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Archive for March, 2013

Are Motor Shows still relevant in Australia?

This week we were informed that the Australian International Motor Show (AIMS), scheduled for Melbourne in June this year, has been cancelled.

AIMS Event Director, Russ Tyrie, said: “We have made the decision to not proceed with this year’s Show based on a consensus view of the Automotive Industry to focus limited marketing budgets in 2013 on firm specific activities rather than an industry based Motor Show.

“In not proceeding with the Show in 2013, Australia is following a global trend that has been apparent for several years, where cities do not always have a Motor Show. This trend is evident in the recent suspension of Motor Shows in London, Zagreb and Amsterdam,” Tyrie continued.

In 2009, a joint venture was formed between the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries- organisers of the Sydney Motor Show- and the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce who co-ordinated the Melbourne show.

Their agreement saw a shared arrangement where each city would share AIMS responsibilities, hosting the show on alternating years. The venture sought to ensure enough manufacturer and public interest in Australian shows rather than competing for attendance and revenue each year.

Ford EcoBoost display at the 2011 AIMS

Now, with manufacturers moving towards different areas of promotion (for example, associating with major events like BMW at the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival or sponsoring a sporting team like Renault has the Port Adelaide Football Club) the question needs to be asked: Is the Australian Motor Show on the verge of extinction?

The AIMS organisers have been adamant that they will return in 2014, but with a new focus on the Asia-Pacific region. This bodes well, and I for one hope they return with a vengeance, but several challenges lie in the way. For one, our population is not big enough to truly justify a massive brand presence, the like of which is seen at Tokyo, Geneva or New York. Related is the sheer distance we lie away from the global manufacturer bases. Big European brands are particularly limited by time and budget constraints, putting the clamps on just what they can do with their local promotional opportunities.

Also shifting are the public’s perceptions, and that’s where you come in. With the multitude of information available online augmenting traditional print channels, do you still feel a need to attend a motor show physically? Does the motor show model remain a worthwhile manufacturer showcase? Would you still prefer to attend a show when looking for a new car, or is it easier to research online?

 

Alternative fuels and the human intestine

It’s interesting to see that, on a global scale, just 2% of the gas fuel resources are used for powering the world’s transport industries.  Obviously, oil is the big natural resource that’s being used to power transportation needs, with 47% of annual oil production being tied up with powering the world’s transport industries.  Biofuels on the other hand, while a great idea, are still in the infant stages of being a major player.  So biofuels make up a pretty tiny proportion of the world’s transportation fuel requirements.  What would make using gas and biofuels more attractive, and what is holding them back?  There are researchers who are working hard to overcome the downsides of Biofuels and gas.

Biofuels should be the fuel of the future with crop fuels sounding like they should be a win-win scenario.  Biofuel is mostly made from plant-based materials, and Biodiesel and Ethanol are the two main fuels that vehicles are able to run on.  In a perfect world, we would grow masses of crops for obtaining the material used in biofuel production.  However, the shortage of grain stocks and the surge in food prices has led to a big problem in the viability of sustainable production of biofuels.  Corn and soy are correspondingly used for flour, baked goods, meat, dairy and processed foods containing corn syrup and soy, and most economic analysts agree that the increased biofuel production has contributed to the rise in food prices.  This isn’t the sort of news we need to hear.  Ideally, land needs to be separated and portioned for biofuels over and above the land needed for food production.

To gas we go, and, certainly, you can’t argue with the very low CO2 emissions that come from burning gas as a transport fuel.  Researchers are finding ways for making gas a better option to use as a transport fuel – as there has been one or two issues with gas powered vehicles.  A more positive finding shows researchers are looking at a gas fuel tank based on the serpentine tubes of the human gut.  Now that’s cool.

Emissions from natural gas engines are 10% lower than those of an equivalent petrol engine.  However, there is a practical difficulty for gas because the combustion-ready density of methane is lower than for petrol, and about 30% more fuel is needed to cover the same range as a petrol equivalent vehicle.  To cope with a higher volume of gas fuel, the reality is that the high-pressure fuel tanks need to be fatter and heavier, which not only takes up a lot of space but it correspondingly dents what could be a better fuel efficiency.  It also increases the price of producing the car.

