Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chevy Volt Powered With New Technology

The new Chevy Volt is due to hit the market around 2010. The Volt is going to run on electric. General Motors takes a huge leap as they allow the future owner of the Chevy Volt to charge their batteries any time and anywhere.

The new Chevy Volt is going to be empowered with the OnStar technology. Though it is going to be used for the first time in a Chevy, the technology itself is about ten years old. The technology will be helping future Chevy owners a lot as they would be able to charge their vehicles at different times for different utilities. This would also enable them to enjoy the benefits of charging their vehicles at off-peak hours, which would mean that they will have to pay a far lower rate for the services.

The implementation of the OnStar technology is described by the spokespersons of General Motors as a regular check up by the doctor. OnStar takes care of the battery and the temperature. It also takes the cooling system into consideration. Apart from using the OnStar technology for the battery, General Motors is also looking into several other matters. For instance, it is trying to figure out which would be the places from where the owners would prefer to charge their vehicles while they are on the move.

The OnStar technology is still in the testing stage. Important information is constantly being fed to the engineers all the time. Several Volt vehicles are being prepared to take the test against a crash wall, in which a number of them might be destroyed.

Mercedes open to CNG E-Class imports

Mercedes Benz India is ready to deliver the CNG variant of its E-Class sedan to customers who need them, said Dr Wilfried Aulbur, Managing Director.

“We have a CNG variant and will import it based on demand,” he told Business Line on the sidelines of the launch of the new E-Class here on Sunday.

The downside is that the imported car will attract 104 per cent duty, which will mean that it will be twice as much the latest edition of the E-Class (petrol) that costs Rs 45.89 lakh (ex-showroom Mumbai). The fact that CNG is largely retailed in Delhi and Mumbai also means that the market will be confined to these two cities.

Dr Aulbur said the company would consider assembly of the CNG version if there was adequate demand. The petrol Merc models are E-25 (25 per cent mix of ethanol) compliant while the diesel options can operate on bio-diesel.

Mercedes had earlier conducted a trial run of the CNG-E Class in India. The mileage of the car is estimated to be 18 km a kg. As for the bus business, Dr Aulbur said private operators were not too enthusiastic about buying intercity luxury coaches due to the swine flu outbreak which hit occupancy rates. The company has sold 25 buses so far this year. Incidentally, Mercedes-Benz India opened a new dealership in Jalandhar on Monday.

BMW rolls out sports car Z4 at Rs 59 lakh

German luxury car maker BMW launched sports car Z4 in India, priced at Rs 59 lakh (ex-showroom), that the company aims to sell about 30-40 units in the next three months of the year. For the current year, across all its models, BMW aims to sell over 3,000 units. Till September, the company has sold 2,738 units, BMW India president Peter Kronschnabl told at a media conference. In 2008, the German luxury car maker had sold 2,908 units in India.

Kronschnabl added that BMW was trying to strengthen its position in the Indian luxury car segment. He was talking to the media at the launch of Z4, its two-seater sports-car powered by a 2,979 cc petrol engine. The launch is part of the company's move to strengthen its position in the Indian luxury car segment.

"With the new BMW Z4 car we want to reach out to new target groups in India who appreciate a pure driving experience, high standard of elegance and value, and suitability for everyday driving and comfort," Kronschnabl said.

BMW is currently competing neck-to-neck with rival German luxury car maker Mercedes-Benz for the top slot in the Indian luxury-car market. During the first eight months of 2009, BMW had sold 2,305 units as against 2,026 units sold by Mercedes. The company's bulk of sales come from its two luxury sedans- the 3-series and 5-series, both currently being assembled at its Chennai plant.

Mercedes-Benz India to launch three-axle trucks

Mercedes-Benz India is slated to launch three-axle trucks in the next six months to a year. That will will be followed by launching of city buses. Talking to reporters at the launch of New Actros 4841K in Kolkata on Friday, Mr Wilfried Aulbur, managing director & CEO, Mercedes-Benz India said: "We’ve just launched two-axle trucks in India. Trial tests for three-axle trucks are already on and we hope to launch it in the next six months to a year."

Nevertheless, the company hopes to sell about 240 trucks in India during 2009, which is tipped to translate in Rs 145 crore revenue for the company's trucks business. During 2008, the company sold the same number of trucks. It now feels the market will improve only in 2010 when a growth a likely to be witnessed in the truck segment.

Mercedes-Benz is banking on growth in the coal mining segment, where its trucks are being used mainly for over-burden removal – the soil that needs to be removed for extracting coal. Talking about the buses segment, Mr Aulber said: "The economic recession and swine-flu has hit the city buses sector very hard -- the one in which we operate. The private market is very dull. This has forced us to shift focus to state transport agencies and we have started talks with various state governments."

