Racing Around London, Cadillac Bulks Up Volt, And Introducing Neutral

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This is the Morning Shift, our one-stop daily roundup of all the auto news that's actually important — all in one place at 9:00 AM. Or, you could spend all day waiting for other sites to parcel it out to you one story at a time. Isn't your time more important?


1st Gear: Bernie Ecclestone Offers To Pay For A London Grand Prix
The Guardian reports that Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone will announce tonight that he wants to hold a three-mile race around London and is willing to foot the bill. The move comes as governments all over the world are getting in line to buy the rights to stage an F1 race, which could cost up to $46 million per event. The plans, which were first reported by the Times of London (sub. required), predict as many as 120,000 people would watch the race from stands around London, and the event could generate as much as $150 million for the London economy.

The announcement of the London Grand Prix may shift the spotlight away from bribery charges that were leveled Wednesday at Ecclestone. Bloomberg says a German banker was found guilty of accepting bribes from Ecclestone in connection with the sale of an F1 stake. Ecclestone, who was not on trial in the case, has admitted he made payments, although not as much as prosecutors said he paid.


2nd Gear: Please, Chrysler, May We Have Some More?
The Wall Street Journal (sub. required) reports Fiat plans to buy more shares in Chrysler as soon as next week, increasing its stake in the company to 61.9 percent. The shares would come from the United Auto Workers' retiree heath care trust. Fiat has an option to buy a 3.3 percent stake from the trust, which it can exercise beginning July 1.

It isn't known how much the stake would go for, but the Journal thinks it could be $250 million to $300 million. The purchase of the stake reduces the chances that Fiat would do a Chrysler initial public offering any time soon, the paper says. And in a way, that would give Sergio Marchionne cover to put the Italian and American companies together without all those pesky disclosure rules he'd face if Chrysler went public.



3rd Gear: How Cadillac Will Electrify The Volt
Car and Driver says it has more details on how General Motors plans to transform the Chevrolet Volt into the Cadillac ELR. (You might remember a concept was shown at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show as the Cadillac Converj.) First, the car will get more sound-deadening materials to make Volt properly Cadillac quiet, and active engine mounts could be employed to tame gas-engine vibrations. GM also is considering other measures, such as better hood sealing, and a coating on the firewall. Of course, the Caddy Volt will be dressed up with luxury accessories. All that, however, will add weight to the 3,766-pound Volt. That means it will need more power, which Car and Driver says will come by swapping the Volt's 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine for a gas version of the Opel-developed Ecotec MGE.


4th Gear: Why We Shouldn't Expect A Car Sales Boom
I took a look for Forbes at a new report from Alix Partners, the big auto industry consulting firm, which warns that the automakers shouldn't expect a sales boom during the next few years. While sales will rise, Alix Partners thinks they'll wind up at around 16 million vehicles in 2015, which would be a million and a half sales fewer than the industry's record in 2000. It sees three reasons why sales won't pick up more. First, it blames "Generation Neutral" for its lack of interest in cars — both teens who are putting off getting their licenses, and their older siblings who are taking the bus, riding bikes and walking to work.

Second, it says the pent-up demand that the car companies talk about might not exist. The big financing frenzy of the early to mid '00s pulled 18 million more people into the market earlier than they might otherwise have bought cars. Third, the recession has robbed the car companies of 5 million people that might be car shopping right now (the figure represents people who have lost their jobs since 2007). It probably doesn't help that cars are holding up much longer than in the past, either.



5th Gear: The Fleet Just Keeps Getting Older And Older
Speaking of aging cars, CNBC reports that the average age of a car on the road during the first quarter hit a record 11 years. That's up two months from the average age of a car at this time last year. And, there are now more than 52 million cars on the road that are 16 years old or older. The figures come from an Experion Automotive survey, which also looked at the brands with the most vehicles still on the road. The leader is Ford, followed by Chevrolet, Toyota and Honda. The Ford F-series is the leader among individual models, with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Chevy Silverado close behind.


6th Gear: A Bridge That Just Can't Get Any Love
The New York Times reports that nobody's happy about plans to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge, which spans the Hudson River north of New York City. It's never been very popular — even its own engineers called it "one of the ugliest bridges in the East." Now, a long-delayed proposal to replace the Tappan Zee is drawing criticism from all sides. Environmentalists say it would be the biggest dredging project ever; tolls are likely to skyrocket; it isn't clear how the bridge will be paid for; and the current plans don't have any provision for mass transit, although there is a provision for bus lanes as well as one for cyclists and runners. But New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, sounding a lot like Michigan's Rick Snyder, vows, "I will prevail in the end."


Fiat Opens China Plant To Build The Viaggio [Reuters]

Pikes Peak Is Officially Postponed, New Date TBD [US Racing]

Ten Ways Toyota Is Topping Ford [Fortune]

New Car Prices Starting To Fall As Inventories Grow [Associated Press]

Tripping On Subway Steps Is Totally Normal [New York Magazine]

Consumer Reports Hates The Scion iQ [Los Angeles Times]


Today we're introducing a new gear: Neutral. In keeping with our new discussion system, here's a place for you to own the floor. We'll be asking each day what you think about an issue that comes up in TMS.


In our inaugural edition, we'll start with Generation Neutral. What's it going to mean to the auto industry that teens aren't getting their licenses, and their brothers and sisters have no interest in buying cars? How can they be convinced otherwise?


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