AutoblogGreen for 05.14.07

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Renault goes eco all over; another Chinese "clone" might be headed to market, and a Toyota VP says his company will make nothing but hybrids by 2020. All the latest in the green car world ready for you on AutoblogGreen this Monday morning.

 

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Reports say Cerberus chosen as Chrysler buyer

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It was only hours ago we reported that Cerberus looked more likely than Magna to buy Chrysler. Now The Detroit News is reporting the firm may have already been chosen as the preferred buyer and an announcement could come as early as Monday. Reuters and The Wall Street Journal say negotiations are still ongoing.

The WSJ says the deal would set up an entirely new company to take responsibility of Chrysler's massive pension and health care liabilities. The paper also says Cerberus would also make a "substantial payment" to Daimler. WSJ also says former Chrysler chief operating officer and Cerberus adviser Wolfgang Bernhard would not return to Chrysler in an executive position, but could have a board seat. Also, Daimler may keep a minority stake in Chrysler.

Whether or not Chrysler going to a private equity firm is a good thing makes for seriously interesting discussion fodder. Automotive News (subscription required) points out that breaking Chrysler free of its health care and pension baggage could make for a much more lithe car company capable of achieving great things. But the UAW is already upset with Cerberus possibly pulling out of a deal to help Delphi out of bankruptcy. Which means the union workers are not exactly gonna be celebrating a Cerberus buy.

Bloomberg's story has David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, saying a private equity buyer would be "the worst nightmare" for the UAW.

So, what do AB readers think? Can cost cutters cure Chrysler? Or might management by Magna have mattered more? Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting installment.

[Sources: Automotive News, The Detroit News, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Reuters]

 

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Officially Teased: 2008 Saab 9-3

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Click for high-res gallery

Leaked photos had been dripping out onto the web all last week, and today, Saab officially released the first photos of the facelifted 2008 Saab 9-3. In addition to the wagon that we've all already seen, we now get our first look at the sedan. The release after the jump (which comes via the automaker's Australian division) is very, very lean on details -- this is basically a teaser ahead of the full release that's coming next month, when we can expect to see the convertible and the rear ends of the sedan and wagon.

Obviously, the Aero-X-inspired styling is in play, with the cars getting new front ends, a clamshell hood, and new lighting. As for the other changes, the release plays coy, saying that "significant developments" in design, performance, and handling are being introduced with the car. In Australia, it'll bow with gasoline, diesel, and BioPower engines. We'll probably hear more from the US side later this morning, and will update this post accordingly. We wouldn't be surprised to hear that we'll get the BioPower E85 engine, but not any diesels.

The Australian press release is pasted after the jump.

UPDATE: When the car arrives in the US, it will be available in two trim levels: 2.0T and 2.8 V6 Aero. Sounds like the BioPower's not in the cards for this market (at least not at launch). The US press release has also been added after the jump.

[Source: Saab]

Gallery: 2008 Saab 9-3

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Cerberus buying Chrysler for $7.4 billion

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We've already reported on the forthcoming sale of Chrysler to Cerberus Capital Management, but until now, all the cited reports were mum on price. The New York Times has that figure and it's a cool $7.4 billion. A press conference to announce the deal is expected in about three hours, at 8 AM EST.

According to the NYT, Cerberus will take an 80.1-percent chunk of Chrysler, while DCX holds on to the remaining 19.9-percent. That fifth of the company will be held under a new company called Chrysler Holding LLC and privately owned - a first for a Detroit automaker. Additionally, Chrysler will be bought as a debt-free entity, with the new owners only being responsible for the $18 billion in health care liabilities and pension.

DCX's shareholders and the board have approved the sale, with UAW head Ron Gettelfinger saying that this is in the "best interests of our UAW members, the Chrysler group and Daimler." That last part, "Daimler" is only part of the company's new name; it will now simply be known as Daimler AG.

Details of the financial breakdown include Cerberus' investment of $5 billion in the automaker itself, while a little over $1 billion will go towards Chrysler's financial wing. $1.45 billion will go to Daimler directly, although its expected that the now freed automaker will reinvest $600 million back into Chrysler.

The entire deal is expected to close by the third quarter of this year. In the meantime, watch this space for more.

