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Fiat 500 (Carlos Osorio/Carlos Osorio/AP)
Fiat 500 (Carlos Osorio/Carlos Osorio/AP)

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Fiat to set up separate dealer network in U.S. Add to ...

After lengthy court battles to close down many dealers in the U.S. as part of its bankruptcy proceedings last year, Chrysler's American arm announced this week that it plans to establish a new dealer network for Fiats.

The company identified 125 U.S. markets that would be friendly to a lineup heavy with small and fuel-efficient cars. But Chrysler Canada spokesperson Daniel Labre couldn't confirm that Canada would also receive a separate dealer network for the Italian brand.

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But he did say that there will be some similarities with the U.S. network in Canada. He noted that Chrysler Canada has always run itself as an independent entity, with combined Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealers throughout the country, even though many U.S. dealers only featured one or two makes.

Dealer applications will be going out soon to current Chrysler dealers, who will get first crack at the new dealerships based on sales volume, customer satisfaction history and the demonstrated "financial resources necessary to support the introduction of the Fiat brand," according to Chrysler, which hopes to have Fiat dealers in 41 states named by September. This will require setting up entirely new facilities, the company said, including a separate staff specifically for Fiat products.

Chrysler seems to be going in the opposite direction of its Detroit-based competitors that are chopping brands - with GM chopping or selling four brands last year (Pontiac, Hummer, Saab, and Saturn), and Ford finally euthanizing Mercury in the U.S. this year, after mercifully doing so years before in Canada. Ford is also in the process of selling Volvo to Chinese auto maker Zhejiang Geely, after unloading its luxury brands Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover in recent years.

Chrysler has transformed the Ram from a popular full-size pickup truck into a separate truck brand to add to its Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealers - and no, that truck is not called the Ram Ram now, just Ram 1500, Chrysler execs insist.

Now Chrysler plans to launch the Fiat brand into Canada with the subcompact 500 hatchback, now scheduled to be in dealers by February of next year, according to Labre, although Chrysler Canada had originally said it would arrive in December.

10 WEEKS TO SOUTH AFRICA

An ambitious media team from Germany completed a World Cup-themed drive from Hamburg to South Africa recently, crossing 18 countries - 15 of them in Africa - to arrive at their destination in Johannesburg 2 1/2 months after they departed.

It was all part of an extensive "Road to South Africa" joint project between Continental Tires, Kia and German magazine Sport Bild, a team of eight driving four new Kia Sorentos through Germany, France and Spain to cross into Morocco, then literally from one tip of Africa to the other.

Along the way, the team stopped to hand out soccer balls and treats to local children, meet various African football luminaries, plus visited and supported the community development projects that had been set up in Africa over the past 30 years by the project's German charity partner "A Heart for Children." All while crossing log bridges and some lands with little development, water or infrastructure.

"Over all that time and distance, we only had one flat, and that was over some pretty challenging terrain," said one German Continental executive, who had smartly flown to the World Cup, a flight that normally takes about 10 1/2 hours non-stop from Frankfurt to Johannesburg. "One of the toughest things was the local crossings: bridges and tolls that would cost a few dollars normally all of a sudden became requests for hundreds or more, after they saw our World Cup destination and all our gear."

The site www.road-to-south-africa.de which details the trek is in German, but it helpfully offers a link for English translations, and 10 other languages as well. Granted, the Google translations are far from perfect, but the photos and tales of being chased by herds of elephants are worth some mangled grammar.

VEYRON SUPER SPORT BREAKS SPEED RECORD

A higher-performance version of the Bugatti Veyron has recently broken the Guinness Book of World Records top speed record for a production car, travelling at a recorded average top speed of 431 km/h.

The Bugatti Veyron Super Sport features 1,200 hp, or about 200 more than the "regular," 16-cylinder, €1.2-million o supercar. The Veyron Super Sport is scheduled to go into production this fall, after its public debut at the Pebble Beach Concours in California in August.

The top speed run was performed at Volkswagen's proving ground oval just outside of Wolfsburg, and witnessed by Guiness and German Technical Inspection Agency (TÜV) representatives. Its fastest run clocked in at a mind-numbing 434.211 km/h, but then averaged out with another run in the opposite direction, to account for any help from the wind.

With an astonishing 1,106 lb-ft of torque, the Veyron Super Sport will be limited to a "mere" 415 km/h top speed when it goes into production, in order to save the tires, says the company. It will feature more aggressive looks courtesy of two NACA ducts in the roof and centrally mounted twin rear exhaust pipes, plus will upgrade its four turbos and suspension to more sporting heights.

Although not released by Bugatti yet, the Veyron Super Sport will also no doubt come with an upgraded price as well, surely adding on to the Veyron Grand Sport's €1.4-million tab, a car that was already the most expensive production car in the world. There goes another record.

LAND ROVER UNVEILS NEW EVOQUE

The Land Rover LRX concept will become the Range Rover Evoque, the British/Indian SUV maker's newest entry into the compact luxury segment, and it surprisingly looks set to arrive as a sport-utility with only two doors.

Although the concept also showcased this body style, usually this combination offers neither much utility nor sporting road manners. The company is calling the Evoque a coupe, and the smallest, lightest and most fuel-efficient Range Rover produced. Considering the burly and thirsty Range Rover and RR Sport models, this is not quite the highest bar to clear.

The Evoque is scheduled to go on sale in the fall of 2011 in North America, and will come to market as a smaller and sportier offering than Land Rover's LR2. Spy shots have appeared online of a five-door version, although the one official shot released by the company shows only three doors, if you count the rear tailgate as a door. No prices or fuel economy figures were released, but more answers on what exactly will arrive here next year will likely be available at the car's debut at the Paris auto show in September.

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