To save space, “Otherlab of San Francisco”, with funding from the US government’s energy research arm, ARPA-E, has found that the human body maximises storage capacity by folding the intestines back and forth.  They’ve endeavoured to design a gas fuel tank mirroring the serpentine intestine, so in place of the big, bulky, single large, high-pressure tank, multiple banks of thin, pressurised metal tubes are bent and distributed throughout the car.  So a close up of the new gas fuel tank would reveal it folding back and forth, hugging the inside of the wheel arches, roof supports and front wings. They are also looking at designing a gas fuel tank with a flexible honeycomb-like assembly that is able to conform to any shape within the car.  This technology, they reckon, could make cars running on natural gas a whole lot more attractive to motorists.  I’m not so sure, though, if I would want a potentially explosive gas fuel tank any closer to my body than necessary!

Link to Private Fleet and win a $25 gift card!

Since commencing 1999, Private Fleet has grown from a two-person operation to a business which employs over 40 staff. This expansion could not have been achieved without the positive feedback and word-of-mouth generated by our wonderful clients.

So, do you love the Private Fleet service, whether you ended up buying through us or not?  Do you own a blog or post on automotive or other online forums?  Then please link to our homepage (www.privatefleet.com.au) from another website and briefly share your experience with others.  As a thank-you for spreading the word we’ll send you a $25 Myer gift card, posted directly to your address. It’s that easy!

Simply send us your name, address, email and a contact number along with a copy of the link’s location and we’ll look after the rest.  Send it to ‘newsletter [at] privatefleet.com.au’

weblink

Exceptions/T’s and C’s

  • Sorry we can’t reward Facebook links in this manner.  However stay tuned for a new social media campaign!
  • Links must be direct to the site.  No funny popups, javascript or redirects
  • If you’re not sure, let us know first what you’re thinking about

Some V8 competition at last!

At last!  I can see some wider interest building in the V8 Supercars, particularly for those of us who enjoy a V8 rumble that’s not necessarily burbling from underneath the bonnet of a Holden or Ford.  For over a decade, Holden and Ford have been the two marques battling it out for supremacy in the V8 Supercars Championship.  Thankfully, the pin has been pulled on only allowing Ford and Holden to race in this championship and we’re going to see other cars entering into a very competitive V8 racing series.

Nissan has had big success in past years when the regulations for the racing allowed Turbo power and AWD.  The Nissan GTR cleaned up in the early nineties.  Authorities changed the format soon after Nissan’s success, only allowing Class A racing to encompass Australian-produced Holden and Ford 5.0-litre V8s to race each other.  Class B racing included 2.0-litre cars that observed the FIA Class II Touring Car regulations.  In my view, the spectacle was never quite as good.  I enjoyed watching Volvo’s and Commodores battling it out alongside a BMW 635 CSi, M3 and Jaguar – to name a few of the cars involved in what was a highly entertaining series.  I guess, that just shows my age!

Things have changed, and CotF (Car of the Future) is the naming for the new Class A racing format for 2013.  The welcome changes in regulations have now loosened to open the door to other car manufacturers that are RWD, V8s that are based on a current four-door sedan shape which is a production model.

So who’s joining the racing party, which has now started?  Mercedes are racing their Erebus Motorsport V8 racing car that’s based on the E-Class sedan.  Race 1, The Clipsal 500 Adelaide, had Tim Slade finish 15th for Mercedes.  Race 2, on the same track, had Lee Holdsworth finish 17th for Mercedes.

mercedes-v8-supercar

Nissan have their V8 racing car which is based on the Nissan Altima four-door sedan.  Race 1 had Rick Kelly finish 11th for Nissan, while Race 2 had James Moffat finishing 13th.

nissan-alitma-v8-supercar

Craig Lowndes finished race 1 in first place seated in the cockpit of a Holden Commodore race car, while race 2 had Shane van Gisbergen place first in another Commodore.  At present, Holden dominate the standings.

I have heard rumours of Lexus entering the championship, and wouldn’t it be good to see a BMW back in the competition, again.

Catch up with the racing action at http://www.v8supercars.com.au.

Engine downsizing: Increasing efficiency and performance

For fans of large, naturally-aspirated engines, the writing has been on the wall for a while. As a society we have become more aware of our effect on Mother Nature, so we have been increasingly moving towards a greener future. Just what that means is yet to be clearly defined, with myriad opinions on the best way to move forward, however there is one area where everyone appears to agree: We need to reduce our reliance upon finite, ‘dirty’ resources to fuel our energy consumption.

This has not escaped the attention of the automobile manufacturers, who have reacted with massive investment in researching alternative fuels while simultaneously refining their production of petrol engines.

