MONEY Autos

For Electric Cars, High Gas Prices Can’t Come Back Quickly Enough

2015 NIssan LEAF
Nissan—Wieck 2015 NIssan LEAF

Gas prices have rebounded a bit, but they remain low enough to kill the cost-saving argument for buying a plug-in electric car like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt.

Thanks to the dramatic decline in prices at the pump, the average American household is expected to spend $750 less on gas in 2015 than it did last year. We’ve already seen how some of this “saved” money is being spent, what with restaurants, casinos, hotels, and recreational activities all seeing a bump in business lately. Cheap gas seems to have affected big-ticket purchase decisions as well, exhibited most obviously by the spike in SUV and luxury car sales.

It’s an entirely different story, however, when it comes to the impact of cheap gas on electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf. Nissan just released its February numbers, and sales for the brand were up 1.1% compared with last year. Sales of the all-electric Leaf, however, were down 16%. That follows on the heels of a 15% decrease in January, the first such sales decline for the Leaf in two years. Overall Leaf sales dropped from 2,677 for the first two months of 2014 to 2,268 this year.

The recent sales performance of the Chevrolet Volt, the gas-electric pioneer that has been vying with the Leaf for the title of most popular plug-in among buyers, has been even worse. January was the worst month for the Volt since August 2011, with only 592 units sold, a decrease of 41% compared with January 2014. According to General Motors data, 693 Volts sold in February 2015, a drop of 43% compared with 1,210 the year before.

Surely, the prospect of new Chevy plug-in models has hurt Volt sales lately. The all-electric Chevy Bolt, expected to cost $30,000 and get 200 miles on a single charge, is planned to hit the market in 2017, while the 2016 Volt should be available for purchase during the second half of 2015. Many would-be Volt buyers are simply waiting for the newer model, which can be driven 50 miles on electric power, up from 38 miles for the current one.

That explains some—but not all—of the decline in Volt sales. Certainly, cheap gas prices have done damage to sales of the Volt as well as the Leaf, other plug-in vehicles, and even hybrids like the Toyota Prius to boot. After all, one of the big reasons to buy an electrified vehicle is that powering it is cheaper than filling up at the pump. Consequently, when the price of gas plummets, like it did month after month for nearly half a year recently, a prime argument for going the plug-in route is weakened.

It isn’t just new plug-in models that have taken a beating thanks to a combination of cheaper gas prices and emerging new tech that makes older models seem outdated in a hurry. According to the Wall Street Journal, the resale value of used electric cars has absolutely tanked:

In December and January, for instance, the average selling price of a 2012 Nissan Leaf at auction was about $10,000, nearly a quarter of the car’s original list price and down $4,700 from a year earlier, according to NADA’s guide. Three-year-old Volts, a plug-in car with a backup gasoline motor, were selling for an average $13,000 at auction in January, down from about $40,000 excluding the federal tax credit.

Nissan is coming off of the best-ever year for any plug-in, with Leaf sales in the U.S. topping 30,000 in 2014. The way things have started in 2015, it will be difficult for the automaker to beat last year, though Nissan has blamed bad weather for the Leaf’s recent struggles, and it expects a strong rebound in the spring. Meanwhile, at the start of 2014, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said he anticipated selling an average of 3,000 Leafs monthly that year, and 4,000 Leaf purchases monthly sometime in the near future.

Recent sales notwithstanding, Nissan isn’t giving up on electric cars anytime soon. Neither are many other automakers. At the auto show in Geneva this week, BMW, Volkswagen, and Fiat Chrysler were among the car companies showing off high-tech battery-powered vehicles that demonstrate their commitment to electrified cars.

At some point, rising gas prices will likely steer more interest back to alternative-fuel cars too. But that hasn’t happened yet. “Gas prices inched back up this month, but it didn’t appear to have much impact on shoppers’ choices,” Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell said in a report focused on February sales. “We’re still seeing a strong market for trucks and SUVs—especially compact crossover SUVs, which continue to ride an impressive wave of popularity.”

At least if the Leaf and Volt are struggling, Nissan and GM can take solace in the fact that some of their larger, less fuel-efficient and less environmentally friendly siblings are faring quite well during this winter of cheap gas, cold temperatures, and lots of snow. Two Nissan SUVs, the Pathfinder and Rogue, had record sales months in February, while GM pickup sales were up 37% for the month.

