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Mysterious Jeep Looming, Toyota Sees Consumers Worrying, And Spring Hill Is Blooming

Illustration for article titled Mysterious Jeep Looming, Toyota Sees Consumers Worrying, And Spring Hill Is Blooming
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1st Gear: It's Spring In Spring Hill Again
The Nashville Tennessean reports that General Motors' Spring Hill plant has come back to life, almost two years after it stopped making cars. The first 188 people are back working in the complex's engine plant, making the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Ecotec engine that will be installed on the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. Sometime before the end of the year, GM also is scheduled to start building cars again at Spring Hill, which hasn't made vehicles since 2009. GM says it's going to hire 450 people to make engines, and about 700 to produce the Chevrolet Equinox.

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Many of the jobs will go to some of the 2,000 workers laid off when Spring Hill, the former Saturn plant, shut down. Those folks became GM gypsies, going wherever the company had work for them. One such worker is Don Sowers of Franklin, Tenn., a 27-year GM employee. He was off the job for more than a year, then got a temporary assignment at the GM plant in Arlington, Texas. Then he spent eight months in Lordstown, Ohio, before being called back recently to Spring Hill. He didn't mind Texas, since he's from there, he told the Tennessean. "But it was like a gut punch to get sent to Lordstown," he said. "And it was really hard to be away from my family."


Illustration for article titled Mysterious Jeep Looming, Toyota Sees Consumers Worrying, And Spring Hill Is Blooming

2nd Gear: We're Worried And That's Hurting Car Sales
Forbes reports that Toyota's U.S. CEO, Jim Lentz, is blaming consumer confidence for keeping the auto industry rebound from taking off. Lentz spoke at the Center for Automotive Research in Acme (our favorite dateline), Mich., and gave some interesting insight about the retail market. That's the part of the market that's just dealers selling cars to people, as opposed to companies, government agencies and rental car agencies. Lentz says the retail selling rate has been "stuck, flat lined" at 11.6 million vehicles. That's roughly where it was in December.

The reason, he says, is the consumer confidence piece of auto sales. Remember that sales are tied to three big economic factors: unemployment, housing, and consumer confidence. "Consumers are uncertain about the future and that uncertainty reduces their overall confidence and they really aren't willing to get into long term debt right now," Lentz said. When will things pick up? He thinks the country needs to get through the presidential election. Once people know who'll be president for the next four years, they can make some decisions about buying a car. Actually, once people know they'll have jobs and can pay their bills and put their kids through school, and help their aging parents, and save for retirement — well, you get the point. It's tough for a lot of folks.

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Illustration for article titled Mysterious Jeep Looming, Toyota Sees Consumers Worrying, And Spring Hill Is Blooming
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3rd Gear: Toledo Gets Ready For The Jeep With No Name
Reuters says Chrysler is going to shut down its Toledo North Jeep plant next week so it can start building a new sport utility that's based on a new, joint Chrysler-Fiat platform. The move means the plant no longer will be building the Jeep Liberty. Chrysler is investing $1.7 billion in the factory, adding a second shift and hiring 1,100 workers. The yet-to-be-named Liberty replacement will be based on the the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a car built by Fiat that will also underpin Chrysler's forthcoming car and sedan lineup. Meanwhile, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne may meet with Italy's labor minister to talk about the company's decision to suspend investments in its home market, Reuters says.


Illustration for article titled Mysterious Jeep Looming, Toyota Sees Consumers Worrying, And Spring Hill Is Blooming
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4th Gear: C-Max Energi Wants To Take Down Prius
Inside Line says Ford will roll out the C-Max Energi hybrid in 19 markets this fall, followed by all 50 states in early 2013. And it's clear that Ford is going to take aim at Toyota Prius, and basically ignore the Chevy Volt. In its announcement, Ford said the Energi plug-in hybrid can go as fast as 85 mph on battery power alone. "More than 20 mph higher than Toyota Prius plug-in," Ford said. And on Tuesday, Ford said the Energi beat the Prius V in the fuel economy race. But, isn't it more accurate for the Energi plug-in to be compared with the Prius plug-in? Here's how prices stack up. According to Inside Line, Energi starts at $33,745, including a $795 destination charge. The base 2012 Prius Two starts at $24,760, including a $760 destination charge. The 2012 Volt starts at $39,995, including an $850 destination charge.


Illustration for article titled Mysterious Jeep Looming, Toyota Sees Consumers Worrying, And Spring Hill Is Blooming
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Reverse: A Day That Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford Would Rather Forget
Before there was the Toyota recall uproar, there was Ford Explorer and exploding tires. On Aug. 8, 2000, Bridgestone announced it was recalling 6.5 million of its model ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires; the move comes two days after NHTSA linked hundreds of accidents and at least 46 deaths to problems with the tread on the tires. The recall was the centerpiece of a nasty spat between the tire company and Ford, because many of the tires were installed on the Ford Explorer. Compounding the bad feelings were family ties: Bill Ford, then as now the chairman of the car company, is the son of Martha Firestone, and his great-grandfather, Henry Ford, had been close friends with Harvey Firestone. By the time it was over, the two companies severed their relationship, and more than 13 million tires were recalled. [History]

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DISCUSSION

Oh, Jeep. How you've broken my heart in the past decade.

