Plants/Manufacturing auto news

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Audi starts production of new TT in Hungary

08/05/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Coupes, Euro, Plants/Manufacturing, Audi

Audi TT production at Gyor

Audi sure made waves when it rolled out the original TT in the late 1990s, putting fashion forward with a stylish coupe that neatly summed up the design direction the company was headed in. But that was a decade and a half ago, and the TT has moved on considerably since then.

The German automaker has since revealed its third-generation TT, replacing the original twice over with ever-more performance-focused but no less stylish successors along the way. But it wasn't until last week that the first new MkIII TT rolled off the assembly line.

That took place, of course, in Gyor at Audi Hungaria Motor Kft. It's the same assembly plant that handles the company's A3 sedan and cabrio, with the facility also handling final assembly of the TT ever since the factory opened in 1997 and the model began rolling off the line in '98. Last November, the plant in Hungary built its 500,000th TT, and now officials are ushering in the era of the new model.

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Final Lexus IS F rolls off assembly line in Japan, bound for US

08/04/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sedans/Saloons, Sports/GTs, Plants/Manufacturing, Lexus, Luxury

Lexus IS F

We knew this day would come, but it's nonetheless a bit of a sad one for Lexus enthusiasts as the very last example of the IS F has rolled off the assembly line in Tahara, Japan. Decked out in its trademark bright blue, the final IS F is destined for a customer right here in the United States.

Far from just another now-defunct model in an endless succession, the IS F marked the first time that Lexus did a proper performance model, debuting in production guise at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show alongside the LFA concept long before the latter entered production and took the idea of the high-performance Lexus even further. The IS F may not have sold in huge numbers, but it definitely marked a milestone for Toyota's luxury division.

Don't cry too much, however, as the new RC F that effectively takes its place packs an even mightier punch. While both are powered by essentially the same 5.0-liter V8 engine mated to an eight-speed automatic driving the rear wheels, the outgoing sedan's 416 horsepower and 371 pound-feet of torque is easily outgunned by the new coupe's 450 hp and 383 lb-ft.

The news was posted on Facebook by Yikihiko Yaguchi, the Toyota performance engineer responsible for both the IS F and RC F. Now, feel free to join us in a moment of silence...

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Next Buick Regal coming in 2017, could be imported from Germany

08/03/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sedans/Saloons, Euro, Plants/Manufacturing, Buick, Rumormill

2014 Buick Regal

The Buick Regal is based on the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia, a pair of sedans from General Motors' European and British outfits. In fact, over 46,000 Regals from model years 2010 and 2011 were screwed together on the same lines as the Insignia twins, before GM's Oshawa, Ontario factory took over production fully. Considering this closeness, rumors that claim the next-generation Regal - due for 2017 - could move back to Europe aren't terribly surprising. Here's why, according to Automotive News.

Oshawa is home to three other vehicles, aside from the Regal - the Chevrolet Camaro, Impala rental queen and the Cadillac XTS. We already know next-gen Camaro production is headed to Lansing, MI, and that the fleet-only Impala will (finally!) die in 2016. As for the XTS, as AN explains it, sales are so slow that GM will either kill it or just shuffle its production volume elsewhere.

Taken along with the fact that Unifor, the Canadian labor union repping workers at the Oshawa factory, claim GM hasn't made any guarantees about future production at the nearly 60-year-old factory, it seems fairly clear that the Regal's current factory is going to be put out to pasture.

Meanwhile, according to AN, Opel has already dropped a not-so-subtle indicator that Buick production will be returning to the manufacturer's Russelsheim factory, issuing a statement back in March that read: "The Russelsheim plant has been chosen for the assembly of a future model which will be sold in the US under the Buick brand name in the second half of the decade."

Logistically, this all makes a lot of sense. As AN says, Canada is expensive, Russelsheim has room and GM execs have said that the German brand and Buick are pretty good bedfellows. Of course, we'll need to wait and see how this plays out. All things considered, though, the arrival of a German-built Buick seems like a very real possibility.

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Deadly explosion rocks Chinese auto parts plant near Shanghai [w/video]

08/02/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: China, Plants/Manufacturing, Safety, Videos

Chinese auto parts explosion

An explosion at an auto parts plant owned by Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products Co. near Shanghai has killed at least 68 people, with 187 more injured. The blast has been traced back to errant sparks in a wheel-hub polishing workshop that apparently ignited dust. There were a total of 264 people working at the plant at the time of the explosion.

General Motors confirmed in an email to Bloomberg that the auto parts plant was an indirect supplier that produces parts, mostly plated and polished metal items, for a company called Dicastal, which is a direct supplier to the American automaker. Reports also indicate Volkswagen is a customer.

This blast is reportedly the worst industrial accident China has seen so far this year, and it again brings up issues of worker safety in the country. According to the official Xinhua News Agency, cited by Bloomberg, there have been 19 serious safety incidents recorded so far in China in 2014, with the death toll cresting 200. Scroll down below for a video news report from CCTV.

