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Reasonably Priced Hybrid Vehicles (A-H)

In-between stages can sometimes get tricky.  The next set of sit-ups before truly hitting your peak fitness regime.  That gap year before study, or the six months prior to the new job contract starting.  What about the EV world?  We’re not capable of running a full fleet of EV cars yet, but maybe there’s an in-between vehicle that ticks all the right boxes before we go fully electric.

The truth is that the new hybrid vehicles are the best cars for this moment in time.  They deliver the very best low fuel consumption figures and will also try to run pure electric as much of the time as is practical or possible.

Hybrids are great vehicles, usually well-priced, thus perfect for softening the blow to the wallet – there are some hideously expensive EVs available.  Most desirable new EVs have price tags that, for most of us, will be well beyond our budget.  So what hybrid vehicles are on the market for reasonable money?  How much will they set you back when you buy new?  And what sort of fuel consumption can you expect?  Let’s have a look and see…

 

BMW 330e Sedan Hybrid Sedan

Drive away from around $85k in your new BMW 330e Hybrid sedan, where a claimed combined fuel consumption of around 5.6 litres/100 km combined with 215 kW provides plenty of spirited driving (0-100 km/h in around 6 seconds).  Comfort, safety and all the new technology is on-board this neat 3 Series Hybrid Sedan package.  375 litres of boot space is present.

Honda Accord VTi-LX Hybrid Sedan

Drive away in a new Honda Accord Hybrid for around $61k, and you get a wonderful 2.0-litre petrol and electronic combo that serves up 158 kW of power running through a 1-speed CVT FWD set-up.  This is a very comfortable car with plenty of space in the cabin, and you get all the latest technology and safety.  It is fun to drive, with the 0-100 km/h sprint taking around 8 seconds.  Honda indicates that you can expect around 5.0 litres/100 km for a combined fuel consumption figure.  473 litres of boot space is present.

Honda HR-V e:HEV L

Wanting a new small SUV with Hybrid technology?  Then Honda’s little HR-V is a beauty.  Drive away in a new Honda HR-V e from around $45k, and it will boast a smooth 1.5-litre petrol and electronic combo that serves up 96 kW of power running through a 1-speed CVT FWD set-up.  Honda suggests we can expect a combined fuel consumption of around 4.3 litres/100 km.  319 litres of boot space is present.

Hyundai IONIQ Hybrid Premium Fastback

Drive away from around $46k.  With its neat little Fastback design, the 1.6-litre ULP engine combines with a small electric motor to put out a sprightly 104 kW of power.  This Hybrid set-up runs a more conventional 6-speed automatic FWD, and it is a smooth, comfortable vehicle to drive.  Undercutting competitors such as the Toyota Prius and Renault Zoe, Hyundai’s IONIQ comes with plenty of premium features like autonomous emergency braking, an 8-year battery warranty and an attractive capped-price servicing deal.  The regular hybrid version is quoted at having a fuel consumption figure as low as 3.4 litres/100 km, while the plug-in version was quoted at an astonishing 1.1 litres/100 km.  Real world figures will be a bit more, I’m sure, but.  Boot space is 443 litres.

Be an in-betweener and gain some of the benefits.  Take a look at the next blog list of Hybrid vehicles available (Kia-Merc).

Solid-State Batteries for EVs

The flourish of new electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids on the auto markets hint towards the diminishing of fossil fuel use.  EV sales have a long, long way to go before outselling vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs), but the goals have been set by international emission standard agreements.  Certainly, doing away with EV range anxiety, the liquid lithium-ion batteries proneness to catching fire, having EVs with brief recharging times that are in line with current ICE refuelling times, and have pricing parity between a new EV and an equivalent new ICE vehicle would make a world of difference in the minds of people on the lookout for a new car.  Once these EV problems have been solved, perhaps consumers will genuinely buy into an all-EV future.

The good news for EV enthusiasts is that essentially every big automotive manufacturer in the world has unveiled its fleet’s electrification plans and zero-emission target dates. Some manufacturers have even gone further, declaring that gasoline and diesel engines would no longer be available in their model line-ups by 2050.  And, in order for these claims to become reality, some big landmark advancements in the EV future are being made right now, with huge money currently being pumped into various manufacturer’s kitties to research and create the perfect solid-state battery – especially designed for use in EVs.

