Highlights of the year’s major events affecting the North American market:
• The sluggish U.S. market and turmoil that beset Detroit auto makers in 2009 sets the stage for a notably different North American International Auto Show. The year’s inaugural exhibition is marked by the absence of such hometown brands as Pontiac and Saturn, victims ofCorp.’s bankruptcy.
Only 40 world debuts are planned, down from 53 the previous year, andGroup LLC bows out of the show’s press conference schedule completely. “You’re not going to see as much glitz and glamour this year,” Detroit Auto Dealers Assn. President Bill Perkins notes.
• The market swing to more fuel-efficient vehicles isn’t evident in North American production schedules set in early January, as auto makers add more trucks into the mix to replenish inventories.
The Detroit Three pump 45,200 trucks into the slate but take out 32,800 cars. The hike gives trucks a 56.7% share of the North American first-quarter output plan.
• A poll of 200 industry insiders by KPMG indicates senior executives are more upbeat heading into 2010 than they were a year earlier, but they continue to be concerned about unemployment rates, overcapacity and the government’s heavier hand in regulating automobiles.
• A study by The Boston Consulting Group pours cold water on the prospects for electric vehicle sales in the U.S., concluding the payback for consumers in fuel savings would be 15 years and the return on an extended-range EV would be 19 years. Both figures are well past the typical lifespan of a car and exceed the life expectancy of a vehicle’s lithium-ion battery.
•Motor America fires back at criticism it is gaining market share by pushing cars through rental fleets. “We grew our retail sales in an industry that was down 21% (in 2009),” CEO John Krafcik tells Ward’s. “Forget about fleet.” HMA’s fleet business is “within the industry average” of 17%-18%, he says.
• In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. widens its investigation of sticky accelerators and poorly fitting floor mats beyondMotor Corp., asking for other auto makers to submit feedback on any similar consumer complaints they have on file.
• The number of unique North American vehicle platforms will shrink rapidly, a study released by consultant Grant Thornton concludes. The Detroit Three will reduce their total vehicle platform count 39%, the report predicts.
, , Toyota and will be responsible for 72% of North American production annually in coming years and account for nine of the top-10 vehicle platforms by 2014, Grant Thornton says.
• A study by Maritz Automotive Research Group released in March says U.S. officials underestimated the positive impact of its “Cash for Clunkers” program by at least 87,000 vehicles.
The government had attributed sales of 677,842 vehicles to the incentive offer. Not include, Maritz says, are the more than 87,000 people who found their trade-in did not qualify for the rebate but bought a new vehicle anyway.
• The first quarter ends with some positive market momentum, as light-vehicle sales for the period rise by double digits in both the U.S. and Canada. Sales in Mexico decline, however, a result of sluggish truck demand.
•says its upcoming Fiesta B-car for North America will share 60% of its components with its global counterparts, while the new Focus C-car debuting next year is expected to have 80% commonality. But anything beyond 80% is a recipe for disaster, says Frank Davis, executive director-North America product development.
“If you start to commonize emissions systems and those sorts of things, it’s not the smartest way to do that or the most efficient way, from a cost perspective,” he tells Ward’s at a Fiesta launch event in San Francisco in early May.
• The already-tight market for mechatronics engineers gets more competitive in late spring with the announcement of a proposed joint venture, led byInternational founder Frank Stronach, to develop vehicle-electrification technology.
In June, shareholders approve the deal that seesinvest $220 million, including the assets of its recently established E-Car Systems business unit. In return, the supplier acquires a 73% stake in the new JV.
• CEO Alan Mulally in late May denies media reports of plans to wind down the Mercury premium brand, but Ford pulls the plug in early June, prompting speculation about the decision’s impact.
Ford says it will work to link displaced dealers with existing Blue Oval franchises, which will become Ford-Lincoln outlets. Where that’s not feasible, the auto maker will “compensate them fairly and reasonably,” Mark Fields, president-The Americas, says.
While Ford is mum on the exact amount of compensation, the auto maker reportedly sends documents to Mercury dealers informing them the marque officially will be discontinued Dec. 31.
•says in mid-June it is pumping $300 million into its transmission manufacturing complex in Kokomo, IN, to accommodate production of a new Germany-based Group 8-speed automatic gearbox starting in 2013.
The investment, which will fund the installation of equipment and tooling to upgrade the site’s transmission and casting facilities, while also securing 1,200 jobs, is the second to benefit Kokomo in less than a month.
• In July,establishes six new product-quality field offices in the U.S. and Canada to help deal with its dented reputation over recalls.
• GM’s midyear purchase of Fort Worth, TX-based lender AmeriCredit Corp. for $3.5 billion gets the auto maker back in the captive-finance business following its separation from the former General Motors Acceptance Corp.
• In August, GM announces the base price for its long-awaited Chevrolet Volt extended-range EV: $41,000. The auto maker also says it will offer a 36-month lease option at $350 per month with $2,500 down.
•’s Krafcik claims the auto maker’s U.S. fleet will average 50 mpg (4.7 L/100 km) by 2025. He later backs off that number and expresses further reservations over a push among environmentalists to make 62 mpg (3.8 L/100 km) the new CAFE target after 2017.
• Ford discloses in August it will compensate chairman and company scion Bill Ford Jr. with a $15.6 million pay package, marking his first payday since 2005.
• GM surprises with a $1.3 billion profit in the second quarter, and raises eyebrows by announcing the exit of federally appointed Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre. Board member Daniel Akerson replaces him as CEO, effective Sept. 1.
GM also files registration for an initial public offering and three months later returns to trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “GM.”
• After 84 years, Pontiac officially dies with the expiration of sales agreements between GM and the brand’s dealers in November.