Magna producing first all-olefin liftgate assembly for Nissan Rogue

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Magna International is now producing North America’s first all-thermoplastic olefin liftgate module for the 2014 Nissan Rogue crossover utility vehicle. Magna says the liftgate is unique in that it is made from entirely recyclable materials. It is the first painted outer panel made from thermoplatic olefin. The use of plastic rather than stamped steel makes the assembly 30 per cent lighter, which will contribute to the vehicle’s fuel efficiency, Magna says. The injection mould production of the assembly also allows Magna to manufacture the assembly complete, with all inner trim and reinforcements, as well as running lights and electronics.

The liftgate was developed in collaboration with Nissan and several materials suppliers. Last November it was recognized by the Society of Plastics Engineers as the year’s most innovative use of plastics in the auto industry.

The liftgate assembly is made by Magna Exteriors’ Decostar division in Carrollton, Georgia, and is delivered to Nissan as a module for single-point installation at its Smyrna, Tennessee, assembly plant.

Magna announced earlier that it would create seventy-five new jobs at its Dortec manufacturing plant in Newmarket, Ontario. The company will spend $1.5-million expanding the Magna Closures unit which produces electronic control modules for power closure and roof systems. The plant will also produce a new electronic side-door latch.

“We expect electronic closure and latching technologies to be a game-changer for the industry over the next five years and they will eventually become the future mainstream design,” Magna Closures president Frank Seguin said in a statement.

Little support in auto industry for Canada/Korea free trade deal

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Canada’s largest private sector union, Unifor, is concerned that an imminent free trade agreement between Canada and South Korea, to be signed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, poses a “serious threat” to Canada’s auto industry. The agreement, according to a Unifor statement, fails to protect Canadian workers. A Unifor  fact sheet states that Canada can expect to lose 33,000 manufacturing jobs as a result of the free trade deal.

For one thing, the deal lacks a “snap-back” provision, which would allow Canada to re-impose tariffs to pre-agreement levels if the Koreans used other trade barriers to limit Canadian exports. The United States negotiated such provisions in its free trade agreement with Korea, but even with the snap-back, the balance has been in Korea’s favour, says Unifor.

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Stephen Harper and South Korean prime minister Kim Hwang-sik. The impending free trade agreement doesn’t do enough to protect Canada’s auto industry, according to industry and labour leaders.

“We cannot stand by a deal that secures a one-way flow of  Korean auto imports into the Canadian market, undermining the jobs and industry on which so many Canadians depend, while precious little is done to strengthen our imports to Korea,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias.

Unifor says that there will be a three-year phased-in removal of Canadian auto tariffs on Korean vehicles and an immediate removal of Korean tariffs on Canadian exports. Ontario had wanted the 6.5 per cent tariff on Korean exports to be phased out over seven years, as was negotiated between Korea and the European Union. The labour union had also recommended several measures that it says would have ensured a more fair, mutually beneficial agreement between the two countries. One of these was to tie tariff reductions to “measureable targets” in reducing the existing trade imbalance in key industries such as auto.

“The problem is that Prime Minister Harper did not address the current trade imbalance.  We needed our political leadership to broker a deal that addressed the reality that we have 100 000 Korean-made cars being imported to our market, while we are exporting only 100 cars to the Korean market,” stressed Dias.

The Ontario minister for Economic Development and Trade, Eric Hoskins, has said that removing the 6.5 per cent tariff on Korean autos imported into Canada will just mean more cars flooding in.

The CEO of Ford of Canada, Dianne Craig, has also condemned the free trade deal, warning that Korea is and will remain “one of the most closed automotive markets in the world” under this deal. Korea uses non-tariff trade barriers and currency manipulation to ensure its favourable trade balance with foreign trading partners.

Looking at the bigger picture, Canada’s trade imbalance with Korea is almost two to one: Canada sold $3.7 billion worth of goods to Korea in 2012, but bought $6.4 billion from Korea.

As reported in the Windsor Star, Ontario now wants the federal government to establish a task force of industry and labour representatives to monitor and report on Korean car imports and any unfair trade practices associated with them.

A fact sheet prepared by Unifor shows Canada’s auto imports from Korea at $2.6 billion in 2012 while Canada’s auto exports to Korea that year were just $12.5 million. The number of Korean-made vehicles sold in Canada was “almost 100,000”; Canadian-made vehicles sold in Korea in 2012 were “under 100.”