One automotive manufacturer with a big sway in what goes down in the automotive world is Toyota, and they have pumped billions into creating a solid-state battery for use in their future hybrid vehicles and EVs.  A version of Toyota’s LQ Concept, which first debuted at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show, is now using working solid-state batteries, and has been doing so since June 2020.  Toyota has been collecting all the performance data from the solid state batteries in the LQ for research, development, and better solid-state battery designs.  The LQ Concept car is unlikely to end up as a production vehicle, however the solid-state batteries inside the car, and their development, will be used as a blueprint in Toyota’s new hybrid vehicles and EVs soon to make an appearance on the market for buyers to purchase.

Toyota LQ Concept Solid-State

Toyota’s quick development of solid-state batteries for use in all their hybrid and electric vehicles by 2030 is a sign of the ramping up in EV production that is happening not only at Toyota but in all other big global automotive brands who are boosting investments in the anticipation of greater EV and hybrid vehicle consumerism.

What battery type does Tesla use?  Currently, Tesla has been using heavy liquid lithium-ion battery technology.  However solid-state batteries are really the next step in clever battery technology, especially for EVs.  Why?  Solid-state batteries offer much better energy density, which leads to smaller, lighter batteries for cars but with a vastly improved range before recharging is necessary.  Solid-state batteries will also be able to recharge from empty (flat) to 80 % in just 15 min – not anywhere between 2 to 10 hours that is currently the norm, if you can find a spare fast charger to park up at.

The good news for solid-state batteries doesn’t stop here either, because solid-state batteries are inherently safer due to the lack of flammable liquid electrolytes that you’ll find in liquid lithium-ion batteries.  You may have heard of various electronic devices bursting into flame?  Well, liquid lithium-ion batteries bursting into flame and causing fires in various EVs over the last couple of decades has been an issue.  This in itself has deterred many people away from buying into EVs altogether.

So, big dollars are being spent in the design of solid electrolyte batteries (solid-state batteries) that are stable, chemically inert, and still a good conductor of ions between the electrodes.  In essence solid-state batteries will be doing away with the slopping, flammable liquid lithium-ion electrolyte battery designs.

By default, solid-state batteries are more stable, but they are also more compact in design, and therefore lighter.  Solid state batteries thus pack more energy output into the same amount of storage space that heavier and lower-output liquid lithium-ion batteries require.  Because solid-state batteries are lighter, they have more energy density, offer more range, and deliver a better power to weight ratio, and they also recharge faster.

Solid-state batteries have been used in small electronic devices like pacemakers (an amazing bit of life-changing tech) as well as radio frequency identification (RFID), and wearable devices for years.  Having fewer bits and pieces involved in the solid-state battery design means fewer things are present to go wrong.  In addition to their improved safety, size, and stability, solid-state batteries in EVs would also offer faster charging times, more travel range, and even greater energy density.

Solid electrolytes in solid-state batteries can even be composed from a number of everyday materials – even ceramics and glass.  The challenge to making solid-state batteries viable, however, is developing the technology that is commonly used in small devices and applying it to large-scale applications like in an EV.  Currently, solid state batteries are expensive to fabricate because they have been prone to cracking, which has been a result of the brittleness of the electrolytes inside the battery expanding and contracting during continual use.  The new research and development is setting out to change this.

Toyota is cracking the problem and will be using their solid-state batteries in their new range of hybrid vehicles first, which is an ideal testing ground for their fully-kitted EVs soon.  Volkswagen is also promising that they will have solid-state batteries in use and in their cars by 2024.  Like Toyota and Volkswagen, BMW anticipates that solid-state batteries could make it into production cars by 2025.  Tech giants Samsung and Panasonic are working away at creating a range of solid state batteries that automakers will be able to use.  Toyota has partnered with Panasonic to pave the way to an EV future.

Cars with the Biggest Mileage

Irving Gordon in his 1966 Volvo 1800S.

There is such a thing as the “Million-Mile Club”, a club for owners of cars which have travelled the 1–million milestone.  It is a very distinguished club that boasts a special list of cars and some special owners who have clicked over the huge distances.  The details of the car plus its owner can be proudly enlisted for the world to see and admire.  What cars feature most in the highest of highest mileage cub?  Maybe not so surprising to some people, but a few of the older vehicles made by Volvo and Mercedes have made it onto this rather prestigious list.  There certainly was a time where Mercedes Benz and Volvo made some of the most bulletproof cars on the planet.

Maybe some of these big mileage cars should be regarded as being sustainably green.  How many times would other people have bought a new car in that time?

Now I have a sneaky suspicion that there could be an old Ford Falcon or a Commie that could make its way onto the big milage hall of fame.  I did see on a Ford Forum page that of the AU-BF Falcon models, there was an AU Falcon Taxi with 930,000 km, and 04 BA Falcon XT wagon Egas with 906,600 km, an AU Forte Duel Fuel with 850,000 km and a BA Falcon Egas with 566,000 km on it.  These are big numbers, but not quite 1 million miles!  Sorry Holden fans, I can’t find any with much over 300,000 km!

