September 30, 2008

602 horsepower Amuse GTR sets Tsukuba afire

After more than a month spent previewing the Paris Motor Show, it's time for a change of pace.

There will be no pie-in-the-sky concepts tonight. No highfalutin discussion of design aesthetics on a car that will do little more than sit on a turntable.

Nor will there be a pity party tonight about the looming fiscal Armageddon while the stock market convulses like a heroin addict.

Tonight it's all about red raw horsepower — six hundred and two of them to be precise. They all come wrapped in the sinister form of the Amuse R1 Titan Nissan GT-R, which has been thoroughly tuned to demolish lap times with savage ferocity.

Amuse holds a narrow lead over rival tuning firm HKS in the volume of parts available for the R35 GTR. The company currently offers a ECU reflash, which eliminates the stock speed limiter, fully adjustable coilover dampers, a full titanium exhaust with high flow catalytic converter and dry carbon fiber spoilers front and rear.

The combined weight savings coupled with the massive increase in horsepower were sufficient to lap Tsukuba in 1:01.32. Godzilla indeed.


September 29, 2008

2010 Mazda MX-5 pics leak months before Detroit unveil

When covering the auto industry, it's common for manufacturers to embargo stories or pictures. It's all part of the marketing game and in most cases, the media is happy to play along. Every so often, though... there will be leaks.

Today's news is more of a flood.

A biblical torrent of pictures for the 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata have hit the web today, nearly four months ahead of the car's official debut at the Detroit Motor Show next January.

The visual changes are extensive. Gone are the cough-drop inspired headlights and grille, replaced by a more dramatic form that has a bit more RX-8 mojo — and machismo — in the mix.

For the full gallery, click here.

No other details are available at this time, but expect the same 166-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four, the same five and six-speed transmissions and the same blissfully balanced driving experience.

Last month, Mazda officials killed the rumors of a 2010 MazdaSpeed Miata using a version of the turbo 2.3-liter DISI inline four found under the hood of the MazdaSpeed 3.

According to Mazda PR man Jeremy Barnes, the turbo motor fit just fine -- until the head was bolted on. The high pressure fuel pump required by the direct-injection system is driven off the exhaust cam. With the motor turned longitudinally, the fuel pump hits the Miata's firewall, ruling out the swap as a bolt-in affair.


September 27, 2008

In Memoriam — Paul Newman: 1925-2008

Actor, racer, humanitarian and entrepreneur Paul Leonard Newman is dead at 83.

Having played such iconic roles such as Fast Eddie Nelson, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and many others, Newman's acting career spanned more than 50 years.

Newman's involvement in racing circles lasted nearly as long. For more than 25 years, he partnered with Carl Hass in the ownership of numerous Can-Am and Indy racing teams.

Newman was a talented driver as well, winning countless races in various national and international classes. At age 70, Newman became the oldest driver to place in a professionally sanctioned auto race when his team took third in the 1995 running of the 24 Hours at Daytona.

In August, Newman took to the track one last time in a GT1-spec Chevrolet Corvette at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.

Newman died in his home near Westport, Conn., some 18 months after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In addition to his wife, Newman is survived by daughters Susan, Stephanie, Nell, Melissa and Clea; two grandchildren; and his brother Arthur.

[Photo Credit: prorallypix, used under Creative Commons 2.0 license]

September 26, 2008

Video: Mercedes-Benz CoupeFascination concept previews next E-class

Even though the 2008 Paris Motor Show only days away, the previews keep on coming. For this week's video feature, we've got the Mercedes-Benz CoupeFASCINATION -- a concept car which offers some insight into the design of the next-generation E-Class.

A sporting coupe, redefined
The CoupeFASCINATION concept builds on the four door "coupe" theme established with the production CLS series.

With this design aesthetic in mind, designer at Mercedes extended the roofline, adding frameless door glass and a set of suicide-style rear doors to aid entry into the copiously leather-trimmed interior, replete with all the show car glitz one would expect. (On-board humidors, anyone?)

Outside, the fenders swell dramatically around the front and rear wheels, lending a dynamic, fluid look to the long-established but rarely seen "shooting brake" - a vehicle category with its own distinctive charisma.

Up front, the traditional dual headlight treatment that has come to symbolize the E-class is expressed in a set of steeply raked rectangular headlights framed by the traditional pentagonal Benz grille and three-pointed star. The deeply contoured hood features a central ridge which picks up the V-shape of the front end and continues it along the body.

Together, they create a very dominant and expressive statement from traditional Mercedes-Benz design cues.