Continue reading Deadly explosion rocks Chinese auto parts plant near Shanghai [w/video]

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Fisker's new owner working out Karma's 250 'bugs' before introducing second model

07/29/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Hybrids/Alternative, Sedans/Saloons, Plants/Manufacturing, Fisker, Luxury

Fisker Atlantic

Fisker may be down, but it might not stay down forever. The company behind the Karma luxury hybrid shut down late last year and was purchased by Chinese OEM supplier Wanxiang Group, which intends to restart production. It just can't tell us when.

Speaking with Automotive News Europe, Wanxgiang executives indicated they have some work on their hands, sorting out 250 "bugs" it has found in the existing Karma. Once it has those sorted out, it plans to start production again at the Valmet plant in Finland before potentially moving assembly to the plant in Delaware that Fisker had acquired from General Motors. The executives were touring the United States to inspect their battery factory in Michigan, visit the plant in Delaware and meet with government officials in Washington.

Wanxiang apparently has even bigger ambitions than that, however. The latest news is that it intends to expand the rebooted Fisker with a second model sometime in 2017. The company has not provided any details as to what that form that model might take, but prior to its bankruptcy, Fisker displayed a smaller concept sedan called the Atlantic at the 2012 New York Auto Show.

Fisker had previously revealed the Surf wagon and Sunset convertible concepts based on the Karma as well, but there's no telling at this point if Wanxiang has any intent on putting those into production any time in the near future.

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Global automakers to shutter Russian plants?

07/29/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Plants/Manufacturing, Russia

Renault Avtoframos Plant in Russia

For an automaker to manufacture locally, two elements need to be in effect: for one, the market needs to be large enough to justify it, and for another, importing has to be too expensive to make it worthwhile. Many automakers have found both those elements in place in Russia, but may not for very much longer. According to Ward's, changing conditions in Russia could spell the end of local production in the world's largest country. On the one hand, the market is shrinking, while on the other, import duties are dropping.

The market for new cars in Russia fell by six percent in May when compared to the same period last year, leading analysts to predict a massive drop by 26-30 percent over the course of the year. If the decline continues apace, the market could drop from 3.6 million projected new-car sales in Russia to just 2.3 million by 2018. Meanwhile, Russia's obligations to the World Trade Organization mean that import duties on cars manufactured abroad will have to drop from 25 percent to 15 percent by 2019, making it less expensive to sell imported cars in Russia. At the same time, government incentives for manufacturing locally - whether by local or foreign automakers - may drop in the years ahead thanks to a weak ruble and the spiraling cost of Russia's invasion of the Crimean peninsula, according to the report.

Analysts expect that, as a result, vehicles produced locally by foreign automakers could drop from 52 percent of the current market to 26, while imports rise to 67 percent - the difference presumably being taken up by Russia's own domestic automakers, which have apparently dwindled to a small proportion of the market. Despite the forecast, however, foreign automakers like PSA, Renault and BMW may still find it advantageous - if only for the shipping costs - to manufacture locally for the Russian market. If present conditions continue, however, we can't help but wonder for how long.

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Kia negotiating to build $1.5B auto plant in Mexico

07/25/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Plants/Manufacturing, Kia

Kia Cadenza

After a string of recent announcements from automakers, Kia may be the next business to break ground on a factory south of the border. The Korean company is reportedly nearly finished with negotiations to build a $1.5-billion plant near the city of Monterrey in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. The state's secretary of economic development confirmed the news to Reuters and anticipated talks to be completed in the first two weeks of August. Unnamed insiders also said that the location was aiming for an annual production capacity of 300,000 vehicles.

Rumors from a month ago first suggested the possibility of the new factory. It would reportedly build two models of small cars, and assembly could potentially begin as soon as 21 months after breaking ground. Currently, Kia only has one North American plant, in Georgia, that builds the Sorento and Optima.

In the last few years, Mexico has become of hotbed of North American automobile production. Mazda, Honda and Volkswagen all recently opened new or expanded factories to build cars there. There are even more on the way with a joint venture plant from Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti and BMW's announcement of its own $1 billion undertaking in Mexico.

Autoblog reached out to Kia for official confirmation of the Mexican factory, and the company emailed the following prepared statement to us:

"As one of the world's fastest growing automakers in recent years, Kia Motors Corporation is currently evaluating various options for the establishment of a new overseas manufacturing plant in order to secure future growth for the brand. As a part of these efforts, and to better cope with the ongoing supply shortage situation in the Americas region, Mexico is being considered as a possible location of our next overseas production facility."

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Audi and Porsche squabble over future product platforms

07/23/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sports/GTs, Plants/Manufacturing, Audi, Porsche, Luxury

Audi R8: Spy Shots

In the buildup to the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans, Audi delivered an amusing video that worked on the playful rivalry between the German brand and its favorite frenemy, Porsche. We called it sibling rivalry, and at the time, it may have been just that. But just like sibling rivalries, it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and that's just what seems to be about to happen in the formerly peaceful Volkswagen Group family.

