Updated versions of the GTV coupe and Spider convertible will be introduced at the Turin auto show. The biggest changes will be to the interiors of the two sports cars. The Turin show runs from 24 April until 3 May.
Audi AG had it most successful year ever in 1997. Pre-tax profits were DM1.1 billion ($601 million), up 29 percent from DM862 million in 1996. 1997 sales were DM22 billion, a 19.2 percent increase. After-tax profits were up 21.5 percent to DM367 million.
Worldwide, Audi sold 546,436 cars. Audi's No. 1 export market was Italy, followed by the UK and the USA.
BMW is marketing bullet-proof cars to customers looking for a secure vehicle.
The 540i Protection features tires which can do 80kph when flat. It is built on-line in Germany, and features the kevlar fabric used in bullet-proof vests. Cost is about $130,000.
BMW plates the armored 750iL off-line. That car comes with gun turrets and oxygen canisters, and its steel can stop small missiles. Cost is around $325,000.
Citroen expects to double its sales in Australia with the introduction of the Xsara in July. Sales have been modest - 302 units in 1996.
A five-door Xsara will be exported to Australia. It will be priced to compete with the VW Golf and Peugeot 306.
Daimler-Benz operating profits were up 78 percent to DM4.3 billion ($7.8 billion) in 1997. Revenue in the passenger cars division rose 15 percent to DM53 billion on sales of 715,000 units (up 11 percent). Revenues on commercial vehicles were up 24 percent to DM39 billion on a 20 percent rise in sales to 417,000 units.
Daimler Benz created 11,000 new jobs in 1997 and its 180,000 employees will, for the first time, receive a bonus from a profit sharing scheme.
The new Seicento (see Page 14) is the first of 15 products that Fiat Auto will bring out between now and 2002, said chief executive Roberto Testore.
Fiat will launch four models in 1998. The Multipla compact minivan will be unveiled either at the Turin auto show next month or at the Paris show in October. It will go on sale in autumn.
The Alfa Romeo 166, which replaces the 164, will debut in Paris. The Palio pick-up will debut later in autumn.
Testore said Fiat Auto worldwide sales in 1998 will approach the 1997 record of 2.8 million units. Lower volumes in Italy will be offset by rising sales in the rest of Europe. The slowdown in Brazil will be balanced by growth in Poland.
Ford opened a $6.4 million training center alongside its engine plant at Bridgend, Wales. The facility is a scaled-down Zetec engine production line. It will provide manufacturing training including 'hands-on experience of diagnostic thinking in a realistic environment.' It will handle 200 young employees and unemployed at a time.
Ford says 67 percent of its engineers now hold a degree qualification. This level is expected to rise to 80 per cent by the year 2000.
Cadillac's right-hand drive Seville built for the UK will be used to return Cadillac to South Africa in May. The distributor is Delta Motors, which assembles the Opel Corsa and Astra.
Seville had its world premiere in Frankfurt to underline Cadillac's determination to make the car a global competitor.
Diana T. Kurylko
General Motors will stop assembling Astras at its plant in Szentgotthard, Hungary, at the end of 1998 when an Opel factory in Gliwicz, Poland, begins operations.
After that Szentgotthard will focus on assembling engines and cylinder-heads.
Opel has assembled 75,000 Astras at the plant since March 1992. Seventy percent have been sold in Hungary. This year the plant will assemble 9,000 Astras and supply 21,000 painted bodies of the model to Opel's Warsaw assembly plant.
GM plans to produce 420,000 engines and 250,000 cylinder heads at Szentgotthard this year. The engines are used in the Corsa, Tigra, Astra and Vectra.
SAO PAULO - Honda Brazil is preparing to invest $300 million to produce a new small car in addition to the Civic. Honda aims to produce 15,000 Civics this year, and 30,000 in 1999.
Investment in the new car will be double that in the Civic, and the company claims the final output of the new model will be 'almost 10 times' that of the Civic.
Honda's Swindon, UK, factory has been awarded ISO 14001 certification for meeting environmental standards.
Certification was awarded after a seven day audit. The plant will be re-audited every six months to make sure it complies with the standard.
Diana T. Kurylko
Two or three dealers will be added to the present 29 in France to prepare for an expected surge in sales next year, when the mid-sized X200 sedan is introduced.
In addition, Jaguar France spokesman Jean-Pierre Thibaud said service outlets will be opened in some towns where Jaguar has no dealers.
Last year, 705 Jaguars were registered in France, including 513 XJs and 192 XK8s. The X200 is expected to double total sales.
Kia Automobiles France, a subsidiary of the Japanese group Itochu, has replaced Inchcape as Kia's importer in France. Itochu also imports Kia in the UK, Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary.
Kia sold 854 cars and commercial vans in 1997 in France. According to a Kia France spokesman, the target is 2,000 units in 1998, including 40 percent for the Pride mini. The base price for the Pride is FF39,000 ($6,500).
Kia has 61 dealers in France. Most handle several brands.
Itochu cancelled about 30 dealers, many of them allied with Inchcape's Mazda outlets. Itochu plans to add 30 new dealers this year.
