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April 16, 2010

THE WEEK THAT WAS: Another cloudy spell for Toyota

Not - again - a good week for Toyota. Monday started cloudy with a threat of a second fine from the US government and then the Chinese chimed in with threats of their own but that looked more like bureaucratic nit-picking over paperwork than anything illegal or faulty. Finally came Consumer Reports' 'don't buy' recommendation, just what you need when your new Lexus SUV is just getting into its sales stride.

Not – again – a good week for Toyota. Monday started cloudy with a threat of a second fine from the US government and then the Chinese chimed in with threats of their own but that looked more like bureaucratic nit-picking over paperwork than anything illegal or faulty. Finally came Consumer Reports’ ‘don’t buy’ recommendation; just what you need when your new Lexus SUV is just getting into its sales stride.

Toyota is also none too popular in California right now – NUMMI built its last car leaving thousands more UAW autoworkers to join the dole queue, already one of the highest in the US in a state struggling to balance its budget and cutting every non-essential service it can get away with.

Then it got a little better for the brand; as we reported today the Australian subsidiary – which some years ago displaced both local GM and Ford units as the top maker and exporter of cars – marked two milestones – five million vehicle sales and 1.5m locally-made, and I mean made, not just assembled, Camrys.

M&A talk continued with Fiat’s Marchionne predicting PSA will try another arrangement soon after attempts to broaden cooperation with Mitsubishi foundered while Dongfeng chimed in to say it, too, was looking at JVs outside China.

Speaking of China, BMW’s local JV with Brilliance pulled the covers off the latest stretched 5. Buyers of this sort of car are often chauffeur-driven so it pays to make the back extra special for the boss or party chairman. Spot the extra legroom and A/V screens. Rivals like Volvo also offer stretched models like this ex-factory; even the locally assembled Ford Mondeo can be had with a special pack that increases rear seat comfort and room and brings phone and A/V controls within Sir’s reach. Gotta cater to the market…

Rarely a week goes by without some mention of EVs; Renault released more details of its Fluence and Kango EZs yesterday. Having tried a ‘mule’ of Nissan’s Leaf, I’m looking forward to production cars; my 45-mile commute to just-auto towers is well within the 100-mile range and I even have a power point in the garage for that overnight refuel.

Finally, Our Man in India took a closer look at the tussle under way there between the three big German automakers for dominance of the growing luxury segment. Well worth a look.

Have a nice weekend,

Graeme RobertsDeputy/News Editorjust-auto.com

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