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GM Closes Holden Plant in Australia

Motortrend News Feed - 48 min 48 sec ago

After 69 years of making vehicles in Australia, GM has officially shuttered its Holden plant in the city of Adelaide. The plant closure signals the end of vehicle production in Australia.

Today, the very last Australian-produced Holden rolled off the line: a VFII Commodore Redline with a manual transmission. Holden has built more than 7.6 million cars on the continent since introducing its first vehicle there in 1948.

As Reuters reports, GM Holden will shift production to German factories with advanced automation procedures, helping to keep costs down as it launches new products. The brand will introduce 24 new vehicles by 2020, with a V-8 rear-drive sports car destined for Australia in the future. Holden says the Commodore nameplate will live on in 2018.

Last year, Ford ended production in Australia, reportedly due to the strong Australian dollar and stiff competition from Asian imports. The automaker had been producing cars in Australia for more than 90 years. Toyota is also throwing in the towel on Australian manufacturing after more than 50 years of building cars in the country.

Holden says about 85 percent of its workers have transitioned to new jobs. Its transition center will remain open on the site for at least two years after the factory has closed.

Source: Holden

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Stephan Winkelmann Named CEO of Bugatti

Motortrend News Feed - 2 hours 20 min ago

Wolfgang Dürheimer, CEO of Bugatti and Bentley, will retire at the end of this year as earlier reports have suggested. His replacement at Bugatti will be former Audi Sport chief Stephan Winkelmann, while Adrian Hallmark from Jaguar Land Rover will take the helm at Bentley.

Winkelmann leaves his role as Managing Director of Audi Sport after having joined in the spring of 2016. Along with rolling out the new R8 Spyder and RS 5 coupe, he told Automotive News he had hopes for an Audi Sport hypercar. Prior to that appointment, he led Lamborghini for 11 years and helped the brand triple its number of dealerships. He starts his new post on January 1, 2018.

Hallmark will begin his new role at Bentley on February 1. Most recently, he served as Global Strategy Director at Jaguar Land Rover. Earlier in his career, he served as Bentley’s Sales, Marketing and PR board member, helping to roll out the Continental GT in 2003.

Bentley is also shuffling around other executives. Werner Tietz will serve on the board for the Engineering team, and Chris Craft will lead up sales and marketing operations. Astrid Fontaine will lead People, Digitalization, and IT. All three execs hail from Porsche.

Although he’s stepping down as CEO of Bentley and Bugatti, Dürheimer will continue to advise the Volkswagen Group on motorsport operations. The departing boss began his career in 1986 at BMW and was appointed to the board for R&D at Porsche in 2001. Ten years later, he led Bugatti and Bentley before heading Technical Development at Audi AG. After just two years at that post, he returned to Bugatti and Bentley and played a critical role in introducing the new Chiron.

Source: Bugatti, Bentley

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Celebrity Drive: Daniel Wu of AMC’s ‘Into the Badlands’

Motortrend News Feed - 2 hours 49 min ago

Quick Stats: Daniel Wu, actor/executive producer, AMC’s “Into the Badlands”
Daily Driver: 2014 Tesla Model S (Daniel’s rating: 8.5 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: see below
Favorite road trip: Route 66
Car he learned to drive in: 1986 VW Golf
First car bought: 1991 Toyota pickup

Daniel Wu loves cars. Landing in big-budget movies in Hong Kong  helped get the starring role in AMC’s martial arts action series “Into the Badlands.” That has allowed him to buy his desired cars on two continents.

Wu still has a few cars in Hong Kong, where he still keeps a residence. “I have a lot of cars,” he says. In California, Wu’s daily driver is a 2014 Tesla Model S. He had a Toyota Prius, and the Tesla was his chance to try the technology of a purely electric car, he says.

“I’m just interested in car technology in general, so when they went fully electric, I thought Tesla was the game changer in terms of build quality, the mileage you can get on one charge,” Wu says. “The other cars, like the Leaf was only 80 miles (of range) on it. It was not really practical to me. So I thought Tesla was the luxury end of it and having long range of up to 300 miles on one charge.”

Wu rates the Tesla an 8.5 out of 10. “It handles great. The power’s amazing, the torque is amazing, all those things about the electric car. A couple things I would knock it off for are — if it’s supposed to be a luxury car it should be a little more luxurious on the inside,” he says. “The leather doesn’t feel as luxurious. They can up their game on that, especially for the price point.”

