The Truth About Cars » Fiat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 06 Jul 2015 16:00:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » Fiat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/reviews/fiat-reviews/ SPIED: Fiat 124 Spider Sports Long Hood for Small Motor http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/spied-fiat-124-spider-sports-long-hood-for-small-motor/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/spied-fiat-124-spider-sports-long-hood-for-small-motor/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 14:16:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1099897 This is the first ever set of spy shots of the upcoming Mazda MX-5 Miata based Fiat 124 Spider with near-production body work. Damn, honey, you’ve got a big nose. While this addition to the Fiat lineup is quite covered in camo in these photos, it’s easy to see the roadster will rock a longer hood than […]

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124 Spider_011

This is the first ever set of spy shots of the upcoming Mazda MX-5 Miata based Fiat 124 Spider with near-production body work.

Damn, honey, you’ve got a big nose.

While this addition to the Fiat lineup is quite covered in camo in these photos, it’s easy to see the roadster will rock a longer hood than the Mazda MX-5. However, it looks like other elements stay quite similar to the original on which it’s based, including the curved windshield surround and proportions of the rear deck.

If rumor is to be believed, the new Fiat 124 will be powered by the same 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder found in other Fiat products. Power will be sent to the rear via a six-speed manual transmission and possibly a six-speed dual clutch or conventional automatic.

We will likely see the Fiat 124 in all its glory this November at the Los Angeles International Auto Show. Expect sales to start next year.

The new Fiat will be built alongside the MX-5 in Japan.

124 Spider_011 124 Spider_010 124 Spider_009 124 Spider_008 124 Spider_006 124 Spider_005 124 Spider_004 124 Spider_003 124 Spider_002 124 Spider_001

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Ferrari IPO Delayed Until October http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/ferrari-ipo-delayed-until-october/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/ferrari-ipo-delayed-until-october/#comments Sun, 07 Jun 2015 13:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1086433 When Sergio Marchionne picked the day for Ferrari’s IPO, it looks like he may have ignored the lawyers. An offering of 10 percent of Ferrari on the open market, originally scheduled for this month, has been pushed back to October. From the WSJ (via Business Insider): “The attorney told me we had to wait” until a […]

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Ferrari-458-Speciale-A-35

When Sergio Marchionne picked the day for Ferrari’s IPO, it looks like he may have ignored the lawyers.

An offering of 10 percent of Ferrari on the open market, originally scheduled for this month, has been pushed back to October.

From the WSJ (via Business Insider):

“The attorney told me we had to wait” until a year has passed since the Oct. 12, 2014, completion of the merger that produced FiatChrysler, said Mr. Marchionne. He didn’t make clear why Fiat Chrysler hadn’t’t considered the issue when it had announced previous timings for the share sale.

Fiat Chrysler is planning to sell 10% of Ferrari in the IPO and distribute the other 80% it owns in the sports-car maker to shareholders. That spinoff is still scheduled for the beginning of next year. Fiat Chrysler shares have surged since the announcement of the IPO and spinoff as investors and analysts debate the value of Ferrari, with estimates ranging from €4 billion to more than €10 billion [$4.4-11.1 billion].

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Aus. FCA Misappropriation Case Includes Former MB, Current Crown Resorts Execs http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/aus-fca-misappropriation-case-includes-former-mb-exec-crown-resorts/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/aus-fca-misappropriation-case-includes-former-mb-exec-crown-resorts/#comments Sat, 06 Jun 2015 18:58:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1085937 As we reported earlier, Clyde Campbell and a number of his associates, including his successor Veronica Johns and former boss Ernst Lieb by way of his Motorworld dealerships, are being named in a misappropriation case claiming $30 million AUD was funnelled out of company coffers. This weekend, more details have come to light, including how […]

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Chrysler 300 (Aus)

As we reported earlier, Clyde Campbell and a number of his associates, including his successor Veronica Johns and former boss Ernst Lieb by way of his Motorworld dealerships, are being named in a misappropriation case claiming $30 million AUD was funnelled out of company coffers.

This weekend, more details have come to light, including how Campbell was able to pilfer FCA funds without raising red flags in Detroit.

The story verges on conspiracy and includes the wife of Campbell, his successor, a formerly disgraced Daimler executive, a casino, a boat and extravagant homes paid for by FCA without its knowing. Even Campbell’s wife’s hairdresser received a free Jeep as part of the brand’s “ambassador” program.

Mark Hawthorne of The Sydney Morning Herald remarked, “It has all the makings of a Hollywood script. In Elizabeth Hurley, it even has the presence of a Hollywood star.”

According to the article published today, $20 million (all figures in Australian dollars) was spent on overpriced dealer website services, $550,000 on a “mobile outdoor floating billboard” that is allegedly a 40-foot Chris Craft boat owned by Campbell, $1 million Christmas parties that included Louis Vuitton bags as employee gifts, over $500,000 – and possible nearly $2 million – in travel expenses, and a private suite for Campbell and his friends – including former fired Mercedes-Benz USA CEO and president Ernst Lieb – to enjoy the Monaco Grand Prix.

Campbell served under Lieb
Ernst Lieb did an eighteen year stint in multiple roles at Mercedes-Benz Canada Ltd. between 1985 and 2003. It’s where he rode out the “merger of equals” between Daimler and Chrysler as he served in his final position, CEO and president, of the Canadian subsidiary.

In 2003, Ernst moved to Australia and took the same titles at the Australian arm of the newly-merged DaimlerChrysler. That’s where he became the boss of Clyde Campbell. Ernst would leave Australia in 2006 to become CEO and president of Mercedes-Benz USA, but not before Campbell signed a contract for dealer website services with Motortrak, a British digital retail marketing agency owned by Gary Pask.

By May 2007, Daimler would divest itself from Chrysler, with Cerberus Capital Management taking a 80.1 percent stake in the American business.

Starting January 2008, Campbell served as managing director of Motortrak in its Australian office. His wife, Simone, was director and company secretary starting in May 2009. During his time at Motortrak, Campbell sold a website services deal to Lieb for all Mercedes-Benz dealers in the United States.

“That was the making of Motortrak and the making of Gary Pask as one of the richest businessmen in the UK,” a former Motortrak staff member told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“The whole deal was done by Clyde.”

During this time, Chrysler received $12.5 billion (USD) from the U.S Treasury and $1 billion (CAD) from the Canadian and Ontario governments. The bailout cash was provided under the condition of a Fiat takeover.

Clyde left Motortrak in September 2010, with his wife following one month later. Two days after she left the retail marketing company, Clyde Campbell was appointed managing director of the now-Fiat-controlled Chrysler Australia.

In October 2011, Lieb was fired from Mercedes-Benz USA for using corporate funds to pay golf club fees, granting rentals for vehicles in exchange for flight upgrades, and using $100,000 in corporate money to perform upgrades in his private home – including a home theatre, gym, washer and dryer, and built-in barbecue. A later wrongful dismissal suit launched by Lieb against Mercedes in Germany was dismissed, with the court stating the claims were “so serious that any further employment [at Daimler] would be unacceptable.”

An unnamed Daimler executive at that time told German paper Handelsblatt, “Ernst was warned, but he has done it again.”

Another Motortrak contract, Lieb’s Motorworld and Campbell’s high life
Almost as soon as Campbell returned to FCA in 2010, he signed another contract with former employer Motortrak. The initial amount of $690 a month for website services per dealer would balloon to $4,100. This was charged to the network’s 184 dealers.

More than $20 million was paid to Motortrak from 2011, claims FCA, “substantially greater than the cost for similar web services provided by Motortrak itself and by competitors.”

Shortly after, disgraced Lieb would return to Australia to become co-owner of the Motorworld dealership group along with David Piva.

“After working all my life in the wholesale sector, I am now in the ‘real’ business of the Automotive Industry – the retail business!” Lieb said in a press release announcing his arrival at Motorworld.

FCA alleges it incurred some $4 million in damages in deals between the Campbell-led subsidiary and Lieb-owned Motorworld, including “marketing support and to help it buy property, specifically the Brighton dealership,” reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

Campbell was well known as one of the biggest-spending marketers in Australia. The company would end up sponsoring horse racing, soccer players in multiple leagues, events, Crown Resorts, professional sports teams, and provide vehicles to celebrities the world over.

While there were only 45 official “ambassador” program vehicles documented in 2013, staff said the number was closer to 100. The program was so pervasive, even Simone Campbell’s hairdresser, Karlose, received a Jeep for free.

Travel expenses skyrocketed. Campbell incurred $537,849 in travel expenses in his own name. However, it is believed he also incurred – in whole or in part – an additional $452,138 in 2012 and $445,556 in 2013 in travel expenses submitted under the names of employees who had no business traveling.

Part of this travel was a trip to Monaco. Campbell, along with Lieb and Pask, enjoyed multiple stays at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Lavish parties were also the norm for Christmas. Approximately $1 million each year was spent on the annual employee Christmas party held at Crown Palladium, with an estimated 100 suites booked at Crown Towers and Crown Promenade hotels for staff, guests, brand ambassadors and media. This started under Campbell’s leadership and continued under his successor, Veronica Johns.

$550,000 “mobile outdoor floating billboard”
Allegedly, in March 2013, Campbell contacted FCA’s advertising agency Maxus to direct payment on four invoices of $137,500 each, for a total of $550,000, provided by My Alfa Romeo. The invoices were for a “mobile outdoor floating billboard”.

My Alfa Romeo, partly owned by Crown Resorts’ Ishan Ratnam (a.k.a. Ishan Kunaratnam) and Campbell’s wife Simone, is said not to have delivered said billboard. Instead, FCA alleges the money was used to purchase a 40-foot Chris Craft boat valued at $400,000 owned by Campbell.

Ratnam’s lawyer, John Price, stated, “There is a contract between My Alfa Romeo and FCA and the billboard was provided. My client denies that assertion, as certainly Fiat Chrysler did receive it.”

From Campbell to Johns, the spending continued
In April 2013, Veronica Johns took over the role vacated by Campbell when he moved to New Zealand-based distributorship Fiat Chrysler NZ Limited of which he took a 50 percent stake. The other half of the NZ company is owned by Ateco Automotive executive chairman Neville Crichton.

However, the change in leadership didn’t mean the money would stop flowing from FCA.

At the time, FCA touted their new leader Johns as “the first Australian woman to head the local division of a major car company.”

After a $3.1 million renovation of the company’s Melbourne headquarters done by Madok, a construction company controlled by Mitchell Knight, the same company was contracted to perform upgrades to John’s private residence with the work invoiced back to FCA.

Three cars were purchased as prizes for two charities and a soccer club. Two of those vehicles would end up registered to Mitchell Knight and one to Gregory Hede, John’s husband. Knight sold at least one of those vehicles back to the City Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership at a $20,000 premium. FCA claims the vehicles were funnelled through the Lieb-owned Motorworld group.

A Fiat Abarth race team was funded by the FCA Australian subsidiary under Johns. It was budgeted at $500,000 but cost $800,00 in all. Clyde Campbell and Gregory Hede competed as drivers in those cars, their racing licences paid for by FCA.

Other expenses mentioned in the case include an $11,000 bill rung up by Johns at Crown Towers.

In September 2014, FCA alleges Campbell, his wife Simone, Lieb, his wife Petra and other guests took a three-day trip to a luxury golf and spa resort in New Zealand on FCA’s dime under the leadership of Veronica Johns without proper authorization.

One month later, Johns left FCA for “personal reasons” after less than two years at the post and a total of 16 years with the company.

How did it all happen?

“The spending was out of control,” told former staff member to The Sydney Morning Herald. “And anyone who questioned it was shown the door.”

