Monthly Archives: September 2014

Audi Has a Amazing Car Just Waiting For You

The Audi brand has been untouchable in the recent years.  Audi released the first images of its third-generation TT Roadster softtop cabriolet on Wednesday, teasing buyers ahead of the two-seat model’s debut at the Paris auto show next week.

Much of the new TT Roadster’s technical specifications are similar to the already-shown new TT Coupe. The cars have the same engine range and many of the same chassis components, but there are a few important differences.

The TT Roadster’s fabric roof is equipped with two electric motors that can open or close the top in 10 seconds, down from 12 second for the previous-generation model. The roof can be opened or closed at speeds of up to about 50kph (about 30 mph), Audi said in a statement. Thanks to parts made from magnesium, aluminum, steel and plastic, the roof weights 39kg, making it 3kg lighter than its predecessor.

The car also boasts improved crash safety, although the additional reinforcements to stiffen the body and compensate for the loss of the B- and C-pillar pack on 90kg of additional weight for the base 2.0-liter TFSI version compared with the coupe.

More rigid, slightly slower

To improve torsional rigidity, for example, aluminum A‑pillars each conceal a second steel pillar in their interior, which in turn houses a solid steel tube. As a result, the top-of-the-line 2.0-liter TFSI Quattro S tronic with 310 hp goes from 0 to 100kph in 4.9 seconds as a roadster, which is 0.3 seconds slower than the equivalent coupe.

“The concept of designing a compact roadster following clear geometrical rules formed the original idea for the Audi TT in autumn 1994,” Audi development chief Ulrich Hackenberg said in a statement on Wednesday.

In Germany, customers can begin ordering the new TT Roadster in October with prices starting at 37,900 euros for the 2.0 TFSI. The model will arrive in showrooms in spring 2015 while the higher-power TTS cabrio will follow shortly afterwards.  Will this roadster compare to the previous model?

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The Best Cars and Trucks Of 2015

It has all come down to this!  2015 model-year cars and trucks are starting to filter into dealers in earnest, and with that, the newly expanded jury from the North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year awards is getting serious about assessing this year’s talented new crop with an eye toward doling out the awards in January.

Back in the beginning of August, the NACTOY jury released this year’s long list of around 60 new vehicles that it would consider for the awards. While that list basically included everything slated to go on sale in the 2015 model year, this tighter list of 10 cars and 12 truck/utility/crossover vehicles highlights the products that the self-funded, independent and non-profit jury of North American auto writers have determined to be worthy of closer inspection and consideration.

This year, no one automaker dominates the short list, but Ford, General Motors and Toyota have tied with three nominees apiece. The Blue Oval’s contenders include Mustang, F-150 and the Lincoln MKC, while Toyota has its redesigned Camry, Highlander and Lexus NX crossover. Finally, GM’s slate is made up of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins and the Tahoe SUV. Audi, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz have scored a pair of nominations each.

2015 North American Car of the Year Short List

2015 North American Truck/Utility of the Year Short List

At this still-early stage in the yearly judging, most jurors have not driven every nominee due to late vehicle availability (e.g., Nissan Murano), but the panel has been encouraged to give vehicles the benefit of the doubt in voting when culling the nominees down from long list to short list in order to ensure they get their just consideration.  Choosing the best car must be hard without actually driving them.

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GM Sued By Hundred’s Due to Faulty Ignition

The backlash from  GM’s recall was worse then expected. The death toll tied to faulty ignition switches in General Motors’ small cars has risen to 19, according to a compensation expert hired by the company. That number is likely to rise.

Kenneth Feinberg determined 19 wrongful death claims are eligible for payments from GM; the company’s estimate of deaths has remained at 13 for months, although the automaker acknowledged the possibility of a higher count.

Feinberg received 125 death claims due to the faulty switches in older-model small cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt. The rest remain under review or require further documentation, he said in a report issued Monday.

“The public report is simply reporting on those eligible to date,” Feinberg spokeswoman Camille Biros said in an email. “There will certainly be others.”

