The Truth About Cars » Concepts The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:36:40 +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 » Concepts The Beat Resurrected: Meet the Honda S660 Thu, 24 Oct 2013 12:00:41 +0000 Honda S660 01

Honda’s rear-driven products built for two tend to be motorcycles, scooters and ATVs for the most part, but every now and again the company will unveil a roadster whose name begins with an S, and ends with the number of cubic centimeters the engine provides.

Such a car is set to return soon to the showroom floor, and will make its debut at the Tokyo Motor Show in November: The Honda S660.

The word on the street is the S660 will be powered by a 660 cc turbocharged engine placed just behind the driver and passenger, with all of its 67 ponies going to the rear wheels. Unlike some of Honda’s current and future offerings that are or will be powered by a combination of internal combustion and electric motivation, the new roadster is strictly gasoline-only.

The featherweight roadster, has its roots in the company’s EV-STER electric-only concept from the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show with regard to styling, penned by designer Ryo Sugiura. That said, don’t try to tell him his roadster is the second coming of the late Soichiro Honda’s last gift to the world, the Beat:

Some people might think this will be the remodeled version of the Beat. But it is not. This is totally brand new.

The S660 is one part of a potential three-pronged attack by Honda in the sports car segment. With it and the NSX forming the outer forks, the automaker plans to forge the center fork through the introduction a mid-engined Toyabaru hunter with a price point to match the GT86/BRZ/FRS when it makes its debut. In the meantime, the U.S. domestic market may not need to wait 25 years for the S660 to come over; Honda plans to sell the roadster in export markets with a 1000cc engine and minor changes with regards to safety regulations. S1000, anyone?

The S660 will make its production debut in Japan for the 2015 model year, in time for the automaker’s return to Formula One.


Honda S660 01 Honda S660 02 Honda S660 03 Honda S660 04 ]]> 64
Great Googly Moogly! Audi Surprises With nanuk quattro Tue, 10 Sep 2013 02:00:43 +0000 l (2)

In festivities on the eve of the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA – International Automobile Exhibition), also known as the Frankfurt Motor Show, the Volkwagen Group took the wraps off of the Audi nanuk quattro concept, an apparent derivative of the Giugiaro Parcour concept shown earlier this year. The nanuk quattro (Audi’s spelling) has AWD and unlike the Parcour it is powered by a diesel engine, turbocharged. The 4,189 lb vehicle is said to be capable of 3.8 second 0-60 runs and a top speed of 190 mph, with overall fuel economy of 30 mpg. The engine is a V10 with twin turbos and TDI and it puts out 544 horsepower, which doesn’t sound that impressive these days, but being a diesel it brings the torque, 738 pounds feet. It features Audi’s next generation of adaptive air suspension with that the driver can adjust up or down through a range of 2.76 inches. Four wheel steering has been making a comeback lately over at Audi’s VW Group stablemate Porsche, and the nanuk features something similar that Audi is calling integral steering. Rear wheels turn up to 9 degrees opposite to the front wheel’s direction to quicken steering at low to medium speeds, helping maneuverability. The wheelbase is effectively shortened by ~100 centimeters (about 40 inches), reducing the turning circle to roughly 10 meters (32.81 ft). At higher speeds, the rears turn up to 2.5 degrees in tandem with the fronts,  effectively lengthening the wheelbase by about 140 centimeters which is said to enhance stability.

]]> 38
Weekend Weird Crush: “The Small God For The Big Future” Sun, 08 Jan 2012 19:36:01 +0000

Maruti Suzuki’s big news at the Delhi Auto Show was the debut of its production compact MPV, the Ertiga. But it wasn’t all staid family-carriers at the Suzuki stand, as the Japanese-Indian automaker also debuted its XA Alpha concept, described in this dramatically-narrated (to put it mildly) video as “The Small God For The Big Future.” Remember the Suzuki Samurai (our global readers will certainly remember the Jimny)? It’s getting ready for its 21st Century makeover…

Suzuki says that the styling of this subcompact SUV, aimed at Ford’s new Ecosport and GM’s forthcoming Mokka, was inspired by traditional Indian wrestlers. Which may well be the case, but there’s no deny that there’s at least a little Range Rover Evoque in the look.

But what’s more enticing than the styling itself, is the question of whether or not a vehicle like this could bolster Suzuki’s muddled US product line. Suzuki has already established itself as the go-to option for low-cost AWD vehicles in the US with its SX4… but one can’t help wondering how many sales that model leaves on the table due to its small-hatchback design. With a more rugged, more-SUV-looking model on similar underpinnings, Suzuki might just be able to build a rugged-entry-AWD image in this market as Subaru moves inexorably upmarket towards an “Audi Junior” positioning.