 

TIME Companies

These Are America’s Most Disliked Companies

These companies, unfortunately, managed to antagonize more than just one group and have become widely disliked

This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247WallSt.com.

To be truly hated, a company must alienate a large number of people. It may irritate consumers with bad customer service, upset employees by paying low wages, and disappoint Wall Street with underwhelming returns. For a small number of companies, such failures are intertwined. These companies managed to antagonize more than just one group and have become widely disliked.

The most hated companies have millions of customers. With such a large customer base, it is critical to keep employees happy in order to promote high-quality customer service. Poor job satisfaction among employees can lead to unsatisfied customers. McDonald’s and Walmart have risked alienating workers, and therefore also customers, by not adequately addressing protests against their employees’ low wages. While pay may be low enough to put some workers below the poverty line, executives at these companies often make millions. The total compensation of McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson, for example, was nearly $9.5 million in 2013 and nearly $13.8 million in 2012.

Layoffs, or even the prospect of layoffs, can also contribute to low employee morale. Sprint announced it would cut 2,000 jobs late last year. Workers at Comcast can reasonably expect layoffs should its planned merger with Time Warner Cable receives government approval.

Many of the most hated companies angered the public because of quality issues with their products.. Comcast has long been one of the worst companies in America in terms of customer service and satisfaction. Another example is the General Motors recall scandal. GM announced a recall in early 2014 due to faulty ignition switches in a number of its cars, now believed to have cost 42 people their lives. The company’s problems were compounded by the realization that it had known about the defect for over a decade.

Nothing harms the long-term reputation of a company in the eyes of investors more than a steep drop in its share price. In the past 12 months, shares of Sprint have fallen by more than 50%, as hopes for a tie-up with rival T-Mobile were dashed while the company had little success in retaining customers.

It is worth noting that some of the companies on the list may have performed very poorly by some measures but relatively well by others. A few of the most hated companies have had good stock performances. Others have relatively satisfied customers. All of these factors were taken into account in compiling the final list.

Several companies from last year list have improved their public perceptions enough to be removed from this year’s list. For example, J.C. Penney is in the midst of a modest turnaround. Abercrombie & Fitch’s controversial long-time CEO Michael Jeffries resigned last December. However, the retailer still has problems attracting teenage customers.

To identify the most hated companies in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a variety of metrics on customer service, employee satisfaction, and share price performance. We considered consumer surveys from a number of sources, including the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and Zogby Analytics. We also included employee satisfaction based on worker opinion scores recorded by Glassdoor.com. Finally, we reviewed management decisions and company policies that hurt a company’s public perception.

These are America’s most hated companies.

1. General Motors Company

General Motors spent much of 2014 on the defensive, as it had to deal with a number of serious recalls. In the most serious incident, the company disclosed an ignition switch defect that could cause a vehicle’s engine to stall and its airbags to fail while it was in motion. The defect triggered the recall of 2.6 million cars and has been linked to 42 deaths. The company reported it had recalled a total of 34 million cars for a number of defects and incurred more than $2.7 billion in recall-related costs in the first nine months of 2014.

The public fallout from this recall was enormous. GM set aside $400 million to cover damage claims for victims of the faulty ignition switches, while the U.S. Department of Transportation fined the company $35 million — the most it legally could. Even worse, GM employees had known about the defect as early as 2001. Reuters uncovered last April that the company avoided fixing the problem in 2005, despite the fact that replacement switches would have cost just 90 cents each. During the fallout, CEO Mary Barra told Congress, “I never want anyone associated with GM to forget what happened. I want this terrible experience permanently etched in our collective memories. This isn’t just another business challenge.”

2. Sony Corp

Sony had perhaps the most difficult holiday season of any company. News broke in November that the company’s film division, Sony Pictures Entertainment, had been hacked in response to one of its upcoming films, “The Interview.” The hackers, reportedly from North Korea, were offended by the movie’s portrayal of North Korea and its dictator Kim Jong-un. Among other information, the hackers leaked unreleased Sony movies, executive salary data, and personal email correspondence between major Hollywood figures. A number of these emails revealed petty disputes and derogatory comments about race from top figures at the company.

