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Road toll in NSW climbs in ’09

cca_04-01-2010_egn_05_ch0407aimg_t325MINISTER for Transport and Roads David Campbell said he was saddened by figures that showed the provisional NSW road toll for 2009 was 460, which is 86 higher than 2008.

Looking back on the decade the overall trend over the past ten years is down, with the 2009 provisional road toll of 460 compared with a road toll of 577 in 1999. There are over one million more vehicles in NSW since 1999.

The average road toll over the 2000s was 501 which compares to 625 in the ’90s, 1090 in the ’80s and 1265 in the ’70s

“Every death on our roads is a tragedy and my thoughts are with the family and friends of those who’ve lost their lives,” Mr Campbell said yesterday.

“With many people heading off again on holiday, this is a sobering message – I urge everyone to stick to the speed limit, take regular rest breaks and not to drink and drive.

“This increased road toll in 2009 follows an unprecedented six consecutive years of road toll reductions in NSW, an achievement not matched by any other State in Australia.

“Last year’s road toll represents 6.47 fatalities per a population of 100,000, which compares to 9 fatalities per 100,000 in 1999.

“The figures show the key issues on our roads remain speeding, driving while fatigued and drink-driving.

“It is very disappointing that there has been a 40 per cent increase in speed-related fatalities in 2009 compared with the previous year. The provisional data shows that 46 per cent of fatal crashes involved speed.

“Through a record $10 million enhanced enforcement program the NSW Government is funding more Police campaigns out on our road to target speeding.

“The RTA has also been examining the introduction of digital mobile speed cameras and they are finalising their report for Government.

“The important partnership between the RTA and NSW Police will continue as we aim to reduce the road toll through targeting key issues such as speeding, drink driving, and not wearing seat belts on our roads.”

Mr Campbell said the NSW Centre for Road safety was working on new road safety campaigns and there were a number of initiatives coming into force in 2010.

Key initiatives already in place for 2010:

• Point to Point heavy vehicle speed camera detection will start from February 2010 (this technology records average speed over a distance).

• Child restraint regulation change will start from March 1, 2010 – children up to seven must be properly restrained

• Fatigue campaign – a new advertising campaign will begin this year focusing on fatigue.

• The roll out of new combined red light and speed camera technology will continue with the first 50 sites installed by June.

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Right direction, but cars have a way to go on efficiency road

AS the developed world winces over the woolly and inconclusive outcome of the Copenhagen climate summit, there’s some modest consolation to be had in looking at the opposite end of the resource use spectrum: hugely improved technical efficiency, with more certainly to come.

Take the pace of development of low-consumption automobiles. This isn’t the motoring column but such an issue is an economic one and as of early December, Ford announced in Australia a new diesel-powered, four-cylinder Fiesta. Its officially tested fuel consumption is 3.7 litres per 100km. As the television adverts enjoy pointing out, that pips the Toyota Prius hybrid’s 3.9.

Independent of whatever emissions trading scheme we may end up with, our cars are gradually consuming less, and emitting less, because of technical advances.

Just by way of comparison, the original Leyland/BMC Mini’s consumption figure, back in 1959 admittedly, was 6.49 litres, or almost twice as much.

There were many endearing features about the original Mini, not least its small size, but what is quite startling is that the older car had less than half the engine power output (25 kilowatts against 66) of the new EcoNetic Fiesta, which is a much bigger and heavier car all round. The Fiesta’s had a number of technological tweaks, such as low-resistance tyres, but in design terms it’s still fairly conventional.

I’ve been looking in vain for a CO2 emission number for the older car, probably because they hadn’t thought of such things back in those days, but one clue is that the car had to cease production (after about five million Minis) mainly because of tightening emission control rules. For the uninitiated, there’s a direct correlation between fuel economy and CO2 output. According to Australia’s National Transport Commission, one litre of petrol will produce 2289 grams of CO2 and a litre of diesel will produce 17 per cent more CO2, about 2695g.

On those numbers, the old Mini had a CO2 output of about 148g per kilometre.

The new Ford is one of the first cars available in Australia to produce less than 100g of CO2 per kilometre. Its 98g output isn’t as low as the Toyota Prius hybrid’s 89g, but they’re both measurably lower than the cars of just 10 years ago. They knock everything else in Australia into a cocked hat since the Smart C451, the boxy two-seater, was by a narrow margin the best performer in Australia in 2008 with 103g/km.

Which means the new Ford, with its common-rail diesel engine and tall gearbox ratios, is particularly frugal.

By comparison, the current-day six-cylinder Falcon produces 256g, an improvement of about 9 per cent over its 2005 equivalent, while the Holden Commodore produces about 272g.

Toyota’s new hybrid Camry, which will hit showrooms in March and will be locally made thanks to a $35 million grant from the federal government’s $1.3 billion Green Car Innovation Fund, is a product that doesn’t get close to the Fiesta or Prius’s low emissions, but in the words of the old saying, it’s a major improvement. Both fuel consumption and CO2 output from the hybrid will be “35 per cent lower” than the all-petrol Camry, according to the manufacturer.

We’ve found an official CO2 number of 229g for a conventional Camry and the manufacturer says CO2 output will be “less than 150g” per kilometre.

There are all sorts of macro arguments against building cars in Australia that make up a separate debate all of their own, but it’s common knowledge that every major manufacturer in Australia (now only Toyota, GMH and Ford) has had hefty subsidies from the government at different times.

