The Truth About Cars » Are You Ready For… The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Are You Ready For… Are You Ready For: Nissan’s Supercharged Hybrid? Mon, 07 Nov 2011 18:51:02 +0000

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.

Nissan’s first in-house hybrid, the Infiniti M, highlights the firm’s approach to hybrids, with its simple two-clutch system that is fitted to the omnipresent continuously variable transmission. But having validated the rear-drive luxury version (see video above), Nissan is taking that design to the transverse, front-drive package. And because the “one motor, two clutch” design takes up the same amount of space as a traditional drivetrain (according to Nissan), this new hybrid system should be able to fit into many of Nissan’s mass-market products.

Supercharging has not played much of a role thus far in the industry-wide move towards downsized, forced-induction engines, playing its best-known role as half of VW’s “Twincharger” technology (which combinde both super- and turbocharging). But Nissan is already ahead of the curve, with its new Micra DIG-S, which combines a 1.2 liter, three-pot engine with a supercharger for its first sub-100 g CO2/km model. The key to supercharged efficiency? As Eaton points out, “downspeeding” can be as important as “downsizing.” Unlike turbos, superchargers don’t need high revs to build boost, so it can boost low-end torque more efficiently (which is where small engines most need the help). Combine that characteristic with a CVT, which can keep the engine operating at a near-maximum level of efficiency, and the benefits of a supercharging become more clear.

Of course, we still have a lot to learn about Nissans new supercharged hybrid. We do know that it is based around a 2.5 liter supercharged unit that Nissan says will spit out the same power as its 3.5 liter V6. This should help Nissan downsize its vehicle underpinnings as Hyundai has done, further benefitting fuel economy. Otherwise, we’ll have to wait until a 2013 debut before we know too much more about this new drivetrain. But one thing is certain: we’re going to have to get used to the idea of supercharging as a green technology, as well as a quick, bolt-on method of squeezing more power out of an engine.

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Are You Ready For: The Return Of The Allroad? Sat, 05 Nov 2011 16:07:37 +0000

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?

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Are You Ready For: 10-Speed Hyundais? Thu, 29 Sep 2011 15:25:05 +0000

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?

Some reviewers already complain that eight speeds is too many, and that too many cogs create an overly “busy” transmission. Also, ZF’s driveline boss Gerhard Wagner insisted back in 2009

a major step towards the reduction of fuel consumption such as the one we have seen from the automatic six to the eight-speed transmission will not be possible with more gear steps. If there was an ideal transmission, with our current solution we are only about 11 percent away from it.

Which raises an interesting question: is Hyundai leading the industry, or trolling it, taunting the titans of luxury with its extra gear? Or is this misinformation, leaked in hopes of luring the ultra-status-conscious luxury brands into a pointless investment? Either way, it ensures the name “Hyundai” will be echoing through automotive boardrooms for at least a little longer.

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Are You Ready For: A Mass-Market, Variable-Displacement Four-Cylinder? Sun, 04 Sep 2011 19:09:26 +0000 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.


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Are You Ready For: The Hybrid Camper Trailer? Sun, 21 Aug 2011 19:51:50 +0000

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.

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Are You Ready For: The Self-Inflating Tire? Fri, 12 Aug 2011 15:48:07 +0000

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.

And when it hits, the AMT technology

will enable tires to remain inflated at the optimum pressure without the need for any external pumps or electronics. All components of the AMT system, including the miniaturized pump, will be fully contained within the tire.

Goodyear figures that underinflated tires can cost 2.5-3.3% of efficiency, translating to about 12 cents per gallon at the pump. And with self-inflating technology, you’ll be able to realize those savings without having to regularly break out the pressure gauge and air pump. No word on costs yet, but if the price is right this could just become extremely popular. After all, who really stays on top of their tire pressure as well as they could?

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Are You Ready For: The Thorium-Laser-Steam-Turbine Electric Powertrain? Thu, 11 Aug 2011 17:12:09 +0000

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? LPS says Thorium’s low levels could be blocked with aluminum foil. Yes, tinfoil.  Terrorism? Because the Thorium is not superheated, it does not produce fissile material. Where does Thorium come from? Let’s just say the US has the world’s largest known reserves. General safety? The U.S. Geological Survey’s former senior advisor on rare earths calls the concept “both plausible and sensible.” So why aren’t we driving around thorium-laser-turbine EVs already? According to LPS CEO Charles Stevens.

“The issue is having a customized application that is purpose-made,” he says, admitting that developing a portable and usable turbine and generator is proving to be a tougher task than the laser-thorium unit.

“How do you take the laser and put these things together efficiently?” he asks rhetorically. But once that is achieved, “This car will run for a million miles. The car will wear out before the engine. There is no oil, no emissions – nothing.”

Sounds great… but we’re not holding our breath just yet.

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Are You Ready For: A 1.2 Liter “Sub-Subcompact” Chevy? Fri, 05 Aug 2011 16:37:47 +0000

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.

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Are You Ready For: Plastic Windows? Tue, 12 Jul 2011 23:14:35 +0000

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.

These unique assemblies are just one of the growth areas for polycarbonate plastics. Already, Wards reports that the material has become standard for headlamp covers, and when it comes to high-end, cost-no-object projects, well:

Bugatti developed a targa top for its Veyron 16:4 Grand Sport roadster in both glass and polycarbonate from Bayer, and the plastic version chosen had a weight savings of 13.0 lbs. (5.9 kg)

But that’s not the only project that has seen polycarbonates used to create light-weight windows and lower centers of gravity:

The Smart Fourtwo was the first to use polycarbonate windows, with fixed rear sidelites starting in 1998. Supplier Freeglass has made about 4 million plastic windows for Smart, Mercedes-Benz, the European Honda Civic and the SEAT Leon.