Here’s a quick list of some of the furthest travelled cars on the planet – highest first:

  1. Over 3,000,000 miles (Over 4,800,000 km) – the highest recorded thus far by Irving Gordon in his 1966 Volvo 1800S. He changed the oil every 3,000 – 3,500 miles and changed the transmission fluid every 25,000 miles. Sadly, Irving has recently passed away.

Irving Gordon in his 1966 Volvo 1800S.

2) Gregorios Sachinidis with his 1976 Mercedes 240D clocked 2,850,000 miles.  The car, predominantly a taxi, is now on display in Mercedes-Benz’s personal museum as the longest running vehicle in the brand’s history.

A Mercedes Benz 240D a bit like his.

3) 1979 Volvo 245 GL, a well maintained Finnish company vehicle covered 1,630,000 miles.

The Volvo 245 GL Estate

4) A 1963 Plymouth Fury takes out fourth place having reached 1,620,000 miles by 1999.  It was owned and driven by Joseph Vaillancourt, however it was totalled by another road user in a truck running a red light.  Thankfully Joseph was unhurt!

A Plymouth Fury

5) A 1983 Lincoln Town Car that was owned by Chet Belisle covered 1.3 million miles.  He drove because he loved driving it.

A Lincoln Town Car

6) A 1991 Chevrolet Silverado owned by Frank Oresnik put over 1.25 million miles on the odometer.

A 1991 Chevrolet Silverado

7) A 1993 Toyota Corolla in New Zealand has just recently clocked a huge 1.25 million miles (2,000,000 km) since new. The Whanganui Chronicle’s local newspaper delivery contractor, Graeme Hebley, bought the Corolla wagon from Japan in 2000 with 80,000 km on the odometer.  Since then, he has since driven approximately 5000 km every week between Wellington and New Plymouth for work.  The engine, transmission, bodywork, and drivetrain are entirely original, all thanks to a maintenance routine where the vehicle is serviced every second week.  It has had its cambelt changed close to 20 times in its life.

Graeme Hebley and his Toyota Corolla

8) A 2006 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 Diesel owned by Hugh & Tammy Pennington has done well over the 1 million mile mark with no major maintenance.  Routine servicing was the key.

A 2006 Chevrolet Silverado

Lightyear One – a Solar Powered EV

Lightyear One – a Solar Powered EV

In a country like Australia where the sun shines brightly for most of the year a car like the Lightyear One might be just the thing for getting around in.  Sleek and comfortable, the Lightyear One is a solar-powered electric vehicle (EV) that has been designed and engineered in the Netherlands by Lightyear.

Having been recently tested in Italy, the Lightyear One completed 400 km on a single charge while driving at a constant speed of 130 km/h.  According to Lightyear One’s manufacturer, regular driving will easily result in a range of 725 km (WLTP).  If you’re like me and don’t know what WLTP means, then WLTP stands for Worldwide Harmonized Light-Duty Test Procedure.  This mouthful is a new standard to measure fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, and range.  The standard was introduced in 2017 and takes the measurements of test vehicles when driven in realistic driving situations to determine their fuel consumption, range, and emissions.

Lightyear One Interior

Because the Lightyear One is a solar-powered EV, its manufacturer also states that it would be possible to drive the car for months without needing to recharge.  In Australia, where the sun shines most days of the year, a car like the Lightyear One would be perfect for this scenario.  Take a good look at the car’s exterior and you’ll see the array of solar panels incorporated into the sleek exterior design.  All of the panels facing skyward are made of solar panels and are ready for harvesting energy from the sun to charge the 60 kWh battery.  5 m2 of solar panels cover the Lightyear One’s roof, bonnet and tail and are capable of harnessing up to 12 km of range every hour. That means during a sunny 8-hour workday, a parked up Lightyear One could harvest 96 km of driving range – more than enough for most people’s work commutes.  Even in cloudy conditions, its maker claims the Lightyear One that around 40 km of range can be harvested in that time.  Obviously, you can also plug the car in for a quick recharge if you ever needed to.

Jump in the Lightyear One and drive on a full charge, and the Lightyear One’s 60 kWh battery pack provides a claimed 725 km of range, making it one of the most energy efficient EVs on the market.  Efficiency of this standard is also achieved thanks to its construction consisting essentially of aluminium and carbon-fibre which gives it a weight of just 1315 kg.  Also the car’s drag coefficient of just 0.20cd is sensational.  As you can imagine, the aluminium and carbo-fibre underpinnings also drive the price of the car upward.