Interestingly, Merc is also looking at a sizeable opportunity across the fire departments of various states and the defence sector. "We have already sold a few trucks to a fire department in Mumbai and are looking at opportunities in the defence sector. The Merc stable offers vehicles that are suited for the defence sector and are in use by some governments. These could be a possibility in India," said Mr Aulbur. In India, the commercial vehicle segment offers about 15% of the total revenue to Mercedes-Benz India while it is 40% globally.

Test Driving the Electric Ford Focus

At a press event in San Francisco, Ford showed off a prototype of what might be called the Model T of the automaker’s electric car strategy: the battery-powered Focus sedan.

“This is about affordable transportation for the masses — this is not about a small niche,” said Nancy Gioia, Ford’s director of global electrification.

To keep costs down, the Ford Focus and plug-in electric hybrids will be built — in small numbers at first — on what the company calls its global “C” platform, which produces two million cars a year.

“The assembly line in Michigan will produce the battery-electric Focus and also, with minor modifications, the gas Focus,” Ms. Gioia said. “We can change production as the market shifts.”

The Ford Focus will hit the market in 2011 followed the next year by a plug-in electric Escape sport-utility vehicle, which Ford also showed off in San Francisco. Ms. Gioia said she expects electric and plug-in hybrids will account for 10 to 25 percent of the market by 2020.

But the cars seemed almost beside the point as Ford executives focused on their strategy to work with utilities and other groups to create open standards for electric cars and ensure that a charging infrastructure is in place when buyers hit showrooms.

“The worst thing in the world is if a customer buys one of these things and they run into barrier after barrier,” Ms. Gioia said. “If you go to a dealer and get one of these cars and then it takes 45 days to get a charger installed at your house, you’re not going to be a happy camper.”

She noted the there are some 3,000 utilities in the United States in contrast to just a couple in China, where she recently returned from a visit to the country’s five largest cities. Even though China is moving fast to build an electric car industry, she said each city was developing a different electric charging infrastructure.

In laying out their plans, the Ford executives brought a dose of Midwestern realism to California, home to exotic electric carmakers like Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive.

“We have to create customer demand based on realistic expectations,” Ms. Gioia said. “We don’t want to hype this.”

In fact, Ford has engineered the battery-powered Focus to mimic the driving experience of the gasoline version.

As I drove a blue prototype around the streets of San Francisco, I was hard-pressed to distinguish the car from one I recently rented at an airport. It was quiet, of course, but that burst of acceleration you get from punching the accelerator of an electric car has been moderated.

The Ford executive sitting shotgun told me that software limits the amount of power instantaneously transferred to the wheels so that the car will perform more like its gasoline-powered cousin.

The production electric Ford Focus, which will be powered by lithium ion battery packs, will be based on the more stylish European version of the car. The Focus will have a range of about 100 miles and a top speed of around 90 miles an hour.

Ford has not announced a price for the car.

Higher sales, margins to boost auto earnings

Higher passenger car sales in the quarter ended September is likely to boost Maruti Suzuki India earnings, while Tata Motors will benefit from a recovery in truck sales, say analysts.

India's top carmaker Maruti Suzuki is likely to report an 86 percent rise in quarterly profit to 5.5 billion rupees from a year earlier driven by higher compact car sales, especially exports of its A-Star hatchback.

The automaker, 54.2 percent owned by Japan's Suzuki Motor Corp, also benefited from the scrappage incentives in Europe.

"Domestic volumes continue to be driven by A2 segment (Ritz, A-Star, Alto, Swift)...", brokerage firm Motilal Oswal Securities noted in a report.

During the second quarter, Maruti's domestic sales rose 22.5 percent to 209,083 units, while exports more than doubled to 37,105 units, data from the company showed.

As the company is operating close to its peak production capacity, analysts say its growth prospects are limited. The automaker's installed capacity is about 1 million cars a month, of which it currently produces 85,000-90,000.

"Key concerns arise from (Maruti's) lack of capacity to meet the rising demand," Emkay Global Financial Services noted in a pre-earnings report.

In the July-September quarter, Tata Motors' passenger vehicles sales rose 27 percent, while it saw around 22 percent jump in truck sales, company data showed. Turnover of its light commercial vehicles powered ahead, unlike its high-margin heavy trucks.

Passenger car sales of Tata Motors, India's largest truck maker, were boosted by the launch of its Indica Vista and deliveries of Nano, the world's cheapest car, from July, even though its higher-end Indigo sedan sales declined.

According to Motilal Oswal, a pick up in heavy truck sales as the Indian economic conditions improve would bolster the company's future performance.

Tata Motors' net profit is seen rising by nearly a fourth in the September quarter to 4.3 billion rupees.

Brokerage Edelweiss said higher interest and depreciation costs are a cause of concern and could negate the benefits of better operating margins.

While the overall outlook was favourable, higher interest rates and commodity prices and a likely rise in excise duty could negatively impact the firm's profit margins, Edelweiss noted.

