March 28, 2012

Toyota to Unveil 'All-New' Sedan at N.Y. Auto Show
Toyota Motor Corp. will unveil an "all-new" sedan next week at the New York auto show that likely will be a replacement for the full-sized Avalon, reports Automotive News. Dealers who saw a preview of the car last year said Toyota called it the Avalon successor that is due this fall. A teaser sketch of the vehicle released Tuesday shows fastback styling similar to the coupe-sedan lines of the Volkswagen CC, Audi A7, and Mercedes-Benz CLS. Click here for the teaser. In a statement, Toyota called the sedan's styling "elegant yet athletic." The sedan is one of 19 new or redesigned U.S. models coming from the Toyota, Lexus, and Scion brands this year. The Avalon has been Toyota's mainstay full-sized sedan since 1995, when it replaced the Cressida as the brand's top-line vehicle. Sales of the car, now in its third generation, have tapered off as the segment has slumped. Last year, the Avalon accounted for 28,935 U.S. sales – less than a third of the peak of 104,078 reached in 2000. This year's demand is up 76 percent through February. The debut will take place at 10:30 a.m. EDT on April 5, Toyota said. For more on Toyota’s unveiling of its new sedan, click here.

NTSB Defends Car Call Ban Plan
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) isn't backing down from a proposal to bar drivers from making even hands-free phone calls from behind the wheel. The Detroit News reports that at a meeting Tuesday, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman defended the safety board's recommendation in December to bar nearly all calls from behind the wheel – including hand-held and hands-free calls. "Whether it's hand-held or hands-free, touching the dashboard, or waving at a windshield, it can be distracting," Hersman said. She noted that Chapel Hill, N.C., on Monday enacted a ban on hands-free and hand-held cellphone calls by drivers – the first in the nation. Hersman urged automakers to avoid using distracting technologies. "Our recommendation is focused on portable devices," she said in an interview. But she added, "We are continuing to look at in-vehicle technologies.” She said automakers' first priority has to be safety, not sales. Automakers say they are focused on safety. "When integrating the convenience features demanded by today's consumers, factors such as safety, usability, and comprehension are all considered," said Michael Cammisa, director of safety for Global Automakers. Read more about a federal proposal to ban all driver phone calls here.

Nissan's New-Product Parade Should Make for Robust 2012
Nissan plans to launch five new products over the next 15 months, fresh versions of bread-and-butter nameplates that together have comprised as much as 80 percent of the brand’s U.S. sales over the last few years. According to Dale Buss at Forbes, effective branding notwithstanding – 2012 and 2013 are shaping up as a very good period for the No. 3 Japanese make in the U.S. market. Nissan’s U.S. CMO Jon Brancheau has been promoting a new branding campaign that will break next week in concert with the New York International Auto Show and will rely on imagery – common to auto-product introductions – of sheets covering the new models. Ads reveal the new Altima, which goes on sale this summer, while the other new vehicles stay under wraps at first. By most measures, Nissan had a remarkable sales year in 2011 in the U.S. market without any significant new products. Even an aging Altima mid-size sedan – which will get the first overhaul in Nissan’s new-product stream this year – generated a 17-percent sales increase last year over essentially the same version in 2010. Click here to read more about what Nissan could gain from its new products in the coming months.

2011 Dealership Merger and Acquisition Activity Jumps 140 Percent
Last year’s merger and acquisition activity by public dealerships groups jumped 140 percent above the 2010 total, according to the Presidio Group’s Automotive Retail M&A Report. Presidio combed through corporate SEC filings to determine publicly held dealer groups completed $512 million in acquisitions in 2011. While making a significant year-over-year climb, Presidio acknowledged the total is still well-below the all-time record of more than $1 billion set in 2006. According to Auto Remarketing, analysts believe the past year’s activity represents an accelerating trend in the M&A market, and private buyers are also active though terms of their purchases of dealerships and dealership groups are not reported. The Firm believes the industry is still in the early stages of at least a five-year up-cycle and anticipates continued high levels of activity for several years. Alan Haig, managing director and head of Presidio’s automotive retail services group, elaborated on the report’s findings. “All of the factors we saw driving M&A activity in the first half of 2011 remained in force through the balance of the year, and they appear to be gaining strength in 2012,” Haig surmised. Click here for more from Presidio on what 2011’s M&A activity could mean for the industry going forward.

Chrysler Dealers Who Regained Franchises Not Guaranteed Right to Reopen
Former Chrysler Group LLC dealers who lost their franchise agreements and then regained them in federal arbitration do not necessarily have a right to reopen under the same market conditions as before, a judge has ruled. Automotive News reports that in a written ruling Tuesday, Judge Sean Cox of U.S. District Court in Detroit found that the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010, which created the arbitration process for terminated dealers, does not trump previous state laws governing dealer markets. That means more than 20 former Chrysler dealers in Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Ohio, Nevada, and Florida have only an agreement with Chrysler to be added to its dealership network –much as if they were starting a brand new business. "Congress intended to provide dealers that had been rejected by old Chrysler an opportunity to be added to new Chrysler's dealer network by means of a letter of intent to enter into a sales and service agreement," Cox's ruling states. The attorneys for the automaker have asked Cox to declare that Chrysler is in compliance with the Consolidated Appropriations Act and that the law does not compel "unconditional reinstatement" or pre-empt a Michigan law governing dealer markets. Read the latest on 2009’s shuttered Chrysler franchises here.

Securing the Future: Register Today for AIADA’s International Auto Industry Summit
Join fellow international nameplate dealers who are Securing the Future of their businesses May 23-24 at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C. for AIADA's 6th Annual International Auto Industry Summit. The two-day event will bring together auto industry leaders and Washington insiders to equip dealers with the tools they need to successfully advocate on behalf of their businesses, brands, and employees. Some of Washington’s top insiders, an industry executive Q&A panel moderated by Automotive News editor Jason Stein, and the chance to visit with your Congressional members and their staff are just a few of the items on this year’s Summit agenda. Dealer involvement is crucial to securing the future of the international auto retail industry, especially in this election year. Don’t wait. Register today by clicking here or by calling 1-800-GO-AIADA.

Around the Web 
Watching an American Le Mans Race from All Angles [Autoblog]
Cars.com Reviews the 2013 Infiniti JX [Kicking Tires]
Car Rush: Groupon for Cars? [MSN Autos]
Flying High Without the Wings [NY Times]

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