Rendered Speculation: Smart ForTwo +2 gets less tiny

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Smart Fortwo +2 rendering AEThe Smart franchise hasn't exactly been a blockbuster financial success for Daimler. Although the diminutive city runabouts certainly have their adherents, the entire brand is widely believed to have never turned a profit. Having but a single model to sell, the Fortwo, probably isn't helping matters, but according to AutoExpress, a second model is on the way.

Tentatively dubbed "Fortwo +2," the rumored four-door will look to outperform the slow-selling ForFour, a model that only lasted for two years. The new model is expected to essentially be a stretched version of the rear-drive Fortwo, with a pair of rear-hinged demi-doors to allow access to the second row.

Despite its mechanical similarities to the current car, AutoExpress says that the ForTwo +2 probably won't reach showrooms before 2011 "at the earliest," although it's reasonable to expect both gas and diesel versions, along with a full-electric.

While AE offers no speculation as to what markets the vehicle will be available in, the U.S. would seem to be a shoe-in, as although the automaker's newly minted American arm is performing very well, the Fortwo's trademark tiny size is still seen as a purchase barrier by many buyers.

Can we have a new Smart Roadster now?

[AutoExpress]

Mass. governor pondering so-called "Hummer Tax"

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Click above for a high-res gallery of the 2009 Hummer H2

The Governor of Massachusetts is backing a new state proposal to tax larger gas-guzzling vehicles each year when drivers register them. The so-called "Hummer Tax" would be the first in the nation, and it is designed to directly discourage ownership of SUVs and pickups. To further chill ownership of larger and more inefficient vehicles and steer buyers towards the small cars, the plan includes provisions to discount fees for owners with lighter and more miserly cars.

"It's a penalty for driving an SUV, which currently is not the popular choice. Or you're being penalized for a lifestyle choice, or maybe the fact that you have a large family and you need that size vehicle to put them in and it just doesn't seem fair," said Tim Lerchenfeldt, general manager of Cadillac Hummer Saab Village in Norwwood. He argues that now is not the time for additional fees, especially when the industry is struggling and sales across the board are down.

The transportation system in Massachusetts is suffering from more than a decade of neglect, according to Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, and the tax would be just one of the ways to raise the funds to foot the repair bill (the plan also includes a controversial 19 cent increase in the state's gas tax). While the "Hummer Tax" benefits from a lightning rod of a nickname, the premise of hitting select consumers who already pay more at the pump with yet another fee doesn't exactly sound universally welcomed.




[Source: Foxnews]

Review: 2009 Honda Fit Sport is still frugal, slightly less fun

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2009 Honda Fit Sport - Click above for high-res gallery

Evolution's a funny thing. We like our thumbs, enjoy walking upright and are thankful Ivanka Trump doesn't have a tail (although there's some debate about where she hides her horns), but when adaptation turns to automobiles, Darwin's dictum occasionally goes astray. There's a long list of vehicles we would love to see stay the same, but we understand that consumer demand and government regulation forces automakers to add amenities and tack on the pounds. The 2009 Honda Fit Sport is a perfect case-study.

Compared to the original Fit that landed on our shores in 2006, Honda's sophomore effort is larger, more spacious and marginally more powerful. But when you sit down with the spec sheet there are only a few "improvements" worth getting excited about. After spending a week with the 2009 model, we found that while evolution is good, some things need to stay the same. Make the jump to find out why.




Photos copyright (C)2009 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.

Continue reading Review: 2009 Honda Fit Sport is still frugal, slightly less fun

DiMora Scattare gives the Olds Aurora some junk in its trunk, makes us fear the $2M version

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Click above for a hi-res gallery of the DiMora Scattare

We like big butts, but we cannot lie - there is a limit a to our love. And the vehicle above has crossed over said limit, knocking a few things over with its ghetto booty while it was at it. Right about now, you should be scratching your head (or other parts) and wondering what the heck it is you're looking at, so we'll tell you. It's a 2001 Oldsmobile Aurora modified into a sort of coupe-pickup-thing, to be specific. Strictly speaking, behind the driver and passenger it's all trunk, but while we don't generally geek over pickup-car conversions like some other sites on the net (who shall remain nameless), we wonder what the point is here.

The Scattare (Italian for "jump", as in "jump out of the way") is the unfortunate work of DiMora Designs, a division of same company that's been working on the DiMora Motors Natalia SLS 2, a luxury sedan with little more than its $2 million target price tag to show for itself thus far. And while we appreciate the creativity and the apparent craftsmanship on display with the Scattare, please understand if it doesn't exactly fill us with hope for dear Natalia.

