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Farewell To the Queen of the Nürburgring

As a female motoring blogger, I was very sorry to hear that one of my motoring heroines, Sabine Schmitz, passed away recently.  It’s particularly poignant when I realized that she was only a few years older than me.

If you aren’t sure who I’m talking about, I’m referring to the German motor show presenter who appeared frequently on the British motoring show Top Gear.  We first met her in a 2004 episode, where she became Jeremy Clarkson’s nemesis, as she was a German (groan!) woman (gasp!) who beat Jeremy Clarkson around the Nürburgring (ouch!) in a diesel (eek!) van (aaagh!).  I know I definitely loved it when she made it around the Ring in less than 10 minutes.  This wasn’t her first appearance on a Top Gear show (she appeared briefly in a 2002 special) and it wasn’t her last, either. In fact, after the ousting of the Unholy Trinity of Clarkson, Hammond and May, she was selected by the BBC as one of the new presenters.

Sabine was one of three daughters of restaurant owners who lived near the famous Nürburgring.  She and her sisters all participated in motorsports, but she was the most successful of the three. During her racing career, she won the 24-hour Nürburgring challenge twice (both times in a BMW), as well as placing third, ninth and sixth in Porsches (if you’re looking it up, you’ll find her under her married name of Sabine Reck).  She operated a “taxi service” professionally in the Nürburgring, and later added driver training to her company portfolio.  It’s probably no exaggeration to say that she knew the Nürburgring ring like I know my neighbourhood roads. The track was her neighbourhood road.

As she was known not only for her driving skills but also for her sparkling personality, she appeared frequently on the German equivalent of Top Gear, a show called D Motor. She also provided commentary for motorsports from time to time, becoming known for her sense of humour.

I always enjoyed watching the episodes of Top Gear when she appeared, and it was fantastic to see a woman succeeding in what has traditionally been a very male-dominated area – which is odd, when you come to think about it, given that it was a German woman, Bertha Benz, who brought the motorcar to public attention in the first place. She was a great role model for girls learning to drive and showed the public that driving well is not necessarily a “boy thing”.

She was, unfortunately, diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer in 2017, although this was not made public until last year. She fought it hard, but lost the battle a few weeks ago.  I’m sure I won’t be the only one who misses her and will be disappointed not to see any more of her.

One more time, let’s enjoy one of her iconic Nürburgring laps in a van for Top Gear that we loved so much:

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2021 Convertibles with Reasonable Prices

Abarth 595 Convertible

Very cute and not too expensive, the Abarth 595 Convertible has stacks of style and plenty of road presence even though it happens to come in rather small packaging.  The Competizione is the more expensive (around $36k) of the two models available but offers more features and more grunt.  You have FWD and the weight of the car is only a little over 1000 kg, so the driving experience is dynamic and loads of fun.  The 1.4-litre Turbo unleaded petrol engine offers 132 kW and 250 Nm in the Competizione (0-100 km/h in less than 7 seconds, top speed 220k m/h) and 107 kW and 206 Nm in the standard version.  Fuel economy sits on average at around 6-to-6.5 litres/100 km.  With a 3-year 150,000 km warranty and 3 years roadside assist you are well covered.  Expect to pay from around $35k for the base model and $41 k for the Competizione.

Audi A5 40 TFSI S line

It costs around $96k new, but Audi’s A5 Convertible is top quality and superb to drive.  Gorgeous interiors, excellent comfort and technology make this AWD Audi Convertible a very nice ownership prospect.  There are two 2.0-litre petrol engines: A very economical mild-hybrid (6.5 litres/100 km) 140 kW/320 Nm version for those who like FWD (0-100 km/h in around 7 seconds), and a smooth and powerful 183 kW/370 Nm version with AWD (0-100 km/h in around 6.5 seconds).  Both engines are linked to Audi’s efficient seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox.  To be honest, the AWD version is only a few grand more at a bit over $100k, so I’d be looking to get into this one.  Both versions should return between 6 and 7 litres/100km.  A 3 year unlimited km warranty is good, as too the 3 year roadside assist package.

Audi S5 Convertible

Like the Audi A5 convertibles above, the S5 has all the goodies, gorgeous lines and comfortable interiors with all the modern gadgets.  The S5 has the awesome 3.0-litre turbo V6 Petrol delivering a potent 260 kW of power and 500 Nm of torque to the AWD system, and it uses an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission.  You can scamper from a standstill to 100 km/h in around 5 seconds, while the top speed is limited to 250 km/h.  A 3 year unlimited km warranty is good, as too the 3 year roadside assist package.  Expect to pay around $135k for a new one of these.