The Lightyear One is being manufactured in Finland, where its first deliveries will be made to Europe in mid-2022.  The car’s price is around the AUD $238,000 mark.  Just 946 of these cars will be built, however the company is already working on a more affordable solar-powered EV called the Lightyear Two which is expected to go on sale in 2024/25.  It will have a much more affordable price, maybe even as low as AUD $50,000.

Lightyear One Sedan

In the Lightyear One there are 4 electric motors on board, one for each wheel.  These provide the driving power.  Together, they produce a combined 101 kW of power and 1200 Nm of torque.  The car’s manufacturers say that the Lightyear One Sedan can seat 5 in comfort, and it has been designed especially for cruising and efficiency, and not for outright speed, thus claiming a 0-100 km/h sprint time of around 10 seconds.

I hope we see cars like this become available to people in Australia very soon.  It also begs the question: Couldn’t the Holden name resurrect itself by Holden designers and engineers making a similar type of car in Australia for primarily Australians?

Hydrogen V8 ICE

Exciting news for internal combustion engine (ICE) lovers: Toyota, Mazda, Subaru and Kawasaki are wanting to collaborate on the attempt to keep the combustion engine alive while meeting all the global clean air targets.  Not only that, but Toyota and long-time Japanese engineering partner Yamaha are at work developing a special new hydrogen-powered 5.0-litre V8 engine.  Unlike a hydrogen fuel-cell car, which combines hydrogen and oxygen atoms to create electricity to drive a motor, this new hydrogen V8 internal combustion engine is a conventional piston-driven engine that has been tuned to burn hydrogen instead of petrol.

While this newly developed V8 engine isn’t completely new, the way it’s fuelled is.  It’s a 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 that is based off the engine that has been used in the Lexus RC F coupe.  Yamaha says that it produces around 335 kW of power at 6800 rpm and 540 Nm of torque at 3600 rpm.  Having modified the injectors, the head, the intake manifolds and other engine components, this work has added up to make the engine environmentally friendly.  The hydrogen-fed ICE has become less powerful than the petrol-fed V8 that the hydrogen engine is based on.  In the Lexus RC F coupe, the petrol V8 puts out 472 kW and 536 Nm of torque, so while torque has increased a little, power has dropped considerably.  That said, 331 kW is still a stonking amount of power to enjoy, and more often than not it is the torque that you really want in the real world conditions.  You also still get the sound of a burbling V8, and what’s not to like about that!

Yamaha engineer, Takeshi Yamada, said that the engine has a different character to a conventional petrol motor.  He stated that hydrogen engines provide a friendlier feel, making them easier to use even without having utilize other electronic aids for the drive.

Toyota is clearly committed to the project of providing ICE powerplants that use hydrogen as the fuel.  Given that Toyota has run a hydrogen-powered Toyota Corolla in Japan’s Super Taikyu race series as well as showcasing a hydrogen-powered Toyota Yaris GR prototype with the same hydrogen engine technology, it is obvious that they want to continue with this new breed of ICE.

One of the beauties about burning hydrogen instead of petrol is that the hydrogen powerplant does not produce carbon dioxide, which is considered to be one of the primary contributors to global warming.  There would also be no significant nitrogen oxides emissions from an ICE designed to burn hydrogen, thanks to the selective catalytic reduction technology used in the aftertreatment of the combustion gases.

“Hydrogen engines house the potential to be carbon-neutral while keeping our passion for the internal combustion engine alive at the same time,” Yamaha Motor president Yoshihiro Hidaka said.  He also added that: “I started to see that engines using only hydrogen for fuel actually had very fun, easy-to-use performance characteristics”.

While hydrogen is plentiful in the universe, it must be separated from other compounds to be used as fuel.  Up to the year 2020, most hydrogen was produced from fossil fuels, resulting in CO2 emissions. Hydrogen obtained from fossil fuels is often referred to as grey hydrogen, when emissions are released into the atmosphere.  Blue hydrogen is the hydrogen produced from fossil fuels when emissions are captured through carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Hydrogen that is produced from fossil fuels using the newer non-polluting technology called methane pyrolysis is often called turquoise hydrogen.

You can also generate hydrogen from renewable energy sources, and this hydrogen is often referred to as green hydrogen.  There are two practical ways of producing green hydrogen.  One of the ways is to use electric power for producing hydrogen from the electrolysis of water.  The other way of producing green hydrogen is to use landfill gas to produce the green hydrogen in a steam reformer.  Hydrogen fuel, when it is produced by using renewable sources of energy like wind or solar power, is a renewable fuel.

