News : 2 November 2008

News digest

Compiled by Clive Goldthorp

1) Jaguar and Land Rover

JLR Workers sent home, 27th October, 2008

Jaguar factory

Workers at Halewood – Jaguar Land Rover’s Merseyside factory – have this week off as the company freezes production at the plant. The planned stoppage, announced last month, is meant to avoid stockpiling cars that are not selling. Halewood’s 2500 staff will return to work as usual next week.

It’s not the first time that JLR has idled its factories this year. Falling sales have meant four-day weeks at JLR’s Halewood, Castle Bromwich and Solihull plants, although workers were previously required to go in for training days. JLR says it will be ‘evaluating production in line with the market downturn.”

Other UK car factories have also been forced to reduce output in response to a decline in demand for new cars. Last week Nissan announced that the Micra line at Sunderland would lie idle for four weeks between now and the New Year. Bentley’s factory in Crewe is already running a three-day week and Ford’s Transit line in Southampton has also introduced non-production days.

2) SAIC Motor/MG and Roewe

SAIC gets go-ahead for share transfer
Shanghai Daily 27th October, 2008

SHANGHAI Automotive Industry Corp (Group), China’s largest auto maker, has received government approval to transfer shares in a listed unit to Nanjing Automobile Group Corp. Shanghai Auto received notice recently from the local state-asset supervision and administration agency to transfer 320 million shares in SAIC Motor Corp to Nanjing Auto, the listed unit told the Shanghai Stock Exchange on Saturday.

After the transfer, Nanjing Auto will hold 4.88 percent of SAIC Motor.

SAIC Profit Falls 78% as China GM Venture Loses Share
Tian Ying, 29th October, 2008

SAIC Motor Corp., China’s biggest automaker, said third-quarter profit fell 78 percent as its venture with General Motors Corp. lost market share and the country’s industrywide sales growth slowed. Net income fell to 260.8 million yuan ($38 million), or 0.04 yuan a share, from 1.17 billion yuan, or 0.178 yuan, a year earlier, the Shanghai-based company said in a statement to the city’s stock exchange today. Sales fell 6 percent to 24.3 billion yuan.

SAIC’s vehicle sales growth slowed to 9 percent in the first nine months, from 24 percent a year earlier, as customers shunned its aging Buick Excelles in favour of Toyota Motor Corp. Corollas. The country’s overall auto sales also dropped for the first time in three years in August and September because of the Beijing Olympics, a slower economy and a plunging stock market.

‘Demand for cars is falling and that hits companies like SAIC,’ said Qin Xuwen, an analyst at Orient Securities Co. in Shanghai. ‘Still, next year may be better, as their GM venture should turn around with the addition of new models.’

GM was surpassed as the second-biggest overseas carmaker in China in the first nine months by Toyota. Volkswagen AG, ranked first, also has a venture with SAIC.

Smaller Margins

Chinese carmakers face smaller margins as they slash prices to win customers, while paying more for raw materials. The country’s prices for cold-rolled coil steel, used in cars and appliances, averaged 6822 yuan a ton in the third quarter, or 38 percent higher than a year earlier, according to Beijing Antaike Information Development Co.

Automakers are offering discounts because of slower demand and rising competition. Car sales rose 11 percent in the first nine months, compared with a 22 percent increase for the whole of last year. Average car prices may fall as much as 3 percent this year, Cheng Xiaodong, head of the vehicle-price monitoring arm of the National Development and Reform Commission, said earlier this month.

SAIC has plunged 81 percent this year in Shanghai trading, compared with a 69 percent plunge for the benchmark CSI300 Index. The stock dropped 2.7 percent to 5.02 yuan today before the earnings announcement.

SAIC building second phase of brand project in Nanjing
Trading 29th October, 2008

Shanghai Automotive Group Co., Ltd. (SAIC) is undertaking its second phase of brand project in Nanjing, capital of East China’s Jiangsu Province. The project is being built with a total investment of 2.566 billion yuan, and expected for completion and operation in 2009. The Nanjing base will then have an annual production capacity of 200,000 vehicles and 250,000 engines.

The project includes the newly developed global A-class car platform, NSE series engines, which are developed for new cars and the adaptation transformation of the Nanjing base. The A-class car platform is a basic technology-based platform, which will develop a series of models, including hatchback, sedan, small MPV and also a revamped mid-sized model based on MG, as SAIC’s own-brand models for the global markets.

