Mercedes sales up in major markets

DaimlerChrysler AG's Mercedes-Benz says it has sold 74,000 C-Class sedans since the vehicle's launch earlier this year. "I think it is a record-breaking pace," says Juergen Hubbert, DC board member in charge of Mercedez-Benz passenger cars. Sales will continue to improve, he says, as U.S. sales begin and right-hand-drive vehicles hit their markets. Mercedes says overall sales are up in several major markets, including the U.S. (7.9%), France (7.8%), Spain (9.6%) and Germany (2.5%). "Year 2000 will be better than 1999," Mr. Hubbert says. DaimlerChrysler, meanwhile, has decided to add a roadster to the Smart minicar brand's range in 2003, along with an investment in the Smartville plant in Hambach, France. DC also will invest E100 million ($95.3 million) to expand the plant, while hiring 300 extra workers. Smart will go on sale in the U.K. and Japan late this year.

Mitsubishi given light court fine in wake of scandal

A Japanese court has ordered Mitsubishi Motors Corp. to pay a $36,975 fine after the automaker was discovered hiding automotive defect reports. The fine, the second against a Japanese automaker for hiding such reports, is widely regarded as a slap on the wrist. The Mitsubishi scandal, which involved covering up reports for 30 years, prompted a widespread recall effort involving 580,000 vehicles and reportedly costing the automaker minimally 5 billion ($46.1 million). Japanese officials say they would not impose harsher penalties because none of the defects that the automaker failed to report to regulators resulted in any deaths. Defects included failing brakes, leaky fuel caps and faulty clutches.

Toyota European sales already exceed expectations

Toyota Motor Corp. says it is right on track to grab 800,000 sales, or 5% market share, in Europe by 2005, with 1 million sales not far off. "We are actually this year a bit ahead of plan," says Tadashi Arashima, senior vice president of Toyota Motor Europe. The automaker expects to sell 650,000 units or more this year thanks to a vigorous market and the sales success of the Yaris. After 2003 or 2004, the model lineup will be rejuvenated and Toyota will be in full swing, he says. Future products will be designed with more focus on the European market, including the Corolla, which is in one of Europe's largest segments - the C-segment. Toyota Motor Europe will be very involved in the design of the new vehicle now that Japan is ready to put the focus on Europe's needs, Mr. Arashima says. Toyota's new Valenciennes, France, plant is nearing completion and will be inaugurated in January. Some 70,000 to 80,000 Yaris models will be produced there next year, with a quick ramp-up to 150,000 units in the near future.

Holden's expected to get engine plant

Holden's Ltd. of Australia is close to winning a new A$500 million ($272 million) engine plant, says General Motors Corp. Chairman John F. (Jack) Smith Jr. "The negotiations now amount to what form the engine will be built in," Mr. Smith tells a media gathering in Wollongong, New South Wales. "Australia has passed all our tests with flying colors." The V-6 plant is expected to be operating by 2003, building more than 250,000 engines a year. Holden's Chairman and Managing Director Peter Hanenberger says the company is close to a decision. "It looks good for Australia," he says. "We've overcome most of the hurdles."

Uruguay's auto industry threatened by Mercosur trade pact

Uruguay says it is paying the price for failing to sign this year's updated Mercosur trade pact agreement with Argentina and Brazil. The country's exports have come to a near standstill. "This situation is unsustainable," says Oscar Ramos, director of Uruguay's Automotive Chamber of Industries (CIAU). The original 1995 trade pact's automotive sector was divided among the four countries that make up the trade bloc - Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. Because Uruguay's low capacity of 35,000 units per year couldn't compare to the 900,000 capacity of Argentina or the 4 million capacity of Brazil, the country decided to concentrate on specialized niche vehicles. Yet it continues to produce far below capacity, building only 10,620 units in 1999. Some 8,500 units were built in the first half of 2000. Uruguay has three factories - Nordes, which produces the Renault Twingo; MS Oferal, which produces the Citroen Xsara and Puegeot 306; and Ferroland, which produces the Aelus for China's Dongfeng Automotive Group.