A scary conclusion that emerges from a recent study by the NTC is that the average car in Australia may have reduced its consumption (and CO2 output) significantly in recent years but it still uses significantly more fuel than the average car in Europe.

For instance, Australia’s average CO2 output per car in 2008, the latest date when full figures were available, was 215g per kilometre, which is 55 per cent higher than Portugal’s average (138g) and 23 per cent higher than the highest European average, Sweden’s, which is 174g.

That is quite startling because although Australian motoring conditions are different, the long distances and straight roads that we have should if anything lower our average consumption, not raise it. All those jokes about Swedes wasting fuel as they drive around in big solid Volvos are looking very sick: they’re simply not true.

The killer applications, according to the NTC, are that the high fuel prices in Europe, caused by higher fuel taxes, encourage consumers to buy fuel-efficient cars and the fact that diesel fuel is cheaper in Europe than petrol (unlike in Australia) is a further inducement to European car buyers, who proportionately buy many more diesel vehicles than we do.

Conclusion? Australian manufacturers are certainly heading in the right direction in terms of making our cars more efficient, but there’s still a huge distance to go on CO2.

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State’s record low road toll tragically marred at the end

Another horrific holiday season shows the deadly effect of complacency.

IT IS called the festive season, but for too many families it is a time to mourn their losses during the year. The holiday road toll was finalised at midnight and, in an otherwise good year for Victoria – but not the nation – the state’s terrible record over this time did not improve. Victoria’s annual toll of 295 was a record low, but 70 more people would have died had the death-a-day holiday carnage applied all year.

The recent deadly weeks ought to convince all road users to take more care at all times. As Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Ken Lay says, it is difficult to celebrate a record low road toll when it still means 295 families had a horrible Christmas because of a missing loved one. Nationwide, the picture was even worse. The Australian toll jumped from 2008′s record low of 1463 to well above 1500. Western Australia was the only other state to reduce its number of road deaths.

The holiday and national toll trends stand as a warning against complacency. About 80 motorists a day were found during the Christmas period to have been drunk behind the wheel. When the holiday road toll reached 16, matching the number of deaths last year with three days of the season to go, Victoria Police asked the State Coroner to investigate the spate of crashes.

However, Victoria must be doing something right, as its road toll has fallen every year since 2005, when it rose to 346 from 343 in 2004. In four years, the toll has been cut almost 15 per cent, including last year’s 3 per cent fall from 303 in 2008. The declining death rates for road users between 21 and 39 suggest public education had an effect, but rises against the trend among those aged 5 to 15 and 18 to 20 show there can be no let-up. A rising toll among over-60s points to other road safety challenges in an ageing population.

Getting the toll below 300 is the culmination of a 20-year campaign since the 1989 loss of 776 lives – a death rate of about 18 per 100,000 people. There are now a million more Victorians, but the state has brought its road toll down to about 5.4 deaths per 100,000, which ranks with the best in the world. Australia slipped back last year towards a rate of 7 per 100,000.

Credit for Victoria’s gains is shared between a community that, except for an idiotic minority, has responded to public campaigns by transforming attitudes on the road, police who tirelessly enforce the law and governments that have promoted higher road and vehicle standards on expert advice. In 2011, Victoria will be the first state to require electronic stability control in new vehicles. There is still room for improvement in airbag standards and penalties for the small proportion of drivers who repeatedly put others at risk.

Even now, most road deaths, and the costs and grief they create, are avoidable. ”In a decade I would think that we should realistically be under 200,” Mr Lay said. Road safety experts agree. Bruce Corben, of Monash University Accident Research Centre, says: ”I think the secret of success is being scientific and systematic about how we approach and apply things. A lot of it is thanks to the work being done by the TAC (Transport Accident Commission) and VicRoads spending $70 million every year on retro-fitting the safe road network.” An 80 per cent reduction in crashes at identified ”black spots” is proof of this.

Some drivers may resent vigilant policing and networks of speed and red-light cameras, but no one who thinks seriously about road safety should want it otherwise. Had Victoria continued the death rate per vehicle of 1989, when the TAC aired its first road safety advertisement, more than 20,000 people would have died, more than 230,000 would have suffered serious injury and more than 600,000 would have received TAC compensation. Instead, Victoria has had 8558 road deaths since January 1989, with another 137,000 seriously injured. The saving of nearly 11,500 lives should be enough to justify all the measures enforced in this state.

A secondary but important consideration is the huge cost

of mostly avoidable deaths and injuries. Each death costs the community about $1.5 million, each serious injury – Victoria recorded 7000 last year – $300,000, and each of last year’s 1000 catastrophic life-changing injuries $5 million. On current costs, then, Victoria’s road safety gains have saved well over $100 billion since 1989.

However, money should not be the reason that Victorians aim to cut the road toll further. At times we can become inured to the dangers of the road and the appalling losses of life. These lives are no less precious than losses in wartime, but we allow the steady daily drip of death on the roads to pass us by in a way that the loss of 501 Australians serving in Vietnam over 11 years did not. Come year’s end, though, the pain of deaths and injuries on the roads is widely felt. Victorians must never let up in their resolve to avoid these senseless losses.

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Queensland road toll linked to state’s prosperity

ROAD safety experts have blamed Queensland’s historical socio-economic strength for contributing to one of the worst road tolls in the nation.

Federal Transport Department figures show Queensland recorded 7.6 road fatalities for every 100,000 residents in 2008.

The carnage was relatively contained in the ACT (4.07), NSW (5.7), Victoria (5.72) and South Australia (6.18).

QUT Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety senior lecturer Mark King says the past decade has seen boom mining states pay a tragic price.

