+++ The 2017 KIA GT, the Korean brand’s first sports saloon, will achieve 0-100 km/h in 5.1 seconds, making it the fastest accelerating Kia to date. Expected to be revealed at the Detroit motor show in January, the acceleration time is the latest information that Kia has revealed about the car. Earlier this month, it released a video giving us a glimpse of the Kia GT and confirming top speeds above 240 km/h. Accompanying the announcement of the acceleration time, Kia said: “A benchmark for any car operating on a higher level of performance, and the number that enthusiasts look for first. The fastest-accelerating Kia to date represents a new paradigm of performance, its heart-pounding power encouraging you to grip the wheel a little more tightly”. While the earlier video shows the Kia GT testing at the Nürburgring, Kia has also released images confirming that it is being tested on its own high-speed handling track at the brand’s Namyang R&D centre in South Korea. Albert Biermann, Kia’s head of performance, has previously told us that the car will be rear-wheel drive and is likely to use the 320 hp four-cylinder engine from the GT4 Stinger concept, which, according to Biermann’s comments, has been shelved. There’ll be a diesel version for Europe, too – most likely with the 200 hp 2.2-litre diesel engine from the Hyundai Santa Fe. The video shows the GT reaching speeds of more than 240 km/h, although this is on track so the top speed of the car may be higher still. In the same shot, the car’s odometer reads 13,164 km, showing the length of testing procedure that this GT has already undertaken. A Kia news site recently posted the first photo of the car undisguised, which is believed to have been leaked from Kia. It shows the full styling of the car, one of four or more prototypes, from the side, including sharp-looking headlights, a rakish roofline and large, elaborate alloy wheels. The car takes influence from the Kia GT concept of 2011 in its overall shape and what’s visible of the front-end styling. The concept’s rear-hinged rear doors and dramatic ‘floating’ front intake housings have not been carried over to the production version, though. The GT has been spotted testing multiple times at the Nürburgring, where Kia and sister company Hyundai have tested a variety of upcoming models, including the i30 N Volkswagen Golf GTI rival. There’s no official word on pricing yet but the model will be positioned at the top of Kia’s range above the Optima. This will put the GT up against a range of more upmarket rivals such as the BMW 3 Series, Jaguar XE and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, with pricing to match. I don’t expect to see it in showrooms before summer 2017, though. +++

+++ The SUV game in the auto world has been here for a while. With the demand for SUVs or crossover still growing strong, it was not surprising that carmakers were very quick to jump into the game. However, there were a couple of latecomers, one of which is Italian luxury vehicle maker MASERATI. In January this year, Maserati unveiled its fighter in the SUV segment at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show: the Levante. When the Levante started arriving at dealerships around the world in the fall, it made a big splash. In fact, the Levante was one of the main factors why the carmaker’s sales for year to date jumped by 21 percent. In addition, Maserati posted a 65-percent year-on-year surge in sales for the month of November. The Italian carmaker is also on track to achieve its annual sales target of 40,000 vehicles this year – something that is very far off from the 6,000 units sold in 2013. It seems that Maserati’s strategy to focus on SUVs and saloons was hitting the right sweet spot. After all, the Levante SUV is considered as the last missing piece for Maserati’s aim to sell around 75,000 vehicles in 2018. But Maserati isn’t done yet, not when a 75,000-vehicle sales target is just 2 years away. While Maserati arrived late on the SUV scene, it surely knows how to tick the check mark on customers’ “Yes” list. While it could create another SUV (like Porsche when it backed the Cayenne up with the Macan) Maserati is hell-bent on sticking with just one offering, the Levante to protect its brand DNA. Giulio Pastore, managing director of Maserati’s European division, stressed that for the Italian carmaker, it will only have the Levante as its SUV offering. He added that the carmaker wouldn’t dare offer a smaller SUV to fight the Macan. Alberto Cavaggioni, global operations chief at Maserati, also added that the carmaker wouldn’t create a coupe-SUV variant of the Levante. He noted that the Levante is already a GT SUV. Levante’s S model is already providing 430 hp of output, so a coupe-SUV is already out of the question. Cavaggioni also added that Maserati has no plans to offer a new entry-level model that is less powerful than the 275 hp diesel Levante. But Pastore disclosed the possibility that Maserati would be creating a Levante model that is more powerful than the 430-hp Levante S. This Levante could be powered by the V8 3.8-liter engine found in the Maserati Quattroporte GTS. This powerplant could deliver 530 hp of output and 710 Nm of torque. A Levante with this V8 engine could be dubbed as a GTS. However, Cavaggioni noted that 500hp SUVs ha a small global market. So, before deciding on a possible Levante GTS, Maserati would have to study if it is worth it. Pastore also divulged Maserati’s plans to electrify in the near future, considering options like plug-in hybrids and 48-volt hybrids. He confirmed that Maserati’s first electric car would arrive by 2020. This could be an EV version of the Alfieri sports car concept unveiled at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show. Maserati is ending production of the GranTurismo and GranCabrio next year, although their replacements aren’t expected until the end of the decade. +++

