This is the Morning Shift, our one-stop daily roundup of all the auto news that's actually important — all in one place at 9:00 AM. Or, you could spend all day waiting for other sites to parcel it out to you one story at a time. Isn't your time more important?
1st Gear: It's Spring In Spring Hill Again
The Nashville Tennessean reports that General Motors' Spring Hill plant has come back to life, almost two years after it stopped making cars. The first 188 people are back working in the complex's engine plant, making the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Ecotec engine that will be installed on the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. Sometime before the end of the year, GM also is scheduled to start building cars again at Spring Hill, which hasn't made vehicles since 2009. GM says it's going to hire 450 people to make engines, and about 700 to produce the Chevrolet Equinox.
Many of the jobs will go to some of the 2,000 workers laid off when Spring Hill, the former Saturn plant, shut down. Those folks became GM gypsies, going wherever the company had work for them. One such worker is Don Sowers of Franklin, Tenn., a 27-year GM employee. He was off the job for more than a year, then got a temporary assignment at the GM plant in Arlington, Texas. Then he spent eight months in Lordstown, Ohio, before being called back recently to Spring Hill. He didn't mind Texas, since he's from there, he told the Tennessean. "But it was like a gut punch to get sent to Lordstown," he said. "And it was really hard to be away from my family."
2nd Gear: We're Worried And That's Hurting Car Sales
Forbes reports that Toyota's U.S. CEO, Jim Lentz, is blaming consumer confidence for keeping the auto industry rebound from taking off. Lentz spoke at the Center for Automotive Research in Acme (our favorite dateline), Mich., and gave some interesting insight about the retail market. That's the part of the market that's just dealers selling cars to people, as opposed to companies, government agencies and rental car agencies. Lentz says the retail selling rate has been "stuck, flat lined" at 11.6 million vehicles. That's roughly where it was in December.
The reason, he says, is the consumer confidence piece of auto sales. Remember that sales are tied to three big economic factors: unemployment, housing, and consumer confidence. "Consumers are uncertain about the future and that uncertainty reduces their overall confidence and they really aren't willing to get into long term debt right now," Lentz said. When will things pick up? He thinks the country needs to get through the presidential election. Once people know who'll be president for the next four years, they can make some decisions about buying a car. Actually, once people know they'll have jobs and can pay their bills and put their kids through school, and help their aging parents, and save for retirement — well, you get the point. It's tough for a lot of folks.
3rd Gear: Toledo Gets Ready For The Jeep With No Name
Reuters says Chrysler is going to shut down its Toledo North Jeep plant next week so it can start building a new sport utility that's based on a new, joint Chrysler-Fiat platform. The move means the plant no longer will be building the Jeep Liberty. Chrysler is investing $1.7 billion in the factory, adding a second shift and hiring 1,100 workers. The yet-to-be-named Liberty replacement will be based on the the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a car built by Fiat that will also underpin Chrysler's forthcoming car and sedan lineup. Meanwhile, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne may meet with Italy's labor minister to talk about the company's decision to suspend investments in its home market, Reuters says.
4th Gear: C-Max Energi Wants To Take Down Prius
Inside Line says Ford will roll out the C-Max Energi hybrid in 19 markets this fall, followed by all 50 states in early 2013. And it's clear that Ford is going to take aim at Toyota Prius, and basically ignore the Chevy Volt. In its announcement, Ford said the Energi plug-in hybrid can go as fast as 85 mph on battery power alone. "More than 20 mph higher than Toyota Prius plug-in," Ford said. And on Tuesday, Ford said the Energi beat the Prius V in the fuel economy race. But, isn't it more accurate for the Energi plug-in to be compared with the Prius plug-in? Here's how prices stack up. According to Inside Line, Energi starts at $33,745, including a $795 destination charge. The base 2012 Prius Two starts at $24,760, including a $760 destination charge. The 2012 Volt starts at $39,995, including an $850 destination charge.
Reverse: A Day That Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford Would Rather Forget
Before there was the Toyota recall uproar, there was Ford Explorer and exploding tires. On Aug. 8, 2000, Bridgestone announced it was recalling 6.5 million of its model ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires; the move comes two days after NHTSA linked hundreds of accidents and at least 46 deaths to problems with the tread on the tires. The recall was the centerpiece of a nasty spat between the tire company and Ford, because many of the tires were installed on the Ford Explorer. Compounding the bad feelings were family ties: Bill Ford, then as now the chairman of the car company, is the son of Martha Firestone, and his great-grandfather, Henry Ford, had been close friends with Harvey Firestone. By the time it was over, the two companies severed their relationship, and more than 13 million tires were recalled. [History]
In keeping with our new discussion system, here's a place for you to own the floor. We're asking each day what you think about an issue that comes up in TMS.
Today, we'd like to know what it would take for you to buy a plug-in hybrid. Some of you will say, "I'd rather die first" but there might be some people interested in them. Thoughts on what you'd need to see before you'd take one home? Remember there's no right answer or wrong answer. It's Neutral.