Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ferrari California T vs Porsche 911 Turbo S, Aston V12 Vantage S

The California gains a new turbo V8 but has it retained its Ferrari soul? we pit it against its rivals to find out

Of all the colourful phrases tossed around our office like wedding confetti, none is treated with greater reverence than ‘fitness for purpose’.
It is the bedrock on which any Autocar verdict is built, the reason we can gush convincingly about a people-carrier one week and a three-wheeler the next, and easily the best justification for lending us your credence every week.
Manufacturers like it, too. They measure it with micrometers. They devote small armies to the business of probing, canvassing, questioning and comparing. They agonise over positioning with the sensitivity of a Mars orbiter mission planner. Their failures tend to play out similarly, too – no visible mushroom cloud, just a shoulder-shrug fizzle of disappointment.
The previous Ferrari California could be characterised thusly. It was a smorgasbord of brand firsts – first fully retractable hard-top, first dual-clutch automatic gearbox, first front-mounted V8 – but it came across as only a middling effort, probably made to look softer than it was by the outgoing 430 Scuderia and incoming 458, both hewn in purpose like carbon-ceramic arrowheads. 
Its replacement lobs in another first: the first Ferrari in nearly three decades to feature forced induction. Turbocharging increases accessibility, but that was not the California’s underlying fault. It lacked not functionality but a convincing character. And for a Ferrari, being under-endowed with soul is like discovering the Land Rover Defender’s replacement is thwarted by wet grass.
To find out whether or not the new, vastly more powerful V8 engine has solved the problem (or compounded it), we’re plunging theCalifornia under the Brecon Beacons microscope side by side with two carefully selected slides: a Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet against which to measure its heady, all-round GT talent and, as a pleasure-giving benchmark, the atavistic Aston Martin 
V12 Vantage S Roadster.
Circumstance means covering most of the M4 between London and Wales in the 911, but the obvious question occurs inside the M25: is there another car, currently on sale, that goes from congenial to utterly cuckoo quite as rapidly as the 991-generation 911 Turbo? 
There ought not to be any secret about it by now: the most expensive 911, at £149,668, is an upturned bucket of vents and wide-bodied arches mated to Porsche’s latest asymmetric all-wheel drive system and a twin-turbocharged flat six developing, in its S guise, 552bhp. 
But the 991’s transition from butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-its-mouth,Volkswagen Golf R-style good manners to a magistrate-infuriating, superbike-rivalling clip is so self-assured, oily and proficient that it almost feels necessary to summon a shaman to Leigh Delamere services and have its otherworldliness properly investigated.
We don’t have time for that, though, so I pucker up for the Aston instead. Immediately, it’s clear just how much of the burden the 991’s ZF-sourced PDK gearbox must be shouldering. The distance from its dual-clutch slipperiness to the Vantage’s robotised seven-speed Sportshift manual is best measured in light years.
The Aston’s upshifts eventually get quicker, but low down, in auto mode, the car – or more specifically, its phantom menace clutch – remains a head-nodding nuisance. The AM28 engine to which it’s connected, of course, is a peach: 12 cylinders of splendour, not much less tractable than the Porsche and as sumptuously evocative as you’d assume anything producing both 565bhp and 343g/km of CO2 would be.
It makes light work of the Vantage’s heft, but can’t help with the occasionally jagged ride quality or the now overwhelming, inescapable age of the car. The odd interior creak is forgivable (it’s hand-built, after all), the disobliging nature of the switchgear and patent lack of instructive LCD screens less so in a car which starts at £147,000.
The California, mounted at Magor, feels every bit a decade its junior. Mostly that’s because Ferrari, having suffered its own problems with infotainment, has finally grasped the nettle and fitted a 6.5in touchscreen full of features – even including, optionally, Apple’s new CarPlay system. 
At the business end of the M4 motorway, such toys are welcome, and together with that hard-top and armchair-style seating, it’s apparent without moving an inch that this is a Ferrari fettled with serious range in mind. It’s still, though, a hard setting to adore. To these eyes, the flagrantly prettier Vantage still has more panache and the Porsche, apparently constructed to the tolerances expected of a vacuum chamber, seems better built.
Mercifully, the steering wheel and clay-red rev counter live up to expectations; the first because it’s nicer to hold than your first girlfriend’s hand, and the second because its readout doesn’t turn scarlet until 8000rpm. It isn’t unusual in a Ferrari to feel like most of your cash – £154,490 in this case – has been spent under the bonnet and, turbochargers or not, that’s the way it is in the California.
Anyway you cut it, the all-new 3.9-litre engine is a remarkable lump, one part cutting-edge technological oddity, three parts old-school flat-plane-crank V8. It feels precisely as it is: a very expensive attempt to make a square peg entirely resemble a round hole.
Thus it revs with agitated enthusiasm, howls through a gauze and draws breath like it were trapped in a Regency corset. Its Variable Boost Management system, a fiendishly clever software method of progressively increasing the available twist in higher gears, is best appreciated on the motorway, where the final ratio of the excellent F1 dual-clutch transmission – and all 557lb ft of torque – gives the California a super-cruise to almost rival the Vantage’s big-displacement largesse.

