Saturday, March 9, 2013

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

Mercedes plots 'supermini SUV'

Posted: 08 Mar 2013 09:41 AM PST

New sub A-class model will take the form of a VW Polo-sized SUV with styling cues from the G-wagen

Mercedes-Benz's sub A-class model will take the form of a compact SUV according to a senior manager from the German car maker with knowledge of the new project.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity at the Geneva motor show this week, the Mercedes-Benz manager revealed to Autocar that development work had started on a Volkswagen Polo-sized model boasting iconic styling cues from the 34-year-old G-class.

"We have ideas for a B-segment car with a modern take on the traditional styling from the G-class. We've already indicated a desire to extend the G-class line-up with the Ener-G-Force concept shown at the motor show in Los Angeles, and this car is part of those plans."

The compact Mercedes-Benz SUV, which is tentatively due to see showrooms in 2016, has been conceived as a rival to a new small Land Rover SUV previewed by the DC100 concept car, and a production version of the Volkswagen Taigun concept.

Known to insiders as the City-G, it is planned to be based on a joint venture platform being developed in an engineering program between Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler and its alliance partner, Renault-Nissan.

The so-called JC1 (joint compact first generation) structure is planned to support at least two different wheelbase lengths, varying track widths and both front- and four-wheel drive layouts.

As well as underpinning the new B-segment SUV, the new platform, which has been described to Autocar as being an extension of Mercedes-Benz's existing MFA (modular front architecture) structure, is also earmarked for successor models to the existing second-generation B-class, recently introduced third-generation A-class, the new CLA saloon and upcoming GLA SUV – the latter of which will be both larger and more expensive than the City-G.

Among the engines for the new Mercedes-Benz will be a range of new small capacity four-cylinder direct-injection petrol and common rail diesel units currently under development as part of the joint venture with Renault-Nissan.

New Renaultsport Clio 'will not lose its sporting edge'

Posted: 08 Mar 2013 07:51 AM PST

Renault boss Carlos Tavares is confident of the new car's abilities and promises more extreme Gordini models in the future

Despite the latest Renault Clio RS being five-door only, turbo-powered and sold with a paddleshift automatic gearbox, Renaultsport will not lose its sporting edge, company boss Carlos Tavares has insisted.

The changes in the Clio RS's make-up have been criticised by fans of the brand, who say that it has lost its hardcore edge while Renault pushes to improve profit margins and sales volumes. Tavares, however, rejects this.

"I have driven the car and felt nothing mainstream about it," said Tavares, who regularly races Renault machinery. "Trust me, I know the old cars well, and this new one has an engine with great torque, a great gearshift and great brakes. We want to make cars that are reasonably easy to drive hard, yes, that is true, but to make them mainstream – no."

Tavares also reiterated that the Gordini brand name would henceforth be applied to extreme Renaultsport models. "Every Gordini model will have something special," he said. "It might be the engine, it might be the transmission, it might be something else – but every Gordini must have something extra."

Alpine-Caterham sports car to fight Lotus Evora and Alfa 4C

Posted: 08 Mar 2013 07:03 AM PST

Renault boss sees the new Alfa coupé and Evora as main rivals for its sports car project

The new Alpine sports car will be able to compete with the likes of the Alfa 4C and Lotus Evora when it is launched, according to Renault boss Carlos Tavares. However, he cautioned that it would be too much to expect for the firm to build a genuine Porsche Cayman rival immediately.

"It would be arrogant to say we could go head-to-head with Porsche and win," he said. "But I think Lotus and Alfa are realistic targets."

Tavares added that Caterham and Alpine personnel are deliberately being left enough freedom to operate independently to ensure that the creation of the co-developed sports car is not suffocated.

"If I put Alpine in the big washing machine of the Renault group, it will kill it," said Tavares. "There is a certain level of commonality between the projects, but what we are being very careful to do is leave both sides freedom to express themselves.

"The two cars must not be brother and sister – they must stand on their own merits, and without too much suggestion of sharing the same parts."

However, Tavares conceded that some reference to the Renault parts bin was inevitable. "People must remember that the genius of the A110 design was that it used existing parts. Nobody criticised then, and I am optimistic they will not now. Without sharing parts the small scales of the project would mean it would be too expensive to even consider."

Renault's chief of design, Laurens van den Acker, added: "The one thing I can assure you is that they will not look like each other – this is not a project in the spirit of the GT86 and Subaru BRZ.

"The vehicle that seduced people was the A110, so it would be irresponsible of me not to realise people's dreams of what this car should be. I will give them what they want, but it will be with a modern twist. Think of the Mini and Fiat 500 as examples of retro designs that have been modernised – that is the feel I am hoping for."