Hydrogen can also be created from another renewable energy source called nuclear energy via electrolysis, and this is sometimes seen as a subset of green hydrogen, but it can also be referred to as being pink hydrogen.

Obviously, when a car can be designed to run on hydrogen that has been produced from renewable energy sources, then this is a good thing.  Toyota and Yamaha remain adamant that this is great technology which could carve out a niche for itself in the new EV automotive landscape.

Toyota has also recently revealed a fleet of 12 zero tailpipe-emission concept vehicles, many of which will reach production in the coming years.

This is all good news stuff, especially for those of us who love the sound of an ICE instead of a silent EV.  The noisy farts always get the best round of laughter!

An FCEV for Our Environment

With the rising concerns over greenhouse gas emissions, the development of ammonia fuelled vehicles as environmentally friendly cars would have to look rather promising.  A car running on NH3 – now what’s not to like about that?

Many scientists believe that it is urgent to reduce CO2 emissions because of the global warming effect that the gas has on the climate around the globe.  Despite CO2 in the atmosphere being great for plant growth (some of the edges of the earth’s deserts are greening up again with increased CO2 in the atmosphere), and the earth’s water cycle playing a pivotal role in governing the earth’s temperature, the drive to create taxing emission standards and expensive alternatives continues to drive government policy worldwide.  What if we gradually changed over to another source of energy so that everyone in the world could afford the switch, allowing people to maintain a higher standard of living?

Using CO2–free fuels to reduce the level of CO2 emissions could be a viable option in the current climate.  So, what about ammonia?

An internal combustion engine (ICE) burns a fuel.  Basically, you can convert an engine to run on any fuel such as fossil-fuels, hydrogen and ammonia, and there are many ways to do so.  ICE engines are very good in combination with battery and hybrid systems.  It would be a perfect solution to make a hydrogen-fuelled vehicle with hydrogen that has been cracked out of ammonia and stored in the vehicle.  The ammonia would then be used to drive the electric propulsion system because an electric propulsion system is highly efficient.  That would be a perfect vehicle.

The battery system in this model would not need to be anywhere near the size of a pure EV and anywhere near the weight.  For instance, in a Tesla, the whole EV platform under the car is a battery pack that is massively heavy.  A clean-burning ICE producing heat-waste from the combustion process could use this heat-waste to warm up the cabin’s interior on a cold day, cool the cabin down via a heat exchanger, and could also be used to cool and heat the battery accordingly for optimum battery operating temperatures.

You can store accessible hydrogen in the form of ammonia (NH3).  Unlike hydrogen gas, which requires very low (cryogenic) temperatures to liquefy, ammonia becomes a liquid at –34°C.  Ammonia also does so at room temperature and at 9 atmospheric pressures, making it much more convenient to use as a transportation fuel.  Ammonia is comparatively inexpensive to produce, and the hydrogen can be separated out using catalysts without undue losses.

Essentially, you have a car with a combustion engine that is burning the hydrogen that is cracked out of the stored ammonia onboard the car to produce electricity.  The engine would have an alternator as an electric motor that would power the drivetrain with electricity at close to 99% efficiency.  This set-up is known as a Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV).

The FCEV above uses stored ammonia that’s cracked onboard the car to produce hydrogen to run the electric drive train – only emitting water vapour and warm air as exhaust, and is considered a zero-emission vehicle.  Now that sounds pretty smart, efficient and green to me!

Coming Up 2022

Like opening a Christmas present, finding out what cars are coming to us over the next year (2022) is an exciting prospect.  Here’s just a few vehicles that pricked my ears up the most:

Genesis G80 Electric

This is Genesis’ first-ever electric vehicle, and it’s coming to Australia early 2022.  Making use of solar panels that are integrated into the roof, using recycled timber and plastic materials for its interior, the Genesis G80 Electric is a very special flagship.  Ride comfort will be nothing short of amazing, utilising a ‘Pre-view’ adaptive suspension system that feeds data from cameras at the front of the car as well as from the navigation system to pre-empt road surfaces and adjust the suspension’s ride response as necessary.  Four interior sensors and six-microphones are present in the cabin to counteract intrusive audio frequencies – serenity exemplified!

It will be dynamic to drive, light on its feet and comfortable.  The twin-motor electric powertrain delivers 272 kW of power and 700 Nm of torque through an all-wheel drive system, enabling the G80 EV to blister the 0-100km/h in just 4.9 seconds.

