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With the projected price of plug-in electric hybrids, such as the Chevy Volt, climbing into the $40,000 range, you have to wonder if anyone will buy one.
With the projected price of plug-in electric hybrids, such as the Chevy Volt, climbing into the $40,000 range, you have to wonder if anyone will buy one.Read more

Acura to add a V8 after all?: With rumors of Honda’s luxury brand getting a V8 engine for its flagship vehicles circulating for years, new reports rekindle the flame. The current Acura RL makes do with a 300-horsepower V6 putting power to the ground via a front-wheel-biased all-wheel-drive system. The Sleuth hears that the next-generation RL will be built on a new rear-wheel-drive platform with a decidedly rear-wheel bias for an expected AWD system, and powered by a 4.8-liter V8 good for 420 horsepower. The new engine, a first for Honda, would feature a cylinder deactivation system for better fuel economy. The interesting rumor from all this is whether the new engine is actually for the next-generation Acura NSX sports car.

Kia’s truck will not be of body-on-frame construction: Truck sales might be a little soft at the moment, but the Korean Kia brand has given the green light to a car-based pickup truck bound for North America. Such a vehicle has been in the works for some time now and it appears as though it will begin production around 2011. According to trade newspaper Automotive News, the vehicle will be based on the 2010 Kia Sorento tall wagon and will be produced at the company’s new plant in West Point, Ga. The current Sorento is based on a typical body-on-frame truck platform, but the all-new Sorento, as well as the upcoming Kia pickup truck, will be based on a more car-like unitized platform, sort of like the Honda Ridgeline.

BMW wants a new brand that won’t be kept out of urban centers: The Sleuth hears that BMW will have a new brand called Project i that will work independently of BMW and whose mission it will be to produce low-emission city cars similar to the Smart Fortwo. The Sleuth hears that BMW Chief Executive Officer Norbert Reithofer wants the new line to deal with meeting strict emissions requirements that would allow its cars free access into busy towns and cities, such as the downtown core in London, England, or New York. Some major urban centers have begun to charge a fee to drivers who want to take higher-fuel-consumption vehicles into the core. The Sleuth hears a fourth brand could be in the cards, if the product doesn’t fit under any of BMW’s current brands. Project i is expected to produce a city car early into the next decade with a decision on whether BMW will build an electric car for North America coming this year, according to Sleuth sources.

Hyundai’s new luxury brand will be launched in China first: Over the past few months, rumors have been circulating that Hyundai is preparing its own luxury brand. Now the Sleuth hears that the Korea-based automaker will launch a new luxury brand in 2010, but in China before North America. “In 2010, we will officially launch our luxury brand name and logo along the lines of Toyota’s Lexus, Nissan’s Infiniti and Honda’s Acura. All of our luxury models will have the new badge,” Young-Key Koo, chief representative of Hyundai Motor China for sales and marketing, told Look for the brand here by 2012.

The road might be ending for Maybach: Daimler — the parent company of Mercedes-Benz — will make a decision whether to continue with its ultra-luxury Maybach brand within the next two years, the Sleuth hears. Daimler revived Maybach in 2001 to compete with the likes of Rolls-Royce, but slow sales have the German automaker reconsidering. Daimler managed to sell just 146 Maybach vehicles in 2007, about one tenth of the sales originally predicted for the marque. Since 2001, 40 percent of Maybach dealers have shut their doors.

Market indicators

Four cylinders for fuel efficiency: Pontiac’s newest sport sedan has been on the market for less than a month, but it’s already considered a modern muscle car thanks to the availability of a V8 engine. But perhaps requirements for a muscle car are changing. The Sleuth hears that future G8s could be powered by four-cylinder engines and Bob Lutz, General Motors vice chairman, also indicated that this could be the case with Chevrolet Camaro. GM owns the Pontiac and Chevrolet brands. “It’s possible that the G8 could be powered by a 1.6-liter engine without a sacrifice in performance,” Lutz said. “That engine could get the G8’s mileage into the 30-31 mpg range.” The motor under consideration in the Camaro is the 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 found in the Solstice GXP and Saturn Sky Red Line. It will be interesting to see if GM can quite literally sell the idea of a four-cylinder in a muscle car.

Plug-in hybrid cost: While General Motors’ plug-in hybrid vehicles might still be on track for a 2010 or 2011 launch, the prices will likely be much higher than originally anticipated. General Motors’ first true plug-in hybrid vehicle will be a version of its two-mode Saturn Vue gas-electric hybrid. It will use next-generation lithium-ion batteries that should allow the Vue to travel 40 miles on electric power only and have a fuel-economy rating of 60 mpg. But according to Lutz, “the two-mode hybrid system will add about $8,000-$9,000 to the price of the Vue, with the plug-in technology adding another $8,000-$9,000 on top of the cost of the hybrid system.” When all costs are tallied, Lutz says the Vue will list “for about $48,000,” about $1,000 more than a base Corvette. The Chevrolet Volt will be much more expensive than originally planned when it launches in November 2010. “I gave up on $30,000, but I haven’t given up on $40,000,” Lutz said. He cited higher-than-expected battery prices for pushing up the Volt’s price.