Another red letter day for DCX

Having spent $2 billion for a 34% stake in Mitsubishi Motors Corp., the folks at DaimlerChrysler AG have to be wondering if this investment will ever pay off. The Japanese automaker says it will recall 1.52 million vehicles worldwide at a cost of ¥17 billion ($147.2 million). Mitsubishi will recall 960,000 cars in the U.S., including 567,000 Galant sedans, to inspect for premature ball joint wear. Mitsubishi also will recall 80,000 cars in Europe, 70,000 in other regions and about 410,000 in Japan, including 110,000 cars that were subject to a previous recall. Mitsubishi has been struggling since its acknowledgment last year that it had been hiding consumer complaints for more than 20 years.

What 5-door stigma? ZX5's coming

Ford Motor Co. was reluctant to bring the Focus ZX5 to North America, despite its status in Europe as the most popular model in the Focus lineup. “The initial plans were to not bring the 5-door to North America,” says Torrey Galida, vice president-marketing for Ford of Canada, which unveiled the vehicle recently at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto. But former Ford of Canada President Bobbie Gaunt argued that it made perfect sense for the Canadian market, which puts more emphasis on affordability and utility. The carmaker will now add the ZX5 to the plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, where the ZX3 is assembled. Production begins this summer, and the vehicle goes on sale in the fall. Pricing has not been set. The 5-door stigma in the U.S. is “clearly no longer the case,” Mr. Galida says. The '02 ZX5 will compete with the Chrysler PT Cruiser and newcomers Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix.

Hey sarge, can I get mine with a gun turret?

We all know the Chevy Tracker can tow a broken down semi-trailer (at least that's what the TV campaign suggests). But now the small sport/utility vehicle may find itself tackling other brutish assignments. General Motors Corp. inks a unique deal with the U.S. Overseas Military Sales Corp.'s NavyAutosource division to display Chevy Trackers at nearly every foreign U.S. armed forces installation and increase deliveries of the SUV to military personnel. Some 550 Trackers will be delivered in 2001 to U.S. military personnel upon their return stateside, up from 120 last year. Pete Hornick, GM product manager for OMSC, says orders are expected to hit 700 eventually. Military personnel are offered a special rebate and usually place an order six to eight months prior to ending their foreign assignment. It's all part of GM's attempt to reach the customer before the customer reaches the market.

Slow-selling C70 trims Volvo payroll

Volvo Car Co.'s plant in Uddevalla, Sweden, has cut its ranks by about 250 workers due to sluggish sales of C70 coupes and convertibles in the U.S., the largest market for the models. The plant now employs about 950 workers. Volvo produced about 12,000 C70s last year, but 2001 volume is forecast in the 8,000- to 9,000-unit range. “We are also currently studying the Uddevalla factory and plan to develop the production process further in order to improve efficiency,” says Curt Germundsson, senior vice president-manufacturing. Volvo also is studying the possibility of transferring employees to other areas within the corporation.

Mercedes G-Class arrives in fall

Mercedes-Benz U.S.A. Inc. officially will begin selling the G-Class sport/utility vehicle (SUV) this fall, says Juergen Hubbert, DaimlerChrysler AG board member in charge of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars and Smart. The vehicle will be close in price to the $66,545 ML55 SUV, and sales are expected to total 600 to 700 units per year, Mr. Hubbert says. In the U.S., it will be equipped only with a 296-hp V-8. No diesel will be offered. U.S. sales are expected to be concentrated in the West and Northeast regions. While unofficially imported in low volumes for years, this is the first time Mercedes is officially selling the vehicle in the U.S. “If you really want to go off road, this is the one,” Mr. Hubbert says.

GM Vortec V-8s push powerboat above 100 mph

General Motors Corp. adds a new dimension to the term “power boat” by providing a pair of special high performance Vortec 6000 V-8 engines that together develop a resonating 1,200 hp in a new experimental boat unveiled at the Miami International Boat Show. The twin, all-aluminum engines, mated to MerCruiser sterndrives, push a 35-ft. Fountain Lightning Sport Boat to speeds exceeding 100 mph on Biscayne Bay. Meanwhile, GM introduces its small-block Vortec 6000, basically the same engine used in numerous GM trucks and SUVs, to the marine market. Powering a 27-ft. boat, it easily hits 60 mph on Biscayne Bay. Says GM Powertrain Group Vice President Arvin Mueller: “A lot of people pull their boats with trucks. We want to have the same brand (Vortec) under the hood and under the cowling.”

