Friday, November 20, 2009

A couple of auto industry stories

As we know, Ford is the only American automaker that didn't need a bailout. Why might that be? Well, maybe it's because they don't suck:

DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. has secured its position as the only domestic automaker with world-class reliability, according to a report released last week by Consumer Reports.

The findings for the trusted magazine's 2009 Annual Car Reliability Survey are from 1.4 million consumer surveys combined with its own performance testing.

Of the 51 Ford, Mercury and Lincoln cars and trucks surveyed by Consumer Reports, 90 per cent were average or better.

The Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan midsized sedans ranked higher than any other family sedan, except for the Toyota Prius hybrid car.

That's noteworthy because the Ford Fusion, which is the 10th best-selling vehicle in America so far this year, outperformed the better-selling Toyota Camry (No. 2) and Honda Accord (No. 4).

Interesting; so much for "found on road dead". Maybe GM and Chrysler are being held back by their unions... Oh, wait. Our friends on the Kitco and iTulip boards will be a bit nonplussed by that, but maybe there's another reason? Like, say, that the management at GM and Chrysler don't know what the hell they're doing, while those at Ford do?

But there's good news for Wilmington, Delaware, whose GM plant closed this year. Fisker Automotive is buying the plant to build electric cars:

NEW YORK -- Electric-car start-up Fisker Automotive said Tuesday that it will invest nearly $200 million to buy and retool a former General Motors plant in Wilmington, Del., facing off against Honda Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and other big manufacturers in the nascent market for electric vehicles.

Topped off by an appearance from U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden at the plant in Delaware, Fisker Automotive said it hopes to support 2,000 factory jobs and more than 3,000 vendor and supplier jobs by 2014 at the site, with a production target of 75,000 to 100,000 vehicles per year.

The Irvine, Calif.-based company will spend about $18 million to buy the plant from Motors Liquidation Co. and then spend an additional $175 million to retool the plant to begin production in 2012. "This is a major step toward establishing America as a leader of advanced vehicle technology," said Henrik Fisker, the firm's chief executive.

Fisker Automotive received $529 million in government-loan guarantees in September to develop plug-in vehicles, after breaking into the business as the maker of a luxurious, $80,000 electric car with a range of up to 483 kilometres. That car, called the Karma, is expected to go on sale in 2010.

Given the need to reduce our greenhouse emissions, this could be the best news of all in the long run, if the cars work as advertised. I am curious, though, as to whether Fisker will hire laid off workers from the plant, or if they'll hire kids straight out of school? The former would probably be better for the community, but it remains to be seen whether Fisker will choose that route. After all, many companies don't like to hire people who have worked for other companies in the same industry. The Toyota plant in Cambridge has a reputation for this, for instance. I suppose this could be rationalized in terms of differing corporate cultures, and preferring to train a worker who is, relatively speaking, a tabula rasa than one who's already habituated to a different corporate culture. I suspect, though, that these companies' real fear is that people who have worked in a unionized environment might have traits that they might not want in their company -- like, say, knowing what their rights are.

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