Thursday, March 7, 2013

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Ford evaluates rallycross future

Posted: 07 Mar 2013 03:40 AM PST

Global expansion of X-Games could become Ford's priority following WRC departure

The immediate global motorsport future of Ford may lie in rallycross, according to Roelant de Waard, Ford Europe's vice president of marketing, sales and service.

The company, which withdrew from the World Rally Championship at the end of last year, has committed to supporting official Ford entries in the Global X-Games events in 2013, which will run in the USA, Brazil, Spain and Germany this year.

"There is scope for regional projects in the future, from NASCAR in the US through to the WRC in Europe, but the one that has the most interesting developments on a global scale is the X-Games," said de Waard.

"It gives us the chance to demonstrate the Ford Fiesta ST in a whole different forum; most importantly rallycross cars are spectacular and they are accessible. Holding the events in a stadium has massive appeal for the public there and for television."

Renault: 'We don't get enough out of F1'

Posted: 07 Mar 2013 03:32 AM PST

Upcoming rule change the key to drawing more recognition to Renault's F1 successes

Renault boss Carlos Tavares has admitted the firm does not get enough recognition for its Formula 1 world championship success – but says the firm itself is at least partly to blame. Renault has powered Red Bull and Sebastien Vettel to all three of their world championships in the past three years.

"We are frustrated by the lack of recognition we get for beating the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes," said Tavares. "It is true that I think we deserve better."

"But part of that problem at least must lie with our global marketing team. It is clear that we must create a bigger buzz around what we do. We are world champions, we are able to sell our engines to the teams because of that, but we do not get enough recognition beyond that."

Tavares cited the shift to V6 1.6-litre turbocharged engines in 2014 as a key moment in which Renault must capitalise on its recent success. "The rule change will make it more a championship of the engine suppliers than in recent times; that will be key for our return," he said.

He also admitted that alliance partner Infiniti's branding deal with Red Bull lessened Renault's benefit from powering the team to success, but intimated that closer ties with existing partners Williams, Lotus and Caterham could be used to get more publicity.

"The relationship with all our teams is warm, emotional even," said Tavares. "Frank Williams himself is highly respected within Renault, not just for the championships and races we have won in the past together, but also for his humility and personality."

"Lotus we have historic ties with, through the Enstone operation, while Caterham is our joint venture partner on the Alpine sports car project. All three of these teams have a specific link back to Renault, and that counts. Perhaps one day we can reach the same point with Red Bull."

UK Mustangs to be offered with modified Focus ST engine

Posted: 07 Mar 2013 02:25 AM PST

A 2.3-litre version of the Focus ST's EcoBoost engine will make up most of UK Mustang sales

Ford is developing a 2.3-litre version of the Focus ST engine for the European Mustang range.

Although the car itself will differ little from the native American version, Ford is realistic enough to know that sales of the V8 version of the Mustang will be limited.

The four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo in the ST offers 247bhp, and insiders reckon the Mustang's 2.3-litre version would yield around 300bhp. 

More importantly, the running costs of a Mustang with a smaller engine will be far more acceptable to European buyers.

The next-generation Ford Mustang will arrive in the UK in 2015.

Can Alfa revive its fortunes in Europe and the US?

Posted: 07 Mar 2013 02:19 AM PST

Alfa boss Sergio Marchionne sets his sights on rejuvenating Alfa in the US, but he's doubtful about the European market

Cars that have you thinking there's no recession are one of the major attractions at the Geneva motor show, the Rolls-Royce Wraith and LaFerrari among them.

What's interesting to hear, however, is how Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne plans to rejuvenate Alfa Romeo.

This is not the first time he has attempted a revival, and the challenge looks as mountainous as ever — how Fiat plans to elevate Alfa to the level of the German premium three, in product terms at least, is intriguing to learn.

Future Alfa Romeos will have three core characteristics, says Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne. "First, design. Second, the light-weighting of vehicles and third, unique powertrain solutions. And we have met the target with the 4C," he says. America is the priority, the 4C to spearhead the reintroduction of the brand which departed in 1995.

Marchionne dismisses criticism that previous Alfa US revival plans have come to nothing by saying that "they never got executed". It will be different this time because of Chrysler, which provides a near-instant dealer network and platform-sharing opportunities that provide the foundation for long-term viability. "It couldn't have been done before – the baseline investment would have exceeded the revenue," he commented.