A new report from Automobile calls out the growing animosity between Porsche, who is backed up by Bentley, and Audi, whose primary ally is Lamborghini. No blows have actually been thrown, although there is a fair amount of "he said, she said" going on.

As Porsche tells it, for example, the new global fullsize SUV architecture being developed by Audi isn't up to snuff, citing size and structure issues, as well as an inability to accommodate a wide variety of engines.

Audi and Lamborghini, meanwhile, are less than thrilled with the work that Porsche has done on the replacements for the next-next-generation R8 and Huracán, neither of which is due until early next decade. According to Automobile, the new platform probably won't be too kind to the various six-, eight- and 10-cylinder engines used by Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini.

More troubling than the "he said, she said," though, is the one-upmanship and competitiveness that's developing. Both Audi and Porsche are developing a luxury car platform, burning through some $4 billion of mom and dad's (Volkswagen's) money in the process.

Naturally, Porsche seems to think its modular standard platform (MSB), which is slated for the Panamera, would also do well in the Audi A6, A7 and A8. Audi, meanwhile, is happy building its own platform for the three largest cars in its portfolio. It's that sort of stunning inefficiency that can doom manufacturers, and it's certainly not something we'd expect from the Germans.

"If we don't call the shots here at HQ, Audi and Porsche will never get their acts together. What these guys fail to understand is that they have to cooperate, not fight each other. We need to prevent individual sports car architectures and excessive proliferation, and to make Porsche's MSB mandatory for both brands," an anonymous chief strategist for VW told Automobile. "Audi and Porsche must stop fighting over architectures and concentrate on diversification by content. It's as simple as that. And as difficult."

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Tesla halts production to prep for Model X

07/22/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sedans/Saloons, Plants/Manufacturing, Crossovers/CUVs, Tesla, Electric

Tesla Model X

That darling of the electric car world, Tesla, is idling production at its factory in Fremont, CA, for the first time in order to expand the factory in preparation for its future Model X crossover. The $100-million renovation will add 25 robots and upgrades to the body shop and assembly line to support the new vehicle.

Since it will be offering two models simultaneously, Tesla will need to be able to keep up with the pace of demand. "This represents the single biggest investment in the plant since we really started operations and enables us for higher volumes," said Tesla spokesperson Simon Sproule to Bloomberg. The new robots will be able to boost production by 25 percent and will allow the automaker to build the Model S and Model X on the same assembly line. There won't be too much downtime at the California plant, though. The upgrades will be finished within the next two weeks.

With these factory updates, the Model X may finally get its electrically powered wheels on the road. The CUV has been delayed multiple times since its announcement. It was originally supposed to be on sale in early 2014, then later in the year, but now the latest news from Elon Musk places the crossover's launch in the second quarter of 2015.

Until the Model X is on sale, the renovations should also provide a nice lift in Model S assembly. In the company's first quarter financial report, Tesla said that it expected the sedan's production rate to grow from about 700 cars per week to 1,000 per week by the end of the year, with the expectation of selling a total of 35,000 of them in 2014. That should help quell demand in new markets like the UK and expansion in Europe.

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US energy boom thwarted by... bad oil field roads?

07/19/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Etc., Plants/Manufacturing, Read This

Fracking Water Recycling

With all the money they generate, you'd be forgiven if you thought the roads to America's oil wells and shale fields would be paved in platinum and lined in gold. The reality is, though, that these roads are so devastated that they're starting to actively hurt the oil industry.

A large portion of the blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the semis that bring things in and out of the fields. As Bloomberg points out in an excellent piece, the popularity of fracking has required huge imports of water, sand, chemicals and steel structuring to the fields, consequently increasing the weight and frequency of trucks on roads that were originally designed for cattle ranchers.

"If you drive a cattle truck one or two times a year, you're not affecting that road very much, but the first day you drive a 175,000-pound substructure of a drilling rig up that road you begin to destroy it," DeWitt County judge Daryl Fowler told Bloomberg.

There are other issues, though, that are making life difficult for the men and women in America's oil industry. Roads are crumbling due to torrential rains and spring thaws in addition to the weight of trucks. The result is a situation that's not only hurting profits, it's increasing accidents.

Solutions, meanwhile, are in short supply. Tax dollars are short, with Texas estimating it'd need to spend $1 billion just to maintain roads in its energy producing regions. That's equal to the total road maintenance costs for the rest of the state - to which we ask, wouldn't it make sense for the oil companies, whose trucks are responsible for much of the wear and tear on these roads, to chip in for their upkeep?

Head over to Bloomberg for a comprehensive piece on the problems facing these surprisingly important roads, and what it will take to fix them.

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