In any case, the B-SUV market is starting to get some real attention globally, as the global giants update their aged entrants in the segment for ever-more-demanding developing markets. And as a fan of this genre, with its small, funky, affordable and surprisingly utilitarian mini-utes, I certainly hope someone decides to test the US waters with something like this.

]]> 6
Volkswagen Gives You Ideas. Shows Seven Concepts At IAA Tue, 13 Sep 2011 14:18:17 +0000

Some car companies would kill if they would have as many new cars in one year as Volkswagen shows concept cars at the Frankfurt International Auto show.  Here is a quick overview. Most of them are offshoots of the new Volkswagen up!, which seems to be Volkswagen’s carmeleon.

NILS: Singles are Germany’s largest demographic. Volkswagen will see to it that they stay alone with the electric single-seater NILS. “In Germany, 90 percent of car commuters are alone in their car,” says Prof. Dr. Jürgen Leohold, Director of Volkswagen Group Research. For that, they have the company of an  aluminum space-frame body, wing doors and free-standing wheels :

e-up!: “It has been decided: a production version of the e-up! will launch on the market in 2013,” says Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, head of development of the Volkswagen Brand. A near-production study of this zero-emissions car debuts at the 2011 IAA.

eco up!: Only 79g/km in CO2 emissions, running on all natural gas, BlueMotion Technology (Stop/Start system and battery regeneration), tax benefits in Germany. And take this, Toyota:  “When used in the smallest vehicle class, natural gas drives, besides posting record low emissions, are significantly more economical than hybrid systems, which are too expensive for the small car segment,” says the press release.

buggy up!: No more plastic bodies: This buggy of strong, high-tech, lightweight construction steels. Surf’s up!

up! azzurra sailing team. Seems to be a tender to Giorgetto Giugiaro’s and Walter de Silva’s (and probably Piech’s) sailing yachts. And indeed, its is called “an open, small, eco-friendly automobile for the world’s marinas.” They were not kidding when they said that with the new kit architecture, the can go for the smallest niches.

cross up!: For those up! country tours.

GT up!: The GTI of the get up! generation. 100 hp are deemed plenty for the barely 900 kg up!

Volkswagen Forschungsfahrzeug NILS Volkswagen Studie up! azzurra sailing team Volkswagen Studie up! azzurra sailing team Volkswagen Studie Beetle R Concept Volkswagen Studie buggy up! Volkswagen Studie buggy up! Volkswagen Studie e-up! Volkswagen Studie e-up! Volkswagen Studie e-up! Volkswagen Studie e-up! Volkswagen Studie e-up! Volkswagen Studie e-up! Volkswagen Studie e-up! Volkswagen Forschungsfahrzeug NILS Volkswagen Forschungsfahrzeug NILS Volkswagen Pressekonferenz, 64. IAA Frankfurt 2011 Volkswagen Studie e-up! Volkswagen Pressekonferenz, 64. IAA Frankfurt 2011 Volkswagen Studie e-up! Volkswagen Studie GT-up! Volkswagen Studie cross-up! Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail


]]> 5
Cars Only Bob Lutz Remembers: The 1983 Ford Ghia Barchetta Concept Wed, 07 Sep 2011 18:13:50 +0000

Bob Lutz admitted in his book Guts that he “possesses a certain duality of mind,” and he ain’t kidding. After all, how could someone spend a career in an industry built on “the industrial logic of scale” (to borrow a phrase from Sergio Marchionne) while trying to connect new vehicles with the lust centers of the human brain without developing a certain amount of creative schizophrenia? But, as anyone who has ever driven a Pontiac Solstice knows, sometimes compromises are made between the conflicting pulls of lust and practicality… and when those compromises must be made, Lutz tends to err on the side of lust. I confronted him about this tendency in our recent conversation, and rather than accept the criticism, he doubled down on his premise that lust-worthy design is more important than practicality. And he illustrated his point by telling the tale of a long-forgotten concept and its troubled path to production.

The story began, almost inevitably, when I asked Lutz if he had any regrets about the Solstice/Sky “Kappa” program. Did he ever second-guess himself on design decisions made in that program, I wondered. Was practicality unnecessarily sacrificed? Would more usability have had any effect on sales of the Solstice or Sky? After the briefest moment of reflection, Lutz answered with a fairly emphatic negative. But rather than leave it at a simple “no,” Lutz unfolded a parable about product development that began the year after I was born.

Do you remember, we did a two-seat Fiesta roadster at Ford of Europe one time? I forget what it was called… we didn’t call it a Speedster, but it was… I guess it was kind of like a Porsche Speedster. If you Google it… it had a unique body… I think we showed it at the Geneva show… 84 I think.

