Saturday, April 6, 2013

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

A century of automotive production in Oxford

Posted: 05 Apr 2013 11:30 PM PDT

100 years of the Morris factory See some highlights from Oxford's 100-year long history of automotive manufacturing

It's been 100 years since the first car, a Morris Oxford 10HP Light Car, rolled off the production line in Cowley, Oxford

Today Plant Oxford is one of the most historic automotive locations on the planet and where the owner, BMW Group, continues to build most of its Mini range; specifically the hatchback, Clubman, Convertible, Roadster, CoupĂ© and Clubvan.

So far the plant has produced more than 11,650,000 vehicles from 14 different brands, including models like the original Mini and the Morris Minor.

All of this wouldn't be possible without a certain William Morris, founder of Morris Motors and later Lord Nuffield, who was the first to apply Henry Ford's mass production techniques in the UK. By the mid-1930s Morris products made up almost 30 per cent of all British exports.

Other cars that exited Plant Oxford's gates include the BMC 1100/1300, Morris Marina, Austin Maestro/Montego, Rover 800, Rover 600 and the Rover 75 before BMW broke up with Rover and started using the plant solely for Minis.

Construction of a new production line is currently in the final stages at the factory, with it benefitting from the installation of around 1000 new robots in a new bodyshop and other existing areas of the plant.

This accounts for the lion's share of the £750 million investment programme that came in to effect last year, with the aim of preparing the production facility for the next generation of Mini models.

Board member Harald Kruger said: "Oxford is to Mini what Munich is to BMW", reflecting perfectly the prosperity that surrounds the historic factory in Cowley.

Here's to the next one hundred years.

Click through the gallery to see some of the cars which have been produced at Plant Oxford.

Fisker lays off staff as electric car company teeters on the brink

Posted: 05 Apr 2013 08:12 AM PDT

Fisker lays off staff as electric car company teeters on the brink Fisker, the California-based manufacturer of plug-in hybrid cars, looks close to folding — according to reports from the US

Fisker, the electric car maker based in Anaheim, California, laid off a significant number of staff this morning, including the PR team, sources have told Autocar.

Reports last week revealed that Fisker had hired a law firm, which many commentators suggested was a lead-in to filing for bankruptcy. Production of Fisker's £65,000 Karma model – which is made by Valmet in Finland - was suspended last July.

US sources say that Fisker was also due to start making capital repayments on a government loan at the end of this month. Fisker was offered up to £350m in loans by the Obama administration, but payments were suspended in May 2012 after Fisker had drawn down around £131m. The company claimed to have delivered nearly 1800 Karmas by the end of 2012.

The company spent much of last year looking for new sources of investment, but has also been hit by a number of blows, some beyond its control. A number of early production Fiskers had to be recalled and repaired. A123 Systems, the company's battery supplier also folded in 2012.

In October 2012 an estimated 300 Karmas were destroyed when Hurricane Sandy flooded the dockside at Port Newark in New Jersey. Last month, founder Henrik Fisker resigned from the company.

The Fisker company began life in 2007 and was founded by ex-Aston and BMW stylist Henrik Fisker and Bernhard Koehler. The Karma saloon was first shown in 2009 but it was not until autumn 2011 that it went on sale.

Work on the Fisker Atlantic sports hatch version of the Karma, and on Project Nina (a 5-series-size car that was to have been built in the US), was also suspended last year.

Dacia announces Logan MCV prices

Posted: 05 Apr 2013 07:23 AM PDT

Dacia announces Logan MCV prices Small estate to go on sale in the UK for £6995, £1000 more than its Sandero sibling

The Dacia Logan Maximum Capacity Vehicle (MCV) will be the cheapest estate car in Britain when it goes on sale. The Romanian manufacturer's fourth model will cost from £6995.

As with the Sandero, the Logan MCV range comprises three trim levels and three engines. The base Access model, with its headline-grabbing price, is only available with a 74bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine. Standard equipment on the Access includes four airbags, ABS, stability control and ISOFIX seat mountings.

Both Ambiance and the range-topping Laureate models offer two more engine choices; a 1.5-litre diesel with 89bhp and a turbocharged 900cc three-cylinder petrol, also producing 89bhp. The latter is available in Ambiance spec from £8395, or in Laureate for £1400 more. The diesels cost £9395 and £10,795.

Ambiance trim adds a Bluetooth-compatible stereo, electric windows and remote central locking to Access specification. Laureate brings air conditioning, alloy wheels and cruise control.

The Logan MCV boasts a seats-up boot capacity of 573 litres, extendable to 1518 litres with the rear seats down. The boot loading lip is 589mm from the ground, and has a maximum width of 1011mm. Dacia claims this makes the Logan MCV the most capacious supermini estate, as well as the most affordable.

Dacia is offering two accessory packs on all Logan MCV models. The Protection Pack adds rear parking sensors, a boot liner and rear floor mats for £225. The Touring Pack costs £280 and comprises a front armrest, roof bars and a boot luggage net.

