Thursday, May 29, 2008

GM hearts Planet Green

General Motors looks to get loads more exposure in short order as it becomes the exclusive automotive sponsor for the new Discovery Communications channel known as Planet Green. Therefore, viewers should expect to be inundated by vehicles from the General - hybrids and flex-fuel SUVs in particular - while they watch shows like Living With Ed. The city of Greensburg, Kansas, will be highlighted on the new channel, as that city is currently rebuilding itself using as much green-tech as possible. Besides giving Greensburg city administration some Tahoe hybrid SUVs and E85-capable pickups, GM has also provided the local school's South Central Community Foundation three flex-fuel Suburbans. One story line of the show will center around the rebuilding of Greensburg-area Chevrolet dealership Dwane Shank Motors.

Says Betsy Lazar, executive director, GM advertising and media operations, "Planet Green programs will attract consumers who also want to know what GM has to offer in terms of fuel-efficient cars and trucks, hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles." Therefore, more direct advertising will take place on both the television channel and its accompanying website. Short films will be made showcasing GM vehicles and employees. Planet Green launches on June fourth.

Next generation of in-car tech may be sponsored by advertisers

Not surprisingly, young car buyers want their new cars filled with as much technology as possible. Specifically, navigation systems and in-car telematics like Ford's SYNC and General Motors' OnStar are highly desirable among 16-24 year-old car buyers. As it turns out, though, it is that same demographic that is least willing to pay for these features. So, what's the solution? Advertising. As we've noted before, the chances seem good that at some point in the not-too-distant future, our navigation screens will show us local spots with preference given to those establishments that have paid for placement.

Not everyone is likely to be happy about this trend. Besides the irritation of a constant barrage of advertisements, there is also a danger in letting your car know too much about you. If your vehicle were to track your movements, or even purchases made from inside your vehicle, that information could be made available to other organizations. Those concerned that "Big Brother" is watching them may not want features like this keeping their eyes on our driving habits. On the flip side, this knowledge could make for advertisements in which we're truly interested. And, would it be so bad if your car alerted you to an upcoming speed trap? Just so long as it's not installed in a certain Plymouth Fury from '58...

Alfa Romeo to get crossovers, hybrids and stop/start

Car-obsessed Americans will get another chance at the historic Alfa Romeo brand soon enough, as the company is planning on a resurgence for the U.S. market. As is the current trend among automakers, along with the beautiful range of automobiles that the Italian marque will be bringing to our shores, it plans on offering a crossover as well. Expect something in line with BMW's current utility vehicle offerings. What's more interesting to us at AutoblogGreen, though, is a possible hybrid system snagged from Fiat, which owns Alfa. Even if the full hybrid drivetrain is left off the docket, at the very least, a mild hybrid system in the form of stop/start will almost assuredly be available.

As an aside, take a good look at the Kamal concept from 2003. Looks a bit like the Subaru Tribeca before its last redesign, wouldn't you say?

2008 Monaco Grand Prix: No-traction action

Short of a divine calling or some sort of athletic/outdoorsy obsession, let's be honest here... who wants to get up before 8 AM on a Sunday? Racing fans who did rise with the songbirds yesterday, however, were rewarded with one hell of a spectacle. In fact, this past Race Sunday was loaded with wheel-to-wheel action in all manner of motorsports, between the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR Coca-Cola 600, Nurburgring 24 and, of course, the Monaco Grand Prix. We're talking about the latter here, and if you've yet to cue up the TiVo, we suggest you go no further. For those looking for a recap of the day's events on the narrow, winding streets of Monte Carlo, click below to read on.

Pivo 2 comes to the UK this weekend

If the scale model at the Science Museum in London wasn't enough for you, you can get a life-size view of the Nissan Pivo 2 in the UK this weekend (and continuing through June 1). This quirky, all-electric vehicle first crossed our screens at last year's Tokyo Motor Show and you might remember that the unique rotating cab design means there is no reverse gear on the lithium-ion battery-powered car. The Pivo 2 will be part of the Science of Survival exhibit at the Science Museum. We're not sure how the Pivo 2 will be displayed, but Nissan's announcement says the UK public will get "to see the Pivo in action." Whee, rotating cab moves for everyone! Alongside the Pivo 2 will be the Toilet-lid Sink, the Q-drum, and the Eglu Chicken House, so we can see the fantastic sustainable future we're moving toward.