It was a really neat looking car with a very fast front end. It kind of reminds me of the BMW Z3 because the hood had to stay level for a while to clear the engine and then it dropped off sharply. It was a two-seat roadster with a very short back end… the wheels were all the way in the back. It was cute as all get-out… but the functionality was probably close to zero. No back seat, no trunk, nothing… just a very basic, low-cost, two-place roadster.

Lutz remembered the car, he just couldn’t remember the name. With a little Google wizardry and a lucky stumble across this blog item, I found the name: the Ford Ghia Barchetta. And he was only off by one year… apparently the Barchetta debuted in 1983. He was also right about the looks: in many ways it seems like the inspiration for Fiat’s wildly-successful (and gorgeous) front-drive Barchetta, which was built from 1995 until 2005 with only a brief pause. But now we’re getting sidetracked… back to our story, already in progress, with the first compromise made to the concept:

I wouldn’t let them change the engine placement. I said “if we have a chance of putting this into production,” (which I really badly wanted to do), “we have to keep the Fiesta underpinnings.”

So far, so good. But here’s where the story becomes a parable.

I needed some volume to make a viable program out of it, so I figured we could probably do eight or nine thousand of them in Europe, and we gave it to Ford NAO (North American Operations) and said “what can you do with it?”. They did some Supermarket parking lot surveys and they asked women coming out of the grocery store “what do you think of this?” They said “oh, it’s cute. What would it cost?”. “About eight thousand dollars.” “Oh, that’s a lot of money.” And then [the Ford NAO people] said “aaand, you can have this four-cylinder Mustang convertible for $7,800.” “Oooh,” they said, “well I’ll take that.” So they concluded there was no volume potential in the United States… and of course there was, they were just asking all the wrong people.

This encapsulates why Lutz deserves at least some grudging praise from even his toughest critics: lust is difficult to make a case for in the auto business. Simply trying to convince Ford’s US-market fiefdom that they would benefit from such an unusual vehicle in their lineup was an insurmountable task that he tackled anyway. As the romance and enthusiasm slowly drains away from the world of cars, very few executives risk their careers for exciting products that might not make immediate business sense. Sure, this risk-taking seems less laudable in the aftermath of the bailout, but it’s integral to the cultural power of the automobile. And, as the story continues, we’ll find that if you’re going to take a risk on a niche product, you better really take a risk on it.

Then Alex Troutman at [Ford Asia-Pacific] got interested in it for Asia-Pacific, and went and talked to Mazda. Mazda said “no, we don’t like that one because it’s front-wheel-drive, but we’re actually thinking of doing something like that with rear-wheel drive. And Alex said no, ours has got to be off a Ford architecture.

If Lutz had any regrets about not involving Ford in the creation of the Miata, he didn’t let them show. On the other hand, the missed opportunity had to sting at least a little. After all, if you’re taking a risk on an impractical two-seater, why not go all the way with RWD? And with the benefit of hindsight, involvement in a modern icon like the MX-5 would be a point of pride for any “product guy.”  But Lutz only had control over Ford of Europe, and by this point he had even lost control of the Barchetta project. It was about to become everything it wasn’t ever supposed to be.

When Alex went back to the states, he got [the program] going again. It was carefully researched, so it was decided that front wheel drive is OK, but we don’t like the front end. So, OK, the front end got more conventional. Then, “it’s no good with no back seat. People won’t buy a car with no back seat.” Well, OK, we can add a back seat. And then, “oh, there’s no trunk space.” Alright, add a trunk. And so it became that misbegotten little Mercury [Capri], remember that? What a horrible thing. That started out as the Fiesta.

That started out as a beautiful, slick, highly desirable little roadster that would have done well. Functionalizing it wrecked it. And I’ll tell you what: Solstice owners had no problem with that top at all. When you’re into emotional cars, it’s about appearance and how cool is it… it’s the same thing as sports motorcycles. Not necessarily comfortable, not suitable to saddlebags… but they look like track bikes and they’re fun to ride.

I know that not all of TTAC’s B&B will agree wholesale with Lutz’s vision, but the tale of the Barchetta’s transformation into the Capri is instructive. When you have a successful design, and cites Ford press releases saying the German “Barchetta Club” alone had 10k members at one point, you keep it as pure as possible or you don’t build it all. It’s easy to criticize Lutz as being too uncompromising, but in an intensely collaborative process like car development, the ability to say “no dammit, we aren’t going to compromise on this” is a rare thing. If the world were full of cars that are as practical as they are fun, his approach might be dismissible. Since that’s not the case, this is an object lesson in the trade-offs that create crap like the Capri out of a tiny jewel like the Barchetta.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Ick! fordbarchetta6 fordbarchetta4 fordbarchetta3 fordbarchetta2 fordbarchetta1 fordbarchetta 1983 sends its greetings! ]]> 58
What’s Wrong With This Picture: Future Smart Edition Thu, 01 Sep 2011 19:41:14 +0000 If you’re one of those people who can’t stand the glacial styling evolution of the Porsche 911, look away now. Smart’s new Forvision Concept is said to preview some of the look of the next-gen Smart and, well, it’s no radical change. In fact, if you were to strip away all of the “concept-y” features from this thing, you’d be left with something like a current Smart with a fancy bodykit. Oh sure, it’s got “organic solar cells” on the roof and heat-conductive and insulating “e-textile” seat coverings, but this plug-in concept really just proves that Smart is a fixed idea. Though updates will be welcome in the European market where Smart already does well, but unless Smart shows a concept with a lower price, higher efficiency and more satisfying transmission, it’s hard to see the American market losing any sleep over such a “future Smart.”

