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. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 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 is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Fiat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Which Will Be Our First Renault? Mitsubishi Or Ram? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/which-will-be-our-first-renault-mitsubishi-or-ram/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/which-will-be-our-first-renault-mitsubishi-or-ram/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:30:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=872338 800px-Renault_Trafic_II_front_20080120

First it was Mitsubishi that inked a deal with Renault Samsung to bring their wares over here as Mitsubishi branded cars. Now Fiat is getting into the action, by having Renault produce an unspecified commercial vehicle.

Renault and Fiat announced a vaguely worded deal to have Renault build a commercial vehicle for Fiat starting in 2016. There is no indication of what it could be, but now that the Ram ProMaster lineup is firmly Fiat-based, it’s not out of the question. Between that and the Samsung SM5, we’ll have an even better idea of all of the wonderful oddities currently off limits to our unsophisticated automotive palates…

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Volkswagen Interested In Buying Fiat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/volkswagen-interested-in-buying-fiat/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/volkswagen-interested-in-buying-fiat/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 13:14:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=867258 Ferdinand-Piech

German business publication Manager Magazin is reporting that Volkswagen could be interested in acquiring Fiat. The Agnelli family, which controls the industrial conglomerate, is apparently looking to exit the volume car manufacturing business.

According to the article, the Agnelli family would retain Ferrari, while Volkswagen would benefit from Chrysler and its associated brands by giving it a foothold in America, where it has traditionally struggled. VW CEO Ferdinand Peich has long coveted Alfa Romeo, though it’s unclear what would happen to FCA’s other brands.

Any deal would be faced with a number of obstacles, including financial issues and inevitable consolidation of the respective brand portfolios. But the Agnelli family’s desire to exit the volume car manufacturing business is a wise one, given the constantly shaky market conditions in Europe, their exposure to the hardest hit regions of that continent and the massive overcapacity crisis currently plaguing its assembly plants. By contrast, Ferrari is a license to print money, generating enormous profits from its merchandising arm alone. Sergio Marchionne has long said that economies of scale above 6 million units are required to survive in this next era of the automotive business – this may be the most expedient way for him to achieve that goal.

 

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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 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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FCA To Sell Re-Badged Mitsubshi Mirages In Colt Redux http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/fca-to-sell-re-badged-mitsubshi-mirages-in-colt-redux/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/fca-to-sell-re-badged-mitsubshi-mirages-in-colt-redux/#comments Fri, 27 Jun 2014 05:39:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=854473 450x299x2014-Mitsubishi-Mirage-G4-Sedan-_1_-450x299.jpg.pagespeed.ic.Rng2LL-6MC

Chrysler will re-badge the Mitsubishi Attrage (the sedan version of the much-loved Mitsubishi Mirage) for sale in Asian markets. Sounds crazy, right? Not really.

Chrysler has a history of selling small Mitsubishis under their own brand in North America, but the agreement with Mitsubishi will cover Asia, a region where Chrysler has never been particularly strong. No specific markets or brand decisions were announced for the Thai-built sedan, but we’d like to humbly suggest a name for the new car: the Colt.

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2015 Ram ProMaster City Revealed http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/2015-ram-promaster-city-revealed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/2015-ram-promaster-city-revealed/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 04:01:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=848418 2015 Ram ProMaster City 01

Pulling up to the intersection of Flower Shop Lane, Contractor Boulevard and Utility Road is the Fiat Doblò-based 2015 Ram ProMaster City, the second van to emerge from Ram’s relationship with Fiat Professional.

The unibody van can be had in either Wagon or Tradesman Cargo base trim with SLT trim as an upgrade to both bases, and boasts a total of eight configurations involving security panels and rear and side windows. Cargo volume comes to 131.7 cubic feet with a width of 60.4 inches above the wheel wells, 48.4 inches in between. Height is 51.8 inches, with a step-in height of 21.5 inches, and payload capacity is 1,883 pounds.

Up front, the Tigershark 2.4-liter I4 with MultiAir2 technology puts 178 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels via its nine-speed automatic transmission. The transmission has a final-drive ratio of 3.73:1, good for improved fuel economy over the Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200 and Chevrolet City Express, as well as a nil-to-30 mph time of 3.7 seconds. ESC — one of 34 safety features on-board, including brake/park interlock and rearview camera — keeps it all together while making deliveries, and the van’s Uconnect helps maintain contact between provider and customer during service calls.

The ProMaster City variants will drive off the container ships to all 2,300 Ram dealerships later this year from the TOFAS plant in Bursa, Turkey, with upfitting to be handled at the Chrysler Group Transformation Center in Baltimore, Md., and Mopar contributing to the customization. No price has been given thus far.

2015 Ram ProMaster City 01 2015 Ram ProMaster City 02 2015 Ram ProMaster City 03 2015 Ram ProMaster City 04 2015 Ram ProMaster City 05 2015 Ram ProMaster City 06 2015 Ram ProMaster City 07 2015 Ram ProMaster City 08 2015 Ram ProMaster City 09 2015 Ram ProMaster City 10 2015 ProMaster City wide-ratio 9-speed automatic transmission 2015 Ram ProMaster City Chassis 2015 Ram ProMaster City 2.4-liter Tigershark engine with 9-speed 2015 Ram ProMaster City bi-link rear suspension VIper A Ram Tool Bag and Caddy is among the Mopar items available to c 2015 ProMaster City 2015 Ram ProMaster City SLT interior 2015 Ram ProMaster City SLT interior 2015 Ram ProMaster City SLT Wagon interior 2015 Ram ProMaster City badge ]]>
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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 20140615_195842

“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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Alfa 4C Arrives In 86 North American Showrooms, Brings 342 Pounds Of Luggage http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/alfa-4c-arrives-in-86-north-american-showrooms-brings-342-pounds-of-luggage/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/alfa-4c-arrives-in-86-north-american-showrooms-brings-342-pounds-of-luggage/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 10:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=841969 Alfa-Romeo-4C-17

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has just released their initial list of dealerships who will have the right to sell the Alfa Romeo 4C to North American customers, while the sports car will bring 342 pounds of luggage for the trip from Modena to the selected showrooms.

Autoblog reports all but four dealerships will be in the United States — the remaining four are in Canada — and the majority of those will be concentrated in three of the 33 states on the initial list: California, Florida and Texas. The chosen ones were drawn from a list of existing Fiat and Maserati dealerships, and though expected cities like Los Angeles, Orlando and Austin will be among the chosen, a few big names didn’t make the first cut, including New York, Seattle and Louisville, Ky.

Meanwhile, the chosen dealerships “will have a unique staff dedicated to the brand’s premium market clientele,” per the words of Chrysler Group vice president of network development Peter Grady. The dealerships are undergoing “an intensive curriculum” to ensure the success of the 4C and limited-edition 4C Launch Edition as FCA presses forward toward its goal of over 300 Alfa dealerships in North America.

As for the 4C itself, Jalopnik says the sports car packed on an additional 342 pounds to its 2,153-pound Euro-spec frame for the U.S. market, coming into port at 2,495 pounds. Aside from the usual federalization mandates, some of the weight comes from the standard air-con and radio equipped in the U.S.-spec model.

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The Dakota That Could Have Been http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/the-dakota-that-could-have-been/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/the-dakota-that-could-have-been/#comments Tue, 03 Jun 2014 14:23:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=836241 2009-2011_Mitsubishi_Triton_(MN)_GL-R_4-door_utility_01

Sometime around 2012, a Ram Trucks source told TTAC about an investigation into a smaller pickup for the brand, one that could have even turned out to be a front-drive pickup. “We won’t do another Dakota,” said our source, “but maybe something else.”. By all accounts, that truck would have been based on one of Fiat’s small, unibody front-drive pickups. But now, Fiat seems to want a Dakota of its own.

Automotive News reports that Fiat will get a new body-on-frame midsize truck starting in 2016, which will be a variant of the Mitsubishi L200. The Thai-built L200 is a smaller, body-on-frame pickup with rear or four-wheel drive and both gasoline and diesel engines, making it a good fit for Fiat’s commercial vehicle lineup. And it’s very likely that we’ll never seen it here.

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters at the most recent 5-year plan that FCA had tried out a smaller truck at clinics, but was unable to wow the crowd, let alone make a business case for such a truck. The L200 isn’t homologated for North America either, and a smaller truck isn’t a great fit for FCA in terms of CAFE either. FCA is already lagging behind other OEMs in terms of CAFE footprint, and small trucks are one of the worst vehicles when it comes to meeting those standards.

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QOTD: Marchionne Says Government Made Him Sell Fiat 500 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/qotd-marchionne-says-government-made-him-sell-fiat-500/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/qotd-marchionne-says-government-made-him-sell-fiat-500/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 16:38:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=828290 450x337xFiat500LTrekking-450x337.jpg.pagespeed.ic.HvJbi627EE

An event held at Washington D.C’s Brookings Institute saw FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne and former National Economic Council head Larry Summers discuss the auto bailout on its five-year anniversary. As always, Marchionne had some colorful commentary, with a one interesting nugget about Fiat.

According to Christina Rogers of the Wall Street Journal, Marchionne claimed that the Fiat 500 was only imported to the United States due to the government’s hand, with Marchionne stating

“It was a condition assigned to the [bailout] deal”

This has previously never been stated in any bailout related discussion – only the Dodge Dart and its 40 mpg capability has been highlighted as a specific requirement of the bailout, in terms of product.