In ride quality, it trumps the Aston Martin outright. Ferrari points to the deployment of its latest generation of magneto-rheological dampers, but the old-fashioned truth is that the Vantage feels like a sports car compromised by the loss of its roof. The California doesn’t and, in Comfort mode, it is the closest here to modulating long-frequency undulations in the manner of a grand tourer.
The 911, in comparison, feels tacked down like linoleum. The bump absorption and noise suppression are phenomenal, considering, but the weightiness of its steering can make it wearing on the wrists over time. With only one hand clamped to the wheel, the Ferrari can be aimed with the floating accuracy of iron sights.
Once at the foot of the Brecons, however, where the roads are varnished with a cruel slick of salt, fast-melting snow and grime, the advantage swings decisively back the other way. 
These cars have been delivered on a wildly different Pirellis – the California on wintery Sottazeros, the Vantage on summery Corsas – so a totally unbiased evaluation of handling is tricky. But it doesn’t feel like a stretch to suggest that caterpillar tracks would have been required by the rear-drive contingent to keep up with the 911 west of Crickhowell.
Roof ajar, you sit in a tiny pocket of calm amid the massive squall, and continually work your 
neck muscles lest your head fall off. Even a 0-62mph time of 3.1sec fails to properly characterise the brutality of the car’s acceleration through the low gears. 
Consequently, the nicest thing to probably say about it is that it still feels very much all of a thing, which is a massive testament to the steering, brakes, adaptive chassis, dynamic mounts, diffs, clutches and traction management that keep it all kerbside. It is as much a test of nerve as skill, although the visceral, aerated reward is undeniable.
The courage demanded by the Vantage, on the other hand, verges too close to foolhardiness for most. Even in ideal conditions, the V12 is the sort of car you deliberate over unleashing.
On the B4560, at dusk in February wearing track-friendly tyres, it feels vastly more prudent to tiptoe about the place. Unfortunately, the sensitive approach doesn’t really suit the Aston. Its hydraulic steering feels inconsistent at modest speeds and the engine sneers at you above 2000rpm, its exhaust valves audible even over the gale greedily sucking warm air directly from the vents.
It’s a shame, because (much) later, on drier, Surrey-based B-roads, the model’s palpable finesse returns. There its traction is negotiable rather than precarious; parleyed though the suddenly spot-on steering, amenable LSD and brontide emulator upfront. 
So all credit to the California that it doesn’t require extracurricular context to render a quicker pulse. Partly, of course, this is a trait of the tyres. But it also has much to do with the way the car has been set up.
Regardless of the congeniality displayed elsewhere, Ferrari has clearly worked hard – with mildly stiffer springs and a lower mounted engine – to deliver a more convincing version of the seemingly highly strung, invariably pointy dynamic that characterises its current generation of road cars.
In Wales, this works far better at seven-tenths effort than the Vantage, where its slightly flightier poise and tremendous eagerness to turn in are complemented by the superior deployment of its power – a virtue of the surprisingly nannying F1-trac system. 
