By on November 7, 2011

Of all the Japanese automakers, none are as far behind on hybrid technology as Nissan. For some time there was a sense that Nissan’s (relatively) huge investment in electric vehicle production would represent a “leapfrogging” of hybrid technology, but now the firm is using the common industry response to questions about future technology: a suite of options, rather than one single technology, will meet tomorrow’s low-energy transportation needs. As a result, Nissan’s been playing catchup, as it admits in a recent press release [PDF]

“We must have a tougher job than any other hybrid team in the industry,” says Mitsunobu Fukuda, a senior powertrain engineer at NATC. “Because our CEO, Carlos Ghosn, used to be known as skeptical about the value proposition of hybrids we had to make a really compelling case that we could deliver value to customers to get him to validate a hybrid program.

In 2004, as a stopgap measure, Nissan licensed hybrid technology from Toyota for use in certain markets.

“It was a bit of a blow to our pride, but that was the right thing to do under the circumstances,” Fukuda says.“Instead of rushing out a ‘copy-cat’ hybrid we wanted to take the time to develop our own hybrid, one that is clearly different – and better. I think we’ve managed to do that.”

What makes Nissan’s forthcoming hybrid system so different? For one thing, it uses Nissan’s “one motor, two clutch” system (currently found only on the Infiniti M Hybrid), which enables a compact design. For another, it’s supercharged.

(Read More…)

By on November 5, 2011

Though the original A6-based Audi Allroad was designed for the US market, it hit the market at the height of SUV mania, and as a result never sold more than 6,357 units per year (in 2001, its second year on the market). By the end of 2005, Audi pulled the “Avant Outback” from the US where it was replaced by the hulking Q7 SUV, but the brand did develop a new version for Europe, which debuted in 2006. In many ways, this evolution mirrors the Subaru Outback’s shift from jacked-up wagon to full-blown CUV, and reflects America’s growing preference for unique-bodied car-based crossovers. And with a Q5 already on sale in the US, and a Q3 on its way, it seems unlikely that Audi will bring this smaller, A4-based Allroad to the US. But fashion being what it is, doesn’t it seem likely that the pendulum will eventually swing back, and that air-suspension-equipped wagons will once again enjoy a moment of vogue? And if anything is going to bring about such a fad, isn’t it this freshly facelifted A4 Allroad?

By on September 29, 2011

It probably won’t help Herr Dr Martin Winterkorn’s indigestion any, but Automotive News [sub] reports that Hyundai Motor Group (the technical umbrella firm that supplies technology to both Hyundai and Kia) is developing a new 10-speed automatic transmission, which

 will be for luxury models starting in 2014, possibly including the Hyundai Genesis and Equus luxury sedans.

Hyundai debuted an eight-speed autobox over a year ago, matching the industry standard for luxury cars. But with ZF announcing a new nine-speed box, Hyundai is taking things a step further… or is it a cog too far?
(Read More…)

By on September 4, 2011

If you’re eagerly jumping up to shout “yes” to the headline’s rhetorical question, you’d better live in Europe… or be prepared to move there. The chances of VW ever bringing its 1.4 TSI engine to the US seem dim, based on the brand’s new mass-market-oriented, big-n-cheap approach. But starting next year, Autocar reports that

VW [will be] the first manufacturer to implement the fuel-saving technology in a mass-produced TSI engine, a system that shuts off two of the four cylinders under low to medium loads, between 1400 and 4000rpm.

Volkswagen claims that the EU6-compliant unit saves 0.4 litres (0.09 gallons) of fuel per 100km, rising to 0.6 litres (0.13 gallons) per 100km when combined with VW’s stop-start system.

VW also says that the benefits become more obvious when driven smoothly and slowly: “At 50 km/h, in third or fourth gear, savings amount to nearly one litre per 100km.”

If you’re currently looking up those conversions for use in future conversations (about hypothetical engine swaps for your Em Kay Eye Vee), you’re officially a “Mr Euro” (here’s a hint: it’s cooler to use the European measures and make everyone else do the math). If you’re wondering about how reliable these engines are going to be, or what it must be like to cruise the freeway on 700 ccs of displacement you’ve probably come to the right place.

