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Newsflash    01-12-2014 20:00

+++ During the big Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announcement of its 5-year plan earlier this year, the strategy for ALFA ROMEO was easily summarized by brand boss Harald Wester: "Go back to the Alfa Romeo that people admired". Easier said than done. With the 4C as one step in that procedure, we might see the next when the company unveils its midsize sedan in June with a trio of new engines with up to 480 horsepower. Anonymous sources at suppliers are already making some big claims about the new mills. The top of the heap is reportedly a 2.9-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 making up to 480 hp, based on the 3.0-liter engine in the Maserati Quattroporte and Ghibli. Below it is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that's claimed to produce between 180 hp and 330 hp for rear- or all-wheel drive applications. Finally, there's potentially a 2.2-liter turbo-diesel four with between 135 hp and 210 hp. Little has been officially announced about the midsize sedan, but it was possibly spied testing recently hidden under the body of a Ghibli. It was rumored to be rear-wheel drive with a size between the BMW 3 Series and 5 Series, and a high-performance GTA version was also speculated. The vehicle won't be called the Giulia. In addition to the midsize model's engines, FCA is also reportedly working on an updated version of its 3.0-liter diesel V6 sourced from VM Motori with new 275-hp and 340-hp versions. They are likely slated for Alfa Romeo's future large sedan and SUV that will arrive in late 2016. +++ BENTLEY is preparing for the launch of its first ever SUV with the biggest site development in the company’s history. The automaker will expand its headquarters in Crewe with a 40 million pound ($62.7 million) investment, adding a new research and development center that will create over 300 jobs. Measuring over 45,000 square-meters, the new center will include a dedicated styling studio, research and development offices and a technical workshop. The facilities will house 1,300 Bentley engineers. The investment is “the latest step in preparing Bentley’s infrastructure to bring the world’s first ultra-luxury SUV to roads in 2016”, the company says, with work on the new developments to begin early next year. The R&D center will create 300 jobs in engineering, manufacturing, quality, sales and marketing as well as project management. Including these latest roles, Bentley has now announced the creation of over 950 jobs in the past 18 months. “With Bentley's new research and development centre, we will develop a new generation of Bentleys, which will continue our commitment of luxury, performance, quality and engineering excellence”, said Wolfgang Dürheimer, Chairman and CEO of Bentley Motors. Last year, Bentley delivered 10,120 cars, more than ever before, and expects to break that figure in 2014. The company also committed to an 800 million pund investment over three years in product and facility development, with this latest announcement driving the investment to 840 million pund ($1.31 billion). +++ BMW spent billions developing an electric-drive subbrand and factories to make not only the cars but the carbon fiber used in them. CEO Norbert Reithofer wants the environmentally friendly i cars to be his legacy. But initial sales are relatively low: This year, BMW delivered 13,849 i3s and 1,129 i8s worldwide through November. That points to a challenge for Reithofer's newly designated successor, Harald Krüger. Highly profitable, BMW has been the world's top-selling luxury brand since 2005. It is unbeatable in the luxury compact segment with the 3 series and is a leader in manufacturing flexibility. But Krüger, announced as Reithofer's successor last week, has some work ahead to maintain BMW's competitive edge. In some areas, BMW must strengthen its core products, which square off against aggressive competitors that have sharpened their products. Krüger, 49, is the board member for production and a 22-year veteran of BMW. He takes the helm on May 13. Born in Germany and educated as an engineer, Krüger has a broad resume, including a stint at BMW's factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where Reithofer and 2 other BMW CEOs also worked. Herbert Diess, BMW's former board member for research and Krüger's chief rival for the job, left BMW last week to run Volkswagen brand. It has been clear for the past few years that Krüger was being groomed as a successor to Reithofer, who in 2016 turns 60: the age at which BMW requires senior executives to retire. Now Krueger will lead BMW into battle against its major competitors, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Those brands haven't matched BMW's investment in electric vehicles but have moved into new segments and niches. BMW has subsequently slipped behind in some areas. Its cars don't have the advanced safety, driving assist and semi-autonomous features that brands such as Mercedes-Benz boast. At the upper end, BMW is competing against a new range of Mercedes-Benz S-class models (including a coupe and soon a flagship Maybach and a convertible) with an aging 7 series that gets redesigned late next year. BMW doesn't yet have vehicles to compete with the front-wheel-drive Audi A3 Sedan, and the Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLA. The CLA in particular surprised BMW executives, according to insiders. The first fwd BMW, the 2-series Active Tourer, is so bland looking that the U.S. subsidiary is questioning whether to import the hatchback. Even the Mini brand, which Krüger oversaw in his prior board member assignment, has slumped in the United States. Krüger's strong suit is manufacturing, having worked at the Spartanburg factory in its early days and at an engine plant in the United Kingdom. Krüger sat at Reithofer's side this spring when BMW announced it will make the X7 in the United States and expand Spartanburg production to 450,000 units, making it BMW's largest plant. As production chief, Krüger played a crucial role in the decision to expand Spartanburg rather than plants in Germany. Krüger assured skeptical German journalists that every car made in Spartanburg "has a worldwide customer and that SUV segment is stable across the globe". One person who has worked with Krüger described him as "very approachable, very social, very humble and low key". He has been to the United States more often in the past few years than Reithofer, who hasn't attended U.S. auto shows for several years and won't even come to U.S. dealer meetings, said those in the know. Krüger, who speaks excellent English, ran Mini's press conference in Los Angeles in 2012. It was his first major event in the United States. Compared with Reithofer, who comes off as a confident German engineer who is clearly the boss and fiercely proud of being German, Krüger