December 7, 2012

Honda to Become 'Net Exporter' of Vehicles from North America
Honda Motor Co., Japan's first automaker to build cars in the United States, said in a statement yesterday it expects to export more cars and light trucks from North America than it imports to the region within two years. Honda will be a "net exporter" as its plants in the United States, Canada and Mexico take more responsibility for developing global models for sale in multiple countries. The first Honda auto exports from the United States began in 1987, and "quality for the world, made in America, has been an important Honda commitment for the past 25 years," said President Takanobu Ito. Automotive News reports that three decades after the company began building vehicles in Marysville, Ohio the company is adding a factory in Mexico that will produce Fit hatchbacks starting in 2014. Sales of Honda and Acura brand autos are rebounding this year, up 24 percent through November, aided by a 57 percent surge in vehicle production at its North American plants. Honda's U.S. sales dipped 6.8 percent last year, the result of production disruptions caused by natural disasters in Asia that slowed North American plants for months due to parts shortages. For the full story, click here.

Mercedes' Super Bowl Arsenal: New car, Name on the Stadium, and Kate Upton
Mercedes has a weapon in its marketing arsenal that others do not: its name on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, where the 2013 Super Bowl will unfold. After joining the Super Bowl's ad ranks in 2011 and sitting out in 2012, Mercedes is poised to redefine its appeal to the game's massive TV audience, which last year included approximately 111.3 million U.S. viewers, according to Nielsen. The German automaker will use Super Bowl XLVII to introduce its CLA, a "highly stylized four-door coupe" with what might be a surprising price, said Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, in an interview with Advertising Age, an affiliate of Automotive News. Click here for a picture. "For our C-Class, the median age [of the consumer] is around 50," he added. "We think we're going to get 30-something and 40-somethings in this car." News reports suggest model Kate Upton and singer Usher will be featured in the latest commerical. Click here to watch the 2011 Mercedes ad. The company will have to work hard to stand out. Already, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Kia, and Ford's revived Lincoln brand are among the sponsors expected for the next event. For more on Mercedes, click here.

NHTSA Gets White House OK to Mandate Vehicle 'Black Boxes'
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to finalize a long-awaited proposal to make event data recorders (EDRs) standard on all new vehicles. In a notice posted Thursday, the White House Office of Management Budget said it has completed a review of the proposal to make so-called vehicle "black boxes" mandatory in all cars and trucks, clearing the way for NHTSA to publish its final regulation. The Detroit News reports that NHTSA's proposed rule, which would raise the percentage of vehicles required to have an EDR from 91.6 percent today to 100 percent of light-duty autos, would have an incremental cost of nearly $24.4 million, assuming the sale of 15.5 million light vehicles per year. NHTSA says the "rulemaking to mandate EDRs across the entire light-vehicle fleet could contribute to advancements in vehicle designs, and advanced restraint and other safety countermeasures.” NHTSA previously issued a new regulation standardizing data collection for event data recorders. The rule, issued in August 2006, took effect for the 2013 model year that started Sept. 1, standardizes the information EDRs collect and makes retrieving the data easier. For more on EDRs, click here.

LA Auto Show a Road Map for How Automakers Will Meet Tough Fuel Economy Standards
According to the Detroit Free Press, last month's Los Angeles Auto Show was essentially a road map for how automakers will meet increasingly stringent fuel economy standards more than a decade from now. New regulations in 2016 require fleets to average 35.5 mpg, up from about 27.3 now. But the real challenge is to meet a proposal that vehicles get 54.5 mpg in 2025. Doubling the fuel economy of the nation's fleet will require a myriad of materials and technologies under continuous refinement. "No single technology will achieve 54.5 mpg," said Mark Kuhn, manager of Ricardo Strategic Consulting. "We won't see a lot of new technology in the next 10-15 years. Instead, it will be a rollout of existing technology." Automakers are dabbling in it all. The competitive distinctions are found where each company places emphasis. Ford is betting on EcoBoost: smaller direct-injection turbocharged gasoline engines to be offered in 15 models next year. Chrysler has adopted parent Fiat's multi-air technology to control intake valves. Meanwhile, by 2020, electric vehicles will still be less than 2 percent of the market, growing to 5 percent in 2030, and 10 percent in 2040. For more on these and other technologies, click here.

Smart on Track to Double Sales in 2012; New EV Coming
Smart’s U.S. deliveries are running 100.4 percent ahead of year-ago, and the Mercedes-Benz brand has achieved 13 consecutive months of sales increases, General Manager Tracey Mutura says. She admits 2012 U.S. sales won't approach the 24,622 units Smart recorded in 2008, its inaugural year. At that time, Smart was distributed by Roger Penske's United Auto Group. Mercedes took over distribution last year and plans to introduce new models, including a third-generation electric vehicle, next year. Smart sales in the country totaled 5,208 units in 2011, and “We have a good shot at doubling that this year,” Matura tells Wards. Through Nov. 30, Smart global deliveries increased 2.2 percent, compared with year-ago, to 96,383 units. Smart has been leasing a fleet of 250 EVs but plans to introduce an all-new model next spring. Mutura predicts the EV eventually will account for one-third of all Smart sales. A second-generation Smart car is scheduled to debut in 2015. Matura is focused on steady growth for the Smart brand. “We don't think of getting back to the Penske volumes at this time,” she says, but notes Mercedes intends to boost sales with the second-generation model. For more on Smart, click here.

AROUND THE WEB

  • Spitballs Flying Between Nissan and Fiat [AutoBlog]
  • The Ten Best Chinese Cars You Can Buy [Jalopnik]
  • Ford Hybrids Don't Live up to MPG Hype [CNN]
  • Lexus IS to Debut in Detroit; What Should We Expect? [CNet]
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