News Briefs: Feb. 7, 2012

Here's what we have our eye on today:

  • Despite Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne emphasizing "zero political content" from Chrysler's Super Bowl XLVI ad, the two-minute spot featuring actor Clint Eastwood has become a political flashpoint, The Detroit News reports. Former President George W. Bush's adviser Karl Rove said he was "offended" by the ad, which exhorts America to follow Detroit's example in coming back from the brink. Chrysler escaped that brink thanks to Fiat and $12.5 billion in federal loans, of which the U.S. Treasury expects to lose $1.3 billion. White House officials seized upon the ad's positive reception to defend the auto bailout. What about Dirty Harry himself? The commercial's star is a Republican who opposed the bailouts, but a representative from his production company told The Detroit News that the Chrysler spot was simply "about American pride."
  • Speaking of Bush, the former president made the closing remarks Monday at the National Automobile Dealers Association's annual convention in Las Vegas. Bush defended the auto bailout, which he began — and handed off to President Barack Obama — with funds from 2008's Troubled Asset Relief Program. Bush said companies that make bad decisions ought to pay, but "sometimes circumstances get in the way of philosophy," The Detroit News reports. Bush said he would do it again if he had to, as a collapse of Detroit automakers would have left the country with a 21% unemployment rate.
  • Expecting to sell more cars worldwide in 2012 than at any point in the company's 75-year history, Toyota raised its annual profit forecast 11%, Bloomberg News reports. With 19 new or redesigned models expected in the near-term for the U.S. alone, the automaker projected $2.6 billion in full-year global profits at current exchange rates; analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect even higher profits. That contrasts with rival automaker Honda, which lowered profit expectations after a poor showing in the final months of 2011.
  • Twenty-five Saab dealers met with Saab Cars North America, a separate entity from the liquidated Swedish automaker, at last weekend's NADA conference to discuss distributing Saab parts and selling the remaining 2,900 cars in dealer and Saab N.A. stock. Automotive News reports the dealers have appealed to GM to cover warranties on 2010 and 2011 models — GM only covers Saabs through 2009 — to no avail, and remaining cars are now selling for 35% to 50% off MSRP.
  • For the 2012 model year, consumers averaged 21.5 mpg on cars they bought, up 14% from 2008 model-year vehicles, a University of Michigan study finds. Average fuel economy improved 2.8 mpg for cars and 1.6 mpg for trucks over that span. Consumers saw the largest improvements among wagons and small cars, with the slightest improvements among full-size vans and small pickups. Diesel engines improved 9.8 mpg, but hybrids dropped 3 mpg, the study finds. It goes to show the disparity between the EPA's adjusted window-sticker mileage and unadjusted Corporate Average Fuel Economy figures.
  • Engadget reports electric-carmaker Fisker laid off 66 workers after the U.S. Department of Energy cut loans to help the niche automaker launch the four-door Karma and a second electric vehicle called the Nina. Citing loan conditions that haven't been met, DOE has suspended $336 million of the original $529 million loan.
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