If this is indeed correct, it would add some context to Fiat’s confusing position in the marketplace. For Fiat to thrive in America, it would make sense to add more product that is better aligned to American tastes. All we’ve gotten are the 500 and 500L, which are both unsuited to the vast majority of American tastes and driving conditions.

So far, Fiat’s American arrival has been an expensive endeavor that has not exactly fared well. The costs of homologating the cars, building the 500 in a new factory in the NAFTA zone, establishing a dealer network and marketing the car is certain to be a $1-billion dollar expenditure. Perhaps this is just a bit of bluster by Sergio to obfuscate the fact that Fiat isn’t burning up the sales charts in America. I am sure that Fiat dealers would like a more lucid answer.

 

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Dispatches Do Brasil: No Way, It’s The Palio Way! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/dispatches-do-brasil-no-way-its-the-palio-way/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/dispatches-do-brasil-no-way-its-the-palio-way/#comments Wed, 14 May 2014 11:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=818650 Fiat-Palio-Way-01-560x373

As I mentioned in my recent analysis of FCA’s plans for Brazil, Fiat is chugging along at almost full capacity and doesn’t really need new cars to compete here. However, that doesn’t mean they will quit fiddling with their product line. Behold the latest and greatest in South America: Fiat’s adventurous new Palio Fire Way!

According to Brazilian enthusiast site bestcars.com.br, the latest Fiat to sport the trappings of the very successful aventureiro idea is the the Palio Fire. Launched way back in 1996, the bonesof the car has remained untouched, while the front and back have been redesigned (Giorgetto Giugiaro penned this version) and the mechanicals have been completely overhauled. With a ride height 15 mm taller than the regular version, what else does the new Palio offer consumers for the price of 27,860 reais (about 4,000 more than the regular)?

They get some “fancy” decals, plastic cladding on the wheel openings, plastic protection on the bottom of bumpers, plastic side mirror covers and plastic hubcaps. Lots of plastic. Besides that they get a tachometer and (very slightly) better seat fabrics and blacked out headlights.

The Palio Fire Way comes with the same equipment as the regular version, like the now mandatory dual frontal airbags and ABS, and – wait for it – internal manual controls for the side mirrors and clock.  Air conditioning, power steering, windows and locks, alloy wheels, more airbags, really anything that’s worth having, is an option and costs high dollars to get.

The Palio Fire isn’t a complete crapcan. It actually gives you a soft, compliant ride, seating for five is tight but possible, the trunk will hold a week’s worth of groceries or the luggage of a small family on vacations. The 1.0 engine puts out 70-ish horses and sounds pretty good doing so and is responsive. Fuel economy is not bad.

Finally, Brazil is a very large country with miles of back roads, unpaved roads, broken roads. For those out in the country and who can’t pay for a pickup or need a car to take the family along, the extra height is quite useful. Even in Brazilian cities, some see benefits in the extra ride height as it helps in overcoming the numerous potholes, speed bumps, unbelievably deep gutters so prevalent in Brazilian cities.

This is the kind of car Brazilians can expect to see over the course of the next couple of years. Cars that been selling for more than a while and will continue to do so, aided by the cosmetic touches Fiat is so good at. Real new cars? You’ll have to wait until 2016.

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Dispatches Do Brasil: FCA’s Plans For Latin America http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/dispatches-do-brasil-fcas-plans-for-latin-america/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/dispatches-do-brasil-fcas-plans-for-latin-america/#comments Fri, 09 May 2014 16:40:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=818626 FiatBrazil

After all was said and done and the dust settled on FCA’s presentation of future plans to investors a couple of days ago, many of us were still left wondering – what does FCA really have in store for Brazil? We all know what the “F” in FCA stands for and there’s a reason why it comes before the “C”. Part of that is the success Fiat has enjoyed in Brazil – which was heavily emphasized in the Fiat brand presentation. Brazil is a good indicator for Fiat’s plans in the Latin American market, and the rest of the globe.

This year, Fiat is doing well, even though Brazil is in a down market this year (Fiat is down about 5 percent). 2013 saw Fiat sell 785,000 cars – impressive given that its domestic production capacity is 800,000 units. Fiat will add another 400,000 units of capacity over the next few years, betting heavily on Brazil as a major engine of growth.

So what did FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne say about Brazil? No new nothing for brasileiros until 2016, when the new factory will kick off production of the new “City” car directly aimed at Volkswagen’s up!. More than likely, it will sport a 900cc two-cylinder engine that can add forced induction, producing 70 to 130 hp while keeping consumption (and emissions) to a minimum.

Besides that, baby Jeeps and Jeeps labeled as Fiat products will also come out of that new factory (4 new models, initially).These new CUVs will sit directly in the meat of the fastest growing segment in the world. Aside from giving Fiat more product, it’s an important step for the internationalization of the Jeep brand.

At the old factory in Betim, Minas Gerais, Fiat will phase out the venerable 178 series of cars, while the new Palio and Grand Siena line will sit on top a version of the platform underpinning the current Brazilian Punto. The new Uno that sits on the 326 platform, an evolution of the old 178, will move up to hybridized version of  326, and the Punto’s platform. The Strada pickup will survive, but its final form is unknown.

As the new European Punto will sit on the same platform as the future 500, Fiat Brazil is at a loss as to what to do with the Linea and Idea. That means that the Punto is, as we say in Portuguese, subiu no telhado (about to jump of the roof). The Viaggio and Ottimo (Fiat’s version of the Dart) also have unclear futures in Brazil. Both were supposed to arrive, but they have been delayed indefinitely.

Part of the reason is that, Fiat Brazil is now a smaller player in the global FCA realm, and must now compete with Chrysler for money. The slowdown of Fiat’s factory expansions in Brazil is evidence of this. However, the contracting car market does help Fiat. As they are operating at among the highest capacities in Brazil, the no launch of new cars is, at the moment, a welcome and lucky break. The current models are very competitive and are doing well in the market. Any new cars might just push the limits of Fiat’s capacity in South America too far.

The Uno, which is the cheapest car in Brazil has just got some “awesome” decorative fluff-ware, enough to keep interest, in the media and public, and keep the old factory chugging along until 2016. Then,Fiat will be ready for action and hungry to get the 1 million plus sales they need down here in order to prove signore Marchionne is right, and that FCA not only has a future, but a bright one at that

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Analysis: The Definitive Guide To The Fiat Chrysler 5-Year Plan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/analysis-the-definitive-guide-to-the-fiat-chrysler-5-year-plan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/analysis-the-definitive-guide-to-the-fiat-chrysler-5-year-plan/#comments Tue, 06 May 2014 22:34:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=816249 fcainvestorday

Wednesday marks the 16th anniversary of the Daimler-Chrysler merger. One day prior to this milestone, Fiat Chrysler has unveiled their business plan for the next 5 years. While the industry norm is to keep future product plans, brand strategies and sales targets as a closely guarded secret, FCA took the unusual step of making it all public, with FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne headlining the event (billed as a conference for investors) at an event in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Each of FCA’s brands and subsidiaries was given the chance to present their strategy through 2018, with healthy helpings of new vehicles, future technology and corporate strategy being revealed.

ChryslerCurrently, the Chrysler brand is arguably the weakest in FCA’s portfolio, with just three offerings – the D-segment Chrysler 200, the E-segment Chrysler 300 and the Town and Country minivan. Combined, those account for just 350,000 units globally, a tiny number in the context of a 16 or 17 million unit market in the United States alone. As part of its growth plan, Chrysler will shift away from being a pseudo-premium brand to a mainstream line, aiming to compete with brands like Ford, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Toyota and Honda. The brand will add a new compact sedan, and two new crossovers, as well as hybrid capability on the larger CUV and the Town & Country minivan. Chrysler is aiming to increase sales to 800,000 units globally by 2018, equal to its best years ever in America, in the middle of the last decade – but Chrysler will be relying on stronger global sales to reach this number.

  • The Chrysler 100 sedan will debut in 2016, ostensibly as a sister car to the Dodge Dart. While details were not revealed, we can expect both the 1.4L Turbo 4-cylinder engine, as well as the 2.4L 4-cylinder paired to a 9-speed automatic. Although the latter combination was promised for the Dart long ago, it has failed to materialize. The Dart is scheduled for a 2016 refresh, and the 2.4L/9-speed could appear at that time.
  • The Chrysler 300 will receive a refresh later this year, while the 200 will get one in 2017.
  • A larger crossover, sized to compete with the Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse, launches in 2017. This will likely share a platform with the Chrysler Town & Country minivan, due to its footprint and its plug-in hybrid capability.
  • A mid-size crossover, comparable to the Hyundai Santa Fe or Ford Edge, bows in 2018. This will likely share the CUSW underpinnings of the Chrysler 200 and Jeep Cherokee.
  • The Chrysler Town & Country will be the sole minivan in FCA’s portfolio, bowing in 2016. It will be available as a plug-in hybrid to help meet regulatory requirements for ZEVs.

Dodge: In the “internal turf war” for mainstream volume offerings, Dodge is the clear loser. The upshot for enthusiasts is that Dodge will transition to being a more emotional and performance oriented brand, while still retaining its price point as a mainstream value brand. As part of Chrysler’s consolidation and push for “brand purity”, the Grand Caravan and Avenger will disappear, with the former departing in 2016. Dodge sales are expected to stay flat, with 600,000 units targeted in 2018 – Dodge sold roughly 596,000 units in 2013, and is expected to see lower volumes in the intermittent years.

