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Debt, Investment, Economy Drive Automotive's Trip

Like some basic colors of vehicles that each manufacturer offers, the automotive industry’s financial condition varies from red to black—especially in or near Motor City.

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Detroit-headquartered General Motors Co.—the "new GM" and former General Motors Corp.—sits squarely in the red-turning-black group. Industry statistics show that GM has the largest domestic market share, at approximately 19 percent. Second-quarter net income was $1.3 billion, too. "We have delivered two consecutive quarters of profitability and positive cash flow," stated Chris Liddell, vice chairman and chief financial officer, in an August press release.

According to company information, GM's assets and operations are no longer in bankruptcy. But U.S. taxpayers still own more than 60 percent of GM. And it hasn't yet revealed when it will pay off its debt to the U.S. Treasury. Nor has GM stated how much of that debt will be reduced by a potential November initial public offering (IPO).

Chrysler Group LLC, which received about $12.5 billion in U.S. taxpayer-funded bailout money, and plans an IPO for next year, has redder numbers than GM. According to Chrysler's second quarter 2010 financial statement, net revenues were $10.5 billion, a nearly 10 percent increase over the first quarter's. But, overall, Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler showed a net loss of $172 million for the second quarter and a combined first-and-second-quarter loss of $369 million. Still, the Chrysler Group plans a combined $343-million investment at its Kokomo Casting Plant and Indiana Transmission Plant I, also in Kokomo. One planned outcome of the venture will be an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Ford Motor Co. finds its year-to-date sales up more than 20 percent, twice the industry growth rate. However, Dearborn, Mich.-centered Ford trails GM in market share by approximately 2 percent. But Ford, which remained solvent without U.S.-government bankruptcy intervention, reported a higher second-quarter net income, at $2.6 billion. And in early October, Moody's Investors Service raised Ford's investment rating two levels, bringing Ford within two grades of again having investment-grade securities. However, also in early October, Standard & Poor's Rating Services rated Ford lower than GM because of the former's debt load.

Koreans gain traction

Meanwhile, Hyundai and its Kia subsidiary—in 2009, the fifth-largest car group in the world—keep their financial colors black, with bursts of silver and gold. In September, at its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in West Point, Ga., Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia Inc., part of Seoul, Korea-based Kia Motors Corp., launched a second shift to respond to sales demand for the 2011 Kia Sorrento, a cross-over utility vehicle (CUV). Since the first Sorrento rolled off the production line in November 2009, more than 100,000 have followed. The additional shift also means Hyundai will produce its Santa Fe CUV there.

About 80 miles southwest of West Point, in Montgomery, Ala., at another state-of-the-art facility, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama—part of Hyundai Motor America, headquartered in Fountain Valley, Calif., and subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co. of Korea—will now produce its mid-size Elantra and its slightly bigger and more-expensive Sonata. With that production, Hyundai's three most popular models will be built in the United States.

But besides finance's red and black, automotive's green vision expands through hybrid electric-gasoline-powered or all-electric vehicles. GM's Chevrolet recently debuted Volt. Nissan Motor Co. will produce its Leaf. Coda Automotive, a privately held company located in Santa Monica, Calif., will launch its Model S all-electric sedan—about $44, 000 before incentives—in Hawaii in the third quarter of 2011. Palo Alto, Calif.-headquartered Tesla, which already produces an all-electric roadster, plans a Model S sedan at $57,000. Hyundai launched its all-electric BlueOn in September in Korea. And a Toyota-Tesla collaboration plans an all-electric RAV4 sport utility vehicle in 2012. However, Honda will not yet bring its hybrid Fit into the domestic market.

Whatever the color of finances or dreams may be, though, one thing is apparent: Debt, investment and health of the economy drive it.

C. Kenna Amos,, is an Automation World Contributing Editor. 

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