Monday, December 29, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
As usual, writing about the future makes one give awards in advance. For example, in 2007 the Concept Car of the Year was chosen in January. And the Car of the Year 2010 is already decided as long as the people that will build it are still in business by then… This year the Car of the Year award was chosen in March and it was the Toyota iQ. You can go back and read about it here.
The diminutive Toyota is usually compared with the Smart, but the 2-seater from Mercedes looks like a plastic toy in this comparison. Whether is space, build quality, passive safety but mainly active safety, the Toyota is a far superior machine. Just go test-drive the two cars in the same day and you will see a huge difference. But then the Toyota is quite a pricey thing… actually this is one of the interesting bits of the iQ: in the small car class it’s a premium product… will Toyota make good sales at this price (about 13000€ in Europe)?...
But the main interesting features of the iQ are technical: it presents the biggest evolution in FWD platforms since the sandwich architecture of the Mercedes A-class. Several technical advances make for a radically efficient use of space and some of these features will migrate to future cars from Toyota. And there is more: this car is being rumoured as candidate for electrification in the future. It’s all good things about this Toyota.
There is also a small but important thing about this car. It has something that is important to achieve success in Europe but that Toyota usually fails to have in its cars. Since it is Christmas time here is a little gift for Toyota: if you drop me an email asking I will tell you what it is.
Concept Car of the Year: Citroen Hypnos
The Citroen Hypnos was frequently referred in the articles about the “New Crossover” and for good reasons: it’s the best design interpretation of the New Crossover philosophy and it also presents a rather elegant technical implementation of a AWD plug-in hybrid architecture.
But will Citroen make it?... or at least something similar?
Pathetic Joke of the Year: Seat Exeo
Surprise, it’s not a Chrysler! I remember writing a couple of articles on this car more than a year ago when it was rumoured to be in development based on the Audi A4 B8 platform. At the time it looked like a good idea for “platform recycling” and it could provide for a Seat with Quattro AWD system and possibly reborn the great RS4. But it didn’t quite turn out like that…
I lost interest when started to hear that it was just a nose-job/butt-job. And for now there is nothing of the good stuff from the old A4 whether it was the AWD system or at least some V6 engines. And even the photo-perceived quality of the interiors is damaged with the Seat symbol in the steering wheel and some small details like the rubber in the doors.
But the worst thing about the car is the design and the sort of recycled look of it. Who will buy this car? It’s so poor-looking, as in really un-wealthy poor besides being ugly. What is the motivation for people to buy this thing? Do they realize this is a 4-star car in the EuroNCAP crash tests? But a weak 4-star. And the space inside is actually worse than in a Seat Altea XL.
There is also a twisted feature about this car: it actually devalues the Audi brand. People in this industry are well aware of what Audis really are underneath the sporty sheetmetal and those interiors made to look really good in the images. But it has never been so obvious for the general public the sharing of parts with other cheaper brands like Seat or Skoda.
In the end this car brings an innovation and it will be famous for it. The interested reader must be familiar with the expression “badge engineering”. Well, this car introduces “badge engineering” only without the “engineering” part.
Friday, December 19, 2008
I’m writing this today with a bitter feeling because in the last attempt to approve the car bailout the major problem with the senators that voted against was the wages of line workers. And this is not a new trend: in Europe or in the United States it seems whenever restructuring is needed the first thing to sacrifice is workers benefits and jobs. We have had many years now of management specialized in downsizing at the expense of the workforce (and adding management bonuses in the process…). And we are also getting used, at least in Europe, to the progressive loss of health benefits and pensions value. At this point one asks: do we have to accept living worse than the previous generation? This is not progress, it’s quite the opposite, and people should simply not accept it.
University students in Greece have reached the limit point. The can no longer support the prospect of living with 600 Euros per month after college education and they realized that the current democracy status will not change that. So they went for action. I hope this event does not escalate. And I hope something new comes out of the new American administration that really triggers changes in the way things operate globally. On the lady in the image, she will probably be ok: she works in a Ford factory, the American manufacturer in best shape, building a best-selling car that is the Mustang. I hope she keeps hugging powertrains whenever something new arrives in the assembly line.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
So last week I was checking a TV show at channel France 24 about the Detroit trio with great interest. They made a nice review on the current problems of Detroit, interviewed local people, car dealers and customers… all very unbiased and informative. Then they had this debate with a moderator and three commentators, one of which was a previous Peugeot-Citroen CEO. They added some good points to the discussion, but the whole thing was verging on hilarious and surrealism: because France 24 is a French news channel but they all speak in English… so we had four guys speaking in English, with a very strong French accent, in a French TV show and about the American car market. On top of that one of them was not very fluent in English so every now and then the other three had to help him in finding words… that made for some good laughs.