The car will seamlessly switch between 2WD and AWD according to demands and conditions, thus reducing unnecessary power loss and increasing efficiency.  Genesis is claiming a 500 km-plus cruising range for the luxury EV flagship on a full battery charge.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

The good-looking new Jeep Grand Cherokee will provide five and seven-seat variants. It will be powered exclusively by the familiar 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol engine.  The V8 option won’t launch in Oz – a pity, maybe in the future.

The new 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee looks impressive with a range that comprises: Night Eagle, Limited, Overland, Summit and Summit Reserve trims, all of which will be available, primarily, as seven-seaters.  The Summit and Summit Reserve models will be able to be optioned with six seats rather than seven, allowing two free-standing captain’s seats that is separated by an elevated centre console.  The Night Eagle runs with a five-seater arrangement and, obviously a massive boot space.

The three higher grades also get a Quadra-Lift air suspension that can raise to 262 mm.

Mazda6

A very exciting new Mazda6 comes with a BMW-rivalling straight-six engine and rear-wheel-drive layout.  This will be Mazda’s flagship passenger car, and available in both SKYACTIV-X petrol and diesel forms.  Mazda’s new inline-six engine and eight-speed automatic transmission will be a peach, offering 48-volt mild-hybrid technology that increases power and efficiency by combining a belt-driven starter-generator and a small lithium-ion battery that’s recharged using any recovered energy.  The new mild-hybrid inline-six will produce around 260 kW.

The 2022 Mazda6 should win plenty of design awards thanks to its gorgeous, flowing lines and low-profile stance.  The Lexus IS, Genesis G70, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class will be firmly in its sight.

MG5

All-new and Thai-built, the MG5 is the next step in MG’s excellent plan.  There should be an MPV and a ute offered later as well.  Size-wise it’s similar to a Toyota Corolla, and price-wise should undercut Corolla and Kia Cerato rivals.

The MG5 will come with two body styles and be powered by an internal-combustion engine as well as an electrified powertrain.  First to arrive will be the petrol-powered liftback sedan, and there won’t be a station wagon option.

The MG5 builds onto the already widely popular MG ES SUV models.

Nissan Pathfinder

A brand new Nissan Pathfinder is coming that will offer an eight-seat option, as well as a model that comes with second-row captain’s chairs configuration.  Eight seats is something that even the top-selling Toyota Kluger cannot provide, nor the fine Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, and new Jeep Grand Cherokee.  This, therefore, sets it up nicely with the Mazda CX-9’s second-row captain’s chair variant.  Comfort is at the essence of what is a handy off-road/come tourer, and the Pathfinder will impress with space and refinement.

It will be loaded with goodies: an all-new infotainment system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging and connectivity, a 13-speaker Bose Premium Audio system, a digital Intelligent Around View Monitor, a 9.0-inch infotainment touch-screen, a 10.8-inch digital head-up display, and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.

The 3.5-litre petrol V6 with 210 kW and 350 Nm matches to an all-new nine-speed automatic transmission for smooth, relaxed perogress.  The all-new Intelligent 4WD system with seven-position Drive and Terrain Mode Selector gives it an off-road edge, while drive modes will include Standard, Sport, Eco, Snow, Sand, Mud/Rut and Tow.

Its fresh exterior design with a three-slot V-motion grille, C-shaped LED headlights, a ‘floating’ roofline and slimmer LED tail-lights all looks eye-catching and spacious. A total of 11 paint colour combinations will be offered.

Subaru WRX

Finally, the new Subaru WRX is coming!

The fifth-generation Japanese sports sedan’s boasts a 2.4-litre turbo-petrol boxer engine with 202 kW, and 350 Nm of torque comes spread out over a flatter and wider torque curve.  This will be joined by the higher-output STI version in late 2022/early 2023. A six-speed manual transmission and an improved eight-speed CVT auto with transmission oil cooler and paddle shifters lead the charge.

The new WRX rides on the same Subaru Global Platform that underpins the latest Impreza, helping to congeal a solid handling package with an improved ride and nicer refinement.

The chassis is more rigid, and Subaru provides the WRX with dual-pinion electric power steering, MacPherson front and double-wishbone rear suspension with revised suspension geometry, a lower centre of gravity and electronically adaptive dampers for GT versions, making for a sweet driver’s car with significantly improved handling dynamics.

Australia’s Most-Loved Utes Will be Going Hybrid

Earlier this year, Toyota set the benchmark when it announced that its much-loved dual-cab ute, the HiLux would be produced in hybrid format by the end of this decade. Although a long way off, it certainly set the scene for plenty to get excited about, with electrification here and here in a big way, and only set to gain more traction as time goes on.

