Like any year in the auto industry, 2010 saw its fair share of company ups and downs, industrial comings and goings, and a fair old sprinkling of corporate drama. We covered it all on just-auto. Editor Dave Leggett sifts through the lot and picks out a few highlights from the year just gone, month by month. Part one covers the first half of the year, with part two looking at the second half to follow later this week.


The year gets off to a particularly cold start for us Brits and we’re in our usual lather over a bit of snow (to be fair, 40cm in places – the most many of us have ever seen in a country that usually has wet, windy and mild winters).

UK: Snow affects Honda output

And there’s been a cold wind a blowing over at Saab since General Motors decided in 2009 to offload the brand it never quite got to grip with. The deal with Koenigsegg went pear-shaped and that left GM deciding that it would have to close the brand down by the end of 2009 unless a buyer could be found. It’s not exactly a scrum of suitors, but GM extends the deadline for a bidder into January. There’s talk of BAIC and even Formula One’s Bernie Ecclestone is interested, but Spyker emerges as the front runner. 

LUXEMBOURG/SWEDEN: Saab attracts surprise new bids

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At the end of the month, an agreement is announced, though the deal has yet to complete…

US/SWEDEN: GM reaches agreement to sell Saab to Spyker

Still at GM, Nick Reilly is appointed as head of Opel/Vauxhall. The man has been around the block and is seen as an industry old hand, capable manager and safe pair of hands. Good move that will help reassure nervous European staffers.

GERMANY: Reilly to head new Opel management team

Reilly is straight into the thick of it with confirmation that Opel’s Antwerp plant is to be axed. “The decision to announce this today, was not taken lightly; instead, it is the unfortunate result of the current business reality. We must make this announcement now so that we can secure a viable future for the entire Opel and Vauxhall operations.” It’s the only plant that will go.

BELGIUM: GM confirms Antwerp Opel plant closing

ANALYSIS: Opel Antwerp axe no surprise

Fiat is also talking about a plant closure in Sicily. That’s close to inevitable, but predictably, industrial action follows and Marchionne also tries very hard to get the unions to see sense later in the year when Pomigliano’s future is threatened. Marchionne goes all out for productivity concessions at Fiat.

US: Plant closure ‘irreversible’ – Fiat CEO

And BYD says it will be selling in the US by the end of the year. They do like to talk themselves (and, allegedly, their share price) up over there…

US: BYD plans US market entry by year-end


Toyota’s problems with quality go against a long-established industry conventional wisdom. Toyota has the systems to do it right, right? Apparently, there are some weaknesses and our own Mark ‘Coolbear’ Bursa thoughtfully points out that ‘Throttlegate’ has its roots in sharing parts across model ranges. That policy is fine when all those parts work properly, but if you get a parts glitch, the consequences are felt widely across models and across the world.   

ANALYSIS: Growing pains and ‘Throttlegate’

Toyota announces measures aimed at rectifying systemic problems.

JAPAN: Toyota announces new quality measures

But there are Congressional hearings in the US and president Akio Toyoda decides to stay away. Not good. But it looks like a case of classic management vacillation when he eventually does a 180 and goes to Washington after all.

JAPAN: Toyota president leaves US grilling to local chief

JAPAN: ‘Flip-flop’ Toyoda U-turns towards Congress

And he duly apologises for the whole mess…

US: Toyota chief tearful after congressional questioning

And there’s even an apology  in China, too.

CHINA: Toyoda apologises for recalls

Opel sets out its 2012 profitability stall…

GERMANY: Opel $11bn investment to secure profitability by 2012

And more details of the Opel/Vauxhall business plan emerge

GERMANY: Reilly announces EUR11bn plan for Opel

The march of Hyundai-Kia continues as a Kia plant making Sorento SUVs opens in the US. If you build it they will come. Well, it has worked for H-K so far.

US: Kia opens new car plant in Georgia

Loss-making Jaguar Land Rover turns an important corner.

INDIA: Tata says JLR has turned profitable

BMW confirms that it will make its new City Car sub-brand at its Leipzig plant. There is some interesting thinking going on with this new vehicle – like the use of Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) and we’re looking forward to seeing it.

GERMANY: BMW confirms ‘Megacity’ EV for Leipzig plant

On February 23, the deal to transfer Saab from General Motors to Spyker is finally done.

