Thursday, January 31, 2013

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

Quick news: No Viper for Europe; new boss for Opel; Ferrari engines for Alfa

Posted: 31 Jan 2013 07:20 AM PST

SRT Viper won't be exported, Ferrari will build engines for future Alfa Romeos

The SRT Viper will not be officially exported into Europe, Chrysler has confirmed. Sales of the 631bhp V10-powered Viper are planned only for North America at present. This decision will be reviewed at the Viper's mid-life refresh in 2015.

GM Europe and Opel have a new boss – ex VW China CEO Dr Karl-Thomas Neumann. Neumann will be responsible for implementing GM's turnaround plan for its European operations.

Ferrari is to play a part in developing engines for future Alfa Romeos, according to Fiat Group chief Sergio Marchionne. Ferrari now designs and builds engines for Maserati, and Marchionne said a similar arrangement would be put in place for Alfa.

McLaren P1 gets first public run

Posted: 31 Jan 2013 06:10 AM PST

McLaren's forthcoming P1 hypercar is seen in motion for the first time as Button arrives to unveil the company's 2013 MP4-28 F1 car

McLaren Formula 1 driver Jenson Button has driven the McLaren P1 hypercar for the first time today, during the launch of the team's 2013 MP4-28 F1 challenger.

The low-speed, short run marked the culmination to a drive through of several cars from McLaren's history during the launch. Button's team-mate, Sergio Perez, drove a McLaren MP4-12C Spider. The McLaren team is 50 years old this September.

After the run Button revealed it was the first time he'd driven the P1 hypercar: "I obviously didn't learn anything about the car in a short, low-speed run, but everything I've heard about it makes me want to get more involved in the programme," said Button. "For now, the the car has its own development team, but I hope to get more involved."

The McLaren P1 has so far only been shown in concept and development prototype form. The production car is expected to be revealed at the Geneva motor show, with customers taking delivery around the time of the team's 50th anniversary.

An insider revealed that Button and Perez are due to get involved in the P1's development nearer its launch date. However, neither driver is believed to have been given a car as part of their contract.

"It's an expensive car that's designed to be the best in the market," said an insider. "If they want one, they'll have to join the queue with everyone else."

Just belt up: three decades of compulsory seatbelts in the UK

Posted: 31 Jan 2013 04:18 AM PST

A look back to the week when wearing of front seatbelts became compulsory highlights our changing attitudes towards road safety

It's 30 years to the day that the wearing of front seatbelts became compulsory in Britain. If you were caught without one, and didn't have a valid reason, you faced a maximum fine of £50, although in the early days it was more normal for a £10 punishment to be issued.

The issue of Autocar dated 29 January 1983 looked at the topic in detail, and declared that 'commonsense had prevailed' when it came to the new law.

However, the article also noted that as much as one third of drivers had an objection to belting up, with many disagreeing with the concept of being compelled to use them.

The article features comments from motorists which, with the benefit of three decades of hindsight, offer fascinating insights into attitudes towards driving in 1983.

"I don't like them at all, and I never wear them. I don't know what I'm going to do at the end of January. Most probably I'll try to wear them – I don't want a £50 fine. But they make me very restless and when I'm wearing one I keep thinking about that flaming belt instead of concentrating on driving. That can't be safe." Mrs Doris Chitty, Banstead

"I actually put it on going home last night. I always wear them on a long journey, but never on a short one. I expect I'll wear them when the law comes in." Graham Luckhurst, Marks Tey

"I'm not convinced that seatbelts are a good thing, but I don't mind wearing one. One time I would never wear a belt is if I got pregnant again. The belt is very uncomfortable passing across your stomach and having it pressing against your bladder is no joke." Mrs Onslow, Cheam

"I have never worn a belt in my life. I've never thought about it. I suppose I will have to start wearing them now, although I don't know how the police are going to catch you." Mr Mothersole, Croydon

"I never wear a seatbelt because I find them so uncomfortable. If I could find one that was comfortable I wouldn't mind having to wear them from the end of January. But I don't suppose I'll be able to get away with not wearing one." Mrs Hilary Plummer, Epsom

"I'd only wear them on a motorway. I work as a van driver up in the City and West End, and I'm in and out of the van every five to ten minutes. If it's the law, I suppose I've got to wear them, but I don't know if I will. The belts in the van are a pain in the neck." Phillip Hutton, North Cheam

McLaren unveils new F1 car

Posted: 31 Jan 2013 03:56 AM PST

Jenson Button and new signing Sergio Perez take the wraps off the Mercedes-powered MP4-28 at the McLaren Technology Centre

McLaren has lifted the covers from its 2013 Formula 1 car this morning at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, and has also given a prototype of its forthcoming P1 hypercar its first public appearance.

