Chevy’s Spark coming to U.S.

After going back and forth for quite some time GM has decided to add some “Spark” into the U.S car market with an A segment entry. With gas prices being so unpredictable this is a good insurance policy in case prices spike again.

From Left Lane News.com:

The Chevy Spark will enter the US and fill a role in the Chevy lineup that is not currently filled with any model – the A-segment. Currently, Chevy’s smallest offering is the B-segment Chevy Aveo.

Like most automakers in the US, Chevy’s reason for not offering an A-segment vehicle in the recent past was likely due to the fact that prior to recent market changes, the segment had little appeal to Americans.

Recent market studies by several auto manufacturers however show that Americans are trending towards smaller vehicles – possibly bucking the trend of all Americans thinking “bigger is better” when it comes to purchasing vehicles.

Read the rest of the article here.

  

GM starts to ramp up production

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The cash for clunkers program continues to have positive effects, as GM is now increasing production to meet the new demand.

With its Chevrolet Cobalt in demand because of the federal “cash for clunkers” rebate program, General Motors said today it would restart the second shift at its Lordstown plant early next month.

More than 1,000 people will return to work, bringing employment at the plant to about 3,300. The news comes just in time for some laid-off workers who were about to see their benefits reduced.

“It’s a huge relief,” United Auto Workers Local 1112 President Jim Graham said. “We’ve know for some time that this would happen. We just didn’t know when it was coming back.”

GM executives said they had to restart the shift at Lordstown, where the Cobalt is assembled, and add production at other plants because the automaker was running out of cars. The clunkers program, which offers up to $4,500 to people who trade older gas-guzzlers for new, more fuel-efficient models, had left some dealers short of cars. The program is expected to end around Labor Day.

The increased production is not limited to Lordstown.

In addition to the new shift at Lordstown, GM is restarting a shift at the Canadian plant that builds the Chevrolet Equinox, a five-passenger crossover that can get 32 miles per gallon on the highway, said Tim Lee, GM’s vice president for manufacturing.

He added that demand for GM’s small pickups and its HHR wagon are also up, so GM could add shifts to plants in Louisiana and Mexico, too.

In addition, GM plans to keep open its Lake Orion, Mich., plant until November to build the Chevrolet Malibu. That plant had been scheduled to close next month. It was set to reopen in 2011 to make small cars.

Needless to say, this is excellent news for the auto industry and for the overall economy. Areas like Northeast Ohio have been suffering from growing unemployment, and every little bit helps. This also bodes well for auto suppliers.

  

GM claims that the Chevy Volt will get 230 miles per gallon

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GM is looking for a big PR push with the Chevy Volt, and their announcement that the new Chevy Volt will get 230 miles per gallon will certainly grab some positive attention for the beleaguered company.

General Motors Co. said today the Chevrolet Volt, its extended-range electric vehicle due out in November 2010, will get an estimated city fuel economy of 230 mpg, or 25 kilowatt hours per 100 miles.

GM will unveil 25 new models between now and the end of 2011, president and CEO Fritz Henderson said during an hour-long webcast this morning.

“When the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle rolls off the assembly line late next year, it will be the first mass-production automobile to achieve triple-digit fuel economy, with an expected 230 mpg in the city, or 25 kilowatt hours per 100 miles,” GM said.

The Environmental Protection Agency declined to confirm the figure, which was based on a draft testing procedure. GM said the calculation is based on more than one vehicle electrical charge, since the average driver travels far less than 100 miles in a single day.

“EPA has not tested a Chevy Volt and therefore cannot confirm the fuel economy values claimed by GM,” said EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn.

“EPA does applaud GM’s commitment to designing and building the car of the future: an American-made car that will save families money, significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create good-paying American jobs.”

In recent days, GM had launched a “viral” marketing campaign featuring a green background and a “230” logo — with a plug in the place of the 0 — to build interest in today’s announcement. Many auto bloggers correctly guessed that the figure was connected to the Volt’s city fuel economy rating.

The viral campaign is another good idea, and it looks like we really might have a “new GM.”

That said, the important story here is we’re seeing a plug-in hybrid that will potentially be a game-changer in the auto business. For a country that imports a ton of foreign oil, it’s refreshing to see real progress on electric vehicles.

