Beat gets stronger on the street:

General Motors unveiled a trio of Chevrolet small car concepts about a year ago — the Beat, Trax and Groove — and left it up to you to decide which model should make it to production. After tallying the votes, the Beat emerged as the victor, receiving nearly half the vote, and it looks as though the small car’s progression from concept to production is moving right along. The Sleuth hears that GM is testing a prototype in China and the overall shape and size is very similar to the concept vehicle. GM has yet to set a launch date for the Beat, but the car is slated to replace the company’s Chevrolet Spark (Daewoo Matiz in some markets) in Europe. Expect a version here by 2010. However, the Sleuth thinks that GM should produce at least two of the three concept vehicles and not just the Beat.

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GM’s Pontiac division considers adding a high-powered coupe:

The Sleuth’s hot tip this week is that Pontiac’s lineup might grow to include a high-performance G8 two-door that bears the GXP name. It would include much of the same hardware as the GXP sedan as well as a 402-horsepower Chevrolet Corvette-sourced V8 and the six-speed manual transmission. It would certainly give Pontiac the firepower to compete against the 425-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT8, wouldn’t it? Insiders report there is still an internal battle as to whether to build the car, but if green-lighted, it would be available within three years.

Audi R8 bristles with twin-turbo power:

On a personal note, the Sleuth loves the Audi R8 supercar with its 420-horsepower 4.2-liter V8. And now the word is that Audi will fit the two-seater with an even better engine: a V10. In fact, it’s the same twin-turbo powerplant used in the RS6 Avant. That means 580 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque. The car will even get a new name: RS8. Expect it to roar down your street in mid-2009.

So much for the Audi R4:

Development of the much-rumored Audi R4 sports car is unlikely to proceed. Bummer. It looked like a winner. Porsche, which is planning to take over Volkswagen (Audi’s parent company), is reportedly concerned the mid-engine R4 would harm sales of its Cayman and Boxster models. An Audi spokesman told trade publication Automotive News the R4 was not in the company’s product plan. It’s a statement that marked the first time an Audi representative has ever mentioned the R4. In March, an internal production roadmap leaked from Audi revealed the R4 was indeed planned as a 2011 model. Porsche is expected to expand its 31 percent stake in Volkswagen to 51 percent or more, giving it complete control of the company. Executives from both sides have insisted the two companies will remain separate, but the demise of the R4 tells a different story.

VW prepares pickup:

Spy photographers have spotted Volkswagen’s upcoming pickup truck undergoing some winter testing. While it remains unclear if the vehicle will be marketed under Taro or Robust nameplate, it appears as though VW will offer the truck in a four-door quad-cab body style. Whatever the name, it will be produced in Argentina and sold throughout the world. The platform will also spawn a new sport ute that slots between the small Tiguan and the full-size Touareg. The new truck could bow by the end of this year, with sales beginning in 2009 or 2010.

Market indicators

Model selection:

Ford Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally’s experience running Boeing (yes, the airplane company) should help Ford drastically reduce vehicle combinations and save money in the process. Before Mulally’s time at Boeing, the airliner company offered hundreds of shades of exterior white to satisfy each individual airline customer. Once Mulally took control, there was just white . . . and that’s all. That same mentality will see the Ford Focus’s possible combinations of options and features drop by 99 percent for the 2008 model year, the Sleuth hears. This year’s Ford Expedition will also see a combination drop of about 95 percent. Chrysler President Jim Press is bringing about the same kinds of changes at his company. According to Yahoo, Chrysler’s possible vehicle combinations have been decreased by 93 percent over the past two years. That number will continue to fall during the coming years as the automaker aims to eliminate redundant vehicles. General Motors will also make similar changes in the coming years. On the plus side, less selection might actually mean lower prices.

Tata investing in manufacturing:

Tata, India’s biggest automaker will heavily invest in its manufacturing facilities now that it owns both Jaguar and Land Rover. Tata Managing Director Ravi Kant announced the company will soon invest US $1.5 billion on expanding build capacities and plans to make sustained investments over the next four or five years. This year promises to be an eventful one for Tata as it will also begin selling the $2,500 Nano in its home market, according to Britain’s Autocar magazine. The investments are believed to be the result of Tata’s efforts to borrow money from nine banks, as reported earlier this month.