1st Gear: More than 100 former General Motors executives with pensions over $100,000 per year have sued the automaker in federal court to recover pension benefits reduced by up to two-thirds during the automaker's 2009 bankruptcy. The retirees are trying to recoup all benefits, in addition to interest, and have asked the court to order GM to accurately pay future retiree benefits, The Detroit News reported today. According to the lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, retired and former executives suing the automaker include John Middlebrook, former vice president of vehicle brand marketing; Richard Nerod, retired president of GM-Latin America, Africa and Middle East; and Don Hudler, a retired vice president and former head of Saturn. Well, considering that execs can't win a PR battle, and they can't unionize, then why not engage in the next best thing — a group lawsuit. Because that's the American way.
2nd Gear: Toyota, the world's largest carmaker, said fourth-quarter profit fell 77% to the lowest in six quarters after Japan's record earthquake disrupted production and crimped domestic sales. Toyota reported net income of 25.4 billion yen ($314 million) for the three months ended March 31, compared with the 104 billion yen average of four analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg in the past four weeks. Sales fell 12% to 4.64 trillion yen, the company said. The output disruptions will likely cause Toyota to fall behind General Motors and Volkswagen in global sales this year. But, although disruptions may be part of the problem, the other is that consumers just aren't buying Toyota cars. According to Michelle Krebs at AutoObserver, Toyota vehicles averaged 51 days to turn (DTT) in 2011, an increase from 44 DTT in 2010. We can't imagine why.
3rd Gear: We already knew General Motors planned to drop an all-new Chevrolet Corvette in 2013 - but what we didn't know is that Mark Reuss, the automaker's top US executive, is now saying it will be "completely different" from the current C6, again fueling rumors in reporter Paul Eisenstein's mind that it might be mid-engined (despite very clear comments from GM execs otherwise). But, senior executives do acknowledge the current sixth-gen model falls short of the global appeal of rival sports cars from the likes of Ferrari and Porsche. Thus, the goal is to make the new Corvette a truly global competitor when production starts up in 2013, according to Reuss, although exact details are being closely guarded. Adopting a mid-engined layout, rather than the long-running front-engined design, is a strong possibility. Even though it'd be a significant engineering shift for the General, sources say this wouldn't be entirely out of line, as the Corvette has often served as a technological testbed for the carmaker. Chevrolet designers could also revive the split-window styling featured on the 1963 Corvette, today one of the most collectable versions of the two-seater. While I highly doubt we'll see a mid-engined Corvette for 2013, what I do know is that it won't look like this — or the Rossi Sixty-Six up top. But it should, right?
4th Gear: The Detroit News reports this morning that Federal regulators say they won't require annual improvements in automotive fuel efficiency of less than 2% between 2017 and 2025, but have "tentatively concluded" that an annual improvement of 7% is as high as automakers can be expected to reach. In a notice posted Tuesday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it is researching the impact of raising fuel efficiency in the 2% to 7% annual range. Before it sets a requirement, NHTSA must take into account a number of factors, including the costs of the regulation and safety impacts. NHTSA and the Environmental Protection Agency said previously they are working together on 3% to 6% annual increases. So what does that mean in terms of real fuel economy? That would require a fleetwide average of between 47 mpg and 62 mpg for each automaker by 2025. Given pickup trucks are going to have a seriously difficult time surviving those kind of numbers, a new car-based compact-sized El Camino-like truck is making more and more sense.
5th Gear: According to Kicking Tires, Kia is considering a two-seat roadster as a future halo vehicle for the brand. Tom Loveless, Kia's vice president of sales, told a cub reporter at an event today in Southern California that this new vehicle would be designed to turn the company away from highlighting practical vehicles with stylish designs like the quirky Soul. All I'm thinking is, is it just me or does Kia's design language look sorta rodent-like? Seriously — it sorta looks like a rodent laying down, doesn't it? Or am I just forever going to associate hamsters with the Kia brand?
6th Gear: This doesn't have much to do with cars, but whatevs, when has that stopped me in the past? Gov. Rick Snyder came into office this January and immediately announced a plan to cut and cap the nation's most generous film and television industry tax incentives. These same tax incentives helped the state already to bring in hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs. More importantly, the people being hired were only part of the story. The other was that it provided a much needed boost in the state's ability to market itself to a broad audience and build a buzz. Now, the fledgling film infrastructure created by those incentives is crumbling and there are no future major productions being scheduled in the State. The decision by Snyder to strip the Michigan Film Office of its greatest tool was shortsighted — especially considering it's a revenue-generating incentive provided to companies that otherwise would never be investing in Michigan. Hopefully it can be killed this month by the legislature and limit the damage already done and help to fund Gran Torino II: Ford Fights Back. See, I knew I could find something car-related here.
⏎ Ford says there's wealth in weeds. [New York Times Wheels]
⏎ Fastlane starts tuning Ford F-150 EcoBoost V6 [PickupTrucks.com]
⏎ We can, and should, put a million electric cars on the road by 2015. [Popular Science]
⏎ Saab takes one step forward, two steps back. [Automotive News]
⏎ Ford's looking to use Google Prediction API to optimize energy efficiency. [Autoblog]
⏎ Kia Optima hybrid gets a starting MSRP of $26,500. [Green Car Congress]
⏎ Jaguar Land Rover needs to volume to compete with ze Germans. [Detroit News]
Today in Automotive History:
On this day in 1947, the B.F. Goodrich Company of Akron, Ohio, announces it has developed a tubeless tire, a technological innovation that would make automobiles safer and more efficient. [History]
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