[Source: New York Times]

 

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Chevy dealers told to get a Camry to sell their Malibus

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Perhaps Chevrolet should see if Ford is done with the "Bold Moves" slogan yet, because some Chevy dealers have grown a pair and are trying a radical move. They're bringing enemy No. 1 right into their showrooms.

Chevrolet is confident enough in its forthcoming Malibu redesign, that they're willing to have customers paw all over their mid-size offering and Toyota's Camry side by side. Instead of just telling potential Malibu customers that Camry ain't all that, Chevy's car marketing director, Cheryl Catton, suggests dealers put one of the best-selling Toyotas right there next to Malibus. Production of the new Malibus begins in October, and GM's ad push for the car begins in January. Look for the Malibu/Camry steel cage death match to begin about then.

But wouldn't it be a small sales boost to put a Camry in every Chevy dealership? Catton thought of that, and recommends the Toyotas be rented.

[Source: Automotive News - Sub. Req.]

 

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Honda plans to introduce an entry-level hybrid in 2009

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Hot on the heels of Toyota's announcement that they'll be streamlining hybrid production and offering every vehicle in its lineup with the gas-electric option, a Honda sales exec has confirmed that beginning in mid-2009, a new hybrid will be launched.

Production is expected to be around 200,000 per year, which is a substantial sum considering that Toyota's popular Prius sold 186,000 units across the globe in 2006. The pricing of the yet-to-be-named Honda hybrid is planned to be below the current Civic hybrid and styling will supposedly be heavily influenced by the Remix concept that debuted in LA last November.

In the same Automotive News article, Ken Keir, managing director of Honda UK, said that production of a hybrid sports coupe is forthcoming and it won't look anything like the Small Hybrid Coupe concept that was unveiled in Geneva. To quote Keir, "... it will be much more like the Remix sporty small car concept show at the Los Angeles auto show in November - although the design has already moved on a lot since then." Considering the Small Hybrid Coupe concept was met with (ahem) less than glowing reviews, such styling revisions bode well for this new Honda.

[Source: Automotive News - Sub. Req.]

 

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Gunning for Guinness: Ferrari eyes record with parade at Silverstone

This year is Ferrari's 60th anniversary, and Ferrari is doing Rossa-themed things all over the world to celebrate. In Britain, the Silverstone race track will play host to Ferrari Racing Days the weekend of June 8-10. Among the range of festivities will be Ferrari Great Britain's attempt to break the world record for the "Largest Parade of Ferraris." The current record is 128, and based on what they have planned, updating the Guinness entry sounds perfectly doable. In addition to a round of the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli for F430 Challenge cars, the FXX will be appearing in the UK for the one and only (official) time, there will be races for historic road and race cars, a demonstration of F1 cars, and on display will be at least forty Ferrari F40's. The weekend will also commemorate the 40th anniversary of the UK Ferrari Owners Club. If that doesn't attract every Ferrari from Land's End to John O' Groats, we don't know what will.

[Source: Ferrari]

 

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Ford, Honda score high on safety test

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The crash-happy folks over at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have just released the results of their newest round of testing, and Acura and Ford have come out on top. Both the Acura MDX and the Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable earned the highest possible scores.

The MDX was rated as "Good" in front-, side- and rear-collisions, and the same goes for the Taurus and its rebadged sibling. All three vehicles garnered the "Top Safety Pick" award, which was aided by the fact that the Taurus and Sable have optional stability control.

Although there was no mention of the IIHS's new seat/head restraint results for the FoMoCo twins, the MDX had improved its score in that department after Honda engineers tinkered with the setup for the 2007 model year.

[Source: Detroit News]

 

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Spy Shots: Opel Vectra (aka Saturn Aura) coming to Frankfurt

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As September, and the Frankfurt Motor Show, approaches, the cars that will be debuting there are beginning to shed their cocoons. The new generation Opel Vectra has now appeared minus all the heavy camo and the new shape is pretty clearly visible. The first thing that becomes immediately apparent is the resemblance to the latest Nissan Altima. The pronounced rear shoulders and sloping backlight coming down to a short rear deck has very similar proportions. The most distinctive element is the sculpted front door panels that come straight from the GTC concept that bowed at Geneva.

