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What Are The Different Levels Of Driving Autonomy?

As auto manufacturers race against one another to release self driving vehicles, motorists will soon be presented with all types of autonomous driving solutions. With so many options likely to be available, as well as some current models that already claim to offer self driving functionality, motorists should be aware of the technology’s various iterations – namely, the five levels of autonomy.

 

 

Level Zero: This is what we’ve been accustom to in vehicles right up until today. These vehicles are dependent upon full driver input, with the exception of automatic safety features which are designed to prevent or mitigate the impact of an accident.There is no degree of automation which goes into the driving process.

 

Levels One and Two: This next band of technology is a step up from complete dependence on drivers, to a system where support is offered to manouevere and adjust the speed of the vehicle. The important feature to distinguish this stage is that it is only support which is offered, as the driver will still need to maintain a connection with the car. In a way, this adds a degree of control and surety when changing lanes and activating cruise control, since prompts will be made to the driver to maintain their focus and thus keep the car operational.

 

Level Three: This is the threshold at which point the vehicle becomes responsible for controlling the driving functionality, as well as responding to the driving environment. This is also the level at which point motorists may begin to disengage from the vehicle without it shutting down. Motorists may still be required to respond to unforessen events or directional queries, however, by and large the vehicle can navigate more complex driving conditions. A number of car manufacturers are currently operating at this level, even though forecasts had the industry meeting this level much sooner. Tesla is among those currently very active in this space as a frontrunner.

 

 

Level Four: The car is now equipped to fully navigate itself and also react as necessary in the event of an emergency. Any human dependence or interaction is limited specifically to the activation process when turning on the system upon ignition, and in an advisory capacity if required for navigation input (e.g. route selection) – rather than requests. There are only a couple of players currently operating at this level, and that includes heavyweights Waymo, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, and another being Uber.

 

Level Five: The truly driverless vehicle. With level 5 capacity, a vehicle is capable of transporting its occupants without the need for a driver to be present. Similarly, the car may also be used without occupants or a driver as a remote vehicle to collect a person, or instead deliver an item to a specified address.

 

Importantly, the development in this space is taking place overseas, where the infrastructure and testing is in a better position to support development. Closer to home, not only do we need to see regulatory change, but also a sizeable shift in motorists behaviours. Until then, it’s a long waiting game for new car buyers hoping to take up a fully-autonomous vehicle.

BMW Brilliance

BMW has always been a favourite standout brand of mine, and BMW is forging new models and technology even as we speak.  It has been a bit of a gruelling year-or-two with the covid shenanigans, and car manufactures are only one small segment of the global economic pie to have taken a sizable hit.  The shortage of semiconductors has been, and still is, a problem because cars rely on these items for controlling anything from your electric windows to all the fancy driving assistance aids.  However, the winds are changing, and the rebound is occurring.  Luxury car marques like BMW seem to be doing very well, and even with the electronic chip shortages being a bit of an issue it seems that BMW will get through this period in fairly good shape.  There is always a talking point re this special car marque; sometimes the designs might look great to some and not so flash for others, but there is always a gem being turned out from this great team of motoring designers and manufacturers.  BMW cars are more often than not great to drive, good looking, practical and advanced cars.

In this covid recovery period, various chief financial officers recently mentioned that, for now, luxury marques like BMW would consciously undersupply demand levels, which seems a prudent, sensible path to take, as BMW new car prices are holding up very well – quite bullish in fact.  The increased pricing power has already trickled down to the bottom lines for BMW and Daimler.  Mercedes achieved a 12.2% return on sales in the last reported quarter, which was up from 8.4% in the same period in 2018 (2018 being of a period not affected by the pandemic or diesel emissions litigation costs).  BMW achieved a 16% return on sales, which was up from 8.6% in 2018.  BMW also reported a $5.7 billion net profit in the second quarter of this year, suggesting global auto markets are continuing to recover from the pandemic — particularly when it comes to luxury cars like BMW and Mercedes.

BMW M4 Minty Green

This is great news for BMW and car lovers in general, but what’s new in BMW’s box of tricks?  A very cool thing that BMW revealed at the recent Munich Motorshow (early September 2021) was to be found in the BMW M4 corner, where this manic machine, with its impetuous acceleration, showed a jaw-dropping minty green sheen to its beautiful, sexy exterior.  The M4 Competition wore a Mint Green paint job and sat upon gorgeous bronze 20-inch rims.  Both of these options are available as part of the brand’s expanded BMW Individual customization line, which you can find on BMW’s online configurator, where more than 130 other paint options and eight different wheel options are available.  This latest BMW M4 Competition also had a new fibre front splitter, a restyled rear bumper, a rear wing, and some unique side skirts that were all made with carbon fibre.  Carbon fibre interior seating surfaces and trim pieces are also part of the online configurator.  So, try before you buy!

