What if? Lancia Stratos GT2 and WRC

What do you do after designing a modern day Lancia Stratos?
That's the question the new Stratos' designers Chris Hrabalek and Salome Etienne say they asked themselves following the recent unveiling of the spiritual successor to one of the world's most celebrated supercars and four time Rally Monte Carlo winner.
The answer to their question can be seen here in the form of a spectacular track orientated version of the reborn Stratos designed to comply with the FIA's current GT2 regulations.
With the new mid-engined coupe already based around the Ferrari 430 Scuderia, the new car has been conceived to adopt the driveline and other race components from the 430 Scuderia GT2 says Hrabalek, the former Volkswagen designer whose independent design company is behind the look of the reborn Lancia Stratos. For the moment the race track Stratos is mere fantasy - a scale model, in fact. But given the enthusiasm and momentum behind the resurrection of the Stratos legend, don't rule it out.

The GT2 is not the only version of the new Lancia Stratos we can look forward to.
Michael and Maximilian Stroschek, the men behind the new car, have also unveiled a full sized mock up of the new Stratos wearing the same iconic Alitalia livery as the original Lancia works rally team cars. Like the Stratos GT2 (above), there are no immediate plans for production. But as Michael Stroschek says: it never hurts to ask, what if?

More images after the jump

New (Lancia) Stratos: details, images

Michael Stoschek and his son Maximilian, the men behind the reborn Lancia Stratos, have revealed the technical specification of the up-until-now secretive mid-engined supercar in a presentation at the Paul Ricard Circuit in Le Castellet, France.
Developed by Stoschek’s German based automotive component supply company Brose in partnership with Pininfarina, the modern day Stratos has been eight years in the making – beginning with the first sketches and progressing through a detailled production process at Pininfarina to the finished product pictured here running at the Paul Ricard circuit. 
Clothed in a lightweight carbon fibre body, based around a shortened aluminium space frame and running a re-tuned engine and gearbox combination from the Ferrari F430 Scuderia, the new two seater holds firm to the design ethos of its spiritual forebear with a distinctive wedge shape, crisp edgy lines and aircraft canopy style cabin that are imbued with classic Marcello Gandini penned features such a wrap around windshield, roof mounted spoiler and duck tail style rear wing.
At 4181mm in length, 1971mm in width and 1240mm in height, the new car is 471mm longer, 161mm wider and 140mm higher than the original Stratos. It also rides on a 2400mm wheelbase. 
Power comes from the F430 Scuderia’s 4.3-litre V8 that’s been tuned with a new electronic management system and titanium exhaust system. Together they help liberate an added 30bhp, taking peak power up to 540bhp at 8200rpm. Torque is rated at 500Nm at 3730rpm.
Channeling drive to the rear wheels is a remapped version of the 430 Scuderia’s six-speed sequential gearbox and a new locking differential – the latter replacing the Ferrari’s standard electronic unit. With a dry weight of 1247kg, the new Stratos is claimed to hit 62mph in 3.3sec, 124mph in 9.7sec and reach beyond 186mph at its 9000rpm redline in sixth gear.
Although described as a one-off, Stoschek says the tooling for the new Lancia Stratos could support a limited run of around 25 cars if interest is forthcoming. 
Update to follow . . .

Fiat/Chrysler outlines plans for new Alfa Romeo and Jeep models

Fiat and Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne has outlined plans that will see the upcoming Alfa Romeo Giulia (replacement for the 159) and a new Jeep Cherokee/Liberty produced at Fiat’s historic Mirafiori plant in Turin, Italy.
Both cars are to be based around a reworked version of Fiat’s highly flexible C-Evo platform that underpins the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Already widened to accommodate Chrysler’s Pentastar V6, the re-engineered platform, known as the C-Evo Wide, has now been modified further with a longer wheelbase and wider tracks, in the process giving it a further new D-Evo name in its latest guise. Along with front-wheel drive, the new underpinnings also provide the scope for four-wheel drive.
In a statement to its trade unions, Fiat noted: “This platform represents the most advanced architecture available today, originally designed for the Giulietta and further developed at Chrysler. This universal platform is to be shared by the two groups and will be used for all future C and D segment passenger cars and SUVs.”
All three variants of the platform will be capable of running down the same line at Mirafiori, setting up the possibility of a wide range of Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep and Lancia models heading out of the same factory in a move aimed at providing valuable economies of scale.
Speaking about the Giulia and Cherokee/Liberty Marchionne said: “These will be flagship models for Alfa Romeo and Jeep, the most international brands of the two groups (Fiat and Chrysler) with significant development potential globally.” While the Fiat and Chrysler boss failed to provide much detail on the Giulia and Cherokee/Liberty, he did confirm the new models to be added at Mirafiori were due to be launched in the third and fourth quarters of 2012.
The total investment for the reworking of the Mirafiori plant to handle production of C-Evo, C-Evo Wide and D-Evo passenger cars and SUVs is put at €1 billion ($US1.32 billion), to be split evenly between the Fiat and Chrysler Groups - tai.

VW Microbus back on. Let the summer of love begin!