The Tesla is the largest sedan Wu has ever owned. “It’s really big, really wide, it’s like a 7 Series BMW size,” he says. “It doesn’t look that way at first, but when you drive it, it feels really wide.”

2017 Ford Focus RS Rating: 8

Wu recently bought the Ford Focus RS. “The Ford is more a toy because it’s a little race car. That’s more for satisfying a different side of me,” Wu says. “It’s really set up to be a little race car.”

But Wu says it can be a daily driver as well. “It’s docile when you want it to be, but then it has a Sport mode, a Track mode and a Drift Mode, so when you want to get aggressive, you can get into other things,” he says. “The build quality is great because it’s made in Germany, so the quality is there.”

Wu could’ve chosen a similar ride from one of Ford’s competitors. “But I like it because it’s a sleeper car. It doesn’t really look like a racer car like a Mitsibishi Evo X or a Subaru WRX-STI, but it has the power of both cars. They look like racer boy cars, but this car looks like a regular Ford Focus. It has a body kit on it, but it’s very subtle. I wanted a car that was fast like those other ones, but didn’t look like a racer boy car.”

A Ford Focus RS is shown here

The Ford is Wu’s first American car besides the Tesla. “I’ve only had German cars and maybe a Japanese car here and there in my life,” he says. “It had glowing reviews from “Top Gear” to “Grand Tour” to Motor Trend, who reviewed it gloriously, and it’s the type of car the European market has had for a long time, but the American market never had.”

He says it reminds him of the Mustang’s presence in Europe. “Europeans are buying up Mustangs like crazy because they’d never had access to the Mustang before,” Wu says. “They always had Ford Focus RS’s in Europe, but they never had them in the United States, so the opportunity to have a little nice car that you can take out on the winding roads that was a Ford was interesting to me.”

Wu likes all the bells and whistles on the Focus RS for the near-$40,000 price. “It’s amazing. The torque vectoring differential, AWD, the turbo, the 350 HP, the 350 lb-ft of torque, the Recaro seats, all that stuff is a great value for money,” he says.

What’s lacking for Wu is that it’s interior can be improved on. “It’s fine for what it is, but it’s not a luxurious sports car, if that’s what you’re looking for. But for the price point, you get what you pay for. So what I’m going to use it for is — take it to the track, thrash it around. It’s cheap enough that I don’t have to worry about it too much. If I got a nicer sports car, like a German one, I’d be worried about pushing it on the track,” he says, laughing, referring to his home track of Sonoma Raceway. “It’s the closest one to me in the Bay. I’m probably going to autocross it as well.”

1988 Porsche 911 Rating: 9

The Porsche 911 was his dad’s and he drives it once a week. His dad bought it as a retirement present for himself, but a few years ago he wanted to get rid of it because at 87, he didn’t drive it anymore.

“I said, ‘Dad, you’ve had it for 25 years, don’t get rid of it.’ So I bought it. I bought him a BMW 3 Series and a traded it for him. We just stopped him from driving this year. I love it. It’s a classic car that you can drive on a daily basis because it starts every time. In Hong Kong I have a 1966 Jaguar E Type and that thing you never know if it’s going to start,” Wu says, laughing.

Wu points out the Porsche has no power steering, no airbags, no ABS. “It’s an old school race car. It only has 70,000 miles on it and it’s almost 30 years old now. It was the final year before they switched to the 911s that have all the plastic bumpers and body.”

2014 Range Rover Sport Rating: 9

The Range Rover is the family car. “My wife rides horses, so we need an SUV to go to the farm and dirt roads and haul the horse trailer,” he says. “We needed one that was practical, but I also wanted one that handled well and drove really well, and it really does drive like a car.”

Wu notes there’s been a lot of improvement from the older Range Rover Sport. “I got it the first year this new body style came out and because the platform is based off the Range Rover and not the Discovery, it’s got a better chassis, it handles really well, it’s supercharged, it has tons of power and it’s big enough and the luxurious side of it is great,” he says. “The leather, the build quality on it is amazing.”

A 2014 Range Rover Sport is shown here Car he learned to drive in

Wu grew up in Northern California, where he learned to drive his sister’s manual 1986 VW Golf, first going to a nearby BART station. “There’s these big parking lots in the suburbs where people park and they’d take (rapid transit) into the city, so my dad took me there to learn and I learned stick first,” he says.

