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Makes and Models

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

 

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.

EVs and the Japanese Manufacturers

I like to get a feel for what is truly happening in the EV world by heading over to the Japanese to see what they are up to.  The Japanese make the best cars in the world, at least from a reliability and practical point of view, so it makes sense to me to have a look at what their plans are when it comes to EV innovation, invention and implementation.

Mazda

Mazda MX 30 EV

Mazda is planning to introduce ‘Skyactiv Multi-Solution Scalable Architecture’ for hybrids, PHEVs and EVs in 2022, and they plan to offer three EV models, five PHEV models and five hybrid models sometime between 2022 and 2025.  Mazda will also keep hybrids and PHEVs as part of their saleable new cars beyond 2030.

By the end of 2023, Mazda plans to show at least two plug-in hybrids by the end of the year.

In 2026 Mazda plans to show the platform for a new generation of EVs in the early part of the year.

By 2030 Mazda plans to offer a hybrid or electric variant for every model that Mazda has in their line-up.  However, even though Mazda will develop a dedicated EV platform by 2025, Mazda’s majority of vehicles beyond 2030 will be hybrids and plug-in hybrids, and, as such, Mazda is not about to stop developing its internal combustion engines anytime soon.

Honda

Honda EV Crossover

Honda plans to develop its own solid-state battery tech, rather than relying on outside developers.

By 2023, a Honda EV built in partnership with GM, reportedly a crossover, is expected to enter production.

Honda foresees that 40% of their models will be electric or hydrogen fuel-cell powered by 2030, climbing to 100% by 2040.  Honda is one of just a handful of automakers alongside Toyota, Hyundai, and BMW, to devote plenty of their development energy into to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

Toyota

Toyota BZ EV Concept

By 2025, Toyota plans to launch 60 new hybrid, electric, or fuel-cell vehicles by the end of that year, and it also expects to have reached its goal of selling 5.5 million EVs each year.  Their dedication to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles is strong, and they remain big game players in this sort of technology.

Looking across the Tasman (where NZ’s PM, Jacinda Ardern, put her foot in it by claiming that Toyota would be providing EV utes in just 2 more years) it is evident that Toyota will not be putting all their eggs in one basket and going totally bent on EV production.  Toyota is adamant that a slow EV uptake is more likely, and hence they would not be giving up on their particularly good hybrid engine technology any time soon.

Nissan

Nissan ids Concept EV

Nissan is the manufacturer of the highly successful Nissan Leaf EV Hatchback, which has been in production for some years now.  By 2023, Nissan plans to have launched eight EVs by the end of the year and will be hoping to be on target to sell 1-million hybrid or electric vehicles, globally, per-year.  Nissan states that their hybrid technology and their technology to improve their internal combustion engines won’t be stopping before 2030, at least.

Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Mitsubishi has the marvellous Outlander PHEV, which has been in production for many years now.  By 2030, Mitsubishi plans for 50% of its global sales to come from hybrid or electric vehicles.  I guess that leaves 50% to be still made up of efficient internal combustion vehicles.

Subaru

Subaru Solterra EV Concept

Subaru, by 2030, expects 40% of its global sales to come from hybrid or electric vehicles.  By 2035, Subaru plans to have a hybrid or electric version of every vehicle in its line-up.  Subaru seems to be singing off a similar song sheet to Toyota, where they both suggest that the hybrid vehicle will prove to be more popular in the short term, particularly as the EV infrastructure has a long way to go.

By 2050, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Nissan have made bold plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions.

The big questions are: Will the EV-charging infrastructure match the manufacturer claims?  Will people be able to afford an EV, let alone the huge cost to make their home charge ready, as the ideologically bold demands that some governments introduce along with big taxes?  Who is going to pay for all of this?

I read a recent comment where a reader of ‘Car and Driver’ made a very informed comment:

“It’s a ‘no thanks’ on Li batteries from me.  Lithium extraction has already spoiled the Atacama desert in Chile and now they have their sights set on the American West.  I can reduce my CO2 footprint far more by just driving less than by purchasing a 100 kWh battery, and the 10-20T of CO2 that was released to make it. I’ll wait for fuel cells.  As a Toyota driver… I have time.”

Small Overlap Crash Test

The influx of all the amazing new electronic safety aids and crash avoidance systems found on-board new cars has been exceptional.  There is no doubt that these systems are helping save lives and minimising injury.  There has been one part of the latest car crash testing regime that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has brought in as part of their testing in order to help make cars safer.

The IIHS is an independent, non-profit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries and property damage from motor vehicle crashes through their ongoing research and evaluation, and through the education of consumers, policymakers and safety professionals.  The IIHS is funded by auto insurance companies and was established back in 1959.  Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia, USA.  A lot of what the IIHS does is crash test cars in a variety of ways to gather data, analyse the data, and observe the vehicles during and after the crash tests to quantify how safe each car is.  The results and findings are published on their website at IIHS.org.  Car manufacturers have been forced to take these tests seriously because, at the end of the day, these results matter and will affect car sales as the public become informed about how safe their cars will likely be in the event of an accident.