Inside, a panoramic glass roof adds to the sense of visual lightness aided by the pillarless sides and frameless door glass. In contrast, complementary shades of leather and nubuck cover much of the interior, with the aluminum center console spanning the space between four individual seats. Trim strips in American walnut with a fine chrome surround complete the portfolio of materials.

As for motive power, the CoupeFASCINATION concept features a 204-horsepower 2.2-liter turbodiesel inline-four, using BlueTec technology to reduce NOx emissions while providing plenty of torque for swift acceleration.

Drivetrain details remain sparse, but the production version would likely use the six-speed automatic transmission used by the current diesel E-class sedans.

As with all concept cars, there's the question of how much of the the show car's extravagance filters down to the production model. For instance, we don't know if the 2.2-liter diesel will be offered for the US market. It's unlikely that the suicide doors or pillarless sides would make it to production. But in its present form, the CoupeFASCINATION concept is one of the most cohesive and thoughtful designs to come out of the post-DaimlerChrysler era.

[Daimler AG, Video: R2R]

September 25, 2008

Resurgence in Flint: Volt, Cruze engines to be built in Michigan

General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner announced today that the automaker will build engines for the Chevrolet Volt and Chevrolet Cruze in Flint, Michigan at a entirely new plant. Construction of the new factory will commence immediately.

The plant will begin producing the company's new 1.4-liter dual overhead cam Inline-four in 2010. The $370 million investment will include a 552,000 square foot facility, machinery and tooling to build the new engines.

The plant will build two 1.4-liter inline-fours: a 140-horsepower turbocharged motor to be used in the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, and a naturally-aspirated version to be used with the 2010 Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle.

Both engines will feature variable valve timing for both the intake and exhaust cams. Both engines will also use a molded resin intake manifold to save weight.

Final horsepower figures have not been released for the naturally aspirated motor.

The new engines are part of a global engine family dating back to 1997, debuting as a 1.6-liter inline-four for the Opel & Vauxhall Corsa.

Speaking with Automotive News, Tom Stephens, GM Powertrain Group vice president, said production would start at 800 engines per day. Stevens didn't say how production would be split between the two motors.

Today's news comes as a watershed moment for Flint as well. In 1984, General Motors CEO Roger Smith closed the automaker's largest plant in Flint, a town that once was a symbol of GM's manufacturing might.

The plant closure eliminated 300,000 jobs and sent the town of Flint — which grew up around the plant — into severe decline, as later documented in the 1989 film "Roger and Me."

Speaking of the company's return to its roots in Flint, Wagoner said that "GM, the UAW and the city of Flint have had a long-standing relationship. We are confident that Flint is exactly the right place to build our all-new powertrain plant."

[AN, GM]

September 24, 2008

Auto News Wrapup: F-bombs, tax bills and buyouts

Cerberus in talks to buy out Daimler AG stake in Chrysler

A day after the company's bold assertion to enter the EV market in less than three years, Chrysler may soon be owned wholly by current majority shareholder Cerberus Capital Management.

This afternoon, officials from both companies confirmed the talks regarding the sale of the 19.9 percent stake Daimler currently holds in Chrysler LLC. A spokesman for Cerberus Capital Management also said that the current supplier agreements between Daimler and Chrysler would continue after a potential sale.

The private-equity firm Cerberus bought 80.1 percent of Chrysler from Daimler AG in August 2007 for $7.4 billion. Chrysler Holding encompasses Chrysler LLC, the automaker, and DaimlerChrysler Financial Services Americas LLC, known to the market as Chrysler Financial.

"It's still very early to tell why this is happening," Aaron Bragman, auto analyst at Global Insight, told Reuters. Bragman posited that the full purchase of Chrysler may be a prelude to selling the automaker whole to a third party.

House approves $25 billion in auto industry loans; Senate passes $7,500 tax credit for plug-in hybrids

As the mortgage bailout dog and pony show continues on Capitol Hill today, the House of Representatives voted 370 to 58 in favor of a $25 billion aid package for American automakers and suppliers. The bill sponsors the issuance of low-interest government-backed mortgages that would allow automakers to retool factories and expedite the production of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The Senate is expected to vote on the budget bill by week's end; President Bush is likely to sign it. When signed, the new loan program will set a new precedent in government involvement within the auto industry, far exceeding the 1979 bill which provided loan guarantees to Chrysler Corporation.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement:

"Some critics will call this loan package a bailout. It is not. These loans amount to a little more than 1 percent of the real bailout -- the one that the Bush administration wants for Wall Street at a cost of $700 billion to taxpayers.