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail smartconcept9 smartconcept8 smartconcept7 smartconcept6 smartconcept5 smartconcept4 smartconcept12 smartconcept11 smartconcept10 smart forvision Designskizzen  2011 smart forvision Designskizzen  2011 smart forvision Designskizzen  2011 In the future, Smarts will look like Smarts!


]]> 14
GM’s Own Turbine Car Program Mon, 25 Oct 2010 13:49:55 +0000

No, Virginia, that’s not a turbo Eldo, that’s a turbine Eldo

Paul Niedermeyer’s article and more recent book review concerning Chysler’s Turbine car show that Chrysler was savvy to use it as a halo vehicle – its appeal continues to resonate today. Though we’re learning new details all the time, most car enthusiasts know that Chrysler made a turbine powered car in the 1960s. Less well known is the fact that General Motors also had their own turbine program. While Chrysler’s Turbine Car was mostly a short lived PR effort, it happens that GM had a much longer lasting automotive turbine development program, starting in the 1950s and lasting for at least 40 years, without ever coming anywhere near to production. TTAC commenter jmo, alerted us to the existence of a powdered coal fired turbine powered Eldorado that GM developed after the oil crises of the 1970s, and we were hooked.

It shouldn’t surprise us that GM dumped a bunch of money into an idea or technology, only to abandon that investment – see also Wankel rotary, Fiat, Hughes, et al. Still, not many people, besides jmo that is, know that GM also had a running prototype of a turbine powered car, and it ran on coal to boot. Turbines have been one of the more popular automotive pipe dreams (though there have been successful applications of turbines in large trucks and most famously the M1A1 Abrams tank). Apparently starting in the late 1950s with a Boeing aircraft turbine shoehorned into a two-seat T’bird, Ford had its own gas-turbine program under manager Connie Bouchard. Bouchard said that the non-regenerative turbine in the prototype put out so much exhaust heat that roadside grass and weeds would catch fire. Ford Motor Company now says that it was a regenerative low pressure turbine installed in a 1954 model, which couldn’t have been a Thunderbird. The Big Three Detroit automakers were all attracted to turbines’ long life, lower maintenance costs, low weight and smooth vibration-free running. It was hoped that development would get over the barriers of high cost and relatively high fuel consumption.

Some of GM’s most dramatic show cars, the Firebirds of the 1950s Autoramas, actually had turbine engines and apparently were not just static show cars (though the Firebird I so easily broke the rear tires free that race car driver Maury Rose ended up doing some of the testing at Indy). While the Firebirds actually could drive, in a manner of speaking, some of their show car features were pure science fiction at the time.

GM had started research on turbines in the 1930s and their Allison division was building aircraft jet engines by the 1950s.

GM put Emmett Conklin in charge of the project to build the powerplants for three of Harley Earl’s most famous (and outrageous) show cars.

The Firebird I was a single seater, weighing only 2,500 lbs and had a 370 hp turbine driving the rear wheels. GM dubbed their in-house turbine the “Whirllfire Turbo Power” engine. It had a two-speed transmission (probably an early Powerglide), and it’s exhaust was hot enough to melt plastic and blister paint if you happened to be sitting behind it in traffic, 1,250 °F. In addition to air cooled brake drums, the Firebird I used air flaps to slow the car at speed.

For the 1956 Autorama, a slightly more practical Firebird II was introduced. It was a family vehicle with four seats, and per au courant jet design themes, a canopy top, and two huge circular air intakes that make me think of 1950s science fiction robots. Again, keeping with the jet theme, Earl had one of the two Firebird II bodies fabricated out of unpainted titanium. In 1956 that must have been outrageously expensive. Engine output was down to 200 HP but engine heat was less of a problem as a regenerative system allowed the motor to run about a thousand degrees F cooler as well as power the accessories.

1959′s Firebird III, the only one of the 3 that comes close to looking like a car, was a two-seater with two canopy bubbles. By then the engine’s name was changed to the “Whirlfire GT-305, with 225 hp (168 kW) to the wheels and a small 10 hp gasoline engine to run all the accessories.