Since 2012, the IIHS has introduced a couple of new tests that they put the vehicles through to see how safe they are in an event of small overlap collision.  The driver-side small overlap frontal test was brought about to help encourage further improvements in vehicle frontal crash protection.  Keeping in mind that these IIHS tests are carried out using cars with left-hand-drive, the test is designed to replicate what happens when the front left corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.  This crash test is a challenge for some safety belt and airbag designs because occupants move both forward and toward the side of the vehicle from the time of impact.  In the driver-side small overlap frontal test, a vehicle travels at 40 mph (64 km/h) toward a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier.  A Hybrid III dummy representing an average-size man is positioned in the driver seat.  25% percent of the total width of the vehicle strikes the barrier on the driver side.

Most modern cars have safety cages encapsulating the occupant compartment and are built to withstand head-on collisions and moderate overlap frontal crashes with little deformation.  At the same time, crush zones help manage crash energy to reduce forces on the occupant compartment.  The main crush-zone structures are concentrated in the middle 50% of the front end.  When a crash involves these structures, the occupant compartment is protected from intrusion, and front airbags and safety belts can effectively restrain and protect occupants.

However, the small overlap frontal crashes primarily affect a vehicle’s outer edges, which aren’t well protected by the crush-zone structures.  Crash forces go directly into the front wheel, the suspension system and the firewall.  It is not uncommon for the wheel to be forced rearward into the footwell, contributing to even more intrusion into the occupant compartment, which often results in serious leg and foot injuries.  To provide effective protection in these small overlap crashes, the safety cage needs to resist crash forces that haven’t been amplified, concentrated on one area or aren’t tempered by crush-zone structures.  Widening these front-end crash protection structures does help.

The IIHS also performs the passenger-side small overlap frontal test.  The passenger-side test is the same as the driver-side test, except the vehicle overlaps the barrier on the right side.  In addition, instead of just one Hybrid III dummy, there are two — one in the driver seat and one in the passenger seat.

Automotive manufacturers initially responded to these driver-side small overlap test results by improving vehicle structures and airbags, and most vehicles now earn good ratings.  However, IIHS research tests demonstrated that those improvements didn’t always carry over to the passenger side.  Discrepancies between the left and right sides of vehicles spurred the IIHS to develop a passenger-side small overlap test and begin issuing passenger-side ratings in 2017.

It is good that vehicle safety always seems to be on the improve and, with each new model, the new-car buyer can expect a safer vehicle.  Thanks to crash testers like the IIHS, ANCAP and Euro NCAP, we are experiencing safer cars on our roads.

A Moment of Silence

Holden HSV

Over the last decade there have been a few car manufacturers who have pulled out of selling cars in Australia.  But, as those leave, there have also been numerous new marques who have arrived on the scene, which is great to see.  Let’s not forget the old faithful marques, who are the manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, BMW and Porsche who have been selling cars in Australia for three decades or more.  So what’s changed over the last ten years?

Over this last decade we have had to say goodbye to Holden – perhaps the saddest exit.  The company was founded in 1856 as a saddlery manufacturer in South Australia, only to be wound up over the last year or so.  The Holden roots in Australia have run very deep.

Chery made its arrival in 2011 and stuck around for a few beers and was off again in 2016.  Chery once sold Australia’s cheapest new car for under $10k.

During the last decade, Dodge wrapped things up as well, though we still see the RAM logo in the form of the RAM Trucks that are sold new in Australia.  A RAM Truck is the king of the Ute/light truck world.

Equally as sad, for some, as the vanishing of Holden has been the cessation of the awesome line of HSV (Holden Special Vehicles) and FPV (Ford Performance Vehicles) muscle cars.  Oh how things change when people get a whiff of the climate change spin and big money opportunities with such amazing “clean” vehicles like EVs.

One luxury marque that made a brief appearance was Infiniti.  Only recently, we’ve waved goodbye to this very classy and elegant line of cars that for some reason struggled to make their way into a buyer population who were stayed in their buying habits.  Some of the Infiniti cars were seriously quick, had unique style and were reliable and comfortable.

2012 saw Opel opening many showrooms across Australia.  The new Opel Astra and Opel Insignia cars were quite stylish cars, though they only managed a few sales.  They too had a few beers and then folded up a year or two later.

Proton cars also came onto the scene in 2012 and sold a few hundred cars, however the aging models did not sell well in 2017 at all, so they were axed.  There are rumours of them making a comeback with a new range of cars under Geely’s ownership.

1991 Saab 900 Turbo 16 S

Another very sad day in the last decade of the Australian and global motoring industry was when Saab were forced to wrap up.  I miss their individuality and the range of powerful four-cylinder, turbocharged engines.  Australia has also said goodbye to Smart cars, a range of tiny city cars that were made by Mercedes.  They never sold well.

The new popular car marques that have entered the Australian car market over the last few years has been: Genesis, Great Wall, Haaval, LDV, Mahindra, MG, RAM Trucks and Tesla.  Most of these are of Asian origin.

Tesla