After being hacked — and after a number of major theaters said they would not show the movie — Sony initially decided not to release the film. However, it later reversed course, prodded by criticism from, among others, President Barack Obama. In addition to the debacle surrounding “The Interview,” Sony’s PlayStation Network was also hacked during the holiday season.

Sony’s problems have not been limited to hacking attacks. Sony has regularly reported annual losses for years, and restructuring announcements have become an almost annual event. So far, however, years of expensive restructuring initiatives have been unfruitful. The company’s smartphone division has also taken a hit, with Sony’s smartphones losing market share while failing to sell profitably. Sony shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange have declined more than 30% in the past five years, even as American and Japanese stocks have rallied significantly, with the S&P 500 up approximately 80% in that time.

3. DISH Network Corp

More than 20% of respondents on the Zogby Analytics survey rated DISH Network poorly, one of the highest percentages of any company reviewed. Also, DISH Network has fared worse than most companies on the ACSI in recent years, albeit in an industry that largely received extremely low ratings.

In the wake of heated and ongoing contract negotiations between DISH Network and Fox, DISH customers can no longer watch Fox News or business channels. The blackout has likely had a negative impact on DISH’s customer satisfaction, at least among Fox News viewers who subscribe to DISH. This is hardly the first carriage dispute for DISH in recent years. Other such disputes resulted in long blackouts of AMC Networks and Turner Networks, as well as a brief outage of CBS-owned channels.

Customers are not the company’s only critics. Past and present DISH employees gave the company an average score of just 2.7 out of 5 on Glassdoor.com, with employees frequently disapproving of upper management.

For the rest of the list, please go to 24/7WallStreet.com.

TIME Autos

Report Finds Security Risk in High-Tech Cars

Facebook from a wirelessly connected smartphone is seen on an autonomous dashboard.
Robyn Beck—Getty Images Facebook from a wirelessly connected smartphone is seen on an autonomous dashboard.

Wireless technology causes gaps in security and customer privacy

Vehicles that use wireless technology have major gaps in security and customer privacy, according to a report about to be released by U.S. Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.)

According to the New York Times, the report says that the security measures used in cars are “inconsistent and haphazard.” Perhaps even more troubling is the report’s conclusion that most automakers don’t have the ability to find security breaches or respond when they happen.

“Drivers have come to rely on these new technologies, but unfortunately the automakers haven’t done their part to protect us from cyber attacks or privacy invasions,” Markey wrote in the report, according to the newspaper.

The report also found “a clear lack of appropriate security measures to protect drivers against hackers who may be able to take control of a vehicle.”

Markey’s office wrote the report after collecting data from 16 automakers: BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo. Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Tesla did not respond to the information requests from Markey’s office.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME Davos

This Is Why There Aren’t More Women at Davos

General Motors CEO Mary Barra attends the Automotive World Congress on Jan. 14, 2015 in Detroit.
Paul Warner—Getty Images General Motors CEO Mary Barra attends the Automotive World Congress on Jan. 14, 2015 in Detroit.

This year only 17% of Davos participants are women. That number doesn’t reflect how bad gender diversity in global leadership really is

As the world’s most formidable leaders prepare to gather at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, the event’s glaring lack of gender diversity has once again been brought to the public’s attention. Of the 2,500 participants, only 17% of Davos’ participants will be women.

Learn more about what to expect in Davos from Fortune’s video team:

That number may seem low—but it’s up from last year’s 15%.

Despite the criticism, Davos gender breakdown is merely a reflection of a global reality. CEOs like Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and General Motors Mary Barra get a lot of press, but they’re outliers. The vast majority of the world’s largest companies are led by men: In Fortune‘s Global 500, only 3.4% of companies have female chief executives.

It’s slightly—only slightly—better in politics. Women make up 6% of all heads of state and 8% of all heads of government.

And, of course, women are famously underrepresented in the boardroom. Only 11% of board seats at the world’s largest and best-known companies are occupied by women.

But targeting Davos misses the point. Yes, the fact that the organization (which bills itself as “committed to improving the state of the world through public-private cooperation”) doesn’t go above and beyond to engage more women is an issue. But it’s not the crux of the problem.