The Munich motor show also allowed the public to preview a hydrogen-electric BMW X5 that is due to enter very-limited production in 2022.  This is an exciting moment because the vehicle was first previewed in 2019 as the i Hydrogen Next concept.  It’s currently in the prototype stage, and early this month it was confirmed with the go ahead, going by the name of BMW iX5 Hydrogen.

A hydrogen-electric vehicle is like a battery-electric vehicle, but instead of drawing power from electricity out of the charged battery the hydrogen-electric vehicle relies on a hydrogen fuel-cell stack to produce electricity power.  BMW’s iX5 Hydrogen has the hydrogen fuel-cell positioned up front where it draws hydrogen from 2 tanks, one in the X5’s transmission tunnel and another under the rear seats.  The tanks are made from carbon-fibre-reinforced-plastic and can hold about 5.9 kg of hydrogen at more than 10,000 psi.  Tank filling takes only a few minutes.  The hydrogen fuel-cell combines hydrogen with oxygen from the air to create electricity.  This process only has water (H2O) as a by-product – Wow!  The electricity primarily powers a single motor at the rear axle but is also used to charge a small battery that steps in from time-to-time to deliver extra grunt to the motor during high-load situations.

BMW iX5 Hydrogen Platform

The BMW iX5 Hydrogen will have a total system power output of 275 kW.  The hydrogen fuel cell, on its own, generates about 125 kW.  The vehicle’s aerodynamically shaped 22-inch wheels are wrapped in a new Pirelli tyre that is made from natural rubber and a wood-based synthetic fibre known as rayon.  These two materials replace much of the petroleum-based synthetic rubbers used in modern tyres.

The extensive field testing has already started in earnest within Europe.  Particular focus points have had the engineers examining how effectively the CO2-free drivetrain works in real-life conditions.  Also, they are measuring metrics which include reliability, safety, and efficiency during everyday conditions to ensure that the new model is perfect for mass production.  Hydrogen fuel cell technology has the potential to supplement internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrid systems, and battery-electric vehicles.  The BMW iX5 Hydrogen has hydrogen tanks that can be filled quickly in only 3–4 minutes.

BMW states that the small batch of iX5 Hydrogen models that are destined to be built in 2022 will only be used for demonstration and testing purposes.  BMW doesn’t expect to have any hydrogen-electric vehicles at dealerships until 2025 at the earliest and depending on the direction that the automotive markets take.

Newest off the showroom floor is the all-new BMW iX3 with its refreshed exterior design.  The new BMW iX3 has a sexier appearance and introduces the M Sport Package as standard.  BMW has achieved an impressive CO2 emission assessment for this next-generation iX3, and the vehicle boasts an exceptionally efficient drive system.  Extensive use of secondary raw materials in the manufacture of aluminium castings and thermoplastics combines with the new iX3 boasting an absence of rare earth materials and the use of more green electricity in its production.

BMW iX3 2022

The BMW iX3 has a kidney grille that is larger still, and it has a single-piece frame that comes in Pearl-effect Chrome with blue accents to match with the BMW i styling cues.  Its headlights have been made slimmer.  It also boasts 19-inch black aerodynamic wheels, an automatic tailgate, adaptive suspension, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, and Smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

BMW is a bit of a landmark in the automotive world, a benchmark, the perfect blend of performance, luxury and practicality.  In the future, BMW wants to be ready to supply customers with their powertrain of choice, whether it be gasoline, diesel, battery or hydrogen.  In the case of hydrogen, BMW sees it as an opportunity for customers that favour long-distance driving or who happen to live in regions without adequate battery recharging infrastructure.

I have so many favourite BMWs and other cars, including the 4.0-litre Falcons, which have rolled our roads over the last few decades of motoring, but let’s not be nincompoops and let’s embrace new ways of automotive power; let’s embrace the new BMW i technology.

Audi News

Audi has been pumping out some magnificent cars in the last few years, most of them being excellent petrol and diesel cars.  What direction are they taking in the blending of hybrid technology and EV-only?  The straight answer is that Audi is on the ball and have been introducing an exciting range of EV power into their brand nice and gradually, as they should.

