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1st Gear: Today's top story continues to be the disaster in Japan. The latest news we have is workers are battling to prevent a nuclear meltdown after a second hydrogen explosion rocked an atomic plant north of Tokyo. NHK TV reported minutes ago that at the Fukushima facility, "Reactor number two fuel rods may be completly exposed and no seawater injection has proven successful. This is a state of emergency." while officials said the death toll from the nation's strongest earthquake may top 10,000. Please donate, if you can, to the Japanese Red Cross.


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2nd Gear: The amazing photo of thousands of cars tossed about like toy cars in the wake of the tsunami — that we've re-run up top — were Nissan and Infiniti models. The cars — including nearly 1,300 Infiniti M, EX and FX models bound for north America — were parked at two coastal loading points when the giant waves swept through the Port of Hitachi in Ibaraki prefecture. Those cars are made at Nissan's Infiniti assembly plant in nearby Tochigi prefecture.


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3rd Gear: Japan's seven big automakers are extending nationwide production shutdowns amid growing concern about supply chain interruptions, power shortages and export difficulties following the massive earthquake and tsunami that hammered northern Japan. Toyota, one of the few automakers with a major manufacturing presence in the quake zone, suspended all manufacturing — at both assembly and parts plants — 12 in total — on Monday and extended the shutdown through at least Wednesday as an added precaution. See how badly infrastructure has been damaged in this amazing gallery. We've also included a few of the images below.


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4th Gear: GM exec Mike Ableson was among the hundreds of passengers aboard a Delta Airlines jet taxing for takeoff from Tokyo's Narita airport when the devastating earthquake struck Friday morning. The pilot immediately told them, "We are experiencing an earthquake," Mike Abelson's wife, Kathy, said. "But they couldn't take off because the tower had to be evacuated, and they couldn't go back to the terminal because it also was evacuated." In all, the passengers spent almost 20 hours on the airplane — six on the ground waiting for clearance to leave the devastated country — and then 14 in the air. But hey, at least they got out.


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5th Gear: Paris prosecutors say a Renault security agent has been arrested and accused of inventing claims of industrial espionage against the French carmaker. The prosecutors say preliminary charges for "organized fraud" have been filed against the Renault employee. The agent, whose name was not released, has been placed in detention pending further investigation. What are the ramifications? Apparently, it may even alter the structure of the Renault-Nissan alliance.


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6th Gear: After one of the biggest two-week jumps in gasoline prices on record, fuel economy has now rocketed to the top of buyers' minds. How do we know? First, two-thirds of shoppers are looking harder at smaller or more fuel-efficient rides than they were just a month ago, according to an Automotive News survey last week of more than 300 dealers. Second, February's U.S. sales numbers showed a modest shift from big, powerful vehicles to small cars and crossovers with small engines. Small cars hit their highest share of the U.S. market in a year at 15%. Pickups, on the other hand, fell to 13%, their lowest share in ten months.


Reverse:

⏎ "ENVIRONMENTALISTS are fiddling while Rome burns. They get in the way with silly stuff like asking people to walk more, drive less. Wind projects are a waste of time. And the reality is that electric cars today are coal-powered cars, because the USA and much of Europe have mostly coal-based electricity... It's useless crap." [Economist]

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⏎ Chrysler's updating the "Imported from Detroit" logo. Seriously. You can even buy the new re-worked logo on all sorts of stuff (to benefit charity) here. [Freep]

⏎ The driver of this weekend's bus crash in the Bronx that left 14 people dead wasn't drunk, but he was likely tired — given the way he was reportedly driving before the crash. [New York Times]

⏎ Tata's plan for the European market. [Autocar]

⏎ Duesenbergs sweep awards at Amelia Island Concours. [AutoWeek]

⏎ Here come the first Fiat 500s! [Autocar]

⏎ Volkswagen's Bulli is not the microbus America needs. [Motor Trend]


This image was lost some time after publication.

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A Japanese Air Self Defence Force plane pushed into a hangar by the tsunami at a base in Higashimatsushima in Miyagi prefecture on March 14. (AFP/Getty)

This image was lost some time after publication.

An "SOS" signal is written on the sports field of a high school in Minami Sanriku, Japan, March 13. (Kyodo/Reuters)

This image was lost some time after publication.

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A earthquake-damaged road is seen Sunday in Sendai, Japan.

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Natori, Japan, is shown on April 4, 2010, left, and after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, right. (GeoEye)

Today in Automotive History:

John "Jack" Mack, who co-founded what would become one of North America's largest makers of heavy-duty trucks, is killed when his car collides with a trolley in Pennsylvania on March 14, 1922. [History]

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