Ask, Ye Shall Receive

•11/26/2010 • Leave a Comment

16_1753_20090917204354_Brabus EV12

Hey, so, remember a couple of days ago, when we were whinging about carmakers abandoning over-the-top feats of performance for under-the-EPA-mandated fuel-efficiency numbers? Well, the Brabus EV12 “one of 10” is here to make it all better.

How does a SV12 R Biturbo 800 12-cylinder displacement engine putting out 800 horses and pushing an insane top speed of 230 mph sound? Sounds like performance to us, and it’s exactly what the “Black Baron” has under the hood, and the numbers it puts out.

The murdered-out all-black look is fitting with the aggressive lines (based on the 2010 Mercedes E-Class W 212), though we can’t say we’re big fans of the rear wheel covers, whether they aid with the aerodynamics or not. But a little visual discordance is a small price to pay for that 6.3-liter V12 and an interior enveloped in black leather and carbon-fiber components. That is, however, the only small price, as it will put you back $875,000 to park this beast in your garage, and the “one of 10” moniker is a literal indication of its production run: Only 10 will be made.



Open Source Cars: Corporate Sharing is Caring

•11/19/2010 • Leave a Comment

16_1753_20090922193445_EDAG Light Car Open Source

All the green sheet metal on display at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show proves most manufacturers are at least beginning to think of tackling the pesky end of the petroleum problem. Back in March, a company called EDAG showed its own solution to the energy and climate debacle at the Geneva Motor Show: the Light Car – Open Source. If you’ve spent any time in the software realm, odds are you know open source generally means a free platform for developers to expand upon. In EDAG’s case, the company’s car is just that: a joint project of several innovative companies all focused on the next step in automobile evolution.

While the Light Car – Open Source boasts a full array of lightweight materials, an innovative drivetrain and interesting lighting, EDAG isn’t the first group to partner up for the good of motoring. Nearly every manufacturer has formed partnerships in the past. Familiar names like Chrysler, General Motors, Hyundai, Ford and Nissan have all jumped into bed with fellow carmakers at least once in their history to produce everything from engines and transmissions to full-on vehicles — with mixed results.

Rumors have been buzzing around the Internet for months now about a supposed collaboration between Toyota and Subaru. Code-named the 086A, the car should be an inexpensive front-engine, rear-wheel-drive car with more than a little pep in its step. While recent financial woes have caused the project to be an on-again, off-again affair, both companies now say the car is inching closer to reality. If and when we do see the car in the flesh, expect to see similar iterations on both Subaru and Toyota lots.

Chrysler is renowned for its occasionally successful mash-ups with companies from around the globe. The Pentastar logo did a little badge swapping with Mitsubishi back in the ’80s, wherein Mitsubishi Starions were sold under the Chrysler and Dodge Conquest name here in the States. Fast forward a few decades, and America’s ailing automaker recently struck a deal with Nissan to produce the Japanese company’s Titan pickup truck. Unfortunately for both parties, Chrysler’s recent stint in bankruptcy court means we won’t be seeing any Nissan products with Hemis under the hood any time soon.

With less and less consumer cash swirling around the global marketplace, it wouldn’t surprise us to see more open-source-type collaborations between rivals soon. While the thought of a Ford-engined, Chevrolet-transmissioned, Chrysler-bodied vehicle may sound like sacrilege to some, it may be the only way for manufacturers to cut costs and tackle fuel-saving innovations in one throw.


A Grand Achievement

•11/12/2010 • 2 Comments


For those who missed it, earlier this month PopMechanics did a bang-up piece on the attempt to push the land speed record up to 1,000 mph. The story focuses mostly on the British team Bloodhound Supersonic Car (SSC) and project director Richard Noble, though credit is given to the other teams around the world that are trying to break the mark: the North American Eagle team, retrofitting a land-based adaptation of an F-104 Starfighter military jet; the late billionaire adventurer Steve Fossett’s crew, which is looking for a new owner after finishing work on Craig Breedlove’s 1997 LSR car; and Australian Rosco McGlashan’s Aussie Invader 5R rocket-powered car.

The glory that would result from actually achieving this mind-blowing goal does not come cheap; Noble’s Bloodhound team needs an estimated $16.3 million to construct and test the car in the next few years. The team, smartly, is trying to defray costs by appealing to the UK government about the project’s educational benefits. Noble notes that the engineering feats that create land-speed records are far more transparent than, say, defense projects or Formula One racing. The article mentions the possible correlation between large-scale engineering and science projects and the number of Ph.D.s awarded during the projects’ time frame — something called the Apollo effect, which saw the number of U.S. Ph.D.s awarded jump from 12,000 to 30,000 during the Apollo program years, and drop off when the program ended.

In any case, it’s a fascinating read. It’s sort of like how we can go to the moon, but know very little about the bottom of our oceans. After all, we’re land-based creatures, and yet we leapfrogged to moon exploration and the bottom of the ocean — thanks, Discovery Earth! — without, perhaps, truly pushing the limits of what we can do out in the desert. Noble and the Bloodhound team, among a few others, are trying to change that.


Toyota Owners Take Note

•11/05/2010 • Leave a Comment

16_1753_20090930224152_Toyota Camry

As easy as it would be to make a crack about killer floor mats, it’s no laughing matter: U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says that the issue — mats that interfere with the gas pedal and cause unexpected acceleration — is “an urgent matter.”

