General Motors Co., laying down a high-stakes bet on the future of vehicle connectivity, plans to make each of its cars an Internet hotspot with a high-speed broadband connection.
Automotive News reported that by mid-2014, GM will team with AT&T Inc. to equip most 2015 models in the United States and Canada with 4G LTE broadband, the fastest type of wireless Internet connection now available. GM says it eventually will offer the service across nearly its entire global lineup.
Most in-car systems now require a linked smartphone to get Internet content such as Pandora online radio or live traffic information. GM’s plan to build in wireless capability will untether users from outside devices.
GM’s decision is the strongest signal yet that automakers are moving toward embedded solutions, rather than drivers’ smartphones, to offer a faster, more-reliable connection to infotainment offerings.
Perhaps just as important, hard-wiring cars with broadband will make it easy to upgrade infotainment units without hardware changes so buyers aren’t stuck with an outmoded system a year or two after purchase.
It’s unlikely GM’s hotspots would remain active when the vehicle is turned off — providing a household Internet connection from a garage — but details are still being developed, a GM spokesman said.
“A lot of those types of details haven’t been finalized just yet, but like most in-vehicle technologies you can probably expect it to work for a certain amount of time after the ignition is turned off and then time out eventually,” the spokesman said today in an e-mail.
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General Motors Corp. will invest approximately $275 million to prepare its plant in Fort Wayne, Ind., to build the next generation of Chevrolet and GMC full-size pickup trucks, creating or retaining 150 jobs.
The plant, which currently has 3,400 employees on three shifts, builds the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups.
The investment announced today is the last announcement of the $2 billion GM announced in May 2011 that will create or retain about 4,000 jobs in 17 facilities in eight states over the next 18 months.
“This investment will allow us to continue building award-winning pickups that offer better fuel efficiency than ever before without sacrificing features and functionality,” said Larry Zahner, GM manufacturing manager. “We remain committed to providing customers the utility and capability of our world-class full-size pickups.”
September was a very good month for GM’s full-size pickup trucks, which are key tow vehicles for the RV market. GMC Sierra sales were up 26 percent and Chevrolet Silverado sales were up 36 percent. Sales of GM full-size pickups have increased month over month since July, contributing to a year-to-date market share gain of about one full point.
General Motors Co. announced today (May 10) it will invest about $2 billion in U.S. assembly and component plants, creating or preserving more than 4,000 jobs at 17 facilities in eight states, according to a news release.
“We are doing this because we are confident about demand for our vehicles and the economy,” GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson said during an event at the 54-year-old Toledo, Ohio, Transmission Plant. “This new investment is on top of $3.4 billion and more than 9,000 jobs that GM has added or saved since mid-2009.”
With Ohio Gov. John Kasich, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, and Toledo Mayor Michael Bell in the audience, Akerson said GM will invest $204 million to retain about 250 jobs for an all-new, advanced 8-speed automatic transmission for future vehicles that offer customers improved fuel economy and outstanding performance.
GM’s U.S. sales through the first four months of the year are up 24.8% over 2010, and the company last week reported its fifth-consecutive profitable quarter since emerging from bankruptcy reorganization in July 2009.
“The UAW’s goal has been to return all laid-off workers to active status and see the company begin hiring again,” said Joe Ashton, UAW vice president – GM Department. “These announcements will create and retain thousands of jobs and bring General Motors back to full employment of our hourly workforce.”
The first of the new investments — $131 million and about 250 additional jobs in Bowling Green, Ky., — was announced last week. Plant improvements and installation of new equipment to make the next generation Chevrolet Corvette will begin soon while the current-generation Corvette is assembled for at least the next two model years.
Over the next few months, GM will make specific facility investment announcements dependent on successful completion of state and local incentives in some communities. According to the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research, the ripple effect of the planned investments would add almost $2.9 billion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product and create or retain more than 28,000 jobs.
“If the market continues to recover, we are confident that GM will hire new workers to meet the strong demand for the products our UAW members build,” Ashton said. “I am proud of how our membership has worked hard to ensure the company’s success.”
Akerson said working in partnership with the UAW is essential to GM’s success.
“Nobody builds ‘em more fantastic than you do,” Akerson told the employees in Toledo, where GM has had a presence since 1916. ”We need you and the rest of our teams at all our facilities to keep working hard and keep being the best.”
Ally Financial Inc. wrote almost half of the loan and lease contracts on new General Motors Co. vehicles sold in the United States in the fourth quarter of 2010, Automotive News reported.
The 49.7% penetration for GM vehicles was up from 34.2% in the third quarter of last year and up from 30.3% year-over-year.
The jump in GM penetration took place as Ally’s global auto finance and insurance business more than doubled its fourth-quarter income year-over-year to $765 million, from $283 million. The company, in a statement today, attributed the growth to lower loan losses, a rise in retail loan volume and a stable wholesale finance business.
The North American auto finance business reported pretax income of $589 million for the quarter, up from $343 million year-over-year.
