TIME Autos

BMW’s Latest Is a Drop-Dead Stunner With a Huge Surprise

BMW i8
BMW i8 UWE FISCHER/BMW

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

BMW’s new $135,000 i8 sports car, which will begin appearing on the streets of Beverly Hills and Greenwich in a few weeks, defies easy categorization. It is fast. It is light. It is exceptionally fuel-efficient and eye-catching.

Think of i8 as a Porsche Carrera behaving from time to time like a Toyota Prius or Nissan Leaf.

As stunning and original as the i8 is from an automotive engineering standpoint, it represents an important philosophical statement for the German automaker, known until now for powerful, sporty machines more than environmental righteousness. Tougher regulations regarding carbon emissions threaten BMW and other makers of high-performing models unless they can develop and master advanced energy-efficient technologies, such as those embodied in i8.

One such breakthrough technology exemplified in the i8, as well as for BMW’s smaller, less expensive i3 city car, is extensive use of carbon fiber instead of steel. The cockpits of both cars are fabricated from the material, which has never before been used for the mass manufacture of a high-volume vehicle due to prohibitive cost and complication.

“What makes carbon fiber feasible for these new models is the way in which we have learned to manufacture the substance so that the process can be more highly automated, quicker and less wasteful,” said Andreas Wuellner, managing director of SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC, in Moses Lake, Washington.

MORE: Tesla’s big gamble in China

SGL, a joint venture partner with BMW, on Friday announced a new $200 million investment to triple the capacity of its Moses Lake factory, making it the largest such installation in the world. The location of the plant was chosen, in part, because the electricity could be furnished by hydroelectric generators, which produce little or no carbon dioxide compared to fossil-fuel plants

The gas-electric plug-in hybrid i8, weighing 3,274 pounds (about 1,000 pounds less than an aluminum-bodied Tesla Model S electric), can accelerate to 60 miles per hour from 0 in about 4.4 seconds. Though the U.S. federal fuel efficiency rating hasn’t yet been released, BMW engineers calculate it will be about 90 miles per gallon.

i8 can be driven in five different modes, each of which optimizes some combination of range, power, fuel efficiency or battery charge. Under ideal conditions, the car can be driven as far as 375 miles before it needs a fill-up or a charge. But it can also be driven up to 23 miles in battery-only mode.

As if the i8’s lowslung body wasn’t sexy enough, its gullwing doors deliver a heart-fluttering caress. (BMW calls them “scissor” doors to avoid the gullwing designation first made famous by archrival Mercedes-Benz.)

BMW’s $41,400 i3 already appears to be a hit. The automaker said on April that it was increasing the rate of production to 100 cars per day, in the face of strong initial demand. Both models are built at BMW’s factory in Leipzig, Germany, which is powered in part by wind turbines.

BMW has dabbled with carbon fiber previously: its extensive use in i3 and i8, like Ford Motor Company’s decision to manufacture its next-generation F Series pickup from aluminum, are signs that the environmental concerns are growing daily as a critical factor in vehicle design.

TIME Autos

Here Are the Huge Challenges Ford’s Next CEO Faces

Day One Of The Geneva Motor Show 2014
Mark Fields, chief operating officer of Ford Motor Co. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

Mark Fields, who has been the heir apparent to Alan Mulally, may soon be designated Mulally’s successor as chief executive officer of the Ford Motor Company.

Bloomberg News reported yesterday that Mulally, 68, will retire before the end of the year and that Fields, 53, a 25-year Ford veteran will succeed him. Ford (F), officially, was tight-lipped. The No. 2 automaker may be proceeding cautiously due to its inglorious history of high-level management succession pratfalls, going back decades.

Fields was elevated to his present position about 18 months ago, which more or less entrenched him as Mulally’s successor. Keeping him in the job without acknowledging his path to CEO may have been a way to see how well he did with the No. 2 post before promoting him. Meanwhile, Mulally confused the issue a bit by putting himself in play last year to succeed Steve Ballmer at CEO of Microsoft (MSFT), a post he didn’t get.

MORE: Ford’s aluminum secret weapon

Mulally’s arrival at Ford Motor in 2006 from Boeing came at a critical moment for the automaker. Burdened by a weak balance sheet, Ford earlier in the year had begun securing massive loans to pursue new product programs, collateralizing the borrowings with the company’s assets, including its brand. Two years later, during the global financial crisis, Ford could have faced bankruptcy like General Motors (GM) and Chrysler did, had it failed to secure early financing.