Volkswagen is holding firm on plans to revive the Microbus.
A decade after unveiling a modern day interpretation of the Volkswagen people mover in concept car form at the 2001 Detroit auto show, the German car maker’s head of design, Klaus Bischoff, has confirmed that in-house designers, including those from the company’s Simi Valley based Californian studio, have been asked to submit new proposals for a boxy seven seater incorporating the inherent spirit and design ethos of the original Microbus.
“We’re trying to figure out how conventional or creative to go,” says Bischoff on the state of the recently re-ignited new model program which, after the cancellation of the former proposal less than a year out from planned production at Volkswagen's Hannover commerical vehicle plant in Germany in 2004, now aims to place the new-age Microbus on sale by 2014.
But while the earlier concept (see accompanying image) was conceived around commercial vehicle underpinnings from the Volkswagen Transporter, the latest designs have the born again Microbus sitting on a passenger car structure that lends chassis elements from the third-generation Touran and eight-generation Passat.
The new unitary structure is just one of an extensive number of variants set to come from Volkswagen’s new MQB (denoting the German for Modular Transverse Architecture) platform.
The switch in underpinnings is expected to make the new Microbus smaller than originally hinted to by the early concept with an overall length around 4800mm. However, clever packaging of the rear seat is likely to provide it with seven seat capacity in a move similar to that undertaken with the Volkswagen Touran and recently introduced, second-generation Sharan – the latter of which the Microbus is set to share sliding rear doors among other features.
Set to get an airing in concept car form in 2012, the new-for-2014 Microbus is part of a €51.6 billion ($70.3 billion) Volkswagen has announced it will pour into the development of new models over the next five years (see separate story here: http://theautoinsider.blogspot.com/2010/11/volkswagen-plans-703-billion-investment.html )

Official image: Hyundai Azera/Grandeur

Hyundai has issued the first official image of its new 2012 model year Azera, or Grandeur as the front-wheel drive sedan is known in the domestic South Korean market. Positioned between the Sonata and Genesis, the Azera is being looked upon to further strengthen Hyundai’s position within the North American market, where it has experienced strong growth in recent times. Further information as it becomes available . . .

Audi planning new A9 flagship . . . and a production version of the Lamborghini Estoque could share same underpinnings

Audi is considering adding a flagship four door coupe to its line-up as part of plans to bolster the profitability of its current range topping A8, whose lightweight aluminium space frame and four-wheel drive running gear the proposed new model has been conceived around, according to high ranking Ingolstadt insiders.
The new Audi flagship, which is likely to wear an A9 badge if and when it receives a production go-ahead from company boss Rupert Stadler, is designed to compete against established coupes like the Mercedes-Benz CL as well as upcoming newcomers such as the production version of the BMW GranCoupe concept wheeled out at the Beijing auto show back in April. Set to follow the design established by the A5 and A7, the A9 is likely to be clothed in an aluminum body boasting a sleek coupe like profile and four doors.
Nothing is set in stone just yet but studies on a future A9 are well underway. “We’re currently looking at it. It’s really a question of how far we can stretch the brand,” said an Audi official who asked not to be named at the recent Los Angeles auto show. By basing the new four door coupe on the same underpinnings as the A8, Audi hopes to improve the overall economies of scale of its existing top-of-the-line model.
As well as the A9, Audi is also looking at basing a production version of the Lamborghini Estoque on the same aluminium spaceframe structure, which Ingolstadt sources suggest can easily be modified to suit different front end forms, wheelbase lengths and roof structures. There are even sugggestions that the A9 and Estoque could be produced together at Audi's Neckarsulm plant - the same site responsible for production of the A8.

Jaguar stunned by poor NCAP result for XF

Jaguar is licking its wounds after be awarded just four stars (out of five) for the XF in the most recent European NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) round of crash tests. The up-market sedan, on sale since 2008, was criticized for comparatively poor adult and child occupant protection in NCAP’s standard off-set barrier crash test, which is performed at a speed of 64km/h (39.8mph).
“Structures in the dashboard pose a risk of injury to occupants of different sizes and to those sat in different positions and protection for the knee/femur/pelvis body region was rated as marginal,” noted the official NCAP results.
At the same time NCAP officials criticized the XF’s head restraints, noting, “The seat and head restraint provided marginal protection against whiplash injuries in the event of a rear end collision.
Jaguar’s decision not to provide the XF with a front passenger airbag that can be turned off and what NCAP describes as insufficient warning labels for a rear ward facing child restraint was also behind its poor rating. “The front passenger airbag cannot be disabled to allow a rearward facing child restraint to be used in that seating position. The labels warning of the dangers of using a rearward facing restraint in that seating position were not sufficiently clear,” it said.
As a result of the poor result, Jaguar says it will act to improve the XF’s safety. ““We’re looking at the safety results and how we can incorporate changes into future models,” said a spokesman.
It is, however, unlikely that Jaguar will be able to incorporate fixes for the poor NCAP result until the launch of a facelifted XF, which is planned for early 2012.

