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First Drive: 2016 BMW 7-Series

A techie’s dream car.

by on Aug.28, 2015

The new 2016 BMW 7-Series will come to the U.S. only in long-wheelbase form.

The value of a luxury car has traditionally been measured by the pound and feet, by the size and number of cylinders of its engine and, of course, by the number of trees and cowhides used to complete its passenger compartment. But the old measurements have begun to change, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the sixth-generation BMW 7-Series.

True, with U.S. buyers now set to get only the long-wheelbase version, it’s bigger than ever. But the new sedan also gets lighter, thanks to the extensive use of carbon fiber, aluminum and ultra-high-strength steel. It uses a twin-turbo engine to punch out incredible amounts of power from a relatively modest 4.4-liter V-8. And while there’s more leather and wood than ever – some of it barely apparent to passengers – BMW expects buyers to be drawn to the incredible array of technologies that have increasingly come to define the best luxury vehicles.

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In developing the 2016 7-Series, BMW engineers intentionally set out to one-up the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the latest version having become the current, high-tech automotive benchmark. And, at least in terms of the number and range of new features the 7-Series offers, it would seem they’ve succeeded. From a comfort and safety standpoint, never mind the manufacturing side, the new BMW 750i is a high-tech showcase.

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Marchionne Adding CEO to Title at Ferrari?

FCA boss could step in next month.

by on Aug.28, 2015

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne appears poised to add the chief executive officer's title at Ferrari to his chairman's role.

Just as Ferrari is preparing to stand on its own two feet, the man who led the effort, Sergio Marchionne, may be the man leading the company on a day-to-day basis as its new CEO.

Marchionne, who heads up Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V., is already the Italian sports car maker’s chairman. He’s rumored to be taking over the Chief Executive’s role when the current CEO, Amedeo Felisa, steps down next month.

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Felisa, who has been CEO for seven years, has been rumored to be leaving the post since July and the maker has been searching for a replacement since then. Marchionne, who’s already replaced a top exec at the company, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, appears to be the choice. (more…)

Kia Reveals New Sportage

“The new face of Kia.”

by on Aug.28, 2015

New headlights and a modified "tiger nose" grille distinguish the gen-four Kia Sportage.

Kia is giving us a more detailed look at the next-generation Sportage, following up on the early renderings it released a couple weeks ago.

Set to make its formal debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show next month, the 2016 Kia Sportage will pick up on some of the cues we first saw in the form of the Niro Concept two years ago. The overall look offers a strong hint of where Kia’s global design chief Peter Schreyer will be taking the look of the brand in the years to come.

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The biggest changes to the design of the fourth-generation Sportage can be seen in its face, notes Kia, “with the car’s headlamps no longer integrated with the grille for the new model, instead sweeping back along the outer edges of the more sharply-detailed (hood) and bolder wheel arches.”

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Two Suppliers Paying $14.5 Mil in Price-Fixing Suit

Money being paid to new vehicle buyers, lessees.

by on Aug.28, 2015

Two more auto suppliers are paying millions of dollars in fines related to civil suits over price-fixing allegations in multiple countries.

The damages paid by auto suppliers involved in an international price-fixing scheme continue to rise as two more Japanese companies, Fujikura Ltd. and T.Rad Co. Ltd., have agreed to pay a total of more than $14.5 million to the plaintiffs in multi-district litigation against auto parts makers.

So far lawyers for the plaintiffs in the civil suits have now recovered nearly $200 million from the suppliers, most of whom are based in Japan.

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The civil litigation is independent of the criminal charges leveled against the suppliers by the U.S. Department of Justice and authorities in Japan and the European Union. Criminal fines and penalties leveled over the cartel-like behavior of the suppliers now total more than $2.5 billion. (more…)

Smart Reveals New ForTwo Cabrio

America’s smallest car goes topless.

by on Aug.28, 2015

The newly redesigned Smart ForTwo Cabrio will offer a three-position canvas top.

The new Smart car hasn’t yet landed in showrooms in the U.S. but the German microcar maker is already rolling out a second version, with a third on the way.

