Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Autocar Online - News

Autocar Online - News

Qatar motor show - pics

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 06:32 AM PST

All the action from the third annual Qatar motor show in Doha

Start-up Arab car maker W Motors has stolen the headlines at the third edition of the Qatar motor show in Doha with its new £2.16 million Lykan Hypersport.

The 740bhp model has been designed in Beirut, Lebanon and is the first bespoke Arab supercar designed and built from scratch. Just seven units will be produced.

McLaren, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes and Porsche are among the scores of manufacturers exhibiting high-performance supercars and SUVs at the fast-growing annual show, which was attended by more than 120,000 people in 2012.

The strong manuafcturer presence is due to just how well high-performance models sell in places like Doha. More than 1000 Porsches were sold at its Doha dealership last year, for example.

Stars of the show in the oil-rich Arab state — apart from the futuristic-looking Lykan Hypersport — include the new Lamborghini Aventador Roadster and Bentley Continental GTC, both of which were getting a debut of sorts.

The Aventador roadster's appearance was actually a motor show debut for the car, the firm having only displayed it previously at events away from show halls as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations.

A live action element also features as part of Qatar motor show, with stunt displays from both cars and bikes, and a supercar display through the streets of Doha.

Formula 1 cars have been hit by the ugly stick

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 06:25 AM PST

Those stepped noses might be a clever interpretation of the regulations, but they do nothing to enhance the looks of Formula 1 cars

It's disappointing to see that this year's crop of Formula 1 cars are going to follow their predecessors in being comprehensively beaten by the ugly stick. That is, if the work of Lotus, the first team to show off its 2013 design, is anything to go by.

The Lotus-Renault E21, launched at the team's base in Oxfordshire yesterday, retains the ungainly stepped 'duck bill' front-end treatment that most Formula 1 teams adopted for the first time last year.

To be fair, the Lotus doesn't look too bad because it carries that striking and evocative black and gold livery, but a quick straw poll of the Autocar office failed to throw up anyone who actually likes the underlying design.

The nose itself is a necessary evil, due to rules that stipulate that the nose of the car must be no more than 550mm high, but the section behind it can be up to 625mm high. A rule change has been brought in this year to give teams the opportunity to add a 'modesty panel' to cover up the awkward step, but it seems unlikely that many teams will bother to adopt it because of fears that it could confer a small weight disadvantage.

And therein lies the rub. The stakes in Formula 1 have never been higher, and the teams in F1 have little choice but to interpret the technical regulations in the way that offers the most competitive advantage. If the design of a component could contribute to a tenth of a second improvement in lap time, aesthetic concerns go right out the window.

We've been here before – the controversial and short-lived X-wings pioneered by Tyrrell were banned on safety grounds in the 1990s, but the fact they looked awful also played a part. Similarly, efforts to harness downforce in the 1960s involved perilously spindly rear wings on stilts that did nothing to improve the pretty lines of a Lotus 49.

The problem I have with the latest crop of ugly cars is that F1 is currently making huge efforts to align the sport more closely with road cars.

One of the key tenets of performance road car design is (in most cases at least) to make them pleasing to the eye. I appreciate there's a huge gulf between a single-seater racing car and a production car, but a manufacturer that creates beautiful road cars – such as Ferrari, for example – should surely seek to reinforce that reputation through its Formula 1 programme? No surprise, then, to learn that Ferrari is one of the few teams planning to use the prettier 'nose job' on its latest design.

This is one of those occasions where Bernie or Jean Todt, or whoever, should amend the regulations to include a deliberately ambiguous line that reads: 'Teams' designs must remain aesthetically pleasing at all times. A fans' vote will determine any designs that fail to meet this criteria.

Okay, I'm being a touch facetious, but if we let the technical aspect of Formula 1 govern above all, we'll end up with outlandish creations that do nothing to captivate and inspire new generations of fans.

In the 1970s and 1980s we were treated to some interesting and varied F1 car designs, but more often than not, the general rule of 'if it looks good, it is good' held fast. Forgive me while I meander off into an afternoon of typing names such as Ferrari 639, Lotus 72, McLaren MP4/4 and Jordan 191 into YouTube's search engine...