Named the MP4-28, the Mercedes V8-powered Formula 1 machine was unveiled by McLaren race drivers Jenson Button and Sergio Perez. Like the Lotus-Renault E21 revealed earlier this week, the McLaren MP4-28 is visually an evolution of the previous season's car. The team says there are substantial revisions in key technical areas, however.

"We have chosen to be aggressive in our development," said team boss Martin Whitmarsh. "We could have just modified last year's car, because it was fast enough to win at the end of last year and the regulations aren't radically different, but we have decided instead to make some substantial changes that, although not necessarily evident immediately, should give us scope for much more development potential during the year."

Key areas that have been redesigned for 2013 include the nose and front suspension, the sidepod profiles and the rear bodywork.

McLaren was one of the few teams to design its 2012 challenger with a conventional front section, as opposed to the 'duck bill' stepped nosecone favoured by the majority of teams. That continues this year, with the MP4-28 retaining a sleek front end - although reports are already emerging that this final version may not be raced.

Whitmarsh did not comment on this, but did say: "The car we have here will have been developed further by the time of the first test, and further again by the time of the first race. It's a constant evolution, and that process is ongoing."

During the launch in Woking, McLaren served up a sneak preview of the P1 hypercar. A development prototype was driven into the event by Button, while Perez made his entrance in an MP4-12C Spider.

They were joined by iconic McLaren race cars of the past, including the M23 raced by Emerson Fittipaldi, the 1995 Le Mans-winning F1 GTR, and the most successful Formula 1 car in the company's history, the Honda-powered MP4/4.

Check out our 50 years of McLaren gallery to see more famous cars from the company's past.

Daljinder Nagra

New Kia concept for Chicago show

Posted: 31 Jan 2013 02:34 AM PST

Cross GT shows next stage of Kia's new design language

Kia will show this SUV concept at the Chicago motor show in February, described by the manufacturer as a "premium crossover larger than the Sorento."

The Cross GT is very much a concept car, but Kia is using it to showcase a new design language for its SUVs and crossovers. It features a slimmer version of Kia's tiger nose grille, a low roofline and what appear to be concealed rear door handles.

There are also upright vents or intakes behind the shutline of the front doors and a partially glazed roof, with panes of glass arranged in a hexagonal pattern.

Although the Cross GT is not meant for production, it's likely to signal that Kia is looking at expanding its range with a larger crossover.

Ssangyong previews new Rodius

Posted: 31 Jan 2013 02:16 AM PST

All new Ssangyong MPV to be unveiled at the Geneva motor show

Ssangyong has released the first teaser images of its forthcoming Rodius MPV, which is due to make its public debut at the Geneva motor show in March.

This second-generation Rodius is more conventionally styled than the model it replaces – a car that is widely considered to be among the ugliest available.

Price and specification details have yet to be confirmed, other than that the Rodius will be offered in some markets with a choice of 2.0-litre diesel and 3.2-litre petrol engines.

Ssangyong has stated the Rodius will feature some limited off-road capability, and is likely to offer a four-wheel drive option in the range.

A European launch is expected soon after the Rodius' Geneva debut, with customer cars arriving in UK showrooms this summer.

Daljinder Nagra

Why should I be charged for winter tyres on a hire car in winter?

Posted: 31 Jan 2013 01:42 AM PST

In the UK, fair enough, but why should there be a charge for winter tyres in a country where winter tyres are compulsory at this time of year?

Visit the Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group's website and it states with some pride that the company is "Driven by the mission to deliver Value Every Time."

The fact that the V in "Value", alongside the E in "Every" and the T in "Time" appears in capital letters leads you to imagine they may well hold self-motivational seminars at Dollar Thrifty, at which staff members are encouraged to scream "V! E! T!" at one another so passionately that they go purple in the face, sometimes to a point where employees might require a visit to the very person whom they are shouting about.