We’re actually somewhat optimistic that Toyota will be able to fast-track the development of a hybrid HiLux given the tailwinds in effect pushing manufacturers to accelerate the transition to more environmentally-friendly cars. So while Toyota has flagged until the end of the decade for a hybrid HiLux, that may well be the case for the company’s entire model range, rather than it’s best-seller.

Toyota has been on record as saying it believes hybrids will be one of the dominant forms of vehicle over the short-term, while also representing a major chunk of the new car market down the track.

Ford joins the party with the Ranger

Australia’s other favourite ute, the Ford Ranger, is also set for an electrified future.

The blue oval brand has confirmed it will develop a hybrid Ranger, alongside a hybrid Everest four-wheel drive, with the jointly-developed pair set to be engineered locally in Australia and assembled out of Thailand.

Pleasingly, Ford is on a fast track to production, aiming to have the duo rolled out overseas by 2024, targeting countries where emissions targets are driving the push to green vehicles. Although that date does not extend to Australia at this stage, there is likely to be pressure over the coming years, particularly on a political front, that will hasten the need for more hybrid and electrified vehicles down under.

This development could very well play into the cards of a hybrid Ranger arriving much sooner than the timeline provided by Toyota. If that looks likely, watch out, because Toyota may well throw down the gauntlet to compete with its arch-nemesis on the hybrid battlefield.

It is looking increasingly as though a hybrid Ranger will be offered in petrol-electric format, with countries across Europe and North America now seemingly putting the brakes on diesel emissions.

What’s even more interesting, however, is that the 2022 version of the Ranger has been ‘future’proofed’ to accommodate hybrid power down the track, raising eyebrows about an even earlier arrival. Ford has achieved this thanks to a redesign of the Ranger’s chassis, optimising space under the hood.

 

What does it all mean? The timelines might be quite distant, but we think there could very well be a surprise to the upside in terms of the hybrid development of Australia’s two best-selling cars.

Another Manufacturer Bites the Dust

Australia has seen a few high-profile names depart from the local car market over recent years, and sadly, another name has joined the fold. After a long and admired time down under, Chrysler has followed the lead of Holden, pulling up stumps. It comes as the brand’s US parent company makes a decisive move to exit right-hand-drive production.

 

Chrysler’s time in Australia

The company first began producing vehicles in Australia back in 1951, which seems like an eternity ago in this day and age. At one stage, in the 1970s, buoyed by the popularity of the Valiant, Chrysler managed to rise to third on the charts among local manufacturers, producing upwards of 50,000 vehicles a year, and only trailing the two mainstays in Holden and Ford at the time.

Although the brand has seen sales dwindling for some time now, Chrysler was one of the few V8 sedan options sold in Australia over recent years. When Ford and Holden both put an end to their V8 plans, Chrysler was the sole remaining affordable V8 on the market. That means the final of its two-dozen Chrysler 300 sedans will not be replaced, and are the last options for new car buyers eyeing a new and affordable V8 in Australia.

Some observers may be wondering if the Chrysler 300 was even for sale after being withdrawn from Australian showrooms at the start of this year. However, new car buyers have been able to buy the car on special order, even though supply constraints have hampered the process – a force felt by a number of other dealers as well.

 

 

What does the decision mean looking forward?

While Chrysler hinted the decision may be short-term, as it moves to ramp up its capacity and capabilities to develop electric vehicles, it is highly unlikely there would be a resurgence for right-hand drive vehicles across the company. After all, its home market has long been the US.

In the meantime, other brands tied to Chrysler’s parent company remain unaffected. The likes of Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Jeep have not announced any plans to wind-back production of right-hand drive vehicles. Whether that decision stands the test of time remains to be seen, but the likes of Fiat would certainly be vulnerable given low-volume sales across the nation.

For existing owners, fortunately Chrysler will continue to support repairs and service into the foreseeable future. And with that, Chrysler sadly goes out with a whimper, managing less than 2000 sales across the last five years in Australia. Nonetheless, the brand will be an icon to remember for many who bought their first car some 50 years ago.

 

EVs and Rare Earth Mining

Rare earth metals.

Where are all the earth’s rare metals mined?  Are electric vehicles (EVs) really so environmentally sound and friendly?

