Luxury powerhouse Mercedes-Benz and Brit-tinged but Kuwaiti-owned sports car maker Aston Martin are said to have struck a deal late last year to collaborate on future products, reportedly the next Maybach for Mercedes and the rebirth of the Lagonda brand with a sedan and SUV for Aston Martin.
According to Car and Driver, the next Maybach will use the platform of the 2013 S-Class, but will be built at Aston Martin's plant in Gaydon, England, which will slice production costs in half, given Aston's low-volume know-how. Benz would also provide the components to Aston for its own super luxury sedan coming from the same plant, to compete with Rolls-Royce and - ironically - Maybach.
The Aston-built Maybach is reportedly set for unveiling this fall at the Frankfurt auto show. There's also a chance, reportedly to be decided in the first half of this year, that Aston may look to Mercedes-Benz's SLS platform as a basis for its next-generation sports cars, all of which are currently built on variations of its Ford-era VH platform, first introduced back in 2002.
The deal is not official, and in fact the reports were pooh-poohed early this week in Toronto by Joachim Schmidt, Mercedes global vice-president of sales and marketing, who said he had heard lots of reports of such an agreement, though he didn't deny them either.
The Benz-Aston deal has been rumoured for at least three years, and there is enough smoke to suggest a deal is indeed cooking up. Aston used a Mercedes-Benz GL chassis for its largely derided Lagonda concept SUV, unveiled at the Geneva auto show two years ago, when Aston chairman Ulrich Bez confirmed that the Lagonda name would be revived. He announced plans to have Lagonda vehicles in customer driveways in 2012. Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche also reportedly told Brit magazine Autocar last fall that collaboration between the two could happen in the future, but didn't get into specifics.
Global vice-president Schmidt was in Toronto to help unveil an enlarged new parts distribution and technical training centre for Mercedes-Benz Canada, as well as mark the departure of Mercedes Canada president Marcus Breitschwerdt to its U.K. division.
Breitschwerdt's eight-year tenure was marked by Mercedes-Benz becoming the best-selling luxury brand in the country last year, plus product highlights like the successful launch of the Smart brand and the B-Class.
He also was a strong proponent of advanced green technology in this country, bringing the fully electric Smart fortwo Electric Drive to Canada, as well as securing a $50-million Daimler investment for an advanced fuel cell stack production facility outside Vancouver, a program just confirmed last week. The fuel cell stack is destined for research and production B-Class Fuel Cells, with production units planned to reach dealers by 2015, and would produce fuel cell stacks that could later be used in its C- or E-Class models, according to the company.
Breitschwerdt becomes president of Mercedes-Benz U.K. on April 1, after pulling Canada into the top 10 largest markets for the brand in the world. He will be replaced by Tim Reuss, a long-time Benz staffer who moves from Rome after heading Italy's corporate retail division.
Mazda dealers still getting Japan-built cars
Mazda Canada hasn't suspended dealer orders for Japan-built vehicles as the U.S. unit did last week, as Japan suffers the after-effects of the major earthquakes and tsunami that have killed more than 11,000 people and knocked out power and supply lines throughout the country.
Mazda Canada dealers put in their orders for vehicles early last week, before their American counterparts announced that May orders for virtually their entire lineup would be suspended. This includes the Mazda3, which came in second to the Honda Civic in Canada last year in car sales, the new Mazda2 subcompact hatchback, the even newer 2012 Mazda5 mini-minivan, RX-8 sports car, MX-5 and the CX-7 and CX-9 SUVs. The Mazda6 mid-size sedan and Tribute compact crossover are built in the United States.
The catastrophe in Japan will surely put more pressure on Mazda's corporate leaders to diversify their operations; the company's large number of facilities concentrated in Japan could mean that Mazda will be harder than any other Japanese car company. After partially resuming production on March 22 at two plants in Hiroshima and Hofu, it suspended all Japanese parts and vehicle production on March 28.
Many of the vehicles ordered for May in Canada will already be on the ground or in transit now, Mazda Canada communications manager Sandra Lemaitre said in an e-mail. "Mazda Canada has been preparing for the strong spring selling season and we are confident that our current inventory levels will cover demand until the plants are reopened and production resumes."
Honda confirms Alliston plant slowdown
It was a good news/bad news week at Honda Canada: the firm confirmed that there will be temporary work stoppages at its Alliston, Ont., and likely at other North American plants, due to a waning supply of Japan-sourced parts.
The extent of the work slowdown was not yet known early this week, when it was confirmed to workers at the two plants, one of which builds Civics and Acura CSX models, the other Acura MDX and ZDX crossovers. Canadian dealers are ordering vehicles as usual, Honda Canada PR manager Richard Jacobs said, and there is an adequate supply of Japan-built vehicles such as the Honda Fit, Insight, CR-Z, Civic Hybrid, Acura TSX and Acura RL.
But Honda Canada also announced recently that it will sponsor a series of summer baseball camps featuring former Blue Jays from its World Series-winning teams, including recent Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Roberto Alomar.
Children aged eight to 14 will be able to meet a bevy of former Blue Jays at camps arranged in an association with the Toronto Blue Jays and Baseball Canada, with guest instructors including Duane Ward, Lloyd Moseby, Tom Henke, Alomar and Tony Fernandez. A rundown of which former stars will participate in each of seven camps run across the country is posted on the team's site at bluejays.com/camps.
Leasing back, but off highs
Consumers started leasing vehicles again in a big way in 2010, but nowhere near the 45 per cent level leasing achieved in Canada between 2005 and 2007, auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers says.
After a run where about half of all Canadian new-car consumers essentially rented cars by just paying the depreciation on them, the lease market fell apart the next two years with the financial crisis, falling to just 7.1 per cent of the market in 2009. That number more than doubled in 2010, to 14.7 per cent.