Audi e-tron S Sportback

The e-tron is, perhaps, the more widely identified model that Audi are making as fully electric cars.  The e-tron is already nearing a new update, and the set of models we’re likely to see arrive sometime in 2022 are the Audi e-tron S and the Audi e-tron S Sportback.  What is special about these two is that Audi e-tron S models carry two electric motors on the rear axle and one on the front and can generate a nearly instantaneous 370 kW of power and 973 Nm of torque in full boost mode for 8 seconds at a time.  Because the 2 rear motors have been designed independently of one another, they can operate with the utmost precision and can help the driver power out of corners with the confidence of Audi’s special torque vectoring systems.  In normal driving conditions, the front motor remains off until it is needed.  When needed for ultimate performance and traction, the front electric motor flicks on and into action.

The new Audi e-tron S models boast wider bodywork than the standard models.  They will be equipped with Digital Matrix LED headlights, where each light is divided into 1.3 million pixels and can be controlled with precision, opening up many new functions.  As road traffic regulations allow, these digitized lights could include on-road lane markers and lightbeam functions that can dip around or below other cars.  The matrix-design LED headlights come as standard, however.

Audi e-tron S

Both of the Audi e-tron S models come standard with a 12.3-inch virtual cockpit, 3D satellite navigation imagery, predictive traffic light information, in-vehicle LTE-powered Wi-Fi for up to eight connected devices, a top-view camera, traffic sign recognition, Audi active lane assist with turn assist, Audi pre sense front, adaptive cruise assist and Audi phonebox with signal boosting capability.

Audi Grandsphere Concept

Also hugely exciting for Audi fans is the Audi Grandsphere concept, a luxury sedan with an electric drive system.  Magnificent comfort, which Audi liken to a first-class flight, will be the experience Audi is aiming for with Grandsphere.  At 5.35 metres long, the Grandsphere sedan combines the luxury of private travel in ultimate comfort with a comprehensive onboard experience with Level 4 automated driving where the interior turns into a spacious sphere of experience without a steering wheel, pedals, or displays.  Instead, the front of the cabin is a first-class lounging area with maximum space, more open views, and access to all the functions of a holistic digital ecosystem that the Audi Grandsphere will provide.  This is a very ambitious car; however, with the rate of hybrid and EV technology becoming more and more readily available, and as we already live in an age where digitized everything is at your fingertips or voice control, the Grandsphere concept might not be too far from becoming a reality.  I only hope that the fun and satisfaction of human ability and the experience of the real world will not be stifled by technology and virtuality.

Audi Grandsphere Interior Concept

Alfa Romeo and Stellantis

There is change in the air for Alfa Romeo.  At the beginning of 2021, a multinational automotive manufacturing corporation called Stellantis was formed on the basis of a 50-50 cross-border merger between the Italian/American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the French PSA Group.  The headquarters of Stellantis is in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Alfa Romeo will be among the first of the 14 brands of Stellantis vehicles that will take a full-electric approach to its new cars.  Mentioned at a meeting recently, the new Stellantis group will see Alfa Romeo become a fully electric brand that will compete globally as early as 2027 – its key markets being that of China, Europe and the US.

It is possible that the first all-electric Alfa Romeo could be an electric subcompact crossover that will arrive 2023/24 and combine with similar models from Fiat and Jeep.  Stellantis has announced plans to introduce four electric platforms that will eventually cover most vehicles across the company’s 14 brands, and the models should have a power range of 300 – 500 miles (480 – 800 km).  Alfa Romeo will use a platform known as the STLA Large, which will also be used by Maserati.  There will also be platforms known as STLA Small and STLA Medium.  Stellantis says that Alfa Romeo will pursue two battery chemistries for its vehicles.  Right-hand drive development was also to be assured, so all future EV Alfa Romeo models could easily be driven in Australia.

Alfa Romeo Tonale

Next year we should see Alfa Romeo offering its first plug-in hybrid, which will be exciting.  I’m a big fan of hybrid technology.  The model will most likely be a compact crossover based on the recent Tonale concept.

Alfa Romeo Tonale

Until the arrival of the Alfa Romeo Tonale, Alfa Romeo Australia will still enjoy the fantastic-to-drive Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan and Alfa Romeo Stelvio mid-size SUV.  For 2021, the Stelvio SUV and Giulia sedan boast some more new technology inside the cars, which includes Level Two advanced driver assistance systems such as traffic sign recognition, intelligent speed control, active blind-spot assist and driver attention assist.

