Friday, November 30, 2012

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F-type leads four-car Jag model offensive

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 04:00 AM PST

Jaguar aims to treble sales with the F-type roadster and coupé, an SUV, a compact FWD model and a plusher XK

Jaguar's future model expansion will be rather more modest than that of its booming sister brand, Land Rover. In the medium term, there are four major new models on the horizon: the F-type sports car, in both convertible and coupé forms; a small, front-wheel-drive car and a family-friendly crossover model. Bringing up the rear will be the next generation of the XK coupé and convertible.

In crude terms, the F-type is about boosting Jaguar's image. The baby front-drive Jaguar serves to meet the trend for downsizing and the demands of global fuel economy regulations. And the crossover aims to exploit the profitable, booming global SUV market.

The F-type roadster has already been shown and will arrive in showrooms next May. It's tempting to think that a production F-type coupé — possibly with the new option of a manual gearbox — will appear at next February's Geneva motor show. That's because next year is also the 50th anniversary of the unveiling of the all-aluminium, and ultra-rare, lightweight E-type — the spiritual and engineering predecessor to the F-type.

Although Jaguar bosses are pinning great hopes on the F-type having a disproportionate effect on Jaguar's current image, its next two new models are very different from anything that the company has done in the past.

Work on Jaguar's family-orientated SUV is well under way. Customer research started in Coventry in spring of this year and US market research is also expected to have been completed by now.

One source who has seen the full-size model of the SUV described it as "spectacular". The SUV was shown alongside rival models that included the Infiniti FX, which is said to have influenced the new Jaguar. It's expected that the SUV will be based on the same basic aluminium riveted platform as the XJ saloon and will be built on the same line at Jaguar's Castle Bromwich factory.

The next model in the pipeline is said to be taxing the company's product planners far more than the move into the SUV market. Autocar can reveal that a finished, full-sized model of what's known internally as the "compact car" does exist and the styling has been virtually finalised. It's thought to be a 4.3m-long, frugal front-driver, based on the new JLR steel platform that is also destined for the next-generation Freelander but with aluminium panels.

We also understand that Jaguar bosses are nervous about the much-needed model because of the damage done to the company's image by the Mondeo-based X-type. Apparently, consideration has even been given to the idea of not badging the car as a Jaguar because of the risk of pushing the brand too far downmarket.

The fourth Jaguar model will be the replacement for the XK coupé and roadster. Jaguar bosses have already hinted that the new XK will be bigger and more upmarket, closely following the pattern set by the Maserati GranTurismo and GranCabrio.

The anatomy of a rally pit-stop

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 04:00 AM PST

The brief hiatus between stages calls for intense teamwork from Skoda UK's IRC operation. We examine the anatomy of a service stop

Michael Delaney, Steve McQueen's character in Le Mans, utters the (slightly paraphrased) sentiment, "Racing is life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting." For rally mechanics, though, the opposite is true. While the competitors are out giving it 'maximum attack' on the special stages, team members back at the service stop can do little but anxiously wait and watch the timing screens for information on how their man is getting on.

As the drivers head back to service, however, it's time for the mechanics to spring into life. In the limited amount of time that the rules permit – usually 30 or 45 minutes – their mission is to turn a well used rally car into one that looks as good as new. They must carry out repairs, replace parts, fine-tune the car's set-up, fit new tyres and give the car a quick shine to keep the sponsors happy, of course.

For the driver and navigator, meanwhile, the service halt is a chance to refuel with food and drink, discuss tactics with team chiefs and prepare for the next section of the event.

Service is a blur of high-pressure, well drilled activity that can have a major bearing on the outcome of a rally. Here's the story of how it's done.

One hour before service

Preparations begin when Andreas Mikkelsen and Ola Fløene leave a stage and embark on a road section back to the service stop. During the trip (in which they often swap places so that Mikkelsen can relax for a moment while Fløene drives the Fabia S2000) they discuss how well the car has been suited to the conditions and what changes, if any, they want to make to the set-up.

30 minutes before service

Before the cars go into service, they are sent to a regroup area that acts as a holding station to bring the whole field back together. At the regroup they are met by Dario D'Esposito (Skoda UK team co-ordinator), Nicolas Roux (car engineer) and Lorenzo Borghini (technical co-ordinator). They take snacks and drinks to the drivers and discuss the 'job list' for service.

