News Briefs: March 9, 2012

Here's what we have our eye on today:

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that before GM inked a deal with French automaker Peugeot, the Detroit automaker briefly discussed merging its European business with Fiat earlier this year. The move would have rekindled ties severed in 2005, when GM paid Fiat $2 billion to cut loose an option to purchase the Italian automaker. Fast forward to today: GM's European unit, including its Opel division, lost $747 million last year, while Fiat's profits in 2011 came thanks to Chrysler. The Italian parent saw sales for its European brands slip 2.4% over the year, with Italian plants running at just 50% capacity. Opel isn't much better off. According to one analyst's estimate, its European plants are running at 74% capacity. People familiar with the matter told WSJ that Dan Akerson and Sergio Marchionne — CEOs of GM and Fiat, respectively — talked briefly about a merger to fix their ailing European divisions, but the effort never reached GM's board.
  • Political conservatives have pulled a few punches on the plug-in Chevrolet Volt, with one group calling Volts "exploding Obama-mobiles" — a reference to isolated instances of Volt batteries catching fire, as well as GM receiving the lion's share of an $85 billion federal auto bailout in 2009. Akerson says the politicization has hurt Volt sales, while former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz — a force behind the Volt's development and an outspoken Republican — calls the politics surrounding the car "totally outrageous." But Bloomberg News reports that one group sheds light on the Volt's clientele. Chevrolet buyers lean conservative, but 53% of Volt buyers identify as Democrats, Oregon-based CNW Marketing Research says. In contrast, less than 14% of Volt buyers identify as Republican. Volt sales have disappointed so far, and CNW chief Art Spinella told Bloomberg that politics has something to do with it: Buyers on the political center or right "will not buy a car that has anything at all that they perceive being associated with the [Obama] administration," Spinella says.
  • As for Bob Lutz? Bloomberg says he voted for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in Michigan's GOP primary on Feb. 28, which was in response to Republican front-runner Mitt Romney's op-ed article that called the auto bailout "crony capitalism."
  • Chevrolet will roll out advertising for the redesigned Malibu starting Monday. The 2013 sedan, whose Eco trim has been on sale since January, adds a base 2.4-liter four-cylinder as well as turbo 2.0-liter four, the latter in place of a conventional V-6. The Detroit News reports the ads will last four weeks, with follow-up spots in the top 12 markets.

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