Monday, May 19, 2014

Mercedes MLC spied again, this time as an AMG

Mercedes-Benz MLC AMG

First BMW, now Mercedes-Benz. The German luxury manufacturer appears hard at work on its very own challenger to BMW's four-door coupe/crossover, the X6. It's called the MLC, and we've shown it to you before. Just a few weeks back, in fact.

Unlike the last set of spy photos we showed you, though, this particular tester gives us our first glimpse at the MLC's brawnier AMG variant. Our spies report that under hood will be the same 5.5-liter, biturbocharged V8 found in the ML63 AMG, and that it will sing its boisterous song with the tune of 557 horsepower. That means Mercedes is set to challenge the BMW X6M for the title of most unlikely ridiculously fast vehicle on the planet.

Beside the extra boost in power, we can spot a number AMG styling cues here. Most noticeable are the more substantial wheels and tires, bigger brakes and the larger front intakes. AMG-style exhaust tips jut out the back, which are accented with larger vents in the rear bumper and swollen fenders at all four corners.

According to our spies, we should expect to see the regular-strength MLC at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, while the AMG model will arrive a few months after that. So basically, we should have all the details on the MLC AMG in about a year.

Take a look up top for our full run of spy photos from the streets of Europe.
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Land Rover planning at least four new Discovery models

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept

It should come as no great surprise that Land Rover is planning to group its lineup into three "families": one luxury lineup centered around the Range Rover, another utilitarian range around the Defender and a third somewhere in the middle centered around the Discovery. But just how many models will form each of those groups?

Reports emanating from the UK seek to answer that question, and get us at least part way there - as far as the Discovery family is concerned, anyway. Previewed by the Discovery Vision concept at the New York Auto Show just over a month ago, the new Discovery family will include a replacement for the current LR4, a smaller version to replace the LR2 Freelander and a three-row, seven-passenger version to bridge the gap between them. But that's not all.

Auto Express, whose reports we tend to take with a grain of salt or two, has it that Land Rover is planning "more than the three models we first anticipated" for the new Discovery family. Just what that fourth or even potential fifth model would entail, we don't know, but Auto Express speculates that something smaller than the Evoque or Freelander could be in the cards. Giving the Discovery range something with a sportier, more rakish roofline along the lines of the Evoque or BMW X4 and X6 could foreseeably be in the cards as well, but at this point we're just spit-balling.

What is certain is that Land Rover will continue to develop new off-road assistance systems to make traversing difficult terrain that much easier. It's working at bringing the Vision concept's Transparent Bonnet system to market, and is reportedly working on an "off road guidance coach" system to offer video and audio instructions on how to get a Land Rover over that next big obstacle as well.
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NASCAR Nationwide driver graduates high school then qualifies 6th

NASCAR Texas Auto Racing

For the average 18-year-old, school and work take up the majority of free time. In that respect, then, Chase Elliot is like pretty much any other 18-year-old. He graduated on Saturday, and then went to work. The only difference is, his work involves him flying around the country and driving a really loud car in circles.

Yes, Elliot, son of Winston Cup champion Bill Elliot, doesn't spend his free time working retail, but as a rookie driver in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Following his Saturday graduation from King's Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, GA, Elliot caught a flight to Iowa Speedway where he qualified sixth for the Get To Know Newton 250 (seriously NASCAR, these race names need to stop). He ended up finishing fourth, and currently sits at the top of the Nationwide Series leaderboards, two points ahead of NASCAR veteran Elliot Sadler, Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne.

Despite his young age, he even sounds pretty wise when asked about being free to focus on just racing.

"I think it is important to have a balance of what you do racing-wise and what you do during the week," Elliott told ESPN. "It seems like all the Cup guys are having kids right now, and they're all having them at about the same time. They all talk about that balance away from the race track, and I can understand where they're coming from."
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MV Agusta loses license to sell motorcycles in California

MV Agusta F3 800 Ago

If you live in California and were planning on buying a new MV Agusta, we're afraid we've got some bad news for you. The Italian manufacturer has lost its license to sell its motorcycles in the Golden State.

This according to a list published by the California DMV obtained by motorbike news site Asphalt & Rubber. The list mentions MV Agusta USA as one of the companies no longer licensed to operate in America's third largest and most populous state. As a result, the company is precluded from selling its latest machinery in the state. Although the status of unsold motorbikes from previous model years remains unclear, it does not appear to preclude dealerships in California from selling used models.

