September 7, 2012

Howard Cooper Gives $1,000 Per Year of Service to 89 Employees as 'Thank You'
What would you do if your boss, as a way of saying thank you while he prepared to retire, gave you a check for $26,000? When Bob Jenkins, a 26-year mechanic at Ann Arbor’s Howard Cooper Import Center, got just that at 7 a.m. Wednesday, he couldn’t stop his knees from shaking. “I was shocked,” Jenkins said. “You just don’t expect something like that.” According to AnnArbor.com, Jenkins was one of 89 employees at the 47-year-old auto dealership that received a “thank you” check from Howard Cooper as he transitions into retirement. Cooper, 83, sold his dealership in April to Ohio-based Germain Motor Company. As the ownership officially changes hands this month, Cooper gave his 89 employees quite the generous send-off: $1,000 for each year of service worked at the dealership. “I wanted to thank my employees and that was a way I could do it,” Cooper told AnnArbor.com. “I hope it makes a difference in their lives like they have made in mine.” When Cooper announced he planned to sell the dealership to the family-owned Germain Motor Co. he made employee retention a condition of the deal. Read more about dealer Howard Cooper’s farewell gift to his employees here.

‘Deep Subprime’ Auto Loans Losing Stigma, Attracting Investors
Stigmas associated with subprime-debt investing are fading fast. Nowhere is that more true than in the “deep subprime” segment of U.S. auto loans, where companies like used-car dealer J.D. Byrider have pounced on opportunities for growth. According to The Wall Street Journal, the franchiser of “buy here, pay here” dealers in May closed on $145 million in its first issue of asset-backed securities as one of several newcomers to the market that finances one-fifth of all car loans. Many of the company’s borrowers live “very much on the edge” and may have no credit history but place a high priority on their transportation, said Bill Brunner, chief financial officer of the firm. As default rates have steadied, the subprime-auto-loan industry has earned the good graces of investors seeking returns over the near-zero rates on safer assets. Demand for J.D. Byrider’s issue was strong enough to prompt dealer RBS Securities to lower yields and likely helped the dealership secure additional financing in the following months. “The ability to finance start-up [dealer] franchisees has improved dramatically over the summer,” Mr. Brunner said. Also, “a number of existing franchisees have banks competing for their business again.” For more on the resurgence of deep subprime auto loans, click here.

Volkswagen Cuts 2012 Sales Outlook, According to Report
Volkswagen has cut its expectations for full-year sales by 300,000 vehicles because of the stubbornly weak European economy, reports Automotive News. VW has reduced its expectations for sales in Europe alone by 250,000 vehicles, according to a report in German newspaper Handelsblatt. Volkswagen, Europe's largest carmaker, said last month that the economic situation in Western Europe remains tense. Morgan Stanley analyst Vikash Patel said VW may need to make small production cuts despite the company's continual market share gains to reflect the weakening environment in Europe. Seven-month VW group vehicle sales were up 9.1 percent to 5.19 million in the first seven months, helped by growth regions outside the automaker's European home market. VW Group sales in China, its largest single market, rose 17 percent to 1.51 million during the period and 30 percent to 324,200 in the United States. The company's volume in western Europe, excluding Germany, fell 5.9 percent to 1.15 million. In Germany, deliveries increased 4.4 percent to 708,100. In the second quarter through June, Volkswagen suffered a slowdown in underlying profit growth, partly because Europe's deepening debt crisis weighed on its earnings. Click here for the latest on Volkswagen’s sales outlook.

The Most Successful Cars of 2012
It has been a good summer for automakers in the United States. Total vehicle sales hit 1.29 million units last month, up 20 percent over last year, while sales of midsize models rose 22 percent to 2.52 million vehicles sold this year, according to Autodata. To determine which cars and trucks were the most successful of 2012, Forbes looked at three factors: total sales volume to date nationwide; consumer satisfaction ratings on brands compiled by the American Customer Satisfaction Index; and overall grades for performance, reliability, safety and value awarded by Consumer Reports. The publication included in the prospective winners the top-five selling luxury cars, since their sell-rates by design are lower than those of economy sedans but they often receive extremely high satisfaction and CR scores. A few of them, like the BMW 3-Series, did make the final cut. Click here to see a slideshow of the list. It should be noted that it doesn’t include some perennial best-sellers, like the Ford F-150 truck, which more than qualifies via sells numbers but fell short as a brand with satisfaction ratings. Read more about the most successful cars of 2012 here.

New Safety Test Puts Car Buyers in a Quandary
When it comes to safety, car makers want to promote sophisticated technology designed to avoid crashes – cameras that look into blind spots, sensors that alert drowsy drivers, and cruise-control systems that anticipate collisions and apply the brakes. These crash-avoidance technologies play well on television ads and in the showroom. But as surprising new crash-test results unveiled in August by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) show, car makers aren't as far along as they thought in a more fundamental safety job: designing cars' steel skeletons to help occupants better survive a wreck. The results, which crumpled crash dummies' feet and even caused a door to fall off one car, have prompted some manufacturers to re-evaluate the structural integrity of their vehicle designs – even those of relatively new models. According to The Wall Street Journal, it will take several years for the industry to resolve this new dissonance in the safety discussion. Regulators have reason to develop more demanding tests. Despite high safety scores for most vehicles, some 10,000 people a year still die on U.S. highways in frontal crashes. Click here for more on the challenge presented by recent car safety tests.

Around the Web  
The 10 Quickest Street Legal Cars in America [Jalopnik]
Next Generation Nissan GT-R on Track for 2018 [Edmunds Inside Line]
Bentley Moves U.S. Headquarters to VA [Autoblog]
Designers Asked to Create Cop Car of the Future [DriveOn]

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