“Back in 2006-07, when the road toll was going up in Australia, where it was going up the most was in Queensland and Western Australia,” he said.

“Where you’ve got a very strong resources sector, you’ve got more companies doing better, more people employed, more things being bought and moved here and there. More cars on the road.”

Max Cameron, of Victoria’s Monash University Accident Research Centre, said Queensland’s population growth – approaching 3 per cent a year – compounded its plight.

“We tend to think the thing that affects road safety is what the police and transport department do,” Professor Cameron said.

“But underlying all of that, what’s driving road fatalities up or down are population, amount of travel and economic prosperity.”

In terms of deaths per 100,000 population for 2008, only the Northern Territory (34.1), Western Australia (9.66) and Tasmania (8.03) were hit harder than Queensland families.

A long-range National Road Safety Strategy to slash fatalities from 9.32 for every 100,000 Australians in 1999 to 5.6 by this year has failed.

The nation’s road death rate hovers around seven per 100,000.

Queensland, after making good headway last century with a progression of enforcement initiatives, is fast running out of excuses.

In 1998, the state road toll took its last great dive following the introduction of mobile speed cameras the previous year.

The 279 deaths represented more than 80 fewer fatalities than 1997′s 360. The figure has not returned below the 300 mark since.

Premier Anna Bligh recently announced a major upgrade of the speed camera program for 2010. Key features are:

• Thirty per cent of mobile cameras to be used covertly for the first time.

• The introduction of point-to-point cameras that measure average speeds over road stretches.

• Intersections bolstered with dual red-light/speed cameras.

Victoria went covert with its entire mobile speed camera operation in 1990 and has not looked back.

Studies prove that cameras attached to stationary, civilian sedans – when compared with the snap-traps of marked police vehicles and warning signage – have far greater success in reducing road fatalities.

“That’s because the covert cameras are perceived by the most dangerous high-end speedsters as very threatening,” Prof Cameron said.

“It’s hard to know that you’ve ever gone past one. In Melbourne (covert) cameras have contributed to a 25 to 30 per cent drop in crashes involving death and serious injury.”

Two decades later, Queensland is set to merely dabble in the realm of so-called sneaky cameras.

On the other hand, its randomised, open camera policing has long been considered the most comprehensive in Australia.

NSW dumped mobile speed cameras in 2008 and is forced to rely on 172 covert fixed cameras to put speed demons in the frame.

That NSW still manages to outperform Queensland on the fatal road score underlines the complexity of finding solutions.

Apart from a continued focus on the fatal four – speed, alcohol, fatigue and seatbelts – Prof Cameron said enhanced roads and safety barriers plus better-stabilised cars would make a big difference.

However, he accused federal governments of failing to provide leadership.

“Currently, the Australian Government is valuing a road death very conservatively – at just over $2 million per person, with medical and other costs and foregone income,” he said.

“The US and the UK value them at at-least twice that.

“It’s important because most decisions about improved roads, media campaigns, even investment in (extra) police derives from economic-type arguments.

“Changing this valuation could change the economics of road safety investment overnight.”

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Keneally urged to keep toll on motorway

BUSINESS groups have written to the Premier, Kristina Keneally, calling on her to reverse Nathan Rees’s decision and maintain the M4 toll, due to cease on February 15.

Experts argue much as $2 billion could be redirected into public transport if the toll remains.

The letter, signed by the chief executives of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Australian Industry Group, the Property Council of Australia and the Tourism and Transport Forum argues that the road will become a ”car park” if the toll is taken off.

The call from the groups has been echoed by David Henscher, a professor of economics at Sydney University and a transport expert, who says the toll should continue to be levied, and can be politically justified if the money is redirected to public transport projects like the western metro.

Professor Henscher says that if the road is put into private hands for the next 20 to 30 years and the toll charged, as much as $2 billion could be raised.

”I think we should keep tolls on all toll roads because we’re trying to run these things more efficiently,” he said.

He said one of the biggest criticisms of the Government had been that there was too much urban congestion, yet the Government was proposing to increase congestion in western Sydney by taking off the toll.

The letter from the chief executives says: ”The issue of the M4 toll … requires immediate attention.

”As you are aware, the toll is due to expire on 15 February, 2010. Recent analysis by the Roads and Traffic Authority and the NSW Auditor-General has found the toll’s removal will relegate this key transport corridor to a car park in peak periods.

”We urge you to reverse the previous decision to remove the toll when the contract expires.

”Consideration of a variable toll on the M4 will provide the state with a valuable source of revenue to undertake urgent new road and rail projects, like the long-promised M4 East and a raft of transformational public transport projects.”

The executive director of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Brendan Lyon, said the Auditor-General and Roads and Traffic Authority had warned of greater congestion should the toll be taken off the road and the government should heed the warning.

”At the same time, we are faced with grave challenges in terms of funding transport infrastructure.”

Mr Lyon said the Government should come up with a ”much fairer” way of levying road tolls across the city, which was more distance-based.

The Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, is understood to have argued during cabinet debate late last year for retention of the toll, but failed in the argument.

The toll raises $60 million a year for the Government but would raise $100 million if the cashback deal for local motorists was lifted.

The letter also calls for a further move on electricity privatisation, and questions ”efficacy and attractiveness of the current, modest reform plan”.

Under the present plan, put together by the former minister Joe Tripodi, electricity retailers and the generation trading rights of power stations will be sold off but generators will remain in public hands.

