• VW previews Euro-spec 2015 Passat

    May 22, 2014
    Volkswagen has published a batch of teaser sketches that preview the European-spec 2015 Passat.

    As expected, the next Passat gets a more dynamic-looking design that borrows styling cues such a narrow three-slat radiator grille, a rippled hood and angular headlights from recent Volkswagen concepts like the T-Roc and the NMC. The middle section of the car is expected to carry over roughly unchanged, but the rear end will get a cleaner design with sharp tail lamps and a rounded bumper.

    Volkswagen has not published any images of the Passat’s interior but executives have previously confirmed the sedan will move up a notch on the market thanks to improved materials and more high-tech equipment. A digital instrument cluster should be standard on all models, and high-end trim levels will be offered with the latest generation of Volkswagen’s touch screen-based infotainment system.

    Mechanically, the next Passat will be offered with a host of gasoline- and diesel-burning engines whose outputs will range from 118 to 276 horsepower. The headline-grabber will be a new 2.0-liter twin-turbocharged TDI mill that will send 236 horsepower and a potent 368 lb-ft. of torque to all four wheels via a seven-speed DSG gearbox. Volkswagen expects the oil-burner to return up to 47 mpg in a mixed European cycle.

    The most fuel-efficient member of the next-gen Passat lineup will be a plug-in hybrid model powered by a 1.4-liter TSI four-cylinder engine linked to a 100-horsepower electric motor. Reports coming out of Germany indicate the plug-in hybrid Passat will boast a total of 201 horsepower and be able to drive on electricity alone for up to 31 miles.

    The European-spec Passat will debut at next October’s Paris Motor Show and go on sale across the Old Continent shortly after. The U.S.-spec model’s replacement is still a couple of years away but the current variant is expected to get a thorough facelift in 2016.

  • Fiat CEO urges car shoppers not to buy 500e

    May 22, 2014
    Fiat – Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has openly asked car shoppers not to buy or lease the Fiat 500e, an all-electric version of the city car designed exclusively to comply with California’s strict Zero-Emissions-Vehicle mandate.

    “If you are considering buying a 500e, I hope you don’t buy it because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000. I’m honest enough to tell you that,” said Marchionne during a press conference held at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC.

    Introduced at the 2012 edition of the Los Angeles Motor Show, the 500e was expensive to develop so it retails for $32,650 before government incentives are factored in, nearly twice the price of a stock 500. Fiat has not revealed how many examples of the 500e it has sold to date but the number is likely low because the pint-sized EV is only offered in California.

    Marchionne also cast doubts on the viability of electric cars from a business point of view. He explained that Tesla is the only automaker capable of making money by selling battery-powered cars because it competes in the luxury segment and charges a high price for the Model S. Economy cars generally have smaller profit margins so it is difficult for manufacturers to recoup the costs of designing and building costly electric drivetrains.

    “If we just build those vehicles, we’ll be back asking … in Washington for a second bailout because we’ll be bankrupt,” said the executive.

    Although pure EVs will not be a major part of the Fiat – Chrysler lineup in the near future, the automaker is developing a gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid drivetrain that will make its debut on the all-new 2016 Town & Country minivan. The technical details are vague, but Fiat – Chrysler has confirmed the drivetrain will gradually make its way other members of its lineup before the end of the decade.

  • Report: GM reforming legal department to streamline recall process

    May 22, 2014
    General Motors is reportedly reforming its legal department as part of its wider safety-focused reorganization.

    Although GM’s own attorneys are likely playing a key role in guiding the response to the ongoing legal crisis, internal counsel also faces blame for its contribution to a corporate ethos that has been derisively described as a “culture of cover up.”

    Documents highlighted in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recent consent order suggest GM counsel may have been going too far in its quest to minimize legal liability. An presentation for employees, presumably crafted with the help of GM counsel, ordered staff to avoid using dozens of terms such as ‘dangerous,’ ‘serious’ and ‘safety related’ in internal reports and correspondence.