Wu got more time with his first car, a 1984 BMW 318i. “I got it when I was 15 and a half, before I was 16 when I had my permit. My parents wanted me to get a Volvo 240 because it was safe and I convinced them to get the BMW because it was cheaper second-hand than the Volvo. I went to a school that was 15 miles away from home, so my parents were tired of driving me to school every morning,” he says, laughing. “Once I was able to drive, they were like, ‘Yeah, go drive yourself to school.’”

Three months after he got his license, Wu crashed the BMW. “It was wet, I was coming home from school, I made a turn on a slick road and I slipped into a ditch,” he recalls. “The rear tire went into a ditch and it pulled it into the wall that was right next to it and slammed the back corner.”

He was able to fix and kept it until halfway through college. Wu built furniture for people while a student at the University of Oregon and needed a pickup truck. “I got a Toyota pickup so I could haul the furniture that I was building,” he says. “I was snowboarding a lot, so it was perfect for that. They used to call them Tacoma SR5, but when I had it, I think it was a 1991, it was just a Toyota pickup truck 4×4.”

Being in Oregon at the time there was loads of trails he took the truck to. “I beat the crap out of it. I went off-roading in it. I just thrashed it, because I could,” he says, with a laugh.

Favorite road trip

In the summer of 2002, Wu rented a convertible with a best friend from high school to drive Route 66. “Our rule was the entire time we could not put the top up, we had to keep it down unless it rained. So we came back really dark from that. Driving through Arizona and New Mexico with the top down, it was pretty brutal. “

It had always been a dream of his to do this road trip. “It’s like the American dream, Route 66 is such a classic route. We stayed in really dumpy crappy motels the whole way,” Wu says. “It was something we had been talking about since high school that we wanted to do and we didn’t do it in college.”

Wu was in Hong Kong and had just finished a movie, while his friend had 10 days off in between jobs, so they took the whole time they had together to drive Route 66. They started the road trip in Oakland and went as far as Colorado and then turned back going through the Southwest, which included Vegas, New Mexico, Arizona and Los Angeles.

He wanted to do it the way many great road trips are done. “We didn’t even really plan it out, we just rented the car and started driving,” he says.

The road trips was eye-opening for Wu. “It was interesting that two Chinese guys driving through southern America, it was kind of scary at some point because you’re either Latino or you’re white down there and there’s no other races,” he laughs. “I’d grown up all my life in California and I’ve only been really on the West coast and East coast and I’ve never really been to the middle of the country. Like driving through some parts of Colorado is also weird, we’d go through towns and people would be looking at us.”

For Wu, growing up in a diverse community like the Bay Area, even going to college was his first experience on what it was like in the rest of the country. “When I first went to Oregon, the first time I saw a truck with a gun rack with a gun in it, I was like, ‘What? This is real? People actually drive around with guns?’” he says with a laugh.

AMC’s “Badlands” and Warner Bros.’ “GeoStorm” Oct. 20

Wu stars in AMC’s martial arts drama “Badlands” which is available on Netflix, and returns on AMC Sundays at 10 p.m. in 2018 for an expanded Season 3, with 16 episodes.

“The highlight of the show is the incredible action that we do, it’s Hong Kong-style martial arts on American television and the biggest comments are that people are blown away by the action. They’ve never seen this kind of action on TV before,” Wu says.

Wu does 90 percent of his own stunts on the show. “I do all the fighting, I’m not allowed to do the dangerous stuff like jumping off buildings. The network doesn’t allow that, but I do all the fighting,” he says.

The show was shot the first season in New Orleans, but by Season 2, they moved it to Ireland. “We were very limited in New Orleans because everywhere you look is just swamp, swamp and more swamp, and this is a show that takes place 200 something years in the future in a post apocalyptic derelict, rundown America. When we went to Ireland, we were able to make the show much more epic, much more cinematic. So it looks like a very big movie, but it’s actually a TV show. It’s a pretty fun show. It’s really fun, it’s bloody and gory,” he says, laughing.

