Monday, August 28, 2006

EV future

Recently a couple of good news on electric vehicles have caught the attention of many people. However, the best bits are not readily aparent. Let’s clarify:

The new
Tesla vehicle got everyone excited. The idea of buying an electric car with high performance, a proper sports car, is interesting for many reasons. But the hidden joy is in the people that are backing up the project: guys from the “new economy” like Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin and other entrepeneurs from Silicon Valley. Will the “new money” rescue the auto industry of the future? If one thinks about the major developments needed for the massification of EVs (batteries and their electronic control) one can see where theese developments will be accomplished. And, just as happened with all of the major computer and electronic developments, we can guess what will happen with the price of these new technologies…

EV Smart
More good EV news. Smart will operate a fleet of EV Fortwo vehicles in London. The powertrain technology was developed by the company Zytek and the most evident joy is in the backup and interest by Daimler-Chrysler in this vehicle. However, the hidden joy is really in the prospect of an alternative form of transportation in big cities. The concept of “personal transportation” where one uses small 2-seat vehicles is interesting for the use of electric propulsion because these cars are very light and thus suitable for EV massification. Fingers crossed for the success of the EV Smart, and the interest of other manufacturers in the concept of “personal transportation”. How nice would it be if Toyota would materialize the
PM concept.

Encouraging inside information
The previous paragraphs were “old news” actually, except for the clarification of the hidden benefits. The really good news is that, according to a document from consulting company Frost & Sullivan, there is a projected increase of revenue from batteries manufacturers of 26.3 % for 2007 and a further 37.2% until 2010. These numbers are based on contracts for the next 3-4 years, so they are a reliable indication of expected growth in this business. But note that these are referred to hybrids, not EVs. However, the prospects of such development in this industry means that prices for batteries and control electronics will be lower and research in new developments will greatly increase.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

2008 Opel Vectra

Another Opel Vectra CGI has surfaced, this time as a Vauxhal model. Are you wondering what a Vauxhal is? Nevermind, it's irrelevant, I'm not even sure I spelled it properly... The Opel Vectra is not highly awaited because the current one is not very popular. However the bright side is that it can improve a lot considering how poor the current design is. The CGI is not bad, but the idea is that it might look a bit like a 4-door coupe, the new craze of the industry. Unfortunately the car will not make use of the new Holden Commodore platform, hopefully the new RWD for the masses platform, at least in the USA. The European Opel model will use much cheaper and generic FWD underpinnings, so better luck next time.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Opinion: Jaguar selling options

This is one of the hot subjects in the automotive industry. It has been said several times that Ford is interested in selling Jaguar. And it was referred previously the interest of Renault in buying the British luxury brand. That would be a much more interesting move by Renault than engaging in an alliance with General Motors… Lately it was rumoured that Ford might also sell Land-Rover together with Jaguar in order to make the deal more appealing. This would not be a good business move by Ford but then, more important things are worrying Ford managers these days.

A different alternative…
First let’s consider the problem with Jaguar: the brand needs a lot of investment in new models, new platforms, new marketing, closing of factories, etc. And Ford is not in a position to make the strong investment needed. This has been made clear by the strange absence of prototypes of the next S-type out in the open. Jaguar is taking too much time to replace this model and also no clear perspectives of the X-type substitute are known. Remember, Jaguar is a proper luxury brand: it needs to have the best architecture available and that means a longitudinal engine placement and rear-wheel drive. And of course, top engines, gadgets, materials, technology, safety, etc. And all of these things (and particularly the superior RWD platforms) are very expensive to develop.

The alternative route that auto-future humbly proposes is the partnership with another manufacturer. Not a selling business, but a cooperation with profit sharing but crucially, sharing of development costs. Eventually with a future-sell option. It has been said before that PSA should make a very strong effort to buy Jaguar (check the previous article on Renault and Infiniti). The alternative proposed here is the joint development and management of the Jaguar brand by Ford and PSA. Just like these two companies already operate with diesel engines.

