In addition to reflecting on people who passed away and products that vanished from new-car lots, we scraped through our archives for a list of other automotive-industry entities that died, failed, or were canceled in 2012. We expected many of these things to meet their demise; others surprised us when news broke of a failure, cancelation, or departure.
The jocular automotive-advice radio show Car Talk broadcast its last episode in June. Click and Clack, otherwise known as Tom and Ray Magliozzi, had provided comedy, remedies to car trouble, and occasionally general life advice for 35 years on public radio stations across the nation. Even though the duo said they were retiring, the show’s producers planned to splice together unused segments recorded in the past to create more “new” shows. If you’re still hankering for a dose of Car Talk advice, the show is available for free in podcast format.
Johann de Nysschen’s Rule at Audi
After a 19-year tenure with the company, Audi of America president Johan de Nysschen left the German brand to become global president of Infiniti. He had served his previous role at Audi for seven years, helping the company double its market share in the U.S. and grow the luxury brand’s recognition and sales here. Now he hopes to do the same at Infiniti, imparting wisdom learned from Audi to help Nissan’s luxury division increase its appeal and market reach. Already de Nysschen has brought a major change in a form of a new naming scheme that will see all sedans and coupes labeled Q, while crossovers and SUVs have the QX moniker.
Joel Ewanick’s Time With GM
Joel Ewanick became General Motors’ global marketing chief in May 2010 and was fired just two years later. Ewanick was known for shaking up GM’s marketing efforts, and had recently worked on a giant partnership with football club Manchester United. He also ushered in the “Chevy Runs Deep” tagline and, controversially, pulled all of GM’s advertising from social networking site Facebook. His resume includes a super-short stint at Nissan and a longer time with Hyundai, where he pioneered several respected marketing programs including Hyundai Assurance. In the fall, plug-in hybrid startup Fisker hired Ewanick as “interim” chief of global sales and marketing.
The writing was on the wall for years — declining sales and a generally stale lineup spelled doom for Suzuki cars in the U.S. As a result, Suzuki announced in November that its American division would file for bankruptcy and cease selling new vehicles in the U.S. The company simply couldn’t sell its existing cars and claimed that it was increasingly difficult to sell new products in the competitive American auto market, and also cited oppressive regulations on new vehicles. The upshot? Expect low prices on great Suzuki orphans like the well-rounded Kizashi sedan and competent Nissan-based Equator pickup truck. Don’t worry, you can still buy a new GSX-R as the brand’s motorcycle business is unaffected (as well as the ATV and marine businesses).
Mazda Production In The U.S.
Mazda had slowly been reducing its U.S. vehicle production levels, but the decision to leave became final when Mazda stopped building the 6 sedan at the Auto Alliance International factory in Flat Rock, Michigan. Ford, which previously had a joint venture in the plant, quickly renamed it Flat Rock Assembly and added an assembly line to build the 2013 Fusion. The move is a bit unusual given that many Japanese automakers are rushing to build more vehicles stateside. It’s also a sad end to Mazda’s long legacy of building cars in Michigan: the first Mazda 626 rolled off the line in Flat Rock back in 1989.
Ford’s European operations have experienced a tough year — as of the third quarter, Ford of Europe said it expected to lose $1.5 billion for all of 2012. One of the biggest and most visible victims of declining new car sales and troubled economies in Europe was the closing of Ford’s factory in Genk, Belgium. It opened in 1964 and currently produces the Ford Mondeo, S-Max, and Galaxy. Production will wind down by 2014 and will likely shift to other European facilities.
Mercedes-Benz performance division AMG and Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ducati established a marketing partnership in late 2010, but the alliance came to an abrupt end in April 2012. When Audi purchased Ducati, Mercedes pulled the plug on the AMG-Ducati deal: “The company takeover by a rival car manufacturer has understandably resulted in the end of any further collaboration,” Mercedes said in a terse statement. The collaboration had produced a special Ducati Diavel AMG sportbike as well as a Mercedes SLK55 AMG adorned in Ducati-exclusive yellow paint.
Dany Bahar’s Reign At Lotus
Lotus relieved CEO Dany Bahar of his position citing “misconduct,” just three years after he joined the sports-car maker and launched a controversial program of five new cars designed to reinvent the tiny British company. Lotus, for its part, has since been swallowed up by investment group DRB-Hicom. The Malaysian automotive consortium purchased Proton, which had owned Lotus since 1996. With Bahar out of the way, Lotus is said to be ditching his complicated five-car strategy in favor of a more streamlined business plan. Hopefully that means less focus on attracting the talents of media moguls like Swizz Beatz.
Mazda’s rotary engine, most recently dubbed Renesis, is a polarizing technology. Supporters applaud its simplicity and compact packaging; detractors note its middling reliability and efficiency. This year, Mazda finally bid adieu to the rotary engine after production of the RX-8 sports car ended. The Japanese automaker first licensed technology for the Wankel rotary engine in 1961, and subsequently made the engines popular in a series of sports cars and even Le Mans-winning racing machines. For now, though, tight emissions regulations and dwindling RX-8 sales mean Mazda has stopped building the rotary. The company’s engineers, however, are still tinkering with the idea of using a rotary in the future, potentially as a range-extending generator in a plug-in hybrid vehicle.
A123 Systems opened a lithium-ion battery manufacturing facility in southeast Michigan in 2010, having won a $249 million grant from the Department of Energy. The idea was for the A123 to produce the advanced battery packs needed for hybrid and electric vehicles. Sadly, the company is now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and most of its assets will be purchased by Chinese automotive supplier Wanxiang Group Corp. Things went south for A123 Systems when it was forced to recall $52 million worth of defective battery packs initially slated for us in the Fisker Karma. A123 was supposed to supply batteries for the electric version of the Chevrolet Spark, and Chrysler briefly considered using A123 batteries for its electric Fiat 500. The company’s bankruptcy is a major blow for domestic production of batteries for electric and hybrid cars.
Automakers typically briefly close their factories during warm months — the summer shutdown — to allow workers to take vacations, engineers to upgrade factories or introduce redesigned models, and so on. But this year Chrysler decided to do away with summer breaks at nearly all its plants due to strong sales of the company’s vehicles. At the Belvidere, Illinois, plant, for instance, Chrysler needed all the production it could get to launch the 2013 Dodge Dart. And at other locations, the fact that Chrysler sales rose significantly compared to 2011 levels meant the company needed to keep cranking out new vehicles to match demand. Even if it means less time at the beach, increased demand for your products is always good news.
The Era Of Alan Mulally Era At Ford
Rumors in Detroit have long suggested that Ford CEO Alan Mulally will be replaced by Mark Fields, but Ford executives maintain that Mulally will be in place until at least 2014. Fields, however, was recently promoted from vice president and president of the Americas to Ford’s chief operating officer — a position that hasn’t existed at Ford since 2006. Moreover, that spot would put Fields directly in line to replace Mulally as CEO. Whether or not it actually happens until 2014, it’s clear that Fields is being groomed to become Ford’s CEO. Alan Mulally was never a product person, but rather a successful executive brought in to right Ford’s troubled financial ship. He’s still technically in charge, but it’s clear Mark Fields is making the big new-car and product decisions at Ford. By 2014, we expect Mulally to retire and Fields to assume the role of Ford CEO.