Both Tavares and van den Acker expressed hope that Alpine could be developed into a range of sports cars in time, but said it would only be possible if the recreated A110 was a sales success.

"We all love Alpine within the company, but this first car will be a measure for us of how much other people love it," said van den Acker. "If it is a success, then yes I can see space for us to expand. Who would have thought Porsche could grow to have so many cars? Porsche has shown what is possible if you get everything right."

What's the point of hypercars?

Posted: 08 Mar 2013 06:46 AM PST

Hypercars have dominated the headlines at Geneva, but is there a point to them? Or are they, ultimately, mere folly?

If it wasn't the new 903bhp McLaren P1 that grabbed you by the thorax last week, then it was the new Enzo – sorry, LaFerrari – that did so, boasting even more power, even more barking performance and an even more heinous price tag to go with it.

And that's before you so much as mention Lamborghini's latest £3 million Veneno, Koenigsegg's £1.5 million Agera S or Audi's proposed new hypercar, which may or may not become a production reality depending on who you talk to at VW. They all hit the headlines at Geneva.

Question is, though, do such cars have any kind of a point or meaning to them, beyond providing a means of alleviating boredom for the über-wealthy car enthusiast, or is that really all there is to them? 

In most cases, I believe personally that there is a point to them, and that their existence can be justified quite easily. For several reasons.

One, in the case of the Ferrari and McLaren in particular, the technologies being pioneered in these cars will, there can be little doubt, make the cars of tomorrow safer, more efficient, faster (yes, probably) but also just better all round. And when I say the cars of tomorrow, I don't mean the supercars of tomorrow – I mean the everyday cars in which the rest of us will mostly bumble about in.

Two, they will make the sports cars of tomorrow more affordable. What's on the cutting edge today invariably costs a fortune to create, yes, but unless someone, somewhere ventures towards that edge and explores it, it will forever remain unattainable – and therefore way beyond expensive. But once the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren have pushed the boundaries at the extremes, everything else gets that little bit closer. And then, eventually, the man in the street will benefit.

Three, despite what some people may think, the idea of merely being 'into' exceedingly fast, obscenely expensive, deliciously loud, low and breathtakingly beautiful-looking cars is, for the most part, still fairly harmless. Some of us, in fact, still just like gawping at the things, because our very small brains are largely unaware of, and therefore mostly unperturbed by, the potential moral or geopolitical issues that they may arouse.

Four, they provide magazines like ours with some killer content. The new 950bhp Enzo may not be quite what's required to ensure that world peace occurs any time soon, but as a car nut I can't get enough of its 15.5sec 0-300km/h claim. And as a car journalist, I can't wait to verify Maranello's claims for the car, at Mach 3 on some deserted airfield in the middle of nowhere.

There are exceptions, of course. The Lamborghini Veneno strikes me as being little more than a gratuitous means of grabbing back some headlines from the others, without advancing the art of the road car one iota. Ultimately, it comes across as a rather cynical, spikey, vulgar-looking means of exploiting the faith of Lamborghini's three richest, most loyal customers. That or else someone at Sant'Agata found a bin full of discarded bits of carbonfibre round the back of the factory just before the show, then decided to stick them together using red gaffer tape, while singing, "Anything they can do, we can do better…"

In the end, the current craze for hypercars is to be taken with a fairly large pinch of salt sometimes – of course it is. But it's also a thing to celebrate, surely, as a car enthusiast. 

After all, in 20 years' time the classic magazines will be writing about what happened at Geneva on 5 March 2013 over and over again. And already, that day will forever be referred to as yesterday.

Land Rover to extend personalisation options

Posted: 08 Mar 2013 06:34 AM PST

Success of aftermarket tuners will lead to more factory-fit Land Rover extras

Land Rover will offer customers more opportunities to customise their cars in future, but company boss John Edwards has cautioned that it will move carefully to ensure any work undertaken is in keeping with the marque's brand values.

"Customers increasingly want the opportunity to personalise their cars, and we are catering for that in a limited way," said Edwards. "However, there are opportunities to expand that, especially with the Range Rover. We look at what some of the aftermarket tuners are doing, and we will increasingly eat in to that market."

Edwards cautioned, however, that Land Rover would be unlikely to sanction modifications as extreme as the most hardcore tuned models, such as the dark pink Hamann Range Rover on display at the Geneva motor show.

"We do have a department that does a lot of development, called ETO, but we have to balance our discomfort against the business case," said Edwards. "It's clear there is a brand responsibility to protect – we don't want to sell cars that don't match our values. But, equally, there is a business responsibility to do all we can to make profits.

"As much as anything it is a question of timing – we are a relatively small company and we have to prioritise the opportunities against the investment they require."

Why everyone 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?


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