SWEDEN: Spyker successfully secures Saab

Wolgang Bernhard’s star on the rise at Daimler

GERMANY: Bernhard rise does same to Daimler shares

And Carl-Peter Forster has a new job as head of Tata Motors. There has been much media speculation in Britain that the anglophile C-PF has been particularly eager to get involved with JLR.

INDIA: Carl-Peter Forster appointed CEO of Tata Motors

Meanwhile, JLR gets Ralph Speth as CEO – he’ll report to Forster.

UK: JLR appoints new CEO


Early March means Geneva. There’s a brutally early flight out of Gatwick for yours truly and we’re kept very busy on the press day with interviews across the halls (barely time to notice the cars as we run between slots, suited and booted). There’s a notable buzz about the place this year though, a real contrast with the gloom that pervaded the 2009 show. Bob Lutz announced his retirement (again) and new Tata Motors boss Carl-Peter Forster reveals that he is partial to curry. Good job, too. Must admit, I’m rather partial to Indian food myself and would view that as a definite bonus if I had to do a Mumbai stint. On second thoughts, I’d probably balloon.

Geneva Motor Show reports and interviews

As I step off my return flight from Geneva (and doing a pretty good impression of a walking zombie), a colleague is on the phone to alert me to developments at GM. CEO Whitacre has reshuffled the management deck again, a sign that he wants speedier progress. IPO this year? I had cheekily asked Bob Lutz that question earlier in the day. I’d swear there was a glint in his eye as he gave the mandatory ‘can’t say’ response.

US: Whitacre shakes up GM sales and marketing operations

New Saab owner Victor Muller gives us an interview on how he sees the future for the brand. Besides the nuts and bolts of a business plan, it is clear that Mr Muller feels genuine emotion for the brand. He gets particularly excited when he tells Mark Bursa about his vision for a ‘9-2’.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Muller on Saab’s retro future

There’s a suspicion that Toyota ‘unintended acceleration’ media coverage in the US may be attracting some rather dubious claims…

US: Prius driver’s account “inconsistent” with Toyota’s study

Ford and Geely finally reach an agreement on the sale of Volvo Cars. Ford’s ‘One Ford’ plan is further consolidated and marks a new phase in the rising internationalisation of China’s auto industry. The deal still has to be completed though.

SWEDEN: Ford reaches deal to sell Volvo Cars to Geely

Here’s an unusual story and it’s not every day we carry something from Kosovo. The firm that makes ‘London black cabs’ is taking them abroad and they are showing up in some pretty unexpected places these days. If only we still made hop-on-hop-off Routemaster buses…

KOSOVO: London cab popular in Prishtina

It’s sad, but kind of inevitable given the pressures on the industry. The venerable British Motor Show is finally biting the dust. Its most obvious raison d’etre went a long time ago and it couldn’t fight the tide, despite the very brave efforts of Chris Macgowan and others at SMMT who tried very hard to reinvent it. I reckon there is a place for something, but reviving a big annual British car show on the international calendar will be a tall order now (not impossible with a bit of imagination though…).

UK: British motor show future in doubt

BMW’s big one for this year. Again (following the 7), a more conservative overall direction I feel (not that that is necessarily a bad thing; hey, I’m just saying).

UK: BMW aims high with new 5 saloon


There’s another big industrial collaboration move (and one that had been rumoured for a while) when Renault-Nissan and Daimler announce a strategic cooperation that they hope will yield some pretty big savings.

BELGIUM: Alliance and Daimler see EUR4bn potential savings

Although the deal is generally viewed as a positive for both parties, some analysts are less than impressed and cautious on the benefits. Others are speculating on which of the big independents might be next to join forces with someone else.

ANALYSIS: Industry observers mixed on Alliance-Daimler tie

One brand enjoying a strong start to the year is Audi. The premium brands had a tough time in 2009 (for one thing, scrappage schemes didn’t help them much) but there are signs that 2010 is going to be much better for them.

GERMANY: Audi reports strongest first quarter sales

In the spirit of industrial cooperation, VW and Suzuki look at sharing a new eco-car plant in Thailand.

THAILAND: VW to join forces with Suzuki in Thailand

Over in Fremont, California, it’s all over for NUMMI. (But maybe not for the plant itself – see next month.)
US: Toyota ends production at NUMMI

Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne sets out the main future benefits of the new Fiat-Chrysler relationship in a well trailed address. He also directs considerable ire at analysts who don’t share his views on the benefits of the Fiat-Chrysler partnership.

