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AutoLine: Episode 179 - BAIC’s Plans for Opel, Mini Hits 1.5 Million, Toyota Won?t Host Grand Prix

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The 1.5-millionth Mini was built at the company’s plant in Oxford, England. More details have emerged in Beijing Auto’s bid for Opel. Toyota won’t host next year’s Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. All that and more, plus a look at the aerodynamic design of the 2010 Prius.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. Mini hits a milestone. BAIC says what it wants to do with Opel. And Toyota stops supporting the Japanese Grand Prix.

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

This is Autoline Daily for Tuesday, July 7, 2009. And now, the news.

More details have emerged in Beijing Auto’s bid for Opel. According to the Financial Times, if BAIC wins out, it plans to spend $2 billion to build a factory in China and begin building vehicles there in 2012. The company also would close Opel’s Antwerp plant in Belgium and cut Opel’s workforce across Europe. BAIC offered 660 million euros or nearly $1 billion for Opel.

The Lear Corporation, one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers best known for supplying seats to the auto industry, filed for Chapter 11. But the bankruptcy filing only applies to its operations in the U.S. and Canada. The Wall Street Journal reports that it has to restructure some $3.6 billion in debt. Two years ago investor Carl Icahn offered to pay over $37 a share for Lear. But shareholders rejected the offer, saying the company was worth twice that. Today those shares are going for 29 cents.

GM faces tough times ahead. That’s what the media are saying today. The Detroit News says “New GM has hard road to revival.” The Wall Street Journal says “GM and U.S. Backers Face Rough Road Ahead.” The Free Press headline says, “What GM, Chrysler need to speed ahead.” Kind of curious that similar stories with similar headlines all hit on the same day.

A sign of the economic trouble Toyota is in - the AFP reports the company won’t host next year’s Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. The race was to be held at Toyota’s Fuji International Speedway. Local media reports say it costs up to 3 billion yen, or about $30 million dollars to host the race. It’s not a huge sum, but Toyota’s strategy during this economic downturn is to cut all non-essential expenses.

Even though it only came out in 2001, the new MINI hit a major milestone. They’ve now built 1.5 million MINIS at the company’s assembly plant in Oxford, England. The milestone model itself, number 1.5 million, is a red Clubman. When production of the new model is combined with those of the original MINI, the number grows to 6.8 million.

More is always better, right? First Mercedes came out with a seven-speed transmission, then Lexus trumped them with an eight. BMW must feel left behind because Ward’s reports that the company is rolling-out a new eight-speed automatic (subscription required). BMW says the ZF gearbox will cut fuel consumption by 6 percent on V12-powered cars. But transmission designers tell me you can get all the gear ratio spread you need with six gears. Anything beyond that is just for bragging rights.

Coming up next, a look at the aerodynamic design of the 2010 Prius, we’ll be back right after this.

The Toyota Prius is in a class of its own. Even though there are 20 hybrid models on the market right now, the Prius accounts for half of all hybrid sales. I’ve been test driving one this week, and here are some of my observations.

One last thing, we got about 56 miles to the gallon with this Prius, which is 4.2 L/100 km. That’s with a good combination of city and highway driving, without any hypermiling techniques. And that is downright impressive.

And that’s it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry. And don’t forget to tune in to Autoline After Hours Thursday night at 7 p.m. Eastern or 2300 hours GMT. And we do have an announcement to make that night, not about who’s coming on, but about who’s not. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.



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Kiss the Chinese goodbye, the German government will never sell Opel to them with the Chinese threatening to close plants in Germany, not with the German election coming up in September ...

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