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German car makers gain ground in South Korea

Mercedes and BMW both sold more cars in South Korea than General Motors (GM) for the first-time last month.

Demonstrating how premium German brands are growing in popularity and that consumers are moving away from GM after it announced a major restructuring.

BMW saw the biggest jump with February sales nearly doubling to 6,118 vehicles, industry data showed, which was just a little behind Mercedes which led the imported car rankings with 6,192 cars, up 12 per cent from the same period a year earlier.

GM’s announcement last month that it plans to shut down of one of its four factories in South Korea and was weighing the fate of the three other plants resulted in domestic retail sales nearly halving in February to 5,804.

With consumers worried about loss of after-care services and residual value, GM lost its long-held spot as South Korea’s No. 3 automaker, slipping to sixth place.

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President of GM visits Auckland

Barry Engle, President of GM international.

The President of General Motors International, Barry Engle paid a flying visit to Auckland to officially unveil the all-new Commodore range.

Engle took the covers off  the three body styles on offer – Liftback, Sportwagon and Tourer – all of which will be available for sale at Holden dealerships around the country from March.

“This new generation of Commodore will redefine one of GM’s most famous nameplates. Commodore is now a true global car for GM, and offers levels of technology, engine options and bodystyles that will challenge perceptions of the car,” Mr Engle said.

For the first time, a diesel option with will be available on Commodore, cutting fuel consumption by a third compared to the equivalent previous model.

All wheel drive (AWD) capability on some models is also a first for Commodore. The hero of the range is the new Calais-V Tourer with a raised ride height and AWD, engineered to take on New Zealand’s most challenging road conditions.

Speaking at the event, Holden New Zealand’s managing director, Kristian Aquilina said this is the most important change in Commodore’s 40-year history.

“The brief to GM’s designers and engineers was simple: create a beautiful car that give us a major step change in fuel economy, safety, functionality and technology. They gave us the most advanced Commodore ever,” Mr Aquilina said.

In addition to unveiling the Commodore range, Mr Engle’s took the opportunity to review GM’s investment in the Holden business in New Zealand. Holden and its dealer network is investing $50 million dollars locally in new and upgraded facilities, technology, training and new products and services.

The Holden team in New Zealand spans three head office sites, 51 dealer sites and 1,400 employees directly involved in selling and serving customers across New Zealand.

Engle also managed to squeeze in a visit to Taranaki couple Steve and Joy Fabish, who received a surprise valentine, in the form of one of the latest Commodore, from Engle on Tuesday.   

“When I heard about how much you love Holden, I wanted you to know that Holden loves you too. Holden and Kiwis ‘go way back’ (as you like to say) and I think we’ve got an exciting future together,” said Engle in a letter addressed to the couple.

The Taranaki couple established a Holden Museum dedicated to celebrating the history of the vehicles in New Zealand on their property last year. 

Greg Murphy with Joy and Steve Fabish

For more news from Barry Engle’s visit to New Zealand, be sure to read the March issue of Autofile magazine.

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Self-driving car accused of ‘negligent driving’

A motorcyclist has filed a lawsuit against General Motors (GM), accusing one of the manufacturer’s robot-operated vehicles of “negligent driving.”

Mr Nilsson claims he was driving down a San Francisco street last month when Mr Salazar commanded the self-driving vehicle, a Chevy Bolt, to change lanes.

Once the Bolt cleared the roadway, Mr.Nilsson proceeded to travel straight. However, at the same time, the self-driving vehicle suddenly veered back into Mr. Nilsson’s lane, striking him and knocking him to the ground.

As a result of the crash, “Mr Nilsson suffered injuries to his neck and shoulder and will require lengthy treatment.’

The vehicle was operating in self-driving mode at the time of the crash, the suit alleges, but a backup driver was sitting in the front seat of the vehicle with his hands off the wheel.

Mary Barra, GM CEO introducing the 2017 Chevy Bolt

In a report filed with the California DMV, GM disputed Nilsson’s account of the crash.

“As the Cruise AV was re-centering itself in the lane, a motorcycle that had just lane-split between two vehicles in the centre and right lanes moved into the center lane, glanced the side of the Cruise AV, wobbled and fell over,” the report claims, noting that the Cruise AV was traveling with the flow of traffic at 12 mph and the motorcycle was traveling at approximately 17 mph.

“The motorcyclist was determined to be at fault for attempting to overtake and pass another vehicle on the right under conditions that did not permit that movement in safety,” the report says, adding that Nilsson claimed he had shoulder pain.

