Archive for September, 2011

Hyundai ARK Performance Veloster Coming to SEMA

Adding some extra muscle to the new 3-door.

by on Sep.30, 2011

ARK 's Veloster isn't your everyday entry-level coupe.

As regular readers of know, we recently gave a generally positive review to the new Hyundai Veloster, an affordable and distinctively styled coupe that replaces such past throw-away offerings as the Tiburon.  If one thing was missing, we noted, it was a bit more muscle.

(Click Here for the review.)

Well, if the Hyundai ARK Performance Veloster is any indication, perhaps the Korean carmaker has been listening.  The prototype, unveiled in these renderings prior to its official launch at the 2011 SEMA aftermarket show in Las Vegas, puts the new 3-door on steroids.

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The one-off pumps up the basic 1.6-liter inline-four engine from a mere 138 horsepower to 210 with the addition of a twin-scroll supercharger.  Other changes ensure that anyone in your path is likely to get out of the way.  The real question is not whether the ARK-tuned Veloster is fast but how fast we might see Hyundai actually put some of its technology into production – rumors persisting despite some denials by the Korean maker that a turbo version of the new Veloster is on its way.


Bentley Plans to Launch Rolling Office

Craftsmanship meets connectivity.

by on Sep.30, 2011

Bentley's Executive Interior Concept allows an owner to work or play in an Apple-based high-tech cocoon.

Ignore the sound of the big W-12 engine and the occasional bump from a pothole and you might forget you’re not in your high-tech office.  But that’s the precisely the goal of the Bentley Mulsanne Connectivity Test Car.

A modified version of the British maker’s high-line flagship, the prototype is equipped with a wide array of the electronic gadgetry found at home, in the office and, appropriately, on the road.  And response has been positive enough that a production version will be launched “next year,” according to Bentley CEO Wolfgang Durheimer.

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“This is where craftsmanship meets connectivity,” said the former Porsche R&D chief, who became the new Bentley CEO earlier this year.

Bentley has long been known for the extensive craftsmanship that goes into its products – about a third of the more than 90 hours of direct labor in each Mulsanne is spent preparing the big sedan’s lavish wood and leather interior.  But Durheimer contends that the new generation of buyers looking at Bentley products put equal stock in high technology.

The new Bentley Mulsaane.


GM Develops New Collision Warning System

Relies on low-cost, single-camera design.

by on Sep.30, 2011

The new GM crash-avoidance system relies on a single camera to help reduce the cost for mainstream buyers.

General Motors is planning to equip the 2012 GMC Terrain with the industry’s first, “affordable” crash avoidance system. The system is based on a single camera placed in front of the rear-view mirror to help drivers avoid front-end and un-signaled lane departure crashes.

It’s by no means the first collision avoidance system on the road, but the new technology significantly lowers the price compared to existing designs that may use multiple cameras, radar sensors or both, putting the system within the price range of mainstream, rather than luxury, buyers.

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“Digital image sensors are used in just about everything from cameras to mobile phones to computers and this is making them a more-affordable alternative for use in vehicles,” said Raymond Kiefer, General Motors Technical Fellow for crash avoidance systems.  “By combining a digital camera with state-of-the-art image processing algorithms, we’re able to estimate when a crash may be imminent,” he said.

This dual-benefit crash avoidance system will cost $295, which is significantly less expensive than the systems now available in luxury cars, GM’s experts said. The maker developed the system with extensive help from suppliers, including Magna, TRW and Mobileye.


New Touch Sensor Could Keep Drunks Off the Road

System could be built into a car’s start button.

by on Sep.30, 2011

A prototype system used to detect drunk drivers might eventually be small and cheap enough to be built into a car's Start button.

Imagine a sensor small enough to slip inside of your car’s Start button that could be used to keep drunk drivers off the road.

That’s the goal of a multi-million-dollar project teaming supplier Detroit automotive supplier Takata and TruTouch, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.  With help from the Automotive Coalition for Automotive Safety, or ACTS, they’re hoping to take the concept and put it into production.

Drunk driving is a scourge of the highway, and while intensive enforcement has helped drive down the numbers drivers over the legal limit are still responsible for nearly a third of all U.S. motor vehicle fatalities – about 11,000 in 2010.

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The challenge is to either convince drivers not to drink and drive or to actively prevent them from doing so.  Takata and TruTouch have come up with a device that could do just that.  Rather than awkward breathalyzers that require a user to blow into a tube, or a truly invasive blood test, their prototype system uses an infrared sensor.


Chevy Finally Has Competitive Compact With Cruze

Great fuel mileage, snazzy interior, sharp exterior highlight small sedan.

by on Sep.30, 2011

The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is setting sales records for General Motors, a far cry from the unloved Cobalt it replaced.

When Chevrolet replaced its long-running Cavalier compact with the Cobalt, some pundits wondered if we just would have been better with yet another update of its ancient predecessor.

There are no such thoughts about the Cobalt’s replacement, the Cruze. The Cruze is so much better that in a few years when its successor is introduced, it is likely that it won’t have sullied its name so much that General Motors needs to come up with yet another moniker for its compact offering.

Fuel mileage has become a major point of emphasis for automakers everywhere and GM is crowing loudly that the Cruze can be ordered in Eco trim, which is rated at 42 mpg highway, the highest such rating for any gasoline-powered, nonhybrid sold in this country.

