Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Enthusiast builds Jaguar "leaper" motorcycle

We like Jaguar's classic leaper emblem, we really do. But we also realize that the iconic cat needs to pounce on the right target, which doesn't include the hood of the new XF. How about on a motorcycle? Or, more appropriately, how about an entire motorcycle? One enterprising Jaguar fan has fabricated a two-wheeler that the Indian British marque won't be making itself, though the result is pretty impressive if awfully impractical. The engine is either from a Sporty or an air-cooled Buell, though the wheels are definitely from Erik's parts bin. There's a custom frame underneath suspending the engine from its top and the rear motor mounts, but the real eye-catcher is the bodywork. We can't be sure what the leaper is made from but our guess would be composites as it doesn't appear pounded from metal. If anyone has any extra details about this bike, feel free to share in the comments. In any case, this is likely the most fuel efficient form of transport on which the leaper's ever appeared. Click the source link to view another angle of the bike. Thanks for the tip, Katherine!

2009 Renault Megane images pop up online

Images of the next-gen 2009 Renault Megane III have leaked out onto the interwebs today revealing a more mature design for the French hatchback. The cornucopia of press shots show a five-door hatchback, and while we were told the new Megane III would sport styling inspired by the Megane Coupe Concept that debuted at the Geneva Motor Show last March, we're not seeing much of a resemblance. These shots show a design with swoops, curves and ripples, while the Coupe Concept was much more creased. Regardless, we like the new look, which is saying a lot considering we aren't normally fond of the French school of automotive design. No other details are known, but you can expect an engine range that is more powerful, cleaner and fuel efficient than before.

Gallery: Renault Megane III

2009 Honda Legend reveals de-shielded Acura RL

Remember when Superman chose to relinquish his super powers for love in the Man of Steel's first sequel? Without that 'S' on his chest, Clark Kent quickly got the crap kicked out of him by a truck driver. If the 2009 Acura RL (right) with its giant shield grille is Superman, then the Euro-only 2009 Honda Legend is surely Clark Kent. So many people have decried the new shield grille that we thought it'd be interesting to gauge reaction to the new Legend, which is basically the same car as the RL without the Acura overtones. To our eyes the Legend's new face is as boring and uninteresting as Acura's new grille is obnoxious, which truly does it make it the Clark Kent of cars.

Gallery: 2009 Honda Legend

Ford delays 340-hp Fusion GT to 2012

Motor Trend is reporting in its October 2008 issue that Ford has decided to delay the Fusion GT, an EcoBoost-powered super sedan producing upwards of 340 horsepower. The original plan was to have the GT model arrive at the tail end of the current Fusion's product cycle as a low-volume, super niche send off to the successful mid-sizer before it merges with the European EUCD platform that underpins the Mondeo. The problem is that Ford is planning a big roll-out for EcoBoost engines across its brands and there may not be enough to spare for the Fusion GT. MT is now saying that the Fusion GT will debut around 2012 after the next-generation sedan debuts on the European platform and the automaker's ability to pump out turbocharged, direct-inject engines is up to speed. The good news is that the spiritual successor to the Taurus SHO has not been cancelled altogether, and by 2012 we should be able to drive it.

Ford developing next-gen, ethanol-boosted engines under Bobcat codename

Ford has yet to release its first EcoBoost engines but is reportedly already hard at work on the technology's next phase. Rumors indicate that the new engine technology is codenamed Bobcat and uses small amounts of ethanol injection to improve power and reduce emissions. Ethanol carries a very high octane rating, which allows an engine to be tuned for more power. An engine with ethanol injection can run a much higher compression ratio along with a small turbocharger as the ethanol would be injected directly into the engine's combustion chamber, thereby eliminating precompression, which is more commonly referred to as knock and can be extremely hazardous to your engine's health. The alcohol injection would be performed on an entirely different fuel injection system as the gasoline, complete with its own fuel tank. It would have to be closely metered, but should only need refilled once every few months since the amount used would be so small.

