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First Drive: 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport

Traversing the land of fire and ice.

by on Jan.30, 2015

The 2015 Land Rover Discovery clambers out of a frigid Icelandic river crossing.

Legend has it that the ancient Vikings attempted to mislead potential invaders by naming an inhospitable spit of Arctic turf Greenland. Discovering its frozen wastes, the logic seemingly went, they’d steer clear of the even more dismally named Iceland. Visitors to the capital city of Reykjavik unfailingly find the humor in this tale – until the polar winds descend, as they did earlier this month, howling in windswept gusts approaching 100 miles an hour.

But it was precisely the sort of weather we had come looking for as we clambered into the new 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport, steering our way along the frozen coast and then heading into the interior of a volcanic island used as the backdrop for some of the most desolate winter scenes from the popular TV series, Game of Thrones.

The Last Word!

The Disco Sport, as it is commonly called, is the latest in a series of new products to emerge from the British maker’s design and engineering studios in recent years. With the top-line Range Rover family essentially complete, Land Rover is working on the second leg of its three-segment stool, the Sport being the first of several Discovery models to come.

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Honda Earnings Hammered By Recalls, Weak Japan Sales

Maker also cuts forecast for full fiscal year.

by on Jan.30, 2015

A 2002 Honda Civic. One of millions of Hondas equipped with suspect Takata airbags.

Honda earnings took a sharp tumble during the most recent quarter, hammered by a variety of problems including the maker’s airbag recalls, as well as sluggish sales in its home Japanese market.

The maker announced the 15% decrease in net income a day after it said it received reports of two more drivers, including one in Houston, who may have been killed by flying debris caused by the explosive malfunction of its airbags.

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Honda has been forced to recall millions of vehicles using the supplemental restraint systems produced by supplier Takata. It also had to fix problems with its new Fit subcompact. Analysts have estimated the recalls have cost Honda about $255 million, or 30 billion yen – though the maker did not break out details.

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Is Cuba A Hidden Trove of Classic Cars?

Collectors developing barn fever as US-Cuba relations thaw.

by on Jan.30, 2015

The rusted hulk of a Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe found in a Cuban yard.

Anywhere you wander in Cuba you might feel like you’re caught in a time warp, if for no other reason than the steady stream of half century-old Chevrolets and Fords that dominate the communist country’s roads.

They’re the automotive equivalent of “zombies,” suggests Ken Gross, one of America’s foremost experts on classic cars. “They’ve gone on far longer than they were designed to,” patched together with baling wire and anything else that cash-strapped Cuban owners can find.

Classic Car News!

While most Cuban cars are old American hulks, there have been several recent reports of vehicles far more exclusive and desirable, including a pair of rusted Mercedes 300SL Gullwing coupes – vehicles that, in good condition, can command upwards of $500,000. So, with Cuba and the U.S. talking about finally ending the diplomatic standoff that followed the communist takeover, there’s been a bit of so-called “barn find fever” incubating among classic car collectors.

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Millennials’ Purchasing Power Reshaping Auto Industry

Gen-Y auto purchasing power reaches $135 billion.

by on Jan.29, 2015

Millennials are starting to buy more new cars, after all, and have increased purchasing power.

It’s often said that Millennials have a very different view of the automobile – and a new study suggests they are gaining the purchasing power to reshape the auto industry into their own image.

Americans born between 1980 and the late 1990s are expected to account for about 25% of the new vehicle market this year. That means they will generate sales of 4.24 million vehicles, according to data tracking service TrueCar — the equivalent of $135 billion in purchasing power.

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Talking About The New Generation!

“Improving economic conditions are shifting the rhetoric around Millennials and car buying,” said TrueCar President John Krafcik. “They are the largest growing cohort in the market and saying they don’t like cars simply isn’t true anymore. We know having a car means the same thing to Millennials that it does to other generations: independence and identity.”

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New Vehicle Designs Make Zero Highway Deaths a Real Possibility

Nine models reach that goal, finds new study.

by on Jan.29, 2015

The 2011 Honda Odyssey was one of nine models to experience no fatalities during the study period.

(This story has been updated to include the list of the nine safest vehicles, and additional comments by IIHS.)

The highway death toll has been plunging rapidly in recent years, and safety experts are crediting a number of factors, including improved roadways and a crackdown on drunk driving. But a new study puts the spotlight on vehicle design and improved technology for both preventing crashes and keeping motorists alive when they do occur.

A record total of nine models sold during the 2011 model-year have had a death rate of zero, meaning no one was killed in a crash involving those vehicles during the period studied by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. Significantly, these are not ultra-exotic products. They include mainstream models like the Honda Odyssey minivan and Subaru Legacy sedan, as well as the big Mercedes-Benz GL SUV. (See the complete list, below.)

