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Zero Emission On Demand Racing Car will compete in the famous 24-hour endurance race next year.

By Douglas Newcomb Jun 30, 2013 5:50AM

Nissan Zero Emission On Demand Racing Car. Photo by Nissan.Purely petroleum-powered cars have always ruled racing. But more alternative-fuel rivals are preparing to enter the field.


We reported earlier that Aston Martin contested a hydrogen-gasoline hybrid at the ADAC Zurich 24 Hours of Nürburgring in Germany in May, while a modified Le Mans car recently set an electric-vehicle land speed record of 204 mph.


Now Nissan has revealed its prototype Zero Emission On Demand Racing Car (ZEOD RC), which will debut at next year's 24 Hours of Le Mans – and which the company says is “the world's fastest electric racing car,” capable of reaching more than 186 mph.


But like Aston Martin's hydrogen-powered Rapide, the ZEOD RC will also require gasoline to run, since current battery technology doesn’t offer the energy storage or fast-charging capability needed to complete 24 hours of racing in a pure electric car. Andy Palmer, executive vice president at Nissan, said that the driver will be able to switch between electric and gasoline operation on the fly.

 

New 1.0- and 1.3-liter units bring elements of hybrid power to standard gas engines.

By James_Tate 16 hours ago

In a press release this week, Toyota unveiled a new pair of engines designed to improve fuel economy. Now there’s hardly anything new in that; all automakers are scrambling to improve efficiency as government standards and customer expectations increase. What is new in Toyota’s 1.0-liter 3-cylinder and 1.3-liter 4-cylinder gas engines is the implementation of Atkinson cycle technology. Usually seen only in engines fitted to hybrid powertrains, the Atkinson cycle process increases the engine’s expansion ratio, reducing waste heat and improving thermal efficiency.


Toyota also modified the intake ports within the cylinder, and a cooled exhaust gas recirculation system mated to its Variable Valve Timing-intelligent Electric technology maximizes combustion while minimizing waste. Toyota claims increased combustion ratios will preserve torque loss usually associated with Atkinson cycle engines. The Japanese automaker estimates maximum thermal efficiency to be at 38 percent for the 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine, which would place it in the upper echelon of large-production engines, with fuel efficiency gains of 15 percent. The 1.0-liter three cylinder is estimated to have a maximum thermal efficiency of 37 percent, with 30 percent gains in fuel efficiency over current vehicles.


Coming on the heels of Toyota’s deal with Mazda to use the rival builder’s SKYACTIV (no, we don’t know how they come up with these names) engine in its new subcompact, the question has to be raised: Why enter into the agreement with Mazda at all when these new engines were on the horizon? These new Toyota engines differ from Mazda’s SKYACTIV engines in that SKYACTIV engines employ what Mazda refers to as a “Mazda Miller cycle,” as opposed to the Atkinson cycle. SKYACTIV engines take the route of high compression ratios, but at light loads they run open-throttle to maximize cooling.


The bigger difference appears to be that SKYACTIV isn’t a system limited to engine technology — Mazda transmissions and chassis construction/components all are part of it’s SKYACTIV branding. This makes things interesting for the car that will replace the Toyota Yaris, which is slated to be built upon the platform of the well-regarded Mazda2, and will be equipped with a SKYACTIV engine. Curiously, Toyota wouldn’t answer questions from Automotive News recently regarding whether it would make use of the SKYACTIV engine alone, or incorporate chassis elements as well.


Toyota’s new engines are more ‘plug-and-play’ than the SKYACTIV engines, and this may hold the key to understanding its intentions for them. Toyota’s press release claims that 14 variations of these engines will be introduced worldwide by 2015, with the first examples arriving in subcompact, non-hybrid cars for the Japanese market. It isn’t inconceivable that we’ll see the 1.0- and 1.3-liter engines used in hybrids; possibly in upcoming Prius models, and perhaps even in a future Lexus CT hybrid.


Considering the relative youth of the current-generation Corolla and that these new engines are only the first products to come out of Toyota’s new Powertrain Development and Production Engineering Building, is it possible Toyota is attempting to simultaneously work new efficient engine technology into its lineup while developing a fully in-house SKYACTIV-style powertrain/chassis combination of its own?


[Sources: Toyota; Automotive News (1)(2); photo via Toyota]  

 

Alfa-Romeo’s New York Auto Show reintroduction to America has us wondering about its prospects in the States.