But he's not so certain about how Alfa can achieve a revival in Europe. "I don't know at today's price levels," he says referring to the current market's heavy discounting. "The degradation of prices is occurring not just in the mass market but the premium end, too."

Lightweight cars are expensive to make, as are advanced engines, as the 4C's lofty sub-£50,000 ticket demonstrates. This price takes it well above a Porsche Cayman.

But there's promise in this strategy, lightweight being something new for Alfa and a philosophy with the potential to yield real advances, especially in combination with strong design and the advanced engines that the brand has always offered.

"Without which means 300,000 sales by 2016 rather than the 92,000 Alfas sold last year," says Marchionne.

Geneva motor show: Magna Steyr View Top RCZ concept

Posted: 07 Mar 2013 12:49 AM PST

Austrian engineering firm pioneers a folding glass roof for hard-top cars

Magna Steyr, the firm contracted by Peugeot to build the RCZ, has unveiled a unique roof concept at the Geneva motor show using the Peugeot coupé as its base car. The View Top technology aims to offer a driving experience akin to a convertible without the expense or loss of structural rigidity.

The View Top is a sliding folding roof made of fabric with glass panels integrated. The curvature of the glass elements allows them to fit around the roof construction when it's closed. On the RCZ, this allows its 'double-bubble' roof design to remain intact.

Furthermore, it stretches from the top of the windscreen to the boot; Magna Steyr claims this enhances the 'intensive open-air experience.'

Opening the View Top takes 12 seconds and leaves an entirely transparent roof section. The fabric roof folds to a height of 200mm at the base of the rear windscreen and doesn't impact on passenger space.

The View Top system has been inspired by Magna Steyr's MILA concept series, and is the first application of the technology to a production model. Gunther Apfalter, President of Magna Steyr, said the View Top 'demonstrates the unique product design and engineering capabilities that we can deliver to customers.'

Click here for more Geneva motor show 2013 news.

Matt Bird

Seat Leon SC 1.4 TSI 140 first drive review

Posted: 06 Mar 2013 04:01 PM PST

New three-door delivers coupé looks and promises a more dynamic drive This is, we're told, a pre-production prototype, but the truth is that this new Seat Leon SC – the three-door Leon, and loosely a Volkswagen Scirocco rival – needs no such excuses. Nothing about this test suggests the car is anything other than ready to go on sale.The SC (for Sports Coupé) is the first three-door Leon, and has been developed and styled to deliver on that dynamic promise. That means it's shorter and wider than the five-door and, more significantly for its dynamic capabilities, the wheelbase is 35mm shorter.

Volkswagen XL1 first drive review

Posted: 06 Mar 2013 10:08 AM PST

We know that VW's futuristic hybrid eco-car packs phenomenal efficiency, but does the driving experience match up? A hyper-economical carbonfibre and gull-winged two-seater that is the cumulation of more than a decade of engineering effort at Volkswagen. This started with Ferdinand Piech's (now chairman of the VW supervisory board) turn-of-the-century vision of building a production car capable of covering 100km on one litre of fuel, or 282mpg.

The first concept was the 2002 L1, which combined a carbonfibre body, tandem seating, a side-hinged canopy and a single-cylinder, 8bhp, engine. The car weighed just 290kg. The L1 was demonstrated by Piech, who was then VW Group boss, and the company claimed fuel economy of 0.99-litres per 100km, or 238mpg.The second-generation L1 was shown in Autumn 2009. This featured hybrid transmission combining a two-cylinder diesel engine and an electric motor. 

The problem with making the L1 production-ready was less the uncivilised tandem seating and aircraft-style side-hinged roof canopy and more the issue of it meeting crash test requirements.Less than two years after the second-generation L1, VW showed the XL1 in the form of a series of driveable prototypes. VW engineers had taken a huge leap with the 'one-litre' concept by retaining the two-cylinder hybrid drivetrain but completely rethinking the body design. 
Bringing the story right up to date, the final design is based around a supercar-style carbonfibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) monocoque passenger cell, with the passenger seat staggered behind the driver seat. This clever arrangement reduces the amount of shoulder room needed, allowing the body to be as narrow as possible for aerodynamic reasons. Crash protection front and rear is provided by large extruded aluminium crash boxes and the mid-mounted powertrain is also hung off the rear aluminium subframe. The whole assembly weighs just 230kg.

To make for easier access across the wide sills, the XL1 has large gullwing doors which cut right into the roof. If you end up upside down in the XL1, explosive bolts release the gullwing doors.