Rolls-Royce releases official sketches of new RR4

We've seen plenty of photoshopped renderings of Rolls-Royce's next effort, the RR4, but this morning, the BMW-owned British luxury icon released the first official sketches of the new car. The RR4 won't be coming to market for another two years, but its design is complete and vehicle development and testing is well underway. The marque's Goodwood factory is undergoing renovations that will allow its production lines to accommodate the full Phantom range as well as the new RR4.

Based on the sketches, it looks like the RR4 will be retaining the same long-hood, high-beltline proportions as the Phantom series cars. Although rumors have had the RR4 being built on a derivative of the new 7-series platform, Rolls isn't saying anything about that right now. The car will apparently have a unique new engine not shared with any other models. You can read Rolls-Royce's official press release is after the jump.

VIDEO: Brixxon Bontino beats the streets

Every day, it seems, we are bombarded by sackfuls of e-mail from our vast Hungarian readership asking when an electric car will be produced in their country. We are happy to report today that the answer to that question is "now." That's right. Brixxon Elektromos Autó Kft has announced to the world that sales of their first Hungarian-designed model, the Bontino, available in mini-pickup form or with a box for a boot, have begun. Unfortunately for our Hungarian friends, due to what their website refers to as "unfavorable manufacturing conditions and uncertain economic prospects," it will be produced in Austria.

Although this company (and its car) are sized smaller than a Smart Car, its plans loom larger than a Ford F-550 Quad-Cab 4x4. With duallies. And what are those plans? Well, since you asked so nicely, they expect 3,000 baby Bontinos will be born this year alone to begin filling purchase order papers the company has already received from Austrian firms. The next four years will see an additional 150,000 csecsemős produced with 500 of those going to Spanish company Dilixi Life S.L. in Barcelona. Performance numbers are not yet available but we suspect its 0-60 time to be best measured with a sun dial with its top speed to be similarly impressive.

Video of the cute-mobile rolling is after the break. Leave us a comment to let us know what you think, extra points if you can understand what they're saying.

Opel adds turbo option to the CNG Meriva

Until now, if you wanted to drive a large natural gas-powered vehicle, one option was the Opel Zafira which could haul you and your beloved ones around, albeit with only 96 HP from the 1.6-liter engine. Well, since there seems to always be a market for more power, Opel has adapted this engine to a turbo version, something that boosts power to 150 HP, (more here). This puts the Zafira in the same leage as the VW Passat Variant TSI EcoFuel. The Zafira Turbo CNG could be on sale in 2009. Opel is currently selling two CNG cars in Germany, the Meriva and the Opel Combi, at €23,640 and €17,737, respectively.

Kia looking to assemble vehicles in Georgia

Since Hyundai/Kia has dropped the idea of a pickup truck, Kia's new assembly plant in West Point, Georgia will instead turn out small cars. The first vehicle that will roll off the assembly lines in 2009 is Kia's Sorento, with body on frame construction well suited to a pickup. What doesn't seem primed for a pickup, however, is a softening market, so Kia has decided to redouble its efforts on small cars.

No details about the upcoming car were discussed, only that we should expect a Spectra-sized C-segment vehicle that may be shared with Hyundai. Hyundai CEO Kim Dong-Jin confessed to the organization losing its way slightly by slacking off on small, high volume cars and going after larger vehicles to bolster the brand images and offerings. A return to its roots will please dealers, and the Genesis Coupe will kick off a turbocharging frenzy at Kia, which will focus on small displacement forced induction engines.

Ford gives American Idol finalists Escape Hybrids

While we were a bit surprised to see David Cook beat out David Archulata on last night's finale of American Idol, it was the contestants themselves who looked taken aback when they were handed the keys to brand new Ford Escape Hybrids in matching light green. Not that they should have been surprised by the gift, as Ford has done similar giveaways since it started promoting so heavily on American Idol a few years back and announced the prize earlier this year. The matching hybrids were awaiting the pair of Davids on a green carpet outside the arena.

When we were granted the opportunity to test out the next-generation Escape Hybrid, due for the '09 model year, we found it improved in pretty much every meaningful way. Still, having had the current-generation Escape hybrid, like the ones handed to the Davids, in our garage a little while back and finding it to be a pretty nice machine, we know that the two AI finalists will enjoy their new rides.

Lexus to introduce a dedicated hybrid crossover?

While it's no surprise to hear that Lexus will be showing off a more luxurious version of the Prius hybrid sedan, Inside Line is reporting that the upcoming model will be priced over $30,000 and possibly have an older brother in the form of a dedicated hybrid crossover utility vehicle. Based on Toyota's midsize sedan architecture, the crossover vehicle would be similar in size to the hybrid RX that Lexus already sells in pretty good numbers. We have no information on whether Lexus plans to offer both hybrid utility vehicles at the same time.