10 minutes before service

D'Esposito, Roux and Borghini return to service before the car is released from the regroup area. Borghini briefs the mechanics about the work that's going to be carried out at service. Five minutes before the car arrives, the boys are ready to go; they have all the tools and parts they need to hand. Mikkelsen and Fløene leave the regroup and drive to the 'service in' time control.

Service begins

On the allotted minute, Fløene books the Fabia into service and Mikkelsen drives into the Skoda UK area. A large digital clock at the back of the awning starts ticking down. As soon as the engine is switched off and stationary, the Fabia is jacked up and set on axle stands.

One mechanic is responsible for each corner of the car. Before they remove the wheels, they check for any play in the wheel bearings and suspension. They work quickly but thoroughly; they don't want to get to the end of service only to discover there's damage that wasn't spotted earlier. If all looks well, the wheels come off.

Once they've been removed, each mechanic carries out a visual check. Then the underbody guards come off and a second visual check will be made before they carry out a 'spanner check'. If a longer job such as a transmission change is needed, it takes priority. Otherwise, standard jobs such as differential changes and gear ratio and damper adjustments will be carried out.

By the time the wheels are off, Renaud Chevalier, the man who is responsible for the engine bay, has downloaded the data from the car to his computer and is studying the engine telemetry to check there are no anomalies to investigate.

Borghini carries out any work needed but primarily focuses on the inside of the car. For example, if the crew has any issues with the intercom system, he will investigate. Other jobs such as replenishing the drivers' individually specified drinks are done.

15 minutes to go

While service continues, D'Esposito – 'the controller' – makes sure all the mechanics know how much time is left before the car has to leave. At the same time he takes phone calls from the weather crews deployed at various points across the next loop of stages. When D'Esposito has information about the conditions, he, Roux and Mikkelsen discuss then settle on a tyre choice.

As Mikkelsen and Fløene eat some food, they discuss tactics with team manager Andy Rogers and team principal Pierfrancesco Zanchi. From the recce and weather crews they will know all about the conditions on the roads, whether the terrain will suit the car and on which stages they can take risks and which ones require a more prudent approach.

Five minutes to go

As the clock ticks down, the engineers start to finish up their various tasks.

The last one is to bolt on the chosen tyres. Often there will be spies from other IRC teams in the crowd of spectators in front of the service area, trying to glean information on Skoda UK's next tyre selection. To keep them guessing, the mechanics keep the tyres in their heated blankets until the last possible moment.

Service ends

Fløene is aware of the specific moment when he must book out of service; to miss this would incur a time penalty. With just a minute or so in hand, the car is dropped off the jacks and Mikkelsen drives to the 'service out' time control.

He and Fløene are now ready for the next competitive section of the rally to begin – and so is the Fabia S2000.

XFR-S is something special, says Jag design boss

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 03:57 AM PST

Ian Callum on Jaguar's "formidable" new super-saloon and why the firm needs a sports car

Jaguar has created a "formidable machine" that "can do what no other saloon car can do" with the new XFR-S, according to Jaguar design director Ian Callum.

Callum believes that the 542bhp XFR-S, unveiled at this week's Los Angeles motor show, is the latest model that can help transform Jaguar's "gentle gentleman's car image". "This is something that's changing rapidly, and the XFR-S is as sporty as a Jaguar saloon can get," he told Autocar at the LA motor show.

The XFR-S starred alongside the new F-type, which was making its North America debut at the LA show.

Callum said one of the biggest things to emerge since the F-type was revealed in September at the Paris motor show was "the love for the Jaguar brand".

"Jaguar was slipping away to some, but there's a huge love for it," said Callum. "The F-type justifies the rest of the brand. As we had no race or sports car, people were asking what we stood for.

"We had performance cars but no sports car. That's Jaguar's natural place and now we have it, we can spell it out. Jaguar is not complete without a sports car. It's the crux of the brand and the drive of it."

Callum wouldn't be drawn on a launch date for a coupé version of the F-type, but said it was a model he was looking forward to and one that would stay true to the C-X16 concept from 2011.