    In its agreement with the NHTSA, which arrived alongside a $35 million fine, GM agreed to “expressly disavow” any of the statements in the internal presentation that were apparently aimed at “diluting the safety message” of observations included in reports.

    GM counsel Michael Millikin has reportedly assigned a legal adviser to collaborate directly with the engineering departments to make sure information regarding potential safety defects is quickly distributed across all divisions responsible for the reaction, unnamed sources have told Bloomberg.

    A handful of executives and engineers appear to have been ousted amid an ongoing investigation into the ignition-switch recall, however GM insiders have claimed that a culture of extreme penny-pinching had been enforced throughout the ranks for decades. The comments suggest the automaker may face a much bigger task than simply removing a few ‘bad apples.’

    The latest report also sheds more light on the responsibilities of outside attorneys that were hired within weeks of the ignition-switch announcement. Former federal prosecutor Anton Valukas was tasked with leading a group of internal and third-party attorneys to complete an investigation into the matter.

    Valukas is better known for his role examining the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2009. His 2,200-page report explained how the investment firm’s internal policies contributed to its downfall during the financial crisis of the time.

    Millikin — a 37-year veteran at GM — reportedly expects the high-level shakeup to continue as the attorneys complete the internal investigation and GM continues to reevaluate its leadership.

  • GMC introduces All Terrain package for 2015 Sierra HD pickups

    May 22, 2014

    General Motors has introduced All Terrain packages for its 2015 GMC Sierra Heavy Duty pickups.

    Carrying over features from the Sierra 1500 All Terrain package, the HD lineup now benefits from similar off-road refinements and aesthetic tweaks.

    From the outside, the All Terrain package can be identified by a chrome surround on the grill, exterior graphics, aluminum underbody shields and unique 18-inch six-spoke aluminum wheels with a chrome finish. Buyers can also add 20-inch wheels for the 2500HD.

    All of the upgraded trim levels are naturally outfitted with 4WD, managed via an electronically actuated transfer case. The Z71 off-road package also comes standard, bringing Rancho twin-tube shocks, hill descent control and a skid plate.

    Under the hood, both the 2500HD and 3500HD are powered by either a 6.0-liter gasoline engine or a Duramax turbo-diesel.

    The All Terrain package is available for double cab and crew cab models, with SLE or SLT trim levels. The company has not announced pricing details or launch dates for the upgraded models.

  • Toyota holds top spot among most valuable car brands

    May 22, 2014
    Toyota has successfully held off BMW to keep the top position among the world’s most valuable car brands entering 2014.

    The Japanese automaker’s brand value jumped by 21 percent, reaching an estimated $30 billion, while BMW posted single-digit gains with a valuation of $26 billion, according to the annual ‘BrandZ‘ analysis compiled by research firm MillwardBrown.

    “Unlike in some other categories where consumers gravitated to the value and premium options, abandoning the broad middle, the mid-market brands came back strongly in the car category,” the report notes.

    Ford showed the biggest value gains for the year, marking a 56-percent leap to near $12 billion, while Audi and Mercedes-Benz brands gained 20 percent and 27 percent, respectively. General Motors’ Chevrolet brand also made a notable entry into the top-ten list for the first time, despite the recall crisis.

    “Consumers expected cars loaded with technology, regardless of price point,” the analysts observed.

    Safety was also highlighted as a driving force behind new vehicle purchases, encouraging drivers to upgrade after an average of three years as newer safety technology arrives on the market.

    Despite the focus on technology, however, the report suggests price, limited range and scant recharging infrastructure still stand in the way of electric-vehicle adoption. The Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt achieved “soft sales,” while Tesla “generated excitement” without many unit sales because its brand became a “status symbol.”

    MillwardBrown provides some “brand building” advice to major automakers: be safe, be transparent, and demonstrate leadership.