Wu is stars in the Warner Bros. suspense thriller “Geostorm” in theaters today. He’s also in the new “Tomb Raider” movie out March 2018.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures READ MORE CELEBRITY DRIVES HERE:

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Passenger-side crash tests, Design icons, Best green car: What’s New @ The Car Connection

The Car Connection News Feed - 3 hours 13 min ago
Latest crash tests show big discrepancy in front-seat passenger safety A new round of crash-testing from the IIHS illustrates that not all new cars are as safe for front-seat passengers as they are for drivers. Buick Enclave: Best Car to Buy 2018 Nominee Straddling the line between mass-market and luxury, the Buick Enclave offers families a...
Categories: Property

2018 Porsche Macan

The Car Connection News Feed - 4 hours 37 min ago
It didn’t take long after its arrival for the Porsche Macan to become the best-selling model from the luxury automaker. It satisfied not only the growing appetite for luxury crossover SUVs, but also the Macan supplied the performance that many expected from the Porsche badge. The 2018 Porsche Macan is hitting its stride now. A year removed...
Categories: Property

London office market ‘high overvalued’ warns Fitch Ratings

Property Week News Feed - 5 hours 7 min ago
The core London office market remains “highly overvalued” even after having cooled since the UK’s decision to leave the EU, according to a report from Fitch Ratings.
Categories: Property

Kennedy Wilson and Kennedy Wilson Europe complete $8bn merger

Property Week News Feed - 5 hours 31 min ago
Kennedy Wilson Holdings (KW) has completed its merger with Kennedy Wilson Europe Real Estate (KWE), creating a new global real estate investment and asset management platform with an $8bn (£6bn) enterprise value.
Categories: Property

UK commercial property value fell 4.6% last year

Property Week News Feed - 6 hours 20 min ago
The total value of all UK commercial property fell 4.6% from £926bn in 2015 to £883bn in 2016, according to a new report from the Property Industry Alliance (PIA).
Categories: Property

CL Capital acquires Holiday Inn Birmingham Walsall

Property Week News Feed - 6 hours 24 min ago
Asian-based investment fund CL Capital has acquired the Holiday Inn Birmingham Walsall from Canada Life.
Categories: Property

The Avenue office space fully let six months after completion

Property Week News Feed - 6 hours 37 min ago
The office space at The Avenue in London’s West End is now fully let six months after completion.
Categories: Property

Buick Enclave: 2018 Best Car to Buy Nominee

The Car Connection News Feed - 7 hours 43 min ago
Straddling the line between mass-market and luxury, the Buick Enclave offers families a pleasingly and shapely upmarket take on three-row transportation. It took nearly a decade for Buick to revamp its Enclave, but the wait was worthwhile. The sleek, curvy Enclave's exterior styling is echoed by a coddling, dressy interior with good room in all...
Categories: Property

IWG takes West End office for co-working flagship

Property Week News Feed - 7 hours 44 min ago
Flexible workspace provider IWG has signed a lease to occupy all six floors for the The Harley Building, Marylebone which will be the flagship location for its Spaces co-working brand.
Categories: Property

South Korean investors pounce on Tesco DC

Property Week News Feed - 8 hours 45 min ago
A consortium of South Korean institutional investors alongside Roebuck Asset Management have acquired a Tesco distribution centre in Avonmouth for £71.4m.
Categories: Property

Avison Young snaps up Manchester's WHR

Property Week News Feed - 9 hours 11 min ago
Avison Young has agreed to acquire Manchester-based WHR Property Consultants in a deal that almost doubles the size of its UK business, Property Week can reveal.
Categories: Property

AEW UK REIT falls short on fund raising

Property Week News Feed - 9 hours 24 min ago
AEW UK REIT has raised  £28.1m from a share issue announced last month, which had aimed to bring in between £40m and £60m.
Categories: Property

Snow Queen: A Cold Pursuit of One’s Finnish Roots, in the Dead of Winter

Motortrend News Feed - 9 hours 42 min ago

I have a thing for snow. When other people head south on vacation, I go north. I come by it honestly. I was born and raised in Northern Ontario, and my mom is a Finn. So when editor in chief Ed Loh needed someone to fly to the top of Finland and breach the Arctic Circle to test Nokian’s newest tires, the formulation of a plan began.

Snow, tires, cars, reindeer, northern lights, and saunas—time for a good old-fashioned Motor Trend road trip. Spoiler alert: Things got personal along the way.

Nokian Tyres is a big deal in Finland. The company traces its history back to the founding of the Finnish Rubber Works in 1898, and it invented the winter tire in 1934. Today Nokian has a 1,730-acre winter test site near Ivalo, 180 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Nokian is a household name in Europe when shopping for winter tires, but in order to grow it must enter the mainstream with new lines of all-season and all-weather tires. Hence its desire to raise its profile in the U.S.