Currently, the entry level Stelvio puts out 148 kW of power and 330 Nm of torque from the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.  You should be able to buy a new one of these for around the $65k mark.

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Fiat Happenings

Scattered around Australia are numerous Fiat outlets with showroom teams that are willing to buy, sell and service any of their special brand of car.  You’ll find a Fiat showroom in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Wollongong, Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast.  There are even more places around Australia who are experts in servicing or accessing parts for your Fiat or Fiat Abarth vehicles.  This leaves you very little need to hold off being the proud owner of a new or used Italian legend should you so desire.

New 2021/2022 Fiat vehicles offer a variety of small 4- and 5-seater cars that come as standard little hatchbacks or hatchbacks with a bit more Abarth pep and performance.  The Abarth brand are the performance models that are special Fiat 500s with lots of fun and plenty of zip to make your drive both entertaining and unique.  The standard Fiat 500 is a surprisingly roomy small car that is comfortable and efficient to drive.

Fiat also does a range of commercial vehicles that are mainly a variety of medium and large vans.  These are popular vans for businesses because Fiat offer their range of modern, safe vans at a reasonable price, and the team are willing to back their vans up with a competitive servicing and warranty package for any of their new Fiat-commercial-model buyers.  Fiat also offer the Ducato in a range of motorhome and camper styles.

Fiat really is a quintessential “Made in Italy” stamp with all its Italian history, style, constant innovation and decent quality being part of the modern range.  The recent Fiat 500 has seen 80% of its sales outside of Italy, and it is a model that leads the city car segment in Europe together with its cute little sibling, the Fiat Panda.

Recently, the introduction of the Hybrid Fiat 500 and Panda has given an extra boost to the sales of both models.  These are exceptionally economical cars.  In Italy, the stylish Fiat 500X has been refreshed, ready to continue playing a leading role in many Italian family’s lives.  Indeed, since its launch in 2014, the Fiat 500X has always led its segment in Italy, and the car regularly features in the European top 10 small-car segment.

Recent news from Fiat in Europe has seen some other new model launches, which would also be nice to see become available here in Australia – particularly for those of us who want to get the benefits of driving a small and efficient car with Italian style.  The final months of last year saw the new Fiat 500, Tipo, Tipo Cross and Panda range, and so Fiat has brought 2021 around with the entire line-up of cars being completely refreshed.

A lot of effort has gone into providing new Fiats and Abarths with all the latest technology, safety, comfort and style for each new variant.  New models also boast Euro 6D-Final-compliant engines across the entire range.  The Connect trim level is directed at customers who want to stay connected at all times.  Models with Connect come standard with the 7-inch Uconnect infotainment system with DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the easy and efficient way to exploit the services of your device while travelling in your car.

Standard features of the 2021 Fiat 500 also includes cruise control, a sports steering wheel with built-in controls, 15-inch alloy wheels and fog lights.  You can also select the dedicated new Perbene Grey/Vesuvius Black two-tone insignia.  The 2021/2022 Fiat 500X comes with black seats, a techno-leather steering wheel, 16-inch alloy wheels, blacked-out windows, fog lights, LED DRLs, parking sensors, along with dusk sensors and rain sensors.

Here is a picture of the stunning little Abarth F595.  Check out the gorgeous body kit and quad exhausts!

Abarth F595

New EV SUVs

We still seem to be desiring the SUV over other shapes and styles of car.  This is for reasons that I can understand; things like safety, space and ride comfort tend to be found in spades when you travel inside a decent-size SUV.  Because we are likely to go through a period of history where the EV may well rule the road, are there any SUV-type EVs available now?  EVs aren’t selling like hot cakes just yet, but there some EV SUVs bigger than a pint-sized Honda E that you might be interested in.  It turns out that, actually, there are some pretty decent EV SUVs available to the buyer loaded with cash.  As yet, they aren’t the cheapest vehicles on the planet, particularly if they are of the premium luxury brands, but it’s nice to know that if you did have the money, and wanted a spacious and desirable luxury model, they are already being sold out on the market.

Tesla has the jump on its competition, and they already have a decent wodge of EV clients under their wings.  Because it was pretty much the first EV manufacturer to design and build a decent EV, it was Tesla who soaked up the early adopters of Tesla’s EV technology, and it was these buyers who were very keen to align and embrace the new EV technology early on.  What is happening now, is that because other manufacturers are only now getting fully into the swing of EV technology, the keenest buyers have already been wooed and taken by Tesla, so, for instance, if you are an Audi e-tron or Jaguar I-Pace, you have a slightly harder job of getting your buyers because you have to actually entice them away from their luxury ICE vehicles and into one of their EV variants.