A GM spokesperson said safety is the company’s “primary focus” during the development and testing of self-driving technology.
“In this matter,” the spokesperson added, “the SFPD collision report stated that the motorcyclist merged into our lane before it was safe to do so.”

Nilsson’s lawyer, Sergei Lemberg, claims that the police report actually supports his client’s claim, not GM’s.

He said the police report states that the AV driver saw Nilsson before the crash but didn’t have enough time to grab the wheel and swerve.

“Absolutely we dispute it,” he said, referring to GM’s side of the story. “As far as the technology is concerned, I’m troubled that GM shifted the blame to my client. The manoeuvre by the autonomous car was unpredictable and dangerous.”

Nilsson’s suit is one of the first involving an autonomous vehicle, and experts warn that it will be the first of many.

While manufacturers say self-driving vehicles will severely reduce traffic accidents and fatalities, experts are already warning that there may be many more accidents involving robot-operated cars, a type of accident that raises unresolved questions about responsibility and restitution.

Nilsson is seeking damages exceeding NZ$102,000. 

 

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GM’s radical new concept

General Motors, GM, plans to mass-produce autonomous cars that lack traditional elements such as steering wheels and pedals.

The car will be the fourth generation of its driverless, all-electric Chevy Bolts, which are currently being tested on public roads in America.

By 2019, General Motors plans to safely introduce self-driving cars to our roads.

The Bolts will primarily be deployed as ride-hailing vehicles in a number of cities.

“GM’s integrated development of hardware and software, and testing in one of the most complex environments in the world, allows for the company to safely eliminate the steering wheel, pedals, and manual controls from the new Cruise AV,” the company said in a statement.

GM plans for the autonomous cars to be launched in 2019 outmanoeuvring rivals in the increasingly hyper competitive race to build and deploy robot cars. 

Ford has said it will build a steering-wheel-and-pedal-less autonomous car by 2021, while Waymo is preparing to launch its first commercial ride-hailing service featuring fully driverless minivans (though still with traditional controls).

 

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GM files patent

A newly issued U.S. patent shows that General Motors are planning to protect pedestrians by way of external airbags.

Dated December 5, and originally filed for patent protection in 2014, the US Patent and Trademark Office issued the patent to GM Global Technology Operations LLC, and in the documents it’s being described as a “fender-located pedestrian protection airbag.”

GM’s drawings for its pedestrian airbags reveal the position of the safety devices.

The external airbags appear to be located at the front side of a vehicle and are hidden behind a “discrete door,” which is located at the top of the wing just underneath the hood and just in front of the A-pillar.

GM states that the exterior airbags are designed to protect pedestrians from impact near the front of the vehicle’s structure. The intent is to cushion the blow pedestrians experience when they are struck by an oncoming car.

Automakers usually like to keep their latest developments behind closed doors but due to the accessibility of the public U.S. Patent Office files, we can take a look at what GM is working on. 

Tom Wilkinson, a spokesman for General Motors, recently told the Autoblog website that “the pedestrian protection airbag could become an important engineering solution in the future.”

If you would like to read the patent yourself, then you can do so here, at the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website.

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GM challenges Tesla

General Motors Co plans to launch a series of electric vehicles in 2021 that will cost less to develop and build, and will furthermore, make a profit for the U.S. No. 1 automaker, Chief Executive Mary Barra told investors earlier this week.

Mary Barra at the 2017 GM Annual Stockholders Meeting

Her plans demonstrate an aggressive electrification strategy and direct challenge to electric vehicle specialist Tesla Inc, which is struggling to get its more affordable Model 3 launched.

“We are committed to a future electric vehicle portfolio that will be profitable,” Barra said at the Barclays Global Automotive Conference in New York.

Electric and autonomous vehicles will underpin the future of transport; however, Tesla and other manufacturers are still trying to understand how to gain a profit from them.

GM is looking to break through this by creating an all-new electric vehicle family that will accommodate multiple sizes and variations, to be sold by different GM brands in the United States and China, Barra said.

GM’s cost reduction efforts on electric vehicles revolve around the creation of a cheaper new battery system.

By 2021 the company aims to make its lithium-ion batteries less than $100 per kilowatt-hour, instead of the current $145 per kilowatt-hour battery. This would bring the overall cost of electric vehicles closer to gasoline-engine equivalents.

GM announced that the batteries would be able to hold more energy and charge quicker. With the aim to boost the kilometre range to more than 483 km with the new batteries.

GM’s new electric vehicle platform will act as a base for at least nine derivatives, ranging from a compact crossover to a large seven-passenger luxury sports utility vehicle and a large commercial van.

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Canadian workers strike against GM

A tentative agreement has been made with striking workers at the CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll, Canada, according to a statement from vehicle manufacturer General Motors.