New tires have been developed for North America, and Nokian is building a $360 million tire plant in Dayton, Tennessee, with ambitious goals of doubling sales in five years.

So we headed to Lapland (a region covering the northern third of Finland) for a taste of what this small player—$1.7 billion in sales in 2016 versus $32.5 billion from giant Bridgestone—with big plans has to offer.

Our Motor Trend trio included videographer Cory Lutz—a fellow Canadian in danger of getting soft after years of living in Southern California—and photographer Robin Trajano, who was born in the Philippines, now lives in L.A., and could provide thin-blooded comic relief in these frigid arctic climes.

We rendezvous in the capital of Helsinki and hop a 1.5-hour flight to the northernmost airport in the European Union. “Welcome to Ivalo,” the airport sign says, showing a current temperature of minus 4 degrees Celsius (25 degrees Fahrenheit). No big deal; my hometown in Ontario has dipped to minus 40. Trajano, however, is giving me sideways shade for putting him in this icebox. Eh, he’s young and tough.

“Kiitos” I say under my breath, Finnish for “thank you” and a remnant of the Finnish I knew as a child listening to my mother talk to her mother. I am finally in a place long on my bucket list. I swallow hard past the lump in my throat.

In Ivalo, a former gold-mining town that is now a winter recreation destination, you can snowmobile to the highest point in Finland and see Russia. Finland is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its independence from the Russian Republic; they haven’t always been the best of neighbors.

Nokian is the only tire manufacturer with a permanent winter testing facility. Nicknamed “White Hell,” the Ivalo Testing Center has slalom and handling courses, a 1.0-kilometer (0.6-mile) speed run on the lake, a rally track for drifting, hills to test traction, an SUV course through the reindeer-populated woods, and an ice hall housing 2,300 feet of natural ice. There are more than 30 tracks covering 62 miles on a variety of ice and snow conditions. In this sprawling complex, Nokian tests 20,000 tires a year from November to May. Every day, results from icy ovals are sent back to corporate headquarters in the pursuit of the best beads, compounds, treads, and studs to improve grip.

Nokian is not alone in its quest for winter tire supremacy. Michelin, Goodyear, and Bridgestone now have small test sites near Ivalo, Hankook recently built a facility, and there is an independent facility the industry shares.

In Finland everyone knows Nokian, which has its headquarters and a tire plant in the city of Nokia, near Helsinki. Nokian split off from conglomerate Nokia (best known for cell phones) in 1988.

Winter tires are mandatory across Scandinavia, Russia, and other northern countries. As a result, the Nokian brand and its Hakkapeliitta tire have become synonymous with excellent winter tires. (“Hakkapeliitta” was a Finnish light cavalry unit during the 30 Years’ War. The name refers to their fearsome roar as they charged into battle.)

The brand is also known in Quebec, another place where winter tires are mandatory. But Nokian is largely obscure on this side of the Atlantic—beyond users such as the Michigan State Police and wonky Hakkapeliitta enthusiasts. The push to increase awareness is now the responsibility of new CEO Hille Korhonen.

For our Finnish excursion we are joined by Nokian PR rep Dan Stocking, a Michigan native who grew up smelling rubber at his family tire shop. Among the Finns who meet us at Ivalo Airport is Matti “Mr. Tire” Morri, a Nokian technical expert who has spent the last 27 winters in Lapland but has never seen it in the summer. Growing up, he cross-country skied a mile-plus to school every day on a track his father groomed for him. He still likes to end his day with a kick-and-glide on an XC trail.

We pile our gear into cars. Morri whips away at breakneck speeds on what we later discover are roads of hard-packed snow compacted to the consistency of ice. Our studded Hakkapeliittas so completely grip the low-mu surface that we are caught unaware when we get out of the cars. We promptly windmill our arms as we struggle to keep our balance.

Among the perks of Lappish life: Our rooms at the Hotel Tunturi in Saariselkä have private saunas. The Finns invented the sauna, and I was eager to compare them to the traditional wood-fired saunas in Canada in which we steam and then jump in a lake or roll in the snow. And conveniently, my room at the Tunturi has a snow-covered patio. We also are invited to join Nokian dealers and executives in a corporate-building communal sauna and dip, but I prefer to limit my team-building exercises to Motor Trend Of The Year testing.

