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Archive for February, 2012

Is This the Next Prius?

FT-bh one of many Toyota green machines for Geneva.

by on Feb.28, 2012

The Toyota FC-bh concept is scheduled for a Geneva Motor Show debut next week.

Is this the next Toyota Prius?  That’s a conclusion that’s difficult to ignore after getting a first look at the advance image the Japanese maker has released of the FT-bh Concept it plans to unveil at the Geneva Motor Show next week.

The Toyota FT-bh show car is one of a handful of hybrids and other green machines the maker plans to officially unveil at Geneva’s PALExpo Convention Center next week.

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But the FT-bh is the one that’s getting all the attention – and for obvious reasons.  While the maker is yet to offer any details the comparisons to the current, fourth-generation Prius sedan are obvious — even if the FT-bh is a size-class smaller.  There’s the four-door layout, of course, along with the clear influence of aerodynamics.  While the hybrid powertrain is a critical part of the package, Toyota engineers acknowledge that a significant factor in the fuel efficiency of the current Prius model is its wind-cheating design.

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First Chinese Auto Plant Opens in Europe

Can cheap Chinese cars crack the European market?

by on Feb.28, 2012

The first car rolls off the assembly plant at the new Great Wall factory in Bulgaria, China's first in the EU.

Europe’s ongoing debt crisis has been crippling the Continental economy, sending automakers into a tailspin.  By most estimates, European car sales will buck the global turnaround and post at least a modest decline this year.

But that could be good news for the Chinese automaker Great Wall Motor which hopes to appeal to increasingly budget-minded European buyers with models like the Hover SUV, Steed pickup and Voleex city car.  All three will be produced at a new plant in the village of Bahovitsa, Bulgaria, and carry prices ranging from around $11,000 to $16,000.

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While Bulgaria itself is not a name normally associated with car manufacturing what’s all the more significant is that the three products will be produced at what is the first Chinese-run auto plant in the European Union.  The factory is part of a joint venture between Great Wall and its Bulgarian partner Litex Motors.

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First Look: Kia K9 Luxury Flagship

Is the maker barking up the right tree with its latest push up-market?

by on Feb.28, 2012

Kia will launch a new rear-drive flagship, the K9.

Kia has been doggedly moving up-market, in recent years, and with the launch of its new K9 luxury flagship it will mark a dramatic shift from the cheap-and-cheerful little econoboxes that used to define the Korean carmaker’s line-up.

The formal announcement of the rear-drive model echoes the strategy followed by sibling brand Hyundai, which scored big with the launch of the big Genesis sedan in 2007, and last year’s launch of the even larger and more upscale Equus.

While Kia isn’t releasing details on the K9, it’s believed to be sharing many of the same underpinnings – and powertrain options – of the rear-drive Hyundai line, such as the 5.0-liter direct-injection V-8 offered in both the Genesis and Equus.

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Though traditional Korea buyers might be surprised to see such a large and lavishly equipped offering at their local Kia showroom the new K9 won’t seem completely unfamiliar.  It features the brand’s stock pinched grille and fender vents.  But the overall design feel is more elegant if not exactly all-new.  There is at least one place where the maker nudges the cutting edge, opting for LED headlamps as well as taillights, technology the rest of the luxury market is just migrating to.

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Nissan Teases Hi-Cross Concept

Should reappear as next X-Trail.

by on Feb.27, 2012

Nissan will show the Hi-Cross concept in Geneva, the design exercise likely setting the stage for the next-gen Nissan X-Trail CUV.

It’s going to be a busy couple years for Nissan, which plans to be rolling out at least one new models every six weeks or so for the foreseeable future.  So expect to be seeing plenty of new products lining up on the 2012 auto show circuit.  We already got a look at the new Nissan Pathfinder and, as TheDetroitBureau.com reported earlier today, we’ll see the striking Infiniti Emerg-E plug-in supercar concept charge into the upcoming Geneva Motor Show.

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With the sort of schedule Nissan’s product team has going, however, it’s no surprise there’ll be yet another new model debuting at the PALExpo Convention Center next week.  Officially, Nissan is calling the Hi-Cross a concept vehicle, but the slick little crossover is all but certainly going to re-emerge as the replacement for the Nissan X-Trail.

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Fiat Could Close Two Plants if U.S. Return Fails

Marchionne confirms Alfa still coming to the States.

by on Feb.27, 2012

Fiat's revival in the U.S. -- as well as its operations in Italy -- could depend on the reception Americans give to the Alfa Romeo 4C.

Despite a slow start, Fiat is still betting it can stage a successful return to the U.S. market – or else, warns CEO Sergio Marchionne.  The alternative would force the closure of two of the maker’s Italian assembly plants.

The good news for Fiat is that most of its plants outside Europe – and those operated by its American partner Chrysler – are operating at full speed struggling to keep up with demand as the global economy recovers. The problem is Europe, where a weak economy has depressed the automotive market and the only way to justify keeping Fiat’s five remaining plants in Italy open is to build up exports.

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But demand in the U.S. for the maker’s little Fiat 500 sedan barely reached half the initial 50,000-unit target last year and, during a media roundtable last month, Marchionne said he doesn’t expect to see it push much higher than 30,000 in North American this year.  But some analysts think even that will be a stretch and warn Fiat’s attempt to rebuild its U.S. distribution network will fail.

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Audi Bringing A3 e-tron Battery Car to U.S.