According to a forum on GM Inside News, William Turunen headed GM’s automotive turbine program for most of its life. Albert Bell III’s name also frequently pops up in accounts of GM turbine cars. Bell went to his grave believing that the turbine could still be a practical car motor.

Bell was involved when GM recycled the turbine as a response to the oil shortages of the 1970s. Though turbines aren’t particularly gas misers, they can run on a variety of flammables, including perfume, and in this case coal dust. Don’t laugh, Rudolph Diesel’s earliest experiments with compression ignition engines used coal dust as a fuel. To be clear, those experiments failed, forcing Diesel to switch to fuel oil, but coal dust has a lot of BTUs. America also has a lot of coal, 500 billion tons of it, at least half easily recoverable. It’s also cheaper per btu than just about any other fuel, hence GM’s interest in a coal burning engine in the late 1970s.

GM Photo from Automobile Magazine

As a test mule, GM used the last full sized Eldorado, the 1978 model. The 1979s were already in production but they were downsized. The big Eldo’s cavernous engine compartment, designed to take a 500 CI big block with ease, and its gigantic trunk, capable of carrying a foursome’s clubs and luggage for a long golfing trip (or, if you prefer a different metric, as many hookers, dead or alive, as your little heart desires), had more than enough room for whatever machinery the prototype needed.

And the prototype indeed needed special machinery, … of the Rube Goldberg variety according to retired GM engineer John Schult, who described the system to the NY Times in 2009:

“To keep the coal dust ready for delivery to the engine, it had to be continuously agitated. Then a small conveyor belt delivered the coal to the gasifier, the first section of G.M.’s automotive turbine engine. When you stepped on the gas pedal, it actually moved a potentiometer that varied the speed of the coal conveyor belt. More fuel resulted in more power.”

Schult said that the fuel delivery system added additional delay to the lag that automotive turbines experienced. Schult did point out that the car did launch fairly well due to turbine’s high torque at low engine speeds. Shult didn’t mention if GM ever learned that if you brake-torque a turbine car and let the motor spool up to full speed, it develops, like electric motors, maximum torque at stall, and makes an excellent drag strip car, turbine lag or not. The experimental Eldorado’s turbine, which idled at a non-automotive 35,000 RPM, was geared down and that power was fed to a standard 3 speed THM transmission.

The car had a small tank of diesel/kerosene for starting the turbine. Once fired, it automatically changed over to the coal dust. Schult said that with the turbine whine and buzz of the coal dust agitator, plus compressed air blowing the dust into the gasifier, it didn’t sound much like a conventional Detroit V8 engine.

Only a single prototype was made. Apparently refueling was about as messy as changing toner powder on a copier machine, getting greasy coal dust everywhere.

Nobody knows what happened to the one coal powered Eldorado. Schult and fellow GM retiree Paul Ulrich say that the car was shipped to Allison when the project was moved there. That’s where the trail ends.

That was not the end of the dream of turbine power for cars at General Motors. In the April 1987 issue of Popular Science, right after an ad for the “first ever Star Trek collector plate” (of Mr. Spock) is an article by Dan McCosh about the Chevy Express, a 150 mph turbine powered concept that from its styling appears to have been part of GM’s EV1 program.

The Express concept, which appeared in one of the Back To The Future movies, was powered by an ACT-5 turbine with a regenerator, developed by a team headed by Albert Bell.

GM continued to work into the 1990s on automotive turbines, when the program was moved to GM’s Allison division, which had done the actual work on the prototype coal turbine. GM’s automotive engineers shifted emphasis to fuel cells and other projects, since the high exhaust temperatures and oxides of nitrogen that turbines produce create issues with emissions regulations.

That wasn’t the end of turbine cars at GM. Also as part of the EV1 program, at the 1998 North American International Auto Show in Detroit GM revealed a number of alternative EV1 drivetrain concepts, including the EV1 Series Hybrid Concept. In range extended mode, the EV1 Series Hybrid used an auxilary power unit powered by a small turbine developed with Williams International. In one of those Detroit ironies, Williams International was founded by Sam B. Williams, who as a young engineer worked at Chrysler on their turbine project.

According to AutoWorld, the EV1 Series Hybrid concept’s APU was, at the time, the smallest, lightest and most efficient APU made. The single-stage, single-shaft recuperated gas turbine was integrated into a single compact cylindrical unit with a 40 kW AC generator.

As the Chevy Volt is just now coming to market, it’s interesting to note the performance specs for the EV1 Series Hybrid concept of 1998:

“The driver simply flips a switch that disables the APU so this experimental car can be driven in the zero-emissions mode for up to 40 miles. The 6.5-gallon fuel capacity provides more than 350 miles of continuous highway range, better than most cars on the road today.”

