Exhaust Notes: Golf Wagen gets AWD; Alfa arrives this year; A123 goes Chinese
Our semiregular roundup of the latest automotive news and musings from around the Web.
Today, we take a look at Chrysler's updated product plan through 2016, lament how a major U.S. battery supplier folded to a Chinese parts maker and look forward to an all-new Volkswagen Golf SportWagen with all-wheel-drive.
All-wheel-drive coming to Golf SportWagen in 2014
The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf has been on sale in Europe for months but won't come here until the middle of 2014. Now, an all-wheel-drive Golf 4Motion is on sale right in the middle of our winter, but we won't get it, despite Volkswagen selling the all-wheel-drive Golf R in the U.S. Rather, we hear VW will offer 4Motion on the next-gen Jetta SportWagen, which will be renamed Golf SportWagen. The current Passat no longer offers 4Motion.
In Germany, a Golf with 4Motion costs $2,464 extra, a reasonable sum at that. We're sure VW dealers will want a more affordable all-wheel-drive Golf that won't cost $33,000 like the R.
Few cars -- not crossovers or SUVs -- offer all-wheel-drive for less than $30,000. Of these, the Subaru Impreza, Outback and soon-to-be-discontinued Suzuki SX4 are the only contenders. Volkswagen has a terrific shot here, especially against the Impreza.
It's not the automaker's first time building an all-wheel-drive Golf. From 1986 through 1989, Volkswagen sold the Golf Syncro in Europe, although its premium price pushed it out of the compact market. In 1990 and 1991, before the Audi Allroad, U.S. buyers were treated to the Country Syncro, a lifted Golf with bigger fender flares, enlarged bumpers and upgraded suspension. Fewer than 8,000 were made. Or, you could make one yourself.
More Italian cars coming in two years
Chrysler will bring over seven new Fiat-branded models by 2015 and an eighth by 2016, the company said during an investor meeting earlier this week. Alfa Romeo, which has no dealerships in the U.S., will bring one car this year, four more in 2015 and a fifth in 2016. As Automotive News reports, Chrysler did not say whether all of these cars would be separate models or merely different trim levels and variations.
For starters, we know the elongated Fiat 500L crossover will bow this year, and Road & Track reports that the midengine Alfa Romeo 4C -- a Porsche Cayman competitor, pictured above -- will launch this year, too. Autoweek reported that a convertible version will debut in 2015. Other than these vehicles, we really have no idea what else will come, and Chrysler won't say a word.
We do know that Jeep will sell a new Fiat-built SUV by 2014 that is based on the company's upcoming 500X, a spinoff of the 500L. Still with us? Jeep is also updating several models to share Fiat platforms that will be built in the U.S. for 2013 and 2014, and Ram is launching the Promaster, a Fiat-built commercial van to compete with the Ford Transit.
A123 Systems sold to Chinese parts company
Almost everything A123 Systems knows about building high-performance lithium-ion batteries is now in the hands of a Chinese parts supplier. The failed Massachusetts battery company, which is still supplying batteries for BMW, Fisker, Chevrolet and other high-profile companies, went bankrupt in October and was approved for sale to the Wanxiang Group on Tuesday. We say "almost everything" because the company's government and military contracts were blocked from the $256.6 million sale.
The startup battery maker had been decimated by an oversupply of product and a slow market that wasn't as quick to adopt electric vehicles as management -- and the Obama administration -- had hoped. A123 spent more than half of its $249 million federal grant and accepted $125 million in tax incentives to build two plants in Michigan. A bid by Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls failed to bring in enough capital. Wanxiang had once offered to pay A123 Systems $465 million for an 80-percent stake in the company.
Now, Wanxiang has picked up the scraps at a cut-rate price, can fire the 300 workers in Massachusetts and take advantage of A123's significant advances in battery chemistry. That will certainly bolster the Chinese auto industry, which will eventually compete and probably knock down domestic manufacturers. Remember, this winning deal was signed off by the government and mostly paid for with your taxpayer dollars.
The biggest question is will VW offer a diesel in their all-wheel-drive "whatever"?
VW has offered small AWD vehicles in the past, but never in conjunction with a diesel engine. If one wanted a diesel all-wheel-drive/4WD, all that was available was the Toureg, which totally negates the desired fuel efficiency.
AWD Tiguan-diesel: YES. AWD Tiguan-gas: NO!
AWD Golf/Jetta-diesel: YES AWD Golf/Jetta-gas: NO!
The current "Jetta SportWagen" is actually "Golf Variant" in Europe, and comes in several different trims: "Trendline", "Comfortline", "MATCH", "Highline", and "Exclusive" (source: http://www.volkswagen.de/de/models/golf_variant/trimlevel_overview.html). The "Jetta SportWagen" sold in the United States is the "Golf Variant Highline". So, this is not an actual rename, it is selling the vehicle by its real name (Golf Variant), and it was high time for Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft to do this. Badge engineering is stupid, so this is actually the right thing to do. Finally!
As for the Alfa Romeo 4C, I have been wanting to get an Alfa for several years now, but it looks like the 4C will only be available with a gasoline engine (at least in the United States), and I really, really want an Alfa Romeo with its JTDM turbo diesel sport engine (like the JTDM Brera). So, no Alfa Romeo for me!
Ok. So what happened to the $249 Million dollar grant, the $125 Million in tax incentives and the employees working at the Michigan plants? Not to mention, how many American taxpayer dollars were used to "pay" for this deal to damage the Domestic automakers and American economy?
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