Tag Archives: volt

2010 Beijing Auto Show Recap

Ah, Beijing in April! Where the sweet, noxious smell of pollution fills the air with the sounds of thousands of coughing Chinese children. For reasons that had nothing to do with the eruption of Mount Overanalyzed (it’s just a volcano, folks – it didn’t erupt because of global warming, and it doesn’t mean the end of air travel, so calm down), we were unable to make it to Beijing; however, we did go down to Chinatown and suck on the tailpipe of a ’62 Dodge Dart for a while, which is pretty much the same thing.

However, neither our lack of airfare nor our sudden racking cough is enough to keep us from bringing you the highlights from this year’s Beijing Auto Show. Since China has become to automakers what Jerusalem was to Moses, the show this year (barely worth covering two or three years ago) played host to several world premieres of cars you’d actually want to own. So, in no particular order, here we go!

2011 Ferrari 599 GTO

We’re gonna turn this over to special guest contributor Garth Algar for our thoughts on the 599 GTO:

Are we clear on this? The 599 GTB is already one of the top three most incredible Ferraris in history, and ranks firmly atop our Powerball Car Pavilion. Compared with the GTB, the GTO is stripped of 200 pounds and packs an extra 49 horsepower to make what Ferrari calls its “fastest-ever road car.” (Not sure how they quantify that, given the Enzo topped out at 209 mph versus the 599’s 208, but hey, who really cares?) 0-60 should come in less than 3.4 seconds, and the company’s single-clutch six-speed automated manual is the only transmission. While a stripped-down interior means the GTO is probably a bit less livable than its GTB sibling, it’s a faster, more ferocious version of an already fast and ferocious machine. And it sounds like this. There’s only one word for that:

Schwing indeed.

Mercedes-Benz Shooting Break Concept

Somehow, the bizarre evolutionary arms war between BMW and Mercedes-Benz keeps resulting in more and more perplexing (and seemingly redundant) models. For example – take Mercedes’s midsize lineup. With the Shooting Break (basically a wagon version of the next CLS), Mercedes will have three separate wagons of similar size for around the same price: the E-class wagon, the R-class, and this bad boy. Confused? So are we.

But clearly they’re selling, since the company keeps wheeling out new versions. Right now it doesn’t look like the production CLS wagon will be hitting U.S. shores, sticking to markets like, well, China. Which is kinda sad, since this is a pretty enticing shaggin’ wagon. Still, if you like the look and are willing to show restraint at Whole Foods, the 2011 CLS should look almost identical, except for a more conventional trunk.

The Shooting Break also holds the first example of M-B’s new family of engines, represented here by a 3.5 liter V6 with 306 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. Presumably channeled through a seven-speed automatic, this engine should become the new entry-level motor for the E-, R-, CLS-, and ML-classes…at least until they make a four-cylinder engine capable of providing the power we Americans deserve. (Arf arf arf!)

BMW Concept Gran Coupé

Remember BMW’s Concept CS of a couple years back, a sleeker 7-series-based four-door-coupe in the CLS persuasion with a paint job that shone like the T-1000 emerging from a fiery wreck? It was reportedly slated for production as the company’s range-topper (presumably called the 8-series), but the Great Recession blew the hell out of that plan.

John Connor is really getting pissed about the popularity of this color.

However, good ideas never die, they just go into hibernation – and the folks at BMW have decided it’s time to wake up their stylish little cub. The Gran Coupé will likely be coming to life as the next 6-series – probably a good business move, as it allows the model to go from being a bulky, sedan-based runner-up in the  Porsche 911/Maserati GranTurismo category to the sharpest, most exciting competitor in the CLS/Jaguar XF segment.

Powertrain details weren’t released, but we figure the new 5-series’s engines and transmissions will carry over all but unchanged. No one outside of Bimmer has seen inside, but we’re imagining a plush, comfy cabin with four bucket seats. (And in said daydream, we’re in the driver’s seat, flooring the 400 horsepower V8 and rowing through the six-speed stick. Don’t let us down, BMW…)

2011 Audi A8L W12

Should you prefer the rear-right seat of a car to the front-left, the A8L makes a convincing argument to be your vehicle of choice. With five extra inches of wheelbase over the already commodious A8, the L offers a combination of space and luxury usually found only in a Bombardier Global Express jet. For chauffeured corporate titans who need that extra bit of penis enhancement acceleration, the 6.3 liter W12 spits out 500 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque – less than the competing Mercedes-Benz S600 and BMW 760Li, but still enough to motivate the enormous sedan from naught to 60 in 4.9 seconds or so. (The short-wheelbase A8’s 372 horse 4.2 liter V8 provides motivation for the standard A8L; both engines send power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic.)