"The loans to the automakers will cost about $7 billion and will be repaid to the taxpayer at a profit," Dingell said. "The auto direct-loan package is a good deal for auto workers and a good deal for taxpayers."

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, complained that the bill was put together by a handful of Democratic leaders and the vote was taken before it was properly reviewed in session.

Chevy Volt to qualify for maximum plug-in hybrid tax credit

Meanwhile in the Senate, General Motors is one step closer to their wish of a $7500 tax credit to help jump-start sales of the Chevrolet Volt. In a wide-ranging and intricate tax bill, a small provision creating a new tax credit for buyers of plug-in electric vehicles was passed today.

The credit would start at $2,500 and rise to as much as $7,500 for a light-duty vehicle, depending on battery capacity. As currently written, the Chevrolet Volt qualifies for the maximum tax credit. The measure would begin to phase out tax credits for plug-in electrics after 250,000 units have sold — a marked contrast to the 2005 tax bill that began to phase out after only 60,000 units.

The complex tax bill ricocheted through the various subcommittees for months, but when the votes was taken, the bill passed by 93-to-2. The House must still act on the bill, but with the upcoming recess for the election, a vote is expected by week's end. The White House dropped objections to some provisions unrelated to the plug-in hybrid tax credit.

As of a few days ago, Toyota officials complained that the 2011 plug-in hybrid Prius would be excluded from the tax credit. It's unclear how far the Senate moved to meet Toyota's objections, but it appears the issue has been resolved.

Dropping "F" Bombs: Ford family heir sells 1M shares of company stock

And in our last news item of the night: Bill Ford, chairman of Ford Motor Company and grandson of founder Henry Ford, dumped one million shares of common stock on Sept. 19 — in part to pay off debt incurred by exercising stock options in 2004 and 2005.

Ford sold the shares at an average weighted sale price of $5.05 on Thursday and continues to hold more than 5.3 million shares of common stock in the automaker, according to a filing on Friday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Ford bought over 1.4 million common shares in the company since March 2004 and another 1.5 million in March 2005 after exercising options granted over the years, according to SEC filings. Share prices fell in the immediate aftermath of Friday's sale before rebounding to close at $5.03 tonight.

[AN, Reuters]

September 23, 2008

Chrysler unveils 3 EV prototypes, will enter EV market by 2010

A few weeks after this blog set sail, I wrote at length about the difficulties Chrysler would face and the cause for concern that majority owner Cerberus Capital Management would simply dismantle the company and sell it off piecemeal.

While the storm clouds have yet to fully part, today's announcement is precisely the type of good news the market has waited months to hear.

After a brief preview on CNBC yesterday, Chrysler LLC unveiled a trio of electric vehicle prototypes this morning.

* The Dodge EV, an all-electric sports car developed with British automaker Lotus.
* The Chrysler EV, an extended-range electric vehicle based on the Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
* The Jeep EV, an extended-range electric vehicle based on the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.

Chrysler said it would bring one of the three prototypes to market in 2010 -- precisely when Chevrolet will start selling the Volt plug-in electric sedan.

The Dodge EV sports coupe — based off the Lotus Europa — takes direct aim at the Tesla roadster, relying on a 26 killowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack to power the car's electric drivetrain. Chrysler claims a driving range of 150 to 200 miles and a 0-60 time under 5 seconds.

The Chrysler EV and Jeep EV both use a drivetrain similar in concept to that of the Volt. Electric power drives the wheels at all speeds. When the on-board battery is depleted, a small gasoline engine drives a generator to simultaneously recharge the battery pack and power the vehicle's electric motor. An AC-to-DC converter is included to allow overnight charging via a 110 or 220-volt power outlet.

Chrysler chose the Town & Country minivan as the benchmark vehicle for developing a front-wheel-drive setup, while the Jeep Wrangler was used to explore use of an electric drivetrain in a body-on-frame SUV.

And lest the idea of an electric-powered trail-blazing SUV sound preposterous, think for a moment of the advantages. Instant torque at zero rpm from an engine that doesn't mind which way it's oriented. No noise for your spotter to shout instructions over.

And the fuel savings are substantial. Chrysler claims that with approximately eight gallons of gasoline, both EVs have a range of 400 miles, including 40 miles of zero fuel-consumption, zero-emissions, all-electric operation.

The end goal of Chrysler's EV program is to build a "plug-n-play" electric-gasoline drivetrain that can be offered across the entire Chrysler range.

