Albertville, Minnesota, United States
The Chinese market has proven to be a boon to German luxury automakers. However, the way that the companies have allegedly been controlling their supply of spare parts has begun to draw the ire of the nation's government. According to insiders speaking to Bloomberg, officials from the country's economic planning organization have opened a probe into Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and some Japanese carmakers over claimed price inflation and limiting supply.
Specifically, the investigation centers around two aspects of how the companies do business, according to Bloomberg. Investigators want to know whether the original equipment component makers are able to sell spare parts only to automaker-authorized dealers or if they are also available to independent shops. There is also the issue of whether the price markup on replacement pieces is too high. The tight controls could be partially explained by China's reputation for producing counterfeit parts.
Evidently, the investigators haven't checked parts prices at car dealers elsewhere in the world. At least in the US, paying more at the dealer for factory components just goes along with owning a vehicle. If evidence of price fixing is found, the companies could face fines the equivalent of millions of dollars, according to Bloomberg.
If there's ever been an inspirational story in the pantheon of motor racing history, surely it's that of Alessandro Zanardi. The Italian driver worked his way up the motor racing ladder, making it into Formula One and winning two CART championships for Chip Ganassi Racing back before the series re-merged into IndyCars. Tragedy struck in 2001 when he lost both his legs in a crash at the Lausitzring in Germany, but rather than accept his fate, Alex pushed on. Fitted with prosthetic limbs, he learned to drive a racing car with hand controls and got back in the driver's seat.
Zanardi drove for BMW in the European Touring Car Championship and then in the World Touring Car Championship that replaced it, landing on the podium several times despite his physical disadvantage. He left racing in 2009 to train for the Paralympics, winning two gold medals in London, but Alex apparently couldn't shake the racing bug. BMW modified one of its M3 DTM racers with hand controls for him to test later that year. And now he's returning to motor racing full time.
BMW has just announced that Zanardi will be driving a Z4 GT3 in the Blancpain Sprint Series, the successor to the FIA GT Series and short-distance counterpart to the Blancpain Endurance Series. The car has been modified with the hand controls the Bavarian automaker's racing department fitted to the aforementioned M3 DTM and will be fielded by the ROAL Motorsport team with which Alex challenged for the European Touring Car Championship last decade.
Forgive us for having the distinct feeling of déjà vu, but it certainly feels like we've been here before. By that we are referring Car and Driver and the announcement of its annual 10Best vehicles for 2013. To be sure, it's an impressive selection of cars that combine heart-pounding performance and frugal sensibilities, but it also represents something of a broken record on the part of C/D. We're not so sure that's a flaw, though, as the resulting list is tough to argue with.
Vehicles like the Ford Mustang, Porsche Boxster, and BMW 3 Series have maintained their high-horsepower spots on this list for several years now. Even on the more practical and nimble end, the Honda Accord, Honda Fit and Mazda Miata have not budged. These continued spots are even in light of redesigns for some vehicles such as the Accord, Boxster and 3 Series.
In fact, the only newcomer to the 10Best list this year are the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ twins, which knocked out the Cadillac CTS-V. We think it would have been a huge misstep to have excluded the FR-S/BRZ, even in light of the supercharged Caddy's lamentable departure from 10Best.