(Editor’s Note: AROnline reckons that the phrase ‘the A-class car platform” refers not to an A-segment Fiat 500 or Ford Ka type City/Mini car but to a range of C-segment and D-segment hatchbacks and saloons etc. based on the Roewe 550’s platform.)

SsangYong falls into red as sales decline 29th October, 2008

Falling sales at home and rising fuel costs have hit the South Korean automaker SsangYong Motor Corp, which today reported a loss for its third quarter. The South Korean subsidiary of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp reported a loss of 28.2bn won (US$20m) in the July-September period, compared with a profit of 1.2bn won a year earlier, the company said in a statement.

The company did say that the third quarter loss was an improvement on the second quarter result where it lost 35.7bn won. SsangYong’s sales fell 8.2% to 684bn won in the third quarter, leading to an operating loss of 48.3bn won. Domestic sales fell 31% in the period.

Roewe 750 1.8T Manual to go on the market
China Car Times 30th October, 2008

NAC MG tested the market with an MG7 1.8T Manual and they did not sell particularly well, but Roewe are going to give the market segment a shot with their latest model, the 750 1.8T manual.

Roewe could be aiming the manual ‘box version at fleet buyers who do not really require the added expense of an autobox and autobox servicing but do require a car that makes them look good. The 1.8T manual is reportedly very economical, with it using 6.0l per 100km of travel, and, performance wise, the manual is expected to reach 127mph.


Spy shots: New photos of Mini’s upcoming crossover
Jeremy Weber, Motor, 29th October, 2008

Mini previewed the vehicle with its Paris concept but these new spy shots give a look at the production model.

Mini unveiled a concept version of its upcoming crossover at the recent Paris Motor Show and a couple weeks ago, we brought you the first spy shots of the prototype caught while testing in Germany. Now these new spy photos give an even clearer look at the car, revealing a familiar outline with a few notable changes.

The new crossover is expected to be launched towards the end of next year as a 2010 model but Mini has still not decided on a name for it. The Paris show car was simply called the Mini ‘Crossover’ Concept and while a number of sources, including this one, reported that the production version would be called the ‘Crossman,’ Mini’s marketing chief Ian Robertson revealed that it definitely won’t go by that name. Latest speculation suggests that it could be called the Maxi, but without official confirmation it is still too early to call. The Maxi name, incidentally, comes from a 1960s British Leyland five-door hatch that shared a number of features with a Mini project.

The crossover will be the fourth body variant after the classic two-door Cooper, the Cabrio and the long-wheelbase Clubman, and measures more than four meters in length. The standard drivetrain will be AWD, but according to Robertson a FWD ‘Estate” will be added to the lineup in 2011.

Unlike the concept’s dramatic suicide rear doors the production model will have conventional doors, as seen in the spy shots. The rear hatch will also be a single unit and not the split style opening used on the Clubman. The taller ride-height and more aggressive front-end design also fit its crossover intentions, though the vehicle remains very much a Mini.

The engine lineup should mirror the powertrain range found in the Cooper and Clubman models, which means a base 1.6L petrol four-cylinder with 120hp and 160Nm of torque, a 1.6L common-rail diesel with 110hp and 240Nm of torque, and a 1.6L turbocharged petrol unit with 175hp and 240Nm of torque. All three engines will be available with a six-speed manual as standard or an optional six-speed auto.

Production of the crossover will be outsourced to independent vehicle manufacturer Magna Steyr, and worldwide sales are expected to top 80,000 units per year.

4) Aston Martin

First photos of Aston Martin’s One-77 supercar leaked
Kenneth Hall, Motor 28th October, 2008

Aston Martin has confirmed a 7.3L V12 with ‘more’ than 700hp (522kW) for One-77

The era of epic supercars is certainly not over at Aston Martin, with the carmaker confirming the development of a brand new flagship model late last month following the release of an initial teaser shot. The first shot was quickly followed by a second official image and then, at this month’s Paris Motor Show, a life-size mock up of the car was put on display, although most of it remained shrouded. Now leaked photos of the car show it from every angle.

The leaked shots, which blur the line between computer renderings and studio photos, show a car identical to the car glimpsed at the Paris Motor Show, confirming that the pictures are at least accurate, though their exact provenance isn’t known.

