1st Gear: Ward's Auto reports that after 44 years, the future of the rotary engine at Mazda, the last mass-market auto maker to produce the piston-less mill, is now in doubt. The engine has been offered on the Mazda RX-8 since its introduction for the '04 model year. But the sports car is being discontinued following the '11 model year. Although several reports suggest research on a next-generation rotary is ongoing, with a new version to debut in coming years, perhaps as early as 2017, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda executive officer-product planning and powertrain development, says there is "huge discussion" within the Hiroshima, Japan-based company whether to continue on with a rotary engine. Fujiwara then went on to say that economic hardship has some top brass looking for programs to cut, and that the engine program is on the list. That means continuing development of the rotary has been halted for now, but he hopes it will resume in the future, noting the technology is a part of Mazda's DNA. Is the Wankel dead? God, we sure hope not.
2nd Gear: Bloomberg reports that U.S. truck makers will be forced to improve tractor-trailer fuel economy by about 20% by 2018. The administration's plan — the first attempt to regulate the efficiency of heavy-duty trucks, including city buses and garbage trucks — will save 530 million barrels of oil, according to a statement from the White House today. The standards for heavy-duty trucks follow President Barack Obama's July 29th announcement of fuel-economy rules for cars and light trucks that are to take fleetwide averages to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. For heavy-duty trucks, regulations focus on how much carbon individual truck parts emit, instead of the mileage standards used for cars. The effort to regulate big rigs and other work trucks started while the White House was negotiating fuel-economy rules for passenger vehicles, Obama said. "We started getting letters asking that we do the same for medium and heavy-duty trucks," Obama said in the statement. "They were from the people who build, buy and drive these trucks. And today, I'm proud to have the support of these companies."
3rd Gear: U.S. gasoline demand fell 3.3% from a year earlier as average prices at the pump gained 35%, according to MasterCard Inc. Motorists bought 9.11 million barrels a day in the week ended Aug. 5th, the second-biggest payments network company said in its SpendingPulse report. Consumption was down 1.8% from the previous week. The average pump price was $3.70 a gallon, unchanged from the week before. Averaged over four weeks, gasoline use was 2.2% below a year earlier, John Gamel, director of economic analysis for SpendingPulse, said in the report. It was the 20th week in a row that demand fell on that basis, Gamel said.
4th Gear: Automotive News is reporting the next-gen Saab 9-3 sedan may have a different name when (and if) it debuts in the first quarter of 2013, the automaker's North American president said Tuesday. "There's a chance we might move away from that," said Tim Colbeck, president of Saab Cars North America. Instead, the company may adopt a name for the 9-3's successor that draws from the brand's heritage, although no decisions about the name have been made, he said. Colbeck said the next-generation 9-3 is scheduled to go on sale in the first quarter of 2013 and will be an "edgy" reinterpretation of design cues used by the automaker in the past. He declined to be more specific. A successor to the Saab 9-2 produced in the late 1940s through the mid-1950s is also back on the drawing board after the Swedish automaker was able to secure a new round of funding from investors. "It wasn't in the business plan prior to the new investment, and now it is," Colbeck said, adding that CEO Victor Mueller and Jason Castriota, Saab's executive design director, are reviewing about five designs for a modern re-imagination of the 9-2.
5th Gear: This is the new Suzuki Swift Sport, a little hot (well, let's call it warm) hatch that will be officially revealed at next month's Frankfurt Motor Show. And you can forget about the current crop of turbocharged and big power-chasing hot hatches –- this Swift Sport uses a naturally aspirated engine good for just 134 hp — well below what we've seen from Minis and VXR Corsas. But... the conventionally aspirated 1586cc four-cylinder has been upgraded from the old Swift Sport's 123 hp at 6800 rpm, to 134 hp delivered at 6900rpm. And 109 lb-ft at 4800 rpm has become 118 lb-ft at 4400rpm. The 0-62 mph time will be eight-seconds-something, so although it's not fast, it certainly is, err, swift. Still, the six-speed manny and high-revving 1.6 will likely bring a smile to anyone's face. We think.
6th Gear: Over the last six decades, Formula One racing's impact on the silver screen has been surprisingly minimal. Aside from 1966 blockbuster Grand Prix and the recent Senna documentary, there have been very few serious attempts to capture the essence of F1 on celluloid for cinemagoers. But that's all about to change, thanks to a new project headed up by Hollywood director Ron Howard. Expected to tell the story of the thrilling title fight between Niki Lauda and James Hunt during the 1976 season, the film has been scripted by Frost/Nixon writer Peter Morgan. Speaking exclusively to Formula1.com, Howard discusses the forthcoming project here.
⏎ GM to halve vehicle platforms, build Cadillacs 'in volume' in China. [Detroit News]
⏎ Supermajority of NYC Likes Bike Lanes. [Observer]
⏎ Subaru XV teased ahead of Frankfurt Motor Show. [Motor Authority]
⏎ New SEAT Leon FR hot hatch. Sorry guys, we're not getting it. I mean, come on, we don't even have SEAT. [evo]
⏎ First sketches of Audi Urban Concept. [Car Magazine]
⏎ Opel to target premium segment as Chevrolet will be entry-level. [World Car Fans]
⏎ Astonishingly, car rental companies aren't required to repair recalled vehicles. [LA Times]
⏎ GM uncertain that US auto sales will hit forecast. [AP]
⏎ GM says 96% of its U.S. dealers have signed up to renovate stores. [Automotive News]
⏎ Did Amtrak Buy Bad Trains for the Northeast Corridor? [Infrastructurist]
⏎ Tragic Racer's BMW M1 Art Car Heads to Pebble Beach Auction. [New York Times]
⏎ Tesla names four new execs. Because they needed more staff. [Automotive News]
⏎ Obama car czar Bloom to step down end-August. [Reuters via CNBC]
⏎ So I hear there's going to be a re-make of the movie "Footloose." Unless it's got a tractor chicken fight with Kevin Bacon's stunt-double shifting a tractor, and the preacher's daughter going car-to-truck on a two-lane, I'm just not interested. [Hollywood Reporter]
Today in Automotive History:
On this day in 1978, three teenage girls die after their 1973 Ford Pinto is rammed from behind by a van and bursts into flames on an Indiana highway. The fatal crash was one of a series of Pinto accidents that caused a national scandal during the 1970s. [History]
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