Friday, May 29, 2009

Company looks to bring air-powered cars to US

Most car companies are racing to bring electric vehicles to the market. But one startup is skipping the high-tech electronics, making cars whose energy source is pulled literally out of thin air.

Zero Pollution Motors is trying to bring a car to U.S. roads by early 2011 that's powered by a combination of compressed air and a small conventional engine.

ZPM Chief Executive Shiva Vencat said the ultimate goal is a price tag between $18,000 and $20,000, fuel economy equivalent to 100 miles per gallon and a tailpipe that emits nothing but air at low enough speeds.

Elsewhere in the world, the technology is already gaining speed. The French startup Motor Development International, which licensed the technology to ZPM, unveiled a new air-powered car at the Geneva Auto Show in March. Airlines KLM and Air France are starting to test the bubble-shaped AirPod this month for use as transportation around airports.

Engineering experts, however, are skeptical of the technology, saying it is clouded by the caveat that compressing air is notoriously energy intensive.

"Air compressors are one of the least efficient machines to convert electricity to work," said Harold Kung, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University. "Why not use the electricity directly, as in electric cars? From an energy utilization point of view, the compressed (air) car does not make sense."

As Vencat spells it out, the "air cars" plug into a wall outlet, allowing an on-board compressor to pressurize the car's air tank to 4,500 pounds per square inch. It takes about four hours to get the tank to full pressure, then the air is then released gradually to power the car's pistons.

At speeds less than 35 mph, the car relies entirely on the air tank and emits only cold air. At faster speeds, a small conventionally fueled engine kicks in to run a heater that warms the air and speeds its release. The engine also refills the air tank, extending the range and speed.

The technology behind the car was developed by the French race car engineer Guy Negre, head of Motor Development International. Besides ZPM, Negre has licensed the technology to Indian car giant Tata Motors and others.

Many of the specifications of ZPM's car are still speculative, but Vencat expects it to go about 20 miles on compressed air alone, and hundreds more after the engine kicks in, with a top speed of 96 mph.

The technology shouldn't sound too outlandish, Vencat said. It's similar to the internal-combustion engines in conventional cars — the main difference is the fuel.

"Every single car you see out there, except an electric car, is a compressed-air car," he said. "It takes air in the chamber and it pushes the piston, and the only way you push the piston is through pressure."

James Van de Ven, a mechanical engineering assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who has studied compressed-air technology, said air compressors allow you to recover only 25 to 30 percent of the energy used to compress the air. The rest is lost through heat, air leakage and other forms of waste, he said.

While that's still slightly better a gasoline engine, it pales compared with the efficiencies of other alternative-fuel powertrains, like those in hybrid-electric cars, which have an efficiency closer to 80 percent, Van de Ven said.

A look at some of ZPM's specifications illustrates the issue. With four hours of charging, the air car's 5.5-kilowatt compressor would eat up 22 kilowatt-hours of electricity. That means the same energy used to turn on 10 100-watt light bulbs for 22 hours would allow the car to travel 20 miles.

By comparison, General Motors Corp. has said its Chevrolet Volt will use about 8 kilowatt-hours of energy to fully charge, and it will be able to travel 40 miles on battery power alone.

George Haley, business professor at the University of New Haven, said U.S. safety regulations could be another obstacle given the air car's tiny size and light weight.

Vencat said he gets such criticism "from the whole wide world" and pays it little mind. He counters that the car is cleaner than any internal combustion engine and remarkably simpler — and cheaper — than more advanced powertrains currently under development.

"The big difference is that the (Chevrolet) Volt needs the battery," Vencat said. The Volt's massive lithium-ion battery is a big part of the reason it is expected to cost about $40,000 when it goes on sale late next year.

He acknowledges the difficulties with getting the car out quickly but said he is lining up investors.

"You know, we've got a lot of people who wanted the car yesterday," he said.

2010 Hybrid Electric Cars To Offer More Plug In Options

2010 hybrid electric cars will offer higher milieage and lower prices for consumers. New plug in cars can offer consumers a hybrid tax credit and the Ford Fusion, Toyota Prius 2010, and Honda Insight has set the stage.

2010 Will Offer More Hybrid Plug In Options For Electric Cars

The race is on for automakers to meet demands for 2010 hybrid electric cars as the Ford Fusion, Toyota Prius 2010, and Honda Insight has set the stage. These are new alternative energy cars, which also include a hybrid tax credit. Moreover, consumers are looking for better MPG ratings and affordable prices.

With gas prices back on the rise, due to summer transportation, the cars in 2010 are becoming more appealing to consumers. The line-up of 2010 automobiles offer a greater variety than previous years, including better fuel-efficiency, and more affordability. There are also hybrid tax credits, which offer incentives for consumers to make the switch to lower carbon emissions.

There is a sudden trend, more so in the past three months than any other time, of new popular hybrid vehicles on the road. These hybrid cars are zipping down streets in just about every neighborhood in America. Most of these alternative energy cars are made by Honda, Toyota, Ford and a few independent automakers, which just arrived on the scene.

The Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, and Ford Fusion are the popular models for coupes and sedans. If you're in the market to buy a new hybrid, don't just settle on word-of-mouth, but make your decision on reliability and fuel economy.

For example, I live on a street which has a Toyota Prius in most driveways. If I were to base my opinions on exterior looks, I think the Ford Fusion and Honda Insight look sharp. However, there is something about sitting in a Toyota Prius where the dashboard seems to be more modern than the rest.

You also need to act fast if you plan on using the hybrid tax credits. Some of them expire in September and October. Each time they expire, the credits are getting lower. The credits are to help reduce carbon emissions.

There is a $1,700 tax credit by the IRS for owning a hybrid or electric car. The credit is good only if the vehicle is purchased before October 1, 2009. After that, the credit is $850 which is good until March 2010.

While most hybrids are using a combination of gasoline and electric alternatives, these cars still produce carbon emissions. However, most of them reduce it by as much as 90 percent. The only real zero emission automobiles are the plug-in hybrids which only use electric and no gas.

Most of the new hybrid vehicles do offer a plug-in option, even though they combine the use of gasoline. For example, most models will run solely on electric power for up to 47 miles without using one single drop of fuel. You can always purchase this option, if your daily commute is less than 47 miles, while charging the vehicle from home or at work.

Solar Powered Electric Cars Coming From Toyota

Electric cars which can use solar panels for power are under development at Toyota. It is the first time Toyota will try to use solar energy as a way to charge its electric batteries in hybrid cars.

Electric Cars Using Solar Panels For Alternative Energy

Solar energy is being used for Toyota electric cars with solar panels mounted on each end of the vehicle. Toyota wants to develop ways to use the energy as a way to charge its electric batteries in hybrid cars. While the method is possible, experts say it will be difficult to consume enough energy from solar methods to power an electric car.

There are other solar-powered energy methods used such as outdoor lamps, which get their energy from the sun during the day and use it at night. However, using the same technology to power a Hybrid electric car is still several years away.

However, it's possible that Toyota found a way, which we don't know yet. Solar energy could charge limited batteries to run dashboard functions like car headlights, radio and windshield wipers. Toyota was unavailable for comment.

Hybrid is the new trend to power new electric vehicles. Most car manufactures plan to release their own versions of the electric technology next year. Some companies include General Motors, Ford, Nissan, Chrysler and Toyota.

Rumor of a car getting its energy from a rooftop solar panel first started in July 2008. There were speculations that Toyota would offer such a method on its next generation Prius.

One thing we do know is that Toyota has been using solar panels at its Tsutsumi plant in central Japan. The plant produces its own electricity.

Tesla Motors recalls 345 Roadster sports cars

Electric-car maker Tesla blames a possible suspension problem on bolts that were improperly installed on the rear chassis 'of a small percentage' of Roadsters by British automaker Lotus.

Electric-car maker Tesla Motors said Thursday that it was recalling all 345 of its Roadster sports cars produced before April 22 so they could be inspected for a possible suspension problem.

Tesla blamed the problem on bolts that were improperly installed on the rear chassis "of a small percentage" of Roadsters by British automaker Lotus. The Roadsters, which sell for $109,000, are assembled in Britain by Lotus and then shipped to California, where Tesla installs the cars' batteries and electric powertrain.

Tesla said no accidents had been reported as a result of the defect, which it said was unrelated to the powertrain.

