Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Is Hyundai-Kia on the verge of greatness?…

First, this article is strictly Europe-related. Hyundai has installed a design and development centre in Europe (Russelnheim-Germany), hired people from local car companies and let them loose with a strategy to attack the European market. The most visible part of their work is only now arriving to the market in the shape of the new Kia Ceed, but some concept cars have also been presented. And these concept cars are nothing short of amazing.

The professional (Not!) collage shows a series of Hyundai-Kia concepts, but also some of the production models that resulted. Unfortunately, the production models are rather generic and dull, typical of Korean products. Why oh why?! Sometimes, while approving a final design, product managers need the courage to rely on their judgment (and on the designer´s vision). For example, one of the most noticeable features of the concepts is the high shoulder line (that means a smaller window area). This feature is typical of many European products, but it is bound to attract criticism in consumer clinics. People usually bitch about lower visibility and sense of space, and very often designs get compromised because of that. It just seems to be the case with the Kia Ceed and Hyundai Arnejs. The people at Hyundai-Europe need to be a bit more confident in their capabilities.

And that confidence would be well earned. Because with such designs as the Arnejs and Genus, the new 1.6-litre Common-Rail diesel engine, the respected quality and reliability of Hyundai models and hopefully some Euro-class suspension design, Hyundai would have all what is needed to have a strong position in the European market.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Plateforme 3

It's not often that car companies show you the real meaning of platform sharing. In the link you will be able to see a video showing the "plateforme 3" that is common to the Peugeot 407 coupe and Citroen C6. Although sharing several components, these cars have very different design and some important technical differences, such as the suspension that is a conventional multilink in the Peugeot and hydropneumatic in the Citroen. And yet, the plateforme is shared and the two cars are built in the same factory.
It might be interesting to watch a similar video for the Audi A3 and Seat Leon. One could find more common parts. Of course, Audi would not make such video since it would be a stupid marketing move. However, a comparison of Audi TT and Golf would be interesting because in this case, although sharing platform, the Audi presents really outstanding features such as the aluminium-steel body.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

2007 Skoda Fabia

We are well aware that cars are inanimate things, without feelings or even thoughts. But we can’t help to feel sorry for the new 2007 Skoda Fabia: just look at the poor thing in the picture!

Let’s just start by paying tribute to the current Fabia: a well thought supermini with elegant design (that only suffered a minor facelift), good packaging and technology, and a very elegant and well built interior.

Unfortunately it seems that Seat is not alone in being the tacky brand of VW group. Just check this new Fabia and the Roomster. We don’t really care if Seat designs are tacky, vulgar and complemented with pathetic cheap plastic interiors. The Spanish brand is just in idle mode until it’s sold to the Chinese. And when that happens nobody will care, not even in Spain. But please, not Skoda! Please keep Skoda elegant, purposeful and classy. This new Skoda looks like designers tried to imitate the MINI but ended up with a poor imitation of the Suzuki Swift. The good people that work so hard in Tcheck republic factories deserve better!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Action at the ring

In the last article it is said in the final sentence that the lack of commitment of big manufacturers with EVs does not happen by chance… Just in case the reader is wondering, maybe it’s because those manufacturers are too busy. Just check the video originally presented at site autoholic that shows the Audi R8, next BMW M3, Mercedes CLK DTM “black edition” and the next Porsche GT2. With all these V8s plus the turbocharged boxer-6 of the Porsche, we can’t really blame them for not caring about EVs. But we should blame and they should care. On a side note: so many new high-performance V8 engines: Europe is living its muscle car age, but with high-reving engine concepts.
Link to video

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More good EV news

Last week Mitsubishi announced the production of a small-electric vehicle based on the Mitsubishi i currently sold in Japan. Unfortunately, it will initially serve only as experimental vehicle for testing with component suppliers and technology validation. And when on sale, it will probably be offered only to lease companies.