Options exclusively for the Laureate model include a MediaNav touchscreen infotainment system at £250 and leather upholstery for £600. Metallic paint can be specced on every model bar the Access for £495, with five colours available: Cinder Red, Mercury, Pearl Black, Sargasso Blue and Stone.

Orders for the Logan MCV are being taken at Dacia dealers now, with the first cars scheduled to arrive in July.

Matt Bird

Seat Leon

Posted: 05 Apr 2013 04:56 AM PDT

Leon Seat's third-generation Leon is attractive and capable, but it can't quite match the best this class can offer The third-generation Leon has greater strategic importance for Seat than either of its older namesakes. Not so long ago, Volkswagen's Spanish outpost made plenty of larger and more expensive models than its conventional Golf-sized family hatchback: Alteas, Altea XLs, bustle-back Toledos and the like.Now, after the introduction of the Mii city car and the new Toledo in particular, the company's portfolio is both simpler and cheaper. Its biggest selling car is the Ibiza supermini and has been for a while, but the Leon has taken on the almost talismanic status of a flagship model.The greater has wrought extra distinctiveness and obvious new qualities from this car. Compared with the previous Leon hatchback, the current one is appealingly sharp-suited, richer and more practical, more technologically sophisticated, lighter, more powerful and more efficient. Such a transformation is a major undertaking and a major success for a car company affected more than most by the Eurozone's financial meltdown.Part of the Leon's advancement is attributable to the platform that underpins it. This is the first Seat to benefit from the Volkswagen Group's 'Modularer Querbaukasten' (MQB) platform, the pioneering mechanical component set that makes for unprecedented cost-saving commonality between this car and the Audi A3, VW Golf and Skoda Octavia. It will also be used to form the basis of the VW Group's next generation of superminis, compact 4x4s and saloons.That's how the MQB underpinnings have made the Leon's business case stronger, but it has also had an influence on the new car's kerb weight and its major dimensions. A more space-efficient under-bonnet layout has allowed 58mm to be added to the wheelbase, at the same time as 52mm being taken out of overall length.In theory that makes for more passenger space as well as better ride and handling. Sure enough, there are competitive levels of space inside this car but they're not outstanding. Practicality is certainly much less likely to sell a Leon than the car's crisp styling or appealing value for money.Model for model, Seat says, the car is 100kg lighter than it used to be. It's also the first Leon to be available in a range of bodystyles: as a regular five-door hatch, a three-door 'SC' coupĂ© or a longer five-door 'ST' estate.Five engines are offered, ranging upwards from a 104bhp, 1.2-litre TSI turbocharged petrol, via 120bhp and 178bhp four-cylinder turbo petrols, to a pair of four-cylinder diesels consisting of a 104bhp, sub-100g/km 1.6-litre unit and a 148bhp 2.0. All drive the front wheels, via a choice of five or six-speed manual, or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearboxes.The smaller diesel is expected to account for the majority of UK sales, which is a pity because while it's a workmanlike unit it lacks the punch and flexibility of the market's best low-emissions diesels. As an entry-level powertrain, the 1.2-litre petrol manual – with its extra intermediate gear ratio – makes a more rounded option.More credit is due higher up in the engine range. Seat's 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI makes a strong case, being refined, economical and relatively free-revving. But again, it fails to put much in the way of clear water between it and the equivalent petrol – this time, the 138bhp 1.4-litre TSI. The latter model is cheaper, more responsive, more refined, more flexible and offers marginally better on-paper performance than the diesel, along with fuel economy that's broadly comparable in everyday use.We've yet to drive the range-topping 1.8-litre 178bhp TSI petrol model, but the 181bhp high-output turbodiesel is impressive. Its 280lb ft of torque feels like a generous slug at medium revs, and the engine's also reasonably happy to rev for one of its type.Being from Volkswagen's youthful, sporty brand, the Leon was never likely to have a brilliantly comfortable ride. Eager handling was always more likely to be its forte, and it is, to a point, provided you go for the right model.Ordinary S and SE-spec cars come on a standard suspension set-up which, for the majority of models, is fine. It's got a slightly springier than average balance of compliance and control, but nothing you'd call seriously compromised.The low-emission 1.6-litre TDI doesn't quite grip as hard or steer as well as the rest of the range, while Seat's FR-trim sports suspension – an item of equipment to be avoided at all costs in the last Leon – is much more effective this time around. The sports set-up has more fluent and effective damper control to match its slightly firmer springs, and seems much more coherent as a result.In general, the Leon steers quite well and even with a modicum of feel in some cases, but it could be more positive and incisive. The car benefits from its relatively modest size by feeling agile and wieldy on the road. It isn't quite as engaging as a well specced Ford Focus or as overtly sporting as an Alfa Giulietta, but it's in the same ballpark.Overall, we'd class the Leon as belonging in the chasing pack of family hatchbacks amid the likes of the Hyundai i30, Honda Civic and Kia Cee'd rather than as a challenger for the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus at the head of the field. It's a creditable effort, though, and a notable improvement in form for its maker, with plenty of niche appeal for those who like a dose of style and spirit about their everyday driver but who don't want to pay a premium.

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