Granted, it’s not in the relentless 911’s league, but the V8’s peak effort comes at a heady 7500rpm nonetheless, and turbo lag is arguably even less perceptible than in the Porsche. 
The shortfall, only hinted at atop Brecon, is that at nine-tenths, the playful naturalism conjured up later on by the Vantage is possibly not in the California’s repertoire, its leggier body control, lighter steering and less assured front end poking through the veneer of its hitherto dainty balance.
The verdict
That’s fine and fitting, but it does make the podium places tricky. Truthfully, the Aston, hobbled by age and inclemency, struggled in Wales. That it shone in more conducive conditions speaks directly to both its intrinsic charisma and the now patent limitations that bookend it. Irrefutably, the Vantage chafes when not engaged with. And if we’re going to end where we started, that makes it fit primarily for a narrowband audience.
Attune yourself to its frequency, though, take it from the box when all is warm and right with the world, and it dazzles like a lead-weighted Caterham. For the final 12-cylinder hurrah on nirvana’s roundabout, I’d except no substitute.
Nonetheless, back in the real world, with year-round use in mind, I’d now be tempted to invest in Ferrari’s rekindled West Coast vision. In the final analysis, the California isn’t searingly brilliant, but with that space-age V8 and sharper handling, it feels at last like there might be real blood coursing through its metaphoric veins.
Where the Vantage tantalises sporadically, it gratifies consistently, being both the most usable Ferrari I’ve driven and yet now, tangibly, a product of the Prancing Horse stable rather than the profitable ringer it was.
However, by the same standard with which the California trumps the Vantage, it is thoroughly trounced by the 911. ‘Weapon’ was the word most frequently brandished as night descended in Wales, as ferocious and true a descriptive as I can summon up here. Yes, the weather favoured it, but the next day I drove the car back to the office, and could have happily driven it straight through London, Kent, Antwerp and Dusseldorf, too.
Porsche calls the Turbo its benchmark, and with no roof to take the edge off, that’s precisely what it threatens to be. Fitness for purpose? The 911 is the car I’d choose, post-apocalypse, to check on the sky. It’s that preposterous. 
Porsche 911 Turbo S
Price £150,857; Engine 6 cyls, 3800cc, turbocharged, petrol;Power 552bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 553lb ft at 2100-4250rpm;Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch auto; Kerb weight 1750kg; Top speed197mph; 0-62mph 3.1sec; Economy 29mpg; CO2 231g/km
Ferrari California T
Price £154,490; Engine V8, 3855cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power552bhp at 7500rpm; Torque 557lb ft at 4750rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch auto; Kerb weight 1730kg; Top speed 196mph; 0-62mph 3.6sec; Economy 24.1mpg; CO2 273g/km
Aston Martin V12 Vantage S
Price £147,000; Engine V12, 5935cc, petrol; Power 565bhp at 6750rpm; Torque 457lb ft at 5500rpm; Gearbox 7-spd automated manual; Kerb weight 1745kg; Top speed 201mph; 0-62mph3.9sec; Economy 19.2mpg; CO2 343g/km