  • A new B-segment Dodge will debut in 2018, offering both sedan and hatchback bodystyles, as well as undisclosed turbocharged engines. Previous rumors have suggested that a small Dodge would carry the Hornet name.
  • The Dart will soldier on until 2016, with FCA planning to market the car with aggressive leases and better content. 2016 will bring cosmetic changes as well as improvements to the driving dynamics and powertrains. A Dart SRT, with a high-performance turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive, will bow at the end of 2016.
  • A replacement for the Dodge Journey – including an SRT version – will bow in mid-2016.
  • All-new versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger will bow in 2018 (alongside a new Chrysler 300), with SRT versions arriving at the end of 2018.
  • The Dodge Durango will continue through 2018, though it may disappear to make room for a three-row Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
  • The SRT Viper will become a Dodge again, and carry on through 2018.

FerrariFCA CEO Sergio Marchionne presented Ferrari’s outline, which was light on product plans. Ferrari will cap production at 7,000 units per year, introducing one new model every year. There are provisions to increase capacity to 10,000 units annually, and each model will be on a four year cycle, with updated variants (think 458 Speciale) launched as well. While Marchionne stressed that “Ferrari is not for sale”.

With a volume of 10,000 units, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) is estimated to be around $1 billion for Ferrari alone, thanks to its three custom car lines (which presumably generates huge margins) and the extremely lucrative revenue stream built into the brand – its merchandising and licensing business. Ferrari licenses its brand to everything from laptops to athletic apparel to model cars, and these are frequently sold as luxury goods. By comparison, Marchionne noted that conventional luxury good companies are often valued at 9x-12x EBITDA – and his presentation made explicit mention of Ferrari’s target of 15 percent gross margin, and an apparent valuation of between 3.3 and 5.4 billion euros.

FiatFiat’s presentation was the most confusing, with the brand eschewing the unidirectional approach taken by the other marques in FCA’s portfolio. A more apt-description is that Fiat is the exact opposite of “One Ford”, with the brand offering distinct product for NAFTA, Latin America, Europe and Asia.

  • Fiat will dump the Suzuki SX4-based Sedici (replaced by the Fiat 500L) and the C-segment Fiat Bravo (replaced by the Fiat 500/Panda).
  • Future product will straddle the line between functional, mainstream transportation with a “cool” bent (mostly in Europe and other developed world markets) and a novel, European brand (NAFTA). This dichotomy was presented in the form of the Fiat 124 and 124 Sport (a family car and a sports car) and the smaller Uno being sold alongside the dramatic, performance oriented Fiat Coupe of the mid-1990s.
  • In Brazil and Latin America, Fiat will shed many of its legacy nameplates, including the Palio, Siena and Linea. They will be replaced with a new A-segment car, a new Uno, a Punto/Palio replacement, a new Grand Siena, a new compact CUV and a new pickup, as well as the Strada small pickup.
  • Fiat will bring the Renegade-based 500X crossover to North America, as well as a “Speciality” product, presumed to be a Fiat/Abarth branded sports car, based off the next Mazda MX-5.

JeepJeep is one of FCA’s profit centers, and the SUV brand will undergo a major re-orientation from a NAFTA-centric maker of rough-and-ready SUVs to a global brand composed of both crossovers and traditional off-road vehicles. Jeep will transofrm from a brand of 800,000 American-made vehicles to one with manufacturing facilities in the USA, Brazil, India, China and the EU, with sales projections of 1.9 million units globally. Jeep will gain 9 new plants in 5 new countries .

  • Jeep will introduce a new replacement for the Compass and Patriot in 2016, consolidated under one nameplate.
  • The Grand Wagoneer will return in 2018 as a three-row vehicle, potentially replacing the Dodge Durango.
  • A new Wrangler and Grand Cherokee will bow in 2017.

MaseratiAlong with Alfa Romeo, Maserati will be positioned as a premium performance brand, with new product offerings. Although the Levante SUV is still on, more details were released about the Alfieri Coupe and Convertible. Maserati is aiming to increase sales from 15,000 to 75,000 units.

  • The Alfieri will offer turbocharged V6 (410, 450 and 520 horsepower), and all-wheel drive. Rear drive will be available only on the lower output V6 model.
  • The Levante will offer 350 and 425 horsepower V6 engines and a 560 horsepower V8 as well as a range of diesels.

Alfa Romeo: After nearly a decade of broken promises, we have yet another Alfa Romeo product plant that is being presented as the savoir of this once hallowed brand. Alfa Romeo’s narrative has always been grander than its financial success, but things are particularly dismal, with sales below 200,000 units and a lineup of just two small, front-drive hatchbacks and a low volume sports car.

As part of Alfa’s latest revival attempt, the brand has been transformed into what it dubs a “skunk works”, akin to what Chrysler wanted to do with SRT – create an independent workshop that is conducive to experimentation and creativity, free from bureaucracy and rigid corporate processes. Alfa’s top bosses are two Ferrari engineers, with a staff of 200 hand-picked individuals, which FCA hopes to expand to 600 by 2015.

  • Alfa is aiming to launch 8 new products by 2018, with a range of 4 and 6-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines. Alfas will be exclusively rear or all-wheel drive.
  • The first new vehicle, a mid-size sedan, will bow in 2015. From there, a full-size sedan, two CUVs and a new “speciality” car will debut by 2018.
  • The Mito and Giulietta compacts will die.
  • FCA is aiming for 400,000 units by 2018, including 150,000 units in the United States.

RamAs one of FCA’s other big profit centers, Ram is a key brand for the company, but exists largely in the NAFTA region. The half-ton trucks will see a refresh in 2015, along with a redesign in 2017, with heavy-duty trucks getting freshened in alternate years. Aluminum will likely not be a part of the new trucks, as Ram feels that the diesel half-ton truck is competitive against Ford’s aluminum RAM, and has been downplaying the durability and cost-effectiveness of the aluminum F-150. On the commercial vehicle front, a small Ram ProMaster City, based on the Fiat Doblo, bows this year.

Powertrains and Architectures:

While auto makers like Volkswagen, Toyota and Nissan are moving to radical solutions for platform consolidation, FCA’s plan showed little evidence of any move to substantially combine existing product architectures. Currently, FCA has 18 vehicle architectures, with the top 4 platforms accounting for just under half of total volume, 12 architectures representing 95 percent of volume. By 2018, this number will shrink to just 15 architectures, with the top for accounting for 70 percent of volume, and 9 architectures accounting for 95 percent of volume.

Proportionally, this is not much of a reduction, and it lags far behind Volkswagen’s strategy of just 4 modular “kits”. FCA also lacks the level of scale and volume that VW has, which would make it easier to absorb the costs and inefficiencies that come with having so many different architectures. FCA discussed its goals of bringing down costs via better purchasing practices, more shared components (like lighting, HVAC systems and interior pieces), but their plan for increasing efficiencies via shared architectures was markedly less sophisticated than much of the competition. Given the importance of achieving significant economies of scale in the future (a topic that Sergio Marchionne frequently expounds on), it was surprising to see FCA unveil a plan that is already behind the times relative to the larger OEMs that it must compete with.

On the powertrain front, FCA is downplaying the importance of fuel cell and EV powertrains, introducing EVs for regulatory compliance in the USA. Plug-in hybrids will trickle into the lineup in future, as will mild-hybrid technology like start-stop systems and Belt Starter Generators. FCA dismissed fuel cells as a non-viable alternative, and said that CNG and diesel will play a role in world markets more than in NAFTA. FCA will continue to buy emissions credits in the interim.

FinanceWhile much of the presentation material was focused on global issues, two things stood out.

  • FCA will continue to use Santander as its captive arm, and will not start a new one.
  • The overall tone regarding subprime financing was bullish, with executives dismissive suggestions of any systemic issues.

Sales and Global Markets: Separate presentations were conducted for Asia, Latin America, Europe and NAFTA regions.

  • In the NAFTA region, FCA sold 2.1 million units in 2013, and is projecting a steady increase in the U.S. SAAR, rising to 17 million units by 2018.  By that time, FCA is looking to sell another 1 million units in the NAFTA zone and increase exports by 33 percent to 380,000 units. However, no capacity increases were discussed for NAFTA, and Marchionne commented on his distaste for two-tier wages in the UAW, suggesting that profit sharing was an option in the future. Difficulties negotiating with organized labor could spell trouble for FCA’s plans.
  • In Europe, FCA has seen sales decline by over half since 2010, while capacity utilization has declined from over 100 percent to around 67 percent – a dangerously low level for a volume auto maker. Fiat’s home market of Italy was among the hardest hit, and Europe’s 13.8 million vehicle market in 2013 is at its lowest levels since 2007. FCA now has to reposition Fiat not just as an Italian mainstream brand, but one that fits the current paradigm where “cool” budget brands like Dacia and premium brands like Audi are stealing market share with their offerings that encroach on the turf of volume vehicles. Higher margin brands like Jeep, Alfa Romeo and certain Fiat products (like the 500) are their weapons of choice, as FCA aims for an increase from 1.1 million in 2013 to 1.5 million units by 2018.
  • In Latin America, FCA is well established in Brazil and Argentina, with multiple assembly plants in the two countries running at over 100 percent capacity. FCA expects the market to grow from 5.9 million units this year to 6.9 million units in 2018, with most of that growth coming from Brazil, a country where Fiat is the closest thing to a national brand. Jeep is also expected to be a strong player, with Brazilian production of the Renegade expected to start in 2015. FCA is planning to increase sales from 900,000 units this year to 1.3 million units in 2018. Fiat is expected to account for 1.1 million units, Jeep for 200,000 units and other brands making up the remainder.
  • Asia, India, Australia and other Pacific markets are also being given increasing attention by FCA, with China remaining the dominant market at 28 million units. FCA expects India to overtake Japan as its second largest market by 2018, with 5 million units annually. While FCA projects an increase from 200,000 units in 2013 to 1.1 million units by 2018, on the back of strong sales of Jeep crossovers in India and China, as well as a wide new range of Fiat product. The only question is – how will they pay for all this new product?

