Korea's economic plunge, which has seen auto sales plummet to half of year-ago levels and put at least one carmaker on the auction block, apparently doesn't have Samsung Motors Inc. officials too worried. The upstart auto company is looking to add a second shift at its state-of-the-art factory in Pusan, potentially doubling output to 240,000 cars annually. Samsung currently is producing 9,000 cars per month, but is ramping up its single shift to build 10,000 units monthly. Sales since the company's March launch continue to grow, with July deliveries of 8,153 cars outpacing June by 20%. Samsung claims a backlog of 16,000 orders. The automaker also put in a bid to acquire Kia Motors Corp., but Samsung appeared to be a long shot among suitors that included Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Daewoo Group and Hyundai Group. The government was expected to select a winner as early as Sept. 1.

Karmann pulls cover back on U.S. plans U.S. automakers busy focusing on mainstream cars and trucks can't afford to concentrate on low-volume vehicles. But they may not be able to ignore them, either. That's the hope of German coachbuilder Wilhelm Karmann GmbH, best known for the Karmann Ghia, but also responsible for a string of current products from the Mercedes CLK convertible to Golf and Audi cabriolets. Karmann officials say talks covering potential design and production programs are under way with several automakers and suppliers, including Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. Karmann hopes to land at least one new niche vehicle project (40,000 to 50,000 units annually) within the next six months, says Wolfgang Thurow, vice president-technical development, sales and marketing. Ford is considered the most likely candidate, with talks centering on a specialty car for Europe. But also on the table is a vehicle for Chrysler in the U.S. One way or the other, Karmann's North American presence will expand. Staffing at its Livonia, MI, office will grow from the current 14 engineers to 20 by year's end.

India rolls up welcome mat on Audi India's refusal to budge on local-content requirements may send Audi AG packing. The German luxury carmaker had been conducting feasibility studies on setting up an assembly operation, but the government's insistence on 70% domestic content (within five years) has put negotiations on hold. "Audi automobiles are technologically very advanced," an Audi spokesman says. "We saw some areas where it is not possible to develop any kind of local supplier. Hence we asked for some relaxation, which was not granted." Audi says it will review prospects for setting up a facility if and when the government decides to ease content requirements. Until then the company will "concentrate on observing the government developments and competitor activities." That includes plans by BMW AG and Daimler-Benz AG to assemble vehicles in India. Unlike Audi, both of those carmakers did get the government to give a little ground on local content. Also finding the climate more to its liking is Daewoo Motor Corp., which says it will invest $71 million to $94 million to increase annual capacity in India from 72,000 cars now to 150,000 cars. Daewoo makes the Cielo there, but Matiz production begins October, followed by either the compact Leganza or subcompact Nubira.

Nissan diet includes fewer suppliers In its ongoing effort to slim down, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. plans to slice its direct dealings with auto parts vendors from 250 to 130 in five years, officials say. The move will cut costs some $100 billion ($709 million), Nissan says. The automaker also is promising to implement a more thorough selection process when it comes to choosing suppliers, no longer playing favorite with its affiliated partsmakers. Suppliers also will be asked to provide more modules, Nissan says. Less competitive suppliers also are being urged to merge with other companies.

Fiat may join SUV crowd Is Fiat Auto SpA about to jump on the sport/utility vehicle (SUV) bandwagon? One proposal calls for an SUV to be built off the new Multipla platform, with exterior panels bolted and welded to a space frame underbody. Says Fiat Auto head Roberto Testore: "We've also been looking at other possible platforms. We need to be able to offer attractive styling and an affordable price. We're not talking about a Paris-Dakar type of off-roader, but something that can be sold in front- and 4-wheel-drive. Our vehicle must be something original, something different, if it is to be successful." Fiat also is talking to various potential partners, reasoning that it's worth trying to defray the development and production costs in the face of uncertain market potential.