Early estimates put the new Bobcat engine tech at about a $1,100 price premium over a standard gasoline engine, but the turbocharging and gasoline direct injection that makes up EcoBoost accounts for $700 of that charge. While that may seem like a steep amount, consider that many truck buyers opt for high-power diesel engines that carry premiums of $5,000 or more.

Rendered Speculation: Kia's big VG

So the Kia VG mule that has kept spy photographers busy the last few weeks has now been given a computer animated face and body. It's a nice looking ride, though has a surprising amount in common with the Hyundai Genesis... which means we also see, well, a lot of other cars in it. But that's not a bad thing, really, because the result is a tasty little creation, especially coming from Kia. The lines are a touch more forceful than those on the Genesis, which goes along with Kia being the sporting brand, or so they say. If the final version looks even close to this rendering, and they give it performance to match... well, then Kia will have taken a giant leap forward. Thanks for the tip, miha!

Happy (Chery) Eastar!

In case you were jonesing for a dose of weirdness from the Chinese auto industry today, Chery has complied. Behold the Chery Eastar convertible. China Car Times' headline asks, "The thinking man's Bentley?" Perhaps, if said man is doing his thinking after hitting the all-you-can-eat peyote buffet. Note the deftly-removed B-pillar and beautifully integrated extension between the front and rear doors, complete with a gap in the weatherstripping along the sills. Listen, we have no idea if this is some one-off novelty or something that's actually being considered. What we do know is that a Saabish-bodied 4-door luxo-vert with a Lexus-y nose and Mitsubishi Mirage rear end is exactly the kind of thing that makes following the Chinese auto industry so entertaining.

Gallery: Chery Eastar convertible

Stephen Odell appointed Volvo CEO and President

The last time we heard the name Stephen Odell, it was in connection to a list of possible replacements for current CEO Alan Mulally. While we aren't here to report on the top executive position at Ford, Odell has been tapped as Fredrik Arp's replacement as CEO of Volvo. Arp, who is leaving the automaker for other pursuits, had been serving as Volvo CEO and President since his appointment in October of 2005. Starting in October of this year, Odell will be responsible for leading Volvo towards "sustained profitability", something not seen by the Swedish automaker in quite a while. According to the newly-appointed CEO, the Volvo brand will continue to stand for "safety, environmental concern and its Scandinavian design." Frederik Arp is the third Ford exec outside the U.S. to leave in the last few weeks, following Bill Osborne -- the previous President of Ford Australia -- and Barry Engle, who had been serving as Ford of Canada's top official.

Pump it up: Titan Air Jack blows itself up with exhaust

If you've ever had the need to raise one side of your car, truck, RV or trailer a couple feet off the ground, the Titan Exhaust Air Jack is there to give you a lift. Quite simply, the jack is nothing more than a heavy-duty balloon inflated by the exhaust gas of your own vehicle. Once the deflated bag is placed under the vehicle, the Air Jack's inflation hose is connected to the vehicle's exhaust pipe. The engine is started and hot gasses are forced into the bag until the woven PVC-coated polyester bag lifts a vehicle a full 30 inches off the ground, which is plenty of height to get the wheels off the ground for most vehicles. With prices starting around $120, the device offers several advantages over traditional jacks. First, it can be used on soft surfaces (mud, sand, or snow) where other jacks just don't work. Second, it easily lifts one whole side of the vehicle at once, saving tons of time. Best of all, the low pressure bag doesn't require placement on normal jacking points so you more freedom to lift where you want and then place jack stands exactly where you need them. The military and emergency services have apparently been using jacks of this type for years, so the idea isn't just full of hot air.

Bummer Hummer burns at Burning Man 2008

This year, the theme for Burning Man was "The American Dream." While some may argue that being American means choosing what is right or wrong for yourself, the revelers at this year's Burning Man festival made a statement by creating a giant Hummer out of wood. The front of the Bummer Hummer was painted in rather festive shades which blended into military-style camo at the rear. The vehicle was built to represent rampant American consumerism, especially in these days of high gas prices.