See the full Jaguar XF NCAP crash test rating with accompanying pictures and video here:


Lifan goes public

Lifan Motors has become the first privately owned car maker in China to go public following the issuing of 200 million shares at a price of 14.5 yuan ($US2.18) by parent company Lifan Industry Group in Shanghai. Established in 1992, Lifan Motors produces a wide range of motorcycles, cars and drivelines. However, it is best known as the company behind the controversial Mini Cooper inspired Lifan 350.  

Pininfarina up for sale. Magna a likely suitor

Long running speculation suggesting the struggling Pininfarina group could be purchased by Austrian-Canadian production and component specialist Magna has intensified following revelations in Italian business circles that the famed design house behind the styling of some of the world's most sought after supercars is likely to be sold before the end of the year. More details as they become available . . .   

Lamborghini Sesto Elemento likely to see production . . . but unlikely to be road legal

Lamborghini boss Stefan Winkelmann has confirmed the company’s carbon-fibre intensive Sesto Elemento concept car, as revealed at the Paris auto show, will likely be placed into limited production as a high priced, track only model.
Speaking at the unveiling of the company’s Gallardo LP 570-4 Spyder Performante at a media presentation during the Los Angeles auto show, Winkelmann told TheAutoInsider: “We are evaluating the Sesto Elemento and if it all goes well then we’ll look at a limited production run. But it is unlikely to be homologated for road use due to the high cost of meeting various safety regulations.”
“If it is built we will urge customers to take it to the track. We don’t want to produce cars just for the museum,” he added.
Nothing is official, but the development and production of the Sesto Elemento is likely to based around similar processes used for the Lamborghini Reventon, of which 20 were produced in 2009. Lamborghini is thought to be considering a similar number of Sesto Elementos as the Reventon at a price that's unlikely to provide customers with much change from a cool $1 million.

Great Wall's Haval (formerly Hover) H6 to get airing at Guangzhou auto show

Great Wall has announced plans to reveal a production version of its new Haval H6 at the Guangzhou auto show in late December.
The contemporary styled mid-sized SUV was originally unveiled in lightly veiled concept guise at the Beijing auto show alongside a bevy of other new Great Wall models back in April.
Codenamed CHB021, the H6 isin line to receive the same 2.4 litre four-cylinder Mitsubishi supplied engine as the existing H5. Codenamed 4G64, it develops 128bhp and 195Nm at 2500rpm.
The new Chinese market SUV will also be among the first Havel models to run a new 3.0-litre V6 diesel developed by Great Wall. Successor to the 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel used by the H5 and known internally as the GW6VD30, the new in-house oilburner is claimed to kick out 165bhp and 480Nm at 1600rpm.

Maserati SUV plans take shape

Sergio Marchionne has further fuelled talk about the possibility of a new SUV being added to the Maserati line-up by telling the Wall Street Journal he is totally in favour of such a vehicle.
Speaking about the four-wheel drive Jeep Grand Cherokee underpinnings the proposed new Maserati model is set to share, the Fiat and Chrysler boss said: “This is just a great architecture. Why wouldn't I put Maserati on it?”
Originally developed by DaimlerChrylser, the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s underpinnings, which go under the codename GC, are closely related to those used by the Mercedes-Benz M-, R- and GL-class.
Rather than backing away from comments he made during a conference call with journalists suggesting Maserati will get its own SUV based on the same platform as the latest Jeep Cherokee, Marchionne went as far as to suggest the new Porsche Cayenne rivalling SUV would be built alongside the Jeep Grand Cherokee, its mechanical identical sibling the Dodge Durango and a proposed Alfa Romeo SUV at Chrysler’s Jefferson North factory in Detroit, North America.

Holden eyes renewed exports to the US. Commodore SS set to be sold under Chevrolet Lumina name

Plans to rekindle exports of the Holden Commodore SS to North America appear to be back on the agenda following comments made by the engineering boss of the Camaro at the recent Los Angeles auto show.
But don’t expect a resurrection of the Pontiac G8 – as the highly regarded Australian performance sedan was previously known in the US. With the Pontiac brand discontinued as part of bankruptcy plans, General Motors now appears poised to re-badge the Holden Commodore as a Chevrolet for a return to the North American market, possibly under the Lumina name as it is sold in South Africa.
"We are definitely looking at doing something with Holden for the retail market. What we are looking at is bridging a gap in the performance sedan market that was vacated by the Pontiac G8. With no Pontiac, the obvious performance brand is Chevrolet," Al Oppenheiser, a senior engineer at General Motors and the engineering boss of the Camaro, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
With Holden already exporting the Holden Caprice to the US as the Chevrolet Caprice police car, rumours on a return of the Holden Commodore SS to the world’s second largest car market as a Chevrolet Lumina have been rife for almost a year now. While the Caprice sits on the longer wheelbase version of General Motors’ rear-wheel drive Zeta platform, the Commodore is based around a shorter wheelbase version of the same structure. Helping Holden and Chevrolet in their quest is the fact that much of the engineering work involved in converting the Commodore from right-hand-drive as sold in Australia to left-hand drive as required in North America has already been completed.
The rekindling of exports to the US would be a welcome development at Holden, whose operations were hit hard by the dumping of the Pontiac brand and its headlining G8, which was sold in both V6 and V8 forms. The future of the Australian-based General Motors subsidiary and its Elizabeth plant in South Australia has been the subject of much speculation in recent months. However, an export deal with Chevrolet would sure up confidence in its operations at a time when plans for the next generation Commodore are already taking place.