Alfa Romeo SUV not here until 2015

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 06:06 AM PST

Fiat is readying a new 4x4 as the firm faces big losses

The much-delayed Alfa Romeo SUV won't be launched until 2015, according to sources inside Fiat. The new car, which has been on the drawing board in various forms since 2003's Kamal concept car, forms a crucial part of Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne's plans to reduce the firm's dependency on sales in Europe.

The SUV will share its underpinnings with the forthcoming replacement for the Jeep Liberty, with many mechanical similarities to the Dodge Dart. It is expected to be built in Italy, as Fiat attempts to make more use of its under-utilised factories.

Alfa Romeo is believed to be the key to a more profitable Fiat, with a plan to triple sales by 2016. As a premium brand with an international reputation, Alfa has more reach outside of Europe than Fiat and more appeal inside Europe than Chrysler's products. The SUV would also mean Alfa could return to the USA.

Demand for new cars in Europe is declining, while sales in the US have been increasing; Fiat is expected to report losses in the region of €750m (£641m) tomorrow. Alfa sales dropped to just over 100,000 cars last year, hugely short of the 400,000 target Marchionne set in 2010.

Ford sales and profit down as firm predicts more losses in 2013

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 05:26 AM PST

Slump in European market to blame for decline in performance

Ford's strong sales and increasing profits took a downturn last year, with the company reporting a decrease in profit and income and declaring that this year it will make a bigger loss in Europe than in 2012.

In its annual results, released today, Ford said that it made an $8bn (£5bn) profit last year, $797m (£506m) less than in 2011. Its entire income for 2012 was $5.7bn (£3.6bn), $307m (£195m) down on the year before.

Much of the decline can be blamed on decreasing sales in Europe as the new car market continues to shrink. Ford of Europe now predicts a loss of $2bn (£1.27bn) for 2013, and also cites "higher costs associated with restructuring operations" and "costs to implement its revised manufacturing footprint" – primarily the closure of the Genk plant by 2014 and the Southampton Transit factory. In 2012 Ford of Europe lost $1.7bn (£1.08bn).

In the US, sales and profit were both up, and Ford expects increases next year. But in the Asia Pacific and South American regions, profits were down and the Asian region made a loss, despite selling more vehicles than in 2011. Ford expects both regions to "about breakeven" in 2013.

Qatar motor show: new £2m supercar

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 04:47 AM PST

Just seven examples of the new W Motors Lykan Hypersport will be built

A £2.16million supercar has been revealed at the Qatar motor show. Just seven examples of the W Motors Lykan Hypersport will be made.

Beirut-based W Motors has equipped the radically styled Lykan Hypersport with a mid-rear mounted, twin-turbocharged flat-six engine producing 740bhp and 737lb ft of torque. The engine is understood to have been supplied by German-based specialist Porsche tuner RUF.

This helps propel the car from 0-62mph in a claimed 2.8sec and onto a top speed of 245mph. That top speed is just 22mph shy of the speed achieved by the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport in setting the fastest-ever speed achieved by a production road car.

The car is the work of company chairman Ralph R Debbas, who studied on the Automotive Design course at the Coventry University School of Art and Design.

W Motors describes itself as the maker of the "most exclusive, luxurious and technologically advanced high-performance sports cars ".

To back the luxurious side of this claim up, features of the Lykan Hypersport include diamond-coated LED headlights and gold stitching for the lather seats. Buyers will also get a special Cyrus Klepcys watch with their purchase, which is worth more than £130,000.

There's no word on where the car will be built, but it's previously been indicated by W Motors that Austrian automotive specialist Magna Steyr is involved in the project.

A 'Supersport' version of the car is also understood to be in the works.

Nissan Juke Nismo RC: first drive review

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 03:54 AM PST

Brief drive in an even more potent Juke Nismo shows early promise If the standard Nissan Juke Nismo is a rival to the Mini Countryman Cooper S, then think of this more potent version as a Countryman JCW rival. Although such a model seems contrary to Nismo's 'affordable performance' brief, Nismo insists that it still wants to launch madcap specials along the lines of those with which it made its name in Japan and on the Gran Turismo game. As such, a two-model strategy for Nismo (standard and more focused) is likely to be adopted.The Juke Nismo RC, as it has been christened, is due to go on sale before the year is out, but remains shrouded in secrecy at the moment, hence its taped-up appearance and the absence of any hard technical data.

