Episode 374 – Fiat Spins-Off Auto Operations, Volt-Powered Crossover, VW’s Electric Taxi

April 20th, 2010 at 12:00pm

Runtime 7:43

Fiat will spin-off its automotive operations and get a new chairman.  GM will put its Volt technology in a Crossover.  Volkswagen is working on an electric taxi cab.  All that and more, plus a look at the Shell Oil “Eco-Marathon” where engineering students compete to build vehicles that get the best fuel economy possible.

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Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. Fiat will spin-off its automotive operations and get a new chairman. GM will put the Volt technology in a crossover. And VW is working on an electric taxi cab.

Up next, we’ll be back with the news behind the headlines.

This is Autoline Daily for Tuesday, April 20, 2010.   And now, the news.

Looks like Fiat has a big announcement to make later today. It may spin-off its automotive group as a stand-alone company. The Fiat Group is a giant industrial conglomerate that includes all kinds of different industries: agricultural equipment, manufacturing equipment, electronics, heavy trucks, and of course, automobiles. But if Fiat Auto goes off on its own it could have an easier time forming alliances with other automakers. Bloomberg reports that Fiat could name John Elkann, 34 years old, to become chairman of the Fiat Group. He’s a scion of the Agnelli family which controls the Fiat Group, much like the Ford family still controls the Ford Motor Company. Elkann will be replacing Luca de Montezemolo, who, by the way, ran the Ferrari Formula One team back in the 1970s.

Growing algae to make oil that can be processed into gasoline or diesel keeps looking more and more promising. Bloomberg reports that at least 75 developers globally are working on it, and now Japan is jumping in with both feet. It quotes one researcher as saying if Japan grew algae in all its unused farmland it could replace almost all the oil it imports. But as promising as this alternative fuel is, it still has a long way to go to prove it can be scaled up on an industrial size and be cost-competitive.

There’s been lots of speculation over whether GM’s Voltec powertrain will be used in another vehicle, now we may have an answer. Autoblog is running these design patent sketches of a Chevy crossover, which credits Bob Boniface as one of the designers, who just happens to have led the design of the Chevy Volt. This led to speculation that it could be an extended-range vehicle. Also, GM Inside News reports that the company is expected to show a Voltec-powered crossover at this month’s Beijing Auto Show, which would seem like convenient timing for these sketches to surface.

And speaking of China, Citroen will debut a new hybrid concept at next month’s Shanghai Expo. According to Autocar, it’s a big sedan called the Metropolis. And by big, we mean BIG. It’s over 17 feet long and 6 ½ feet wide – that’s over 5 meters long, and 2 meters wide. It’s powered by a 2.0-liter V-6 that’s mated to an electric motor.  It features four-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The Metropolis is the first vehicle to be designed and developed at PSA’s Shanghai design studio.

Also coming to the Beijing show, Autoblog has this report on the Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Break that will debut there.  This E-Class-sized hatchback looks like a competitor to BMW 5 Series GT or the Audi A5 Sportback.  It’ll be powered by a new Mercedes gasoline V-6 engine with a 60-degree bank angle and direct fuel injection.  At 3.5-liters the company says it’s good for 306 horsepower.  More engine options will certainly be offered when it comes out.  We’ll see if the “shooting break” name makes it to production because really, this is just a fancy station wagon – a very stylish wagon – but a wagon nonetheless.

When it comes to EVs, automakers have been focusing most of their energy on developing personal vehicles – vehicles owned and operated by individuals.  Volkswagen is taking a different approach to the electric auto with its “Milano Taxi.”  The company is showing this green concept at the Hannover Trade Show in Germany.  It’s a city-sized MPV that’s tailored to the needs of drivers AND passengers.  For easy access it features a single sliding door that opens FORWARD instead of backward like most minivans.  Inside, there’s no front passenger seat.  In its place is a spot to store luggage.  There’s an eight-inch touch-screen display in the back so riders can keep tabs on the fare or check out local points of interest.  In the mechanical department the Milano Taxi is driven by an 85 kilowatt electric motor and a 45 kilowatt lithium-ion battery.  Maximum range is said to be 300 kilometers which is about 186 miles.

Coming up next, how do you get a car to deliver over 2,000 miles per gallon? You heard me right, that’s coming up next.

Recently in Houston, Texas nearly 50 teams made up of high school and university students from the United States, Canada, and Italy participated in the 2010 Eco-marathon Americas, a competition hosted by Shell Oil which challenged engineering students to design a vehicle which traveled the farthest distance using the least amount of fuel.