GM's new Baojun brand unveils first ever model - the 630

General Motors has revealed the first model from its new Baojun brand – the 630.
The Chinese market only brand aims to provide General Motors with a line-up of contemporary but affordable entry level models to be sold through a new network of dedicated Baojun dealers in what is now the world’s largest car market.
“We carefully studied the market and customers,” said Kevin Wale, President and of General Motors China. “Quality, design, fuel economy and durability were made a focus to appeal to local car buyers, particularly first-time buyers in the nation’s second- and third-tier markets.”
Developed in a joint venture between General Motors and its Chinese partner SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation)- Wuling, the 630 is based on the same platform as the soon-to-be-superseded Buick Excel and will receive 1.5-litre and 1.8-litre four-cylinder gasoline engines from the outset of sales.
The Baojun 630 will be produced at SGMW’s (SAIC-GM-Wuling) facility in Liuzhou, China, which has an initial annual capacity of more than 100,000 vehicles with sales planned to kick off in March, 2011.
Further images after the jump

Volkswagen plans $70.3 billion investment in new models

The Volkswagen Group is set to sink €51.6 billion ($US70.3 billion) into its automotive operations over the next five years as part of a long term goal to overhaul Toyota as the world’s largest car maker by 2018.
According to Volkswagen €27.7 billion ($US37.7 billion) is earmarked for new, successor and derivative models in all segments and throughout its extensive portfolio of brands, which includes Volkswagen, Audi, Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti.
Speculation also exists that it could up its 20 per cent stake in Suzuki and make a pitch for Alfa Romeo, following comments from the head of its supervisory board, Ferdinand Piech, at the Paris auto show indicating Volkswagen’s keen interest in the struggling Italian car maker.
To help it achieve its goal of increasing sales beyond those of Toyota, Volkswagen has developed a new modular platform strategy set to be implemented with the launch of the third generation Audi A3 in 2012. It will be the first model to sit on Volkswagen’s new MQB platform that’s set to underpin up to 60 different models over time.
The German car making giant also said it plans to launch a new generation of engines with enhanced performance, fuel consumption and emission levels. A new gasoline-electric hybrid system, planned to be launched on the Jetta in 2011, will also be used throughout the Volkswagen Group line-up, as will a pure electric system previewed on the Golf Blue e-Motion.
VW Group boss Martin Winterkorn said: “The Volkswagen Group will help shape the technological turning point in key areas of the automotive industry and, to do this, will continue investing in environmentally friendly technologies, efficient drives and new models.”

Official images: Audi unleashes 340bhp RS3. BMW 1-series M Coupe set firmly in its sights

Audi has revealed its keenly awaited RS3 some four months before the rapid four door hatchback is due to reach European showrooms wearing a price tag of €49,900 – or a cool $68,090 on today’s euro/dollar currency exchange rate.
Running the same turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder direct injection gasoline engine as the under rated TT RS, Audi‘s new performance model boasts an impressive 340bhp and 450Nm (332lb ft) of torque, pushing it well ahead of the already heavily lauded S3, whose turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder direct injection gasoline engine deliver 265bhp and 350Nm (258lb ft), for outright muscle.
Channeling the RS3’s prodigious reserves is a seven speed double clutch S-Tronic gearbox equipped with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters and a one touch launch control system for optimal getaways. The new gearbox is allied to a beefed up version of Audi’s Haldex multi-plate clutch four-wheel drive system providing a nominal 40:60 apportioning of drive front-to-rear.
At 1575kg, the new Audi tips the scales some 60kg above the S3. Not that it matters much. Official performance figures put its 0-62mph (100km/h) time at just 4.6secs – the same as that quoted for the significantly more powerful RS5, whose naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8 kicks out 450bhp and 430Nm (317lb ft) of torque. It's also 1.1sec faster than Audi claims for the S3. Top speed, like all models that hail from Audi’s increasingly busy Sport division, is limited to 155mph.

Further images and info after the jump

Kia reveals Optima Hybrid

Kia has joined the ever expanding hybrid ranks with a gasoline-electric version of its new smartly styled Optima revealed at the Los Angeles auto show.
The new mid-sized sedan, to be sold exclusively in North America, runs a transversely mounted 168bhp 2.4-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine in combination with a 41bhp brushless electric motor mounted within the gearbox housing.
Together they generate a combined 209bhp (154kW) along with 265Nm (194lb ft) of torque. That’s sufficient, says Kia, for 0-62mph (0-100km/h) acceleratoin in 9.2sec and a top speed of 121mph (195km/h). Fuel economy, on the US consumption cycle, is put at 6.2L/100km (38mpg US). A 34kwh lithium ion battery, mounted within the floor of the trunk, also provides the basis for full electric propulsion up to speeds of 62mph (100km/h).
The Optima Hybrid is differentiated from standard versions of the Optima by a restyled grille, lowered ride height and unique 16-inch alloy wheels shod with low rolling resistance tires.