Some of that investment has borne production fruit- perhaps best embodied by the Toyota Prius hybrid. Others, like Nissan with their LEAF, have moved towards fully electric drive systems. Just hope you don’t run out of juice between charge points. Even supercars are getting in on the act, with Porsche introducing a hybrid system to their upcoming 918 Spyder.

While a complete market shift to electric power still many years off, the petrol-fuelled internal combustion engine is living under a stay of execution. They live on under ever-tightening regulations which demand reduced emissions (and therefore fuel consumption). Presently, Australia follows the standard-setting ‘Euro’ emissions standards, and is phasing in core ‘Euro 5’ compliance for passenger vehicles from late-2013, with full Euro 5 compliance expected in 2016. (For a detailed explanation of Euro 5 requirements, click here).

Despite these stringent measures it appears that we are in the midst of a power race amongst the higher-end manufacturers, with 400-plus kilowatts being the entry price for a ‘fast’ saloon, such as the BMW M5 or Mercedes-Benz AMG E 63. They make this power with engines of smaller capacity than their predecessors, but the benefit of turbocharging.  For reference, below are the pertinent figures for BMW’s previous and current M5s:

2004 BMW M5

BMW M5 V10

4999cc V10, 373kW at 7750rpm, 520Nm at 6100rpm, 14.8 litres per 100 kilometres

2013 BMW M5

2013 BMW M5 V8 Turbo

4395cc turbocharged V8, 412kW at 5750rpm, 679Nm from 1500rpm, 9.9 litres per 100 kilometres

As you can see, BMW traded revs (and instant throttle response, and sound- but I digress) for a chunk of extra power and masses of torque. This makes the new M5 far more liveable in day-to-day driving, and far more efficient to boot, with a 34 per cent reduction in fuel use.

“Surely turbocharging a car makes it less fuel efficient?” is a question often heard, the perception being that its larger power capability must come at the expense of fuel consumption. Simply, turbos use the engine’s waste exhaust gases to spin a turbine, which is linked via a shaft to a compressor ‘wheel’. This compressor ‘forces’ more air and fuel into the engine, creating what’s known as ‘boost’. The theory is this maximises fuel efficiency as well as improving power and torque, thanks to a more complete combustion process. And, as you can see from the above BMW data, the turbo motor doesn’t need stratospheric revs and big capacity to produce big numbers…although I do wonder if anyone could replicate the claimed fuel consumption!

As ever, the trend ‘at the top’ is being replicated lower down the automotive food chain. In 2012 Ford took the unprecedented step of introducing a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-pot to the Falcon, and it’s a great car to drive while being far less thirsty than the 4.0-litre naturally-aspirated six it sits beside. Renault’s up-coming Clio Sport will downsize from 2.0-litre ‘atmo’ four to 1.6-litre turbo four, with the same power output, more torque, and lower emissions.

Being a driving enthusiast, I miss the character of a big, revvy naturally-aspirated motor. But when it comes down to a choice between driving a smaller turbo-petrol or having to go all-electric, I’ll happily take the turbo…for now.

What are your thoughts on alternative fuels, engine downsizing and turbocharging for efficiency? Let us know in the comments.

All The Fun Of The Motor Show

The Geneva Motor Show was all on last week and, as usual, was a real drawcard for motoring enthusiasts all over Europe and beyond. One wee post isn’t going to be enough to bring you all the cars that were revealed to the world. But one of the things that we all enjoy about motor shows is seeing the things that the designers have come up with but just aren’t going to make it onto the road for real. This is a great improvement over motor shows in the bad old days when the only thing that the companies could come up with to attract viewer attention was draping scantily clad young ladies over their latest offerings. Now they have to use a bit of imagination.

Once again, the Geneva Motor Show of 2013 didn’t disappoint, and the designers came up with the weird, the wild and the wonderful. It seems as though no company is too staid and conservative to come up with something quirky. Whether these offerings are bizarre or beautiful is a matter of opinion… see what you think.

One offering that was certainly eye-catching came from Land Rover , with their Hamann Mystere. If you saw it in black and white, it was anything but a bush-bashing Land Rover – it looked like a cross between a sports car and a 4×4, with low ground clearance but the characteristic chunky looks of Land Rover. But that wasn’t what made the Hamann Mystere stand out from the crowd: the colour was the thing, and it was a shade of metallic pinky-purple that is about as far from the usual Land Rover colours as you can get. According to my teenagers, this colour is cool and looks good on a sports car. All I can say is that if you drove a car that colour and you were a woman with blonde hair, folk would wonder if you were trying to emulate a certain plastic doll. If this SUV ever gets taken off-road, it won’t get lost in any landscape imaginable.