Another Finnish delight: As we walk back from dinner, crunchy packed snow underfoot, we see the northern lights. The scientific explanation for the aurora borealis is charged particles hitting the Earth’s magnetic shield and releasing energy in bands of colorful light across the sky. Northern Finland is in the “Aurora Belt,” where the lights are most frequently seen as leaping iridescent lime spikes, flaming pink shoots, or bright purple curtains in stark contrast to the inky black sky above the Arctic Circle. By contrast, back home on Ontario’s 49th parallel, my last sighting displayed black and white piano keys being played across the sky like beams from a flashlight in need of new batteries.

Day 2

We are back on frozen rural roads heading north to Inari through areas where reindeer farmers herd via snowmobile. Our destination is Lake Pasasjärvi, also known as White Hell Area 2. A fleet of Audis awaits us.

To escape the minus 20 C (minus 4 Fahrenheit) cold, we hop in a yellow AWD RS 4 with studded Hakkapeliitta 9 tires to try the slalom and handling courses. There also are areas for drifting and collision avoidance. Although drifting on the slippery stuff is tempting, the actual goal is to drive on the edge of control and not drift. The combination of the car’s traction control and the grip of the tires almost stops the vehicle completely until it regains control and accelerates again. Same excellent grip in a red RS 5 with studded tires.

A blue RS 6 is doing speed runs on the lake. Nokian has the world record for fastest car on ice with the RS 6 hitting 335.7 km/h (208.6 mph) on the Gulf of Bothnia wearing studded Hakkapeliitta 8s. By comparison, we are mere amateurs. Bouncing along the uneven surface at autobahn speeds, I repeat the winter-driving mantra, slow hands, slow hands. We back off at 100 mph, knowing the car and tires could easily have done more.

To test the new SUV tires we try Audi Q5s with studded tires but also with the nonstudded Hakkapeliitta R2 SUV winter tires. Even without studs, the traction on sheer ice is remarkable. The vehicle prefer to stop rather than drift. There are occasions I’m convinced of an imminent kiss with a snowbank, but the tires pull the SUV back on track time after time.

On the way to lunch at the Kultahippu restaurant, we stop abruptly on the crest of a hill. In the not so far distance, we spy Murmansk, Russia. We taunt our grumpy neighbors with our American, Canadian, and Finnish flags.

Finnish cuisine is influenced by Germany, Sweden, and Russia. But Lapland is influenced by what is available. We have a fine lunch of traditional reindeer stew (sliced reindeer strips in gravy over mashed potatoes with lingonberries and pickle spears). Dinner that night: the same reindeer stew but with a third pickle spear.

I learn Finnish men drink giant glasses of milk with their meals. I also learn that pulla (the Finnish coffee bread I grew up with) is not on every table. In fact, I never found it during my travels. Crepelike Finnish pancakes were also scarce, and the fish stew I know as kalamojakka is apparently not a Finnish word at all! “Oh, yes, in Finland it is called kalakeitto,” my mom tells me after I get home.

With bellies full of Dancer and Prancer, we dash through the rest of White Hell before calling it a day.

Day 3

We’re up early to start our road trip south. It’s still March, but the days have started getting longer—with sunrise about 7 a.m. and daylight lasting until almost 6 p.m. in this land of the midnight sun. We have a pair of rental cars: a 2016 Volvo V40 fitted with studded Hakkapeliitta 9 tires and a 2017 Volvo XC90 with the R2 SUV tires. Our ultimate destination: Nokian’s headquarters, which employs about 1,500 people at its R & D facilities, tire manufacturing plant, and immense logistics center.

The V40 will finally be sold in the U.S. when the next-generation 40 series launches, starting with the XC40 early next year, so we were curious to spend time in its European predecessor. We have a bare-bones Volvo V40 T2 with cloth seats and no navigation system. Our support vehicle is a Volvo XC90 D5 with a two-tone leather interior and soft-pore wood. Compared with Motor Trend’s long-term XC90 T6 Inscription with the 2.0-liter gas engine, the diesel in the D5 provides nice, smooth acceleration. It also means we got to pay 1.426 euros/liter (about $1.70) for diesel rather than €1.545 for regular gas or €1.609 for premium gas.

Our new Finnish friends greet our drive route with skepticism—they attempt to persuade us to book a flight for part of it. What they underestimate is how much driving, photography, and video from thigh-deep snow we can pack into a day. What we underestimate is travel time: Speed limits are reduced in winter, coinciding with the December 1 to March 31 mandatory winter tire period.

