First of all, let’s not fool ourselves: this is quite the hypothetical question. For one thing, Fiat is unlikely to federalize the Doblo cargo van that this “Work Up” is based upon until a subsequent generation comes out. In the meantime, the only Fiat Professional vehicle the US market will be getting anytime soon (thanks to CKD production at Warren Truck, according to Allpar) is the Ducato van, which competes fairly directly with Daimler’s Sprinter. But, hypothetically, could this Doblo “Work Up” find a market in the US? Let’s look at what it offers…
It’s been 12 years since BMW offered a four-cylinder engine on a US-market offering, but starting this October, US dealers will begin offering new “TwinPower”four-pot versions of the Z4 roadster and 5-series sedan. And, as BMW’s US-market boss Jim O’Donnell explains to Automotive News [sub], there’s no reason to fear the four… anymore.
It wasn’t in line with our image, because it didn’t have the performance of the six cylinder. We were selling ourselves as the ultimate driving machine and really it wasn’t. Now that the engines have developed so far, it’s not an issue at all.
But now BMW is offering four-bangers because they offer an even better driving experience, right? Less weight, better turn-in, that kind of thing… right?
Well, are ya… punk? As part of its “why does Ferrari get all of the €250,000-€750,000 fun” fit of pique, Porsche says its considering a flat-eight engined beast to take on the Italian foe. Autocar reports that
Porsche engineers have long been frustrated by the fact that the company’s iconic flat-six engine cannot be extended much beyond 4.0-litres. It’s also felt that in the Ferrari-dominated market, eight cylinders are a pre-requisite.
Moving to a larger engine would also differentiate the new model from the new 911 and next-generation Cayman range. It’s thought that the creation of such an engine has been made easier by the engineering working currently being done on the new turbocharged flat-four engine, which will be offered in Porsche’s planned entry-level roadster. This all-new motor is thought to be modular, allowing it to be extended into the next-generation flat-6 and a flat-8.
Rattle off a list of the buzzworthy EV makers that seem likely to achieve the “holy grail of EV development,” a multi-gear electric car, and chances are that firms like Tesla, Fisker, Th!nk or even a major OEM like Nissan will make the cut. You probably wouldn’t consider the ultra-conservative British sportscar maker Morgan to be in the running, as they still build body substructures out of wood… surely the brand that’s most stuck in the early 20th Century seems an unlikely candidate for EV technical leadership. Think again…
With Chevrolet already offering a Cruze Eco, WardsAuto reports that the forthcoming Cruze diesel made a case for itself based on attributes that go beyond mere efficiency. Which is interesting because a GM source tells Wards that the Cruze diesel will get around 50 MPG on the freeway… and unlike the Eco, it will achieve that high number with an automatic transmission (the Cruze Eco’s 42 MPG highway rating is only for manual transmission models). Equally importantly, the oil-burning Cruze will return better performance alongside better efficiency, with 147 HP and 236 lb-ft, compared to the 1.4T engine’s 138 HP and 148 lb-ft, which would make it the performance model of the range… which some say is just what the Cruze needs.
Joseph Lescota, chair of the Automotive Marketing Management Dept. at Northwood University in Midland, MI, thinks a diesel Cruze will draw buyers.
“Chevrolet has a great price-point vehicle that has tremendous eye appeal and options but may not meet the performance needs of a select market group,” he tells Ward’s.
A diesel version would hit that group between the eyes by adding a sturdy engine, extra torque and top-end performance to the mix, he says.
GM executives meanwhile highlight the diesel option’s value as what GM North America boss Mark Reuss calls “a hedge against the unknown.” Only three percent of current US sales are of diesels, but as American brands start rolling the oil-burning options out, and as Americans are exposed to their higher performance and efficiency, that segment could just grow. After all, who doesn’t want more performance and more efficiency for a mere $1k-$4k premium?
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…)
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.
I am sitting in a parking garage in a throng of torpid auto-journalists, nearly all of whom are wearing the same glazed expression of terminal information overload. On-screen, molecules of fuel and air are doing a complicated little computer-animated dance, as narrated by Susumi Niinai, program manager at Mazda’s powertrain development division. His English, while Japanese-accented, is better than, y’know, mine, but the concepts he’s explaining approach the limit of comprehensibility to the lay-person. Mind you, it’s a pretty nice parking garage.
Some of you, like me, may have been hearing all the rumblings about Mazda’s new SKYACTIV technologies and been wondering whether it’s going to turn out to be a series of technological breakthroughs or, alternatively, a load of complete cobblers thought up by some Zoom-Zoom marketing guru.
Good news everyone! It’s the former. Bad news everyone! I have to try to explain it to you. And I borderline don’t understand it myself. Here goes…
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…
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.