The sedan shown in the photos will be accompanied by a five door hatch and wagon variants. We'll be seeing the new Vectra pretty much intact on American shores in a couple of years wearing Saturn Aura badges. However, before we see the Saturn, we'll be seeing Chevy Malibu and Pontiac G6s based on the same Epsilon II platform.

[Source: AutoZeitung, thanks to TriShield for the tip]

 

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Big 2.5 increase sticker prices to combat slow sales

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When sales slow, the old business adage dictates that you either cut expenses or raise rates. For the two big boys left in Detroit and the soon-to-be, if not already, sold off Chrysler corp, the latter seems to be the only viable option.

A recent sales droop is causing all three automakers to increase the sticker price on the majority of its models. Granted, the biggest bump is about a half of a percent, but it's still an increase, regardless.

For the General, that inflation amounts to $91, while Chrysler raised its sticker $94. The big bump came from the Blue Oval boys, whose increase amounted to about $146. Granted, all those figures are on a sales-weighted basis.

Automotive News has a full breakdown of each one of the Big 2.5's brands, but Chrysler at $254, Cadillac at $163 and Dodge at $146 showed the biggest increases. Jeep, on the other hand, only saw a jump of $6, while Saturn prices didn't budge an inch.

[Source: Automotive News - Sub. Req.]

 

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Euro-bred Lincoln dead in the water

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Whenever we get the chance to corner an exec from FoMoCo, the topic of conversation inevitably gravitates towards Ford's European lineup and questions about why these vehicles never make it Stateside. The answers always center around currency exchange rates and how the weak dollar won't allow such importations to take place. Now those same exchange problems have killed off a Lincoln crossover that is expected to be built at the automaker's Saarlouis plant in Germany.

The European Ford CUV was originally intended to make the trek across the Atlantic and be rebadged a Lincoln when it goes on sale next year. Taking cues from the Iosis X concept that bowed in Paris in 2006, it might have even portended a new styling direction for Lincoln.

The cute 'ute may still come to market in the U.S., but that's not going to happen until a C-segment vehicle is built somewhere in North American in the next ten years. Unfortunately, that's another story we've heard before.

[Source: Automotive News - Sub. Req.]

 

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Jeep Compass Rallye: Out in the UK, In for the USA

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When Chrysler introduced the Jeep Compass to the UK market last year, the automaker made the decision to only offer it in the more aggressive-looking (well, kinda) Rallye trim (above). That was based on market research conducted by the automaker in advance of the product launch. Now, a year into things, it's backtracking in a big way. According to UK media resource Headline Auto, Chrysler Blighty has shelved the Compass Rallye in favor of the standard-look Compass. Why? Simple: the regular Compass, contrary to all that prior research, tests better with consumers in clinics held by the automaker's marketing people. In particular, first-time SUV shoppers and women were drawn to the unkitted version of the car. Reading the writing on the wall, Chrysler has made the call to back-burner the Rallye. Don't throw dirt on the Rallye package quite yet, though. It could resurface in some form down the line.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, Chrysler hopes that American customers become smitten with that very same Rallye kit. It's now being offered as a Mopar option package in the US for the first time. Here at home, the Compass has become a bit of a piñata among enthusiasts, who have mercilessly derided the car for a variety of reasons. Those include problematic styling that in no way lives up to the promise of the original Compass concept, a chintz-heavy interior, a general lack of "Jeepness" and a powertrain selection that is uninspiring at best. The domestic Compass Rallye is obviously an attempt to "man up" the vehicle a bit, though based on Autoblog's reader comments, it's clear that a many view the package as little more than lipstick on a pig. However this all turns out, it's been interesting to see how the marketing approach for Compass has evolved on each side of the pond. Hindsight's 20/20, of course, but maybe Chrysler would have been better off if it launched the Compass Rallye here from "go" and just gave the Brits the regular version. Despite this inter-continental game of Three-Card Monte with the product, we think there's a way Chrysler can rectify everything and get all the naysayers on both ends of the ocean to stop yapping. How about a 300-horsepower, AWD Jeep Compass Rallye SRT-4? You know. Just a thought...

