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вторник, 21 июня 2011 г.

Audi Spends $14.3 Million, Indoor Track to Outshine German Rivals at Frankfurt

German automakers often compete against one another for the most impressive display during the Frankfurt Motor Show, but it appears Audi may win this year’s rivalry with a massive display — complete with an indoor test drive course — that will cost the automaker nearly $14.3 million to build.

Unlike the past, when Audi would showcase its models as part of the Volkswagen Group’s display, spectators can expect to see Audi’s very own pavilion at the show, complete with a 400-meter long track. In total, Audi’s exhibition hall for Frankfurt will measure about 100 meters long, 70 meters wide, and 12 meters high, with the track looping the interior yet remaining partially visible from the building’s exterior. About 30 models will be on display, and visitors can ride and circle the hall in roughly a dozen of them — reportedly including select race cars.

Why the massive display? It’s one of several ways Audi hopes to overtake its domestic arch-rival, BMW. BMW first showcased an indoor track as part of its Frankfurt stand in 2009, and even Mercedes-Benz is apparently following the trend, and incorporating a roadway into this year’s display. So what, exactly, will make Audi’s track different?

“It’ll be surprising, emotional, architecturally great, with a real wow effect,” says Audi Chief Executive Officer Rupert Stadler.

Competition among all three German automakers has gotten fierce since Mercedes was overtaken by Audi as the second-largest maker of luxury vehicles this year. Mercedes’ operating margin was 9.3 percent of sales, compared with Audi’s 10.6 percent and BMW’s 11.9 percent.

“They’re not just traditional trade shows anymore. We’re all spending more because you need to get your share of exposure,” Christoph Horn, head of product communication at Mercedes-Benz, told Bloomberg. Frankfurt is perhaps the most important venue for the German luxury automakers to strut their stuff, seeing as it is one of the few shows hosted on their own soil.

Construction for the Audi display will start July 1, and should finish before the show’s press week in early September.

Karla Sanchez on June 20 2011

At Last: First Undisguised Photos Of 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe Emerge

These may well be the first official undisguised photos of the new 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe, but it’s hardly our first look at the car. Mini issued photos of “camouflaged” prototypes a few weeks back, but the subterfuge was pointless: the swirled tape appliqué still allowed us to see the roofline was virtually identical to the original 2009 Coupe concept.

The Mini Coupe will come in three flavors: Cooper Coupe, Cooper S Coupe, and John Cooper Works Coupe. The base Coupe will come with the same 1.6-liter inline-four cylinder from the base Cooper hatchback that produces 121 hp and four more lb-feet of torque at 118 lb-ft, with the Coupe’s 0 to 60 mph time coming in 8.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 127 mph. Stepping up to the Cooper S Coupe gains some more power — and fun, if we’re to judge by the difference between Cooper and Cooper S hatches — 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque (192 lb-ft with the overboost) from the turbocharged 1.6-liter. It scoots from 0 to 60 mph 1.8 seconds quicker than the base Coupe, and will top 142 mph.

For those who want the ultimate in sporting fun should perhaps opt for the 208-hp John Cooper Works Coupe. Using the same turbocharged mill from the Cooper S Coupe, the JCW experts boosted output by 27 hp and 15 lb-ft, added seven mph to the car’s top speed, and cut the 0-60 mph time by 0.4 seconds. We enjoyed the extra dynamic flavor of the JCW Coupe when we recently drove it in Austria; like the JCW hatch, it’s nimble and remarkably fun to drive on the track. All of the Mini Coupe models are front-wheel drive and will come standard with a six-speed manual; a six-speed automatic will be optional on the Cooper Coupe and Cooper S Coupe but not the JCW model.

As was expected, the Mini Coupe is strictly a two-seat affair, although it does offer some extended luggage capacity behind the front seats. This may not be dubbed a hatchback, but the Coupe actually uses a rear hatch to access the cargo area. Integrated into the hatch are two spoilers: one at the roofline, and a BMW-Group-first automatically retracting deck spoiler that deploys at 50 mph. The Coupe’s design uses a color-contrasting roof (like the rest of the Mini lineup) and blacked-out pillars to create a “helmet roof” that floats about the greenhouse.

Pricing figures have not been announced yet for the 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe lineup, but we expect it to slot in above the Cooper hatchback that starts at $20,100 and the $25,550 Cooper Convertible.

Donny Nordlicht on June 20 2011

Car Theft Falls 7.2 Percent in 2010 to Lowest Rate Since 1967

The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that U.S. automobile theft in 2010 fell 7.2 percent year-over-year, reaching the lowest rate since 1967. However, theft rates rose in the five of the country’s “hot spots” for stolen cars.