Anyroad, presuming that it is to the customer and not just the shareholders that these people are promising to deliver, the ethos of the Dollar Thrifty mantra does seem a touch shaky in light of an experience I had earlier this week. 

I went to Stuttgart to drive a new such-and-such, and in the process had to hire a car at the airport in order to go and collect the new such-and-such, and when I went to the hire car counter I was asked to pay a supplementary fee of five whole euros for the use of winter tyres.

Despite doing German at school briefly, my command of the übersprachen is extraordinary only for its inaccuracy, and as usual we were in a panic to be somewhere else an hour ago anyway. So at the time I just thought, "It's only five euros, forget it." 

A little later, though, once the heat of the job had dissipated, I began to wonder. Winter tyres are compulsory at this time of year in Germany. If you don't have them fitted to you car, in fact, it's actually illegal – in much the same way that driving around on bald tyres is illegal at any time of year in the UK.

So how come Dollar Thrifty charges five euros extra for a set of tyres that, were they not fitted, would render a hire car illegal in Germany at this time of year? They may as well just put down "Tyres – five euros" and forget the "winter" clarification altogether.

Or better still – and this would please the shareholders no end – how about they expand their pricing strategy to include a range of additional extras, all of which you'd struggle to say no to as a customer. Such as: windscreen – 10 euros, steering wheel – 8 euros, engine – 15 euros, logbook that proves your hire car is not a cut-and-shut and won't just snap in half the moment you drive away from the terminal in it – 13 euros.

It's not just Dollar Thrifty that engages in this particular ruse, however – most of the hire car companies play this particular game in countries where winter tyres are required by law at this time of year, it seems. Presumably there's a department within each company that spends its entire time working out ways to fleece the customer, but in a manner that the customer can do nothing about.

So there's only one course of action left to take really – next time I'll pay up front for the full insurance and so on, and then I'll take my hire car to the nearest scrap merchant and have everything on it broken down for parts, except for the tyres and windscreen (which aren't covered). And then I'll return the tyres and windscreen to the hire company, intact, having sold the rest of the car to an Albanian. And even then I reckon I'll still be out of pocket…

Fuel tax is only going in one direction

Posted: 30 Jan 2013 11:26 AM PST

Fuel duty raises billions and is easy and cheap to collect. Petrol and diesel will get more expensive no matter who is in Number 10 Downing Street

This morning's Office of Fair Trading report into fuel pricing has caused a great deal of consternation. The OFT has decided that there's no evidence of market manipulation, despite the strong suspicion that fuel prices jump immediately after a rise in crude oil prices, but take rather longer to fall when crude gets cheaper.

Clive Maxwell, chief executive of the OFT, was quoted as saying: "We recognise that there has been widespread mistrust in how this market is operating. However, our analysis suggests that competition is working well, and rises in pump prices over the past decade or so have largely been down to increases in tax and the cost of crude oil."

Which isn't quite answering the issue of so-called 'Rocket and Feather' pricing that had most exercised campaigners. The AA had presented compelling graphic evidence that, while the crude price spikes up and down across a year, the forecourt prices move more gently.

The AA was not pleased by the OFT's conclusion. The OFT said it had "analysed the relationship between retail and wholesale prices at both a national and local market level, as well as the relationship between crude oil prices and wholesale prices at a national level, but found very limited evidence to support such claims".

Of course the problem with the AA calculations is that the price of crude is a small part of the cost of forecourt fuel. Wider variations in crude prices are 'smoothed' by the sheer proportion of fuel duty and VAT that is added by the Treasury.

In any case, British drivers suffer the highest fuel duties in the EU. The latest figures I can find for the EU 27 are 12 months old, but Britain was at the top with 60 per cent of the pump price accounted for by petrol duty and VAT. Greece and Italy were at 59 per cent and Germany 57 per cent. Cyprus was at the bottom the table with 43 per cent. UK duty on diesel stood at 58 per cent.

It's true that a rise in fuel duty, due this month, was scrapped by chancellor Osborne at the end of last year. But road fuel taxes remain the Treasury's crack cocaine. An irresistible source of billions and, I understand, the cheapest of all taxes to collect. In 2011-12, the Treasury pocketed £26.8bn from fuel duty alone (the calculation doesn't include the VAT on fuel), although it was down from £27.26bn the previous financial year as hard-pressed motorists simply drove less.