We leave Saariselkä and head south on E75. Finland is a country of 5.5 million people occupying 151,000 square miles. It looks exactly like Northern Ontario—I swear I have not left home—with 190,000 lakes, high snowbanks, and packed-snow roads that don’t see pavement until spring. The same pine, spruce, and birch trees mean we see the same barn wood as we cruise through Finland’s rural environs. They also have the same national animal: the mosquito.

Our studded tires perform so well in the deep snow that we can whip the V40 around to double back for photography. It is proving to be a sturdy vehicle and blends in with the other small cars and SUVs that dot the roads—with Volvo, Audi, VW, Mercedes, Mazda, Honda, and Nissan nameplates being the most common. Finland has the most vehicles per capita in the world, and many wear extra headlights to spot reindeer during the long, dark winter months.

We stop for a late lunch in Rovaniemi, hometown of Santa Claus. But its history is not the stuff of children’s books. Snow covers the ground pockmarked from World War II bombings by the Russians and the scorched-earth retreat of the Germans. The local airport is a former Luftwaffe airfield.

We visit the Arktikum Lapland museum, the gateway to the north. You enter from the south, and the structure disappears underground like an animal burrowing under the frozen tundra for warmth. Inside are scenes of Finnish Lapland and Arctic life: fishing, hunting, a cold room, and a northern lights theater.

Our trip then meanders west to the border with Sweden and the Gulf of Bothnia.

The weather gets milder as we cross the Arctic Circle—where we also cross the freezing mark. It is easy to forget we have studded tires when the pavement bares itself, but we are reminded in the hotel parking garage in Oulu with a staccato snap, crackle, and pop underfoot. The Hakkapeliitta 9 has new stud technology. There are more studs, including some in the center of the tire, and the corners of the studs are cut so the tire doesn’t hit the ground before the stud does. But the studs are also smaller, lighter, and designed to spread out on impact to help protect the occasional exposed patch of pavement.

In Oulu we walk under fat snowflakes to a French bistro for dinner. Robin rejoices; he has had enough reindeer for one trip. Once again, my room has a sauna. I am in heaven.

Day 4

We are up with the sun as sleet swirls outside our windows. We continue south on E8 along the coast to Vassa, where the scenery is marked with elevation changes and rock outcroppings. I choke up; Vassa is the birthplace of Signe Kujanen, my mummu (grandmother). She is the one who introduced me to pulla and taught my mom how to make the incorrectly named kalamojakka. Listening to her, I learned Finnish as a toddler. My first car was the 1972 Chevy Impala she willed me. We gave it a Finnish accent: It was known to everyone as the “EEMP-a-lah.”

Vassa is a city of 68,000 with a history of Russian occupation. Everything is covered in snow and ice. Pedestrians prod the snow with walking sticks for traction and push sleds on sidewalks to carry their groceries, and some brave souls ride bikes on the ice.

We grab a quick bite at a Finnish McDonalds, find some terwasnapsi pine tar liquor for the questionable palate of my colleague Frank Markus, and get back to work. We have a lot more kilometers before we reach Tampere, near Nokia.

It was a longer trip than it appeared on paper, with many single-lane highways, fluctuating speed limits, and a preponderance of speed cameras. Despite our diligence we see a bulb go off. Finland is one of those counties where the fine is pegged to your annual income if they deem it an infraction. We appear to have had luck on our side, however, so I won’t need to get creative with my expense report.

We have missed sauna time by the time we reach the Sokos Hotel, ending our fabulous 700-mile trek from the top of the world. The info sheet at check-in lists public sauna times and, more importantly, lets you know women are in room No. 1, men in No. 2. This avoids an awkward moment, as a true sauna is performed alasti—in your birthday suit.

Day 5

Nokian immersion day. Developing a new tire can take four years in pursuit of a better tread pattern, studs, and the all-important compound for better grip. Technicians are working on tires with studs that protrude or retract with the push of a button—James Bond fans will recall this once-fantasy technology from The Living Daylights. Nokian engineers are always looking at new raw materials; they even tried reindeer hair, but it was a no-go.

How intensive is the R & D effort? Hakkapeliitta 9 used five compounds and had 100 treads before deciding on the final design, said Olli Seppala, development manager for car tires. In addition to its track testing, Nokian conscripts Finland’s notoriously aggressive and opinionated cab drivers to test prototypes. That’s market research.