According to IL's sources, the un-named Lexus Prius model will appear sometime in calender year 2010, which should be about a year after the third-generation Prius arrives. The hybrid CUV would follow a year later in 2011. Again, rumor has it that the Lexus hybrids could be the first application of lithium ion batteries in a Toyota-built hybrid vehicle.

EDO Competition tweaks Ferrari Enzo to 700 hp

Edo Competition has no qualms about taking positively perfect exotic machinery and tweaking it to suit customer's tastes. And when it comes to the paragon of rolling automotive masterworks, the Ferrari Enzo is arguably King of the Hill.

While the Enzo isn't lacking in either the power or appearance department, that hasn't stopped Edo from making some subtle changes to the Enzo's exterior and powertrain. Edo began by replacing the intake with a revised ram-air system and a set of high-flow air filters, then worked its magic downstream with a set of headers similar to those in the FXX, along with a duo of high-flowing cats and a new exhaust system with remote-controlled, butterfly valves that allow the sound levels to be adjusted on the fly. All those bits are tuned through a modified ECU to produce 700 hp and 527 lb.-ft. of torque, which is sent through a heavy-duty clutch and on down to a retuned stock transmission that replicates the shift times of the FXX.

The Enzo's factory rolling stock has been replaced with 19x10-inch wheels in front and 20x13-inch wheels in the rear, wrapped in Michelin tires sized 265/35 R19 and 335/30 R20, respectively. The wheels can be custom painted to the customer's specs and a new suspension package, with adjustable compression and rebound, has been developed to mimic the setup found on the FIA GT MC12.

Edo claims that the sprint from 0 to 62 mph is estimated at 3.5 seconds and that the run from rest to 186 mph is dropped to 22 seconds flat. All the specs are available in the press release after the jump.

London to test fuel cell taxis in time for 2012 Olympic games

Aside from the traditional red double decker bus, the other iconic transportation image from London England is the classic black taxi. The purpose-built taxis have been use in London and other British cities for decades, trundling around powered by small noisy diesel engines. The current TX4 version is built by London Taxi International (LTI). LTI is partnering with Intelligent Energy, Lotus Engineering and TRW Conekt to build a test fleet of fuel cell powered London cabs. The fuel cell system provided by Intelligent Energy will fit into the engine compartment of the cab providing a maximum speed of 75mph and better acceleration than the standard diesel cab. Lotus will handle packaging and integration of the new electric drive system as well as the control systems to make it all work. TRW Conekt will handle the safety analysis, and testing of the controls, electrical systems and electronics. The goal is to have 50-100 fuel cell cabs operating on the streets of London before the 2012 Summer Olympic games take place there.

Next Chrysler 300 gets evolutionary exterior, "huge leap" in interior

When the Chrysler 300 dropped on an unsuspecting public in 2004, it was all crisp edges and upright stance, with a bulldog face to help drive home the message of urgent thrust delivered by a reborn Hemi V8. Chrysler's got a refreshing in the pipeline for the 300, and that's giving designers fits. It's akin to sophomore album syndrome – when the original is a huge hit, how, exactly, do you follow it up? Chrysler designers are invoking the Porsche philosophy used to update its 911 through the generations as a roadmap for the 300's body changes, so don't expect anything too dramatic on the outside.

Inside, however, will be where the real action occurs. While not the worst interior Chrysler puts out, it's certainly got room for improvement. Cerberus chairman Steven Feinburg is reportedly passionate about improving the quality of Chrysler's offerings, and the lower quality materials we have today are being jettisoned in favor of more competitive finery. Whether that means competitive with what's out there right now, or as good as what everyone else will have by the time the new 300 hits the market, we don't know. Equipment levels, too, are an area where Chrysler wants to improve. Look for more technology and features that are better executed in the new 300, which the design staff has hopefully not managed to whack with an ugly stick in the name of "continued distinctiveness," or some other marketing double-speak for "we couldn't do better, so we did weird."

Mississippi State's hybrid biodiesel Equinox wins Challenge X

The 2008 Challenge X is over and a hybrid clean diesel version of the Chevrolet Equinox (running on B20) has driven away with the top prize. Mississippi State University is the team behind the winning vehicle, and beat out 16 other student teams from across North America. As we learned when we rode in Michigan Technological University's hybrid Equinox last month, Challenge X is a multi-year challenge to modify an Equinox to get more miles per gallon while not giving up any comfort or performance. Teams tried all sorts of alternative power options to make the SUVs cleaner, and the MSU team designed a through-the-road parallel hybrid electric system paired with a turbocharged direct-injection diesel engine (filled with biodiesel) to get a 38 percent efficiency gain and the win, Science Daily reports. The University of Wisconsin – Madison and Ohio State University came in second and third place, respectively, with similar powertrains. The Diesel Technology Forum was happy to read about the diesels' standings in the final result and issued a press release praising the winners. Read it after the jump.

