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1st Gear: Volkswagen AG's Audi will roll out 13 new or upgraded models this year, including a revamped A6 sedan, Q3 compact sport-utility vehicle and the etron electric car and expand production in emerging markets as the luxury brand aims to topple Bayerische Motoren Werke AG as the largest premium-car maker. Aww, shoot, remember when the U.S. market was, you know, relevant to anything but image?


2nd Gear: Gas prices are expected to hit an average of $4.00 a gallon soon. Good. Does that sound counterintuitive? It shouldn't. We, as enthusiasts, want higher gas prices. It's good for us. It gets appliance drivers to make different choices — like living closer to work, carpooling and taking mass transit. All good things as they leave the roads open for people who actually want to be driving. You know, people like us. Here we are, 40 years after the oil embargo, and we still haven't figured out an economic engine powered by inefficient appliances running on a cartel's pricing of a fuel source predicated by their own political stability and profit desires might not be the smartest idea.


3rd Gear: In February, after a 16% slump, Goldman Sachs predicted a 32% jump in rubber prices. That expected fluctuation provided Bridgestone some good news and some bad news. The good news for Bridgestone? Citigroup's raised the stock's target price, bumping up trading on shares in Japan this morning by 3.1%. The bad news? It's because Bridgestone's has to boost prices of tires by over 7%. Wait, did we say bad news for Bridgestone? Sorry, we meant bad news for consumers. Still, looking on the bright side, it's better than the expected 15% jump in prices.


4th Gear: Why did the FT-86 II look like a SEMA wet dream when it appeared in its closer-to-production form at the Geneva Motor Show this past week? Apparently, driver feedback from early development tests led to the redesign, with the biggest change coming to the A-pillars, moved back by around 100mm at the base, resulting in a more upright windscreen. It also gets a remodeled ass, and LEDs up front like 2007's FT-HS concept. So driver feedback and a severe lack of taste.


5th Gear: Ten japanese companies plan to install electric vehicle chargers at the sites of beverage vending machines across Japan in a cost-cutting, cross-promotional tie-up. Because that's what everyone wants when they're buying a pop, being Coke-blocked by a kei car.


6th Gear: Bloomberg reports that Suzuki Motor Corp. Chairman Osamu Suzuki said that speaking to reporters in Tokyo, that the vast majority of cars will be fueled by gasoline in 2020 or 2030. Therefore it's incumbent for automakers to continue their focus on improving fuel efficiency of engines. Probably a safe bet.


⏎ New Jersey Motorsport Park has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Whatever will trackside vacation home owners do now to replace the smell of high octane and deafening sound? Oh, that's right, they didn't sell any. [Axis of Oversteer]


⏎ As expected last week, Toyota's aiming for a $12B profit by 2015, and they, like every other automaker, will place a focus on emerging markets. [Automotive News]

⏎ The Senate Commerce committee's chairman praised the hike in NHTSA's budget. We do too. Can we also simultaneously cut DOT head Ray LaHood's budget for his mouth? [Detroit News]

⏎ Can Tata outsmart Smart? [Automotive News]

⏎ GM plans a 2nd shift to crank out more Chevy Volts. [Detroit Free Press]

⏎ Audi hopes for a boost in sales to justify a new U.S. plant. [Detroit News]

⏎ Brian Johnson, an analyst at Barclays Capital, says GM may pay a dividend as early as 2012 after funding its pension. [Bloomberg (paywall)]


⏎ Apple app users compete virtually for real-life Audi A3. [New York Times]

⏎ Let's play "Where's Wert?" in yesterday's The Atlantic article on Gawker Media! [The Atlantic]

Today in Automotive History:

OOn March 9, 1985, the first-ever Adopt-a-Highway sign is erected on Texas's Highway 69. The highway was adopted by the Tyler Civitan Club, which committed to picking up trash along a designated two-mile stretch of the road. [History]


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