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AutoLine: Episode 162 - Chrysler Shakeup, GM May Still Import from China, Daimler’s Wild Safety Ideas


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Runtime 6:38

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne completely revamped Chrysler’s management structure yesterday. General Motors hasn’t ruled out importing cars from China. Daimler is developing several innovative new safety features. All that and more, plus John answers viewer questions in the “You Said It!” segment.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. Chrysler revamps its management structure. GM may still import cars from China. And Mercedes comes up with some wild new safety technology.

Up next, we’ll be back with the news behind the headlines.

This is Autoline Daily for Thursday, June 11, 2009. And now, the news.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne isn’t wasting a second. He completely revamped Chrysler’s management structure yesterday. Former Toyota executive Jim Press is now deputy CEO and reports to Marchionne, and this is just me talking, but I wonder how long that’s going to last? Steve Landry, who ran Sales and Marketing, and Frank Klegon, who ran engineering are out. Marchionne also changed the brand structure. Now each brand, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep will have their own president and CEO with full profit and loss responsibility. Before they were just kind of glorified sales managers.

Mike Acavitti, who has spent his entire career at Chrysler and was one of those glorified sales managers at Dodge, keeps that brand, but with all the new responsibilities. Michael Manley will be running the Jeep brand. He’s been with Chrysler since 2003 but spent most of his career in England, where he was born. And Peter Fong, who spent most of his career in sales and marketing at Ford, will be running the Chrysler brand. He’s only been with Chrysler since last year, and is so new to the company that they couldn’t even come up with a picture of him.

Daimler is developing several innovative new safety features. One is an inflatable metal structure that provides greater crash protection. Think of it as a metallic airbag. It could be used as a side-impact beam. Normally, the inflatable structures are folded-up like origami, but when an impact occurs, a gas generator fires, expanding the metal section, giving it greater stability and crash protection. Another technology the company is working on is called a “braking bag” that’s mounted to the underbody. Think of it as a parachute for cars. If a vehicle detects that a crash is imminent, it fires the “braking bag” to drastically slow the vehicle down. The bag is made of a high-friction material.

First GM said it would import small cars from China. Then the UAW objected and the company decided it would make those cars in America. But according to the Detroit Free Press, the company hasn’t ruled out importing cars from China. Troy Clarke, the head of GM North America, said he didn’t believe the company agreed to a ban of Chinese imports and wouldn’t rule it out.

Chinese automaker Beijing Automotive has expressed interest in acquiring Volvo (subscription required). According to the Wall Street Journal, Beijing Auto is going to meet with Volvo management today in Sweden. Beijing Auto’s late entry is expected to draw out the bidding process which was expected to wrap-up sometime this month. Two or three more bids are in for Volvo including Geeley, another Chinese automaker.

Coincidence, or not? The BBC reports that China stopped importing several models from Renault, saying it found “safety problems” in the French-build vehicles. The timing of the ban is quite curious. The Beep says three days ago the Dalia Lama was granted “honorary citizenship of Paris.” The move was condemned by the Chinese government that called it a “grave interference” in its domestic affairs.

Coming up next, it’s time for You Said It!

And now it’s time for some of your feedback.

This is “You Said It!” Every day we get dozens of comments and questions from you, our viewers. “You Said It!” gives me a chance to respond.

Alex Kajdi asks: “I see a lot of similarities in body styling between the new Tesla Sedan and the Jaguar XF. Is Tesla getting their bodies from Jaguar like they were doing with Lotus for the Tesla Roadster?”

Oooo, Alex, you’re going to hurt the feelings of Franz von Holzhausen, the guy who designed the Tesla Model S, and who recently left Mazda to do that car. The XF was designed by Ian Callum.

Pedro Fernandez says, “I was wondering if the feds, who now are part owners of GM, will ever buy any Ford products to resupply their fleets when it becomes necessary.”

Very interesting question because the answer is not what I expected. You’re timing is impeccable Pedro because I got the press release on this yesterday. The government just bought about 18,000 new vehicles for $287 million dollars. It bought 4,000 Chryslers, 6,000 GM vehicles, and 8,000 Fords. So GM and Chrysler are not getting preferential treatment just because the government owns a bunch of their stock.

Alex Kovnat writes in to ask:
“It seems to me that if reducing CO2 is that important, why not offer either a voucher or income tax rebate proportional to how much CO2 emission is being prevented, so as to encourage people to do the best they can in this regard?”

Alex, there’s been so much debate about how to do this bill, but they’re sort of doing what you suggest. You have to buy a vehicle that gets better fuel economy to qualify for the cash for clunkers. And right now today the only way we know how to reduce CO2 is to improve fuel economy.

Hey, don’t forget to tune in to Autoline After Hours tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern, or 2300 hours GMT. Joining me, Peter De Lorenzo and Jason Vines tonight is John Mendel, the executive VP who runs the Honda and Acura sales divisions. As those of you who watch know, this is a very different kind of show, check it out if you haven’t seen it. That’s it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow, and tonight.

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