DiMora Designs recently began work on modifying another Olds Aurora, this one from 1996. Project Manager Jim Willis says he doesn't plan to change it much, just little tweaks like converting this front-engine car into a mid-engine car. Yikes! Stay tuned - but in the meantime, click on the thumbnails below to jump to the gallery... and don't say we didn't warn you.



[Source: DiMora]

REPORT: Saleen Inc. dissolves warranties, new owner takes over

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Click above for a high-res gallery of the 2008 Saleen S302 Extreme

It looks like many of Saleen's customers may be out of luck when it comes to the warranties on their vehicles. MJ Acquisitions -- the firm that recently purchased assets from Saleen, Inc. including the rights to the S and Racecraft lines as well as Saleen's aftermarket parts division -- sent a letter to dealers informing them that they're not liable for warranty claims and that responsibility would fall on the former owners of the brand. However, Saleen, Inc. announced it has completely ceased operations and will no longer honor warranty claims, leaving it to owners to pay for any maintenance on their vehicles regardless of when it was purchased. This also includes any vehicles languishing on dealers' lots, so any unsold 2008 or 2009 Saleen or Racecraft models will essentially come without a warranty. The small amount of good news is the MJ Acquisitions will continue to provide parts to dealers, and any parts purchased after February 2, 2009 will come with a 12 month/12,000 mile warranty. Thanks for the tip, Chris!



[Source: soec.org]

REPORT: Quality problems afflicting Jaguar XF

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Few would argue that the Jaguar XF is a great looking car and those who have driven it admire its dynamic characteristics. Unfortunately, as soon as you get in and press the start button, you can't help but wonder if the disastrous quality reputation that British cars have seemingly carefully nurtured for decades will afflict this car as well. The gear selector knob that rises out of the center console and the vents that roll over to expose themselves seem like bits that are destined to fail in time.

If the results seen by Automobile Magazine and respondents to TrueDelta's Car Reliability Survey are any indication, those fears are likely to come true. Automobile's long-term XF has been afflicted by a litany of issues ranging from faulty window regulators and bad rear axles to a failed power steering system. TrueDelta surveys owners and has found the XF requires far more trips to the dealer than competing models such as the BMW 5 Series, Cadillac CTS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. While the other models range from 33 to 97 dealer visits per year for every 100 cars, XF owners ended up back in the service bay 141 annually per 100 cars. Hopefully these are just first year production glitches, but this sort of news does not inspire confidence. Thanks for the tip, Leo!

[Sources: Automobile, TrueDelta]

BMW and Daimler consider swapping shares in cross-ownership plan

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Luxury automobile sales have been hit especially hard during the global economic disaster, and Daimler and BMW may become much closer allies as a result. German magazine Der Spiegel published a report stating that the two luxury giants are working to combine their purchasing power to save hundreds of millions of dollars. But the really interesting cooperation will reportedly happen in the form of a stock swap.

Under the alleged agreement, each company would give the other a 7% stake in the other. The move would strengthen the German automaker's new bond and perhaps lead to further cash-saving collaboration down the road. The magazine reports that the Quandt family, who own 46% of BMW, isn't keen on the idea due to Daimler's 1998 takeover of Chrysler. But the German government has allegedly been contacted to gauge the possibility of overriding any opposition to the deal. Talk of a BMW/Daimler tie up have been circulating for years, but the rumor tree has yet to bear any fruit. Due to the shabby state of the global automotive market, that could change quickly.

[Source: Automotive News - Sub. Req.]

Nissan GT-R Wagon spotted in Nagoya?!

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Click above for a gallery of the Nissan GT-R "wagon"

Let's get this over with right now: This isn't really a Nissan GT-R wagon. That said, it is a decidedly artful conversion of the Japanese automaker's M35 series Stagea wagon, a JDM load-lugger it produced from 2001 to 2007. Available in both rear- and all-wheel drive with a variety of V6 powerplants, the now-dead Stagea has been called the "GT-R Wagon" by many enthusiasts.

Spotted at Nagoya Auto Trend this weekend, this particular Stagea looks to be a super-clean conversion, with a well-integrated R35 GT-R front-end that's been carried through along the bodysides, with factory-like rocker panel indents and modestly rear quarter panels to keep the theme.

While we don't have information about what lurks underneath, the folks at GTRBlog speculate that the wagon could have something interesting like a stroked VQ-series V6 with a twin-turbo kit. Given the apparent high level of finish on the outside, we would hope for nothing less. Check out the galleries below for more shots of both the GT-R and Stagea wagons... and if you find any additional information on this particular car, drop us a tip!