What's next? This fall, the Department of Energy (DOE), GM and Natural Resources Canada will open up EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge. Once again, 17 teams will take part but the vehicles due for eco-updates will be Saturn VUEs.

Spy Shots: Lexus LF-A engine spied

After countless spy photos and appearances at auto shows for the past several years in two different styling forms, the Lexus LF-A made its first official appearance on the road this weekend at the Nürburgring 24 hour race. At some point during the weekends festivities, Automobile managed to snag a shot of the engine lurking under the race-prepped Lexus' hood. We can't derive a lot of details from this single shot, but we can get a few tidbits. Looking at the area behind the intake plenum near the firewall on the driver's side, the engine looks long enough to likely be a V10 as has been previously postulated. The bank angle appears to be 90 degrees for a lower center of gravity than would be available from the normal 72-degree bank angle for a V10. The intake plenum is apparently made up of a composite material, again, likely for both overall weight reduction and and lowering the CG. Under that however, the intake runners appear to be metal. Finally the engine is set well back in the chassis for a front mid-engine layout, almost entirely behind the front axle line. Now that the LF-A has hit the track in anger, maybe we'll see it in production form soon, perhaps even at the Paris this October or Geneva next year.

Hypermiling couple drive Peugeot 308 around Australia at 75.6mpg

Here in the U.S., hypermiling has largely been the province of hybrid drivers. That doesn't mean that only hybrid drivers can take advantage of those driving strategies. When last we heard from Helen and John Taylor, the British couple had just completed a run from Britain to Poland in a pair of diesel-powered Jeeps at 55-56mpg. After that jaunt they headed to Australia for another hypermiling adventure. This time around they used a Peugeot 308 HDi 110. The pair drove the C-class sized hatchback 9,000 miles around the coast of Australia over 25 days. On one stretch, they traveled 1,192 mile on a single 60L tank of diesel and they averaged 75.6mpg (U.S.) over the whole journey. That was enough to gain two slots in the Guinness book of World records for longest distance on a single tank and highest mileage for a journey. The 308 was completely stock with nothing added or removed and also carried the couple's luggage for the 25 day trip.

Details on Mazda1 revealed

High energy costs and growth in emerging markets have automakers scrambling to downsize their product plans, and ultra-small transportation like the VW up! is bound to bring low-cost city cars to the masses. Mazda intends to be a serious player in this burgeoning segment and will unveil the Mazda1 concept in Paris this fall, expected to look like the sketch above and influenced by the Nagare design language.

Mazda promises that the production vehicle will be more "radical" in production trim, though it likely won't carry fuel cells and batteries like the concept. The automaker does plan on offering amenities like navigation, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, and the micro will have sliding doors and seats to make getting in and out easier. Mazda engineers are also working hard to make sure the Mazda1 is environmentally friendly, which means low emissions, small powertrains, and low weight. Fortunately, those very same attributes will also help keep costs down, which should help Mazda offer the vehicle everywhere from India and China to more developed regions like Europe and the US.

Hyundai to spend $80m on Genesis sedan launch, pre-sales top 700 so far

Hyundai has big plans for its luxury Genesis sedan, and the Korean automaker is willing to pony up $80m to get the word out. Rich appointments, rear-wheel-drive, a choice of powerful engines, and a starting price of $30k is a good story to sell customers on, and the Genesis sedan is being looked at as the halo car in Hyundai's lineup. That helps justify spending the most launch money on any Hyundai ever, even though only 30,000 Genesis sedans are scheduled to be sold per year. Genesis marketing begins with a 15-city tour involving about 100 sedans, and will include television ads plus the Internet and plenty of viral events.

We're very anxious to see if Hyundai can deliver a legitimate Lexus GS competitor for over $10,000 less, and if the Genesis is as good as advertised, the $80m will be money well spent. Hit the jump to see the Hyundai Genesis sedan Super Bowl commercials.