Lotus unveils new Renault-powered Formula 1 car

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 02:49 AM PST

Oxfordshire-based Formula 1 team targets a top three position in the world championship with its evolutionary Lotus E21 challenger

Lotus has targeted "great things" in this year's Formula 1 world championship with its new Lotus E21 design, which was unveiled at the team's Oxfordshire base yesterday.

With few major changes to the F1 technical regulations over the winter months, the Renault-powered Lotus E21 is an evolution of last year's successful E20, which Kimi Räikkönen drove to third place in the championship and victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

"Some parts of the new car are a ground-up redesign and in other areas we have further optimised the best bits of the philosophy we've adopted for several seasons," said technical director James Allison.

"The front and rear suspension layouts are substantially revised to try and give us better aerodynamic opportunities. The front wing is a continuation of the concepts we have worked on since the 2009 rules were published. For the rear wing system, we've continued work on having a satisfactory level of rear downforce stability, whilst having a maximum DRS switching potential."

One rule change concerns the ugly 'duck-bill' style noses that most teams adopted in 2012. The regulations now permit teams to fit a 'vanity panel' to smooth the shape of the front end, but Allison thinks most teams won't use it.

"Such a panel is optional, and I would not be surprised if the majority of the grid chose not to make use of it. The panel will add a few grammes of weight, and so it is only likely to run on the car if a team can find a performance benefit from doing so," he said.

Allison added that the team would continue to develop the trick 'double DRS device' aerodynamic system that it trialed last season. Whereas some of the systems – which boost top speed by 'stalling' the drag effect of the rear wing – have been outlawed by the rules, the one developed by Lotus has been deemed fully legal.

"This is an area we continue to explore and the passive nature of the switching of our device means it is not outlawed by the latest regulations. It is not something that will be a silver bullet to transform our car, but it is something which could add performance as part of the overall design," he said.

Both Räkkönen and second driver Romain Grosjean have been retained for the forthcoming season, with Jerome D'Ambrosio also continuing as reserve driver. Reigning GP2 series champion Davide Valsecchi has joined as third driver and Nicolas Prost will perform development driver duties.

"I think it is fair to say that great things are possible from the team and the E21," said Lotus team principal Eric Boullier. "The leap we made from 2011 to 2012 showed what we are capable of. Naturally we want to build on 2012 and do better.

"Better than fourth place in the constructors' championship means third position or higher. Better than third position means second position or higher. These are lofty targets, the only way to improve is to set yourself goals."

Where's Mazda in the car making hierarchy?

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 01:30 AM PST

It wants to emulate Volkswagen, but perhaps Mazda is more like Honda used to be

I spent the weekend testing the new Mazda 6, which as our road test concluded is a deeply impressive car, especially when you get down to the nitty-gritty of comparing CO2 emissions and standard kit. Company car drivers with a penchant for ticking spec boxes are, you suspect, going to like the prospect of keeping their P11D payments down while still driving a top-notch car.

Intriguingly, the souls at Mazda reckon this gives them as much chance of stealing sales from the premium manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes as it does their more mass market rivals such as Ford and Vauxhall. So much so that, internally, they are trying to position their mindset (if not, they concede, sales volumes) at the level of the mighty Volkswagen.

Their logic is that the raft of technology on the Mazda 6 – from the SkyActiv package of efficiency gains and emissions and weight savings, through to the clever but lumpily named i-Eloop kinetic energy recovery system (start-stop with a twist) - sets them apart from their opposition. Here is the evidence, they argue, that they are not a car company that just follows the crowd; by daring to be different, they are hopeful of daring intelligent car buyers to consider stepping aside from the mainstream, up or down the premium ladder.

I've always been a fan of Mazda for this very reason: for a small car company, it has consistently punched above its weight. Separated from the Ford empire a few years ago, it could have sunk. Instead, it has re-focused on its engineering led mindset, coming up with clever, profitable technology that can underpin all of its cars. But for the relatively poor interior and one or two other niggles, the 6 really would be up there fighting on equal terms with some of the class best.