The show car, which still carries the working title of One-77, confirmed the new flagship will adopt some very Aston design traits. These include the squared off flanks, wide stance, and similar tail-lights to the DBS and Vantage V8.

Pricing for the One-77 will start at close to £1.2 million and production will be limited to just 77 units. Despite the high price tag, Aston has reportedly received over 100 orders for the car, effectively selling out the entire production run. The sold-out status defies the incredibly weak current global economy and car market, as the roughly $2.1 million totals to nearly a quarter of a billion dollars worth of pre-orders. Even the deposit exceeds the price of many supercars at £200,000 ($351,000).

Coinciding with the partial unveiling of the show car is official confirmation that the One-77 will feature a 7.3L V12 engine with ‘more’ than 700hp (522kW), and capable of propelling the car to more than 200mph (320km/h).

According to a previously leaked sales doc, the drivetrain will also feature dry-sump lubrication and a rear-mounted six-speed automated manual transmission. Other leaked details include both left and right-hand-drive availability, a carbon-fiber monocoque body structure with hand crafted aluminum panels, active aerodynamics, and a kerb weight around the 1500kg mark.

Speaking previously with AutoExpress, a spokesman for Aston Martin explained that an extensive customization program will ensure that no two models are the same. Buyers will be able to customize every single part of the car, from the gearbox to the interior trim elements. Even the seats will be tailored to fit the driver and passenger’s individual curves. The spokesman also confirmed that a concept version will be shown to a select group of customers by the end of the year, with the finished version expected to be ready by the end of next year.

5) Bentley

Bentley makes deeper production cuts
John Reed, Financial Times 30th October, 2008

Bentley Motors is cutting production for a second time in less than two months at its plant in Crewe in response to falling demand for its high-end cars. The brand said yesterday it was dropping the night shift on the line that makes its Continental models, with about 1,200 employees affected, but Bentley said the move would involve no involuntary redundancies.

The carmaker will also send employees on an extended Christmas break, closing its two lines on December 10 and 11 and reopening on January 12. Workers will be paid through the shutdown under the company’s “time-banking” scheme, although the pay premium for the night shift will be discontinued. “We have to reduce production further, given the ongoing lack of consumer confidence,” said Bentley’s Michael Hawes. “Clearly, the decline in demand is continuing and getting more severe.”

Bentley, which is majority owned by Germany’s Volkswagen, reported a 20 per cent drop in its global sales for the year to the end of September. The carmaker employs about 3800 people. The brand in September said it was cutting production by about 15 per cent, by reducing shifts and hours worked for some of its slower-selling models.

Last year, Bentley sold 10,000 cars worldwide.

The carmaker said it had opened a voluntary release programme as of yesterday morning. Mr Hawes said the company should seek to redeploy employees affected in other parts of the business or put them in positions currently held by contract workers. Carmakers are cutting shifts in the UK and around Europe as the industry heads into its worst year for sales since the recession of the early 1990s.

Honda this week said it would be reducing production at its plant in Swindon by a further 10,000 units in January to March 2009, equating to 11 non-production days. Toyota, Nissan, Ford Motor, General Motors, Land Rover and Jaguar have also recently cut shifts or reduced production days.

6) XPart

XPart expands network to target BMW’s MINI
AM-online 29th October, 2008

XPart has expanded its AutoService centre network to include servicing for the BMW-produced MINI

The company will be taking advantage of the fact that MINI owners are starting to come out of MINI’s TLC service plan package, which offered five years or 50,000 miles’ worth of servicing for a single payment of £100. The TLC package was extremely successful for MINI, with a 98% uptake rate since its 2001 launch.

However, Don Lindsay, XPart’s Service Marketing Manager, wants to remove business from franchised dealers by offering cheaper labour rates through 90 of the 250-strong XPart AutoService network. Lindsay said: ‘MINI has bolted on really well with the network and it has a rising vehicle parc of about 40,000 in the UK.

‘A lot of owners will be coming out of their warranty and onto second or third owners.”

Lindsay said the XPart centres have labour rates at about £45 to £50, which he believes is typically half the price charged by franchised dealers. XPart’s centres use diagnostic equipment provided by Autologic. Its technicians will have access to a web-based help desk which provides updates and advice for servicing of the new MINI.

The centres also hold service and wear parts specifically for the new MINI to reduce delays for customers that need replacement parts. XPart will be promoting the fact that MINI owners can now come to them via local marketing through dealerships and through its website

Keith Adams

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