By James_Tate 17 hours ago

The 2014 New York International Auto Show begins this week, and among the 60 new vehicle reveals scheduled to happen over its run, one in particular has begun to generate a great deal of interest — the Alfa Romeo’s 4C. That’s because this year’s New York Auto Show is Alfa’s big coming out party, signaling its reentry into the American market after nearly 20 years. Alfa imports into the U.S. ceased in 1995; now under Fiat’s umbrella, Alfa Romeo plans on making a big splash with the 4C sports car. The question is, where does Alfa go from here, and what can we expect from it as it tries once again to make it big in America?


Alfa Romeo is a builder at something of a crossroads in its existence: Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne is reportedly unveiling a five-year plan for the "new" Alfa in May; speculation suggests that the 4C will spearhead an influx of Alfa models targeting the Audi/BMW/Mercedes-Benz consumer base. Among those would be a new flagship sedan sharing underpinnings with the new Maserati Ghibli, intended as a competitor for the BMW 5-Series, and new all-wheel drive crossover/SUV offerings taking advantage of tech from Jeep. At this point, all we can say for sure is that whatever the new America-bound Alfa Romeo lineup will look like, we won’t be seeing any of it until 2015 at the earliest, and when it does arrive it will bear the burden of great expectations and tough goals to meet.


Back in 2010 Marchionne claimed Alfa sales would hit the 500,000 mark by 2014; over the following few years that figure was repeatedly revised as new models took longer to develop, delaying the reopening of the American market. That delay has contributed to sales figures slumping to their lowest numbers since the late 1960s, meaning that now success won’t quite be enough for whatever Marchionne and Fiat have planned for Alfa Romeo — the new Alfa lineup has to be a hit.


Extending Alfa Romeo’s customer base in the U.S. will certainly give it a better shot at thriving. Alfa head Louis-Carl Vignon recently stated in an interview that “With our current segment coverage and our geographical footprint, we compete in about five percent of the global market,” Vignon’s goal is for Alfa’s reach to be over 30 percent by 2016. The 4C’s debut in New York is a great example of leading with your best shot: The two-seater is an enthusiast’s dream, combining contemporary technology and performance with nods to an old-school dedication to the driving experience.


On one hand, the carbon-fiber construction, turbocharged 1.7-liter 4-cylinder engine and dual-clutch automatic transmission all set the 4C squarely in the modern era. On the other hand, the lack of power steering and luxury accoutrements that soften so many high-end performance cars these days play into the collective memory of Alfa Romeo in the U.S. — mechanical, informative driving in a package that always makes you smile.


It will be an incredibly difficult trick to pull off, but if the 4C’s exotic good looks, grin-inducing performance, and it’s expected near-$60,000 price tag can generate enough excitement (and if the follow-up models from Alfa can capture just enough of that classic feel to keep from being written off as “up-market Chrysler” or “down-market Maserati”) then we’ll be witness to one of the best automotive comeback stories ever.


[Sources: New York Daily News; Automotive News; Motor Authority (1)(2); photo via MSN Autos]     

 

Chevy pauses decades-long rivalry to send Camaro’s regards to Ford’s pony car icon.

By Douglas Newcomb Wed 5:13 PM

Chevy Camaro wishes Mustang happy 50th birthday. Photo by Chevrolet.Almost everyone likes a rivalry. Whether it’s sports teams or sports cars, a bit of friendly competition is good to push opponents and fire up their fans.


One of the biggest automotive rivalries is between the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. Ever since these two classic American pony cars first faced each other on the streets, in showrooms and in magazine reviews beginning in the mid-1960s, battle lines have been drawn between Blue Oval and Bowtie fans.


On the occasion of the Mustang’s 50th anniversary this week, Chevrolet was gracious enough to send a heartfelt happy birthday to Ford’s iconic car from the Camaro, and acknowledged that the rivalry has led to both vehicles becoming better over the years.

 

Mustang convertible parked on the 86th floor, just as Blue Oval did in 1965.

By Mike Meredith Wed 12:37 PM

As Ford celebrates the Mustang's 50th anniversary since its debut at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the iconic pony car has reenacted one of its most dramatic performances: Parking on top of the Empire State Building.

 

Nearly 50 years ago when the original Mustang was the hottest new car on the market, Ford displayed a 1966 Mustang convertible on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building — the only car ever to reach that location — until today.

 

In addition to amazing views of Manhattan, visitors to the Empire State Building observation deck on April 16 and 17 will also see a bright yellow 2015 Mustang convertible.

 

Car seat inflates and deflates in less than 40 seconds; can be easily folded and carried.