But don’t expect to see many polycarbonate plastic windows or other large subassemblies in many mass-market cars for the next few years. Even though firms like Sabic are coming up with special plastics that, if used on panorama roofs, will not just lower weight but improve insulation as well, they don’t expect major-volume projects until more EVs start coming to market, in the 2014-2015 timeframe. In the meantime, if you’re already raring for some polycarbonate windows, you’ll have to spring for a high-price Euro-spec road-racer like the Renaultsport Mégane R.26.R.

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Are You Ready For: Cars That Get Inside Your Head? Sun, 19 Jun 2011 13:17:20 +0000

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.”

That’s where predicting human behavior comes in. Many other researchers have worked on modeling patterns of human driving. Following their lead, Del Vecchio and Verma reasoned that driving actions fall into two main modes: braking and accelerating. Depending on which mode a driver is in at a given moment, there is a finite set of possible places the car could be in the future, whether a tenth of a second later or a full 10 seconds later. This set of possible positions, combined with predictive models of human behavior — when and where drivers slow down or speed up around an intersection, for example — all went into building the new algorithm.

The result is a program that is able to compute, for any two vehicles on the road nearing an intersection, a “capture set,” or a defined area in which two vehicles are in danger of colliding. The ITS-equipped car then engages in a sort of game-theoretic decision, in which it uses information from its onboard sensors as well as roadside and traffic-light sensors to try to predict what the other car will do, reacting accordingly to prevent a crash.

When both cars are ITS-equipped, the “game” becomes a cooperative one, with both cars communicating their positions and working together to avoid a collision.

Read the theory and preliminary experimental results from the MIT research in PDF format here, or read more of MIT’s news write-up here.

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Are You Ready For: A Transit Connect-Based Minivan? Thu, 16 Jun 2011 16:40:41 +0000

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?

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Are You Ready For: A Neo-xB… With A Twist? Thu, 26 May 2011 00:52:22 +0000

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…

Here’s where things get kooky: on the driver’s side the rear door is a normal front-hinger. At least, that’s what it looks like here. And with Hyundai experimenting with asymmetrical door configurations on its B-segment Veloster, would it be so surprising for Kia to do the same with this wilfully funky little thing? As far as this blogger is concerned, the only thing about this new Kia city-hauler that would be truly surprising would be hearing that it’s coming to the US. A smaller, more-efficient ur-xB with sliding door(s)? Keep dreaming… although a Veloster/Soul/Tam lineup would pretty much show Scion how it’s done.

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Are You Ready To: Avoid Traffic Before It Happens? Tue, 03 May 2011 19:45:24 +0000

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.

The principle behind the system is that when accidents happen, the traffic jams up in a predictable manner, “like a shock wave in a fluid,” Alexandre Bayen of CCIT tells New Scientist Magazine. By combining these patterns with real-time traffic data, the system is able to predict congestion up to 40 minutes before it even happens.

The hardware for this initiative consists of “inductive loop sensors” in the roadways. The data so-gathered is fed into IBM’s Traffic Prediction Tool. Data from users’ GPS units and smartphones on their usual routes and travel times completes the circle, enabling the system to provide alternative routes. And it’s getting more sophisticated all the time, learning to relieve congestion without creating new chokepoints, a skill requiring the ability to predict the effects of congestion-relieving redirections.

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Are You Ready For: A Brand-New British MG? Fri, 08 Apr 2011 15:19:33 +0000

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?

Assembly starts next Wednesday, and MG’s execs hope the model will be a springboard into other European markets (MGs are currently sold only through 38 UK dealers). But with production limited to only 10,000 units, SAIC is taking a deliberately small-scale approach to rebuilding its battered British brand (the brand’s unofficial motto: “under-promise, over-deliver”). And given the neglect and abuse the MG brand has been subjected to over the years, a slow, steady rebuilding strategy is what a turnaround will take. The MG6 may not fulfill the repressed yearnings of the MG faithful, but it’s a pragmatic start. And with talk of a new roadster, there are still signs that the brand understands its core (not wildly pragmatic) mission. MG fans need only glance at the Saab situation to count themselves lucky.

Reviews of the MG6 have been mixed, typically focusing on the sporty, MG-worthy handling and weak, MG-worthy interior quality. ChinaCarTimes has a good wrap-up of the UK press reaction, concluding that

It’s obvious that MG is getting some good reviews from major automotive outlets (aside from the Express and Star) and should easily reach its first year aim to sell a mere 2,000 units in the UK market. The fact that the car is mostly made in China and assembled from kits does not seem to affect the UK automotive press. The ear and nose hair brigade (aka MG Enthusiasts) do not seem to be pleased by the new MG styling, although their opinion can largely be discounted as they believe anything produced later than the MG Midget is not a real MG, plus they tend to buy their motors once they are antiques and being sold for pennies on Ebay, so not exactly the target audience this time around – although it should be said that enthusiasts do some good for the brand with their mad ranting.

Isn’t globalization grand?
MG6 MG63 MG65 MG62 MG68 Spot on, old chap MG67 MG61 MG69

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