Still, hope springs eternal. Earlier this month Jaguar introduced the C-X75 serial hybrid concept, with a serial-hybrid genset driven by a pair of… micro turbines.

]]> 28
Geneva Part Two: The Cars of Lake Wobegon Thu, 04 Mar 2010 01:59:36 +0000
This is the news from the Lake Wobegon car show, where all the vehicles look beautiful, all the engines are low-emission, and all automotive managers are above average. No wait, this is Geneva, probably the world’s most important car show. The rest of the opening sentence is true, though – at least, that’s what public relations would have you believe.

Let’s start, for no particular reason, with Porsche. Here’s something akin to a Porsche joke. The majority opinion among journos is that the new Cayenne has a “Korean-car’s butt”, in other words a generic, nondescript appearance. Ask a Porsche guy about it and in the unlikely case he’ll answer your question (I posed it in the most polite terms possible, so he did), he’ll say they redesigned the rear end to appeal more to Chinese tastes. This, from an Austrian-sounding fellow… What else is there to say about the new Cayenne? Well, it weighs less than before, and has a grand total of 52 buttons on the dashboard, which at least proves that Porsche isn’t listening to Jack Baruth.

I’d like to say something about the new VW Touareg, and if ed(itor) Ed forced me to, I’m sure I could (but he didn’t, so I won’t). The thing is, the Touareg is not so much a car as it is a cash cow for VW; if TTAC was about car industry finance, there’d be a lot more to report. In other news from Geneva, VW is forcing its staff to wear Rupert Pupkin suits, which they do like champs. And VW is showing the Polo Cross. Don’t laugh: you’d be cross too if they forced you to wear stilts.

Everybody in Geneva’s swarming around the Audi A1. I wanted to scream: settle down everybody, it’s just a Polo in drag! It brings to mind a recent mini-scandal whereas it was uncovered that BMW briefs its dealers to say: “Vorsprung Durch Technik is dead — there has been no technical innovation at Audi since 1997″. On the other hand, I like the clambshell styling of the A1, since it reminds me of NSU’s of a time long gone.

Skoda is another successful brand within the VW empire; it used to be about excellent value for money. So I was surprised to see the Fabia Combi RS. It’s a superhot very small station wagon. So, station wagons have come full circle? A long time ago, they were utilitarian but rough vehicles that made children and dogs vomit. For a while, they were family-friendly; apparently it’s back to making life uncomfortable for passengers again.

Speaking of family-friendly, I was prepared to diss the Opel Meriva: who really needs suicide doors? (Except for a suicidal, of course). But then I got into the Meriva on display and thought of some old people I know. My verdict: it really does make a difference. Opel claim is easier entry and egress, but here is another additional advantage I can think of: the front-hinged door probably makes it a lot easier to install a child seat. One more definite plus: minimization of potential harm to a bicyclist. I know several bikers who were hospitalized after hitting a suddenly-opening car door. Make the door open the other way, and the biker just hits the flat steel surface.

So kudos to Opel, and good luck. (See, we can write nice things about GM!)

What is wrong with Mazda? The new 5 looks like a Ssannggyyonng, for crying out loud. Just compare the rear of the 5 to that of the Rodius and you’ll see what I mean. The 5′s front is all zoom-zoom smiley while the sides try hard (with little success) to integrate the swoopy-creasy stuff we’ve seen on many a recent Mazda concept car. Next!

The Mitsubishi ASX, as a smartly-styled CUV based on the Lancer, could be a pointless exercise but at the planned low price point of 18.000 Euros, it looks like very good value for money.

Admittedly, it will be undercut by the Dacia Duster (cue to Plymouth fans: start to weep). The Duster is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it is the first Dacia that does not have an utterly depressing interior. Secondly, it offers a new take on the CUV biz. The CUV formula is usually simple: take a car, put it on stilts and add 4WD, = charge a steep price premium. Dacia does that too — but the price is still super-low! (Net, in Europe, probably less than 14k Euros). Does it make any sense at all? Strangely, it does: the Duster looks OK from a few yards away, all Dacia’s drive well under speeds of around 80 mph, and off-roaders are not about having the most modern high-tech anyhow.

Dacia belongs to the Renault Group, which you wouldn’t guess if you saw the Renault Gordinis here in Geneva. I like old European sporting brands such as Abarth, Gordini and AMG — who doesn’t? The first two are presently being awaken from a long slumber, and make special driver’s cars that are more aggressive, have more bite and rasp, than other hot hatches. Do they fit into the present day, where every family car has sporting pretensions? I think so.

Another new Renault is the Wind, a small, two-seater droptop. Jeremy Clarkson will probably say it’s a bit Ginger Beer but since four-seater cabrios are torture to the rear passengers, and the Wind has an ingenious, simple roof construction, I give it a thumbs-up.