So while I admire the boldness of trying to move in with VW in the sub-premium sector, I'd pin Mazda more as moving in to the territory once occupied by Honda – and consider that to be a very good place to be.

But with so much of a car company's position being the result of perceived thinking, it's no good taking my opinion for it. I'd be delighted to read your thoughts on where Mazda sits in the car making hierarchy.

Mazda set to make a profit for the first time in five years

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 01:30 AM PST

CX-5 and new 6 key to increased demand

Mazda is expected to make a profit for the first time in five years in 2013, according to its chief operating officer in Europe, Phil Waring.

Key to the turnaround is the success of the Mazda CX-5, currently selling at around four times the predicted rate in Japan and now subject to an extensive waiting list in Europe, and the all-new Mazda 6, launched this month.

Both cars feature Mazda's SkyActiv technology, which as well as bringing efficiency, emissions and weight-saving benefits also means the cars are cheaper to produce. As a result, they are also more profitable than the cars they replace.

"At our lowest point, we have been looking at losses close to €1bn a year," said Waring, "but the good news is that we expect to turn that around to close to a €250m profit this year.

"That's a credit to the decision we made to invest in SkyActiv; it has meant a few lean years, but now we feel we have taken a large leap forwards in terms of what we can offer, and we are set to reap the benefits as we launch more and more new cars with market-leading qualities."

Mazda is expected to undertake an aggressive roll out of launches in the near future. As well as the new 6 saloon and estate, a new Mazda 3 is expected to be revealed later this year. A new concept for the next-generation Mazda MX-5 will also be shown at the Tokyo motor show in November.

Autocar magazine 30 January preview

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 01:25 AM PST

Next-generation Ford Focus RS revealed; full Kia Sorento road test; full technical details of the new Peugeot/Citroën air hybrid engine; how to buy a Discovery for £800

This week's Autocar is led by the latest news on the next Ford Focus RS hot hatch, due in 2015 with more than 330bhp coming from its four-cylinder turbocharged engine.

The Focus RS scoop leads the way in an issue dominated by fast hatches. We've got a four-car hot hatch test, with each tuned independently for extra speed, plus a first drive of the new Nissan Juke Nismo, the first car to be tweaked by the Japanese manufacturer's performance arm. Other first drives include the Citroën DS3 cabrio, Seat Ibiza Cupra and Toyota Verso. The full eight-page road test is on the impressive new Kia Sorento 4x4.

Other news leads include a scoop shot of the F1-influenced McLaren P1's aerodynamics, the platform strategy that PSA Peugeot Citroën hopes will drag the company out of its loss-making difficulties, full details of the first new Jeep created under Fiat's stewardship and the lowdown on why Renault's seemingly disastrous 2012 sales figures in the UK are actually nothing of the sort.

Our features section includes a full technical breakdown of PSA Peugeot Citroën's innovative compressed-air hybrid car, a snow test between two near-identical cars, one which has 4x4 and normal rubber, the other front-wheel drive and winter tyres; and an interview with the injured servicemen who made history by completing the Dakar Rally.

Our used buying guide tells you how to secure a first-generation Land Rover Discovery from £800, while James Ruppert recommends real-world 4x4s at real-world prices, including an Isuzu, Saab and Chevrolet. Our new vs used comparison asks whether you'd buy a Fiat Panda or Morris Mini Minor for £10k.

Long-term fleet updates include the farewell piece to our Ginetta G40R, plus the latest on our Alpina D5, Renault Twizy, Mazda CX-5 and Range Rover Evoque.

Autocar magazine is available through all good newsagents, and available to download from Zinio and the Apple iTunes store.

London's Congestion Charge descends into farce

Posted: 28 Jan 2013 10:10 AM PST

Plans to charge new-generation low-CO2 cars is plain profiteering and won't improve air-quality

London's Congestion Scheme, never the most successful or logical transport policy, looks like it is about to descend into outright farce. Transport for London has just opened a 'consultation' which is looking at ending the exemption for low-CO2 vehicles. Today, if your vehicle has a CO2 rating of below 100g/km, you don't have to pay the daily £10 fee to drive into central London.