BMW 2 Series Convertible

The BMW 220i Luxury Line and 220i M Sport convertibles use the same 2.0-litre Turbo powerplant with 135 kW of power and 270 Nm of torque.  The eight speed sport automatic does a great job of providing quick gear changes while linking the smooth operative action to the optimum power levels.  This engine should offer a combined fuel consumption of around 6.5 litres/100 km.  The car rides nicely.  Those wanting the best in comfort and equipment will go for the Luxury Line, while the M Sport concentrates the suspension more towards sport and the flavour a bit racier.  BMW The 220i M Sport uses the performance 3.0-litre Turbo engine with 250 kW of power and 500 Nm of torque.  This is a quick car and you can expect a run through the 0-100 dash to take less than 6 seconds.  The car’s top speed is limited to 250 km/h, while average fuel consumption will be around 8 litres/100 km.  All BMW 2 Series convertibles are RWD and offer premium quality interiors and technology.  Prices start at around $65k for the Luxury Line, $68k for the M Sport 2.0-litre and $92k for the 3.0-litre M Sport.

BMW 4 Series Convertible

This is one of the prettiest convertibles available for 2021.  The new BMW 4 Series Convertible is offered with a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder producing either 135 kW/300 Nm (420i, around $90k) or 190 kW/400 Nm (430i, around $108k); while the flagship M440i xDrive AWD (around $136k) variant uses a mild-hybrid 3.0-litre inline turbo-six that unleashes 285 kW/500 Nm and is capable of reaching 100km/h in 4.5 seconds. A 3 year unlimited km warranty along with 3 year roadside assist makes life easy.  All are well equipped, comfortable and stylish cars.

BMW Z4 Convertible

Another gorgeous looking convertible is the latest Z4 two-seater Convertible Roadster, which has a lower centre of gravity than before and is further helped dynamically by a 50-50 weight distribution. Three engines are available: The BMW Z4 sDrive 20i M Sport has the 145 kW/320 Nm 2.0-litre; the BMW Z4 sDrive 30i M Sport uses the 190 kW/400 Nm upgraded 2.0-litre version; the BMW Z4 40i offers 250 kW and 500 Nm with its 3.0-litre turbo in-line six petrol.  Prices are around $98k, $122k and $144k, respectively.  Even the 145 kW engine sings sweetly and packs a punch.  All handle beautifully, making this the best Z4, yet.  This has to be one of the best looking Roadsters on the road, and they are delightful to drive.  The Z4 40i can dispatch the 0-100 km/h dash in just 4 seconds.  A 3 year unlimited km warranty along with 3 year roadside assist is available to new car buyers.

Fiat 500C

For somewhere between $25k and 28k, you could get yourself into a brand new Fiat 500 Convertible.  They boast a 5-star ANCAP safety rating for what is a very cute, small car.  In case you weren’t aware, the Abarth models, mentioned above, are the performance based versions of the Fiat 500C.  You should average even less than 5 litres/100 km at times, and the 1.2-litre ULP motors are free revving, fun and relatively refined.  Weighing in at just 935 kg these have a bit of zip about town and will happily hold their own at the legal open road limit.  Both the 500C Club and 500C Lounge are well kitted out with modern technology and practicality, so life with a small 500C brings plenty of smiles. A 3 year 150,000 km warranty and 3 year roadside assist is good piece of mind motoring.

Mustang Convertible

Here would be the coolest convertible on the market.  The Mustang’s muscle, sound and power delivery is nothing short of amazing.  The GT version (0-100 km/h in around 4.5 seconds) costs around $75k new and boasts a 339 kW/556 Nm 5.0-litre V8.  It can be had with either the standard six-speed manual, or the optional 10-speed auto gearbox.  For around $61k, the Mustang High Performance 2.3-litre four-cylinder still delivers on performance (0-100 km/h in around 5.5 seconds) and has 236 kW of power and 448 Nm of torque to play with.  Manual and auto versions are also available for the 2.3 High Performance.  Both versions are RWD and are immensely rewarding to drive with the top up or down.  These are hard to beat for value, performance and road presence.  You can’t argue with the 5 year/unlimited km warranty, either.

Lotus Elise

Here is another very cool convertible.  The strikingly stylish Lotus Elise Convertible offers two models for 2021.  The Sport 220 offers a 1.8 litre, 162 kW, 250 Nm ULP engine with RWD and a six-speed manual gearbox. A 0-100 km/h sprint for this version takes around 4.9 seconds.  The Lotus Elise Cup 250 offers a 1.8 litre, 183 kW, 250 Nm ULP engine with RWD and a six-speed manual gearbox. A 0-100 km/h sprint for this version takes around 4.7 seconds.  Few other convertibles cars can keep up with a Lotus Elise around a tight track as they are so light, agile and fast.  A 3 year unlimited km warranty links with a 3 year roadside assist package when you buy a new one of these, which will be a little north of $100k.

Mazda MX-5

There are two engines available: The 97 kW/152 Nm 1.5-litre and the 135 kW/205 Nm 2.0-litre, both offering the choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmission and RWD.  A limited-slip differential and a finely-tuned suspension ensure a superbly balanced and grippy chassis with plenty of fun in the sun a certainty.  Expect to pay between $40 and $52k depending on the model and trim.  Enjoy!  This has become a roadster icon over the years, and the latest model looks sharp and is kitted with all the latest safety gear.