Magna unveils newest concept car, posts strong Q4 profits

MAGNA INTERNATIONAL INC. - Magna Presents Innovative Lightweight

Magna International will present its newest concept car, the MILA Blue, at the Geneva Motor Show 2014. The latest example of Magna’s expertise in complete vehicle design and assembly is a lightweight, four-seat, A-segment (mini) natural-gas powered concept car. MILA Blue is the seventh concept vehicle in the MILA line and weighs 300 kilograms less than “typical” A-segment vehicles. It achieves this significant weight reduction through the use of innovative materials and downsizing.

MAGNA INTERNATIONAL INC. - Magna Presents Innovative Lightweight

MILA Blue, a new natural gas/electric hybrid from Magna International, will be shown at the Geneva Motor Show 2014.

The drive system in MILA Blue is a compressed natural gas hybrid drive that achieves a carbon footprint of less than 49g CO2/km. The combustion engine is coupled with an automatic manual transmission and a belt-driven starter generator. The vehicle’s comparatively light weight allows for the use of a 12 volt electric motor and start-stop system to drive on electric power in stop-and-go traffic and cruising up to 30km/h.

Strong gains in fourth quarter and yearly financial results

Magna International posted its fourth-quarter and 2013 financial results today, reporting sales of $9.17 billion for the quarter. This was an increase of 14 per cent over the fourth quarter in 2012. Magna’s fourth-quarter profit was $458 million, compared to $351 million in 2012. Dividends to shareholders increased by 19 per cent on the strong sales.

Vehicle production increased in North America and in Europe, relative to 2012, as did Asian production sales, tooling, engineering and other sales.

Sales of complete vehicle assemblies rose 20 per cent to $3.06 billion for the year. Volume of complete vehicle assemblies rose 19 per cent over 2012 numbers, to 147,000 units.

“We maintained our solid performance in North America and made further progress in improving profitability in Europe,” Magna chief executive officer Don Walker said in a statement. “Recent investments in Asia have begun to yield returns, even while we continue to invest in the region.”

South America, which is part of Magna’s geographic segment it calls Rest of World, (also including Africa and Asia), remains “challenging” for the company, but is “poised” to begin improving.

Magna calls itself the most diversified automotive supplier in the world, designing and manufacturing everything from auto components to complete vehicles, which it sells to OEMs of cars and trucks around the world.

Ford announces Edge production will remain in Oakville

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Ford of Canada will build the next generation of its best-selling “global utility” vehicle Edge, now completely redesigned, at the Oakville Assembly plant. The company already builds the current model of the Edge in Oakville, along with the Ford Flex, Lincoln MKX and Lincoln MKT. The new Ford Edge will be shipped to more than 60 countries, Ford says.

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Ford Edge, 2014 model. The redesigned Edge will be built at the Oakville Assembly Plant, which is currently being transformed for the new production.

The global market for utility vehicles grew 13 per cent last year, according to Ford, and within the segment, Ford did even better, growing its share by 35 per cent. Ford sold 1.2 million of the utility vehicles in 2013, with more than 1 million Edge vehicles produced. Growth in the utility market outside of North America was even stronger, and is projected to continue strong in 2014. Ford’s top-selling utility vehicles in North America are the Explorer and the Escape. In the US, Ford is the best-selling utility brand. In May last year, Ford said that utility sales were growing faster than any other Ford vehicle segment.

In announcing the production of the Edge in Oakville, Ford recalled its intention, announced last September, to invest $700 million in the plant. That investment was to expand manufacturing capability to meet “surging global demand” and preserve more than 2,800 jobs. The president of Ford of the Americas, Joe Hinrichs, said at the time that Oakville “is vital to Ford’s global manufacturing system,” and that it would offer “world-leading flexibility” in its ability to respond quickly to consumer demand. Hinrichs said at the time that Ford would bring “several new global models to the plant.”

A Ford Edge Concept is on display at the Canadian International Auto Show. Some options in development include automatic parking assistance, obstacle avoidance, and adaptive steering technology. The new Edge also features fuel-saving technologies.

Ford reveals C-MAX Solar Energi Concept car

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Ford has unveiled its new solar-powered concept car, the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, which it says has the potential to do what today’s plug-in hybrids do. Instead of plugging into an electrical outlet to recharge its battery, the C-MAX makes use of rooftop solar panels and a concentrator that magnifies the sun’s rays for maximum power. Alone, the solar panels could provide up to 300 watts of power, insufficient to fully charge the battery. With the solar concentrator, enough solar power could be harnessed to charge the car’s battery fully. With a full charge, the Ford C-MAX could have a total range of almost 1,000 kilometres (620 miles).

