Carlos Tavares, the brilliant, well-spoken and trusted No. 2 man to Carlos Ghosn at Renault, boasted to the press in August that General Motors ought to hire him as CEO. "I would be honored to lead a company like GM," Tavares said. Incredulous, Ghosn unburdened Tavares of his Renault post so that he could concentrate full time on pursuing a new job. This blunder had a happy ending, though. In November, PSA Peugeot-Citroen said it would hire Tavares as CEO.
Biggest blunders of the year
Ford Motor Co. wanted a successful launch of the redesigned 2013 Lincoln MKZ to build momentum for the brand's comeback. No such luck. A trickle of production started in August 2012 that failed to ramp up fully until January. At fault were bad parts from suppliers and other manufacturing issues in Hermosillo, Mexico.
The tricky interplay between the engine, transmission and disconnecting driveshaft and differential on the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee caused a software migraine for Chrysler Group engineers. To rewrite the transmission software for proper shifting, the automaker delayed shipping assembled Cherokees about two months, until late October. When the software was ready, though, Chrysler shipped the stored vehicles in big numbers, and dealers had plenty to sell.
After the Ford C-Max Hybrid went on sale in September 2012, the complaints started: Drivers couldn't achieve the EPA-rated combined city-highway mileage of 47 mpg. In August, Ford, in a deal with the EPA, agreed to restate the fuel economy to 43 mpg and to mail checks of $550 to buyers and $325 to lessees.
In June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Chrysler Group cut a tentative deal to equip up to 1.6 million old Jeep Grand Cherokees and Libertys with off-the-shelf trailer hitches to protect fuel tanks from rear-end collisions. On the surface, it was a cost-effective remedy. But experts inside and outside Chrysler said it would provide little if any protection for fuel tanks. And oddly, the fix has yet to get final approval from NHTSA. The initial deal looks like a face-saving solution that allowed NHTSA to declare victory in an investigation that reached the contested conclusion that the Jeeps' designs were unsafe.
A major head-scratcher in recent years has been General Motors' stubborn quest to establish Chevrolet in Europe at the expense of Opel. In Dec-ember, reality finally prevailed. GM announced that in Europe, Chevrolets will be sold only in Russia starting in 2016, except for the Corvette.
In 2012, Scion executives told journalists to wait for the New York auto show in March 2013. That's when the struggling brand finally would unveil redesigned or new vehicles to revive its dated lineup. But at the show, Scion simply showed new trim levels of some current products. In October, CEO Akio Toyoda leveled with disappointed dealers. In an interview with Hans Greimel, Asia editor of Automotive News, he acknowledged that fresh products won't be coming any time soon. "We will continue with Scion," he said. "But Toyota has limited resources. We need to prioritize. I have been telling them they will have to wait a few years."
If you weren't Tesla Motors, 2013 was a rough year for startups trying to sell electric cars. In May, Coda Automotive filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors. The company imported bodies and powertrains from China and put them together in a San Francisco area warehouse. Meanwhile, dormant Fisker Automotive filed for Chapter 11 protection in November.
Five stars, the gold standard of government crash tests, weren't good enough for Tesla Motors. The 2013 Tesla Model S received five-star ratings on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's frontal, side, rear and rollover crash tests. In the hands of Tesla's PR message machine, though, the Model S "achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars." Tesla derived the rating from an obscure formula that NHTSA supplies to automakers. NHTSA was not amused. In August, the agency said in a posting on its Web site, "NHTSA does not rate vehicles beyond 5 stars and does not rank or order vehicles within the star rating categories."
In January, Chevrolet killed its advertising slogan, "Chevy Runs Deep." The slogan was designed to evoke the brand's strong heritage. But it failed to give shoppers a compelling reason to buy today's cars laden with fuel-saving powertrains and connected-car goodies. The new slogan: "Find New Roads."
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