Road car news
Ferrari gains independence
Shares go on sale in £38bn fund-raising drive | by Andrew Frankel
Ferrari is to become an effectively independent company once more as it is spun off from its parent group FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automotive). It’s part of a strategy to raise £38 billion for the Italian-American giant to fund a five-year investment plan. FCA boss Sergio Marchionne’s long-term ambition is to create an organisation to rival the monster Volkswagen Group.
This means 10 per cent of Ferrari’s shares will become available to the general public, while the remainder will be offered to existing FCA shareholders, in part to avoid accusations of selling off the family silver.
Ferrari was an independent company from its inception in 1947 to the sale of a majority stake to Fiat in 1969, following a stalled bid by Ford to buy the company earlier in that decade. Now, and for the first time in its existence, Ferrari will be answerable not to a supervisory board of management, but directly to its shareholders.
But if the ramifications of the move are significant for Ferrari, they are many times more so for those brands left within the heavily indebted FCA group, including not just Fiat and Chrysler but Jeep, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. For Marchionne’s plan to work, revenues will have to double between now and the end of 2018 and production increase from the current 4.4 million units per year to 7 million.
Jeep is doing well and has spearheaded FCA’s recent return to profitability, but FCA’s plan also depends on smaller Italian brands with their potentially larger profit margins.
This means the forthcoming Maserati Levante SUV has to hit all its marks while the new Giulia mid-sized saloon, which is designed to return Alfa to America as a volume player, will need to set higher standards that any similar Alfa of recent or even distant memory.
Junior McLaren gets an ID
McLaren has put a name to its new junior supercar, due to be launched in the second quarter of next year. Hitherto known only as P13, the new range of cars will be called the McLaren Sport Series.
The first version of the new car will probably be a coupé and, like all McLaren’s road cars to date, be a mid-engined two-seater. Pitched below the current 650S and starting with prices believed to be in the region of £140,000, the Sports Series will provide McLaren with a direct rival to the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo, new Mercedes-AMG GT, Audi R8 and Aston Martin V12 Vantage S. It will be powered by the same 3.8-litre twin turbo already found in the 650S and P1 hypercar, but detuned to about 550bhp. This should still be enough to propel the Sports Series to close to 200mph and give it a 0-60mph time of less than 3.5sec.
If the Sports Series is to realise McLaren’s stated aim of selling about 5000 cars by the middle of this decade, it will need to be made in a number of different specifications, including a convertible roadster, a track-orientated ‘GT3’-style version and perhaps a more comprehensively equipped model to bridge the gap to the 650S, which now retails for almost £200,000. And McLaren would not be McLaren were some racing version not made available sooner rather than later.
New 250mph Lister
Hot on the heels of the successful sale of nine copies of the original ‘Knobbly’, Lister Cars has announced that it will launch a 1000bhp hypercar within the next three years to compete with the likes of Bugatti, Pagani and Koenigsegg.
The as-yet unnamed car is projected to have a top speed in excess of 250mph and cost in the region of £2 million.
The car exists only in sketch form but will use a supercharged 7.8-litre Jaguar V12. The engine will also come with new cylinder heads boasting twin overhead camshafts, a configuration Jaguar tried unsuccessfully for this engine in both road and racing applications. If the new Lister sees the light of day it will be available for both circuit and road work, although the company expects to sell as few as six units per year.
Of course, there is nothing new in Lister creating new cars around Jaguar mechanicals. Not only did Archie Scott Brown achieve his greatest successes in a pre-Knobbly Jaguar-powered Lister, but in the 1990s Lister returned to both road and track with the V12-powered Lister Storm, achieving both credibility and some success in both arenas.
Maybach back again
Undaunted by previous failures, Mercedes has relaunched the Maybach name, two years after its two vast Maybach limousines ceased production in the light of slow and slowing sales. This time, however, Maybach returns not as a marque in its own right, but as an ultra-luxury version of the already pretty opulent S-class limousine.
To turn an already long-wheelbase S-class into a Maybach requires even more air between the wheels to provide a super-spacious rear cabin, where special airline-style reclining seats will be included. Power comes from the 6-litre V12 twin-turbo motor already found in the S600 version of the S-class.
Sales of the new car are expected to begin in the new year and, at a price sure to top £150,000, will provide Mercedes with a direct rival for the likes of the Rolls-Royce Ghost and the Bentley Flying Spur. More variants are available in other countries, including both two- and four-wheel-drive versions of the S500, but there is no news of any sporting AMG models so far.
Extraordinarily, this is not the longest version of the S-class in Mercedes-Benz’s pipeline. Next year it will reveal the Pullman version with a further extension to its wheelbase to incorporate a third row of seats that will face rearward from the middle of the cabin and sit behind a divider separating passengers from the chauffeur.
The significance of Maybach’s rebirth is likely to stretch far beyond this single model. Mercedes has recently embarked on a rebranding strategy that divides Mercedes into three distinct sub-brands: Mercedes-Benz for core product, Mercedes-AMG for its entire range of sporting models and Mercedes-Maybach for its most luxurious offerings. It seems unlikely to have taken such a drastic move were the Maybach name not destined for many products beyond the one you see here.
Audi tweaks outgoing R8
Audi has started the run-out process for its massively successful R8. While the new car will be seen next year, for now 60 R8 ‘Competition’ models will be made available and are billed as the fastest R8s in the model’s history.
Featuring a new version of the 5.2-litre V10 engine with power raised by 20bhp to 562bhp, the most obvious modifications are visual and designed to link the road-going R8 to its long-serving racing cousin the R8 LMS. To that end it comes with a fixed rear spoiler, carbon-fibre diffuser, ceramic brakes and sports exhausts as standard. Sadly for interested parties in the UK and Europe, the R8 Competition will be for sale only in the US.
Cayenne range expands
Porsche has announced two new petrol-powered 3.6-litre V6 engines for its Cayenne SUV. Despite similar size and configuration, however, they are entirely unrelated. The more interesting engine is the new 434bhp motor for the forthcoming Cayenne GTS, which is now on sale for £72,523. Compared with the previous GTS it offers more power and torque and better fuel economy and CO2 as well as a 0-62mph time of just 5.1sec – a 0.5sec improvement.
If there is a downside to this, it is likely to be the one already observed in the very similar Cayenne S, which also forwent a 4.8-litre normally aspirated V8 in favour of the new forced-induction V6.
In the case of the S, for all the additional efficiency of the smaller engine it lost a great deal in terms of both sound quality and throttle response; Porsche will need to have worked miracles for the same criticisms not to apply to the Cayenne GTS.
Other modifications include lower and stiffer suspension, brakes from the Cayenne Turbo, a Turbo-look nose and GTS decals.
The second V6 petrol engine is a 300bhp unit, made available for the entry-level Cayenne that’s priced at £49,576. This is likely to prove inferior in every significant way to the scarcely more expensive Cayenne diesel, which offers better acceleration and fuel consumption. Audi supplies both these units to Porsche.