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1st Gear: Auto Slump In Europe Forces Ford's Hand

I took a look for Forbes at Ford's announcement yesterday that it will close its assembly plant in Genk, Belgium, in its effort to deal with the European auto slump. Ford announced this morning they're also closing plants in Dagenham and Southampton. Ford is facing a $1.5 billion loss in Europe this year, and it plans to use its North American turnaround as a template for fixing Europe. Of course, there are some significant differences, one being that you can't just snap your fingers and shut factories. Even so, the plant closing announcement is a significant step for Ford. The Genk plant builds the Mondeo, Galaxy and S-Max, and the shutdown will eliminate about 4,340 workers. The plant in Southampton employs another 530 people.

2nd Gear: GM And Peugeot Get More Serious
Meanwhile, The Financial Times (sub. required) reports General Motors and Peugeot agreed to team up to develop four kinds of vehicles: a compact van, small multipurpose vehicles, low-CO2 small cars and midsize cars. The agreement needs anti-trust approval in Germany, China, and elsewhere. And the FT brings up a few factors that could cause trouble. First, GM's Chinese partner, SAIC, raised objections because it's developing a small car platform for GM, and doesn't want to see it getting cosy with Peugeot. Second, European workers aren't excited at the thought that the French could build Opels and Germans might be forced to produce French nameplates (See: WWI and WWII.) The companies said they'd fill in the details later.

3rd Gear: VW's New Mid-Sized SUV Will Party In The USA
The Detroit News reports on a move by Volkswagen that will bring a sign of relief to Chattanooga, Tenn. VW plans to build a new mid-size SUV that will be designed with American customers in mind, and will be built in the United States. VW's CEO, Martin Winterkorn, confirmed the news in New York. The new model would be bigger than the $22,995 Tiguan, smaller than the $43,000-plus Touareg, but technically simpler than those vehicles and more affordable. Although there's no final decision on a location, Chattanooga is the leading candidate, since there's plenty of space at the plant site to add on. Winterkorn says that despite the slowdown in Europe, the VW beigekrieg continues. "We remain committed to our ambitious goals for 2012, despite growing headwinds," Winterkorn said.

4th Gear: Hail A Leaf In Virginia
Earth Techling reports that Arlington, Va., may get the nation's first fleet of all-electric taxis, specifically Nissan Leafs. Of course, many places have hybrid taxis, and EV Taxicabs needs county approval, but the county manager has already recommended that EV Taxicabs be allowed to provide 40 of 65 new vehicles that are being authorized for Arlington County. Earth Techling says the Leafs, which would be operated in conjunction with Nissan, would have a "cloud-based" dispatch system, smart phone/Internet reservation system, on-board 4G wireless Internet connectivity and iPads available for passengers to watch videos and also pay with a credit card when the ride is over.

Reverse: Japan's "Divine Wind" Shakes American Troops
On this day in 1944, the first kamikaze attack by Japanese forces in World War II took place. It happened during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, in the Philippines. The first kamikaze force was composed of 24 volunteer pilots from Japan's 201st Navy Air Group. The targets were U.S. escort carriers; one was struck by a A6M Zero fighter and sunk in less than an hour, killing 100 Americans. All told, more than 1,321 Japanese aircraft crash-dived their planes into Allied warships, with 3,000 U.S. and British troops killed as a result. {History]


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