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Posts filed under ‘Alternative Propulsion’

Infiniti Emerg-E Concept:
Mid-Engined Bandwagon

March 29, 2012 by Matt

Infiniti Emerg-E EmergE Concept Show Car Silver

It’s ironic the new Infiniti Emerg-E is called a concept car. After all, a concept is supposed to showcase new engineering solutions or styling directions for an automaker, and the Emerg-E offers absolutely nothing original on either front.

Infiniti Emerg-E EmergE Concept Show Car Silver

First, the design. For an easy Emerg-E recipe, take one part Jaguar C-X75 concept car, a dash of Lexus LF-LC grille, and a soupcon of new Acura NSX proportions. Maybe tweak a line or two here or there, slap an Infiniti badge on the nose, and voilà: Your Emerg-E. It’s actually quite amazing the Japanese automaker didn’t anticipate design critics in the industry immediately perceiving the similarities, especially since the three cars listed have all been released fairly recently, and are thus fresh in everyone’s memory. The whole affair reinforces a perception Infiniti have created for themselves over their twenty-plus years of existence: That of a car company in a perpetual state of catching up, of nipping at the heels of their competition, cribbing their ideas where necessary but unable to put forth anything truly original on their own. Design-wise, Infiniti’s new concept does absolutely nothing to dispel that notion, and I’m surprised more automotive news outlet aren’t calling them on it besides little comments here and there, such as, “[T]he nose looks a bit long, and incongruously, it seems to offer a riff on the spindle grille that Lexus is rolling out portfolio-wide” from Autoblog article linked to above. C’mon, guys. This kind of photocopied styling is going to continue until a design gets truly and deservedly panned. I hope I’m not alone in this.

Infiniti Emerg-E EmergE Concept Show Car Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

Under the skin, the copycatting continues. An oh-so-trendy pair of 200 hp electric motors deliver power to the rear wheels, batteries recharged by a 1.2l gasoline engine, much like the system in the Chevy Volt. I suppose Infiniti really didn’t have any original ideas here either, since every new shiny vehicular object on a rotating pedestal has been powered by a collection of electric motors for several years now.

I want to like Infiniti; I really do. They were kind of awesome once, with their “Japanese BMW” ambitions, but somewhere along the line they lost a creative spark. And if they’re ever really going to experience a breakthrough in the marketplace, they’re going to have to recover it and put forth something truly groundbreaking and visionary. The Emerg-E concept isn’t it.

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Out of the Frying Pan…
Edmunds’ Take on New Energy Plan

March 8, 2012 by Matt

Honda Insight 2010 10 Blue Rear Taillights Trunk

In response to the Obama administration’s latest push for subsidies for electric and hybrid vehicles, Edmunds offers a classic example of how to refute a bad idea with a worse one. They write:

Rather than government pushing technology, we might all be better off if government policies — and spending — were directed at creating consumer demand. If use of oil in private transportation is the problem — from the viewpoints of national energy security and/or environmental concerns — then we need to make the use of oil-based fuels distasteful enough, through pricing and fuel efficiency regulations, that American consumers demand that automakers provide alternatives. That would bring useful and affordable alternative technologies, including electric and natural gas vehicles, into the mainstream market a lot quicker than will the present system.

What an awful, awful idea. Not only does it put forth a different method of achieving exactly the same end—distorting the marketplace and pushing vehicles that consumers simply don’t want—it takes money away from families already struggling in the slow economy in the form of an added energy tax, euphemized as “pricing and fuel efficiency regulations.” Edmunds‘ solution to the lack of green vehicles on the road isn’t to shovel truckloads of taxpayer cash at them to make them affordable enough for the average family to consider—the current administration’s agenda—it’s to force consumers to want the new vehicles. If Edmunds decries the government’s efforts to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, as they do earlier in the editorial, how is their solution not to do precisely that, except with whole segments of the industry rather than individual companies? You tell me which take, Edmunds‘ or the Obama administration’s, would do more damage to the economy in general. It’s not rocket surgery.

In the end, it’s all the same wherever the government intervenes in the economy in order to engineer an outcome or push an agenda: Frequently poorly-engineered products, more expensive than we can often afford, and that we don’t want in the first place. Memo to the current administration and Edmunds: Leave the industry alone, and we’ll all be better off.

