Fiat Chrysler Scion John Elkann Enlists Renault To Drive Family Fortunes

Fiat Chrysler scion John Elkann enlists Renault to drive family fortunes

MILAN, Italy — When John Elkann lost his ally last year with the sudden death of Sergio Marchionne, some questioned whether the softly-spoken scion of the Agnelli clan would be able to emerge from his shadow to ensure Fiat Chrysler's future. But New York-born Elkann, who became Fiat chairman in 2010, acted decisively to fill the vacuum left by the larger-than-life Marchionne and get closer to the big merger deal the legendary executive was unable to deliver. At just 28, Elkann was thrust into the role of Fiat vice chairman after the deaths of his grandfather and great-uncle "because there was really nobody else" to take the wheel. For Elkann, who got his first taste of the car industry as an intern at a factory producing headlights in Birmingham, England, the first 18 months with responsibility for the family-owned carmaker and its long heritage were "terrible." But from that low point, Elkann, 43, is now trying to merge Fiat Chrysler (FCA) with French rival Renault to form the world's third largest carmaker and tackle new challenges facing the industry. Elkann will become chairman of the merged FCA-Renault if the deal goes ahead, ensuring the Agnelli dynasty plays a central role in the next chapter of automotive history. At an event in Milan on Monday, the usually-shy Elkann looked happy and confident. His first big break came with an instrumental role in persuading Marchionne, who was running one of the businesses owned by the Agnelli family, to become chief executive in 2004 and give Fiat "a new start," Elkann said in a "Masters of Scale" podcast last year. Fiat was at the time almost on the brink of collapse. This involved a "very long night ... and many grappas" but proved to be a turning point in the fortunes of the Italian company founded by Elkann's great-great-grandfather Giovanni Agnelli, which built its first car in 1899. In 2005, Elkann backed Marchionne in negotiating the breakup of an alliance Fiat had entered into with General Motors in 2000, receiving $2 billion from GM in return for canceling a deal that could have required GM to buy the remainder of Fiat Auto. Marchionne then used GM's money to fund a turnaround at Fiat, which involved taking the Italian carmaker into a transformation alliance and then full-blown merger with U.S. automaker Chrysler as Elkann agreed to the Agnellis loosening their grip. If Elkann can deliver a deal with Renault — which will net the Agnellis about 725 million euros ($811 million) in a dividend payout — it will be partly thanks to his pick of new CEO. Michael Manley was probably was not the obvious choice, but the transition to the post-Marchionne era has been smooth with no tensions or rivalries within the family or the FCA group. The focus has been very much on the future as FCA, like its rivals, grapples with the challenges posed for the car making industry by fast-changing technology and regulation.

Nothing's impossible

Elkann, who is also Chairman and CEO of the Agnelli holding company EXOR, appears to be taking a leaf out of his great-great-grandfather's book. "We must always look to the future. Foresee the future of new inventions. Be unafraid of the new. Delete from our vocabulary the word 'impossible'," Elkann quotes the Fiat founder's mantra as being. Elkann, whose French is better than his Italian, spent seven years at a lycee in France before studying Engineering at Politecnico, the Engineering University of Turin. He has often been portrayed more as a financier who has moved key elements of Fiat away from Italy. His efforts to keep Fiat on the road, however, have not been rewarded with the popularity his grandfather, known as "L'Avvocato," enjoyed even though he has maintained the family's involvement with soccer club Juventus and chairs the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation. Elkann has transformed EXOR's portfolio during his time in the driving seat of the family empire. He diversified into insurance — winning a bitter $6.9 billion takeover battle for Bermuda reinsurer PartnerRe in 2015 — and into media assets through The Economist magazine. Elkann, an admirer of Warren Buffett, also listed Juventus on the stock exchange, turning a hobby of Elkann's grandfather into a serious business. During his watch, Fiat has also spun off Ferrari and truckmaker CHNI, in line with his philosophy that companies need to adapt to survive in the long-run. EXOR is still the top shareholder in both companies. After all these changes, Elkann is now at the top of a family empire less exposed to the cyclical and rapidly-changing auto industry yet with a potentially key role, with a stake of just below 15 percent, in a leading global carmaker. This will mean Elkann has delivered on his promise of upholding the Agnelli family's pledge to the auto industry, which still employs thousands of workers in Italy, while at the same time bringing taking FCA onto a new stage. And if he can keep to FCA's pledge not to shut plants, Elkann might yet become an Italian legend like his forebears.