The rooftop solar panels are from SunPower. The Georgia Institute of Technology worked with Ford to develop the solar concentrator, which is described as a low-cost infrastructure canopy with a Fresnel lens that amplifies the sunlight and boosts the power by a factor of eight. The Fresnel magnifying lens is similar to the lenses used in lighthouse lamps.

Critics have been quick to point out that the C-MAX Solar is a long way from being a gamechanger. For one thing, it’s not particularly user friendly. Few consumers would be willing to put up with the inconvenience of waiting all day for the car battery to charge. Nor would they be willing to purchase the concentrator, a canopy that’s the size of a small garage. Where would people put them? And what is the benefit? It is already possible, at least theoretically, to operate an electric or hybrid car entirely on solar power; that power can be drawn from a conventional electrical outlet that people already have in their homes, so why go to all the bother that the Ford concept entails?

One answer is that the C-MAX could be useful in areas where the electrical grid is underdeveloped, or non-existent. It is, Ford says, a “free-standing” concept, not reliant on the grid. As designed, it does have a charge port, so users could plug it in to recharge it.

Being a concept, there’s no guarantee that it will ever be produced. Interestingly, Ford chose to show the C-MAX to the public not at one of the big auto shows but at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, opening tomorrow, January 7. But Ford says it is serious about the car, calling it an “everyday car” that we can expect to see in cities and on highways. They and Georgia Tech will begin real-world testing in coming months to determine whether there is a future for it as a production car.

Global car sales will set new record in 2014: Scotiabank

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Global auto sales have made broad gains in every region except Western Europe, according to the Scotiabank Global Auto Report released today. Since 2009, a recovery has been underway, and that recovery continued over the past year, the report says. After falling to the lowest level in two decades, volumes in Western Europe began to stabilize in the second half of 2013 and are forecast to increase next year for the first time since 2009. This will help to lift global car sales 5 per cent to record highs. “In fact, we expect next year to be the first synchronized expansion in global purchases since 2005.”

Strengthening employment growth, rising consumer confidence and ongoing low short-term interest rates are factors that will contribute to the sustained growth in the auto sector.

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Car sales in Western Europe hit a 19-year low in early 2013, but momentum is building again, led by the UK, Spain and Germany, according to the latest Global Auto Report from Scotiabank.

Improving financial market conditions will also support sales gains, Scotiabank says.

China, which has accounted for almost half of the increase in global car sales over the past decade, will continue to be the main driver of global volumes. Demand for crossover utility vehicles lifted passenger vehicle purchases in China above 15 million units in 2013, nearly triple the level prior to the global economic downturn in 2008-2009.

In contrast, passenger vehicle sales in the largest seven industrialized economies still remain 11 per cent below the level prior to the global economic downturn.

Scotiabank predicts that vehicle purchases in China will climb to 18 million units in 2014, with demand driven by first-time car buyers in smaller cities.

In the US, meanwhile, passenger vehicle purchases are expected to reach 16 million units, the highest since 2007. Canadian sales will rise slightly over 2013 levels, to 1.76 million units.

In Western Europe, volumes hit a 19-year low in early 2013. Sales have increased year-over-year, however, for three consecutive months now, most notably in the UK and in Spain. In the UK, employment has now surpassed the pre-recession peak and household income growth has accelerated, while unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since spring, 2009.

Spain’s unemployment, among the worst in Europe, has begun to recede, Scotiabank reports, while auto purchases are being driven by a vehicle scrapping program. Spain is Europe’s second largest vehicle manufacturer, after Germany. Production grew by 9 per cent in 2013 to more than 2 million units.

In Germany, vehicle purchases are also strengthening. Used car prices have been rising since mid-year, and continue to rise at 7 per cent year over year. Used car prices, Scotiabank says, are a leading indicator of new vehicles sales.

Car sales set records in November

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Car sales in Canada and the United States continued strong in November. Ford Canada sold more vehicles than all other automakers in Canada, helped in part by strong sales of the Fusion sedan. Sales of Ford cars rose 1.1 per cent in November compared to last year: 19,668 Ford cars and trucks were sold last month. Ford also leads on a year-to-date sales basis, with 267,427 cars and trucks sold thus far in 2013. This is up 3.2 per cent over last year’s sales at this date.