2015 Tesla Model S P85D review

Dual motors and a power hike give Tesla's electric family car supercar acceleration - and the rest of the package is as strong as ever

What is it?: 

The Tesla Model S has already wowed us in conventional form - if, indeed, the rear-wheel-drive, fully electric family hatchback could ever be called ordinary. Described in its full Autocar road test as "practical, refined and desirable - a triumph", the Model S has been available so far in a couple of guises: the regular 85, with 376bhp and a range of 310 miles, and the more modest 60, which has a smaller battery and a reduced range of 240 miles.
The P85D is something else altogether. Instead of a single electric motor driving the rear wheels, it gets one on each axle to run in four-wheel drive - and the upgrades don't stop there. The rear-mounted motor gets Tesla's Performance designation (the 'P' in the model name), raising it to 464bhp, and with the front wheels offering an additional 218bhp, you suddenly end up with an entirely respectable-looking five or seven-seat family hatchback, with a combined output of 682bhp and 687lb ft.
The resulting performance figures are pretty staggering. The top speed is a run-of-the-mill 155mph, but 0-60mph is claimed to take just 3.2sec. Let's think about that for a moment: that's the same time, to the tenth, as the official Autocar benchmark for the Ferrari 458 Speciale (the regular Italia is 0.1sec slower). It has the potential to make the P85D's list price of £79,080 look a bit of a bargain - especially when you consider that free access to Supercharging - Tesla's ever-expanding network of quick charging points - is included as standard.
Nor should P85D users be any more susceptible to range anxiety than owners of more conventional Model S editions. Tesla claims that the car's digital power controls can utilise two motors more effectively than one - so there's actually a modest gain in range over the old rear-drive P85. It's now 300 miles, just 10 miles shy of the regular 85.
Incidentally, the new model sits on top of a revised range, where the twin-motor four-wheel drive set-up (identified by the 'D' suffix) is also available as a £4100 upgrade to the regular 85. That edition gets a regular 50/50 power split between front and rear axles, though, with the same combined output as the 85. In the meantime, Tesla has quietly dropped the rear-drive P85 from the line-up; its reasoning is that anyone who wants the extra grunt will be happy to pay for the four-wheel-drive model that can make better use of it.

What's it like?: 

To activate the P85D's full potential, you press a button on the huge central touchscreen marked (and I'm serious about this) 'Insane'. And that's pretty much how it feels. Tesla's acceleration test track was a well-abused mixture of greasy cold asphalt and coarse gravel, but the P85D still managed to deliver a level of acceleration that would be difficult for anything else to match in the same conditions. It's the initial punch that does it - the kind of uncompromising shove from 0-30mph that comes with the torque characteristics of electric motors in general, now mixed with four-wheel drive.
What's missing, of course, is any sort of soundtrack. There's none of the sense of occasion that you get with a 458 attempting similar feats - or anything approaching the aural pleasure that can be delivered by a hard-worked AMG V8. Instead, you hear a distant whoosh as the twin motors kick in, accompanied by - and this is perhaps oddest of all - the sounds of the tyres themselves grabbing hold of the surface beneath them (on a dry road, presumably, you'll not even hear that).
Once you're up and running, there's even less standing in the way of the P85D's colossal torque; you'll need to be well beyond the UK speed limit before you'd detect any discernible reduction in the car's ability to gain momentum.
Try to carry too much speed into a corner and the P85D will simply understeer; behave yourself and the nose tucks in with more conviction than it does on the 85 (itself not a bad steer, by any measure). Regardless of how hard you're pushing, it stays admirably flat in corners - and there was enough compliance to dial out the worst road surface imperfections on Tesla's Norwegian test route. 
There's still not much communication, though; you get three weights of steering to play with, but despite this, and regardless of the P85D's ability to thrill and delight every time the traffic lights go green, this is not a car that makes you feel truly connected to what the tyres are doing. In that respect, at least, the P85D feels like one of the family - a slightly more planted and considerably quicker stablemate to the 85 and 60.
The same can be said for refinement, really, because the large alloy wheels still create a fair amount of road roar once you're above 40mph. It's by no means noisy aboard the P85D, but nor is it as silent as you may expect a fully electric vehicle to be.
The cabin remains a clever bit of packaging, with room for five adults and potentially two further children in rear-facing seats in the boot. The luggage capacity is still enormous, with space under the bonnet and in the traditional boot totalling almost 1800 litres. The finish on materials is of a remarkably high standard compared with any other American car - although a few elements are half a notch behind the best European executive models when you get to a close-up inspection.
The showpiece of the cabin is still the Model S's gargantuan centre screen, a 17in behemoth of a touchscreen through which you control the majority of the vehicle functions, let alone infotainment or navigation. It's still a bit worrying to see the system redrawing chunks of map as it struggles to keep up with sheer amount of real estate it has at its disposal, and there are occasions when you'll wish they'd just fitted a permanent button - Volvo's new system on the XC90 does a better job of fast-tracking you to regularly used functions - but in the most part it's a triumph.
Tesla has also rolled out the music streaming service Rdio to its cars via an over-the-air upgrade. In theory, the system allows you to press a steering wheel-mounted button and request any song - and voice recognition and a data connection will do the rest. In practice, you may find the search facility and data speeds more limiting than your own imagination.