Back to CUVs.The Mini Countryman is another roomy, surprisingly useful new car. I made myself comfortable in the front, then got out and sat in the back, and could swing one leg over another — that’s how spacious it is. Headroom is excellent too. It even looks good (if you like the way Minis look). From a pure packaging point of view, the Un-mini comes close to the brilliance of the (forgotten with justification) Austin Maxi. I’d probably feel silly driving a Minimax, but then, I’m not a soccer mom. I’d probably feel silly paying the hefty premium a Mini commands — but I’m cheap.
Immediately after sitting in the Countryman, I hit my head when I tried to board an Alfa Romeo Giulia. Holy cow, what a triumph of style over just about everything else. It looks very impressive on the inside (if slightly anodyne from the outside), but I had to crook my neck to sit in any of the four seats. Giulias of yore were angular, looked contemporary even after being built for a dozen years, and were both functional and sexy. One might ask, does big man Sergio Marchionne ever find the time to sit in one of his new cars?
Indeed, I could have asked him that, because soon after he arrived at the Fiat booth to give a bear hug to John Elkann. Both Sergio and the Fiat heir presented Fiat’s new two-cylinder, turbocharged, camless engine. Multi-air is a real advancement and I personally cherish two-cylinder cars. But beware of a company that develops revolutionary technology but can’t install reliable cam belts.
No, it’s not the photographer’s fault: the Nissan Juke looks like an insect. It gets even worse (really?) when you see the rear three-quarter view: there is this bulge, and there is this giant gap between the wheel and the fender. They say SUV drivers unconsciously dislike beauty; if this car is a success then I will agree with them.
The new Infiniti M also has bulges, but looks elegant. A spokesguy told me the headlights were inspired by “kabuki eyes” and that the general shape was “kinda futurist-hippie”, but then bit on his tongue and said management would rip his head off if I quoted him. Euros will get Diesel engines, everybody worldwide will enjoy the hybrid versions, and hopefully the M will drive as good as other Infinitis.
The Volvo S60 may not be as good a drive as the Infiniti M, but it is sure a fantastic looker. I had a chat with its designer Oerjan Sterner, who explained that the new car lost its P1800-inspired shoulders to make it appear lower. His brief was to make it the sportiest Volvo of all. But isn’t everybody doing sporty nowadays? Well, the S60 in addition incorporates Volvo brand values — safety and greenness, as it were (and indeed, it has a fantastic electronic system to prevent all collisions with pedestrians at speeds below 25 km/h). So, Volvo means sportiness, safety and greenness. Just like everbody else! But to their credit, one could say that Volvo is above average.
]]> 13
Geneva Day One: Attempting to Grasp the Concept of Concept Wed, 03 Mar 2010 00:33:10 +0000
At the Geneva car show, this year’s bon mot among the journos is: there are two kinds of auto companies, those with problems and those that will have problems in the future. That’s one of the many reasons to take interest in the latest crop of concept cars: today’s concept could just be tomorrow’s catastrophe. Look past the bright lights and posed displays, and you can see visions of designers gone mad, branding gone astray, and a complete lack of any managerial imagination. Luckily, not all is dark on the horizon…

When I first heard of the Mercedes F800 Style I was reminded of the Mitsubishi Charisma: a car likely to have nothing of what it is named after. But up close, it’s not quite so bad. Mercedes’ designers are expressing themselves rather defensively, and they say future Benzes will no longer have ‘additive’ shapes. In other words, none of the ungainly, almost tacked-on looking fenders and trunk lids that the present S-class has.

The F800 sports lines that begin somewhere near the radiator and end… somewhere else. I don’t really understand all this sculpting, all these creases; just look at Mazda’s concepts from 2007 and then at the new Mazda 5 to see how much can go wrong in translation between crazy-fantastic wavy concepts and real-life cars. (More about the 5 tomorrow). To Mercedes’ benefit, this rendition of what the next C-class is likely to look like has short overhangs, a thoughtful snout, and no really ugly elements.

That’s more than you can say about the Hyundai i-flow. This looked good on paper but I am sorry to say it is truly ghastly in the flesh. A German, Thomas Buerkle, designed it, and it’s totally overwrought, with an oddly aggressive shark’s-mouth front and all kinds of lines that go nowhere fast. Clean sculpture is one thing; sedans are not supposed to look evil/nightmarish. One has to assume that Hyundai’s management already knows this, and just wanted to show they are able to do something daring.

Speaking of nightmarish. I don’t know how to say this after Bertone’s personable head stylist spent several minutes with me, trying to explain the Alfa Romeo Pandion concept’s styling language to me, but I fear I will sleep badly after seeing the Pandion. It has a HR Giger interior and an absolutely atrocious rear full of metal flaps that would doubtlessly command respect at any traffic light. Google ‘Indonesian tree man’ if you want to know what it makes me think of.