The students designed vehicles for two groups, the Prototype Group, which were vehicles streamlined to maximize fuel efficiency with innovative designs, and the Urban Concept Group, which was made up of vehicles closer in appearance and technology to current models and aimed at the needs of real-life drivers.

Students developed vehicles that could run on gasoline, diesel, hydrogen, liquid petroleum gas, and solar power.

With a gasoline powered vehicle that achieved 2,487 MPG or .09 l/100km, students from Université Laval in Quebec, Canada won the Prototype category.  In the Urban Concept category, Mater Dei High School from Evansville, Indiana won with a gasoline-powered engine achieving 437 MPG or .54 l/100km.

Both teams won last year in their respective categories and each received $5,000 in prize money for winning this year.

Don’t forget to tune in to Autoline After Hours on Thursday night when our guest will be Doug Fehan, the head of Corvette racing. That’s Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time.

And that’s it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry.  Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog, The Auto Channel, Car Chat, WardsAuto.com and WWJ Newsradio 950

25 Comments to “Episode 374 – Fiat Spins-Off Auto Operations, Volt-Powered Crossover, VW’s Electric Taxi”

  1. Tony Gray Says:

    So, exactly how does one get the luggage from that storage area in the Milano Taxi when the sliding door is open? Seems like you either pass it back from the front or have to make passengers wait in the rain while you close the door and access the compartment.


  2. Nick Stevens Says:

    Luggage in front makes sense, since people usually sit in the back of the taxi and there is no need fo ra passenger seat,

    AND it has the added advantage that you do not have to wait to open the trunk, you just take your luggage in your hand and leave thru the open door. Why is it a problem that the door slides forward? it SHOULD, so you can exit in the back!

  3. Perry Cartwright Says:

    Shooting Break? Funny I think you meant “Shooting Brake” which is only a station wagon to us in the good ole USA.

  4. Chuck Grenci Says:

    On the Citroen Metropolis; nice wheels.

  5. HtG Says:

    I read elsewhere that Elkann replaces Montezemolo at FIAT after M. disagreed with management on the split. Ever the pol, M. said that he had accomplished what he had been asked.


  6. Salvador G. Says:

    Tony Gray Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 12:27 pm
    So, exactly how does one get the luggage from that storage area in the Milano Taxi when the sliding door is open?

    Tony G. there are only two doors on the Milano, one the driver’s door and two the slider passenger door (watch the video carefully) – You take your bags as you go out- that’s not so hard is it?

    JohnMc, I’m actually surprise Japan bio-diesel plans involves algae and not rice (don’t mean to stereotype the Japanese) but they do have manage to make rice into a lot of things in Japan, so I’m surprise Sake is not combustible fuel.

  7. dcars Says:

    The VW taxi looks pretty nice.
    Interesting to note that the Volt Mini Van was introduced so soon after the Prius Mini Van. With the high cost of the Volt it makes you wonder how much money Toyota lost on the original Prius.

  8. Tony Gray Says:

    OK, Salvador, I see that. I suppose that will work with suitcases, laptops and maybe overnight bags, but I can see where any larger gear will exceed the capacity of this vehicle, either by making it a PITA to put in/take out or by being so bulky it blocks the driver’s vision.

    All in all a pretty neat idea. Has some merit.

  9. Watt D Fjark Says:

    John, if you’ve already talked about this I apologize, but could you comment on the Tom Stallkamp letter to Automotive News in the April 19th edition?

    Carlos…watch your back. Priceless!

  10. TJ Martin Says:

    Seems to me according to all the definitions I’m familiar with , the Mercedes ” Shooting Brake ” hardly qualifies .
    A proper ” Shooting Brake ” is by definition , a two door coupe thats been converted to a two door estate . i.e Station Wagon for those of you unfamiliar with our Brit cousins lingo .
    The Mercedes CLS is nothing more than an estate / touring /station wagon with a pretty name in an attempt to give it some credibility .

  11. Nick Stevens Says:

    I still don’t see what you are saying, Tony. The door openings are far larger than those of any trunk, so you can load significantly larger items IN the cab than in its trunk.

    it is a long overdue idea, and actually this is how it was with older cabs, which had a veryu small trunk, or none at all, and the luggage was taken by the passengers and placed in front of them, or if thye had no luggage, there were jump seats facing opposite the rear seat where some more people could sit.

