GM's on top of the world, Volkswagen's not happy with Obama, and Saab is, well, Saab

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1st Gear: General Motors has reclaimed the title of the world's largest automaker, based on production through the first half of 2011. Thanks to claiming the top sales spot in North America, China and South America, GM built 4.54 million vehicles through June. That compares with 4.13 million cars and trucks at second-ranked Volkswagen and 3.71 million units for earthquake-struck Toyota, including its luxury Lexus marque and affiliates Daihatsu Motor Co. and Hino Motors. Even though Toyota expects its production to ramp rapidly from here forward, analysts say its unlikey Toyota can catch GM this year.

2nd Gear: Volkswagen was one of the few automakers who didn't sign on with President Barack Obama's plan to raise fuel economy standards to an average of 54.5 mpg by 2025. Now a VW exec says the company still wants changes because the plan shifts buyers into larger, less-efficient models and uses math tricks to meet the tougher goals without real-world improvements. VW U.S. chief Johnathan Browning told Ward's Automotive the rules also don't offer any benefits for diesels — a key technology for meeting the standards for VW.


3rd Gear: Saab managed to fend off a bankruptcy threat from a union representing white-collar workers after it paid their wages for July on Friday. The Swedish experiment in death-defying business deals that occasionally builds Saab vehicles on the side says it sold 5 million shares to GEM Global Yield Fund Ltd., giving it a 17 percent stake. Saab is still not building cars, and hopes to restart production by the end of the month.


4th Gear:Honda will recall 1.5 million vehicles in the United States for a software update that could prevent transmission damage for vehicles stuck in mud or snow. Honda says rapidly shifting from park to neutral and drive can damage a bearing, making it harder to engage park. The recall covers certain 2005-10 4-cylinder Accord, 2007-10 CR-V and 2005-08 Element models. There's no reports of injuries or fiery deaths. But still, you know, maybe all that friction could lead to extra heat that causes the fluid to ignite...OK, no fiery death.


5th Gear: The velvet chokehold that BMW, Mercedes and Lexus used to have over buyers of the largest luxury sedans has been broken somewhat by Audi, Jaguar and Porsche, with the three gaining new buyers at the incumbents' expense. According to Polk, the BMW 7-Series, Mercedes S-Class and Lexus LS held 82% of the market five years ago. For the 12 months ending in May, they now hold 68%; with the Audi A8, Jaguar XJ and Porsche Panamera.


6th Gear: Currency markets aren't usually the domain of car geeks, but it's worth noting that Japanese government officials jumped into global markets Thursday to raise the value of the dollar versus the yen in a bid to help its auto industry. Major Japanese automakers say they need an exchange rate of 80 yen to the dollar, a level the yen hadn't been at for much of July until Japan intervened. Toyota says that every one-yen increase against the dollar cuts its annual profits by $400 million. Several automakers, including Mitsubishi, say the Japanese government should do more to help the industry.


⏎ Can you spot what's wrong with this Tiguan? [Straightline]

⏎ How to buy a car with 661 lbs. of coins. Only in China. [China Car Times]

⏎ Federal debt deal threatens spending in energy research. [MIT Technology Review]


⏎ Zagato going after Colorado knock-off firm. [Car&Driver]

⏎ World's most fuel-efficient couple saves gas, emits smug. [DriveOn/USA Today]

Today in Automotive History:

The world's first electric traffic signal is put into place on the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street in Cleveland, Ohio, on this day in 1914.


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