Monday, September 15, 2008

Peugeot shows new 908 HY diesel-hybrid Le Mans racer!

In the current world of big time international endurance racing, two cars stand head and shoulders above the rest, the Audi R10 TDI and the Peugeot 908 HDi. Put these two Le Mans Prototype class 1 cars, both powered by 5.5L turbo diesel V12s, on a wide open track and nothing can run with them. With Formula 1 introducing hybrid kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) in 2009 and the American Le Mans Series introducing a Green Challenge award, Peugeot has decided to take the next step with its program. The French manufacturer is using the last race of the 2008 Le Mans Series at Sliverstone to unveil a demonstrator called the 908 HY which may foreshadow the next generation of its Le Mans challenger. The 908 HY adds a 60 kW electric motor, a set of lithium ion battery packs and corresponding power electronics. The diesel hybrid system will allow the car to operate in electric-only mode in the pits, and get a power boost on the track thanks to recaptured kinetic energy. The current demonstrator has a net weight gain of 45 kg (99 lbs) compared to the standard car. Whether Peugeot runs a car based on this powertrain depends on the ACO, the organization that sets the rules for Le Mans.

New Honda City unveiled in Thailand - is this the look of the new Insight?

The new Honda Insight concept was teased last week in advance of the vehicle's unveiling at the Paris Motor Show next month. We don't know that the production version will look like, but it'll be similar in some ways to the concept and different in others. That's a cop out, sure, but what else is there to know? How about by taking a look at the 2009 Honda City, which was just unveiled in Thailand and is based on the Fit/Jazz. An anonymous poster wrote to Carscoop that, "We'll definitely see a variant of this in the US. It'll have a slightly different profile from the c-pillar back, be a hatchback and will be called the 'Insight.' Due at dealers in April..."

Last year, Honda became one of the first international automakers to take advantage of Thailand's financial aid packages to get more green cars built domestically. As to what the local vehicles might reveal about Honda's global line-up, go ahead and compare the two cars in high-resolution galleries below. Do you think that anonymous is right? Thanks to Rob for the tip.

Mercedes-Benz S400 hybrid to launch in June 2009 in Europe

Mercedes-Benz hasn't publicly announced an official on-sale date yet for its first hybrid models beyond the first half of 2009. However, BusinessWeek is reporting that the S400 BlueHybrid will go on sale in Europe in June 2009. The big gas-electric luxury sedan is due to arrive on U.S. roads one year from now. The S400 will use a lithium-ion battery pack and will likely be the first from a major automaker to do so. With a current U.S. base price of $86,700 for an S550, it's not quite clear where the hybrid will fit in the U.S. lineup. The S400 will pair the 3.5L V6 that is not available in the U.S. S-Class with the Daimler/BMW mild hybrid system. BusinessWeek reports the system will command a premium of less than €10,000 (I should hope so, since that's almost what Lexus charges for the full hybrid system on the LS600h). On the plus side, the Mercedes should get significantly better fuel economy than the Lexus. Mercedes is claiming 29.8 mpg (U.S.) for the hybrid although it remains to be seen how it will fare on the EPA cycle.

[Source: BusinessWeek]

Rain Supreme: Big surprises at soaked Italian Grand Prix (SPOILER ALERT)

Racing fans are used to tuning in on the Saturday of a grand prix weekend to find the words "Scuderia" and "Ferrari" at the top of the qualifying list. But interrupted by the words "Toro Rosso"? Never. But that was only the first of many surprises at this weekend's Italian Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel shockingly secured his first pole position thanks to some exceedingly brilliant driving joined with good strategy on the part of his Ferrari-powered Scuderia Toro Rosso team, which wisely stuck with the extreme wet tires on the rain-soaked Monza circuit while others experimented with intermediate treads. The young German's unprecedented qualifying performance put him in the record books as the youngest driver ever to secure a pole position, supplanting Fernando Alonso's previous record. But with so many other drivers with more experience and backed by teams with immensely bigger budgets, surely Vettel's lead would quickly be stolen by an established front-runner. Wouldn't it? Follow the jump to find out.

First official Porsche Panamera Gran Turismo teaser revealed

It's not like Porsche has done a very good job keeping the Panamera, its upcoming four-door sports sedan coupe, a secret. We've seen more spy shots of the Panamera undergoing testing than pics of Britney doing something unseemly in public, and that's a lot. But rather than just show us the final production form of the Panamera, the name of which is now officially followed by "Gran Turismo", Porsche has decided to do a full blown marketing roll out using the just launched Panamera Online Magazine as the medium through which we'll see the production Panamera bit by bit. The first issue is out and contains a few not-very-revealing sketches of the car as well as an image that will be used in upcoming advertisements in which the Panamera peeks its nose out of a garage. Unfortunately, the front end of the car looks pretty much like every other Porsche. Nevertheless, the roll out has begun and sooner rather than later we'll be able to pass judgment on Porsche's first four-door passenger car. Porsche says the Panamera's official debut is scheduled for next spring (probably the Geneva Motor Show in March), with sales to commence in late summer or early fall of 2009.

[Source: Porsche]

Spy Shots: 2010 Chevy Cruze spotted in the wild

A couple of weeks ago, GM released the first official photos of the new Chevy Cruze compact and we've been seeing camouflaged examples for months. Now, one of our readers has spotted an almost completely uncovered Cruze in a parking lot in Rochester, NY. The Cruze will make its auto show debut next month in Paris and we expect to see it Monday in Detroit. The only disguise on this example is some duct tape over the bow-tie on the grille. The Cruze will be available globally starting Europe (why do they always get the good stuff first?) next spring. This will be the first car coming off the next-generation version of GM's Delta compact platform that will be shared with the next Astra, the Orlando MPV and, of course, the Volt. Thanks to Kyle for the tip!

[Source: Photobucket]

Bad credit hurting sales more than fuel prices

The auto industry is in a bad sales slump, and while trucks and SUVs are being hurt particularly by fuel prices, the rest of the market has an even bigger problem. The tight credit market is making it much harder for dealers to sell you transportation, and the problem isn't relegated to just those with poor credit. Banks want higher cash-to-debt ratios, larger down payments, and then they're still charging higher interest rates on top of all that. GM's Mark LaNeve estimates his company is losing between 10,000 and 12,000 sales per month due to the credit crunch, which is close to a full point of market share.

Chrysler dealers are likely struggling even more, as the Pentastar recently removed company-financed leasing as a fall back option for those who cannot afford to buy. Chrysler's sales have been down 34% this year through August, and leasing went from 23.5% of the business to just 2%. With the latest rash of bad news hitting the banking industry in the U.S., we don't expect this trend to reverse itself any time soon.