For reasons we’re not entirely sure about, the long-wheelbase A8 offers a rear-facing jumpseat that folds out of the back of the front passenger’s seat, forcing both back-right passengers to share legrooms. We think it’s actually a perch for for your cat. There’s also a center console in back that can be equipped with a fridge; no word yet whether it’ll be big enough for a bottle of Moet. (Or Donaghy Estates, if you’re so inclined.)

Chevrolet Volt MPV5 Electric Concept

Chevy’s Volt, dubbed the “Jesus of Detroit” by, well, us while writing for someone else, is finally coming to fruition; the four-door plug-in electric car-with-a-gas generator will be rolling along U.S. streets by this fall, barring any hiccups. But for all its benefits, the Volt is still a small car with a $35,000 price tag. GM swears the Volt will be profitable, but a lot of that depends on finding a way to sell as many cars with the technology as possible.

So why not throw the powertrain into something a bit more utilitarian? That seems to be the idea behind the awkwardly named Volt MPV5 Electric Concept. (How about a bit of abbreviation/Roman numeralization, and we call it the V-MPV-V?) With a 150 horsepower, 370 lb-ft electric motor for propulsion and 1.4 liter gasoline engine for recharging, the MPV5 is quoted as having an electric-only range of 32 miles and a gas-assisted range of 300; top speed is 100 miles per hour.

Not quite a minivan (the rear doors don’t slide) nor a station wagon (too tall), the MPV5 has room for five (hence the name) and an impressive 30.5 cubic feet of storage in back with all the seats up. It looks pretty cool, too – an impressive feat for an electric people-mover. Expect to see a production version fairly similar to this concept around this time next year.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

GM claims Volt gets 230 mpg; Saudi scream heard worldwide

Any of you who watch Hulu (and that’s probably a pretty big chunk of you, ’cause free on-demand TV rules) might have seen those mysterious “230” ads with the smiling outlet doubling for the zero. Yesterday, we finally got our answer – and unsurprisingly, it had to do with the Chevy Volt plug-in series hybrid. (I mean, they were using the same font they’d always used for the Volt advertising. You don’t have to be Batman to figure that out.)

GM CEO Fritz Henderson announces 230 mpg car, an end to world hunger, and that he killed Hitler again.

GM CEO Fritz Henderson announces 230 mpg car, an end to world hunger, and that he killed Hitler again.

The big news, however, was what that 230 represents. General Motors announced they estimate the Volt will receive an EPA rating of at least 230 miles per gallon for city driving.

Now, before you poop your pants, let’s take a second to read the fine print. First of all, this number doesn’t directly refer to the amount of miles the car will go on a single gallon of gasoline – it’s a conversion of the amount of electricity it will use.

The EPA judges the efficiency of electric cars not in mpgs (unsurprisingly), but in kilowatt-hours per 100 miles. According to GM, the Volt will use 25 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles during urban driving, which translates into around 230 mpg.

Secondly, that number is only for city driving. Unlike conventional cars, electrics tend to be more efficient in the city, because they don’t waste energy idling or have nearly as many of the bad habits associated with oil-powered vehicles. Chevy says they anticipate a combined fuel economy of 100 mpg or so for the Volt. Out on the highway, you’re gonna see your “fuel economy” drop – especially once the gas engine kicks in to generate more juice.

Thirdly, this number is based on a draft report from the EPA about rating plug-in hybrids. Draft. As in, unfinished. A lot of things can change between drafts. The first draft of this very article had forty-three uses of the word “booger,” for God’s sake. Until the EPA actually tests a production Volt, this is all conjecture.

Now, this isn’t to downplay GM’s accomplishment. The fact that the good General is giving us the first mass-produced series hybrid is impressive enough, and doubly so in light of their recent financial…clusterf**k. But let’s not go counting our chickens before we can plug them into our garages every night to let them recharge for tomorrow’s commute.

The Volt will probably have plenty of bugs when it comes out, and there are plenty of questions still to be answered. How effective will the engine be at recharging the battery? Will anyone actually pay $32,500 for a compact Chevrolet, no matter how “green” it is? Where did I put my wallet?