Jiangling Qu Sheng to launch in China next month

These are the first official images of the new Jiangling Qu Sheng. Based on four wheel drive underpinnings from partner Ford and running a range of Ford developed four-cylinder Duratorq engines, the modern looking SUV is planned to go on sale in China on December 5, 2010. Word is the Qu Sheng could be grommed for export under Jiangling's Landwind brand name. Further details as they become available . . .

Further images, including interior image, after the jump

New Merc SLK to get diesel engine option

TheAutoInsider can confirm the new Mercedes-Benz SLK, codenamed R172 and pictured here in prototype form, will be the first modern day roadster from the German car maker to be sold with a diesel engine, at least in Europe where the 2.1-litre four-cylinder SLK250 CDI is planned to join the line-up around six months after initial gasoline versions go on sale in March 2011.

The new line-up looks like this:
SLK200 Blue Efficiency, 184bhp, 270Nm, 6.4L/100km
SLK250 Blue Efficiency, 204bhp, 310Nm, 6.2L/100km
SLK350 Blue Efficiency, 306bhp, 370Nm, 7.1L/100km
SLK55 AMG, 422 PS, further details to follow
SLK250 CDI Blue Efficiency, 204bhp, 500Nm, further details to follow

Pagani C9 details emerge

Pagani has moved to quell speculation that the upcoming C9 will use an off-the-shelf twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre V12 engine from Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division.
In a statement made to the media, Pagani said: “The engine of the C9 is not a derivative of the V12 developed for the SL65 Black Series, nor is the V12 in the SL65 Black Series derived from the engine AMG is currently developing for the C9. The cars are very different in character and conception and the engine will reflect this in its technical details and behaviour.”
Reiterating the bespoke and standalone nature of the engine set to head into its next supercar, the Pagani statement confirmed the engine to be used by the C9 has been developed specifically by Mercedes-Benz AMG, which would suggest it is not a derivative of Mercedes-Benz’s long running M275 E 60 AL, as used by the SL65 AMG Black Series, but an all-new, possibly naturally aspirated, unit.
While the statement failed to provide more detailed information, insiders at AMG’s Affalterbach headquarters near Stuttgart in Germany hint the C9 will receive a newly developed 6.0-litre V12 developing around 700bhp.

Honda to launch gasoline engine only CR-Z, possible Type-R

Honda is preparing a gasoline engined version of its 2010 Japanese Car Of The Year award winning CR-Z.
Set to join the one-and-only 128bhp 1.4-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine-13bhp brushless electric motor hybrid version of the CR-Z currently on sale, the new model is planned to run a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder direct-injection VTEC engine under development at Honda's Tochigi R&D centre in Japan as part of an engine downsizing program aiming to boost fuel economy across the Honda line-up.
Details remain scarce, but sources tell TheAutoInsider Honda engineers are developing the new engine in at least two states of tune, a standard version and a possible Type-R version with which they are aiming to match the output of the comapny's 239bhp Japanese specification F22C1 2.2-litre four-cylinder VTEC engine used by the discontinued S2000.
The addition of turbocharging is aimed at boosting torque beyond the F22C1's 163lbft at 6500rpm in a process that would provide the gasoline engine CR-Z with improved driveability over the notoriously peaky S2000, which ceased production in June 2009 after a lengthy ten year model cycle.
The decision to add a gasoline engine to the CR-Z line-up comes after initial heavy demand for the compact two door has begun to wane in the all-important Japanese domestic market.

Toyota plans second heritage SUV. FJ Cruiser to get smaller CJ Cruiser sibling.

Toyota is developing a smaller and more affordable four-wheel drive to join the popular FJ Cruiser in an expanded line-up of so-called heritage vehicles, according to insiders at the company’s design studio in Nagoya, Japan.
The compact five seat SUV, which is claimed to share the FJ’s purposeful appearance but in a slightly less rugged form in a bid to see it appeal more to female buyers, is based on the same underpinnings as the fourth-generation RAV4, codenamed XA40 and due out in 2012. Unlike the FJ, the new Toyota model is not only planned for sale in North America and China but will also be offered in many of the Japanese car maker’s existing world markets, including Europe.
Likely to take the name CJ Cruiser into production, the new Toyota has been conceived to offer a limited range of four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines along with the choice of a manual or automatic transmission and standard four-wheel drive. A top-of-the-line V6 engine, Toyota’s 3.5-litre 2GR-FE unit, is also under discussion.
“We have been looking at such a vehicle for some time. An original proposal from former design boss Wahei Hirai that was constructed to 1:1 form was quite well received by the Toyota board. However, plans to place it into production were stalled by the global economic downturn. With the world’s economy now on the way back to health, we’re confident the market is ready for such a vehicle,” a Toyota employee with key knowledge of the new vehicle told TheAutoInsider.
At this early stage of development there is no clear indication where the CJ Cruiser will be produced. But with the existing RAV4 being built in no less than four plants (Tahara, Japan; Obu, Japan; Woodstock, Canada and Tianjin, China) there is plentiful capacity. The FJ, by comparison, is built at two sites: Hamua, Japan and Guangzhou, China.