Tata's second-quarter earnings would not include that of Jaguar and Land Rover, acquired from Ford Motor last year.

Analysts said interest costs from its huge debt burden would also weigh on the company.

Earlier this month, the company raised $750 million through a combined issue of Global Depositary Receipts and convertible bonds, to repay its debt which stood at 240 billion rupees ($5.2 billion) at the end of June.

In the first quarter ended June, Tata Motors' net profit rose 58 percent to 5.14 billion rupees, while Maruti reported a better-than-expected 25 percent jump in net profit to 5.84 billion rupees.

Shares in Maruti, worth $9.4 billion, have risen 59.5 percent during the September quarter, outperforming the main index which has risen 19.4 percent.

Tata Motors' shares, valued at $6.1 billion, have more than doubled during the second quarter.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Onward to a hybrid future at Toyota

Three in 10 cars sold by Toyota Motor a decade from now will be low-emission, petrol-electric hybrids, a top executive at the Japanese carmaker said yesterday.

Toyota, the leader in hybrids with its trendsetting Prius, has vowed to build petrol-electric versions of all its vehicles by 2020, but it had not previously said how many of the vehicles it expected to sell.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota executive vice-president in charge of product development, disclosed the estimate at the start of the Tokyo Motor Show.

Toyota and others are showing off a range of low-emission vehicles intended to appeal beyond their familiar niche of environmentally conscious mid-range buyers.

In contrast to his bullish view on hybrids, Mr Uchiyamada said he did not expect pure electric cars - which are being heavily promoted at the Tokyo show by rival Nissan Motor - to catch on in the next few years.

He cited high production costs and a lack of infrastructure for recharging the relatively short-range vehicles.

Carlos Ghosn, Nissan chief executive, has said pure electrics such as his company's recently developed Leaf five-door are likely to make up 10 per cent of industry-wide sales by 2020.

Mr Uchiyamada said: "We don't think electric vehicles will spread that fast."

For Toyota, the Prius and other hybrids represent about 8 per cent of sales, by far the largest proportion in the industry.

The carmaker has sold 2m hybrids since it launched the Prius in 1997, a number that would be easily eclipsed each year if sales reached 30 per cent of its overall turnover.

At the Tokyo car show, Toyota is highlighting a larger, more upmarket version of the Prius, called the Sai, which it plans to begin selling in Japan in December, as well as its sporty Lexus LF-Ch hybrid five-door.

Honda, Japan's largest producer after Toyota, is also stretching the hybrid genre with a version of its CR-Z hybrid sports coupé, which it plans to begin selling in the US next year.

The Tokyo show is an almost all-Japanese affair this year after US and European carmakers pulled out to save money amid the downturn.

Foreign carmakers control less than a tenth of the Japanese market, making the show an easy target for cost-cutting managers.

Observers said that even the Japanese contingent seemed to have toned down the usual line-up of abstract, futuristic offerings that have made the event a showcase for designers' whims.

Ray Wert, editor of Jalopnik, the US-based motor blog, said: "I miss concepts for concepts' sake, but no one can afford to do that any more."

The show nonetheless highlighted the sharp differences that exist between carmakers over the expected pace of the adoption of technologies, particularly those for reducing output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

While big carmakers are researching a range of low-emission drives, from "plug-in" hybrids to pure electrics to hydrogen fuel cells, they have varied in the investments they have put into commercialising those systems in the next few years. Toyota, for example, is showing a tiny pure electric urban commuter, the FT-EV II, which it plans to start selling in 2012.

But Mr Uchiyamada said that probably only "a few thousand" would be made annually at first.

Nissan, by contrast, hopes to be producing 200,000 Leafs a year by then.

Not all the offerings in Tokyo were defined by pragmatism and ecological virtue. Lexus unveiled the LF-A, a two-seat supercar priced at $375,000 whose 4.8-litre engine can blast-fire it to speeds of up to 325kph. Toyota began taking orders yesterday for the 500 units it says it will produce between December next year and 2012.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Audi car sales set to overtake Mercedes

German carmaker Audi is set to sell more vehicles worldwide than luxury rival Mercedes for the first time ever next year.

The University of Duisburg's Centre of Automotive Research forecast mighty Mercedes will fall to third place after BMW and Audi, which is owned by Volkswagen, amid surging demand for fancy German cars in China.

Ferdinand Dudenhoffer, the director of the university's centre, said Audi’s better market share in the fast-growing Asian country would allow it to overtake Daimler’s Mercedes brand for sales in 2010.

"While Mercedes will remain the German market leader in the premium segment with slightly fewer than 260,000 sold vehicles, Mercedes lead will melt by nearly 20,000 cars," the study said, pointing to Audi's increasing advantages in pricing and productivity.

The biggest factor weighing on Mercedes car sales appears to be that its cars are more expensive than Audi's.