It all started, ironically enough, with 9/11. Production on the XJ Jeep had finally ended just a few months earlier, and as sad as it was, it was also understandable. The XJ wasn't just old. It was ancient. As lovable as ever, but ancient. New emissions and safety standards, not to mention industry competition, eventually forced the end of the XJ. But you were ready for it. You had been working on its replacement for a while already, and came up with something that actually pretty damn cool, if a little too cute-looking for a Jeep. Whatever, though. The world was ready for the next Cherokee, and you were ready to give it to them.

Then 9/11 hit. From the depths of the tragedy of that day arose a sense of unity amongst Americans on a scale that hasn't been seen since the Revolutionary War, and that hasn't been seen again. For a brief, shining time, we came together as Americans and stood up as Americans. It was well and truly a time of patriotism in the purest sense of the term. But that true patriotism was short-lived, due in no small part to the perhaps overly capitalistic and individualistic age in which it was again born into. We helped each other up, held on to each other, and made sure that we were all okay. As soon as we had even the slightest amount of confidence that we were okay, everything went back to business as usual. We went right back to stabbing each other in the back on the floors of Wall Street and corporations nationwide in pursuit of every last penny, even unto out dying breaths.

In place of the momentary patriotism that we knew that fateful day and the months that followed it came a new, twisted, cynical, extremist, and commercialized form of "patriotism," aimed at getting into people's wallets by leveraging their "patriotism" and making them feel ashamed of not being "patriotic" enough, and thus shaming them into buying a bunch of useless crap that had nothing at all to do with patriotism. We got flag pins as nearly mandatory attire (because flag pins will stop bullets and terrorists), stars-and-stripes underwear (because there is no greater way to honor the flag of your nation than to rub your sweaty crotch up against it all day, every day), and, my personal favorite, "Freedom Fries". We finally succeeded in liberating those diced, deep-fried potatoes from the rule of those crazy French, who must be terrorists because they weren't American, and if they weren't part of us, they were against us.

And at the forefront of it all, in a sadly pathetic irony, was Jeep and their brand-new "Liberty"

Sure, barring the overly-cutesy nature of its looks, the new Liberty was actually an impressive little trucklet well worthy of the Jeep name. It was even worthy of the Jeep Cherokee name. So worthy of the Jeep Cherokee name, in fact, that the rest of the world got it with the Jeep Cherokee name on it. Only in the US was it called the Jeep Liberty. Why, exactly, did you feel the need to re-label it as the Liberty in the US only? If it had been a global change, and all such vehicles worldwide were sold as such, I would understand it. But no, it was a US-market only deal, because you thought you could sell more of them by giving them a cynically "patriotic" name. But, like I said, at least it was still a recognizable Jeep.

But because your cynicism, greed, and marketing irresponsibility knew no bounds, you thought to yourself, "Hey, it sold pretty well! It must have been due to its name, and couldn't have had anything to do with the fact that it was still an off-road capable vehicle in the Jeep tradition. Yeah, it was because of its patriotic name! What happens if we actually name something 'patriot'?"

In your corporate lust for higher and higher profits, you ran around trying to find something to slap the name "Patriot" on to. And what you came up with was a lame, cheap, and under-developed FWD platform meant for a car. Not a truck. Not an off-road vehicle. Not a Jeep. A car. You took it, made it look boxy, added a few Jeep badges on it, and called it the Patriot, expecting it to sell like hot cakes because of its patriotic, all-American name; that ought to have been more than enough to overcome its overall incompetence as a platform and your complete lack of understanding of brand history, right? Wrong. It was, and is, a piece of shit. It's not a Jeep. It never was, and never will be. It, along with its brother, the Compass, were just disgustingly cynical attempts to cash in on the coat tails of not only Jeeps proud and hard-earned history, but also the proud and hard-earned feelings of American patriotism and brotherhood. And they sold like the mediocre pieces of crap that they were.

Now that you've been sold out to three different corporate masters in the space of less than ten years, you finally have the chance to redeem and rebuild yourself. And you're going to take that chance, and try to sell more crossovers cynically badged as Jeeps? Really? "Oh, but it will have a better interior!" I honestly don't doubt that it will. But this is a Jeep. I don't give two shits about what it looks like. I care about what's under its skin. I care that if it's going to leverage the legacy of the original JP and its go-anywhere capabilities to sell, it should make a solid effort to live up to that legacy. There are plenty of brands that can sell us crossovers with nice interiors. Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat, and, eventually (according to you), even Alfa Romeo can all do that. But there is only one Jeep name. One Jeep legacy. Stop treading all over it, and give us actual Jeeps that can tread over almost any terrain. Even the luxury barges that were the Grand Wagoneers had impressive off-road capabilities. Sure, most other brands may have moved to selling crossovers over actually capable vehicles (see Ford Explorer). But that just gives Jeep the brilliant opportunity to be what it's always been famous for: uniquely capable. And if your marketing team can't build something around that, then fire them, because you hired accountants, not marketers.

Respect the Jeep name. Respect the Jeep legacy. Be what no one else can be: uniquely capable.