THE END OF AN ERA
During the Soviet era, the giant automaker AZLK turned out hundreds of thousands of rickety Moskvich cars. But on Monday, the lights went out at the Moscow plant when the power company pulled the plug over an outstanding $19 million power bill.
A spokeswoman for the Mosenergo electric company said AZLK -- which is partly owned by the city of Moscow -- had repeatedly promised to pay its debt. The power was cut after AZLK missed its last repayment deadline.
AZLK was once the flagship of Russia's auto industry, but growing competition from used-car importers from Western Europe forced it to the brink of bankruptcy in the 1990s, before the city of Moscow offered the company a bailout. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov hoped to reverse the plant's fortune by placing lucrative orders for a fleet of taxis and ordering city officials to use limousines produced by the Moskvich plant.
However, AZLK's mounting losses appear to have finally broken Luzhkov's will. Late last year, Luzhkov quietly abandoned his Moskvich stretch limo -- allegedly because of frequent breakdowns -- and began using a Western-made sedan.
AUTO-MATIC FOR THE PEOPLE
Chrysler's popular PT Cruiser is going topless.
The Chrysler Group announced Monday at the Geneva Auto Show in Switzerland that it will build a two-door convertible version of the retro-styled, four-door Cruiser for the 2004 model year.
The convertible concept car was first shown at last year's New York Auto Show. "We were overwhelming by the positive consumer and media response when we took the wraps off the original Convertible Styling Study," said Dieter Zetsche, Chrysler Group president and CEO. "In fact an Internet poll taken immediately after the unveiling showed that almost 90 percent loved the vehicle and begged us to build it."
The PT Cruiser ragtop is expected to reach showrooms in early 2004. It will be called the Cabrio in Europe, where the vehicle's 1940s styling also created a sensation when it was introduced in the spring of 2000.
Chrysler has sold 310,000 PT Cruisers, including 258,000 in the United States, but sales fell 19 percent in February from a year ago. U.S. consumers snapped up more than 150,000 Cruisers last year.
Chrysler last year unveiled a limited edition "Woodie" PT Cruiser with simulated wood side panels, a version with customized hot-rod flames, and may be developing a wagon and a cool mini-pickup with an open bed.
Actor and environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. is the first retail customer of a Toyota RAV4-EV, a zero-emission electric vehicle. The automaker says he took delivery Monday at the Toyota of Hollywood dealership.
Begley has long been committed to numerous environmental causes. In addition to his new RAV4-EV, he also owns a Toyota Prius gas/electric hybrid vehicle.
Begley stars in the new ABC series "The Web," which premieres March 27. He also can be seen in recurring roles on the WB series "7th Heaven" and the HBO series "Six Feet Under."
REASONS TO CELEBRATE TODAY:
TUESDAY: Today through March 11 is Chocolate Chip Cookie Week, as proclaimed by the makers of Famous Amos cookies.
This is Crispus Attucks Day, honoring the black man who was the first to die in the Boston Massacre on this date in 1770.
It's Peace Corps Day.
Today is Town Meeting Day in Vermont. Nearly every town elects officers, approves budgets and discusses other items during a meeting with voters. The day is an official state holiday.
And this is Unique Names Day.
(Thanks to Chase's 2002 Calendar of Events)
BY THE WAY...
Emmett J. Culligan, founder of the world's largest water treatment organization that bears his name, was born on this date in 1893. Why did he develop a water-softening device?
Culligan experimented with water softeners in the early 1920s to soften the water used to wash his baby's diapers.