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It’s been about two weeks since Tesla’s Model S won Automobile Magazine’s Automobile of the Year, and the EV sedan added another trophy–Motor Trend’s Car of the Year title –to its case, which also includes Yahoo Autos’ Car of the Year. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is happy to see the awards rack up and hear the accolades, but is reportedly celebrating with the promise of more Tesla models.
That isn’t to say that Musk isn’t spending a minute or two just celebrating. “When I heard that the Model S had won Motor Trend‘s Car of the Year, I did a double-overhead high-five with George Blankenship [head of Tesla's retail efforts],” the CEO told Motor Trend Editor-in-Chief Ed Loh. “It’s going to be a huge shot in the arm to the whole Tesla team.”
But there aren’t many laurels for Musk to rest on: Tesla is still struggling a bit, amidst the financial hardship of starting a car company, creating a network of charging stations, and now fighting legal battles over its retail network. Keep in mind that Tesla has only built 1000 Model S bodies (which likely includes development models) at its Fremont, California plant through the end of last month. Tesla is hoping to ramp up production to 20,000 units a year by next year.
If Tesla is successful, there are still a few roadblocks between here and President Obama’s stated goal of having one million EVs, plug-in hybrids, and EREVs on the road by 2015, namely the charging infrastructure and initial cost of buying an electric car. Musk hopes to have both of those bases covered, too, and predicts that Obama’s reelection will help keep the pressure on from the government to promote greener, more electrified cars.
First up: the Supercharger network, a national grid of solar-powered electric car chargers along major thoroughfares that hopes to make interstate (or cross-country) driving possible with the Model S. Musk and Tesla recently opened a handful of Supercharger stations but hope to have all major intercity routes (like Boston to New York/Philadelphia/Washington D.C.) covered by 2014.
As for the products, Musk hopes to introduce new products to expand Tesla’s reach while the technology’s costs naturally come down. “I think we’ve got some really good products coming down the pipeline,” he said. “We’ve got the Model X, which is really trying to apply some major innovation to the SUV and Minivan segment, and we’ve got our third-generation car, which is a mass-market electric car–that’s actually the one that I’m most keen to bring to the market.” Lest you think that Teslas are only going to be passenger-focused vehicles like SUVs and sedans, Musk did slip a little fun into his conversation with Motor Trend. “We have this idea for an electric truck that could really be a big improvement in truck technology…[and] we’d like to do an electric supercar.”
With that said, the truck and supercar’s future (and the saleability of the Model X) do depend on the ability of the Model S to make money. So if you’re hoping for a California-built, all-electric truck in your future driveway, keep your fingers crossed.
Sources: Reuters, Motor Trend
By Ben Timmins
Toyota will build the upcoming electric-powered RAV4 alongside the gasoline-powered variant at its Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada, Inc. (TMMC) in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada. Production is slated to begin in 2012.
Many plants were being considered for RAV4 EV production, including the NUMMI plant in Fremont, California. Tesla Motors, which has been assisting in the development of the electric-powered SUV, will build its 2012 Model S family sedan at NUMMI. Toyota says building the electric version of the RAV4 alongside the gasoline version will “maximize production efficiencies and quality control.”
“The Tesla-Toyota joint development team has agreed that building the vehicle at the Woodstock plant on the same line as the gasoline-powered RAV4, will streamline and simplify the production process and guarantee the highest level of quality control,” said Ray Tanguay, TMMC Chairman, in a press release. “This is a great example of Toyota’s determination to collaborate with companies with leading edge technology.”
Toyota will pay Tesla $100 million for the RAV4 EV’s electric powertrain, which includes the battery module, electric motor, gearbox, and electronic components. Tesla will gain insight into Toyota’s manufacturing and engineering processes.
Tesla will build RAV4 EV powertrains at a smaller plant in Palo Alto, California, and then ship them to TMMC for installation in the compact SUVs. Tesla is busy retooling the NUMMI plant preparing for Model S production.
Toyota will announce volume and pricing of the RAV4 EV at a later time.