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Chevy Volt: The Beginning of the End?

January 23, 2012 by Matt

Chevy Volt Rear Silver Gray Grey

Left Lane reports today that many Chevy dealerships have been turning away shipments of the automaker’s much-hyped Volt:

Dealers across the country are cutting back on their Volt orders, largely due to the NHTSA’s investigation that has scared off potential buyers. The federal investigation was launched late last year after three crash-tested Volt models unexpectedly caught fire.

The article offers its theory for the decline in orders, and I’m sure that’s a part of it, just as Toyota’s bad publicity last year over their largely debunked “unintended acceleration” glitches, but in the Volt’s case, I’d conjecture there’s more rotten with the car than has been uncovered by the NHTSA investigation.

It’s not that there’s anything further technically amiss with the American hybrid, it’s the concept, the idea that enough buyers would be driven by misguided environmental concern to shell out twice as much for a car less usable and less efficient (in the real world) than another vehicle offered by the very same automaker—a car, by the way, that’s been selling like gangbusters; in its first year on the market, it claimed 9th place in the 2011 best-selling vehicle rankings.

As the fog of hybrid hype recedes, outliers like the Volt and Nissan Leaf are looking increasingly isolated, and automakers are starting to get a taste of whether buyers, past the initial sales rush, are willing to move in the direction of pure electric vehicles in quantities that would make them profitable. As the Volt’s misfortunes remind us, at this point, the answer seems to be a resounding no.

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New Acura NSX Concept:
Worthy of the Name?

January 13, 2012 by Matt

Acura Honda NSX NS-X Show Car Concept New Silver Gray Grey

It’s not the bolt from the blue its predecessor was. The original NSX literally redefined the supercar, introducing the notion that blistering performance and prestige didn’t have to come at the expense of usability, ergonomics and reliability, and sent Ferrari and Porsche, among others, scurrying back to their drawing boards. The new NSX concept, on the other hand, slots rather quietly into the burgeoning crowd of alternative-propulsion supercar concepts such as the Porsche 918 or Jaguar C-X75. Mid-engined shape festooned with corporate design themes? Check. One internal-combustion engine augmented by two or more electric motors? Got ’em. Shameless plundering of its marque’s history while incorporating as many trendy concepts as possible? Yessir. And so on…

Acura Honda NSX NS-X Show Car Concept New Silver Gray Grey

Forgive my cynicism. In spite of its same-ness, with respect to the raw ingredients, the NSX Concept certainly carries its namesake’s torch in key areas: It’s a usable, range-topping halo car that delivers the expected levels of performance and elevates its brand’s image accordingly. And yet—there’s something missing… The shock of the original, perhaps? But how can you engineer a revolution? And anyway, the first-generation car was an easy answer to a surprisingly obvious question; what do modern supercars lack or overlook that could bestow a point of distinction on a new arrival so ingenious as to shore up those oversights? User-friendly, reliable supercars are all around. It’s been done.

I don’t have an answer. What say you? Are you pleased with Acura’s update of the NSX concept? If not, what could they have done differently to better distinguish the car from its rivals?

And whilst you ponder, check out the promo video after the jump, put together, appropriately enough for such a technological wundercar, by the Polyphony Digital team, the same crew responsible for the Gran Turismo series:

Watch the clip!

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The Coming Revolution:
BMW i8 Prototype Spotted

December 29, 2011 by Matt

BMW i8 Concept White Blue

No, not the concept car shown above, gamboling through the forests even as it saves them; the actual production vehicle has been spied testing, draped in camouflage.

The Car and Driver post linked to makes a few perceptive observations based on what’s apparent underneath the camo, among them that the concept’s full-length glass doors will be toned down in favor of more conventional openings, and that the proportions and details certainly look more real-world friendly even as the mule retains many of the concept’s more outré elements, such as active aero and butterfly doors.

