April 10, 2012
Toyota Revamps R&D to Turn Out Better Cars, Sooner
Toyota Motor Corp. said Monday that it has reorganized its vehicle-development system in order to speed decision making, cut costs, and better appeal to car buyers world-wide. According to The Wall Street Journal, the changes to core engineering and design programs bolster the authority of the company’s chief engineers, consolidate research and development into three groups based on geographical regions, and limit final design decisions to smaller teams. Toyota dubs the effort its new “global architecture.” The revisions come as the auto maker seeks to recover from a series of setbacks during the past several years that have eroded its global market share. “We are gradually starting to see the results of our reform efforts,” President Akio Toyoda said during a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Toyota City. Toyota said the R&D changes are expected to improve the company’s’ competitiveness vis-à-vis global rivals, as costs are reduced through more parts standardization and sales are increased by improvements to the vehicle lineup’s design and functionality. “In order to build better cars, we are remaking the way we develop them,” said Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota’s executive vice president in charge of R&D. Read more about Toyota’s changes to its R&D program here.
Hyundai's Brand Makeover Has Worked – and Rivals are Noticing
As the world's fifth-biggest carmaker, with affiliate Kia Motors, Hyundai is the envy of global rivals, outgrowing the market during a severe industry downturn by offering stylish models at affordable prices backed by savvy, if sometimes risky, promotions and helped by a cheaper currency. According to Automotive News, Hyundai has invested heavily to improve design and create a luxury halo around its brand, though customers are not yet queuing up to pay more because it's a Hyundai. "We want our cars to be valued as something like Apple's iPhone, not Samsung's Galaxy. They give different customer satisfaction," Sean Kim, senior vice president of Hyundai's domestic marketing group, said recently. "We want to shed the image that Hyundai makes cheap cars. Volkswagen is a volume car maker like us, but charges 10-20 percent more, and we want to be viewed as such a premium car maker.” At its Seoul headquarters, Hyundai runs a round-the-clock "quality situation room," collecting reports of problems from around the world and relaying them to the relevant departments. This allows Hyundai to respond with quick fixes. Click here to read more on what Hyundai is doing to revamp its brand perception.
Hybrid Owners Unlikely to Buy Another One, Study Shows
After living with the high-mileage hybrid technology, nearly two of three hybrid owners wind up returning to a more conventional vehicle when it’s time to trade in, according to a recent Polk study. According to Polk tracking data, only 35 percent of hybrid vehicle owners purchased another gas-electric model when trading in during 2011. The number varied significantly depending on the hybrid owned. Less than 20 percent of Honda hybrid owners returned to purchase another gas-electric vehicle – whether from Honda or another brand. MSNBC reports that for the world’s most-popular hybrid, the Toyota Prius, 41 percent bought another gas-electric model, whether from Toyota or another brand. Nearly three of every five Prius owners did not go back for another hybrid. In a breakdown of loyalty by state, Forbes reports that Florida has the most loyal hybrid buyers; West Palm Beach, Orlando, and Tampa took three of the top four loyalty spots. Click here to see the list of cities with the most loyal hybrid buyers. For more from MSNBC on return hybrid buyers, click here. For Forbes report on Polk’s findings broken down by cities and states, click here.
Subaru Sees 20% Increase in Sales, Cites New Product
With the redesigned Impreza compact sedan off to a better than expected start, inventory levels back at pre-tsunami numbers and two new vehicles arriving this year, Subaru of America expects 2012 sales to rise nearly 20 percent over last year to 320,000 units. Subaru sold a record 80,568 vehicles in the first quarter, up 19 percent from the same period last year. And sales of the third-generation Impreza, which went on sale in December, are likely to shatter internal targets, COO Tom Doll said. "We still have a lot of opportunity left in the market," said Doll, who wears a yellow-and-blue rubber wristband with the phrase "Great Expectations, 320,000 sales in 2012." According to Automotive News, Doll now admits Subaru's sales target could be too conservative. Sales are tracking at an annual rate of 360,000 to 370,000 vehicles, he said. The problem keeping that pace will be availability. Doll needs more production out of its U.S. factory in Indiana and could use more vehicles from Japan. More product is coming. The BRZ sports coupe goes on sale this month with a base price of $26,245, including freight. Click here to read more about Subaru’s record breaking sales.
Poll: Americans Think Auto Bailouts Helped Economy
The public is far more supportive of the auto industry bailouts than the government’s decision to bail out distressed financial giants in 2009, according to a Harris poll released this morning. About 45 percent of those polled said the federal government’s decision to extend more than $77 billion in emergency loans and bankruptcy financing to General Motors and Chrysler in 2009 “helped” the economy. According to The Detroit Free Press, Harris interactive surveyed 2,451 adults and found that about 29 percent of Americans say the auto bailouts “hurt” the economy. About 5 percent were unsure. Some 23 percent of Americans say the bank bailouts helped the economy, while 48 percent said the bailouts hurt the economy and 6 percent were unsure, according to the poll. About 15 percent of Americans said insurance industry bailouts helped the economy, while 42 percent said they hurt and 9 percent were unsure. About 59 percent of Democrats say the bailouts helped the economy, while 33 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of independents agreed. The poll also found that the public would oppose additional bailout funds for the auto industry by a margin of 70-30. Click here to read more about how Americans view 2009’s auto industry bailouts.
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Mythbusters Tests the Square Wheel Theory [Autoblog]
Gas Prices Dip Slightly in Government's Weekly Survey [DriveOn]