NT News - Motoring - - NEWS - By PAUL GOVER

ED Whi­tacre, for­mer head of tele­phone gi­ant AT&T in the USA, is now the per­ma­nent chief ex­ec­u­tive of Gen­eral Motors. Whi­tacre was sent to lead GM by US pres­i­dent Barack Obama through the com­pany’s bank­ruptcy but has now been con­firmed as the longterm leader af­ter a board­room move oust­ing for­mer boss Fritz Hen­der­son. EV­ERY Honda Ac­cord sold in Aus­tralia now comes with side-cur­tain airbags. Prices for the 2010 Ac­cord range start at $32,490 and there are also small re­vi­sions to the dash and air­con con­trols, with a key-op­er­ated sys­tem to open and close the win­dows and sun­roof — ideal for hot days — on the VTi-L and V6L mod­els. THE Cars­guide Car of the Year has com­pleted a clean sweep of Aus­tralia’s ma­jor motoring awards. The Volk­swa­gen Golf did the job when it was named by Wheels mag­a­zine as its best car of 2009, edg­ing out the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Skoda Su­perb and Toy­ota Prius. PAR­ENTS of the world can look for­ward to more kid­friendly car cabins af­ter the de­vel­op­ment of a new leather sys­tem that is said to be soil and stain re­sis­tant. An­sole is from Ea­gle Ottawa, the world’s largest sup­plier of au­to­mo­tive leather, and should be in pro­duc­tion cars within 18 months. PEU­GEOT cars for Aus­tralia could even­tu­ally be pro­duced in Malaysia, which has been cho­sen as the French com­pany’s Asian man­u­fac­tur­ing hub. Peu­geot has linked with lo­cal com­pany Naza, and will built right-hand drive ve­hi­cles at its Gu­run fac­tory.

THE start­ing price for a new car in Aus­tralia is about to drop to less than $11,000.

The price fight is be­ing sparked by Pro­ton, which has taken the lead from Suzuki as both brands — and a bunch of oth­ers — brace for the first Chi­nese passenger car im­ports later this year.

Suzuki dived first into the sub$12,000 range with an $11,790 show­room sticker for its baby Alto, as well as a drive­away deal that runs through Jan­uary at $12,490.

On-road costs are gen­er­ally set around $1500.

But Pro­ton is now ready to go with a $10,990 price fighter.

It is a 1.3-litre ver­sion of its S16 sedan and, even though it will only have a sin­gle airbag for the driver, the Malaysian make is ex­pect­ing a solid re­sponse.

‘‘We’ll have the car in show­rooms on June 1,’’ manag­ing di­rec­tor of Pro­ton Cars Aus­tralian John Star­tari said.

‘‘We’re fi­nal­is­ing the plan at the mo­ment.

‘‘We’re still work­ing on the spec­i­fi­ca­tion and as­sess­ing the mar­ket sit­u­a­tion. We need to de­ter­mine which strat­egy we use go­ing for­ward.’’

But he con­firmed the $10,990 start­ing price — be­fore on-road costs — and said it was a fol­low-up to the present 1.6-litre S16 at $11,990.

‘‘The S16 is al­ready a win­ner,’’ Star­tari said. ‘‘We only got the car into show­rooms in De­cem­ber and, of the 334 cars we sold last month, 228 were S16s.

‘‘It’s cer­tainly had the im­pact we were af­ter.’’

Pro­ton has taken over from Korean cars — Hyundai led the way — as Aus­tralia’s price fighter and Star­tari makes no ex­cuses for try­ing to drive the brand for­ward.

Pro­ton came to Aus­tralia in 1995 and, de­spite some suc­cesses with a GTi and its Jum­buck ute, has never made a real break­through onto shop­ping lists.

‘‘The price thing is more about es­tab­lish­ing the brand,’’ Star­tari said.

‘‘It’s about time we es­tab­lished Pro­ton as a con­tender and built the sort of carpark we need to al­low us to ex­pand. We need a min­i­mum of 25,000 cars in the carpark and at the mo­ment we’re around 15,000.

‘‘We have a five-year plan in place to grow that.’’

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