Mini Convertible

You’re paying anywhere around $50k-and-$75k for a new Mini Convertible – it all depends on the model.  They can be had with various engines and styles.  Three-door models include the base 100 kW/220 Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder Cooper, the 141 kW/280 Nm four-cylinder Cooper S, and the mighty 225 kW/450 Nm JCW.  Always cool and always impressively well-built, Mini’s are a classic.  JCW versions are insanely fast and capable, and all come with 3 year/unlimited km warranty and a 3 year roadside assist package.

You could also look at some other marques like Porsche, Jaguar, Mercedes Benz or Lexus when it comes to buying a new convertible but you’ll be paying well north of $100, $200k or even $300k for some of these.  Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren and Rolls Royce also offer convertible options in Australia, however their prices are for those loaded with money.

Ammonia as a Fuel for Cars

Who would have thought that liquid ammonia might just be that untapped energy source the world needs.  All the flimflam around carbon emissions, EVs and hydrogen powered cars pales substantially when you start to grasp how ammonia could well become the biggest driving force for global transportation, given the right technology.  All it would take is more clean, green electricity via solar and wind energy and, hey presto, the ability to make more liquid ammonia becomes way easier, less costly and environmentally friendlier.  But let’s not stop there; let’s match that new ammonia production methodology with perfected ammonia combustion technology, and we have ourselves a green ammonia-fuelled vehicle.

Ammonia has been around for well over a hundred years and has many uses.  The current dated process of making ammonia isn’t green.  Combining nitrogen molecules that come from the air with hydrogen molecules that come from natural gas and coal creates huge amounts of greenhouse gases.  So to make ammonia the green way has taken scientists to perfect the art of taking hydrogen from water and separating it from oxygen atoms using electricity.

Australia is the place to be for producing liquid ammonia the green way.  There is so much practical solar energy available here in Australia for getting electricity from an array of solar panels which feed into the liquid ammonia production plant.  Wind energy can equally be harnessed and fed into the production plant.

When this clean electricity gets to the production plant, electro chemical cells use electricity and catalysts to make components of air and water into ammonia.  All of this process is clean and is performed without fossil fuels and the extreme heat that is required by older methods of ammonia production.

The older ammonia production plants are also costly to run and produce carbon dioxide emissions.  Australia could easily be a world leader in producing cleanly made liquid ammonia via solar and wind energy

Research for perfected ammonia combustion technology for vehicle engines is ongoing and could well be all we’re waiting for.  Ammonia (NH3) is made up of 3 hydrogen atoms bonded to a single nitrogen atom; it can serve as a low-carbon fuel, where the only emissions after ammonia combustion would be that of nitrogen and water.

An ammonia-fuelled vehicle would operate in much the same way as our conventional combustion motor designed for running on fossil fuels.  The liquid ammonia is burned with oxygen to create energy.  Unlike conventional gasoline vehicles, ammonia-powered vehicles would not emit CO2.  Here is a win-win scenario that it would seem necessary to mandate.

In a hydrogen-powered car, a hydrogen fuel cell powers the vehicles’ on board electric motor, only giving off heat and water vapour as a result.  Likewise, an ammonia fuel cell gives off heat, nitrogen and water vapour.

Researchers in spark-ignition systems are continuing to perfect ammonia combustion technology.  The main hurdle that needs to be overcome in an ammonia-fuelled combustion engine is that when ammonia is combusted, the combustion produces a flame with a relatively low propagation speed.  This low combustion rate of ammonia causes the combustion to be inconsistent under low engine load and/or high engine speed operating conditions.  Scientists are also investigating the possibility for ammonia to be used in fuel cells as a cheap, clean and powerful energy source for vehicles.  Researchers have succeeded in developing a new catalyst that burns ammonia (NH3) at a low temperature.

Australia could create solar- and wind-powered ammonia production plants which could then be the tap sources for liquid ammonia.  The Australian grown ammonia could be used locally to power large vehicle fleets as well as for exporting around the world for overseas use.  This is all very exciting stuff and will be something I’ll continue to follow as information and details become available.

Best People Movers for 2021

There are those of us who would rather avoid being seen in what are technically called ‘People Movers’.  By choice, they’re not a car that many would prefer over a roadster or GT.  However, they do have their place and the current new people movers are stacked with the latest goodies, are comfortable and work hard to make their cabins a pleasant, safe space for plenty of people to spend time journeying in.  Of course, the space and comfort throughout a people mover cabin is, generally, superb, making them ideal at doing what they say they will on the tin.  So, if you have been particularly virile and require a decent vehicle for moving your large family about, or you just need those extra seats and space, then here are the newest people movers available on the market in 2021:

Honda Odyssey

Available in a 2.4-litre ULP, 129 kW, 225 Nm, 7-speed CVT, FWD, combined fuel consumption of around 8-9 litres/100 km, towing 450 kg un-braked and 1000 kg braked, 5-star ANCAP rating, seven seats, Honda Odyssey ViL7 (around $49k) and Honda Odyssey ViLX7 (around $56k), 5 yr/unlimited km warranty.