Hammann

The small Swiss manufacturer Rinspeed (which sounds like it should be a washing machine brand) came up with something called the MicroMax, which looks as though a commuter bus has been put through the hot cycle and shrunk in the wash. This has no seats for anybody – you sort of lean or squat while standing up, and you strap your bike to the back and carry the pram or shopping trolley in the middle. The target market for this, apparently, is the mobile coffee machine people or possibly the ice cream vendors, as there’s plenty of room to bung in whatever you like, but the thing’s still small enough to park anywhere.

Micromax

Italdesign played fast and loose with a Lamborghini to make the Parcour, named after that French sport where you run cross-city, climbing walls and hurdling park benches. It looks like an Italian luxury sports car but with the ground clearance of a bush-basher. Wonder if they’ve got Hollywood and a few chase scenes in mind.

8388121_600x400

 

Toyota came up with the i-Road concept, which can’t make up its mind whether it’s a motorbike or a car. It’s got two wheels at the front and one at the back, is completely enclosed and seats one. Whether this is a good and practical idea, or whether it defeats the whole purpose of riding a motorbike or driving in a car is debateable. It could catch on – we’ll have to wait and see.

iRoad

Of course, there were plenty of great new cars unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, but more on those later!

The danger of too much in-car information

Nissan’s almighty GT-R has long been referred to as a car for the ‘PlayStation Generation’. Its level of technology leads to performance, traction and handling capabilities so alien that the car may as well be from Mars.

Despite this, several sections of the motoring press have relayed their overall disappointment with the GT-R. These detractors follow the same line of criticism: “Too clinical. The GT-R doesn’t involve the driver enough in the process of driving.” The sophisticated all-wheel drive, dual-clutch automatic gearbox, effortless twin-turbocharged V6 engine, and massive brakes were simply deemed too competent for the car’s good.

Sitting here now, it’s not a theory I subscribe to, having spent a memorable day with the GT-R a couple of years back. Sure, the technology makes the car punch well above its price, but as I recall my tingling, fully awakened senses during my drive, the car was most definitely involving to drive.

I did have one particular issue with the GT-R, however. In the upper centre console, its 7.0-inch multi-function screen- a device so useful when used for satellite navigation or as a reversing camera- has enough menus to drive a driver crazy. The graphic design for the GT-R’s screen, incidentally, was developed with Polyphony, the designers of the Sony PlayStation game series, Gran Turismo.

Perhaps the most distracting are the telemetry screens, which gauge myriad facets of the car’s all-consuming performance. I say all-consuming because, when you are in the process of driving a GT-R beyond a 60km/h zone you really need to be concentrating on the road ahead.

Called the ‘Multi-Function Meter’ and operated via a combination of rotary switch and touchscreen interface, you can dial up information on the car’s coolant, oil and transmission temperatures, turbocharger boost and front to rear engine torque split. This is all quite useful stuff, for this information can enable the driver to pick up if there are any engine or transmission issues before they become serious. There’s also a ‘gearshift map’ available which offers optimal gearshift points to maximise fuel economy- useful when your 404kW GT-R averages 11.7 litres per 100 kilometres!

From here on- in my opinion at least- things become a little unsafe. The display is capable of showing throttle position, braking force and both longitudinal and transverse g-forces. There’s also functionality to store driving routes and times taken to complete them.

There is an argument these functions are useful on the track, but the GT-R is essentially a road car…and I’m not so sure you will be looking to the screen to check your dynamic throttle position percentage whilst entering the Southern Loop at Phillip Island, let alone on the drive out to visit the folks. It’s a recipe for flying off the road, and unlike in a PlayStation game, you can’t just hit restart.

There is an argument that suggests GT-Rs will only be bought by responsible adults who can afford the price tag, but what about in the second-hand market? And what about the flow-through effect of this technology appearing in cheaper new cars?

I was recently surprised by the display in the muscular new Chrysler 300 SRT8. It stores peak g-forces through its performance metering, and displays it alongside dynamic data should the driver ask for it. It’s an invitation to match or better your previous peak, and it has no place in a road car.

