Been away from your computer this week and missed all the automotive news? We’ve gathered a few of the top stories of the past week for your convenience.
After an investigation into the risk of fire from the batteries in the Chevrolet Volt, General Motors has announced it will make some changes to the electric car. To prevent coolant from leaking during extreme crashes, GM will strengthen the safety structure around the Volt’s battery pack, add a tamper-proof bracket to the coolant tank, and install a sensor to monitor coolant levels. The changes were made in responses to reports of fires after severe crash tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. GM believes that coolant leaked onto a circuit board, causing an electric short and subsequently a fire. Though there is no official recall for this issue, GM plans to fix the problem for free on all Volts at dealerships and already in the possession of customers.
Porsche quietly announced this week that two new vehicles will be coming to the U.S. market. The Cajun small crossover will arrive on our shores by 2013, while a diesel version of the Cayenne SUV is due here during 2012. The Cajun is based on the Audi Q5, and will likely be offered with either a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four or supercharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine. It is designed to be the cheapest Porsche and help attract younger buyers to the brand. The Cayenne diesel will likely use the same 3.0-liter turbo-V-6 offered in Europe, which provides 240 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque while returning the equivalent of 32 mpg combined. Expect more details once the concept car is revealed in Detroit.
The Audi Q3 isn’t sold in the U.S. market, but a new report suggests that the company will debut a concept version of the vehicle at the Detroit auto show. Said to be a “themed” vehicle, we expect the Q3 Vail concept is a sign that the small crossover will eventually launch on American soil. If so, expect the Audi to carry over its 2.0-liter gasoline and 2.0-liter turbodiesel inline-four engines, along with optional quattro all-wheel drive.
Inspired by strong public reaction to show cars at SEMA and other auto shows, Mopar will launch two special customized versions of Chrysler Group vehicles. The 2012 Dodge Charger Redline, based on the V-8-powered R/T model, can be upgraded in three different stages: Stage One comprises dress-up bits like a carbon-fiber spoiler, Stage Two adds performance parts including a new exhaust and stronger brake pads, and Stage Three adds a wild (and not-street-legal) 426-cubic-inch Hemi crate motor good for either 540- or 590 hp. Similar packages will be offered for the Chrysler 200 S: Stage One nets a larger chin spoiler, rear diffuser, and new 18-inch wheels, while the Stage Two package supplements the car’s V-6 engine with a cold-air intake and catback exhaust system. The packages go on sale in late 2012.
Volvo will unveil a plug-in hybrid concept version of the XC60 crossover at the Detroit auto show. A turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine powers the front wheels, a 70-hp electric motor powers the rear wheels, and an additional 45-hp electric motor/generator is connected to the transmission. The XC60 can operate as a traditional hybrid, full-electric, or use the motors and gasoline engine to provide up to 350 hp. Volvo says the XC60 plug-in hybrid could travel about 35 miles on a fully charged battery, or return about 50 mpg when operating as a hybrid. Although this model is simply a concept, Volvo confirms that a plug-in hybrid XC60 will go into series production in a few years’ time. The company is already launching a V60 wagon with a similar hybrid drive system in Europe.
Chrysler Group indicated that the 2013 Dodge Dart achieved 40 mpg in preliminary testing this week, allowing Fiat to increase its share in the company from 53.5 to 58.5 percent. The milestone was the final of three “performance benchmarks” established by the U.S. Treasury when Chrysler was in bankruptcy in 2009; at each of the benchmarks, Fiat could take an additional five-percent stake in the American automaker. The third and final of those requirements forced Chrysler to build a car on American soil that achieved at least 40 mpg. The 2013 Dart will be built in Illinois and debuts at the Detroit auto show, before going on sale some time in 2012. Engine choices will comprise “Tigershark” inline-fours displacing 2.0 and 2.4 liters, as well as a turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir inline-four.
CEO Sergio Marchionne had already admitted as much, but now it’s official: the company will sell a diesel version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee in the U.S. from 2013. The engine will probably be the same 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 found in the European-market Grand Cherokee; it should be significantly more fuel-efficient than the V-6 and V-8 engines currently on offer in the American-spec Jeep. At the same time, Chrysler said it would add a third shift and 1100 jobs at its Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, Michigan. The factory, which employs about 2890 people, builds the Grand Cherokee as well as the Dodge Durango. Adding more workers will increase the plant’s production capacity for those vehicles, including the aforementioned diesel version of the Grand Cherokee.
The Toyota Land Cruiser is celebrating its 60th anniversary in its homeland of Japan, and the American edition of the big SUV will receive a raft of updates for 2013. The updates begin with a new grille, new headlights with LED running lights, and new 18-inch wheels. The cabin benefits from new chrome trim, higher-gloss wood, a heated steering wheel, two more power outlets, and a redesigned instrument cluster. At the same time, Toyota has made almost all of the Land Cruiser’s optional equipment standard, meaning that goodies like a rear-seat DVD player, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth, headlight washers, a leather steering wheel, rear spoiler, heated rear seats, and adaptive cruise control all will be featured on every new Land Cruiser.
Buick has revealed another portion of a teaser photo of the 2013 Encore, again using Facebook to gradually tease out an image of the new compact crossover. With the front fascia fully visible, we can see the Encore wears a waterfall grille and projector headlights that are styled in line with those on the new Buick Verano. The stubby, rounded nose almost recalls the old Saturn Vue, but this new Buick car is built on a completely different platform. Smaller and less expensive than the Enclave crossover, Buick’s QuietTuning sound insulation, luxurious interior finishes, and four-cylinder engines should all be on the menu. The 2013 Encore will finally be fully revealed at the Detroit auto show.
Even though Toyota struggled with production delays in the wake of Japan’s earthquake last March, the company’s omnipresent midsize sedan, the Camry, still easily bested all its competitors in the sales wars. With 308,510 sales in 2011, the Toyota Camry was the top-seller midsize car -- and third best-selling vehicle overall -- in the U.S. last year. Sales were down 5.9 percent compared to 2010, but launching the all-new 2012 Camry seems to have bolstered sales figures. Japanese rival Honda, however, saw sales of its popular Accord coupe and sedan slip 16.9 percent versus 2010 figures, to just 235,625 for the year. At the absolute bottom of the midsize segment was the new, Tennessee-built Volkswagen Passat. It’s not all bad news, though: even though its 22,779 sales last year pales in comparison to the Camry’s figure, that figure represents a jump of 124 percent over a year prior, and foreshadows strong sales for the VW in 2012.