GM has admitted to knowing about the ignition switch problem for over a decade, though it didn’t begin recalling the switches in 2.6 million small cars until earlier this year. The automaker hired Feinberg to compensate victims of crashes caused by the switches, and Feinberg has said GM has not limited the total amount he can pay.

Some lawmakers have estimated the death toll is closer to 100.

Biros, citing confidentiality agreements, said Feinberg will not identify any of those eligible for payments, nor will he say if the 19 deemed eligible include the 13 deaths that GM has documented. GM has not identified the 13 victims; the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has not tallied the total number of deaths.

Biros said no claims have been rejected yet, although Feinberg is in the process of turning down a few because they don’t meet the requirements for compensation. Feinberg will issue reports each Monday on how many claims have been granted, she added.

Feinberg also has received 320 claims for compensation due to injuries. Of those, 12 have been deemed eligible for payments so far.

Of the injury claims, 58 were in the most serious category, seeking compensation for injuries resulting in loss of use of limbs, amputation, permanent brain damage or pervasive burns, the Feinberg statement said. Another 262 claims are for less-serious injuries that required hospital stays or outpatient medical treatment within 48 hours of the crash.  How many more will come out as injured from this mistake?

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Ferrari Announces Luc Cordero di Montezemolo To Step Down

Look out world, there’s a new CEO in town!  Luca Cordero di Montezemolo will step down as chairman of Ferrari as of Oct. 13 and will be replaced by Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, Fiat said in a statement today.

The departure of Montezemolo, 67, was widely expected after escalating clashes between the two executives over strategy and the role of Ferrari within the Fiat group.

Ferrari is a key component of Marchionne’s plans to expand in luxury cars to better compete with Volkswagen, which owns Lamborghini among its stable of high-end nameplates.

Montezemolo wanted to maintain Ferrari’s autonomous status and limit sales to about 7,000 cars a year to preserve the brand’s exclusive allure. That clashed with Marchionne’s goal of having Ferrari bolster a shift by Fiat into upscale cars as part of its merger with Chrysler Group.

Marchionne told reporters today that Ferrari will continue to limit annual sales but may gradually raise the cap to cater for rising demand. The cap could undergo “small changes” in some markets to prevent rivals getting an advantage by letting waiting lists get too long, he said. A Ferrari spokesman said the U.S. is one of the markets where demand for Ferrari cars is strong.

Ferrari will continue to provide engineering assistance to Fiat Group’s Maserati and Alfa Romeo brands to improve the quality of their cars. “Ferrari is a good school. Its importance within the group should not be underestimated,” Marchionne said.

Marchionne added that his new role as Ferrari chairman was not temporary and that bringing in a new chief executive for the brand was not on the agenda. He said there is no plan to fold Ferrari into the rest of Fiat Chrysler. “The success of Ferrari is mainly due to its unique brand,” he said.

Montezemolo’s Oct. 13 resignation date coincides with the day when Fiat plans to list Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) in New York after completing a merger with its U.S. business and cementing a shift of the Italian group from its home for the past 115 years.

‘New phase’

“Ferrari will have an important role to play within the FCA Group in the upcoming flotation on Wall Street. This will open up a new and different phase, which I feel should be spearheaded by the CEO of the Group,” Montezemolo said in a statement.

Marchionne said that he and Montezemolo had discussed the future of Ferrari at length and that “our mutual desire to see Ferrari achieve its true potential on the [Formula One] track has led to misunderstandings, which became clearly visible over the last weekend.” Marchionne said on Sunday that the recent disappointing performance of Ferrari’s F1 team was “unacceptable” and that it was “absolutely non-negotiable” that Ferrari should win F1 races. He also took issue with comments from Montezemolo offering to continue running the brand for three more years, saying that “nobody is indispensable.”

Under Montezemolo’s tenure, Ferrari raced to the top of the F1 standings, increased revenues tenfold and tripled sales volumes as the Italian family business grew into one of the world’s most powerful brands.  Will these changes benefit the brand?

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Why Canadians Can’t Get European Cars

Which cars do Canadians want the most?  Volvo’s V40 hatchback smashed records in European crash tests, scoring an unprecedented 98 of 100 points. But restrictive Canadian regulations mean consumers can’t buy the sporty hatchback here.