Buick promises strong 2001

The outlook is bright rather than bleak for Buick, claims a top executive at the General Motors Corp. division, which is facing a cooling market in 2001 after posting a 9.2% drop in deliveries during the record sales of 2000. “Buick is actually much more resilient during a recession period than the average carmaker,” explains Marketing General Manager Roger Adams. “Interestingly for us, what sells better for us during recessions are our higher-priced models and higher trim levels. We have a fair amount of owners with discretionary income, and they seem less affected by a recession. And we also have a lot of loyalty.” That allegiance is what saved Buick — for now — instead of Olds, which GM will phase out over the next three years. Buick wants a more prominent role in the GM portfolio, and the Rendezvous crossover vehicle arriving this spring appears to fit the bill.

Slow start for big trucks as sales fall 22%

Although some big truck segments showed signs of recovery, the industry's downturn was extended in January as overall sales declined 22.1% (27,954 vs. 34,500) on a daily rate basis to start off 2001. It was the seventh consecutive month and the 10th in the last 13 months that big truck sales have failed to match or exceed previous-year totals. Most of the decreases have been substantial. January's drop marked the fourth month out of the last five that deliveries have slipped by more than 20% vs. year-ago figures. Sales of heavy-duty (Class 8) trucks posted another big decline in January, down 33.9%. Volvo Trucks North America Inc. was the only manufacturer that managed an increase, and its market share more than doubled as a result. Medium-duty (Classes 4-7) sales were down 11.2% in January, a less severe drop than the 21.8% decline in December.

Ferrari readies Maserati for U.S.

Ferrari North America Inc. will preview the Maserati coupe at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next January, shortly before the car goes on sale in the U.S., says Stuart Robinson, Ferrari president and chief executive. Ferrari is targeting a sales volume of 1,200 units in the first full year, growing to 2000 units in the second year. Mr. Robinson says that Maserati sales are targeted to grow to about 5000 units annually after five years here. In addition to Ferrari dealers, the company is investigating awarding Maserati franchises to other dealers. There are 29 Ferrari dealers in the U.S. and three additional outlets in Canada. Maserati dealers will be required to build separate showrooms for that marque. No Maseratis will be sold alongside Ferrari cars. The Maserati introduction will be limited to two models in the first two years: the 3200 GT coupe and the 3200 GT Spyder. In the third year, the company plans to offer the Quattroporte, a 4-door sedan that would compete in price with the top of the Mercedes line. No prices have been announced for the cars, but the Ferrari CEO indicates that the coupe would start at about $80,000 and the Spyder at about $92,000.

The get up and go got up and went

When you think of the Town & Country minivan, you think high performance, right? If not, DaimlerChrysler Corp. wants you to. Or at least it did. The company planned to build a minivan equipped with a high-performance powerplant, but those plans have been shelved, a company spokesman confirms. The Town & Country Limited was to offer the same 3.5L V-6 used in Chrysler's 300M and LHS, but the automaker deemed the package too expensive to market successfully, a source says. Though pricing had not been precisely determined, says the spokesman, it was “one of the factors. The big question was, given that we already offer 17 minivan models — the most in the segment — we decided that we didn't need to offer this particular feature at this particular time. And we already have the most powerful in the segment,” he adds. The all-aluminum 3.5L SOHC engine produces 230 hp and 250 lb.-ft. (339 Nm) of torque, compared to the 218-hp, 245 lb.-ft.(332 Nm) output of T&C's standard 3.8L engine. The beefed up T&C, which is officially “postponed for the near future,” was to have hit showrooms next month. The move comes on the heels of DCC's plan to introduce two mid-priced long-wheelbase models in March. The Chrysler Town & Country EX and Dodge Grand Caravan will sticker for about $26,000. DCC's current top-of-the-line minivan is the all-wheel-drive Town & Country Limited, which stickers at $37,815, including freight.