Exhaust Notes

Decision Guide

What's at stake in reports and rumors on a possible Volkswagen and Fiat Chrysler deal.

By James_Tate Tue 10:45 AM

The German business magazine Manager set off a firestorm of speculation last week by reporting that not only was Volkswagen Automotive Group (VAG) head Ferdinand Piech interested in acquiring Fiat Chrysler (FCA), but that he had discussed the possibility with the Agnelli and Elkann families, who currently hold a 30 percent ownership stake in FCA.

For their part, all parties have denied any talk of a merger, but that isn’t stopping industry analysts from speculating on the whys and wherefores of such a deal as rumors of Piech’s motivations continue to spark intrigue.

What is commonly known is this: Piech’s grand vision for Volkswagen Automotive Group is no less than becoming the biggest auto builder in the world. Piech has publicly coveted Fiat Chrysler's sub-brand Alfa Romeo, most famously in statements at the 2012 Paris Motor Show, annoying FCA Chairman Sergio Marchionne enough to challenge Piech to a "showdown at dawn." Through a source within Piech’s inner circle, Automotive News claims his endgame is a resurrection of the Auto Union name for his theoretical behemoth. The source also says that Piech wants to put his plan into motion sooner rather than later -- whatever that means.


Surround view and side view cameras can help drivers into and out of tight spots.

By Douglas Newcomb Tue 9:37 AM

Backup cameras are not new and they will soon be mandatory on all passenger vehicles. Using multiple cameras so the driver can get a view of different areas around a vehicle is also becoming more common.

For example, Nissan pioneered the overhead “bird’s-eye” perspective with its Around View camera system that was originally available only on its premium Infiniti brand vehicles. But now it’s offered even on the entry-level Versa Note.

The 2015 BMW 428i Gran Coupe I recently tested has about the same number of cameras and views as the Nissan Note, even though it’s a much more expensive vehicle. (And, of course, it’s much more luxurious and has much better performance.) While I’ve previously used all of the camera features found on the 428i in other vehicles, while testing the car I found myself in a situation that gave me new appreciation for the technology.

And during a tropical storm to boot.


Safety tech for new fortwo highlighted in offset test.

By AutoWeek Tue 6:08 AM

The newest versions of the smart fortwo and the smart forfour are just around the corner, and Daimler is set to reassure potential buyers that the diminutive hatches can take a serious hit and still allow its driver and passenger to emerge unscathed.

To this end Mercedes-Benz has pitted the upcoming ForTwo hatch against one of the largest cars in the Stuttgart-based manufacturer's lineup; the new S-Class.

Mercedes-Benz set up the crash test with 50 percent overlap between the S-Class and the 9-foot-long smart fortwo, with a combined impact speed of 31 mph. In creating the new fortwo, Mercedes-Benz's parent company Daimler says that it has undergone the same development program as the vehicle it's going up against, which in this case has more than double the curb weight of the still-small ForTwo (5,088 pounds versus 2,478 pounds).


Report says autonomous technology could benefit criminals.

By Douglas Newcomb Mon 10:44 AM

Lexus self-driving car prototype. Photo by Toyota.Like any technology, self-driving cars could potentially lead to more driver convenience -- and a lot fewer crashes -- but also to some unintended consequences. One of these, according to a recent FBI report, is the potential for criminals and terrorists to abuse autonomous cars to more easily do their dirty work.

In the unclassified but restricted report obtained by British newspaper The Guardian, the FBI said “the risk that distraction or poor judgment leading to collision that stems from manual operation would be substantially reduced” by self-driving cars. And it added that autonomous technology could be approved by the U.S. government within five to seven years.

But while the FBI believes that self-driving cars “will make mobility more efficient,” it said in the report that the technology “will also open up greater possibilities … for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon.” It predicted that “bad actors will be able to conduct tasks that require use of both hands or taking one’s eyes off the road, which would be impossible today.”


Prototyping company builds a Viper ragtop without official factory approval.

By AutoWeek Mon 6:50 AM

That’s the thing about Americans -- when we don’t like something, we change it. When we want something that doesn’t exist, we simply build it. So is the case with the Medusa, the Prefix Corp.’s take on a drop-top fifth-generation Dodge Viper.

We haven’t seen an open-air model since the “Final Edition” run in 2010, and by the reaction of the crowd in Auburn Hills, Mich., the Viperati are ready for another one.