Micro Compact Car
Micro Compact Car will fit all its Smart cars with stability control units called TRUST (Traktion und Stabilitaet).
Gerhard Fritz, MCC's chief of development, says the electronic lateral acceleration control mechanism will work with an electronic power management system to give excellent handling to the little city car.
Smart is scheduled to go on sale in October, after a six-month delay ordered by parent Daimler-Benz chief executive Juergen Schrempp. Sales of the larger Mercedes-Benz A-class were delayed last winter to fit a similar electronic stability package.
Andres Unger Salazar
Mitsubishi UK has opened a new $2.4 million import center in Bristol, UK, with a capacity for 3,500 cars at once. The facility includes a 2,400-square-meter workshop. It will handle some 40,000 Mitsubishi vehicles imported into UK from Japan, Thailand, Holland and Italy.
Nissan will not announce prices of the face-lifted Almera until a few weeks before the cars go on sale on 1 May. A long list of new features will be standard, including air conditioning and a keyless entry system. An electric sunroof is standard on many versions. The upgrade of Almera reflects the upward movement of the lower-medium segment in Europe. The only major performance change is a multi-link rear suspension.
Diana T. Kurylko
Yury Luzhkov, mayor of Moscow, and Louis Schweitzer, president of Renault, want tax breaks on a joint venture with Moskvich to build Megane Classics. Renault will ask French President Jacques Chirac to appeal direct to Boris Yeltsin for a concession for the recently re-opened Moscow car plant. Moscow city government is the main shareholder of Moskvich.
Renault plans to invest $350 million in the venture, to be known as Avtoframos.
It hopes to begin production in September 1998. The plant will assemble Meganes from kits until 2000 and then launch its own model, with a target output of 120,000 a year by 2002-2003.
Rover's UK dealers will invest more than $160 million during 1998 on building new showrooms, workshops and customer facilities.
Sales director Jim Lynch said the investment was necessary 'if the network was to realize the full potential of new products. All mainstream Rover models will be revised within the next five years.'
Investment will include specialist dealerships within the network to handle the new Mini, due for launch in 2000.
As many as 60 percent of Rover car dealers may take on the Mini, Lynch said.
Mercedes-Benz was undone by the moose avoidance test, but Saab tests what happens when the moose is not avoided. It crashes cars into a 'moose' at 70kmh to test the effects. Saab doesn't use real animals for its test, but a dummy with a wooden plank for a spine and 400kg of copper wiring for the body.
A full-grown moose weighs 400kg. There are an estimated 300,000-400,000 in Sweden's forests. They often cross roads and cause accidents.
Seat net profits more than doubled last year to Pta11.1 billion ($72 million) from Pta 5.3 billion in 1996.
'It is the firm's best result ever,' said Chairman Alain de Smedt.
Sales revenue rose to Pta773.9 billion ($5 billion) from Pta607.3 billion in 1996. Seat forecast revenues of around Pta830 billion in 1998.
In Spain, Seat's main market, sales increased 21 percent to 130,000 vehicles in 1997. Production totalled 467,289 units compared to 415,213 the year before.
Sales increased 19.7 percent to 22,412 units during the first two months of 1998.
Reuters News Service
Skoda will pay £10 ($16) for potential customers to road test a Skoda as well as a Nissan, Daewoo, Ford, Vauxhall or Rover in the UK.
'The idea is that in five years' time, Skoda will be a positive brand,' said Skoda UK director Dermot Kelly to London's Daily Telegraph newspaper. 'I started in 1993 when Marketing magazine said we were the brand from hell.'
Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer Detlef Wittig said unit production will rise to 420,000 cars this year from its record 357,405 units in 1997.
Skoda is ready to revive negotiations for a plant in India. Talks died last year over the question of local content.
Chairman Vratislav Kulhanek said India wants 70 percent local content after three years, and Skoda proposes 50 percent of local content in five years.
Reuters News Service
Toyota Motor Italia SpA has taken over distribution of Lexus cars in Italy. A fully owned subsidiary of Toyota Motor Co., Toyota Motor Italia, 100 percent owned by Toyota, bought Lexus Italia Srl, a private company based in Rome and owned by the Fattori family.
Lexus Italia had its best years in 1994 and 1995, with over 100 units sold, but last year sold about 30. Existing Toyota dealers will not sell Lexus cars.
On his inspection trip to Rolls-Royce 14 March, Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech also went to the plant to measure the engine bay.
VW wanted to make sure that the Rolls could handle the 20-cylinder engine that VW wants to use if it buys the luxury maker.
BMW promised to quit delivering engines to Rolls-Royce if it didn't win the bidding.
Piech and Gerhard Schroeder, member of the VW supervisory board and chancellor candidate of the German Social Democratic Party, met with Vickers executives.
Production in Sweden will fall to 98,000 this year from 116,100 in 1997 because of the 900 series run-out.
But Swedish output is expected to reach 190,000 by 2000. The planned increase will follow introduction of the P23 large car this summer.
Overall, Volvo will produce 402,350 cars this year, up from 387,400 in 1997. That includes the company's Ghent, Belgium, plant and the NedCar joint venture with Mitsubishi in the Netherlands.