Pilot program to focus on four markets.

by on Feb.27, 2012

Only 17 Audi A3 e-tron battery cars will be used for the initial U.S. pilot program.

Audi is set to introduce its first battery car in the U.S. market – albeit in the form of a test program that could lead to more widespread use of the technology in the next few years.

During an appearance at the annual TED conference, in Long Beach, California, Audi of America CEO Johan DeNysschen revealed plans to put 17 A3 e-trons on the road next month, dividing them between four U.S. markets.  The pilot programs a similar test of the A1 e-tron in Germany.

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The two tests are designed to provide rapid feedback to help Audi move its battery technology into the mainstream as soon as possible, company officials noted.

“Audi is committed to refining Audi e-tron technology and we expect our plug-in vehicles to become a significant choice for our buyers within a growing line of advanced, efficient Audi powertrains over the coming years,” said DeNysschen at the TED2012 event.

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New Radar Detector Taps Into Social Network

Sometime you need a little help from your "friends."

by on Feb.27, 2012

Escort's new SmartCord Live lets a motorist tap into a social network that tracks the location of police speed traps.

We thought we’d seen just about everything in radar detection when we heard the news about Escort’s new SmartCord Live system that links your Escort or Beltronics radar detector, your Apple iPhone, and other Escort users into a national network of radar, laser, police car, red light camera and speed camera detection.

The SmartCord Live adapter replaces the standard 12-volt power cord on an Escort radar detector with a power cable that also includes its own USB and computer/camera ports.  That’s the first part of the equation.  The second part of the equation is the free Escort Live iPhone app available from the Apple website.  Part three is the Bluetooth connection between the iPhone, the app, and the radar detector.

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When the Bluetooth circuit between the radar detector and the iPhone is active and the app is turned on, the screen of the iPhone turns into a GPS-based speedometer, radar detection indicator, and/or a GPS and traffic congestion map.  The display can be set to tell you visually and aurally every time you exceed the posted speed limit, show you what the current speed limit is, where you are, and what kinds of threats are operating in the area, including K, Ka, X, POP, and laser, as well as the new traffic monitoring systems, denoted on the unit by a “TSR” warning.

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Ferrari CEO Mattiacci Named Exec of the Year

Award honors “passion, design, best-in-class technology.”

by on Feb.27, 2012

Ferrari CEO Marco Mattiacci.

The 2012 Automotive Executive of the Year Award will be presented to Marco Mattiacci, President and CEO of Ferrari North America. Mattiacci will receive the annual award at the Detroit Athletic Club in May.

“Since taking the helm of Ferrari’s North American operations, which includes North, Central, and South America, Marco Mattiacci has grown sales in these markets 20 percent. This impressive growth has allowed Ferrari to hold its top position in the ultra-exclusive, yet increasingly competitive segment of the global luxury automotive industry,” notes Robert Djurovic, executive director of the Automotive Executive of the Year Award program, and director of automotive services North America, DNV.

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“This year, the nominating committee chose to recognize Marco Mattiacci as an emerging leader whose accomplishments are impressive and worthy of recognition. Mr. Mattiacci and his team’s success in expanding the culture of one of the world’s most significant and exclusive brands is at the heart of this nomination.”

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First Look: Infiniti Emerg-E

Shows battery cars can be Sex-E.

by on Feb.27, 2012

The Infiniti Emerg-E uses a mid-mounted range-extending drivetrain.

Who says battery cars have to be dull to downright boring? True, the Toyota Prius and Mitsubishi i likely won’t win design awards but the new Infiniti Emerg-E suggests that battery cars can be downright Sex-E.

The Infiniti concept is the latest in a string of concepts and production cars coming to the Geneva Motor Show next month that have already leaked out.

The luxury arm of Nissan Motor Co. has been hinting for some time that it plans to follow its bigger sibling and enter the electric vehicle market.  Exactly what role the Emerg-E will actually have in the Infiniti line-up remains to be seen but it’s certainly going to draw some attention with looks that are more than a little reminiscent of the new McLaren MP4-12C.

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But instead of a 600-horsepower small-block V-8, the Infiniti Emerg-E features a range-extended electric drivetrain.  Details are set to follow but if you look closely at the images here you’ll notice the mid-mounted gasoline engine side of that powertrain is clearly visible beneath the show car’s all-glass roof.

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Land Rover Going Topless in Geneva

Maker to unveil Evoq convertible concept.

by on Feb.24, 2012

Range Rover will show a convertible concept based on the Evoque at the Geneva Motor Show next month.

Mention the idea of a Land Rover convertible and you’re likely to get a puzzled look or even an outright guffaw in response. But The British SUV maker defied conventional wisdom when it rolled out the topless DC100 concept during last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show and it’s about to take a step further with a show car that seems certain to preview a production ragtop.

Land Rover is the latest in a flood of maker’s to telegraph its plans for the upcoming Geneva Motor Show and its likely to generate plenty of interest with the reveal of the Range Rover Evoque Convertible Concept developed by design chief Gerry McGovern’s team based on the 3-door Evoque Coupe.

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The hardtop recently named the North American Truck of the Year – along with an assortment of other awards – McGovern insists, “The Range Rover Evoque lends itself beautifully to the idea of a convertible.”

He notes that the concept is “not a traditional convertible design execution – instead we have worked with the balance of the Range Rover Evoque’s lines to retain its distinctive shape and create something that is unique and, we believe, highly desirable.”

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