[Source: n-autotrend via GTRBlog]

Auf Wiedersehen! Automotive News Europe ceases print publication

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Automotive News Europe - Crain PublishingIf there was ever an indicator that the tough automotive economy is taking effect on the industry that covers it, this is it. Crain Communications, publishers of Automotive News and all its various editions, has announced that it is canceling the print edition of its Euro-focused edition.

Like Automotive News, Automotive News China and AutoWeek, Automotive News Europe has been printed twice a month (every other week), but now its thirteen years of ink-on-the-fingers publication are coming to an end. It is not clear if any layoffs have resulted from the move, or if those associated with the print edition itself have been given other responsibilities.

Thankfully, the online version will continue on, and Crain affirms that the decision bears no effect on Automobilwoche, the German-language edition published alongside ANE in Munich, or on its upcoming European Congress in Brussels this summer.

The decision to make ANE an online-only publication came as part of a paring-down move that also resulted reportedly in the shuttering of FinancialWeek.com (which went online-only just this last December) and Business Insurance Europe.

[Sources: Automotive News - subs. req'd; PaidContent.org via Washington Post]

2010 Kia Sorento revealed!

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Click above for a gallery of the 2010 Kia Sorento

Kia World has scored the first official photos of the 2010 Kia Sorento, and from the looks of things, it's in keeping with the other marked improvements the automaker has been making to its lineup. In fairness, the current Sorento is no ugly duckling, with a shape that's evocative of the Jeep WJ Grand Cherokee and last-gen Lexus RX. Kia retains a traditional SUV profile with the latest version, but you can see that a thick D-pillar now resides aft of the side glass. In its report, OmniAuto notes that new, larger Sorento will have seven-passenger capability.

The new Sorento doesn't appear to mess with success, retaining the same basic shape while incorporating Kia's new, handsome corporate face and a clamshell hood. Its public debut is slated for the Seoul Motor Show next month, and Kia World reports that the the new SUV will be available with a Euro 5-compliant 2.0-liter clean diesel making 200 horsepower and 295-lb-ft of torque. Stateside, expect a 170-horsepower 2.4-liter four and and a 3.8-liter, 260-horse Lambda V6. Koreans also get a 2.7-liter LPG-powered engine. After its Seoul debut, we'd expect to see the Sorento pop up in Manhattan for the New York Auto Show.



[Sources: Kia World, Omni Auto]

Despite market shift, Toyota confirms next 4Runner in development

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With the U.S. market's pronounced shift away from body-on-frame SUVs towards crossovers and tall wagons, you could be excused for thinking that Toyota would be content to let its 4Runner wither away to dust. After all, the midsize SUV has been toiling away essentially unchanged since an updated 2003 model went on sale in 2002. But apparently, that isn't the case - Ward's Autoworld has learned that Toyota will build a new 4Runner.

According to the industry publication, Bob Carter, Toyota's group vice president and general manager, has confirmed that "There are plans (for a new 4Runner)," although the automaker isn't saying when the replacement model will arrive. For its part, Ward's, which maintains extensive product-cycle forecast data, says that it expects a new model for the 2010 model year, which is a bit surprising considering that we have yet to see any spy shots of prototypes.

In the article, Carter goes on to explain that not only has the 4Runner been a brand pillar since 1984 (making it one of the elder statesmen of SUVdom), Toyota actually sees potential for the SUV to pick up share as more automakers exit the body-on-frame midsize segment (read: Ford going unibody with the next Explorer and General Motors ditching the Chevrolet Trailblazer).

Carter also reaffirmed to Ward's that the Avalon and Sienna will continue to have futures in Toyota's portfolio, although he acknowledges that both vehicles have been losing volume and that the Avalon will likely take a different approach to court younger buyers. Ward's expects a new Sienna for the 2010 model year and a new Avalon for 2011.

[Ward's AutoWorld]

Obama's Auto Task Force to arrive in Detroit today, drive GM's Volt

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General Motors and Chrysler representatives have just gone through two weeks with President Obama's newly-formed automotive task force, and now it's time for the political types to gain some insight into automotive production. The task force is headed to Detroit this morning to get a crash course on the intricacies that go into making a car or truck, including meetings with automakers and the United Auto Workers. The meetings carry a lot of weight considering the fact that GM and Chrysler have stated that they will need more federal loans by the end of the month to keep out of bankruptcy. During their tour of the city, task force members will get a test drive in a Chevrolet Volt prototype and tour the Dodge Ram truck plant.

The task force's job is to study the automaker's plans and determine if additional funds will lead to future viability or if the government is simply throwing good money after bad. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said that he's looking to see if the restructuring efforts show that the automakers are "on a path to long-term viability without government support." GM, which has already received $13.4 billion in loans, is seeking up to an additional $16.6 billion and Chrysler is looking for an additional $5 billion in addition to the $4 billion it has already received.

