We hear: Juicy gossip from the CAR grapevine, CAR+ March 2016

Published: 17 February 2016

► The latest motoring-related tips and gossip
► Alfa Romeo comeback looks to be slowing
► Tesla-beating Apple car is taking shape

Bad news from Fiat Chrysler: the eagerly anticipated Alfa Romeo comeback is slowing, and looks set to fall behind schedule. Boss Sergio Marchionne is pragmatically prioritising riding the SUV wave – Jeep sales to rise 61% to 2 million by 2018 – while announcing a ‘reassessment of the Alfa Romeo product cadence’ and a cut in r&d spend. The impact? Sales of the mid-size SUV expected this year have slipped back to 2017 at the earliest, and a third, large SUV has entered the eight-vehicle plan, now tipped for completion in 2020. We shall see.

Marchionne’s thwarted efforts to forge an alliance with GM were well documented last year; not so talks between Turin and Wolfsburg about a comprehensive consolidation. Then-VW chairman Martin Winterkorn was interested, though key shareholders feared a merger too far. Then dieselgate rocked Wolfsburg to its foundations.

The Volkswagen research and development juggernaut is supposedly changing course to favour four vehicle lines: small; compact; mid-size/full-size/SUV; and battery electric vehicles. Each line gets its own supervising supremo, who must also observe the interests of Seat and Skoda, but not Audi. And the money-saving product rationalisation? Killing and burying the new Phaeton would save a billion euros straight off the bat. Other models under fire include the next CC four-door coupe, a CC shooting brake, plus new Beetle, Scirocco and Sharan. Some of these may yet make it, due to significant upfront investment.

And what of the Apple car? The $3 to $5bn project is expected to bear fruit in 2018. Analysts are no longer expecting a city car, but a Tesla-beater said to cover long distances and be fun to drive. Expect pioneering autonomous mobility backed by 5G internet, a variety of connectivity packages, and attractive lease deals not outright purchasing. The Apple car – like the iPad or Apple TV – is a Trojan horse which gives its maker access to the client’s time, attention, loyalty, commitment, social network and credit card account.

Read more from the March 2016 issue of CAR magazine