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1st Gear: BMW Is Heading Downhill
The Associated Press reports that BMW is building a two-man bobsled for the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, with an eye to having it ready for the 2014 Winter Olympics. BMW, which has become a major team sponsor, has already delivered a prototype, under a program that's been going on for more than a year. The U.S. won Olympic gold in women's bobsledding in 2002 and a four-man gold in 2010, but the two-man gold has eluded the Americans since 1936. U.S. men's bobsled drivers tested the prototype earlier this year in Park City, Utah. There's been no announcement about when it might make its competitive debut in a World Cup race, but the circuit makes a stop in Park City this weekend.


According to AP, officials for both the team and the car company think the BMW sled would be unique. "What we've got so far, it is recognizably different," said Michael Scully, a creative director for global design at BMW. "It can be what bobsleds in the future are identified as, or it can come to define something that doesn't work. We're really in the early stages of testing. What we're working on is still in development, but yes, it is distinctively recognizable." BMW is applying the same "EfficientDynamics" technology to the sled program, with lightweight materials, "optimized aerodynamics and chassis dynamics," and all of it being done to increase "overall sport performance."

2nd Gear: As Cars Get Smaller, Ford Says Profits Get Smaller, Too
Bloomberg says Ford is signaling that its record North American profit margins will become a thing of the past, thanks to buyers' shifts to smaller cars. Ford's new chief operating officer, Mark Fields, says profit margins, which have been averaging 12 percent, will shrink to eight to 10 percent over time. In fact, Fields told an investment conference that Ford expects margins to be smaller this quarter, basically because its competitors are rolling out incentives to clear out inventories at the end of the year. To be sure, an eight to 10 percent margin is still well above the five percent profit margins that the industry considers respectable. But, with problems in Europe, it means North America will have to keep churning in order to offset losses elsewhere.

3rd Gear: At GM, Revenge Of The Electric Car
Reuters reports that General Motors expects to be building 500,000 electrified vehicles a year by 2017, a mere five years from now. That figure includes pure electrics, vehicles like the plug-in hybrid Volt, as well as vehicles with GM's EAssist technology. That figure would be slightly more than five percent of GM's annual production of 9 million vehicles. GM global development chief Mary Barra didn't say how many would be actual electric vehicles, but she said plug-ins would be a key part of the strategy. According to Reuters, Barra said GM expects EAssist, which boosts fuel economy as much as 25 percent, to be on "hundreds of thousands" of vehicles annually by 2017.

4th Gear: Toyotas Are Going Gangnam Way
Bloomberg reports that Toyota, which got smacked with a big recall yesterday, announced some interesting trade news. It is shipping the Venza from its Georgetown, KY, plant to South Korea. The South Korean-bound Venzas join Camrys and Siennas, which are already shipped there from the U.S. The move helps increase U.S. exports to South Korea, and Toyota expects to send 130,000 vehicles all over the world from Georgetown this year. It's starting small with Venza: Toyota only expects to ship about 600 to South Korea. But the move is part of Toyota's effort to use the U.S. as an export base. You might wonder whether it makes sense, since Japan and Korea are just across from each other. However, the strong yen has forced Toyota to look across its operations for plants from which it can export cars and trucks.

Reverse: I Can See Clearly Now
On this day in 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Clear Air Act. It required the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a host of rules to reduce pollution from auto exhaust, refueling emissions and evaporating gasoline. The rules marked the first time that auto companies had to regulate light trucks, including SUVs, pickups and minivans, in the same way as cars. Because of the rules, the typical car on the road now is 90 percent cleaner than a similar 1970 automobile. Diesel-powered trucks and buses also are a lot cleaner than they used to be, thanks to the 1990 rules. [EPA]


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