The NCIB says the five metropolitan areas with the highest rates of vehicle theft in 2010 were Fresno, California; Modesto, California; Bakersfield-Delano, California; Spokane, Washington; and Vallejo-Fairfield, California. Each of those five “hot spots” reported higher car theft rates in 2010 than in 2009.

Conversely, the rate of vehicle theft fell in New York City, Dallas, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Miami. The five metro areas with the lowest rates of automotive theft were State College, Pennsylvania; Glen Falls, New York; Elmira, New York; Holland-Grand Haven, Michigan; and Harrisonburg, VA.

The NICB attributes much of the reduction to an increase in law-enforcement efforts to shut down car theft rings, as well as improved vehicle security measures like immobilizers and electronic tracking systems.

“Even the baseline vehicle today, it’s harder to steal than in 2000,” NICB spokesman Frank Scafidi told Bloomberg.

The results mean 2010 is the seventh consecutive year in which automotive thefts have declined. In 2009, the NICB reported that vehicle theft rates had dropped 17.9 percent year-over-year, reaching the lowest level in the prior 20 years.

Jake Holmes on June 21 2011

CR Takes Chrysler For A Ride, Returns Unimpressed

No good can possibly come from a story that starts with “Chrysler has been bumping along on a couple of flat tires in recent years.” And it doesn’t. After recommending only one Chrysler model, the RAM 1500 pickup, over the last three years, Consumer Reports tested eight Chrysler models to see how they have improved.

CR is mildly impressed by the Dodge Charger, the Durango, and the Town & Country. CR finds that the Charger “now scores close to the Ford Taurus and Buick LaCrosse.” The Town & Country receives a “considerably improved.” And yet:

“Although they performed well enough, none of those three are recommended because they are too new for us to have reliability information.”

So what about the cars where Consumer Reports has reliability information?

“We are not impressed with the 200, Avenger, Compass, Journey, or Patriot. Despite some improvements, they’re still mediocre overall, scoring at or near the bottom of their respective categories and too low to be recommended.”


When Bloomberg called Consumer Reports for a statement, David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ auto test center, answered:

“Chrysler is on the right path, but they still have a long way to go.”

Ouch again.

Report: Nissan Adapting Hybrid System for Front-Drive Cars Like Altima

Nissan is working on modifying its existing hybrid drivetrain for front-wheel-drive models, including the next Altima hybrid which could debut as early as 2012. According to Automotive News, the new system will be a derivation of the rear-drive hybrid powertrain employed by the Infiniti M35h.

The Nissan brand currently has only one hybrid model, the Altima Hybrid, but that car is being discontinued after the 2011 model year. Currently, it uses a licensed version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive technology, which is found in several models, including the famed Toyota Prius. Nissan’s only in-house hybrid technology is found in the 2012 Infiniti M35h.

Automotive News says Nissan is adapting that rear-drive Infiniti hybrid system to work in a front-wheel-drive car. It could bow in the next Nissan Altima Hybrid as soon as 2012. As in the Infiniti, the front-drive setup will mate an inline-four gasoline engine to a continuously variable transmission and a single electric motor/generator. In the M35h, the electric motor is rated at 67 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque.

The hybrid system uses lithium-ion batteries, which could be assembled in the U.S. Nissan plans to open a new lithium-ion battery assembly facility near its Smyrna, Tennessee factory to build battery packs for the Leaf electric car. It could potentially provide enough extra capacity to build batteries for a new hybrid car.

Although Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn appears to be enamored with full-electric cars like the Leaf, AN reports that Nissan will use traditional hybrid technology to improve fuel economy in larger vehicles, like the D-size Altima.

Jake Holmes on June 21 2011

Feature Flick: World Drift Record Broken by Maruo Calo in C63 AMG

The world record for longest drift was shattered yesterday at Mercedes-Benz World when stunt driver Mauro Calo drifted his 2011 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG 7572 feet, or almost eight laps around Mercedes-Benz World’s handling circuit. While Calo was going for 10,000 feet around the 360 degree course, a blown rear-tire ended his run early.

The previous world record was set by 2010 Formula Drift champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in December of 2008. Gittin’s record was set in a bone-stock 2010 Ford Mustang GT which he managed to drift 6285 feet in front of cameras for 0-60 Magazine. The only thing stopping Gittin from continuing his drift is a blown tire.