When Johns left the top post, FCA appointed Chrysler parts business head Pat Dougherty as the new president and CEO of the Australian subsidiary. When he arrived, employees lined up at his door to tell the story, reports The Sydney Morning Herald, which Dougherty then reported back to Detroit.

Auditors arrived in Melbourne in late January.

How it all happened in the first place, Dougherty is keeping mum.

“FCA Australia will not engage in a running commentary on matters currently before the courts”, he told BusinessDay.

However, many think a lack of control and oversight is due to the DaimlerChrysler fiasco and Chrysler’s recent merger with Fiat. With Italian and American managers preoccupied with larger corporate matters, executives in Australia were able to operate virtually autonomously, especially as sales grew.

Campbell is stating he’s innocent through his lawyer.

“We are confident that, in due course, the allegations will be shown to be wrong and will be embarrassing for FCA,” Campbell’s lawyer Sam Bond told The Sydney Morning Herald.

[Sources: 12, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]

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FCA Takes Former Australia Exec. to Court for Misappropriation of $30M http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/fca-takes-former-australia-exec-to-court-for-misappropriation-of-30m/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/fca-takes-former-australia-exec-to-court-for-misappropriation-of-30m/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 14:15:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1075882 The Chrysler 300, thought by many to be a modern day “gangster” car, has tons of power. But, as they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and for former FCA Australia CEO Clyde Campbell, it still may not be enough to escape accusations of misappropriation of funds. Tomorrow, FCA will take Campbell to federal court in Australia claiming he […]

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Chrysler 300 (Aus)

The Chrysler 300, thought by many to be a modern day “gangster” car, has tons of power. But, as they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and for former FCA Australia CEO Clyde Campbell, it still may not be enough to escape accusations of misappropriation of funds.

Tomorrow, FCA will take Campbell to federal court in Australia claiming he funneled money to other companies owned by himself, his wife, co-workers, and his successor – Victoria Johns.

FCA has accused Campbell of misappropriating and misusing more than $30 million “in company money to fund an extravagant lifestyle for his family and business associates,” reports the Sydney Morning Herald. The claim also states Campbell provided free vehicles to celebrities Shane Wayne and Elizabeth Hurley in the UK, a region in which FCA Australia does not have business.

Campbell is said to have used corporate funds to purchase a $400,000 yacht, a plane, trips, and private club memberships through a convoluted process involving multiple companies.

The accused, prior to working for FCA, was employed by Motortrak. After Campbell moved to his position at FCA, Motortrak was contracted to provide web services to dealers at inflated prices, costing FCA $9.16 million per year between December 2010 and May 2015.

Campbell is also said to have funneled money to a company called My Alfa Romeo that was contracted to provide a “mobile floating billboard” at the cost of $500,000. Simone, Clyde’s wife, was a director and shareholder of My Alfa Romeo. The billboard was never delivered or provided.

Another company, Vukosav Photography, was paid $191,192 for services never contracted. Company owner Andrew Vukosav is said to be a friend of Campbell. The two allegedly went on a three-day golf trip together in New Zealand. Neither FCA or Maxus, FCA Australia’s marketing agency, contracted photography services from Vukosav Photography.

A conflict of interest is also mentioned in a $6.6 million contract with a company called Digital Dialogue. Sam Tabart, then FCA’s marketing director, is said to have a stake in parent company Digital Dialogue Media Holdings.

Finally, it is alleged Campbell’s successor, Victoria Johns, used company funds to pay for renovations at her private home. Johns was the first female CEO in the automotive industry in Australia and left FCA without warning in October 2014 for “personal reasons.” There have been no claims made against Johns.

FCA is looking to reclaim funds misspent under Campbell’s tenure as managing director from 2010 to 2013 and to freeze the assets of Campbell and his wife Simone, including their family home, “bank accounts, shareholdings and other properties and assets in Europe and New Zealand.”

“During a routine audit, we discovered what at best appears to be incomplete documentation pertaining to certain transactions and vendor relationships initiated or approved by Mr Campbell during his tenure as CEO of FCA Australia,” explained a representative for FCA in a statement.

The case begins in federal court tomorrow.

[Sources: mUmBRELLA, Sydney Morning Herald 1, 2, GoAuto]

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NYT: GM’s Barra Declined Meeting with FCA’s Marchionne to Discuss Possible Merger http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/nyt-gms-barra-declined-meeting-with-fcas-marchionne-to-discuss-possible-merger/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/nyt-gms-barra-declined-meeting-with-fcas-marchionne-to-discuss-possible-merger/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 18:21:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1075162 Sergio Marchionne sent Mary Barra a detailed email in the middle of March in an effort to start merger talks. Barra, CEO of General Motors, was uninterested in the offer and rebuffed Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It was the first time the two executives had ever spoken, but it wouldn’t be the last Barra […]

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sergio-marchionne

Sergio Marchionne sent Mary Barra a detailed email in the middle of March in an effort to start merger talks. Barra, CEO of General Motors, was uninterested in the offer and rebuffed Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

It was the first time the two executives had ever spoken, but it wouldn’t be the last Barra would hear of Marchionne’s merger desires.

That’s the story being told by the New York Times today, detailing the lengths to which Marchionne is going to trigger consolidation within the automotive industry.

During a routine analyst conference call on April 29, Marchionne brought his plea to other executives through the media with a 25-page PowerPoint presentation.

“I think it is absolutely clear that the amount of capital waste that’s going on in this industry is something that certainly requires remedy. A remedy in our view is through consolidation,” Marchionne said.

Marchionne’s overture of a merger with GM includes no less than 14 brands between North America and Europe, not including the many other brands each company markets in China and other emerging regions. But, to date, the overture has been played to an audience wearing earplugs.

Even with the vast number of brands, that isn’t what bothers Marchionne. Instead, it’s the amount of money poured into redundant R&D work that could be shared by multiple automakers.

“It’s fundamentally immoral to allow for that waste to continue unchecked,” he said.

[Source: New York Times]

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Fiat Aegea Is the Dodge Dart for Elsewhere http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/fiat-aegea-is-the-dodge-dart-for-elsewhere/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/fiat-aegea-is-the-dodge-dart-for-elsewhere/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 14:18:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1072098 Fiat, in conjunction with Tofaş R&D, revealed its new compact three-box Aegea sedan project at the Istanbul Motor Show. The new sedan, which will get a different name when it goes to production, is the first of three new models to be introduced for the EMEA region, replacing the Linea sedan and Bravo hatchback. Designed in Italy and engineered […]

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Fiat Aegea

Fiat, in conjunction with Tofaş R&D, revealed its new compact three-box Aegea sedan project at the Istanbul Motor Show. The new sedan, which will get a different name when it goes to production, is the first of three new models to be introduced for the EMEA region, replacing the Linea sedan and Bravo hatchback.

Designed in Italy and engineered in Turkey, the Aegea project sits atop the same ‘small wide’ platform as the Fiat 500L/500X, Jeep Renegade and (to a lesser degree) Dodge Dart. With a wheelbase of 2,640 mm (103.9 inches), the Aegea is only 2.5 inches shorter than the Dart at the wheels. The new sedan sits at 4,500 mm (177.2 inches) long, 1,780 mm (70.1 inches) wide and 1,480 mm (58.3 inches) tall. Fiat also states the sedan is “large enough to seat 5 well built passengers comfortably with a load capacity of over 510 litres.”

Four engines will be available in the Aegea family. Two Multijet II turbodiesels and two gasoline engines, mated to manual and automatic transmissions, will produce between 95 and 120 hp.

The Ægea name pays tribute to the Aegean Sea that is “the symbolic bridge between East and West.”

The new sedan will go on sale in Turkey in November and later in other EMEA markets.

NOTE: The car will be built at the same plant where there’s currently a labor dispute. That November on-sale date could slide a bit if the situation isn’t resolved soon.

Fiat Aegea Fiat Aegea Fiat Aegea Fiat Aegea Fiat Aegea

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Fiat Compact Sedan to Debut at Istanbul Autoshow http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/fiat-compact-sedan-debut-istanbul-autoshow/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/fiat-compact-sedan-debut-istanbul-autoshow/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 15:26:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1062298   In related news: Istanbul has an auto show. The new built-in-Turkey sedan is described as a “compact three-box,” hinting the model will be a fairly basic affair. We expect it to be a replacement for the Fiat Linea (pictured), a compact sedan sitting atop the GM Fiat Small LWB platform that currently underpins the Opel Meriva and […]

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Fiat Linea

In related news: Istanbul has an auto show.

The new built-in-Turkey sedan is described as a “compact three-box,” hinting the model will be a fairly basic affair. We expect it to be a replacement for the Fiat Linea (pictured), a compact sedan sitting atop the GM Fiat Small LWB platform that currently underpins the Opel Meriva and Ram ProMaster City.

Fiat states the car will be sold in 40 countries in the Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region and will have “excellent interior comfort and load capacity.”

Again, Istanbul has an auto show.

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Dispatches do Brasil: Renault Re-Invents Itself in Latin America http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/dispatches-brasil-renault-re-invents-latin-america/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/dispatches-brasil-renault-re-invents-latin-america/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 16:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1053257 Among the first to come to Brazil when the market was opened up again in the 1990s – after a hiatus of almost 50 years when this country closed itself off to the world – Renault has seemingly reached a limit in Brazil. Its market participation has hovered around 6 percent for years. Now, hungry for […]

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Renault Logan

Renault Logan

Among the first to come to Brazil when the market was opened up again in the 1990s – after a hiatus of almost 50 years when this country closed itself off to the world – Renault has seemingly reached a limit in Brazil. Its market participation has hovered around 6 percent for years. Now, hungry for more, the French company is showing its new plans that will deeply affect their operations in Latin America at large and shake up their manufacturing base in South America, most especially Mercosur (namely Brazil and Argentina).

When their Ayrton Senna factory was opened in São José dos Pinhais in Paraná state, their line was in tune to what they produced in Europe. They offered the Clio, Kangoo, Mégane and Scénic. With an emphasis on safety, even the lowly Clio offered dual frontal airbags. At that time, the relative parity between the Brazilian real and American dollar allowed them to import systems such as the aforementioned airbags on the cheap. The minivan Scénic offered space for five, a large trunk, modular seating and became a favorite for families. The Mégane and Kangoo meanwhile suffered at the hands of more established competition and never made a dent in Volkswagen Golf, Fiat Stilo or Ford Focus sales. The Fiat Doblò passenger and commercial versions plus the Uno-based Fiat Fiorino conspired to keep the Kangoo down.

In the Brazilian market, reception was mixed. At the entry level, the Clio had lukewarm success. The majority of compact level car buyers are not exactly flush with money, so buying a new entry into that market was seen as a risky proposition. The Scénic and other minivans slowly, but surely, decimated the station wagons then available on the market. Together with Citroën minivans, Renault owned that market. As it became a favorite, the prices of this type of car rose above the rest of the competition and became expensive to buy.

Undeniably, Renault and other French makes suffered a perception problem. While most think their engines are robust and can take the pressure, suspension systems were and remain under suspicion in the eyes of Brazilian consumers. So, despite placing rather high in consumer satisfaction surveys, Renaults take a hit at re-sale time.

Brazilian Clio

Brazilian Clio

Over the years the American dollar and euro appreciated against the Brazilian real and growing sales plateaued. Renault’s reaction was to cheapen their offerings. Soon, the Clio lost its airbags, losing its appeal to the better off buyers that seemed to favor it over the VW Gol or Fiat Uno. When it was re-designed, it kept the previous car’s internal design. A new Scénic was launched in Europe, but citing cost complications, Renault chose to keep building the old one. Renault also tried to gain market penetration by locally building and selling a Mégane sedan and station wagon. Inevitably, Renault’s line became outmoded and nothing on offer in Europe was sold here.