LA motor show: AMG goes 'crazy' – and I like it

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 03:14 AM PST

Mercedes has joined McLaren, Porsche and Ferrari in the hypercar arena with the stunning SLS AMG Black Series

Next year may well end up being remembered in the car industry as the year of the hypercar. You wait for the best part of a decade for something to challenge the Bugatti Veyron and three rivals come along at once: Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari F150 and McLaren P1 will all be in showrooms before the year is out, each wearing a price tag of anything between £600,000 and £1 million.

These new hypercars represent a step change at the highest end of the performance market. The cylinder and horsepower race over the decades that culminated with the Veyron and its 1000bhp W16 engine would appear over, as the new breed switch to hybridisation in pursuit of more environmentally friendly – but no less dramatic – performance.

But there's another hypercar out next spring with no electric motor or battery pack in sight: the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series. My star car of the LA motor show this week, the Black Series is about as big and angry-looking as hypercars get, and it will cost less than half of even the cheapest of the hybrid trio due by the end of 2013.

But despite its brash looks, the Black Series is not just another entry into the horsepower race. It's a full-on race car for the road, taking much of its technology from the successful SLS AMG GT3 race car.

The brief from AMG Ola Källenius to his engineers was simple: to make the Black Series a GT3 car for the road. And the result, he says, "the ultimate expression of what our engineers can do when they're allowed to go crazy".

It's hard to disagree. The famed normally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 engine is tuned to 631hp, enough to make the Black Series the most powerful model in AMG's 45-year history. And it's not just a case of adding more power: the whole engine has been gleaned with GT3 technology.

So there's a larger inlet manifold, high lift camshaft, revised valve tappets, revised oil system, lighter bearings and stiffer conrods. And the rev limit is raised from 7200rpm to 8000rpm. The exhaust system is now constructed from titanium, while carbonfibre can be found everywhere from the bodywork to the rear bulkhead to help save weight.

Quite something then, the SLS Black Series. Hypercar fans have never had it so good. As impressive as the 918, F150 and P1 and their future technology will of course be, the SLS Black Series shows there's plenty of life in the non-hybridised hypercar yet.

So spectacular are the SLS Black Series' looks and spec sheet, maybe Källenius should let his engineers "go crazy" more often.  

First drive review: Land Rover Freelander SD4 HSE Lux

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 02:23 AM PST

Light makeover increases Freelander's appeal, but higher-spec cars are too expensive The 2013 Freelander, a model sporting the mildest of mild facelifts. We're talking cosmetics, really, so new front and rear lights, a smartened and tidied up cabin, that sort of thing.More practically than all of that, though, is the electric parking brake and the fact that you now don't need to slot the key into a, er, slot to start the engine. Instead you just press the button with the key in the car.It's definitely moving upmarket, the Freelander. It now comes with a reversing camera which will show you the position of the tow hitch so you don't go and stove in someone's numberplate, and you can get a pre-heat system that will warm the engine before you start. Our HSE-spec test car came with piano black interior trim and coupled with black leather and the all-black dash it lends the whole thing a rather serious, grown-up look.

LA motor show: top five concept cars

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 01:52 AM PST

The best design studies and concept cars from this week's LA motor show

Mercedes Ener-G-Force

Big, striking and unmistakably Mercedes sums up the Ener-G-Force. It might have a clumsy name, but its Tonka toy looks could trickle into a number of forthcoming SUVs. If so, the moon buggy addenda will be striped off, leaving a Range Rover rival that will excite fans of the classic Geländewagen.For now the Ener-G-Force, which was entered in this year's Los Angeles Auto Show Design Challenge, remains a hugely impressive, and unmissable, concept.

Smart ForJeremy

The Smart ForJeremy is as far removed as it's possible to be from the Energ-E-Force. American fashion designer, Jeremy Scott has grafted on his firm's trademark wings on to the Fortwo's rear, which double as the most extravagant brake lights ever committed to a car.

The ForJeremy will certainly get LA's fashionistas in a flap, but most hacks at the show couldn't make head nor tail of it. It will certainly go down as one of the most outrageous Smarts ever.

BMW i3 Coupé

Of more relevance was the BMW i3 Coupé; the second of a number of i3 models likely to reach production over the coming years. Lower and wider than the five-door i3 hatch, which will go on sale next year, BMW's design team says it has a more "emotional" look, which will help the firm succeed in the EV market, where others are failing.

The car is based around a carbon structure, which is exceptionally light. Batteries are housed inside the floor and power comes from a motor producing 170bhp and 184lb ft.