Hyundai iMax

Available in a 2.5-litre Turbo Diesel, 125 kW, 441 Nm, 5-speed automatic, RWD, combined fuel consumption of around 9 litres/100 km, towing 750 kg un-braked and 1500 kg braked, 4-star ANCAP rating, eight seats, Hyundai iMax Active (around $49k) and Hyundai iMax Elite (around $54k), 5 yr/unlimited km warranty with 1yr Roadside assistance.

Kia Carnival

Available in a 3.5-litre ULP, 216 kW, 355 Nm, 8-speed automatic, FWD, combined fuel consumption of around 10 litres/100 km, towing 750 kg un-braked and 2000 kg braked, ANCAP rating untested but previous model was 5-star, eight seats, Kia Carnival S (around $51k), Kia Carnival Si (around $56k), Kia Carnival SLi (around $61k), Kia Carnival Platinum (around $68k), 7 yr/unlimited km warranty with 1yr Roadside assistance.

LDV G10

Available in a 1.9-litre Turbo Diesel with 110 kW and 350 Nm or a 2.0-litre ULP with 165 kW and 330 Nm. 6-speed automatic, RWD, combined fuel consumption of around 9 litres/100 km for the Turbo Diesel and 12 litres/100 km for the ULP. Towing 750 kg un-braked and 1750 kg braked for the Turbo Diesel and 750 kg un-braked and 1500 braked for the ULP. 3-star ANCAP rating, seven seats, LDV G10 Turbo Diesel (around $35k) and LDV G10 Executive (around $38k), 3 yr/100,000 km warranty.

Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo ACTIVITY 220d

Available in a 2.1 Turbo Diesel, 120 kW, 380 Nm, 7-speed automatic, RWD, combined fuel consumption of around 7 litres/100 km, towing 750 kg un-braked and 2500 kg braked, 5-star ANCAP rating, seven seats, Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo ACTIVITY 220d (around $86k), 5 yr/unlimited km warranty and 5 yr roadside assist.

Mercedes-Benz V-Class V220 d

Available in a 2.1 Turbo Diesel, 120 kW, 380 Nm, 7-speed automatic, RWD, combined fuel consumption of around 7 litres/100 km, towing 750 kg un-braked and 2500 kg braked, 5-star ANCAP rating, seven seats, Mercedes-Benz V-Class V220 d (around $94k), Mercedes-Benz V-Class V220 d Avantgarde (around $111k), 5 yr/unlimited km warranty and 5 yr roadside assist.

Mercedes-Benz Valente 116CDI

Available in a 2.1 Turbo Diesel, 120 kW, 380 Nm, 7-speed automatic, RWD, combined fuel consumption of around 7 litres/100 km, towing 750 kg un-braked and 2500 kg braked, 5-star ANCAP rating, eight seats, Mercedes-Benz Valente 116CDI (around $72k), 5 yr/250,000 km warranty and 5 yr roadside assist.

Toyota Granvia

Available in a 2.8-litre Turbo Diesel, 130 kW, 450 Nm, 6-speed automatic, RWD, combined fuel consumption of around 8 litres/100 km, towing 400 kg un-braked and 1500 kg braked, 5-star ANCAP rating, six seats, Toyota Granvia (around $65k) and Toyota Granvia VX (around $76k), 5 yr/unlimited km warranty.

Volkswagen Caddy

Available in a 1.4-litre Premium ULP, 92 kW, 220 Nm, 7-speed automatic, FWD, combined fuel consumption of around 6.5 litres/100 km, towing 630 kg un-braked and 1300 kg braked, 4-star ANCAP rating, 5 or 7 seats, Volkswagen Caddy Trendline 5 seats (around $35k) and Volkswagen Caddy Comfortline 7 seats (around $41k), 5 yr/unlimited km warranty, 1 yr roadside assist.

Volkswagen California Beach

Available in a 2.0-litre Turbo Diesel RWD with 110 kW and 340 Nm or a 2.0-litre Twin Turbo Diesel 4WD with 146 kW and 450 Nm. 7-speed automatic, combined fuel consumption of around 7 to 8 litres/100 km, towing 750 kg un-braked and 2500 kg braked, 4-star Euro NCAP rating, 5 or 7 seats, Volkswagen California Beach TDI340 7 seats (around $83k) and Volkswagen California Beach TDI450 4×4 5 seats (around $93k), 5 yr/unlimited km warranty, 1 yr roadside assist.

Volkswagen Caravelle TDI340 Trendline

Available in a 2.0-litre Turbo Diesel FWD, 110 kW, 340 Nm, 7-speed automatic, combined fuel consumption of around 7 litres/100 km, towing 750 kg un-braked and 2500 kg braked, 4-star Euro NCAP rating, 9 seats, Volkswagen Caravelle TDI340 Trendline (around $65k) 5 yr/unlimited km warranty, 1 yr roadside assist.