In that debate the Peugeot-Citroen guy was very bullish about the current shape of European manufacturers saying that we have fuel efficient cars so we won’t have the same problems of Detroit. Now I’m not so sure about that because car sales in November dropped 26% in the European market, in Spain alone it was a dramatic 50% loss… if this trend continues everyone will be in great trouble here. The credit freeze is a problem born outside the car market but it has a huge influence in the purchasing decisions on cars.
Other than the current economy status the manufacturers have to be blamed for not running their business properly, but one of the Detroit 3 had a little help from the notorious inability of Daimler in handling Chrysler. This made me think about a very old article (March 2006) here in auto-future in which I was requesting for a new Chrysler car… you can find the link here or read the whole thing below:
One can try to imagine if things would have been different had Daimler made such car instead of the Chrysler Sebring, or embraced a concept that I also written about later: the concept of “platform recycling”. It means that every “previous generation” RWD or SUV platform from Mercedes could be recycled as a new Chrysler car with very low development and tooling costs and the benefits of delivering RWD for the masses. Now it doesn’t really matter, I haven’t been following Chrysler much since that article and it seems I won’t be following Chrysler in the future.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Back to America here is some advice for the future: buy some American cars, particularly now that they are very good, or at least one is. The Ford Fusion pictured below is emerging as an alternative to the Camry that is as good or better in recent quality ratings, is gaining some good reviews, solid safety ratings, competitive engines and mileage… Ford is back at making cars so maybe it’s time for less patriotic talk and more action! I’m not familiar with the Chevrolet Malibu but it seems it’s also a competitive offer. And here in Europe we can buy the Chrysler Sebring that is a solid errr… sorry, bad example. Mind you, I do know that the Fusion is actually made in Mexico but German folks also know that not all of the VW Golfs are made in Germany. It doesn’t really matter much because the profit comes back home anyway.
Friday, December 12, 2008
The increased use of high strength steels is one of the ways of achieving weight reduction, allowing the use of thinner sheet-metal, although this poses other issues in stiffness, vibration modes and welding processes, for example. The key factor is that one can not just replace steel grades but an holistic approach must be used including changes in manufacturing process as well: expect more hydroformed parts and hot stamping of Ultra high strength steel grades.
Other (more expensive) trend in the body structure is the use of both aluminium and steel in panels and other parts. BMW will make use of this strategy in future cars (it already does so in the current 5-series). Other more advanced mix of materials can be expected in two car generations: a recent joint-research project of several European manufacturers previews an aggressive mix of different materials (see figure below) although this still poses many challenges in cost and robustness of manufacturing.
Of those 100kg referred previously one can expect about 30kg reduction in the body structure and the rest from basically everything else. And car manufacturers are finding an easy way of achieving this. They are saying to suppliers that they must make new parts that are both cheaper and lighter than the old ones. And that can be achieved with careful design and the cost-leverage of global platforms. That’s how the new Ford Fiesta achieves part of its weight reduction.
The virtuous cycle
One of the interesting bits of weight reduction is that once it is started we can enter a virtuous cycle that allows further weight reduction. For example if the overall structure and components are lighter the suspension parts can be made even lighter because these are not so stressed anymore. And in the end one can even effectively do engine downsizing while keeping the same performance, or better yet, make it more fun with the same engine size and some turbocharging…
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Friday, December 05, 2008
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Back to Opel it was surprising and amusing (NOT) to see that the management of the European branch of GM and some German politics are considering the separation of Opel from GM, just in case some giant collapse of GM occurs… just in case! So they must have had this idea from reading auto-future, the idea that a profitable European branch would declare independence from its giant and aching American owner. Things are not that simple because someone would actually have to buy the company from GM, either the government or some manufacturer or other company. And the money its worth could really help GM… for about 2 to 3 months.
Anyway, who could buy Opel? Other than the German government I think BMW could gain a lot from buying Opel for cheap. Everyone knows that BMW is very worried about its new giant neighbour that is Porsche with its new toys (VW-Audi-Seat-etc.). And that BMW is actively searching for volume through cooperation with other manufacturers, including Daimler. Opel would provide the right amount of mainstream volume with plenty of opportunities for future synergies, if properly executed. Of course, BMW should be afraid of such adventure because of the Rover fiasco. But I assure you, Opel it’s much different from Rover. It has actual development and technical muscle, and it is today a profitable company. At the time BMW acquired Rover the main cars of the British company were already developed by Honda. But Opel has technical merits on its own and fits nicely in BMW’s German culture.
