacing the Cobalt. GM is betting on the Cruze to attract customers from the popular top-selling Japanese models to carry the brand.

The 2011 Cruze will be offered for retail sale in four models:
The Cruze LS with a 136 horsepower 1.8L Ecotec engine starts at $16,995, and has 10 air bags, StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover sensing, traction control, anti-lock brakes, collapsible pedal system, power rear-door child safety locks and standard OnStar, with a six-month subscription including Turn-by-Turn navigation.
The Cruze LT which starts at $18,895, Cruze Eco at $18,895 and the Cruze LTZ at $22,695 all will have the 138 horsepower 1.4L Ecotec turbo engine that's expected to get 40 miles per gallon highway. The LTZ will have a six-way power driver seat, leather seating surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity, USB port with audio interface, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, remote vehicle start, standard automatic climate control, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, and ultrasonic rear-parking assist.

Available options features on Cruze include in-dash navigation system with 40-gigabyte hard drive, enabling pause-and-play radio, downloading of audio CDs, or transferring MP3 files from a USB memory device, Pioneer Audio system, with nine speakers and 250-watt amplifier, heated leather seats, ultrasonic rear park assist and RS Appearance package, including rocker moldings, unique front and rear fascias, front fog lamps, and rear spoiler.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

2012 Lexus LFA Supercar Starts At $375,000 In December

The all-new 2012 Lexus LFA supercar powered by a new high-revving 552 horsepower 4.8-liter V10 engine has an MSRP of $375,000 (excluding delivery, processing and handling fee). The engine is mated to a six-speed Automated Sequential Gearbox with paddle shifters that enables ultra-quick gear shifts of 0.2 seconds with four driving modes – AUTO, SPORT, NORMAL and WET.

The LFA Lexus performance flagship for the F portfolio accelerates from 0 to 60 in 3.6 seconds and achieves a maximum speed of 202 mph thanks to an independently controlled throttle body for each cylinder, high-volume 12-hole injectors, dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence, low-friction engine components, and equal length exhaust manifolds. All LFAs will be hand-built to customer specifications with production beginning in December 2010. (LFA pictured above at 2010 New York Auto Show)

Ford To End Mercury In 4th Quarter To Focus on Ford & Lincoln Brands

Goodbye Milan, Grand Marquis, Mariner and Mountaineer. Ford will end production of Mercury vehicles in the fourth quarter of this year to fully devote its financial, product development, production and marketing, sales and service resources toward further growing its core Ford brand while enhancing the Lincoln brand.

Ford's release says: Mercury originally was created as a premium offering to Ford and was an important source of incremental sales.  However, the continued strength of the Ford brand – particularly during the past three years – has accelerated the migration from Mercury to Ford for many customers. Today, Mercury's customer profile, pricing and margins are almost identical to Ford, but Mercury's incremental sales have been declining. The majority of current Mercury sales are to fleet buyers and customers purchasing through employee, retiree and friends and family discounts, which Ford anticipates largely can be satisfied by Ford brand vehicles. Of Ford Motor Company's 16 percent market share in the U.S., Mercury accounts for 0.8 percentage points, a level that has been flat or declining for the past several years. 

Ford says the Lincoln brand lineup with seven all-new or significantly refreshed vehicles in the next four years as part of an aggressive growth plan focused on standout product design, class-leading technology and new powertrains – all aimed at competing with Cadillac and Lexus in North America.

"We have made tremendous progress on profitably growing the Ford brand during the past few years.  Now, it is time to do the same for Lincoln," said Mark Fields, Ford's president of The Americas.  "The new Lincoln vehicles will transform luxury for North American premium customers through an unexpected blend of responsive driving enjoyment and warm, inviting comfort. We will also offer our customers a world-class retail experience through a vibrant retail network."

I owned a Mercury Monarch sedan back in the mid-70's with an 8-track tape player and all - nice ride! So my grandkids will have no idea what I'm talking about when I remember my Mercury and Oldsmobile that I once had.