Volkswagen Multivan

Available in a 2.0-litre Turbo Diesel FWD with 110 kW and 340 Nm or a 2.0-litre Twin Turbo Diesel 4WD with 146 kW and 450 Nm. 7-speed automatic, combined fuel consumption of around 7 to 8 litres/100 km, towing 750 kg un-braked and 2500 kg braked, 4-star Euro NCAP rating, 7 seats, Volkswagen Multivan TDI 340 Comfortline (around $62k), Volkswagen Multivan TDI450 Highline (around $85k), Volkswagen Multivan TDI450 Comfortline (around $88k), 5 yr/unlimited km warranty, 1 yr roadside assist.

EV Supercars

Porsche Taycan Turbo S

Porsche has already built their fully electric supercar and it’s called the Taycan.  Currently, the quickest Taycan is the Taycan Turbo S, which boasts 560 kW of power, 1,050 N⋅m of torque, a 0-100 km/h sprint time of just 2.8 seconds and a top speed of 260 km/h.  We knew it would be fast, but it will also manage around 400 km of travel before a recharge is needed.  Of course, that range will be affected by factors like the weather, number of hills in your commute, how heavy your right foot is, how many on-board features you’re running and how much extra weight is on board – all much the same traits that affect combustion consumption…

Tesla is the biggest name in electric vehicles, and their new Roadster sets the supercar performance benchmark.  Revealed back in 2017, the second-generation Tesla Roadster  will be capable of skipping through the 0-100 km/h in around 2 seconds, the 0-160 km/h dash in 4.2 seconds, the quarter mile in 8.8 seconds and boast a top speed of around 400 km/h.  These records are aided by a phenomenal 10,000 Nm combined torque output for the AWD system and a drivable range before recharging of even over 900 km.  The new Tesla Roadster sales will likely begin 2022.

Tesla Roadster

Porsche and Tesla are, perhaps, the more well-known leaders in EV supercar technology.

Ferrari has yet to build a fully electric car.  Ferrari is concentrating on their hybrid supercars; the new Ferrari SF90 Stradale being the latest model that incorporates electric motors with the combustion engine layout.  Ferrari claims the SF90 Stradale can clean out the 0-100 km/h sprint in well under 3 seconds, the 0-200 km/h dash in less than 7 seconds, while reaching a top speed in excess of 330 km/h.  The SF90 Stradale can also travel 12-to-24 km on battery power alone.  John Elkann, from Ferrari, says the company will offer its first electric supercar at some stage this decade, but the hybrid models would still form part of its line-up even in 2030.  However, that said, Ferrari is looking to sell the Ferrari Purosangue as their first SUV with hybrid engines, along with a fully-electric powertrain for the two following Purosangue models.  From the word go, the Purosangue will be designed with the chassis structured to take full electric power.  The first hybrid Purosangue should be on sale between 2024 and 2026.

You can’t talk about Ferrari’s electric future without considering Lamborghini’s.  Lamborghini has yet to develop an all-electric supercar.  Come 2021/2022, Lamborghini is offering a production hybrid supercar called the Lamborghini Sian FKP 37.  That sounds like a similar direction to Ferrari; however, Lamborghini did unveil the Terzo Millennio concept car back in 2017.

So, who else is offering fully electric supercars?  The following EV supercars have been built up by various entrepreneurs and joint ventures and are, therefore, very rare.  Here are some of them to whet your appetite:

Rimac C_Two

The Rimac C_Two has a 412 km/h top speed backed up with approximately 500 km of electric range.

Pininfarina Battista

Lotus Evija

The Lotus Evija has a claimed 1,680 kg weight – pretty light for an EV supercar.

Aspark Owl

Aspark Owl with its 0-100 km/h sprint done and dusted in less than 2 seconds. Top speed over 400 km/h.

Drako-GTE

The Drako GTE  is the brainchild of two Californian-based engineers and entrepreneurs.  The car should deliver around 8,880 Nm of torque and a 400 km/h-plus top speed.

 

Nio-ep9

The Nio EP9 has actually delivered a 6 m 45.9 sec Nürburgring lap in the hands of Scottish driver Peter Dumbreck. The EV supercar boasts around 6334 Nm of torque and a down-force claimed to be twice that of an F1 car.

Dendrobium D-1

The Dendrobium has money and inspiration provided to it from Singapore; however it is being engineered and developed in the UK by Williams Advanced Engineering, and with people who were involved in the McLaren F1 design.

The European EV Compass

The best of European engineering and technology has always been considered to be some of the finest the world has to offer (particularly German, Swedish and British engineering).  However, with the advancement in microelectronics and electrical know-how that is coming from the Asian parts of the world, there is little time to be had before German, Swedish, Dutch and British (to name a few) technology giants, and automotive and engineering giants, could get swallowed up and placed in the history books.