The redesigned Smart ForTwo Cabrio gets a new canvas “tritop” that can open up like a sunroof or fold back more like a conventional convertible. Set to formally debut at next month’s Frankfurt Motor Show, the two-seater will reach showrooms in mid-spring 2016.

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“Our new smart cabrio really exudes joie de vivre in the city – which is what our brand stands for”, said Smart brand boss Annette Winkler. “I am sure that we will delight our present 220,000 cabrio customers and win lots of new fans with this successful lifestyle icon.”

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New Hellraiser? Jeep Grand Cherokee to Get the Hellcat Treatment

Jeep to add 707-hp version of the Grand Cherokee.

by on Aug.27, 2015

Jeep will be adding a 707-hp Hellcat version of the Grand Cherokee it will call Trackhawk.

Things are going to hell at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Which is, apparently, a good thing considering the huge demand for the maker’s two Hellcat muscle cars, 707-horsepower versions of the Dodge Charger sedan and Challenger coupe.

They’ll soon be joined by another Hellcat-powered model. Several FCA insiders have confirmed that the Jeep brand is getting ready to launch a 707-horesepower SUV that will be known as the Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk.

A Real Performer!

Fiat Chrysler officials this week have been briefing dealers about plans to expand the Hellcat line during their annual retail get-together in Las Vegas. They’re also advising dealers that they’ve boosted production capacity for the Hellcat engine. Demand has been so strong that orders for the 2015 models had to be cut off well before the end of the model-year.

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Tesla Lands a Perfect Score from Consumer Reports

Model S P85D receives highest rating ever, despite occasional complaints.

by on Aug.27, 2015

The Tesla Model S overcame a few concerns to land a perfect score from CR testers.

The Tesla Model S P85D not only received the best score of any vehicle ever tested by Consumer Reports magazine, it somehow managed to earn 103 points on a 100-point scale, the often skeptical non-profit magazine has announced.

The P85D is the longer-range, higher-performance version of the Tesla battery-electric sedan that already was hailed by Consumer Reports in previous tests. The latest glowing review comes despite a warning issued by the magazine in May that a P85D it was using had become “undriveable” because of a series of problems.

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“When the Model S P85D was evaluated at Consumer Reports’ test track in East Haddam, Connecticut, it initially earned a raw 103-point score in a system that by definition doesn’t go past 100. Consumer Reports had to make changes to its scoring methodology to account for the car’s exceptionally strong performance,” the magazine said in its new report.

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Oshkosh Gets Contract for Humvee Replacement Bi-Gosh

Supplier beats out AM General for $6.7 billion deal.

by on Aug.27, 2015

Oshkosh Defense won the contract to produce the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the replacement for the Humvee.

The U.S. government selected Oshkosh Defense to produce the replacement for Humvee, perhaps the second-most identifiable U.S. military vehicle behind the Willys-based Jeep.

The $6.7 billion Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, program has been a hotly contested contract and Oshkosh beat out AM General, the previous build of the Humvee, and Lockheed Martin, which is best-known as an aircraft manufacturer.

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The Humvee has been around for decades, replacing the Jeep as the primary mover of soldiers on bases and battlefields. More than 280,000 Humvees have been built during the years and the vehicles have been modified to provide a variety of uses for the military. (more…)

Blast From the Past: Detroit Automakers Looking to Revive More Old Nameplates

Barracuda, Bronco, Ranger among models that could return from rust heap.

by on Aug.27, 2015

An original Plymouth Barracuda.

Coming up with an all-new name has become a major headache for automakers around the world. It can be difficult to find a name that hasn’t already been taken, and it then can be extremely costly to build consumer awareness.

So, it seems, a number of carmakers are looking back into their past to see if there are once-popular nameplates that can be revived. And with the successful revival of the Chevrolet Camaro, a few years back, it seems that even more manufacturers are going to take this route.

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Among the once-popular names we may soon see back in showrooms are the Grand Wagoneer, Barracuda, Ranger and Bronco, it seems. And still others may follow – though looking for a blast from the past does carry some risks, industry analysts warn.

As TheDetroitBureau.com reported this week, Ford Motor Co. is expected to bring back the Ranger pickup, a nameplate it abandoned in the U.S. in 2011, though it continued offering an all-new model overseas. The Ranger would fill a gap in Ford’s line-up now that there are signs American motorists are returning to the once-huge midsize truck segment.