“It’s gorgeous,” said George Batejan, a Viper owner. “We have three Vipers already and may be in the market for a fourth.”

“Awesome, beautiful,” said ’96 GTS owner Jeffery Millek. “How could it not be a great design?”

Prefix says this prototype was built to gauge reaction, without Dodge's knowledge. Prefix owner Kim Zeile has 10 brand-new Vipers sitting in the shop right now, ready for the transformation. It would take about eight weeks, by conservative estimates, Zeile said.


While that number is five times what Maserati sold last year, it's supposed to ensure the Italian brand's exclusivity.

By Clifford Atiyeh Mon 6:40 AM
Maserati, despite a penchant for parts-sharing with cheaper cars and a new directive to be a volume brand, won't sell more than 75,000 models a year.

According to Reuters and Bloomberg, that's the limit the Italian automaker has self-imposed to keep its "exclusivity." Under the umbrella of Fiat Chrysler and the direction CEO Sergio Marchionne, Maserati has gone downmarket in an effort to boost sales and make the trident marque more popular against mainstream luxury competitors.

Last year, Maserati sold just over 15,000 cars worldwide and wants to ramp up to 75,000 by 2018. At that time, the Levante SUV, a new Alfieri coupe and an updated GranTurismo coupe and convertible will be available from Maserati, not to mention a host of diesel engines. By next year, Maserati plans to double its dealerships to 500. 

Base 3.7-liter good for 300 hp, while the 2.3-liter EcoBoost kicks out 310 hp.

By AutoWeek Fri 5:59 AM

We’ve known the new 2015 Ford Mustang was going to be more powerful than the car it replaces since it was revealed late last year, but the Blue Oval has been cagey with the details. Today, the automaker has revealed output information, and it looks good so far.

The 5.0-liter V8 is probably what fans are most excited to hear about -- it’s good for 435 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. That’s a tidy 15 hp and 10 lb-ft increase over the outgoing model, and it’s within spitting distance of the 444-hp Boss 302. Not bad.

The two other motors aren’t too shabby, either. The 3.7-liter V6 gets 300 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, and the turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four EcoBoost puts down a very respectable 310 hp and 320 lb-ft. For some perspective, the V8-powered 2005 Ford Mustang GT put down just 300 hp, so we’ve clearly come a long way -- and there’s no telling just what other, even hotter versions of this new Mustang are in the works.


Proposal to include more real-world testing stems from customer complaints, lawsuits.

By Douglas Newcomb Jul 16, 2014 9:02AM

EPA fuel rating window sticker.Following recent high-profile revisions of fuel economy ratings by Ford, Hyundai and Kia —  and a rash of consumer complaints and lawsuits — the Environmental Protection Agency wants to require automakers to road test vehicles to verify the fuel economy claims that get posted on a car’s window sticker.

“Some automakers already do this,” Chris Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, told The Wall Street Journal, “but we are establishing a regulatory requirement for all automakers.”

Although the agency confirms about 10 to 15 percent of automakers’ fuel economy claims through its own tests each year at the National Vehicles and Fuel Emissions Laboratory and regularly revises its testing requirements (most recently in 2008), fuel economy is otherwise measured by automakers and reported to the EPA. Testing is performed “under controlled conditions in a laboratory using a standardized test procedure specified by federal law,” according to the EPA, usually with pre-production prototype vehicles.



  • Cliff Atiyeh

    Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own. Raised in Volvos, he has grown to love fast, irresponsible vehicles of all kinds. He is the senior news editor at MSN Autos and also reports for Car and Driver, Road & Track, The Boston Globe and other publications.
    In the garage: 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (not his)

  • Doug Newcomb

    Doug Newcomb has covered car technology for over 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Edmunds.com. In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and technology.
    In the garage: 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS, two 1984 Chevrolet Blazers, 2008 Honda CR-V

  • James Tate

    James Tate learned to drive stick at age 13 in a 1988 Land Cruiser - in La Paz, Bolivia. He's since been a mechanic, on a pit crew and has wrenched on every car he's owned since his first 1989 Honda CRX Si (and won't stop until the car is a 1973 Porsche 911 RS). His work has appeared in Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics, Automobile and others.
    In the garage: 1995 Porsche 911 Carrera, 1988 BMW M5

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