It might be that to counter the advancement (or even to just keep pace with) of big Chinese, USA, Korean and Japanese automotive, electronics and digital giants, that it’ll likely take a collective pan-European approach in tech-innovation and mobility transformational advancements.  The movement is happening in Europe but is it fast enough?

Rather than each country try and do it alone, a pan-European alliance for the electric mobilization of Europe along with the coordination and alignment of national policies would be far more capable of countering the competition from the USA and China.  Being able to pool assets, funding, supply chain networks, research and development, battery production, electronic charging point networks, power storage technology, recharging technology and Pan Eurpean policy initiatives that promote market entry for electric vehicles (EVs) will go a long way to keep Europe at the forefront of transport design and innovation.

With the spotlight heavily focusing on environmentally-friendly transport, EVs and driverless cars, and their growing numbers filling the roads up in Asia and in Europe, the rest of the world will also need to catch up with the technology, or change to other manufacturing designs instead.  Now and into the future we are seeing how global status, energy and transport are directly linked to each other.  Renewable electricity generation and storage at the national level is an assignment across Europe that is a huge task on any given day, but its roll-out also needs to quicken its pace.  Politics will play an important role for European countries to pull together to use renewable energy, energy networks and EV and Fuel Cell vehicle technologies.

Demanding logistical changes like this also calls for an adoption of a new social perspective on this new way of doing transport, even new way of life, whether that be in purchasing a new energy efficient car or pooling together to get from A to B or using environmentally friendly public transport.  Not everyone can cycle to work!  The automotive landscape in Europe is changing, just as it is globally.  Government policy will play a leading role in moderating and coordinating the transformation of the automotive industry into new ways of doing transport for the people.

At European local government levels, there also requires the push to implement the urban-transport transformation towards emission-free and fossil-fuel-less transport systems.  Urban and development planning needs to promote the electric charging infrastructure, as well as providing big financial benefits and incentives for the public to change from fossil-dependent transport to the use of EVs.  Global carbon emission goals are driving the need to steer away from fossil fuels.

In the future, there would seem to be few chances to succeed as a nation if smaller countries choose to go it alone.  Then again, maybe that’s what Australia, NZ, UK and Japan might do best; they could be attractive in their own right if they did emission-free transport their own unique way, unconnected with the rest of the world’s EV and driverless vehicle systems.

Aussie’s Rosco aiming for 1000 mph

Aussie Invader 5R

It might be a bit hard to call it a conventional car but then it’s not really a conventional car in the sense that the Aussie Invader 5R rocket-car looks more plane/rocket in its appearance.  The Aussie Invader 5R rocket-car boasts an insanely long arrow-shaped design with three wheels, large aerodynamic wind deflectors and an engine with close to 150,000 kW!  Yes, that’s correct; you did read that figure correctly.  To put that in perspective, an Aussie V8 Supercar puts out, on average, around 475 kW of power.  Now, if you’ve ever experienced the wonderful roar of these V8s when they blast by around the circuit, then you can understand the aura of such kW potency.  But this Aussie Invader 5R rocket-car makes as much power as 316 of these Aussie V8 Supercars put together! The Aussie Invader 5R rocket-car is powered by a single bi-propellant rocket reportedly capable of producing upwards of 62,000 lbf of thrust.  That’s over four times more than a Boeing 737 jet!

Founder and designer of the new Aussie Invader 5R rocket-car, Rosco McGlashan, has the world’s fastest land speed record in his sights.  He will reportedly be the pilot of the 16-metre long, nine-tonne steel-framed vehicle.  And the target?  The target top speed of 1609 km/h (1000 mph) would be the fastest of any land-going vehicle, ever. And 1000 mph would see it blitz the current land speed record held by the Noble Thrust SSC on a Nevada salt flat in 1997, which averaged 1223.7 km/h and broke the sound barrier while doing so.

Rosco McGlashan

Rosco McGlashan would like to set the new record next year once all the Covid palaver is over-and-done-with, and it will likely be set somewhere in the Queensland or Western Australian desert.  Rosco is no stranger to setting speed records; he is already the holder of the Australian land speed record, where in 1994 he clocked 802.6 km/h behind the wheel of a jet-powered predecessor to the Aussie Invader 5R out on the dry salt flats of Lake Gairdner, near Adelaide.  He has, after all, built all of his drag racing, exhibition, and land-speed racing vehicles himself over the years in a shed at his home.

Rosco has accurate computer modelling on the Aussie Invader 5R rocket-car, which suggests that the Aussie Invader 5R rocket-car will have enough power and thrust for launching the car from 0-100 km/h in approximately 1.1 seconds.  It should reach its target of 1000 mph in less than 30 seconds.  Slowing the Aussie Invader 5R rocket-car down is no mean feat and will thus will require a full 13 km of flat desert just to stop it.  A multi-stage deployment of high-speed hydraulic air brakes, mid-speed parachutes, and low-speed disc brakes have been designed to activate progressively to safely bring the vehicle to a halt.