Rare earths are difficult to find and obtain in most parts of the world, and they are used a lot in all sorts of common and accessible products like mobile phones, cars, aeroplanes, missiles, radars etc.  Rare earths are also abundantly used in EVs.  EVs use special magnets to power their engines, and most of the magnets in EVs that can cover longer distances on one battery charge are made from rare earth metals.  The metals aren’t necessarily rare, but they can be dirty and difficult to process.  Many of the processes related to rare earth extraction (getting the rare earths out of the ground) are dangerous, environmentally unfriendly, and, in many cases, the mining workers are older boys and younger men.  The process to obtain many of the rare earths is environmentally destructive and produces radioactive waste.

Of the 17 rare earths, neodymium is possibly the most needed rare earth in the world right now.  EVs cannot function without neodymium, and lithium – which is currently mostly found in Bolivia.

China has a large portion of the rare earth mining pie and supply network.  Back in 2010, China produced as much as 90% of the rare earths that the world needed, and it now seems obvious to me why China’s economy and infrastructure was booming so much at the time.  Also, around this time, the rest of the world started to see just how China ruled the rare earth market and power struggles commenced.

Without the rare earth metal, neodymium, an iPhone cannot vibrate and wind turbines would not work.  In order for EVs to gain more milage between charges, Rare Earth Permanent Magnets (REPM), which use neodymium, are required.  REPMs are the most powerful magnets currently available.

So, though rare-earth elements are used in trace amounts, their unique properties, which include magnetic, heat-resistant, and phosphorescent qualities, make them essential in the production of products like batteries, car engines, EVs and LCD TV displays.  EV motors, iPhones, military jet engines, batteries, and even satellites all have something in common: They require rare-earth elements to function.

Other elements like terbium, tritium and europium are crucial to targeting mechanisms in all high-tech weaponry systems.  The higher-tech that an EV becomes, a corresponding increase in the level of rare earth mining will be required.  The more EVs that are run on the roads (resulting from strict emission standards and government taxing), the more the rare earth resources will be called upon to build and maintain the EV fleet.  Currently, an EV battery doesn’t last much longer than 10 years, so EV battery replacement requirements will mean that much more rare earth metals will be needed to maintain the ever-growing global EV fleet.

As of 2018, China had 37% of the world’s rare earth deposits.  Brazil currently has 22%, Vietnam 18%, Russia 10% and India has 5.8%. The rest of the world, including the US and Japan, have the rest.

Despite having more rare earth ore than the US, India only mined 3,000 tonnes of rare earths in 2020.  During 2020, the US mined 38,000 tonnes. Meanwhile, Australia mined 17,000 tonnes and China mined 140,000 tonnes.  In 2020, the US had 16% of the production rate of the world’s rare earths; Australia had 7%, and India had 1%.

In 2020, the following countries were the biggest producers of rare earth metals:

China, mine production: 140,000 MT

United States, mine production: 38,000 MT.  The US is also a major importer of rare earth materials, with their demand for compounds and metals worth US$110 million in 2020.  The US has classified rare earths as critical minerals, and it is a distinction that has come about from recent trade issues between the US and China.

Myanmar (also known as Burma), mine production: 30,000 MT.  Myanmar mined 30,000 MT of rare earths in 2020, up from 22,000 MT the previous year.  Myanmar provided 50% of China’s medium to heavy rare earths feedstock.

Australia, mine production: 17,000 MT.  Australia holds the sixth largest-known rare earths reserves in the world.  It is poised to increase its output, where the production of neodymium-praseodymium products is projected to increase to 10,500 tonnes per year by 2025.  Northern Minerals opened Australia’s first heavy rare earths mine in 2018.  Its main products are terbium and dysprosium, the latter of which is used in technology for things like permanent magnets.

Madagascar, mine production: 8,000 MT.

India, mine production: 3,000 MT.  India holds almost 35% of the world’s total beach sand mineral deposits.

Russia, mine production: 2,700 MT.  Russia intends to increase the nation’s share of global rare earths production from the current 1.3% level to 10% by 2030.

Thailand, mine production: 2,000 MT.

Vietnam, mine production: 1,000 MT.

Brazil, mine production: 1,000 MT.

Rare-earths are also mined in South Africa, Canada, Estonia, and Malaysia.

Is an internal combustion engine’s resultant emissions and fossil fuel use really worse than the rare earth metal production mining for EVs and other high-tech electronics?  I would question whether a modern and new internal combustion engine with its catalytic converter to capture any emissions is worse than an EV’s definite connection to negative environmental impact and questionable work-force ethics.

Sometimes it is easier to disregard these pre-showroom EV facts and talk about the post-showroom EVs being so wonderful and environmentally-friendly with their so-called zero emissions.  Perhaps hydrogen-fuelled cars (to a certain extent), solar energy, and, definitely, cars running on biofuels are a sounder transport investment, but I guess money, power and business links still talk louder for some.