Jeep Compass Getting Its Bearings, We're Losing Confidence, And Chicago Gives In On Food Trucks

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1st Gear: Toyota Could Have Just Stayed Home
Toyota filed its annual report with the SEC yesterday, which gave us a chance to read up on the company's state at the end of the 2012 fiscal year. One set of numbers stood out: if you put Toyota annual sales in Japan and the rest of Asia (including China) together, they're bigger than Toyota sales in North America and Europe. In other words, Toyota is prospering most in its back yard. According to what Toyota told the SEC, its 2012 sales in Japan and Asia were 46.2 percent of what it sold around the world. That trumps the 36.3 percent of sales that came in the two big western economies.

Of course, it's no surprise an Asian carmaker would be big in, well, Asia. But Toyota wouldn't have become the world's biggest carmaker if it hadn't expanded, and in good years, it's earned a ton of money outside Asia. But, according to the numbers, Japan is again Toyota's biggest market, and that's a switch. North America held that position for much of the '00s, when Toyota made its big production push across the Pacific, and its home market fell apart. In 2008, 33.2 percent of Toyota's global sales came from here. Japan briefly took back the crown in 2010, lost it last year, and now holds it again (28.2 percent Japan to 25.2 percent North America).

So, what does that mean? Two things. When Akio Toyoda says he wants to make sure Toyota protects its Japanese market, there's a reason: that's its main base. And, although Toyota has taken steps to break out of its "Japan first" mentality, you can bet there will be push back, given where it sells cars. None of that makes the west less important. But knowing where Toyota sells the most cars helps to understand the investment and management decisions it makes.


2nd Gear: The Car Buyers Who Are Slipping Away
Edmunds offers an interesting analysis of an issue that has to be vexing the car companies. It looks at the people who are not buying cars, and finds that sales to buyers aged 18 to 34 are down by one-third compared with 2007. We've known that younger buyers are putting off purchases, but so is another key group: buyers aged 35 to 44. Sales to that group are down 25 percent. (The data comes from R.L. Polk.)

Edmunds says tight credit is likely keeping some people out of the market. In late 2007, the average buyer's FICO credit score was 743 (out of a possible 850). By the first quarter of 2010, when credit was super hard to get, that rose to 773. Now, the average credit score is falling as lenders ease up. But it's still at 760, which is about where it was in late 2008, as the industry was headed into the recession. Is it a good idea for car companies to loosen the credit spigot? They got in trouble late last decade when too many people defaulted, and nobody wants to see that movie again.



3rd Gear: The Next Jeep Compass Is Out Running Around
Motor Trend reports that it came across the early test mule for the 2014 Jeep crossovers, the Compass and Patriot. The new models are supposed to be based on the Compact U.S. Wide platform, which also is being used for Jeep Liberty, Dodge Avenger and is used for the Dodge Dart, according to Motor Trend. Since Sergio Marchionne has promised that the Liberty will be a "trail-rated, full-blooded Jeep" the magazine theorizes that the Compass and Patriot "could then be more car-like, catering to shoppers more concerned with traveling to the mall than conquering Moab."


4th Gear: Hey, Food Truck! Over Here!
I took a look for Atlantic Cities at the political compromise that's ought to result in more food trucks in Chicago. Of course, it couldn't be as simple as just allowing more food trucks to hit the streets. Nope, under the proposal that will be introduced today by two aldermen and Rahm Emanuel, the city will allow owners to cook on their trucks (they could only serve prepared food until now) but they'll have to park at designated food truck stands. No, you won't get to hail a food truck, jokester.

The locations will be selected by aldermen, which is always a good idea when you want to get votes for something in Chicago. The trucks can stay in one place for two hours, which is a lot better than New Orleans, where they have to move every 30 minutes. Chicago's trucks have to pass health inspections, and someone on the truck has to receive sanitation training from the city (can you say training fee?) Still, it's a big improvement for a city that has fewer than 50 trucks now.



5th Gear: The Economic Stool Is Tipping Over
Reuters reports that consumer confidence dropped for the fourth straight month to its lowest level since January, according to the Conference Board, while there's been an increase in a category called "jobs hard to get." Those two developments are reasons for concern in the auto industry, because, as I've said, car sales depend on jobs, housing and consumer confidence. You need to have strength in all three areas to sustain a recovery. The Conference Board says the numbers lead them to believe there will be "little change in the pace of economic activity in the near term." Or as Scooby-Doo might say, "ruh-roh!"


6th Gear: Random Acts Of Ryan Seacrest
The Detroit News says Ford is teaming up with the ubiquitous Ryan Seacrest in a campaign to introduce the new version of the Fusion. Seacrest will be leading an advertising and social media effort called Random Acts of Fusion, only nobody is quite sure what that means. Free kittens in the trunk? Taking Mom to an early bird special? All will be revealed on Facebook in due time, Ford promises.


GM, BMW End Talks On Fuel Cell Collaboration [Bloomberg]

Mazda MX-5 GT Debuts At Goodwood [NewCarNet]

Ford To Close Philipines Plant This Year [Marketwatch]

Big Dodge Dart Event Today [Chicago Sun-Times]

Appeals Court Upholds Fuel Economy Standards [Detroit News]

Mulally Says GM, Chrysler Bailouts Helped Ford, Too [The Daily Ticker]

Opel Might Built Citroen, Peugeot Cars [Dow Jones]

Today in Automotive History, Farewell Edition

Today, we're bidding goodbye to car stories of the past to make room for a new feature we hope you'll like — because you'll be taking part. More details tomorrow. Meanwhile, on June 27, 1985, Route 66 was decertified as an official highway. Although the road from Chicago to Los Angeles was an icon of American travel and song, the nation's interstate highway system made Route 66 and other local highways obsolete. By 1985, modern four-lane roads had bypassed most of it, and the highway signs were removed. But you can still drive on 85 percent of Route 66 (I've driven much of the stretch in Oklahoma) and it has become a destination for tourists all over the world. Here's one of the shows my friend Nick Spitzer of public radio's American Routes has done on Route 66.


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