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The Cruze tested here doesn’t carry that 42-mpg label, but it’s still impressive, scoring 26 city and 38 highway on the EPA tests. We saw 32 in a combination of freeway and rural two-lanes.


GM Introduces World’s First Front-Center Airbag

New system should reduce side-impact crash deaths, injuries.

by on Sep.29, 2011

Crash dummies demonstrte General Motors' new front-center air bag during a side impact collision .

General Motors will introduce the world’s first front-center airbag, a technology the maker claims can help reduce injuries and fatalities in side-impact crashes.

There was a time when manufacturers played a numbers game with cupholders, but these days, it seems, they’re focused on a more significant bit of math: how many airbags they can squeeze into a vehicle.

While this may be a bit of one-upsmanship, it clearly does deliver benefits that go beyond the ability to have two cups of coffee readily at hand at any moment.  A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, for example, lists the expanded use of airbags as one of the reasons why the number of deaths in crashes involving a car and a SUV have dropped by as much as two-thirds over the last decade.  (For more on that story, Click Here.)

“The front center airbag has real potential to save lives in side crashes,” said Adrian Lund, president of the insurance Institute for Highway Safety, during a joint news conference with General Motors.


Cuba Legalizes Car Ownership

What happens to those pre-Castro Chevys?

by on Sep.29, 2011

Somehow, Cuban drivers have found a way to keep their cars going -- seemingly forever.

It’s been a matter of pride – as much as frustration – for Cuban drivers to maintain a fleet of vehicles that dates back to the pre-Castro era, mostly American Ford, Chevrolet Bel and even long-gone Studebaker.   But starting October 1st, the Communist government  takes a significant step that could ultimately change the face of a country that, to tourists, has seemed lost in time.

Published in the party’s Official Gazette after months of delays, the new law won’t necessarily bring a flood of new Chevys and Fords – never mind Toyota, Volkswagens or Hyundais – to the island nation.  But it will take the first step by legalizing the sale and purchase of automobiles by all Cuban citizens.

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Only a rare few have been allowed to actually trade cars, and the number who could anything new – notably Russian-made products like a Lada – was even smaller, mostly doctors, musicians and athletes who have been given permission to travel abroad.  A limited number of government workers have also been given cars – though use was closely monitored, reports the AP.


No to NASCAR – for now – but VW Group Has Big Plans for U.S. Motorsports

Indy, American Le Mans and other series under study.

by on Sep.29, 2011

Audi's R19 diesel-powered race car at the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Countering rumors that the Volkswagen Group might test its mettle in NASCAR, the head of the maker’s motorsports operation said there are no plans — “at the moment” – to go stock car racing, but the German maker does plan to sharply increase its involvement in U.S. racing in the coming years.

A wide range of programs are under study, according to Wolfgang Durheimer, the former Porsche R&D chief who now serves double-duty as the CEO of Bentley and the head of motorsports for the entire VW Group.

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“In my strategy role I am evaluating all motorsports activities,” said the executive following a preview of the new Bentley Convertible GTC convertible in Croatia, noting that, “The U.S. offers a variety of interesting race series.”

One that he has turned thumbs down on is NASCAR, though Durheimer didn’t seem to be shutting the door entirely.  But the high cost of that series would take cash that could be better focused on other racing ventures, he said.  There’s VW’s new involvement in WRC, a widely-popular rally championship.


Car-SUV Crash Deaths Plunge by Two-Thirds

New study credits better designs, advanced safety technology.

by on Sep.29, 2011

Fatalities in car-SUV crashes have plunged, says a new study.

The number of fatalities caused when passenger cars and SUVs collide has declined by almost two-thirds in recent years.

With more sport-utility vehicles on the road than ever, that’s a significant shift since many safety experts began tarring popular products like the Ford Explorer and Toyota 4Runner as highway menaces a decade ago.  A new report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety credits improved designs in both passenger cars and sport-utes for the dramatic drop in fatalities.

A decade ago, reports IIHS, collisions between cars and an SUV weighing in between 3,000 and 3,499 pounds resulted in 44 deaths per million registered vehicles.  Between 2008 and 2009, however, the fatality rate had plunged to just 16 per million vehicles.

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Even for crashes involving the heftiest of SUVs, those weighing in at 5,000 pounds or more, death rates have fallen by nearly half, according to the study.

“New designs have made a big difference on the road,” said the report’s co-author and IIHS chief administrator Joe Nolan.


VW Inching Towards Profitability in the States

2011 sales should hit 300,000 despite slow U.S. recovery.

by on Sep.29, 2011

The new U.S. version of the Jetta has been instrumental in VW's American revival.

Long operating deep in the red, Volkswagen’s U.S. sale unit is on track to turn a profit for the first time since 2003, according to the German maker’s top American executive.

“This is our expectation,” Jonathan Browning, Volkswagen Group of America’s president and chief executive officer told reporters after an appearance at the Society of Automotive Analysts’ annual strategic planning summit.

VW’s luxury arm, Audi saw its North American sales operations become profitable last year, Browning added, in the face of steady growth in demand.

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“This is a very narrow definition of profitability,” Browning cautioned, noting that it doesn’t include financial statements from the company’s parts distribution network, nor does it include the share of corporate overhead allocated to North America by VWGoA’s parent company in Wolfsburg, Germany.