• Mercedes-AMG working on 12-cylinder car to slot above GT

    September 18, 2015
    Mercedes-AMG has reportedly confirmed development work on a new halo car to slot above the current GT.

    The company has insisted that a direct successor to the gull-wing SLS is out of the question, however a product planner has indicated to Autoblog that the company nonetheless intends to expand its range with a new halo car. Specific details remain scant, though the executive is said to have suggested the model will be powered by a 12-cylinder engine.

    Executives last year promised to keep improving its 6.0-liter V12, revising the engine to meet ever-tightening emissions regulations, but the latest report suggests engineers may be working on an entirely new 12-cylinder mill. In either case, some form of hybrid technology is expected to help the powerplant reduce fuel consumption while raising the bar in terms of performance.

    It is unclear if the new halo car could be related to Mercedes-AMG’s long-rumored Porsche Panamera fighter. The car is expected to borrow architecture being developed for the next-generation E-Class, but with a unique body styling described as a GT-inspired four-door coupe. Previous reports suggested it will cost more than the base GT, however the unconfirmed details implied that it would be sold alongside the GT rather than serve as a new halo car.

    Whatever form it takes, the new car is not expected to arrive in the immediate future. Mercedes-AMG is still working on building out the GT family with new variants, including a promised Black Series package that will serve as a new range topper.

  • Mercedes to invest $1.3B in Alabama SUV plant

    September 18, 2015
    Mercedes-Benz will invest $1.3 billion into its Tuscaloosa, Alabama, plant over the next three years to expand the company’s SUV production, the German automaker announced on Friday.

    Mercedes will use that $1.3 billion investment to build a new body shop that will cover 1.3-million square feet, expand the plant’s current assembly shop by 139,930 square feet and upgrade to a new logistics IT system. The expansion will create an estimated 300 new jobs.

    “In the next years we invest $1.3 billion into the expansion of our SUV production and turn the Mercedes-Benz plant Tuscaloosa into a high-tech location,” said Markus Schäfer, Member of the Divisional Board Mercedes-Benz Cars, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management. “In this way we can produce the next SUV generations even more flexibly, efficiently and in proven top quality.”

    Opened in 1997, the Tuscaloosa plant initially made the M-Class, which has since been renamed the GLE. Production of the GLE continues at the Alabama plant, but Mercedes has added GL and C-Class sedan production over the last few years. The plant also made the R-Class utility vehicle until August of this year.

    Those vehicles will continue to be made in Tuscaloosa, with Mercedes stating that it will add hybrid production within the next few years.

    Photo by Drew Johnson.

  • EPA orders VoA to address emissions control "switch"

    September 18, 2015
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today ordered Volkswagen of America to address engine control programming installed in half a million vehicles due to its ability to disable certain emissions control functions during normal use.

    The enforced recall affects four-cylinder TDI models sold in the United States from model years 2009 through 2015, to include the VW Golf, Jetta, Beetle and Passat and the Audi A3.

    This programming can allegedly determine whether the vehicle is being operated normally (in the “real world”) or being put through an emissions testing protocol and alter the engine’s operating parameters accordingly, running more cleanly when an emissions test is detected.

    “Specifically, VW manufactured and installed software in the electronic control module (ECM) of these vehicles that sensed when the vehicle was being tested for compliance with EPA emission standards. For ease of reference, the EPA is calling this the ‘switch,’” said EPA officials in a letter sent to Volkswagen executives Friday.

    The EPA says it and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) were alerted to the discrepancies in test data and real-world data by study results released by West Virginia University’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines & Emissions in May, 2014.

    When initially confronted by these results, Volkswagen insisted the increased emissions in real-world testing were simply the result of environmental conditions and “various technical issues,” but agreed to a voluntary recall to address existing models.

    CARB then conducted its own testing in collaboration with the EPA and determined that the reprogrammed vehicles still did not perform as testing indicated they should.

    Following this, the agencies again confronted Volkswagen, who only then admitted that emissions control defeat programming had been written into the control modules of the engines in question.

    The inclusion of any feature that is considered an emissions control “defeat device” is a violation of federal regulations unless the manufacturer can explain and justify its inclusion, whether as a safety feature or a measure to prevent damage to the vehicle in normal operation. Such features must also be fully disclosed.

    Failure to meet these requirements can result in stiff penalties. None were announced Friday, but they are expected to be forthcoming.

  • Chevrolet SS gets facelift, exhaust upgrade for 2016

    September 18, 2015

    General Motors has quietly introduced another minor Chevrolet SS update, arriving for the 2016 model year.

    The sports sedan has received a revised front fascia, with vertical air ducts near the edges to direct airflow around the front wheels and improve aerodynamic efficiency. New LED signature lighting has been added, along with functional hood vents. A fresh set of 19-inch alloy wheels have also been created to complete the look.

    The 6.2-liter V8 engine remains unchanged with 415 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque, however it will sound different thanks to an upgraded exhaust. The new dual-mode system is said to bring a quieter tone at low rpm and a more muscular growl at wide-open throttle.

    “The 2016 SS design changes more fully express the true driving character of the sedan while further enhancing the car’s overall performance,” said Chevy performance car marketing boss Todd Christensen.

    The SS just last year received another round of upgrades, adding GM’s Magnetic Ride Control active dampers and an optional six-speed manual transmission.

    The company has not yet announced if the 2016 revisions come with any price changes. The 2015 model currently fetches $45,745 for the base trim (excluding freight and gas-guzzler tax).

  • Toyota still mulling green-light for BMW joint sports car

    September 18, 2015
    Toyota has cast doubt on production plans for the new sports car it is currently co-developing with BMW.

    The companies have been collaborating on a new platform that could underpin new models from both brands, however Toyota now cautions that it has made no final decision on whether to move forward with the project beyond a design study.

    “The whole study before that, on what kind of platform, on what kind of architecture, that’s been progressing quite well,” a spokesperson told Reuters. “We haven’t yet decided to give the green light to the project, but it’s coming up.”

    A broad range of rumors have focused on what each company might build upon the jointly-developed platform. BMW is widely believed to be working on a next-generation Z4, which could borrow design cues from the 3.0 CSL Hommage R concept. Toyota, meanwhile, could stretch the wheelbase for a revived Supra, or offer an entirely new model to slot above the GT86 ( Scion FR-S) and take styling inspiration from the FT-1 concepts (pictured) that appeared last year.

    The platform is rumored to be powered by a turbocharged six-cylinder engine with a hybrid all-wheel-drive system, delivering a combined output of over 400 horsepower. Such a proposition likely won’t come cheap, and unconfirmed reports suggest the production cars would likely cost at least $60,000 and potentially approach the six-figure threshold.

    Both companies may be discouraged from investing too much on the roadster and small sports car segments, both of which have continued to slowly contract in recent years. Sales of the current Z4 are down by more than nine percent for the year, while FR-S deliveries have declined by approximately 24 percent during the same period.

    The Japanese and German automakers still plan to partner on several different technologies, including composite materials and hydrogen fuel cells, even if the sports-car plans fall through.