(Click Here for more on the return of the Ford Ranger.)

Ford is now expected to offer a U.S. version of the midsize Ranger pickup, a model it dropped in 2010.

The revival of the Ranger would follow the return of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon models that briefly went out of production while General Motors worked up a more modern and competitive redesign of the compact trucks.

Ford also is said to be toying with the return of another once-popular model, the Bronco SUV. It was once a leader in the sport-utility segment but was replaced by more car-like models, such as the Ford Explorer. A new Bronco, sources suggest, would be roughly the size of the latest Explorer, but instead of riding on a car-like crossover platform it would share the chassis of the new Ranger pickup.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has brought back a number of model names in recent years, including muscle car mainstays like the Dodge Charger and Challenger. And it may add one more old-is-now offering to that high-powered segment, a revived Barracuda. In its heyday, the ‘Cuda was marketed through the now-abandoned Plymouth brand. Going forward it also would be sold through Dodge.

The sibling Jeep brand is also expected to bring back an old model, this one the big Grand Wagoneer. Though often credited with creating the modern SUV boom, Jeep hasn’t kept up with some key rivals in filling every possible model niche. The revived Grand Wagoneer would be a full-size model to take on the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GL, among others.

(Chevy, GMC hope to expand appeal of Colorado, Canyon twins with new diesel drivetrains. Click Herefor the latest.)

The return of the Chevy Camaro was one of the industry's most successful relaunches.

FCA reportedly is filling in dealers on its future product plans during a meeting in Las Vegas. Ford, meanwhile, has reportedly clued in the United Auto Workers Union on some of its plans as part of its ongoing contract negotiations. Formal public announcements could follow in the weeks or months ahead.

There are several reasons why manufacturers reach into their histories to revive old nameplates. For one thing, it is becoming increasingly difficult to come up with good names that aren’t already in use or at least registered by a competitor. That’s one reason many makers have gone the alphanumeric route. But they also know that it’s hard to get worked up about something called an ABC123.

Launching an all-new nameplate, meanwhile, is extremely expensive, a mainstream model often requiring a marketing investment of $100 million or more to establish in the market, notes analyst Joe Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting.

But when it comes to these blasts from the past, some of those old model names still carry a lot of positive heritage that automatically tell a story in the collective public mind. That was the case when General Motors brought back the Chevrolet Camaro in 2009. The muscle car went on to dominate the so-called pony car segment for the next five years.

The retro-styled Ford Thunderbird didn't deliver on the maker's high hopes.

On the other hand, GM’s effort to bring back the once-revered Pontiac GTO name flopped a decade ago. Unlike the retro-styled Camaro, the new “Goat” had a bland and largely forgettable design that failed to connect with consumers.

The same was the case with the Thunderbird, the two-seat roadster Ford tried to launch a decade ago. Over the decades, the T’bird went through a variety of incarnations, from the original 2-seater to a bloated coupe and then into a quirky but less-than-compelling 2-seater again. A variety of product weaknesses resulted in mixed reviews and weak sales, and the Thunderbird was again pulled from the market.

So, while a grand old name can give a new product a head start, it’s not enough to fix a bad vehicle design.

(New Jeeps, including next Grand Cherokee, Grand Wagoneer, delayed. Click Here for more.)

New Car Sales Expected to Remain Steady in August

Fiat Chrysler's sales streak may come to an end.

by on Aug.27, 2015

Some observers are predicting FCA's five-year streak of month-over-month sales increases may come to an end in August.

August auto sales may be mirroring the many of the world’s economies these days: uncertain. Predictions about the final tally run from sales being down to sales being up. Much like investors wondering what to do in the tumultuous stock markets these days, the answer depends upon who you ask.

Kelly Blue Book expects sales to decline 4% year-over-year due to the exclusion of Labor Day weekend in this month’s sales results. If true, the slide could put Fiat Chrysler’s long string of monthly sales increases, which has extended for more than five years, at risk, according to KBB.

What a Concept!

On the other hand, TrueCar, the car buying service, suggests sales could wind up rising by 4% and FCA U.S.’s impressive streak of increases is safe. (more…)