Of course, not everyone is impressed, including Nissan.

But at least one competing automaker isn’t convinced. “Nissan Leaf = 367 mpg, no tailpipe, and no gas required. Oh yeah, and it’ll be affordable too,” the folks over at Nissan’s electric vehicle Twitter feed wrote today. About an hour later, they added this statement: “To clarify our previous tweet, the DOE formula estimates 367mpg for Nissan LEAF.”

That’s even more great news. It looks like there will be serious competition here from other automakers, so perhaps consumers will have real choices, and we can make real progress towards a goal of eliminating oil imports.

  

Ford announces new V-6 EcoBoost engine

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Ford’s EcoBoost engine will now include a V-6 option.

Ford’s EcoBoosted future has long been known to include a four cylinder option, and now the automaker has finally made some details official during a global product presentation today in Detroit.

Set to hit the market sometime in 2010, the 2.0-liter block will be the first engine in Ford’s EcoBoost lineup to employ a twin-independent variable cam timing system (Ti-VCT). Ford says the engine will deliver 10 to 20 percent better fuel economy than larger displacement V-6s, all while delivering similar power numbers.

The new engine will be produced in Northeast Ohio, and that’s welcome news to a region struggling with the loss of manufacturing jobs, which has only gotten worse with the economic crisis.

After two years of idling, Ford Motor Co.’s Engine Plant No. 1 re-opened Tuesday with the new leaner, cleaner EcoBoost engine.

The cutting edge 3.5-liter engine — which will equip 90 percent of Ford vehicles — is the first V-6 direct-injection, twin-turbocharged engine produced in North America and will be produced exclusively at the Brook Park site.

It’s a welcome sight at a facility that has struggled in recent times.

“This is the engine of the future. We’re really proud that the finest engine makers in the world are right here in Brook Park and the finest engines in the world are right here in Brook Park. With the new designs, there’s a lot of reasons to want to buy a Ford product. It’s a breath of fresh air and in this economy, we need to hear as much good news as possible,” said Mayor Mark Elliott.

Ford is hoping that this will give consumers more options, such as customers who are leaving large, V-8-powered SUVs but need towing capacity, who can now consider the top-level version of the Flex crossover due to the new, more powerful engine.

  

Going green may not save you green with your auto insurance

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Will buying a hybrid save you money on your auto insurance? That might not be a good assumption given this recent data.

Hybrid car owners may be a different shade of green than their insurers hoped.

Insurance companies often give discounts to drivers of hybrids, perhaps because the image of a tree-hugging environmentalist suggests a cautious type who is a good risk to insure. But hybrid drivers rack up more miles, more tickets and costlier accidents than conventional car drivers, according to a study released Wednesday.

“High-mileage drivers seem to be attracted to [hybrid] vehicles,” said Raj Bhat, president of Quality Planning Corp., the San Francisco firm that conducted a study of 360,000 vehicle-insurance claims made to 12 U.S. insurers over the last two years, comparing hybrid and conventional vehicles. Quality Planning is a unit of Insurance Services Office Inc., a closely held group of companies that provides data, analytics and other services.

The disconnect between perception and reality could leave insurers with unprofitable hybrid policies unless they adjust pricing to reflect the unexpectedly high costs, or make up the difference elsewhere, said Robert U’Ren, senior vice president of Quality Planning, in an interview.

For 2008 hybrid cars, the most recent model year it studied, Quality Planning found that the cost to insurers of providing collision coverage for hybrids was 13% higher than for conventional vehicles. The cost of providing comprehensive coverage, which also includes the expense of noncollision-related damage, was 17% higher. For older and particularly for larger hybrid models, the difference was even bigger. U’Ren said that the more complicated hybrid engine design likely accounted for much of the difference in cost.

The article goes on to explain that most insurance companies have not made significant adjustments relating to premiums and coverage for hybrid cars, and several insurance companies, including Farmers Group Inc., a subsidiary of Zurich Financial Services AG, and Travelers offer hybrid owners up to 10% off coverage prices. It will be interesting to see how this develops as more data becomes available.

  

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