Picking an exact location will depend largely on which organization or individual steps up as the primary sponsor for the effort. As will the practical necessity of having 5 km of flat desert for getting up to speed plus another 13 km to stop it.

Aussie Invader 5R

China’s Automotive Targets

Autonomous Bus Train

Looking at the current landscape of automotive skill, technology and manufacture, China places itself solidly at the forefront.  China is a prominent global automotive game changer.  The huge growth in vehicle traffic across China has been driven primarily by the country’s economic development.  The growth has been immensely rapid (particularly since 2000), where the rate of motorisation of this huge country has been nothing short of phenomenal.

The Chinese government has led a massive revolution towards the urbanizing of its people.  Research has shown that about 300 million people are expected to move to the cities over the next few years, where all of the existing – as well as new – cities will grow considerably with the influx of new inhabitants coming in from around the countryside.  This massive development plan is scheduled to run through until 2025 and is based on clear goals and the development of good electric mobilization.  Being able to integrate electric vehicles into digitised infrastructures and services will soon become a complete Chinese realization.

Currently, in China electric vehicles (EVs) are not subject to any major restrictions; if there are restrictions they are only minor.  Compared with the growing costs and restrictions enforced upon combustion engine vehicles, getting yourself into an EV brings massive benefits for Chinese owners of new EVs, and the financial incentives for having an EV are strong.  As early as 2013, a change of policy that favoured electric mobilization throughout China’s major cities and infrastructure was initiated.  The expanding EV charging infrastructure is continuing to grow rapidly, though it has some way to go before being consistently functional over wider areas.

Big digital companies like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are providing the drive and expertise behind the autonomous transport network across China’s major cities.  Many big brand car manufacturers from around the world have already linked with huge Chinese automotive companies seeking to use China as a platform and marriage for producing their cars at lower cost, and it would seem logical that, after entering the Western market via European brands, the first imports of premium Chinese vehicles (hybrid, EV and Fuel Cell) from China to other countries around the world can be expected over the next few years.  The commercial EV sector and EV buses will likely arrive even sooner.

The Arab, Latin American and African markets are ripe for gaining access by the Chinese automotive manufacturers.  Also the Silk Road Project can be perceived as a means for opening up the Asian market to the big Chinese brands of EVs and Fuel Cell vehicles.

China is on target for completely phasing out combustion technology much earlier than was first expected.  At the end of 2017, Chinese car manufacturer BAIC announced plans to stop production of non-electric and hybrid cars by the end of 2025.

We see the Chinese brands like Great Wall, Haval, MG and LDV growing here in Australia, and it seems that this Chinese automotive development will continue rapidly into countries who want to take non fossil fuel transport to new levels.  China will play a key, dynamically strong role in the future of clean automotive transport.  I wonder how soon we’ll see more autonomous and EV transport being rolled out in Australia?

Japan’s Automotive Brilliance

Tokyo, Japan

You can’t go anywhere around Australia without noticing just how many Japanese made vehicles are motoring around our roads (and off them).  Since the 1960s, Japan has been among the top 3 automotive manufacturers in the world.  The country is home to a number of motor companies, and you’ll be familiar with them: Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Subaru, Isuzu.  There are, of course, more than these mainstream manufacturers.  Japan has around 78 car-manufacturing factories in 22 regions, and these employ over 5.5 million people (more than the entire population of New Zealand).

The strong competition that is happening on a global scale in the automotive industry has forced the manufacturers to come up with a new model design every four to five years.  Along with the new models, new innovative designs and new technologies are presented and used by the automakers in their new vehicles.  Automotive manufacturing is the prominent manufacturing type in Japan, which takes up 89% of the country’s manufacturing sector.  A large amount of time and money are invested into developing and improving the automotive manufacturing process, which, in turn, increases the quality and efficiency of their manufactured automotive products.

Some of the brilliant new developments from Japan automobile manufacturers have led to distinct and innovative new designs for current and future automobiles.  In order to control the market dependency on fuels, and in order to design vehicles that are more fuel-efficient, Japanese automakers have invested and built hybrid vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles.

The ideology and popularity of environmentally friendly vehicles is creating a wave of global interest and demand for these sorts of vehicles.  More and more automakers around the globe are focusing on creating the types of vehicles that are friendlier on the environment to their production line.  Japan’s automotive manufacturers are leaders in this field.  Japanese innovations in these technology sectors include autonomous taxi services and airport transportation, high-definition maps and open-source software modules for autonomous vehicles, advanced hydrogen fuel cell and alternating-current battery technology, and silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductor films for EV power electronics.  Japanese companies have been developing hydrogen fuel cell technology, which is projected to reach a market size of approximately $43 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 66.9% from 2019 to 2026.  Japan’s prowess in creating autonomous vehicles and their resulting cutting edge safety features puts them well ahead of the game.

An electric vehicle is an automobile that produces power from electrical energy stored in batteries instead of from the burning of fossil fuels.  Top automakers such as Toyota, Honda, and Nissan are already class leaders.

