DC eyes truck partners, but not Ssangyong

FRANKFURT — No.1 truck-maker DaimlerChrysler AG says it still is seeking potential partners for truck expansion into Asia. South Korea's Ssangyong Motor Co. Ltd., part of Daewoo Group, however, is not an option, company officials say. DC reportedly has not given up hope of cutting a deal with Nissan Diesel Corp., the truck affiliate of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., whose purchase it once negotiated. DC says it is eyeing possibilities in China, Japan, India and South Korea, saying that the best way to expand in Asia is through existing Asian makers.

GM to export Zafira

BANGKOK — General Motors Corp. plans to export 85% of Zafira units built in Thailand. The Zafira minivan, Chevrolet-badged in Thailand, will be the first vehicle exported to Europe from the Southeast Asian nation. Exports also will be shipped to Chile, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines. GM is studying the possibility of exporting Zafira units to African countries, the Middle East and Australia. GM plans to build some 7,500 units this year, after production begins in May. Next year's production target is 40,000 units. GM officials indicate the automaker plans to build an additional vehicle at the plant, doubling capacity, in the coming years.

Ashok makes comeback

MADRAS — India's No.2 truckmaker, Ashok Leyland Ltd., expects to post a profit of some Rp220 million-Rp240 million (US$5.1 million-US$5.5 million) for its third quarter earnings, after selling some 700 more vehicles than in the year's second quarter. Ashok Leyland sold 8,740 vehicles in the second quarter, posting profits of Rp181.9 million (US$4.2 million). It increased sales by 8.4% in the third quarter, to 9,478 units. The truckmaker, part of the U.K.-based Indian Hinduja Group, posted a loss of Rp130.9 million (US$3.0 million) in the corresponding year-prior quarter. In the past six weeks, the firm's shares have risen nearly 30% on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

Toyota exports increase

MELBOURNE — Toyota Australia predicts a 17% rise in exports of Camry sedans and wagons this year to 40,000, after record shipments of 34,000 units to the Middle East, Southeast Asia and South Pacific countries last year. Shipments totaled 31,000 in 1998. Toyota exports totaled A$600 million (US$401 million) last year, up from A$47 million (US$31.4 million) in 1990. This means some 50% of Camry production in Melbourne is destined for export, officials say. Toyota also is aiming for a 30% rise — to more than 10,000 — in complete-knock-down Camry kits to Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam.

SEAT returns to NZ

AUCKLAND — Volkswagen AG importer European Motor Distributors will relaunch the Spanish SEAT SA brand in New Zealand before year-end. The final decision on the models to be sold has not yet been decided, but the importer says it plans a relatively simple lineup. “We see SEAT's image lying somewhere between Subaru and Alfa Romeo,” says Dean Sheed, head of VW operations here. “As far as the lineup goes, there would be no point complicating things. But, because there are many shared components with VW models, there are obvious synergies for us.”

Honda nabs No.2

TOKYO — Honda Motor Co. Ltd. dethrones Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. as Japan's No.2 auto producer in 1999. Honda grabbed second place for the first time ever, with worldwide production of 2.4 million vehicles — up 3.7% from 1998. Nissan, which largely has been occupied with a sweeping corporate restructuring effort, built 2.4 million vehicles last year, down 7.1% on year. Toyota Motor Corp. soundly held the No.1 spot with worldwide production of 4.7 million vehicles, a 2.1% increase over 1998.

Peugeot buys out JV

TOKYO — Peugeot SA turns a Japanese equal joint venture into a wholly owned subsidiary. Peugeot purchased 50% of Inchcape Peugeot Japan Ltd. from former partner Inchcape PLC. The move should help Peugeot strengthen sales in Japan, something industry insiders say is part of Peugeot's attempt to keep up with rival Renault SA, which is seeing an expanded sales reach through its tie-up with Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. Peugeot reports sales of 7,145 units in Japan last year, up 12% from 1998.

Ford looks to Ghia

BANGKOK — Ford Motor Co. calls on Italy's Ghia Design for the styling cues of its Laser passenger car. Production of the Laser, to be built at AutoAlliance (Thailand) Co. Ltd. in Rayong province, will start in March. The car, a top-series Laser, will be “Ghia”-badged, which Ford says stands for sophistication, luxury and sportiness. It also incorporates elements of Ford's “New Edge” design policy, a theme that involves a lower hood, larger windshield and more aggressive stance. The platform also will produce the Mazda 323.

Toyota launches bB

TOKYO — Toyota Motor Corp. launches its new “bB” compact car in Japan. The bB, which is short for “black box” after its box-like exterior, is part of its New Basic Car platform. It is available with a 1.3L or a 1.5L engine and features large door openings and high seats. Toyota plans monthly sales of 4,000 units. The vehicle will be priced from ¥1.3 million (US$12,314) to ¥1.7 million (US$16,103).

Malaysia expects growth

KUALA LUMPUR — The Malaysian Automotive Assn. forecasts the country's vehicles sales to jump some 21% this year to 350,000 units, after a 79% rise in 1999. The sales projections still fall below the Southeast Asian nation's all-time high of 404,000 units in 1997, the year before the Asian financial crisis dropped sales to 163,851 units. Last year's total reached 288,547 vehicles, including passenger cars, commercial vehicles and 4-wheel-drive vehicles. Analysts say Japan's strong yen against the Malaysian ringgit may cause higher car prices but should not slow the demand for new vehicles.

Nissan No.1 in Singapore

SINGAPORE — Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. distributor Tan Chong and Sons Motor says it has toppled Toyota Motor Corp. as the best-selling brand in Singapore. Sales of all Nissan vehicles for 1999 rose 40% to 10,705 units, giving it a 77-unit win over Toyota on 10,628 units, officials say. Nissan boosted its market share to 21.8% last year from 20% in 1998. Nissan car sales totaled 7,612 units to Toyota's 6,421 units.