Some 2,500 workers at the plant in southern Ontario, walked off the job on September 18, after the automaker decided that the factory would not be delegated as the lead production site for the Chevrolet Equinox model in North America.

“These members have shown incredible courage and strength by standing up for good jobs and a secure future for their families and their community,” says Jerry Dias, president of Unifor National.

The automaker had threatened to ramp up the production of the SUVs at two plants in Mexico.

The assembly plant strike is Canada’s first since 1996.

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GM to increase focus on EVs

General Motors has said it will combine operations outside of China and North America into a new organization based in Detroit, in an attempt to further scale back its operations that are losing money, and increase their presence in the EV market.

Automotive News reports that GM said it will combine the leadership of its Southeast Asia, India and Oceania operations, with its South American operations, effective January 1 next year. The new company will be led by Barry Engle, currently GM executive vice president and president of GM South America.

GM CEO Mary Barra.

On Monday GM outlined plans to add 20 new battery electric and fuel cell vehicles to its global lineup by 2023, financed by robust profits from sales of gasoline-fueled trucks and sport utility vehicles in the United States and China.

GM’s Latin American and Asia/Pacific operations both lost money in 2016, excluding profits from GM’s operations in China.

“Our strategy (is) to refocus our traditional business operations to free up the resources and financial power needed to really step into the next chapter of the automotive industry,” Stefan Jacoby, executive vice president of GM’s International Operations told Reuters.

GM has shrunk its international operations over the past five years, ceasing manufacturing in Australia and Indonesia entirely, while restructuring its Thai operations. The car maker is also reducing its presence in India.

GM has also sold its European unit Opel, to French automaker Peugeot SA.

 

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Ford, GM defy September predictions in United States

General Motors and Ford have exceeded analysts’ expectations in the United States with increased share prices and sales for the month of September.

General Motors chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem said all the key US economic indicators point toward continued economic growth and stability, while in addition, regions devastated by the recent hurricanes will continue to recover, helping spur new and used vehicle sales.

Reuters reports that the seasonally adjusted annualized rate of U.S. car and light truck sales in September rose to 18.57 million units from 17.72 million units a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp, which tracks industry sales.

According to car makers and dealers, much of the September gains follow the devastating hurricanes that have swept the southern part of the country. Replacing cars will boost U.S. new and used auto sales through at least November, according to industry consultants.

Shares of General Motors rose, up 2.7 per cent yesterday, while those of Ford gained 1.8 per cent, after both car makers reported better than expected sales for September.

 

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Holden launches Aussie ride-sharing trial

General Motors has announced over the weekend that it will test its car-sharing operation, Maven, in Australia in conjunction with Uber.

“We are testing the adoption of one Maven product – Maven Gig – in Australia through a pilot program in Sydney renting Holden cars to Uber drivers,” communications director at GM Holden, Sean Poppitt, said in a statement.

In March, GM began an in-house car-sharing scheme in Melbourne for employees who needed to use a vehicle for a short period of time, or who wanted to test different models in the Holden line-up.

Maven Gig is a GM programme which allows drivers to rent vehicles on demand for one-off jobs such as deliveries and ride-sharing.

In the US, drivers can borrow a Chevy Bolt for $311 per week. It’s not known which Holden model is being used in the Sydney pilot.

Currently, the firm operates in San Diego, and in May, GM said it would launch Maven in San Francisco and Los Angeles later this year.

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Opel CEO resigns

Opel CEO Michael Lohscheller

Opel is losing its CEO just two months after being sold by General Motors to the PSA Group.

Karl-Thomas Neumann resigned on Monday, and Reuters reports that Volkswagen is rehiring the executive, who formerly worked as a division manager.

“The prospects are good that he will move to Volkswagen,” said Bankhaus Metzler analyst Juergen Pieper. “He’s one of Germany’s most distinguished car managers and VW is in great need for excellent people.”

“Under Neumann’s leadership we have made enormous progress in turning around Opel,” said GM president Dan Ammann. Neumann, who took the reins in 2013, is credited for turning around Opel’s fortunes and restoring its image and reputation. The next CEO will be current finance chief Michael Lohscheller.

GM announced the sale of struggling car maker to the PSA Group for $3.3 billion in March 2017. The deal was reached on the condition that Opel reach an ambitious two per cent operating margin in 2020, up to six per cent by 2026.

The sale of Opel includes the British-made Vauxhall marque. While Opel currently manufactures the GM-owned Holden Commodore and Astra, the Australian brand was not part of the sale, and  existing supply agreements will continue.

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