Nissan Sounds A Note, The Nürburgring Is Broke, And Opel Losing Hope

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1st Gear: Does GM Really Need Opel?
Reuters takes a look at the mess at Opel, and says GM seems to be one step away from giving up on the brand. The company's zig-zagging strategy is wearing out investors and confusing consumers, according to European auto industry analysts. It seems like a long time ago now that German chancellor Angela Merkel brokered a deal that would have put control in the hands of Magna, only to have GM change its mind. Whatever GM comes up with now for a turnaround plan will be the last attempted by CEO Dan Akerson. If it doesn't work, "they will just wind it down if they can't fix it," said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, a professor at the Centre Automotive Research (CAR) in Duisburg, Germany.

Dark clouds just don't seem to be clearing over Opel. The Wall Street Journal reported last night that GM now expects deep losses to continue in Europe, despite earlier hopes of a second-half improvement. In all, GM has lost $16.4 billion in Europe since 1999. Germany's Handelsblatt has a great tidbit this morning, saying Akerson personally fired Opel CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke at Opel headquarters in Russelsheim, Germany last Thursday, after Stracke delivered the bad profits news. (We can only imagine what kind of "special assignments" Akerson is sending Stracke on.) An interim CEO is supposed to be named today.

Opel is a proud company, and I learned so much from its executives, managers and engineers over the years. I never would have driven at 250 kph on the Autobahn, for one thing. It It has to be hard for people inside the company to give up on the European division, which essentially saved GM when it came close to bankruptcy in the early 1990s. But with GM struggling to gain share in the U.S., and with China no longer a place where car companies can skate, the company has to make some difficult choices. Fixing Opel is a multi-year, most likely multi-billion-dollar proposition, and that money, I'm sure some people are arguing, can be spent on other things.


2nd Gear: Think Of What We Don't Need When We Don't Use Gas
The Atlantic Cities has a thought-provoking story that asks, "What will America look like when we're no longer using gas stations?" There are nearly 117,000 filling stations around the country, or one for every 2,500 people, although as Atlantic Cities points out, there's never that many when you are trying to find one. If the country really gets serious about electric and natural gas powered vehicles, that will be a lot of real estate to reuse. And, in some parts of the country, gas stations cover the map like chicken pox on a six year old.

Atlantic Cities raises one intriguing idea: will people really want to charge their vehicles at home in the garage? What if vehicle charging could be made into a communal activity, which would still allow for people to run in and get coffee, beef jerky and Doritos? And there might even be a theme-park opportunity for someone who wants to grow and produce bio-diesel for the kids to see. Be sure to check out all the whimsical sketches. The ideas might be a little tongue in cheek, but the future of an America less dependent on pulling into gas stations is something to ponder.


3rd Gear: Nissan Versa Singing The Same Note
Bloomberg reports on the new version of the Nissan Note, which will be the inspiration for the next Nissan Versa that's sold in the United States. The Note, which will go on sale in Japan in September and Europe in 2013, and Versa are based on the company's global V-platform, but the Versa will embrace features tailored to its markets in North and South America. Meanwhile, Nissan says the 2013 Versa will get 40 mpg.


The new Note, which was unveiled in Yokohama, includes Nissan's advanced Around View Monitor (AVM), the first time it has been offered on a compact car, which Nissan says is meant to "take the stress out of reversing and parallel parking in tight spaces." Note's exterior features a striking character line, known as the 'Squash Line', and an aerodynamic body shape.


4th Gear: What Ralph Lauren Has In Common With Japanese Car Companies
I took a look for Forbes at the uproar over the U.S. Olympic team uniforms that Ralph Lauren is producing at a Chinese factory. It's not hard to hear overtones of the auto industry in the demands that the team's duds be made in the U.S.A. The reason we have so many foreign car plants here now is that back in 1982, the Reagan administration demanded that Japanese car companies agree to voluntary import limits. If they wanted to sell more cars here, they had to build them here. The thinking at the time was that their factories would wind up being organized by the UAW, and Japanese automakers would face the same restrictions that Detroit car companies.

We know how that turned out, and it also seems like a bad idea for members of Congress to be dictating where suppliers of Olympic goods should make their products. Because it's not just opening ceremony uniforms. It's the apparel worn by gymnasts and runners and equestrians, plus sneakers and javelins and everything that goes into everyone's gym bags. Sure, you can say that all should be made in the U.S., but what if the boots you feel most comfortable in, and which will help you win a gold medal, are hand sewn in England? What if you prefer the Nike t-shirt because it wicks moisture, and it's only produced at one Chinese plant? Ralph Lauren actually caved in and agreed to make the 2014 uniforms in the U.S., so that will be a moot point next time. But, there's much more at stake here than berets and blazers.



5th Gear: A Woman Is Only A Woman, But A Chevrolet Is A Shoe
Okay, it's summer, and that's when car companies send out those frothy press releases we know even they are laughing about in the office. Eight years after Sex and the City went off the air, Chevrolet is pairing each of its cars with shoe styles. (Pairing. Get it?) Chevy asked Italian writer and shoe design analyst (yes, that's her title) Andrea Silvuni to describe which shoes its cars resemble. For Corvette, it's stilettos, of course. It's platforms or wedges for the Cruze, ballet slippers or pumps (which happen to be two completely different kinds of shoes) for the Sonic, and flip-flops for the Spark. The poor Equinox is stuck with sneakers. Coming for summer 2013: the discovery that women like pink.


6th Gear: The EU Won't Bail Out The 'Ring
The Save The Nürburgring campaign continues, but things aren't looking good. Rhein-Zeitung (German) is reporting that the EU won't bail out the track, which is heavily in debt. The track will have to be partially or fully sold to cover the huge private investment that was made in the private Nürburgring company and then promptly squandered on a roller coaster that was too dangerous to run and a shopping mall that's almost always empty. If you have plans at the 'Ring this season, have no fear as they say things will continue as normal. After that? It's anyone's guess. Stay tuned to Save The Ring's Facebook page for more info.



Suzuki Death Watch 1 (The Prologue) [The Truth About Cars]

Toyota Makes U.S. Executive Changes [Toyota]

Volkswagen Up! Spotted In India [Team-BHP]

Bomb Threat Closes The Ambassador Bridge [CBC Windsor]

Ford To Cut 440 Jobs In Australia [Reuters]

GM Brazil Workers In A 24-Hour Strike [MarketWatch]

Best And Worst Batmobiles [Vanity Fair]

In keeping with our new discussion system, here's a place for you to own the floor. We're asking each day what you think about an issue that comes up in TMS.


Today, we'd like to know whether GM should keep or ditch Opel. It had a chance to sell it in 2009 and pulled back at the last minute. Is Opel still valuable to GM? Or, given all the headaches, would it be better off finding a buyer again? Remember there's no right answer or wrong answer. It's Neutral.


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