Clinton seeks a PNGV for trucks

The Clinton Administration, led by Secretary of Energy Federico Pena, is calling for a sweeping government-industry research effort to attain a 50% improvement in the fuel economy of light trucks by 2004. The Administration has asked Congress for $50 million for the project, which would be matched by $50 million from industry participants. If Congress rejects the funding request, Mr. Pena says the Administration will proceed anyway, but on a smaller scale. The goal is to do for heavier vehicles what the four-year-old Partnership for the Next Generation of Vehicles is expected to do for cars: develop a midsize car by 2004 capable of going 80 miles per gallon (2.9L/100 km) of gasoline without sacrificing safety, performance, convenience or cost.

Sales of imported vehicles in Japan fall for 10th straight month

Sales of foreign-made vehicles in Japan fell sharply in January, the tenth consecutive monthly decline. Automakers based outside Japan sold only 15,457 vehicles in January, down 36% from a year earlier. Total new vehicle sales in Japan were down 24%, reflecting very weak consumer confidence and fears that the nation's ongoing banking crisis is not over. U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky recently charged that Japan has failed to live up to goals of a 1995 trade agreement aimed at boosting sales of U.S. and European autos. Sales of German-made cars in Japan fell 32% in January, while sales of North American-built cars by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were 41% below year-earlier levels.

New Jaguar to be unveiled in Birmingham

Jaguar's X-200, which will be named either MK6 or XJ6, will be introduced this October at the Birmingham (UK) Motor Show. Sharing much of the same architecture of the new Lincoln LS6 and LS8 coming early next year, the new Jag will offer two engine choices, a 3L V-6 or a 4L V-8. It will go on sale in spring 1999 with an annual production goal of 50,000 units.

Korean unions recognize layoffs may be necessary

It may seem odd to Americans who see jobs disappear as fast as they are created, but Korea's powerful labor unions have agreed to drop the country's legal ban on layoffs, a move that could stimulate the inflow of desperately needed foreign capital. The unions agreed to permit layoffs at troubled companies if they receive 60 days' notice. Layoffs also will be legalized when companies merge or acquire each other. President-elect Kim Dae Jung promised the International Monetary Fund he would work to create more flexibility in the Korean economy as a condition for the IMF's $57 billion bailout package approved in December.

Bosch CEO praises ITTA's ABS campaign

In the highly competitive antilock brake market, it might seem unlikely that one top player would have kind words for a rival. But Robert Oswald, chairman, president and CEO of Robert Bosch Corp., was most complimentary when asked by WAW how he responded to ITT Automotive's advertising campaign to make ABS standard, with the catchy theme of "Safety is a standard, not an option." Mr. Oswald praised the concept and its delivery. "They're doing it very well," he says. "What ITT is doing is fundamentally correct." The campaign, of course, could help Bosch and other suppliers who are struggling with a stagnating North American ABS market. Don't count on Bosch to launch its own campaign. Mr. Oswald says his company remains committed to a two-year-old campaign by the ABS Education Alliance.

Toyota hikes Land Cruiser

The 1998 Toyota Land Cruiser is bigger, heavier, more powerful and a lot more expensive than its predecessor. The base price will start at $45,950, up 11.6% from the '97 Land Cruiser. Meanwhile, starting prices for the all-new '98 Tacoma PreRunner will range from $17,238 for the two-wheel-drive version with a 4-cyl. engine to $18,168 for a V-6 with four-wheel-drive. Land Cruiser goes on sale in April, while PreRunner hits Toyota showrooms in March.

GM de Mexico starts work on Tech Center in Toluca

General Motors de Mexico SA breaks ground in Mexico for a new prototype design center in Toluca. The project is expected to cost $20 million and will employ about 250 Mexican engineers. The 55,000-sq.ft. (5,109-sq.-m) facility will expand GM's ability to design vehicles for Mexican market needs.

Kia shows off new minivan in Chicago

Assuming its assets aren't liquidated to pay off impatient creditors, Kia Motors Corp. will offer a front-drive minivan in the U.S. next year. The Korean automaker took the wraps off it at the Chicago Auto Show, but left unanswered is how low it will be priced. The minivan will be powered by a 2.5L overhead-cam V-6, putting out 173 hp and 164 lb.-ft. of torque. Meanwhile, Kia remains in receivership.While Ford Motor Co., which owns 9.4% of Kia, and General Motors have expressed interest in some expanded relationship, no firm agreement had been reached at press time.

Saab's loss widened to $230 million in '97

So much for the theory that GM has Saab Automobiles AB whipped into shape. The Swedish automaker, jointly owned by General Motors Corp. and Investor AB, reported that its loss for 1997 widened to 1.83 billion kronor ($230 million) from 1.18 billion kronor ($150 million) in 1996. Company officials say the results were in line with long-term recovery plans. Long-term indeed.

Chrysler to offer natural gas Dodge Ram Van and Wagon

In the exploding lexicon of alternative fuels it's getting hard to tell the LEVs from the ULEVs from the TLEVs from the ZEVs. Now along comes Chrysler Corp. with SULEVs, super ultra-low emission vehicles, of which it will introduce two this fall: the Dodge Ram Van and Dodge Ram Wagon, both fueled by natural gas. Chrysler suspended natural-gas vehicle production at the end of 1996 because of excessive costs required to store natural gas and very weak demand. These newer iterations will store significantly more natural gas than their predecessors. Most initial customers are expected to be airport shuttle operators and other commercial fleets.

Brazilian union nixes Ford plan to cut pay, hours

Members of Brazil's ABC Metal Workers union rejected 25 of 27 proposals by Ford to cut pay and reduce working hours at its Sao Paulo factory. Ford proposed the pay and schedule cuts to avoid having to lay off up to 1,100 of its 7,300 workers at the Sao Paulo site. In mid-January the same union agreed to a Volkswagen AG plan that trimmed benefits and pay in exchange for VW's promise not to lay off nearly 5,000 workers. A sharp increase in Brazilian interest rates, tied to the Asian currency crisis, have depressed car and truck sales in what had been the world's fastest-growing automotive market. Luiz Marinho, president of the Metal Workers union, told Bloomberg News Service he remains willing to discuss a reduction in working hours, but not pay cuts or layoffs.

Magna buys control of Steyr-Daimler-Puch

With the early February approval of its board, Magna International Inc. completes its acquisition of 67% of Steyr-Daimler-Puch for C$395 million or about US$275 million. The deal, through which Toronto-based Magna gains a 50% interest in Steyr-Daimler-Puch Fahrzeugtechnik Co., expands Magna's capability to completely engineer and assemble an entire vehicle. Steyr is an Austrian-based vehicle maker that assembles a variety of vehicles under contract to Daimler-Benz AG and Chrysler Corp. Those include Mercedes-Benz G and E class 4-wheel drive vehicles, Chrysler's Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chrysler minivans.

Dead plant walking; Buick City still notchesquality award

How's this for irony? Shortly after receiving an Intellichoice "best value" award for the Buick LeSabre for overall affordability and low maintenance, Buick Motor Div. General Manager Robert E. Coletta praised the quality of his Buick City crew. Aren't those the same Flint, MI, employees whose plant will soon be shuttered?