 

By on August 21, 2011

We’ve heard about range-extending trailers which could allow EVs to become range-extended plug-in hybrids, but how about this: a trailer with its own battery storage, regenerative braking and even electric-drive assist. That’s the idea behind German camper trailer firm Knaus Tabbert’s concept, on display this summer at Düsseldorf’s Caravan Salon. And besides adding hybrid capabilities to the car that happens to be towing the trailer, the trailer itself can use the energy gained through regenerative braking for its climate control, refrigerator, lights and more. Autobild reports:

Here’s how it works: Two AC generators, each with 850 watts of power are connected to each wheel of the caravan. The energy generated during the drive is stored in lead-acid batteries, which add an extra weightof 70 to 80 kilos. Starting at a speed of about ten km/h the generators begin feeding electricity to the batteries, and the maximum charge power is available by about 35 km/h. If the Caravan’s electricity use is limited to seven hours per day (total power 100 watts), campers can take advantage of up to four days of independence from an external power supply.

Even if you don’t understand German, you might enjoy the video above, which demonstrates many of the promised functions of this system. Outside of videos though, the system still is not ripe for public sale, according to its developer. There’s still no word on when it will be ready or how much it will cost, but it’s one of many small ways that hybrid technology is seeping into nearly every form of transportation.

By on August 12, 2011

You know those things that you never thought you needed, but once you had them you realized you never wanted to live without them again? According to Jean-Claude Kihn, Goodyear’s senior vice president and chief technical officer, it’s time to get ready for another such technology:

“A tire that can maintain its own inflation is something drivers have wanted for many years. Goodyear has taken on this challenge and the progress we have made is very encouraging. This will become the kind of technological breakthrough that people will wonder how they ever lived without.”

Goodyear doesn’t know when its “Air Maintenance Technology” will make it to the streets, but thanks to funding from the US and Luxembourg governments, they’re making progress.
(Read More…)

By on August 11, 2011

Steampunks and Atomic Age nuts rejoice! WardsAuto reports that Connecticut-based Laser Power Systems is “getting closer” to developing a prototype electric car which develops its power using the radioactive heavy metal Thorium. According to LPS’s CEO,

when thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat. Small blocks of thorium generate heat surges that are configured as a thorium-based laser… These create steam from water within mini-turbines, generating electricity to drive a car. A 250 MW unit weighing about 500 lbs. (227 kg) would be small and light enough to drop under the hood of a car… Because thorium is so dense, similar to uranium, it stores considerable potential energy: 1 gm of thorium equals the energy of 7,500 gallons (28,391 L) of gasoline. Prototype systems generate electricity within 30 seconds of firing a laser. This can feed power into a car, without the need for storage.

What about radioactivity? (Read More…)

By on August 5, 2011

For most Americans, the term “small car” typically refers to a C-segment sedan like the Honda Civic or Ford Focus, cars that now qualify as midsizers in many key metrics. Subcompact, or B-segment cars are generally considered the smallest of the small, as their name implies… but ask an American to describe a car smaller than a subcompact, and they’ll likely look at you quizzically before hesitantly suggesting “Smart car?” Yes, the A-Segment, known in Europe as the “City Car” or Microcar” class, is such a rarity in the US that it’s basically synonymous with the one car “competing” in it (Fiat’s 500 hasn’t quite broken into the public consciousness yet).

But, with Chevy execs confirming once and for all that the on-again-off-again (for the US) Chevy Spark (a.k.a. Daewoo Matiz Creative) will in fact be sold in the US (likely as a 2013 model) early next year, the American A-segment is about to get a whole lot of attention. But the question is this: does the fact that America’s first new A-segment car in a decade is a Chevy help or hurt the segment’s chances (consider that previous US A-segment cars like the 500 and Smart are positioned as premium offerings)? Is this car, with its 80 HP/82 lb-ft, 1.2 liter engine a pioneering game-changer that will introduce America to a whole new world of tiny cars, or is it just CAFE compliance fodder? One thing is for certain: everyone from Hyundai to Ford (which have the i10 and Ka waiting in the wings) is going to be watching the Spark with great interest.

By on July 12, 2011

As automakers face slowly diminishing returns in their attempts to make internal combustion engines more efficient (while facing huge challenges in electric, hydrogen and other alt-fuel drivetrains), they are looking ever more closely at alternative materials to improve efficiency (and, to a lesser extent, driving pleasure) through weight-savings. Perhaps the biggest emerging trend in this area, especially at the higher end of the market, is in the use of carbon fiber, which is being actively pursued by automakers like BMWToyota, Lamborghini and Daimler. But, as WardsAuto points out, there’s another material that’s trying to earn a place in the lightweight cars of tomorrow: polycarbonate plastics.

Polycarbonate windows weigh half as much as glass, and because they are made with injection molding they can come in shapes that can’t be imagined with glass.

However, the material is more expensive. To get auto makers to convert, Sabic and its main material competitor, Bayer MaterialScience, have to sell the idea of integrating other parts into the plastic mold that makes the window.

