January 24, 2013

VW Flips Switch at Largest Solar Installation at U.S. Plant

Volkswagen AG switched on its largest photo-voltaic installation worldwide as the automaker builds on its U.S. auto factory's recognition by an environmental group for sustainable operations. According to Automotive News, the solar park occupies 33 acres next to the plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. where VW produces the Passat mid-sized sedan for the U.S. market, and will provide 13 percent of energy needs during production hours. "We are proud to power up the biggest solar park of any car manufacturer in North America," Frank Fischer, head of VW's Chattanooga operations, said in a statement. The 9.5-megawatt solar setup will supply all the plant's electricity needs when manufacturing lines aren't operating, Volkswagen said. The car plant, which opened in May 2011, is the first in the industry with top-level platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, which rates properties on how well they limit effects on the environment. Silicon Ranch Corp., based in Nashville, Tennessee, will own the solar park and sell the electricity to Volkswagen under a 20-year supply contract, the carmaker said. Click here to read more about VW’s new solar plant next to its Chattanooga production facility.

Build It or Bag It?: The Results Are In
The “Build It or Bag It” poll invites online Wall Street Journal readers to cast an online vote to build one of the concept cars displayed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, or bag it – scrap the idea and try again. Automakers use concept cars – design prototypes that in some cases don’t even run on their own power – to test public response to new styling or future technology. The “Eyes on the Road” poll is unscientific. Since this year’s poll was published more than 1,100 readers have weighed in. The results so far include the following: the Tesla Model X – the battery-powered sport utility, with its unusual “falcon wing” vertically-opening rear doors – got “build it” votes from 674 readers, or 56 percent of those who voted; the Hyundai HCD-14 concept got 734 “build it” votes, while 408 readers said “bag it”; 73 percent of readers like the Toyota Corolla Furia; and the Nissan Resonance, a prototype for an aerodynamic SUV with a big glass roof and a “VIP lounge” interior didn’t click with 57 percent of readers who voted Nissan should “bag it.” About 43 percent, or 302 respondents, said “build it.” Check out reader reactions to other Detroit auto show concepts here.

Targeting Car Buyers From the Inside
According to The Detroit News, luxurious interiors are becoming a top factor in luring car and truck buyers while increasing profit margins for automakers. In fact, reliability takes a back seat to interior design among consumers, according to a recent J.D. Power & Associates survey, which found a greater percentage of consumers will buy an unreliable vehicle rather than one with an interior design they perceive as unattractive. "A lot of people do spend a lot of time in their cars, more and more every year, so they want nicer seats, new technology, the creature features," said Larry Dominique, executive vice president of pricing and auto information website TrueCar. But for automakers, the more offerings they present consumers, the more consumers are willing to pony up the extra money for added comforts, particularly leather. Automakers are so intently focused on interior options that company and supplier executives say they'll cut elsewhere if they need to shed overall cost. That fact is particularly intriguing as the U.S. economy faces continued instability and with the recent expiration of the payroll tax holiday. Read more about consumer vehicle interior preferences here.

Toyota, BMW Working on New Battery Technology
Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW Group are working together on next-generation batteries for green vehicles called "lithium-air" as their collaboration, first announced in late 2011, moves ahead in fuel cells, sports vehicles, and other fields. But both sides said today the partnership will not involve a capital alliance while spanning a wide range of technologies for green vehicles. The Detroit Free Press reports that the Japanese and German automakers aim to complete a fuel-cell vehicle system by 2020, and a concept for a mid-size sports vehicle by the end of this year. They will also work together on developing lightweight technologies such as composites, which will help make cars greener. Joint research will be started to develop a lithium-air battery, which will be more powerful than the current lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, they said. The technology, which other automakers are also working on, will allow a major part of the battery's energy-making process to come from the oxygen in air. BMW AG board member Herbert Diess told reporters the cooperation will help both companies boost competitiveness in new technologies. For details of Toyota and BMW’s collaboration on battery technology, click here.

Volkswagen Teases Super Bowl Ad
Two years ago, Volkswagen changed the game for Super Bowl commercials, releasing their in-game spot – “The Force" featuring a lead character who became known affectionately as "Darth Vader Kid" – a week early, getting millions of views on YouTube before it ever aired on TV and dominating the pre-Super Bowl advertising zeitgeist. USA Today reports that the tactic was adopted more widely last year, with an increasing number of companies releasing their commercials in the weeks leading up to the game. In 2012, with a tremendous level of fan and industry anticipation, VW did not pre-release its ad, instead releasing a teaser. A few minutes after midnight, VW continued the tradition by releasing a two-minute teaser of this year's commercial. Click here to watch it. Following VW's lead from last year, this year's run-up to the ad reveals the night of the Super Bowl is being defined in part by an increased use of the "teaser" strategy, including a risque promo from Mercedes Benz, featuring super-model Kate Upton, released earlier this week. For a selection of the most notable teasers for this year's Super Bowl ads, click here. Read more on this year’s Super Bowl ads here.

Around the Web
Best Winter Deals on Used SUVs [Consumer Reports]
Men of Means and Taste: Jay Leno [MotorTrend]
Subaru Outlines 2013 Motorsport Activities [MotorAuthority]
Truckload of Flaming Goat Cheese Closes Norwegian Tunnel [Jalopnik]

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