Lotus is recalling 27 of its 2009 Elise and Exige sports cars with the same suspension problem, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "If the problem is not addressed promptly, the driver could lose control of the vehicle, resulting in a crash," the agency said in its recall notice.

Lotus could not be reached for comment late Thursday

Tesla, based in San Carlos, Calif., has delivered almost 500 of the two-seat Roadsters. The firm said it found the problem after an owner reported "uncharacteristic handling."

The company said it would send technicians to customers' homes to make the needed repairs free of charge or pick up the cars and take them into a service center to do the work.

"We plan to do everything we can to address this matter swiftly and keep customers satisfied," said Greg Zanghi, Tesla's director of service and parts operations. The company declined to disclose how much the recall would cost.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Clarkson on the Audi Q7 V12 TDI

Last year, Audi announced the most insane version of its Audi Q7 SUV yet in the form of the Q7 V12 TDI. The V12 is an all-new diesel engine that, for now at least, only has a home in the Q7, but at some future date, it may appear in some other VW group products. The V12 produces 500 hp and a ridiculous 758 lb-ft of torque, enough to get the 2.5-ton SUV to 62 mph in 5.5 seconds.

While Audi has said it has no plans to bring the V12 Q7 TDI to America, Top Gear mouthpiece Jeremy Clarkson got to try one out and came away with mixed feelings. Like many people, Clarkson is no fan of the Audi Q7's looks and thinks the whole premise of the vehicle is ridiculous. On the other hand, brute force does have a way of twisting people's opinions and this big Audi proves to be no exception.

Generally, any sporting motorcycle can leave a four-wheeled conveyance in the dust. Apparently, this Audi Q7 is the exception, as Clarkson was supposedly able to keep pace with Top Gear co-host Richard Hammond on a Suzuki Hayabusa. Even with all this power, the V12 TDI is still rated at 21 mpg (U.S.) on the EU combined cycle. In Clarkson's own words, "Mad. Bonkers. Stupid. [...] It's crap. But it's brilliant too." Too bad they canceled the R8 with this engine.

[Source: The Times of London]

Safety Could Suffer With Small Cars

The Obama administration’s sweeping fuel economy and emissions initiative announced Tuesday reopens a fierce debate over tradeoffs between fuel economy and auto safety.

The government says no tradeoff exists because nothing in the new rules would force automakers to sell more small cars, which are more dangerous in crashes than larger ones. But some safety experts think otherwise.

“The deadlines are so tight that downsizing will be a tempting compliance strategy” for automakers, says John Graham, the former rulemaking chief in the Office of Management and Budget.

The plan requires automakers to sell cars that average 35.5 miles-per-gallon by 2016, a little more and a lot sooner than current law. It has been heralded as a brilliant solution to the nettlesome mix of problems related to fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions.

The move is also an example of the clout environmentalists have with the Obama administration and comes as automakers’ dire financial straits are forcing safety to a back burner. It raises the risk that cash-strapped automakers will take the fastest and cheapest route to building more fuel-efficient vehicles: Make them smaller and lighter. Further, as General Motors and Chrysler rely on federal bailout money for survival, they are ill-positioned — and disinclined — to fight proposals that some say may not be just dangerously costly, but simply dangerous.

The National Academy of Sciences, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Congressional Budget Office and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have separately concluded in multiple studies dating back about 20 years that fuel-economy standards force automakers to build more small cars, which has led to thousands more deaths in crashes annually. Even though the standards were updated in recent years to reduce the incentive for automakers to sell more small cars by allowing different fuel-economy targets for different vehicles, the fastest way to make cars more fuel-efficient is to make them smaller.

Some safety experts worry that the administration’s green focus could reverse progress made in reducing the highway death toll. The fatality rate in car crashes reached its lowest ever in 2007 and is projected to drop even lower for 2008 — to 1.28 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.

President Obama this month withdrew the name of his nominee to lead the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, longtime safety advocate Charles “Chuck” Hurley, after an outcry from environmentalists over Hurley’s statements linking fuel-economy rules to highway deaths.

But while U.S. automakers might not have made many of the most popular small and midsize cars, they did build and sell millions because they needed to keep their car and light-truck fleet fuel-economy averages over the number prescribed by law. The tilt toward smaller vehicles, which were often heavily discounted to sell, boosted the death toll, the studies say.

The Obama administration maintains the new fuel standards can be met without forcing more small cars into the market.

“Because every (size) category has to get more efficient, if the soccer mom wants to buy her minivan, it will be a more fuel-efficient minivan. If someone wants to buy a big SUV, it will be a more fuel-efficient SUV,” said Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change.

She said companies can use advanced technologies to improve fuel efficiency without dramatically changing their fleets.

Former NHTSA chief Jeffrey Runge, now an auto-safety and biodefense consultant, applauds the administration’s decision to factor safety into its fuel-economy plan but worries automakers will still “do what is cheap and quick because the timelines are very short,” and that could lead to more small cars.

"Why do you say small cars are dangerous? A luau is a big party and lots of fun -- unless you're the pig. When a big car hits a small car and somebody gets hurt, why blame the small car? The big car is the one that caused the damage! BIG cars are dangerous.

Pickup trucks and large SUVs are especially dangerous because of their higher bumpers. They tend to cause lots of damage to other cars they hit. They also tend to run over bicycles (fatally) rather than having the bicyclist land on the hood (non-fatally) like with small cars.

Hyundai reports 4,000 scrap car trades in UK


Governments all over the world have introduced Cash-For-Clunkers-style programs that are nothing if not controversial. While the stated intent of each of these schemes is to increase new car sales and remove older, dirtier and less fuel efficient vehicles from the road, some powerful organizations have voiced concerns that untold numbers of classic machinery may be lost forever for no good reason. Could it be that both sides are right? New car buyers in the UK are reportedly flocking to Hyundai dealers in droves with a bevy of older vehicles in tow. According to Tony Whitehorn, Hyundai UK's managing director:

"For many [the scrappage scheme] is an opportunity to buy their first ever new car, and is enormously exciting. Some people look a little embarrassed when they turn up at a showroom with an old car which is literally falling to pieces but we're happy to take anything as long as it meets the government's criteria. Other buyers have taken the decision to wave goodbye to cars which have been in the family for a generation, but their sadness soon disappears when they get into their new Hyundai."

So, just what kinds of cars are being traded in? The Korean automaker reports that both a Jaguar XJ-S and XJ6 have both been scrapped, as have 34 BMWs, 22 Audis and 32 vehicles from Mercedes-Benz. Six Mazda MX-5's, seven MGFs, a 1966 Austin 1100 and a 1968 Morris Minor were also sent to the great scrapheap in the sky along with at least one Citroen that lost a wheel on the way to the dealership.

[Source: The Green Car Website]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Honda to Release Acura Coupe in 2010

At a time when American automakers such as Ford, General Motors and Chrysler are having their worst nightmare, Japanese and Korean car companies are coming up with new cars and new models at a stable pace. Even Indian car makers are trying their luck in an industry that is taking a lot of heat from the global economic climate.

Honda is one such Japanese company that has been working on new models of its cars. Now auto news Autoblog is reporting that Honda could release an Acura coupe in 2010. The car could be styled similar to a dropped-off ZDX and will have a powertrain-transmission combo like it. Also, in terms of the size, the coupe is expected to fill the gap between the between the TSX and the TL.

Though the Honda Acura Coupe is expected to be out next year, there are speculations it would be revealed at an upcoming auto show, maybe the Detroit Auto Show. It seems that the coupe could then hit the showrooms late in 2010. Previously, there were reports that Honda was working on the 2012 Honda Civic and the CR-Z.

[Source: Autotantra.in]

BMW drops the details on its 2010 5 Series Gran Turismo

2010 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo

Despite the departure of controversial lead designer Chris Bangle, BMW is showing no signs of returning to the "One sausage, three-sizes" styling brief that it once adhered to. The latest proof of this is the announcement of the production 5 Series Gran Turismo, which, as expected, looks little changed from the concept that set tongues wagging in Geneva, save for a few details like smaller wheels, more conventional interior fabrics and real-world-sized side mirrors.

