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The two-seat 4C will be launched in Europe later this year.

Alfa Romeo

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has threatened to move planned production of upcoming Alfa Romeo models out of Italy, in his usual blunt way, expressing frustration at work laws and legal wrangling after an court ruled that portions of the country's labour laws were unconstitutional.

"The relaunch of Alfa Romeo will continue for sure," Marchionne told Bloomberg recently in Turin. "Italy should decide if they want it to happen here or not, as Fiat and Chrysler have several alternatives."

Marchionne and Fiat have put planned investments into its Italian plants on hold after the decision came down in early July, while Marchionne lobbies Prime Minister Enrico Letta's government to adopt reforms that help manufacturers with clearer work rules.

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The report said Fiat is planning to develop and produce eight Alfa Romeo models and six Maserati models in Italy, supported by investments of more than €2-billion ($2.7-billion) in Italian factories that are under-utilized.

The Alfa Romeo product renaissance will start later this year, when the two-seat 4C will be launched in Europe, a mid-engine Porsche Boxster competitor that has been lauded for its beauty at various auto shows, and made its dynamic debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this past weekend.

Production plans for both the lightweight 4C two-seater and Maserati Ghibli mid-size sport sedan are both confirmed to start later this year in Italy, but the ruling and Fiat declaration place the future of 11 models by the two upscale Fiat brands into question. The Maserati Levante SUV and the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan are scheduled to start production in Italy by 2016, but Marchionne said "clear and reliable rules" are needed first.

Marchionne may be able to update Canadian reporters in mid-February on Alfa Romeo's production plans as well as when the brand will be available in Canada, as he will be the keynote speaker at the opening of the 2014 Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto. In the United States, the Alfa Romeo 4C will reportedly be sold out of Fiat dealerships, with company reps confirming that Alfa will eventually sell mid-size and full-size sedans in North America.

Consumer Reports tests effect of speed on fuel use

Even using relatively fuel-efficient four-cylinder models, the difference between conservative driving and "keeping up with traffic" could be as high as 32 per cent, Consumer Reports testing has found.

A recent test by the magazine examined a four-cylinder Honda Accord, Toyota RAV4 and three versions of the Ford Fusion at three different speeds – 55 mph (88 km/h), 65 mph (105 km/h) and 75 mph (121 km/h) – to calculate how much extra fuel was burned the faster a vehicle travels.

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The increases in fuel consumption ranged from 27 per cent (in the Fusion Hybrid, Fusion 1.6 and RAV4) to 32 per cent in the Fusion Titanium with the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. The Accord LX saw an increase of 29 per cent.

The Fusion 2.0 that saw the largest discrepancy achieved 41 miles per gallon (5.7 litres/100 km) at a snail-like 55 mph, or just under its Canadian highway fuel consumption rating of 5.9. But at closer to 75 mph, the efficiency dropped to 28 mpg, or 8.4 L/100 km. On a 322-km journey, this will cost you about 7-1/2 litres of extra fuel, or approximately $9.75 if you're paying $1.30/litre for fuel.

Good to keep in mind when setting the cruise on those long summer road trips.

Also interesting to note that a regular internal combustion engine in the Fusion provided the largest observed difference in fuel economy; Ford has faced lawsuits in the United States in the past year for deceptive marketing for overly optimistic Fusion Hybrid and C-Max Hybrid fuel consumption figures.

Rally highlights EV versatility

A Canadian couple in a Tesla Model S, Randy and Cheryl Taylor, were the only Canadians participating in the BC2BC, a long-distance, pure electric car rally. The couple also scored a meeting with Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and JB Straubel, the company's chief technical officer, who signed their car.

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The rally ran from the British Columbia border to Baja, Calif. – thus the BC2BC 2013 moniker – starting on June 29 and ending on July 7, and included various Teslas, Leafs, a Toyota RAV4 EV, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and a long-distance modified Zero motorcycle.

The annual rally, meant to highlight that pure electric vehicles could easily cover long distances with the right fast-charging facilities in place, comes at a time of growing investment in such facilities, at least in the United States.

Along with Tesla's Supercharger network, which is scheduled to include expansion into Canada by the end of the year, Nissan announced last week that it plans to add 100 DC quick chargers at dealers across the United States by April 1, 2014, to add to the 24 west coast Nissan dealers that already offer the quick chargers, which can provide an 80 per cent charge in about 30 minutes from empty.

These DC quick chargers are seen as prime motivators for Leaf sales by Nissan in the United States as it allows for easier long-distance driving than the more common Level II chargers that are popping up all over the country, but which still require hours for a full charge of any battery electric vehicle. Unfortunately, no similar plans have been announced by Nissan Canada, but with every such announcement by Nissan USA – and there have been several – the corporate silence on this side of the border becomes increasingly deafening.

This could be a good question to put to Nissan reps at the EV Day gathering planned at Yonge and Dundas Square in downtown Toronto on July 18. From 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Toronto's version of Times Square will host displays on the differences and environmental and cost benefits of plugging in for fuel.

Eight plug-in cars will be available for test drives, including three from Ford (Fusion and C-Max Energi, and Focus Electric), the Toyota Prius Plug-In, Chevrolet Volt, Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Smart fortwo Electric Drive.

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