The Burning Man festival itself can perhaps be considered a bit excessive itself, and this wooden Hummer certainly could as well. The house-sized vehicle was burned at the end of the festivities - sounds a bit like inconspicuous consumption. Still, regardless of what you think about the Bummer Hummer, some sort of statement was made and witnessed by all those in attendance. Therefore, its builders surely consider it a success. Check out the video after the break for more.

Ener1 CEO paints rosy future for li-ion battery technology

click to enlarge

Ener1 has been in the news quite a bit these last few weeks, and new CEO (and former and current Chairman) Charles Gassenheimer thought it prudent to write a letter to shareholders about the current status of the company and the future of li-ion batteries in the automotive market. Some of the highlights of things we haven't covered recently include:

  • Gassenheimer believes that each dollar Ener1 invests in the automotive battery subsidiary EnerDel will "return between $4.00 and $6.00 in revenues annually." Gassenheimer says carmakers will need $150bn worth of li-ion batteries each year at some point in the undefined future. Domestic automakers "will require, or at least have a firm preference for, domestically manufactured batteries."
  • Nonetheless, future battery plants will of necessity be located around the world.
  • Ener1 and EnerDel are poised to use their "first-mover" advantage in li-ion battery tech which was gained by supplying the 27 kWh packs for Th!nk.
  • Ener1's shareholder equity was $35m at the end of June.

You can read the entire letter after the jump.

Honda to debut Prius-fighter concept this Thursday

If there's one vehicle that's leading the pack for "Car of the Future, Today," it's the Toyota Prius. The world's most popular hybrid will have it's own plug-in version sooner than expected, but the competition isn't waiting to try and take its hybrid crown. Honda's "Prius fighter" has been talked about for what seems like ages (spy shots here) and we're getting awfully close to seeing the real deal. We already know it'll look something like the fuel cell-driven FCX Clarity, but details beyond that are scarce. We had been told the reveal would happen at the Paris Motor Show next month, but word from Honda is that we'll now see it in just 48 hours when the concept version is revealed on Thursday, Sept. 4th. After that we can view the concept in person at the Paris show, and then the production version is expect to bow at the Detroit Auto Show in January.

Honda will begin selling the car early next year and word is that it will be affordable. While the official MSRP is still a long way off, Honda's UK environmental manager John Kingston told Just-Auto (sub. req'd) that it should not cost more than "traditional cars from rival manufacturers." Hybrid premium, what hybrid premium? On the technical front, the size of the car's revised Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system has been reduced and the lighter powerplant will help push up its MPG numbers. What those are remains a mystery, but Honda is expecting to sell around 200,000 of these puppies a year, with half of those being bought in the U.S. Sounds good, now can we just see the thing already?

European parliament scales back CO2 emissions limits

It looks like European automakers are winning their battle against the proposed European Union limits on automotive CO2 emissions. While the European Commission had proposed a limit of 120 g/km for the vehicle fleet by 2012, manufacturers where claiming the limit was too aggressive. The members of parliament apparently agreed, with the Industry and Energy Committee voting 35-21 to slow things down. Instead of having the entire fleet meet the requirement, only 60 percent of vehicles will have to pass the new threshold in 2012. Over the next several years, through 2015, the rest of the vehicles will meet the standard as well. Extremely low emission vehicles with less than 50 g/km of CO2 will also be given extra credit counting as 1.5 vehicles in the sales weighted averaging. All electric vehicles will count as three cars until 2015. In a further move sure to make environmentalists apoplectic, the fines for exceeding the limits were slashed from the EC's proposed €95 per gram of CO2 over the limit to €40 per gram.

Lutz says Volt's batteries are "flawless"

Now that we've seen at least a blurry vision of the Chevy Volt's exterior and a Photoshopped front end (above), how about hearing a bit more about the inside, specifically the batteries? According to GM's master of ceremonies vice chairman, Bob Lutz, the lithium ion battery packs that are powering the Volt mules around GM's test tracks are "performing flawlessly."