The genre-blurring 5 Series GT is, in the words of BMW, meant to combine "the characteristic features of a prestige saloon, a modern, highly versatile Sports Activity Vehicle, and a classic Gran Turismo" – outwardly, at least, we'd say that they've succeeded in meeting that goal, although the final judgment on whether this amalgam of characteristics is a even a direction worth pursuing will ultimately be made by consumers.

In the meantime, we can focus not only on the five-door hatchback's design, but also its internals, as BMW has released specifications and pricing for its European market models.

In the main, BMW has disclosed that Europe's gasoline model range will be composed of the 306 horsepower, 3.0-liter 535i Gran Turismo (a derivative of the fabulous dual-turbo inline-six seen in the engine bays of the 1, 3, and 5 Series) and the 550i Gran Turismo, which relies on a stonking dual-turbo 4.4-liter V8 good for 407 horsepower, an engine that promises to be just the thing when you're running late for your squash court appointment. Finally, there's the 530d Gran Turismo, which offers a 3.0-liter, 245 horsepower I6 diesel powerplant and a tidy C02 rating of 173 grams per kilometer. Regardless of which engine the buyer chooses, the sole gearbox offering will be the eight-speed automatic gearbox borrowed from the 760i luxury sedan. The cog-happy unit should not only help with overall fuel economy, but it makes any model in the range a sprightly performer, with BMW quoting 0-62 mph times of 6.3 seconds for the 535i GT, 5.5 seconds for the 550i GT, and a thoroughly respectable 6.9 seconds for the 530d GT (which also achieves 43.5 miles per imperial gallon, or around 36 mpg US).

It isn't yet clear what models will come to the States, but we're hearing that the 550i will be the first to make the journey, and it is likely to arrive carrying a price tag of around $70,000, which would represent around a $10,000 premium over the less-powerful 550i sedan.

[Source: BMW]

Small cars can be the 'Smart,' 'Fit' choice

In car-obsessed South Florida, size matters. Big SUVs, big pickup trucks, minivans and four-door sedans dominate.

But as Hummers become dinosaurs, gas sippers are slowly taking over their terrain. They're "Fit" and "Smart" and take pride in their "Mini" status.

"The Fit is excellent," said Manuel Valido of Lake Worth, who bought his Honda subcompact last summer as gas prices soared. "It's saving fuel. I get 38 to 40 miles per gallon."

Just five years ago, subcompact cars held little sway with American car consumers, grabbing a mere 1.8 percent of U.S. car sales in April 2004, according to Edmunds.com an automotive consumer Web site. But then the 2008 gas spike suddenly made small cars attractive. Last July, subcompacts reached their peak and grabbed a 4.9 percent market share, the highest in decades.

By December, the love affair with diminutive vehicles cooled as sales dipped to less than 3 percent of all car sales. But the number has steadily crept back up, garnering 4.3 percent of U.S. car sales by April and becoming the fastest growing category of cars.

But admirers still plowing around in motorized behemoths question the safety of the motorized tykes. Imagine getting side-swiped by a Hummer while driving a car a third its size.

Indeed, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently released a report showing small cars performed poorly in head-on collisions with mid-size cars. Basically, the report said weight and size matter when it comes to protecting occupants during crashes.

Still, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives many small cars stamps of approval in crash tests.

"They're seen as safe choices by consumers," said Jesse Toprak, an Edmunds.com analyst. "People are looking for value purchases. ... They're cheap to buy. They're cheap to own. They have lower fuel costs."

There's another appeal. In an age where economic doom has made thrift and minimalism trendy, the little guys also are fashionable.

"Everyone who sees this car says it's so cute," said Shirley Miller of Deerfield Beach, who began leasing her silver Toyota Yaris three months ago.

Miller considered buying a mid-size SUV, but the poor economy and fear of another spike in gas prices made her think again.

She chuckles at gas stations watching drivers with SUVs and trucks filling up. "I come after them and they're still filling up after I'm done," she said.

Fiat plans up to 10,000 Opel cuts

Italian carmaker Fiat has said it plans to cut fewer than 10,000 jobs if it succeeds in buying Opel and its UK brand Vauxhall from General Motors.

Fiat said the cuts would be made across Opel's Europe-wide operations, which currently employ about 50,000.

Rival bidder, car parts maker Magna, pledged to keep Opel's four German plants, but made no comments about the two Vauxhall factories in the UK.

The third bidder is RHJ International, a Brussels-based investment firm.

German government officials are currently discussing the rival bids, submitted before Wednesday's deadline.

Unconfirmed reports suggest a fourth bid may have subsequently been tabled by a Chinese car firm, Beijing Auto.

Magna front-runner?

Fiat added in its statement that reports it planned to cut up to 18,000 jobs in Germany, where Opel employs 25,000 people, were "entirely unfounded".

While most analysts still consider Fiat to be the front runner to buy Opel, and therefore become the world's second largest carmaker, a number of German politicians have already thrown their weight behind the offer from Canada's Magna.

This is because while Fiat has already warned that it would be likely to close one Opel factory in Germany - the engine plant at Kaiserslautern - Magna has vowed to keep open all four German Opel plants.

"Under our concept the German sites are seen as assets and we want to keep as many jobs as possible," said Magna co-chief executive Siegfried Wolf.

Roland Koch, the premier of Opel's home state of Hesse, said the Magna offer was "closest to the hopes and wishes" of German politicians and the country's Opel workers.

And German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the Magna bid as the only "sustainable" plan among the three.

Negotiations are continuing with all three parties, however, and Germany's economy minister said a host of questions remained about the Magna bid. He suggested a decision on Opel's future would be taken next week.

US giant General Motors (GM) is aiming to sell Opel ahead of a 1 June US government deadline to restructure its finances and avoid the need to go into bankruptcy protection.

GM is also looking to sell Sweden-based Saab, its other European car business.

Honda staff vote for 3% pay cut

Workers at Honda's Swindon plant have voted in favour of taking a 3% pay cut for 10 months in an attempt to safeguard 490 jobs.

In return, the workers will receive a bonus of six additional days' leave, Unite the union said. Managers' pay will be cut by 5%.

Of those balloted, 89% voted for a cut after the plant closed for four months.

They were asked to take a salary reduction after too few staff took up the offer of voluntary redundancy.

The plant has been shut for four months because of a fall in demand for new cars. It is due to reopen next month.

While pay freezes have become common in the car industry, pay cuts are more unusual.

"While a number of struggling companies are imposing pay freezes on their workers, to get employees to accept a pay cut is a significant achievement," the BBC's employment correspondent Martin Shankleman said.

"It is a measure of the calibre of industrial relations at the plant."

Jim D'Avila, regional officer for Unite, said the workers at Honda were standing together in "true solidarity in difficult times to protect hundreds of jobs".

The slump in car production was underlined earlier by industry figures which said the number of cars made in the UK halved in April.

Carmakers are pinning their hopes on the government's car scrappage scheme, which started earlier this month.

Car production down 55% in April

UK car production fell 55.3% in April compared with a year earlier, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

A total of 68,258 cars were made in April, with the total for the year to date about 251,268 cars.

In April, 56,267 cars were exported, a drop of 53.4% compared with April 2008.

Overall vehicle production - including commercial vehicles - fell 56.5% to 75, 913 in April. Carmakers are cutting production as the recession takes hold.

Commercial vehicle production fell by 65.2% to 7,655 in April, with the year-to-date production down 63.6% at 29,950 vehicles.

More cars were made in April than in March, when the UK produced 61,829 cars, a 51.3% drop on March 2008.

The car sector has been one of the hardest hit by the global slowdown, as consumers cut back on big-ticket purchases, forcing global car companies to cut production and staffing levels.

Slow recovery

Under a new government scheme, cars that are more than 10 years old can be scrapped in return for a £2,000 discount on a new model.

The scrappage scheme should boost sales, an SMMT spokeswoman told BBC News.

But it will take a few months for this rising demand to feed through into greater production.

"There are some signs that production is beginning to pick up. We are starting to see some good signs, but it is going to be a protracted recovery on the production side," she said.

"We will start to see a pick-up towards end of summer, beginning of autumn. It will be some time before we regain the numbers that we were seeing towards the middle of last year," she added.

Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive, said: "Despite the current difficulties, the UK must prepare for the return of global growth and government support for the industry is an essential part of the process."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Scrappage scheme boosts small car sales

Just days after the UK introduced a car scrappage scheme - where car buyers are given a £2,000 discount on a new car if they scrap one that is at least 10 years old - the motor industry has hosted its annual test driving day for journalists.

