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12:27 AM

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Ferrari 458 Italia spider in the works, Di Montezemolo reportedly says

Rafay Ansar

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A picture of Ferrari 458 Italia
The Ferrari 458 Italia made its public debut in Frankfurt in September. A spider version is on tap as well, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said.
Ferrari

The Ferrari 458 Italia will get a spider version, company president Luca di Montezemolo told Italian reporters.

The Ferrari chief says work is under way on the topless 458 and that it should arrive in about two years. The 458 coupe launches early next year.

“[Deliveries of the coupe] will begin in the second half of January,” Di Montezemolo said in comments reported by Autocar in Britain. “We also plan a spider version, but not for a couple of years.”

The convertible likely will carry the same 562-hp, 4.5-liter V8 as the coupe.

The 458 Italia is the successor to the F430. The car turned heads with its more aggressive styling and was named Best in Show by at Frankfurt by Carz Arena.



5:44 AM

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Daimler considers building Mercedes C-class in U.S.

Rafay Ansar

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Building C-class cars in Alabama could save Daimler millions in wage costs.
Daimler AG could move some production of the Mercedes-Benz C-class to the United States from Germany, a German newspaper reported Wednesday.

The Stuttgarter Zeitung said some C-class production could be transferred to the carmaker's plant in Vance, Ala., from Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart, as part of a wider production shakeup planned by Daimler to reduce costs.

In the future, the C-class sedan could be built in three locations: Bremen, Germany; Vance, Ala., and in China, the newspaper said.

Building about 80,000 C-class cars a year in Vance would save the automaker about $95 million (64 million euros) because the average hourly wage at the U.S. factory is about $44 (30 euros) compared with $74 (50 euros) in Germany, the newspaper said.

Moving some C-class production to the United States would allow Daimler to avoid swings in the value of the U.S. dollar against the euro, and save import duties and freight costs.

The Vance plant, which builds the M-, GL- and R-class models, has spare capacity. The plant built 66,710 units in the first eight months of this year, down from 136,138 the year before, according to the Automotive News Data Center.

The C-class is Mercedes' top-selling car in the United States with 34,432 units sold in the first eight months, down from 50,593 the year before, according to the data center.

Daimler told news wires that it had not made any decision on future C-class production.





12:54 AM

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Ford CEO Alan Mulally to deliver keynote address at CES

Rafay Ansar

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Ford is continuing to double-down on its Sync technology as a way to separate itself from competitors, and in that theme CEO Alan Mulally will again deliver a keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in January in Las Vegas.

He's expected to unveil the next round of Ford's Sync features at the show, which is a bellwether event for the technology industry. He also spoke at last year's show, and former GM CEO Rick Wagoner addressed it in 2008 as part of efforts by auto execs to showcase new innovations in their cars.

Mulally will detail a new docking technology for mobile devices in future vehicles, as well as further advancements in voice activation.

“Ford continues to lead by bringing together the automobile and consumer electronics industries,” Mulally said in a statement.

More than 70 percent of Fords are now sold with Sync, said Jim Buczkowski, Ford director of electronics and electrical engineering. Sync was fortified this year with traffic, directions and information features as the carmaker looks to stay ahead of other companies offering their own connectivity and advanced navigation systems.

“There's clear evidence in the Sync world that technology is helping sell vehicles,” Buczkowski said.

Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, said Ford approaches Sync and other connectivity technologies with a fresh attitude.

“What I appreciate, is Ford is thinking and acting like an electronics company,” Shapiro said.

Meanwhile, Shapiro and Ford executives reiterated they support a ban on texting while driving.




7:03 AM

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2010 Lexus ES 350 to start at $35,675

Rafay Ansar

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The 2010 Lexus ES 350 will start at $35,675, including destination charges, when the lightly updated sedan arrives on the market later this month.

Changes on the outside include side mirrors with integrated turn signals, revised front grille, chrome body side molding, front bumper and rain-sensing wipers. The ES 350 also gets updated headlamps, lower intake with integrated foglamps and revised taillights. It rides on standard 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and comes in four new colors.

The interior is has a center console that has been re-done for more storage, new trim options and driver's seat memory. Lexus Enform with Safety Connect, a new telematics system, also is available

Power comes from the 3.5-liter V6 that makes 272 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque. It's paired with a six-speed automatic.






2:24 AM

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Toyota say it will use Prius name on more hybrids

Rafay Ansar

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Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. will use the Prius name on more hybrid models in its U.S. lineup, the automakers' top executives told dealers.

At a meeting of the 60 largest dealers in Las Vegas on Tuesday and Wednesday, Toyota executives said the name Prius would be attached to “a family of models” using similar hybrid powertrains, veteran Toyota dealer Earl Stewart says.

“The Highlander hybrid and Camry hybrid do OK, but calling it ‘Synergy Drive' never resonated with consumers,” Stewart says. “But they can make hay on the Prius name. It's a magic name. If somebody says ‘I drive a Prius,' everybody knows what he means.”