Of course, errors in reading the market collaborated to their downfall. In the early 2000s, Renault was challenging Ford for fourth place in the Brazilian market. Ford reacted by launching the EcoSport and new Fiesta, new engines, and soon saw the distance between it and Renault grow. Besides the cheapening and non-updating of the line, beginner errors abounded. In Brazil, the Scénic was a solid middle class car, even higher middle class, and not the cheap and cheerful family transportation pod it was in Europe. As such, Brazilian dealers clamored for black and silver Scénics while the French continued offering it in purple, red and other colors the middle class rejected. The Clio, besides keeping the same interiors forever, never changed wheel cover designs or had new versions launched (tricks in which the traditional Brazilian Big Four – Fiat, GM, Volkswagen and Ford – are experts).

In the late 2000s, Renault re-made itself in Brazil. The Scénic was gone. The Kangoo was now only a commercial vehicle. The Clio soldiered on unmolested and seemingly only existed so Renault could keep a foot in the entry-level market. A solution was found though and it was the result of the deepening of the synergies and integration within the scope of the global Renault-Nissan Alliance.

Renault underwent the so-called “Dacia-lization” (Dacia being a Romanian company that Renault uses as its low-cost brand in Europe). The Logan, Sandero and eventually the Duster were launched. In spite of the insipid design, the cars used a Renault-Dacia version of a modern Nissan platform. The Logan family’s claim to fame and a space in the market was that it offered a lot of space for modest prices. Size-wise similar to Focus and Toyota Corolla type cars (sometimes even bigger, trunks tended to be larger), but priced similarly to smaller cars like Gol or Fiat Siena, they appealed to a more rational buyer. After a few years, with the launch of the Duster CUV, Renault was again encroaching on Ford and distancing itself from the Asian brands that were finally “acclimatizing” (by offering compact cars similar to market favorites) to Brazil and had been threatening Renault’s (by then traditional) fifth place in Brazilian sales rankings.

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As the 2000s became the 2010s, Renault was again under assault. Competition grew. Everybody copied their idea of a larger cars for more modest prices. Fiat launched a bigger Palio and a Grand Siena. Volkswagen do Brasil got into the compact sedan market again with its Voyage. Ford brought the new Fiesta and conjured up the highly competitive new Ka. GM came strong based off of its GM Korea know-how and re-invented themselves in Brazil, becoming the leader of in-car mobile electronics. Toyota got serious in Brazil and the Etios family has been gaining ground, horrible design notwithstanding, based on modern mechanics and a good ride. Hyundai’s HB20 has done the opposite: it has conquered image conscious consumers due to the success of it fluidic design language, in spite of the bad ride. All these companies and cars offered up new technologies and engines, bringing more fuel economy to buyers, extra gadgets and crept up on the Logan family’s cost benefit advantage.

Reacting, Renault has launched a re-designed Logan and Sandero. Though the new designs have been well-accepted and increased sales, this growth has been deemed insufficient. Both Hyundai and Toyota routinely sell more than Renault on a monthly basis and could soon take fifth place in overall sales. As such, Renault studied its South American operations and has cooked up a plan.

Renault Oroch Concept

Renault Oroch Concept

An “un-Dacia-lization” of sorts seems to be in place. Logan and Sandero production is being moved to Argentina. The company is investing heavily in their ancient Santa Isabela factory in that country. Duster production will be kept in Brazil and soon the Oroch pickup (based on the Duster and rumored to be a 1 ton pickup) will be launched. From what the press has been able to piece together, both Duster and Moroch will be produced off of the current platform and updates will be infrequent, following the age-old strategy of competing on price and, also, space. The Duster is larger than EcoSport and the recently launched Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V and Peugeot 2008. The Moroch will dwarf the current Fiat Strada (new, larger version of which has been seen tooling around the factory), VW Saveiro and the old-as-the-hills, barely competitive Chevrolet Montana.

The Moroch however is an indication of the deepening of the CUV event horizon presciently seen by our recently departed Derek Kreindler. Renault is going all-CUV-in. The Renault Captur, a current Clio-based mini CUV is a foregone conclusion. Renault is not even hiding it anymore and it has been seen around the factory in Paraná and on highway tests. This lends credence to the thesis Renault is re-inventing itself. The new Brazilian Clio, the same again as the Euro Clio, should also appear soon, albeit placed in a category above the current Brazilian Clio’s status. Suppliers also say Renault is quoting prices for a sedan version of the Clio (non-existent in Europe) and indicative of the soon to come demise of its midsize sedan offering, the Fluence. Informed journalists in Brazil have stated that the Espace, Renault’s large (and former) minivan, which has turned into a sort of a CUV, is slated to be introduced in Brazil in 2016 as a locally-produced offering.

The current Brazilian Clio is also on its last days. Though reports are conflicting, either a version of Nissan’s own low-cost brand Datsun Go will be built here in Brazil, or a version of the concept recently shown in world Auto Shows by Nissan called the Sway (supposedly an early version of a substitute for the March/Micra line), could gain a Renault badge and come strong in the lower echelons of the Brazilian market.

Meanwhile, in Argentina, besides the heavy modernizing investments at the local plant and the responsibility of building the Logan family, current cars will remain in production. And very interestingly, the new Frontier/Navara pickup that will used by Mercedes Benz to offer its own global midsize pickup (compact PU for Americans) will also gain a Renault badge for sale, initially, all over Latin America. Internally called the Raptur, this will be Renault’s first incursion into the traditional midsize pickup market. It is an important step and will allow Renault to compete in an important market spanning the entirety of Latin America. Coming soon (reports say early 2016) you could soon take your pick and buy your midsize pickup in your preferred flavor – Nissan, Mercedes or Renault – as they will all be built side-by-side at the Argentinian factory.

The next few years will be very important for Renault in Latin America. It will keep and modernize entry-level cars. It will continue offering competitively priced compact cars that offer a bit more and are the bulk of the Brazilian market. It will make new tries, with new product, to gain a presence in upper middle-class garages by “Euro-pizing” its Brazilian production. It will sell CUVs for all pockets. Pickups, small and large will further broaden Renault’s Latin American presence.

If this will be enough to keep Toyota and Hyundai at bay remains to be seen. However, it seems if they will be offering cars, CUVs and trucks, the market wants. Sounds like a plan.

Brazilian Clio Ayrton Senna Factory Hyundai HB20 Nissan Frontier Renault Oroch Concept Santa Isabela Factory Renault Logan Renault Captur European Clio Renault Fluence Renault Kangoo Express Toyota Etios

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Marchionne: Fiat Will Never Again Be ‘A General Brand’ In Europe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/marchionne-fiat-will-never-general-brand-europe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/marchionne-fiat-will-never-general-brand-europe/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 14:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1015962 Once a mass-market player in Europe, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne says Fiat will never again be as such. According to Automotive News Europe, Marchionne made the proclamation during this year’s Geneva Auto Show: In terms of the scope of a mass producer of vehicles, Fiat (brand) no longer offers — and it never intends to […]

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Once a mass-market player in Europe, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne says Fiat will never again be as such.

According to Automotive News Europe, Marchionne made the proclamation during this year’s Geneva Auto Show:

In terms of the scope of a mass producer of vehicles, Fiat (brand) no longer offers — and it never intends to have — a full range of product of the kind mass brands have. Fiat will lose its appeal as a general brand and it will focus on what it does best.

He adds that “the economics are not there” to keep Fiat in the mass-market arena as far as investments are concerned, and has no plans to claw back lost market share in Europe. As such, Marchionne has refocused the brand’s European lineup toward smaller cars like the 500 range, the Panda, and upcoming replacements for the Bravo and Punto.

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Review: 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-fiat-500-abarth/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-fiat-500-abarth/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 14:00:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=861481 Is there a car enthusiast whose pulse does not quicken when he or she hears the brrrap brap of the exhaust  when the North American spec Fiat Abarth fires up? TTAC’s managing editor Derek Kreindler is correct, the Abarth does indeed sound faster than it actually is, but it still sounds glorious. Don’t tell me […]

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Full gallery here

Is there a car enthusiast whose pulse does not quicken when he or she hears the brrrap brap of the exhaust  when the North American spec Fiat Abarth fires up? TTAC’s managing editor Derek Kreindler is correct, the Abarth does indeed sound faster than it actually is, but it still sounds glorious. Don’t tell me that an inline four can’t sound as exciting as a V8 or even a V12. Saying that an eight or a twelve “sounds better” than a four is like saying that a big band sounds better than a trio, as if you can’t enjoy both Duke Ellington and Cream.

Not only does it sound good when you start it up, I suspect that the ECU on the Abarth’s turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4 liter motor may even be deliberately dumping a little unburned fuel into the exhaust manifold on throttle overruns. You start looking for tunnels and concrete walls just to hear the sound reverberate. Of course, while the Fiat Abarth playing the  Rice Krispies Symphony may bring a smile to the face of just about any car enthusiast, to worshipers of Gaia I fear that the little Italian car by way of Auburn Hills and Mexico sounds like the death rattles of a million baby polar bears. Well, as they say, one person’s music is another person’s turn that crap down. That exhaust isn’t the only thing about the little car that will make you smile.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Besides an exhaust that will never ever let you sneak out of the house at night unnoticed, the Abarth would never be described as inconspicuous. Rosso red paint, worthy of an Italian car, and large Abarth logos and scorpions all over the joint (it’s hard to find a Fiat logo on the Abarth), added to the big wheels, wide tires and aggressive stance will surely get you noticed.

For a car with two Italian brand names, it might come as some surprise that, as alluded to above, the U.S. market Fiat Abarth was developed by Chrysler’s team in the Detroit area and assembled in Mexico. While that might seem ironic for a car marketed with Italian brio, I think the car’s global background fits the history of Carlo Abarth well. Born Karl Abarth, to a Jewish family in Austria, he made a name for himself tuning and racing motorcycles. Injuries from a racing accident and the Nazi Anschluss in Austria stopped his racing career and life in Austria. He spent the duration of World War II in Yugoslavia. After the war, he moved to Italy, where he had ties dating to the early 1930s. He had great connections. Abarth personally knew the great racer Tazio Nuvolari and was friends with Ferry Porsche, Ferdinand Porsche’s son. As a matter of fact, Abarth married the secretary of Ferry Porsche’s brother-in-law Anton Piëch. In Italy he was one of the founders of the influential Cisitalia company. When that firm dissolved, he started Abarth & C. S.p.A in 1949. In 1952 the Abarth firm started a relationship with Fiat, tuning and racing their cars and selling performance accessories, that culminated in the automaker’s acquisition of the Abarth company in 1971.

While Carlo didn’t have much to do with the development of the car that bears his name, the team in Auburn Hills produced a car that’s great fun to drive in most real world driving situations. Though I have a fondness for the large American sedans of my youth, I’ve always loved little cars. One of the first cars that I drove was my brother’s ’63 Mini Cooper. In many ways the Fiat Abarth is a spiritual descendant of that car, a car that took the inherent goodness of a FWD econobox and made it even better. When I drove the base Fiat 500 as a rental car, I enjoyed my week with it, though it was obviously a cheap car. Tossing it around a corner, even getting the rear end to wag a little, you could tell the base Fiat wanted to handle. The Abarth iteration of the 500 fulfills that promise.

