• Will there be a Mercury division in a few years?: For all the pundits who had written off the Mercury brand, Ford CEO Alan Mulallay still thinks it is "doing well," and "absolutely" has a future. That may be, however, Sleuth sources say Mercury has almost no products in the pipeline. The Milan sedan is the only Mercury with a firm future for the next few years. It will get a moderate refresh, along with the related Ford Fusion for the 2009 model year. Once the Fusion comes up for a total redesign in 2011 or 2012, however, the Milan will likely be dropped. The Mariner and Mountaineer sport-utes and the Grand Marquis sedan appear to have no replacements. With the Sable (and related Ford Taurus) fresh out of the oven, this is likely the last we'll see of the Sable, too. When the current Taurus is due for a refresh/redesign in two or three years, the Sleuth hears the Sable will be dropped. Mercury sold 180,848 vehicles in 2006 — the division's lowest total since 1960 — which was 11 percent off that pace through the first nine months of 2007.
  • BMW tests a high-performance "M" version of the X5 sport-ute?: The Sleuth has seen versions of what could be a prototype for a BMW X5 M ("M" for Motorsports). Spotted first in Munich, Germany, the BMW prototype has now been seen testing on the famous Nürburgring track. It looks sportier, for sure, but the engine remains a mystery. The 500-horsepower V10 from the M5 sedan is an obvious possibility. Check back for more details as the Sleuth follows the mystery sport-ute's development.
  • At last, there will be a high-performance Audi TT: The Sleuth hears that the upcoming Audi TT-S convertible is undergoing testing in Germany. Expect a more aggressive look when compared to the standard TT and as much as 300 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. But that's not all: it's also believed that Audi is working on a TT-RS. How does 350 horsepower sound? Good? Because that's what it will take to show up Porsche's Boxster/Cayman and BMW's Z4 M-coupe/roadster.
  • Audi boasts that it will match BMW by pumping US $14 billion into new product: Call it an all-out Bavarian war that's brewing. Audi Chief Executive Officer Rupert Stadler says he'll match BMW, product for product, in his drive to become the world's biggest luxury automaker by 2015. "We're going to invest 10 billion euro (US $14.13 billion) in new products over the next five years," Stadler said in a response to a long-term plan recently announced by BMW, one that calls for adding at least two all-new vehicles in the next few years: the small X1 wagon and a sporty four-door touring sedan, the Gran Turismo. Audi has the Q3 compact wagon and the A7 four-door coupe under development, and a small sport-utility vehicle is being discussed, Stadler said. As part of its realignment, BMW plans to push yearly sales to more than two million vehicles by 2020. Audi's goal is 1.5 million by 2015. Despite a downturn in Germany, Audi sales worldwide are up eight percent through the first nine months of this year to 740,000, Stadler said.
  • A1? We're not sure, either: Audi has big plans for a Mini Cooper-fighter in its fleet, the A1. It just can't decide what it will look like. The look of the concept that will be unveiled at the upcoming Tokyo motor show is set, but some Audi decision-makers consider it too radical to go into production. The A1 is designed to go head to head with BMW's Mini Cooper. Production is due to begin during the third quarter of 2009. The A1 will be powered by turbocharged gasoline and diesel engines ranging from 1.2-2.0 liters of displacement. A 1.4-liter non-turbo four-cylinder with 80 horsepower is being considered as an affordable base engine.
Market indicators
  • International importance: In a sign of the times for domestic automakers, Chrysler is looking outside of North America for its future. Company president Jim Press said it wants to increase those sales to 50 percent of the company's total. "I think we can do that," he said. The sales shift is intended to make Chrysler less dependent on the North American market. Press didn't give a timeframe for the new business plan, considering that Chrysler sold only 10 percent of its cars outside of North America last quarter. Chrysler joins General Motors, which is aiming for more global sales and Ford, which is looking at Europe for design direction.
  • Nameplates from domestics: Chrysler LLC could cut as many as five nameplates within the next month, the Sleuth hears. A source familiar with the situation said that it is "highly likely" that Chrysler's top execs will approve a plan to reduce the number of models offered by the automaker by month's end . . . that's this month. In recent union negotiations, Chrysler was unable to give its workers any kind of future product guarantee — unlike the General Motors-United Auto Workers agreement — giving credence that several vehicles could be getting the axe. The leading candidates for elimination include the Chrysler Pacifica, Dodge Dakota, Jeep Commander and Compass, Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Durango. This follows the pattern by General Motors and Ford to pare back nameplates as marketing budgets rise and consumer demand falls.

- Wheelbase Communications