Hyundai Veloster C3 Roll Top

Think part Veloster, part Citroën C3 Pluriel and part Fiat 500C. The Veloster C3 Roll Top is Hyundai injecting pizzazz into the Veloster, while pointing the way to a possible production model. For now, the Roll Top is a concept, which features a fabric roof made from the cover of a curtain side truck trailer that rolls back.

Hyundai says it has been inspired by custom fixed-gear bicycles, hence the bike in the back and different coloured wheels.

Bentley GT3 racer

Although not strictly a concept, the big Bentley is one of the most eagerly awaited race cars in years. Its vast bodywork has been extended to allow for a wider track, while the wing is so big, it wouldn't look out of place in California's other big car show, Sema. Bentley bosses say lessons from the race car programme will filter into road cars.

As for the car pictured here, it is likely to pack 700bhp from its 6.0-litre W12 engine, giving it Ferrari F12 Berlinetta-rivalling pace. Expect to see it at a number of endurance events next year, including Spa 24 Hours.

Lexus LF-CC gets green light

Posted: 29 Nov 2012 06:39 PM PST

Lexus to build production version of dramatic coupe

The dramatic Lexus LF-CC coupe, which appeared at this week's LA show, is heading for production Autocar can reveal. First seen at the Paris show in September this year, the LF-CC is expected to morph into a showroom model by 2015.

Autocar understands that a senior Lexus engineer has been assigned to the project and serious work will start on the production engineering at the beginning of 2013. A Lexus source said the company wanted to build a car that was 'exciting and emotional' and reflected the future image Lexus image as 'sporting' brand.

The source also admitted that the company was seriously studying building a compact SUV similar in concept to Land Rover's Evoque. However, the idea was 'still being considered' mainly because of the doubts that such a model would fit in with Lexus's future direction.

The new sports model is likely to come in both cabrio and fixed-head forms and is thought to be based on the same rear-drive platform as the new IS and GS models, probably using the IS's shorter wheelbase and the GS's wider track.

Like all Lexus models, the production car will be a hybrid, most likely using a tweaked version of the GS's 350h drivetrain, which currently offers 300bhp. The production styling is thought to be close to this LF-CC concept car, itself a more viable version of the outlandish LF-LC concept, which also appeared at the LA show albeit in fresh paint.

Lexus sources said that the company wanted to slot the new car into the space vacated by the old SC coupe-convertible, which was discontinued in 2010. Lexus's first SC coupe was launched in 1991. The US will be the most important market for the new car. It is too early in the development process to know whether the car will be offered in the UK.

LA motor show: 2013 Honda Civic

Posted: 29 Nov 2012 06:07 PM PST

2013 Civic receives substantial exterior and interior styling changes and improved safety credentials

The new, 2013 model Honda Civic, shown at the LA motor show today, probably counts as one of the quickest major facelifts in the history of the auto industry. The then-new 2012 Civic lasted just 12 months before US press criticism inspired Honda to redesign the bonnet, grille, bumper, rear bumper, boot lid and rear light clusters.

Inside the Civic also gets a re-designed dashboard, closer in style to that used in the European Civic, with upgraded plastics. Honda also threw extra equipment at the Civic, including forward collision detection, a touchscreen display and a rear-view camera.  

Bizarrely, the 2012 Civic is said to be the best selling compact car in the US so far this year, so Honda's huge efforts seem to have been pleasing the press more than the public. Although the company admits that the rather spartan 2012 model was engineered during the financial crisis and aimed at what was expected to be a price sensitive market. 

Honda has also upgraded the Civic's frontal crash structure with the something called ACE (Advanced Compatibility Engineering). This move is intended to preserve the Civic's safety ratings in the face of new US crash tests which use a smaller area of overlap in offset crash tests. Rather than half of the car's nose absorbing the impact, the test now uses a smaller area of the car's nose, concentrating the crash loads onto a smaller area. 

LA motor show: Mazda 6

Posted: 29 Nov 2012 05:59 PM PST

Mazda 6 makes its US debut with Skyactiv petrol and diesel engines

The Mazda 6 made its US debut on the second day of the LA motor show with the surprise news that the Japanese won't be offering a V6 petrol engine. The 6 will only be available from January with a 2.5-litre Skyactiv petrol engine and a 2.5-litre Skyactiv diesel engine.