  12. Salvador G. Says:

    Ok, Tony; first off, WHAT tha’ heck do you carry on a taxi that would be large enough to hide the side window… The Milano is a small taxi with only 3 seats, one the drivers and two passengers all the way to the back eliminating the trunk space and since there’s not front passenger seat, that space (floor and all) it use for luggage.

    One thing on the Chevy Volt…
    those everyone forgot that GM haven’t actually sold any Volt’s at all and their planning on a crossover– I mean, I don’t have a problem with the principle of the idea, but (and I mean a big BUT) don’t car companies suppose to sell a lot of (let’s say one type) cars before they star spin-off, you know – after proving that the technology works and a lof of people are buying it.

  13. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Maybe its the American in me, but why do I think that the Metropolis concept is over the top?

    Its like something that is 10 years too early for its time.

  14. Nick Stevens Says:

    Not really, the Mertropolis is a concept, the real thing (if any) will be more mainstream.

    The car fills a huge gap, no French or italian maker has any competing product to the 7 series, the S class, the A8 or the maserati Quattroporte, the Citroen is competing with these guys.


    Finally, a Benz (the Shooting Break) with an interior worthy of its name and heritage. I hope the interior makes it to the production model. I’ve always loved the driving dynamics of German cars, but the only one that designs functional and beautiful interiors is Audi. BMW and Benz just keep refreshing their 80′s style interiors.

    Plus, I love the VW taxi concept. Hope it makes it to production and that they offer one to the general public (as well as taxi fleet).

    And, it’s simply shocking to see Shell Oil sponsoring research that would lead to the production of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Wouldn’t that mean the end of their quadra-freaking-gazzillion-dollar-making profits?? I’m also very interested to know the cost of making the 2000 mpg vehicle. Because if the cost isn’t out of this world, then that car’s technology could be applied and used to build a light-weight passenger vehicle that could at least get 100 mpg (since getting mpgs in thousands is simply impossible with the added weight of safety features, etc in modern passenger cars).

  16. C-Tech Says:

    Is it just me or does $5,000 seem like a small prize from a large company for people doing important research? It costs more to buy a minute of time to run a Shell commercial on SPEEDTV.

  17. C-Tech Says:

    The VW Milano looks interesting, however where is the security shielding for the driver?

  18. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    So, I guess FIAT is looking for another company to buy? I wonder who?

  19. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I kind of like that Mercedes wagon, but the engine it needs is a diesel. Unfortunately, since they call it CLS, it will cost around $80K.

  20. Nick Stevens Says:

    It’s not really a wagon, it is a low-interior-volume “Shooting break”. Even the 4-door coupe-sedan CLS has notoriously little room in the back. It’s all about the styling, I guess. Even passat owners buy it, more are buying the impractical, cramped coupe because of its looks, than the far more family-friendly sedan and esp. the wagon. (in the US market)

  21. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Nick Stevens Says:
    April 21st, 2010 at 10:05 am

    “It’s not really a wagon, it is a low-interior-volume “Shooting break”.”

    Floor length and the easy access of a lift gate, not volume, is what I need in a wagon or hatchback. The “Shooting Break” would work for me, except for the ridiculous price it will sell for, and the gas hog engines likely to be offered in the US.

  22. Nick Stevens Says:

    A friend who had to leave for overseas left me a bookcase last Dec, and there was no way it would fit in my car, either in the modest trunk or in the very spacious back seat. Another friend with a Jeep Liberty (much smaller than the grand Cherokee or the Commander) was able to fit it sideways, despite the jeep’s very short length overall, and brought it to me. There is no way that bookcase would fit in that cute wagon.

  23. Tony Gray Says:

    Sal/Nick…hey, I am NOT arguing with you. My first post was to ask how they were going to get the gear out…and you explained that.

    My second post is just a comment on the size of the storage area and how much it will hold. If it is roughly the size of what you can put into a Crown Vic, then it probably will do the job for most folks. But take a look at a lot of people at the airport and count the number of suitcases and carry ons that even a small family takes these days. That will easily overwhelm the space allocated by a small car passenger seat.

    Perhaps a comparison of this car vs a London taxi or an old Checker would help me envision things.

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    Episode 374 – Fiat Spins-Off Auto Operations, Volt-Powered Crossover, VW’s Electric Taxi – Autoline Daily…