+++ MERCEDES has built an all-but insurmountable lead over rival BMW in the race for the title of the world’s biggest luxury-car brand, and that sales momentum looks set to continue through at least 2018. Surging demand for sport utility vehicles including the GLC helped Mercedes deliveries jump 12 percent in the 11 months through November, more than double the pace of growth for BMW’s namesake brand. That left Mercedes more than 69,100 cars ahead of BMW for the period, making it all but certain of regaining the sales crown this year. Relegating once-dominant BMW to the No. 2 rank for the first time in more than a decade, Mercedes is likely to sustain its strong delivery pace in 2017 thanks to a new version of the E-Class sedan rolled out last March. BMW will be held back by the changeover to a revamped 5-Series, which competes with the E-Class, while a new X3 will come out too late next year to make much of an impact, said Commerzbank AG analyst Sascha Gommel. Mercedes, owned by Stuttgart, Germany-based manufacturer Daimler, lost its worldwide lead in luxury-car sales to BMW in 2005, and later fell behind Volkswagen’s Audi premium nameplate. Daimler Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche is delivering early on a 5-year-old pledge to retake the top spot by the end of the decade after adding all-new SUVs to the line-up and overhauling the staid look of its core sedans. Growth at Mercedes will continue into 2018 as the brand’s GLC SUV “is flying out the doors” and the C-Class sedan remains strong against BMW’s aging 3-Series, according to analyst Ian Fletcher at IHS Automotive research company. Audi’s 11-month deliveries rose 4.2 percent, and the marque lagged behind Mercedes by more than 179,700 vehicles, according to figures released Monday. IHS is predicting Mercedes’s lead over BMW next year at more than 110,000 cars, and almost 68,000 vehicles in 2018. +++

+++ Corporate press releases don’t normally hold in any valuable info, but every once in a while, automakers reveal something important in them. After I’ve caught a glimpse of what we should expect from Mercedes-Benz next year, in a road map carefully tucked away in one of Daimler’s releases, it was a RENAULT press release that caught my eye. Dropped almost a week ago, the short text refers to Gilles Normand taking the reins at the brand’s Electric Vehicle unit from January 1, 2017. But that’s not the major story, as the automaker also mentions “working on a new affordable EV model”. Now, I’m not exactly sure what that means, other than the obvious, but what we could be looking at here is a $7,000 to $8,000 electric car aimed at the Chinese market, as chief Carlos Ghosn said last month. If this is the case, then the zero-emissions vehicle is part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s EV program aimed at the world’s largest automotive market , which the Nissan Leaf EV, where it’s sold as the Venucia e30, hasn’t managed to crack. +++

+++ SUBARU Australia’s importer will break its sales record in 2016, with 8 per cent annual growth to the end of November over last year’s high-water mark despite declines from four of its best-known model lines. With one month to go, Subaru’s growth this year takes its cumulative total to 43,110 units, meaning it’s a sure thing to overtake its 2015 all-time annual record of 43,600. This comes despite declines for the Impreza (down 16 per cent to 3966 sales, with a brand-new model launching next week) and Legacy (down 13 per cent to 3291, and falling in market share from 8.5 per cent to 7.4 per cent). There’s also the WRX sedan (down 16 per cent to 2660, in typical performance-car fashion) and just-updated BRZ coupe (down 57 per cent to just 249, compared to 1937 for the Toyota 86, which is itself down 31 per cent as the novelty factor fades). So what’s happening? Subaru is riding the crossover boom, with the aged XV (up 16 per cent to 7645 sales), Forester (up 13 per cent to 12,484) and Outback (up 11 per cent to 11,306) all performing extremely well. Thanks to sharpened value, the soon-to-be-replaced current XV is actually belying a small SUV segment decline of 1.4 per cent, while the Forester has battled a swathe of new rivals such as the Hyundai Tucson to grow above its segment average. In the meantime, the Outback remains a stellar success. The new model grew sales 345 per cent last year over the old car’s dismal 2014, and Subaru has kept the growth coming; no easy feat. It’s rated as the number-two selling large SUV. The final piece of the puzzle is the new Levorg, which has added 1509 cumulative sales in five-and-a-bit months, no doubt stealing some from the WRX sedan in the process. This is a solid performance indeed in the declining wagon market. It promises to be a big 2017 for Subaru as well, with a full year of all-new Impreza sales in the static but immense small-car segment, and a new XV based on this car later in the year the headline changes. A new Forester will debut in 2018. +++

