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First Drive: 2017 Maserati Levante

Italian maker delivers its first SUV. Compatible combination or an automotive oxymoron?

by on May.03, 2016

The 2017 Maserati Levante starts out with the same underlying platform as the Ghibli sedan.

Say the name, Maserati, and you’re likely to picture a sleek sports car like the Ghibli, perhaps, screaming down the Autostrada. But bouncing along a rutted and rock strewn path that was old by the time the Romans packed it in?

That’s where we’ve found ourselves on a drizzly weekday morning, a couple hours outside of Milan, wandering our way through a course set up to train Italian mercenaries and special forces. Not the sort of place you’d traditionally expect to find a Maserati. Then again, the Levante isn’t your typical Maserati. The 2017 model is the maker’s first sport-utility vehicle. And we had come to Italy to find out if that was a compatible combination or an automotive oxymoron.

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Maserati has been toying around with the idea of adding an SUV to its line-up since 2003, when it showed off the original Kubang concept. The notion went nowhere until 2011, when a new prototype made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show. After taking a few unexpected detours, the rechristened Maserati Levante is about to start rolling into showrooms around the world.

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FCA, Google Could Announce Autonomous Deal Today

First step: self-driving Pacifica minivan.

by on May.03, 2016

Chrysler wants to reposition the Pacifica as more than a minivan; autonomous tech could help.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Google could announce a joint venture as early as today, according to reports out of Milan.

The non-exclusive project would see FCA use the tech firm’s autonomous vehicle technology in several dozen prototypes based off the new Chrysler Pacifica minivan, according to a report by the Bloomberg news service. But several observers caution that a deal might take longer than expected, and note how a reported Ford-Google alliance failed to materialize, as many had expected, last January.

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It would mark the first official alliance for Google, which has said it prefers to find partners to use its autonomous vehicle technology, rather than going into the car business itself. Meanwhile, FCA would suddenly move to the head of the class, rather than lagging at the back of the self-driving pack.

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Has Tesla Been Bending the Numbers for Model 3?

Carmaker claims it has purged speculators from the order banks.

by on May.03, 2016

Only two per household. Tesla insists it has purged multiple reservations for the Model 3.

Tesla’s Model 3 is still about 18 months from production, but the Silicon Valley automaker has already lined up an enviable order book, the ever-ebullient CEO Elon Musk declaring it, “the biggest one-week launch of any product ever.”

But there have been some questions raised about Tesla’s claims. For one thing, potential buyers have been plunking down $1,000 refundable reservations, not orders. They’ve still got plenty of time to decide if they actually will purchase one of the compact battery-electric vehicles once they finally begin rolling off Tesla’s Fremont, California assembly line.

Keeping Things Honest!

And are consumers really the ones making these reservations? Or are speculators and others who really have no intention of ever taking delivery of a Model 3 inflating the list?

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Marchionne Adds Ferrari CEO to His Resume

26-year veteran Amedeo Felisa retires.

by on May.02, 2016

Sergio Marchionne (l); Amedeo Felisa (cl), and FCA Chairman John Elkann (r) mark Ferrari's IPO.

As if he doesn’t have enough to keep himself busy, Sergio Marchionne is adding another title to his CV. With the unexpected retirement of Amedeo Felisa, Marchionne will now become chief executive officer at Ferrari.

The Canadian-raised executive also serves as chairman of the sports car company – as well as CEP of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, which spun Ferrari off this past year. Marchionne also runs the North American region for FCA and serves as chairman of CNH Industrial, the heavy duty unit that was created by the merger of Fiat Industry and Case New Holland.

Step on the Gas!

The latest role comes just after Ferrari posted its best earnings ever. But the supercar maker is also has to deal with a variety of challenges, from its aggressive growth target to its ongoing struggles on the Formula One circuit it long dominated.

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Nissan Recalling 3.5 Million Vehicles to Fix Faulty Airbag Sensors

Most models sold in the US.

by on May.02, 2016

The Nissan Leaf is among the vehicles affected by the new airbag recall.

Nissan plans to recall 3.5 million vehicles sold around the world to fix sensors that could cause a car’s airbags to fail to deploy in the event of a crash.

The recall covers a number of Nissan and Infiniti cars, trucks and crossover vehicles, including the Altima sedan, Leaf battery car and NV200 commercial van.

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The recall is the fourth to attempt to address the problem with so-called “smart” airbag sensors. It is separate from recalls triggered by faulty Takata airbag inflators, an issue that has so far plagued 14 different automotive manufacturers.