The former Boeing executive’s main contribution to Ford was cultural, forcing the automaker and its top executives to simplify the company’s business strategy and to work in harmony with one another. A relentlessly positive figure, Mulally represented a breath of fresh air at a place known for its vicious internal politics and tumultuous executive rivalries.

Lee Iacocca, who steered the Mustang to overwhelming market success, was booted from the presidency of Ford Motor by Henry Ford II in 1978. Jac Nasser ran afoul of the Ford family in 2001 and suffered a similar fate.

MORE: 50 years of the Ford Mustang

Bill Ford, Ford’s executive chairman, appearing on Bloomberg television on April 16, said “a lot of great CEOs leave, and then there’s chaos behind them. Alan and I have talked about that — the importance of the final act of a great CEO is having a great transition.”

Susan Krusel, a Ford spokesperson, offered the following prepared statement: “We do not comment on speculation. We take succession planning very seriously, and we have succession plans in place for each of our key leadership positions. For competitive reasons, we do not discuss our succession plans externally. There is no change from our previous announcements. If something were to change, we would let everyone know.”

Fields will face some formidable challenges as CEO: First, Ford Motor lacks a serious luxury franchise, its Lincoln Motor Car Company still in the early stages of renovation. Second, the automaker’s operations in Europe have been chronically unprofitable and are a drag on earnings. Third, the automaker’s most profitable market, the U.S., is wholly reliant on its large pickups and, thus, needs to improve profitability of passenger cars.

It would be a tall order for any CEO.

TIME Autos

10 Things You Need to Know About the Massive GM Recall

General Motors-Recall
David Goldman—AP

General Motors’ massive recall is the latest in the auto-making giant’s string of headaches. The company is now offering a $500 discount on new or leased cars for the owners of the 1.6 million vehicles the company recalled last month. The announcement comes as federal investigators begin looking into the ignition-related recall linked to 12 deaths. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. The defective ignition switches were installed on Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac G5, Saturn Ion, Pontiac Solstice, Chevrolet HHR and Saturn Sky models built between 2003 and 2007. If a driver puts several extra keys or heavy items on a key chain, or jars it inadvertently, the ignition key could slip out of “run” to “accessory” or “off,” shutting off the engine and safety equipment such as the airbag.
  2. The ignition defect covering approximately 1.6 million General Motors Co. cars is relatively inexpensive and easy to fix. It will be carried out free of charge to customers who bring the recalled vehicles to GM dealers. Delphi Automotive Systems LLC, an auto parts maker whose history aligns closely with GM’s, said a replacement for the defective parts will cost $2 to $5 to produce and will take a service technician a few minutes to install.
  3. GM last month released a detailed chronology of the events leading to the recall, stretching back to 2004, when the automaker first learned of the problem and determined not to take immediate action. On Wednesday of this week, the automaker acknowledged to the Wall Street Journal that it began to learn of ignition problems as early as 2001, during testing of the Saturn Ion.
  4. GM says that it believes 12 people have died in accidents that can be linked to the ignition problem. An earlier report of 13 deaths involved one case of double-counting.
  5. The Southern District of New York office of the U.S. Justice Department has begun a probe into GM’s handling of the defective ignitions, news agencies reported, without citing a named source. A criminal investigation by federal authorities could relate to the so-called Tread Act, passed into law in 2000 after the Ford Explorer/Firestone inquiry into rollover accidents.
  6. Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive officer since January, is handling the crisis as the first major test of her tenure. She has pledged to take personal responsibility for GM management’s response to the safety defect. In a March 4 email to employees, Barra outlined the steps GM has taken, including cooperation with regulators, an apology to customers, an internal review of events, creation of a working team of senior executives and coordination with suppliers to create replacement parts for dealers as quickly as possible.
  7. GM said this week that any owner of an affected vehicle, prior to bringing the vehicle to a dealer for service, should endeavor to remove extraneous keys and ornaments and use only the key and its fob during operation.
  8. The dozen deaths that can be attributed to the GM ignition problem can be seen in the context of roughly 30,000 deaths annually in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. The World Health Organization says about 1 million people are killed annually in automobile-related accidents.
  9. U.S. newspaper stories published in 2005 told of automotive reviewers discovering a problem with ignitions in the Cobalt. The stories include responses from GM spokespersons explaining why it happened and how to restart the engine if it stopped while driving.
  10. At least two Congressional hearings are planned for coming weeks; one by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton; and by the Senate Commerce subcommittee on product safety, chaired Sen. Claire McCaskill.

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