Should I buy one?: 

If you're in the market for a Model S - and we can think of plenty of reasons why you could be - then it's going to be hard to resist the all-round performance increase and all-weather ability of the P85D. It does feel noticeably quicker and a little more secure than a conventional 85, and the four-wheel drive means that it stands a chance of keeping you moving on those three days a year where the weather grinds Britain to a halt.
You're paying a fair old premium, though; the four-wheel-drive 85D is still a car that can crack 0-60mph in just over five seconds, and there's a £14,000 hike from that car to the Ferrari-rivalling pace of the P85D. Even if you finance (the most appealing way into a Model S, realistically), you're looking at a premium of around £300 per month for a couple of seconds off the 0-60mph time.
Many will look at the raw figures, do the maths and, with a tinge of regret, allow head to overrule heart. Those who don't will be picking one of the most remarkable production cars on sale today.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Tama EV Was Japan’s Answer To Oil Scarcity - A Look Back

Following the Allied victory over Germany and Japan in 1945, both loser nations required massive rebuilding effort that were hampered by a serious lack of oil. Japan in particular lacked easy access to oil, and in the years following World War II creative mobility solutions were required, which included the Tama electric car.
Tama, which merged with the automaker now known as Nissan in 1966, stood out as the best of a bad bunch of electric cars in post-war Japan. Top speed was just 35 KPH, or just 21 MPH, though a driving range of about 95 km, or 60 miles actually isn’t much less than the current crop of EVs. One unique feature that actually made the Tama somewhat practical though were the wheel-equipped batteries, which made swapping an empty pack for a full one fairly easy.
The Tama was produced in limited numbers from 1947 to 1950, serving mostly as a taxi and utility vehicle while Japan’s devastated infrastructure was rebuilt. Germany had a different response to oil scarcity, instead rely on ultra-efficient small cars like the BMW Isetta to get from Point A to Point B. Other solutions to a lack of oil included “gas bag” vehicles powered by natural gas stored in inflatable fuel bags attached to the top of the vehicle.
Humanity can be incredibly clever when we’re forced to be…too bad ideas like electric cars and efficient compacts took another 60 years to really catch on with the general public. That’s the march of progress, I suppose.

Renault Kangoo Z.E. Gets Pickup Makeover

Elon Musk has brought up the topic of electric pickup trucks on more than one occasion, and for a brief time citizens of California could buy an electric Ford Ranger. But if you want to get your hands on a brand new electric pickup truck, your only option is to move to France, where a company is giving the Renault Kangoo Z.E. electric van an American-style makeover.
InsideEVs reports that the company, called Kollé, will charge about $16,400 for the conversion on top of the cost of a Kangoo Z.E. Alas even for all that money, the tail lights remain awkwardly out of place in the van-turned-truck, and the 59 horsepower electric motor won’t do much wowing with all 167 lb-ft of torque. The 22 kWh battery gives it a Euro-rated range of 110 miles though, which is, you know, not terrible, and neither is the 1,400 pound payload capacity.
That said, it is embarrassingly hideous, and frankly looked better as a van. Kollé will also remake the Kangoo with gas or diesel drivetrains, but I can’t really see any advantage of turning a perfectly good electric van into an awkward electric pickup.
I guess the French just don’t “get” pickup trucks the way us Americans do.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mitsubishi XR PHEV II Concept Edges Closer To Production

