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Automotive News – July 13, 2011

California closes carpool lanes to single-driver hybrids. Russian steelmaker gets American money for Michigan auto parts factory. Porche seeks new luxury buyer market. These and other stories of interest in this week’s Automotive News.

Hybrids No Longer HOV-Friendly in California

Carpool StickerCalifornia, the nation’s largest car market, has ended its “yellow sticker” program that allowed up to 85,000 owners of gasoline-electric hybrid automobiles to drive solo in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) or car pool lanes. The program was initiated in the last decade to promote the adoption of environmentally friendly hybrids, which were then considered exotic. But with hybrids now common on California roads, Sacramento sees no compelling reason to continue the perk. On the upside, in January 2012, California will offer 40,000 HOV permits to buyers of soon-to-be available plug-in hybrids that can travel at least 10 miles on batteries alone.

Washington Greenlights Loan to Russian Automotive Steel Maker

Severstal SteelThe Department of Energy (DOE) has reportedly agreed to loan the Russian steelmaker Severstal up to $730 million to help it manufacture stronger, lighter automotive steel at its plant in Dearborn, Mich. The loan is part of an DOE program that has approved more than $8.4 billion in auto-related financing since 2009. The Severstal project is expected to create more than 200 permanent jobs and 2,500 temporary construction jobs, a badly needed stimulus for the depressed Michigan economy.

Porsche Looking to Fill the Half-Million-Dollar Gap

Porsche 911Germany’s Porsche is reportedly looking to produce a car in the $500,000 range to fill the “gap” in its product line between its top-of-line 911 GT2 RS ($245,000) and its super-duper 918 Spyder hybrid ($845,000). The planned product expansion comes as Porsche is enjoying booming sales; it’s already sold 60,660 as of July 1. Its June sales alone are up 36.8 percent over the same month in 2010. While most of the industrialized world is mired in recession, it seems the market for luxury cars remains in the fast lane.

Ford Supports Federal Cell Phone Ban

Cell phone drivingFord Motor Co. is the first major automaker to publicly endorse a proposed federal ban on using hand-held cell phones while driving. The bill banning the devices nationally was introduced last month by Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY). Ford likely has more than just public safety in mind. The company is eager to support its in-vehicle technologies such as Sync and MyFord Touch that give drivers hands-free access to voice telecommunication. Until now, all laws regarding behind-the-wheel cell phone use have been addressed at the local and state levels.

GM Is Stock Analyst’s Top Pick

GM LogoAlthough Ford Motor Co. was the only major U.S. automaker not to receive federal loans during the Great Recession, it’s General Motors (GM) that is now best positioned to deliver top returns to investors, according to Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jones. Jones believes GM’s 2012 line-up coupled with favorable labor conditions point to bottom-line success in the year ahead. “As GM itself has proven, you cannot win in this industry by cutting costs over and over again. If auto companies do not make good cars that people want to guy at a decent price, customers will go away,” Jones explained.

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