This is the Morning Shift, our one-stop daily roundup of all the auto news that's actually important — all in one place at 9:00 AM. Or, you could spend all day waiting for other sites to parse it out to you one story at a time. Isn't your time more important?
1st Gear: Caterham Cars will expand its sports car model line-up beyond its core Seven range following its acquisition by Formula 1 outfit Team Lotus. Plans by Team Lotus Enterprise, the Tony Fernandes-led holding company that now owns both Team Lotus and Caterham, include taking Caterham's existing Seven and SP.300/R models to new markets, prominent F1 exposure for Caterham, and Team Lotus F1 technology filtering down to Caterham's road cars. Fernandes confirmed that there "will be new models" from Caterham. "We've got lots of ideas that will be implemented in time," he said. "Our actions will speak and there's lots to look forward to." All I ask is that Caterham not try to turn the brand into a "lifestyle" brand or some-such rubbish like Lotus.
2nd Gear: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expanded its investigation into whether the steel straps holding the fuel tanks on 1997-2001 Ford F-150 pickup can corrode and break, leading to a fire risk. Last September, the NHTSA was looking into 32 complaints among 1.4 million Ford half-ton trucks. Now, the NHTSA reports up to 2.73 million F-150 pickups from the 1997-2001 model years could be recalled. The recalls have stemmed from reports a fire can start if a dragged fuel tank ruptures from road contact or if the tank falls away completely, causing fuel lines and linkages to leak or break. This could, of course, lead to fiery death!
3rd Gear: That "thing" up top is the latest from Dartz, our favorite Russian tuner of ridiculous armored cars. The same shop that brought us a car with a whale penis foreskin leather interior — and one of our two Colbert Report appearances. Their latest creation is the Prombron' Nagel — a ridiculous car designed for pulling your ridiculous yacht. Seriously. The car is supposedly specifically designed to pull yachts — and do so with a tremendous amount of armored plating — obviously a huge demographic. Like all Dartz cars, the armor makes it "heavy enough ensure a smooth ride" — especially when towing yachts up to five tons in weight and up to 15 meters in length. But the best part from the press release is when we're told this car is "no heavyweight Ivan Drago" thanks to a claimed 2000 hp engine under the hood. I have no words to explain how silly this is — but I love it.
4th Gear: Toyota is set to make plug-in technology standard in the Prius — the world's top-selling gasoline-electric hybrid — starting in 2014, the Nikkei business daily said on Monday. The plug-in Prius, which will be launched in 2012, can be recharged from an ordinary household electricity outlet. Maybe they're just trying to boost themselves hire in the "most valuable brand" survey?
5th Gear: When Hawtai Motor Group announced it would invest almost $223 million into Saab last week, the tie-up left many wondering why a little-known tiny automaker from Shandong might be interested in a small Swedish brand. The answer, according to Automotive News may lie in Hawtai's former joint venture with Hyundai. The tiny Chinese brand started building the Terracan and Santa Fe SUVs under its own brand using technology licensed from Hyundai. But now that Hawtai's partnership with Hyundai's lapsed, will the Chinese automaker use Saab platforms to upgrade its own model lineup? Nobody knows yet. What we do know is production of the new Saab 9-3, due to start in October 2012, will begin in China in 2013 for sale in the local Chinese market with a sales target of between 100,000 to 200,000 units per year. Read the rest of AN's analysis here.
6th Gear: Sales of new bicycles rose 9% in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same period in 2010, and sales of road bikes — commonly used in commuting — jumped 29%. Sales of gas-powered scooters are up even more: nearly 50% in the first quarter compared to a year ago. Does this mean I'm going to need to start "Bikelopnik" and "Mopedlopnik"? Groan...
⏎ This headline would have been better if they'd changed it from "gets rehabilitated" to "goes into rehab." [New York Times]
⏎ CleanMPG Coaxes 32 MPG from Ford F-150 EcoBoost Pickup. [PickupTrucks.com]
⏎ "Fast Five" has now grossed $139.8 million, making the Vin Diesel movie the highest earner of 2011 so far. [Washington Post]
⏎ GM wants to differentiate GMC more from Chevrolet. Hmm... maybe they could start by not building the same damn thing only with a different badge on the front. [Automotive News]
⏎ First look at Hyundai's i45 sedan. [GoAuto]
⏎ GM is now in bed with MG. We don't even know where to start with the jokes on this one. [Autocar]
⏎ Feds upgrade probe into Mini Coopers. [Detroit News]
Today in Automotive History:
On this day in 2008, "Speed Racer," the big-budget live-action film version of the 1960s Japanese comic book and television series "MachGoGoGo," makes its debut in U.S. movie theaters. It sucked. [History]