Conclusion:

FCA’s day-long meeting was an anomaly in the industry, providing car enthusiasts with a detailed look at future product offerings, and intense discussions of FCA’s various brands and their respective visions. No other OEM is so candid with their upcoming debuts, and FCA deserves praise for setting a positive example for other OEMs.

But dig a little deeper, and many important questions remain answered.

  • FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne is one of the biggest advocates for the necessity of economics of scale via increasing volumes, yet his plan for reducing the number of architectures looks amateur compared to the extremely aggressive plans laid out by archrival Volkswagen. While VWs global volume was 9.7 million units in 2013, it is paring down its architectures to just 4. Meanwhile, FCA, which sold 1.5 million units globally in 2013, will have 15 architectures and volumes of 5.7 million units worldwide. Compared to VW, Nissan, Toyota and even General Motors (which has a sophisticated set of architectures for its global products), FCA’s strategy seems bloated, if not obsolete, from Day 1.
  • FCA is all-in on the internal combustion engine, and is only just dipping its toe into the water of plug-in vehicles, with a plug-in hybrid. EVs are solely produced to appease regulators, and fuel cell vehicles are not in the cards. Even long-time advocates of the internal combustion engine have some kind of ZEV program (such as Hyundai, which has a fuel-cell program). This is a risky gambit, with significant upside and downside potential. Many EV programs aren’t going as well as OEMs had hoped, but FCA could be left in the dust in terms of R&D.
  •  FCA is dangerously reliant on both Jeep and RAM for their profits. A 2008-like combination of spiking gas prices and a downturn in the economy (especially housing starts, which are a key driver of pickup sales) could leave FCA exposed to both falling demand for gas-guzzling trucks and have a severe impact on the high numbers of FCA vehicles financed via subprime rates. These less credit-worthy borrowers would likely be the first to default on their payments, and a mass repossession of FCA vehicles could be another blow at an inopportune time.
  • There has been no mention of how the substantial increase in NAFTA sales will come without any additional NAFTA capacity (something Sergio Marchionne has previously sworn off). Jeeps imported from Italy and Brazil (and even China) could be an option, but booming sales of Ram trucks couldn’t be built anywhere else. Marchionne’s comments about his distaste for two-tier wages could also spell trouble for his hourly workforce when it’s time to negotiate their contracts in 2016.
  • Who is financing all of the(mostly Fiat) new product earmarked for Asia? And why all this talk of Ferrari’s value if the company is not for sale?
  • Is Alfa really going to sell 150,000 units (volumes comparable to Audi) in America? Even the most dewey-eyed Alfa diehards in the industry find that to be a bit of a stretch.

Marchionne and FCA have been known to say one thing and then completely change direction, miss deadlines and dodge questions about missing deliverables (the 9-speed Dart is the automotive world’s Jimmy Hoffa). But they’ve also presented an admirable turnaround for a once-ailing car maker, even when the rest of the world was prepared to write them off. Yes, one may argue that Marchionne and Fiat bought Chrysler’s assets for a song, and that the road has at times been rocky. But a decade ago, plans for Jeep’s global expansion, Ram’s possible conquest of GM trucks and a thriving line of Chrysler and Dodge products would have been the stuff of only the most zealous Mopar fan. It’s now a very real possibility.

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FCA Unveils 5-Year Plan On Tuesday http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/fca-unveils-5-year-plan-on-tuesday/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/fca-unveils-5-year-plan-on-tuesday/#comments Mon, 05 May 2014 15:22:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=815570 neverending2

 

Today is Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday used as an excuse by Americans to drink margaritas and eat bad Tex-Mex. But tomorrow, Fiat Chrysler will unveil their next five-year plan, which should clarify the many contradictory product plans being touted by both FCA execs and the media.

Among the areas expected to be clarified tomorrow:

  • Which of the two minivans will survive FCA’s nameplate consolidation. The smart money is on the Chrysler Town & Country, with the Grand Caravan’s replacement taking the form of a three-row crossover
  • Alfa Romeo’s return to the United States beyond the low volume 4C sports car
  • The future direction of the Chrysler and Dodge brands. FCA has been taking steps to eliminate overlap between the two brands (for example, redesigning the Chrysler 200 while axing its Dodge Avenger sister car), but both lack a strong identity. Chrysler is a mainstream pseudo-upscale brand, while Dodge is a mainstream pseudo-performance brand. Dodge’s customer base skews much younger, but its raison d’etre is flimsy enough that there has been talk of axing it now that the high-performance SRT brand has been spun off of it.
  • Jeep is making an aggressive push in world markets, with a view to doubling sales by 2018 to 1.5 million units.
  • Ram trucks have been a major profit center for Chrysler, but the aluminum Ford F-150 will present a real challenge to Ram’s new diesel half-ton truck.
  • Hybrids and alternative powertrains are expected to be discussed. Although Jeep and Ram have a diesel powertrain through VM Motori (a Fiat owned company) and Ram has a long relationship with Cummins, FCA lacks any sort of hybrid technology, and is lagging in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy rankings. FCA is also reliant on Jeep and Ram for much of their financial success, putting them at a further disadvantage. The only announcement regarding hybrid cars was a brief one about a next-generation hybrid minivan sometime later in the decade.

We’ll have full coverage of the event tomorrow.

 

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Fiat Adds Automatic Abarth, Young People “Don’t Drive A Manual Transmission” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/fiat-adds-automatic-abarth-young-people-dont-drive-a-manual-transmission/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/fiat-adds-automatic-abarth-young-people-dont-drive-a-manual-transmission/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 05:39:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=788642
In a bid to boost sales of the Fiat 500 Turbo and Abarth, the two boosted versions of Fiat’s city car will get an optional automatic transmission.

Automotive News is reporting that Fiat will add the two-pedal gearbox in July, when the 2015 models begin production. While Fiat sold about 36,000 500s in the USA last year, around 5370 of those were Abarths, and Fiat boss Jason Stoicevich puts a lot of the blame on its manual-only configuration.

Speaking to AN, Stoicevich was blunt in his assesment of what was holding the Abarth back, stating

Frankly, [young people] just don’t drive a manual transmission,”

According to him, the addition of the auto could add another 2700 or so units to the Abarth’s sales tally. Overall, 500 sales have been down by about 13 percent year-over-year.

EDIT: 500 Abarth sales figures updated

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Junkyard Find: 1963 Fiat 1100D http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/junkyard-find-1963-fiat-1100d/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/junkyard-find-1963-fiat-1100d/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 13:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=782601 04 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOld Fiats aren’t uncommon in American self-serve wrecking yards these days, but the ones you find are almost always Sport Spiders— we’ve seen this ’71, this ’71 850, this ’73, this ’75, this terrifyingly rusty ’76, this ’78, and this ’80 so far in this series— but a Fiat 1100? This is a first for me.
01 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis is the car upon which the beloved-by-India Premier Padmini was based, and it was built until 2001.
03 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis 1100D is very rough and the engine is gone, although it does appear to be relatively rust-free.
07 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car probably wasn’t at all out of place as a daily driver in Berkeley or San Francisco. Even today, there’s a ’58 Multipla getting daily street use in the East Bay.
09 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWorth restoring? Probably not. Some of the parts might live on, though.

Sadly, the Padmini taxis of Indias are being phased out.

01 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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Dispatches do Brasil: Spite, Murder, Road Trips, Police, Dreams and Growth http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/dispatches-do-brasil-spite-murder-road-trips-police-dreams-and-growth/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/dispatches-do-brasil-spite-murder-road-trips-police-dreams-and-growth/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 12:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=776281 siena hl (1)

Last time I told you of the perfect legal, societal and media storm which conspired to make me let go of the car of my dreams. This time reasons of a more personal, and very human, nature, joined up to make the Fiat Tipo a car that never was to be mine.

The year was 1997 and my former wife and I were living in Brasilia, pursuing our respective dreams. We were doing well and on a family visit back in my hometown, Belo Horizonte. Lunch at my grandparents’ home provided me with a chance to get my Tipo after all. An uncle mentioned he was going to sell his 1995 Tipo. Though very happy with my plain Jane Uno, the idea of a larger, more powerful, even luxurious car was very compelling, given that my wife and I were doing well financially. In contrast to the 1.0, Uno that had manual everything and no creature comforts, the Tipo was complete, almost luxurious by 1990 Brazilian standards (1.6 engine, AC, power everything).

I negotiated a deal with my uncle. I wanted the car and his asking price was very reasonable. It was not bottom barrel, but it wasn’t the top of the range either. I believe it was about R$14,000 which would have been about US$7,000. As luck would have it, the car was in the shop for something minor, so I couldn’t take it right then and there. Due to my agenda, I would only be able to make it back to Belo Horizonte three weeks later.

Back in Brasilia, I savored the thought. I was living the dream. Everything was working as we’d planned, we were growing, and soon we’d be driving a car that would better suit our new station in life. Then, of course, it all went to naught.