To that end, Chrysler has launched a new web site to spread the word on the company's electric and extended range electric vehicle development programs. Seeing as how Chrysler is ostensibly betting the company's future on electric power, we'll be keeping a close eye on future developments.

[Sources: Chrysler LLC, CNBC, AN, AO, MT]

September 22, 2008

Lamborghini "Urus" concept headed to Paris Motor Show

A week after we posted the first teaser pic of Porsche's Panamera, Lamborghini announced the company will launch it's own four-door coupe competitor.

In an announcement to the press, Lamborghini said it will unveil a concept car at next month's Paris Motor Show that is nearly ready for production.

The front-engined, all-wheel-drive four-door sedan will be Lamborghini's third model line, joining the V-10 powered Gallardo and V-12 Murcielago coupes and roadsters.

Company sources also said that the production version may use a smaller engine than the 5.0-liter V-10 currently used in the Gallardo. In such a case, Volkswagen AG - which owns Lamborghini - may elect to use Audi's 4.2 liter V-8 engine, possibly with direct fuel injection, twin turbocharging or both.

Shortly after Lamborghini released two teaser shots of the forthcoming concept, forum members at discovered that the company has recently trademarked the name "Urus."

This name would fit with the company's tradition of naming their automobiles after famous bulls. Urus was the latin root name for the aurochs, the Bronze Age predecessor to modern domesticated cattle. A species known for their immense size and power, the last recorded live urus, a female, died in in the Jaktorów Forest in Poland in 1627.

Lamborghini plans to build about 3,000 units per year, roughly matching the sales target set by Aston Martin for their Rapide four door coupe. Porsche, by comparison, plans to build 20,000 units per year.

Lamborghini has been doing quite well despite months of dour economic news; global sales have rised to 1,309 vehicles in the first half of 2008, up from 1,238 in the same period last year. Pre-tax profits have soared by nearly a third to 35 million Euros year-to-date; in 2007, the company' pre-tax profit was 47.1 million Euros.


September 19, 2008

VIDEO: HKS launches GT570 tuning program for Nissan GT-R

After spending the week extolling virtuous fuel misers and squashing the rumor of a high-po Veyron GT, we're wrapping things up with a demonstration of real, verifiable red-raw horsepower courtesy of HKS, HyperZSpeed video magazine and Japanese tuning garage Top Racing.

The R35 GT-R — Nissan's newest generation of their venerable Skyline sports coupe — has only been on the market in the US for a few months. Aftermarket tuning powerhouses have only just begun to dig into the untapped potential of the GT-R's 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V6.

HKS is the first to sell a full tuning program for the new GT-R, albeit only in Japan for the balance of the year.

The HKS GT570 kit includes new wastegate actuators for the stock turbos and an electronic boost controller, along with aluminum intercooler piping and silicon hose couplers to withstand the increased boost pressure. On the exhaust side, a set of straight pipes which replace the stock catalytic converters provide both maximum efficiency and a sinfully decadent exhaust note.

In the end, 562 wheel horsepower and 540 pound-feet of torque are extracted, albeit at expense of the stock GT-R's emissions legality. Crank up the speakers and enjoy.

[Sean Morris c/o 2009GTR / HKS]

September 18, 2008

2011 Chevy Cruze: 45 mpg, but with a three year wait?

In the mass-market MPG race, Chevy's Cruze is the one to watch and wait for.

While the Chevrolet Volt has been stealing headlines (mine included) with its environmentalist cache and its electron-wily ways, the replacement for the Cobalt is shaping up to be the fuel miser for the masses.

Yesterday evening, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would qualify the Volt for a $7500 tax rebate. Toyota is not at all pleased with being left out in the cold; they've redoubled their lobbying efforts to get the bill amended before a vote in the Senate.

While the exact size of the rebate remains unknown, the current speculation pins the Volt's sales price at $35,000 or so, a large chunk of change for the average family. Hence why the 2011 Cruze — Chevrolet's successor to the maligned Cobalt — will go on to be GM's mass-market fuel sipper and the company's likely savior.

But not before a whirlwind tour in Europe.

When sales begin next March, the Cruze will be offered with three engine choices: a naturally aspirated 1.6 liter inline four good for 112-horsepower, a 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter turbocharged four or a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four producing 150 horsepower and 320 Nm of torque. Five speed manuals will come standard on all Cruze models. The Cruze will also be the first compact car to offer GM's new six-speed automatic transmission as an option.

While official EPA figures aren't available yet, the 1.6 liter four is projected to return about 45 miles per US gallon of gasoline. Judging by the contemporary Opel diesel lineup, the 2.0 liter diesel Cruze will likely get up to 50 mpg per US gallon.