Exclusive: Mercedes-Benz Bione

Mercedes-Benz is sure to set tongues waging at this year’s Los Angeles auto show. But it won’t all be down to the world debut of the new CLS63 AMG.
No, the talk of the show, which opens to the public this Thursday, is likely to be centred around this spectacular looking concept car revealed by Mercedes-Benz to a selected group of journalists called the Biome.
Created at Mercedes-Benz’s advanced design studio in Carlsbad, California, the sleek four seater hails from the fertile mind of studio head Hubert Lee – the man behind the styling of the second-generation CLS unveiled at the Paris auto show and the F700 Style concept car wheeled out at the Geneva auto show.
Don’t expect the Biome to feature on the Mercedes-Benz stand in Los Angeles, though. Word is new concept, a full sized 1:1 model built at MetalCrafters in California, will be revealed to the public for the first time at the prize giving ceremony for the Los Angeles Design Challenge, the competition for which it was originally conceived but for which the German car maker ultimately decided to enter two other concepts, the Smart 454 Weight Watch Technology from its Sindelfingen-based studio in Germany and the Maybach eRikscha from its Yokahama-based studio in Japan.

Further info and images on the Biome after the jump

Hawtai B35 to see production. IP lawyers at the ready . . .

Shaking off the threat of legal action and condemnation from automotive industry commentators, Chinese car maker Hawtai has announced plans to place its controversial B35 into production.
Unveiled as a lightly veiled concept at the Beijing auto show last April, the B35 draws clear stylistic inspiration from the first-generation Porsche Cayenne, mimicking the look of the German SUV in great detail in all but a few areas of its familiar looking exterior design.
One of those areas is its bold chromed grille, which appears to have been borrowed directly from the Bentley Continental GT. Its trapezoidal shaped headlamps and heavily flared wheelarches also appear uncannily similar to those gracing the Audi Q7.
The B35 is based on four-wheel drive underpinnings from the first generation Hyundai Sante Fe, which were purchased by Hawtai as part of joint venture operations conducted in China by the two car makers.
Power for the new Chinese market only SUV is planned to come from a turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine developed by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) as well as two in-house developed diesels: a 1.8 and 2.0-litre.

Official images: Lamborghini reveals new engine and gearbox for next year’s Murcielago replacement

Let the tease begin!
Lamborghini has provided the first details to the upcoming Murcielago successor by revealing previously secret specifications to its V12 engine and automated seven speed manual gearbox more than four months before the new supercar, which goes under the internal codename of LP83X, is planned to make its public premiere at the Geneva auto show in March.
Codenamed L539, the 48-valve 6.5-litre V12 engine is described as an all new development, lending little or nothing with the long serving unit used by the Murcielago that can be traced all the way back to the Italian supercar maker’s formative days and renowned Italian engineer Giotto Bizzarrini, who is credited with its design.
Based around the same 60-degree cylinder bank angle but possessing vastly different bore and stroke measurements of 95mm and 76.4mm and a high 11.8:1 compression ratio, the latest in a long line of high output Lamborghini road car engines is claimed to kick out 30bhp and 30Nm more torque than the final evolution of the engine it replaces – as seen in the Murcielago LP670-4 Super Veloce, with 700bhp at 8250rpm and 690Nm at 5500rpm.

Images of new Lamborghini engine and gearbox together with new versus old V12 engine comparison after the jump

Official image: Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet revealed ahead of LA debut

Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
The first official image of Nissan's new Murano CrossCabriolet has appeared on the Japanese car maker's Facebook site four days before the open top SUV is due to make its world debut at the Los Angeles auto show.  More details as they are made available . . .

Opel boss Reilly confirms new coupe and convertible for 2012. Buick versions under discussion

Opel boss Nick Reilly has revealed plans to revive one of the company's historic names on a production version of the well received Gran Turismo concept first revealed at the 2007 Geneva auto show.
The bullish coupe, conceived to sit between the Astra and Insignia, will also sire a new four-seat soft top convertible as part of post bankruptcy financing plans to further extend the Opel line-up and provide General Motors' European subsidiary with a more viable business plan.
“At the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 we will launch a new coupe and cabriolet,” Reilly told Germany's Auto Strassenverkehr magazine, adding, “They will be all new and positioned between the Astra and Insignia.” Asked whether Opel planned to provide the new door with a historic name such as Calibra, Reilly replied: “We have strong names in our past. And we can imagine resurrecting one or the other”.
As part of parent company, General Motors', plans to further consolidate its worldwide operations, the new BMW 3-series rivalling coupe and convertible are planned to be produced in Germany and exported to North America where they will be sold by Buick likely under the Riviera name.
Further images after the jump

Citroen thinks big. Metropolis concept to see production . . . in China!