The license reportedly lapsed at the end of last July, and though the company is reportedly working on rectifying the situation, it may take several months to be resolved. In the meantime MV Agusta may take a serious hit in sales without doing business in one of its largest markets.
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New Fisker owner ready to go broke building EVs, challenging Tesla

Wanxiang Qianchao Co. Ltd. Chairman Lu Guanqiu poses for a p

Now this is the kind of fighting spirit we like to see. Lu Guanqiu is a Chinese billionaire who has visited the White House alongside Chinese president Hu Jintao in 2011. He's worth an estimated $3.1 billion. And he wants to take on Tesla Motors and other EV makers with his newly purchased company, Fisker Automotive.

Lu is the chairman and founder of China's Wanxiang Group Corp., which bought Fisker for just under $150 million earlier this year. It also purchased battery supplier A123 Systems last year. Speaking to Bloomberg recently, Lu said that EV technology is at the top of his list of ways to go broke. "I'll put every cent that Wanxiang earns into making electric vehicles. I'll burn as much cash as it takes to succeed, or until Wanxiang goes bust," he said. Ahhh, inspiring.

"I'll burn as much cash as it takes to succeed, or until Wanxiang goes bust" - Lu Guanqiu

Exactly how and when new Fisker vehicles come to market - or if they'll even be Fiskers when they do - has been the subject of some debate. As part of the Fisker bankruptcy auction, Lu and Wanxiang now own an old, empty General Motors plant in Wilmington, DE. Lu told Bloomberg that Wanxiang has plans to first start building EVs, including the Karma plug-in hybrid, in the US (which suggests that restarting Karma production at Valmet is not going to happen) and to later build them in China. Right now, Lu's company only makes one type of electric vehicle: buses. Lu told Bloomberg he knows it will take a while to get his electric cars to market: "The road is still very long. We want to concentrate for now on manufacturing in the US. If I don't succeed, my son will continue with it. If he doesn't make it, my grandson will."

Currently, emails sent to the "New Fisker" website are met with an automated response that promises a more personal touch later. It also says that the company is "very well funded and have a great plan to create a world class automotive company." That the new owner is ready to go broke doing so is not mentioned.

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GM ignition switch recall gets documentary treatment with Failure to Recall

GM Ignition Switch Recall Documentary

General Motors' recalls have hit critical mass in the media. Not only is the company being mocked by comedians like John Oliver, Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live, but it's getting the documentary treatment from CNBC in a special called Failure to Recall: Investigating GM. The doc talks to families and individuals directly affected by GM's ignition switch recall and shows firsthand (with assistance from Consumer Reports) what it's like to drive one of the vehicles when it turns off.

The documentary attempts to explain why GM took so long to begin recalling the affected vehicles. It follows the timeline of events from the initial service bulletins to the eventual recall and identifies some of GM's alleged errors along the way - like not changing the ignition switch part number. It also looks at what role the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration played. If you haven't been following the situation closely, the film provides most of the major details. The real highlight might be that the film shows the amount of force necessary for the switch to change position before and after the fix.

Scroll down to watch four clips from the documentary. The third one is the demonstration of what it's like when the ignition switches off. The entire film can also be streamed on CNBC's website, here. Finally, if you prefer not to watch on your computer, it airs on TV again on Monday, May 19, at 10:00 PM ET/PT.
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F1 legend Sir Jack Brabham passes away at 88

Hockenheim 1970

There have only been about a dozen people who have won multiple Formula One World Championships. Thankfully the lion's share of them are still among us - names like Vettel, Alonso, Hakkinen, Lauda, Prost, Piquet, Fittipaldi and Stewart. Michael Schumacher is hanging on, but Senna, Fangio, Ascari and Graham Hill have all since departed this Earth. And we're bereaved to report that they'll have company as Jack Brabham has passed away.

The Australian driver started his career in midget racing and hillclimb events, working his way up to his F1 debut at the British Grand Prix in 1955. By 1958, after a few years in Formula 2, he was a permanent fixture on the F1 grid, winning the Monaco Grand Prix the next year en route to his first world title. He won a second with Cooper the following year, but after a fruitless 1961 he returned with his own team. In 1966 he won his third and final championship, putting him on equal footing in the history books with Lauda, Piquet, Senna and Stewart, but setting him apart by one notable metric: he was and remains still the only driver to win the championship in his own car.