Hybrid vehicles use two or more distinct power sources to move the car.  Typically, electric motors combine with traditional internal combustion engines to produce power. Hybrid vehicles are highly fuel efficient.  Again, Japan’s Toyota motor company is one of the automotive industry leaders in hybrid vehicle research and production – with the Toyota  Prius model leading the way.  Hybrid variants are available on many of Toyota’s collection of new vehicles.

A Fuel Cell Vehicle is equipped with a “Fuel Cell” in which electricity is generated through the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.  This chemical reaction provides the source of power to the motor.  Fuel cell systems operate by compressing hydrogen made from natural gas and gasoline, which is then converted to hydrogen by on-board systems.  Toyota’s latest fuel cell vehicle, the Mirai II, is sold in Japan.  The Mirai II uses a Hydrogen Electrochemical fuel cell that creates 130 kW.  The electric motor that is powered by the fuel cell produces 136 kW and 300 Nm.  It’s very stylish, too.

Toyota Mirai II

Top Six Tips For Ending The School Run Motoring Madness

If you listen carefully, you might hear the sound of parents (and quite a few children) cheering because the long summer holidays are over and it’s time for the school year to start.  Or maybe you won’t hear the cheering because all you can hear is the sound of traffic as everybody carts the little nippers to school.

I don’t suppose I’m the only person with grown-up children who avoids certain parts of the road at certain times of day, namely the places nearest the school and the times when school is starting and finishing.  We all know that the traffic goes mad at this time of day, with everybody wanting to pick up their kids or drop them off, depending on what the case may be.

I get it, I really do.  I’ve brought up kids and got them to school, and I appreciate how you want your children to arrive on time and safely.  I can understand how you’re busy and how you need to fit the school run into a hectic day.  However, there are things that we can all do to ease the congestion a bit so that there is less chance of an accident.  After all, if the road outside the school is madly full of cars of all sizes all trying to get the best parking spots to pick up young Jack and Olivia, then there is more chance of what the traffic analysts will coldly call a “human–vehicle conflict” and what everybody else calls a tragic accident.

So what can we do to make sure that everybody gets their kids to school and back safely? Now that the school year is starting off, here my six best ideas that you might like to apply.

  1. Do the kids actually need to be dropped off at the gate? This is where I trot out the old “I had to walk to school” speech, although I had to walk along a main road rather than through the snow, barefoot and uphill both ways. If your children are reasonably fit and active, and they have good traffic awareness around driveways and intersections (especially if there are good traffic lights or pedestrian crossings), then consider having the kids walk to school. It’s good exercise for them – and possibly you.  If the school is within 2 km of your home and your children are over 10, then there probably isn’t any good reason why they can’t walk themselves to school.
  2. Can you stay out of the crazy congestion zone? If the school is a bit further away and/or your regular commute takes you near it, then you could consider dropping the kids off outside the crazy zone right outside the school.  For example, instead of taking that detour on the way to work to drop the kids at the school gate, why not drop them off where you would have turned off? If they’re too young to walk alone, then park the car and walk with them for those last few blocks to the school gate. If they’re old enough to walk alone… well, they’re probably at the age when having Mummy walk with them to school is embarrassing anyway.
  3. Try carpooling. If you are not the only person on your street who does the school run, or if your kids go to the same after-school activities as someone else at the same school, then maybe it’s time to organise a car pool. This will be limited by the number of seats in your vehicle, of course.  Perhaps it’s time to think about getting a seven-seat MPV? However, car pooling can be a great way to build community and make some connections.
  4. Don’t double-park. If your only option is to drop the kids off at school yourself, then be a courteous driver. Don’t double park so that you can drop the youngsters off as close as possible to the gate. Double-parking makes things extremely difficult for those who are still learning how to cross the road as well as being supremely annoying for other drivers.  It’s also illegal.  Even if you’re not technically parked but are just stopping just for a moment to just let the kids out, still don’t do it.
  5. Keep out of any No Parking zones. Yes, your children are special, valuable and important. So are everybody else’s children. Let’s all respect the No Parking zones and don’t think that the rules don’t apply to you because you’re doing it for your children and they come first.
  6. If your school drop-off zone has time limits, respect them. Quite a few school have “kiss and run” drop-off points where you can stop for long enough to drop the kids off and say goodbye with a hug or kiss (if your kids are young enough to let you do this).  If we all respect the time limits here, then these systems will work.  These places are not the time to discuss lost homework, nosebleeds, etc. If an emergency arises, deal with it further down the street, not in the “kiss and run” spot.

Oh yes – if you want to try any of the ideas that involve children walking and there’s a chance that they’ll be late, you can take advantage of the fact that children who are old enough to walk by themselves are also at the age when parents are embarrassing because they exist.  Acquire some ghastly piece of clothing and state that if you have to drop them off because they mucked around and are now running late, you will do so wearing said item of clothing IN FRONT OF EVERYBODY.  It works.