It is important to note that these two companies are well known for successful partnership relations. PSA already joined efforts with: Renault, for V6 engines; Fiat for MPV’s; Toyota for the infamuous triplets (C1, 107, Aygo); Mitsubishi for the next SUV; BMW for the future 1.6 engines and of course Ford for the current diesel range. Ford of Europe also had its share of successful partnerships: VW for the Sharambralaxy model; Nissan for a SUV model; Fiat for the next Ka replacement as well as the referred diesel deal with PSA.

However, this is an entirely different proposition. Jointly running a brand is very different from jointly developing engines or a model. The benefits for both Ford and PSA must be clear as well as their role in the whole process. The benefits of jointly developing a familiy of state-of-the-art RWD platforms are evident for Ford, since these could be used by several other brands of Ford. But also PSA could make good use for these as well as bigger engines in future replacements of the 407 and 608 models or make something like the 908 concept possible. But most of all, spliting the sky-high development costs by half is a critical advantage for both companies.

Having said this, one thing should be made clear. The PSA liasion is interesting because PSA needs a prestige brand in its portfolio. And Ford can’t afford to invest heavily in Jaguar. But the Renault alternative is more rational because the Nissan-Renault alliance already has the goods in the shape of the credible RWD platforms from Infiniti. Renault will not need to invest so heavily. I care alot about PSA, maybe this is why this romantic alternative is suggested.

The one thing that really needs to be properly accomplished…
Design! Cars in the luxury class need the right technology with the right design. And this needs to work whether it will be done by Ford, Renault, PSA or any other company. And in Jaguar’s case this means that the current trend was wrong. The X-type and XJ failed because these models are too classic. Jaguar needs a thing called retro-avantgarde design. Modern design with retro influences. This looks difficult to accomplish but look at the good examples: Chevrolet Camaro concept; Aston Martin range; Ford Mustang… just get the right designer.
Nice... but not good enough!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

2008 Peugeot 308 SW

The illustration presented is not new but it is interesting because some features make it very reliable. It refers to the station version of the next Peugeot 308. The interested reader can look back at Peugeot 308 articles for reference (predictions, analysis, will it fail?). Some recent inside information has drawn attention to this image because it is rumored that the 308 SW will not follow the rear-lights and C-pillar arrangement of the 407 SW, unlike the 207 SW that will be very similar. Also recent spy pics from of the 308 5-door prototype Lehman have shown a C-pillar design similar to the one found on this image. Interestingly those spy-pics are more recent than the picture presented below. Furthermore, inside information from a PSA supplier states that the 308 will be presented and begin its career still in 2007 with the SW version following later, in 2008. Some of the parts for this new model are already being manufactured in small trial series.

It is not yet sure if the 308 SW will be available with 7-seats as the current model. Since the 3008, a small people-carrier, is also being developed it is not clear if the 7-seat availability will disappear from the 308 SW. But it would be a good move if Peugeot could upgrade the design of this model to a more emotional shape while maintaining 7-seats. This would be a nice alternative to small people-carriers, with more car-like design, lower centre of gravity and enhanced driving dynamics. These have been strong selling points of the current 307 SW: a car that can seat 7, or have a very big luggage space, but still drives like a proper car, better yet, like a Peugeot!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

2009 VW Touran

Pictured below is a possible interpretation of the VW Touran replacement. The current VW Touran is a successful vehicle despite its boxy and generic design. One of the most expected improvements consists precisely in adopting a more car-like design, as opposed to the current van-like esthetics. Other expected improvements are concerned to interiors: the current version is very poor in design and perceived quality. So much that some people believe the Touran is based in some VW commercial vehicle such as the Transporter. But the Touran is a proper car, based on the PQ35 platform. This is expected to remain largely unchanged as with the future Golf VI: only refinements with minimal platform changes.

One of the interesting bits of the 2009 Touran is concerned with how much VW will evolve the design. It is believed that the Touran will adopt a new trend of making people-carriers closer to sporty stations. Think of it as Merc R-class spreading its influence to cheaper cars… but also the following of the current Ford S-max that is clearly oriented towards “active lifestyle” as opposed to the Ford Galaxy with people-carrier design. Other interesting arrivals in this type of vehicles are the Peugeot 308 SW (a possible 7-seater station that sort of merges with the people-carrier crowd) and the Corolla Verso successor.