The XL1 is 3.88m long, just 1.65m wide and 1.15m tall – which makes it 10cm shorter than a Volkswagen Polo, less than 20mm narrower but nearly 30cm lower.These dimensions are, of course, at the maximum points. In the flesh, the XL1 looks tiny, not just because it so low, but also because the body tapers away to the classic teardrop shape with the rear wheels enclosed by the body. It has a Cd rating of just 0.189 - surely a world record for a production car.

The front suspension is made up of double wishbones, the rear a 'semi-trailing link system'. The brake discs are made of lightweight ceramic and the wheels are magnesium. The front wheels are almost motorcycle-slim at 115/80 R15 and the rears 145/55 R 16.

Behind the passenger cell is the two-cylinder hybrid drivetrain. Effectively half of an existing 1.6-litre turbo diesel, tweaked and fitted with a balancer shaft, it develops 50bhp and the electric motor provides 27bhp. Both drive through a seven-speed DSG gearbox. The 5.5kWh lithium-Ion battery pack is mounted in the front of the car, in the void ahead of the passenger's feet.The XL1 can run on diesel only, electric only or, in boost mode, a combination of the two. During boost mode the two motors generate a maximum of 68.3bhp and a maximum of 103lb ft of torque. The XL1's top speed is limited to 99.4mph and it can hit 62mph in 12.7secs.

Hotter Toyota GT86 could go hybrid

Posted: 06 Mar 2013 10:01 AM PST

Chief project engineer explains why electric boost may make more sense than turbocharging or supercharging

A high-performance petrol-electric hybrid version of the GT86 sports car is under consideration at Toyota, Autocar can reveal. 

According to chief engineer Tetsuya Tada, all routes remain open to conjuring more performance from the rear-driven two-seater, with an eye on the creation of a faster and more focussed version of the acclaimed rear-drive coupe to be released later in the car's lifecycle. 

"I've been asked a lot about a turbocharging," Tada told us. "We are already working on a mid-life facelift for the car, and we are investigating both turbocharging and supercharging too," he added. "But an electric motor assistance solution is also possible, and would bring benefits that forced induction does not."

Toyota took the wraps off a conceptual convertible version of the GT86 at the Geneva show, which is almost certain to make production. It nearly didn't, however. "The management considered the GT86 very risky," Tada said. "They wanted proof that the '86 coupe would hit its sales targets before they would sign off on a convertible.

"Now that they have that proof, we can begin to think about other development ideas for the car. But we must guard against compromising any of the key virtues of the standard GT86 in the pursuit of more power."

An electric motor assist solution, Tada suggested, could provide a substantial low-rpm torque boost for the naturally aspirated engine without affecting throttle response or compromising on fuel economy or emissions. 

Similar to the 'IMA' system used on the Honda CRZ, the hybrid system would be much cheaper and simpler than the one used on the Prius economy car. The batteries, meanwhile, could be used to lower the car's centre of gravity even further.

The Toyota engineer suggested that the weight added by such a system could at least partly be offset, and that experimental underbody aerodynamic parts could be used to adjust the car's handling balance should weight distribution be affected.

"Our TRD tuning department has found it easy to take 100kg out of the kerbweight, and have developed certain underbody fins and plates that can be employed to alter the dynamic balance of the car, to increase or reduce oversteer at medium and high speeds. They have quite a pronounced effect," he said.

Mercedes-Benz CLA220 CDI first drive review

Posted: 06 Mar 2013 09:00 AM PST

The stylish new Mercedes CLA four-door adds visual spice to the staid compact saloon market The rebuilding of Mercedes-Benz's small car ranks began with the latest B-class MPV, gaining momentum with the new A-class hatchback. Now it is moving into top gear with this, the CLA – a car that many expect to revive the compact saloon car market, and with it Mercedes' ability to attract a younger generation of buyers.Appearing like a scaled-down CLS, it brings a welcome dose of style to a class long renowned for prosaic looks.The front is mostly shared with the latest A-class, upon which the CLA is largely based. It's at the rear where the new saloon differs from its hatchback sibling, with a heavily curved roofline, curvaceous pillars, angled rear screen, sloping bootlid and longer overhang. The CLA also uses frameless doors in a bid to give it coupé-like appeal.It's not just good looking but also aerodynamically efficient. Mercedes claims a Cd of 0.23 for regular models.The CLA is 40mm longer, 7mm wider and 43mm lower than the C-class – itself set to grow appreciably when the new version appears next year. It's not the end of Mercedes' efforts to rebuild its small car ranks, though. An even more radical-looking CLA Shooting Brake is due to reach the UK in just over a year's time. 

