March 9, 2012

A Year After Disaster, Japan Automakers are Back
Nissan is back, one year after an earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan ground auto production to a halt, reports The Associated Press. Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn called it "miraculous" on Friday ahead of the disaster's anniversary, crediting hard work at his company. The automaker had a record sales year of 4.67 million vehicles in 2011. That was up 14 percent from the previous year. Toyota Motor Corp. had initially expected to lose production of 2 million vehicles from the March 11 disaster, which damaged key suppliers in northeastern Japan. But when all was done, Japan's No. 1 automaker ended up losing production of 370,000 vehicles – 220,000 of them in the first month after the disaster. Production at Toyota, which makes the popular Camry sedan and Prius hybrid, was back to near-normal levels by September last year. Honda Motor Co. had the toughest problems, hit by the flooding in Thailand late last year, which also disrupted production on top of the disaster in northeastern Japan. Still, Honda's global production is now back at pre-disaster levels, except for Thailand. For more on how Japanese automakers are performing one year after the country’s natural disaster, click here.

When Buying a New Car, the More You Know, the Less You Pay
New car shoppers who look up a car’s invoice price, shop multiple dealerships, and aren’t afraid to haggle can save as much as $800 on average on a vehicle purchase, according to a study that is one of the first to test economic bargaining theory against real world data from the U.S. auto business. Just coming to a dealership armed with the invoice price of a vehicle can save a shopper as much as $140, according to an analysis of data from 1,402 shoppers who purchased one of eight car models in California between April and May 2002. The paper, “What matters in a price negotiation: Evidence from the U.S. auto retailing industry,” was published in the journal Quantitative Marketing and Economics. Click here to read it. The Wall Street Journal reports that only 60 percent of the buyers surveyed who said they used the internet to gather information about vehicles reported that they obtained the invoice price. On average, consumers surveyed for the paper spent about 5.4 hours researching cars on the internet, and another 1.8 hours looking up information from offline sources. Consumers surveyed reported spending 6.3 hours, on average, visiting dealerships. For more on how many consumers research and purchase their vehicles, click here.

Toyota's N.A. Management Changes Aim to Boost Regional Unity
Toyota Motor Corp.'s plan to promote its North American manufacturing chief to lead all operations in the region is part of a push by Japan's largest carmaker to tighten coordination in the company's biggest market. Shigeki Terashi, 57, president of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing America, will also become president and COO of Toyota Motor North America, effective April 1 and lead a regional management committee, the company said Wednesday in a statement on its Web site. He succeeds Yoshimi Inaba, 66, who will continue as chairman of Toyota's U.S. sales unit. Unlike in Japan, Europe, and China, Toyota's North American operations are split between a sales company, a manufacturing and engineering division, a corporate unit, and finance arm. Automotive News reports that the company concluded it needed faster decision making in North America when a recall crisis developed in 2010. Along with Terashi's promotion, Jim Lentz, 56, currently president and COO of U.S. sales, will become CEO of Torrance, Calif.-based Toyota Motor Sales. He is the first American to be named to the CEO post of the sales unit, Toyota said. Click here to read more about Toyota’s North American management changes.

As Gas Prices Soar, New Cars Get Record Gas Mileage
Gas prices may be heading to a record high, but so is the average gas mileage of new vehicles bought in the U.S., reports USA Today. The average mpg for all new vehicles bought by Americans in February was a record 23.7, according to researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. And that average is based on the more real-world EPA "combined" ratings for mixed city and highway driving – not the much-advertised and often much higher rating for highway-only driving. It was a second-consecutive record mpg month; the revised average for all cars, light trucks, minivans and SUVs bought in January was a then-record 23.5. Professor Michael Sivak, head of the Institutes Human Factors Group, reports February average fuel economy was up 5 percent (1.1 mpg) from two months ago and is 16 percent higher (3.3 mpg) than in February 2008. You can go to the Institute's site here for more detail on how they do the calculations and to see the monthly averages going back to 2007. Click here for coverage of the average gas mileage of vehicles Americans have purchased this year.

10 Best Cars for New Parents
To help new parents make the vehicular transition into the brave new world of parenthood, Forbes has compiled the following list of what its editors feel are among the most kid-friendly cars on the market. For starters, they’re all affordable enough to fit even a diaper-strapped budget – each retails for well under $25,000. All feature relatively roomy interiors, easy rear-seat access, and a full range of clever family-minded features. All of the models also come with the requisite safety features, including multiple airbags as well as electronic stability control. Every one of them has been rated as a “Top Safety Pick” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for top scores across the board for performance in front- and side-impact, rollover, and rear-end crash tests. Click here to see a photo slideshow of the list. Many of the models are compact crossover SUVs that are well suited to chauffeur little ones by virtue of their tall and horizontal rooflines, and for those who prefer a more conventional ride, small cars like the Honda Fit hatchback and Volkswagen Jetta sedan boast what are among the roomiest interiors in their respective classes. Click here to read more on Forbes’ 10 best cars for new parents.

Around the Web 
Fisker Karma Goes Bad on Consumer Reports [Motoramic]
Nissan Versa Named IIHS Top Safety Pick [Autoblog]
Wheelies: The Unseen Edition [Wheels]
Volvo Offering World's First Pedestrian Airbag [The Bottom Line]

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