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AutoLine: Episode 281 – Sales Soar In Asia, New NHTSA Leader, EPA Debates Ethanol Blend

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Car sales are soaring in Japan, India and China. President Obama is expected to announce his nomination to head NHTSA. The EPA is expected to announce, whether or not to increase the ethanol blend that’s mixed in gasoline. All that and more, plus a look at the Volkswagen’s hydrogen-powered Tiguan.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

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Here are today’s top headlines. Car sales are soaring in Japan, India and China. President Obama names a new head of NHTSA. And the EPA debates whether to increase the blend rate for ethanol.

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

This is Autoline Daily for Tuesday, December 1, 2009. And now, the news.

In a sign that the global economy is making a comeback, sales of new cars are soaring in Japan. Bloomberg reports that sales jumped 36% in Japan last month, which is the fourth straight increase ever since the government started offering generous incentives to spur car sales. Toyota was up 29%, Nissan was up 33%, and Honda saw sales surge an eye popping 73%.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that the same sort of thing is happening in India (subscription required). Maruti, the biggest automaker in India, which is affiliated with Suzuki, saw sales jump an impressive 67%. Hyundai was up 29%, and Honda was up 24%. Of course this compares sales to a year ago, when the Indian economy, like every one else’s was collapsing.

Now over to China, where car sales have been booming all year long thanks to government incentives and a red hot economy. Gasgoo reports that China’s Ministry of Finance and its top economic planner says the country will not only keep those incentives, it will broaden them to include even more models. Up to now, those incentives cut the sales tax in half on cars with engines of 1.6 liters or smaller. The new incentives will include all models.

Also in China….Last week we reported that Geely management refused to tell Volvo’s union leaders where it was getting the money to takeover the company, well now we know. According to Reuters, the company is looking for at least $1 billion in loans from Chinese banks to finance the $1.8 billion deal and has already secured loans from three different banks.

President Obama is expected to announce today his nomination to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. According to the Detroit News, David Strickland, a former Congressional aide who has helped work on automotive safety and environmental legislation in the past, is the President’s pick. The agency has been run by an interim administrator for the last 10 months, after Obama’s first choice was dropped due to concerns from environmentalists.

And while we’re speaking of the government, the Detroit News reports, that the EPA is expected to announce today, whether or not to increase the amount of ethanol that’s mixed in with gasoline. Currently the mix is at 10% and the agency will decide if that should increase to 15%. Automakers are against the increase until further testing is done on whether the increase could harm engines which may delay the EPA’s decision.

Coming up next, a look at the Volkswagen’s hydrogen-powered Tiguan.

As you know, Volkswagen recently invited us to Germany to test its new, sixth-generation Golf. While we were there, the company also showcased some of the advanced technology it’s working on. Among other things, Vee-Dub let us drive its fuel cell-powered Tiguan HyMotion. Here’s a closer look at what it’s like behind the wheel.

Since electric motors produce so much torque, this hydrogen-powered crossover moves off the line with authority. Acceleration is surprisingly brisk, with zero to 60 taking about 14 seconds. Top end is 93 miles an hour, not that we got anywhere close to that speed on our short test. These performance numbers are surprisingly livable, especially given the HyMotion Tiguan’s relatively low power output.

TOTAL output from the powertrain is 100 kilowatts or about 134 horsepower. Acceleration is smooth and feels totally normal, but braking was another story. The pedal was very squishy and difficult to modulate. This is probably because engineers have to fine-tune the regenerative braking.

The Fuel Cell Tiguan holds 3.2 kilograms of hydrogen in tanks mounted under the floor, which gives it a 160 mile range. The 22 kilowatt lithium-ion battery pack is mounted beneath the cargo area in the back, meaning NO interior space is lost.

GM, and of course Honda, have both been pushing hydrogen as a possible fuel of the future. It’s good to know other automakers are doing the same. Now all they have to do is drive down the cost and complexity of fuels cells and make hydrogen affordable and readily available. Good luck.

Don’t forget to tune in for our live webcast from the LA auto show tomorrow at 11:30 AM Pacific time, that’s 2:30 PM eastern time, and 1930 GMT. We have a lineup of people coming on the show to give you the latest news, as it breaks, from the floor of the show. And then on Thursday night, Autoline After Hours will also be coming to you live from LA. Join us for two great shows.

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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