• Mini brand begins sport-ute testing: Attention Mini lovers, the Sleuth's spies have spotted what appears to be a test mule for the Mini sport-utility vehicle, a new ride which the Sleuth recently told you about. Although the test car in Germany wears the body of the forthcoming Clubman wagon, it looks to have a slightly higher ride height. There also appeared to be two strips of material attached to the tester's roof, possibly to simulate the inherent added weight of a sport-ute. The Sleuth hears the Mini sport-ute will also come with all-wheel-drive. Make no mistake, it will be unmistakably Mini, just don't expect a rugged off-roader.
  • Alfa Romeo will make the switch to rear-wheel-drive: About six months ago, the Sleuth tipped you off that Alfa Romeo is headed to these shores within a year. Well, there's more detail. It seems Alfa will transition its current lineup of front-drivers to rear-wheel-drive to better compete with German brands in Europe and North America. Alfa Romeo hasn't produced a rear-wheel-drive car since the early 1990s, but will launch the 8C Competizione sports coupe next year with arrival in North America in 2009. Alfa Romeo's flagship — the 169 sedan — will debut at the end of 2009 with rear-wheel-drive, with several other Alfa models to follow.
  • Honda confirms diesel Accord: Another Sleuth tip is getting an official stamp of approval. The word is that Honda has officially announced that it will add a diesel option to the North American Accord range for 2009. Earlier reports indicated that Honda would offer diesel power for 2009, although it was unclear which model or models would receive the option. The diesel engine will be the same 2.2-liter unit found in the European Accord. Output is expected to be in the 150 horsepower/260 lb.-ft. of torque range, although actual production figures could be higher. It has been reported that Honda engineers are working on a higher-output version of the same engine for a diesel Civic Type-R — rated at 180 horsepower and 315 lb.-ft. of torque — so ratings could improve, although probably not to the same level as the Civic Type-R. Honda's claim that its diesel-engine technology can be applied to larger vehicles than the Accord points the way to a diesel-powered Pilot.
  • New Golf/Rabbit delayed again: Volkswagen appears to be having a hard time replacing its aging lineup in North America. The Sleuth hears that VW has again pushed back the production start date for next-generation Golf (Rabbit in North America). Internally called the MkVI, the Golf was expected to make its debut at the Geneva, Switzerland, Motor Show in March, 2008, with sales following in the fall. However, design changes have pushed back the car's world debut until the Paris, France, Motor Show in September 2008 with sales beginning in 2009, a delay of about six months. When Martin Winterkorn took over at VW, he demanded to review all new cars and wouldn't give them the green light until he did so. Apparently he didn't like the design on the new Golf, hence the delay. And now there is another delay to make improvements and change the design.
Market indicators
  • "Plug-in" hybrids: It appears as though Chevrolet won't be alone with its Volt car, a hybrid gas/electric vehicle that runs on an electric motor and plugs in overnight to recharge its batteries. The Sleuth hears Ford has filed for a trademark on the name Extend in relation to a plug-in hybrid automobile. Ford has stated that it is developing plug-in hybrid technology and hopes to have a vehicle to market within the next five to 10 years. Chevy is planning to launch the Volt plug-in hybrid in 2010 while a Toyota plug-in hybrid is planned for 2011.
  • Chinese partnerships: Dodge might have been the first, but it certainly won't be the last. When the North American automaker announced its partnership with Chery Automobiles of China last year to possibly build the Hornet concept car, it showed that a new trend was in motion. Now more Chinese manufacturers are looking for partners on these shores. The latest is Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. which is looking to partner with a company outside of its home country. "We started off building and selling cheap cars, but now we are changing," said Geely chairman, Li Shufu, in an interview with trade paper Automotive News. "We are very, very eager to form alliances." The Sleuth hears Ford and/or General Motors might be interested. Partnerships mean the potential for North American carmakers to sell low-cost cars. Geely also has plans to build production facilities in North America and Europe to expand beyond its home market.