Tesla Model X

Let’s first give credit where credit is due, and let’s talk about the Tesla Model X EV SUV.  The Model X can come with an optional six seats, the middle row boasting full-on Captain’s chairs.  The five-seat Model X is the standard guise.  I love the falcon-wing doors; they look so cool and make life very easy getting in and out of the car – even in tight parking spaces with as little as 11-inches on either side.  Tesla’s Model X cabin is nice, big, and comfortable.  Up the front, there is a big infotainment display screen on the dash.  This is as big and as good as it gets in any car.  The roof/ceiling is also a huge display screen, which is tinted so that the glare from the sun is minimised.  The Tesla feels extremely modern but also, at the same time, quite a simple car that is fun to live with.  It has funny features like a Fart Mode, which is an emissions testing mode that allows the car to perform fart sequencing and farting whenever it requires to do so.  People outside don’t escape the sounds either.  This feature does leave one in hysterics – you have been warned!  The Tesla Model X is very different to anything else on the road, and that makes it a unique drive.  Out on the road, the Tesla Model X is quick, and its ride does a pretty good job of soaking up the bumps.  There are better handling cars like the Audi e-tron and Jaguar I-Pace, however.

  • Twin electric motors
  • 100kWh battery
  • Weight: 2459 kg
  • Range: Claimed at over 500 km, real world driving more likely to be around 300 km.
  • 310 kW of power
  • 660 Nm of torque
  • Top speed: 250 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 4.9 seconds

Tesla Model X

Audi e-tron

Audi’s new e-tron has five seats, all rather comfortable and impeccably crafted.  The touchscreen system is classy, right up-to-date, and detailed.  You do have plenty of menus to work through before finally getting to where you want to be in the infotainment set-up.  On the road, the Audi e-tron is exceptionally well-sorted.  It feels really tight around the corners, smooth and very quiet.  Though EVs are generally heavy vehicles, the e-tron disguises its mass very well, indeed.  There is plenty of well thought-out storage compartments throughout the cabin, and on a day-to-day basis this is a nice EV SUV to live with.

  • Twin electric motors
  • 95kWh battery
  • Weight: 2490 kg
  • Range: Claimed at around 385 km, real world driving more likely to be around 300 km.
  • 300 kW of power
  • 664 Nm of torque
  • Top speed: 200 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 5.7 seconds

Audi e-tron

Volvo XC40

Volvo’s XC40 Pure Electric Hybrid is a smaller luxury EV SUV.  Safety features include autonomous emergency braking, run-off-road assist and up to Level 2 self-driving in heavy traffic situations.  It’s available with AWD and uses a nice silent, smooth electric set-up.  The Volvo’s version of an EV SUV is a gem.  The XC40 looks and feels very modern, and the XC40’s cabin is impressively spacious.  Standard equipment levels are high and include a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel with configurable EV-specific displays, panoramic sunroof, heated front power seats, and inductive charging for your smartphone. Also standard, is the full suite of Volvo safety features, including lane keep assist, blind-spot and cross-traffic alert, and rear collision alert.  The 460 litres of boot space opens up to 1336 litres with the rear seats folded down flat.  These can be bought new for around $85k, making this a well-priced premium luxury EV SUV that is comfortable and swift.

  • Twin electric motors
  • 78kWh battery
  • Weight: 2158 kg
  • Range: Claimed at around 418 km, real world driving more likely to be around 300/350 km.
  • 300 kW of power
  • 659 Nm of torque
  • Top speed: 180 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 4.7 seconds

Volvo XC40 Recharge Electric

Jaguar I-Pace

In my opinion, the Jaguar I-Pace wins the EV SUV beauty contest.  From every angle it looks nice, athletic, and the perfect blend of old and new design.  Even with its GT lines there is a nice amount of space inside the EV Jag.  To drive, the Jaguar I-Pace is wonderful.  It feels very crisp through the corners and it even has a satisfying growl that flows through the speaker system as you plant your right foot and accelerate hard.  Compared with its rivals, the new Jaguar I-Pace weighs in at a comparatively light 2.0 tonnes.  This is a lovely EV SUV and is probably the one I’d prefer most of all the snobbish EV SUVs currently on sale.