£26.8bn staggering amount of money, but small change to a Government which spent £694.89 billion in 2011-2012 and needed to borrow £121bn of that. To put the annual amount of money raised from fuel duty into perspective, it would cover NHS spending for about 16 weeks or about a third of the annual cost of the State Pension. Indeed, on a monthly basis, it would only cover £2.25bn of the UK's £4bn interest bill on its long-term borrowing.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that fuel tax is only heading in one direction, especially considering UK's enormous deficit. 

Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works first drive review

Posted: 30 Jan 2013 05:10 AM PST

A revised engine makes little difference to the Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works experience, except at the pumps and on tail-pipe emissions Mini has upgraded its 'N18' 1.6-litre turbo engine in John Cooper Works tune, fitting the revised powerplant to this, the standard Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works hatch, as well as the new JCW Countryman and Mini GP models. Every 'Works' car now gets the same engine, but the ECU mapping is slightly different for the GP and Countryman, giving them a touch more power.Rather unspectacularly, the changes wrought have not given the Mini JCW hatch any more power or torque: they remain the same at 208bhp and 192lb ft, with an additional 15lb ft on temporary overboost. However, Mini claims improved throttle response as well as lower fuel consumption and emissions.The key areas of modification are to the pistons, which have redesigned crowns and new rings; an increase in diameter for the turbo feed pipe; a slightly larger air intake; a redesigned drive belt configuration and a modified dual mass flywheel. Various materials within the engine, such as the head gasket, have been optimised. The new engine has a combined fuel figure of 42.8mpg versus 38.7mpg of old, and CO2 emissions fall to 153g/km from 169g/km.

50 years of McLaren: picture special

Posted: 25 Jan 2013 08:32 AM PST

It is 50 years since Bruce McLaren founded his eponymous motor-racing team. We take a look at its rise from a tiny racing team to F1 champions and manufacturer of iconic road cars

McLaren was founded 50 years ago this year, and the firms rise to the very top of motor sport and supercar manufacturing has been nothing short of incredible. Later today the team's latest F1 car, the MP4-28, will be shown for the first time, and bosses will reveal how they hope to fell rivals in the 2013 Formula 1 season.

But how did a small firm achieve such great things?

Founded as Bruce McLaren Motor Racing in 1963 so its charismatic Kiwi founder, already a successful Formula 1 driver, could compete in the Australian Tasman Series, the company first operated from a small south London lock-up.

By the second half of the 1960s, the team was enjoying success on two fronts. In Can Am sportscar racing, McLaren and team-mate Denny Hulme dominated with cars such as the monstrous Chevrolet-powered M6A, M7 and M8 machines. They won every Can Am race in 1969, and their success was in no small part due to the thoroughness of McLaren's engineering and attention to detail.

The team entered Formula 1 in 1966, when Bruce McLaren left Cooper, the team with which he'd won three grands prix, to race cars bearing his own name. The first race was the Monaco Grand Prix in 1966, but McLaren's car let him down in the early stages. The first victory came when McLaren guided his Cosworth-engined M7A to success in the Belgian Grand Prix, while Hulme added two more wins later in the same season.

McLaren had arrived, but tragedy struck when the team's founder was killed in a Can Am testing accident at Goodwood. Teddy Mayer, who had been involved with the running of the team since its early days, took over as team principal and led McLaren to its first F1 constructors' title in 1974, while Emerson Fittipaldi secured the drivers' crown in the same season.

James Hunt secured further silverware for McLaren in 1976, winning the championship in the last race of a controversial and hard-fought season during which the first signs of an intense rivalry between McLaren and Ferrari began to emerge.

Despite a fairly constant stream of race wins, in the early 1980s the team was encouraged by chief sponsor Phillip Morris into a merger with the Project Four Racing concern run by a certain Ron Dennis, who was installed as team principal.

This marked the beginning of McLaren's most successful run in the sport. The team became one of F1's pioneers and was the first to introduce composite structures into the sport. Armed with potent TAG-badged (but Porsche built) V6 turbocharged engines, McLaren scooped the drivers' title in 1984 (courtesy of Niki Lauda) and 1985-86 (thanks to Alain Prost).

