1st Gear: Most of the world's largest automakers will join President Barack Obama at a ceremony this morning to endorse new U.S. fuel economy standards that will set an eventual average of 54.5 mpg by 2025. Execs from Detroit's Big Three, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai, along with UAW President Bob King and California Gov. Jerry Brown — whose state regulators' agreement with the plan was still not cinched late Thursday — are all scheduled to embrace the proposal. There are two big exceptions according to The Detroit News: Volkswagen and Daimler, both of which object to the 5% annual increase in passenger car efficiency proposed by the rules as too stringent, especially when pickups and truck-based SUVs get lesser annual increases.
2nd Gear: The tougher U.S. fuel economy rules are a big motivation for BMW's unveiling of fresh electric and plug-in hybrid concepts this morning that foreshadow the company's first electric models due in 2013 and 2014. The electric-only i3 hatchback has a range of 93 miles driven by its rear wheels in a nod to BMW traditions. The i8 plug-in hybrid has a small 21-mile electric-only range, but a three-cylinder, 220hp gas engine can help power it to 62 mph in under 5 seconds, with the electric motor powering the front wheels and the gas engine driving the rear. Both cars use carbon fiber components to shed as much weight as possible, which BMW expects to preserve when it starts building the i3 in 2013 and the i8 in 2014.
3rd Gear: And while we're talking about it: After some delay, Ford has unveiled the latest version of its EcoBoost engine for the Ford Explorer, a 2-liter four-cylinder turbocharged mill that will pump 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque while sipping gas at 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. The efficiency figures make the EcoBoost Explorer the least gas-thirsty vehicle in its class — outside of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, but even then the Toyota only bests the Explorer in city driving. Through June, Ford has sold 65,823 Explorers, more than the entire sales of the old model in 2010. Robocop's mom is a happening gal.
4th Gear: In other news of automakers raking in cash, Volkswagen said it earned $4.55 billion in the second quarter before interest and taxes — but that was so disappointing to European investors its shares fell 7% after the announcement. Also not helping: Concerns of rising costs at VW for raw materials and the price of its march toward global dominance. Meanwhile, Kia Motors, South Korea's second-largest automaker, said its profits rose 67% to $1.07 billion in the second quarter thanks to booming U.S. sales. Bloomberg says Kia's global sales rose 21 percent during the latest quarter compared to a year earlier, boosted by a 36 percent surge in exports to the U.S., namely sedans and Sorento sport utility vehicles.
5th Gear: Fiat honcho Sergio Marchionne unveiled his new management team that will preside over a unified Fiat-Chrysler, and given that Marchionne himself will oversee Chrysler and Fiat in North America, its fair to say that the Italian company's center of gravity has moved closer to Auburn Hills, Mich. The two firms will be run by a 22-member panel of executives, including seven chief operating officers, all of whom still report to Marchionne. If having 22 executives reporting directly to one person sounds like a lot, it's actually a reduction of about half in the number of officials directly reporting to Marchionne, who carries five Blackberries and has never produced evidence that he actually sleeps.
6th Gear: Bloomberg reports this morning that Michelin & Cie. and Continental AG, Europe's two biggest tiremakers, raised forecasts for 2011, saying raw-material cost effects are easing after leading to lower-than-expected earnings earlier this year. Michelin's first-half operating income of 971 million euros ($1.39 billion) fell short of the 990 million-euro average of five analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Continental's second-quarter earnings before interest and taxes of 647 million euros compared with analysts' expectations of 716 million euros. Automotive suppliers are fighting to defend profitability by passing on rising raw-material costs to customers through price increases. The price of natural rubber has jumped 44% in the past 12 months, while crude oil has gained almost a quarter. Hanover, Germany-based Continental is also Europe's second-largest car-component manufacturer.
⏎ The "adults only" ice cream truck is a little disappointing. [DriveOn/USA Today]
⏎ Dan Pund suffers ED in a Smart. Thanks for taking that bullet, buddy. [Car and Driver]
⏎ California busts unlicensed auto repair shops. [KFSN]
⏎ Bentley tests new twin-turbo V8. [Autocar]
⏎ Great news! The Dacia Popster is coming. [WorldCarFans]
On July 29, 1909, the newly formed General Motors Corporation (GM) acquires the country's leading luxury automaker, the Cadillac Automobile Company, for $4.5 million. [History]
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