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Photo credit: AFP PHOTO/JIJI PRESS
After floods in Mexico and spewing volcanoes in Iceland, we thought we had seen all that Mother Nature could throw at the automotive supply chain. Boy, were we wrong. A magnitude-9.0 earthquake off the coast of northeastern Japan on March 11 killed thousands and curtailed shipments of electronics, paint pigment and other parts and components to factories around the world.
General Motors' Ammann, 39, moved up from treasurer to CFO, replacing Chris Liddell, 53, who left GM on April 1, presumably in search of a CEO post elsewhere. Ammann's top goal is to continue building what he calls a "fortress" balance sheet, one that can withstand the industry's down cycles, even as he wrestles with GM's huge pension liability.
A year ago, who would have guessed that Ford F-150 pickup buyers would prefer an EcoBoost V-6 to a traditional V-8? Or that four-cylinder engines would replace V-6s as America's most popular engine choice? With engine refinements and, increasingly, turbochargers boosting output and torque, buyers of cars and trucks embraced smaller and more fuel-efficient engines.
Yoshinaga, 57, was named president of Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. in May and immediately had to oversee Subaru's recovery from the March earthquake. In July, the marketing and sales specialist unveiled a five-year business plan that calls for lifting U.S. sales to 350,000 units from 260,000 in 2010 and rolling out new products to expand Subaru's customer base, including the XV small crossover, the BRZ sporty car and Subaru's first hybrid.
Chevrolet already has the strong-selling Cruze compact. To add a second competitive small car to its showrooms is noteworthy on its own. But the subcompact Sonic has the added distinction of being the only car in its size class that is built in the United States rather than in Mexico or overseas.
Renesas Electronics Corp.
Even within the auto industry, few knew of this maker of specialized chips, even though it supplies about 40 percent of the globe's automotive microcontrollers. But when the March 11 earthquake shut down Renesas' Naka plant in northeastern Japan, upper-management executives around the world wanted to know how soon the company could resume production. The answer: within three months. By September, just six months after the quake, production was nearly back to full capacity.
Alternatives to hybrids
Whether it was GM's eAssist or Mazda's Skyactiv, automakers introduced packages of internal-combustion powertrain technologies that offered maximum benefits at minimum cost -- in other words, fuel-efficient alternatives to expensive hybrids. Some are just going into production, so it's too soon to judge consumer acceptance. But the offerings suggest that the future doesn't necessarily belong to hybrids and electric cars.
Blue Springs, Miss.
On Nov. 17, Toyota officially opened an assembly plant there. The start of production had been on ice for several years because of the recession and Toyota's rethinking of its North American needs. The original plan was to build SUVs there. Then it was the Prius. Now it has taken over Corolla production from the closed New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont, Calif. Its opening coincides with a new wave of Japanese plant expansions in North America, prompted by the strong yen. In late October, Honda finally added a second line to its Civic factory in Greensburg, Ind. Honda and Mazda will open Mexican assembly plants in 2014, and Nissan is rumored to be planning a joint Mexican plant with partner Daimler.
BMW of North America's new CEO, 55, has spent years running dealerships, a background that should help him repair the German automaker's bruised relationship with its U.S. dealers. He took over on Oct. 1 from Jim O'Donnell, who retired during the summer.
Kuniskis, 44, became head of the Fiat brand for North America in late November, after working as director of marketing for the Chrysler and Fiat brands. He takes over a brand slogging through a slow U.S. launch in part because of slow development of its U.S. dealer network.