Rumormill: Production Lexus LF-A, Toyobaru coupe coming to Tokyo

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Lexus LF-A Concept - Click above for a high-res gallery

With the D-3, Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Lamborghini and other automakers, pulling out of this year's Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota is rumored to have a big showing to capitalize on the lack of reveals this October. According to InsideLine's correspondent in Japan, Toyota will unveil the production version of the Lexus LF-A, originally expected to debut in Frankfurt. The V10-powered, 600-hp supercar's future was in doubt late last year, but the on-again-off-again coupe won't be the only two-door gracing the Toyota stage.

The collaboration between Toyota and Subaru on a new coupe is also rumored to make an appearance in Tokyo, although it's unclear if the Toyobaru will debut as a concept or a production model. Based on the current Impreza platform, the rear-wheel drive will coupe will be powered by a Subaru-sourced flat-four with a new Toyota-developed head that will decrease emissions and increase fuel economy while returning an estimated 220 horsepower.

Toyota is also expected to show off a range of hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, along with new EV and battery technology. But the automaker will have four fewer days to show off its wares to the public - the show has been cut down from 17 days to 13, running from October 23 to November 4.

[Source: InsideLine]

REPORT: Union chief says plans to build Chevrolet Orlando in U.S. on hold

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Chevrolet Orlando concept - Click above for high-res image gallery

General Motors is in survival mode right now; cutting staff, closing plants, and reworking contracts. The last thing the General likely wants to cut back on is product, but even new vehicles aren't immune to the chopping block.

Automotive News
is reporting that GM has postponed production of the Chevrolet Orlando at its Detroit Hamtramck facility. Local United Auto Workers chief George McGregor informed AN that plant management informed him that the Orlando and a planned Opel variant will not be built at the facility later in the year. GM has neither declined or confirmed the Orlando's postponement (it could simply be built elsewhere), but North American President Troy Clarke mentioned at the Detroit Auto Show in January that the seven seat MPV would be headed for production in 2011.

McGregor did say that plans were full speed ahead for the Chevy Volt, however, as the range-extender EV is scheduled for production in November 2010. Both the Volt and the Orlando are based on GM's global Delta C segment architecture, which will underpin everything from the Chevy Cruze to the Opel Flextreme.

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

REPORT: Tata pondering Nano launch for U.S. market

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Click above for a high-res gallery of the Tata Nano

Could an extremely inexpensive, minuscule little car like the Tata Nano actually sell in America, a land historically enamored with powerful V8 engines surrounded by as much sheetmetal as possible? According to the Financial Times, Tata Motors may be about to find out, as the Indian automaker is said to be looking at an introduction into the U.S. market by 2011 or 2012.

What makes Ratan Tata, chairman of the automaker that bears his name, think that his diminutive rear-engined machine might sell in the United States? The economy, of course. Americans may be willing to accept some of the sacrifices that would go hand-in-hand with owning the World's Cheapest Car, though the version likely to sell in the States would surely differ in major ways from what is now on sale in India.

If the Tata Nano were to hit the U.S. market, it would need to pass the same safety and emissions regulations as any other car currently sold in America. Those are not insurmountable tasks, however, as proven by the version of the Nano that's planned for European markets.

So far, there is no indication of how much a Tata Nano would cost in U.S. dollars if it were sold here.

[Source: Financial Times]

Rated M for "Matured" - Nissan readying kinder, gentler GT-R Spec M?

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2009 Nissan GT-R (regular strength version) - Click above for high-res image gallery

So, you've fallen in love with Godzilla, but the bumps and bruises of everyday life with a stiff-riding supercar matched to a dour (if tech-happy) interior might be too much to bear over the long haul. Well, if new rumors are true, Nissan may have just the car for you - a softer-sprung, lux'd-up GT-R dubbed "Spec-M."

According to the folks at Pistonheads, Nissan is preparing this new model featuring a recalibrated suspension setup for greater compliance, including what it calls "ripple control shock absorbers." On the inside, more upscale trimmings are also expected, with new seat color choices, as well as optional aluminum and woodgrain(!) finishes available. No drivetrain or exterior modifications are mooted, and if that's the case, we'd expect very similar performance figures.

No word yet on what markets the rumored Spec-M will be sold in, but we can see a business case being made for the U.S. at Nissan HQ in light of America's often questionable road surfaces and stereotypically softer posteriors.

[Source: Pistonheads]

Chevrolet Camaro convertible reportedly back on, albeit running late

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Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Concept - Click above for high-res image gallery

The on again, off again roller coaster ride that is General Motors' product development schedule once again apparently has a green light; the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro convertible. The drop-top Camaro is once again scheduled for a 2011 grand entrance, one year after the first Bowtie pony cars begin rolling off the line in Oshawa. Motor Trend reported back in November that the convertible Camaro was in trouble due to GM's cash crunch, and last week we learned from The Detroit Bureau that financial problems at a German supplier for the car's roof was threating the model's timetable. For its part, General Motors insists that the topless Camaro has always been scheduled for one year after the coupe began production, but now Motor Trend is now saying that the Camaro Convertible will probably not arrive until the first quarter of 2011 (likely as a 2012 model).

