Our buddy Mark Whinton from Carquestions, who always manages to find the obscure problems with today’s complex automobiles, wonders: why can’t the new Jeep Grand Cherokee tell if it’s battery isn’t being charged? As he points out, this omission could leave drivers stranded if their accessory belt were to break, without ever warning them of the problem. Is Mark nit-picking? Possibly, but in this business, one lesson gets learned again and again: you gotta sweat the details. In light of Mark’s research we’re as curious as he is: did Chrysler simply overlook this, or is this a case of conscious decontenting? Over to you, ChryCo…
Though the next-generation of Mazda’s rotary engine has been in development since 2007, and has been the subject of several TTAC Wild-Ass Rumors, WardsAuto reports that the unique engine design could well be reaching the end of its life.
Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda executive officer-product planning and powertrain development, says there is “huge discussion” within the Hiroshima, Japan-based company whether to continue on with a rotary engine.
Fujiwara says economic hardship has some top brass looking for programs to cut, and that the engine program is on the list.
Continuing development of the rotary has been halted for now, but he hopes it will resume in the future, noting the technology is a part of Mazda’s DNA.
Without identifying what exactly they are, Fujiwara says three major problems were identified with the current generation of rotary engine, but that two of the three have been overcome. Still, Mazda says that only one thing will save the rotary engine at this point: success with Mazda’s new suite of SKYACTIV technologies. If these fuel-saving measures spark new interest in the Mazda brand, says Fujiwara, then Mazda might have enough cash to invest in its rotary engine. Alternatively, a Mazda-developed Wankel engine could be used as an electric range-extender. In any case, don’t expect a new Mazda rotary before 2017… if ever. Here’s hoping Mazda is able to keep this unique, distinctive drivetrain alive for future generations of enthusiast drivers.
Mercedes-Benz is currently trying to recapture the number one position in global luxury sales, but a quality problem on its home turf in Germany seems to be undermining confidence in the brand. Autobild reports that the M272 V6 and M273 V8 engines used a sintered steel timing chain gear made of various materials starting in 2004, but switched to conventional steel in 2006, eliminating the problem with gear wear. The problem: nobody seems to know how many vehicles built between 2004 and 2006 are affected. Mercedes claims, based on secret internal defect tracking, that one percent, or about 1,500 vehicles, are affected. If you have a vehicle with one of these engines built between 04 and 06 and your check engine light comes on, Mercedes encourages you to visit your M-B dealer rather than an independent shop, as Mercedes is offering free repairs to affected customers. And as Autobild’s Matthias Mötsch argues, when your motto is “the best or nothing,” the only answer to a situation like this is to fix 100% of the defects for free.
For the first time since the days of the 912, Porsche will be selling cars with a boxer-four engine. This new engine will power everything from the forthcoming “Baby Boxster” to the next generation of Boxster and Cayman, likely differentiated by different states of turbocharged tune. Here, a mule of the next-gen Cayman (released in Europe next year), which is growing to accommodate the new entry-level model, shows off the sweet sound of its new turbocharged 2.5 liter four-banger, which is rumored to put out 365 HP in “S” trim. And by “sweet sounds” I mean, it sounds a lot nicer than the 2.5 liter boxer in my girlfriend’s Impreza… although some of our more discriminating readers might feel that it’s still not up to Porsche standards. What say you?
Autocar reports that the new “Baby Jag” roadster, will hit the European market by late 2012, cost £40,000 (about the same as a Boxster S) and “will blow the rest of the industry away.” According to the British buff book
The styling of the XE, Autocar understands, follows the company’s philosophy of “expressing lightness”. This is a new Jaguar styling principle that should result in the shape of future models “visually reflecting” the fact that they are made entirely of aluminium.
Unfortunately, because it shares its all-alu platform with the next-gen XK, it won’t be quite as light as a Boxster, with production weight estimated at 3,300 lbs. But, because this video only shows the “XE” (the name is still a matter of hot debate inside Jaguar) test mule, the most relevant detail is the drivetrain: a V6 of unrevealed displacement, in naturally-aspirated and supercharged forms, and hitched to an eight-speed automatic. The engine in this test video exhibits a nice, “emotional” raspy edge that is sure to satisfy in top-down driving, but the final clip of the video gives me the slushbox blues. Skip ahead to the 3:50 mark, when the mule accelerates from a stop, and it’s clear that (at least in mule form) this car shifts softly enough to sound almost like a CVT. Let’s hope they were just testing “touring” or “eco” mode or somesuch, because if you aren’t going to offer a manual transmission in a roadster, the slushbox needs to at least be able to bang some hard shifts when necessary.
