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Tuesday, May 01, 2007 

Vol. 3 No. 8

April 3 – 5, 2007: The New York International Auto Show, the JD Power Roundtable and the Morgan Stanley Global Automotive Conference – Part II.

I have to admit, I spent most of my time the second day of the Morgan Stanley Conference, which coincided directly with Preview Days of the New York Car Show, indeed, at the Car Show. Since both of these big time events where happening simultaneously, it was impossible to take in both at the same time, although I would have liked to been able not to miss either one.

The second day of the Morgan Stanley Conference began with a full group presentation by Frank Witter, the CEO & CFO, Volkswagen America & Volkswagen Canada, and then went back to having two concurrent sessions, one room hosting: John Plant, President & CEO, TRW Automotive Holdings, Jean-Dominque Senard, CFO Michelin, Timothy Manganello, Chairman & CEO, BorgWarner; while the other room hosted presentations by Magnus Lundquist, CFO, Autoliv, Inc., SidDeBoer, CEO, Lithia Motors, Inc., and Phil Weaver, VP & CFO, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company.

The group got together again just before lunch to listen to Bob Carter, Group Vice President & General Manager of the Lexus Division of Toyota, and then the lunch presentation was a dealer panel moderated by, of course, Charlie Vogelheim from JD Power (you knew I was going to say that). The dealer panel, purposely made of only privately owned large dealer groups, included DCH, Mile One (both large enough to be included in Automotive News’ “Top 125 Dealer Groups” in the country, but were not listed because each declined to reveal their exact gross numbers); and an old acquaintance of mine from Long Island City, Bruce Bendell, from Major Automotive Group. (I’m old enough to remember that, at one time in the past, Major was actually a public dealer group).

The shortened afternoon (so folks could spend some time on the last Preview Day of the car show), had another set of “dueling” presentation, one by Mark Igo, Vice President & General Manager of the Infiniti Division of Nissan Motor Company, and the other by Donald Johnson, Chairman, President & CEO, Aftermarket Technology Corporation.

The second day of what I think was probably the most comprehensive automotive analyst conference of the year, wrapped up with a final presentation by Tom Libby, Analyst & Director of JD Power’s Power Information Network, with a summarized version of his annual Automotive Franchise Assessment. The Morgan Stanley Global Automotive Conference had presentations by over 29 different companies in two days, quite a first class event, and definitely not one to miss if you follow the automotive sector closely.

Now On to the CAR Show…

Understand, just because I don’t go into as much car detail as my esteemed colleague did on her guest writer blog entry on the Chicago Auto Show a couple of months ago, doesn’t mean there weren’t as many (or more) fascinating cars and exhibits, it just probably means her observations and writing talent is more detailed and thorough than mine. I like to just hit a few of the highlights and make some broad observations, and will spruce it up with some of her pictures interspersed in the text (you can tell they are her pictures, there is no lack of Ferrari and Lamborghini shots…).

First, the world debuts, exclusively shown for the first time at the New York International Auto Show.

World Debuts, Production Vehicles:
2009 Ford Flex
(the new three row crossover introduced by Mark Fields and Alan Mulally the morning of the first preview day of the show)
2008 Ford F-150 Chip Foose Edition
2008 Ford Mustang KR (another venture with Carroll Shelby)
2008 Ford Expedition Funkmaster Flex Edition (no explanation required I hope)
2008 Honda S2000 CR
2008 Infinit G37 (a coupe version of the best selling G35)
2008 Jeep Liberty
2008 Lexus LX 570
2008 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG
2007 Nissan 350Z Nismo (on sale in July)
2008 Subaru Impreza
2008 Subaru B-9 Tribeca

World Debuts, Concept Vehicles:
Chevrolet Trax minicar +
2 Other Chevrolet minicars
Now, after the unveiling, you have the opportunity to pick your favorite concept of these three, by going to www.vote4chevrolet.com and casting your vote (after seeing all three in person, I’d abstain...but that’s just me)
Hyundai Genesis Sedan
Infiniti EX Crossover (the car has a liquid crystal glass roof that can turn translucent to shield passengers from the sun, or curious onlookers…neat but for some reason I if I had it, I think it wouldn’t work right, but again, that’s just me…)

Green is nice but Power Rules - or as the Wall Street Journal Titled it: “Horsepower Nation: New Car Models Boast Speed, Size, Power While Washington Buzzes About Biofuel, At New York Car Show, Big is Beautiful

