• GM’s Opel performing well enough to avoid more cuts

    December 23, 2013
    General Motors’ German division is apparently seeing enough growth that it will be able to stave off job cuts next year, the division’s CEO said.

    Speaking with Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, Karl-Thomas Neumann stated that Opel is still on track to be profitable in under three years even though economists aren’t optimistic about growth in the European market.

    GM may tap Opel for more product development for North America, Asia and especially Australia, but it’s Europe’s labor costs that continue to be a burden for manufacturing within the continent’s borders.

    Still, Neumann is optimistic that Opel will grow enough to help counter additional cuts. Next year, the division is closing down a plant in Bochum, Germany, as it seeks to trim both capacity and costs. Opel will continue to work with France’s PSA, the parent company of Peugeot and Citroen, even as GM works to wind down its short-lived partnership with the automaker.

    Neumann, meanwhile, also reaffirmed that he isn’t planning to leave GM.

    “I will stay with Opel a long time. This is no short-term matter,” he said. “I am responsible for General Motors in Europe, so I’m head of Europe for Detroit. I stand for Opel and will fight for the brand.”

    GM has been on a cost-cutting binge recently, trimming jobs in Australia and South Korea.

  • Infiniti teases Detroit-bound Q50 Eau Rouge concept [VIdeo]

    December 23, 2013

    Infiniti has released a new video previewing its upcoming Formula One-inspired concept based off the Q50 sport sedan.

    Set to debut next month at the Detroit show, the Q50 Eau Rouge concept takes its name from the famous uphill portion of the Spa-Francorchamps Formula One circuit.

    Details are scarce, but Infiniti says the Q50 Eau Rouge will “blend road car technology and a thoroughbred motorsport vision” while incorporating “aerodynamic styling treatments and design elements” influenced by the brand’s partnership with Red Bull Racing.

    A previous teaser image revealed that the concept will sport a muscular new lower front fascia along with a front air dam and mirrors made from carbon fiber.

    “Performance is a key pillar of Infiniti’s DNA, and this car expresses a deepened design interpretation of that. The Q50, with an abundance of technologies, provides a great basis for an extreme performance version, embodied in the design of Q50 Eau Rouge,” Alfonso Albaisa, Infiniti’s Executive Design Director, said in a statement.

    Although pure speculation at this point, it’s possible that the concept could preview a high-performance, BMW M3-fighting IPL variant of the Q50.

    Don’t forget to tune in for complete details on the Q50 Eau Rouge during Leftlane’s live coverage of the Detroit show in January.

  • Fast & Furious 7 to be released in 2015

    December 23, 2013
    The future of the Fast & Furious movie franchise was thrown into doubt following the death of actor Paul Walker, but Vin Diesel, Walker’s co-star on the silver screen, has confirmed that the seventh installment of the series will be released in the spring of 2015.

    Following Walker’s untimely death in a motor vehicle accident just outside of Los Angeles earlier this month, Universal Pictures, the company behind Fast & Furious 7, said that it would “assess all options available to move forward with the franchise.” Those options including scrapping the movie entirely or starting clean with a new script, but Diesel revealed via his Facebook page that the show will go on.

    “There was a unique sense of completion, of pride we shared… in the film we were now completing… the magic captured… and, in just how far we’ve come…Fast and Furious 7 will be released…April 10th 2015!”

    Diesel added: “P.s. He’d want you to know first…”

    Fast & Furious 7 was originally scheduled to be released on July 11, 2014. It remains to be seen how the film’s rework will account for Walker’s passing.

    Photo credit: Universal

  • Review: 2014 Toyota Tundra CrewMax Limited 4×4

    December 23, 2013

    It doesn’t take a genius to realize that full-size trucks are big – and highly profitable – business in the United States. Just one drive through Southern or Western states reveals a litany of large trucks being used as everything from delivery vehicles to serious workhorses or, increasingly, family haulers.

    Naturally, Toyota wants a chunk of the pie – even if a V8-powered truck seems at odds with the Prius-friendly image Big T usually cultivates.

    For 2014, Toyota has thoroughly revamped its Tundra lineup, and while we’ll definitely stop short of calling this a full-scale redesign, the Tundra offers some compelling reasons to shop outside of the Detroit Big Three.

