New U.S.-Bound Smart ForTwo Shown

New U.S.-Bound Smart ForTwo Shown

2007 smart fortwoDaimlerChrysler's smart brand has, at long last, ripped the relatively small cover off its new fortwo minicar. The new smart, which will come to theU.S. next year as a 2008 model through the UnitedAutoGroup chain, has been revamped for more safety features and for a little more room. Styling has been updated as well, and the new smart offers either a three-cylinder engine with 61, 71, or 84 horsepower or a diesel with 45 hp. All engine variants come with a five-speed transmission. Smart says that the new version will earn four stars in the European safety tests and has been designed with alternative fuel power in mind. Convertible and tuned BRABUS versions will be available as well. Stay tuned for more smart coverage from the Detroit auto show in January.

MORE: Ten Questions: Smart's Dave Schembri

Ford Gets Good News on Fusion, Dumps Truck Shift

2006 Ford FusionFord got good news Thursday from Consumer Reports magazine, but also disclosed some additional production cutbacks brought about by fading sales of big sport-utility vehicles.

The good news was that the automaker placed 21 different vehicles, including cars such as the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, and the Ford Five Hundred, on Consumer Reports' list of recommended buys. Only Toyota had more vehicles on the list, jubilant Ford officials noted, and the Fusion was put on the CR cover.

However, Ford also disclosed the company plans to eliminate one production shift at the Michigan Truck plant in Wayne sometime during the second quarter of 2007. Michigan Truck, traditionally one of the company's most profitable plants, now employs about 2800 workers building Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators on two shifts. Ford spokeswoman Anne Marie Gattari said the company responded to softening demand for full-size sport utility vehicles. Gattari also said Ford had not decided how many employees will be laid off when the shift is eliminated. The plant is unique in that many of the workers are fairly young, since the plant was re-staffed in the 1990s when SUV sales were strong. -Joseph Szczesny

We drive the Ford Fusion

Domestics Get White House Meeting, Finally

Big Three executives have been invited to meet with President George Bush at the White House next Tuesday, according to a White House spokesman. The executives had asked for the meeting last spring but it was delayed several times and was only confirmed as the Republicans were scrambling for votes in the run-up to the mid-term election. The automakers insist they are not looking for a bailout but executives said they would like some relief from on healthcare costs and for the administration to apply more pressure on Japan, which has kept the yen artificially low to help key Japanese exporters such as Toyota. For his part, Bush has said he is not interested in any changes that would allow the companies to walk away from healthcare obligations for retirees. -Joseph Szczesny

GM to Reveal New CTS in Detroit

2008 Cadillac CTSGeneral Motors is planning to roll out the new Cadillac CTS at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, the automaker has confirmed.

Jim Taylor, Cadillac's general manager, said Wednesday that the redesign of the 2008 CTS has been the subject of a lot of recent speculation. "Cadillac has engineered an historic renaissance, with a completely new product portfolio, driven in large part by the original CTS," said Taylor. "Success can drive conservatism, but not for Cadillac. The next chapter, beginning in January, promises to be even more dramatic."

The showroom debut of the redesigned 2008 CTS in the marketplace is scheduled for late summer of 2007 in the U.S., with worldwide exports from Michigan to follow in the fall.-Joseph Szczesny

MORE: See the next CTS in our spy shots

Chrysler Canceling Pacifica?

2005 Chrysler PacificaThe Chrysler Pacifica crossover could be headed for the scrap heap, if reports from the Detroit Free Press pan out. The paper reports that all work on the replacement for the Pacifica has been stopped by Chrysler. The project, code-named CT, was to make its production debut in 2009. The project could merely be on hold, the Free Press speculates, as Chrysler tries to mitigate its losses this year after a third-quarter red ink flow of $1.5 billion. The Pacifica was an early entrant into a market that is now overflowing with vehicles like the Mitsubishi Outlander, Ford Edge and Saturn Outlook.

What's Next at Volkswagen?

VW logoThe sudden and surprising resignation of Volkswagen AG chief executive Bernd Pischetsrieder has prompted a raft of speculation that his chief lieutenant Wolfgang Bernhard might soon leave Volkswagen as well, perhaps for a position with DaimlerChrysler AG. Pischetsrieder had brought Bernhard to VW in 2004 and Bernhard, who now heads up the Volkswagen group, reportedly doesn't get along with Pischetsrieder's designated successor Martin Winterkorn, the former head of the Audi AG group. Bernhard, however, remains close friends with his former boss and mentor Dieter Zetsche, DaimlerChrysler's chief executive officer. Zetsche even has a couple of jobs for Bernhard, pundits notes. Dr. Z could put Bernhard in charge of the Mercedes-Benz Group, the job for which he was destined before he was caught up in corporate intrigue at DaimlerChrysler and forced out before he took office. Both Detroit and Stuttgart are buzzing with what could come next.-Joseph Szczesny

MORE: VW ousts CEO, names new head

Toyota Takes Stake in Isuzu

In a move that could boost its stature in the diesel market, Toyota is acquiring a 5.9-percent stake in Japan 's Isuzu, a big maker of diesels. Toyota will spend $373 million for the stake, and plans to combine development of diesels and alternative powertrains with Isuzu efforts. Isuzu will take the lead on developing a new range of small diesels and new diesel emission technology, while Toyota will cover the bases for the companies' alternative-fuel efforts. Toyota 's stake nearly covers the shares sold in April by General Motors, which disposed of its 7.9-percent Isuzu stake last spring. Last year, Toyota also took on a stake in Subaru from General Motors, and is leaning on Subaru's plant in Indiana to expand production of Camrys.

Haden Files for Dissolution

The struggling Haden International Group Inc. of Auburn Hills, Mich., has filed for bankruptcy in Wilmington, Del. Also filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the federal bankruptcy code were company affiliates Haden Inc., Haden Schweitzer Corp. and Haden Environmental Corp. Unlike Chapter 11, whereby a company reorganizes under the protection of the bankruptcy court, in Chapter 7 a trustee is appointed to liquidate a company's assets. Last winter, Haden had failed to fulfill a critical contract for paint equipment at DaimlerChrysler Assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio and employees later complained that they had not been paid. Palladium Equity Partners LLC, a private-equity firm based in New York, owns a controlling stake in Haden. Palladium pumped $40 million into the company in 2001.-Joseph Szczesny

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