  • Twin electric motors
  • 90kWh battery
  • Weight: 2068 kg
  • Range: Claimed at around 420 km, real world driving more likely to be around 300 km.
  • 294 kW of power
  • 695 Nm of torque
  • Top speed: 200 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 4.5 seconds

Jaguar I-Pace

BMW’s latest iX and Mercedes Benz’s EQC are some other luxury EV SUVs worth a look at.  And then some other considerations that are substantially cheaper than the premium EV SUVs mentioned above would be the small Mercedes-Benz EQA and the very good MG ZS EV, Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro.

Some big reasons why you’d want to change to a EV SUV right now would be the driving smoothness, the driving silence, self-driving safety features, and the potential for saving money at the “pump”.  I think it was Top Gear who recently suggested that, on average, the running costs of one of these were on a par with an equivalent petrol car capable of 73 mpg (3.2 litres/100 km).  That’s if you were to do most of your charging at home and not at public charging stations.

A Case for Hydrogen-Powered Cars

What’s to like about hydrogen, and hydrogen-powered cars?  We cannot see taste or even smell hydrogen, yet hydrogen makes up over 90% of matter.  The stars and the sun are made up of hydrogen gas.  Here on earth, hydrogen forms compounds; compounds are a mixture of elements that we find on the Periodic Table (That’s the big poster found in every science lab at school, which has 120 – or so – little squares with letters that make up the organised Periodic Table with all the known elements in our world.).  Hydrogen is found in almost every living thing.  Hydrogen gas is used to make chemicals such as ammonia and methane.  Hydrogen is in the water that we drink (H2O).  Some car manufacturers and scientists have been beavering away developing what is known as hydrogen-powered cars.

Before the car was even invented, hydrogen power had been around and in use in various forms since the 1800s.  It was used widely for gas streetlamps back in the day.  It was a Welshman, Sir William Robert Grove, who invented the first fuel cell back in 1839.  When you use hydrogen in a fuel cell, the only thing you produce is electricity and water!

So, hydrogen-powered cars are vehicles that contain tanks of hydrogen fuel that then combine with oxygen from the air in a process that delivers power to the car for motion.  The beauty of the hydrogen-powered vehicle is they produce only water as a waste product.

In a little bit more detail, a hydrogen fuel cell inside a hydrogen-powered car works like this…  The fuel cell has a proton exchange membrane that uses compressed hydrogen and oxygen from the air to produce electricity.  The hydrogen goes into the membrane at one end called the anode, while oxygen goes into the membrane at the other end called the cathode.  A platinum catalyst, which is positioned on the anode end of the membrane, splits the hydrogen into positive protons and negatively charged electrons.  The proton exchange membrane takes only the positive ions, while the electrons are fed into a circuit to make electricity.  It’s this electricity which is used to drive the car’s electric motor[s].  These electric motors are what provide the driving for the hydrogen-powered car to give them speed and power!

At the cathode end, the positive ions are travelling along the membrane and combining with oxygen from the air to make water (H2O).  This water drips out of the car’s exhaust/tailpipe.  If you are driving your hydrogen-powered car through a desert and need some water, then you could believably drink it.  Now, how green is that!

How can we produce hydrogen for vehicles?  Without going into too many details here (I’ll save that for another blog), hydrogen can be produced in mass from a renewable electricity system that uses generation plants like hydro dams, solar power and wind power generators.  This purpose-made hydrogen is known as green hydrogen.  Australian mining company, Fortescue, has been talking with government recently regarding the creation of a hydrogen production system for Australia as early as 2023/24.

Tiwai point, which you’ll find on the Southern-most tip of New Zealand (NZ makes up Australia’s two biggest islands!), is currently being used as an aluminium smelter.  The NZ government is in talks for designing and consenting to converting this smelter into a green hydrogen production plant even as early as 2023.

I think the hydrogen-powered vehicle makes a lot of (green) sense.  It would cut down on the need for an endless supply of new battery packs that EVs require, which are made from preciously rare earth’s resources (e.g., lithium, nickle, cobalt…), and the energy and space to dispose of the spent battery packs would be a problem.

Of course, we would need to build up a network of hydrogen refuelling stations across Australia to power this new type of vehicle.  This network-building will be easy enough and relatively cheap compared to the massive and costly EV network/upgrade.  Green hydrogen fuelling stations could simply be added onto any petrol/diesel refuelling station currently in operation across Australia.  This would also ease the changeover period for the general public.

If you are wondering what hydrogen-powered cars might look like, do take a look at the new Toyota Mirai, for an example.