Any casual Spannerhead reader will be aware of my skepticism toward the current trendiness of alternative propulsion, but in the case of BMW, if they’re going to do this, as it were, they’re doing it well. By sequestering their hyper-efficient “city car” (the i3) and more ambitious foray into hybrid performance (the i8) in their own separate sub-brand—BMW i—the automaker’s uncompromising performance image remains more untarnished than it would otherwise. Note that I didn’t say completely unsullied; the pillars the brand is established on have definitely taken a hit with all the talk of FWD and V6-powered cars, but keeping the new propulsion technology corralled in its own area is step in the right direction. It liberates us BMW loyalists, frees us to actually express interest in the i8 without being tempted to dismiss the whole endeavor out of hat as an unsupportable selling-out of the BMW legacy. I, for one, am eager to see the finished product.

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Upcoming Supra and NSX?
The New Sports Car Landscape

December 13, 2011 by Matt

Toyota FT-HS Supra White

Of all Japanese automakers, Nissan and Lexus, with their GT-R and LFA, respectively, get it.

No electric motors, please. No fuel cells, giant capacitors or kinetic energy recovery systems. Just plain old gasoline-generated horsepower, and lots of it, for our sports cars.

And yet, Honda and Lexus’ parent company Toyota, seem to want to mimic their eco-crazy European counterparts in developing hybrid sports cars. As if that weren’t bad enough, it seems likely both companies will revive storied model names to give their new creations a measure of “legitimacy” out of the starting blocks.

In Toyota’s case, the rumors aren’t anything new—the automaker has been coy about the development of a “Mark 5” Supra for ages now—but the recent introduction of the clean-sheet, RWD GT 86/Scion FR-S has freshly stoked the fires of speculation. And with the FT-HS concept car, shown at top, all that’s left to wonder is what Toyota’s waiting for to pull the trigger. It’s understandable the collapse of the Japanese sports car market during the late ’90 would leave that country’s automakers wary of introducing any new top-of-the-line road eaters, and Toyota is a cautious company in general. That said, the automaker is the poster child for hybrid success with the runaway popularity (relatively speaking) of their Prius, so it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch for them to adapt some well-proven hybrid technology to a range-topping sports car. And Toyota’s never made a dynamically bad car, so its driving characteristics will undoubtedly be above reproach. The only question left, then, is what enthusiasts would make of a new Hybrid Supra. Would they enthusiastically embrace it? Or recoil in horror that the legacy of the canonized Mark 4 Supra would be tarnished by association with technology primarily geared toward economy?

Acura Honda NSX Purple Iron Man Tony Stark

For its part, Honda has more or less committed to introduce an NSX successor, if you can call it that. The Jalopnik report states:

Sources inside a Las Vegas dealer meeting earlier this month exclusively told us the new Acura NSX Concept would look like the vehicle from the upcoming Avengers movie (albeit in hardtop form) and feature an AWD hybrid drivetrain. If true, this would mean a radical departure from the car’s previous life as a pure, light-weight, RWD sports car.

I share the site’s sense of disappointment at Honda’s divergence from the formula that made the original so distinctive. In a way, if the automaker does decide to attach the NSX nameplate to the trunklid, they stand to lose more than Toyota would in naming an upcoming hybrid sports car Supra. Although comparable performance-wise, the NSX was an altogether more pure sports car than the Supra, offered at a higher price point, and basically unchanged (or unsullied, depending on your point of view) from its introduction through the end of its model run. The game-changing nature of the original NSX‘s arrival means a new AWD, hybrid version of the car would more radically redefine the car’s image and purpose compared to a similar situation with the Supra. For the record, I hope both Honda and Toyota come around and offer genuine GT500/Corvette/M3/911 competitors, but given industry trends toward more complex, “eco-friendly” vehicles, I’m doubtful a refreshingly conventional successor to the NSX or Supra will see the light of day.

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Bionic Future: The Audi e-tron Spyder

October 19, 2011 by Matt

2010 Audi e-tron etron Spyder Convertible Cabrio

Audi has been allowing limited road testing of their e-tron Spyder diesel-electric hybrid concept car. Arguably a more successful design than that of the coupe version, the car represents a statement by the German automaker about its future both design- and engineering-wise.