These are impressive figures, considering that the current Cobalt eeks out 34 miles per gallon and only when tarted up in XFE trim with a miserly ECU tune and low-rolling resistance tires.

But despite the new car's technological bona-fides, the Cruze faces stiff competition simply overcoming the precedent set by the mediocre Cobalt sedan.

"Our goal in designing Cruze was to be bold, not evolutionary," said Taewan Kim, chief designer on the Cruze. "We wanted to take a big step forward, making a strong design statement for Chevrolet products around the world."

Kim clearly broke with the Cobalt and Cavalier mold, giving the Cruze an arching roof-line and steeply raked windshield that together seem more Teutonic than its bulbous predecessors. At the front, the Cruze employs one of the better uses of Chevrolet's global dual-panel grille layout — a trend your author still despises. Large headlamp housings frame the signature grille, wrapping around the front corners giving the Cruze an aggressive countenance that again seems more Germanic than Yankee.

Then why the long wait?
After decades of floundering in the compact car market, it seems like General Motors is finally beginning to understand how to use it's engineering muscle effectively. But the next step is to get the product planners on board. The Saturn Astra is the first US compact car to build on GM's strong European offerings; as gas prices rose, the Astra became a viable competitor. The Cruze seem set to solidify those gains.

Which begs the question why American buyers must wait until 2011. When viewed with the same cynicism as the Cruze's predecessors, the pre-sale braggadocio is merely a shot across the bow of Chevrolet's Japanese and Korean competitors, giving them nearly three years advance notice to counter the Cruze's strengths.

Mr. Wagoner, if you're reading this... stop talking and start selling.
After all, the purpose of building a competitive car is to sell it, rather than gaze at it longingly from afar.


September 17, 2008

EDITORIAL: Leaked (if not forged) 'internal memo' hints at Bugatti Veyron GT

Early this week, a Danish automotive blog published an image of a memo confirming the production of a high performance, end-of-the-line Bugatti Veyron GT.

The memo claims that the GT tuning program would increase output of the Veyron's 8.0 liter quad-turbo V-16 to 1,350 horsepower and 1,018 pound-feet of torque. Additional GT spec upgrades would be applied to the car's carbon-ceramic brakes, electronic stability control program and the car's active aerodynamics.

The increased power would theoretically cut the Veyron's 0-60 mph time by two-tenths of a second to 2.4 and raise the Veyron's top speed from 252 to 264 mph. The tuning program would also be made available for any Veyron currently in production.

But take off the rose-colored glasses, folks.
There are plenty of reasons why this "memo" isn't worth the paper it's presumably printed on.

For an internal memo, there's a lot of irrelevant puffery injected into the copy.

The self-congratulatory tripe covers topics such as the GT's "ingenious aerodynamics, which keeps [sic] it on the road even at full speed." God forbid the laws of aerodynamic lift were to suddenly fail at 250 miles per hour. How on earth would an airplane fly in such a case?

On the subject of braking, where one would expect specifics such as rotor dimensions or piston count, the memo nebulously defines the GT upgrades as follows: "Such a super sports car may not seem to be brought to a halt easily, but the Veyron's ceramic special GT brakes slow it down faster than it can accelerate."

All of this is irrelevant to an engineer; reading it would do nothing but waste time. And if the memo was directed toward marketing the tuning program, why the numerous grammar errors and failed logic?

Lastly, considering that Bugatti SAS is a French company wholly owned by the Volkswagen-Audi Group, why was this "memo" written in English?

Suspending a veritable Mount Everest of disbelief, the memo sets March 2009 as the delivery date for the Veyron GT, which would coincide with the Geneva Motor Show.

Daydreamers and Russian oligarchs alike, don't hold your breath.

[Memo source:]
[Image courtesy: Bugatti SAS]

September 16, 2008

2011 Chevrolet Volt debuts on General Motors' centennial

A day after a tidal wave of insolvency inundated Wall Street creditors and set the Dow Jones tumbling, General Motors celebrated its centennial.

And in the midst of such turbulent economic tides, there was hardly a better way to celebrate than with the unveiling of the production ready 2010 Chevrolet Volt.

“It is a great way to open our second century,” said Rick Wagoner, GM Chairman and CEO. “The Volt is symbolic of GM’s strong commitment to the future … just the kind of technology innovation that our industry needs to respond to today’s and tomorrow’s energy and environmental challenges.”

Innovative design throughout
At first glance, it's clear that a healthy amount of time was spent honing the Volt's aerodynamics. On the whole, the production appears retains much of the concept's design essence while at the same time making concessions to aerodynamic and cost efficiency.