But then this is just speculation. After all, the recent cancellation of the luxurious 4-seat coupe previewed by the concept CS shows that the current BMW management are acting, how should I say it,… like a bunch of pussies.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The previous article on this series focused on related existing vehicles. This article discusses recent concept cars and CGIs of future cars that point directions on how the New Crossover should look like.
The concept pictured below is a fine example on how an attractive minivan should look like. If you think of the New Crossover as a cross between SUVs, stations and minivans (or MPVs), the evolution from the minivan concept should be much more sportive than most of the existing cars. The Ford S-Max is a good example of such concept: it’s bolder and much more sportive that other cars in its class and mainly because of that it owns the segment in Europe. The Opel Flex concept is also interesting because of the Volt underpinnings although we are not sure if it will exist in the future, or even Opel for that matter.
The photoshop below previews the next generation Ford C-Max. The current one also fits in the “very sporty” MPV category: it’s lower than other MPVs like the Scénic or Picasso, has fabulous handling (well above everything in its class) and the latest restyling brought a very aggressive front end. The rest of the car is still very square, as in most minivans, but if the next generation is close to the photoshop image it could be the kind of New Crossover that is on discussion here. It might even have AWD available (not confirmed yet) and is also an interesting vehicle because it’s being developed for both European and American markets.
The sportlounge was a concept from 2005 that previewed the current generation Citroen Picasso. As expected, the Picasso didn’t turn out to be so stylish, but still we notice that the overall proportions of this concept car are close to what one might expect for the New Crossover. There have been rumours that Citroen might be serious about making a related vehicle in the future and certainly one of their last concepts at the Paris car show points in that direction. That concept car is our last vehicle in this article and it’s also the closest interpretation to the ideal New Crossover
The right proportions, the right concept and technology. This could be the New Crossover. Minus some excessive detailing and spaceship interior, the Hypnos concept is just the best example of the New Crossover idea. It’s higher than a station, but lower than a traditional SUV and much more sportive than both. It could have space and utility features from most MPVs but packed in a much more attractive and aspirational design. As a bonus it also has the right technology: a simple hybrid approach that allows for an elegant AWD implementation, very similar to what is currently found in the Lexus RX400h. And more: full EV-mode and plug-in availability. If Citroen is brave enough to make it this could be a true 21st century car.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
Friday, November 07, 2008
The Citroen Hypnos is actually a good example of a great New Crossover design. With some conventional doors and a less weird interior it would do just fine as production vehicle.
But it also shows a very european approach to hybrids that's being followed by several manufacturers such as PSA and VW. The Hypnos all-new HYmotion4 diesel hybrid drivetrain is a 4-wheel drive system combining a 200bhp 2.0 HDi DPFS engine and an intelligent 6-speed EGS (Electronic Gearbox System). With the engine driving the front wheels and an axle-mounted electric motor driving the rear wheels it as AWD possibility as well as EV-only mode. Throw in plug-in possibility and we would have the perfect New Crossover.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Recent history has told us that if BMW is working on something new then other manufacturers should prepare to react really fast. Their work on the future PAS signals that consumers might be ready to adopt a new type of crossover, one that meets several expectations: it should be lower than a SUV, more car-like, with better mileage than a SUV and less guilt factor, more eco-friendly… but still, it should provide a seating position higher than in a regular car or station and it should provide an aggressive design, an imposing stance. This last feature is important to note because it’s not the sort of thing people admit in consumer clinics.
Those features are related to a move-from-SUV consumer. But one should also cater for the move-from-station and move-from-minivan consumers. So the New Crossover should offer some utility, versatility and space, while still being frugal and adding a high seating position, a commanding view of the road, and again, the more aggressive stance. In short, all the space and utility of stations and MPVs, but with a more special design, one that moves away from a “soccer-mom” image into something a bit more distinctive.
I could analysis some technical requirements of the New Crossover now, but the most important is the availability (as an option) of AWD. This is needed to add some credibility to the move-from-SUV crowd and it could spawn more SUV-ish versions with body protections and whatnot: think the New Crossover version of an Audi allroad. Of course, many folks would not choose AWD versions since these offer less mileage and cost more, but it’s very important that the AWD is optionally available.
The most critical feature of the New Crossover is then the design. How to wrap all the features described previously in an attractive body that people WANT to buy. It’s then business as usual for the automotive industry... "Zooropa…better by design”. In following articles we will try to analyze how this concept could look like (or better yet, how it should not look like).