Toyota Mirai

 

The Things We Do in Our Cars

I was thinking about the different demands that we all put our vehicle through on our daily drives throughout a year.  It got me thinking about all the changes that can happen to us inside 12 months – whether the weather seasons change dramatically, families get larger or smaller, job promotions happen, we can change jobs for whatever reason, building renovations happen, moving house occurs, we make new friends, we start a fitness schedule at the gym, we try out a new sport across town, go fishing, go for that caravan trip around Australia and what not…  Our lives are fun and full of regular tasks that we both love or put up with, have jobs that we stick with or change, are full of people that come and go and people that we just love to be around and who will always be a part of our life.  The cars we drive regularly, are often a reflection of our lifestyle and can tell us a story about who we are and where we are in life.

With this ticking through my thought processing, I started to think about the changes that may or may not happen to our cars as we drive them, and how the lifestyle changes and choices that we make can affect the cars we drive.  In essence, a car is a very adaptable machine (or at least should be), and it has to be fit for purpose to cater to our own individual needs.  Often, I find myself needing to hitch up the trailer to grab some more compost for the garden, take a load to the recycling centre or help out a mate who is shifting house.  I like to make use of my drive into town to charge my mobile phone up on the way and listen to my favourite music with the volume wound right up.  Some days the temperature outside can get so cold in wintertime that I need to wind up the heater in order to thaw my fingers out and demist the rear window.  But then in summer, when the temperatures soar, I’ll have the air-conditioning wound up to maximum to keep the family inside the car nice and cool, particularly when we have the tiny grandchild travelling with us.

We have different drives that we frequently make in a month, and they all take different roads and cover varying landscapes.  Some journeys require us to drive up steep streets to get us to our friend’s house on top of the cliffs overlooking the sea, other roads have us in the middle of congested city streets and then another drive may take us for an hour or two north into the wild blue yonder through flat and undulating scenery to visit family.

We’ve learned to trust our cars to get us from A-to-B whatever the weather, whoever we have onboard, whatever we have to tow or carry.  Can a new EV manage all the lifestyle changes and demands dependably?  I’d hate to be late for my daughter’s graduation because my EV ran out of power halfway there, or that I missed the ferry because the EV had to be topped up at a charging point that had a long queue, and what about the police who aborted a chase after a dangerous criminal because he spent too long with the heater on and the siren going at the same time.

We need a car fit for purpose, a car that is cheap to run, nice to the environment and above all dependable!

Two of the Most Beautiful Cabriolet Speedsters

Aston Martin V12 Speedster

Two of the most beautiful cabriolet speedsters of recent times cost a king’s ransom and go like stink.  Because most of us will only ever get to read about them, I thought I’d give them a plug here just so we’re all aware that there are still some very extraordinary cars being made.  Arguably, and rightly so, these two cars may in your opinion not be quite as exceptional as a McLaren Elva, Chevrolet Corvette Convertible, a BMW Z4 convertible or even a Ferrari SF90 Spider, however if I had a Bentley Mulliner Bacalar or an Aston Martin V12 Speedster parked in my garage I would be especially pleased.

Bentley Mulliner Bacalar

Only 12 of the Bentley Mulliner Bacalars will ever exist, so, as you can imagine, the price tag of one of these is eyewatering (2.8 million AUD).  Eighty-eight Aston Martin V12 Speedsters aren’t that many either; they fetch close to 1.5 million dollars new.  It is almost inevitable that these two cabriolet cars will sell for more on the second-hand car market just because they are so rare and desirable.  However, if you happen to be reading this, and are a squillionaire, then here are two of the most attractive cars on the planet.

Born out of the Bentley Continental stable, under the hood of the Mulliner Bacalar lies a W12 engine that has been fettled to produce 485 kW of power.  It sits hunkered down on wider tracks and mesmerizing new wheels, and it boasts carbon-fibre front and rear wings, new light clusters (which look really cool) and a super glitzy centre console.  Inside the Bentley Bacalar is a world of luxury and fine materials, as you would expect.  Exclusive patterns on the switchgear knurling, for example, are only ever found on the Bacalar models.  Then there are the uniquely quilted seats, where each seat boasts as many as 144,199 stitches.  The veneer inserts that are used in the wrap-around cabin are from old river-wood trees from East Anglia peat bogs and are 5,500 years old (don’t tell the greenies this!).

Aston, on the other hand, has created a sweeter front end that looks sharper than the more muscular Bentley.  Seated down low in the cockpit, the Aston also has the more futuristic dash design, with the chrome-rimmed air vents on the vertical either side of the digital driver’s display.  3-D printed rubber is used throughout the cabin, and then the bar that runs between the seats is a superb feature that looks exciting as well as ensuring strength to the open-top speedster’s on-road rigidity.