For the past couple of years, Mitsubishi has trotted out a number of compelling plug-in concept cars, none of which have come anywhere near production. But that seems to be changing with the Mitsubishi XR PHEV II, which has shed some of its edginess as it hints at what Mitsubishi might actually sell us. And I kinda like it.
The sporty shape belies a 163 horsepower electric powered by an unspecified MIVEC engine, which could range anywhere from 1.0 to 3.8 liters, and four to six cylinders. My guess is a small-displacement turbocharged four-banger, but Mitsubishi isn’t ready to say just yet. It does however quote CO2 emissions of just 40 g/km, so even a three-cylinder engine is a possibility The last XR PHEV conceptdid use a 1.1 liter three-cylinder engine, after all. That said, we might have to wait for the Geneva Auto Show to officially get under way for more drivetrain info.
To be sure, the XR PHEV II is much closer to being a production vehicle than Mitsu’s other recently-revealed concept, the much bigger GC-PHEV. The question still remains though, will the XR PHEV II make it into production, or is Mitsubishi still teasing us with the idea of the car company it could be? The automaker’s struggles in America are no secret, and with its most compelling actual product, the Outlander PHEV, delayed at least another year in the U.S., there’s not too much else to be excited about. A hybrid Lancer Evolution would be nice, but the only “fresh” product Mitsubishi has delivered to American shares was the Mirage. And besides Jo, not too many people are enthused with it.
Here’s hoping the XR PHEV II Concept actually leads to a production car this time around.

Source: Gas2

2016 Audi R8 Debuts e-tron Model Offer 280 Mile Range

The 2016 Audi R8 debuted as the vanguard of the second generation of the highly successful German supercar. Though the new R8 design is anchored by a 5.2 liter V10 making 610 horsepower, the R8 e-tron can be special ordered with an all-electric drivetrain that’s almost as fast as the Tesla P85D.
There’s so much more to the 2016 Audi R8 though than just a choice of conventional or electric drivetrains. A new Audi Space Frame (AFS) combines aluminum and carbon fiber-reinforced plastics to form a high-strength, low-weight frame supporting this high-tech supercar. Greater use of low-weight materials enables a relatively svetel curb weight of just 3,205 pounds,down from as much as 3,847 pounds.
Lower weight means better fuel economy, and even the top-of-the-line 610 horsepower V10 manages to be about 10% more fuel efficient than the outgoing motor. Direct injection, start/stop, and even cylinder deactivation all contribute to a slightly less-thirsty car. There’s also a less-powerful version of the V10 available, to the tune of just 540 horsepower. The e-tron electric drivetrain makes just 456 horsepower in comparison, but the 679 lb-ft of torque of way more than either V10, which offer “only” 398 to 413 lb-ft of pulling power. Top speed is limited to either 130 or 155 MPH, and the R8 e-tron can zip from 0 to 62 MPH in just 3.9 seconds. That’s not quite as quick as either the Tesla P85D or the V10 powered R8, which Audi says can reach 62 MPH in just 3.2 seconds.
The real story here though is the claimed 280 miles of driving range. Audi says that it has nearly doubled the energy density of the original R8 e-tron battery pack from 84 Wh/kg to 154 Wh/kg, without increasing the size of the battery pack. Though at first glance this would appear to out-range the Tesla Model S with its maximum of 265 miles per charge, the European testing scale (which Audi’s claim is almost certainly based on) is much more generous in its range estimations. For example, the 82-mile Nissan LEAF here in the U.S. gets a 124-mile rating in the U.K.
Even so, the 2016 R8 e-tron becomes just the second production electric vehicle to offer more than 200 miles of driving range per charge. Sure, customers will have to special order one, and it will probably be hella-expensive (yes, hella), but given the will-they-won’t-they song and dance Audi put us through, I’m just happy the R8 e-tron exists at all.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Proterra Announces Extended-Range Electric Bus With 180 Mile Range

There’s a battle ongoing in the world of electric buses, and the latest salvo comes from the Proterra camp, which has just announced its new TerraVolt XR extended-range electric bus. Offering up to 180 miles of driving on a single charge, the new Proterra TerraVolt XR electric bus will offer municipalities yet another option when it comes to replacing aging diesel buses.
“Operating successfully in cities across the country, the Proterra Catalyst™ is the most energy-efficient transit bus on the market,” said Matt Horton, vice president of sales and marketing at Proterra, Inc. “Adding extended-range capabilities to our existing portfolio of fast-charge products, enables us to help our customers meet more of their most demanding service requirements. The flexibility of our platform allows our customers to more confidently invest in the future of transit.”
This means Proterra can now compete mile-for-mile with its primary rival, BYD, allowing for bus inter-city travel rather than merely local deliveries. The TerraVolt XR joins the TerraVolt FC, which has less range but can be recharged in as little as 5 minutes, minimizing downtime. Even with a smaller battery, the TerraVolt FC was able to cover some 700 miles in 24 hours, though the BYD electric bus covered nearly 750 miles in the same time. Things are tight between these two electric buses to be sure. The TerraVolt XR will take about an hour to charge in comparison, with up to 321 kWh of onboard energy storage, compared to the FC’s maximum pack size of 131 kWh.
Both BYD and Proterra aim to be the electric bus of choice for America, and with the TerraVolt XR Proterra can offer municipalities the best of both worlds; a short-range, fast-charging bus, or a longer-range vehicle with minimal downtime. Either option is better than the current crop of diesel buses, that’s for sure.