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BMW Updates i3, Adds More Range

But is 114 miles per charge enough?

by on May.02, 2016

BMW has bumped the range of the 2017 i3 up to as much as 114 miles thanks to a larger battery pack.

BMW is the latest automaker hoping to charge up the sluggish battery-car market by boosting the range of its little electric city car, the i3.

While the 2017 model won’t match the range of the new Chevrolet Bolt or upcoming Tesla Model 3, BMW claims it will still deliver up to 114 miles per charge, or 58% more driving distance thanks to a larger lithium-ion battery. That jumps to more than 200 miles if you order a 2017 BMW i3 equipped with the optional, range-extending two-cylinder gas engine – the update model also getting a larger fuel tank.

Stay Plugged In!

Though performance numbers won’t change for the upcoming model-year, the BMW i3 will remain one of the market’s quicker battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs, launching from 0 to 60 in just 7.2 seconds.

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Bending the Truth? Automakers Under Fire

Ethical lapses trigger a costly backlash.

by on May.02, 2016

Daimler is already facing two diesel lawsuits.

German automaker Daimler AG is hiring an outside auditor to make sure it hasn’t cheated on emissions tests. Mitsubishi has set up an independent panel to see just how broadly it rigged its fuel economy numbers. Volkswagen has yet to release an internal report exploring the breadth of its own diesel scam.

In recent years, a veritable Who’s Who of automakers has been caught up in one scandal or another. They’ve been caught inflating mileage figures, deflating emissions numbers and, in a number of cases, covering up serious, often fatal safety problems. That includes General Motors which took a decade to order a recall for defective ignition switches now linked to at least 120 deaths.

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In some cases, manufacturers have simply missed problems or failed to recognize their significance. In other instances, they have been willing to outright lie, said veteran auto analyst Joe Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting, considering such moves as “just the cost of doing business.”

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Honda Punches Up Ridgeline Fuel Economy by 5 MPG

Automakers finding way to get car-like mileage out of trucks.

by on Apr.29, 2016

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline made its debut at this year's Detroit Auto Show.

Honda expects to get as much as five miles per gallon better mileage out of its reborn Ridgeline pickup when it goes on sale over the summer.

That’s in keeping with a general trend that’s seen a big boost of the fuel economy of next-generation trucks and SUVs. And, industry leaders are betting, it will mean that American motorists will be far less likely to flee back to conventional sedans and coupes if – or, more likely, when – fuel prices start rising again.

The Last Word!

According to figures filed with the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees mileage testing, the front-wheel-drive version of the 2017 Honda Ridgeline will deliver 19 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway. The all-wheel-drive model will trim a single mpg off those numbers, to 18 and 25.

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Ford Planning Long-Range EV to Challenge Tesla, GM

Goal is to be “in a leadership position,” says CEO Fields

by on Apr.29, 2016

Ford is upping the range of the current Focus Electric to more than 100 miles for 2017.

Ford Motor Co. plans to join the ranks of automakers offering a battery-car capable of at least 200 miles per charge, said CEO Mark Fields, helping eliminate the so-called “range anxiety” that has many potential customers shying away from electric vehicles.

That’s a shift in strategy for Ford which decided to hold the range of the updated 2017 Focus Electric to just 100 miles. But a growing list of manufacturers are pushing to 200 miles or more, including Tesla, General Motors, Volkswagen and Audi.

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“We want to make sure that we’re either among the leaders or in a leadership position,” Fields said during a conference call with automotive analysts and reporters. “When you look at some of the competitors and what they’ve announced, clearly, that’s something we’re developing for.”

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Fiat-Chrysler Reportedly Talking Autonomous Car Deal with Google

But prior rumors of Google-Ford deal failed to materialize.

by on Apr.29, 2016

Google is already testing its bubble-shaped prototype in California, Texas and Nevada.

Two partners in search of mates? Both Google and Fiat Chrysler have been open in their need to form alliances, and the two companies just might be ready to team up.

According to several online reports, they’re in advanced talks that could lead to Fiat Chrysler putting Google’s self-driving vehicle technology into production. The Silicon Valley firm is already testing its autonomous car software with a fleet of prototypes, but Google officials have repeatedly said they want to find a partner within the auto industry, rather than setting up their own manufacturing operation.

Tech Talk!

The talks have reportedly been underway for several months, according to the Wall Street Journal, while a separate online report on autoextremist claims negotiations are in late stages and could see Google’s autonomous technology used on a variety of different Fiat-Chrysler products.

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