The Abarth version turns up the wick on how the 500 sticks. It has all the grip you’d ever need for any kind of enthusiastic street driving. Much of that can be attributed to the 205/40R17 Pirelli PZero “three season” tires, but there’s also been some careful attention to suspension tuning. The Abarth feels both more dampened and more supple than the base car. Also, considering that the Fiat has a very short wheelbase, the Abarth had a better ride than the Dodge Dart GT that I drove the week before. Since both the Dart GT and the U.S. market Fiat Abarth were developed by Chrysler’s team in Auburn Hills from Italian platforms, it’s somewhat surprising that the larger Alfa Romeo based Dart has a more bone shaking ride than the Abarth.

Though the Abarth has power steering, it’s not a car to one hand it around town. Make the shift and put your right hand back on the wheel. Steering feel through the chunky steering wheel was uniformly heavy. Speaking of chunky steering wheels, if I can be allowed a slight digression, just because a car is intended for driving in a sporting manner doesn’t mean it needs a steering wheel whose rim is two inches in diameter. Okay, so that’s an exaggeration, but along with the proliferation of flat-bottomed steering wheels, we’ve seen the grips on steering wheels getting fatter and fatter, so much so that someone like me, who has relatively small hands, sometimes finds some of them, like the one on the Fiat Abarth, a bit too chunky to handle comfortably, sort of how I feel about a Glock 9mm.

You had better have a good grip on that chunky steering wheel because, as mentioned, the Fiat Abarth is not a car to casually drive with one hand lightly on the wheel. The steering is fairly heavily weighted, though it lightens up a bit on the highway. Actually, on the interstates the Abarth is relatively comfortable for a short wheelbase car that’s bound to be pitching up and down. Another reason for keeping a firm hand on the wheel is that, as with some other front wheel drive based cars of European origin, the Fiat Abarth has a tendency to follow linear road irregularities. It dances a bit on grooved pavement and it will track asphalt that has been worn into wide grooves. That phenomenon is exaggerated with heavy braking or if you manage to elicit some torque steer when accelerating.

For the most part, though, torque steer wasn’t particularly noticeable. I also didn’t notice much turbo lag as some have reported. It’s there if you’re the sort who redlines a lot but it really wasn’t an issue in normal around the town driving. I like small cars and I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of front wheel drive since I first drove that ’63 Mini. Combine small size, good handling and sufficient power and you have a perfect tool for the cut and thrust of urban and suburban driving. If the hole in traffic is big enough for the Abarth, the 1.4 turbo will get you there.

While it’s not the fastest car on the street, not as quick, let’s say, as the Ford Fiesta ST, my personal feeling is that it’s fast enough for just about any kind of enthusiastic driving outside of the track. Whether you end up preferring the Abarth, the FiST,  or the Toyota/Scion/Subaru sports coupe is a matter of taste and driving styles. No matter which you would choose, though, you’d have fun with the Abarth.

It’s fine in the city and out on the highway you can cruise all day long at just about any speed that’s prudent, and even some imprudent speeds as well. Top speed is specified as a governed 129 mph and while I didn’t get the Abarth that high on the 160 mph speedometer, the indicated 117 I reached at Schreiber’s Secret High Speed Test Facility let me believe that the specs are accurate. The engine was losing some steam as it wound out in the top gear of the upgraded 5 speed transmission, but it still should be able to see 129 if the straightaway is long enough. I should report, however, that after the high speed run I did notice some odd odors from something heating up under the hood.

For the most part, I genuinely liked the Fiat Abarth, so much so that as the week with it wound down and I used up the free tank of gas that it came with (see below for observed mpgs), I ate the expense of buying premium gasoline for it, rather than use my daily driver, which takes 87 octane. It’s an eager puppy of a car that’s quite easy to like.

There were some things, though, that I didn’t like. Most of them had to do with the fact that it’s based on a cheap economy car that’s getting a bit long in the tooth. The modern day 500 was introduced in Europe in 2007, a couple of product cycles ago. I don’t like the way the concentric instrument cluster is laid out, and while it’s nice to have the auxiliary boost gauge that lets you know that the convenient Sport mode button on the center stack really does make a difference how the engine is mapped, the indicator light telling you to shift up doesn’t seem to follow any logic that I’ve learned in over 40 years of driving a stick shift.

Also, the arm rests for the front seats are located so that when both of them are down, you can’t reach the parking brake, a hassle in a car with a manual gearbox. I don’t know if it’s a design feature or a flaw, but the driver’s side arm rest has sagged a bit on both Fiat 500s that I’ve driven, which adds to the impression that the Abarth is based on a cheap car.

Speaking of manual transmissions, the dash mounted 5 speed gear selector on the Abarth has fairly short throws, but the low mileage press car’s shifter was not ideal. Trying to downshift from 5th to 3rd was an iffy proposition and I even had a hard time finding 3rd on an upshift or two. On the other hand, the clutch was very smooth and easy to use. So easy that I used it to start teaching my daughter how to drive a stick (note the indefinite article, “drive stick” gets you a demerit in Language Arts) and she was able to get the little car rolling around the parking lot without stalling it on only the third try.

Can I say that the bass from the Beats by Dr. Dre audio system sounded had some coloration?

Can I say that the bass from the Beats by Dr. Dre audio system sounded like it had some coloration?

As stickered out on the Monroney sheet, the test car was a tick over $30K, $30,004 including an $800 destination charge. The base Abarth is $22,095 and in my estimation much of the $8,000 in options wouldn’t be well spent, at least if I was buying the car. The $1,200 “performance” leather trimmed high back bucket seats are best left unchecked on the options list. They don’t provide you with enough side bolstering for the car’s handling abilities. They were less effective in that regard than the seats on the Dodge Dart GT. Save the money and buy an aftermarket performance driver’s seat instead. The audio system was $700 and comes with the Beats brand. After VW’s deal to label Panasonic stereo systems with Fender’s brand, I’m not so naive as to think that Dr. Dre had anything to do with that sound system beyond getting paid to put the Beats brand on it. Both of the Beats audio systems in Fiat Chrysler cars that I’ve tested have been unimpressive and please don’t call me a racist if I say that there was more than a little coloration in the bass (besides, I think Dr. Dre sold that business to Sony for really big bucks). The $600 tacked on TomTom Blue&Me nav system also didn’t seem like a prudent purchase in light of what you have on your phone already. It also was not easy for me to use. On the plus side, my Android phone reliably hooked up to the car for both phone and music.

A half century of high performance minicar progress. The Abarth's 17" rims are about as big around as an original 1963 Mini Cooper's tire's (with 10" wheels) were.

A half century of high performance minicar progress. The Abarth’s 17″ rims are about as big around as an original 1963 Mini Cooper’s tires, and that brake rotor and caliper would never fit inside the Mini’s 10″ wheels.

I also wouldn’t pop for the $1,300 power sunroof, but I concede that if you’re going to drive a car that is supposed to represent Italian spirit, you might want some al fresco driving. For an almost fully open air Abarth experience, the model is available as a cabriolet (the Fiat 500 convertible retains the side roof rails). The 17 by 7 inch forged aluminum “hyper black” wheels are an easier call. They cost as much as the sunroof does, but they probably contribute to the Abarth’s fine handling, so they’re probably worth the price. Just for grins I dug the spare tire out of the boot of the Mini Cooper (which my brother is storing here). In half a century, the wheel size on a tiny car has grown from 10″ to 17″. The rims on the Abarth as as big or bigger than then original Mini Cooper’s whole wheel and tire assembly.

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The Abarth has a proper and substantial false pedal that comes in handy to brace yourself with the Fiat’s enthusiastic handling. Full gallery here

The upshot is that for less than $25,000 (A/C is standard) you can get a decently equipped Fiat Abarth that is likely to put a big smile on your face. It may be based on a cheap car, but the Abarth is not an economy car. I got a pretty consistent 24.7 miles per gallon of premium gasoline. That’s fine for a performance car but far from what the base 500 can get.  As an aside, why do they sell cars that require 91 octane while all the gas stations around here only sell 93? Okay, so filling half and half with 89 and 93 gets the right R+M/2 rating, but it’s either the hassle of dong the math and pumping twice or paying more for fuel than you really have to pay. In addition to requiring premium fuel, the Fiat Abarth requires the use of synthetic engine lubricating oil.

Full gallery here

You can haul your little ones around in the back seat but they won’t have much leg room. Full gallery here

Like the Dodge Dart, the Fiat Abarth doesn’t come with a spare tire, but rather an electric pump with it’s own can of tire sealant, in this case stored under the driver’s seat, taking up some of the rear seat passenger’s already not very generous foot room.

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An electric tire pump and ‘fix a flat’ sealant replaces the spare tire and it’s stored under the driver’s seat. Full gallery here.

In conclusion, the Abarth is just one of a number of fairly desirable enthusiast cars that cost less than $30,000. Offhand there’s the aforementioned Fiesta ST, its big brother the Focus ST, the Toyobaru GT-86/FR-S/BRZ siblings, and I’m sure you can suggest a few more. While they may not be muscle car quick off the line, they all have enough pep to be fun to drive on the street and they all have competent chassis, steering and braking systems that make them fun to drive. They’re not perfect, you can find something to criticize with all of them. They are, after all, built to price points. However, they’re all great fun to drive and if you can’t find one that you could live with and enjoy, either you’ve gotten used to much more expensive cars, or you’re not much of a car enthusiast. Actually, since some of the highest praise for the current generation of entry level sporting motor cars has come from people who get exposed to a lot of very pricey, very high performance automobiles, like some of my colleagues in the car writing biz, I’d say that price doesn’t really matter. There are lot of cars that are great fun to drive, including the Fiat Abarth, and it’s a great time to be a car enthusiast.

The model that I tested was from the 2014 model year. Since then FCA has made the Fiat Abarth available with an automatic transmission.

FCA supplied the car, insurance and a tank of premium gas.

Disclosure: It’s the policy of The Truth About Cars is to reveal to our readers any damage that we do to press cars. Our former editor in chief pro tempore even published an editorial on the topic. I’m not sure if he tempted the fates with that editorial, but I’m sad to say that I damaged one of the Fiat Abarth’s 17″ rims. I’d like to at least be able to say that I went into a corner a little bit hot and clipped the apex, but the truth is that I was lazy and inattentive on a street on which I’ve driven thousands of times before and managed to scrape a curb. The damage was likely just cosmetic but in any case I reported it to our editors and the car company, and now you. You can never be too sure of yourself and you can always learn something that will improve your driving.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Dispatches Do Brasil: A 2008 Fiat Stilo Flex and the Search for Credibility http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/dispatches-brasil-2008-fiat-stilo-flex-search-credibility/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/dispatches-brasil-2008-fiat-stilo-flex-search-credibility/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:36:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1008474 Bad reputations are earned in short order and shed only after many years of good behavior. For car companies, such bad raps come relatively quickly and sometimes decades are needed to overcome them. For Fiat, the cute sobriquet Fix-It-Again-Tony seems to be unavoidable no matter how they actually compare in most reliability studies. The fact […]

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Bad reputations are earned in short order and shed only after many years of good behavior. For car companies, such bad raps come relatively quickly and sometimes decades are needed to overcome them. For Fiat, the cute sobriquet Fix-It-Again-Tony seems to be unavoidable no matter how they actually compare in most reliability studies. The fact is they routinely do better than most European rivals and still have to improve to reach Toyota-like reliability. So, the strive for credibility must go on.

Once in a while, however, positive proof of how they are gaining ground on even the best in the business (in terms of reliability) shows up. Recently, I had a chance to experiment one such example in the form of a Brazilian-built 2008 Fiat Stilo.

Carnaval in Brazil is a time to dress down, booze up and meet old friends. Being that it lasts from Saturday to Wednesday, it is also a chance to see long-time-no-see friends who for various reasons live away from our hometown. Being that for whatever reason so many of them were in town this recently passed holiday, I used the occasion to throw a barbecue reuniting expat and local friends once more.