By Jason Udy
Haven’t we heard this one before? An auto manufacturer opens a dealership owned by them (and not a franchise) and gets called out by various dealer organizations and state governments for violating franchise laws. Tesla is now coming under fire for that very reason.
Automotive News is reporting that the manufacturer-owned stores that Tesla has been opening up across the country are in a direct violation of various states’ franchise laws. Some states completely prohibit dealerships run by automakers, while others – like California – require a certain amount of distance between factory-owned and dealer-owned stores.
Dealer groups are worried that “If a manufacturer sees that Tesla is successful with this kind of business model, who’s to say they don’t break out their own EV product lines and create a separate system that bypasses dealers?” Bob O’Koniewski, the executive vice president of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, told AN.
Despite saying that it does not want to revolutionize the car-buying experience, Tesla has taken a different tack from other automakers. The upstart automaker hired George Blankenship as the VP of sales to head up the retail experience – Blankenship previously created the look and feel of Apple’s retail stores and has given Tesla’s in-mall retail shops a similar feel. Litigation against Tesla is currently being pursued in Oregon, Massachusetts, and New York; however, some states (such as Texas) has no laws regulation car dealership ownership.
Chrysler faced the same kind of scrutiny that Tesla is now facing when it opened a factory-owned dealership in California last year. After a legal battle, Chrysler acquiesced and sold the retail store to a local dealer.
Source: Automotive News (Subscription required)
For the past two years, the 170 employee skeleton crew at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi (TMMM) , located in quiet Blue Springs in the northern part of the Magnolia State, have kept themselves busy despite their plant never reaching operational status. That’s all about to change in 2011.
TMMM was originally announced back in February 2007 as the then-latest site for the Highlander. Then came the economic meltdown. The auto industry was hit especially hard during the recent gas and financial crises, which led to the stoppage of TMMM’s plant construction in December 2008. At the time, the Prius had been penciled into the work lines that would have gone live this year. Now, instead of the Highlander or the Prius, the Corolla will be the first vehicle off the line.
Toyota announced it would complete the plant back in June and hire staff to fill the halls of TMMM beginning in August, and the first 10 employees will join the existing 170 next week for training. When all is said and done, the Japanese automaker expects to put 2000 individuals to work.
Those human beings won’t all be coming from Blue Springs, as there are less than 150 people registered to the town. Locals from the surrounding Tupelo area, who have had to cope with an 11-percent unemployment rate, are expected to fill most of the positions. As has been the case with much of the south, the area’s main industry — furniture production — moved away. Northeastern Mississippi has lost over 15,000 jobs since 1990, according to municipal government estimates. With a little push from state and local officials, Toyota opted to set up shop in the area; it also operates sites in Alabama, and Kentucky and Texas.
By its nature, the planning, construction, and execution of a world-class auto plant requires millions of dollars, and Toyota had already reportedly spent some $300 million on the facility before construction halted. Production equipment is said to be on the way in part from the recently shuttered NUMMI plant (now owned by Tesla) in California, where the automaker built the Corolla, the Big T’s second-best-selling model by far. The compact sedan is presently built in Japan and Ontario, Canada.
When production starts up in the fall of next year, Toyota anticipates it will build roughly 140,000 Corollas per year, well short of estimated plant capacity. Industry analysts predict it’ll be difficult for the automaker to make money from the facility unless 200,000 or so vehicles are rolling off the line. Toyota appears to be taking the long view with TMMM’s production plans however, as the brand continues to rehabilitate its damaged image.
Despite the delays in getting the plant online, Blue Springs and Mississippi remain upbeat. An early Mississippi State University study predicts the 2000 direct plant jobs will generate some 4556 indirect positions in the area, from suppliers setting up shop to the mom-and-pop restaurateurs picking up a cook or two. State and local governments have appropriated close to $294 million to build highway ramps, 11 miles of natural gas lines, and a 10,000-foot railroad spur for the site. Not surprisingly, Toyota will enjoy a corporate tax holiday for 20 years as part of the commitment to the company’s future business.
We’re now in the grip of winter, and fall 2011 is another three seasons away. You can bet the Mississippi job hopeful are counting down the months now.