Audi is able to keep its costs lower through its ties to Volkswagen, which means it can use components and car platforms made for several VW models. The study also calculated that Mercedes could eliminate around 17,000 positions if its car workers had the same level of productivity found at Audi plants.

"Mercedes has far too many workers and does too much on its own," said Dudenhoffer.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tata Motors set to launch Rs5.5-lakh 'Manza'

Tata Motors Ltd, the maker of the world's cheapest car, ' Nano', is all set to launch the cheapest luxury car - the Tata Manza. A re-designed version of the company's Indica Vista, it's been launched on 14 October, just ahead of the Diwali buying season.

The Tata Manza carries a price tag of Rs5.5 lakh to Rs7.5 lakh, depending on the model and trimmings. In order to ensure an exciting launch, the company has initiated a contest, which would give the participants an opportunity to own a Manza for a day - not self-driven, of course, but with a company provided 'chauffeur'. Lesser winners will be given gift vouchers.

The Tata Manza is touted as a 'luxurious, comfortable car' with a spacious cabin, alloy wheels and steering-mounted audio controls similar to the Vista. The dickey or 'boot' is merged in the overall shape, rather than as a standout space as in the Vista model. The car will also feature alloy wheels, adding to rider comfort.

The engine is sourced from Italy's Fiat, and will come in two options -1.4L petrol engine capable of delivering 95PS and a 1.3L multi-jet engine that pumps out 90PS, according to a company release. Projector headlamps will help differentiate it from the Vista.

The car is expected to compete with Maruti Suzuki's Swift Dzire, Ford's Ikon and Fiesta, and Mahindra Renault's Logan.

Hummer Sale Finalized

General Motors has signed a "definitive agreement" with Sichuan-based Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company to buy GM's Hummer brand, as the deal first announced last June finally moves toward a conclusion. While financial terms were not disclosed, widespread media reports said Tengzhong will pay about $150 million.

GM's carefully worded statement said the agreement "will allow Tengzhong to acquire" Hummer, including ownership of the brand, trademark and "specific IP (intellectual property) license rights necessary for the manufacture of Hummer vehicles." The new owner would also assume Hummer's existing dealer franchise agreements.

In fact, it appears that Hummer eventually may be controlled by a young Chinese mining and chemical tycoon known as Li Yan on the mainland and Suo Lang Duo Ji in Hong Kong.

GM said Tengzhong, a privately owned manufacturer of mining and construction equipment, has set up a separate investment group to purchase Hummer. Tengzhong will hold an 80-percent stake in the group and Mr. Suo will hold 20 percent. GM described Suo Lang Duo Ji as a "private entrepreneur from Sichuan Province."

The Wall Street Journal described the 46-year-old Li, as he is better known in China, as a "local tycoon" who owns Lumena Resources, a company based in Sichuan and listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Lumena is the world's second largest producer of thenardite, a form of sodium sulfate that is used in laundry detergent and glass, as well as Chinese medicines.

The Standard newspaper in Hong Kong earlier this year said Li is "a key shareholder" of Tengzhong through his flagship company Huatong Investment. The Associated Press said Li maintains a luxury apartment in Hong Kong.

Tengzhong, which was formed in 2005, makes heavy industrial vehicles, such as fuel tankers, dump trucks, tow trucks, fire trucks and cement mixers, as well as oil-field and construction equipment.

GM said the deal with Tengzhong calls for contract assembly of the Hummer H2 and H3 to remain in the U.S. through June 2011, with a one-year option through June 2012. The existing Hummer management team at GM, including CEO James Taylor, will continue to manage the organization through the transition.

GM said it is certifying a new diesel version of the H3 for markets outside North America, and that future product development is focusing on six-speed transmissions, more efficient engines and alternative fuels.

Car Sales in India Rise

In India the onslaught of several festivals and mitigation cost of a loan that led customers to purchase cars from Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, Hyundai Motor and General Motors Co. caused car sales to rise 21%.

It was shown that car sales in the past month increased up to 129,683 cars. It is considered to be the eight month that indicates a straight growth in car sales.

Because of high interest rates many banks are not happy to provide loans in order to buy a car in a slow economy. But such options as packages, including tax cuts lowering of loan rates by banks are advantages for those who intend to buy a new car.

Hindu festivals also influenced favorable on sales in September.

According to Vaishali Jajoo, analyst at Angel Broking Ltd, a sustained improvement in demand influenced on the overall upturn in the Indian auto sector. He also added that the economy recovery would be able to help in registering valuable growth in the domestic market.

Maruti, India’s biggest carmaker and local unit of Suzuki Motor Corp admitted that their sales rose 12% in comparison with September to 63,071 cars.

13 well-known carmakers such as BMW AG, Audi AG, Fiat SpA, Ford Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co stated about high India sales in September.
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