ACURA CANADA - Acura MDX chosen as 'Best New SUV over $60,000'

The 2014 Acura MDX luxury SUV was voted Best New SUV over $60,000 by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.

As for sales growth, Chrysler outperformed the other Detroit automakers, with growth of 13 per cent year over year in November. Chrysler cars and trucks were the choice of 19,206 buyers, compared to 17,013 last year. Both the 2013 and 2014 Jeep Cherokee had strong sales.

The third of the Detroit Three, General Motors Canada, reported a sales gain of 0.6 per cent, selling 17,482 vehicles in November. According to a GM spokesman, demand “continues to build” for Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac cars and trucks, including the GMC Sierra.

Honda Canada reported strong November sales as well. The Honda and Acura divisions sold 10,876 units, representing a 22 per cent increase over last year’s sales. The Honda Division reported November sales of 9,427 units, up 19 per cent from last year. The Acura Division reported November sales of 1,449 units, a 54 per cent increase over last year, led by a 93 per cent increase in sales of both Acura TSX and the Canadian-built MDX. The 2014 MDX SUV was just voted best new SUV 0ver $60,000 by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.

Toyota, meanwhile, set an annual record for sales of its trucks, with November sales of 7,906 enough to push sales so far this year above last year’s total. The popular RAV4 was the biggest seller for Toyota trucks, accounting for 41.6 per cent of sales. Altogether, Toyota sold 15,593 vehicles in November, up 7.2 per cent over last November. It was the best-ever November for Lexus sales, the fourth consecutive record month for that model.

Not to be outdone, Volkswagen Canada also reported record sales in November, selling 4,832 vehicles, an increase of 4 per cent over last year. Its year-to-date sales of 58,590 are up 6 per cent over last year’s. The Jetta was the top-selling Volkswagen, accounting for nearly half of all sales (2,290).

Japanese claim breakthrough in hydrogen storage technology

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Researchers in Japan say they have formulated a new metal hydride compound using aluminum. They are touting its light weight, absence of toxicity and absence of volatile gases among its desirable traits as a practical fuel source for commercial use, though they admit that its hydrogen content is low.

The worldwide quest for a safe and practical way to store hydrogen for use as an on-board fuel in commercial vehicles has been on for many years. The US Department of Energy called it one of the most “technically challenging” barriers to widespread adoption of hydrogen-fueled vehicles. In 2003 the DOE launched its National Hydrogen Storage Project and issued a “grand challenge” to the world’s scientists and engineers to develop a hydrogen storage method. The methods to be explored included metal hydrides, chemical storage methods, and carbon-based materials.

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Schematic of the aluminum alloy infused with hydrogen (blue dots). Japanese researchers claim it is the first simple-structure interstitial aluminum alloy, and that it has potential for hydrogen storage.

The major downside of current storage technology is that not enough hydrogen can be stored to be really useful as a fuel. Metal hydrides are seen as having potential for hydrogen storage because of their ability to concentrate the gas in solid form. The gas is forced to permeate the spaces, or interstices, between the metal’s own atoms. However, in current research, the ratio of hydrogen to the total weight of the metal used to store it is not better than 2–3 per cent. The current goal is to achieve a minimum of 9 per cent hydrogen content by weight by 2015.

Where the Japanese researchers say they have achieved a breakthrough is in the creation of a simple-structured interstitial aluminum alloy. Previously only complex aluminum hydrides had been created. However, the conditions for synthesizing the aluminum-based hydride are described by the scientists as “extreme.” Synthesis of the compound required a temperature of 800 degrees Celsius at a pressure of 10 gigapascals (1450377.3773 psi).

Nevertheless, they believe that the result is promising and that their compound will show properties that are different from those of other compounds that have previously been created, making it suitable for “practical applications.”

Toyota, meanwhile, has just announced that it will unveil a new hydrogen-fueled car at the Tokyo Motor Show, which opens on November 22. The Toyota FCV hydrogen car uses a fuel-cell stack that draws hydrogen from high pressure storage tanks. They hold enough of the gas to drive the car 520 kilometres.

 

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Ford investment in Oakville gets auto industry “on the move again”

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In its most recent statement on the Ontario economy, RBC Economics took a pessimistic tone in general, saying that despite promising signs earlier in the year, “we are still waiting for Ontario’s economy to switch into a higher gear.” The gear metaphor is apt. As the report goes on to say, Ontario has been missing out on the auto sector’s boom. In spite of record sales in North America, production of cars and trucks in Ontario was actually down 7.9 per cent in the first eight months of the year. The statement says that Ontario is losing ground to US southern states and Mexico, and that this could become a permanent reality “unless investment in capacity starts to trend higher.”

