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Archive for January, 2019

Wheels Car Of The Year Winner Is…..

Self Driving Cars Set To Map The Path Says JLR

Jaguar Land Rover has partnered with an autonomous vehicle development company to develop a system that projects the direction of travel onto the road ahead of self-driving vehicles which will other road users what it is going to do next.The intelligent technology beams a series of projections onto the road to show the future intentions of the vehicle. One example is when it’s about to stop, another is a change of direction, and it’s all part of research into how people can develop their trust in autonomous technology. In the future the projections could even be used to share obstacle detection and journey updates with pedestrians.Aurrigo, a company specialising in developing autonomous vehicles, has developed autonomous pods, and the projections feature a series of lines or bars with adjustable spacing. The gaps shorten as the pod is preparing to brake before fully compressing at a stop. As the pod moves off and accelerates, the spacing between the lines extends. Upon approaching a turn, the bars fan out left or right to indicate the direction of travel.

Jaguar Land Rover’s Future Mobility division set up trials with a team of advanced engineers that were supported by cognitive psychologists, after studies showed 41 percent of drivers and pedestrians are worried about sharing the road with autonomous vehicles.Engineers recorded trust levels reported by pedestrians after seeing the projections and before. The innovative system was tested on a fabricated street scene at a Coventry facility.

The trust trial programme – which also included fitting of ‘virtual eyes’ to the intelligent pods in 2018 to see if making eye contact improved trust in the technology – was conducted as part of Jaguar Land Rover’s government-supported UK Autodrive project.

“The trials are about understanding how much information a self-driving vehicle should share with a pedestrian to gain their trust. Just like any new technology, humans have to learn to trust it, and when it comes to autonomous vehicles, pedestrians must have confidence they can cross the road safely. This pioneering research is forming the basis of ongoing development into how self-driving cars will interact with people in the future.” said Pete Bennett, the Future Mobility Research Manager at Jaguar Land Rover.

Safety remains the priority as Jaguar Land Rover, investing in self-driving technology, aims to become automotive leaders in autonomous, connected, electric and shared mobility. The trial is aligned with the brand’s long-term strategic goals: to make cars safer, free up people’s valuable time, and improve mobility for everyone.This commitment extends to Jaguar Land Rover’s current models with a suite of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems including Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Assist and Intelligent Speed Limiter available across its range of vehicles, including the Jaguar F-PACE and Range Rover Velar.

(With thanks to JLR and Aurrigo).

Honda Goes Seven Up For CR-V

It’s a segment that continues to grow and is becoming hotly contested. Car makers aren’t satisfied with just five seats any more, and the seven seater SUV is taking the people mover segment head on. Honda has joined the fray and now has a seven seater. It’s a somewhat clumsy name but the 2019 Honda CR-V VTi-E7 is reasonably priced at $34, 490 plus on roads. There is a more upmarket version, called CR-V VTi-L7. That empties the bank balance to the tune of $38, 990.Motorvation is from a 1.5L turbocharged petrol fed powerplant. Peak power is 140kW, and peak torque is 240Nm, on tap from 2000rpm through to 5000rpm. That’s a crucial figure considering both the transmission is a CVT driving the front wheels only, and lugging seven people requires a hefty torque figure. Fuel economy is quoted as 7.3L/100km for the combined cycle, and 9.2L/100km for the urban cycle, its most likely home on road. However, there is an extensive features list to sweeten the appeal.There is: leather appointed seating, 2nd and 3rd row aircon outlets, and dual zone climate control to suit. Rear seat passengers get dual USB ports, and audio & apps have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The driver has an eight way powered seat and gets to check out the outside via a three mode reversing camera on a seven inch display screen. The CR-V seven seater rolls on 18 inch alloys and has, thankfully, a full sized alloy spare. Just in case, Honda have opted for a tyre pressure monitoring system.Honda has an extensive range of vehicles, including the re-release of the legendary NSX, and all can be found here.


All new vehicles sold in Australia and surrounding areas MUST undergo testing to determine, in a level of stars up to five, how safe that car is. The higher the number and, ostensibly, the safer the car. The Australasian New Car Assessment Program is what is used and it’s a substantial overview of what makes a car tick the boxes safety wise.

From January 1 of 2018, ANCAP changed the parameters in what they were looking for in categories. There are four key areas: Adult Occupant Protection, Child Occupant Protection, Vulnerable Road User Protection, and Safety Assist.