A Safe Bet!

“We know from our vehicle ratings program that crash test performance has been getting steadily better. These latest death rates provide new confirmation that real-world outcomes are improving, too,” said IIHS vice president and chief research officer David Zuby.

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Fiat Chrysler May be Back in the Big Game After All

But Nissan also planning extended spot for Super Bowl ad fest.

by on Jan.28, 2015

Chrysler is likely to return with more long-form spots like this Emimem "Made in Detroit" ad.

There’s a decided downturn in the number of automakers planning to pitch their wares during the coming weekend’s Super Bowl XLIX. Only five have confirmed a presence, including Nissan, returning for the first time in nearly two decades – while other familiar corporate faces, such as Volkswagen, intend to sit on the sidelines.

But there’s growing speculation about whether Fiat Chrysler will stage a return to the big game’s annual ad fest. Several insiders have suggested a big “surprise” is in store. That would be in keeping with the maker’s past strategy, starting with the unexpected 2:00 minute commercial that ran four years ago featuring rap star Eminem.

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If Chrysler does return for Super Bowl XLIX, it won’t be alone in stretching out its message. Nissan is teasing an extended commercial of its own planned for the game. (more…)

Chrysler Acquisition Hammers FCA Earnings

But U.S. operations also drove revenue growth.

by on Jan.28, 2015

FCA Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne's acquisition of Chrysler carried a high cost last year.

When it comes to the American half of its newly merged company, investors will have to decide whether the glass is half empty for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

That’s because the cost of completing the acquisition of suburban Detroit-based Chrysler bludgeoned the trans-Atlantic maker’s earnings. But the Chrysler side also delivered a healthy 11% increase in FCA’s overall revenues.

By the Numbers!

Legally headquartered in the Netherlands, Fiat Chrysler is reporting that its 2014 net profit fell by two-thirds, to 632 million Euros, or $718 million. For 2013, the maker had a restated net of 1.9 billion Euros. For the final quarter of 2014, the maker earned 420 million Euros, down from 1.2 billion during the same period in 2013.

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Aston Martin Gets Cash Infusion

New crossover among possible benefits.

by on Jan.28, 2015

Aston offered a hint of its future design direction with the DB10 concept it created for the new 007 film.

With a new management team already in place, Aston Martin is getting gotten a fresh cash commitment from a big Italian investment firm that should help it move ahead with what is being billed as the most aggressive product program in the British marque’s history.

Among other things, the pledge by Investindustrial SpA could permit Aston Martin lagonda Ltd. To add its first crossover-utility vehicle to the line-up of products it plans to introduce in the next half-decade. Aston has laid out plans to double sales to 8,000 vehicles annually as its line-up expands.

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“Aston has an industrial plan which is growing in its ambitions and we have always planned to participate in all funding needs that Aston has,” said Investindustrial Chairman Andrea Bonomi speaking to reporters in Milan. “If Aston needs capital, we’re there.”

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Audi Heading Offroad With TT

Maker performs triage on trio of concepts.

by on Jan.27, 2015

Audi's TT Offroad concept appears to be moving from idea to product in time for the 2017 model line-up.

While it might seem like an automotive oxymoron, Audi has apparently decided it wants to go off-roading with its little TT model.

According to reports out of the maker’s headquarters in Ingolstadt, Germany, Audi has performed triage on a trio of TT-based concept cars it introduced over the past year as part of a plan to get consumer feedback on how to expand the TT “family.”

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The effort began at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show when Audi unveiled a three-door wagon-like model dubbed the Allroad Shooting Brake concept. The various models included a bold red five-door take on the TT, dubbed the Sportbrake, unveiled at the Paris Motor Show last autumn. (more…)

GM Ignition Switch Death Toll Hits 50

Victim fund application deadline approaching.

by on Jan.27, 2015

Kenneth Feinberg, administrator fo GM's victims compensation fund, approved another round of benefits for victims.

Even as a special victims’ compensation fund approaches its deadline, the number of deaths now linked to faulty General Motors ignition switches has jumped to 50, nearly four times more than the automaker had originally estimated.

The death toll still could rise as the fund’s administrators examine evidence. So far, more than 3,000 claims have been submitted to the fund set up by GM last year to provide compensation for those killed or injured due to a safety defect the automaker has admitted ignoring for a decade.

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While it could take months to complete its review, compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg and his team plan to stop accepting new claims at the end of this week. But the death toll very well could continue to rise. (more…)