An impressive range of some 160 of the latest models that are for sale in the UK were available for trials at Millbrook Proving Ground's intricate hill route, the off road track, or around the high speed circuit.

But as the more than 250 journalists in attendance buzzed about the Millbrook test tracks, the manufacturers were left behind in their exhibition chalets.

The were wondering whether the scrappage scheme, half of which is funded by the government, will bring buyers back to the showrooms.

At the Kia stand there was little doubt.

"We've taken 4,000 orders on the back of the scrappage scheme," beamed one representative for the Korean carmaker Kia Motors, which has slashed its £6,195 Picanto to £4,195.

"If the customer then puts up a £1,000 deposit, they can have the car for £10 per week," declared her equally buoyant colleague.

It's a promise that reinforces BBC Top Gear's assessment of the car: "It is to motoring what the disposable camera is to photography."

Changed mindset

Citroen has also seen demand soar since the scheme came into effect on Monday; up 30% so far in May compared with the same period last year.

The French company had stolen a march on its rivals by offering the £2,000 scrappage discount from 1 May, thus carrying the whole cost themselves for almost three weeks, but it had been well worth it, according to Citroen's spokesman.

Test drive requests from potential customers had quadrupled, with demand for its small C1 soaring, and half its C1 sales were now made up by scrappage customers, the spokesman said.

"The scheme has just changed people's mindset," observed Paul Everitt, chief executive of motor industry body SMMT, who pointed to how activity in the car showrooms had picked up dramatically since the scrappage scheme was announced in last month's budget.

Small car impact

But the enthusiasm was by no means universal.

Car sales in the UK had already fallen from 1.8m in 1999 to 1.45m in 2008, and so far this year the figures had slipped by between 20% and 30% each month, when compared with the same months last year.

It is still early days, but as yet most of the motor industry officials seemed to think the scrappage scheme would be most beneficial to those who make small, fuel efficient cars.

Many said the scrappage scheme had done little for their own sales, and you did not have to climb far up the value chain before there were audible grumbles.

Mini's spokesman said it had not seen much of an impact since most Minis were still quite pricey.

However, the BMW-subsidiary was finalising plans to launch a stripped down, cheaper version of the Mini One to take advantage of the scheme.

The car should be here within weeks. "It'll have to happen soon, or we'll miss the boat," the spokesman said.

Tough times

Obviously, the higher up the ladder the less impact the scrappage scheme would have on sales.

Taking a Jaguar XK for a spin around the country lanes near the test track, and three facts became immediately apparent.

One; the Jag was one of - perhaps the - most refined car there. Two, as the Jaguar spokeswoman pointed out: "If you've got a 10 year old car you'd like to trade in for scrap, you're not going to buy yourself a new Jaguar."

And three, being behind the steering wheel of perhaps the classiest car at the event was considerably more comfortable than being out in the real world, selling luxury cars, or indeed any cars at all.

Great potential

SMMT's Mr Everitt nevertheless insisted the future offered great potential.

"There are huge markets out there," he said.

"We know there's going to be demand there."

He said the industry's challenge was to retain the UK motor industry's share of the global market and to raise its value as the total market would grow.

But such concerns still seem a long way off for many carmakers, whose main focus is likely to be on survival for months to come.

India car sale up but sector still shaky

Indian car sales grew for a third straight month in April, according to data Monday, but an industry body said it was too soon to say the sector was on the road to recovery.

Sales rose 4.2 percent to 102,899 units for April as car buying continued to pick up after the industry went into a tailspin last October, hit by a slowing economy.

But Sugato Sen, senior director of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), warned: "Things are still very sensitive."

In the passenger car segment, sales of Japanese-owned market leader Maruti Suzuki India raced ahead in April by 8.61 percent to 56,221 units from a year earlier.

South Korea's Hyundai unit, the second-largest carmaker in India, posted a 3.49 percent sales rise to 22,241 units. Top vehicle maker Tata Motors' sales were flat at 11,202 uJustify Fullnits.

Total vehicle sales rose 10.76 percent to 894,058 units.

Two-wheeler sales showed the strongest rise for April, surging 13.71 percent to 700,995 units from the same period last year as consumers turned from cars to cheaper motorbikes and scooters.

Costly loans and hesitation by banks to finance new purchases in the wake of the global financial crisis have slowed the overall vehicle market, although the numbers began to rise again in February.

In the motorcycle segment, market leader Hero Honda, which has been targeting rural India where sales are less dependent on credit financing, saw sales surge by 25.87 percent year-on-year to 348,132 units.

But sales of rival Bajaj Auto, which is focused on urban centres and whose presence is more limited in the rural market, slid 22.88 percent to 106,516 units.

The country's carmakers cut prices following a government reduction in value-added tax last December, part of a stimulus package to help the vehicle and other sectors.

Despite current woes, analysts say India holds promise for global automakers as the country of 1.1 billion people has one of the world's least penetrated car markets -- at just seven vehicles per 1,000 people compared with 550 per 1,000 in nations like Germany.

CNG Cars to Take on the Markets in India

All auto makers around the globe are driven towards developing eco-friendly cars which means CNG cars or LPG cars for their customers. Availability of natural gas is expected to double this year and will be available in more Indian cities. IV Roa from Maruti Suzuki India Limited has already confirmed that the company is developing more models that run on alternative fuels. “We are developing engines that would run on CNG. By early 2010, we will introduce CNG-driven cars in each of the segments we operate,” he said. “Initially, we were focused on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). But CNG seems to be the future. Although the CNG-enabled cars would be a bit costly, their running cost will be lower than that of LPG,” he added.

Maruti is already in talks with Reliance Industries Limited and GAIL that are the main producers and transportation of CNG in the country. RIL person has confirmed about the talks but refused to divulge the details.

M&M is also developing CNG-run small commercial vehicles. Apart from M&M and Maruti, Hyundai is also developing CNG-driven cars for the Indian as well as overseas market. However, no one is sure how fast this segment will grow as India is still lacking in terms of support in regulations as well as infrastructure. Presently, there is no automaker that sells cars driven with CNG-run engines.

A study by the rating agency CRISIL says that CNG usage is 80% cheaper than petrol for taxis and 40% cheaper for three wheelers and light commercial vehicles. For bus, it is 30% cheaper than diesel. Nearly 5 lakhs vehicles are estimated to use CNG in India, making it the world's fourth largest CNG market.

Chevrolet Camaro Convertible still on for 2011 Q1 launch

Rumors have been circulating the Web that General Motors’ financial condition has indefinitely delayed the open air version of the Chevrolet Camaro, but a new report indicated the Camaro Convertible is alive and well and still on track for a 2011 launch.

The Camaro Convertible’s launch date has been pushed back several times, but Chevrolet has never considered completely cancelling the program. “The convertible was never canceled,” General Motors spokesman Terry Rhadigan told Automotive News. “It was retimed. It will be the first quarter of 2011 for the start of production.”

The Camaro Convertible was originally slated to begin production in December 2009. However, further financial woes pushed that date back to May 2010 before being ultimately shifted to February 2011 – almost a full two years after the coupe started production at GM’s Oshawa, Ontario plant.

When the Camaro Convertible finally does make production, it will be available with V6 and V8 engines.

Ford starts service plan for Fiesta, Ikon

Carmaker Ford India has announced a service offer for the new buyers of its Fiesta and Ikon cars to boost sales through reduced cost of ownership.

It has come out with scheduled service plan (SSP), a new service offer for periodic and scheduled maintenance of Ford cars.

“This new scheduled service plan will initially be available for Fiesta and Ikon range of models. We are working on such offerings for other Ford models as well,” said Nigel Wark, executive director (marketing, sales & services), Ford India.

The new plan has come into effect from May 15 and the services will cost between Rs 8,400 and Rs 9,350 for Fiesta petrol and diesel cars. A wide range of schemes will be available according to customers’ requirements. The SSP can be availed by new customers at Ford dealerships across 15 cities in the country. These include Chennai, Chandigarh, Hyderabad & Secunderabad, Delhi & NCR, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Ludhiana, Pune, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Jai-pur, Cochin, Kolkata and Surat.