But the interesting bits of this announcement go beyound last week’s news. Just like the Zytek-developed electric Smart ForTwo (
check previous news on that), the Mitsubishi i has the most interesting architecture for a EV conversion: rear-engine, rear-wheel drive (actually sort of mid-engine and with a 4WD option – and yes, I know this sounds very cool but chill because these are very small underpowered city vehicles not sportscars); elevated driving position with space under-floor. This is all very good to place the electric engine in the back and the batteries under the floor. On top of that, both the Smart and the Mitsubishi are city-oriented vehicles and very light, the ideal field for the beginning of electrification.

It will be interesting to check the handling of these vehicles: the current Smart simply doesn’t handle but the weight of the batteries of the EV version will lower the centre of gravity and hopefully improve things a bit. The Mitsubishi has the advantage of a bigger wheelbase but… yes, chill again with the handling and back to the EV green future. Just look at the i and check how futuristic it looks… just the right shape for a ground-breaking mass-selling EV. In the meantime, while Mitsubishi decides if a future generation of the i-model will be sold in Europe, auto-future announces that will gladly give advice on five or six modifications that need to be done in order to make it more appealing to European tastes. Simple things that can make the difference, and we can give that advice for free, just ask and we will hapilly help. And these are not big changes, probably things that product managers could think about before being distracted with results from consumer clinics.

Other interesting bits. Who are the driving forces of EV research, development and market introduction? People from Tesla, their founders and supporters from Silicon-Valley. Almost completely outside the auto industry. The Smart EV was developed by a British company, Zytek, without input from Daimler-Chrysler until just recently. Mitsubishi is gambling its future on EV because it is now a company abandoned by Daimler-Chrysler, left to its own in a rather cloudy future: a big incentive for thinking (and doing) out of the box. Subaru, another independent company with strong roots in the small-car market in Japan. Their EV R1 model is highly awaited because… yes, because Subaru is no longer independent being associated with Toyota. It will be interesting to watch the outcome of that… So, the big auto companies are not investing a lot in small EV vehicles (or EVs at all). This doesn’t happen by chance…

Thursday, October 12, 2006

2008 Audi Q7 finally manages a 5-star rating in EuroNCAP crashtests

A possible headline for a future car… because the current (brand new) Audi Q7, despite all of the robustness that its design implies, failed to achieve 5 stars in the EuroNCAP crush-tests. Let’s recall what EuroNCAP wrote in the final report:

"Poor welding resulted in rupture of the footwall area. There was separation of the seam connecting the firewall to the footwall and failure of spot-welds in the footwall and its connection to the A-pillar. Audi have informed us that they have now improved control over this part of production but the car lost points for its performance in this area. Structures in the dashboard presented a potential risk to the knees and femurs of the driver."

This event reminded us about the EuroNCAP crash tests. These have become boring simply because almost every new car could achieve a 5-star rating (except the cheaper Korean models). So predictable that people have started discussing the introduction of a sixth star and raise the level a bit. Maybe it’s better to wait a litlle bit until Audi engineers learn this crashworthiness thing.

And yet the most interesting feature about these news is not the result itself. It’s the lack of attention from the media. Make no mistake, had it been the safety leaders Mercedes or Renault having such result and that would be in the front pages with big and bold headlines. But not Audi, they seeem to have invented a sort of reversed-hype for these events. That’s hype, only it works au contraire. Brilliant stuff!

2007 Subaru Impreza

Hatchbacks for Europe! Mitsubishi and Subaru saw the light and finally understood that hatchbacks are needed to have success in Europe. Both the Impreza and Lancer will present such versions in their next iterations. The pictured linked below is a recent spy-photograph of the Subaru model.
Most interesting than the predictable 2.0 turbo versions (of course, rally inspired near 300hp monsters) are the diesel versions that Europeans love. Mitsubishi might use the VW 2.0TDI unit, but the Subaru went right to the top of most-awaited with an expected diesel boxer engine. A diesel 4-cylinder boxer... wonder how that thing will sound...
AutoBild's Impreza spy-shot

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

2008 VW Golf VI

The VW Golf VI is still on schedulle for a 2008 release. German magazine Auto Motor und Sport presents an article and a new CGI of the compact model from VW. They include a comparison with the offer from Opel, a restyled Astra expected for 2007. We don't think the Astra is the most important oponent for the Golf, the Peugeot 308 and Ford Focus have better features, design and suspension technology than the Opel. In any case, the Golf VI is highly awaited bringing a more emotional design, much needed improvements in interior materials and quality, and new common-rail diesel engines.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The real stars of Paris

A different perspective on the “star of the show” election. The Peugeot 908 RC is a fantastic concept car but what about its future? Yes, future, it’s in the title of this joint. It will be present in other car shows, in the wallpaper of many computer screens, will be shot for several magazines but, in 6 months time it will be forgotten and replaced by other concept cars specially made to star in other car shows. But not the Audi R8 or the Alfa Romeo 8C.

