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AutoOutlook: Ford hires 1,400; GM gets credit rating boost

By PAT NASON, United Press International   |   Sept. 1, 2013 at 5:30 AM   |   Comments

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Ford Motor Co. added 1,400 workers at its Flat Rock, Mich. assembly plant to help meet demand for its Fusion model.

The hiring brings to 3,000 the number of workers at the plant, which also makes the Ford Mustang, the Detroit Free Press said.

"Fusion has exceeded all of our expectations, with demand outstripping supply," said Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas.

Ford is already running three shifts in Hermosillo, Mexico, where workers produce the Fusion and assemble the Lincoln MKZ. The plant has not been able to produce enough Fusions to meet demand, so Ford put in a new body shop at the Flat Rock plant that will work on the Fusion, a redesigned Mustang next year, and, at some point, Taurus and Lincoln MKS full-size sedans, the newspaper said.

Ford said it sold 181,668 Fusions through July but Fusion sales fell in August -- in large part because the company could not make enough of them to meet demand.

United Auto Workers Vice President Jimmy Settles said the union was "thrilled to have added production of Fusion at Flat Rock -- not just for our dedicated workforce here, but for the entire metro Detroit community and the associated jobs it will create."

Ford has announced plans to create 12,000 hourly jobs in the United States by 2015, the newspaper said.


Fitch upgrades GM credit rating

Fitch Ratings said last week it is upgrading General Motors Co. to a positive outlook from stable but retained a BB+ issuer default rating, just shy of investment-grade status.

Fitch said the company could get an improved credit rating if it raises prices or cuts operating expenses, or if it can "further stabilize the financial performance of its European operations" and bolster funding of its pension plans, The Detroit News reported.

GM has not been rated investment-grade since May 2005.


GM reaches sales milestone in China

General Motors Co. said last week it and its joint ventures in China have sold more than 2 million vehicles in China in 2013 -- the fourth consecutive year sales have topped 2 million.

The company said this is the earliest in the year the company has reached the 2 million plateau. Last year, sales in China reached 2 million units Sept. 21, the company said in a news release.

"GM continues to introduce new and upgraded models in China," said GM China President Bob Socia. "This is enabling us to meet the needs of our customers and stay ahead of developments in our largest market."

The company announced this year it and its joint ventures will invest about $11 billion in China through 2016.

GM was the first global automaker to reach the 2 million milestone in China in 2010.


Chinese automaker to open plant in North Korea

China's state-owned automaker FAW Group Corp. plans to invest in a plant in North Korea, the North's news agency reported last week.

The Chinese company has signed a letter of intent with the regional government in North Korea's northeastern port city of Rason to invest in the construction of the auto plant, South Korea's Yonhap News said, quoting a report by the North's KCNA.

The agreement is a preliminary step to conclude an official deal for the investment, the report said.

Yonhap said the impoverished communist country has designated Rason as a special economic zone and has been actively seeking overseas investment in the area.

The regional committee on trade promotion in northeast China's Heilongjiang province and Rason's economic committee have already agreed to boost cooperation.


Honda recalls 408,000 CR-V vehicles in China

Dongfeng Honda Automobile Co. will recall 408,000 CR-V vehicles in China because of poor quality piston rods, Chinese regulators said.

The company is Honda Motor Co.'s joint operation in China, which was formed with Dongfeng Motor Group Co.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said the recall affects CR-Vs made from March 2010 to August 2012.

In a statement, Dongfeng Honda said the weak piston rods were the fault of the supplier, but the supplier was not named in the statement.

The regulator said the piston rods could break under extreme conditions.

From January through July, Honda sold 367,718 vehicles in China, a 3 percent decline from the same months in 2012.

Political tension between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea that Japan calls the Senkaku Islands and claims as its own, erupted in 2012, sparking widespread anger in China that played out in the marketplace with many consumers boycotting Japanese products.

The Journal said the recall is a setback for Honda, which is trying to make a comeback from a loss of market share attributed to the political dispute.


Impala tops Consumer Reports list of best redesigns

The Chevrolet Impala came out at the top of Consumer Reports latest ranking of most improved automobile designs, followed by the Hyundai Accent hatchback and the Audi A6.

CR said the redesigned Impala did 32 points better than its predecessor, scoring a 95 in testing at the organization's Auto Test Center.

"It literally went from zero to hero, or from being a non-recommended outdated and outclassed car to one of the very best on the market," CR said in a news release.

The Hyundai Accent hatchback went from 52 to 72, giving it a place near the top of CR's subcompact ratings.

The Audi A6 jumped from 79 to 93.

Other top finishers in the latest ranking -- Land Rover LR4 improved from 60 to 73; Mazda6 went from 73 to 85; Ford Escape improved from 64 to 75; and Honda Accord jumped from 80 to 90.

The Kia Rio hatchback, the BMW 328i and the Buick LaCrosse also landed on the list of most improved designs, CR said.


GM plans 'self-driving' car this decade

General Motors Co. said this week it may introduce by the end of the decade a car that virtually drives itself, using a system called Super Cruise.

GM engineers demonstrated the system Wednesday at the company's testing facility in Milford, Mich., the Detroit Free Press reported.

The system uses radar and cameras for steering and keeping a vehicle a safe distance behind other vehicles.

GM, Mercedes, BMW and Lexus -- among others -- offer radar-controlled cruise control systems that can keep vehicles at a safe distance and brake to avoid a collision, but John Capp, GM director of electrical controls and active safety technology, said the steering control feature is "the big additional piece" in the Super Cruise system.

Capp said the system needs a lot of work before it will be ready to handle issues such as road conditions, lane-line visibility and interaction with drivers, the newspaper said.

He said the system might be available by 2010, probably appearing first in the Cadillac before being offered in other GM cars.

Charles Green, an engineer who evaluates driver performance, told the Free Press GM is aware the Super Cruise system may lead to complacency behind the wheel, so the company plans to add a feature that will "help you keep your visual attention on the road ahead."

Nissan also has said it plans to develop self-driving cars by 2020, the newspaper said.


Drunken driving crackdown across U.S. for Labor Day

Law enforcement agencies around the nation are cracking down on drunken driving during Labor Day Weekend, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

Foxx and the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the crackdown -- the department's annual Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over -- campaign last week. It runs through Monday.

NHTSA data show a drunken driving crash claims the life of someone who was not driving drunk every 3 hours in the United States.

"Drunk driving remains a serious, deadly crime that all too often destroys the lives of innocent victims," Foxx said. "We're sending a message today that we will not tolerate drunk driving, so if you have had too much to drink, don't get behind the wheel."

Nearly 10,000 people die each year in drunken driving crashes, the Transportation Department said -- working out to 27 people a day, or one every 53 minutes.

More than a third of those killed in drunk driving crashes are not the drunk driver.

More than 10,000 police departments and law enforcement agencies across the country are participating in the crackdown.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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