Flash forward to yesterday and Calo ran into the same tire problem in his Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG while drifting around the Surrey, England MB World handling track. “A rear tire started to delaminate, so I kept going until I knew I’d broken the record, then I thought I’d better stop,” said Calo to EVO. Calo managed to shatter Gittin’s record by an impressive 1293 feet, all the while making it look incredibly easy, “The C63 is great for this sort of thing. The weather was bone dry, which made things easier for me but harder for the car.” One would imagine a wet track would help the tires last longer, making it easier for the car to survive an almost two-mile drift, although making control of the car that much more difficult.

According to EVO, although he’s got nothing planned, Calo would love to break the world blind speed record next, by attempting the feat blindfolded. The current record is held by a blind Turkish folk singer named Metin Senturk, who drove a Ferrari F430 Scuderia at 182.03 mph.

Christian Seabaugh on June 21 2011

2012 Mini Coupe Priced from $22,000

The latest variant of Mini’s popular small cars, the 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe, will start from just $22,000 (including a $700 destination charge) when it goes on sale in October. The Coupe’s pricing puts it halfway between the cost of a Cooper hardtop and a Cooper convertible.

There are three trim levels for the new car. The 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe runs $22,000 and employs the same 1.6-liter inline-four engine as the base Mini hatchback, which is rated at 121 hp and 118 lb-ft of torque. For more power, the $25,300 Cooper S Coupe trim provides a turbocharged 1.6-liter that produces 181 hp and 177 lb-ft (or 192 lb-ft in overboost mode.) Finally, the highest performing Coupe model is the John Cooper Works trim, which for $31,900 provides 208 hp and 192 lb-ft from the same 1.6-liter turbo engine, as well as a variety of dynamic and chassis upgrades.

As we expected, those prices fit squarely within the sticker ranges for hardtop and convertible Mini Coopers. Base prices for the 2012 Cooper hatchback range from $20,200 for the base model to $30,600 for the John Cooper Works. Pricing for the Cooper convertible starts at $25,650 for a base model and runs to $35,800 for the John Cooper Works trim.

In addition to the pricing for the new Coupe, Mini revealed the base prices for all other Mini trims would climb slightly for 2012. Base prices for Cooper and Cooper S trims of the hardtop, convertible, Clubman, and Countryman bodystyles all increase $100 versus 2011 levels. The price for John Cooper Works variants of the hardtop and convertible climb $800 to reflect the addition of a standard body kit that was optional for 2011.

Jake Holmes on June 21 2011

McLaren Opens Flagship Dealer Store In London

London’s prestigious One Hyde Park is the new home of race-car-builder-turned-super-car-manufacturer McLaren’s first retail dealership. Opening tomorrow, it will be the first of 35 dealerships McLaren will open this year around the world.

Although the MP12-4C is not McLaren’s first foray into street legal super cars it will offer more than four times the sales and service support than it did with the F1 and its eight worldwide dealerships. This time instead of flying a technician to the owner of the car or service center McLaren claims it “is stocking its retail network with a spare of every serviceable part for the MP4-12C.” McLaren calls it “its ‘pit stop’ service concept that ensures fast and efficient repair.”

Good thing, because the MP4-12C is the first in a full lineup of carbon-fiber based sports cars McLaren is planning, all with far greater volume than the F1.. Production for the MP4-12C alone is expected to reach 1000 units just this year (roughly 10 times greater than the F1′s production run of 106 cars during a seven-year span). Once its portfolio is completed, McLaren may be cranking out close to 4000 cars annually by mid decade.

McLaren plans on opening two additional U.K dealerships (one in Manchester and another in Birmingham) within the next two weeks. By the end of 2011, the company will have 35 different sales outlets in 19 countries. Current plans call for dealers in the following locations:

• Europe: UK (Birmingham, London, Manchester); Germany (Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich); Benelux (Brussels); France (Monaco, Paris); Italy (Milan); Spain (Madrid), Switzerland (Zürich)

• North America: Canada (Toronto); USA (Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Newport Beach, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tampa)

• Middle East / South Africa: UAE (Abu Dhabi, Dubai); Qatar; Saudi Arabia (Jeddah, Riyadh); Bahrain; South Africa (Johannesburg)

• Asia/Pacific: Hong Kong; Singapore; Australia (Sydney); Japan (Tokyo, Osaka)

Jason Udy on June 21 2011

While The Pope Goes Green, Mortals Get Gas

The Pope is working on his green creds. When the German Pope Benedikt XVI will come to Germany in September, he will wave at the faithful from a plug-in hybrid. Made in Germany, of course. Mercedes is putting the finishing touches on a new popemobile. Based on the new M-Klasse, it is powered by a 60 hp hybrid module. The lithium io battery will supposedly be rechargeable in 60 minute, allowing the Pope to travel for 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) on heavenly electrical power alone. Once depleted, the ICE kicks in.