Ally is the reorganized and renamed banking entity that was GM’s longtime captive lender, GMAC Financial Services. GM and its trust fund still control about 9.9% of Ally’s common stock. The U.S. Treasury Department controls 73.8% of the stock.
No finance incentives
The increase in penetration was significant because it was achieved primarily without the finance incentives Ally offers through an exclusive preferred lender contract with GM. The contract is to expire in 2013.
“Today we are not dependent on it for our success in the marketplace,” CEO Michael Carpenter told analysts in Ally’s fourth-quarter conference call this morning. “It will be a complete nonissue.”
Carpenter, 63, said he knew of no plans for GM-owned GM Financial to compete with Ally for the inventory finance business. The two compete for retail leasing and nonprime lending.
Ally’s penetration of the wholesale finance business remains more than 82% on GM stock and 76% for Chrysler stock.
Its retail penetration for new Chryslers was 36.3% for the quarter, down from 49.4% in the third quarter of last year, but up year-over-year from 25.5%.
Overall retail volume in the United States rose 72% from the year-ago fourth quarter to $9.3 billion from $5.9 billion, including new and used, loans and leases. That includes steady increases in its new-vehicle retail loan volume outside the GM and Chrysler dealer networks — to $300 million from $100 million year-over-year.
The company says the boost is linked to rising auto sales, expansion of its dealer network and dealer rewards program and greater focus on lease and nonprime credit business.
Carpenter also said the bank holding company model has lowered Ally’s cost of funds so it can compete effectively for dealers’ business with banks and even captive finance companies. It is more competitive than when it was GMAC, and its cost of money is about a half-percentage point lower than Ford Motor Credit Co.’s, he said.
The savings will continue as Ally builds its bank deposit base and buys out the U.S. Treasury’s stake in the company, he said.
The bigger picture
For its entire business, Ally said fourth-quarter earnings were $79 million, compared with a loss of $4.95 billion in the same period a year earlier. Annual profit was $1.1 billion versus a $10.3 billion loss in 2009.
Carpenter is preparing the company for an initial public offering that may take place this year. Last week, Ally interviewed investment banks to manage the IPO while the U.S. Treasury Department named Perella Weinberg Partners LP to assist with the disposal of its stake.
Ally reduced risk in its mortgage business, which “significantly strengthened the company and will enable repayment of the U.S. Treasury’s investment over time,” Carpenter said in the statement.
“These results are very important for their IPO,” Mirko Mikelic, a senior money manager at Fifth Third Asset Management in Grand Rapids, Mich., said before the announcement. “It obviously helps with the pricing, and if they continue to post good results there will be strong demand.”
The mortgage business posted a $172 million pretax profit from continuing operations, compared with a loss of $180 million in the last three months of 2009.
Ally said today it hasn’t found “any evidence of inappropriate foreclosures in its review process,” amid concern some lenders have taken improper shortcuts to speed the process of taking homes.
General Motors Co. sold more cars and trucks in China last year than it did in the U.S. for the first time in the company’s 102-year history, The Associated Press reported.
But despite GM’s gains in China, Toyota Motor Corp. managed to hold onto the title of world’s largest automaker. The Japanese company reported 8.42 million sales worldwide last year. That’s 30,000 more than GM’s 8.39 million in global sales for 2010.
GM expects its sales growth to continue, and industry analysts say it may dethrone Toyota as the global sales leader this year. The news came the same day that GM announced it was adding a shift and workers to a plant in Flint, Mich., that makes hot-selling pickup trucks.
GM and Toyota tied for the global sales lead in 2007, ending GM’s 76-year string of dominance. Toyota took the title in 2008 and has held it ever since, but last year’s string of embarrassing safety recalls and a resurgent GM combined to make the race close again.
“General Motors is going strong, and it’s a sure sign of its re-emergence,” said Yasuaki Iwamoto, auto analyst with Okasan Securities Co. in Tokyo.
GM spokesman Tom Henderson said the company isn’t focusing on the race with Toyota.
“A financially healthy and sustainable business that benefits our customers, stakeholders and employees takes precedence over any ranking. Our motivation is to be the best global company and let the numbers speak for themselves,” he said.
GM’s global sales figure for 2010 was a dramatic 12% increase from 2009, a year in which it closed factories and was forced to take aid from the U.S. government to survive. Its sales in the U.S., including heavy-duty vehicles, rose 6.3%.
But it did even better in China, selling 2.35 million vehicles there, up 29% as an expanding middle class gained wealth, making it the world’s largest car market. The showing in China was about 136,000 more than what GM sold in the U.S. Toyota, meanwhile, sold just 846,000 vehicles in China.
GM said it achieved double-digit jumps in five of its top 10 markets last year, including China. GM marked a 12.4% sales rise in Russia and a 10.4% rise in Brazil.
Separately, GM said Monday it will add a third shift to a pickup truck assembly plant in Flint, Mich., to meet demand for heavy-duty pickups.