So the fashion is everything “Green” these days, with Hertz even promoting a line of “Green” (hybrid, fuel efficient) labeled cars to rent, I just today noticed when I jumped on their site to rent a car, but you certainly wouldn’t know it from the vehicles featured at the New York International Auto Show this year. Yes, Toyota had its 34 miles per gallon Yaris, and its hybrid Prius sedan, etc., and General Motors even showed for the first time its trio of concept “mini” vehicles that consumers can vote on for popularity (see “World Debuts, Concept Vehicles” above), but the watchword and theme of the show was clearly big, in-your-face horsepower, as the Wall Street Journal suggested in its story April 5, with the headline above.

Case in point, in addition to the Mustang muscle car, the Shelby GT500KR, with a 5.4 liter supercharged V8 engine that does 540 horses, Ford also showed off their F-150 Foose custom pick-up designed by Chip Foose, also powered by a supercharged V8 that does 540 horses and 500 pound feet of torque. DaimlerChrysler premiered its Mercedes’ CL65 AMG with its 6 liter, 604 horsepower, V12 engine…better line up quick if you want one of these creatures though, as Mercedes says it will limit worldwide production to 40 units, including 18 slated for the US. To complement the CL65 AMG, however, Mercedes will make a CLK63 AMG Black Series, a “street legal” version of a race car, that has a 6.3 liter V8 engine with 500 horsepower (heck, seems to me the F-150 Foose pick-up could leave it in the dust).

Of course, GM wasn’t only thinking “tiny tots” at the show; they also premiered a pair of Buick “Super” cars with V8 engines that offered 300 horsepower, and a new production version of the Hummer H3 sport utility vehicle with a 295 horsepower V8.

So this all reminded me a little bit of the Hollywood types that are photographed driving a Prius around town, but in their garage have exotic sports cars withenough horsepower to blow the doors off of cars you and I drive. Or, more prosaic was Mike Jackson’s, (CEO of AutoNation, the nation’s largest publicly traded dealership chain), observation as presented in the Wall Street Journal, that fuel efficiency has consistently ranked behind cup holders and sound systems in consumer desires over the past 20 years.

And, finally, move over biofuel, in the spirit of alternative fuels and energy conservation, they have invented a vehicle that runs entirely on chocolate..."M & M's" to be precise. Not only does it not require foreign oil but, take it from me, "fill-ups" are much more desirable...

Okay, not really, its just the result of my Ferrari crazed colleague's need to take a candy break at the giant "M & M" store across from the hotel that housed the Morgan Stanley Automotive Conference - the shot is of the "M & M" sponsored rase car on display inside the amazing three story "house of chocolate."

...At Night, Wonderful Event Highlighting a Fantastic Cause (More Evidence, Once Again, that “Car Guys” are Still the Best)

As mentioned above, since my esteemed (Ferrari obsessed) colleague, Demetra Markopoulos, has a writing talent and eye for observation more detailed than mine, so, under the prescripts of noblesse oblige, she penned the comments below on the 5th Annual Volvo Charity Gala

Thursday it was back to Cipriani for the 5th Annual Volvo Charity Gala. Known as the “The Volvo for Life Awards,” the event began in 2002 to recognize and honor the outstanding achievements of individuals in Safety, Quality of Life and Environment. A winner is chosen in each category to receive $50,000 to be donated to a charity of their choice, along with a trip to this event, where they are featured in a Volvo for Life Awards heroes documentary. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Grand Winner is announced, and is the recipient of a “Volvo for Life,” meaning they receive a brand new Volvo every three years, in addition to the above.

Cipriani’s was elegantly decorated, had a plethora of good things to eat and drink, and swarming with VIP’s —including top executives, honorees and several of the judges, by the time we arrived. This year’s group of judges included: baseball legend, and humanitarian, Hank Aaron; heart surgeon, and founder of the Ethiopian North American Health Professionals Association, Dr. Ingida Asfaw, M.D.; Volvo for Life 3rd Grand Award winner, and founder of the Limbs of Hope Foundation, Hope Bevilhymer; star athlete, Olympic Gold Medal winner, and renowned politician, Senator Bill Bradley; attorney, chief fundraiser for NYC schools, co-founder of the Profiles in Courage Awards, mother, and daughter of John and Jackie Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy; film actor, and UNESCO Ambassador, Val Kilmer; artist, architect, and creator of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, Maya Lin; actor, activist, and food conglomerate founder, Paul Newman; physicist, astronaut, and the first woman in space, Dr. Sally Ride; Volvo for Life 2nd Grand Award winner, and founder of the Baychester Youth Council, Earnestine Russell-Drumgold; humanitarian, and founder of the Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver; and Volvo for Life 1st Grand Award Winner, and founder of the Red Feather Development Group, Robert Young. Everyone was waiting in anticipation for this year’s winners to be announced.