The recall affects 3.8 million vehicles, specifically 2007 to 2010 Camrys; 2005 to 2010 Avalons; 2004 to 2009 Priuses; 2005 to 2010 Tacomas; and 2007 to 2010 Tundras. Affected Lexus models are the 2007 to 2010 ES 350s and 2006 to 2010 IS 250s and IS 350s. Until the recall kicks in (expected early next week), Toyota is urging drivers in the affected vehicles to remove their mats altogether. The recall was prompted in part by a fatal accident in San Diego on Aug. 28, thought to have been caused by the faulty mats, that claimed the lives of four people. Those with questions should call Toyota at 1-800-331-4331, or Lexus at 1-800-255-3987.


A Show of Hands

•10/29/2010 • Leave a Comment

16_1753_20090930235942_Lexus LF-Ch

t was fitting that the Lexus LF-Ch debuted in Frankfurt; though we’re becoming more fond of hatchbacks in the U.S., a European city was really the right place for that 5-door hybrid. And it was intended as a precursor to a high-performance European model, anyway. But that might change.

Lexus has created a a survey for potential LF-Ch buyers, asking opinions on all matters related to the ride — mechanical, design and otherwise. And it doesn’t end there; questions about general vehicle preference, views on hybrid technology and even social networking use (probably bonus information for marketers to get the word out should the car ever actually roll onto lots here) are posed. Ultimately, though, the survey gets down to the nitty-gritty to ask what’s really on the company’s mind: Should the LF-Ch be built here?

Well, should it? What are your thoughts? Any love for a sporty-in-a-street-racer-looking, hybrid-powered hatch with the swoopy Lexus “L” on the front?

Either way, at least one LF-Ch will make it to the U.S., and soon, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in December.


Honda’s U3-X: The Answer to Walking

•10/22/2010 • Leave a Comment


One would think automakers have enough on their plates right now trying to meet both government demand for tighter emissions standards and public cries for more fuel-efficient transportation to experiment with truly alternative forms of getting from point A to point B. Apparently that’s not the case.

Honda just released some information on its latest project, the U3-X. No, it’s not a new engine or hybrid system; rather, it’s a personal mobility device in the grand tradition of the Segway. No joke.

As strange as the Japanese car company’s electric unicycle looks, it’s actually packed with some sharp tech. Just like the Segway, the machine is controlled simply by body movement thanks to “smarts” derived straight from Honda’s Asimo robot. Lean forward, and the U3-X will go forward. Lean to the right, it goes right. You get the picture?

Honda says its main goal with the device is to replicate human walking, and to that end, the U3-X’s wheel is actually made up of many tiny wheels. Those tiny rollers allow the device to sidestep without going forward or backing up. Honda calls the system HOT Drive. Engineers call it an “omnidirectional” wheel structure. Power comes from a lithium-ion battery, and the U3-X can scoot around for about an hour before needing to be recharged.

At first, we were a little perplexed as to why Honda would bother with something so, well, pointless. But the company has shown off a raft of new EV concepts, including an homage to the company’s N600 hatch. Called the EV-N, the battery-powered car is cute as can be and includes a neat storage area just for the U3-X. We’re guessing it also functions sort of like a dock, charging the unicycle while it’s not in use.
Is Honda hoping we’ll use the car to cover long distances and the U3-X to cover hikes from the Starbucks to the boutique? It’s hard to tell, but we should know a good deal more about both the electric unicycle and the retro EV-N around Oct. 24. That’s when the Tokyo Motor Show opens to the world, and Honda has promised a few more juicy details by then. In the meantime, we’ll keep scratching our heads and wondering what the Japanese carmaker has up its sleeves.


Low-Slung Honda Skydeck Concept to Debut at Tokyo

•10/15/2010 • Leave a Comment

16_1753_20091001184839_Honda Skydeck

Despite a number of big-name automakers dropping out, the Tokyo Motor Show will not be without fanfare and reveals. Case in point: the Honda Skydeck concept, which will debut at the show during its Oct. 24-Nov. 5 run.

The 6-seat, hybrid powertrain-driven concept is a looker, all right — we’re practically forced to get behind anything that combines scissor and sliding doors in the same package — but we’ll admit that after our initial reaction, we were somewhat confused. After all, what’s the point of going large with a crossover?Even big-body stalwarts like the Ford Explorer are ditching a truck base in favor of a tighter unibody design that packs big feel into a smaller package.

But the Skydeck deserves another look; after all, we’ve been operating with a pretty narrow definition of “crossover” since the term because popular a few years back — it tends to refer to a something with SUV-like styling, but with car-like handling thanks to a smaller, lighter platform. But inherently, “crossover” sort of means a mash-up, right? So rather than thinking of the Skydeck as a larger version of, say, a Honda CRV, perhaps it’s better to think of it as a minivan masquerading as a crossover. After all, it lacks the ground clearance of a lot of SUVs and crossovers, and it does seat six.

It’s kind of like what I see happening with hatchbacks: When the likes of Audi and even Lexus are making 5-doors, the line gets blurred between luxury models and space-savers, and that’s a good thing. Maybe the same type of thing is happening with this sort of mixed-up design language, and soon we won’t be able to comfortably say something is a minivan, a crossover, a sport sedan or a hatch. It will just be … well, whatever it is.