Sources: Wall Street Journal, Toyota
By Benson Kong
It’s another step closer to having Tesla Model S cars in customer hands: the manufacturer announced that the car has finished crash testing with the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration, and that the car is cleared for a June 22 initial delivery date.
The crash test announcement comes from the personal Twitter account of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who took a break from observing his SpaceX rocket launch to tweet that the Model S finished NHTSA crash testing. Musk claims that the car completed all tests with five-star scores, although we were unable to independently confirm that claim with NHTSA by press time.
With crash testing completed, along with the aforementioned EPA certification, it appears to be full-speed ahead for Tesla’s next model launch. The company plans on handing over keys to early production models to owners within the confines of its assembly plant in Freemont, California, but then intends on quickly ramping up volume. Tesla hopes to deliver 5000 Model S sedans by the end of the year, but claims that the waiting list for one of the five- or seven-passenger (depending on options) EVs stretches some 10,000 names. Those names should be satisfied by the middle of next year, as Tesla is shooting for a 20,000-unit year in 2013.
As to-be owners anxiously wait for their cars, Tesla also announced that customer cars will receive some special finishing touches. Tesla VP George Blankenship announced via blog post this week that Model S sedans will now come with adjustable steering effort, suspension height, and regenerative braking settings – all of which are configurable through a menu accessed by way of the 17-inch touchscreen center stack.
The Model S will go on sale this year and cost between $57,400 and $105,400, not including a possible $7500 federal income tax credit.
By Ben Timmins
As 2011 comes to a close, we take a break from our New Year’s celebrations to pour a little Colt .45 (or Champagne, your call) out for our dead homies. As good of a year as 2011 was with vehicles like the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Chrysler 300 SRT8, and Ferrari FF making their debut, a lot of great cars like the Ford Crown Victoria and Ranger (and a few others we could probably live without) ended their production runs for good this year. Let’s take a moment of silence and remember our lost comrades, both loved, and unloved.
Buick Lucerne/Cadillac DTS – Like the Panther platform Fords, the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS were two dinosaurs of days past. The Lucerne and DTS were both relics of the days when GM was ditching its rear-drive flagships for big front-drive sedans. While these cars will never be as iconic as other cars from the era that lasted just as long, we’d be remiss forgetting about these two luxo-barges.
Cadillac STS – Unlike the Cadillac DTS, the STS started off on a good foot when it debuted in 2005, being a true rear-wheel drive luxury sedan. Sadly for the STS, it was neglected and by the time it went out of production this year, it had received no real significant updates, leading it to its ultimate replacement by the new, front-drive XTS.
Chevrolet Aveo – There are very few cars that we wish didn’t exist and sadly, the Aveo is one of them. The definition of a penalty box on wheels, the Aveo was full of hard plastics, marginal workmanship, and a lethargic engine; the Aveo just plainly wasn’t good. While its replacement, the Sonic, is called the Aveo overseas, in the U.S. we’re much better off with the car, and the nameplate six feet under.
Chevrolet HHR – With the Chevy Cruze replacing the Cobalt last year, it was only a matter of time before the Cobalt-based HHR went out of production as well. Not as derided as the Cobalt, the HHR was essentially the hatchback version of the Cobalt. With a retro design inspired by early Suburbans and an available panel wagon and hot-hatch SS version, the HHR was actually a neat little car. Will it be greatly missed? Probably not; the Cruze is twice the car the HHR ever was. Now if only Chevy would bring the Cruze hatch to our shores…
Dodge Caliber – The Dodge Caliber is another car that couldn’t leave us soon enough. On paper, the Caliber seemed like a great idea: it was packed with unique features like its “Cool Zone” storage and its tailgate-mounted swing-down speakers, and it looked like a mini-SUV, which was great for pre-recession America. Unfortunately for Dodge, that’s not the America we live in anymore. Even more unfortunate is that the Caliber just wasn’t a good car. It was woefully slow, wildly inefficient (the 2012 Dodge Charger gets better highway mpg than the CVT-equipped Caliber, 31 mpg versus 27 mpg), and filled to the brim with cheap, hard plastics. Dodge is a different company than it was in 2007 when the Caliber arrived, and the Caliber is no longer representative of what the company can do. Goodbye Caliber, your replacement, the 2013 Dart, can’t come soon enough.