A new union with Honda prompted another spell of dominance. Ayrton Senna joined Prost for the 1988 season, when the pair won 15 out of 16 races. Senna won, squeezed out Prost and established himself as McLaren's number one driver, adding world crowns in 1990 and 1991 to the one he claimed in 1988.

McLaren started a long collaboration with Mercedes in 1995. Further world titles followed for Mika Häkkinen and Lewis Hamilton – who ended a lengthy barren spell by lifting the 2008 title – but by then the company had developed into more than a racing team.

In 1993 McLaren revealed the F1. Designed with the aim of creating the ultimate road car, Gordon Murray's mid-engined supercar pushed the envelope, not just in its outright performance, but also in its design and the way it was built and conceived. The first production car to use a carbonfibre monocoque, the F1 also used gold leaf as engine bay heat insulation. It was entirely designed on paper with a pen - no computers were used in producing the slippery shape - and the CD changer was specifically designed for the car by Kenwood, which made the smallest, lightest system it had ever built.

Power came from a 6.1-litre BMW V12 producing 627bhp, driving through a six-speed manual gearbox. The engine has 12 coils, providing direct ignition for each cylinder, and at 30mph in sixth you could hit 225mph without changing down.

It entered the history books as the fastest-ever production road car with a top speed of 242.95mph, a record that wasn't beaten until 2005 when the Bugatti Veyron reached 253.81mph. And even then, it required four more cylinders, four more turbos and an extra 369bhp than the McLaren. To this day the McLaren F1 remains the world's fastest naturally aspirated car.

It took ten years for McLaren to build another road car: 2003's Mercedes-McLaren SLR. Developed in a joint venture between the two companies, the SLR was a very different animal to the F1, although most of it was made of carbon and with 617bhp its power output was very similar. The 5.4-litre supercharged V8 engine pushed the car to a top speed of 207mph and it could hit 62mph in 3.8sec, making it the world's fastest automatic production car – a record that it still holds. The Roadster, which didn't arrive until 2007, matched the coupé's performance despite a weight increase.

McLaren decided to turn up the wick on the SLR with the 722 Edition, a more powerful and faster limited edition. It was also designed to address criticisms that the SLR was a bit too soft on the track — so the 722 was lowered, with stiffer damping, bigger brakes and lighter wheels to cut weight. The V8 was tinkered with by AMG to kick out 641bhp and 605lb ft and there was more downforce, too, thanks to a reworked front spoiler.

SLR production finished in 2009, but McLaren was already working on another road car project – what would become the MP4-12C. This was a completely in-house design, a car that McLaren designed to take on Ferrari, with a carbonfibre centre tub and aluminium front and rear sections hanging off it. Like the F1, much of the MP4's design was centred around funcitonality; it's front wings, for example, have their highest point directly above the tyre's contact patch to make it easier to accurately place the car at speed.

And, for the first time, McLaren commissioned its own engine for a road car. A twin turbo V8 with 592bhp and 442lb ft, it makes the MP4 ferociously fast – we recorded a 0-60mph time of 3.2sec, and that was on a wet day.

The Spider appeared in 2012, and looks set to take 80 per cent of MP4 sales. It gets the updated, more powerful engine (now with 616bhp) and a reworked gearbox for faster shifting.

As well as a Spider variant, the 12C model range includes the HS, a limited run of five cars from the McLaren Special Operations Division. The HS gets a re-calibrated air brake and a tweaked aero package, taken from the 12C GT3 race car. Peak power has also been raised by 75bhp to 667bhp.

More recently McLaren Special Operations Division has accepted commissions for bespoke one-off creations such as the X-1, which was unveiled at the Pebble Beach Concours d'elegance in 2012. Devised by an anonymous McLaren owner and enthusiast, the car is not a concept, but a fully functional one-off based on a 12C.

And the next stage in McLaren's road car project is about to appear, when the P1 hypercar is revealed at the Geneva motor show in March. Like the MP4 it's built around a carbonfibre tub but this one has a roll cage built into it, and the car's entire design is said to be more about the function of a hypercar than a styling exercise. It will cost upwards of £700,000.

Daljinder Nagra

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