Tesla Model S Again Named Best Overall Car By Consumer Reports

For the second year in a row, Consumer Reports has named the Tesla Model S as its best overall vehicle, for the second year in a row. While this should come as no surprise to Model S owners, it puts the rest of the industry on notice that Tesla has staying power, as opposed to being a fad.
To recap, Consumer Reports has named the Tesla Model S as the most-loved car, with the highest repair satisfaction surveys and it received the highest review score in the history of the publication, 99 out of 100. About the only thing Consumer Reports took issue with on the Model S is its average reliability score, related mostly to issues with the door handles and electric motor. But that wasn’t enough to knock the Model S off of its Best Overall Vehicle throne.
The key here is that Elon Musk set out to build a great car that just happens to be electric. Customer service has also been a top priority for Tesla since day one, and while you can’t please all of the people all of the time, other automakers are paying close attention to Musk’s low-pressure, direct sales method and his battle against car dealerships that is winning him fans on both sides of the political spectrum. And lest you think Consumer Reports has some favorable bias towards EVs, it has rated theMercedes B-Class Electric Drive (among other EVs) quite poorly.
It’s hard to take issue with the Tesla Model S when it keeps racking up award after award from some of the most respected publications in the business. Tesla is here to stay and put the industry on notice that there really is a better way to build, and sell, automobiles.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

See how Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car is made - VIDEO

The line used for the Mirai was formerly home to Lexus LFA production. Like that low-volume, cutting-edge supercarToyotais prioritizing quality and precision for its fuel cell vehicle. At the moment, it's building just three of the sedans per day with a tight, dedicated team. According to Automotive Newsthere are just 13 people assembling the cars right now, and at most they could only complete 10 per day.

The production process for the Mirai is more akin to a boutique sportscar than the high-volume efficiency Toyota usually shows. There's no belt moving them along, and instead each one is pushed between areas. With so much riding on these models, this approach is meant to guarantee an attention to quality.

"These facilities are not so advanced. Rather, we rely on the work of our skilled employees. This is similar to how things were when Toyota was just starting out," said Toyota President Akio Toyoda during a ceremony at the plant, according toAutomotive News.

Toyota has released a gallery of images and five videos showing the major steps in the Mirai's production process, including the complicated installation of the fuel cell stack. All of the clips are embedded below.

2016 Chevrolet Volt Powertrain: How It Works In Electric, Hybrid Modes

The new 2016 Chevrolet Volt is sleeker, has more electric range, higher gas mileage, a fifth seat, and should be both faster and quieter on the road.
But while GM hasn't explicitly said so, it's no longer as much of a range-extended electric car (or "series hybrid").
The new 2016 Volt should be viewed as a more conventional plug-in hybrid, with engine torque now being sent to the wheels through a mechanical connection whenever the engine is on.
The 2011-2015 Volt has one motor that powers the wheels, and a second that acts as an engine-driven generator to produce electricity when battery capacity is depleted.

The 2016 Volt, on the other hand, has a pair of motors that are roughly the same size, one or both of which can power the car.
It still operates exclusively in all-electric mode up to its range of 50 miles or so (except in very cold weather) before the engine switches on.
But once the battery is down to its "depleted" level, the engine switches on--and it contributes torque to drive the wheels far more often now than it did in the first Volt, when it would clutch into the drivetrain only in a limited set of high-speed driving circumstances.
2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid - details of Voltec drivetrain from SAE presentations, Feb 2015
2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid - details of Voltec drivetrain from SAE presentations, Feb 2015
Two weeks ago, we spoke at length with Pete Savagian, general director of electric drives and systems engineering, and Tim Grewe, chief engineer for vehicle electrification.
The pair drew on two papers describing the details of the updated Voltec powertrain that they had presented in January at an annual hybrid and electrified technology conference put on by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
For the record, the new transmission and final drive unit is formally known as the 5ET40 Electrified Transaxle.
The pair walked us through the five separate operating modes of the new Voltec system: two electric-only, and three blended.