Why no pure plug-in? Deranged-anxiety. In case of an attack, the car must be “escape-capable,” as Gemany’s Wirtschaftswoche reports.

In the meantime, mere mortals are lacking divine inspiration. Says USA Today:

“Despite months of high gas prices, a bevy of new fuel-stingy cars with conventional gas engines may be eating into sales of pricier gas-electric hybrids.”

“Sales of high-mileage, high-value conventional compacts such as the Hyundai Elantra (shown above), Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze are hot, while hybrid sales have stagnated.”

Why? Filthy lucre.

“Even with the fuel savings, it doesn’t make sense to buy a hybrid” for many buyers, says J.D. Power Senior Manager Mike Omotoso. “This year, we had $4 gas (in many cities) but we saw the introduction of compacts that get 40 mpg. All of these cars are considerably cheaper than hybrids.”

By Bertel Schmitt on June 21, 2011

$1 Billion Says: Akerson Is Dead Wrong! Lincoln Lives!

Lincoln, once the conveyance of presidents and Hollywood moguls, hasn’t been doing too well lately. In May, Lincoln sold just 7,399 vehicles in the U.S., about the same as Volvo, a brand that Ford had sold to the Chinese. The average age of the Lincoln sold in 2010 edges up to the wheelchair-demographic: 62. Despite ample Panther-love doled out by TTAC, Lincoln is losing customers left and right: Every president from Calvin Coolidge through George H.W. Bush rode in a Lincoln limousine. The new prez defected to a Government Motors Beast.

The matter even attracted attention from Ford’s cross town rival GM. Its CEO Dan Akerson had some ungodly advice: “They are trying like hell to resurrect Lincoln. Well, I might as well tell you, you might as well sprinkle holy water. It’s over.”

Ford was faced with a tough decision: Keep it or kill it? And the decision is:

Lincoln lives!

Ford “is making a revival of its ailing Lincoln luxury brand its top priority,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

“Later this year, Ford will begin a sweeping make-over of the 96-year-old brand, to give staid Lincoln a new identity as a producer of high-tech, understated luxury cars.”

According to Reuters, Ford “is spending $1 billion in an effort to develop a new generation of vehicles for its struggling Lincoln brand.” That’s a bargain as far as luxury cars go. The development of Volkswagen’s Phaeton was rumored to exceed $1 billion, and we all knew what that got Volkswagen.

Ford will get “seven new or redesigned Lincolns” for the money, writes the WSJ. The first ones, arriving in November, are redesigns of the MKS sedan and MKT SUV. An all new MKZ will in late 2012. “The four remaining vehicles won’t be launched until 2013 or 2014,” says the Journal. That billion will need to last for a while.

In lieu of all-new cars, customers will get features: Self-tuning suspension systems, hands-free controls and entertainment systems, retractable, all-glass roofs and computerized sound-reduction technology.

Lincoln has to fight the perception that Lincolns are nothing but blinged-up Fords. That fight will continue for a while.

Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s head of global product development, told the Journal that the “seven new Lincolns in the pipeline will still share parts with Ford models, but he promised they will have unique exterior panels, headlamps and other touches to give them a distinct look.”

By Bertel Schmitt on June 21, 2011

The Saab Story Continues: Wants to Pay Suppliers on Layaway

Saab has been having a rough year. After separating from General Motors last year, the Swedish automaker has had a roller coaster ride of deals falling through at the 11th hour, and cash shortages causing numerous production shutdowns.

Earlier this week, Saab announced that its Trollhattan, Sweden plant would remain closed for another two weeks, after already being closed for most of April and May. The production stoppages have been due to the company’s inability to pay its suppliers for parts.

Now, in a bold move, Saab has sent letters out to the suppliers, taking a page from Wal-Mart shoppers: it would like to buy parts on layaway. The deal Saab has offered is to pay its suppliers 10 percent of its debts up front to receive the necessary parts to restart production; it will then pay the outstanding costs this fall, once it has cash on hand.

CEO Victor Mueller was quoted in the letter sent to suppliers saying that Saab needs “full commitment to this to move forward,” according to Reuters. The letter also stated that the suppliers had until today to respond to the automaker’s offer.

In the past few months, Saab have received a number of rescue packages from Chinese companies Pang Da and Youngman Lotus Automobile to help stem the company’s hemorrhaging of cash, and previous-owner General Motors has agreed to continue building the new 9-4x crossover for the ailing Swedish brand.

Saab hopes to reopen its plant at the start of next month.