Citroen is set to make a stunning return to the upper luxury segment with a production version of its spectacular Metropolis concept.
The 5300mm long and over 2000mm wide sedan, on display in the French pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai since May, is planned to crown the French car maker’s premium priced DS range when it goes on sale in 2013 wearing the name DS9.
At this stage, the new range topping Citroen model is only confirmed for sale in China. However, Citroen is expected to export the DS9 to Europe and other key world markets as a rival to the Mercedes-Benz S-class, BMW 7-series and Audi A8.
Speaking about the decision to place what is arguably its boldest concept ever into production, Citroen’s head of Asian operations, Gregoire Olivier said: The Metropolis will happen, it will become a real car. The styling elements will be used for a high-level Citroen to be developed in China. We want to build up the premier line in the country, and this concept is central to this approach.”
Further details and images after the jump

The Kubang lives! New Maserati SUV aimed at Porsche Cayenne.

Sergio Marchionne is at it again!
After confirming plans originally made public by research and development boss, Harald Wester, for a new Alfa Romeo model designed to go up against the BMW X5, the hard working Fiat and Chrysler Group boss has let slip on a secret new Maserati  conceived to take on the Porsche Cayenne.
Without giving too much away, Marchionne hinted in a conference call with journalists that the new Maserati would share the same Jeep Grand Cherokee sourced platform and four-wheel drive underpinnings as the range topping Alfa Romeo that Wester says will follow a successor to the 159, a smaller and more affordable compact SUV in the spirit of the earlier Kamal concept and a modern day Spider to showrooms in 2013.
Known under the codename GC, the unitary body structure was originally designed for the Mercedes-Benz M-, R- and GL-class back in the days of DaimlerChrysler and is currently used by the Jeep Grand Cherokee and, in a slightly modified form, its more overtly sporting Chrysler Group sibling, the Dodge Durango.
"One of the things we are now looking at in some detail is utilising this architecture and extending its application for future products both within Chrysler and outside Chrysler," said Marchionne. The Fiat boss also conceeded he is looking as using existing Maserati engines in the new model.
Maserati originally flirted with the idea of producing an SUV back in 2003, going as far as to commission ItalDesign to create a concept called the Kubang.

Official images: Buick GL8

General Motors has issued official images of the new Buick GL8 ahead of its introduction later this month.
Designed and developed for the Chinese market, the new seven-seat MPV will replace the aging Terraza when it goes on sale on November 28 with the choice of either a 2.4-litre four-cylinder or 3.0-litre V6 gasoline engine - both mated to a standard six-speed automatic gearbox.
First previewed by the Buick Business Hybrid concept at the 2009 Shanghai auto show, the GL8 retains the same dimensions and layout, with an overall length of 5278mm and sliding rear doors that provide adequate access to the rear. Unclear at this stage is whether Buick will also offer the GL8 with hybrid drive as featured on the concept.

Further images after the jump

Official images: Range Rover Evoque five-door

Following an initial unveiling in three door form at the Paris motor show last month, Range Rover has revealed a more practical five-door version of its stylish new Evoque in a series of official images ahead of its public premiere at next week's Los Angeles auto show. 
Sister car to the recently facelifted Land Rover Freelander, with which it shares much of its mechanical package, the five-door Evoque is the same length and width as the three-door version of the new entry level Range Rover.
But in an effort to provide greater rear seat headroom Range Rover designers have given it a flatter roof that sits 30mm higher than the more heavily sloping structure of its overtly sporting sibling. The changes to the turret have necessitated a 60mm longer windscreen for improved frontal vision while the side windows are also more upright in a move that brings an added 50mm of shoulder room according to Range Rover’s own figures.

Further details and images after the jump

Audi Q5 Hybrid leaks out ahead of Los Angeles auto show.

Images and technical drawings of Audi's new Q5 Hybrid have hit the Internet a week before it's official unveiling at the Los Angeles auto show. Details to follow . . .

Honda CR-Z takes JCOTY honours

Honda's quirky CR-Z has been crowned Japanese Car Of The Year for 2010. The compact, gasoline-electric powered Honda coupe narrowly beat off competition from the Volkswagen Polo and Suzuki Swift. Here's how they scored:

1 Honda CR-Z 406
2 Volkswagen Polo 397
3 Suzuki Swift 228
4 Peugeot RCZ 190
5 Nissan March 67
6 BMW 5-series 62
7 Jaguar XJ 54
8 Mazda Premacy 51
9 Toyota Mark X 26
10 Mercedes E-class 19

Smart to revive ForMore with the help of Nissan.

Plans by Mercedes-Benz's troubled Smart division to develop a series of new models, including a successor to today's ForTwo and the discontinued FourFour, with alliance partner Renault-Nissan were made official by Dieter Zetsche and Carlos Ghosn at a press conference in Brussels in April.
What was not communicated back then is that high ranking officials at both the German and French car makers are also considering design proposals for a third new Smart model: a replacement for the stillborn ForMore.

Further details and images of the original Smart ForMore after the jump

Dodge Neon to be revived . . . on Alfa Romeo Guiletta underpinnings

Fiat boss Sergio Marchionni has confirmed a revival of the Dodge Neon is well on track. The third iteration of the compact Dodge sedan is tentatively planned for US sale in 2012, when it will go head-to-head with the new Ford Focus and a upcoming Buick Excelle sedan. The new Neon will be a much more modern car than either of its predecessors, sitting on the same front-wheel drive C-Evo underpinnings as the recently introduced Alfa Romeo Guillietta and powered by a range of Alfa Romeo developed four-cylinder gasoline engines complete with the company's patented TwinAir induction technology.