Are these gauges a distraction and potential safety issue, or a key technological selling point for such cars? Let us know in the comments.

Nissan GT-R interior showing multi-function screen

Nissan GT-R interior showing multi-function screen

The New Long Range Holden Volt

How would you like a car that costs $2.50 for 80 km, vs a Petrol car that costs you $10 PLUS for 80 km?

Take a look at the new Long Range Holden Volt

The first of the range of Holden Volt Electric Cars will be approx. $59,990 AUD

The Volt is a range extender concept, or an Extended Range Electric Vehicle, that simply means that the onboard batteries allow a range of 80 km when fully charged

They are then charged by a 4 cylinder generator powered by gasoline, while you drive.

This allows 80 km of travel (electric only) using the stored charge in the 16 kw/hr lithium ion batteries.

You can also charge the car’s batteries via a charging cord which will plug into a 240v home outlet.

Batteries only range of 80km will be extended to more than 600 km by the onboard generator, and unlike most hybrid cars, it runs exclusively on battery electric power.

This is made possible by a 53 kw generator that charges as you drive to produce 111 Kw via the electric drive motor.

This is the killer feature of the Volt, as the major problem with electric only cars is that when the batteries are flat, that’s it.

Most consumers don’t like the idea of being “limited” to driving only a set range.

They want to drive as far as they can in a day, and the Volt will allow that, unlike other electric cars.

Price: $59,990 plus on-road
Engine: 1.4 litre 16-valve petrol 4cyl, two electric drive motors, 16.5kW/h battery.

https://plus.google.com/103129468876474677567

VW Unveils What Could Be The World’s Most Fuel Efficient Production Car

Back in 2011, Volkswagen  showed the world a concept car that was designed to be the world’s most fuel-efficient vehicle. Now, just a few days before the Geneva Motor Show, the company has given us all a sneak peek of what’s actually going to be made: the limited edition Volkswagen XL.1.

The Volkswagen XL.1 is yet another example of just how sexy fuel efficiency is these days, with this unit aiming to be the most efficient in the world. And it probably is. It would be hard to improve on fuel efficiency figures of 0.9 litres per 100 km for the combined fuel efficiency figures (I’m pretty sure that those figures are correct; however, I’ve seen at least three figures in mpg, depending on which source you read, ranging from 314 mpg top 261 mpg, with 261 being the most common one quoted). Motoring writers around the globe are getting excited about this “futuristic” car that combines sexy fuel efficiency with equally sexy good looks.

So how did Volkswagen manage to make such a fuel-efficient car? As you would expect, it’s not just one feature that makes is so economical but a whole heap of things.

Number one is the shape: the Volkswagen XL.1 has been made to have a very low drag coefficient, which means that it slips through the air easily and smoothly with a minimum of friction. The shape seems to have been inspired by nature, with the side-on profile of the Volkswagen XL.1 looking a bit like a bottlenose dolphin (now, you can’t get more eco-friendly than a dolphin, can you?). Because there’s less friction to overcome, this means that there’s less energy needed to speed up and keep moving.

Number two is what it’s made out of. Simple physics and your own experience lets you known that the heavier something is, the more effort (and hence more fuel) is needed to get it moving. This is why the Volkswagen XL.1 is made out of light-but-tough carbon fibre-reinforced plastics. The makers say that this car is only 23% steel, with the rest being made from all sorts of things, including wood supports in the dashboard. The Volkswagen XL.1 has thinner windscreen glass and a load (or perhaps not a load) of other ways to save weight here and there. The end result is a car that weighs about 800 kg.

Number three is, of course, the engine. I guess nobody’s going to be really surprised that the Volkswagen XL.1 is a hybrid vehicle, as this seems to be the way things are going these days. When it’s not using the battery (20 kW power and 140 Nm torque), the vehicle runs on a little (800 cc = 0.8 litre) turbocharged diesel unit that pops out 35 kW of power and 120 Nm of torque. In the performance stakes, it does nought to the ton in 12.7 seconds and a top speed of 160 kmh (limited). It’s not a racing car, but if the new emphasis on fuel efficiency rather than raw power continues, this won’t really be seen as a downside. This is the same engine that you’ll find in the new Volkswagen Up.

The Volkswagen XL.1 is entering production, being made in the same German factories as the Volkswagen Golf  and the Porsche Boxter. Alas, only a limited number will be made and we are unlikely to get any here Down Under any time soon. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that production will eventually become more widespread.