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 along with the weekend racing schedule for your convenience.
Fiat now has majority control of Chrysler, having paid the U.S. Treasury $500 million for its six-percent stake in the company. The move allowed Fiat to increase its share of Chrysler from 46 to 52 percent. It comes just two weeks after Chrysler repaid $6.7 billion in loans from the U.S. and Canadian governments. The next item on Fiat’s agenda will be buying the 1.7-percent share in Chrysler controlled by the Canadian government.
Ford’s fuel-economy offensive will continue with a new turbocharged, direct-injection 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine. The EcoBoost mill is said to produce power equivalent to a 1.6-liter four-cylinder, but with drastically reduced fuel consumption. It will be mated to an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission, which packs multiple innovations to improve economy. The new engine will debut in the Euro-market B-Max, but we’re hopeful that it will arrive in American products at a later date.
If a hardtop supercar is good, is a convertible version even better? Audi’s betting that answer is yes with the R8 GT Spyder. Like the hardtop R8 GT that came before it, this car is a limited-run step above the R8 5.2 V10 Spyder supercar. It touts 560 hp, enough weight-saving tricks to drop 187 pounds, and a top speed of 197 mph. And with a folding soft top, drivers will be able to feel the wind in their hair as they rocket to 62 mph in just 3.8 seconds. Only 333 copies of the R8 GT Spyder will be produced, with prices in Europe starting at €207,800.
A Virginia think-tank claimed unscrupulous dealerships were “stealing” electric-car tax credits from buyers of the Chevrolet Volt. Yet General Motors says the accusations are false and confused. The $7500 tax credits are intended to help encourage customers to buy alternative-fuel vehicles, like the Volt and Nissan Leaf. Both GM and Nissan dispute the report; they deny that dealers are taking the tax credit away from customers, and that any examples of new Volts being sold as “used” are limited to dealerships unable to sell new Chevrolet products.
Is it a sincere form of flattery or blatant plagiarism? A new commercial for the Audi A6 Avant shown in Germany is remarkably similar to Chrysler’s “Born From Fire” Super Bowl commercial. Not only are the visual styles and shots of the Audi commercial similar, but it features an instrumental soundtrack that’s strikingly similar to the Eminem song “Lose Yourself” employed in Chrysler’s spot. A group representing Eminem’s music has filed a motion for damages in German court.
Another round of updates to a General Motors Grand River assembly plant in Lansing, Michigan, will provide the factory with the tooling and equipment necessary to build a “new model” there. GM is keeping mum on what new vehicle is headed for production Lansing Grand River, but our belief is that it’s a variant of the forthcoming Cadillac ATS rear-drive sedan. The Cadillac CTS is already built at the Grand River facility, and it’s widely expected the BMW 3 Series-fighting ATS will be assembled there, too.
Production of the 2012 Honda Civic has been significantly delayed by the fallout from the March 11 natural disasters in Japan. Though most Honda factories will soon return to normal production levels, the plants building the Honda Civic will remain at just 50-percent capacity until late fall. To help counter the production slowdowns, Honda will hire 1000 extra workers at the Greensburg, Indiana plant that builds the Civic. Adding a second shift will increase capacity there to 200,000 Civics per year.
BMW is expected to end production of the current 3 Series sedan this fall — the diesel-powered 335d will end production in August, with the gasoline-powered 328i and 335i following in October. The news isn’t all that surprising because we’ve already seen the new 3 Series, codenamed F30 in BMW-speak, in official BMW teaser videos, and spied several prototype cars testing in the open. We expect the car to make its first public appearance at the Frankfurt Motor Show later this year, or possibly in early 2012.
This week we got behind the wheel of the 2011 Audi Q7 TDI, Audi’s foray into the oil-burning SUV market that returns improved economy at the cost of a few horsepower. While the Q7 TDI is a little slower in all-out acceleration than its gasoline-powered siblings, the diesel engine rewards with impressive fuel economy. Moreover, the TDI model is just a luxurious and refined as any other Audi Q7. Chevrolet is confident that the handling of its new 2012 Sonic hatchback is much improved over the car’s predecessor, the Aveo, and let us loose on an autocross track. With plenty of power from a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the 2012 Sonic also rewards drivers with responsive turn-in and class-competitive handling. The production Chevrolet Sonic is set to launch this fall.
– NASCAR Nationwide Series STP 300, Chicagoland Speedway, Saturday June 4 at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN
– NASCAR Sprint Cup STP 400, Kansas Speedway, Sunday June 5 at 1 p.m. on FOX