Five Thoughts about the Auto Industry for April 1, 2011

It’s Friday again, which means it’s time for a quick weekly roundup and analysis of some of the stories that caught my eye this week around the auto industry.

1 – Most Embarrassing Recall Ever?

Volkswagen was forced to recall 71,000 new Jettas this past week when it was discovered that honking the horn could result in the compact sedan stalling in the middle of the highway.  Although the problem is a rare one, the Jetta apparently left the factory with wiring that could cause a blast from the horn to cut electrical power to key engine components.  This is almost, but not quite as unexpected as Mazda’s spider web recall earlier this month.

2 – No Chevrolet Cruze SS On The Way

It seems unlikely that Chevrolet will produce an SS edition of the Cruze compact sedan in the United States, saving it instead for the Australian market.  Performance fans who remember the Cobalt SS – which offered a surprising amount of supercharged / turbocharged power and decent handling – are no doubt disappointed by the move.  It appears as though Chevrolet will move in a more luxury-oriented direction if any further editions of the Cruze are unveiled, which leaves me wondering whether there is a market for a premium Cruze that doesn’t intrude on the Regal – or the upcoming Verano – customer base, especially in terms of price.  With no sporty compact cars currently in its lineup, it also seems like GM might be leaving something on the table in its dogged pursuit of eco-cred.

3 – Does Buick Need A Dedicated Hybrid?

Buick already has the eAssist technology, which offers a fuel mileage boost through the judicious application of electric motors during certain driving situations.  Rumors now abound that it may soon gain a rebadged version of the Chevrolet Volt.  Chevrolet definitely wants to spread around the Volt’s plug-in platform, but wouldn’t it make more sense for Cadillac to gain a flagship hybrid that doesn’t weigh more than two tons?  Cadillac would be better able to justify a luxo-Volt’s higher price tag than Buick would, and few are likely to be cross shopping the Chevy hybrid against the Caddy.  The same could not be said for a Buick / Chevrolet pairing.

4 – Hyundai Abandons Job Loss Insurance Program

During the darker days of the recession, Hyundai launched an incentive that promised to allow new car buyers to return their vehicles to the dealership if they lost their jobs and could no longer make payments.  That program is now ending.  Does this mean that the financial hard times are behind us?  No – but it does mean that Hyundai no longer feels these types of PR campaigns are necessary to move cars.  The decision is an indicator of Hyundai’s corporate health more than a reflection of the state of the industry as a whole.  The brand claims that only 350 people took advantage of the return option during the more than two years that the program was in service.

5 – VIN Numbers Now Equal Social Networking

Just when you thought you wouldn’t need to add yet another account to your already full social media plate, AutoCheck has come out with something called  Essentially, it’s sort of like a genealogy website for cars – enter a vehicle’s VIN number and you can not only view the history of a car that you currently own but also track down automobiles you have sold and even determine where they might currently reside.  Privacy issues aside, is the VIN search and accompanying family tree enough to drag people away from established automotive social networking sites like CarDomain?

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