The new scheme covers scheduled services such as engine oil change, fuel filter, oil filter, air filter, spark plugs, among others. The pack includes labour charges of periodical maintenance service and replacements at a discounted price for a fixed duration.

“The SSP scheme is aimed at offering easy maintenance and allowing the cost of periodic maintenance at specific intervals to remain unaffected by inflation, with the consumer making a one-time payment upfront,” said Wark.

The SSP is being offered as an extended service business (ESB) product where the customer pays for the same upfront. The new plan will be available to both fleet and retail customers. In addition, the plan is also transferable. SSP does not cover wear & tear of parts, accident repairs, mechanical & electrical failures and tyres. There are over 80,000 Fiesta cars running on Indian roads. Ford India sold 2,034 units in April 2009 as compared with 2,223 units in April 2008, according to Siam statistics.

An avalanche of premium compact cars this year

One of the leader in producing car in Indai, the Maruti Suzuki has released its Ritz hatchback. And it is planning for the second release in the next six months. As a reflection the other companies in the market are also in operation to come up with showy and chic hatchbacks.

In the coming year, the premium compact car segment for a price of above Rs 4.5 lakh is going to be a drone. Also from the car producers like Hyundai Motors, Honda Siel Cars (HSCI), Toyota Kirloskar, Fiat Auto, Volkswagen India and Ford India the releases are anticipated.

Maruti’s Ritz comes with a new K12M, 1.2 litre petrol engine alleged to be more fuel proficient with less emission. Adding, Ritz is the first car in Indian road to have a engine that complies the BS-IV emission standards. Also Ritz is the eighth small car from Maruti and it is anticipated that the price is about Rs 4.5-5 lakh.

In the month of June Honda will pursue with the release of the Jazz. In global the Jazz is priced higher than Honda City, said Jnaneswar Sen, senior V-P (marketing), HSCI. And for the advantage of the excise duty it is anticipated that the price will be some wat lesser than the City.

In a few weeks of period the Italian car producer Fiat will ensue with the release of the most expected Grande Punto. Next to Palio, in the compact segment this car is going to be the second and it will be some wat higher than Palio.

Further Hyundai Motors India (HMIL) will be exploring this segment during its release of the diesel version of the i20 by this year end. Also currently in the market the company is having three compact cars — Santro, i10 and the Getz. At the beginning the HMIL had decided to trade about 1,000 units of the i20 in India each month. Also with the release of a diesel engine the company is anticipating additional increase in the sales.

Moreover, the German carmaker Volkswagen has decided to make earlier the release of the Polo hatchback to the close of this calendar year as opposite to the previously publicized date, says market sources.

Also in the starting of 2010 the Ford Motor Company of the US will bring its hatchback to India. Adding, the compact car will enter in both the petrol and diesel engine preferences. Those type of cars are going well in West and the company is expecting to get increased the numbers in India as well.

In majority of the improved market places for auto industry the changeover to premium small cars has started so there will more concentration by the car producers on the premium compact segment, says experts.

Ford India to launch small car in a year

On lines of Maruti 800, Chevy Spark.

After Tata Motors and General Motors, now Ford India Pvt Ltd plans to launch a small car in India. The launch is expected by the first quarter of calendar year 2010.

Asked if it is looking at the Maruti 800 and the Chevrolet Spark segment, Nigel E Wark, executive director, marketing, sales and service, Ford India, said: “Yes, we will be launching the small car in this segment broadly, but there are sub-segments in the category, and this is where we will differentiate ourselves. We will be basically competing in the largest volume segment. India and China are the two markets in the world where small cars are in huge demand and we will be focusing on these countries a lot.” He did not give more details.

Early last year, Ford India had invested $500 million to expand its vehicle and engine manufacturing capacity. Wark said the small car operations would be funded from this investment alone as of now.

The automobile firm is expanding its yearly vehicle manufacturing capacity to 200,000 units and 250,000 engines. “We are looking at increasing the share of exports (from India) once the capacity is expanded. Plus, we will export the small car in the region, apart from petrol and diesel engines,” said Wark.

On customer service, Ford India is planning to expand Quick Service centres. At present, it runs Quick Service centres at 23 locations, which it intends to take to 45 by December. “Through the expanded number of Quick Service centres, we intend to reach out to 70-75 per cent of our customers in the country,” said Jesus Metelo Arias, general manager, customer service operations.

In India, Little Demand for a No-Frills Car

The chairman of Tata Motors, Ratan Tata, had 500 engineers work for four years designing the world’s lowest-cost car, convinced that cost-conscious Indian drivers could live without air-conditioning and cup holders.

But only 20 percent of Tata’s initial 203,000 orders for the car — the Nano — were for the no-frills $2,600 model. Instead, half of the customers booked the top-end model, which costs 40 percent more.

“My children need to travel comfortably,” said Neelakandan Raveendran, 51, who ordered the most expensive version of the Nano as his first car. The bank clerk earns 24,000 rupees, or about $500, a month and will split the cost of the car with his daughter.

Sales of pricier versions with extras like air-conditioning mean bigger margins for Tata and less chance of a profit-sapping price war with rivals like Maruti Suzuki India, analysts said.

“There is no demand for a bare-bones car,” said Mahantesh Sabarad, an analyst at Centrum Broking based in Mumbai. “Based on this experience, it does give other automakers room for pricing their products higher. They don’t have to be drawn down to a pricing war.”

Toyota Motor and Renault, which are also planning to sell low-cost cars, may be able to charge more for their models on demand from customers in India, where incomes have doubled in the past eight years. Higher prices may mean bigger profits for automakers in India, unlike in China, where discounts have hurt earnings amid a sales boom.

Profit at Maruti Suzuki, maker of half the cars sold in India, and Tata Motors, the third-biggest Indian carmaker, more than doubled in the five years that ended March 31, 2008, as new jobs proliferated in India, the fastest-growing major economy in the world after China.

Maruti’s 800, the company’s cheapest car, which retails for as little as 184,894 rupees in New Delhi, in 2005 saw the end of its nearly two-decade reign as India’s best-selling model. It made way for the Alto, which costs 21 percent more. The 800 now accounts for less than 5 percent of Maruti’s sales, said Mayank Pareek, executive officer for marketing and sales at the carmaker.

The cheapest Nano retails for 123,360 rupees in New Delhi, while the top-end variant goes for 172,360 rupees. “Higher versions of all cars have better margins,” Debasis Ray, a Tata Motors spokesman, wrote in an e-mail message.

“It isn’t that the cheapest car sells the largest,” Mr. Pareek said. “There is a clear shift, and customers are not just buying the cheapest car. They are willing to spend a bit more.”

Maruti, the New Delhi-based unit of Suzuki Motor in Japan, has said it will not cut the price of the 800 to take on the Nano.

Salaries in India will jump by an average of 8.2 percent this year, after six successive annual increases of more than 10 percent, the human resource consultant Hewitt Associates said in February.

Toyota plans to introduce a small car in India in 2010, with an initial annual production target of 70,000 units, said Paul Nolasco, a company spokesman. The company has not disclosed the details of the car, he said. Toyota has an early prototype for a model that may be able to compete with the Nano, the company’s president, Katsuaki Watanabe, said in Detroit last year.

Renault, the French carmaker, and Nissan Motor of Japan are together building a $2,500 car with Bajaj Auto, the Indian motorcycle maker.

“The cost issue for the car is still crucial,” said Pauline Kee, a Nissan spokeswoman. “We will monitor the development of the Tata Nano rollout. It’s still premature to say whether this will change our strategy” for developing the ultra-low-cost car, she said.

In contrast to India, combined profits at China’s top 19 automakers fell 48 percent to 10.8 billion yuan, or $1.6 billion, in the first quarter, as Volkswagen and General Motors discounted models. Prices of locally made cars fell 4.08 percent in April from a year earlier. China has 52 car brands and more than 100 automakers.

China’s vehicle sales may rise 8.7 percent this year to 10.2 million units, according to the nation’s automakers group. That may be enough for the country to surpass the United States as the world’s biggest auto market. U.S. sales may drop to 9.7 million, according to CSM Worldwide Inc.

With Honda Motor, Volkswagen, G.M. and Ford Motor among automakers building new factories and introducing new products in India, tighter competition and lower profitability are only a matter of time, said Puneet Gupta, an analyst at CSM Worldwide based in New Delhi.