 

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CR says Mercedes B200 could be U.S. bound

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Not actual CR car. Their tag says "CR4SHZL."

If you see a white base-model Mercedes B200 tooling around Connecticut, don't get too excited. Yet. You see, that one was bought in Canada (for almost $29k U.S.!) and driven across the border by Consumer Reports for their upcoming small car issue. The CR folks mostly like the little Mercedes and called it a "baby minivan." The big news is that, without citing sources, the magazine's website says the German B-class could be imported into the States.

Which we think would be great. More choice is always better. But Automobile.com drove a 2005 version of the car and said, "The B200, fortunately, is not offered in the U.S." Ouch.

[Sources: Consumer Reports, Automobile.com]

 

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eBay Find of the Day: Rat Rod pimped postal carrier with poker table

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From the house of Winston Smith's Cool Guy Stuff comes this postal-issue jeep, fresh off the kind of arcane pimping that we come to expect from eBay. A Hot Indian Red 1983 AM General Jeep that was once a lowly carrier of New Jersey mail. A poker fan bought it, and his shop turned it into what you see here. It was pimped on a budget, so there are some minor issues with it, but it did get a 120-watt CD player, a couple of speakers, and a removable 10-inch DVD player that you can watch as you play Hold 'Em in the built in poker table. That's right, a built in poker table. And if that weren't enough, it has -- you guessed it -- electric floor mats with lighting neon flames. The Jeep comes complete with poker chips, cards, and case for the winner, and you can even get the original mail tray. The seller makes sure to state right away that it can still run a mail route. However, the Jeep does not come with the model in the pink thong, pink high heels, and sweatpants that declares "I'm Pink" across the back. Welcome to Jersey. Game on.

[Source: eBay]

 

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Caparo T1 update: 200 HP per liter, no more supercharger

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The folks over at Car procured a few shots of the Caparo T1 undergoing testing and have gleaned some interesting information about Gordon Murray's newest masterpiece.

First off, the road-going F1 car is living up to its ethos by ditching the supercharger and coming to the party with a naturally aspirated V8 that makes 700 HP and revs all the way to 10,200 RPM. A shot of the engine bay, although a bit cramped, reveals a mechanical masterpiece, complete with polished intake trumpets that are making the hair on the back of our neck stand up on end.

Naturally, the performance equation doesn't just revolve around the mid-mounted engine. Aluminum honeycomb, carbon fiber and a six-speed sequential box, made up of magnesium, contribute to the T1's epic accomplishments. Zero-to-60 times are in the 2.5 second range, while braking from 100 MPH comes in at a scant 8.5 seconds, courtesy of 355mm steel discs at all four wheels.

Deliveries are still expected to begin this summer, at a cost of £217,500. But for those of you (and us) attending this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed, you'll be able to see the T1 making the rounds during the show.

[Source: Car]

 

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Wolfgang Bernhard will not be a part of the Chrysler deal. Yet!

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Now that the new Chrysler Corp. has been created by Daimler AG selling a majority stake in the company to Cerberus Capital Management, the next question is who is in charge? In recent weeks, former Chrysler group chief operating officer Wolfgang Bernhard has been quite conspicuous in the halls of Chrysler's Auburn Hills headquarters. However, the announcement made clear that the current Chrysler management team led by Tom LaSorda would stay in place, at least for now.

Bernhard will not be part of Chrysler management but will stay with Cerberus. Almost certainly when Bernhard left Volkswagen early this year, his separation agreement included a no-compete clause probably for two years which prohibits him from taking a direct role at Chrysler. What we will probably see is Bernhard acting as a liaison between the equity firm and the carmaker. That probably means LaSorda has about eighteen months to turn things around before Wolfgang steps back in.

[Source: Detroit Free Press]

 

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2007 Michigan Vintage VW festival: All the air cooling you can stand

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Click on the Karmann Ghia Cabriolet for huge high-res gallery of VeeDubs

If you're a fan of air-cooled VeeDubs, Ypsilant's Riverside Park was the place to be on Sunday. Perfect spring weather greeted at least a couple of hundred rear-engined Wolfsburg machines. The 2007 Michigan Vintage Volkswagen Festival saluted the fiftieth anniversary of the Karmann Ghia Cabriolet of which there were many shining and some not so shining examples.