The letter also says more certainty is needed in the Government’s transport blueprint due next month on the CBD metro.

The Transport and Roads Minister, David Campbell, said the Government had a long-standing position to remove the toll. ”And that position hasn’t changed.”

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Vodafone Mclaren Mercedes at the 2007 Malaysian Grand Prix

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has arrived at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia leading the Constructors’ Championship; this was after its double podium finish at the season opener held in Australia.

Most of you are probably wondering if the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team members were able to return to Europe after the Melbourne race. Most of the majority of the team returned to Europe including engineers, management, mechanics, and marketing. However 28 members of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team have headed directly to Malaysia for the test at the Sepang circuit. Two additional race team representatives returned to the UK before joining the other team members in Malaysia. The rest of the team has followed last April 1.

For the fans of Fernando, Lewis and Pedro in case you want to know where they have spent their time. Fernando returned to Europe after the Australian Grand Prix before joining the rest of the team in Malaysia. Lewis on other hand flew to Bangkok from Melbourne and traveled to Koh Samui before heading to Malaysia. He also traveled to Bali following the final test session and before returning to KL. Pedro for his part traveled to the UK after the Australian race to continue working on the development programme with the team.

The team Vodafone in Malaysia

Due to the hot climate in Malaysia the team Vodafone McLaren Mercedes incorporated a sufficient cooling package to the MP4-22 to allow them to race in such temperature. The MP4-22 is equipped with Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engine which is based on the Formula 1 engine owned by Mercedes-Benz—popular German brand name of automobiles, buses, coaches, trucks and auto components such as Mercedes struts. The team installs fans in the garages to keep the ambient temperatures as cool as possible.

The greatest concern of the team was to avoid dehydration since it affects concentration, balance control, reflexes and ultimately driving performance. The drivers prepare by increasing their fluid levels in anticipation of the hot climate they would have to bear in Malaysia. Aside from dehydration there is also the time zone adaptation which the drivers have to deal with which can cause a combination of physical and the psychological stress.

Here are some of the popular Team Quotes:

Fernando Alonso

“It was a solid start to the season in Australia. We knew we were not as quick as the Ferrari’s so we had a good result in light of this. In the early part of the season it is important to keep scoring points and finishing on the podium as we push forward with our development programme.

The nature of Sepang is quite technical, and the car needs to be really strong in every area. All the important corners tend to be high-speed, so you need a perfect car balance and good aerodynamics. Everyone within Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has been pushing really hard since the Australian Grand Prix to try to close the gap. I have always gone well at Sepang, winning there in 2005 and finishing second there last year.

So, my memories from the track are great, we will try hard to add to these this year! It is always a tough race physically, on the team as a whole and the cars, but we are prepared for that and after what has seemed to be a long gap after Melbourne, we all really want to get back to racing.”

Lewis Hamilton

“From what I had seen of the track before arriving for the test this week, I thought it looked like a great circuit and I was not disappointed. Its layout means you can build up a great rhythm, with all the corners running into each other.

It is also really wide, which I imagine will lead to exciting racing. The four days of testing this week were really useful on two counts. We had a number of developments to the car that we ran and will now bring to the race, and I was able to learn the track prior to the event.

I am now looking forward to competitive action here. As I said at the time, it was a dream start for me in Australia, but I am realistic that motorsport is unpredictable and things don’t always go so well. We have all been working to reduce the gap to Ferrari and I will do my best with Fernando and the team towards this in Malaysia.”

Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

“To be entering the second Grand Prix of the season heading the Constructors’ Championship is of course pleasing and a positive start, however we have to now take that performance and try to build on it. In addition to coming away from Australia with the two podium finishes, we were also able to learn more about the MP4-22 and how we can find the additional performance required.

We have to work in a hard and focused manner to improve, but ensure we keep scoring well during the process. Fernando and Lewis both had great debuts with the team and we are working with them to keep this momentum that is in the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team going.”

Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport

“After the good start to the season with second and third places for Fernando and Lewis in Melbourne, we now look forward to the Malaysian Grand Prix. In particular, we like to remember Kimi Raikkonen’s first victory with the team, which he clinched in Sepang in 2003. The team has prepared for the second Grand Prix of the year testing in Sepang from 27th to 30th March and we have worked on further improvements for our technical package.

At the Sepang Circuit, conditions will be completely different from Melbourne. With ambient temperatures of about 40 degrees Celsius and very high humidity the entire package and the engines will face a big challenge, particularly because they will be raced for the second weekend.

Under these difficult conditions, almost 70 percent of a lap will be run under full throttle. The race is always one of the toughest of the year and very demanding also for the drivers. At this time of the year, Malaysia has always been notorious for changing weather – there is a good chance for a race feeling as though it is taking place in a sauna – steam bath included.”

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As we stagger into 2010, here’s how much DFW’s business landscape changed in a chaotic 2009

By Scott Nishimura, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, TexasJan. 3–Liesl Gray heard only five words from a voice mail message she received a week before Christmas:

“I’m calling to offer . . .”

“I didn’t hear anything after that,” said Gray, a 38-year-old Fort Worth marketing and public relations pro who had been out of a job since spring. “I just cried and bawled and cried and bawled.”

She called her mother and notified the better part of her network with a post on Facebook: “I got the job! I got the job!”

Finally, Gray called Autumn Leaves of Southwest Fort Worth, a soon-to-open assisted-living center for Alzheimer’s patients, to accept the job of communications director.

“I’m blessed,” she says.

Gray’s loss of livelihood, angst-ridden job search and near desperation typified 2009 for many job seekers.

