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Dodge CEO Says ‘Furious’ Movies Have Been Good For The Brand

By Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Furious 7 has opened with a roar, racing to the No. 1 spot at the box office with estimated weekend ticket sales of $143.6 million. The total debut of $218 million is well above the previous Furious record set in 2010.

The Dodge car company may have been pleased, but it seemed to have seen it coming. The company sent its president and CEO to the premiere of the latest installment in Hollywood’s longest extended chase scene.

Dodge has supplied cars to many episodes in the Fast and Furious franchise. Some were on display at the premier at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Walking among them, flanked by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jason Statham, Elsa Pataky, Tony Jaa, Tyrese Gibson, Luke Evans, and Ludacris was Dodge’s Tim Kuniskis.

“This franchise has been good for Dodge, and Dodge has been good for the franchise,” the executive said, trim in a gray suit and black shirt.

The company’s legacy has been a feature of the series, with increasing amounts of automotive product placement in each successive episode.

Does that help Dodge sales?

“Put it this way,” Kuniskis said. “Last year, Dodge sold 600,000 cars — about 4 percent of the total market. That means 96 percent of people are not buying our cars. These movies put Dodge products in front of a huge world audience.”

The Furious franchise has sold in excess of $2 billion in movie tickets worldwide since the first movie rolled out in 2001.

And for the past five years, Kuniskis said, sales of Dodge Challengers have increased. During the month of March, he said, the company sold 6,500 of them — the best month in the nameplate’s history.

As for the high-end Challengers, those in the 707-horsepower Hellcat category, Kuniskis said the company is working fast to solve the high-quality problem of too many customers and too few cars.

The company had to ask its dealerships to stop taking orders for the $60,000-plus street-legal race cars because they couldn’t make them fast enough.

Kuniskis said the company expected to sell a couple of thousand of the Challenger and Charger Hellcats. Instead, they had standing orders for 9,000 when they asked their dealerships to stop taking them.

Kuniskis said he understands customers are frustrated. “I know,” he said, “Because I get emails from them asking, ‘Where’s my car?'”

But he said those customers will all get what they want.

“We’re catching up, and we will start taking new orders,” he said. “We’ll make them all happy.”

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Tesla ‘Gigafactory’ Will ‘Change Nevada Forever,’ Gov. Sandoval Says

By Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times

Tesla Motors’ electric car battery plant will be worth $100 billion to the state of Nevada, according to the men who crafted the deal.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Tesla Chairman and Chief Executive Elon Musk said Thursday that the Palo Alto-based company’s lithium-ion battery plant will prove a boon for both sides, including billions in investment from Tesla and billions in tax breaks from Nevada.

The proposed $5-billion “gigafactory,” where Tesla will produce batteries in partnership with Japanese electronics giant Panasonic, will be constructed on property known as the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center near Sparks, in northern Nevada.

Tesla purchased the land and broke ground there in June, halting construction before actually pouring concrete while negotiations with the state continued, said a source with knowledge of the talks who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Trumpeting the news at a press conference in Carson City, Sandoval said the deal would “change Nevada forever … and stream billions of dollars into our economy.”

Hearkening back to the state’s pioneer beginnings, and calling Tesla’s Musk “a rare visionary who has the courage to reach beyond and to convert the unthinkable into reality,” Sandoval said: “We are determined to be a major part of moving our country and our global economy forward. Ladies and gentlemen, we are ready to lead.”

Under the terms of the proposed deal, according to Nevada documents, Tesla would receive up to a 100 percent tax abatement for the next 20 years for all sales tax, and up to a 100 percent tax abatement for the next 10 years for all real property tax, personal property tax, and modified business tax.

Tesla would also receive a transferable tax credit of 5 percent of the first $1 billion it invests in the state, and of 2.8% for the next $2.5 billion.

The governor’s office said the deal would include a $5-billion investment over the next three to five years, and a subsequent investment of an additional $5 billion over the following five years.

In addition to 6,500 factory jobs, at $25 an hour for each position, the Tesla deal would create 16,000 other jobs — including 3,000 construction jobs — while increasing state employment by 2 percent and regional employment by 10 percent.