Once the party got started and everyone was enjoying the sun, beer and meat, out of curiosity I took a walk outside to survey my friends’ cars. Of the 16 cars parked on the street near my house, I could identify that some trends are indeed universal. CUVs were there in great numbers (two Honda CR-Vs, a Fiat Freemont, also known as a Dodge Journey), though the American preference for pickups is not as a strong. A double cab global Ford Ranger was the only representative of the SUV-pickup genre. Sedans are big among my friends who own a range of them (Renault Logan, Fiat Grand Siena, Corolla, Civic, Cruze). In this category I saw the only Volkswagen present (perhaps indicative of VW’s woes in Brazil), a Jetta. Hatchbacks were plentiful, too, from a diminutive Fiat 500, to the bigger Renault Sandero and Ford Focus. As this was a group of people with families, a minivan and a minivan-like vehicle (Chevrolet Spin and a Fiat Doblò) were also there.

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Among this motley crew, a Fiat Stilo stood out. Easily the oldest car in that group, I knew whose it was as I had seen it a number of times over the years at similar get togethers and I was curious as to why he still had it. When the opportunity came up, I talked cars with the owner and he gave me a run down of what had happened to the car over its slightly less than 190,000 km in seven years, namely: Nothing.

And that is why he still had it. He enjoys the style of the car and whenever he considered the financial outlay necessary for a new car, his memory of the car’s record would not let him do it. He takes the car to his mechanic every 10,000 km as Fiat prescribes, the mechanic does preventive maintenance and on it goes. I pushed and shoved, but he couldn’t remember a single corrective measure. Change fluids as the manual suggests, brake pads, new tires and shocks, a few bulbs and it’s on its the third battery. How about the suspension and steering? Brazilian roads and streets are infamous for their moon-like quality and cars routinely change parts that last a life-time in other countries. He insists, nothing has needed changing.

Maybe my incredulous face made him do it, but eventually he asked me if I wanted to drive his car. I happily accepted and we agreed that the next day we’d meet to finish off whatever food and drink was leftover from the barbecue, after our test drive of course.

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The next day when we I approached the car I took a closer look and immediately saw some problems. Though the paint still shined and the car had very few scuffs and bruises from the daily grind, some problems were evident. In the red Fiat logos on the hood and wheels some watermarks were quite evident. On the back door sills a very common defect on almost all Stilos was also present. On that sill, near the wheelwell, a yellowish triangle was visible. I passed a finger over it and it seems that for some reason Fiat applied a plastic film over that part. Over time, they (almost) all get yellow and ugly. Finally, the plastic lenses of the headlights showed some wear and were looking somewhat dim. On the other hand, the Stilo always offered dual high intensity lamps with very good results.

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Fearing that similar issues would be present inside, I was pleasantly surprised as to how good everything still looked and felt. Nothing was broken or in the process of coming apart, the leather still felt supple. The headliner was not unduly stained and there were no strange odors. Taking it all in, the Stilo was still a good place to pass the time. The seats are large and supportive though not aggressively so, the driver’s seat, steering wheel and pedals align perfectly. As such, it is easy to find a good position to drive. It is quite a square car, so head and shoulder room are very good as is hip room. The wheel base is long enough that two 6 foot adults can sit comfortably in the back, even if driver and front passenger are of the same height.

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One of the Stilo strong suits was features and content. Though this car had none, optionally up to eight airbags could be had. Connectivity (via Bluetooth) was offered. It was the first Brazilian car to come with electric steering and had the “City” feature. At the touch of this button, the steering would become even lighter for slow speed maneuvers being that this was a car one could (almost) literally park with one finger. As my friend showed off all the features, I duly noted that all still worked, with no undue delays, so if this car is an indication, fear of “Italian” electronics were allayed. As always, I felt the biggest let down in the interior were the gauges and the passage of time had not done them any favors. The now so passé white backdrop with very cheap looking plastic red needles and grey knobs look even worse now though back when the car was launched (2003), most thought it was cool.

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Out on the road, accelerating and cruising, the engine felt very strong. Though European Stilos used diesel and gasoline engines, from 1.2 up to 2.4 20v, the Brazilian Stilo was different. Born during the ill fated (for GM) General Motors-Fiat hookup, in Brazil Fiat made use of GM powerplants for low and mid trim Stilos, reserving its very Italian 2.4 only for top-of-the-line Stilo Abarths. This 2008 was the base model. As such it used a GM 1.8 8v Family I engine bumped up to 114 hp on ethanol, slightly less for gasoline. Though this re-touched engine has the ability to rev higher than the originally 103 hp 1.8 while still delivering gobs of torque down low, it still is a GM engine. Over the years I have heard many a Fiat fan complaining of this engine and how it took away from the Stilo its “Italian-ness”. However, the engine and 5 speed manual transmission are well-mated. The car is nice to drive and offers a degree of fun for a car with family transportation in mind (the 2.4 is another beast, of course). At the time this car was launched magazine tests showed the car touching 190 km/h as its top speed, while the 0-100 km/h dash was over in around 10 seconds. Though that day we didn’t reach those limits, a few high speed bursts showed the engine was still capable of going fast. My friend vouched for it and said he didn’t feel much of a difference from day one. It was still relatively quiet too, without any undue vibrations showing motor mounts and bushings were still in good order.

When we hit some curvy sections, I was reminded once again why I liked this car back in the day. It uses 16 inch wheels, 215 wide tires and it has very good grip with little tendency of breaking loose at the back. This 2008 Stilo still held these same characteristics and though it rolls more than a VW Golf, the benefit of that is that it is just a very comfortable car in the city or highway. The stick is expertly placed, falling naturally to hand. Though not as precise as a traditional Volkswagen box, gears are easy to find. Though seven years old and with all those kilometers under its belt, the clutch felt light and there were no rumors or grinding in the gearbox, suggesting it was healthy.

Heading back home to “enterar os ossos da festa” (bury the party’s bones, a Brazilian expression meaning to finish of the previous day’s party’s leftovers), my friend and I talked about the car’s history. A sales failure in Europe, in Brazil it was successful. It had strong initial sales here, though in the middle of its career, as competition grew (and the falling back wheel scandal ensued) that tapered off. Towards the end, it became a hot seller again based on price and street cred. Around 2005, some consumers started complaining that the back wheel would fall off for no good reason. The Brazilian Ministry of Justice even fined Fiat for failing to make a recall to fix the issue. Over 30 accidents were reported due to the problem and around eight deaths. Fiat defended itself by maintaining the wheel fell off after the accident and not as the cause of the accident.

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Regardless of the cause, that issue went away and in Europe and Brazil the Stilo has a reputation as a sturdy car. Developed under the guidance of German national Herbert Demel (who had previously even been president of VW do Brasil), put at the helm of Fiat Auto specifically to make Fiat more Teutonic, it was a solid looking car that probably looked more German than Italian in an attempt to widen Fiat’s fading appeal at the time. That proved unsuccessful and in 2006, only 36 hours after the announcement of the GM-Fiat break up, Fiat Group president Sergio Marchionne fired Demel and took over Fiat Auto. Under the Canadian’s guidance, a more Italian flavor was again added to the Fiat line, and prettier cars like the Grand Punto and new Bravo were soon launched, not to mention the 500.

Maybe the Stilo was indeed too German. Maybe its difficult to renege your history and copy others’. Maybe credibility (and attendant sales) is not to be found on such a road. But the Stilo was a car on which Fiat continued improving its reliability and eventually passed Volkswagen and the French in European reliability ratings. Surely, some of the Stilo’s sturdiness is still felt in current Fiat products. Perhaps, 20 more years of reliable, Stilo-like cars will erase all memories of a certain Tony.

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Lexus Takes Gold In 2015 JD Power Dependability Study http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/lexus-takes-gold-2015-jd-power-dependability-study/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/lexus-takes-gold-2015-jd-power-dependability-study/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 11:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1008050 For the fourth consecutive year, Lexus is tops among the brands ranked in JD Power’s annual Vehicle Dependability Study. The research group says owners of the premium brand’s offerings reported 89 problems per 100 vehicles. However, its parent company was bumped down to third place on the podium this year by Buick, the latter making […]

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For the fourth consecutive year, Lexus is tops among the brands ranked in JD Power’s annual Vehicle Dependability Study.

The research group says owners of the premium brand’s offerings reported 89 problems per 100 vehicles. However, its parent company was bumped down to third place on the podium this year by Buick, the latter making a huge leap from fifth place in 2014 to take silver with 110 problems per 100 vehicles reported. Toyota had one more problem compared to Buick.

Among the rest, Cadillac took home fourth, while Honda and Porsche tied for fifth. Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Scion and Chevrolet round out the top 10 for 2015, while Land Rover and Fiat landed at the bottom of the list with 258 and 273 problems per 100 vehicles, respectively.

As for the problems themselves, most took issue with their vehicle’s Bluetooth and voice-recognition systems, followed by problems with the vehicle’s engine or transmission, the latter mostly focused on “automatic transmission hesitation and rough shifting.”

This year’s study surveyed over 34,000 original owners of 2012 models after three years of ownership, with the survey taking place between November and December of 2014.

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Capsule Review: 2015 Ford Escape Titanium AWD http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/capsule-review-2015-ford-escape-titanium-awd/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/capsule-review-2015-ford-escape-titanium-awd/#comments Tue, 10 Feb 2015 15:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=994690 After only one brief stint in last week’s 2015 Ford Escape tester, I was already angry with this heavily optioned Titanium AWD specimen. The anger had nothing to do with our first drive to the other side of Halifax. And I wasn’t even in the Escape, let alone driving it, when my resentment blossomed. I […]

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2015 Ford Escape Titanium AWD redAfter only one brief stint in last week’s 2015 Ford Escape tester, I was already angry with this heavily optioned Titanium AWD specimen.

The anger had nothing to do with our first drive to the other side of Halifax. And I wasn’t even in the Escape, let alone driving it, when my resentment blossomed. I was shovelling our driveway during a lull in the blizzard that left New York in peace, hammered Boston, and slathered Nova Scotia’s capital with ice after a few inches of snow fell. With four vehicles jammed into our small driveway to avoid the on-street winter parking ban, the Escape’s tailgate insisted on opening of its own accord with frustrating frequency.


• USD As-Tested Price: $38,075

• Horsepower: 231 @ 5500 rpm

• Torque: 270 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm

• Observed Fuel Economy: 19 mpg


Armful of groceries? Yes, hands-free tailgate opening might then be useful, if you can maintain your balance while holding the grocery load in your right hand, perching the 15-month-old child on your left hip, and doing the jitterbug under the rear bumper.

But when you’re engaged in clearing a driveway of snow and a tailgate opens again and again and again… and again, allowing a large amount of blowing snow into the car, a shovel-activated tailgate becomes the worst bit of kit ever fitted to a modern car. As memory recalls, when a waving foot called upon the hands-free tailgate to open in our Ford C-Max test car two winters ago, it typically refused. Now, when I’m shovelling in a winter storm with keys to multiple cars in my pocket, the Escape’s tailgate becomes overzealous. What must the neighbours think?

2015 Ford Escape Titanium AWD red rearThankfully, during the week we spent with a 2015 Escape supplied to us by Ford Canada, nothing else spawned such irritability.

