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.

First Drive: 2009 Volkswagen CC

Is "four-door coupe" an oxymoron or a clever twist on automotive design rules? That was a popular question among the 50 or so journalists invited to drive Volkswagen's new CC from Atlanta to Nashville last week.

The seemingly contradictory term was apparently first used to describe the Rover P5 Mark II in 1962, but was revived more recently when Mercedes introduced its CLS in 2004. In both cases the cars' low rooflines defied conventional saloon styling and needed a unique descriptor for marketing pizazz.

When rumors of the VW CC began to leak out, some speculated the CLS would be its main target. But Volkswagen learned from the disappointing U.S. acceptance of the Phaeton: Luxury buyers pay for brand cache as much as they do for supple leather and high-tech gadgets. This time around, says Brett Scott, VW's product planning manager, they expect many of their customers to be Camry and Accord shoppers attracted to the CC's stand-out styling.

Mitsubishi releases ambiguous teaser ahead of Paris debut

Mitsubishi has announced its Paris Motor Show line-up, and along with the world debut of the Lancer Sportback and the Dakar-ready Racing Lancer, it has provided a tease of an unnamed model/concept.

The image above doesn't give us any clear indication about what Mitsubishi will be showing off, but the new face of Mitsu is present and accounted for, along with a set of toned-down headlamps that blend the automaker's slanted lenses with round lights.

We won't know anything definitive until Mitsubishi's press conference on October 2nd, but speculation ranges from the production version of the Concept cX to the new Colt. Stay tuned and check Mitsubishi's press release after the jump.

Rumormill: Veyron GT with 1,350 HP and 264 mph top speed coming

The Bugatti Veyron is already considered to be the supercar supreme with a rarefied 300 unit production run for the 1,000-hp beast and a top speed of 253 mph. The Veyron's already ridiculous stats will be getting a boost if you believe a "secret and confidential" memo stating that Bugatti will end the Veyron's production with a bang. The rumored GT edition of the Veyron will have mad sick power to the tune of 1,350 horsepower and 1018 lb-ft of torque, and upgraded ceramic brakes with new active aerodynamics to control all that power. Apply all that force to the pavement and you'll hit 62 mph in a mere 2.4 seconds while being able to stop the car from there in another 2.2 seconds, and its new top speed will reportedly be 264 mph. To keep the mighty Veyron planted to the cement, the rumored GT will also receive an upgraded electronic stability program. That would make abundant sense considering power is being increased by 30% over the "base" Veyron.

If you are one of the 200 or so people to already own a $1.4 million dollar Veyron, you reportedly won't be left out in the dark, either. According to the alleged memo, all Veyrons will be able to be retrofitted with the upgrade. The memo states that the Veyron GT would be available March 2009 and be the last iteration before the next-gen Veyron arrives around 2012.

[Source: Motor Authority]

Dodge Challenger Concept designer leaves Chrysler

Big name designers often skip from one job to another in the automotive world. Chrysler seems to be losing more than its fair share of artistic types, as the Auburn Hills-based automaker has lost two top designers in recent weeks. First, long time design chief Trevor Creed retired. Now Dodge Challenger Concept designer Micheal Castiglione has left for a smaller, more diversified design house. Castiglione has joined Ken Okuyama Design as their chief designer where he will work on everything from eye glasses and furniture to trains and planes. Okuyama also has some automotive interests, including the K.O 7 open wheel and the interesting-looking K.O 8 coupe (above). During his 15-year tenure with the Pentastar, Castiglione's best work came in the form of the Dodge Challenger Concept, but he also worked on the Jeep Compass concept and the Chrysler 300 production car.