The Texas jobless rate climbed substantially in 2009 before finally easing late in the year, dipping to 8 percent in November from a peak of 8.3 percent a month earlier. Texas’ economy, while suffering from the same drags as the nation’s, still fared better than the U.S. as a whole.

As of November, about 954,000 Texans were unemployed. Looking ahead to the new year, Texas economist Ray Perryman said that indicators remained mixed but that “2010 should be a year of relatively sustained, if modest, recovery.”

Gray is happy to leave her job search behind. She figures she filled out 200 applications.

She took the gloves off at the end, crafting a short letter that she partially credits with helping her land her new job:

“To the Hiring Director: This is where I’ve been told I should craft a catchy yet über-professional cover letter that wows you with my pithy literary skills and my litany of amazing experience, but I’ve been doing that for eight months now, and frankly, it hasn’t gotten me anywhere.

“So here it is: Are you looking for someone who is creative, intelligent, resourceful, hard-working, loyal and fun to have on your team? Yes? Then why not give me a chance to show you what I’ve got? You have nothing to lose, and you just might find that I am a perfect match for this position! Sincerely yours, Liesl Gray.”

Elsewhere in the local economy, the year was marked by mammoth deals: Warren Buffett’s deal to buy Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., Exxon Mobil’s offer to acquire XTO Energy and Denbury Resources’ agreement to buy Encore Acquisition. And then there’s the ongoing investment by Novartis in Alcon Labs.

In sports business, Tom Hicks found a prospective buyer for his Texas Rangers, while Carl Bell was still searching for someone to pick up his minor league Fort Worth Cats after handing his downtown office building back to the lenders.

Here’s an industry-by-industry review of what happened locally in 2009.

Energy

Irving-based Exxon Mobil’s blockbuster announcement Dec. 14 that it plans to buy XTO for $31 billion illustrated the global oil giant’s bullishness on natural gas as a growing energy source.

The deal, which would make Exxon the biggest gas producer in the U.S., would provide access to XTO’s valuable energy reserves, shale gas drilling expertise and extensive lease holdings in hot domestic gas plays. Exxon is to assume about $10 billion in XTO debt, upping the deal’s value to $41 billion.

Denbury, of Plano, is to buy another Fort Worth energy company, Encore, in a deal valued at $4.5 billion that was announced Nov. 1. Both companies are focused on oil production.

Barnett Shale drilling, while still substantial in 2009, fell to less than half its peak of 214 active rigs in 2008. Natural gas futures tumbled from a heady level of more than $13.50 per 1,000 cubic feet in July 2008 to an anemic $2.41 on Sept. 4, 2009, before closing the year at $5.57.

While lower prices were a wet blanket for gas producers, they were good news for many consumers, whose residential gas and electricity bills shrank. Many savvy shoppers in Texas’ deregulated electricity market could secure rate reductions of 20 to 30 percent by switching electric plans.

– Jack Z. Smith

Autos

Few people connected to the industry will look back on 2009 fondly.

Almost from the outset, the year was a debacle for auto manufacturers, auto workers and dealers.

Scared off by the economic meltdown of late 2008, the fear of layoffs and their own shaky financial situation, consumers quit buying new cars and trucks in droves. As recently as midyear, sales were at the lowest levels in decades.

The result: Auto dealers struggled, and a few closed. General Motors and Chrysler teetered on the edge of insolvency, even with U.S. government aid, before undergoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

With bankruptcy came even more disruption. GM and Chrysler closed more plants and laid off more workers. Both companies came up with government-forced plans to trim expenses and dealer networks.

Chrysler stripped franchises from four Tarrant County dealerships, consolidating brands into single locations. Several other area Chrysler dealers were closed or lost their franchise.

GM first tried to sell, then ultimately decided to close down its Saturn brand, leaving the local three outlets of DFW of Saturn facing an uncertain future. GM has already ceased manufacturing Saturn, Pontiac and Saab vehicles and is selling its Hummer lineup to a Chinese concern.

Retail vehicle sales surged in August after the federal government offered consumers rebates up to $4,500 to trade in their old gas guzzlers for newer, more efficient models. Sales dropped off again in September but improved modestly in the last three months of the year.

Retail sales of new cars and trucks in Dallas-Fort Worth in November were up 5 percent over a year ago.

For the first 11 months of the year, sales were 28 percent below 2008 levels.

GM’s Arlington truck assembly plant rode out the storm and is now the only facility still building the company’s large sport utility vehicles.

After being shut down for 12 weeks in the first 10 months of the year, the plant saw steady work and some overtime late in the year. New Plant Manager Paul Graham said that orders for new SUVs remain strong and that the plant expects to work normal hours, plus some overtime, in January.

Banking

Bankers got their collective faces rubbed in the dirt in 2009, with the public blaming them for causing the economic meltdown by dropping lending standards and dealing in risky subprime mortgages.

While some 140 banks failed nationwide, only four did in Texas. It was a welcome reversal of the last wave of bank failures 20 years ago, when two or three Texas banks collapsed every week, said John Blaylock of Austin-based Sheshunoff Information Services, an industry consultant. “Many bankers remembered that and stayed out of exotic areas, were generally more conservative,” Blaylock said.

But the state was not immune from public outrage when the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program shored up banks with billions. Not helping were remarks like that of Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd Blankfein: “We are doing God’s work.” Or word that some bankers wanted to pay back federal funds so they could reward themselves with fat bonuses.