The Escape, now in the third model year of its second-generation, is not without lingering faults. MyFordTouch doesn’t really bother me, but needing to reach and turn my wrist into a Spiderman-like shape to use the lower portion of the screen isn’t cool. The upgraded Sony stereo never impressed. A number of interior bits, including the “leather-wrapped” steering wheel and the column-mounted stalks, are downmarket items appropriate for cars in another price spectrum, as are the levels of noise and vibration which make their way into the cabin. The defroster is painfully slow. 240 horsepower (231 on regular fuel) doesn’t feel as special as you thought 240 horsepower would feel in a small SUV because the horses are saddled with nearly 3800 pounds. Real-world fuel efficiency measured a disheartening 19 miles per gallon, hindered by the freshness of our Escape which travelled from the factory to our door. (The Escape is rated at 21 mpg in the city; 28 on the highway.) Worst among the Escape’s letdowns, overall interior space doesn’t come close to matching the Honda CR-V in which we sprawled earlier in January.

But a week of driving the 2015 Escape, with its torquey 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder and Euro Ford dynamics, made it easy to see why this is consistently America’s second-best-selling utility vehicle. To actually drive the Escape – not just to reside in it, but to engage yourself in the process – is to realize that pleasing on-road behaviour can be found in a high-riding crossover, even one that’s not made by a premium brand.

2015 Ford Escape Titanium AWD front boatThe ride/handling balance is wonderfully fine-tuned. The suspension, even on 19-inch wheels, masks the impact of harsh road imperfections while remaining sufficiently communicative for the driver to feel confident on a twisty road. It’s more nimble and tossable than the CR-V, but its hefty curb weight holds the Escape back from the eager feel of the Mazda CX-5, the last version of which we tested tipped the scales with 233 fewer pounds than this Ford. Steering feel is mostly absent, as it is in almost every new car on sale today, but the Escape’s rack is quick and consistent. Braking would be aided by a slightly more progressive pedal, and the 6-speed automatic could stand to sacrifice some of its smooth slushiness for more rapid shifts.

The Ford still ranks among the keen driver’s best choices in the small SUV/crossover category, even if the EcoBoost 2.0L doesn’t turn the small Escape into a pocket rocket.

At $38,075 as-tested (Titanium AWD Escapes start at $33,085), it’s also among the pricier candidates, though our example was certainly laden with tech gear. Ford’s Active Park Assist needs to work perfectly without fail, and it always has in my hands, or rather, free from my hands. Blind spot monitoring, cross traffic alert, proximity access, navigation, panoramic sunroof: it’s all here. The problem with an Escape that’s this loaded is the broad range of SUVs and crossovers available for the same money, many of which will suffer from an equipment standpoint but will more than make up for their poorer spec with extra usable space.

2015 Ford Escape Titanium interiorBut how many of them will drive more sweetly? If the space is sufficient for you – and it clearly is acceptable to hundreds of thousands of buyers each year – then the knowledge that other small SUVs offer more space for people and cargo is not terribly pertinent.

In that case, the Escape 2.0L EcoBoost is a charming device, especially if it possesses a lower level of equipment that wouldn’t cause it to be compared with its upmarket sibling, the Lincoln MKC. Especially if its tailgate remains firmly secured in the midst of a January nor’easter.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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New Apps, Infotainment Systems Turn Up At 2015 CES http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/new-apps-infotainment-systems-turn-2015-ces/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/new-apps-infotainment-systems-turn-2015-ces/#comments Thu, 08 Jan 2015 14:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=973610 Autonomous alien luxury pods and royalty-free hydrogen patents aren’t the only things coming onto the stage during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Today, we’ll show you the latest and greatest from BMW, FCA, Audi and Ford, with the help from our brothers and sisters over at AutoGuide. BMW introduced non-contact gesture controls […]

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FCA Uconnect Access Services

Autonomous alien luxury pods and royalty-free hydrogen patents aren’t the only things coming onto the stage during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Today, we’ll show you the latest and greatest from BMW, FCA, Audi and Ford, with the help from our brothers and sisters over at AutoGuide.

BMW introduced non-contact gesture controls for its Control Display touchscreen infotainment system, allowing drivers to input a given address with directed gestures made between the instrument panel and gear shift, among other tasks. Another system, Touch Command, will use a standard Samsung tablet to handle all infotainment and comfort functions, and provides wireless access to all onboard electronics for all passengers.

Over at FCA, the automaker debuted new additions to its Uconnect Access suite of apps: Vehicle Finder, Send Destination to Vehicle, Monthly Vehicle Report and Vehicle Health Alert. All four allow owners to keep tabs on their vehicle’s systems, easily navigate to a given destination, and know where their vehicle is at all times. The new suite will debut in H1 2015 on select FCA products equipped with either 8.4A or 8.4AN Uconnect systems.

Audi showed off the new interior of the next-gen Q7 — set to bow in Detroit next week as a 2016 model — to the media in attendance at the 2015 CES. The dashboard arrangement is derived from the TT, featuring a 12.3-inch Audi Virtual Cockpit display with 3D maps and other important information. An additional pop-up central display uses a rotary knob and touch-sensitive pad to operate, while two large, removable, Wi-Fi-enabled tablets mounted in the back of the front headrests provide navigation info and entertainment for those seated in back.

Finally, Ford has added on AccuWeather and Life360 to the AppLink suite of apps on-board the new, QNX-based Sync 3 system. The Life360 Sync 3 app has a special Drive Mode feature that sends text messages to a driver’s friends and family so that they know not to contact the user while driving, with a follow-up text sent upon arrival at the user’s destination. AccuWeather, meanwhile, will use GPS to give minute-by-minute weather forecasts to help drivers better deal with and plan around inclement weather.

BMW CES 2015 01 BMW CES 2015 02 BMW CES 2015 03 BMW CES 2015 04 Uconnect_Access_Smartphone_App_ Vehicle_Finder Send_Destination_to_Vehicle_FCA Monthly_Vehicle_Health_Report Audi Q7 CES 2015 01 Audi Q7 CES 2015 02 Audi Q7 CES 2015 03 Audi Q7 CES 2015 04 Ford CES 2015 01 Ford CES 2015 02 Ford CES 2015 03 Ford CES 2015 04

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Alfa Romeo To Build Spider On Own Platform, Mazda MX-5 To Fiat-Abarth http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/alfa-romeo-build-spider-platform-mazda-mx-5-fiat-abarth/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/alfa-romeo-build-spider-platform-mazda-mx-5-fiat-abarth/#comments Mon, 22 Dec 2014 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=963858 Alfa Romeo will be going its own way for its upcoming Spider, directing Mazda to take its 2016 MX-5 over to Fiat-Abarth instead. Car reports the new roadster will be “a derivative of project Giorgio,” per Alfa and Maserati brand boss Harald Wester. Giorgio is, of course, the RWD platform that will underpin many a […]

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Alfa Romeo will be going its own way for its upcoming Spider, directing Mazda to take its 2016 MX-5 over to Fiat-Abarth instead.

Car reports the new roadster will be “a derivative of project Giorgio,” per Alfa and Maserati brand boss Harald Wester. Giorgio is, of course, the RWD platform that will underpin many a new Alfa, including the expected 159 successor due early this coming summer.

As for the MX-5’s role in the matter, the platform will be heading to Fiat-Abarth, raising the possibility for a new Barchetta or stand-alone Abarth model to emerge from Mazda’s Hiroshima facility in the near future. Alfa’s Spider, however, will be made in Italy, per CEO Sergio Marchionne’s vision for the Alfa brand.

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Chrysler Group Now FCA US LLC http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/chrysler-group-now-fca-us-llc/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/chrysler-group-now-fca-us-llc/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 13:00:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=962041 Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Chrysler Group is dead; long live FCA US LLC. The subsidiary made the name change official today, following the naming convention established by its parent company. Fiat, too, has cast its old corporate identity to the wind of change, now going by the name FCA Italy SpA. Other entities under the FCA […]

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FCA US LLC HQ WTFBBQ

Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Chrysler Group is dead; long live FCA US LLC.

The subsidiary made the name change official today, following the naming convention established by its parent company. Fiat, too, has cast its old corporate identity to the wind of change, now going by the name FCA Italy SpA. Other entities under the FCA Group umbrella will follow in due time.

The changes won’t filter down into individual brands or marketing, so the B&B will still be able to buy a Fiat 500 or Chrysler Town & Country without seeing an FCA badge.

The move marks the first time in the U.S. subsidiary’s history without the Chrysler name, first given by its founder, Walter P. Chrysler, in 1925.

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Zetsche: There’s No Money In The EV Stand http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/zetsche-theres-money-ev-stand/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/zetsche-theres-money-ev-stand/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 11:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=941673 Though Daimler made $780 million off of its recent Tesla stake sale, CEO Dieter Zetsche says there’s no money in the EV stand. AutoblogGreen reports Daimler is leasing its Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive for €399 ($498 USD) a month for 36 months with a down payment of €8,473 ($10,582) due at signing in European showrooms. […]

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Though Daimler made $780 million off of its recent Tesla stake sale, CEO Dieter Zetsche says there’s no money in the EV stand.

AutoblogGreen reports Daimler is leasing its Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive for €399 ($498 USD) a month for 36 months with a down payment of €8,473 ($10,582) due at signing in European showrooms. Were Zetsche to have his way, however, those payments would be higher:

You can reasonably say that nobody today is making a battery-powered vehicle that’s economically viable in its own right. Manufacturers will not see a return within a reasonable time on the billions they’re investing now.

Zetsche’s remarks echo those of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne, who would rather spend $10,000 on a more profitable product than lose said amount every time a Fiat 500e is sold. On the other hand, Nissan and Tesla — the latter having worked with Daimler on the B-Class Electric Drive — have found their respective gambles paying off thus far, though neither are planning to show their hands just yet.

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2015 Ram 700 Newest Entrant In Mexican Compact Truck Market http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/2015-ram-700-newest-entrant-mexican-compact-truck-market/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/2015-ram-700-newest-entrant-mexican-compact-truck-market/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 11:00:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=939625 For some, the Chevrolet Colorado’s “technology and stuff” is just what they need in a truck. For others, however, the mid-size pickup’s footprint is still a tad too big. If you call Mexico your home, Ram has just what you need. According to Jalopnik subsidiary Truck Yeah, the Fiat Strada-based 2015 Ram 700 hails from […]

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2015 Ram 700

For some, the Chevrolet Colorado’s “technology and stuff” is just what they need in a truck. For others, however, the mid-size pickup’s footprint is still a tad too big.

If you call Mexico your home, Ram has just what you need.

According to Jalopnik subsidiary Truck Yeah, the Fiat Strada-based 2015 Ram 700 hails from Brazil — where the Strada is also assembled — and battles against the Chevrolet Tornado and Volkswagen Saveiro in the Mexican market. Both single- and extended-cab versions are available, beginning at $14,000 USD for the stripper model, $18,000 for the Adventure trim (which also offers a locking-diff and digital inclinometer for off-roading adventures).

Under the bonnet, a blast from the past moves the front wheels: the 115-horsepower 1.6-liter Fiat E.torQ. The four-pot 16-valve SOHC mill is derived from the Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth Neon’s 2-liter unit, and has been in production as the E.TorQ since 2011.

Regarding its name, the 700 was planned to be called 750, but instead took the name to identify a payload capacity of 705 kilograms, or approximately 1,500 pounds.

As for the possibility of seeing the 700 in the United States, Ram and parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles haven’t said much on the subject. Though FCA could get around the Chicken Tax by assembling U.S.-bound units in Mexico if need be, low fuel prices and consumer demand outside of enthusiast circles are another matter.

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Paris 2014: Fiat 500X Debuts http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/paris-2014-fiat-500x-images-leaked-prior-unveiling/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/paris-2014-fiat-500x-images-leaked-prior-unveiling/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 13:00:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=923289 The Jeep Renegade’s Italian sibling was revealed at today’s Paris Auto Show media day, and now Fiat dealers can breathe a sigh of relief: they’ll be getting a product that has a good chance of being competitive in North America. The subcompact crossover rides on the same platform as the Jeep Renegade, and may likely […]

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The Jeep Renegade’s Italian sibling was revealed at today’s Paris Auto Show media day, and now Fiat dealers can breathe a sigh of relief: they’ll be getting a product that has a good chance of being competitive in North America.