Pretty much all the variations of the Type 1 (aka the Beetle), Type 2 (the MicroBus) and Type 3 (the 1960s sedans, coupes and wagons) VeeDubs were on hand along with a bunch of vendors selling all manner of parts. There were at least three Love Bugs on display including a convertible, several Things, Dune Buggies and Westfalia campers. One owner brought his perfectly original 1958 Beetle complete with skis on the back. Also present was a rare, fully restored Type III Karman Ghia coupe, and a MicroBus that had most of it's mid-section removed, but had a really cool looking bamboo interior. None of these cars would come close to passing muster in the modern automotive world, but it's good to see so many owners who still appreciate them and keep them running.

 

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Enjoy the VUE: Saturn releases more images and specs of 2008 VUE

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click above image for high-res gallery with 17 more pics

The all-new 2008 VUE is set to go on sale at the end of this month, and Saturn is priming the public by releasing more images of an uplevel XR model in Sunburst Orange. Normally we're traditionalists and like our vehicles in shades of white, black or red, but the excellent photography really shows off the best side of this new color, especially when it's in the sun.

Saturn has also released all available information on the VUE's specifications for each model. The ute will be available in XE and the aforementioned uplevel XR trim level, as well as Red Line and two Green Line versions. There will be three engine choices, including a 2.4L Ecotec producing 169 horsepower and 161 ft-lbs. of torque available with the XE FWD model. A 3.5L V6 producing 222 horsepower and 219 ft-lbs. of torque is available with the XE AWD. Step up to the XR model and your VUE will be provided by GM's best six-cylinder, the 3.6L V6 that produces 257 horsepower and 248 ft-lbs. of torque. This same engine also powers the high-performance VUE Red Line, which will be augemented with a more aggressive exterior and other go-fast hardware to improve handling and braking. While the Ecotec four-cylinder is mated to GM's Hydramatic 4T45 four-speed automatic, all V6 models get the Hydramatic six-speed auto.

There's more info after the jump, along with Saturn's new press releases for the 2008 VUE. You can also view all the new high-res images of the Sunburst Orange VUE XR by clicking on the gallery below. Finally, complete specs and pricing for the 2008 Saturn VUE can already be found over at Cars.com.

[Source: GM]

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GM introduces new Opel/Vauxhall Agila city car

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Click image for gallery

When GM unveiled the "Triplets" in New York last month, they were designed to showcase what a new Chevy-branded city car might look like, and to gauge interest for such a vehicle here in the States (in this regard, the Beat concept seems to be winning people over). In Europe, city cars are an established market segment, and GM has now unveiled its newest entrant into the class, the Agila. Set to be sold under the Opel and Vauxhall banners, the 5-door will get its pomp-and-circumstance intro this September in Frankfurt and hit European showrooms next spring.

Based on the Suzuki Swift platform, the diminutive 5-seater can be configured to haul up to 40 cubic feet of cargo (with the rear seats flipped down) and will be available with a trio of economy-minded small engines. A 1.0L 65-horsepower three-cylinder will serve as the base, paired with a 5-speed manual. The top engine offered will be a 1.2-liter four with 86 horses and an optional automatic transmission. Finally, a 1.3L diesel will round out the range and stake out the middle ground in terms of power, delivering 75 ponies along with a healthy 140 lb-ft of torque. The car's styling is current and eye-catching, and it has a simple, clean interior.

[Source: GM]

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Cadillac to re-align lineup with STS and DTS replacements

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Click on the photo for a high-res gallery of the 2008 STS

In the next few years Cadillac is likely to adjust its product mix toward somewhat smaller vehicles, which may be at least in part driven by the need for increased fuel economy. In an interview with Automotive News, GM North America President Troy Clarke indicated that the two larger Cadillac sedans, the DTS and STS, will likely be replaced by a single model in the future.

In addition, a model smaller than the CTS is likely to appear, which could come off the rumored Alpha platform. In spite of cutting one model line, Cadillac's lineup will probably grow with additional variants such as coupes and convertibles, including the CTS coupe that has been spied.

[Source: Automotive News - sub. req'd]


 

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