Sleuth: Week of July 20

Hot off the press!

Cobalt is out and the Cruze is in . . . but not just yet: The crunch of gasoline prices is forcing some automakers to really rethink what they are doing with their product portfolio. The Sleuth has learned that in 2010 that General Motors’ biggest division, Chevrolet, will replace its Cobalt small car with the Cruze, a car that will inherit GM’s new turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine and will get at least 40 miles per gallon. The thinking is that GM wants to come out with a new name and product to really identify itself as a small-car leader. But, in really hot news, Chevy will not get the Beat (we thought it would), a micro car that will be rolled out for the rest of the world, but not North America. The Beat would be too expensive to harmonize and roll out as a volume car in North America, says GM’s Bob Lutz. Look for the next-generation Beat (around 2012) to arrive here, though.

Cadillac and Saab uprising: Speaking of GM’s future product movements, the Sleuth also has the dirt on what’s to come on the Cadillac and Saab side. Not many people know that both brands are doing better than expected (especially Cadillac) in the North American market. The news will most likely get even better as new product comes online. The Caddy CTS Wagon is on schedule for a delivery next year, followed by the CTS Coupe in the middle of 2009. Look for the Saab 9-4X sport-utility vehicle to make its debut later next year. A further GM update: some Saturn future product is caught in a design freeze as GM figures out what to do with the brand down the road. Uh-oh.

Diesel to replace 5.4-liter gas V8 in Ford F-150: A few months ago, the Sleuth gave you a really up-close-and-personal view of what was to come on the F-150 engine front. A quick reminder: we hear that the truck will get a 4.4-liter diesel powerplant. Now we have a bit more. It seems the diesel will replace Ford’s current 5.4-liter gasoline V8, but will offer similar performance thanks to 340 horsepower. The diesel is expected to achieve 20 percent better fuel economy than the gas 5.4. We hear that by 2010, the new engine will find its way under the hood of the F-Series SuperDuty trucks as well as the Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition.

VW to built an North America exclusive vehicle: The surprising news isn’t that Volkswagen will build its new plant in Tennessee, but what vehicles it will build at that plant. The Sleuth hears that the German automaker will use the factory for a car designed specifically for North America. Initial capacity is 150,000 vehicles, which includes a new mid-sized sedan for these shores. Production is slated to begin in 2011. This confirms that VW will build a successor to the Passat here, a vehicle that will not be exported outside of North America. VW wants to sell 800,000 units a year in North America by 2018, an ambitious goal, indeed..

600 horsepower for Acura’s new NSX: The Sleuth continues to be intrigued by the interesting offering Acura will make when it launches the new all-wheel-drive NSX on these shores in a year or two. The latest is that super car will be closer to 600 horsepower than the previously reported 550 ponies from its 5.5-liter V10. The other important news is that the engine will feature Honda’s cylinder deactivation system, called Variable Cylinder Management, which would allow it to run on one bank of cylinders during low-load conditions. The V10 will rely on lightweight engine internals to reach sky-high engine revs. The same engine might also appear in the Acura RL at some point.

Market indicators

Interesting Euro patents: The Sleuth always loves trolling the patent office in the United States to see what could be coming down the road in terms of future European product here. Some very interesting ones recently caught his eye. How about the R8 Spyder (for a new R8 convertible)? Or the TT-RS (for a high-performance TT in North America)? Or a BMW M10 (a possible name for a new BMW super car that would hit at some point)? It’s all possible for the future.

The influence of Russia: Quick: what’s one of the absolute hottest markets in the world right now? Russia, of course. With first-half sales now in, Russia has emerged as the largest auto market in Europe, pushing it past Germany. General Motors and Hyundai displaced Ford and Toyota in the market. Chevrolet was the most popular brand. The sharp increase in new cars is attributed to the rise of the middle class in Russia. The country is expected to account for 20 percent of global growth in car sales over the next seven years.

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