    What is it?

    For 2014, the Tundra receives a new look inside and out plus some chassis modifications designed to improve its ride quality. A little short on “whiz-bang” high-tech features compared to Detroit’s rigs, the Tundra might look like something of a weak effort on paper.

    Unlike Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, Toyota offers a relatively limited range of full-size Tundras – you’ll only find three gas engines and three bodystyles. That means that no heavy-duty model or diesel variant is a part of the lineup.

    What you will discover, however, is a truck that’s more or less an on-paper facsimile for a Detroit pickup – at least one from a few years ago. Engines displacing 4.0, 4.6 and 5.7 liters are on offer with a choice of rear or part-time four-wheel-drive. Bodystyles begin with a standard cab, grow to an extended cab and culminate in our tester’s CrewMax. And trim levels, an ever-growing part of the one-upping pickup market, start with entry-level work-oriented models before topping out in luxo-lined range-toppers.

    With its standard 5.7-liter V8, our Limited grade tester sits somewhere in the middle as the gateway into more lifestyle-oriented trucks. It was further optioned up with a TRD Off Road package that adds Bilstein shocks and special Michelin all-terrain tires plus skid plates for a very reasonable $100. A few other goodies boosted the bottom line to $44,295, which is, pound-for-pound, cheaper than a Detroit-badged truck.

    What’s it up against?

    This one’s easy: The Chevrolet Silverado, Ram 1500, Ford F-150 and GMC Sierra.

    What does it look like?

    While the first-generation Tundra was criticized as something of a softy, the second-gen model that hit the market all the way back in 2007 had the right proportions and measurements to be treated like a real truck. This latest model doesn’t grow, but its look is subtly and thoroughly refined.

    A grille so big that it actually splits in two when the hood is raised greets onlookers up front. More aggressive flaring to the truck’s fenders clean things up along the Tundra’s side. Out back, big lettering stamped into the tailgate replaces separate chrome bits for a butch look, but the tail lamps feel a little too car-like for us.

    The black-finish 18-inch alloy wheels included with the TRD Off Road package class things up, but overall we’re left feeling less-than-enamored with the Tundra’s redesign. The new look is different, but not necessarily more interesting than before. Up against our favorite lookers in the segment – the Ram 1500 and the GMC Sierra – the Tundra comes across a little busy and a little blobby.

    And on the inside?

    The improvements are far more noticeable here. Clearly using the Ford F-150 as a template, Toyota has redesigned the Tundra’s interior interior to feel more welcoming and upscale – as well as more convenient. Gone is the massive stretch to the climate and audio controls. Instead, drivers will find that everything is within an easy reach.

    Toyota’s typical switchgear makes an appearance, meaning most controls are particularly easy to sort out – that’s something we can’t always say about rivals. A 7-inch touchscreen in the center stack controls Toyota’s Entune infotainment suite; navigation and audio functions are easy enough to sort through and we found Bluetooth integration to be particularly good. One downside is that the screen seems more susceptible to washing out in harsh light than some in the segment.

    Redundant audio controls on the steering wheel make up for a lack of hard buttons on the head unit, although we really would like to see other truck builders follow Ford’s lead by adding separate radio preset switches.

    A second small LCD screen sits in the instrument cluster to dole out trip computer functions. While it is effective, it isn’t as elegant as the LCDs found elsewhere.

    One place where the Toyota really stands above is in its stretch-out space, however. All five passengers have plenty of room, especially those in the second row.

    Fit and finish felt terrific in our tester, but we weren’t impressed with the material choices. Though everything is nicely grained, hard touch plastics abound on the door panels, center console and dashboard. At this price point, GM and Ram both offer up much ritzier materials.

    But does it go?

    We’ve never found reason to complain about Toyota’s 5.7-liter V8 engine – at least not until we visited a gas station (and then, shortly thereafter, another gas station). Cranking out 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft. of torque, the V8 isn’t super high tech in its operation – it lacks direct injection, cylinder dispaclement or turbochargers like some rivals’ motors. But what the 5.7 lacks in fancy features it more than makes up in raw power.