About a week from our rendezvous date in which I’d hand over the money and drive back home in bliss, my Dad called. Uncle had called him and said he was reneging on the deal. Now he wanted R$16,000. I think greed got the best of him. And spite and anger got the best of me. Though the increase wasn’t too bad, my youthful spirit got the best of me. Vai chupar manga”, was the message I relayed to him. I’m pretty sure my Dad didn’t tell Uncle the second part of my reply.

siena (1)

I should have just let it go, but the seed had been planted. I was now obsessed with a new car. Looking around, I found a brand-new Fiat Siena 1.6 and nothing else, on sale in Belo Horizonte. Fiat had just launched the car and the official price was close to R$20,000. However, as this was 1997, the Asian crisis was in full swing. Brazil, though it never officially admitted it, was in a state of technical bankruptcy. That meant that after a couple of white hot years, where the new car market had doubled in size, sales had come to a standstill and soon took  a precipitous fall. That’s why I was able to negotiate the price down to R$17,500.

Negotiations were over the phone and took two days. They bought my used Uno sight unseen, trusting me on the condition of the car. The deal was closed at 6:00 PM on Friday. I got in the Uno and made my way down the 716 km road to Belo Horizonte. I got there at 2:00 AM. It was not an easy trip, as I was very tired at the end. The last 100km I stopped at every gas station to drink a Coke and gulp down a cold cup of coffee in my attempts to stay awake. Being that it was wintertime, I took advantage of the situation and cracked open the windows to use the cold wind as yet another way to keep my eyes open.

Saturday morning, I went down to the shop where they inspected my Uno and agreed that the car was as I had described and discounted the agreed upon amount from my new Siena’s price. As I was there, I talked them up and asked how I was supposed to get my new car. They had told me that the car was not in Belo Horizonte, but the car would be here early Sunday.  The shops usually claim they have an auto carrier truck to bring in the cars. Knowing something of the business, I knew this was often not the case. They confessed to me that a driver would be driving the car in. From where, I asked? Ituiutaba was the answer.

Ituiutaba? I knew it was far, though I didn’t know how far. The thought of my shiny, brand new Siena in the hands of some driver who would undoubtedly abuse it on the trip broke my heart. So, of course, I negotiated that I’d go to that city myself and drive the car home to Brasilia. Whatever, I’m young I can do it.

The best part of that Saturday was the afternoon at my grandparents. My uncle was surprised to see me there. I casually mentioned I had bought a new car. I even, ever smoothly, mentioned how the car I bought was brand new. I may even have upped the price a bit to rub it in. The look on his face was priceless. As to that Tipo, my father later told me it had taken him more than 3 months to sell it off, probably for less than what I had agreed to pay him, as the car’s reputation at the time was irremediably tarnished by the fire scandal.

Saturday night, I hopped on the bus at 10:00 PM. As I settled down for the 8 hour trip, I notice a suspicious drunk or drugged young man getting on. As I have never had much luck on bus trips, I hugged my backpack that much closer. I then dozed off only to be awakened by a high pitched screech.

A woman was yelling and the bus was doing a panic stop. The driver soon entered the passenger compartment. The woman was shouting that she had been attacked. Her attacker was the young man that earlier set off my internal alarms. The driver diffused the situation as best he could and calmed the woman down enough by taking the assailant into his compartment and after a half hour of this drama, off we were again. A short time later, the driver stopped again, this time at a roadside police station.

Almost 2 hours later we were off again, minus the rogue. The police had informed us before we parted that that young man was a fugitive. He was a drug dealer, rapist, and murderer.  Praying for more protection, I must have dozed off again as soon enough we were in Ituiutaba.

When I arrived, I jumped in a taxi, off to the dealer, and got my car from the dealer’s watchman. After another 500 km drive, I’d be home, in Brasilia. As excited as I was to be in my beautiful, powerful, 1.6 Fiat Siena (92hp, 10 more than the Tipo!), a nagging thought would not leave my mind. In Brazil, between purchase and the putting on of license plates, there is a “grace period”. However, this legal permission to driving without license plates extends only to driving inside state lines. To cross boundaries, permission from the each state’s transportation authority was necessary. I would be crossing 3 state lines that day.

For the moment though, I was relishing my car. The smell of a new car is, in my mind, second only to a newborn baby. This was my first sedan. A grown up car for me, my first at 26 years of age. To me it was beautiful and though it had nothing else, it did have that 1.6 engine. Yes!

Off we go. In Minas Gerais State, no problem. Crossed over into Goiás state. No police. I consoled myself saying, this is just a regular Sunday, no holiday, there’ll be no police. I concentrated on breaking the car in. Tried to keep it at a steady 110-120 km/h clip. Constant speed was the key to a successful beak in, I was told.

A little more than halfway to Brasilia, I saw them, the police. They saw me too and, of course, waved me to stop. Mentally reciting the lines I had practiced so many times, I prepared for the worst. There I was, in the middle of nowhere, with no documentation, but a bill of sales, trying to imagine a way to talk my way out of trouble. I stopped, the two cops came. Interestingly, the coppers were smiling. I was too worried to notice at first, but I kept my cool. I hold my tongue, let them take the first step.

“Good afternoon!”, I reply the same. The smiles linger, “hey, look sir, is that the new Siena?”. Yes, yes it is I reply. “Can we check it out?”, they ask. “Of course, of course!”, I almost cry. They check the car out, get in it, examine the huge trunk, congratulate me on my purchase and wish me a safe trip, “have a good trip, sir.” All I can do is pray an Our Father and a Hail Mary and thank my lucky stars.

Looking back, with the experience I have now, I should have just paid off my uncle. I would have gotten a better, more comfortable car for less money. Between the heat of youth and the relative calm of my middle age, I see the folly of what I did. I spent more, for a lesser car. However, if I had done that, I would not have been able to tell the story I am relating to you today. Putting a price on experience is tough, if not impossible.

And so is realizing that the Tipo will always be the car that slipped through my grasp.

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Dispatches do Brasil: Law, Society, Media and Fires. Consumers Are Just Dust in the Wind http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/dispatches-do-brasil-law-society-media-and-fires-consumers-are-just-dust-in-the-wind/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/dispatches-do-brasil-law-society-media-and-fires-consumers-are-just-dust-in-the-wind/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 19:58:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=776257 tipo-fire

The year was 1995. The country: Brazil. A new Constitution had been proclaimed a few years before, and our fledgling democracy had survived a presidential impeachment. Society was growing up and demanding new, more transparent relations with big business. The car market was more open than it had been since the 1950′s,  and due to the deluge of imported cars, that brief window would soon close. I was there, in the eye of a hurricane, looking to buy my very first car with my own money. All those factors made up the perfect storm, which conspired to pull me away from the car of my dreams.

That car was the Fiat Tipo. Due to the economic shock tactics of the now-impeached President, Fiat imported it to Brazil by the boatload and it even became the sales leader for a month or two in 1995, the only time an import has ever topped the charts in Brazil. Offering great looks, lots of space, generous features list, a very sporty and comfortable ride, and, perhaps more importantly, a price that undercut the competition, the Tipo was the hottest car at the time. It had everything one could want, and seemed destined to become the most sold car that year and the foreseeable future. Then, disaster struck. Tipos were self-immolating at alarming rates, all over Brazil.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Taking advantage of the new possibilities the Constitution and a brand-new Code of Consumers’ Protection and Defensean association of owners was created (AVITIPO – Association of Tipo Victims). The mainstream media took it up with a vengance. As it was, a new type of collective lawsuit demanding reparations of civil responsibilities, made possible by the Constitution and the new Code, was to be tested. Anyone who had a Tipo that had caught fire, irrespective of joining the association, would be entitled to moral and material damage from Fiat, if the Italian company was found guilty.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Fanning the flames of the growing fire, Fiat fought it. They had not perceived the Brazilian world they were working in had changed as evidenced by the new Constitutional and Consumer Code dispositions. They did not anticipate that the media would make this the litmus test of the new Brazil that had come out of a painful process of re-establishing liberal democracy. At first, they dragged their feet. They claimed there was no problem with the car. After a couple of months, with the pressure mounting and sales plummeting, they finally acknowledged some responsibility. However, Fiat could not have been more inept. They blamed consumers, saying that the fires were the result of the habit of some consumers of washing their engines with kerosene, which would affect the cardboard lining of the “hot air convergent tube”.

Click here to view the embedded video.

That did it. Societal fire around the case reached feverish levels. AVITIPO proved in the courts and, perhaps more importantly, in the court of public opinion, that Fiat had given the wrong solution to the problem. Association pundits proved that the fires were the result of a hydraulic power steering hose not coping with the pressure in the system when the wheel was at full lock in situatiosn like maneuvering into a tight parking spot. In this situation, a hose would come loose, and fluid would drip into the engine compartment, eventually reaching the beginning of the exhaust system under the engine and, voilà, a fire would ignite.

Brazilian consumers watched the drama in awe and disgust. Awe that consumers’ rights were effectively being imposed on unwilling big business and that the new Constitution had effectively given them new rights and powers against even the biggest corporations. They were also disgusted that such a big company could have been so incompetent as to not find the problem and so resistant to the new mores.

Fiat eventually recanted and recalled the cars to change the defective hose. It lost in the courts too, though they took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. Consumers patted themselves on the back, as did the press, which delighted in its new role of the knight in shining armor for consumers. New legislation was put in place making the mandated recalls easier. Some companies, aware of the public relations fiasco, did indeed become more transparent and would not fight consumers as harshly.