“Competition is going to be really intense,” Mr. Gupta said. The carmakers “won’t be able to enjoy the margins that they are enjoying today.”

Tata Motors will begin deliveries of the Nano in July, choosing the first customers through a lottery. In contrast to the entry-level model, the more popular mid- and top-end cars will feature amenities like fabric seats, central locking and front power windows, in addition to air-conditioning and cup holders.

“Today, everyone around me travels in an air-conditioned car,” said a bank clerk, Raveendren, who is abandoning the family two-wheeler. “My children, too, wanted one. It’s a must.”

Monday, May 18, 2009

2009 Toyota Venza 4WD Review

MODEL: 2009 Toyota Venza 4WD
ENGINE: 3.5-liter DOHC V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 268 hp @ 6200 rpm/246 lb.-ft. @ 4700 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with sequential shift
WHEELBASE: 109.3 in.
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: 189.0 x 75.0 x 63.4 in.
TIRES: P245/50R20
CARGO VOLUME: 30.7/70.1 cubic feet (rear seat up/down)
FUEL ECONOMY: 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway/18.7 mpg test
FUEL CAPACITY: 17.7 gal.
STICKER: $38,493 (includes $720 delivery, processing and handling fee and $8,474 in options)
BOTTOM LINE: Toyota calls its new Venza a sedan, but it’s more like a crossover or simply a wagon. Whatever you classify it as, the Venza is versatile as a people mover and as a cargo carrier. Like most Toyota vehicles, it’s user friendly and won’t disappoint you.

The Toyota Venza is a vehicle that’s hard to classify. It looks as if it might be ready to compete with the Nissan Murano or Chrysler Pacifica, to crossover vehicles. With 4-wheel drive, it may lay claim to some SUV DNA as well. Toyota calls it a 5-passenger sedan, but if it’s a sedan it’s one of the biggest Toyota makes. It has the cargo capacity of an SUV. In my eyes, the Venza is simply a station wagon, without a sedan version, but it’s not politically correct to give an “old” definition to a new car.

The first thing you’ll notice about the 2009 Toyota Venza is its un-Toyota-like grille that has a “smile” that’s unique to the brand.

The second thing you’ll notice is the push button start. This isn’t unusual, but with the 2009 Toyota Venza you must push the start button with the key fob. The problem with this is that you then put the fob and keys in someplace convenient, like the cup holder. We did that once, and after shutting off the car simply walked away with the keys still in the cup holder. Eventually we learned to keep them in the door pull, where we’d notice them whenever we exited.

Another thing that will catch your attention is the multitude of storage spaces. There’s one by the driver’s left knee that would be good for cell phones. There’s a center console with a sliding top, and another console in front of it with another sliding top. There’s also a long thin compartment on the driver’s side of the console.

The one that confused me was in the center. Lift up the door and there’s a thingy in there that you push. We checked the owner’s manual and there was no indication of what it was for. In the press release on the 2009 Toyota Venza it is identified as a spring-loaded MP3/iPod holder, that has no bottom so that you can plug the wire into the AUX input below it with no wire clutter.

The 3.8-liter double overhead V6 engine offers good power through a 6-speed automatic transmission that has a sequential manual m ode as well. In my mind the manual shift wasn’t necessary, because it’s doubtful you’d be doing brisk driving in the Venza. The engine is quiet in normal operation. We did notice some tire noise intruding into the cabin, but that appeared to be more of a function of the road surface. Up front the seats are comfortable with some side support. Rear seats have excellent legroom with a low center hump that would make the center passenger not have to ride with his knees tucked up under his chin. The rear seats fold 60/40 relatively easily to create a huge cargo area. We used the 2009 Toyota Venza for our spring gardening errands. We loaded sod in the back and fertilizer to help it grow, while on the other side of the growth cycle we took branches, etc. to the local compost center. You can also carry as many as four golf bags in the back with the four golfers riding comfortably up ahead. In this era of overly fancy controls, it was surprising to see the simple HVAC controls in the Venza. However, they were easy to figure out how to get the temperature and fan speed the way we wanted them.

Venza comes equipped with Toyota’s STAR Safety System. This includes ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution, Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control and Hill Start Assist Control as well as numerous air bags.

Among the options on our tester were the Premium Package #2 ($4,345) with leather seating surfaces, 4-way power front passenger seat with lumbar support, heated front seats, wood trim, smart key system, power rear hatch, back-up camera and fold able heated outside mirrors. The voice-activated touch-screen navigation system with JBL Synthesis surround sound added another $2,590.

Don’t call the 2009 Toyota Venza a sedan or a crossover; it’s a wagon, pure and simple.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

2010 YF Hyundai Sonata Concept

Korean auto site YF Love is certainly living up to its name by producing a succession of speculative renderings of the 2010 YF Hyundai Sonata.

Illustration number three appeared overnight, and once again highlights the coupe-like stance, large grille and Lexus-like headlights that will adorn Hyundai’s medium-sized car.


To capitalise on the home-crowd advantage, there’s a very strong chance that the all-new Sonata will make its debut at next month’s Seoul Motor Show, ahead of a mid-year sales debut in Korea.

Among the engine options anticipated for the 2010 Sonata is a diesel/electric hybrid, which would pair a 2.0 litre four-cylinder diesel engine with an electric motor.

The hybrid would use lithium-polymer batteries, which Hyundai claims are superior to the lithium-ion (LI) batteries currently available in most hybrids. The hybrid would not be plug-in capable, at least during the first model year.

A six-speed automatic transmission that has no torque converter is said to be the sole transmission for the upcoming Sonata.

Safety features should include ABS, traction control, anti-skid system, curtain side airbags, and front side airbags.

The Elite models will have leather upholstery and will most likely include heated front seats and automatic climate control.

A navigation system with voice recognition is rumored for the up-market models.


Hyundai will be hoping to steal sales from the Honda Accord and Mazda6 with the YF Sonata’s accent on more curvaceous looks and a host of inclusions at a bargain price.

With the high quality of Hyundai’s latest offerings and the modern sporty styling of the above rendering, there’s a good chance of things turning out that way.

Hyundai Sonata Review

The Hyundai Sonata is a comfortable and likable midsize sedan that proves Hyundai can build cars that are not just easy on the pocketbook, but easy to live with as well. Like most vehicles in the midsize sedan class, the Sonata offers front-wheel drive, numerous safety features and a choice of potent four-cylinder or V6 engines. Setting the Sonata apart, however, is Hyundai's outstanding warranty coverage.

While the current Hyundai Sonata takes no styling risks, its generous height and width translate into abundant headroom, a spacious rear seat and a huge trunk. A new-for-2009 interior provides one of the higher-class cabins in the family sedan class, with an attractive design and impressive materials.

When value is a top priority, the Sonata -- particularly in lower trim levels -- shines with enough features to ensure lasting popularity among the bargain-hunter set. It also significantly undercuts many of its competitors when similarly equipped.

Current Hyundai Sonata

The Hyundai Sonata is a midsize family sedan available in GLS, SE and Limited trim levels. Even the base car comes with expected convenience features, while more luxurious features are available in optional packages or in the upper trim levels. Yet even when fully loaded, a Sonata Limited V6 will undercut its competition by thousands.

The standard engine on each Sonata trim level is a 2.4-liter inline-four-cylinder engine good for 175 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the GLS and SE trim levels with the four-cylinder, while a five-speed automatic is standard on the Limited and optional on the other trims. Optional on all Sonatas is a 3.3-liter V6 producing 249 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is the only transmission available with this engine.

In reviews we've found that the Sonata prioritizes ride comfort over precise handling. It smothers bumps well and delivers a luscious highway ride, but with its significant body roll and vague steering, those who want more interaction between man and machine will be better served by competitors from Mazda or Nissan. Power from the efficient four-cylinder engine is quite competitive, and although the V6 isn't quite as potent as those in rival sedans, it still gets the job done while returning good fuel economy. Inside, soft, high-quality plastic abounds, switchgear is excellent and the overall design is eye-pleasing.

Used Hyundai Sonata Models

Today's fourth-generation Hyundai Sonata dates back to the 2006 model year and is really the only version worth considering as a used car. Initially, three trim levels were offered: GL, GLS and LX. Today's GLS is equivalent to the original GL, while the Limited replaced the LX. The following year saw a shuffling of the trim levels to the current format. Most notably, the sporty SE version debuted, wearing 17-inch alloy wheels and foglights.