Aston’s V12 Speedster uses a potent 5.2-liter twin-turbo V12 that produces 515 kW and 752 Nm of torque.  This power is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox and a mechanical limited-slip differential.  A 0-100 km/h sprint can be completed in around 3.6 seconds and the top speed arrives at a limited 186 mph (298 km/h).  It sounds stunning when the throttle opens out.

The stats are that the Bentley Bacalar can run through the 0-100 km/h sprint in less than 4 seconds, and the 6-litre W12 twin-turbo engine packs 900 Nm of breath-taking torque, capable of hurling you to speeds well in excess of 200 mph (320 Km/h).  AWD ensures maximum grip for all occasions, of course.

Where is Motorsport Currently Found on the EV Map?

Formula E racing car.

Traditionally, the latest cutting-edge technology finds its way into road cars via the heat of motor racing.  We are seeing EV racing going big quickly with the relatively recent Formula E championship, but how many motor racing championships are looking to EV technology for their future racing blue-print?  As yet, EV motor racing technology hasn’t made its way into the everyday life of most average Australian motorists.  Most of us still drive a motor vehicle with a healthy internal combustion engine, and most of us won’t be intending or even considering buying an expensive EV as an everyday means of transport anytime soon.

Supercars are continuing to investigate implementing hybrid technology into its racing schedule.

Formula One has had its engine regulations tweaked further with the aim of promoting closer racing and more balanced competition, as well as bringing economic and sporting sustainability to Formula 1.  So, the cars are now flashier and more visually alluring, with the reshaping of the front and rear wings looking good.  Formula One has a target to be net zero by 2030, and the way this is to be achieved is by removing single use plastics from its events, in collaboration with its circuits.  Formula One won’t be going electric but will stay hybrid, and this has been a definite decision that the ‘powers that be’ have taken for the good of the automotive industry as they keep their racing car platforms relevant for future road cars.  Formula One does not see electrification as the new world-religion, and it has stated that EVs are definitely not the only way to move forward with cars.  Hybrid technology is Formula One’s current future objective, where the 2025 engine-unit will be hybrid and using 100 % sustainable fuels.  Formula One sees a need to reduce the costs of this new engine-unit and platform so that it is affordable and less complex, which will open up huge potential for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to use in other applications for road cars.

In the World Rally Championship, current hybrid engine regulations from 2022 through to 2025 is all go, which introduces hybrid technology to the fastest cars on gravel.  The hybrid technical regulations are a long way from being finalised, but initial talks have mooted a ‘supplementary hybrid system’ which controls components and software.  The proposed hybrid units would allow WRC cars, which will retain the 2017 aero and engine package, to run as full EVs on transit stages, while providing a power boost on competitive special stages.  Following 2025, the plan is to open up the rules to allow manufacturers to use their own electric systems for racing.

Formula E

Formula E is going from strength to strength, with Mercedes-Benz and Porsche recently joining the grid.  Formula E, officially the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, is a single-seater motorsport championship for electric cars (EVs).  The series was conceived in 2011 in Paris.  Formula E is the biggest motor racing event solely focussed on EV racing alone, where it is the proving ground and platform to test new ev technologies, drive development to the production line, and put more EVs on the road.

Using the sport as its showcase, the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship is sending the biggest message out to the world that may help alter perceptions and speed-up the switch to electric, in a bid to counteract the so-called “climate crisis” as well as addressing the effects of air pollution – particularly in cities.  Sure, Formula E is the fastest-growing series in motorsport because its also the newest; however, it is certainly going to help put EV technology out there on the roads, even if most current EV buyers are either famous and or high-end earners.

Some electrification in motor racing is happening, where we’re seeing classes like the British Touring Car Championship, IndyCar, IMSA, NASCAR and World Rallycross Championship having some sort of hybrid or fully electric rules etched into the near-future pipeline.  This is all good, but the reality is that most motorists in the general public will still be driving a car with a combustion engine, or combustion engine with hybrid technology, or a car with a combustion engine running on bio fuels in a decade because of the price of a new EV being way too steep, the lack of an EV infrastructure another, the cost of developing a country’s power grid worthy of supporting the power drain of a big EV fleet, EV battery life span, and the list goes on…

All of the many negative attributes that can be accredited to EVs aside, there are some fascinating new technological developments in hybrid and ev technology unfolding within motorsport itself.