Consider this: Last year, the World Economic Forum did make a concerted effort to recruit more women to its annual meeting. It created a gender quota system, requiring large corporations to bring one woman for every four men who attend Davos. The quota won’t do much, though, if women aren’t crowding companies’ corner offices. As Barri Rafferty, CEO of Ketchum North America, pointed out in an interview with Fortune’s Caroline Fairchild, “If your company is going to send five people, they are going to look at their C-Suite people, which likely has fewer women.”

So really, who’s to blame for the lack of women at Davos: The World Economic Forum or the corporations themselves?

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME Autos

General Motors Open to Working With Google on Self-Driving Cars

‘We’d certainly be open to having a discussion with them,’ Jon Lauckner said in an interview at the Detroit auto show

‘We’d certainly be open to having a discussion with them,’ Jon Lauckner said in an interview at the Detroit auto show.

General Motors is open to working with Google on developing self-driving car technology, the chief technology officer for the U.S. automaker said on Monday.

“I’m not in charge of deciding what we will and won’t do, but I’d say we’d certainly be open to having a discussion with them,” Jon Lauckner said in an interview at the Detroit auto show.

Lauckner made his comments two days before the head of Google’s self-driving car project, Chris Urmson, is scheduled to speak at a conference held annually in conjunction with the auto show. Urmson is expected to announce his company’s plans to seek partnerships within the auto industry.

‘We’d certainly be open to having a discussion with them,’ Jon Lauckner said in an interview at the Detroit auto show.

General Motors is open to working with Google on developing self-driving car technology, the chief technology officer for the U.S. automaker said on Monday.

“I’m not in charge of deciding what we will and won’t do, but I’d say we’d certainly be open to having a discussion with them,” Jon Lauckner said in an interview at the Detroit auto show.

Lauckner made his comments two days before the head of Google’s self-driving car project, Chris Urmson, is scheduled to speak at a conference held annually in conjunction with the auto show. Urmson is expected to announce his company’s plans to seek partnerships within the auto industry.

Self-driving cars have been a hot topic for both companies in recent months. GM CEO Mary Barra made headlines in the fall when she said that some GM cars would have limited driverless tech, such as the ability to detect pedestrians, by 2017. She also announced that GM would be part of the team building 120 miles of so-called “autonomous” highway — roads with sensors that enable communication between cars — around Detroit.

And Google’s driverless car ambitions are well-known. Just last month, the Silicon Valley giantunveiled the first fully-functioning prototype of a driverless car. This model doesn’t really look like any car you’ve seen on the road, and certainly doesn’t look like something GM would produce — it looks more like something you’d see in a 1960s science fiction movie.

Combining these two perspectives and histories — GM’s ability to make cars that people actually want to buy with Google’s ability to innovate and push the technology envelope — could make a lot of sense in terms of ushering in the future of autonomous cars. Just how an arrangement might work, though, is a question.

“You have to figure out how would something like that actually work,” Lauckner said. “Would it be something where it would be an opportunity to work together in a joint development agreement?”

—Reuters contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Autos

CEO Mary Barra Vows to Get Over GM’s Recall Crisis

The New York Times 2014 DealBook Conference
Thos Robinson — Getty Images General Motors CEO Mary Barra speaks onstage during The New York Times DealBook Conference at One World Trade Center on Dec. 11, 2014 in New York City.

She wants to focus on growing sales in the U.S. and China

Battled hardened General Motors chief executive Mary Barra pledged on Thursday to move past last year’s recall fiasco, which saw millions of small cars with defective ignition switches recalled.

“It was clearly a tragedy, and it was deeply troubling,” Barra told reporters this week as she unveiled new plans for 2015, according to the New York Times.

Barra says the company aims to expand its sales in the U.S. and China this year and is sharpening its sights on European markets.

“We have many launches this year, and we are going into them to win, not just to compete,” she said.

Read more at NYT

TIME Auto

GM is Bringing Shopping and Hotel Reservations to Your Car

General Motors logo is shown at the General Motors Technical Center.
Bill Pugliano—Getty Images General Motors logo is shown at the General Motors Technical Center.

Now OnStar can get you a cheaper cruller

Your car is already the way you get where you’re going. Soon, it will make sure you’ll have something to do when you get there.