ITALY: Marchionne confirms Fiat split plan, stresses Chrysler integration

GOLDING’S TAKE: Marchionne’s gut-wrenching solution for the arrogant industry

And things are finally looking a little better at Chrysler.

US: Chrysler aims for 2010 break-even as Q1 improves

In another sign of improving prospects for premium players, Daimler announces a return to profitability.

GERMANY: Daimler returns to profit in Q1

We saw it coming in January…

ANALYSIS: Earnings recovery ahead for Daimler

In Germany, the government announces a plan for ‘electromobility’ and BMW is keen to get involved.

GERMANY: BMW takes key role in national EV plan

It is becoming pretty clear that Volkswagen Group is determined to maximise its opportunity in China as it aims to become global number one. The company announces another upward revision to its China investment plans.

CHINA: VW to further increase investment

After all the ‘bad PR’ on quality for Toyota, it’s time to rebuild…

BELGIUM: TME to launch ad campaign on quality

Small and yet a wee bit macho cars still doing well in Brazil.

BRAZIL: PSA reveals ‘off road’ Citroen C3 Picasso, eyes popular car segment

Remember the ash cloud out of Iceland in April? The one that took the planes out of the sky in much of Europe? A reminder, if needed, that crises often come out of nowhere and from a totally unexpected direction. Fingers crossed that the mega volcano next to Eyjafjallajoeku doesn’t blow…

GERMANY: BMW begins plant shutdown as ash fallout continues

COMMENT: Automakers feel volcano knock-on effect


A seasoned industry observer with plenty of insider pedigree who is not buying into Marchionne’s Fiat vision is Karl Ludvigsen. Among other things, he pinpoints long-standing problems for Fiat in the supplier area and what he sees as an over-ambitious volume target for Alfa Romeo.

LUDVIGSEN’S COLUMN: Fiat’s fraught future

The first quarter financials from Tier 1s based in North America come in strong as they get the revenue uplift from much higher OEM production rates combined with slimmed down cost structures. Lear‘s results are typical. 

US: Lear Q1 sales up 36%

Magna does a little corporate restructuring under which Frank Stronach relinquishes control and a new entity that specialise in EV systems is created.

CANADA: Magna’s Stronach eyes EVs

Land Rover sets out plans for its new baby Range Rover and tells us there will be a 2WD version.

UK: Land Rover plans a 2WD Range Rover

And we also hear some details of Land Rover’s plan for more green powertrain technology in future years. Are SUVs necessarily bad for the environment or inherently worse than other vehicles? Land Rover clearly has a powertrain development strategy that will make its vehicles more efficient.

UK: Land Rover reveals future powertrain technology

After posting a thumping loss in 2008/09, Toyota cost cuts itself back into profit for 2009/10.

JAPAN: Cost cuts swing Toyota back into black

One way that Toyota is cutting cost is to move more production out of high-cost Japan to cheaper places.

JAPAN: Toyota to move production to emerging markets

Nissan pulls off the same trick on its bottom line.

JAPAN: Nissan returns to profit in fiscal ’09

This is something to keep an eye on – trade tensions impacting the automotive sector. Generally, fears over growing protectionism or trade tensions that accompanied the recession have been unrealised, bar the odd spat like this one. International trade volumes have continued to rise. 

BELGIUM: EU slaps anti-dump duty on Chinese alloy wheels

After a brutally severe downturn, Russia’s car market finally sparks into life. It’s good news but there are a couple of caveats: one, it may be growth, but it’s coming off a pitifully low base; and two, a scrappage scheme is largely responsible (dubbed ‘roubles for wrecks’). 

RUSSIA: Russian car market swings to growth

Here’s a good example of the kind of havoc to supply arrangements that recessions can cause.

UK: Supplier rescues Peugeot RCZ production

General Motors announces a restructuring plan for loss-making European operations that involves the loss of 8,000 jobs and the re-jigging of assembly operations to get capacity utilisation near to where it should be. GM says it will inject funds into Opel/Vauxhall and loan guarantees are being sought from European governments where facilities are located. How will the German government react to this?

GERMANY: Opel axing 8,000 jobs, announces restructuring

General Motors posts its first quarterly profit in three years, something suggesting that turnaround is on track, even if it’s not yet job done.