The subcompact crossover rides on the same platform as the Jeep Renegade, and may likely share the same 1.4-liter turbo-four as the Renegade. Chrysler’s 2.4-liter Tigershark engine will also be available, and all-wheel drive versions will be paired to a nine-speed automatic gearbox, along with the corporate all-wheel drive system. Front-drive versions will get a six-speed dual-clutch auto or six-speed manual gearbox.

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Capsule Review: 2015 Fiat Uno (Brazil Domestic Market) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2015-fiat-uno-brazil-domestic-market/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2015-fiat-uno-brazil-domestic-market/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 13:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=914930 Launched at a time when the new car market in Brazil is relatively stagnant, the new Fiat Novo Uno is causing less of a stir compared to when the round square themed Uno was launched four years ago. There are no lines at dealers and people’s attentions are divided among upstart competitors like the Ford Ka […]

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Launched at a time when the new car market in Brazil is relatively stagnant, the new Fiat Novo Uno is causing less of a stir compared to when the round square themed Uno was launched four years ago. There are no lines at dealers and people’s attentions are divided among upstart competitors like the Ford Ka and Volkswagen up! The Uno had to come hard in order to remain a relevant player, capable of attracting the new Brazilian consumer that demands more in terms of comfort, finishing, content and safety.

Can this Uno face off the competition and remain among the top sellers in Brazil?

With the demise of the Mille, Uno nameplate sales took a hit, though the car kept its top 3 ranking. However, new competition kept underscoring how outdated the car was. First, the Asian competition appeared; the  Toyota Etios (mechanically efficient) and Hyundai HB20 ( great design) showed how dated the Uno was. Then, Chevrolet conjured up its Onix (mobile connectivity), Renault launched the Sandero (size, content). Each one traded on its own merits, but all were priced higher than the Uno and were not direct competitors (Fiat has the Palio to face those down). Of late though, the almost simultaneous emergence of Ka and up!, both directly aimed at the Uno, in size and pricing, left the Uno looking downtrodden and old.

Looking at the car from the outside I couldn’t avoid feeling disappointed, as I positively adored the outgoing model’s design. The hood now has a heavy crease running through it, and the headlights lost some of the square-ness that has forever been part of the Uno’s heritage. It has lost some of the playfulness of the original design and has a more aggressive and generic visage, vaguely reminiscent of some small Asian cars. It also makes concessions to modern sensibilities and the bumpers look more aggressive and pronounced, lending the car a more robust look that will appeal to many. On the Sporting model, the bumpers are frankly ridiculous, but again remit to something vaguely Asian and surely Evo and Imprezza fans will not mind. Plus, it does have a double central chromes exhaust tips and square wheels, I’ll give it that!

Spending more time and taking in the details, it becomes clear Fiat did sweat it out. The front bumper design gives it a lower stance, the backlights have a dazzling mini squares motif that looks novel and interesting, and the frontal section is now highlighted by being painted black. The side mirrors have a new shape and include small, tasteful, square blinkers. The wipers have new stalks and true flat blades. The handles are new and include the key lock. I’m sure I’d would have found more had I spent more time, but enough of Uno arcana.

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Stepping inside is where we see Fiat really spent (some) money. It now has a design reminiscent of what FCA has been lavishing on American Chrysler products and seen for the first time in a Fiat. Attractive, it works well in this small car and suggests modernity. The steering wheel is new and has buttons to control many functions. The plastics are better than ever, with textures and splashes of color, highly-configurable and dependent on version. It does seem Fiat understands that Brazilian private buyers are not interested in absolutely Spartan cars anymore. To do this, Fiat added hearty doses of interactive technology and connectivity. This was made possible because the new Uno sports a more advanced electronic architecture and as such has more computing power and can offer features like color display in the instrument cluster with many more functions than before, automatic left mirror tilt down when reverse is engaged, creep function and even an OEM back up camera. Fabrics can now be seen on the doors and in the back, the fold down seats can optionally be 60/40, in which case it offers a three point seat belt even for the middle passenger, a first for a car in this segment in Brazil. Finally, it offers three headrests in the back, which is, unfortunately, something most competitors don’t.

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As before, since it’s the same car, internal roominess is not that great, especially in light of the new launches. The seat cushions are still short and don’t offer enough thigh support, which can be tiring on long trips though, in Fiat tradition, it is placed high and offers a good, upright seating position. The steering wheel is slightly skewed, and the pedals are placed rather tightly. The trunk is now smallish for the category, beating only the Ka’s. However, all the controls are light and easy to use (and yes, durable) and the Uno offers some equipment still rare on other Brazilian cars like an internal rear hatch release mechanism and gas cap opener, while power window commands are now on the doors as ergonomics recommends.  All in all, an agreeable place to spend time that though configured for five, is more comfortable for four.

Mechanically the car does not stand out to the enthusiast anymore. The engines are holdovers from the previous cars and their age is showing, especially when compared to Ford’s and VW’s spiffy new three cylinders. The Fire EVO 1.0 is good for about 75 horses, while the 1.4 Fire EVO puts forth 88. Though a hefty total of the torque is available at low RPMs, both engines offer low top speeds (the smaller unit doesn’t crack 100 mph) and slow 0 to 60 times. While both Ka and up! 1.0s do this feat at around 14 seconds, the 1.0 Uno takes more than 18, while the 1.4 is more competitive. Fuel economy is average to good for the class and driven carefully can achieve high numbers. The 1.0 at least feels good and is a rounder engine, while the 1.4’s behavior is squarer (it doesn’t like to rev). Fiat has addressed these problems in a roundabout way by adding more sound insulation and new engine mounts. Also, being an in-line 4 cylinder, the vibrations noticed in the three cylinder engines is absent and the noise is better, but time moves on and most competitors’ motors, 3 or 4 cylinders, are surely better. I know they’re here Fiat, so where are the MultiAirs?

Driving the car, it is feels soft and comfortable. Nevertheless, Fiat has changed the specifications for shock absorbers and added insulation. It has also reinforced the Uno’s underlying structure to make it pass Latin NCap’s testing. This has not only added safety, but also affected the car’s behavior as the car is a bit heavier, but more planted and feels more solid. Around town, it is probably still the most comfortable in its class, being extraordinarily light and pliant. Out on the road, however, the car rolls too much. Of course, a more experienced Fiat driver knows this and knows he can force it some more. At that point, it settles down nicely and takes curves well. Most however, let off at the first sign of roll, making it more of a cruiser than a canyon carver. The new competition, specifically the Ka and up!, show that these relative low limits are not necessary as they combine comfort and sportiness much more convincingly.

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Finally, what may make Brazilians still pick the Uno in great numbers is the new added-in technology. As mentioned, the new electronic harness permits more electronic prowess. The 1.4s can be had with Fiat’s Dualogic single clutch automated transmission that makes do without a lever. In its place, there are buttons (and vague references to Ferrari technology in Uno literature) and shift paddles. In the Fiat line, this is the best implementation yet. Faster than before, shifts are done more suavely and the increased intelligence allows the unit to hold a gear when it perceives the driver’s intention to gun it. Though it doesn’t have a true hill holder function, it does have a creep function that will allow the car to slowly move forward at lower speeds and even on some inclines, which will of course help launch. Though a technology that is rougher than true automatics and double clutch automated systems, its simpler cost and ease of use is gaining ground and automating even the smallest Brazilian cars.

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The Uno is also the first small car that offers a Start and Stop system in Brazil. In fact, it will be the first car in the world that uses such a system even when running on ethanol. Fully automatic, it turns the car off when in neutral and stopped. It turns the car back on in 0.4 seconds when the clutch is depressed (it will not be offered, for now, on the Dualogic-equipped cars) and the functioning is quite seamless, so much so that a distracted driver might not even notice. It also re-fires the engine if the car is stopped for over 165 seconds, if the battery is stressed by high use of accessories, if there is a loss in braking power and if the car moves at more than 3 km/h. It won’t work in the warm up phase or if the battery is at under 75 percent capacity. It will also fire the car up again if the air conditioning is on and the engine is stopped for more than 60 seconds. Thankfully, as even that measure may not be enough in a hot country like Brazil, the system can easily be turned off at the flick of a button. INMETRO, the official Brazilian weight, measurements and balances agency rates the system’s impact on fuel economy at just 3 percent while Fiat claims as much as 20 can be had in cities like São Paulo at rush hour where traffic doesn’t move.

That’s the Fiat Uno then. A market leader under pressure by newer rivals. Adding a touch of razzle dazzle technology, some piecemeal mechanical improvements, a sprinkling of safety enhancements and a completely new interior, the Uno adds on to its strengths in the South American markets it is sold (reliability, ease of repair, economy, colors and beaucoup personalization possibilities). Though now outclassed mechanically, it still has what it takes to keep selling. Would I buy one now? Only if I got a spanking good deal or intended to keep the car for a very long time. The use of proven technology and engines virtually guarantee ease of mind, even to the new Brazilian consumer.

 

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Fiat Sets Date Of Shareholder Meeting For August 1 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/fiat-sets-date-of-shareholder-meeting-for-august-1/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/fiat-sets-date-of-shareholder-meeting-for-august-1/#comments Fri, 04 Jul 2014 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858633 Own any shares in Fiat S.p.A.? The automaker just announced it will hold its next general assembly of all shareholders August 1, where the topic of discussion will be the approval of the merger of Fiat with Chrysler Group to become Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. Reuters reports shareholders will also be asked to approve the […]

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A new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sign is pictured after being unveiled at Chrysler Group World Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan

Own any shares in Fiat S.p.A.? The automaker just announced it will hold its next general assembly of all shareholders August 1, where the topic of discussion will be the approval of the merger of Fiat with Chrysler Group to become Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

Reuters reports shareholders will also be asked to approve the merger of Fiat with its wholly owned subsidiary Netherlands Fiat Investments N.V. prior to the FCA vote. The meeting would allow CEO Sergio Marchionne to list FCA on the New York Stock Exchange by October at the earliest.

Those who approve FCA’s existence will receive one FCA common share for every Fiat share they hold, while those against will have the right of withdrawal for the next 15 days, with the redemption price set to €7.727 ($10.51 USD) per Fiat share.

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JD Power Initial Quality Study Shows GM, Hyundai, Porsche Leading The Pack http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/jd-power-initial-quality-study-shows-gm-hyundai-porsche-leading-the-pack/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/jd-power-initial-quality-study-shows-gm-hyundai-porsche-leading-the-pack/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 12:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=846905 J.D. Power has released their U.S. Initial Quality Study for 2014, where General Motors, Hyundai and Porsche earned top marks despite consumers still struggling with the gizmology taking over their vehicles. Autoblog reports GM’s Buick, Chevrolet and GMC captured more awards than anyone else in the 2014 IQS, with six vehicles winning in their segments. […]

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2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

J.D. Power has released their U.S. Initial Quality Study for 2014, where General Motors, Hyundai and Porsche earned top marks despite consumers still struggling with the gizmology taking over their vehicles.

Autoblog reports GM’s Buick, Chevrolet and GMC captured more awards than anyone else in the 2014 IQS, with six vehicles winning in their segments. Meanwhile, Hyundai and Porsche were ranked best overall mass-market and premium brand, respectively, where the former reported 94 issues per 100 vehicles reported in the first 90 days, 74/100 for the latter. Porsche also dominated the IQS, having the best score of all brands surveyed.

