1st Gear: After years of futility, Detroit automakers are finally making gains in the one place they've always longed to succeed: California. The Golden State accounts for about 18% of all U.S. auto sales, and in recent years the share of its sales claimed by the Detroit three has been slowly declining. But thanks to a well-timed onslaught of small cars, General Motors and Ford are making inroads, while Chrysler has stabilized. How far do they have to go? The Chevy Cruze accounts for 3.3% of retail compact car sales in California, more than double the share of the Cobalt. The Honda Civic claims about 20%.
2nd Gear: The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to end U.S. subsidies for ethanol and cut tariffs on imported ethanol from Brazil. It's unlikely to become law, but the move shows just how far the idea of ethanol as a popular alternative to oil has fallen in Washington, going from a must-have in the last presidential election to losing a 73-27 Senate vote. The subsidy costs about $4.9 billion a year; ethanol makers opposed cutting it, but opponents note federal law now requires ethanol to be mixed with gasoline in ever-increasing amounts. Automakers have also been sparring with ethanol advocates over proposals to require all new vehicles to be capable of burning 85% ethanol.
3rd Gear: Speaking of the Cobalt, General Motors will revive the name for this compact car in South America, which is being unveiled at the Buenos Aires show. To be sold globally in places where the Cobalt name hasn't been tarnished, GM says the new car will offer a range of 1.3 liter to 1.8 liter engines in gas and diesel.
4th Gear: Our top shot today comes from Renault, whose Megane RS Trophy was driven around the Nürburgring in 8 minutes, 7.97 seconds — smashing the record for front-wheel drive vehicles at the famed German track and besting many rear-wheel-drive sports cars. (Edmunds put a 2010 Camaro SS around the ring in 8:20). The limited-production Megane RS Trophy sports just 265 hp, but a combination of its suspension setup, unique Bridgestone tires and the experience of 500 'Ring laps all played a part. Hey Nissan: Would it really be all that hard to slap a few badges on this thing and give it an American visa?
5th Gear: The boys over at Car and Driver have sussed out some more details on the upcoming Audi Q5-based Porsche Cajun small SUV. For starters, by using the Q5 as its technical basis means that the Cajun will essentially stand on a front-wheel-drive architecture. All Cajuns will get Audi's all-wheel-drive technology under a different name. Engines will include a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6, rated at around 300 hp, and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, good for roughly 220 hp. A higher-boost supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 is possible and could make up to 350 hp. The Cajun could also be offered with the Q5 hybrid's powertrain, which consists of a 208-hp 2.0 TFSI and a 44-hp electric motor.
6th Gear: Ford has rolled out the latest update to its SYNC in-car entertainment system to give drivers fantasy baseball statistics. According to Ford, by using voice controls to access the "Sports" category, Sync will rattle off weekly leaders in both the American League and National League, along with the standard roster of hitting and pitching statistics. I'm a big fantasy baseball fan; the Joaquin Andujars powered their way back into second place last night in my 18-team league. But this sounds far less useful than Facebooking behind the wheel, and makes me wonder if U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood may have a point when he says no one needs to use the Internet while driving.
⏎Cars.com scrutineers Chrysler's heated and cooled cupholders. [Kicking Tires]
⏎Red Bull's F1 designer watches most races from his couch. [The Sun]
⏎ The 2012 Detroit Auto Show will have two press days instead of a one-day fiesta/death march. [DetNews]
⏎ Chrysler recalling 11,000 vehicles for a faulty bolt in the steering column, fiery death, and so on, etc. [Freep]
⏎ Mazda says profits will fall 16% this year, and it will hecho en Mexico. [AutoNews]
Viewers across the nation are glued to their television screens on this day in 1994, watching a fleet of black-and-white police cars pursuing a white Ford Bronco along Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. Inside the Bronco is Orenthal James "O.J." Simpson — former professional football player, actor and sports commentator whom police suspected of involvement in the murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. More importantly, it forever besmirched the Bronco's name. [History]
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