The Volt's rounded and flush front fascia, tapered corners and grille are the most readily apparent changes, all designed to minimize turbulence and the aerodynamic drag that results. Out back, the rear fender, spoiler and steeply raked rear window combine to form a faceted, sleek composition that allows air to flow off and away quickly.

Inside, the Volt offers a broad, airy cockpit for four, packed with leading-edge technology. Prominently placed in the center console is the Volt's standard touch-sensitive infotainment screen. The screen is used to display information about the battery's state of charge, climate control and audio systems.

Standard audio will include a six-speaker MP3 enabled CD player with AM/FM radio, as well as Bluetooth networking for hands-free phone integration and music streaming from a Bluetooth-enabled personal music player. Navigation will be offered as an option; the system will also include an on-board hard drive for storing both the navigation system's maps and music recorded from CDs.

In lieu of conventional analog gauges, the Volt uses a color LCD screen which the driver can reconfigure to his or her liking. More details on the instrumentation will come to light as release date nears.

All of this design and technological wizardry is an accessory to the key innovation of the Volt — its electric-gasoline drivetrain.

Under the hood, electrons abound... gasoline optional
Unlike a conventional gasoline-electric hybrid, the Volt's electric motor drives the car's wheels all the time at all speeds. For up to 40 miles on a full charge, the 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery provides all the vehicle's power, which means no gasoline used and no tailpipe emissions.

When the battery is depleted, a gasoline-powered engine turns an on-board generator, providing electricity to power the Volt's electric drive unit and simultaneously sustaining the charge of the battery.

Unlike previous electric vehicles, the Volt will never leave the driver stranded by a flat battery. Further enhancing the car's efficient drivetrain, the Volt can be plugged into either a standard household 120-volt or 240-volt for direct charging of the onboard battery off of mains power.

At 240 volts, the Volt will fully recharge in three hours; eight hours are required with a 120v outlet. Charge times are reduced if the battery has not been fully depleted. At a cost of about 80 cents per day (10 cents per kilowatt-hour) for a full charge that will deliver up to 40 miles of electric driving, GM estimates that the Volt will be less expensive to recharge than purchasing a cup of your favorite coffee.

Charging the Volt about once daily will consume less electric energy annually than the average home's refrigerator. For a driver that stays within the Volt's 40 mile electric-only range and recharges off of mains power, about 500 gallons of fuel will be saved. At an average price of $3.60 per gallon, that’s a yearly savings of $1,800. Commuters with a 60 mile round trip commute could save up to 550 gallons, or $1,980 per year.

In addition to offering substantial fuel savings, the Volt's electric drive unit offers spirited driving performance in a remarkably quiet interior. The Volt delivers the equivalent of 150 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of instant torque to the wheels. Top speed is electronically limited to 100 miles per hour. The lack of engine noise, combined with special sound-deadening materials make the Chevrolet Volt a particularly quiet vehicle to drive.

An American Revolution (we hope)
The last remaining step in the Volt's production process is to settle on a location for the plant.

Wagoner has expressed interest in keeping Volt production stateside and has begun lobbying Congress for tax incentives both on production and retail sales of the Volt.

Assuming all goes well, the Volt will begin rolling off the line at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck manufacturing facility in late 2010. Pricing has not yet been announced, but we will continue to follow the Volt as further details emerge.


September 15, 2008

2010 Porsche Panamera teaser shot, hybrid model details released

Porsche's released the first official "teaser" shot of the Panamera sedan today, along with early details on a hybrid version.

The Panamera will likely go on sale immediately following its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2009.

In addition to the photo, the German automaker has posted videos online of disguised Panamera prototypes running on various test drives.

Porsche will conduct a direct-mail marketing campaign this fall, targeting current Porsche owners as prospective buyers for the Panamera.

Whether you love or loathe the idea of a Porsche sedan, here's what we know (or can safely assume) about the 2010 Panamera's specifications:

• The car is front engine, rear drive, measures nearly 5 meters long, about 2 meters wide and is estimated to weigh about 1700 kg.

• Three engines will be available at launch: a 300-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6, a 405-horsepower 4.8-liter V-8 and a twin-turbocharged 4.8-liter V-8 producing approximately 520 horsepower.

• According to Autobild, the base model is capable of 250 km/h; the 4.8 twin turbo Panamera should be able to manage 300 km/h. All Panamera models will offer the dopplekupplung seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox which recently debuted on the 2009 Porsche 911 Carrera model range.

