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AutoLine: Episode 276 – Germany Upset At GM, Toyota’s Pedal Solution, Chrysler Eyes Quality

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A number of German politicians say GM should not get any government aid to restructure Opel. Toyota may modify the gas pedals on its vehicles due to its massive recall. Chrysler is changing the way it will improve quality. All that and more, plus a preview of this week’s Autoline Detroit about when the technology for autonomous cars will be ready.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

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Here are today’s top headlines. Germany plays hard ball with GM over aid to Opel. Toyota is going to modify the gas pedals on its vehicles. And Chrysler is changing the way it will improve quality.

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

This is Autoline Daily for Friday, November 20, 2009. And now, the news.

A number of German politicians say GM should not get any government aid to restructure Opel, the Wall Street Journal says. They’re still furious that GM backed out of the deal with Magna. But the Journal says those politicians may be losing the only leverage they have to preserve as many Opel jobs as possible in Germany. The other European countries where Opel operates, including the UK, Spain, Belgium, and Poland are interested in providing aid to GM.

And speaking of GM, it says car sales in the American market in November could hit an annualized sales rate of 10.8 million units. That would make it the first year-over-year-sales increase this year not counting the months when the cash for clunkers program was running. However, Edmunds is predicting that sales will drop to an annualized rate of 10.3 million, half a million units under GM’s prediction. And JD Power is even more bearish. It says sales will hit a 10.2 million rate.

Toyota may be close to announcing a solution for its floor mat/unintended acceleration problem that led to a massive recall of its vehicles. According to Edmunds Inside Line, the company may make the pedal shorter in order to fix the problem. The company has set aside $5 million to help cover the cost and would make the change for free at its dealerships. However, Toyota says it’s not ready to announce anything yet and is still talking about the issue with NHTSA.

Chinese automaker BYD announced plans to expand into solar energy. According to Gasgoo.com, the company’s plan includes building a solar power station, energy storage units and power plants. In the future, BYD says that “solar energy could become one of the driving forces of its electric vehicles.”

Historically, quality issues have been a big source of trouble for Chrysler. But according to an article from the Detroit News, the company is making a big push to improve. Doug Betts, Senior Vice President of Quality, says they’re attacking the problem and changing the company’s culture. One way they’re doing it is by grouping engineers by area of expertise, like brakes, or suspension, instead of by vehicle line. And Chrysler is adding more engineers to the quality department, bringing the number up to 1,700 up from just 200. Doug Betts knows what he’s doing. He used to work at Toyota and Nissan. But I was there 10 years ago when Dieter Zetsche promised that Chrysler would catch Toyota in quality in five years. And I was there eight years later when Bob Nardelli promised the same thing. So you can understand why I’m skeptical when I hear Chrysler say yet again that it’s going to have really good quality.

Denmark just opened a new biofuel refinery, and the event warranted some royal attention in the form of Prince Joachim, fourth in line to the Danish throne. Located adjacent to a coal-fired power plant, the new facility will produce cellulosic ethanol as well as powdered lignin and C5 molasses – the former can be burned to generate power and the latter used for animal feed. When it’s up and running, the refinery should produce nearly five and a half million liters of ethanol per year, which is about 1.5 million gallons.

Coming up next, a look at when the technology will be ready for autonomous cars, vehicles that can drive themselves

On Autoline Detroit this weekend we have Dr. Alan Taub, the head of research and development at General Motors. In the following sound bite, he talks about when we can expect to see autonomous cars on the road. And he starts out by recounting how the technology was proved out at the Darpa challenge a couple of years ago.

Indeed, the race is on to see which region in the world will emerge as the leader in autonomous technology. By the way you can see the entire video at AutolineDetroit.tv right now.

Ok, it’s Friday and you know what that means. It’s time to answer the trivia question we posed. And that question was, what do the letters REO stand for in the name REO Speed Wagon. And the correct answer is Ransom Eli Olds, the founder of Oldsmobile, not the rock group. As always we randomly selected this week’s winner from the pool of correct responses. And the winner is Barron McGinnis of Knoxville, Tennessee. Congratulations Barron, you’ve just won this collector’s edition Autoline Detroit coffee mug.

And that’s it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you next week.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog, The Auto Channel, WardsAuto.com and WWJ Newsradio 950



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