[Source: Car Design News]

RM to auction off classic pedal cars

By the time I was old enough to care, pedal cars were decidedly out of favor. Instead, the venerable Power Wheels electric riders had a firm grasp on this particular youth's fantasies. It wasn't until I was a bit older that I realized the merits of pedaling for myself, and by then I was on two wheels. Now, though, I can look at the old pedal cars that were popular when my parents were kids and appreciate them, especially the kind seen in the gallery below, which will be auctioned off by RM along with the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) alongside the Kruse Hershey Auction in Pennsylvania. There are eleven self-powered cars in total and we have pics of six of them, each built atop the bones of a classic replica. Take a good look at some of the craftsmanship that went into these little machines. It's hard not to be impressed.

Kandi looking to enter U.S. market

Over the last few years, there has been an amazing influx of Chinese motorcycles, scooters and all terrain vehicles. Many of the products coming in from overseas have a horrible record for quality, but there have been a few gems along the way as well. With this in mind, our eyes were drawn to an article on Automotive News regarding a new Chinese company we were not yet familiar with. Though we've become accustomed to finding these manufacturers on scooter forums and news sites, it is still rare to see them in the mainstream automotive media. We have no way of knowing what kind of quality its vehicles are, but Zhejiang Kangdi Vehicles Co. may be making some inroads into the U.S. market with its line of two, three and four-wheelers in both gas and electric versions. The company appears to be calling itself Kandi. A Seattle company is importing the vehicles and fifteen franchises have already been purchased.

We took a look at the company's web site and we see some of the normal scooters and motorcycles. We also see some carts with an eerie resemblance to the smart fortwo. One model really caught our attention -- a three-wheeled scooter powered by what appears to be the ubiquitous GY6 150cc engine and CVT transmission. We'll see if Kandi vehicles come up any more in the coming weeks and months. It's just as possible that we never hear the name again. Will Kandi begin offering EPA-certified vehicles? Stay tuned.

Honda claims similarity between Insight and Prius a coincidence

Vehicle aerodynamics are a strange thing. While you can create perfect aerodynamic models using math, there is no ideal aerodynamic shape for a vehicle because there are so many variables - including style, which is constantly updated. Still, certain shapes are slipperier than others and the Toyota Prius' iconic egg-shaped look is quite good at moving through the air without disrupting things too much. So, is it that big a surprise that the new Honda Insight looks a lot like the Prius? According to Honda, the look is the result of making a vehicle with low drag, not one that takes on the Prius' style. Honda spokesman Chuck Schifsky told the Detroit Free Press that, "It was done that way because it was the most aerodynamic design, and we were going for fuel economy." I'm inclined to believe Honda on this, but you can't dismiss the similarities. Take a look in the galleries below.

Four-door Audi A1 headed to Paris

The small car market is heating up fast, even for upmarket brands like Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, the latter of which has the majority of the market cornered with its MINI sub-brand. The Bimmer competitor from Ingolstadt plans on attacking that market with its A1 subcompact, but unlike the Metroproject concept from Tokyo, the new A1 due to be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show will sport four doors. Europeans are likely to get a production model spawned from the concept, which will likely be built in Brussels, Belgium and be introduced as a 2009 model. An electric model could follow shortly thereafter. Will the U.S. be blessed with another Germanic mini car? Audi's elusive Magic 8-Ball currently says "Not Likely," but with sales of the MINI going strong it's entirely too early to count it out completely.

[Source: Automotive News - sub. req'd]

Top Gear reviews ZR1, hard to get past Corvette looks

Let's not beat around any shrubbery with this: Top Gear magazine has reviewed the Corvette ZR1, and the quotes you need to know are, "The dynamics are better than an Aston DBS...," and "...[M]ake no mistake. What we have here is one of the truly great supercars."

Of course, there are caveats: it looks like a Corvette, the interior doesn't match those of its supercar rivals and the steering could use more feel. The latter quip is why you get other critiques like " don't get the precision of a 599." To have a UK magazine critique a Corvette against a 599 is probably the opposite of the insult it might appear to be on the surface. But don't take our word for it, follow the link and read for yourself how the ZR1 has "the performance and the chassis to match an SLR 722." It's not a bad way to start the week...

Gallery: First Drive: 2009 Corvette ZR1

[Source: Top Gear]