Video: Geneva motor show 2013 show report

Posted: 06 Mar 2013 05:24 AM PST

All the highlights from the Geneva motor show

The Geneva motor show 2013 revealed one of the most astonishing collections of supercars for many years. Matt Prior takes a look at the highlights of the first big European show of 2013. Featuring:

McLaren P1

Lamborghini Veneno

Honda Civic Wagon concept

Rolls-Royce Wraith

Porsche 911 GT3

Mercedes A45 AMG

BMW 3-series GT

Alfa Romeo 4C

Bertone Jet 2+2

Toyota FT 86 Open concept


Demand for new Honda NSX strong

Posted: 06 Mar 2013 02:55 AM PST

Honda starts receiving deposit cheques for its hotly anticipated hybrid NSX

Demand for the new Honda NSX is so strong in the UK that the company has received 25 £5000 deposit cheques before it has even opened the order books.

A formal deposit system for the car, which is set to arrive in 2015, is expected to be started later this year, but the company has been forced to take orders in advance from eager buyers.

The NSX, which will not go into production for at least two years, will be built in the US where most of the car's development is being undertaken.

It will use a mid-mounted V6 coupled to an electric motor to drive the rear wheels, and electric motors driving the front wheels to give four-wheel drive.

Honda's Super Active All-Wheel Drive system will also be fitted.

Audi's range expansion set to continue

Posted: 05 Mar 2013 11:58 AM PST

Wolfgang Dürheimer promises more RS models and further additions to the SUV line-up

Audi's model expansion will include more RS performance offerings, a lightweight version of the next TT, and a greater number of Q-badged SUVs in its range, development chief Wolfgang Dürheimer has confirmed at the Geneva motor show.

The firm's first RS-badged SUV, the RS Q3, made its debut at Geneva today, and Dürheimer said there was an appetite for even more RS Audis. New RS6 Avant and RS7 models have already been shown, and Dürheimer said "demand is growing for RS" and models like the Q3 RS exist because "the customers want them".

"The Q3 RS is a new dimension for RS but there's certainly room for more," he told Autocar. "RS models demonstrate the technical edge of Audi."

There are no current plans for a diesel RS, Dürheimer confirmed, but the firm "had a lot of additional ideas" on future RS models, as well as a greater number of S models in its range.

Dürheimer said that although Audi was now fully committed to future technologies, such as electric cars and hybrids through models like the A3 e-tron, another Geneva debut, there would still always be high-performance Audi models in the range.

"We're covering a complete range of cars and technologies," he said. "There will be people who purely want green technology, but there are also those who achieve and want something with a lot of power like the RS7 or Q7."

One future model close to being signed off is a lightweight version of the next-generation TT, with a target weight of 1000kg. "Such a car would be very exciting and sporty," said Dürheimer. "We already have the right engines and it's a project we're working on."

Dürheimer said he saw "a very good future" for a production version of the Audi Crosslane Coupé concept from the Paris motor show last year, a model said to show Audi's thinking for a Q2.

"There is more room for Q models," said Dürheimer.

Why eveyone wants a place on the 'Lamborghini List'

Posted: 05 Mar 2013 11:55 AM PST

Lamborghini's Veneno concept has only been sold to three individuals, and being chosen to buy one is an art in itself

There was a third hypercar revealed at the Geneva motor show in addition to the LaFerrari and McLaren P1 that you definitely can't buy – the Lamborghini Veneno.

That's because all three examples of the car had been sold for a cool three million euros plus taxes before the wider world even knew of its existence at Geneva. Question is, how does one go about entering the bidding war for the most exclusive of Lamborghinis?

The firm's chief executive, Stephan Winkelmann, told me that he is not a fan of spending a lot of money on a concept car only for it to end up in a museum.

"When I arrived at the company, we were wasting money on concept cars and I didn't like them going off to the museum," said Winkelmann. "So I wanted us to start creating 'concept' cars that were fully engineered and saleable and could become a real part of the history for the brand."

The process started with the Lamborghini Reventon in 2007. "This sold easily and from then onwards, this has become part of our ideals," said Winkelmann. "Having these amazing halo cars is what we want."

The idea for one of these cars is always one born from Lamborghini itself; you cannot go to the firm with your own idea and get them to make it. Designers and engineers work together to a brief, and the result is usually something very special.