Dodge Nitro – The Dodge Nitro left us with very little fanfare. The rebadged and less-capable Dodge version of the Jeep Liberty is probably most famously known as the vehicle Fiat head Sergio Marchionne described as “the most significant hole in our product portfolio.” With it gone, Chrysler was able to increase production of the hot-selling Wrangler. We’d say that’s a fair trade.
Ferrari 612 Scaglietti – Sometimes good things must come to an end, so better things can be. The Ferrari 612 Scaglietti was one such car. While a fantastic sports car and an even better grand tourer, its replacement, the all-wheel drive Ferrari FF is a much better car in just about every way. While we’ll fondly remember the 612 Scaglietti, the FF will more than make up for the 612’s loss.
Ford Crown Victoria/Lincoln Town Car/Mercury Grand Marquis – The last Panther-platform Ford rolled off the line this year, leaving behind cops and cabbies who no-longer have a go-to choice for a workhorse sedan. The Ford Crown Victoria, Lincoln Town Car and Mercury Grand Marquis became American icons, and we hold a special place in our hearts for these antiquated beasts of burden.
Ford Ranger – A recent addition to this list, the very last Ford Ranger rolled off the production line just this month – a white Ranger Sport destined for bug killing duties at Orkin. The Ford Ranger was the last true compact pickup for sale in the United States, and while the nameplate may live on overseas, here the Ranger will be greatly missed.
Honda Element – The Element was Honda’s take on rival Toyota’s Scion xB. By all accounts, the Element was a much more versatile beast, and proved popular with the outdoorsy crowd. Honda did its best to increase its appeal to all, introducing a sporty version and even a dog-friendly version, but ultimately the Element’s sales compared to Honda’s other SUVs didn’t justify its continued production.
Lotus Elise/Exige – The Lotus Elise and Exige left our market not because they were bad cars, but because their federal smart airbag exemption sadly ran up this year, banishing two of the most visceral and back-to-basics driver’s cars from our shores. All’s not lost however, as the next-generation Elise and Exige will meet federal regulations, and if you can’t wait that long, there’s always the track-only Exige S to hold you over for the next couple years.
Maybach 57/62 – Mercedes-Benz brought the Maybach brand back in 2002 and hoped the name would rise from the ashes and regain its pre-war prestige. While 57 and stretched 62 were essentially no more than tarted-up S-Classes, the car proved popular with the hip-hop crowd, and was arguably featured in just as many songs and music videos as the Cadillac Escalade. Sadly, poor sales didn’t justify Mercedes’ continued support of the brand, and so it quietly discontinued the luxury marquee early this month.
Mazda RX-8 – With the death of the Mazda RX-8 comes the death of the Wankel rotary engine in Mazda’s lineup. While much loved by enthusiasts, many found the rotary-powered RX-8’s appetite for fuel and oil hard to stomach, and consequently, the four-door coupe’s sales didn’t meet Mazda’s expectations. Gone in the U.S., the RX-8 will soldier on in Japan for another year or two before being discontinued. Here’s hoping for the rotary’s return in the future.
Mazda Tribute/Mercury Mariner – The Mazda Tribute and Mercury Mariner were two badge-engineered versions of the Escape that were often forgotten. The Mariner died with Mercury back in January, while the Tribute gets replaced by the (very good) Mazda-engineered CX-5.
Mercury – Mercury was the first of three brands to disappear this year, way back in January. Ford could no longer justify the brand which at that point had only three models: the Mariner (rebadged Ford Escape), the Milan (rebadged Fusion) and the Grand Marquis (a rebadged Crown Victoria). With Mercury out of the way, Ford only has to worry about reviving Lincoln from the dead. Fittingly, the last Mercury to roll off the line was the iconic Grand Marquis back in January.