is more soft-spoken and seen as "more international", sources said. Krüger caught the eye of the BMW board as director of the Hams Hall engine plant in the U.K; a post he held from 2003 to 2006. "After BMW sold Rover, suddenly there was this enormous factory left over. Krueger completely restructured the place; he integrated it into the BMW engine manufacturing network and saw to it that it can still exist today", a source at the company said. His vast knowledge of BMW, rather than just production or a vehicle line or brand, gave Krüger the edge over Diess. A key insider said: "For me the most important thing for a CEO is not knowing one area by heart, but rather the whole company in all of its facets. All others on the executive board were (as far as their age was concerned) options that were likely limited in terms of time, due to the current BMW philosophy". "Reithofer was also 49 when he was picked to be CEO, and that went well". +++ Czech car factory TPCA, a joint venture of Toyota and PSA (Peugeot-Citroen), cut its 2015 production outlook by 10 percent to 220,000 vehicles. Output this year will rise to 200,000 units, a 10 percent increase over 2013, TPCA spokesman Radek Knava said. "The car market in Europe is going to grow slower in 2015 than we expected", Knava said. The factory builds the Toyota Aygo, Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108 minicars, which were criticized by journalists for not being refined and roomy enough to beat competitors like the Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen Up. Apart from that, Toyota got it wrong with styling the second generation Aygo as it lookes far too wild to most tastes. +++ SKODA ’s core model line, the Octavia, continues to be a success in Europe and elsewhere, with the Czech automaker announcing the production of the 500,000th third-generation Octavia, less than 2 years after its launch. That brings the total to more than 4.46 million Octavia models delivered since 1996, when the first-generation model launched. This represents almost 40 percent of all the brand’s sales during this time. Manufactured in Europe, China, Russia and India, the current Skoda Octavia features more variants than ever before. Customers can choose the saloon and estate, both available with front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. There’s also the Octavia RS (the fastest production Octavia of all time), the environmentally-friendly Octavia GreenLine (averages 3.2 l/100 km), the Octavia G-TEC with CNG drive, the Octavia Scout rugged all-rounder and the posh Octavia L&K available in Europe. Launched at the beginning of 2012, the third-generation Octavia has proven to be a great sales hit. In Western Europe, Octavia sales have increased 24.7 percent by the end of November this year, setting new records in several countries. In Central Europe, Octavia deliveries have increased more than 20 percent so far this year. During the first eleven months of the year, the Octavia was the best-selling new car of the month in countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Finland, Poland, Slovakia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland. As Skoda’s largest individual market, China plays a central role for the brand and the Octavia. The model launched on the Chinese market in mid-2014 and by November 2014 achieved a sales increase of 112.4 percent. +++ SUBARU is in the early stages of developing a successor to the slow-selling Tribeca. The yet-unnamed crossover is likely to ride on a widened and lengthened version of the platform that currently underpins the Legacy and the rugged Outback. The stretched dimensions will allow Subaru's range-topper to offer an ample amount of space for up to 7 passengers and their gear, positioning it at heart of the hotly-contested 3-row segment. Insider sources have hinted that the crossover will borrow more than a few styling cues from the VIZIV 2 concept that was presented earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show. It will fall in line with Subaru's latest design language thanks to a taller rendition of the hexagonal radiator grille found on the Outback and sharp elongated headlights. The crossover will be available with Subaru's usual assortment of flat-four and -six cylinder engines. The automaker's well-regarded all-wheel drive technology will come standard on all models, and a gasoline-electric hybrid variant will likely round out the lineup a little later in the production run. Built in Indiana, Subaru's next crossover is expected to arrive in 2017 at the very latest. It could be previewed by a thinly-veiled concept that will be presented at the 2015 edition of the Tokyo Motor Show. +++ VOLVO has confirmed that it will overhaul its entire product portfolio by the year 2018. The Swedish firm's model expansion kicked off last October when it introduced the all-new XC90 at the Paris Motor Show. The XC90 is monumentally important because it is the first model to ride on Volvo's new modular Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform and it ushered in the design language that will influence all of the company's future models. Dennis Nobelius, Volvo's head of the Large Cars line, told that the next new Volvo will be a flagship sedan designed to replace the aging S80. Called S90, it will mirror the XC90's upscale positioning in a bid to take on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the BMW 5-Series. The similarities between the two will be more than skin deep as the S90 and the XC90 will share most major mechanical components, a move that will allow Volvo to benefit from economies of scale. The S90 will quickly spawn a station wagon called V90 that insiders say will draw inspiration from the stunning Concept Estate that was presented at the Geneva Motor Show last March. Additionally, a long-wheelbase variant of the S90 will be offered in a handful of markets including China and the United States. The S60, V60 and XC60 will all switch to the SPA platform when they are renewed in 2017. The idea of building a two-door version of the next S60 aimed at the BMW 4-Series hasn't been completely ruled out but it has been put on the backburner so that Volvo can allocate its resources to carrying out its ambitious product offensive. Finally, the V40 will be replaced by a new model that will ride on a modular platform developed jointly by Volvo and Geely. Currently comprised of just the V40 hatch, Volvo's entry-level 40-badged lineup will be expanded to include a four-door sedan and a tall crossover, two body styles that are likely to be sold in the United States. Don't expect to see all of Volvo's upcoming cars bow at major auto shows. The Swedish automaker recently announced that it will limit its auto show participation to the Detroit Motor Show, the Geneva Motor Show and either the Beijing or the Shanghai Motor Show. +++

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