Fiat readying new Panda

Fiat is little more than a year away from introducing a third-generation version of its much beloved Panda. The tall four-door hatchback is planned to make its public premiere at the Frankfurt auto show in September, 2011 just prior to the start of European sales. Unlike the second-generation Panda which was produced in Tichy, Poland - the site responsible for the Fiat 500 and mechanical identical Ford Ka, the new model will be built in at the old Alfa-Romeo Sud plant in Pomigliano dÁrco, Italy. Fiat plans to invest around $US900 million modernising the sprawling site in a move insiders suggest will increase annual capacity to 300,000 cars per year.

Mercedes-Benz F800 granted production codename name. Sales set for 2013.

Mercedes-Benz has formalised plans to produce the striking F800 Style concept by giving it an official codename: C117.
The new four door is planned to enter the German car maker's line-up as a replacement for the discontinued CLC in 2013 positioned below the soon-to-be-facelifted C-class.
Based on Mercedes-Benz new MFA platform, with a transverse engine and front-wheel drive (and the option of four-wheel drive), the producton version of the F800 Style will offer a choice of gasoline, diesel and hybrid drive.

BMW greenlights Vision EfficientDynamics coupe

BMW has formerly announced what was widely suspected when it first went live with the mysterious dontblogaboutthis.com website featuring an electric version of the 6-series coupe back in September: the Vision EfficientDynamics will be built.
And not just in small numbers like those Audi is planning for the first of its eTron models and Mercedes-Benz indicates for its SLS E-Cell – just two of the new BMW’s alternative drive rivals. Klaus Draeger, head of research and development at BMW, told TheAutoInsider he's looking at volumes of "thousands rather than hundreds over a life cycle of around seven years" for the new car.
He also confirmed the production version of the Vision EfficientDynamics due out towards the end of 2013 would be sold directly to customers rather than be offered on a limited period lease deal, as BMW as did with its first limited production alternative drive model, the Mini E, and plans to do with next year's 1-series ActiveE.
Further details and video after the jump.

Second Alfa Romeo SUV to lend Jeep Grand Cherokee underpinnings

Alfa Romeo looks set to add a second SUV based on the same underpinnings as the Jeep Grand Cherokee to its line-up as part of plans to re-enter the US market in 2013. Already hard at work on a compact SUV based on a four-wheel drive version of parent company Fiat's new C-segment platform to challenge the likes of the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK, the Italian car maker is also laying the foundations for a more upmarket SUV to go up against the Qudi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz M-class, according to the head of development, Harald Wester. Nothing has been made official just yet, but indications are the Alfa Romeo's future range topping model will sit on the same GC designated platform as the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee. 52-year-old Wester outlined the company's new model plans in a recent interview. "In 2012 we plan to launch a successor to the 159. At around the same time we'll introduce a compact SUV. A year later, in 2013, follows a new Spider and an even larger SUV." The big question is: will Wester look to the Jeep Grand Cherokee plant in Detroit to produce the large Alfa Romeo SUV or will it run down production lines at Magna in Austria? With BMW and Mercedes-Benz already producing the X5 and M-class in North America, the former scenario is not without precedent. Wester says Alfa Romeo's long term goal are global sales of 350,000 - up from just 120,000 in 2009.

Mercedes-Benz gives production go-ahead to CLS Shooting Brake

Mercedes-Benz boss, Dieter Zetsche, has confirmed the CLS Shooting Brake will head into production. Revealed in concept car form at this year's Beijing auto show, the new four door coupe-cum-wagon is planned to go on sale in 2012 with the same range of engines as the new second-generation CLS sedan: naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 and turbocharged 4.6-litre V8 gasoline units and a 3.0-litre V6 common rail diesel. Also planned is a range topping CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake that, in combination with a optional performance package, is set to pack up to 571bhp. Ever since the CLS Shooting Brake was granted the official codename X216 back in June, rumours have circulated about its probable production future. Production of the new car will take place at Mercedes-Benz's Sindelfingen plant in Germany along the CLS sedan.

Audi S7 set for Geneva auto show reveal

Production of the Audi A7 may have just got underway but the German car maker's engineers are already well advanced on a S7 version of the new upmarket liftback.
Planned to make its public premiere at the Geneva auto show in March 2011, the Mercedes-Benz CLS500 rivalling four door flaunts a series of exterior styling changes aimed at giving it a more aggressive appearance than its milder A7 siblings.
Included is a deeper front bumper providing added cooling capacity to the engine bay, a unique grille treatment, wider sills underneath the doors, aluminium look mirror housings and deeper rear bumper with twinned chrommed tailpipes.
The naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 engine used in the S6 has been overlooked in favour of a more economical but no less powerful twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8. The new engine, developed in partnership with Bentley, is claimed to deliver in the region of 450bhp and close on 600Nm of torque. . . enough, one Audi engineer told TheAutoInsider, to endow the four-wheel drive S7 with 0-62mph acceleraton in under 5.0sec and a top speed limited to 155mph.