Monday, November 03, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The new higher-stations are still a couple of years away so we wonder if this effort is too late. Actually, there is plenty of stuff to criticise in the recent strategy of Volvo. But it is worth pointing those mistakes and establishing ideas for the future because if Ford can keep this brand it has a lot of potential. Much more than Jaguar or Land Rover or Aston Martin. The great thing about Volvo is that you can make Volvos out of Fords without too much hassle or investment. Jaguar needed dedicated RWD platforms, Aston Martin means exotic jewellery and Range Rover also needed huge investments in luxury platforms. It’s much easier with Volvo, the brand is not quite luxury like BMW or Mercedes but it’s closer to smart premium like Audi. Most high volume Audis are simply VWs (and that includes Skoda and Seat), sharing most of the engines and bits. Ford can do the same with Volvo, easily, without much hassle and with adequate marketing investment. But it needs to be properly done and planed within the brands demographics.
Starting with an important mistake that is the size of Volvo cars. Check the S40, it uses the Focus platform but it was meant to fight the 3-series. It’s too small. Just like the S60 is too big to fight the 3-series and the S80 is too small to fight the S-class. You see, Volvo cars are in the middle of size classes. So Volvo needs to adjust sizes: the C30/V50 fights the Audi A3, a new Mondeo-based should fight the Audi A4 (although it could be a bit smaller than the Mondeo and use some Haldex system for AWD versions), and so on. Volvo cars should be of the same size of their competitors, not sit in the middle of size classes.
On SUVs and crossovers: Volvo had a great hit with the XC90. But then it took ages to make a smaller competitor to the X3. Only now the XC60 is arriving to the market, with lots of competition and a questionable front-end design. Next year BMW will have this SUV range: X6, X5, X3, X1, plus MINI-SUV…
The new higher-stations can be related to people-carrier platforms. Which bring us to the following: the major Volvo keywords are safety and family. Safety and family… so why is it that we never had a Volvo version of the C-Mar or S-Max Fords? We understand that this type of vehicles is not very important in the American market and/or associated to premium image but still… they can be easily transformed to sophisticated people-carriers with adequate design and marketing… just like the next BMW PAS and the R-class Mercedes. Volvo has available platforms to do this type of vehicles fast and cheap, so do it fast, cleverly designed and with the adequate marketing investment.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
This gorgeous thing in this wonderfull video is the Giugiaro designed Mustang concept. We know of future Ford models that will travel from Europe to the USA (Fiesta, Focus III). That is, being developed here for the global markets. Why not ford giving us, europeans, a new Mustang?
The car in the video is just the perfect design: notice how the proportions make it look more compact, just how we like those coupes in Europe. Ford could also make it with a diesel (shock!) besides the V8 and V6. Just check the Audi TT TDI: 2.0liter and 170hp. The 2.2 diesel from PSA would the the job fine and its ready for lenghtwise positioning in the engine bay. Please Ford, Europe will give you great cars in the future... give something back to us.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
One of several electric concepts shown at Paris auto-show, the Pininfarina B-zero hints at a close market availability.
Not sure if we believe in that, the cooperation with Bolloré for the batteries is a plus point, but bringing a new car to market is a huge investment.
Monday, October 06, 2008
The new car is closely related to the new Seat Ibiza except that it will not look like crap. One can expect a modern and mature design, pretty much a small-Golf look with the new VW face, a much better design proposition than the chromed atrocity of some recent VW designs. Some very upscale rear light cluster is apparent in the images and we can also expect a very good photo-perceived quality inside. VW recently went back to what it knows best in the new Golf VI: simple interiors dressed in black with touches of chrome. Simple and effective in providing a quality appearance.
Not much technical novelties will differ from what is currently available in the Ibiza and Fabia. The biggest new arrival is a new 1.6 common rail diesel engine and maybe some gadgets like park assistance to differentiate a bit from the cheaper brothers.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
The problem with all that power in a FWD car is wheelspin and understeer. Those effects can be overcome greatly with the use of limited-slip differential coupled with some good coding of the traction control software. The problem is that the use of the limited-slip differential does not solve the torque steer effect, that is, the influence of the engine torque on the steering on front-wheel drive vehicles. For example, during full acceleration the steering may pull to one side, which may be disturbing to the driver. Ford says it addresses that with geometry changes, new bearings and parts keeping the simplicity of a traditional McPherson strut arrangement, but minimizing steering disturbances and torque steer, mainly due to a reduction in steering offset.
Minimizing is a key word here. Ford does not claim to completely eliminate torque steer so I wonder what effect they have managed. The first test drives should be an interesting read.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Update: concept car images arrived. Here's the rear, not that similar after all. And I'm not showing the front of the car...
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
A great video on the volt. Several more are available at GMnext channel on youtube.
I have such a good feeling about this car, maybe it's because of the music in the video. Enjoy it, you can see many details of the new car in these videos.