At the International Consumer Electronics Show, starting today in Las Vegas, General Motors will debut a few big additions to its OnStar services. The new feature, called “AtYourService,” will be able to hook drivers up with retailers, providing them with general information and sometimes deals and coupons.

It will also be able to make hotel reservations — which could come in useful if you’re on one of those road trips without a specific itinerary and you’re looking for a place to rest your head on relatively short notice.

Initial retail partners for the AtYourService include Dunkin’ Donuts and Priceline.com. RetailMeNot and Entertainment Book will be providing the coupons, and Amazon’s Audible.com will be providing audio book content. A new feature sure to please people who drive into unfamiliar cities with any frequency will be parking information provided by Parkopedia.

GM and other auto makers are all tinkering with ways to make their vehicles more “connected,” a range of features that has led to some experimentation among manufacturers as they angle to offer the right mix of real-time data often found on smartphones. Connected car services of all kinds have become standard on many new cars and trucks, according to Edmunds.com. Some of the features GM is touting, such as the parking information, have been featured in offerings by BMW and other auto makers.

Among the other OnStar features that will also be rolled out this summer — driver feedback.

Customers will be able to sign up for a service that tells them how they’re driving. If its good enough, users could be eligible for discounts through Progressive Insurance.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Companies

GM CEO Won’t Receive Women’s Award Amid Protests

GM CEO Mary Barra Addresses Detroit Economic Club
Bill Pugliano—Getty Images General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra address the Detroit Economic Club October 28, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. Barra announced that GM will be investing $540 million in its plants in Michigan. $240 million of that will be invested in the company's Warren Transmission Plant, allowing them to produce the transmissions for the next-generation Chevrolet Volt in Michigan, as opposed to in Mexico.

The museum said it was not presenting Mary Barra with the award “at this time”

The National Women’s History Museum has agreed not to bestow an award on General Motors CEO Mary Barra amid objections over the company’s delayed recall of vehicles with a faulty ignition switch.

Barra was slated to receive the museum’s Katharine Graham Living Legacy Award at a ceremony next Monday in Washington, D.C., but GM said late Wednesday that she was no longer going, the Detroit News reports.

The museum said it was not presenting the award “at this time.”

Activists and family members of people hurt or killed in accidents involving the faulty ignitions voiced opposition to the award this week. “We believe that Barra should focus on GM’s remaining safety problems before traveling around the country to accept awards,” Peter Flaherty, the president of the National Legal Policy Center, wrote in a letter to the museum.

The faulty ignition-switch has been linked to 32 deaths and led the automaker to recall 2.59 million vehicles in February.

TIME Autos

GM Will Pay You $25 to Get Your Faulty Ignition Switch Fixed

As some 1 million vehicles with defect remain on the road

The automaker announced Tuesday it will offer a $25 gift card to car owners who have a faulty ignition switch repaired, as some 1 million vehicles with the defect are thought to remain on the road.

Just 1.26 million, or 53%, of the 2.6 million GM cars recalled earlier this year have been repaired, the New York Times reports, leaving many people continuing to drive or travel in cars that can suddenly turn off or suffer from disabled steering, brakes and air bags. The defect has been linked to at least 30 deaths.

Drivers whose cars are fixed in November have a choice of $25 cards to Amazon, AMC Theaters, Applebee’s, Bass Pro Shops, Red Robin, Starbucks or Walmart.

[NYT]

TIME Autos

Death Toll Linked to GM Ignition Switch Defect Rises to 29

GM Hearing
Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call / Getty Images Family members of people killed due to a faulty ignition switch watch a House hearing on April 1, 2014.

Two new death claims approved by compensation program

The number of deaths linked to a faulty ignition switch in General Motors vehicles rose to 29 on Monday, according to a new report, after two new death claims were approved by the program that will compensate victims and their families.

The fund has received more than 1,500 claims since its establishment on Aug. 1, including 184 submissions for death claims, Reuters reports. All 29 deaths, and another 27 injuries, have been determined to be eligible for compensation so far, finds the report released by the office of Kenneth Feinberg, who is heading the compensation effort.

GM launched the fund amid withering criticism for its failure to address the defect after several employees within the company noted the problem at least 11 years before any action was taken to resolve it.

[Reuters]

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