The V40 received a five-star rating in 2012 from the European New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), a consortium of seven European governments and consumer safety organizations, which organizes crash tests for European cars. Its safety features include the world’s first pedestrian airbag.

The V40 is just one of dozens of popular European models that don’t get to this side of the Atlantic because they don’t meet Transport Canada standards. In many instances, for companies such as Volvo, Audi or Mercedes, it’s not economically feasible to retest or modify a model to fit Canadian rules. Those changes can also add anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 to the retail price.

Volvo Canada president Marc Engelen scoffs at the barriers to the V40, which also effectively prevent the importation of the V40 Cross Country and the V60 plug-in hybrid (1.9 litres/100 km). He calls the government regulations “ridiculous.

“As a smaller company we are not prepared to do these investments,” Engelen says. “Maybe the European trade agreement can help, but there’s delay there, too and that doesn’t help the cause either. It’s not an advantage to the final customer.”

Meanwhile, Transport Canada standards prevent the sale of such models as the Volkswagen Scirocco (formerly sold in North America) and the Mercedes-Benz A-class hatchback.

This has been a hot button issue for Tim Reuss, president of Mercedes-Benz Canada, who has been outspoken about Canada’s regulations. Like other European manufacturers, his company is frustrated with little progress after months of lobbying.

While Canada and the EU have hashed out a blueprint for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union, expected to be final in 2016, Reuss says the company has been “lobbying and pushing hard … to at least open the door to discuss standards and regulations.” He expected the process to be slow, but sees little sign of progress.

He’s advocating for “reciprocal acceptance of each other’s standards,” because that would more quickly open Canada’s doors to more models.

As Canada harmonizes its auto regulations with the United States, that sends a mixed message to European auto makers, Reuss says.

“From my perspective, there seems to be a disconnect between, let’s call it the political government and the bureaucratic government.”

Reuss says Canada’s ongoing efforts to harmonize auto standards with the United States amounts to accepting U.S. regulations. Meanwhile, “Canada politically has made it clear that they, while maintaining a special relationship with their neighbour to the south, are opening themselves up to the rest of the world. For me, that seems to be a fundamental disconnect.”

But harmonization with the United States is critical to Canadian consumer safety and expectations, says Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association. He says Canadian standards are more rigorous than the EU’s. He cites North American specifications as tougher than EU’s “limited” standards on things such as side and frontal impact occupant protection, roof intrusion strength, and fuel system integrity in side and rear collisions.

“Canada and U.S. standards are data-driven and have been shown to have public safety benefits which have resulted in regulations that are more stringent,” Nantais says, adding there are about 15 remaining standards to harmonize between the United States and Canada, where there were once many more.

“Keep in mind these companies are highly competitive and want to be leaders in sales … generally speaking,” he says.

Reuss, however, says nobody’s regulations are “better” – just “different.” Rather, the real issue is also letting innovative technology come to the market and giving consumers more choice.

“To say that the EU does not have stringent safety standards would be accusing the EU of negligence, because it’s the same government that approves and agrees with those vehicles being driven at top speeds on the German autobahn … so, come on, seriously.”

Canada’s regulations are also keeping cutting-edge technology from the marketplace, Reuss says. He points to intelligent light systems, which adapt to driving and seeing conditions, automatically dim and differentiate between an animal and a human on the road. Mercedes has adopted it in its S-Class models and other European auto makers have also integrated the technology.

We won’t see them here, Reuss says, because Canada’s regulations were written long before this technology was born. “I’m exaggerating a little bit, but it was written when all you could do was turn lights on and off – and that was the height of technology at the time.”

The A-class hatchback is another example of a model Canadians say they want, but Mercedes can’t import.

“We have very clear market research of what our customers want and we have clear feedback from our dealers from our salespeople,” says Reuss.

Reuss sees hope in the CETA trade agreement. He hopes Canada and the EU can use that mechanism to address the trade barriers that prevent the best technology from coming to Canada. Until then Canadians will just have to wait for their favourite cars.

 

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