In Texas, there were few TARP takers. Fort Worth-based Worthington Bank even exploited anti-bailout sentiment by running billboards attacking rivals gorging at the federal trough. Worthington CEO Greg Morse was quoted in regional and national publications for his colorful anti-TARP rhetoric.

Morse and other local bankers decried tighter capital requirements and higher federal deposit insurance fees — aimed at strengthening the system but making it harder to lend money when Texas was not among the system’s big abusers.

– Barry Shlachter

Real estate

The commercial real estate market received a chilly forecast for 2009, and the year proved to be just that. Commercial foreclosures increased, and there was a noticeable drop in project starts, the result of tightened credit markets.

Despite some large, high-profile properties hitting the block, there were fewer sales of commercial sites.

Although leasing was also down, there were some bright spots: Q-Edge, a FoxConn Electronics subsidiary, leased the former Nokia cellphone plant at Hillwood’s Alliance development, with plans to relocate more than 500 computer assembly jobs from California.

The year began with the shuttering of WestBend, an upscale shopping development on University Drive that also included the remodeling of the nearby River Plaza office building and the construction of a Hyatt Place hotel. Developers said the project will resume once the economy is better.

Next up was the foreclosure of Overton Centre office complex in southwest Fort Worth. The Dallas-based owners couldn’t refinance the 24.5-acre property. Later in the year, other huge properties faced foreclosure, including the 113-acre Speedway Town Center and a portion of Aperion Communities’ 1,700-acre development in far north Fort Worth.

In November, a bankruptcy judge allowed the sale of the Ridglea Theater on Camp Bowie Boulevard to a Dallas-based lender seeking foreclosure of the historic property that a Fort Worth family trust owned for 18 years.

There were also big sales. The StarPoint real estate investment firm of Beverly Hills, Calif., bought more than 200,000 square feet of restaurant and office space at The Tower condo development in downtown Fort Worth; the New York City-based ING Clarion real estate firm completed its acquisition of the 72-acre Pioneer 360 Business Center; Arlington-based Texas Health Resources bought 47 acres in northwest Fort Worth for a possible hospital site; and Fort Worth’s Atlas Properties bought the historic high-rise Electric Building apartments.

In surprising moves, about 40 acres long held by the Lockheed Martin Recreation Association in west Fort Worth went on the block, and Intel Corp. again listed its 527-acre site in north Fort Worth, where it once planned a $2 billion microchip plant.

On the residential front, the $8,000 first-time home-buyer tax credit boosted existing-homes sales in Tarrant County in 2009 but not by enough to declare the local market recovered. Economists say that won’t happen without a surge in population or job creation.

New-home sales and housing starts were down significantly, market research showed.

Tarrant County residential foreclosure postings were up 27 percent from 2008, but nearly half of the record 20,170 postings were the result of repostings, or a notice filed a second time within six months on a property. With that, residential foreclosure filings rose 1 percent in Tarrant County in 2009. — Sandra Baker

Airlines

It was a year of declines for the industry.

Although the cost of jet fuel dropped in 2009, there were fewer passengers and fewer flights, and most airlines found themselves in the red. With the recession deepening, airlines slashed airfares in the spring to try to get the public to fly again.

The big headline for Fort Worth-based carrier American Airlines was capacity cuts and resulting layoffs. Three times during 2009, American announced work-force reductions affecting pilots, flight attendants, ground crew members and maintenance workers. In March, it ended service to Dallas Love Field, and in November it announced that it was closing its Kansas City maintenance base in 2010.

By the end of 2009, American had trimmed 15 percent of its flights since 2007.

The one bright spot is that American’s parent company, AMR Corp., completed several financing initiatives in the fall that boosted cash to almost $5 billion.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines continued to resist the industry trend to charge for checked bags, even launching a TV ad campaign around its “bags fly free” policy.

The low-cost carrier reached deals with its major union groups, including pilots, flight attendants and mechanics. But it couldn’t snare bankrupt Frontier Airlines. Southwest entered Frontier’s bankruptcy auction days before it closed, offering $170 million for the Denver-based carrier, but lost out to Republic Airways when Southwest couldn’t get pilots’ unions at both carriers to agree on labor issues.

And Southwest ran into problems with the Federal Aviation Administration, first being fined $7.5 million for flying planes that had not been inspected for structural cracks, then in August having dozens of planes grounded for flying with unapproved replacement parts.

But as the year closed, North Texas airlines’ planes were fuller this holiday season, and travel demand seemed to be returning. — Andrea Ahles

Retailing

The recession crushed some big names, including Circuit City, in 2009.

But one of Fort Worth’s best-known retailers, Pier 1 Imports, proved far stronger than it looked a year earlier. In 2009, Pier 1 fought off possible delisting from the New York Stock Exchange after its shares dropped below $1 — as low as a dime in March.

Then the company’s March debt buyback, negotiated at a hefty discount and bankrolled with some of the proceeds from the sale of its downtown headquarters skyscraper for $104 million in 2008, sent its shares on a yearlong run.

As of Thursday, Pier 1′s stock price stood at $5.09, up nearly 1,200 percent from where it started the year. That made it one of Wall Street’s top performers in 2009.

And unlike a year earlier, when it lost $29 million, Pier 1 earned $52 million in the first nine months of its 2010 fiscal year, which ends in February.

In a mid-December conference call, CEO Alex Smith said the company went into Christmas with its merchandise still at full price, a sign of the emphasis on controlling inventories.

“Those guys are the ones who really have to think about their strategy,” Elten Briggs, a University of Texas at Arlington marketing professor, said of retailers like Pier 1, who are selling nonessential goods in a subpar economy.