+++ Maserati Australia chief operating officer Glen Sealey has ruled out plans to follow Porsche and move “downmarket” with a small SUV, despite admitting that the larger Levante will make up 59 per cent of the brand’s volume next year. Sealey revealed that Maserati currently held plans for new product beyond 2020, but none included a smaller SUV or a model that would drop below what he sees as an ‘exclusive’ 80,000 euro entry sticker to the brand. “Of course we have plans stretching out beyond 2020 today, I’ve seen those plans and they’re exciting plans”, he said. “But Maserati sits in a space where it has group brands above it and below it. Publicly it has been said we wish to get to 75,000 cars per year and then cap it. If we were to do that there is clearly no room for a smaller SUV, because we’re going to meet that with our existing plans and model range that we have”. The local Maserati boss admitted that “Porsche is the closest brand aligned” to the Italian marque, positioned above the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz but below Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce. “But Porsche is moving further downmarket and that’s a great strategy for them”, Mr Sealey said, ruling out a rival to the Macan that now starts from 69,400 euro plus on-road costs in 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder guise. “We wish to occupy that space well above what I call the premium brands and sit below the exotic brands, and that’s what we call an exclusive space. That is a really nice space for us to play in the marketplace there”. In a further swipe at Porsche, he added: “To be honest I can’t think of another brand that does it”. Sealey explained that Maserati was once seen as an ‘exotic’ brand that sold 6.000 cars per year globally and 150 units per year in Australia, however it had now moved into a space he termed ‘exclusive’ but not ‘premium’. “To push the brand down, or across, from where it is today in terms of, well, Ghibli is our starting price (the Ghibli diesel) I don’t see a need for that today”, he continued. “We have a good brand and we have a nice segment in the marketplace. We wanted to move from being exotic to being exclusive, we don’t want to become premium and there’s a clear distinction in that. If I look at premium brands, they are brands that cover a raft of segments and are able to charge a premium within those segments. BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz are great examples of premium brands – they start at 25,000 euro and go up to 300,000 euro-odd grand. That’s not us – we want to start at 85,000 on the road and we don’t want to bump much further into Ferrari’s territory either, so we don’t really want to go over 235,000 euro either”. “For now I can tell you from our perspective, our aim is to see the brand grow to double where it (Maserati) is today by this time next year, but in saying that have a brand that’s really exclusive, that’s really important to us”, Sealey added. +++

+++ Electric carmaker TESLA Motors has reached an out-of-court settlement with 126 Norwegian customers who claimed their cars’ performance did not match promises made in the firm’s marketing. Lawyers for the owners and the company told the Oslo District Court in a joint letter they wanted to withdraw the case which had been due to start on Monday, a court spokeswoman said. Kaspar Nygaard Thommessen of Oslo-based law firm Wikborg Rein, who represented the car owners, told a settlement had been reached in recent days and the case had been resolved. He declined to provide details of the settlement. Norwegian media said Tesla had agreed to pay 65,000 Norwegian crowns ($7,700) to each car owner, about half of what they demanded, or allow them to choose from alternative options, including car upgrades. Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. The case involved Tesla’s Model S P85D, which the car owners said had a lower horsepower than stated by Tesla. The company has denied misleading the buyers. While the Model S PD85 is no longer offered in Norway, similar Tesla Model S cars range from $95,000 for the 90D version to $135,000 for the P100D, according to the company’s Norwegian price website. Most buyers will also pay for add-ons that raise the price further. Norway is among the world’s top markets for electric cars thanks to generous government subsidies aimed at increasing the electrification of transport. The registration of new Tesla cars in Norway fell 24 percent in the first 11 months of 2016 compared with 2015. +++

+++ TOYOTA has launched a new car sharing pilot scheme in 2 European cities, with its hybrid cars right at the heart of the programme. Called Yuko, the scheme is underway in Forli, Italy and, a little closer to home, a second pilot programme is currently taking place in Dublin, Ireland. Every model in the car-sharing club is a hybrid, and presently those who take part in the sharing scheme have access to 3 different models: Yaris, Auris, and Prius hybrids. Only 22 (15 in Dublin and 7 in Forli) cars currently make up the Yuko squad but Toyota will expand the line-up with a 4th choice in the form of the C-HR Hybrid crossover soon. The company says it’s starting small to verify its business model, but has ambitions to expand into more European cities with more vehicles in the near future. Making the scheme affordable is a key part of Toyota’s model, and Yuko is aimed squarely at those who own no cars at all. To join the Dublin car club, you’ll need to pay a start-up fee of €50 and a standard monthly subscription of €6. Accessing one of the cars incurs a fee at an hourly rate. The very cheapest option – the Yaris hybrid – is from €8 an hour in Dublin, while a 15-minute extension can be activated for an extra €2. Having the car for an entire day costs €60, and the prices increase incrementally as you go up Toyota’s hybrid range. 50 km of fuel is bundled in to the deal. While Yuko is the first hybrid-only car-sharing club in Europe to be backed by a manufacturer, car sharing as an idea is nothing new. BMW’s DriveNow scheme is one of the most established in Europe, alongside clubs like Zipcar – a car rental alternative from Avis. +++

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