Five Thoughts about the Auto Industry for May 6, 2011

It appears as though my pining for top-down weather was premature, as we have been walloped by rain for the last 5 days straight.  Depressing, but productive from a writing perspective, and it has helped me keep my ear to the ground and find some interesting subjects for this week’s five thoughts about the auto industry.  Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting stories from the automotive biz over the past week.

1 – Canada Gets the BMW X1, the United States Does Not

BMW has a history of providing the Canadian market with products that it doesn’t think justify a full American release campaign, whether due to limited appeal or other, more esoteric reasons.  Surprisingly, the BMW X1 is one of them.

As I related in my story this week, the unexpected success of the BMW X3 compact crossover and short supply of the smaller BMW X1 due to global demand will be keeping the pint-sized sports-activity vehicle out of the U.S. market until the end of 2012.  In a strange turn of events, however, the X1 will hit Canadian showrooms as planned, with models available later this year.

Obviously, the smaller northern driving population won’t be putting nearly as much strain on already-taxed supplies of the BMW crossover, but this type of North American selective pollination strategy hasn’t been seen since the 1990’s on the part of the German automaker.  Does this mean cross-border vehicle shopping will surge in the other direction for a change, or will BMW USA dealers put a kibosh on Canadian X1 imports by refusing to honor warranty claims?  It wouldn’t be the first time a manufacturer has attempted to control a staggered product release through the threat of voided guarantees and service embargos.

2 – Cadillac ATS-V Could Offer Twin-Turbo V-6 Power

GM performance prognostications don’t always turn out as expected, but Car and Driver are fairly confident that the upcoming Cadillac ATS sedan won’t snare the supercharged V-8 from the larger CTS-V but instead employ a turbocharged V-6 engine when it gains its own V performance variant.  Their reasoning is logical: why risk carving into CTS-V sales when a milder twin-turbo V-6 producing around 380 horsepower would make the car an effective BMW M3 fighter?  Not only would it better differentiate the two similarly-styled Cadillac products, but a V-6 ATS-V would give the new luxury model its own distinct personality.

As the owner of a first-gen CTS-V, I am personally looking forward to Cadillac once again expanding the V lineup.  The 400 horsepower range seems perfect in my mind for a daily driver with an attitude.  Anything more would seem to be overcoming weight gain (as with the currently spectacular, although heavy CTS-V), and anything less doesn’t offer enough oomph to really blow my hair back in a premium sedan.  Add in the tuning potential of a turbocharged platform, and Cadillac could be looking at a real winner with the ATS-V.

3 – The Audi R4 Is No More

Is it melancholy to lament the passing of a car that never made it to production?  The Audi R4 roadster, which was for all intents and purposes a baby R8, has seen its dreams of production quashed by the German brand.  The reasoning echoes the same refrain that was repeated again and again during the entire buildup to the R4’s short time on the public eye: think of the Boxster!  Ultimately, the fear of cannibalizing Porsche Boxster sales with a sexy Audi two-seat convertible was too much for VW Group, which also cancelled the proposed Volkswagen Bluesport roadster at the same time.

I would have loved to have seen Audi build this stunningly gorgeous and reasonably affordable performance car, and I don’t think I am alone.  One thing is certain – competitor BMW doesn’t have to worry about protecting established nameplates as it continues its aggressive campaign of model expansion.  Food for thought, VW Group.

4 – Jaguar Will Build the C-X75

It’s been 20 years since the last Jaguar supercar – the drama-ridden XJ220 – tore up the tarmac and briefly enjoyed the title of fastest production automobile.  It looks as though Jaguar is going to be testing the exotic sports car waters once again with the announcement that the Jaguar C-X75, which was shown at the 2010 Paris Motor Show in concept form, will actually be offered for public sale.  The hybrid supercar will be built in conjunction with Williams F1 and should make for an entertaining million-dollar entry into a sector of the market dominated by gearheads who have tired of mega-yachts and instead want to try their hand at saving the planet, a quarter-mile at a time.  I will forever be grateful that there exists enough disposable income on the planet to generate demand for these stunning vehicles.

5 – Another Sad Farewell:  RIP Cadillac STS

While the Audi R4 never got a chance to warm out hearts out on the open road, the Cadillac STS has enjoyed decades of providing various vehicular pleasures under a variety of different names, stretching back to the original Seville.  The most recent version of the Cadillac STS, which debuted in 2005, saw its last example leave the Lansing Grand River facility this week, putting an end to the large rear-wheel drive platform’s existence and paving the way for the upcoming Cadillac XTS.

I have always been fond of the STS sedan’s styling, and almost purchased one myself several years ago before ending up with a Lincoln Mark VIII coupe instead.  If the Cadillac had bee rear-wheel drive – as it is now – that buying decision might have swung in the other direction.  I will miss the STS and what it represented to me in the 1990s as one of the few dynamically interesting domestic sedans.

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