“Those guys have to be a little bit more convincing and creative in their marketing messages. Conspicuous consumption isn’t really in vogue right now.”

The Pier 1 board of directors apparently felt that Smith has done his job. His contract was renewed and extended, the company disclosed Dec. 22.

He also received a grant of 375,000 shares of restricted stock Dec. 18 under the company’s 2006 stock incentive plan. A third of those shares vest on each of the first three anniversaries of the grant date, provided that Smith is employed. — John Austin

Defense

The biggest headline was the decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama to halt production of Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor.

Gates and Obama fought back congressional attempts to order more F-22s on top of the 187 the Pentagon had already committed to and instead threw their support behind the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter that Lockheed is developing.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has watched Lockheed get far behind schedule on the F-35. Several Defense Department reviews have criticized Lockheed’s progress and predicted further delays and cost overruns.

Lockheed Martin officials have defended their efforts, saying the program is gaining traction, but Pentagon officials are reportedly expected to add $1 billion to the 2011 budget request to try to make up for lost time on the F-35.

In November, Australia became the first foreign buyer to publicly commit to buying F-35s, but it has yet to place an order.

About half of Lockheed’s 14,000-strong Fort Worth work force is involved with the F-35. The company continued selling and making the F-16 fighter jet and expects additional orders from foreign buyers over the next several years.

Bell Helicopter got a new chief executive in August, its fifth in eight years. John Garrison was dispatched by parent company Textron to replace the retiring Dick Millman, who arrived in January 2007 with a mandate to fix the company’s lagging manufacturing systems.

Its civil helicopter production ramped up just as the economy tanked late in 2008, and the company spent most of 2009 retrenching. Its 429 helicopter, the first all-new model in 30 years, was certified in midsummer, but converting “purchase commitments” into firm orders has reportedly been slow because of the economy and the aircraft’s nearly $5 million price.

In July, Vought Aircraft Industries’ high-profile role in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was scaled back.

Boeing bought Vought’s 787 production facility in North Charleston, S.C., for $580 million, the first of three steps the company took as it prepares to accelerate 787 deliveries once the plane is certified, probably in late 2010.

Vought also won contracts from Boeing for additional parts-manufacturing work on several Boeing planes.

Vought played a major role in the design and testing of the 787, leading the design of the entire tail section of the fuselage and building the first 19 units for test and production aircraft. Vought engineers in Dallas continue to work with Boeing on the 787, and the company is producing a number of smaller parts for the aircraft. — Bob Cox

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Dakar-2010 race starts in Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES, January 2 (Itar-Tass) — The Dakar-2010 race has started in the Argentinean capital on Friday.

The racers started from the Obelisk, a 67-meter-high pointed column, which is considered the symbol of Buenos Aires and is situated on the central and broadest street of the Argentinean capital – the Avenue of 9 de Julio.

The motor racers from more than 50 countries are to pass 9,030 kilometers, including 4,810 kilometers of high-speed sections. The race route of 14 stages is running along Argentina and Chile. The racers will finish in Buenos Aires on January 17. The race will be held in four categories between 50 trucks, 138 cars, 184 motorbikes and quads.

The Russian truck team KAMAZ-master, which is the eight-time winner of the most prestigious motor race in the world, will compete in the category of ‘heavyweights’. The Russian truck team traditionally has three crews, including famous Russian pilots – the Dakar-2009 winner Firdaus Kabirov, Vladimir Chagin and Ilgizar Mardeyev.

The leader of the Russian team Semyon Yakubov believes that the Dakar race will be heavier this year since the organizers added more stages running along Chile, where the competitors will face the desert and high temperatures. According to him, the Russian team is striving to win, but the Dakar race is unpredictable. “We do not rule out some accidents,” he told Itar-Tass.

The Dakar race is held in South America for the second year running. In 2008 the race was cancelled in Africa over the threat of terrorist acts. Therefore, the organizers decided to move the Dakar race to Argentina and Chile. However, they are still planning to bring the race back to Africa.

According to Yakubov, “The Dakar race did not lose anything in its authority, interest and its originality in South America, proving that the professional organizing is more important than geography.” Even if the race were held in Australia, it would be Dakar all the same, he pointed out. If earlier the race was named after its route Paris-Dakar, now Dakar is a proper name. “This race can be held anywhere. I believe that it is the best holiday of the motor sports in the world,” Yakubov said. “The race will be most likely brought back to the African continent, Africa, so be Africa, though I do not object to America anyway, it is interesting here too and there is something to see,” he added.