Mitsubishi Eclipse – The Eclipse that went away this year is but a shadow of its former self. The Eclipse was the equivalent of a star high school athlete who comes back for his twenty year reunion fat, balding and ugly. Early Eclipses were turbocharged all-wheel drive scamps that were true performance machines. The current Eclipse is no more than a secretary special. While there are rumors that the Eclipse may make a return in the future, unless it regains the performance pedigree of its past, we can probably live without it.
Mitsubishi Endeavor – File this one under, “They still made this?” The Endeavor was all-new for 2003 and mostly unchanged since then. Rumor has it Mitsubishi will have a replacement for it in a few years, but by all accounts the death knell for the Endeavor sounded long ago.
Ram Dakota – Sadly, with the death of the Ram Dakota another small pickup leaves our marketplace, leaving just the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon to fly the American flag in the midsize pickup arena. The Ram Dakota started life as a Dodge in the late 1980s and was fairly successful up until the middle of the last decade. Since then, it languished mostly unchanged, save for it leaving the Dodge brand for Ram. Not all is loss though; Ram is reportedly readying a Fiat-based Dakota replacement in the coming years.
Saab – If any brand on this list had a long, painful death it was Saab. The events leading up to Saab’s long and drawn out demise have been covered extensively on these pages, so we won’t bore you with the details. We will however, miss the plucky Swedes and the 9-3, 9-4X, and 9-5 which were great examples of Saab making do with the poor cards it was dealt.
Tesla Roadster – The Tesla Roadster took the world by storm when the electric car from the California-based startup first hit the scene in 2008. Here was one of the first modern electric cars that you could buy, and it happened to be a Lotus Elise-based sports car. Sadly Tesla’s federal smart airbag exemption expired at the close of 2011, leaving Tesla without a car to sell until the Model S hits in the summer of 2012.
Volvo S40/V50 – The Volvo S40 and V50 were unceremoniously dropped from Volvo’s U.S. lineup this year due to lagging sales. The real shame is the loss of the V50, which was the last true station wagon that Volvo sold on our shores. For a brand that cut its teeth in the U.S. selling “turbo brick” wagons, the death of the V50 and its S40 sibling mark the end of an era.
Once we begin our year-long test of the Tesla Model S, the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year, we may not have to visit the dealership to perform most software updates. The automaker has just implemented a new, cloud-based system that will allow owners to view and install software updates from their vehicle’s infotainment screen.
It’s hard to imagine that the Model S needs any updating at this point, considering the amount of impressive technology already packed in the EV. During a recent adventure with the Model S in Las Vegas, Editor-in-Chief Ed Loh said the EV “delivers a bit of magic and a sense of occasion thanks to its myriad touch, proximity, and weight sensors. Touch the chromed door handle and it pops out for a good yank.” However, a recent over-the-air update makes those flush-mounted doors handles a bit more magical — now, they pop out as the driver approaches the vehicle, Automotive News reports. Other updates include voice command and an option for the Model S to “creep” forward when the driver lifts his foot off the brake pedal, similar to what gas-powered cars already do.
The updates will appear on the vehicle’s screen and owners have the option to schedule the install at a future time. Details of the updates are included in “release notes,” similar to the update process consumers are accustomed to with their phones or laptops. The process can save owners time and battery charge needed to visit the dealership.
In addition to the cloud-based update system, the Model S now sports a slightly tweaked front nose and a revised jump seat with better ergonomics. Tesla’s director of Model S programs Jerome Guillen credits these recent updates to the automaker’s relatively small size. Guillen, who previously worked at Daimler AG, told the Automotive News “we are doing things in a couple weeks that, at my previous employer, would have taken two years.”
Automotive News also reports that the Tesla’s plant in Northern California is running at full capacity, with the ability to produce 20,000 units a year. Additionally, Tesla will start building cars equipped with 60kWh battery packs, which will join the range-topping models with the 85 kWh battery packs that were first to launch. A value-priced 40 kWh-model is available, and Model S prices increased for the 2013 calendar year. Also in the pipeline is the Tesla Model X, which Guillen says is still scheduled to go into production sometime next year.
Source: Automotive News (Subscription required)