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus Second Drive Review | Riding The Extended Range

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus Second Drive Review | Riding the extended range

An electric vehicle has an appeal you can only understand once you've owned one. Sure, you might feel good about going green, analyzing every environmental consideration like our Alex Kierstein did recently. But there's a less noble, more immediately tangible reason to buy an EV — it really brings out one's inner cheapskate.

There is nothing sweeter than passing up the gas station where you used to throw away a $50 bill every week. Before purchasing a 2013 Nissan Leaf to serve my 35-mile daily commute, I had never imagined how satisfying it would be to whoosh past the pumps. Stuck in Seattle traffic, surrounded by gasoline-powered cars wastefully idling, my only energy loss was from the radio. There was political smugness: It felt kinda great to stick it to Big Oil. Don't have to stop, buy gas, fill up, change oil — don't have to do anything except remember to plug the car in at night.

Honda Roav Concept First Drive Review | Desert Beast With A Heart Of Gold

Honda ROAV Concept First Drive Review | Desert beast with a heart of gold

CANTIL, Calif. — Honda is not a brand known for its offroad abilities. During the 1990s SUV craze, it borrowed from Isuzu. Even when Honda finally built a pickup, it stubbornly refused to go body-on-frame. Rock crawlers and overlanders aren't fleeing their Toyotas and Jeeps for Passports and Pilots. However, Honda is a brand known for fun, and sometimes it creates wacky concepts just for the hell of it.

The Honda Rugged Open-Air Vehicle is just such a concept, but it differs from the company's traditional concepts in a couple of ways. Honda's idea of "fun" is typically non-threatening and Disney-fied — think cute ASIMO robot, family-friendly ads, or its refusal to acknowledge its legions of tuner speed freaks. Even as it builds Type Rs, it wants to be seen as a responsible corporate citizen. Nor was the ROAV built to rotate on a giant lazy Susan on an auto show floor, like most concept cars.

2020 Lexus Rc F Track Edition First Drive Review | Not The Hardcore Machine We Deserve

2020 Lexus RC F Track Edition First Drive Review | Not the hardcore machine we deserve

THERMAL, Calif. — It's been more than 10 years since Lexus launched its high-performance F models. Ten years. After a full decade you'd think Toyota's luxury division would have it figured out by now, but the 2020 Lexus RC F Track Edition isn't the hardcore machine we were hoping for.

Maybe our expectations were too high. We saw its lackluster specs at the Detroit Auto Show in January, but you just never know until you get behind the wheel. And while there's a lot to like here — this is the most powerful and track-capable Lexus since the LFA supercar was launched in 2011 — it's quickly apparent that Lexus' engineers were held back from making the RC F Track Edition what they wanted to make.

2019 Toyota Camry Review And Buying Guide | A Well-rounded Must-drive

2019 Toyota Camry Review and Buying Guide | A well-rounded must-drive

The 2019 Toyota Camry is a striking-looking family sedan in a narrowing, but still extremely competitive segment. The car is an excellent all-around vehicle that is near the top of the segment with a comfortable ride, spacious cabin and excellent engines, including one of the only V6 engines available in the class and a hybrid model that boasts superior fuel economy without any significant drawbacks. It's also more responsive to drive than past Camry generations, meaning those seeking a more dynamic driving experience should no longer write it off.

What's new for 2019?

Since the Camry was completely redesigned for 2018, the 2019 model is largely unchanged. A new color, Supersonic Red, has been added, while Blue Crush Metallic is no longer offered. Apple CarPlay is also now standard on all models. The XSE and XLE four-cylinder models now get the larger eight-inch touchscreen and a three-month trial of Sirius XM satellite radio. On the XSE and XLE V6 models, the Driver Assist Package adds a clearance sensor and rear automatic emergency braking.