Top 10 Selling Vehicles in 2010 Through May - Ford Leads With 3

1. Ford F-Series                 193,843
2. GM Chevrolet Silverado    135,788
3. Honda Accord                 134,178
4. Toyota Camry                 125,804
5. Toyota Corolla                118,625
6. Honda Civic                    107,127
7. Nissan Altima                    96,195
8. Ford Fusion                      92,763
9. GM Chevrolet Malibu           87,597
10. Ford Escape                    83,440

Manufacturers' reported sales through May 2010

May 2010 U.S. Auto Sales Rise

General Motors' Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands had May 2010 sales of 222,305, a 31.8 percent increase over May 2009. It's the fifth straight month, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac together posted a double digit sales gain. Year-to-date sales for GM's four brands sales are 874,749, a 31 percent increase compared to last year.

Ford, Lincoln  and Mercury sold 192,253 new vehicles in May, a 23 percent increase versus a year ago. Year-to-date sales total 783,845, up 31 percent.

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., reported May sales of 162,813 vehicles, up 6.7 percent over the year-ago month. Year-to-date, sales of Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands are 705,938, up 11.4 percent over the first five months of 2009.

American Honda posted May sales of 117,173 vehicles, an increase of 19.1 percent.  Year-to-date sales of Honda and Acura vehicles is 487,282, an increase of 14.1 percent versus last year.

Chrysler Group LLC reported total U.S. sales for May of 104,819, an increase of 33 percent versus May 2009 making it the second consecutive year-over-year percentage sales improvement, and the first time that monthly sales have topped the 100,000 threshold since March 2009. Year-to-date Chrysler sales are 434,731, an 8 percent increase over last year

Nissan North America reported May 2010 sales of 83,764, an increase of 24.1 percent, compared with May 2009. Year-to-date, Nissan and Infiniti sales are 375,762, up 29.8 percent.

Hyundai Motor America had sales of 49,045 vehicles in May, a 33 percent increase versus May 2009 and an all-time May sales record for Hyundai. Year-to-date, Hyundai sales are up 23 percent compared with 2009.

Kia Motors America announced the best May sales ever of 31,431, a 20.6-percent increase over the same period last year, while surpassing the previous May sales record of 31,047 set in 2008.  Year-to-date sales
are up 14.6 percent.

Volkswagen of America reported May 2010 sales of 23,543, a 20.3 percent increase over May 2009, and its eleventh consecutive month of sales growth. Year-to-date, Volkswagen's sales are 104,961, a 34.6 rise percent versus the same timeframe in 2009.  Separately, Audi of America sold 9,205 luxury cars and SUVs in May 2010, topping the previous May record of 8,788 vehicles sold in May 2007. Through the first five months of this year, Audi has sold 39,839, a 31.4% increase over 2009. 

Subaru of America sold 23,667 vehicles in May 2010, a 35-percent increase over May 2009 sales. Year-to-date sales total 104,359, up 40 percent from the same period last year.

BMW Group in the U.S. (BMW and MINI combined) reported May sales of 22,092 vehicles, down 3.9 percent compared to May 2009.  Year-to-date, the BMW Group total sales of 98,254 is up 5 percent from
the same period last year.

Mazda North American Operations reported May 2010 sales of 22,605, a 35.2 percent jump and through the first half of the year, Mazda sales are 97,481, 12.5 percent more than at the same time last year.

Mercedes-Benz USA reported May sales of 19,176, an increase of 26.7%.  smart USA recorded 695 sales in May bringing the total to 19,871 for both smart and Mercedes-Benz brands. Year-to-date smart
sales are 2,772, down 62.8 percent from May 2009. On a year-to-date basis,  Mercedes-Benz and smart sales are 88,177, up 13.9 percent.

Mitsubishi Motors North America announced May 2010 sales of 4,737, an increase of 8.8 percent compared to May 2009 and for the year Mitsubishi has sold 22,292 vehicles.

American Suzuki May 2010 sales were 1,903, down 26 percent from a year ago. Year-to-date Suzuki sales are 9,514, a 53 percent plummet from the first five months of 2009.

Sales will be updated as manufacturers report.