[Source: Automotive News subs req'd; Associated Press | Image: Bill Pugliano/Getty]

CAW concessions could pave way for Canadian GM bailout

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Reuters reports that the Canadian Auto Workers leadership and General Motors Canada have agreed on a set of union concessions that, if approved by CAW members, could clear the way for both the Canadian federal and Ontario local governments to furnish the cash-starved automaker with billions more in bailout dollars. According to Reuters, the union has agreed to swallow a wage freeze through 2012, reduced vacation time, and higher co-pays on their benefits plans. These changes would come on top of proposed pay reductions for both executives and regular salaried workers, plus benefits cuts for the latter.

GM hopes that the combined white-and blue-collar savings will be enough to convince Canadian officials to open up the coffers. For its part, the CAW says it'll use the GM negotiations as a model for how it'll deal with the other automakers seeking similar concessions. The Canadian developments come after a week in which the big story was GM's auditors' gloomy outlook on the company's ability to contintinue as a going concern. Stay tuned for another active news cycle this week as President Obama's auto industry task force heads to Detroit for powwows with automaker and union leaders. Everyone is in scramble mode right now because both GM and Chrysler need more money by the end of this month in order to keep the lights on. Thanks to Jarrett for the tip!

[Source: Reuters]

Back In Time: John DeLorean biopic reportedly in the offing

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Roads? Where John Z. Delorean is now, he doesn't need roads. Apparently, Hollywood producers David Permut and Steve Lee Jones have secured the rights to DeLorean's life story. It is a fascinating tale, from DeLorean's rise at General Motors and instrumental role in creating cars such as the GTO, through his ill-fated eponymous GT's short flash upon the scene, we'd watch with rapt attention. Let's qualify that statement; we'd sit still, wolfing down popcorn and JuJuBes provided the biopic is handled without the application of Hollywood's reality-distortion filter. DeLorean provided plenty of story material in his life, no screenwriter or producer needs to go futzing with the details to make it more compelling than it already was. The biggest question we have is who would be appropriate to play John Z himself?

[Source: Variety Photo: iegtoclub.com]

As new vehicles sales fall, used car prices go up

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The cynic in you might think that a rise in the price of used vehicles, just as new car sales are cratering worse than anyone can remember, is a not-so-transparent ploy to overcharge buyers. It turns out to be more a case of supply versus demand. Wholesale used car prices are bumping up as a result of sagging new car sales, according to auto auction company Manheim. Two-thirds of new car sales have a trade-in attached, which creates a supply stream of pre-owned vehicles to recycle onto dealer lots. With sales so far down, trades are harder to come by, so those cars that are available are fought over more fiercely. The wholesale price rise indicates that dealers are duking it out harder at auctions, more than saying anything about prices consumers are paying. It's our suspicion, looking at how long everyone's inventory is sitting around, that anyone able to buy right now can virtually write their own deal.

[Source: Auto News - Sub Req.]

VIDEO: Davey Johnson bets on a brown Fiesta

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Follow the jump to see Davey G. Johnson's Fiesta Movement video

The Fiesta Movement is on. Drivers angling to be a part of Ford's promotional campaign, which will place 100 people in Fiestas for an early six-month trial, are lining up. To even be considered for the endeavor, you need to send Ford a video explaining why you deserve a Fiesta. Quality of the videos submitted thus far is varied, to say the least, but we can now come out and say that we have someone to root for: Davey G. Johnson, erstwhile O.G. Jalop and a very good friend of Autoblog, is officially in the fight.

His video, "Baby Bets on a Brown Fiesta," is posted for your enjoyment after the jump. We're confident it's the only Fiesta Movement video that manages to successfully incorporate a 1970s brown motif; the world's greatest fictional detectives; a Mopar appearance; the sounds of diminutive, unlikely German rock star, Udo Dirkschneider; and a real, in-person endorsement by Bob Mould (of Hüsker Dü -- old-time Jalopnik readers will understand how significant this is).

If it sounds crazy, it's because it kind of is. Is it crazy enough to be a winner? We'll find out soon enough. See for yourselves after the jump.

Continue reading VIDEO: Davey Johnson bets on a brown Fiesta

Bugatti Vela 3-Speed: Not exactly the Veyron of blenders

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UPDATE: No, this Bugatti is totally unrelated to the automotive brand, but we're not the first internet chumps to get Casa Bugatti crossed up with the storied car brand.