• The Panamera will be the first Porsche to offer a hybrid drivetrain option, combing the base 3.6-liter V-6 with a 110-horsepower electric motor. Autobild reports that the Panamera will be able to move under electric power alone at low speed.

A second teaser shot is due to be released on October 20. We've included a 1280 x 796 version of the press photo as well as a cropped detail shot for your downloading pleasure. As more information becomes available, we'll bring it to you first at NMM.

[Image Credit: Porsche NA]

September 12, 2008

Video: Renault Ondelios Concept merges Gallic style, high tech for ultimate luxury

Crossover, trucklet, compact SUV.

All of these words might spring to mind at the first sight of Renault's latest concept. Yet the Gallic automaker sees the Ondelios as a vision of the future high-end luxury sedan, blending performance and luxury with respect for the environment.

We wrap up this week with a detailed examination of the Renault Ondelios — a machine that challenges traditional design concepts in the interest of advancing the art of the luxury automobile.

"Motion rather than speed"
"Ondelios is inspired by motion rather than speed and is a whole new response to the call of the open road," said Patrick Le Quément, design director for Renault.

Sitting on seven-spoke, 23-inch aluminum alloys, the wheels are at first glance the centerpiece of the Ondelios' design. Their propeller-like hubs draw airflow from the sides of the car to prevent turbulence and cool the brake rotors. Rolling on 255/40 R23 next-generation Michelin Pilot Sport tires, the tread pattern is designed to minimize deformation of the contact patch, reducing rolling resistance and offering responsive handling.

Unified design through advanced materials
In designing the Ondelios, spaciousness, efficiency and avant-garde style were top priorities. Le Quément chose to use broad gullwing doors to span the pillarless opening, allowing easy entry into all three rows of seats. At the push of a button, the second row of seats will automatically slide forward and fold down to facilitate access to the third row.

Outside, the fully glazed roof, broad windscreen and low window sill are all complimented by flush-fitting glass and anthracite blue bodywork, lending the car a windswept and unified look. The steeply raked windscreen, which extends well down the bonnet, further accentuates this ethereal feel.

"We think of it as made from a single material, where the body and glazed areas merge into one. Ondelios is a glimpse of what the automobile might be in the medium term future," said Le Quément.

At the front, the Ondelios' aluminum grille is flanked by highly efficient LED headlamps with sculpted polycarbonate covers featuring integrated lenses. Out back, boomerang-shaped LED tail lights are mounted flush with the bodywork and ringed with air extractors to control the flow of air from the wheel arches. The tailgate's upper section rounds off the car's sleek, aerodynamic lines with a glare shield that slides inwards to air and cool the cabin.

These advanced aerodynamic aids are key to the Ondelios concept's efficiency. Proving that not all hybrids need to be miniaturized, anodyne and awkward, the 5 meter long and 1.6 meter high Ondelios uses a fully enclosed undercarriage to deliver a drag coefficient of 0.26, rivaling the Toyota Prius for wind-cheating efficiency.

To compliment the extensive aerodynamic tuning, the Ondelios is also designed to be highly recyclable. Non-structural body parts are made from a natural flax fiber composite for greater recyclability. Since weight is also a detriment to fuel efficiency, the car's monocoque is made from carbon fiber and the glazed roof from polycarbonate.

Next generation diesel hybrid power
Under the hood, the Renault Ondelios features a diesel-electric drivetrain; a 205-horsepower 2.0 liter turbodiesel four and two 20kW electric motors positioned at the front and rear axles, respectively.

The Ondelios will run on electric power alone using the front electric motor at speeds up to 45 mph. The torque-rich diesel four and the rear electric motor add power during acceleration; regenerative braking is used to charge the on-board battery pack.

When traction is poor, the rear electric motor will activate, providing all-wheel-drive stability without relying on a heavy and drag-laden mechanical driveshaft. Thus, the Ondelios provides all-wheel-drive traction when it is beneficial and front-wheel drive efficiency when it isn't needed.

The Ondelios can hustle from 0 to 60 mph in 7 seconds, while using 4.5 liters of diesel every 100 kilometers. CO2 emissions are also remarkably low; a mere 120 grams per kilometer. An impressive feat for such a large sedan.

The bottom line: Renault has taken the concept of spaciousness and environmentalism and applied cutting- edge design and materials to create a genre-defying expression of a 21st century luxury automobile.