Originally, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder produced 162 hp and was standard on the GL and GLS trims. A five-speed manual was standard (GL only for 2006) and a four-speed automatic was optional with this engine. Optional on the GLS and standard on the LX, SE and Limited was a 235-hp version of the 3.3-liter V6, matched to a five-speed automatic transmission. For 2008, the four-cylinder became standard on all trim levels and the V6 became optional. That year also saw a few more standard features added to the SE and Limited trims.

The biggest changes occurred in 2009 when the current engine outputs arrived, along with the high-end interior. Prior to that, the cabin was of decent quality, with nice materials and a precise feel to the controls, but it wasn't nearly as top-notch as the current car. We also took issue with the odd placement of the audio and climate controls -- the former was placed too high and the latter too low. The spacious cabin remained unchanged, and although the exterior had a few nips here and tucks there, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a pre- and post-2009 Sonata. Two notable additions to the features list at this time were a standard auxiliary audio jack and the optional touchscreen navigation system.

Pre-2006 Hyundai Sonatas remain a risky used-car proposition even though depreciation means they can be found at a bargain-basement price. Only in recent years have we seen the kind of build quality and structural integrity that might portend long-term durability.

Nevertheless, the previous (third) generation Hyundai Sonata was originally introduced for 1999 with a vastly improved appearance, far better engines and significant improvements made in noise and ride quality versus its lamentable predecessors. The base car featured a 138-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder and the GLS had a 159-hp 2.5-liter V6. These numbers may be different from what you'll find elsewhere, since Hyundai misstated its horsepower ratings prior to 2002, giving the Sonata 11 more horses than it actually had. As such, you'd be best to stick with a Sonata from 2002 or later, which were characterized by even nicer styling, a better interior and a legitimately more potent V6.

The second-generation Hyundai Sonata was introduced for 1995 and offered improved fit and finish compared to its predecessor, but that's not saying much. It now had dual airbags, but no more power under the hood. For instance, the V6 only produced 5 more horses compared to the four-cylinder. For 1997, the Sonata was restyled dramatically, but not necessarily for the better. All in all, we'd avoid this car.

The same goes for the original Hyundai Sonata, first launched in 1989 to give Hyundai a player in the midsize family sedan game. Aggressively priced but sloppily built and saddled with weak, unrefined powertrains, the boxy first-generation Sonata did little to change the public's perception of Hyundai cars as cheap in more ways than price.

Maruti Suzuki India Limited launches Ritz hatchback at 3.90-4.99 lakh

Maruti Suzuki India Limited launched the Suzuki Ritz in India in petrol and diesel variants. The Ritz is the seventh small car in Maruti’s portfolio, positioned in the A2 segment.

The Maruti Ritz will be available with two engines- you choose either the K-series 1.2 litre, four-cylinder, 85PS Petrol engine or the 1.3 litre, 16-valve DDiS, 75PS Diesel engine that Fiat and Tata customers are happy driving.

The diesel variants cost Rs 4.65 lakh and Rs 4.99 lakh, where as the three petrol variants cost between 3.90 lakh to Rs 4.80 lakh.

Petrol Versions -

Lxi - Rs.3,90,000/-
Vxi - Rs.4,20,000/-
Zxi - Rs.4.80,000/-

Diesel Versions -

Ldi - Rs.4,65,000/-
Vdi - Rs.4,99,000/-

(All prices Ex-Showroom Delhi)

Suzuki designed the Ritz on the Swift’s platform, and the high degree of localization additionally helps bringing down the costs.

The company was able to achieve 85% localization for this car.

The Maruti Suzuki Ritz is also India’s first BS IV compliant hatchback. Maruti’s spokesperson declined to comment on the number of cars they were targeting to sell due to the twisted market conditions, but assured it was equipped to meet any level of demand.

Maruti Suzuki India Managing Director and CEO Shinzo Nakanishi-

“Ritz is our parent Suzuki’s fifth global model and it will be the first Bharat Stage-IV emission norms compliant Indian car. We have launched it at the beginning of the fiscal and we hope it will bring excitement in the market”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Holden aces crash test


A new Holden, yet to go on sale, has already been awarded a five-star safety rating.

The Holden Cruze, a small car to be offered with either a petrol or diesel engine, will hit company showrooms around the country next month.

It's top safety score was revealed by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) yesterday.

ANCAP chairman Lauchlan McIntosh said the Cruze had a broad range of safety features and had performed well in ANCAP's crash tests.

The car's passenger compartment maintained its shape well during the demanding frontal offset crash test and scored well in other tests, Mr McIntosh said.

It also featured good safety equipment including dual front, side and side curtain airbags, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes and electronic brake distribution.

"This result continues the recent five-star ratings for passenger cars, following the Ford Falcon and the Holden Commodore last year, and is great news for Australian new car buyers," Mr McIntosh said.

"It is pleasing to see manufacturers increasingly recognising the benefits of improving crashworthiness and including the latest safety features and technology into many Australian-made and imported cars."

ANCAP crash tests cars made in Australia and overseas, and incorporates other crash test results conducted in Europe.

A five-star rating is the highest currently awarded.

GM Holden chairman and managing director Mark Reuss said safety was at the core of the global development program for the Cruze.

"We know that today's motorists want many things from a small car and that includes no compromises on safety," Mr Reuss said in a statement.

"Incredibly high benchmarks were set as the Cruze was being developed and the result show.

"This is a world-class car with a safety rating to match."

Nissan 200SX replacement on the backburner

Nissan has apparently delayed the appearance of its replacement for the excellent 200SX coupe until the world's economy gets back on its feet.

Reports from Europe say the Japanese carmaker has signed off on the car it will aim at the Mazda MX-5, Honda CR-Z and the Toyota MR2.

The unnamed open-top, rear-wheel-drive two-seater takes its styling cues from the 370Z coupe - which arrives in New Zealand next month - and Nissan's Urge concept, seen at the 2006 Detroit motor show.

Nissan hasn't had a presence in the mid-range sector of the sports car market since production of the rear-drive 200SX ended in 1998. The new model is likely to be powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine delivering around 150kW and with claimed fuel economy of 8 litres/100km (35mpg).

Expect a zero to 100km/h time of around six seconds and a top speed of 220km/h. Word from Europe is that the new model will be in showrooms by 2011 - that's if the recovery kicks in by the end of 2009.

While Nissan has its car on the backburner, German carmaker Audi has ditched plans for the storming diesel-engined version of its R8 supercar.

Top brass have confirmed that the V12-powered project has been halted.

The German carmaker claims the cost of re-engineering the petrol R8 to accommodate the diesel engine is too great to recoup its investment through sales alone.

Tests showed the 5.5-litre diesel R8 prototype produced 375kW and 1001Nm of torque and powered from zero to 100km/h in four seconds.

It was inspired by Audi's R10 Le Mans racer.

But reworking the R8's aluminium spaceframe chassis to shoehorn the V12 engine and its twin turbochargers into the engine bay blew out the boundaries of Audi's budget.

Honda's Ace in the Hole, The 2011 Honda CRZ Hybrid

Honda has something that Toyota doesn't and it just might be want Honda needs to outgun Toyota in the hybrid war between the two companies. What is this little something that Honda has? The 2011 Honda CRZ Hybrid.

The Honda CRZ is a two seat hybrid disguised in a sports car body or a sports car fitted with a hybrid powertrain. Though Honda wanted to make the CRZ in a gasoline version too, they decided to make it as a dedicated hybrid to be on par with hybrid offerings from Toyota.

The Honda CRZ is powered by a 1.8 liter engine taken from the Civic. The engine is rated at 140hp, significantly higher than the Insight's 98 hp. The hybrid components will be nearly identical to that of the Insight to keep costs down and provide a working power train in a short amount of time.

The sporty nature of the CRZ comes from its light mass and relatively powerful engine. The Honda CRZ will weigh in around 2,800 pounds. The Civic engine is a high revving mill and the electronic motors will provide ample low end torque. Combined with an optional manual transmission, a rarity in hybrids, and you have all the necessities for a sports car.