Me? I never got the Tipo. Afraid of the fires, unsure as to what to do, in the middle of the howling winds of this perfect storm, I bought another kind of Fiat, an Uno, and was very happy with it. The whole situation made me realize how small we are in the whole process and how we go back and forth, mere pawns in the big money game.

I lost an opportunity to get the Tipo (a new situation would present itself a couple of years later) and regretted it. In the end, the solution was found, roughly 100 cars burned and owners were compensated. In its 4 year Brazilian career, Fiat sold more than 180,000 imported Tipos. Around 150,000 in its first two years. After the start of the melée, the last two years saw only 30,000 find their way into consumers’ hands.

In 1997, the Tipo went out with a whimper. I wince when I think of the car that got away from me.

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Smaller Jeep To Slot Beneath Renegade http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/smaller-jeep-to-slot-beneath-renegade/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/smaller-jeep-to-slot-beneath-renegade/#comments Thu, 06 Mar 2014 14:00:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=766177 Jeep-Renegade-18

Though the Jeep Renegade already bowed at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show, the off-road brand has plans for not only a fullsize SUV similar to the discontinued Commander, but an A segment SUV slotted beneath the Renegade, as well.

Auto Express reports the A segment vehicle could possibly be underpinned by the next-generation Fiat 500, though would face greater engineering challenges than those faced by the Renegade — built upon Fiat’s “small-wide” archecture underpinning the upcoming 500X — to make it Rubicon-ready, as Jeep boss Mike Manley explained:

We couldn’t make an SUV off of “small wide” as you can’t get the ground clearance. It was completely changed by Jeep engineers so now it’s “small wide 4×4″ architecture.

The A segment Jeep could also aid in bringing the brand into compliance with increasing CO2 emissions standards, though the improvement drive — much like the vehicle itself — will be a long, hard road to hew:

There’s relentless pressure to reduce CO2 and there’s much more for us to do. We’re trying to stay away from complexity and improvements are slowly coming.

Meanwhile, Manley’s focus is toward the Grand Wagoneer, which will slot above the Grand Cherokee. The fullsize SUV will boast room for seven and “be bigger than the old Commander” made between 2006 and 2010.

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Fiat, Abarth Likely To Receive Mazda-Based Roadster Over Alfa http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/fiat-abarth-likely-to-receive-mazda-based-roadster-over-alfa/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/fiat-abarth-likely-to-receive-mazda-based-roadster-over-alfa/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 19:19:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=764089 2011_Mazda_MX-5_PRHT_--_04-28-2011

Long rumored to wear the Alfa Romeo badge, the next-generation Mazda MX-5 may instead don a Fiat or Abarth necklace in 2015 if Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne has the last word.

Automotive News reports sources close to the project stated product planners from Mazda and Fiat met recently to discuss a roadster based upon the MX-5. Fiat’s planners are looking for a way to maintain the supply partnership deal with the Japanese automaker, lest the break-up leave Fiat in the red through 2016, when they hope to return to the black in their native Europe.

As for why, Marchionne has proclaimed that no Alfa will be made outside of Italy so long as he is CEO, a statement reinforced as recently as the 2014 Detroit Auto Show; Marchionne plans to head FCA until 2017 at the earliest.

The so-called heir to the throne abdicated by the Fiat Duetto Spider made famous by the film “The Graduate,” the Italo-Japanese roadster may find a home with Fiat or Abarth, too underpowered be paired with Ferrari or Maserati, while Lancia retreats into its home market as a one-model brand by the end of 2014.

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2015 Jeep Renegade: 9-Speeds And A Manual-Only Powertrain http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/2015-jeep-renegade-9-speeds-and-a-manual-only-powertrain/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/2015-jeep-renegade-9-speeds-and-a-manual-only-powertrain/#comments Sun, 02 Mar 2014 19:30:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=759417 2015-jeep-renegade

 

Our friends at Jalopnik published the first decent photo of the new Jeep Renegade – which shares a platform with the Fiat 500X and replaces the Jeep Patroit/Compass – but kudos to Autoblog for publishing tiny thumbnails of the Trailhawk’s rear end (above is the Trailhawk) and the standard model’s front end. Both are in the gallery below. UPDATE: Two more photos added.

Our sources tell us that North America will get a 1.4T powered version with a 6-speed manual as the sole transmission option. The other engine will be the familiar 2.4L 4-cylinder with a 9-speed automatic. Reports claim that some kind of removable roof will be an option as well.

2015-jeep-renegade-1-1 2015-jeep-renegade-trailhawk-01-1 2015-jeep-renegade ku-xlarge ku-xlarge (1) ]]>
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Junkyard Find: 1976 Fiat 124 Sport Spider http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/junkyard-find-1976-fiat-124-sport-spider/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/junkyard-find-1976-fiat-124-sport-spider/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 14:00:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=753777 06 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSo many Fiat 124 Sport Spiders get junked, and the process has been going on for my entire junkyard-prowling career. In the three years of this series, we’ve seen this ’71, this ’73, this ’75, this ’78, and this ’80, and we might as well add the 124′s little brother, this ’71 850 Sport Spider. I don’t even photograph every 124 Sport Spider I see, because they’re almost as common in wrecking yards as ’85 Camrys. Today’s ’76, however, holds the Junkyard Find record for Scariest California Beach Neighborhood Rust.
13 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinCars that live within a block or two of the Pacific Ocean in Northern California (I found this car in one of my favorite East Bay yards during a recent drive around California in a new Mirage) often rust in a weird top-down pattern. For example, the truly frightening ’84 Toyota Van we saw last October. California cars with bad weatherstripping often rust inside the trunk, as water leaks in and sits for months during the long, rainy winters. This Fiat managed to rot from both types of California rust.
01 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHow does this even happen?
17 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car comes from the era of separate emissions requirements for new cars sold in California.
10 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI have quite a collection of these SLOW DOWN lights, which were used to warn of an overheating catalytic converter (presumably the CATALYST indicator light warned of some other cat problem). Ferrari 328s had them, too.
14 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinDefinitely not worth restoring, but maybe someone will grab the Twin Cam engine for a nicer Fiat.
IMG_2237Given how cheap these cars are, we see surprisingly few 124 Sport Spiders in the 24 Hours of LeMons. I can think of a couple of Twin Cam-powered examples, and then there’s the Volkswagen TDI-powered Smokey Unit Fiat. This car is pretty quick, but its real advantage in endurance racing is its tremendous range on a tank of diesel.
19 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe last owner of this Fiat was against Proposition 86.

01 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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Only Select Fiat Dealers Will Get Alfa Romeo Franchises http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/only-select-fiat-dealers-will-get-alfa-romeo-franchises/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/only-select-fiat-dealers-will-get-alfa-romeo-franchises/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 12:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=753569 Alfa Romeo 4C

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is set to bring Alfa Romeo back into the United States market after a two-decade absence with the 4C, but only the best-performing Fiat dealerships will be selected to sell the first new Alfas when the lighweight $60,000 sports car rolls off the dock in June.

The Detroit News reports the majority of Fiat dealerships who were promised an Alfa wing will not be along for the ride in 2014. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne stated that his company would only allow “the best-performing Fiat dealers to participate” based on “simple dealer metrics” and efficacy in representing Fiat. Though he also added that said dealers knew who they were, FCA spokesman Rick Deneau countered his boss’s statement, saying that those dealers “have not been identified yet.”

While the 4C will be the only Alfa offering available this year, it will be joined in 2015 by the Giulia, Giulietta and a new Spider co-developed with Mazda, which will also underpin the latter’s new MX-5 roadster. The 4C is motivated by a turbocharged four-pot driving 240 horses out of the back gate, pushing the 1875-pound sports car from naught to 60 in 4.5 seconds.

However, follow-through hasn’t been FCA’s strong suit regarding Alfa’s return, with the brand originally promised to Fiat dealers in 2012, then last year before settling upon June 2014. The return was also promised to come with a full lineup to display in showrooms, but only the 4C will be setting the pace this year as it goes up against the Porsche Cayman and Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.

According to IHS Automotive, selected Fiat dealers will move 500 4Cs in 2014, with 8,400 more in 2015 once more dealers join the fray. IHS also expects Alfa to move 28,000 units in the U.S. by the end of 2016.

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Review: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 4×4 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-jeep-cherokee-limited-v6-4x4-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-jeep-cherokee-limited-v6-4x4-with-video/#comments Thu, 20 Feb 2014 14:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=739825 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-002

The folks at Jeep have known for some time that high volume on-road models have to be part of the mix to keep low volume off-road models viable. From the 1946 Willys Station Wagon and the original Wagoneer, to the Grand Cherokee and the Compass, Jeep has been on a steady march towards the word no Wrangler owner wants to hear: “crossover”. Their plan is to replace the off-road capable Liberty and compete with the RAV4, CR-V and 20 other small crossovers with one vehicle: the 2014 Cherokee.

With two ambitious (and contradictory) missions and unconventional looks, the Cherokee has turned into one of the most polarizing cars in recent memory. It is therefore no surprise the Cherokee has been getting mixed reviews. USA Today called it “unstoppable fun” while Consumer Reports called it “half baked” with a “choppy ride and clumsy handling.” Our own Derek Kreindler came away disappointed with its on-road performance at the launch event, though he had praise for the Cherokee’s off-road capabilities. What should we make of the glowing reviews, and the equally loud dissenting voices?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

I’ve always said styling is a personal preference and although the Cherokee is far from my cup of tea, I’m glad Chrysler decided to color outside the lines. The “bent” 7-slot grill still strikes me as peculiar, but what made me scratch my head more is the lighting. You’ll find the headlamps in the middle of the bumper cover behind a smoked plastic lens, while the daytime running lamps and turn signals live in a separate module high up on the front, Meanwhile, the fog lamps are nestled at the bottom of the bumper. Out back the Cherokee is far more mainstream with a fairly plain (and very vertical) rear hatch. Overall the looks are certainly striking and unmistakable, I’m just not sure if that’s a good thing.