For example, says Umamaheswara, “on a liftgate, a lot of features can be integrated, and if the manufacturer is short of room in the factory, it can be delivered as a module.”

A modular liftgate could include the window, cladding for the D-pillar, a roof spoiler, the high-mounted rear brake light, a rear wiper foot, handles and logos. When all those processing costs are included, he says, polycarbonate is competitive with glass and metal.

(Read More…)

By on June 19, 2011

Google’s autonomous cars have already shown how close vehicles are to driving themselves in day-to-day traffic, but there’s still one uncontrollable, unpredictable, and often-irrational variable that autonomous cars still struggle to cope with: you, me and all the other haphazardly-programmed human beings on the road. And though predicting human behavior might be one of the most difficult tasks for a human-programmed computer, researchers at MIT are already digging into the challenge. Using model cars (one autonomous, one human-controlled) on overlapping tracks, 97 out of 100 laps avoided collision. But not all of those laps fell into the near-collision “capture set”… which, as it turns out, is what makes the human threat to autonomous cars so challenging.

According to [MIT Mechanical Engineering Professor Domitilla] Del Vecchio, a common challenge for ITS developers is designing a system that is safe without being overly conservative. It’s tempting to treat every vehicle on the road as an “agent that’s playing against you,” she says, and construct hypersensitive systems that consistently react to worst-case scenarios. But with this approach, Del Vecchio says, “you get a system that gives you warnings even when you don’t feel them as necessary. Then you would say, ‘Oh, this warning system doesn’t work,’ and you would neglect it all the time.”

(Read More…)

By on June 16, 2011

Let’s face a fact here: as much as Jack Baruth likes the Ford Flex, Ford’s MINI-cum-Woodie-Wagon is a textbook case of what the literature refers to as a sales flop. Recommend one to a friend (particularly a friend of the female persuasion) and chances are they’ll say “even if it is a great car, I just don’t like the looks” and go buy a Traverse. For a while there it seemed like a seven-passenger version of Ford’s European C-Max would help the Blue Oval shore up its three-row options, but with that model canceled in favor of a five-door, hybrid-only strategy, Ford’s back to contemplating updates to the Flex. But Automotive News [sub] Product Editor Rick Kranz has another idea:

My understanding is that the next-gen Transit Connect arrives in a few years, will be assembled in North America and will be a more refined vehicle. The current version comes from Turkey…

While today’s Transit Connect seats five, a seven-passenger version could be a viable option for young families that don’t need the Grand Caravan’s bulk. Some urban families might prefer the nimble size of a seven-passenger compact minivan on the narrow neighborhood streets in the Windy City or the Big Apple.

From a business standpoint, Ford could increase Transit Connect volume by offering two flavors — one for commercial applications and the other for mom, dad and the kids.

The main reason the seven-passenger C-Max was nixed: a near-Caravan price point. A TC-based van could come in at a lower price… but would Americans really choose such a utilitarian vehicle? Meanwhile, would a Transit Connect really look that much more appealing than a Flex? It’s an interesting idea that Ford is probably looking at… but what say you?

By on May 25, 2011

See that? Looks a bit like a first-generation Scion xB, doesn’t it? It’s actually a new Kia, codenamed “Tam,” built on its new A-segment Picanto Morning platform, but featuring first-gen xB-style tall-body MPV packaging. The Picanto’s wheelbase is actually slightly smaller than the xB’s, and there’s another key difference here as well: see that rear door? Look where the handle is placed. That’s right, it’s a slider! But that’s not all…

(Read More…)

By on May 3, 2011

One of the worst things about traffic is that it’s so unpredictable. You can be whizzing along one minute, and crawling with the snails the next. Even the real-time traffic information that a few companies, notably Google, now provide, can be obsolete by the time you’re on your way.But a small cadre of lucky San Franciscans will soon be finding out where the traffic will be before it happens, thanks to a joint project by the California Center for Innovative Transportation (CCIT) at the University of California, Berkeley (my alma mater) the California Department of Transportation, aka Caltrans, and IBM.

(Read More…)

By on April 8, 2011

MG has been building its 1995-era MGF (now MG TF) at its Longbridge, UK plant off and on since 2007, but it’s been a purely knock-down assembly affair, with kits being shipped in from Nanjing, China. But a new British-built MG is about to go into production since the brand was bought by Nanjing Auto in 2005 (Nanjing has since merged with SAIC). Called the MG6, the new compact sedan isn’t completely built at Longbridge (UK workers build and fit the engines, as well as installing the front suspension and subframe, exhaust system and electrics, but bodyshells are shipped from China), but it was designed and engineered at SAIC Motor’s European technical center in the Midlands.

Is that British enough for you?

(Read More…)

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