Come July, that exemption will almost certainly be lowered to just 75g/km CO2, which means that only pure-electric vehicles will now be exempt. If you've currently got an exempt vehicle, you'll get a couple of year's grace, before the exemption for existing sub-100g/km cars is pulled in July 2015.

According to a report in the London Evening Standard, around 2,500 of the 70,000 vehicles that currently enter the Charging zone each day are exempt. TFL are said to be 'concerned' that the current set-up creates an 'incentive' for hybrid and diesel cars to enter the zone. There are even claims that there could be 6000 'free' cars entering the zone by the end of 2013. Other money-raising changes in the consultation include upping the non-payment fine to £130 and closing some of the C-Charge payment points in shops and petrol stations.

All of which looks like plain old 'revenue protection' for a scheme which was always primarily about making money. The eco-cover for these moves is said to be an attempt to reduce the number of diesel cars in the zone, because they emitted up to '22 times more particulates' than petrol cars. All of which would be funny, if it wasn't farcical.

After all, central London, like many UK cities, has massive particulate and NoX problems, caused almost entirely by lumbering, stop-start, buses and commercial vehicles. In London, the ageing taxi cab fleet is said to be responsible for 25 per cent of these diesel pollutants. Removing the charge exemption from a couple of thousand brand new diesel cars with the cleanest Euro V engines - which also probably spend less than an hour on the move in the zone - is absurd. Doing the same to petrol hybrids - the lowest polluting vehicles after those powered by gas - is idiotic.

Despite searching the TFL website, I cannot find a detailed annual summary of the C-Charge's financial performance in 2012 - this first full year since the Western Extension was brought to an end. However, it made a profit of £136.8m profit in 2012, after the £90m it costs to run the tolling system. What we can't work out is how much of the £226m total income is raised from fines. In 2008,  though, a massive £73m of the income was from late-payment fines.

Perhaps, one day, TFL will decide what the C-Charge is supposed to be. The original idea that it would enable quicker, more reliable journeys was killed off years ago with TFL's programme of road space removal. Official figures showed journey times were no better three years after the C-Charge was introduced. 

If it is intended to reduce the number of vehicles in central London to a minimum, then TFL should expect rapidly falling profits. But any attempt to re-spin it as method of improving air-quality - when London has one of the most polluting surface public transport systems in Europe - should be laughed out of court.

Supercars in the snow

Posted: 28 Jan 2013 09:19 AM PST

How capable are the Audi R8 and Porsche 911 in the snow?

What do you do when your best laid plans to test supercars go awry because the snow? Drive them anyway, of course. Steve Sutcliffe pits his wits at the wheel of some of some fast cars in some pretty poor conditions.

All that money for trains, but where's the cash for the roads?

Posted: 28 Jan 2013 08:07 AM PST

Should we really be spending £32bn on the high-speed rail link?

Apparently, David Cameron has vowed to press ahead with plans for new high-speed rails links to the north of England, costing £32bn - it's the northern extension of the London to Birmingham HS2 line, which will reach as far as Manchester and Leeds. I have been reassured that the new rail link is designed to cut journey times, ease overcrowding and boost regional business, and will create at least 100,000 jobs.

Perhaps it will, but shouldn't we be spending a good few billion on the roads right now? What with all those potholes for your car to crash into now the snow has melted. People only travel by train because they have no choice. Given the choice, those who can drive certainly would. Door to door in your own space to your own timetable. You can't beat it.

I had to go to the outskirts of Nottingham the other day and if I had chosen rail rather than Shed Seven (my BMW 728i), the first problem would have been getting to the platform. That was 25 miles away and would have meant a minicab. Then at the other end, the place I needed to get to wasn't located outside the station but 15 miles away. More good news for cabbies.

The trouble is that trains are politically correct. Politicians love the idea of an egalitarian mode of transport (just don't mention first class) moving hundreds of taxpayers at a time between cities where all the most important voters live. When politicians do travel on trains (at our expense, of course) it is often to make a shallow environmental point about C02. Meanwhile vehicles have been demonised, yet they should feel the benefit of this massive infrastructure investment.

So ideas, please, on how to spend these billions: build more roads, designated cycle paths, encourage road trains, and dig a nationwide tube network…

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