The state said Tesla would also make a direct $37.5-million contribution to Nevada K-12 education, beginning in August 2018, and provide the University of Nevada Las Vegas with $1 million for advance battery research.

The state concluded that the Tesla deal would have a $1.9-billion “total fiscal impact” over 20 years, including an infusion of $430 million in state revenue, $950 million in local revenue, and $500 million in K-12 education revenue.

The deal represents a win for the state, one analyst said, but at a cost.

“This is taxpayer money, and it’s quite a bit of money,” said Thilo Koslowski, automotive practice leader at the technology research company Gartner. “California lost, and Nevada won, but at the point of a huge incentive.”

The first batteries would roll off the line in about three years — when Tesla plans to launch its new Model 3, the “mass market” sedan. The company has said the Model 3 will sell for $40,000, or about half the cost of its current Model S sedan.

“We have reached an agreement with the Tesla motor company, subject to legislative review and approval, that will enable Tesla to build the world’s largest and most advanced battery factory, right here in the Silver State,” Sandoval said.

Nevada beat out California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona for the Tesla factory. California Gov. Jerry Brown and Sacramento legislators had lobbied fiercely to keep the electric car components in the state, where Tesla already builds and assembles its popular but expensive electric cars.

“I’m devastated for the 6,500 families who won’t have the chance at these jobs unless they move to Nevada,” said state Sen. Ted Gaines, a Republican representing the Sacramento suburb of Rocklin. “Tesla is a California-born company that the state has invested heavily in, and we want it to succeed. It makes complete sense for it to expand right here, close to its headquarters, yet they are headed out of state.”

Gaines called the move to Nevada “a clear indictment of our business climate” and said Tesla’s decision was a strong signal to legislators “about how hard they have made it to operate here.”

Tesla representatives had stressed, as they weighed their options over the last several months, that a speedy start on the factory was essential to the company’s plans.

Although Tesla’s domestic sales for 2014 have been flat, the company has recently begun selling its Model S cars in England and China. The company has also begun production of a crossover SUV, the Model X, and is hoping to fast-track production of the Model 3.

All those vehicles, and the ability to sell them at a lower price, depend upon a steady supply of mass-produced batteries, which Tesla has said it cannot manufacture in sufficient number at its production facilities in California.

Tesla stock closed up $4.85 at $286.04 on Thursday, its highest closing price since its initial public offering in 2010. The shares traded as high as $290.50 in the late afternoon.

AFP Photo/Justin Sullivan

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Auto Accidents Are Number 1 Cause Of Death For U.S. Teens

By Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times

Auto accidents are the No. 1 killer of American teenagers, a new study finds — killing almost as many drivers as passengers, and killing more kids than homicide or suicide.

The new report, called “Teens in Cars,” was paid for by the General Motors Foundation and based on a national survey of 1,000 teens between 13 and 19.

The study said 2,439 teenagers died in auto accidents on U.S. roads in 2012. A little more than half of the teenagers killed, 56 percent, were driving at the time; 44 percent of the victims were passengers. More than half of those killed, the study said, were not wearing seat belts.

Though the study did not cite texting or telephoning as responsible for traffic accidents, it did say that about 40 percent of teenagers polled said they had been in cars driven by teens who were texting or talking on the phone behind the wheel.

More than half said they had been passengers in cars driving by adults talking on phones.

Only 10 percent of respondents said they had been in cars driven by teenagers under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

According to the GM report, 1,927 teenagers died as a result of homicides in 2012, while 1,863 took their own lives.

Other studies have come to the same conclusion as GM’s “Safe Kids” report.

A recent report from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration also put auto accidents as the No. 1 killer of teenagers.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study reported similar teenage auto deaths, noting that fatalities for 2012 had dropped 7 percent from 2011.

That is the trend. The GM-funded study said teenage auto deaths had dropped 56 percent from their peak in 2002, when 5,491 children between the ages of 13 and 19 died.

Photo: Abraham.williams via Flickr