While Fiat-Chrysler revives its Lancia brand by rebadging new Chrysler models with few other modifications, it’s attacking Maserati’s aging product lineup with a similar but more subtle strategy. Automotive News [sub] reports that the current Quattroporte has a problem
The car is too big to be a compelling driver’s car, but too small – particularly in terms of rear legroom – to serve as a good chauffeur’s car.
Luckily, according to the report, there’s an easy solution:
The problem will be resolved by offering two cars – a “baby” Quattroporte, code-named M157 and a larger Quattroporte, code-named M156.
The new flagship model will continue to use a Ferrari-sourced V8, and presumably an evolution of the current model’s underpinnings, extended by 70 mm to 5170 mm, or 203 inches… about the length of the forthcoming Cadillac XTS. The smaller version, on the other hand, is going to be a case study in the ever-evolving art of balancing shared components and premium differentiation.
WardsAuto is a great source for industry news, but it’s pretty clearly not the best source for enthusiast news. Take, for example, a recent interview with Dodge SRT boss Ralph Gilles about the forthcoming compact Dodge and its possible SRT version:
“The Neon put the whole street-tuning scene on its ear with the factory turbo. We have to figure out how to get an entry-level SRT product to capture the next generation.”
The car to which Gilles refers will be a Dodge C-segment sedan derived from the same platform that shoulders the highly acclaimed European-market Alfa Romeo Giulietta offered by alliance-partner Fiat…
While Gilles is adamant that a high-performance C-car would be a welcome addition for Chrysler, he stops short of saying it’s a done deal, noting internal plans still are being hammered out.
However, it’s unlikely the entry-level model would share the 470-hp 6.4L Hemi V-8 shared by its SRT brethren introduced at the event here. [emphasis added]
Say it aint so, Dodge! I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just not a true successor to the Neon SRT-4 unless it’s got a Hemi V8… damn Italians! Seriously though, how cool is it that Wards considers a V8-powered Fiat-based compact merely “unlikely” rather than “a surefire sign of the apocalypse”?
Alternative video after the jump…
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In my review of the VW Golf blue-e-motion on Tuesday, I noted that “the holy grail of EV development is a multi-speed transmission,” but that nobody has been able to build one that can reliably handle the 100% torque at zero RPM characteristics of an electric drivetrain. Tesla tried two different multi-speed transmissions (from X-Trac and Magna), before giving up and going with the single-speed setup that every production EV now uses. Nobody has even talked about a multi-gear EV since… until now. With Fisker’s Karma about to go to market, CEO Henrik Fisker tells Autocar that his firm is developing a multi-speed EV gearbox, and that it would improve performance in EVs like the Karma, saying
With the torque at the wheels increased by the use of a gearbox, Veyron levels of performance should be possible.
We’re as excited as anyone else by the idea of an EV with shiftable gears, but this sounds more like Fisker trying to drum up some hype for the Karma launch. After all, the Karma launches to 60 MPH in a leisurely 7.9 seconds in “stealth” (EV) mode and 5.9 seconds in “sport” mode with gas power to up the wattage… a far cry from Veyron performance. As C&D puts it:
The Karma’s initial surge is sufficiently potent to avoid damnation as a slug. But the physics conspire against it keeping pace with other $100K sports sedans.
Lugging over 4,000 lbs is certainly easier with a multi-gear transmission, but given the reliability challenge, we’d be more likely to trust an EV transmission from a reliable supplier rather than a boutique luxury PHEV maker. And until Fisker can back up the Veyron reference with some hard evidence, we’re filing this one under “intriguing but unlikely.” Still, it’s exciting to know that this technical challenge is still out there, unconquered by major manufacturer or feisty startup… in a world where cars are becoming increasingly mundane, the multi-gear EV transmission challenge is a throwback to the golden years of automotive development.
GM still won’t comment on the matter, but a recent rumor that the Cruze’s two-liter diesel engine will be federalized for the 2013 model-year has been confirmed to the AP [via the DetN] by “two people briefed on GM product plans.” That motor, designed by VM Motori and built since 2006 by GM-Daewoo, was recently updated to Euro 6 standards, and according to the Holden website, the Australian-spec version makes 160 HP (at 3,800 RPM) and 236 lb-ft (at 1,750 RPM), while returning 42 MPG (combined with manual transmission) or 35 MPG (combined, automatic). Of course those aren’t EPA numbers, and they could easily change by the time the engine is certified for US emissions standards.
