A couple of weeks have passed since Audi dumped Wolfgang Dürheimer as its research & development chief. There had been reports that the heretofore quickly rising Volkswagen Group lifer, who had come from Bentley/Bugatti just ten months earlier, would land in some other job at the world’s third-largest automaker, although the job would be nowhere near Ingolstadt.
The latest rumor is that Dürheimer, not wanting to be parked at a well-compensated desk, has turned down three other opportunities at VW, and the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile, Formula 1’s sanctioning body, is after him to replace John Todt as its chief. Todt is the former Scuderia Ferrari F1 manager who became the FIA’s president in November 2009. VW has long been rumored to have interest in competing in F1.
Dürheimer’s demise at Audi was predicted in “The Deep Dive,” European Editor Georg Kacher’s regular column, in the July issue of Automobile Magazine: “Durheimer likes to be involved in the details, questioning every investment, implementing his own ideas, and influencing the design language. This has ruffled feathers among senior managers accustomed to ruling their departments as independent kingdoms.”
Dürheimer clashed with less-decisive execs running Volkswagen Group’s big moneymaker, including chief Rupert Stadler, and kept the R20 project going (cover story, April) after Stadler spiked it. He also failed to respond to BMW’s i3 and Mercedes AMG’s 355-hp 2.0-liter turbo. Meanwhile, Dürheimer is said to have favored building the next Audi A8 on Porsche’s MSB architecture. Audi wants the large sedans to be built on its own MLB platform, the unusual front-drive-based, longitudinal engine design that gives the A8 its RWD-style dash-to-axle ratio. Expect Porsche’s rear-drive-based platform to win the day, even with Dürheimer removed from Audi. While VW now owns Porsche outright, the Porsche-Piech (as in Ferdinand) family owns the majority of VW stock, and recently bought back Qatar Holdings’ 10 percent share of Porsche SE …
We’ve been eagerly awaiting the first sighting of SRT Barracuda or Alfa Romeo Giulia spy shots for some time. The Giulia sport sedan will share its rear-wheel-drive platform with the Barracuda, both on a shortened version of the next Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger/Dodge Challenger platform, which also are due for their updates next year.
One source believes the Giulia, originally scheduled for late 2014, and the Barracuda, arriving some time in 2015, are being held up as Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne tries to keep Italian assembly plants humming with new, high-volume front-wheel-drive product. However, there’s no concrete evidence that the Giulia and the Barracuda are on hold, as Fiat/Chrysler has barely acknowledged their developments…
General Motors faces similar problems. The company needs and wants halo cars, sexy cars that grab headlines for the right reasons. They draw potential Chevy Cruze, Buick Verano, or Cadillac SRX customers into showrooms. At the same time, GM is on the verge of flipping one of the oldest mainstream lineups in the business into one of the newest, with help from such quotidian models as Chevrolet’s Impala and Silverado and GMC’s Sierra. GM simply doesn’t have the resources to catch up its bread-and-butter products while it tries to develop intriguing new ones. The sexier projects are much riskier financially, and at GM too many rumored new products have been put on hold or stopped, started, and stopped again over the last four years.
Last week, Automotive News reported that chairman/CEO Dan Akerson has spiked plans for a six-figure ultra-Cadillac, one that might look much like a sedan-version of the Ciel concept. The luxury brand still plans a rear-wheel-drive Mercedes S-class-style sedan, priced above the CTS and the XTS, off the upcoming Omega platform. The Detroit Bureau disputes the AN report, stating that Cadillac has only scrapped the specific Ciel concept design.
The problem is as much Old GM as New GM. In 2004, Buick showed its handsome Velite concept, based on the Zeta RWD platform. A production sedan based on the convertible concept was hinted at for 2007, then 2009. Now there are rumors of RWD two- and four-door Buick “coupes” in the works, although the brand showed its latest Riviera concept as a front-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid, perhaps using the Voltec platform, at the ’13 Shanghai show.
Whether thedetroitbureau.com or AN is right about the Cadillac halo, this points to GM’s problems in setting priorities to avoid stop-start projects. Cadillac unveiled the Ciel concept at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours. Worst-case scenario is that the halo car is permanently on hold. Best-case scenario is that it’s likely another two years behind schedule.