The Cherokee is “kinda-sorta” based on the Dodge Dart which itself is more-or-less a stretched and widened Alfa Romeo Giulietta. While some Jeep fans call any car-based Jeep heresy, the Cherokee isn’t the first car/SUV hybrid at Jeep and it won’t be the last. The side profile, specifically the front overhang, is where the Cherokee’s dual mission starts to show. A transverse mounted engine creates a long overhang compared to a traditional RWD SUV. This isn’t a problem in the Patriot, which has much lower aspirations, but does pose a problem for “the off-road crowd.” To compensate, the Cherokee rides higher than the competition (7.8 to 8.8 inches) and uses two different bumper designs. Sport, Latitude and Limited trims get a more traditional (if you can call it that) bumper design with a fairly flat front while Trailhawk models pull the bottom of the bumper up to allow a 50% better approach angle and causing a “wedge-like” front profile. Out back similar changes to the rear bumper improve the Trailhawk’s departure angle.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-004

Interior

While the Grand Cherokee continues it’s mission as the “American Range Rover,” anyone looking for the Cherokee to be the “American Evoque” is going to be disappointed. Even so, I found the the interior to be class leading in many ways, with more soft touch plastics than you’ll find in the competition. Chrysler fitted the Grand Cherokee’s chunky steering wheel to the smaller Jeep which gives the cabin a more premium feel. Most Cherokees on dealer lots will have a leather wrapped wheel, but base models get a urethane tiller. The Cherokee retains the optional steering wheel heater from the Grand Cherokee, but ditches the paddle shifters.

The wide front seats are deeply padded, supportive and easily the best in the segment in terms of comfort. Thankfully, the engineers ditched the “dome-shaped” bottom cushion found in other Chrysler products allowing you to sit “in” the seats, not “on” the seats. Most models get a fold-flat front passenger seat improving cargo versatility, but that option is incompatible with the optional “ventilated front seats and multi-way with four-way power lumbar support” package for the front passenger.

IMG_1374

Although not as comfortable as the front, the second row is easily the most comfortable in the segment. Seat cushions are thickly padded, recline, and slide fore/aft to adjust the cargo area dimensions. (Or get a child seat closer.) The Cherokee offers two inches more rear legroom than CR-V, three more than RAV4 and nearly four inches more than Escape. The seat bottom cushions also ride higher off the ground so adults won’t feel like they have their knees in their chest.

Because of the need for off-road-capable departure angles and ground clearance, a compromise had to be made and I found it behind the [optional] power tailgate. The Cherokee suffers from the smallest cargo hold among its target cross-shops by a wide margin at 24.8 cubic feet. The next smallest entry (the CX-5) will hold over 40% more behind the second row (34 cubes) while the Rogue’s generous booty will swallow 40 cubic feet of whatever. Note: The Cherokee’s spec sheet lists cargo capacity at 29.7 cubic feet but that measurement is taken with the 2nd row adjusted all the way forward in its tracks which cuts rear legroom down to well below the competition.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior uConnect 8.4

Infotainment

Depending on trim level, you’ll find two different systems in the dash. Things start out with uConnect 5.0 in the Sport and Latitude. Running on a Microsoft OS (like Ford SYNC), this unit is more sluggish than the UNIX-based 8-inch system but offers many of the same features excluding navigation. While other Chrysler/Fiat models with uConnect 5.0 have the option to add TomTom navigation at a later date, that doesn’t seem to apply here. The touchscreen features full USB/iPod integration, optional XM satellite radio and a Bluetooth speakerphone in addition to acting as the climate control display and seat heater controls. Sound thumps out via 6-standard speakers, and you can pay $200 for an optional CD player if you haven’t joined the 2st century.

Optional on Latitude and standard on Limited/Trailhawk is the 8-inch QNX UNIX based “uConnect 8.4.” The system features polished graphics, snappy screen changes and a large, bright display. All the features you expect from a connected car are standard, from voice commands for USB/iDevice control to smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart or Slacker. You can have text messages read to you, dictate replies and search for restaurants or businesses via Yelp. In addition to the smartphone-tied features, it integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network for over-the-air software updates and access to the new “App Store.” Since there’s a cell modem on-board, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices. Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services from traffic updates to fuel prices. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports.

For an extra $795 you can add Garmin’s navigation software to the system and Chrysler tells us that the nav software can be added after purchase. Our tester had the $395 optional 9-speaker sound system with a subwoofer. Sound quality ranged from average with the standard 6-speaker setup to excellent with the optional speakers. Unfortunately, the up-level speaker package requires you have navigation as well, bringing the price bump to $1190 if you were only after the louder beats.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 3.2L V6 Engine-002

Drivetrain

All trims start with Chrysler’s 2.4L “Tigershark” four-cylinder engine delivering 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of twist. Optional on all but the Sport is a new 3.2L V6 good for 271 horses and 239 lb-ft. Sadly we won’t get the 2.0L Fiat diesel on our shores, but if you’re lucky enough to be able to burn oil in your country, that engine delivers 170 ponies and 258 lb-ft of twist. Power is sent to the ground via a controversial 9-speed automatic designed by ZF and built by Chrysler. The 9-speed is very similar to the one used in the Range Rover Evoque although few parts are directly interchangeable.

While most crossovers offer a single AWD system Jeep gives you three options. First up we have a traditional slip-and-grip AWD system with a multi-plate clutch pack (Active Drive) that sends power to the rear when required. Jeep combined this with a “rear axle disconnect” feature to improve fuel economy. This is the system you’ll find on most of the Sport, Latitude and Limited Cherokees on dealer lots.

IMG_1376

Available on Latitude and Limited is Active Drive II which adds a segment-exclusive rock crawl ratio. Because of the way transverse transaxles work, this system operates differently than a longitudinal (RWD) system in that there are actually two two-speed transfer cases. Power exits the transmission and enters a “PTU” where power is split front and rear. Up front, power flows from the PTU to a 2-speed planetary gearset and then back into the transmission’s case to the front differential. For the back wheels, power flows from the multi-plate clutch pack and rear axle disconnect clutch inside the PTU to an angle gear unit which rotates power 90-degrees and connects to the prop shaft. The prop shaft connects to another 2-speed planetary gearset and then finally to the rear axle.

Engaging 4-Low causes the PTU to engage the rear axle and engage the primary low ratio gearset.  At the same time, the low ratio gearset in the rear axle unit engages. Vehicle electronics confirm that the system has engaged both units before you can move forward. Should you need the ultimate in off-road ability, the Trailhawk throws in a locking rear differential (this is the third system, called Active Drive Lock), hill ascent/descent control and various stability control programs for off-road terrain. Before you ask “is this a real low-ratio?” 4-Low is 56:1 with the 2.4L engine and 47.8:1 with the 3.2L. That 56:1 ratio is lower than anything Jeep has sold, save the Wrangler Rubicon’s insane 73:1.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-004Modifications

Being the owner of a Jeep with a minor four-inch lift kit installed, after-market options are near and dear. Of course RAV4/CR-V/Escape shoppers aren’t your typical lift-kit demographic, so for many of you, this section isn’t germane. Because of the Cherokee’s design, ride height modifications are not going to be as easy as with solid-axle Jeeps of yore. With longitudinal engine mounting and solid axles, lifting is an easy task up to around four-inches, at which point you may need to start thinking about new driveshafts and possible U-joint replacements. With a design like the Cherokee’s, anything beyond an inch or two can result in serious suspension geometry changes that have a huge impact on handling and tire wear. While it would be possible to design kits with four new half-shafts, springs and suspension bits that would lift and correct the geometry change, I suspect the costs would be prohibitive, so don’t expect much more than a 2-3 inch spring-spacer kit for base models and 1-2 inches for the Trailhawk.

Pricing

Most shoppers will be deciding between the Sport, Latitude and Limited trims starting at $22,295, $24,495 and $27,995 respectively for FWD models. Adding AWD increases the price tag by $2,000 and on Latitude and Limited and you can get the low ratio gearbox with a 1-inch suspension bump for an additional $995. The Sport model comes well equipped compared to the competition with that 5-inch infotainment system, auto-down windows and most creature comforts you expect except for air conditioning. You’ll find A/C in the oddly named $795 “cold weather group” which also includes heated mirrors, a leather steering wheel, remote start, heated front seats and a windshield wiper de-icer. At the base level the Sport is roughly the same price as the Toyota and Honda but adding the $795 package pushes the price comparison in the Jeep’s favor by more than $1,000.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-008

Latitude adds a standard 115V outlet, leather wrapped steering wheel, auto up/down windows, fold flat front seat, ambient lighting, A/C, steering wheel audio controls and fog lamps in addition to allowing access to the more robust AWD system, V6 engine and navigation. Limited tosses in power front seats, the 7-inch LCD instrument cluster (seen above), an auto dimming mirror, heated steering wheel, soft touch plastics on the doors, automatic headlamps, one year of XM radio, turn signals on the side mirrors and the ability to option your Cherokee up to $40,890 by adding self-parking, cooled seats, HID headlamps and more options than I care to list.