Toyota Motor Sales COO Jim Lentz has been pushing for a multi-platform Prius lineup for a year. But this was the first time it has been openly discussed in front of Toyota Motor Sales president Yoshi Inaba and Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda.

Toyota will have a range of Prius hybrid models “but Prius won't be a separate sub-brand like Scion,” Stewart says.

Toyota executives in Frankfurt this week said the company planned to sell 500,000 to 600,000 hybrid vehicles globally by the end of 2009.



2:16 AM

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Dodge tried to add some muscle-car punch to its smallest car with the Caliber SRT4.

Rafay Ansar

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Dodge is dropping its fastest, most powerful small car for the 2010 model year. The Dodge Caliber SRT4--a turbocharged, muscle-bound version of the Caliber--is being discontinued.

"The Dodge Caliber SRT4 was planned for a limited production run in the highly competitive sport compact market segment," Dodge said in a statement.

Dodge did not provide information on the number of Caliber SRT4s sold since the vehicle was introduced in late 2007.

The Caliber SRT4 was Dodge's attempt to add a little muscle-car panache to its smallest car. It was powered by a 285-hp turbocharged version of the inline four-cylinder engine built at the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance factory in Dundee, Mich., operated jointly with Hyundai and Mitsubishi. The six-speed manual transmission was supplied by Getrag, of Germany.

Chrysler's SRT (Street and Racing Technology) group now has five vehicles for 2010: the Chrysler 300C SRT8; the Dodge Charger SRT8, Challenger SRT8 and Viper SRT10; and the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.






2:52 AM

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Electric Ford Focus to guest on Leno show

Rafay Ansar

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Jay Leno's new show goes live Monday on NBC, and a guest star from Dearborn, Mich., will have a recurring role.

The battery-electric Ford Focus will be the centerpiece of a bit dubbed the “Green Car Challenge” on the show. Leno, a noted car guy, will have celebrity guests compete for the best track times in the Focus.

How this is actually eco-friendly is a little unclear. But it will mean prime-time exposure for Ford's new green machine. The battery-electric Focus is due in 2011, one of four electric vehicles Ford is bringing to the market in the coming years. The company's plans also include an electric Transit Connect.

The Focus for The Jay Leno Show was a joint effort by Ford Racing and the company's battery- and electric-vehicle program. It was built in three weeks.

The made-for-TV car has a split battery pack, with one battery in the cargo area and one in the space under the car where the fuel tank usually is located. It also has a specially tuned suspension for racing, a roll bar and a five-point harness for the driver.

This stunt means that Ford now has two sets of ratings to fret over for the electric Focus: EPA and Nielsen.






3:02 AM

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911’s touch of Class

Rafay Ansar

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Every four seconds our inbox glows with an email from a Porsche tuner promoting some gruesome modified 911. Today we received something more official and less hideous from Porsche.

It’s called the Sport Classic, and it’s taken the chaps in Stuttgart about three years to finish. Maybe that’s because they spent so many hours locked in their museum, pinching bits from old cars for inspiration. Or maybe they were distracted by their dedication to beard cultivation.

But we’ll forgive the tardiness because it’s actually quite cool. There’s a double-domed roof like the original Batmobile's and perched on its boot is a fixed ducktail spoiler, just like the one from a 1973 Carrera RS 2.7, according to the Beards. It gets bumpers like those on all-wheel-drive Porsches (that’s the Turbo) and some lightly redesigned lights.

And, of course, it gets some classic ‘Fuchs’ style alloys. Possibly our favourite kind of rims, those Fuchs.

There’s a sprinkling of special touches in the cabin, but the best changes lie beneath all that. The Sport Classic gets a special Resonance Intake System with six switching butterflies (that’s vacuum controlled flaps to the Beards) which, along with some other bits of engine tweakery, increase the power by 23bhp over the Carrera S to 402bhp.

Just 250 will be made worldwide and the Sport Classic will cost – wait for it – £140,049. Ouch.

That sort of money will buy you a 911 GT2. So while you dream, why not watch Jeremy thrash one around our track?



2:30 AM

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Mini to showcase ‘Mission Control,' anniversary cars at Frankfurt

Rafay Ansar

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Mini is celebrating its 50th birthday at the Frankfurt motor show with a nod to the past and a glimpse of the future.

Two special-edition Minis, the 50 Mayfair and 50 Camden will be displayed at the show--where parent BMW always likes to make a splash. The pair went into production Sept. 1, almost 50 years to the day after Mini's first car. They will be limited to a one-year run and will go on sale in the United States this month.

The Camden is sure to be one of the most talked-about cars in Frankfurt--and it may talk back.

It will showcase a new technology Mini calls “Mission Control,” which allows the car to interact with the driver, sort of like a British version of Ford's Sync. Three voices offer information about the car and its surroundings. There are up to 1,600 different statements, and it's a standard feature on the Camden.