In order to promote the idea of 'clean diesel' to a driving population generally suspicious of oil-burning, Mazda is going to roll out the 'Mazda 6 Skyactive-D Clean Diesel race car'.

The car will compete in the Rolex 24 Hour race at Daytona on 26-27 January next year.

Mazda bosses say 60 per cent of the components in the diesel race engine - which is good for 400bhp and around 400lb ft of torque - are shared with the production engine. 

LA motor show: a missed opportunity

Posted: 29 Nov 2012 08:52 AM PST

If you're going to launch an all-new car, don't hide it behind a wall of pretty classics

It's only right and proper that long-established brands lean on their heritage. History sells cars if it connects with the people.

Ford, Fiat, Mercedes and BMW have all made a big play of their models of yesteryear in an effort to make sales. Mini has more heritage than most, even if the Issigonis era is now several places removed from the latest models.

But a brand needs to ask some searching questions when planning a motor show stand that suggest heritage is all they have. Particularly when just months earlier it cited the then-forthcoming MKZ as the saviour of the struggling brand.

That brand is Lincoln. Half a dozen Continentals and Zephyr Tourings sat proudly on the luxury marque's stand at the LA motor show, as beautiful as they were large.

The new model was almost completely hidden from view in a tinted glass-walled box that resembled a tiny showroom. The doors were manned by Lincoln heavies.

As a result, few motoring hacks were aware of the car, which is the first of four to be introduced over the coming years. Even fewer took a look inside. Not even Autocar's snapper, Stan, could shoot it. A black car, in a dark room, with no space to fit the car in his view finder. Column inches will almost certainly elude it.

Me? I found the 1956 Continental MkII and 1961 Continental Sedan far more interesting.

The Lexus with supercar acceleration

Posted: 29 Nov 2012 08:33 AM PST

Toyota Motorsport creates a 641bhp LS

Toyota's motorsport division has turned a Lexus LS into a road racer for the Essen Motor Show in December.

Based on an LS460, the TMG Sports 650 gets the bigger V8 from the LS600, and a big increase in power and torque. A standard LS460 puts out 382bhp and 363lb ft – the TMG Sports 650 develops 641bhp and 564lb ft.

The V8 has been uprated with a pair of turbos and the redline has been raised to 7450rpm, to give the Lexus a claimed 0-62mph time of 3.9sec and a top speed of 198mph. To match the car's acceleration potential, the brakes are carbon ceramic, with 20-inch wheels and 345/30 tyres at the rear.

Major modifications to the body include carbon sill skirts and a new rear diffuser.


Hyundai-Kia understands the power of sorry

Posted: 29 Nov 2012 07:32 AM PST

Cash and an apology go a long way to defusing a major row

We haven't heard much about it in Europe, but Hyundai and Kia have had a brush with PR disaster in the US this month. However, they appear to have managed to contain much of the fallout through the power of swift apology and generous compensation.

It started when the US Environmental Protection Agency said the car makers had overstated the fuel economy of many of their vehicles by 1-2mpg, rising to a 6mpg over-statement on the Kia Soul. Buyers and commentators predictably went stratospheric, demanding answers to the lies, for heads to roll and, of course, compensation for everything from the extra fuel costs to damaged resale values of the cars.

In total, around one in three cars sold by the firms in the past three years was affected – 900,000 in total. Hyundai and Kia blamed "procedural errors" at joint testing operations in Korea for the problem.

Crucially, though, they reacted swiftly to the accusations. An apology was issued immediately. A compensation programme was devised, with owners issued with gift cards carrying a payment based on how many miles they have driven, the fuel price where they live and a 15 per cent bonus to say sorry. These cards will be topped up for as long as the owner has the vehicle.

The row rumbles on, and there are lawsuits outstanding, but crucially owners seem to have been appeased less than a month after the story broke. John Karfcek, Hyundai USA's boss, says feedback suggests 90 per cent of owners are happy with the firm's reaction, but he emphasises that he's working on appeasing the other 10 per cent. Sales predictions for Hyundai remain on course; on some cars, demand is outstripping supply.

All of which goes to show that the best response for a major company in a crisis is to say sorry as fast as possible and dig as far as you can into your deepest pockets. It's a remarkably simple solution that very few major corporations appear to grasp.

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