It’s Friday once again, which means it’s time for another round of my Five For Friday: Five Thoughts about the Auto Industry for November 15, 2013. The Nurburgring may be sold, the Subaru WRX regains its automatic tranny, Dario Franchitti retires, Mercedes-Benz ponders another round of minivan punishment, and the Chevy Cruze hatchback gets a second chance at life - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
01. Nurburgring Finds New Owner?
It would have been a crime against the global automotive community to let the Nurburgring race track fall into disrepair and obscurity due to the financial mismanagement of the Rhineland-Palatinate government (which has run up 400 million euros in debt during its stewardship of the historic landmark). Hope is on the horizon, however, with the announcement that the ADAC - a major automotive club - has made an offer to purchased the track and continue to operate it rather than shutter it. The deal would include the circuit itself but not some of the associated facilities, leaving out most of the non-automobile-related features such as the shopping mall attached to it.
02. New Subaru WRX Transmission Details Leaked
The 2015 Subaru WRX isn't just bringing a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine back into the drivetrain mix - it's also re-instituting the option of an automatic transmission, a feature that has been absent for many years from the turbo compact's spec sheet. Longtime fans may recall that when the Subaru WRX first debuted in 2002 it was possible to order a lowly four-speed autobox in place of its standard five-speed manual, but for 2015 Jalopnik is reporting that it will be a continuously-variable automatic unit that will step in for those who prefer not to shift their sporty car themselves.
While this may seem like a doomsday scenario for performance fans, it's actually not as terrible as it sounds. The engine and transmission for the new WRX are similar to that found under the hood of the recently redesigned Subaru Forester XT, which offers outstanding performance despite the presence of a CVT. Making the presence of an auto tranny in the WRX family even easier to swallow is the fact that the manual unit that will be offered with the base Subaru will now feature six, instead of five, forward gears.
03. Dario Franchitti Retires From Racing Due To Injuries
Dario Franchitti - one of IndyCar racing's most talented and successful drivers - has announced his retirement as a result of the injuries he suffered during a horrific crash at the Grand Prix of Houston in October. The incident, which sent Franchitti's car into the catch fence and also injured nearly 20 spectators, broke the driver's ankle and two vertebrae, and also left him with a concussion. After a series of surgeries, the Scotsman has elected to follow the advice of his doctors and leave the racing arena. Franchitti is a four-time champion in American open-wheel racing, and he also counts three first-place finishes at the Indy 500 on his illustrious resume.
04. Stop Me If You've Heard This One: Mercedes-Benz Minivan
The Mercedes-Benz R-Class, which was essentially a minivan in crossover clothing, was a massive flop for the Silver Star in the United States. Buyers were turned off by the R-Class' high sticker price and lack of prestige, preferring instead to load up on the trusty M-Class SUV. Ignoring this history lesson may prove costly to Mercedes-Benz for a second time, as the Automotive News is reporting that the German automaker is considering importing its V-Class minivan to the American market in 2015.
The V-Class, like the R-Class, is based on a rear-wheel drive platform for better performance and driving dynamics, and Mercedes-Benz hopes to target mainstream players like the Honda Odyssey with the vehicle. In order to do so, the V-Class would have to be at the very least priced competitively with the top-tier editions of class-leading minivans like the Odyssey and the Sienna - but even then, reliability concerns over the long term could torpedo the V-Class' chances with family shoppers.
05. Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback May Be On The Way
The Chevrolet Cruze sedan has been a runaway success for General Motors, and can legitimately claim to be a world-class compact car - something that GM hasn't been able to offer this Millennium. Many have asked why Chevrolet didn't think to include a hatchback version of the Cruze alongside the sedan and potentially double the market for the small car - and now, thanks to Forbes, we have an answer. An interview between the magazine and the president of GM North America Mark Reuss reveals that the decision to forgo a Cruze hatch in the U.S. was made pre-bankruptcy in a move that Reuss characterizes as a 'mistake.' Given that it's possible to buy a Cruze hatchback in Europe, there is a strong possibility that the next-generation of the sedan could be joined by a hatch edition in just a few short years.
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