GM looking for Volt tax break to bring cost below $40k

GM is working hard to produce a game-changing electric vehicle for the masses, but the General's precarious cash flow situation, coupled with the high cost of development, is conspiring to the push Volt's retail price to around $40K at launch. In an effort to mitigate this particular issue, GM is lobbying Congress to bring tax breaks to Volt buyers, and company insiders say the breaks could be on the order of $7,000 per vehicle. GM is also working to insert the words "extended-range electric vehicles" in any legislation, to make sure any other vehicle with the Volt's capabilities can reap the same benefits.

Insiders at the General told Automotive News that the Volt program is still on pace for November 2010 production, and that company engineers are gaining confidence in the car's lithium-ion technology every day. If GM can follow through with its lofty technology promises (while getting Uncle Sam to pony up some pretty hefty tax incentives), the Volt should be the hit Bob Lutz dreams about at night.

Ford: Green cars could look like sexy science projects

Some see the success of the Toyota Prius, compared to such competitors as the Civic Hybrid, as proof that green cars need to look different from their normal siblings. While it may be a bit early on in the game to make this assessment, Ford's North American director of car design, Pat Schiavone, suggests that there could be a trend towards "green" styling cues. For instance, cars like the Honda Insight and GM EV1 are easily recognizable for their teardrop shape and covered wheels, both of which help with the vehicles' high efficiency. While nobody that I can think of considers covered wheels "sexy," Schiavone indicates that could change, saying, "This sort of science-project look could end up sexy, or perceived sexy." We've seen some rolling science projects on these pages... although often supremely practical, not one of them has been all that sexy. Also mentioned as earmarked for the future are the wings and spoilers used by Indy racers in the 1970s. Now that could be pretty cool!

French journalist tests the Tesla, loves it

At the Cannes Film Festival, it's not hard to find Ferraris and Mercedes McLaren SLR and Rolls-Royce on every street. Seems like a good pace to introduce the Tesla Roadster in Europe. Cannes is where a lucky French journalist test drove the Roadster, albeit with British registration plates and the steering wheel on the left. His verdict: Faster than a Louts Exige Cup 255, 1,200 kg for 250 HP (become 300 in April 2009) - he just loved it. He believes that V8s are in real danger because the Tesla offered a more satisfying experience. And here's an interesting figure: a four-hour charge for the Tesla costs €6 and will move you 350 km. Compare that to a Lotus that burns about 10 l/100 km - and knowing that a liter of unleaded costs about €1.5 in France - we find that driving the Tesla is much cheaper.

Watch a video interview (in French) with Tesla's Diarmuid O'Connell after the jump.

Motoring J-Style brings JDM flavor to Vallejo, CA

Memorial Day is the traditional kick off of the car show season, and despite some cloudy skies and a few scattered showers, the Motoring J-Style crew returned to Vallejo, California to provide JDM obsessives a venue to show off their wares.

In addition to the obligatory drifting exhibition, the show played host to all manner of Japanese iron, spanning the spectrum from a late '60s, right-hand-drive Toyota Crown to several examples of impeccably equipped late-model Mazdas. The show was broken up into separate sections for Nissan and Toyota, along with a BRE booth, a pseudo-concours event and enough F20C-powered Celicas to have us considering another addition to our Project Garage.

Some of our favorites included Adam Carolla's race-prepped Datsun Roadster, an impeccably restored Mazda RX2, an all carbon fiber Honda hatch, a Toyota Corona with a Lexus SC430 V8 swap and a 1971 Datsun 510 wagon motivated by a 7M-GTE Toyota Supra engine, with a Ford rear end and Corvette C5 front rotors clamped by Dodge Viper calipers. Not to mention that we watched Speedhunters' main man Antonio Alvendia take a spill from the back of a hopped-up golf cart. He survived unscathed and being the consummate professional, he never let his camera hit the ground.

Our boy Brad happily snapped away and we've assembled a massive gallery to keep you occupied between beer runs and barbeque.

'66 Barris Batmobile hits the bricks

Lino M is one of our favorite custom Lego builders. We've shared some of his work with you in the past, and if you frequent his flickr photo stream, you'll find that he's usually up to something new. One of his recent creations is this rather spectacular, unbelievably detailed (dig the Bat Phone in the cockpit) '66 Batmobile he made for a builder challenge. He even created scale-sized Batman and Robin figures that fit inside. Lego would do well to license this design and sell it, as we'd be at Toys 'R Us with money in hand. Lino was kind enough to give us permission to republish the photos you see here, and you can view even higher-res versions in his flickr stream. While you're there, check out the ridiculously awesome new '60 Impala Wagon he just built, too. Now, excuse us while we head to our parents' to liberate our old Legos from the attic.