2019 Nissan Murano Second Drive Review | Crossover Maximus

2019 Nissan Murano Second Drive Review | Crossover Maximus

The Nissan Murano was an early entrant into what is now a sprawling universe of midsize crossovers, first appearing as a 2003 model. Against a rising tide of fellow two-row midsizers such as the Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorrento, and Subaru Outback, the Murano has attempted to retreat to more luxurious ground. The vehicle's most recent full redesign in 2015 saw it adopt a much more stylized exterior and more upscale interior. And now, four years on, the 2019 Murano gets a mild update.

From the outside, the Murano gets restyled LED headlamps and taillights, new LED fog lights, a black-painted front bumper section that visually heightens the grille, and redesigned 18- and 20-inch wheels. Inside, the top-spec Platinum model gets fancier with diamond-stitch patterned, semi-aniline leather, and all models up the airbag count with side airbags for the rear seat and knee airbags for the front passenger. Additionally, Nissan's rear door alert is now standard (if a rear door is opened before a trip but not reopened afterward, the system honks the horn to remind the driver to check the rear seat). The available navigation system features enhanced graphics including satellite imagery and adds traffic-sign recognition and online POI search capability.

2019 Nissan Altima-te Awd: What It's Like To Drive An Altima On Tracks

2019 Nissan Altima-TE AWD: What it's like to drive an Altima on tracks

MONT-TREMBLANT, Quebec — All-wheel drive comes to the Nissan Altima with the model's 2019 redesign, and while that's big news for the U.S. market, it's an even bigger deal in the Great White North, where all Altimas are so equipped. To herald the news, Nissan had built what it calls the Altima-TE, an AWD Altima outfitted with snow tracks, and we recently had a chance to drive it. "Altimate" ... get it?

The tracks are 30 inches tall, and although the car's standard suspension travel is retained, the tracks necessitated raising the ride height by three inches. It's not unlike the Nissan "370Zki" we drove in February of last year, in concept if not execution. The result is a big climb up to get in, but once inside, the interior is standard Altima. The powertrain is unmodified, which means even this AWD Altima sends 100 percent of its torque to the front wheels — er, tracks — unless it detects slippage (which seems unlikely in this application).

2020 Subaru Wrx Sti S209 Prototype First Drive Review | The Best Is Just For Us

2020 Subaru WRX STI S209 Prototype First Drive Review | The best is just for us

We're about 70 miles southwest of Tokyo on the grounds of Fuji International Speedway. Yoshihide Yano puts his hand on the camouflaged carbon fiber roof of the 2020 Subaru WRX STI S209 prototype we're about to drive and smiles. "This will never make a business case," says the assistant manager of Subaru's North America Business Planning Department. "We don't want to make more than 250. The more we make, the more money we lose."

From the wince of his co-workers, Yano is clearly off the script, but his statement isn't a huge surprise. Building the STI S209 is complicated and time-consuming, with most of its extensive engine, suspension and aerodynamic modifications being installed by hand at STI's small off-site headquarters just outside Toyko. Founded in 1988, Subaru Technica International is the automaker's motorsports division and employs only 120 people. It can produce just two cars a day.

2019 Honda Talon 1000r And 1000x First Drive Review | Budget Baja Blasters

2019 Honda Talon 1000R and 1000X First Drive Review | Budget Baja blasters

ST. GEORGE, Utah — Apologies to the talented Honda Powersports design team, but the Honda Talon 1000X and 1000R are — like most side-by-side ATVs — homely contraptions by enthusiast car standards. They look chunky and top-heavy. Plastic bodywork covers plastic fittings inside. The inline two-cylinder engine thuds and whines, sounding a bit like a generator crossed with a moped. They aren't elegant devices, with none of the passion or emotion that radiates out of two-wheeled enthusiast machines like, say, a Triumph Bonneville.

Notice that I haven't said a whit yet about how the Talon twins move, because the first time I barreled into a whoop the size of a foothill at 45 mph and braced for a violent impact that never came, I started scheming, doing some desperate and feverish math. Could I sell my old, tired 4x4 pickup and pull one of these on a trailer with my Subaru track car? Use a Talon as intended, and you have too much fun to sweat the rough edges.