Smell that? It’s the gathering scent of a new industry trend towards natural gas. Honda’s expanded its pioneering Civic GX to 50 states, Sergio Marchionne wants to replicate his Italian CNG success at Chrysler (eventually), and now GM is jumping on the bandwagon while it’s still relatively uncrowded. The Winnepeg Free Press reports that GM has signed a development deal with Vancouver, B.C.-based Westport Innovations which could see a prototype light-duty natural gas-powered engine completed “within 18 months” if preliminary study proves promising. A Westport spokesman boasts
If both parties agree to move ahead with commercialization this would be one of the first pure OEM [natural gas-powered] products
You know, except the Civic GX which has been prowling American streets since 1998. Still, with Chrysler targeting CNG commercialization no earlier than 2017, GM could have a strong head-start on a fuel technology that promises to be a viable and promising gasoline alternative, especially if the NatGas Bill [PDF] passes, expanding $7,500 plug-in tax credits to natural gas vehicles. And GM’s got a strong partner in Westport, which has heavy-duty commercial deals with Cummins and Caterpillar. With Nissan all-in on EVs and years ahead of the competition in terms of global EV production capacity, look for other competitors to hedge their alt-energy bets… and natural gas is rapidly becoming the most popular alternative.
TTAC’s man-about-the-junkyard Murilee Martin has made the bold claim that we live in the golden age of cheap superchargers, but when it comes to new cars, we may be entering another “golden age” for superchargers as well. Eaton’s Ken Davis tells Automotive News [sub] that his firm is looking at doubling its supercharger sales as the technology comes into its own as a fuel-saving measure. Though turbochargers have received the lions share of attention as the industry moves towards downsized, forced-induction engines, Davis argues that supercharger have their own role to play in the effort, specifically when it comes to “downspeeding” engines to produce better power at lower RPM. He adds
Audi is our largest supercharger customer, and we are on a couple of platforms with Nissan… Nissan will bring their supercharged vehicles here. We’ll be on Audi and Volkswagen platforms, too. We are starting to get some attention.
Having seen its RX-8 banned from Europe for flunking emissions tests, Mazda may be going to extreme lengths to improve the efficiency of its next-gen rotary engine (codenamed 16x) which has been in development since 2007. Autocar reports
The 16X’s capacity has been raised from 1304cc to 1600cc, and it is also physically smaller and partly built from aluminium. The changes are designed to improve two of the biggest issues with rotary engine performance: fuel economy and torque delivery.
The Mazda source said the new engine “needed a smaller hole on the wall [of the combustion chamber]” as a result of eliminating the space-hungry normal spark plug. He also admitted to Autocar that the use of laser ignition “was absolutely possible”.
Recent advances in Japan have created high-power lasers made from ceramics that measure just 9mm in diameter and 11mm in length, easily small enough to fit into a car engine.
Not only would laser ignition allow the 16x to burn leaner, it would also allow more precise control of ignition points and timing. More importantly, it would cement the Wankel rotary’s status as the least-necessary, most overly-complex and thoroughly awesome engine ever created. And they say emissions standards always make cars less interesting…
Your worst nightmare. A pleasant drive along a yawning rural two-laner is met by a sudden ‘jolt!’ You quickly take your foot off the accelerator. Was it a transmission shudder? A miss in the engine? Some gravitational push from a UFO? After a couple of mini-jolts it looks like problem number one. You do what you can to not stress the tranny. But it gets worse and worse until ‘jolt!’ ‘JOLT!’ ‘Veeeee!!!!’ The engine spins over to the high rpm’s with nothing left to propel it. The tranny is toast… and now the fun begins.
A pair of studies, by MIT and the International Energy Agency [via GreenCarCongress] take a look at what is rapidly becoming a hot topic in the world of alt-energy transportation policy: the use of natural gas to power cars and trucks. If you’re intrigued by the car industry’s “forgotten” fuel source (and with Honda Civic GX models going on sale in 50 states and a possible $7,500 natural gas car tax credit going before congress this summer, you probably should be), hit the jump for some comprehensive information about the future of natural gas-powered transportation.
When Ford showed the world its new crop of compact-based cars and MPVs at January’s Detroit Auto Show, it announced that its C-Max compact MPV would be coming to the US in 7-passenger Grand C-Max form. But in a strangely prophetic turn of events (see video above), the 7-passenger model refused to show up. Now, according to Ford, the 7-passenger Grand C-Max won’t be coming to the US… instead the 5-passenger version will be sold as a dedicated hybrid model with a plug-in option. Why? Because it’s big in Europe… and because “One Ford.” Hit the jump for Ford’s explanation, and then wonder along with us: seriously, why not sell the 7-seat version too?