Pickup truck sales in the U.S. were up 16% last year to 1.6 million vehicles, and they’re still among the top-selling vehicles in the country. GM said small businesses are beginning to buy pickups again after staying out of the market for nearly two years.
The company said the expansion will generate 750 jobs for the Flint plant.
Ford Motor Co. reported a 43% U.S. sales gain in February as it leaped over rival General Motors Co. in monthly sales, according to Automotive News.
Ford sold 142,006 light vehicles last month — 471 more than GM, which advanced 12%. It was Ford’s fifth straight monthly increase in its home market.
The last time Ford topped GM in monthly sales appears to have been July 1998, when GM was crippled by a strike at its Delphi parts unit. GM has been No. 1 annually since 1931.
On an industrywide basis, analysts expect U.S. auto sales to be near a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 10.4 million, down from January but higher than year-earlier levels when sales rates were near the bottom of the deepest downturn in almost three decades.
Heavy snow froze dealership traffic in many mid-Atlantic states for several days in February, further depressing sales in “what is proving to be a very fragile recovery,” said Jack Nerad, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com.
The month’s big question was how much sales at Toyota Motor Corp. were affected by its recalls. Grappling with its biggest safety crisis in history, Toyota is expected to be one of only two major automakers — along with Chrysler Group — to report sales declines for the month.
The industry tracking firm Edmunds.com sees Toyota’s market share dropping to 12.6% in February, its lowest level since July 2005. The world’s biggest automaker accounted for 17% of U.S. sales for all of 2009.
Far from 2008
While GM’s overall February sales rose, demand is still about half of pre-recession levels. GM sold 141,535 light vehicles last month, vs. 268,737 in February 2008.
A combined 33% advance at Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC more than made up for an 86% drop at the automaker’s four canceled brands: Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn. GM released its results four hours earlier than usual today.
Ford’s February climb came on top of a 25% January increase and a 33% rise in December.
Subaru, the only brand to lift U.S. sales in each of the past two years, soared 38% in February.
“The pace of the recovery has hit a speed bump,” Jeff Schuster, forecasting director at J.D.Power and Associates, said before today’s results were released.
“This hiccup appears to be the result of consumers waiting out the Toyota recalls and winter storms impacting showroom traffic.”
U.S. auto sales are expected to rise more than 10% to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of about 10.5 million vehicles in February, according to analysts surveyed by Reuters. A Bloomberg News poll of eight analysts projected a SAAR of 10.3 million.
That would mark an improvement from 9.05 million a year earlier but a decline from 10.5 million in January.
Analysts expect Toyota’s February sales to drop at least 10% from the previous February.
Ford, Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. were projected to be the big winners, posting sales gains of 20-40% in February, according to Edmunds.com. The analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had pegged Ford’s gain at 33%.
But dealers and analysts said rivals have had limited success in poaching customers from Toyota, with most customers delaying any decision to abandon the automaker.
“There is a wait-and-see approach by Toyota loyalists,” said Chris Hopson, an analyst with IHS Global Insight. “They want to see how this plays out before making a buying decision.”
Toyota shut down sales of its most popular vehicles in the last week of January, including Camrys and Corollas, while dealers fixed sticky accelerator pedals in the recalled vehicles.
In a signal to the U.S. marketplace that the sun has not completely set on the modern full-size pickup truck, General Motors Co. has freed up cash to fund a major update of its full-size pickups on a bet that consumers and businesses will resume buying trucks after a long lull in sales, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Chairman and CEO Edward E. Whitacre Jr. has agreed to fund the move, reports Tom Stephens, vice chairman of global product operations. The remodeling could cost the company close to $1 billion and should be generally available in the 2012 or 2013 model year.
GM, which once had relied on full-size pickups such as the Chevrolet Silverado for a major portion of its U.S. revenue and operating profit, had put off redesigning the trucks as its finances collapsed and it underwent a government-backed bankruptcy reorganization last year. Truck sales sagged in the past two years after gasoline spiked to $4 a gallon in 2008 and home sales — a big driver of truck purchases by contractors and builders — collapsed amid the recession.
Now, unlike the 1990s truck boom, the company plans to go in two directions at once by revitalizing its pickup line at the same time it invests heavily in small, fuel-efficient cars and a tiny electric Chevrolet Volt due later this year.
Redesigns of GM’s chief light truck competitors, Ford’s F-150 and Dodge’s Ram, were launched in late 2008 with some features that GM’s Sierra and Silverado — last updated in late 2006 — currently lack.
Stephens said Whitacre approved a top-to-bottom exterior redesign and engineering overhaul to make the vehicles guzzle less gas without giving up capabilties such as cargo capacity.
The makeover is more extensive than what GM had planned heading into bankruptcy and will be one of the company’s biggest upcoming redesign efforts.
Full-size trucks “have been and will continue to be important to us,” Stephens told The Wall Street Journal, noting that while some personal use buyers won’t return to the market, demand among contractors and small businesses will remain solid.