Then there is the Trailhawk. As the only CUV with a 2-speed transfer case, locking differential, tow hooks, off-road oriented software programming and all-terrain rubber, this Cherokee is in a class by itself. It’s also priced in a class by itself. Starting at $29,495 and ending at $40,890, the Trailhawk has a similar MSRP spread as the Limited but it trades the optional luxury items for off-road hardware.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-014

Drive

Chrysler decided to make the Cherokee the first recipient of their new technology onslaught. If you’re willing to pay, you can option your Jeep up with a full-speed range radar cruise control, collision warning and collision prevention with automatic braking, cooled seats, lane departure warning and prevention and rear cross path collision detection. The Cherokee is also Chrysler’s first self-parking car, and like the new Mercedes S-Class, the Jeep will back itself into perpendicular spots in addition to parallel parking. The tech worked well and is as easy to use as Ford’s system, although I’m not sure I want to live in a world where folks can’t perpendicular park. (You know, in regular old parking spaces.) If you opt for the ultrasonic parking sensors, the Cherokee will also apply the brakes before you back into that shopping cart you didn’t see.

Most reviewers are so caught up in the way the 9-speed automatic shifts. The truth is, hybrids, dual clutch transmissions, robotized manuals, CVTs and automatics with new technologies are only going to become more common and it’s time we in the auto press adjusted. If you want to know more about why the 9-speed does what it does, check our our deep dive on dog clutches. All I’m going to say here is that I got used to the way the transmission shifts and it never really bothered me.

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At 4,100lbs the Cherokee is 600lbs heavier than a comparable RAV4 or CX-5. The extra weight is caused by the structural reinforcements required for off roading. Unfortunately it causes some on-road compromises. Acceleration with the 2.4L engine is adequate but sluggish compared to the lighter competition. The V6 on the other hand hits 60 MPH in 6.5 seconds which ties with the 2.0L Ecoboost Escape as the fastest in the class. Regardless of the engine you choose, the Cherokee has one of the quietest cabins in the segment thanks to extensive sound deadening. All the foam comes in handy on 2.4L models as the small engine spends more time in lower gears thanks to the Cherokee’s heft.

Once on the highway the 9-speed automatic helped the porky crossover average a respectable 23.7 MPG, just 1.3 MPG behind the much slower RAV4. The economy is all down to the rear axle disconnect feature and the 9-speed transmission. By completely disconnecting the rear axle via a clutch, parasitic losses drop to nearly zero when compared to other small crossovers. The downside to this is that when the system is in “Auto” power is sent 100% to the front axle until there is slip at which point the Cherokee must re-connect the rear axle then engage a secondary multi-plate clutch to move power. This system allows greater economy but is much slower to react and adds some weight to the mix. To compensate, the Cherokee allows you to fully lock the center coupling and engage the rear axle at any speed by engaging various drive modes. Thanks to an extremely tall 9th gear, the V6 spins at a lazy 1,500 RPM at 82 MPH allowing a reported 25 MPG on level ground.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Wheel

The heavy and substantial feel on winding roads and reminded me more of the Grand Cherokee than your average CUV. Soft springs and well-tuned dampers delivered a supple ride on a variety of surfaces and the Cherokee never felt unsettled. However, those same suspension choices allow plenty of body roll in the corners, tip when accelerating and dive when braking. As with most entries, the Cherokee uses electric power steering so there is precious little feel behind the wheel. When pushed near its limits, the Cherokee delivers reasonable grip thanks to wide tires and a 57/43 (F/R) weight balance which is essentially the same as the CX-5. If this sounds like the on-road description of a body-on-frame SUV from 10 years ago, you’re not far off base. But is that a bad thing? Not in my book. Why? It’s all about the other half of the Cherokee’s mission.

With more ground clearance, a rated water fording depth of 20 inches, 4,500lbs of towing capacity and a more robust AWD system, the Cherokee can follow the Grand Cherokee down any trail without fear. Of course both Jeeps should be careful not to follow a Wrangler, as neither is as off-road capable as they used to be, but the gist is that both are far more capable than the average crossover. Jeep’s traction and stability control systems are different than what you find in the on-road oriented competition in that the software’s objective is to move power from wheel to wheel rather than just limit wheel spin. Competitive systems reduce engine power first, then selectively brake wheels. The Jeep system in “Mud” mode is more interested with keeping the wheels all spinning the same than curbing engine power. The Cherokee also allows the center coupling to be locked at higher speeds than the competition, offering a 20-inch rated water fording depth, 7.9 to 8.8 inches of ground clearance and available skid plates. While the Cherokee will never be as much fun off-road as a 4Runner, Wrangler, or other serious off-road options, you can have a hoot and a half at the off-road park in stock Trailhawk trim.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-015

If a crossover is supposed to be a cross between a family sedan and an SUV, the Cherokee is the truest small crossover you can buy. Trouble is, most shoppers are really just looking for the modern station wagon: something with a big cargo hold and car-like manners. In this area the Cherokee comes up short. It’s big and heavy and it drives like it’s big and heavy. But it’s not without its charms, the Cherokee is the only compact crossover capable of the school run and the Rubicon trail. It’s also the quietest and most comfortable crossover going, even if it is short on trunk space. If you’re willing to pay, it’s also the one loaded with the most gadgets, goodies and luxury amenities.

Is the Cherokee half-baked like Consumer Reports said? Perhaps. The Cherokee’s off-roading mission results in limited cargo space and vague handling while the on-road mission demanded a FWD chassis with high fuel economy. But it faithfully manages to give 99% of Liberty shoppers and 80% of RAV4 shoppers a viable alternative. Is that half-baked or a successful compromise? If you’re after a soft-roader to get you from point A to point B with stellar fuel economy, great handling and a massive cargo area, there are better options than the Cherokee. If however you “need” a crossover but “want” a go-anywhere SUVlet, this is your only option.

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.15 Seconds

0-60: 6.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.75 Seconds

Average observed fuel economy: 23.7 MPG over 453 miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 67 dB

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Moody’s Cuts Fiat’s Rating Down Due To Earnings Worries, Outlook http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/moodys-cuts-fiats-rating-down-due-to-earnings-worries-outlook/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/moodys-cuts-fiats-rating-down-due-to-earnings-worries-outlook/#comments Wed, 12 Feb 2014 16:18:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=740041 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Citing weak results in 2013 and guidance challenges for 2014, investment ratings agency Moody’s has cut Fiat’s rating from B3a to B1, four notches below investment grade.

Automotive News reports that the rating was decided upon by the agency after placing the automaker under review for a possible downgrade back in the opening days of 2014 just after Fiat struck a deal to take full control of Chrysler for $4.35 billion. In turn, the B1 rating for Fiat means the automaker will have a harder time securing much-needed financing in order to right the ship for their loss-making European operations.

Aside from the aforementioned reasons cited for the downgrade, Moody’s lead analyst for Fiat Falk Frey added that

“We have downgraded Fiat’s ratings following its weaker-than-expected performance in fiscal year 2013 and our view that the company faces significant challenges in terms of achieving its outlook guidance for the current fiscal year.”

 “We are also concerned that Fiat may not be able to offset any further profitability deterioration in its Latin American operation through anticipated improvements in other regions and in its luxury and performance division,” 

Other factors in the downgrade include Fiat’s overreliance on the European market — still weak from the Great Recession — rising price pressures, a lack of major new models coming down the ramp in 2014, and overcapacity in Fiat’s home market.

Although Fiat and Chrysler merged not too long ago, Moody’s will keep the former duo’s ratings separate for the foreseeable future. The agency also said Fiat’s rating’s outlook overall has improved from negative to stable.

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One-Time Tax Gain Nets Chrysler $1.6 Billion In Q4 2013 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/one-time-tax-gain-nets-chrysler-1-6-billion-in-q4-2013/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/one-time-tax-gain-nets-chrysler-1-6-billion-in-q4-2013/#comments Thu, 30 Jan 2014 11:00:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=727898 FCA - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

The American half of the newly dubbed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported a net income of $1.6 billion in Q4 2013, the majority of which came from a one-time tax gain of $962 million.

Automotive News reports that revenue in the fourth quarter for Chrysler advanced 24 percent to $21.4 billion, while total revenue for the outgoing year totaled $72.1 billion, up 10 percent from 2012′s $65.8 billion. Meanwhile, the total adjusted net income in 2013 for the brand came out to $1.8 billion, $2.8 billion unadjusted.

Within the next four to six weeks, Chrysler’s 37,200 unionized hourly employees will receive profit-sharing checks to the tune of $2,500, with an extra $1,000 split into two awards for quality and performance to be distributed in June and December, respectively. Some individual plants will also add to the pot based on their own quality and efficiency goals.

Regarding market share, Chrysler’s home market gained two-tenths of a percentage point to 11.6 percent in 2013 on the backs of 1.8 million units sold in the United States, an increase of 9 percent driven by the brand’s redesigned truck and SUV lines. Globally, 2.6 million vehicles in 2013 were delivered, including those made for parent company Fiat.

As far as cash on-hand and debt are concerned, Chrysler reported a nest egg of $13.3 billion with $12.3 billion in gross industrial debt; in 2012, the brand held $11.6 billion in cash and $12.6 billion in debt. The bottom line marks the first time Chrysler held more cash than debt since the Italo-American marriage was consummated before the U.S. federal government back in 2009.

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