Motivated by the combined efforts of a mid-mounted 296 hp twin-turbo diesel V6 driving the rear wheels and a pair of 43 hp electric motors powering the fronts, the e-tron Spyder will scoot from 0-60 mph in a claimed 4.3 seconds. Design-wise, the car seems to take the “Tron” part of “e-tron” name quite literally in its retro-futurism. Perhaps more than any other concept car, the e-tron embodies what we thought “cars of the future” would look like from the vantage point of the mid-’80s. It’s a compelling amalgam of the retro and forward-looking, blended so completely that specific cues that connect with either theme are difficult to pick out. The overall effect, though, resonates emotionally by tapping into a kind of nostalgia at the same time it points the way forward. Put another way, the e-tron Spyder at once looks like concept cars we’ve seen before as well as cars we’ll see in the future. It’s a fascinating effect.

In addition to giving automotive journalists restricted wheel time, Audi provides a video of the car in action. It’s well-made, and worth viewing.

Click on the jump to watch.

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Are Hybrids Losing Their Luster?

October 2, 2011 by Matt

Honda Civic Hybrid Engine

A report from Left Lane and a comparo in this month’s issue of Car and Driver take exception to the conventional wisdom that says hybrids are the “next big thing.”

The Left Lane article cites fresh statistics that show hybrid sales as a percentage of all new car sales declined for the third straight year:

[T]he percentage of vehicles sold each year that are gas-electric hybrids is actually on a downward trend, despite the fact that the market has nearly doubled its offering since peaking in 2009 at 2.8 percent of all new cars sold… [I]t appears that buyers in 2011 are heading for a hybrid market share of just over two percent, lower than the 2.4 percent recorded in 2010.

I was surprised to read that, given the massive exposure new hybrid models are accorded on the car show circuit and in automotive publications. It’s a refreshing reminder that as much as a new technology is hyped by the powers-that-be, whether governmental or corporate, people will buy the best option available for their particular situation. Market forces are inexorable, in spite of certain institutions’ best efforts to guide the buying public’s actions in specific directions.

And as evidenced by the Car and Driver comparison test between the Chevy Volt and its stablemate, the Cruze Eco, the automotive press is starting to cut through the fanfare and hold automakers’ feet to the fire for their claims of hybrid efficiency, and examine the real-world wisdom of a hybrid purchase. The Volt has been all but hailed as the savior of the entire American automotive industry, so with such over-saturation it’s inevitable any actual scrutiny of car itself will fail to meet those sky-high expectations. Still, it’s remarkable how thoroughly the conventional-cycle gas engine-powered Cruze Eco trounces the Volt in the comparo—and not just in terms of real-world fuel efficiency, either, but also with respect to driver engagement, standard equipment and options, all at less than half the price of the Volt.

The end of the hybrid tale is yet to be written, of course, but in medias res one automaker that seems very smart is Mazda, having chosen to forego developing a hybrid powerplant in favor of their ultra-high efficiency SkyActiv gas engine technology, to be introduced in Mazda’s upcoming CX-5 mini-ute. If the hybrid downward trend continues, the Japanese automaker in particular stands to look positively visionary.

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Electric Decisions

August 13, 2011 by Matt

Tesla Model S

New pictures surfaced today showing the upcoming Tesla Model S sedan side by side with the headline-grabbing EV automaker’s much-hyped Roadster.

At this point, I’m not sure whether the attempt to completely rip off the styling of the Maserati Quattroporte and especially the Aston Martin Rapide is an utterly shameless lack of design originality, or a masterful recognition of the qualities that give those two cars instant pull in the stratospheric price points they inhabit ($125K and $200K, respectively).

That said, if Tesla manages to talk potential owners through uneasiness over the car’s electric range, and they can get their logistical ducks in a row (production capacity, dealer network, advertising, etc), the car has the potential to be a game-changer at its target MSRP of just over $55K. I mean, who wouldn’t want a car as sexy as the $20K more expensive Audi A7, with the added trendiness of being an EV, at a “paltry” 15 grand (pre-incentives) over the exponentially frumpier Chevy Volt? I’ll speak for myself, but between those two, it’d be a no-brainer to hunker down and save the extra cash (or cough up the extra monthly premium) to drive the Tesla over the Chevy.

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