Sir Jack won another handful of grands prix before retiring in 1970, selling his team (which went on to win another few championships with Denny Hulme and Nelson Piquet) initially to his collaborator Ron Tauranac, who in turn sold it to Bernie Ecclestone. Several of Jack's sons and grandsons have since gone on to race professionally. Jack Brabham died peacefully on Monday at his home on Australia's Gold Coast at the age of 88.
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FTC staff comes out in favor of Tesla, direct vehicle sales

Tesla Motors' showroom in Short Hills, New Jersey.

On the subject of Tesla Motors and its efforts to legally sell its electric vehicles directly to consumers without franchised dealerships, the FTC has taken aim at Missouri and New Jersey. The Commission hasn't made any nationwide decision on the subject quite yet, but in a May 16 statement it encouraged the two states to reconsider policies that would further prohibit automakers from selling directly to consumers. And the FTC didn't mince words, calling such laws an example of "protection that is likely harming both competition and consumers." This is much further than the FTC has ever gone before in support of direct vehicle sales.

FTC didn't mince words, saying such laws were "likely harming both competition and consumers."

The statement follows an April blog post from three FTC officials, who wrote that the anti-direct sales mandates were "protectionist" and "bad policy." Tesla has been doing battle with a number of states as well as lobbying efforts from the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), which represents 16,000 new car and truck dealerships representing about 32,000 domestic and international franchises. The NADA has been supporting dealers who oppose Tesla's direct sales for years.

In fact, Jonathan Collegio, vice president of public affairs for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), maintained that the states need to retain the right to regulate the automobile sales distribution channel.

"These arguments ignore the fact that fierce competition between local dealers drives down prices both within and across brands. When three Ford dealers compete for the same customer, the customer wins, period," Collegio wrote in an e-mail to AutoblogGreen. ""Finally, it's a major fallacy to compare buying cars with buying other goods, like books or computers. New cars are major purchases that require licensing, insurance, complex financing involving trade-ins, contain hazardous materials, and if operated incorrectly can cause serious bodily injury."

Tesla representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from AutoblogGreen.

New Jersey and Missouri have both been in the news lately. Garden State politicos have created a bit of a grey area, first voting in mid-March to stop Tesla stores from selling cars starting April 1, then extending the deadline to April 15. Tesla appealed the ban with the state Superior Court last month, and the FTC says the " limited, selective set of exceptions" are "very likely anticompetitive and harmful to consumers." In Missouri, Tesla appears to be winning the on-the-ground fight, but if a proposed bill against direct sales there becomes law, it will "amplify the adverse effects of the current prohibition" and "discourage innovation," the FTC says. Read more below.
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California bill would ensure used cars with recalls are fixed

Recall Repair

It seems that 2014 may go down as the year of the recall. As of April, the US was already on pace for record levels, and that was before millions of more cars were called in for various repairs by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in just the past few weeks. But how many of those vehicles will actually get their necessary fixes? GM claims that it has 80 percent of its vehicles mended in the first year, but the industry average is only 66 percent. That is a lot of faulty automobiles left on the streets, but California thinks it has a solution. A bill there would mandate that dealers must complete all pending warranty repairs on used vehicles before they could be sold to customers.

Federal law already forces dealers to keep new vehicles up to date, but it excludes used cars. California's dealerships don't want that to change and are fighting against the new rules. They call the bill unfair because it excludes private sales, and rental agencies don't have to keep their vehicles up to date, expect when selling them, according to The Los Angeles Times. The sellers also say its too hard to keep track of the individual repairs necessary for each used model that comes onto the lot.

The showrooms may be winning this battle. According to The LA Times, the bill passed the state's Senate last year, but it has been stuck in the California State Assembly since then. Expect a political fight before California's used cars start seeing any repairs from dealers.
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Nissan reviving Pulsar name for Euro market

Nissan Pulsar Teaser

The Nissan Pulsar doesn't have what we'd consider a rich history in the US, other than on some models decades ago. However, the nameplate has been part of the Nissan lineup globally since 1978 and has proven popular in Asia and Australia. Now, the brand is teasing a five-door hatch to revive the name and hit European showrooms this fall.

The new Pulsar will be built at the company's recently renovated factory in Barcelona, Spain. It's not clear from the teaser whether this is the same model that is already sold in other parts of the world or a brand new vehicle. Although, Nissan says in the announcement that the car "has been designed to meet the specific demands of European car buyers."

With competitors like the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus, the European five-door hatch market is seriously competitive. It will be interesting to see if Nissan will have something special to bring to the table.
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