These cars were once concept cars but now are real cars. And very important ones. These two cars will be classics in their own time, a very rare feature. In particular, the Audi R8 will be a case study in 10 years time. It will mark another step in the rise of Audi, just as important as the Audi TT once was. A true halo product that will push Audi’s image to the top. The Alfa Romeo could have the same effect but that won’t happen, simply because it will be built in very small numbers: 500 cars. And Alfa Romeo will loose money in every single one. Halo product yes, but too much niche too have a pronounced effect.

The difference with the Audi R8 is that it will be built in big numbers (at least 5000) and sold at an amazing price: near 100K euros. A supercar for the masses? Well, sort off… it certainly is very good value for a Gallardo derived machine, and if you compare with Porsche 911 price the new Audi looks very appealing indeed. So an Audi that is good value then… the result is that, you might find a couple of Alfa Romeo 8C is places like Monaco but that’s it… while you will find Audis R8 in your city, maybe even one in your street (if you live in a nice neighborhood). This kind of proximity is the key for a product to truly have an halo effect.

So both the Audi and the Alfa Romeo are true stars, real cars, future classics and highly influential vehicles. Priska, the other star of the show (see below) is actually quite different from her elegant and sophisticated colleagues at most stands. A bit vulgar then, but place her next to any car in the show and bang, the car disappears.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Star of the Paris show 2006: Peugeot 908 RC

A French car, bien sur! This spectacular concept car presents a truly bold design, a radical architecture and a fabulous luxury interior. Of course, this could only be a concept-car since Peugeot will make sure such thing will never be built. Peugeot takes proud in pissing-off its fans by presenting concepts that are very far from the reality of the cars they can find at dealerships. And with this one they took it to a different level by actually “inviting” its fans to check other cars from the competition. So if you feel attracted by the idea of traveling immersed in a luxury interior and powered by a V12 diesel you can use the 908 RC as wallpaper and, in real-life, buy an Audi Q7 V12 TDI. Brilliant Peugeot, really brilliant!

Besides the impossible character of the car the thing that really stands out is its architecture. The most important feature in a car. The 908 is a 4-door, 4-seat coupe with a mid-engine transversally mounted. So it follows the next big thing in the industry (4-door coupes are definitely the new black) and throws in a mid-engine architecture. However, unlike most mid-engine V12 (or V8 or V10) supercars, they place it transversally! Of course, with 4-seats and a longitudinal mid-engine this thing would be close to 6 meters length… This is very interesting as thinking exercise. How about the idea of a mid-engine saloon? It’s not the most space efficient design but it is cheaper to migrate a transversally 4 or 6 cylinder engine from the front to the middle than engineer from scratch a RWD architecture. Of course, this would be a really bold move, something that one could expect maybe from Citroen.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

2008 Peugeot 308CC

The next Peugeot 308 will be fundamentally a major restyling of the current 307. (Check previous reports on auto-future about this car here or here). And for good reasons since the current car is very good and the possible improvement areas are well known. However, the coupe-cabriolet version will suffer a major improvement by adopting a three-part retractable roof that fits neatly in its storage space without requiring ill-proportioned rear section designs. So the 308cc will have a much better looking design than the current version. Also note the character line running along the side profile. This is now found in several cars (for example, B-class and A-class Mercedes amongst others). And, just like the Peugeot 308, many other cars will feature such detailing. This sculpted profile helps create concave-convex surfaces that convey a dynamic impression. It looks as if these were created by a flame sculpting the surface…Wait! Yes, “flame surfacing”! The design leaders set influences for others to follow…