By Douglas Newcomb Wed 12:00 PM

Volvo Inflatable Child Seat Concept. Photo by Volvo.Every parent knows the importance of securing children in car seats. And every parent also knows what a pain these big, bulky seats can be to transport, especially when traveling away from home in an airplane or taxi.


Volvo, the automaker synonymous with safety that designed the first rear-facing child car seat 50 years ago, has come up with a solution. The Volvo Inflatable Child Seat Concept is “safe, easy to pack and carry," allowing parents and caregivers to more conveniently use it in situations in which traditional car seats can be a hassle.


The Inflatable Child Seat Concept was created by Lawrence Abele, design manager at the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center in Los Angeles. Of course, Abele is also a father, and after spending time traveling with his two kids and their car seats, he thought there had to be a better way.

 

Climate control system monitors carbon-dioxide levels to keep the driver from becoming drowsy.

By Douglas Newcomb Mon 7:43 AM

2015 Genesis, Hyundai Smart Vent featureWhen Hyundai entered the luxury market in 2008 with the Genesis, it had a lot to prove. Feature for feature, the car showed it could hold its own among more established luxury brands and become a modest success, which led Hyundai to reach even higher with the Equus.


With the all-new, second-generation 2015 Genesis, Hyundai still has to try harder to prove that it can compete. For example, the 2015 Genesis has many of the advanced features found on cars in this class: heated and ventilated 12-way power front seats, a panoramic sunroof and driver assists such as automatic emergency braking to prevent a collision. And it also has a few firsts, such as a 9.2-inch high-definition in-dash display with 720 pixel resolution, direct Google search via voice activation and a hands-free trunk opener.


Another feature that’s new to the segment is what Hyundai calls the world's first carbon-dioxide sensor control system that can help the driver from becoming drowsy.

 

Luxury land yacht a standout among more modest cars on Ward's 10 Best Interiors list.

By Douglas Newcomb Fri 1:07 PM

2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith. Photo by Rolls-Royce.If you have an affinity for luxury cars, yachts and tony seaside towns — and more than $350,000 to spend on a car with a nautical interior — then your ship has come in. Adding to the bragging rights that come with owning an ultra-luxury car like the 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith, its interior has been named one of the best among all 2014 model-year vehicles in Ward's 10 Best Interiors list.

 

According to Ward’s, the Wraith's yacht-inspired cabin design reflects the seaside retreat at La Canadel in the south of France, where Sir Henry Royce spent his winter months. The car's “sitting room” make generous use of what Rolls calls Canadel Panelling, while other interior surfaces are swathed in the “softest ‘Phantom-grade’ leathers.”

 

For the award, Ward's seeks out and tests the very best car interiors in the U.S. market. The only requisite is that the vehicle has a "new or significantly redesigned interior" and is available for sale in 2014. Ward's editors spent two months commuting in 41 new cars, and rate each interior on "ergonomics, driver information, fit-and-finish, materials, value, safety, comfort and design harmony." And while about half the vehicles they awarded are from luxury brands, mainstream models make up more than half of this year's top 10 list.

 

Shake-up at the top sees Detroit's Big Three continuing to dominate top 10 'most American' cars, with overall scores declining.

By James_Tate Fri 12:12 PM

We took our first look at the Kogod Made in America Auto Index last year; this week sees the unveiling of the 2014 edition.


Developed by associate professor Frank DuBois of the Kogod School of Business at American University in Washington, D.C., the index tries to clarify where parts are sourced and better explain the country-of-origin disclosures that can be easily obfuscated by manufacturers.


The Made in America Index rankings are determined by weighing several key factors in a car’s makeup (click here for a breakdown of how these factors are applied to come up with a final score for a vehicle):

 

Contributors

  • Cliff Atiyeh

    Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own. Raised in Volvos, he has grown to love fast, irresponsible vehicles of all kinds. He is the senior news editor at MSN Autos and also reports for Car and Driver, Road & Track, The Boston Globe and other publications.
    In the garage: 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (not his)

  • Doug Newcomb

    Doug Newcomb has covered car technology for over 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Edmunds.com. In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and technology.
    In the garage: 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS, two 1984 Chevrolet Blazers, 2008 Honda CR-V

  • James Tate

    James Tate learned to drive stick at age 13 in a 1988 Land Cruiser - in La Paz, Bolivia. He's since been a mechanic, on a pit crew and has wrenched on every car he's owned since his first 1989 Honda CRX Si (and won't stop until the car is a 1973 Porsche 911 RS). His work has appeared in Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics, Automobile and others.
    In the garage: 1995 Porsche 911 Carrera, 1988 BMW M5

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