But if nothing else, GM is taking a bold step in the right direction, and they deserve kudos for that. So, Kudos, GM! Now how ’bout letting us borrow a Camaro for a review?

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Preview – Tesla Model S

If people could invest in automotive powertrains, the handful of people out there with electric car stocks would be seeing those very-long-term investments finally begin to pay off. Back in the early years of the 20th century, electric motors were plenty popular among the nascent automobile industry; of course, so was steam power.

Tesla Model S

But while the days of water-vapor driven cars cruising down Main Street are as defunct as sock hops and Molly Ringwald’s career, the electric car is undergoing something of a renaissance. Between last year’s hair-tearing increase in gas prices and the sudden awareness of global warming as more than a conspiracy theory, people are starting to reconsider the benefits of electric cars.

Some of this interest, unsurprisingly, has come from the world’s big automotive manufacturers – for example, GM’s Volt and Chrysler’s ENVI family, such as the 200C sedan. However, other ventures have been put forward by companies you’ve never heard of – Fisker’s Karma sedan, for example.

Fisker Karma

Fisker Karma

But Tesla – the manufacturer of today’s Preview subject – sets itself apart by being the first to put boots on the ground – or rather, tires on the pavement. While Fisker, Chevrolet, Chrysler and a slew of other manufacturers large and small have been touting upcoming models, Tesla has been selling its loosely-Lotus Elise-based roadster since last year. Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney, and Cameron Diaz are among the greenies who’ve unloaded around 100 grand to say goodbye to gas forever!

Tesla Roadster

Tesla Roadster

Well, only if they’re planning on driving less than 220 miles, because then the batteries run out of juice and you have to spend seven or eight hours recharging. (You can get a higher-ampere home charging station that’ll top off your battery with electrons in about three and a half hours, but plugging into a regular old outlet means a full night, more or less.) And only if you’re planning on carrying one other person, since it’s a two-seater. And only if you don’t need a whole lot of luggage – hey, it IS based on a Lotus Elise.

But the good folks at Tesla Motors (named after Serbian inventor and alternating current enthusiast Nikolai Tesla, whose last impact on the zeitgeist was when David Bowie portrayed him as a Hugh Jackman-duplicating scientist in The Prestige) are no fools; while a sexy convertible may draw in attention (and venture capital bucks), to take the company to the next level of profitability, they needed something more practical.

Hence, the Model S. A mid-sized luxury sedan designed and priced to take on the BMW 5-series, the Mercedes-Benz S-class, and the Jaguar XF, Tesla’s new model promises gasoline-car range and performance, greater seating capacity and superior versatility – all for less than the competition, once fuel costs are rolled into the equation.

3388610604_9df7ac2587_b

As John Travolta noted in Pulp Fiction, “That’s a bold statement.”

Let’s take a quick look at those claims. Better yet, let’s see how it really stacks up against the competition. For argument’s sake, let’s weight it against the standard 2009 Jaguar XF sedan – among the newest of the mid-sized luxury sedan class, and already acclaimed as a class-leader by quite a few factions in the motoring press.

Jaguar XF

Jaguar XF

Range: Tesla claims the Model S achieves a 300-mile range with its optional high-capacity battery; regular models can roam a mere 160-miles before seeking sweet, sweet current. The naturally aspirated 4.2 liter V8 in the Jag has an 18.4 gallon fuel tank, and is rated at 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway. So one tank of gas in the XF will get you somewhere between 294 and 460 miles; figure an average range of about 375 miles. Plus, fueling up the Jaguar only take about five minutes. Advantage: Jaguar

Performance: Tesla isn’t mentioning horsepower figures yet, but claims the Model S will do the 0-60 sprint in 5.6 seconds, the quarter-mile in 14 flat, and tops out at 120 mph. The XF, by Jaguar’s numbers, does 0-60 in 6.2 seconds, with the party ending at 121 mph. Advantage: Tesla

Practicality: The Jaguar, while inordinately pretty, is a fairly normal mid-sized sedan in terms of packaging. Four adults will fit in comfort, five if the three people in the back seats would help the others move out of their apartments. 17.7 cubic feet of packing peanuts will fit in the trunk. The Tesla, on the other hand, claims 7-passenger capability – or rather, 5+2 capability, since the two seats in the way back are about as suitable for adults as those in the back of a Porsche 911. Still, it’s a handy feature to have, especially given the tendency of most people to buy heavy, gas-slurping SUVs when they have to transport more than three kids. Due to the low-lying nature of the powertrain, there’s a second trunk up front as well, a la Porsche Boxster. Advantage: Tesla

Price: The XF starts at $49,975. The Tesla starts out a bit higher – $57,400 – but should be eligible for a $7500 federal tax credit, lining it up nicely with the Jaguar. Of course, that’s without the extended-range battery, so expect any saving from that tax credit to vaporize pretty quickly if you foresee your life taking you more than 80 miles from your house. (The company claims you can also swap the battery in 5 minutes for a fresh one, but doesn’t say how easy this might be or how much a spare battery costs.)