We heard already that GM has picked a battery supplier, and this has got to be good news for either A123 systems or LG Chem/Compact Power Inc. Lutz continued: "It's almost scary we are not seeing any problems with the batteries."

There is one big potential flaw, though: price. Durability and longevity predictions are showing that the batteries will work as hoped, but in their cost projections, GM is expecting each and every Volt will need a new battery pack while it is under warrenty. Thanks to Dave T.

New Smart Edit10n on sale in Germany

Break out the party balloons, Smart is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The brand started as a joint venture from Swiss watch manufacturer Swatch and Mercedes and began selling cars back in, wow, 1998. Well, since anniversaries are also good marketing opportunities, Smart has launched a special edition, called Edit10n, to mark the occasion. The Edit10n is so limited, in fact, that only 500 are going to be produced. What makes it special? Chrome inserts, exclusive logos, anti-fog headlights, power pack, heated seats, special commemorative plaque at the stick and an improved stereo system. You can buy it, if you're lucky, with the 0.8 cdi engine or the 1.0 liter 84hp gasoline. It isn't going to be cheap: prices range from €16,850 to €19,790.

Gallery: Smart ForTwo Edit10n

Bosch-Samsung JV, SB LiMotive Co. Ltd officially starts operations

On Monday September 1, SB Li Motive Co. officially went into business with the goal of producing automotive grade lithium ion batteries by 2011. The company is a joint venture between Bosch and Samsung SDI. Samsung SDI already has experience with consumer electronics batteries and Bosch will work with the Korean company to develop batteries suitable for hybrid and electric vehicles. Bosch is already producing electric drive motors that will be used in the new Mercedes-BMW mild hybrid system that launches in 2009. Getting into the battery business will give the German supplier a product to replace systems like fuel injection and exhaust after-treatment that will eventually be supplanted in the migration to electrically driven vehicles.

Free hybrid alert: win a Lexus RX 400h SUV for a year

How can you win a free Lexus hybrid? Easy. Well, it's easy to enter the contest, anyway.

If you're in the UK, just visit a Lexus dealer next weekend (September 6 and 7) and ask for a test drive. Lexus' dealers will be glad to show you the GS 450h, the LS 600h and, of course, the RX 400h. After the ride you can put your name into the running for a prize drawing for a gratis "365-day test drive" in a Lexus RX 400h (terms and conditions apply). What does that mean in simple English? You can win a RX 400h free for one year. I doubt you'll be to put some police decals on it, but that would add some fun.

Smart ED test is in full swing in Islington, UK

click to enlarge

We're already jealous of people who get to test drive the all-electric smart ed, but what about people who get to drive them day after day? Daimler released photos today (see gallery below) of just such a test fleet in Islington, UK. The test of the diminutive two-seaters is being conducted by partners Urban Splash, Islington and Coventry Councils, Foster & Partners, CarbonNeutral Company, EDF Energy and Amey, according to BenzInsider.

If you're curious why we like the smart ed so much, check out Daimler's own description of the ride, which reminds us that these cars can go over 70 miles between full, eight-hour charges and get 300 mpge. Thanks to the UK's increasing availability of public EV charging stations, Daimler says that the smart ed's daily operational range in the London area is around 100 miles. Yeah, we're jealous.

Gallery: Smart ED

Autoblog playing with KITT, having too much fun

You may have seen our In the Autoblog Garage report from earlier today about a very unique car: the KITT Shelby GT500 KR. When someone offers you the keys to what is essentially a supercharged V8-powered prop, you make the most of your time together. The above video shot and produced by Chris Shunk shows you exactly how we spent our all-too-short time with KITT, which is to say, we peeled out a lot and pretended to be a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, and the powerless.

Gallery: In the Autoblog Garage: KITT Shelby GT500 KR