    This is a fast truck, its power made all the more usable by a quick-shifting six-speed automatic gearbox. Slipped into sport mode – admittedly not the most applicable name – the automatic comes even more alive.

    Unfortunately, the downside to this story is the Tundra’s miserable fuel consumption. We saw as little as 11 mpg in hard driving, but we were able to match the EPA figures of 13/17 (15 mpg combined) once we drove more sanely. Still, that’s well off the pace set by competitors offering upwards of 20 mpg with about the same power.

    The Tundra also makes use of conventional hydraulic power steering rather than the electric setups of its rivals. If there’s one market segment where electric steering really makes sense, it is with pickups. As a result, the Tundra’s tiller felt a little heavy in parking situations. Not by any means the world’s most communicative setup, the steering was nonetheless accurate and direct enough to impart a generally nimble feel in town and a high degree of stability on the road.

    Even with the Bilstein-branded shocks underneath, the Tundra’s independent front and leaf-sprung rear suspension absorbed rough stuff with aplomb. No question that this is a nice riding truck, even if it trails the Ram for outright comfort. Road noise was also kept to a minimum on the highway.

    We didn’t tow with our tester, but previous experiences have revealed a robust powertrain generally up to most tasks. One downside to the Tundra for heavy haulers is that its frame isn’t fully boxed, meaning it allows for a little more flexibility than that in rivals. If you’re a light duty user, you’ll find this flex to be acceptable – but those who really use their trucks in serious situations might be better off with a Detroit brand.

    We ventured down a rocky dirt road in our test truck and found that its good ground clearance and Toyota-specific Michelin tires gave it more capability than we expected. Moreover, Toyota’s fast-acting A-TRAC traction control system and automatic limited slip differential meant that grip was never a problem. This traction control is the same as you’ll find in Toyota’s more dedicated off roaders like the Land Cruiser and 4Runner, so its chops are well proven.

    Leftlane’s bottom line

    Recommending a vehicle based on its low price is sort of like damning it with faint praise. And, frankly, it’s not something we often have to do with a Toyota (in part because they usually command something of a premium).

    Certainly, Toyota could have gone a lot further with the Tundra’s refresh, but there’s still a lot to like about this full-size truck. But, most of all, we like its reasonable price of entry. Tundra, consider yourself damned with faint praise.

    2014 Toyota Tundra Limited CrewMax 4×4 base price, $41,895. As tested, $44,295.

    Premium Package, $595; TRD Off Road package, $100; Running boards, $345; Bedliner, $365; Destination, $995.

    Photos by Andrew Ganz.

  • GM, Ford to extend holiday shutdowns at some NA plants

    December 23, 2013
    Both General Motors and Ford will reportedly extend planned holiday shutdowns at some of their North American factories in order to keep a lid on mounting vehicle inventories. Meanwhile, Chrysler is planning to add shifts to some of its plants.

    According to Automotive News, GM will idle its Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kansas, for a few extra days in January to rein in growing inventories. The Fairfax plant produces the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse. GM had a 71-day supply of the Malibu at the start of December – up from a 60-day supply last month – while inventories of the LaCrosse have swollen to 148 days.

    GM will also shutter its “flex” line at its Oshawa, Ontario, plant in January. The flex line is responsible for building the Buick Regal, Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Camaro.

    Supplies of the Regal have grown from 88 days to 99 over the last month, with the Camaro growing from a 135-day supply to 167 during the same period. XTS supplies have actually fallen from a November high of 131-days, but inventories still remain above ideal at 105-days.

    Ford will follow GM’s lead with planned shutdowns of its own.

    Ford will close its Cuautitlan, Mexico, plant – which makes the Ford Fiesta – until January 13. Although Fiesta sales have increased 30 percent to 66,597 units this year, dealers are swamped with a 124-day supply of the sub-compact.

    Ford’s plants in Hermosillo, Mexico, and Dearborn, Michigan, are also in line for some extra downtime. Those plants make the Lincoln MKZ , Ford Fusion and F-series pickup truck.

    For the third consecutive year, Chrysler will be adding shifts during the typical holiday shutdown. Chrysler is adding between one and two shifts at plants in Michigan and Ohio to boost production of the Ram pickup, Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Wrangler.