The event began with an introduction by Anne E. Belec, President and CEO of Volvo Cars of North America, LLC and was hosted for the second time by the Emmy-nominated actor and producer, Benjamin Bratt (widely known as Detective Ray Curtis in “Law and Order”) After addressing the crowd, Bratt announced the first two awards of the evening, the Best Buddies and the Alexandra Scott Butterfly Awards.

The Best Buddies program was created to “enhance the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by providing opportunities for one-to-one friendships and integrated employment.” Volvo honored a pair of friends, Brian Von Eiff and Brad Worrell, who committed their time not only to Best Buddies, but to each other. These two high school students from Carmel, IN, did an exemplary job in representing the mission of the organization, tremendously increasing participation in the program, and thus becoming great assets to Best Buddies.

Winner of this year’s Butterfly Award, was Samita Mohanasundaram. This 15 year old girl strives to give back to her community in more ways than can be imagined, well beyond her years. She volunteers her time to teach literacy to children in India, is a very active member of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and has already put in over 870 hours of time into community service.

Created in memory of Alexandra Scott, the Butterfly Award goes out each year to honor a child hero, who- “like Alex-- helps make the world a better place.” Alex was a little girl, in the Philadelphia suburbs, that was diagnosed with cancer at age one. By the time she was four years old, she understood that other little kids had cancer just like her, and so she began a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research. From its humble beginnings in Philadelphia, it wasn’t long before “Alex’s Lemonade Stand” had become an international effort, as children from around the world began their own lemonade stand fundraisers. In August of 2004, at the age of 7 years old and having raised over $700,000, Alex lost her battle to cancer. By the end of that year over $1.5 million dollars had been raised for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Fund.

This year’s Volvo for Life winner in the Environmental category was Eli Kahn, a 14 year old survivor of cancer. If he could survive the battle, Eli vowed to dedicate his time to cancer research, and in doing so, he founded the “Cartridges for a Cure.” The objective of this program is for individuals, organizations, and businesses nationwide to recycle their used ink jet and laser printer cartridges. Once turned in, the recycling company sends Eli a check, which he donates to John Hopkins to support pediatric oncology research.

Paula Lucas was the recipient of the Volvo for Life award in the category of Safety. She is responsible for creating the American Domestic Violence Crisis Line organization. Paula lived in the Middle East with her children, where they were victims of severe domestic abuse, having nowhere to turn for help. Upon their risky escape to the U.S., they were forced to start over in poverty. Despite the hardship and adversity, Paula was determined, and thus succeeded in creating this organization, where other victims in crisis overseas, much like her, could turn to for support.

Quality of life is often taken for granted by many of us in this country, who often don’t take the time to appreciate our blessings until we are made aware of the lives of those less fortunate. For me, this was the case when hearing the story of Rose Mapendo, the Volvo for Life Grand Award Winner. A pregnant Rose, her husband, and her eight children were imprisoned by the Congolese military, where she was forced to watch her husband’s torture and then execution. Her amazing courage and strength allowed her to persevere and eventually give birth to twins, while imprisoned. Finally, after sixteen months of brutality, Rose and her family were transferred to a refugee camp, where they were rescued and brought to the U.S., settling in Arizona. After learning how to read, write and drive, Rose has dedicated her time to Mapendo International, (in collaboration with the UN and US Department of State), named in her honor, to care for, protect, and rescue other African refugees.

Subsequent to the awards’ ceremony, guests were entertained by Sweden’s The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Kaissa, an African singer, and the Tommy Castro Band from the Bay Area. The honorees mingled with the attendees, and a great time was had by all. It was a tremendous event, overwhelming in fact, in experiencing in the remarkable and heart-touching stories at the 5th Annual Volvo for Life Awards. I don’t think anyone that attended could help but be moved by the occasion. I can think of no better way to end a very busy and substantive couple of days in the city that never sleeps…

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