COMMENT: GM in the black is good, but there’s more to do

This innovation by Ford catches our eye. Anything that improves ergonomics at the manufacturing coal face has to be a good thing for the workers, as well as quality.

US: Ford enlists ‘virtual soldier’ to improve quality

Toyota announces that it is to plough US$50m into high performance electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors.

US: TMC to take $50m stake in Tesla

It’s something of a bolt from the blue as Volkswagen announces that it has acquired 90% of design and development services company Italdesign Giugiaro, subject to regulatory approval.

ITALY: VW acquires 90% of Italdesign Giugiaro

The Italdesign acquisition appears to be another piece of VW’s grand design for growth falling into place.

ANALYSIS: Has Giugiaro got the timing right?

There’s also an interesting acquisition opportunity in Korea, with Ssangyong up for sale, and no shortage of interest.

SOUTH KOREA: Renault, Mahindra bid for Ssangyong

The Peugeot 405 lives on in Iran (Hillman Hunter – Paykan – is now gone, at least). Producing some 700,000 light vehicles a year is a pretty respectable looking total for Iran Khodro.

IRAN: IKCO hits car production high

The axed NUMMI plant in California gets another chance with Tesla.

US: Former NUMMI plant to build Tesla


Former General Motors global sales boss Jonathan Browning joins Volkswagen as global head of the group’s national sales companies. He reports to VW Group sales and marketing chief Christian Klingler, so that’s an interesting one. Presumably Browning concluded that GM Mark 2 wasn’t for him. It’s quite a catch for VW and a sign that it recognises that management talent and experience drawn from different sources will be needed to realise its growth ambitions. Later in the year Browning will be off to North America with VW, filling the gap left by the departing Stefan Jacoby.

GERMANY: Ex-GM’s Jonathan Browning moves to VW

For GM, It has been a long running political headache – particularly In Germany – and after the German government turns down its request for loan guarantees, the General decides it has no option but to self-fund. After the political turmoil surrounding the Magna deal that wasn’t in 2009, it’s maybe an outcome that screams two words: ‘political reality’.

Opel goes it alone

GERMANY: GM to fund all Opel needs

Now that Volvo has left the Ford fold, we run an article from Mark Bursa gently pointing out that the divestment of brands to create ‘One Ford’ has actually created ‘One and a bit Ford’. And there are selective product development collaborations going on too. Lincoln for the world? The short audio clip (link at the end of the article) is worth a listen.

ANALYSIS: Ford unravelled [includes audio]

This product launch event with pop singer Katy Perry creates some memorable photo opportunities. It must have been a fun day away from the desk for VW’s Stefan Jacoby who will be moving over to the big job at Volvo soon. just-auto deputy/news editor Mr Roberts wastes no opportunity to repeat a delightful pic of Katy with soon-to-be-gone Stefan. Will Katy’s comedian/actor husband Russell Brand join her at such events in the future? Mind-boggling thought.

US: Katy Perry launches VW Jetta in New York

Before the month is out we hear that Jacoby is off to Geely/Volvo and Stephen Odell will be staying with Ford (nice pic of Stefan at the earlier in the month Jetta launch – ‘tough job, but someone has to do it’).

SWEDEN: Jacoby moves from VW to Volvo Cars; Odell back to Ford

Curiously, that new VW Jetta rolled out in NYC is not the same vehicle that will be built at VW’s new Chatanooga plant. That’s going to be a bigger sedan and more attuned to North American tastes.

GERMANY: New VW Jetta not Chattanooga-bound

COMMENT: Big sedans for big markets

In Russia, hard decisions aimed at restructuring are being taken at AvtoVAZ.

RUSSIA: AvtoVAZ to axe a further 7,000 staff

For all the talk of the rising BRICs, Ford reminds us that there are important investment and growth opportunities elsewhere – in this case, ASEAN and Thailand. (Note prominent football pitch in official photo.)

THAILAND: Ford building another assembly plant

During the year a number of senior European auto industry executives will warn of the consequences of European auto industry over-capacity. Ford’s John Fleming is one of them.

ANE CONGRESS: Ford Europe urges over-capacity cuts

Chrysler’s PT Cruiser bites the dust, last off the line that started in 2000. The feeling is of early promise ultimately unfulfilled.

US: End of line for PT Cruiser

Part 2 (July-December) of this review of the year will follow later this week…