Its two electric modes are pretty simple: Either one motor powers the car, or both do.
The two motors themselves, known as Motor A and Motor B, are the same diameter but differ in their construction.
In the first-generation Volt, both motors used the rare-earth metal neodymium in their magnets. In the new Volt, Motor A substitutes a ferrite magnet, reducing its cost, while Motor B continues to use neodymium.
But it's the three extended-range modes (meaning the engine is on) used after the Volt's first 50 or so miles where the largest changes occur.
2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid - details of Voltec drivetrain from SAE presentations, Feb 2015
2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid - details of Voltec drivetrain from SAE presentations, Feb 2015
Even after the battery is depleted, the Volt will move away from rest under electric power alone up to a speed of 10 to 15 mph.
Then the engine will start--or earlier if maximum acceleration is demanded--and the first of the modes will be employed
Low Extended-Range mode
This mode continuously trades off among the most efficient operating speed for the engine, the power demanded by the driver, the battery state of charge, and the use of one or two motors.
It may even use one motor to power the wheels along with the engine while the second motor acts as a generator to recharge the battery.

Depending on vehicle speed and torque requirements, this mode operates up to a little more than 40 mph at maximum.
Then the second mode kicks in--and this is an addition for the second-generation Volt.
Fixed-Ratio Extended-Range mode
In this mode, the engine powers the wheels through a fixed gear ratio--with or without added torque from the motors.
If less torque is required, excess engine torque may also be diverted to recharge the battery before the engine switches off.
2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid - details of Voltec drivetrain from SAE presentations, Feb 2015
2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid - details of Voltec drivetrain from SAE presentations, Feb 2015
Even in range-extending mode, Crewe noted, the new Volt will run solely in electric mode through "medium duty hills."
That was just one of the ways that the Volt team moved closer to the goal of maximizing electric-only operation under as many circumstances as possible.
High Extended-Range mode
Finally, at the highest speeds (from as low as 36 mph to the maximum of 100 mph), the third and final engine-on mode kicks in.
This one is differently geared so that the effective ratio of engine speed to road differs.

But like Low Extended-Range mode, it too continuously adjusts among the engine operating speed, the use of one or both motors, and batttery charge to deliver the power demanded by the driver in the most energy-efficient way.
As we noted in an earlier article, the evolution of Voltec toward a more conventional two-motor hybrid system--similar to those used by Toyota and Ford, and more distantly Honda--offers a number of interesting possibilities.
Other plug-in hybrids to come?
One glaring one would be its use in other plug-in hybrids, including some with less range than the 50 miles of the Volt.
The 2016 Cadillac CT6 large rear-wheel-drive sedan, for instance, was previewed in a TV ad Sunday night on the Oscars telecast.
2016 Cadillac CT6 in new spot ‘The Daring: No Regrets’
2016 Cadillac CT6 in new spot ‘The Daring: No Regrets’

We know that the CT6 will offer a plug-in hybrid version that will be unveiled at the Shanghai Motor Show in April, just three weeks after the New York Auto Show where the CT6 will be launched.
Could the new Voltec system be adapted to that car's powerful turbocharged V-6, or some different engine, to provide the performance required by a Cadillac plug-in hybrid and perhaps 12 to 20 miles of electric range?
Waiting to drive it
Stay tuned on that one.
Meanwhile, the Volt team is clearly proud of the modifications to their second-generation Voltec system.
Of course, they have the advantage of having driven it--while reporters, analysts, owners, and potential buyers likely won't get that opportunity for six months or more.
The new 2016 Chevy Volt will go on sale in the second half of this year, most likely starting in September or October.

Source: Green Car Reports