Auto Outlook: Saab story getting happy ending?

Oct. 30, 2011 at 5:30 AM
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An 11th-hour offer by Chinese investors to buy Swedish Automobile, the parent of Sweden's ailing Saab, apparently will keep the automaker from possible liquidation.

The New York Times Friday said China's Jhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co. and Pang Da Automobile Trade Co. agreed in principle to pay $141.9 million to take over 100 percent of Saab.

Last week, Saab's story took on more twists and turns when Swedish Automobile Chief Executive Officer Victor Muller said a non-binding memorandum signed by the two Chinese companies in July to take a combined 53.9 percent stake in Saab was no longer in play.

Muller said that offer was unacceptable because it would mean a Chinese takeover. He said Swedish Automobile had a backup plan, but did not say what that entailed.

The memorandum of understanding announced Friday could provide Saab with operating capital and allow it to update its vehicle lineup, but the funding must be approved by government authorities in Beijing by mid-November. A Chinese takeover could shift some production of the iconic 64-year-old Swedish brand to China, but probably not in the immediate future.

Saab halted the assembly line at its flagship factory in Trollhatten, Sweden, in April after unpaid suppliers stopped extending credit. Employees have not been paid since July and their unions began court action in September that could have forced the company to liquidate rather than reorganize.


Consumer Reports: Ford, GM reliability drop

Ford Motor Co. has come as long way from the 1970s when FORD seemingly stood for "Fix Or Repair Daily."

The blue oval shined brightly in the sun when Ford avoided the bankruptcy route taken by General Motors and Chrysler Corp. in 2009 and Dearborn unleashed a series of winning products from the Focus to the new Taurus SHO.

However, now Consumer Reports, in its 2011 annual rankings, dropped Ford 10 places in the reliability survey appearing in the December issue on newsstands Nov. 1

The annual auto reliability survey is based on data from 1.3 million 2010-11 model-year vehicles owned or leased by CR subscribers.

Ford scored well in 2010 but the 2011 ratings were pulled down by three refreshed models -- the Explorer, Fiesta and Focus -- which were all ranked below average in predicted reliability.

Ford fell from 10th place to 20th out 28 brands, with the Japanese again leading the pack. Ford owners cited problems with Ford's MyFord Touch infotainment system and the new PowerShift dual-clutch automatic transmission in the Fiesta and Focus.

"We have often found that new or revamped models have more problems in their first year than in subsequent model years," David Champion, senior director for Consumer Reports' automotive test center told The Detroit News. The magazine recommends not buying a first-year model.

Toyota's Scion brand, Lexus, Acura, Mazda, Honda, Toyota, Infinity, Subaru and Nissan grabbed the top nine spots with 96 percent of the 91 Japanese vehicles rated average or better in reliability.

Ford fell from fifth place to 23rd place in the latest J.D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Study.

Reliability of both Buick and Cadillac slipped in the CR survey with the new Buick Regal and Chevrolet Cruze rated below average.

Of the 97 domestic models and versions rated, 64 percent were average or better and 35 percent were below average.

Chrysler Group LLC's Jeep brand moved up from 20th to 13th and Chrysler itself moved up 12 slots and Dodge, three.

Mazda was the most improved Japanese brand with an improvement of eight places from 2010. Toyota held steady in sixth place.

Road travel declines, could it be U.S. gas prices?

The Federal Highway Administration said American motorists drove 264 billion miles in July, down 4.6 billion miles from June.

Summer usually marks the peak driving season but that downward trend continued in August with U.S. drivers on the road for 1.7 percent fewer miles. Blame average nearly $4 a gallon gasoline prices and a slumping economy.

Through August, U.S. drivers logged 1.978 trillion miles, the lowest mileage since 2003, down 1.3 percent from 2010. That's a whopping 26 billion fewer miles driven in 2011.

By region, miles traveled in August were down 2.2 percent in the Northeast, 2.1 percent in the South Atlantic, 1.7 percent in the North Central (Midwest), 1.7 percent in the South Gulf, and 1.2 percent in the West, the U.S. Transportation Department said.


Honda owner logs 1 million miles

Main Street in Saco, Maine, was the scene of a surprise parade last Sunday as the odometer on Joe LoCicero's 1990 Honda Accord recorded 1 million miles.

LoCicero, a mechanic consultant for car warranty companies, has put an average 14,000 miles a month on the car for 21 years, WLBZ-TV, Bangor, Maine, reported.

His secret won't help most car owners. There's no car voodoo. He says the engine and most parts are original and he just keeps up with the recommended maintenance schedule.

Honda filmed an ad for his million-mile celebration and Miss Maine presented LoCicero with a new 2012 Accord.


Can pumping gas make you sick?

All jokes about expensive gasoline aside, a survey released Tuesday by Kimberly-Clark Profession, warns of the dangers of germ-ridden gas pump handles.

Pump it yourself apparently can mean exposing yourself to all manner of nasty microbes. The survey for the U.S. hygiene giant found 71 percent of gas pump handles, 68 percent of corner mailbox handles, 41 percent of ATM buttons and 43 percent of escalator rails were highly contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria, mold and viruses.

High levels of germs most associated with risk of illness were also found on 40 percent of parking meters and kiosks and 35 percent of crosswalk buttons and vending machines in shopping malls.

Not surprisingly, no one cleans these machines on a regular basis.

"People do not realize the amount of contamination they are exposed to going to work each day and doing everyday things like filing their gas tank or riding on an escalator," said University of Arizona microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba, who is nicknamed "Dr. Germ." He recommends washing and drying your hands several times throughout the day.

The more than 350 samples were taken from surfaces in public places by trained hygienists in Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia using the same methodology as food sanitation checkers.

I guess you can always wash your hands inside the gas station if you don't pay by swiping a credit card.

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