For example:

If the driver hammers the engine on a cold morning too quickly, a voice may say “ouch, I'm not warmed up yet,” in the words of Jim McDowell, Mini USA vice president.
Mini Cooper 50 Mayfair
A picture of Mini Cooper 50 Mayfair
Mini



The Mini Cooper 50 Mayfair

The voices can also offer congratulations for taking a curve with gusto--and plenty of g-force; or say something like “wow 4.5 seconds of full throttle,” after a lengthy launch.

It can also suggest the driver turn on the air conditioning if the program senses ambient temperatures are hot, or tell passengers to buckle up.

Mini, which is known for somewhat off-the-wall innovations--like the giant speedometer in the center of its dashboards or the gauge that tells you how long the roof has been open--also offers a common-sense option: the voices can be turned off.

Mini is calling Frankfurt the world debut of the Camden and Mayfair, though they actually were shown in May at the Mini United Festival at Silverstone. The powertrain lineup includes a 172-hp four-cylinder motor that employs a twin-scroll turbocharger and direct injection, as well as a 118-hp unit. Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are offered.
Mini Cooper S 50 Camden
A picture of Mini Cooper S 50 Camden
Mini



The Mini Cooper S 50 Camden

The cars are appointed with a slew of special features, including a jubilee placard on the grille that reads “50” in Union Jack colors of red, white and blue. They both ride on 17-inch alloy wheels and take their names from British neighborhoods.

The Mayfair is available in a “hot chocolate” brown color, as well as white and black. The Camden comes in silver, white and black.




12:58 AM

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Ferrari exec to take over top post for Lotus

Rafay Ansar

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A top executive is trading in his Ferrari red for the green of Lotus. Dany Bahar will take over as the CEO of the British sports-car maker on Oct. 1.

Bahar, a Swiss national, fills the spot vacated by longtime Lotus CEO Michael Kimberley, who retired in July because of back problems.

Bahar was senior vice president for Ferrari, responsible for global car sales. He also oversaw marketing for the car and Formula One businesses, as well as licensing and merchandising.

Before working for Ferrari, Bahar was head of corporate projects for Red Bull, where he was involved in commercial strategy for its F1 and NASCAR efforts.

“I am looking forward to taking on the challenges as CEO of this legendary and iconic company with a peerless motorsport history,” he said in a statement.

“Lotus has a worldwide reputation for innovative engineering and superb sports cars that lead the world in efficiency, design and dynamics. With the recent launch of the Evora, there is proof that Lotus is better placed than many to capitalize on the rapidly changing automotive market. I can’t wait to get my plans under way in October.”





4:25 AM

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BMW wants to sell 1,000 of its fire-breathing hybrids in the U.S

Rafay Ansar

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A picture of BMW 7 hybrid

The 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 is shown.

It's literally a grand strategy: BMW is aiming to sell 1,000 of its new hybrids based on the 7-series and the X6 in their first year in the United States.

The two hybrids will be revealed in production trim at the Frankfurt motor show this month. They use eco-technology to boost fuel economy and performance. The X6 hybrid hits the U.S. market in December, followed by the 7-series in April 2010.

The crossover, officially called the ActiveHybrid X6, will make 480 hp and 575 lb-ft of torque. It can run in electric-only mode up to a speed of 37 mph, drawing power from its nickel-metal-hydride batteries. Fuel-efficiency is improved by 20 percent over a gasoline-powered X6.

The ActiveHybrid 7 gets a power surge to 455 hp and a whopping 516 lb-ft of torque compared with the gasoline model, and it employs lithium-ion batteries. Look for a fuel-economy improvement of about 15 percent.

BMW's hybrids are a tantalizing blend of power and fuel efficiency. But they're actually a small part of the luxury-car maker's plan to green its fleet, said Jim O'Donnell, CEO of BMW North America. Sales of 1,000--a collective total for the two hybrids--are a drop in the pan for the company. This year, it projects total sales of 200,000 vehicles.

The company will use more aluminum and lighter-weight materials in an effort to cut weight and employ stop/start technology, direct injection and regenerative brakes as it looks to meet stricter fuel regulations set to take effect for the 2016 model year.

“I think we have the technology to get us there,” O'Donnell said.

More diesels could be added to BMW's U.S. lineup based on the 5-series cars and the X crossovers, he said.

Currently, BMW's U.S. diesels are the X5 xDrive 35d and the 335d, which could get an all-wheel-drive version. Diesels could tally anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent of the company's sales, depending on market conditions and consumer acceptance.

In other product news, the next X3 will be larger than the current version, which BMW admits is getting roughed up in a competitive market segment. The crossover also will also retain the X3 moniker.

Under the hood, a four-cylinder engine, likely augmented with turbocharging, is a possibility to help boost mpg figures and performance.

But the bread-and-butter V8--a signature for luxury liners and prestige that is slowly disappearing from some brands--will remain an anchor for BMW, O'Donnell said.

“I think in America, what the customer wants is a V8,” he said.