With a reported 14,000 pre-orders already on the books for the fixed-roof Camaro, GM is looking at some much needed good news in the short term. To better compete with Ford's Mustang and Dodge's Challenger, though, the General will need to make good on a ragtop variant (and perhaps a Z28, although that looks unlikely to happen). If MT's reports are accurate, the gap between coupe and convertible models is likely to be well over a year, which will be a tough pill for sunlovers to swallow. However, if the production model looks as good as the concept shown above, the Camaro could have all the inertia it needs when the top comes down.

[Source: Motor Trend]

Kia introduces production Forte LPI Hybrid in South Korea

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Kia Forte LPI hybrid - Click above for high-res image gallery

Kia has just introduced its first mass production hybrid model based on the new Forte compact sedan in its home market of South Korea. The Forte LPI hybrid uses a smaller 20-hp version of the hybrid system that Hyundai showed at the LA Auto Show last November. That system uses a pancake motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission for electric drive and boost as well as regenerative braking. A separate, integrated starter generator handles auto start-stop duties.

The Forte hybrid uses a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine fueled by liquefied petroleum gas (propane) and is the first production vehicle to use a lithium polymer battery. The new battery was developed by LG Chem and will also be used in the Sonata Hybrid when it debuts next year. Along with the hybrid Forte, Kia rolled out new eco-Dynamics branding for its more efficient vehicles including hybrids.

While it's unlikely we'll ever see an LPG-equipped car from Kia in the U.S. market, it does seem likely that a Forte hybrid with a gas engine will arrive at some point. We've contacted Kia for comment on that but have yet to get a response. Thanks to Mike for the tip!

[Source: Kia-World]

Review: 2009 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4x4

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2009 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4x4 - Click above for high-res image gallery

The Jeep Wrangler is designed to be one of the most capable vehicles on the planet. It can climb a 45-degree grade, tread through 30 inches of water and crawl down a rock-filled hillside - all with the top down and the doors off. Its shape hasn't changed much over the years, primarily because Jeep owners like the way the Wrangler looks and its aesthetic exists to support this rugged off-roader's functionality.

The Wrangler has stood the test of time, but an influx of capable and comfortable SUVs meant that the tried-and-true Jeep was in need of an update. To appeal to Wrangler enthusiasts who need more interior flexibility, Chrysler finally decided to pull the trigger on a four-door model. To the surprise of nobody, the Wrangler Unlimited has been one of the few hits from Chrysler in recent years, at one point prompting a dealer waiting list for the longest-running Jeep. We wanted to try the four-door Jeep for ourselves, so we welcomed a Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon into our garage for a week-long run.

All photos Copyright (C)2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

Continue reading Review: 2009 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4x4

VIDEO: Watch the first 2010 Chevy Camaro being built

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Click above to watch video after the jump

Has it been three years already? The 2010 Chevy Camaro is finally rolling off the assembly line in Oshawa, Ontario after what seems a lifetime of anticipation, and 14,000 early adopters are impatiently waiting the arrival of their Bow Tie pony car. The very first Camaro to roll off the production line was a black SS (of course) with a red leather interior. Hendrick Motor Sports CEO Rick Hendrick is the lucky recipient of Camaro #001, and he flew up to Oshawa to claim his prize.

Few companies understand the significance of VIN #001, so the General had cameras rolling to share the milestone with the world. Follow the jump to watch production of Camaro #001, and click here to read our First Drive of the 2010 Camaro.

[Source: GM Fast Lane Blog]

Continue reading VIDEO: Watch the first 2010 Chevy Camaro being built

IIHS debuts new roof strength crash test, small SUVs rated first

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IIHS Roof Strength Crash Test - Click above for high-res image gallery

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety isn't waiting around for the federal government to enact tougher roof strength standards for passenger vehicles. The IIHS has created its own new category of roof strength standards that requires a strength-to-weight ratio of 4 times a vehicle's weight to earn the highest rating of good. Federal standards are currently 1.5 times a vehicle's weight, with a proposed increase to 2.5 times still pending.

The IIHS used a batch of 12 small SUV/CUVs as guinea pigs for the new standard, and only four were rated good: the Volkswagen Tiguan, Subaru Forester, Honda Element and Jeep Patriot. The Suzuki Grand Vitara, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Mitsubishi Outlander were rated acceptable with strength-to-weight ratios of at least 3.25. The Honda CR-V and Ford Escape achieved a marginal rating with scores of at least 2.5 and the Kia Sportage was rated Poor with a score below 2.5.

The IIHS roof strength crash test is conducted by pushing a metal plate at constant speed against one side of a vehicle's roof. In order to earn a good rating, a vehicle's roof must withstand a force of 4 times the vehicle's weight before reaching 5 inches of crush. Earning the roof strength test's highest rating will also be a new requirement for the Institute's Top Safety Pick awards. As a result, the list of winners for 2010 will likely be much smaller than last year's. Eight of the small SUV/CUVs tested by the IIHS were previous Top Safety Picks, but only three would earn the award with these new standards.

[Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety]

Continue reading IIHS debuts new roof strength crash test, small SUVs rated first