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Great expectations

What do you wish for yourself, your city, your country and the planet in 2010? Amanda Dunn and Melinda Houston asked seven Melburnians about their hopes for the year ahead. Joseph Abboud, chef and owner, Rumi restaurant, East Brunswick This year I hope … I will make it through another year. Melbourne will embrace high-density living. We can’t avoid urban sprawl without high-rise apartments (even if some of them do look hideous). I believe that high-density living fosters creativity and community and is more economically viable. I also hope that we realise not all our tram lines are an effective form of public transport. Sorry to say, but I wish I could replace the Upfield train line, Sydney Road tram and the Lygon Street trams with an underground train that services all of those areas and pops up around Fawkner. Now that would be efficient public transport a la progressive cities around the world. Australia will move closer to true reconciliation with our indigenous communities … and successfully bid for the soccer World Cup. The planet will give us a renewable and viable energy source because God knows we humans aren’t going to change the way we use it. Scotty Tweedie, host of ABC3′s Prank Patrol This year I hope … I will be able to conquer the roast pork, crackling, gravy, vegies and all – just like my Mum’s. I’ve always been able to master desserts (apple pie, choccy pudding and pavlova) but I think in 2010 I should step it up and nail some main courses. I hope I’ll have some time to kick-start my first online small business as well as meet as many pranksters as I can in the streets of Melbourne. Finally, cut back on eating hot chips to just three times a week. Melbourne will be sunny all year round. At the same time, we do need more rain … so maybe just rain on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, then sunny all weekend. I also hope parking inspectors and tram ticket inspectors go on holidays together for a year to make 2010 much more enjoyable – and cheap! Australia will win the soccer World Cup, Bledisloe Cup and a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Subsidise water bombs! Be the first country to cure cancer. Continue to be the amazing country that we are and continue to welcome foreigners in. It would be great to see more support for our local industries and farmers, too, and to minimise imports from China and other countries. Go Australian-made! The planet will take a chill pill because it’s getting way too hot for our old mates, the polar bears. It’s a no-brainer that climate change is becoming a huge issue, and I’m all for making adjustments to how we do things and altering our style of living to assure a better world in the future. It also wouldn’t hurt for mozzies to become extinct – they really are annoying. Vanessa Amorosi, singer This year I hope … I will keep making music, music that makes me happy and is continually better, music that makes my fans proud. I am forever grateful for the support I have received in 2009 and hope to continue to make music my fans can connect with. Melbourne will be recognised for the fabulous city that it is! I have travelled a lot; many months of 2009 were spent overseas writing and working on my album and I have been to many cities, but it makes me love Melbourne all the more. Australia will continue to be respected on the world stage for the fabulous country that it is. The planet will be greener. For every single person to do their little bit to make the world better. Madeleine West, actor in pay TV drama Satisfaction. This year I hope … I will have the patience and foresight to really live the little moments. I hope I remember to splash in every puddle we pass with my daughter, I hope I take the time to get down on all fours to observe the amblings of a beetle with my son, I hope I pause each day for five minutes to breathe in life and all the joys it brings me, to let my little tribe know I love them, and relish the primitive pleasure of just having them near me. I’ll save the world in 2011. Melbourne will make a graceful return to some of the social mores that marked her as such a “liveable” destination in the first place. I hope her citizens can practise a little random kindness and give up their seat for the infirm, stop and share a coffee with the lonely or dazzle a morose passer-by with a smile, just because all of these things are within everyone’s power, so why the heck not. I hope we can all try to spread a little sunshine in 2010 because – like Melbourne’s weather – her citizens are unpredictable so you never know what you might get in return. Take a chance! Australia will start making decisions with a little less “cleverness” and a lot more “sense”. That applies across the board, be it politics, the environment, at our jobs, in our relationships, in our homes, and towards other people. The planet will … a number of calls to arms come to mind – “Save the planet!”, “Cure cancer!”, “Stop poverty!”, “End the war!” – each as valid and sincere as the next. So my hope for the world in 2010 is a quiet little plea to everyone everywhere to make one charitable gesture this year: building a well in Africa or lending 20 cents to a stranger. The size of the gesture is unimportant as long as you do it. Oh, and if medical science could throw together some wonder potion that would make Christmas leftovers slimming and help find a park at Chadstone in the week leading up to Christmas, that would be pretty cool too. Amber Scott, senior artist with the Australian Ballet This year I hope … I will come back from my overseas travelling adventures with a suitcase full of inspiration to pour into my work with the Australian Ballet. I also hope to have more time for family, friends and community. Melbourne will continue to be Australia’s most stylish city with the best sporting, culinary and cultural smorgasbord of events. Melbourne will also love the Australian Ballet’s 2010 season at the Arts Centre. Australia will open up its adoption laws so more children can be given the chance to grow up in a safe and prosperous country. So many families would love this opportunity. So much space we have to share. The planet will have pity on humanity and give us time (again) to find ways of reaching a global rescue plan. There are so many courageous environmental warriors among us; we need their energy to be in each of us to save this beautiful world we have been taking for granted for too long. Lisa Gorman, fashion designer This year I hope … I will see my new year’s resolution of riding my bike to work right through until the end. Melbourne will wave its hands in the air once again for the Bodyelectric dancers – best entertainment you’ll catch all year, even better if you’re a dancer. Australia will be brave and actually do something about climate change instead of just pretending to. Besides the global embarrassment this causes most citizens of our country, time is up. The planet will stop dying and start repairing. Dave O’Neil, comedian and co-presenter of Vega 91.5FM’s Dicko and Dave This year I hope … I will get bigger then lose a dramatic amount of weight due to my “Diet Coke and Extra chewing gum” diet. I will write a book about it, go on Oprah and then put (the weight) all back on during the plane trip to Oz (well, Oprah would fly me business class and the food is pretty amazing). Melbourne will close down the railway system after the 85th company to take over since Connex fails to run the trains on time. All the train lines will be concreted over and turned into autobahns. It will be an environmental disaster but the drive in from Werribee will only take about 10 minutes. Australia will finally accept its position as an Asian country and build a bridge from Indonesia to Darwin. The planet will say out loud “Enough people, you’re killing me”. And suddenly everyone will take notice and start riding bikes, growing vegies and drinking water from the tap. I know it sounds drastic, but it’s pretty freaky when the planet speaks. And if you’re wondering, the planet sounds like a cross between James Earl Jones and Margaret Thatcher.

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