There are several concepts on display in Geneva that would properly be called ‘teasers’ because they are near-identical to upcoming cars. The Peugeot 5 is full of copycat elements (S-class trunk lid, Hofmeister kink, S80 shoulders) that somehow manage to gel. The Citroen DS High Rider is basically the upcoming DS4, and can be considered bizarre, because it is a coupe-SUV-hardtop. Who the hell needs that? My take is that the design works well enough to be interesting, nevertheless. If Peugeot’s HYbrid4 Diesel-electric system (which the DS4 will employ) turns out to be a technological success, then why shouldn’t the DS4? Speaking of Peugeot: the droptop concept they are showing in Geneva is, in my mind, Aston-Martin-league beautiful. Not that anybody was asking for a French competitor to Aston.

The Opel Flextreme GT/E is an expanded, faster, uprated, nicer Volt. There is nothing wrong with its styling; as a matter of fact it’s downright impressive. It would be nice to know that GM has enough money to design luxury cars for markets in which it hasn’t had a successful luxury car in decades — if it wasn’t taxpayer money they were spending.

Fisker doesn’t have much of a heritage either, and there’s a certain taxpayer element to the company too (but isn’t that the case everywhere nowadays?). They didn’t show a concept car in Geneva but they did display the space frame of the upcoming Karma series hybrid. A Fisker guy who prefers to remain unnamed after having experienced many a tussle with a certain Robert Farago, said the space frame is way more rigid than the frame of just about any other car you could think of. Of course, I couldn’t confirm that, but I did have a sit inside a Karma and it is without doubt a totally gorgeous and cool interior design. The rest, as the joke goes, is a “mere matter of implementation”.

A major qualm one might have with concept cars is the problem of what is left after you subtract the gull-wing doors and the 22″ wheels. Happily, there are some truly innovative ideas on display in Geneva. Famed designer Giorgio Giugiaro joined forces with Malysia’s Proton and England’s Lotus to design the car, as he says, he’s been thinking about for five years. His concept has enormous interior space for four (I sat in it, so I know) on a tiny, 3.5 meter footprint. And his concept is a series hybrid, meaning it has a gas engine in the front, batteries in the middle under the seats, and an electric range-extender motor in the back. And it even looks good — not at all tippy-narrow like other sandwich-layout concepts tend to be. Proton wants to bring this car to international markets within a year, and since they are known to bite off more than they can chew, I’d be sceptical. Still, this is a fantastic concept that gives hope to those who are dismayed at the news of Mercedes giving up the sandwich concept for the upcoming A-class.

The Heuliez Mia is another intruiging yet ambitious project. France’s Heuliez has a new Turkish investor, so the Mia’s designer, Murat Guenak of Passat CC and Mindset fame has hopes of bringing it to market soon. Here’s what makes this electric car special: a tiny footprint yet space for three; easy entry via sliding doors; Lithium-Phosphate batteries that don’t have the range of Li-Ion but need no cooling, as they are less thermally temperamental. Heuliez makes the batteries themselves; Guenak says the first 1,500 Mias will be built already in 2010, and sold at the highly competitive price of 15,000 Euros.

Have I overlooked anything? Oh yes, the Rinspeed UC? (you see?), a shortened, electric Fiat 500, is cute but crazy — too crazy, I fear, with joystick controls and a Tonka-toy interior. The Honda 3R-C is pretty good looking for a three-wheeler, offers a modicum of side impact protection, and is weather-proof, so one can expect the likes of it to be a solid contender in the electric-micro-city-vehicle market, if such a market should ever begin to exist. The Toyota FT-86 is either boring or I don’t get it. On paper, I thought the Subaru Hybrid Tourer was boring too, but in the flesh, it looked like a remarkably clean and pretty design. After all the convoluted, pretentious, super-wavy designs, after all the crazy “look at me” concept cars, the Subi looked sane, solid, sweet and yes, sexy. Will something like it survive market research and the heavy hand of niche marketing? Don’t hold your breath.

Bertone Alfa Romeo Pandion Concept Citroen Highrider Concept Fisker Karma Spaceframe Five By Peugeot. And why not? Get the concept? (Martin Schwoerer) Giugiaro Proton Lotus Concept Honda's distant future and reimagined past Hyundai i-flow Concept. Got an iPad? Mazda5. Can't wait for the production version, can you? Mercedes F800 Style Concept (courtesy: Motor Trend) Murat Gunak and his Heuliez Mia Opel Flextreme. Ich bin ein Ruesselsheimer! Peugeot SR-1 Cabrio Concept. A production version based on the Twingo platform is not being considered. Rinspeed UC? and Frank Rinderknecht Subaru Hybrid Tourer Concept thinks upscale Toyota FT-86 Concept Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 9