You'd expect that a Bugatti-branded blender would follow the lead of its Veyron sibling, with enough power to liquefy concrete. Unfortunately, the Bugatti Vela 3-speed blender is not the kitchen countertop equivalent of a 1001 horsepower supercar that accelerates like a GSX-R. What, then, is the point of dropping a third of a grand on something that doesn't even have the power of the $60 Oster "Beehive" blender that's been in production since the Pleistocene?

Design. So what if the 450 watt motor is only about half a horsepower? The Vela is a decidedly modernist way to mix up your morning smoothie or evening mudslide. Looking super-smart in chrome (red is available, too), the style is elemental and bold. A lack of frippery brings a fresh look to an item that's so often shaped like a plastic lump sprouting buttons. That said, if we were looking for a high-powered blender, the wheezy Vela wouldn't even make the list. Not when you can get the Vita-Mix 5200, sporting a full 1500 watts - that's two horsepower, folks - for about a hundred bucks more than the Bug's $350 list price. Since most any blender will work, the Bugatti Vela begs the question, what price, fashion? Thanks for the tip, Ed.

[Source: Macy's]

VIDEO: Audi S4 vs. downhill slalom skier

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The 2009 Audi S4 has some serious performance chops. The four-ringed sports sedan can hit 60 in 5.1 seconds, thanks in part to its 330-horsepower, supercharged, 3.0-liter V6. Some of the credit also goes to Audi's excellent quattro AWD system, which helps keep the S4 planted in most any situation. Just for kicks, Audi decided to test the S4 on a mountainside, complete with plenty of snow and some well placed flags.

To make the S4's downhill slalom interesting, Audi TV pitted it against an actual downhill skier. The skier was equipped with Audi-branded skis, so the automaker wins no matter what. Hit the jump to see this unusual race unfold, complete with a surprising winner. Hat tip to Mobilehavoc.

[Source: YouTube]

Continue reading VIDEO: Audi S4 vs. downhill slalom skier

[via] Autoblog

Gigapan images of 2009 Geneva Motor Show

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What the hell is a gigapan image? It's an image used taking a robotic device that takes a bunch of little images and stitches them together to make one giant, high-resolution image. You may remember seeing the gigapan image of President Obama's inauguration speech back in January. That same technology was recently used by the folks at image engineers to take some interesting photos of the 2009 Geneva Motor Show this past week. If you're not part of the automotive press, you've probably never seen what a show floor looks like beyond the small windows we give you in our coverage of production vehicles and concepts that are unveiled there. These images, one of the show floor and one of the Bugatti Veyron Bleu Centenaire, reveal an angle of the show that you've likely not seen before. We've also embedded a time lapse video of the action that takes place at the Geneva Motor Show after the jump. These three bits of media are a great way to bring our coverage of the 2009 Geneva Motor Show to a close. Hope you enjoyed it.

[Source: image engineers]

Continue reading Gigapan images of 2009 Geneva Motor Show

[via] Autoblog

Original Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe up for auction in May

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Click above for a high-res gallery of the Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe CSX2601

The month of May is looking to be a historic one, with not one but two cars having the potential to smash record prices at auctions on the very same weekend. We already reported on the Ferrari 250 TR that will be sold at RM's Maranello auction, and now Mecum has announced the sale of a legendary 1965 Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe at their 22nd annual Spring Classic auction in Indianapolis. The auction will be shown live on Discovery's HD theatre, with the Daytona Coupe selling at 8:00pm on Friday, May 18. Mecum fully expects the car to exceed the highest amount paid at a public auction for an American automobile, which is, to our knowledge, the Shelby Cobra Super Snake sold at Barrett-Jackson in 2007 for a total of $5.5 million. The auction house even hopes to reach the eight figure mark. The current record holder for any car is a 1961 Ferrari California Spyder that sold for $10.89 million at RM's auction last year.

The Daytona Coupe being sold, chassis CSX2601, is the fourth of just six built, winning three of eight FIA races it competed in. One of those victories was at Reims in France that earned the points needed for Shelby to clinch the World Manufacturers Championship in the GT III class. The car has been fully restored to its original condition and sports its Reims livery. Bob Bondurant, who piloted the Daytona Coupe to its wins back in 1965 and also owned it shortly thereafter, was reunited with the car at his high performance driving school in Chandler, AZ this weekend. He was joined by Peter Brock, who designed the Coupe, and the two shared stories of the development and racing of the car. Afterwards, Bondurant even put the car through its paces on the track, the first time he had driven it in more than twenty years. Follow the jump for more details on the auction, and check out the plethora of high-res photos in the gallery below.



Photos copyright (C)2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

[Source: Mecum Auction]

Continue reading Original Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe up for auction in May

[via] Autoblog