Is The Chinese-Made Buick A Threat To The UAW?

Illustration for article titled Is The Chinese-Made Buick A Threat To The UAW?
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1st Gear: A Veiled Threat?

One of the biggest stories in the industry this week was that General Motors could start producing Buicks in China and then export them to the U.S. for the first time ever. That hasn’t been confirmed yet, Bloomberg posits it could be a move by automakers to dissuade the United Auto Workers union from seeking higher pay as they enter contract negotiations.

“It’s a veiled threat to the workers,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. He said the automakers’ message is: “If you ask for too much, we can take the work out of the U.S. So, give us a reason not to shift more production overseas.”


And it’s not just GM doing this either:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has potential leverage with the future of its Jeep Wrangler. The company’s U.S.-based unit, the former Chrysler, hasn’t committed to keep making the vehicle in Toledo, Ohio, and may consider transferring the work out of the U.S., said Jodi Tinson, a spokeswoman for the company. She declined to comment on the UAW talks.

Ford is actively pursuing vehicles to build in Wayne, Michigan, when the Focus and C-Max move out of that assembly plant in 2018, spokeswoman Kristina Adamski said. While the topic will be discussed during contract talks, “our decision is related to improving competitiveness and investing where it makes the best sense for our business.”

2nd Gear: Toyota Turns To Takata Competitors For Airbag Replacements

As carmakers scramble to replace millions of potentially explosive Takata airbags, it’s like an early Christmas for their competitors. From wire reports:

Toyota Motor Corp., recalling about 12 million vehicles worldwide to replace Takata Corp. airbags, said it may tap three additional suppliers to boost supply of the components.

The automaker is considering using inflators from Autoliv Inc., Daicel Corp. and Nippon Kayaku Co. for replacement air bags, spokeswoman Kayo Doi said by phone. Toyota may use the additional components to supplement supply of inflators from Takata and speed up repairs, she said.


3rd Gear: Phaeton Delayed

Bloomberg reports Volkswagen is delaying production of the revised Volkswagen Phaeton, opting to re-work the big luxury sedan even as it’s pretty much ready to go right now. It was a pet project of now-ousted Chairman Ferdinand Piech, and it may have trouble finding a home in a more pragmatic era for Volkswagen, one where they probably should be more focused on products that will be a hit in the U.S. and China.

Reworking the model would send a signal that Volkswagen is moving on from the Piech era to focus more on profitability. The namesake VW brand generated operating profit equivalent to 2.7 percent of sales in the first half, compared with a 5 percent margin at rival PSA Peugeot Citroen.

Herbert Diess, who previously headed purchasing and development at BMW AG, has been in charge of the VW brand since July. He’s tasked with lifting margins at the automaker’s biggest unit to more than 6 percent by 2018. His ability to turn around projects like the Phaeton will be a key test for one of the candidates to eventually succeed Winterkorn as CEO.


I’m telling you, the era of Weird Volkswagen Group Cars is over. And while that makes sense from a profit standpoint, it makes me a little sad.

4th Gear: Accord Airbags Probed By NHTSA

As if Honda didn’t have enough airbag problems already, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into 384,000 Accords from the 2008 model year, the AP reports:

The agency says it received 19 consumer complaints that the air bag control computer failed.

In one case, a driver was injured in a front crash when the air bags didn’t inflate. Several people complained that the computer had to be replaced to fix the problem.


No recall yet. More information as this develops.

5th Gear: More Apple And Google In Your Car?

Daimler CEO and owner of one of the world’s finest mustaches Dieter Zetsche said in a German magazine that his company is mulling many different types of cooperation with tech titans like Apple and Google, “as carmakers realize next-generation autos cannot be built without greater input from telecoms and software experts.” From Reuters:

His comments echoed those of German rival Volkswagen, (VOWG_p.DE) whose chief executive Martin Winterkorn has urged collaboration with technology firms to make future cars safer and more intelligent.

One option could be for Daimler to build cars as part of a joint venture by using the digital expertise of its U.S. partners, Zetsche said, but added that his comments were “purely theoretical”.


When you think of the Apple Car in this context, things start to make sense. Maybe it’s not an actual car they’re building, but something that will let them learn about cars to become more integrated in vehicles than they are. Just a theory.


Reverse: Nobody Names Their Kid Ransom Anymore

Ransom Eli Olds of Lansing, Michigan, founds Olds Motors Works–which will later become Oldsmobile–on August 21, 1897.


Neutral: What Does VW Need To Be Successful?

I’m going to go ahead and say not another Phaeton, but we’ll see.

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The Gray Adder

Surely the Big Three-ish understand that if they go through with their threat, there won’t be any reason to bail them out next time one of them is about go tits-up.

As for VW, they should return to their core competencies, chief among which was building reliable, inexpensive cars for the masses.