The pictures tell the story as the Honda CRZ does not look like your typical hybrid. Its coupe body style and wedgy design make it stand out among hybrids. The name CRZ is derived from Honda's long gone and much loved 2 door coupe the CRX. Honda is hoping consumers will feel the same way about the styling and sporty nature and buy the Honda CRZ not because it's a hybrid, but because the car is fun to drive and attractive to look at.

Tata Land Rover and Jaguar to arrive soon in India

The Tata Land Rover and Jaguar may be the most priced possessions of Tata Motors and now the cars are all set to make their journey to India. The Land Rover which is expected to arrive by next year; Tata Motors gears up as it has a lot of car releases up its sleeve.

Tata Motors will hit off with the Nano very soon and it plans to bring in the Land Rover by next year. To accentuate the plan and lend support, the company has already started working on an expansion plan to get the car into the country in a smoother manner. The Land Rover has already shown its glimpses in cities like Mumbai, however the company is looking at presenting the car all over the country.

With a new dealership set in Gurgaon near Delhi, Tata gets all geared up to launch the luxury models in an aggressive way in India. The company made itself proud as it acquired the Land Rover and Jaguar from Ford earlier this year in an all-cash deal worth $2.3 billion. The Car-maker will not concentrate on numbers as both of them are luxury models. The Land Rover and Jaguar has seen a decline in sales due to the changing economic conditions, however Tata introduces the models with high hopes and optimistic view in India.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Tata Nano receives over 2.03 lakh bookings

This car will sure go into the books of history for creating sensational news before its arrival and even after its launch. Now the Tata Nano is back in news with the latest update of receiving over 2.03 lakh bookings.

Looks like the Rs. 1 lakh car has received paid bookings that amounts to approximately Rs.2,500 crores. Talking about the hysteria in connection with the car, the car’s official site recorded 3 crore hits from the date of launch of the car to the closure of the booking period (25th April, 2009).


A whopping 6.10 lakh forms were bought from the booking centres. Out of these large numbers, only the first 100,000 allottees will be chosen, which will be via a computerized random selection procedure. This particular announcement will be made within 60 days of closure of the booking.

Whereas the deliveries of the car is expected to start in July 2009 and it is predicted that it will be completed in the last quarter of 2010. The company also plans on announcing the list of those booking applicants who intend to retain their bookings with the company in spite of them not forming a part of the first 1 lakh allottees. These allotees will get an added advantage, where they will receive an interest on their booking amount, effective from that date.

Audi A3 Hybrid Coming?

We all know that the German car maker is apparently busy in making Audi R8 Spyder that would debut in 2011. But what about hybrid vehicles? Most auto companies are aggressively working on hybrids. We had Lexus who just debuted the 450h a few months back.


Now auto news website, Auto Car, is reporting that Audi has confirmed that A3 hybrid is on its way. It is, apparently, being developed as a part of the VW TwinDrive programme. For the uninitiated, it is a programme that will also make a hybrid VW Golf. Coming back to the Audi, the small car is expected to feature a 105bhp 1.6-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine that has a 30kW electric motor. It will drive the front wheels while the rear wheels will be powered by two 30kW in-wheel motors.

Though the German carmaker has confirmed that the Audi A3 Hybrid is on its way, there was no word on the release dates. However, insiders have tipped off that the car could offer fleet trials from 2012. If you are wondering about the battery pack in the motors, well, it will be a 12kWh lithium ion unit that would have the capability of being charged through the mains. Expect the top speed to be up to 106 mph.

Hyundai i20 Diesel by End of 2009

The Hyundai i20 was one of the eagerly awaited subcompact cars of recent times. The car was launched in India just a few weeks ago and has caught on well. Usually, most auto companies, when they introduce cars in India, launch the petrol version as well as the diesel version.


So what about Hyundai i20? Now the PTI is reporting that Hyundai Motor Company is preparing to get the diesel version of the i20 in India by the end of this year as they plan to launch at least two new products in the country over the next two years annually. The car maker from Korea wants to improve its share in the market here by coming up with new products.

Young-Kil Chun is the senior VP of the Asia & Pacific division at Hyundai Motors. Chun explains, “We currently have a 20.4 per cent market share. For the year ending 2009 we will look at growing our market share further by three per cent. We should by then have a market share of over 25 per cent, exporting to well over 110 countries. So we will grow along with the Indian market and keep pace.”

No information regarding the prices of the Hyundai i20 diesel variant was revealed. Presently, the petrol version of the hatchback is available in the country in the price band of Rs 4.7 lakhs and Rs 5.8 lakh (prices are ex-showroom).

Maruti Ritz launch confirmed on May 15th 2009


Last time we reported on speculations of the Maruti Ritz car arriving to the Indian soil by May 2009, looks like the popular carmaker is keeping up with the promise. Maruti Suzuki India recently announced the launch dates for their much-awaited Maruti Ritz vehicle.

As the title explains, the Maruti Ritz is all set to be launched officially in the Indian sector on May 15th 2009. The company positions the car for the premium A2 market segment and offers a contemporary European design. The car boasts of being the first passenger car in India to be compliant with the BS-IV emission norms.

The news columns seem to be awash with the news coming from the Maruti Suzuki room. Recently we reported on Maruti’s plans on concentrating at the small car markets and then the Maruti A-Star stepped into the limelight by achieving a top mileage of 26.9 kms to a litre in a fuel efficiency rally held in Delhi.

Maruti Suzuki India Limited takes pride in launching their eighth new model within 48 months. Earlier the company has launched cars like the Swift, Zen Estilo, SX4, Swift Diesel, Grand Vitara, Swift Dzire and A-star.

The Ritz will arrive with two different engine options: the latest K-series 1.2 litre, four-cylinder, 85PS Petrol engine and the booming 1.3 litre, 16-valve DDiS, 75PS Diesel engine. The pricing details of the car are yet under the wraps and these details will be clear only after the launch of the car.

Maruti Suzuki India Focusing on Small Car Market

Earlier we had reported about Maruti Suzuki making claims that A-star achieved a top mileage of nearly 27 kms to a litre. The Indian automaker has been known to roll out cars that are small and offer a good value for money, something that the population here looks out for.


Small cars are their strength, many analysts have apparently said that, and ET is reporting that MSI will now be focusing on the small car market here. The car maker will expand their production capacity in the coming to financial years to an extra two lakh cars. An executive from the company informs that this is being done to cater the small car market, which is buoyant.

Shinzo Nakanishi is the managing director at Maruti Suzuki India. Nakanishi commented, “As demand has increased and will only grow further, we would require additional capacity beyond the current nine lakh cars a year to cater to the small car market. We will increase volumes to meet rising domestic demand and higher export orders.”

The company, apparently, is planning to invest Rs 1,800 crore to expand their capacity. Currently, the Indian carmaker has the capacity to make six lakh cars in Gurgaon. They have sold some 7.9 lakh cars in the last fiscal, domestically as well as abroad. Maruti Suzuki also has a plant at Manesar, where the newer, globally strategic models such as SX4, Swift and A-Star are produced.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Skoda keeps getting better

SKODA really is coming up trumps with its latest range, which now look and feel better than parent company VW's own cars.

I've just come back from ten days holiday in Ireland and the Octavia Scout I used for the trip was superb, with good comfort and marvellous handling and road holding.

It was powered by the latest 1.8 TSi petrol engine, with loads of urge on tap and a six-speed gearbox for best economy.

But it also has completely automatic four wheel drive, where the rear wheels only come into action when the front ones start to slip.

This is a fantastic system which works brilliantly, not only for fairly tough off-road work but on road in slippery conditions.

They launched the original Scout up above the arctic circle in winter and the snow and ice of Lapland showed just how good this system is.


Interior

The Octavia is spacious and refined, with the only a slightly unsettled ride caused by big alloys and very low profile tyres.

If you buy one, go for the smaller wheels and higher profile tyres, which give greatly improved comfort in any car, with little loss of grip or handling.

FAST FACTS

Skoda Octavia Scout

Price: £18,750

Mechanical: 158bhp, 1,798cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving four wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox

Max speed: 131mph

0-62mph: 8.4 seconds

Combined mpg: 34

Insurance group: 12

CO2 emissions: 182g/km

BIK rating: 24%

Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles

Marks: 9/10

Main rival: Audi A4 Avant
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