Like most of Renault's show cars, the design is fanciful with heaps of show car tinsel, but the fundamental technology is already here. The future of the automobile is a lot closer than you'd expect; this is Renault's vision.
[Video: Renault via R2R]
[Pictures: Renault via ABG]

September 11, 2008

EDITORIAL: 2010 Mini Crossman SUV Concept set to ruin brand heritage, defy logic at Paris debut

At nearly 14 feet long with a 11 foot long wheelbase, any pretense of an SUV being sold as a MINI borders on the clinically insane.

But that hasn't stopped BMW — the parent company of MINI — from applying horrid marketing groupthink to a world-renowned brand.

And thus, lipsticked pigs like the Mini Crossman Concept are born.

Since the first Morris Mini rolled off the line at Longbridge, Birmingham in 1959, the Mini has been known for exceptional space efficiency combined with world-beating handling and — in the hands of rally pilots like Timo Maakinen — world championship caliber performance.

All of which make the forthcoming Crossman SUV an insipid, overwrought creation that — judging by recent sales figures — is completely out of touch with the rest of the market.

As Dodge and Chrysler have shown by virtue of their flirtations with bankruptcy, the SUV market has all but collapsed. And now that Sin City has given up on the Hummer, it doesn't take an economist to realize that the demand for poseur trucklets of all sizes has taken a serious — and likely permanent — beating.

Furthermore, Mini will be the latecomer to an already overbooked party.

While the official MSRP has yet to be set, the production version of the all-wheel-drive Crossman will likely sell for about $2000 to $3000 more than the front-wheel-drive only Mini Clubman S, which offers nearly the same amount of space and sells for $24,100.

So, at $26,000 for a base Crossman, Mini's new trucklet will compete with everything from the Jeep Patriot to the lease-returned BMW X3 3.0i. When there are a dozen or so products all trying to survive in a shrinking market, the future doesn't bode well for newcomers.

No matter how much faux Britannia blush BMW decides to smear on its off-roading porcine plunker, it will still squeal under the strain of a fading and cliched niche.

Think I'm wrong?
Give me an earful in the comments.


[Photo Credit: BMW AG]

September 10, 2008

Confirmed: Lexus IS convertible will debut at Paris Motor Show

After nearly two years of speculation over a rumored IS convertible, Lexus confirmed today that the production version will make its press debut at the Paris Motor Show on October 2nd.

The 204-horsepower IS250 convertible will be the first model to hit US dealer showrooms, to be followed closely by the more fleet-footed, 306-horsepower IS350 convertible.

The engines and drivetrains carry over unchanged from their sedan counterparts with one notable exception — the IS250 convertible will not be offered with the IS250 sedan's optional all-wheel-drive system.

Lexus has yet to say whether the fire-breathing, 400-horsepower V-8- powered IS-F sedan will sire a convertible version.

Early predictions suggested that a cloth top would be used partly in an effort to keep costs down. Yet as the latest spy shots from AutoTelegraaf show, the new IS convertible will feature a retracting hardtop similar to the current BMW 3-series convertibles.

Stay tuned; as the reveal date draws near, official pictures will be forthcoming.

[Photo Credit: AutoTelegraaf via TPP]

September 9, 2008

Fisker Automotive secures $65 million from US, Qatar investors

Fisker Automotive of Los Angeles, Calif. announced its latest investment deal today, through which the startup automaker will receive $65 million in new capital.

The deal was lead by an affiliate of Qatar Investment Authority, along with representatives from Palo Alto Investors and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

"We are extremely pleased to have closed our financing round at this time, particularly in light of the current market conditions," CEO Henrik Fisker said in a statement. "This shows that Fisker Automotive has a solid business plan and a globally experienced automotive team with very strong investors behind the company."

The proceeds from today's deal will go toward continued development of the Fisker Karma.

In addition to being the company's first automobile to be based on a custom built chassis, the Fisker Karma will be the company's first hybrid vehicle. Featuring plug-in hybrid technology the electric powertrain will allow drivers to drive emission-free for 50 miles a day, provided that the car is recharged every night.

In 2003, former Aston Martin design chief Henrik Fisker founded Fisker Coachbuild LLC.

Fisker launched the firm with the Tramonto and Latigo sports cars, both custom designs penned by Fisker and based off the BMW 6-series coupe and Mercedes-Benz SL-series convertible.

Shortly after the Fisker Karma concept (pictured at right) was unveiled in 2007, Fisker Automotive was founded by Fisker Coachbuild LLC and engineering partner Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies, which will design and build the Karma's hybrid drivetrain.

Fisker Automotive has received more than 500 orders since the Karma's unveiling, delivery of the first customer vehicles are expected to start by the end of 2009.