Fiat will take stake in Chrysler

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Fiat might be throwing Chrysler a lifeline.

Fiat SpA and Chrysler LLC on Tuesday confirmed the Italian auto maker will take at least a 35% stake in Chrysler as part of a deal to share technology and bring small cars developed by Fiat to the U.S.

The move is an attempt to revive two of the world’s storied auto makers and is likely to eventually give Fiat control of Chrysler’s operations, people familiar with the matter said. Under terms of the deal, Fiat has the option of increasing that to as much as 55%, these people said.

Fiat, the stronger of the two car makers, wouldn’t immediately put cash into Chrysler. Instead, it would obtain its stake mainly in exchange for covering the cost of retooling a Chrysler plant to produce one or more Fiat models to be sold in the U.S., these people said. Fiat would also provide engine and transmission technology to help Chrysler introduce new, fuel-efficient small cars.

The deal is the latest maneuver by Fiat’s chief, Sergio Marchionne, who has pulled the Italian company back from the brink collapse since taking over in 2004.

This might be a great combination. We’ll see how it plays out.

Tesla update

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Tesla has been in the news quite a bit as CEO Elon Musk tries to address all the turmoil at the company. John Calacanis is a proud owner of a Tesla Roadster, and he jus published a letter Musk has sent to Tesla owners.

As mentioned in a prior update, we delivered our 100th Roadster last month. Since then, we have delivered over 60 more cars to customers and will continue delivering cars at a rate of 15 per week (excluding holidays), rising to 30 per week in the spring. By the end of 2009, we will have delivered over 1,300 Roadsters in the United States and Europe.

Tesla is in the fortunate position of being sold out through October this year and we continue to add new sales each month, despite the negative economic climate. As a result, we expect to turn the corner on profitability by the middle of 2009, shortly after we reach our target of 30 per week production rate for the Roadster.

Due to our order backlog, it seems that owning a Roadster can be a smart investment. In November, well after the markets crashed, a Roadster was sold at the Happy Hearts Fund auction in New York City for $160,000. The first buyer then donated the car back to the charity and they resold it that same night for $150,000. Many Roadster owners that have taken delivery of their cars have already decided to purchase a second Roadster or Roadster Sport because they like the first one so much. And the Roadster has become the car to own for environmentally conscious celebrities, business leaders, and even royals.

Looks like things are stable at the company. Musk also addresses a partnership with Daimler to produce an all-electric version of the Smart Car. Good stuff.

Redesigned Ford Taurus a big hit at Detroit Auto Show

When he arrived at Ford several years ago, new CEO Alan Mulally decided it was crazy for Ford to abandon the once-popular “Taurus” brand. He decided quickly to rename the lackluster Ford 500 and bring back the Taurus name.

Now the new Taurus has been introduced at the Detroit Auto Show, and the readers of The Detroit News have chosen the Taurus as “Best of Show” at the auto show. The car looks sweet, and it could provide a great shot in the arm for the struggling American auto industry.

Hydraulic hybrids?

Get ready for more and more innovation as we ramp up efforts to move beyond the simple gasoline engine. UPS will begin testing new hydraulic hybrid trucks using technology developed by Eaton Corporation and promoted by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hydraulic hybrid systems are time-tested technology in the world of heavy equipment like farm tractors and bulldozers. Now the technology is making its way into delivery and garbage trucks as well – and smaller vehicles could be down the road.

Eaton Corp. is one company moving into the field. Starting next year, UPS trucks using Eaton’s new series hydraulic hybrid system will hit the road in Minneapolis – two in early 2009, and seven total by 2010.

Hydraulic hybrid systems use pressurized fluid, instead of electricity, to power vehicles. Both types of hybrids cut down on fuel use by shutting down engines at times to use their alternative power source to move the vehicle.

But hydraulic hybrids are particularly good candidates for trucks, buses and other vehicles that start and stop a lot, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has been testing them for years.

Hydraulic hybrids can capture about 70 percent of the kinetic energy from their regenerative braking systems in their high-pressure hydraulic accumulators – the systems that store and release hydraulic energy. That’s better than electric hybrids, which can capture about 25 percent of that energy in batteries now available, the director of EPA’s National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory said.

It will be interesting to see how quickly this technology can be implemented by the government and the private sector if these tests produce positive results.

Cadillac Converj concept car

BusinessWeek is reporting from the Detroit Auto Show that Cadillac is introducing a new concept car – an upscale plug-in hybrid called the Cadillac Converj. As you can see from the photo, this vehicle looks sweet. BusinessWeek is calling it “the Volt’s seductive sibling.”

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