Sleuth: The Week of September 8

Hot off the press!

Dodge Nitro, Jeep Liberty to merge . . . but into what?: Although Chrysler has several wrinkles to iron out in its North American operations, eliminating product overlap is a key priority for the automaker. The privately owned company is moving to get its three brands — Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep — under one roof, which makes vehicles that are a bit too similar even more redundant now. The new direction will see more than a few models ride off into the sunset, the first of which will either be the Dodge Nitro or Jeep Liberty. According to Steven Landry, Chrysler’s vice president of North American sales, the two sport-utility models will merge within three years. Industry experts have long expected the slow-selling Nitro to be cut, and it appears as though its days are numbered.

BMW’s Motorsports division on a path to revive the 8 Series: The Sleuth hears that German automaker BMW plans to bring back the 8-series nameplate on a new four-door model. The previous “8” was a high-performance two-door. Sources tell the Sleuth that the new car, which will be a production version of the Concept CS, will apparently be turned over to BMW’s “M” (for Motorsports) performance division. It will be the first time that a Bimmer will be totally developed by the company’s famed in-house tuner. Riding on a modified version of the new 7-series full-size sedan platform, the 8 will be no small car. Despite its generous proportions, however, the sleek four-door should be rather svelte, thanks to its aluminum and carbon-fiber construction.

Subaru to show diesel-powered models in Paris: Isn’t everyone moving to diesels these days? The Sleuth hears that Japanese automaker Subaru will show diesel versions of the Forester and Impreza at October’s Paris Motor Show. The Forester will be in European showrooms later in October and the Impreza is set to go on sale in early 2009. Subaru says that the compact 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel puts out about 145 horsepower and a very healthy 258 pound-feet of torque. Will — or when will — they make it to North America? Stay tuned for updates.

Lincoln might add a small luxury car: Ford is proving that its Lincoln brand has plenty of fight left in it and is in the midst of a vast product rollout, which might even include a new compact model. Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president for global product development, told industry trade paper Automotive News, “We do think that there is room for a smaller car in the Lincoln brand.” It’s quite possible the new car could be based on the European Ford Kuga wagon, a vehicle that will likely replace the aging Ford Escape early next decade.

Hummer sold by early next year?: General Motors’ chief operating officer, Fritz Henderson, told reporters that the Detroit automaker is looking to sell off its Hummer nameplate by early 2009 if not by the end of this year. Sale of the off-road Hummer brand, which has been under the GM umbrella since 1995, will help raise part of the $15 billion the automaker announced in July that it was seeking. GM is looking to sell more than just Hummer, but it says that the brand would probably be the first to go.

Market indicators

Mixed letters for naming: Alphabet soup isn’t just reserved for the kitchen anymore. With many automakers jumping ship on the traditional name game, more vehicles are being named with a few simple letters or numbers. Land Rover is one such brand, which is due to get a new seven-seat addition to its range of off-roaders in 2012. The vehicle will be based on the smallest Land Rover, the LR2, and will feature a longer wheelbase and unique styling inside and out to differentiate it from that vehicle. According to AutoWeek magazine, the new vehicle will likely be named the LR3, but as you probably already know, the LR3 nameplate is in use by Land Rover for another model. To make room for the new vehicle, the LR3 will become the LR4, a name change that could come as soon as 2009. BMW, Cadillac and Ford will likely play more of the of the name game in the future.

Big-brand sell-offs: First Ford sold Jaguar and Land Rover to India-based automaker Tata Motors. Then General Motors said it was trying to unload its Hummer brand to get out from under the weight of thirsty image vehicles faced the challenge of high gas prices. Now another icon is on the block. Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli says that the automaker has heard from several potential suitors, but he’s not naming names. More interesting is that Chrysler is actually listening to them as part of a strategic review, which means everything is on the table, including the Dodge Viper sports-car brand. Sales of the Viper in the United States peaked at 2,103 in 2003, the only year the car topped 2,000. In 2006, Dodge sold 1,455 Vipers in the United States. In 2007, no Vipers were built as a new model was being readied. Potential buyers include companies from Chinese, India and the Middle East. The VIper is the king of Chrysler’s high-performance SRT (Street and Racing Technology) line. Now, just imagine for a moment if Chevrolet was considering selling the Corvette brand . . .

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