Auto sales suck, the Mustang won't save Flat Rock, and Toyota's new Yaris

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1st Gear: U.S. auto sales may run at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 12.3 million this month, the second-worst pace of the year, according to Edmunds. Shortages of new vehicles in the U.S. because of the March earthquake in Japan may keep the auto-sales pace below 13 million through August, said Lacey Plache, chief economist of California-based Edmunds. The rate may peak this year at 13.7 million units in September and stay above 13 million for the rest of the year as supply recovers, Plache told reporters Wednesday at a briefing in Detroit.

2nd Gear: The Ford Mustang is falling farther behind the Chevrolet Camaro as the top-selling U.S. sports car, jeopardizing a Michigan factory as designers work to win back the hearts of pony car fans. Ford narrowly lost the crown in 2010 after a 24-year run, and the gap widened this year, with General Motors Co.'s revived Camaro outselling Mustang by 33 percent through May. The 1,700-person plant in Flat Rock has just one shift of workers, and its Japanese partner decided last week to pull out. "The Mustang on its current sales pace isn't enough to sustain Flat Rock," said Jeff Schuster, an automotive analyst with researcher J.D. Power & Associates in Troy, Michigan told Bloomberg this morning. "The Camaro has a more modern feel and seems to draw more attention from a younger age group."


3rd Gear: Toyota has revealed the first official pic plus details of the new Toyota Yaris, which now enters its third generation. And that's all we have to say about that.


4th Gear: Mark "The Mullet" Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, will be the celebrity driver in the Focus pace car at Sunday's Heluva Good! 400 Sprint Cup Series NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway. And that's all we have to say about that too.


5th Gear: The production 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid will get two features sussed out by the on-the-point folks at ConsumerSearch. First it will get a selectable EV mode. Second, the production plug-in's battery regeneration capabilities will let you put charge back into the electric-only range. The current Prius PHV prototypes only allow battery regeneration to the same degree as a regular, non-plug-in Prius. Once you run your EV-mode range down to zero, braking, going downhill, etc. will regenerate power as in a standard Prius, but the system can't build your EV-only range back up. So, you know, it'll still be beige and boring. Only now it'll be beige, boring and have two more features we probably won't care very much about.


6th Gear: The new Lotus Esprit will offer a more "authentic" driving experience than the Ferrari 458 Italia and McLaren MP4-12C, according to CEO Dany Bahar. With the new V8 supercar pencilled in for a spring 2013 launch, making it the first of five new Lotuses showcased at last year's Paris motor show to enter production, you know what else it makes it? Not here.


⏎ Next hybrid from Toyota will be big. Really big. [Automotive News]

⏎ Dinnertime — and it's right under the hood! [Detroit News]

⏎ Hyundai Elantra wins another small-car competition. [Wall Street Journal]

⏎ Could Ford make the Transit Connect a people mover? [Automotive News]

⏎ Aston Martin Rapide production cut back. [Autocar]

⏎ Build your "dream" Volkswagen Passat. Yes, Motor Trend calls it that. [Motor Trend]


⏎ Yes, we tried something new for first-sixth shifts up top. What do we think?

Today in Automotive History:

At 9:30 in the morning on this day in 1903, Henry Ford and other prospective stockholders in the Ford Motor Company meet in Detroit to sign the official paperwork required to create a new corporation. Twelve stockholders were listed on the forms, which were signed, notarized and sent to the office of Michigan's secretary of state. The company was officially incorporated the following day, when the secretary of state's office received the articles of association. [History]


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