But the Model S does have a couple neat features the Jaguar lacks – a 17″ touch screen on the console (yikes!), along with claimed 3G wireless capability, which I simply don’t understand. Is there a cell phone tower built into the car? A panoramic sunroof, xenon headlights, smart-key technology, and a few other goodies will either be standard or optional – the press release isn’t clear. You should probably expect to pay a few grand more than a comparably-equipped XF if you want that extra range.

3388569178_defd1a02ea_b

The Tesla’s big cost advantage, however, should come not at the initial check-writing phase, but as the years trickle by. Depending on how much you’re paying your electric company, filling the extended range 70-kilowatt battery might cost less than $10, which certainly beats the hell out of the $36.80 it’ll take to fill up the XF at $2 a gallon. Even if your electric company decides to be a pain and it costs you $20 per full charge, you’ll still save $315 or so for every 10,000 miles you drive. Tesla predicts the Roadster’s battery should last about 7 years or 100,000 miles; if the Model S follows a similar price structure, so long as the battery costs less than $3150, you’ll save money by going green. (Tesla currently quotes a jaw-dropping $36,000 fee for battery replacement on the Roadster; hopefully they can knock that down a few dozen percent for the sedan.)

(However, in the ethical spirit of journalism, I have to remind you that the Tesla’s numbers will vary greatly depending on how much your electric company charges. If you’re only paying $7 per 300 miles, you’ll save $748 per 10K over the Jag, and Tesla can charge $7479 for your new battery while still claiming you save money.)

So value-wise, I’m gonna have to go Advantage: Jaguar. While going electric saves money from day-to-day, the battery replacement fee probably negates it. And (hopefully) the engine on the Jag will last more than 100,000 miles.

Of course, all of this is still rather academic, as the Model S won’t be plugging into consumers’ garages until the summer of 2011 or so. Given the billions of dollars being sunk into lithium-ion batteries for cars, the price should come down quite a bit over the next few years – and by 2016, when the first wave of Model S’s starts rolling over that 100K mile mark, the batteries might well cost a tenth what they do today.

So in the end, is the Model S a real car, or simply a curiosity? Well, it certainly plays the part of real car well enough. Until people from outside the company can test it out, we won’t know for sure, but if they can live up to their claims, it will probably hold its own well with its gasoline-powered competitors.

But its major flaw lies in the time it takes to power up. One of the things that makes internal combustion engines so wonderful is the miniscule amount of time it takes to refuel – a car or truck can drive for hundreds of hours straight, so long as fuel is put into the tank very now and again (although you really should turn it off while filling up, folks). As long as you have to stop for three to eight hours every 300 miles or so, pure electric vehicles will have difficulty catching on as a family’s “first” car.

Chrysler 200C concept

Chrysler 200C concept

So what’s the solution? Well, it’s the one seen under the hoods of the Fisker Karma, the Chevy Volt, and Chrysler’s ENVI vehicles – hook up a small gasoline engine as a range-extending generator for the batteries. The “plug-in series hybrids” being touted by these companies will run about 40 miles on plug-in electric power, then several hundred more as the engine recharges the battery – just like plugging your laptop into a gasoline generator. Using the gas engine as a generator means greater fuel efficiency – somewhere between 50 and 150 mpg for a car like the Volt – and for shorter trips, no gasoline will be used at all.

Chevrolet Volt

Chevrolet Volt

That’s not to say pure electric cars don’t have a place or a future. If we can figure out how to charge the batteries in five minutes instead of three hours – maybe a nationwide network of high-amp stations to replace today’s gas stations – electric cars might be all we drive, fifty years from now. And they make sense today for most day-to-day travel people take. But as long as Americans have a love for the open road and a desire to follow it day and night, pure electric cars like the Tesla will simply have to find a place as very capable bedfellows in a two-car garage.

5 Comments

Filed under Previews