Been away from your computer this week and missed all the automotive news? We’ve gathered a few of the top stories of the past week for your convenience.
BMW has revealed four special diesel-powered M Performance models, but sadly none are coming to the North American market. The four cars will make their debut later this year at the Geneva Motor Show. The four new performance models are the M550d xDrive sedan, M550d xDrive Touring, X5 M50d, and the X6 M50d. All have a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel inline-six engine good for 381 hp and a healthy 546 lb-ft of torque. Other upgrades for the cars include bits like unique 19- or 20-inch wheels, Ferric Grey exterior accents, unique suspension tuning, and gloss-black Shadow Line trim. The quickest is the M550d sedan, which BMW says will rocket to 62 mph in just 4.7 seconds.
A House subcommittee grilled General Motors CEO Dan Akerson and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator David Strickland on the safety risks posed by the Chevrolet Volt. Government officials accused the agency and automaker of conspiring to hide the truth about Volt battery fires from the public, and also raised questions about the electric car’s safety. “We engineered the [Chevrolet Volt] to show the world what great vehicles we sell at General Motors,” Akerson told the hearing. “We did not engineer the Volt to become a political punching bag.”
Ford Motor Company this week reported its third consecutive year of increased profits, with annual profits of $8.8 billion on a net income of $20.2 billion in 2011. Though those figures disappointed some analysts, they put Ford’s profits at their highest level since 1998. Profitability was lead by over 2.1 million sales in the U.S. market, while income and profits abroad fell considerably compared to 2010 levels. “Despite the continued uncertainty in the external environment, the strength of our North American and Ford Credit operations allows us to continue to invest for future growth,” Ford CEO Alan Mulally said in a statement.
Less than a year after it debuted as a concept at last year’s Geneva Motor Show, Mini has canceled plans to produce the Rocketman. The car was slated to be a tiny addition to the Mini lineup, which would be smaller still than the company’s existing models. Reports suggest the pint-sized Rocketman was canceled in part because its compact dimensions would require building it on a totally different platform than the existing Cooper models, which would be costly. There are also suggestions than a more mini Mini wouldn’t meet crash-test regulations both here and in Europe.
Jeep has shown off a concept package for the Grand Cherokee — but doesn’t yet have a name for it. The brand hopes that customers will suggest names and, potentially, when then put the new appearance pack into series production. The concept car, shown off at auto shows in Houston and Washington, D.C., is based on a Grand Cherokee Laredo X, with a new black mesh grille insert, back headlight housings, black 20-inch wheels, and a black liftgate panel. Fans can suggest name suggestions at www.jeep.com/namemyride, and from there Jeep will whittle the entries down to three finalists. The winning name will be selected in May.
Nissan will spend $2 billion to build a new assembly plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico. This will add 175,000 units of annual vehicle production in Mexico, all dedicated to Nissan’s B platform. The B platform underpins small cars like the Juke, Cube, Versa hatchback, and some models not sold in the U.S. Many of those vehicles may be exported to South and Central America. The company hopes to localize as much as 85 percent of vehicle production in the Americas by 2015, which would cut down on supply chain and shipping costs compared to building cars in Japan. Nissan also said it will build a new plant in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by 2014.
Ford plans to continue the roll-out of its EcoBoost engines, which bundle turbocharging and direct fuel injection to boost both economy and performance. By the end of this year, the automaker promises that there will a total of 11 Ford and Lincoln vehicles powered by EcoBoost engines. The new additions this year include the forthcoming Focus ST hot hatch, the 2013 Escape crossover, the 2013 Fusion sedan, and the new Taurus-based Police Interceptor sedan. EcoBoost engines are already on offer in the Ford Flex, Edge, Explorer, Taurus, and F-150; as well as the Lincoln MKT and MKS.
New reports from Europe suggest that the Alpine brand, once a renowned tuner of Renault vehicles, may return shortly. As 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the sporty A110 Berlinette, launching even a concept version of a modern-day Alpine would be a fitting tribute. If such a car were made, Renault reportedly believes it would need to be sold in Europe, China, and North American in order to make financial sense. If so, Renault might return to the U.S. market with attractive and sporty cars. For now, though, there are no official plans for such a car.
Driven: 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport, 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG
This week we got behind the wheel of two very different large vehicles. The 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport is a practical and useful pickup truck, but it doesn’t have the level of capabilities on offer from real full-size trucks. While the Ridgeline is considerably more pleasant to drive than traditional full-size pickups, its meager towing and payload ratings mean Honda’s truck will continue to sell in marginal numbers compared to American pickups. We’ve never been struck by the idea of big, heavy SUVs with ludicrous amounts of power, but the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG could change our opinions. With 518 hp and 516 lb-ft from a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8, the ML63 AMG has acceleration that seems to defy physics. Fortunately, upgraded suspension and brakes mean the 5903-pound SUV can also negotiate turns like a sports car.