So who buys them? "Car collectors, Lamborghini lovers and even investors that believe the cars could be worth a lot more money in years to come," said Winkelmann.

The buyers are always invited to buy one, rather than respond to a small ad in their local paper's motoring section. Winkelmann speaks of "the list" of people that have the option to buy the car, something surely any (wealthy) Lamborghini fan dreams of getting on.

To get on "the list" Winkelmann, who met the three anonymous buyers of the Veneno on Geneva's first press day, says you "need to be known to us or our dealers". "If you're on the list, you will be considered. We have names of people, and once on there everyone is welcome to the car; everyone is considered."

I'm a big fan of this approach from Lamborghini. It's not just building wacky concepts that are destined to gather dust in a museum after a tour of the motor show circuit, it's creating real dream cars that can continue to be enjoyed by those driving them and those they drive past.

And in doing so it's created the very cool sounding 'Lamborghini List'; surely the most exclusive club in motoring?


750bhp vs 314mpg: only one winner

Posted: 05 Mar 2013 07:09 AM PST

Why VW's show before the show is so important

Volkswagen's big preview night has become an unswervable fixture of the Geneva programme. It's the show-before-the-show, and ever since waves were made by the early unveiling of the 918 Spyder at one of 'em three years ago — totally unannounced, at Porsche's first appearance as a VW Group brand, in fact — it's been a show you daren't miss. Assuming you get an invite.

It's a funny kind of evening, though. All of the automotive arms take it in turns to air their big Geneva star to a thousand-or-so invited guests: VW, Audi, Bentley, Porsche, Seat, Skoda, Lamborghini, Bugatti – even Italdesign and VW Commercial Vehicles are represented.

Every brand gets its allotted five minutes; every presentation has its own natty special effects. And because it's a VW Group evening, it all runs like clockwork. It'd have to. Once the speeches are over, the photographers pile in, so that – come 9am the following morning – sites like ours, and eyes like yours, can have fresh images of all of the headline metal to feast on.

And yet no-one would leave mistaking the primary purpose of the whole shebang. This isn't really done for the benefit of us hacks. It's a macro-scale team-building, flag-waving exercise: a gathering entirely devoted to the glory of 'The Group'.

Look around the room and you'll see as many employees as media here. Ex-colleagues mutually congratulate each other on their latest and greatest. New arrivals are given a unique taste of the overarching majesty of a conglomerate that can lay claim to MAN trucks at one end of the vehicular scale, and Ducati motorcyles at the other. Homage is paid to attending members of 'The Supervisory Board'. And the whole room bustles and throngs with a sharp-suited sense of immutable corporate might.

As an observer, you can learn everything you need to know about Volkswagen at its Geneva preview night. And this year, of all the alluring and interesting cars on show, two stood out for me – mainly because they were parked side-by-side. They were the Lamborghini Veneno – which is as hard to look at in the metal as its name is to say – and the Volkswagen XL1.

Both can be considered modern supercars: machines devoted to extreme performance. Both will be built in very limited numbers; both are easily capable of stopping the traffic when not on display inside an incongruous hall. And yet one, it seemed to me, had infinitely more integrity, purpose and soul than the other.

Just as the lights came up and the sea of photographers blocked our view, the journo next to me turned and asked a perfect question. "If you could have they keys to either, and never had to give them back – and you had to drive all the way to Dover tonight – which would you take?"

No competition, is there? Piech's incredible efficiency champion wins hands down.

Geneva motor show: Volvo reveals cyclist detection technology

Posted: 05 Mar 2013 04:06 AM PST

Volvo has revealed a new cyclist detection system at the Geneva motor show.

Volvo has revealed a new cyclist detection system at the Geneva motor show.

Senior vice president Doug Speck introduced the new safety feature and demonstrated how it works.

Described as an extension of existing detection and auto-braking technology, the system can detect cyclists and apply braking if it detects an incident might be about to happen.

Volvo points to data suggesting that 50 per cent of all cyclists killed in European traffic have collided with a car. "Our solutions for avoiding collisions with unprotected road users are unique in the industry", said Speck.

"By covering more and more objects, situations and possible collisions, we reinforce our world-leading position within automotive safety. We keep moving towards our long-term vision to design cars which do not crash."

All Volvo cars equipped with pedestrian detection will also incorporate cyclist detection. The system comes in three parts, with a camera fitted in front of the interior rear view mirror, a radar integrated into the front grille and a central control unit.

Click here for more Geneva motor show 2013 news.

Darren Moss

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