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Episode 288 – More Changes At GM, China Renews Car Subsidies, A Paper Car Battery?

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The heads of both Chevrolet and Buick-GMC are leaving General Motors. The Chinese government announced it will continue stimulus measures to help car sales. Scientists at Stanford University have made a working battery out of paper. All that and more, plus we’re going to take a look at a radically new type of engine.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .


Here are today’s top headlines. More management shakeups at General Motors. China will continue sales subsidies for cars. And is this the battery breakthrough we’ve been waiting for? One made out of paper?

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

This is Autoline Daily for Thursday, December 10, 2009. And now, the news.

I cannot believe all the changes going on at General Motors. OK, on Monday we announced that Brent Dewar, the head of Chevrolet, would be our guest on Autoline After Hours tonight. Later that day we got a call from GM saying he would not be able to come on the show, and now we know why. Brent Dewar is going to leave the company April 1. He’ll be replaced at Chevrolet by Jim Campbell, who had been running Fleet and Commercial Operations for GM. Why is Brent leaving? He says it’s for personal reasons, but it seems to me that when he was passed over for the vice president job of all sales and marketing, and Susan Docherty got that job, he decided “I’m out of here.”

And speaking of “I’m out of here,” Michael Richards, the brand-new head of Buick-GMC is also leaving the company. Get this: he only hired in eight days ago. In fact, Bloomberg points out, he started working at GM the day Fritz Henderson was forced out. That has got to be the shortest amount of time I’ve ever seen a top executive in a job. Michael Richards had come from Ford and I can only imagine he regrets the day he decided to go to General Motors.

China announced it will continue stimulus measures to help car sales. According to Gasgoo, the government decided to extend aid for the next year with tax cuts aimed at selling small cars with engines of 1.6-liters or less. The government also announced it will subsidize the sale of green vehicles in five select cities. According to Reuters, rebates will be offered to private, first-time buyers of hybrids and electric cars. The program will then be expanded to others cities to allow public transportation fleets to purchase clean vehicles. In the case for a fuel-cell powered bus, the subsidies could come close to $90,000.

It’s that time of year again. Our friends at Ward’s Auto have released their 10-best engines list (subscription required). More clearly than ever, the winners show how the industry has focused on fuel efficiency. Only one V-8 made the cut, Hyundai’s 4.6-liter Tau. Six four-cylinder engines took home gold, including: Audi’s 2.0-liter turbo, a perennial winner; Ford’s 2.5-liter I-4 in the Fusion Hybrid; Volkswagen’s 2.0-liter TDI diesel; the 1.8-liter I-4 in the Toyota Prius; GM’s 2.4-liter Ecotec; and Subaru’s turbocharged, 2.5-liter boxer. Don’t worry though, Ward’s editors left some room for performance. The supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 in the Audi S4 won a spot on the list and so did Ford’s twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. Last but not least, BMW also took home a trophy for its diesel-powered 3.0-liter straight-six.

Earlier this week GM announced it will upgrade its Detroit-Hamtramck plant in order to build the Chevy Volt, and now we’ve learned it will also build one of the company’s best-selling vehicles. According to the Detroit News, a local union leader said GM will move Malibu production from its Kansas plant to Michigan to build the 2012 Malibu. But its still possible that the Malibu could be built at more than one plant depending on how well it sells.

Reuters reports that scientists at Stanford University in California have made a working battery out of PAPER. In the future these batteries could be used to power things like laptop computers and even hybrid cars. How’s it all work? Well, the paper is coated with a special ink made of carbon nanotubes and silver nano-threads. The technology shows promise. Earlier research shows that silicon nano-threads can be used to make cells that are 10 TIMES more powerful than today’s lithium-ion batteries. Some of the obvious advantages of a paper battery include low weight and low cost.

Coming up next, we’re going to take a look at a radically new type of engine.

We get all kinds of announcements at Autoline Daily of people coming up with new types of engines. One of the more interesting ones is from a company called EcoMotors, which has come up with this radically new type of engine. It has four pistons in two cylinders, a design which is half the size and uses half the parts of a conventional piston engine. EcoMotors suggests using two of these engines together, and shutting one of them off in light-throttle applications, then firing up the second one under full throttle. It says this arrangement would provide a 50 percent improvement in fuel economy, since there are no pumping loses when the second engine shuts down. Even with two of the engines together, they’ll fit in the engine compartment of most compact cars.

What makes EcoMotors worth paying attention to is that this engine was designed by Peter Hofbauer, who spent 20 years at Volkswagen designing diesel engines and the VR6, that narrow, 15-degree engine. Also, EcoMotors’ CEO is Don Runkle who was formerly vice chairman at Delphi, and the COO is John Coletti who used to run the SVT engineering operations at Ford. The fact that industry people with a long track record are doing this engine is what makes me believe it might have a shot at getting into production.

Don’t forget to join us tonight for Autoline After Hours when our guest will be Sandy Munro, one of the smartest design experts in the world. You’ll be amazed to find out what he’s worked on, and what he thinks this industry needs to be doing. Plus, with all the changes at GM, we’ll have no shortage of things to talk about.

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

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

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