But Nokian is not solely about winter tires. The zLine all-season tire developed for North America launched a year ago. Nokian will also continue to leverage its Hakkapeliitta expertise by expanding its all-season tire lineup, as well as its all-weather tires designed to perform better in the wet, slushy conditions that account for most winter accidents.

We tour the assembly plant that makes 3.5 million tires a year and is able to produce a tire in 40 seconds. First builds of new tires are done in Finland, whereupon the tooling is sent to the larger Russian plant near St. Petersburg for volume production. Globally, Nokian makes about 20 million tires a year; the 1,300 employees in Russia make 80 percent of those tires.

I finally sate my craving for Finnish pancakes in the cafeteria for lunch before we head to the nearby logistics center. The size of 12 football fields, it holds nearly 1 million tires on stacks of pallets while awaiting delivery. Remember that endless warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? It’s like that.

Nokian does not sell directly to automakers. Rather, it concentrates distribution through dealerships, independent shops, the company-owned Vianor retail chain, a few large retailers, and a partnership with a major ski resort company.

When the Dayton plant starts production in 2020, it will focus on all-season and all-weather tires with capacity for 4 million tires a year, eliminating the cost and six weeks’ time to ship from Europe.

By late afternoon we leave the rental cars at the Tampere airport and take a short flight to Helsinki. We toast our success with Napue gin and tonics, decorated with cranberries and a huge stalk of rosemary, at a Finnish smorgasbord in the capital. The neighborhood is a mix of East and West, with ornate buildings sandwiched between Soviet-era brick boxes. A Zamboni is at work on an outdoor ice rink; ferries on the waterfront break the ice anew for each arrival and departure.

As we head for home, we can attest that a company immersed in a land of snow and reindeer knows how to make tires to get motorists safely across an Arctic countryside that’s frozen half the year. That’s the easy part.

Nokian can’t outspend the competition, so it has to be smarter, says Tommi Heinonen, head of Nokian North America; sales here are evenly split between Canada and the U.S., but future growth will come from America.

“The hardest to sell is the first one,” Heinonen says. After that, Nokian usually has a customer for life.

The hard part is getting the word out. I wouldn’t underestimate the hardy, resolute nature of the Finns. After all, this is a culture whose idea of a good time is to dash from a steam room and plunge into an icy hole in a lake. These folks don’t mess around.

The post Snow Queen: A Cold Pursuit of One’s Finnish Roots, in the Dead of Winter appeared first on Motor Trend.

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Mercedes-AMG G65 Final Edition is a V-12 G-Wagen Send-off

Motortrend News Feed - 17 hours 42 min ago

To celebrate the coming demise of the Mercedes-AMG G65, Affalterbach is offering an exclusive Final Edition that is limited to just 65 examples. If you want one of these last luxury SUVs, expect to pony up at least $367,497.

Since 1979, the G-Class has been recognized for its off-road ability by four-wheel connoisseurs around the world. It has had the longest production run in the history of the company and is the reason why all modern Mercedes crossover and SUV models have the letter G in their name.

AMG’s final 65 will pack a twin-turbo 6.0-liter V-12 engine under the hood that provides 630 hp and 737 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels. Its beast of a V-12 is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. The G65 can hit 62 mph in 5.3 seconds and has a limited top speed of 143 mph.

The G65 Final Edition rolls on 21-inch five twin-spoke wheels in bronze. It sports silver brake calipers, and AMG Sport trim strips on its sides. Matte bronze also graces the underside guard and bumper trim elements. Outside mirrors and the spare wheel cover get a splash of obsidian black paint. Up front, the radiator grille receives a black mesh screen surrounded in matte bronze. Running boards and tailpipes get a touch of matte black, while the exterior protective strip inserts are finished in high-gloss black.

 

The interior receives an AMG Performance steering wheel in black Nappa leather and an exclusive designo black Nappa leather package with seat side bolsters in a carbon fiber, and topstitching in light brown.

AMG says the carbon-fiber trim elements get decorative stitching in bronze, milled Edition lettering in the grab handle, plus floor mats with leather edging in light brown, and topstitching in black.

The G65 Final Edition will be produced and hand-finished in Graz, Austria. If you miss out on this last batch of Gelandewagens, fear not, a new G-Class is already in development and should break cover just in time for its 40th anniversary date.

Source: Mercedes-Benz

The post Mercedes-AMG G65 Final Edition is a V-12 G-Wagen Send-off appeared first on Motor Trend.

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