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Joe Hinrichs, Ford president for the Americas, at the announcement of a $700 million investment in the company’s Oakville assembly plant. The investment will secure the plant’s future for at least a decade, according to the union leadership. Hinrichs called the Oakville plant “one of the most competitive and important facilities in the Ford system.”

Today, the president of Unifor, the union that represents auto workers, says that the auto industry is “finally on the move” after Ford Motor Company announced that it will spend $700 million on its Oakville assembly plant. Jerry Dias, speaking at the news conference announcing the investment, said that his union had fought hard for the investment, which solidifies the future of the plant for a decade or more. There are about 2,800 workers at the plant, but every job in the plant supports six or seven jobs outside, Dias said.

The investment will allow the plant to expand and improve its manufacturing capability and meet that rising global demand for the cars it makes. The president and CEO of Ford Canada, Dianne Craig, said that the new technology will make the plant more flexible and efficient, on the “cutting edge” of developments in the global marketplace. If consumers suddenly shift their buying habits, the company will be able to switch its  production mix without idling a plant. About 85 per cent of Ford’s vehicle are built on nine global “platforms.”

This investment is especially good news for the auto industry, which has not seen a major investment like it since last March, when GM announced a $250-million investment in its Ingersoll assembly plant. Ontario is the only province or state in which five automakers operate: Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda.

The Ford Oakville assembly plant currently makes the Ford Edge, Flex, Lincoln MKX and Lincoln MKT. It is expected that one or more new models will be added as a result of the new funding.

Both the federal government, through its Automotive Innovation Fund, and the Ontario government, are contributing to the Ford investment. The combined government share will be $142.5 million. This type of government investment is now widespread in the increasingly competitive battle to lure auto makers. The state of Michigan recently became a “right to work” state, meaning that union membership is now optional. Shortly after Michigan’s move, Ford and Chrysler announced investments of about $1 billion in the state.

Global car sales will set record this year: Scotiabank

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The year 2013 will see record-high global car sales after a 4 per cent increase in the first half, according to a Scotiabank Global Auto Report. The gains are the result of a combination of positive factors, including “reduced headwinds” from Western Europe and renewed global focus on job creation, supported by low interest rates across the world. Improving financial market conditions are also a factor, the report says, as is consumer confidence.

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Carlos Gomes, Scotiabank’s Senior Economist and Auto Industry Specialist said, “We expect continued gains in the second half of the year supported by low short- and long-term interest rates around the world, strengthening global job creation and improving financial market conditions which have propelled several equity market indices to record highs.”

The greatest gains in auto sales were in China, where purchases of cars and crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) grew by 20 per cent in the first half of the year. Scotiabank attributes the sharp rise in Chinese sales to employment and income growth. Employment is rising at 5 per cent year-over-year, the report says, and car sales for all of 2013 are expected to show 15 per cent growth over last year. The potential for sales growth is enormous, as there are more than 450 million Chinese born since 1980. This demographic accounts for 85 per cent of all car sales in China, but less than one-quarter of them have bought their first car to date.

In Canada, passenger vehicle sales are on target to reach a record high in 2013 of 1.72 million units, surpassing the 2002 peak of 1.70 million. And in the United States and Mexico, volumes jumped to the highest level since 2007. Leading indicators, particularly consumer confidence in the US, which was recently at a six-year high, point to further gains. A near-record number of Americans plan to replace their aging vehicles in the near-term. Furthermore, American households are in a better position now to purchase new vehicles, at a time when affordability is the best it has been in decades. In Mexico, volumes are being buoyed by economic growth of roughly 3 per cent, a much stronger pace than its NAFTA partners.

In Western Europe, the third largest auto market behind China and the United States, second-quarter car sales totalled 12 million units, up 3 per cent from the previous quarter. Further gains are expected, Scotiaband says, as leading indicators, including business and consumer confidence have recently turned more positive.

Brazil is the only major auto market to show a loss of momentum, after car sales climbed to record highs through May. High inflation, approaching 7 per cent compared to last year, and rising interest rates, have been factors in dampening the outlook for Brazil. The country’s currency has also undergone a steep depreciation of 40 per cent against the US dollar, impairing efforts to curb inflation. The Brazilian currency (real) is now the weakest among the G20 countries.