On the other end of the scale, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ranked poorly in the study, with Fiat holding dead last at 206 problems per 100 vehicles reported in the survey period. Jeep came second-to-last with 146/100, while Dodge was just below the industry average at 124/100. Only Ram and Chrysler fared the best, matching or just exceeding the average of 116/100.

Part of the results may be due to automakers pushing the envelope on technology and new features to make consumers’ lives easier. J.D. Power Vice President of Global Automotive David Sargent says “almost all automakers are struggling” to introduce these pieces “without introducing additional quality problems.” In turn, some consumers are noting the technologies involved are “hard to understand, difficult to use, or [do] not always work as designed.”

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Rental Review: 2014 Fiat 500L “Easy” FWD http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/rental-review-2014-fiat-500l-easy-fwd/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/rental-review-2014-fiat-500l-easy-fwd/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 10:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=845017 “Cheap and cheerful.” It’s a phrase the Brit mags like to use all the time to describe poverty-priced cars that attempt to use design and color to mask their humble aspirations. Think Scion xB compared to Toyota Tercel — but nobody does the C&C music factory like the Europeans. The original Twingo set the template, […]

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“Cheap and cheerful.” It’s a phrase the Brit mags like to use all the time to describe poverty-priced cars that attempt to use design and color to mask their humble aspirations. Think Scion xB compared to Toyota Tercel — but nobody does the C&C music factory like the Europeans. The original Twingo set the template, but it’s had many a riff played on it since then.

Now we have a cheap-and-cheerful from a Euro manufacturer, built in Serbia, with as much design and flair as you can stand. Whether it’s the worst car for sale in America or one of the best depends entirely on how cheerful you need your cheap to be.

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We’re reviewing a Kia Soul in these pages today, so it was both lucky and good than I rented one for last weekend’s WRL race at Texas World Speedway. I have )plenty of experience driving a Kia Soul in Houston. No, wait, I meant to post this review, the other one is fiction. In any event, the Soul also pretends to be cheap-and-cheerful. I say “pretends” because it isn’t really that cheap anymore and it’s approaching respectability in its design and execution. The deal Kia is currently making with the American public is this: you pay about what you’d pay for a Honda, give or take a bit, and we’ll throw in some warranty and some Audi-derived flair to help you get over the brand stigma. (Yes, I know who designs Kias now — Peter Schreyer.)

The 500L, on the other hand — well, when I first sat in the thing at the Hertz office I couldn’t believe what an utter piece of shit it was. Like a Toyota Corolla and about everything else nowadays, it has a three-rotating-ring climate control system. Unlike with the Toyota, however, in this car the rings wobble. They’re so loose I worried that they would fall off. Adjusting the driver’s seat gave me another case of the wobbles — the hollow-molded handles to adjust the seatback and height gave no sensation of being firmly attached to anything at all. The handbrake was bizarrely shaped and the flash lines from the plastic molding were sharply evident. There are no manual door lock actuators on the doors themselves. That would cost money. The shifter found “D” with a very Italian vagueness.

And then the engine quit.

For at least five seconds, I just sat there with my mouth open. As someone who races a variety of Lemons-spec cars across the country and who once owned a MA href=”http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/the-red-marquis-the-redheaded-girl-and-the-red-mist/”>1980 Mercury Marquis, I am no stranger to the phenomenon known as “failure to proceed”, but in a 2014-model automobile with 4000 miles on the clock?

I re-selected Park, twisted the switchblade key in the ignition, and the car caught before dying yet again!

A third time was the charm, but throughout the weekend, the Fiat would often indicate it’s reluctance to run in the ninety-five-degree Texas weather by cutting out once or twice when started cold, always starting by the third try. Okay. We’re rolling. Time to take a look around.

Although the 500L shares nothing with the infamous Multipla wide-body CUV, the long dashboard, multiple fishbowl windows in front of the driver, and the general turret-toppedness of the thing make it hard to believe such is the case. Really, it’s a relative of the upcoming Renegade. Think Caliber to the Patriot and you’ll have the idea, sort of. There’s a lot of glass, some of it wavy, and it’s all pretty far away from you in all directions. You want Euro? You got it. This is how our nominal superiors on the Continent imagine high-seat cars, as compared to something like a modern Tahoe where you get the cockpit of an Impala mounted to the frame of an Iowa-class in an arrangement that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a Star Destroyer.

I slapped the thing into Drive again and noticed that, as is also a Euro market practice, the red-LCD display between the dials showed which gear I’d selected. This is a nice feature, one I remember with pleasure from my Phaetons. You get “D4″ or “D6″ or “D1″ instead of “D”. If you don’t like being surprised by shifting, it’s good to have. It’s also useful because when you’re low-speed cruising through town you can accurately estimate whether you’ll need to press for kickdown in order to make a move in traffic. Already in third? Probably okay. If the transmission has drifted up to fifth, you’d better ask for a shift.

Particularly if, as is the case here, you’re asking 1.4L of light-pressured turbocharged four-cylinder to motivate 3,203 pounds with just 160 horsepower. The Fiat 500L will never be confused with an acceptably rapid automobile and such is its lassitude that even I, who just got a six-point speeding ticket in another turbocharged Euro-mobile last week, frequently found myself dawdling along at 65mph on the 75mph Texas freeways. It’s clearly never in a hurry. The good news is that the engine’s relatively flat torque curve approximates a big-cube four-banger like the Chrysler 2.4 pretty well and it’s never dangerous in a merging situation. Hilariously, the twin-clutch transmission allows the thing to “brap” a bit when it’s in a hurry, just like a GTI. Again, you want Euro, you got it.

How’s it handle? It definitely does. My plans to take it around Texas World Speedway were canceled because my flight arrived late-ish and therefore I couldn’t get both this and the car I was actually going to race around the course in the allotted time, but hey, on the street it’s dynamically competent. To some degree, the 500L’s abilities in the steer-stop department are masked by the form factor and the seating. If you had a car that put up these same numbers but sat you on the ground in the manner of, say, a previous-generation Civic, you’d be quite pleased. It’s just that being up in the fishbowl makes the whole enterprise seem a bit stupid. I’m pretty sure this thing would dust most CUVs around a track, if you really wanted to make it happen.
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As befits a “Fiatsler” product, the 500L has a uConnect center screen. Right now, if you buy one from dealer stock, you’ll get a better uConnect than this one, free of charge, and it will include navigation. This one’s okay, however, offering the same virtues you get in a 300C. (Incidentally, I am the only major TTAC contributor who doesn’t think uConnect is better than MyFordTouch, so take this with a grain of salt.) It was a little picky about reconnecting to my Galaxy upon startup, but overall the Bluetooth integration was solid. The sound quality was less so. Not a lot of juice in the amp.

Cargo and passenger space, as you’d expect, is excellent and from my experience it matches what’s available elsewhere in the segment. The rear seats are as comfortable as the fronts, which is to say pretty good and supportive over long drives. I covered nearly 800 miles in three days during my drive, having to fold my fractured frame into a couple of Kirkey race seats in the intervals between trips, and I was never in any pain or discomfort. It’s a good way to travel. The A/C, despite feeling desperately flimsy in operation, was up to the demands of cooling this very glazing-intensive car in Texas heat.

Overall, the 500L appears to be a very nice design put together in completely slipshod fashion. I was prepared to give it a bit of a diss-track review. The lousy quality and will-it-run business made it easily the worst car I’ve rented this year or last, in plain functional terms. As I was preparing my notes, however, I took the time to build my test vehicle in FIAT’s configuator.

This, as the say, changed everything.

Equipped as my “Easy” DCT model was, net price before discounts was $21,095. Which means out the door for under twenty grand. Were I willing to take a six-speed manual transmission over the DCT — would I be? You think so? — the net-net would be mid-nineteen grand. Compare that to a Honda CR-V EX with similar equipment at $25,320 or a Ford Escape at what is probably, given that company’s current pricing strategy, $118,255. For that money, I’d get navigation and a suite of other upgrades if I took it from dealer stock, which makes the real price gap between this and the competition an easy seven grand.

Cheap indeed.

At that price, I’ve changed my mind. If you can trade build quality away for a double helping of design whimsy, and you’d like to save something like thirty percent of the purchase price, the 500L is recommended with reservations. And those reservations are: you didn’t pay Honda money, it doesn’t look like the God-awful CR-V, don’t expect it to run forever with no problems. You say you want a Euro car? You got it. Just remember that it’s not Japanese.

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ London Headquarters To Focus On Corporate Finance http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/fiat-chrysler-automobiles-london-headquarters-to-focus-on-corporate-finance/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/fiat-chrysler-automobiles-london-headquarters-to-focus-on-corporate-finance/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 11:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=827618 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ new headquarters in London, England will be as small as many Silicon Valley startups, with a staff of 50 mostly focused on finance. Automotive News Europe reports FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne and Fiat Group chairman John Elkann will have a home in London, with FCA COO Richard Palmer possibly having a place […]

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Fiat 500 in London

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ new headquarters in London, England will be as small as many Silicon Valley startups, with a staff of 50 mostly focused on finance.

Automotive News Europe reports FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne and Fiat Group chairman John Elkann will have a home in London, with FCA COO Richard Palmer possibly having a place there as well. Though no new hiring is planned, the automaker hopes to pull more finance employees from its Asia Pacific and Latin American regions to its headquarters, where most of the work will involve treasury operations.

The move to London also means tax savings for FCA; whereas Fiat paid 31.4 percent in corporate taxes to Italy while Chrysler paid 35 percent to the United States, the Italo-American company will pay only 20 percent for its part of filling the Queen’s coffers. This strategy has come under fire from both sides of the Atlantic, with feelings of betrayal on the part of Italians due to history, and on Americans due to tax dollars used to rescue Chrysler in 2009.

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Marchionne’s Grand Vision For FCA Faces Hard Financial Road To Success http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/marchionnes-grand-vision-for-fca-faces-hard-financial-road-to-success/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/marchionnes-grand-vision-for-fca-faces-hard-financial-road-to-success/#comments Thu, 08 May 2014 12:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=817858 Though Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne’s five-year plan announced this week may be ambitious, analysts are raising questions about how the plan will be funded — and how much will be needed — if it is to be successful, let alone live up to Marchionne’s vision. Automotive News Europe reports a large part of […]

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Sergio Marchionne - FCA

Though Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne’s five-year plan announced this week may be ambitious, analysts are raising questions about how the plan will be funded — and how much will be needed — if it is to be successful, let alone live up to Marchionne’s vision.

Automotive News Europe reports a large part of the problem for the plan, according to Bernstein Research analyst Max Warburton, is debt:

Much as we admire the ambition and think elements are achievable… it is hard to find conviction on the financing of the plan. Fiat is weighed down with huge debt, burdened by financing costs and is only thinly profitable. It’s (sic) cost of capital is huge.

Warburton adds FCA’s grand plan and its potential capital expenditure and R&D appear to be unaffordable and not prudent for investors, stating the company would need “a capital raise” for any part of the plan to pan out.

Aside from its debt, FCA also faces sales challenges from markets that are peaking or slowing down, with the European market being the biggest drag upon the automaker. However, independent analyst Marianne Keller said that with the recovery now taking place in Europe, paired with North American profits and a strong Jeep brand, Marchionne could “pull it off”; Marchionne himself announced during the five-year plan’s unveiling that he was considering a mandatory convertible bond to bring the needed financing for the plan.

Finally, FCA’s Q1 2014 results — a net loss of 319 million euros compared to a net profit of 31 million euros the year before — serve as a sign for both the company and its investors that FCA has more hard road ahead, a view best summed up by Macquarie Group analyst Jens Schattner:

If it was so easy just to launch new products to be successful in this industry, why wouldn’t everybody do exactly the same.

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