1st Gear: Ford is taking a page from General Motors' OnStar system by testing live phone operators to help customers looking for directions to a business using Sync. Starting last week and running through the summer, Ford is testing an "Operator Assist" feature that will connect drivers with an operator if they have trouble getting directions electronically, after three attempts, said Ford spokesman Alan Hall. You know what's really funny? How Alan used to tell me that OnStar's system was a "liability," because "customers are not interested in another monthly subscription for assistance." And Sync Services goes subscription-based after three years. Oh, how times have changed. Edited to add quote from Alan Hall on "liability."
2nd Gear: Are hatchbacks making a resurgence? According to Ford's recent sales they may be. About half of the retail sales of Ford Fiestas are hatchback models, and so are 41% of retail sales of the new 2012 Ford Focus, which has been on the market only a few months. Hatchbacks traditionally have been popular in Canada and Europe, but have not resonated well with American consumers. That appears to be changing. Data from WardsAuto.com shows the number of hatchbacks sold in the U.S. increased by 63% for the 2006-10 model years, from 291,853 to 475,048. Total car sales fell 23% in that period.
3rd Gear: Ford is supporting a proposed behind-the-wheel ban on hand-held cellphone calls - becoming the first automaker to do so. The Dearborn automaker said Monday it is endorsing a bill introduced last monthby U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y. Pete Lawson, Ford's vice president of government affairs, said the company is backing the bill "because it represents a practical, commonsense approach to a national problem." Ford has been eager to protect its in-vehicle technologies - such as Sync and MyFord Touch - that allow drivers to make hands-free calls and receive or send some limited text messages orally. Mmm, oral text messages.
4th Gear: Peugeot isn't going to replace the 607, its big French attempt at taking on the hegemony of Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Instead the plan is to offer its Mondeo-sized 508 in posh, premium specs, and to tempt buyers with this, the 508 RXH. It's a 508 SW dressed in Audi Allroad attire. Raised suspension means it rides higher than the SW estate, and the black body cladding means it's wider too. And there are LED lights in a ‘lions claw' motif in the front bumper.
5th Gear: General Motors will bring a diesel-powered version of the Chevrolet Cruze to the United States in about two years, according to the Associated Press. The oil-burning Cruze should achieve about 50 mpg on the highway in a bid to help GM meet ever-tougher U.S. fuel economy requirements. Of course, the gas-powered Cruze Eco already gets 42 mpg highway, and given that diesels tend to cost thousands of dollars more than gasoline models in the United States due to strict pollution controls, it's worth wondering how much GM expects people to pay for an extra 7 mpg.
6th Gear: Germany's BMW Group plans to buy the car-leasing unit of Dutch banking group ING for around $1 billion to expand its own fleet division and to support its budding electric car business. The acquisition of ING Car Lease for 637 million euros will increase the number of car contracts under management by BMW's Alphabet Fleet Management from 300,000, serving over 12,000 customers, to around 540,000, BMW said Friday.
⏎ Meet the Spada Codatronca Monza, a 710-hp one-off roadster. Angry car is angry. [Spada Sport]
⏎ Judge scales back Toyota investors' legal claims. [CNBC]
⏎ Exclusive 911 GT3 RS 4.0 first drive. Sorta. [The Truth About Cars]
⏎ Invista to expand nylon yarn production. You know, for airbags. [Automotive News]
⏎ An online garage for the BMW Art Cars. [New York Times]
⏎ Ford likely will steer clear of Visteon's fight with shareholders. Also, the sky is blue. [Automotive News]
⏎ Corvette as canvas or artifact? [New York Times]
Today in Automotive History:
The first three-wheeled, multi-directional Dymaxion car—designed by the architect, engineer and philosopher Buckminster Fuller—is manufactured in Bridgeport, Conn., on this day in 1933. [History]
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