First up is Adult Occupant Protection. ANCAP looks at the kind of protection, the kind of safety, offered to the most likely passengers in the front and second row seats of a car. They look at offset impacts, side impacts, whiplash injuries for front and second row, Autonomous Emergency Braking in a city setting, and rate the categories appropriately. Full width and frontal offset are the highest for adults, with a score of 8 being applied along with 8 for Side Impact and Pole (oblique). That last one is not uncommon, as it’s been found that drivers looking at an object in a crash situation have a higher tendency to impact that object.To achieve a five star rating for Adult Occupant Protection, the areas must achieve a total of 80% of the possible maximum score of 38. 80% is also the minimum requirement for the Child Occupant Protection, which has a maximum score of 49. There are just four margins here, Dynamic (Front) at 16 points, Dynamic (Side) with 8, 12 points for Child Restraint Installation, and 13 for On Board Features.

On the star rating, Adult Occupant and Child Occupant both have 80% to reach five stars. 70% is four stars, 60% for three stars, 50% for two stars, and 40% for just one star. Vulnerable Road User Protection and Safety Assist have 60% and 70% respectively.Vulnerable Road User Protection takes a look at Head Impact (24 points), with 6 points apiece for Upper Leg Impact, Lower Leg Impact, pedestrian related AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) and cyclist related AEB. The specifications here are about looking at frontal designs of vehicles; will it mitigate injury to a pedestrian and/or cyclist, and will it overall mitigate or avoid impact with pedestrians and/or cyclists?

The final sector, Safety Assist, measures the amount of safety features (the presence factor) and effectiveness of those systems. The current maximum score is 13, with 2020 moving that to 16. Speed Assistance Systems are rated to 3 points, Seat Belt reminders also rate as 3, and Lane Support Systems as 4. AEB in an inter-urban environment is current 3, with that increasing to 4 in 2020. A new category, Junction Assist, with two points, comes in next year.

A.N.C.A.P. themselves says:

In the real-world…

AEB systems use camera, radar and/or lidar technology to detect the speed and distance of objects in the vehicle’s path and automatically brake if the driver does not respond in order to avoid or minimise the severity of a crash.

At our test centre…

Over 100 different AEB test scenarios form part of our assessment with a vehicle’s ability to autonomously brake at lower city speeds (AEB City); at faster highway speeds (AEB Interurban); at stationery vehicle targets; at moving targets; and at braking targets all taken into consideration. Vulnerable road users are also considered, with collision avoidance testing undertaken to encourage and determine the effectiveness of more sophisticated AEB systems, detecting and preventing or minimising collisions with pedestrians and cyclists (AEB VRU) – at daytime and at night.

Autonomous emergencybraking diagram

Scores achieved in each physical and performance test feed into the respective area of assessment. The overall star rating of a vehicle is limited by its lowest performing area of assessment.

(With thanks to A.N.C.A.P.)

Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Lexus LX 570s

This Car Review Is About:
The 2019 model year Lexus LX 570s. The LX (Luxury Crossover) has either a diesel V8 or, in this test car, a 5.7L V8 that drinks petrol. Drinks being the operative word. The price is just over $168,000 plus on roads.Under The Bonnet Is:
A thumping 5.7L V8 with 270kW and 530Nm, with these requiring 5600rpm and 3200rpm. In anything smaller those numbers would suggest something pretty hot. However, with the LX 570s weighing in at close to 3000kg (Gross Vehicle Mass is 3350 kilograms, by the way), it means leisurely progress. It’s not sluggish, but it’s not quick. Consumption is quoted by Lexus as being 14.4L per 100 kilometres, with our test run seeing a final figure of 14.8L/100km. That’s reasonable as most of the time was in suburbia. Mind you, that’s why there are a pair of tanks fitted, at 93Lin the main and 45L for the reserve. Towing is rated at 3500kg (braked) but with the engine’s best performance at 3500rpm and over, fuel consumption would skyrocket in any case.The transmission is an eight speed auto, fitted with drive modes and a crawler mode for any off-roading. Being based on one of the world’s best four wheel drive vehicles isn’t a bad thing, but there’s a hiccup outside. We’ll cover that separately. The auto is a pearler, and was very rarely found wanting in regards to slickness and ability. It was sometimes confused as to what to do, and typically that was stopping and getting underway quickly.

On The Inside Is:
Useable amounts of space, as one can imagine inside a big machine. That’s the start. There there is a single sunroof, 11.6 inch screens on the back of the driver and passenger seats for the mid row passengers, and they have a remote control that’s found in a centre fold out that also holds the rear section aircon controls. Input via HDMI is available and that’s located at the bottom of the centre console facing the middle row passengers. Wireless headphones are included. No USB ports, a strange and oddly disquieting oversight. But, in compensation almost, the middle row seats are heated and cooled too.The rear ‘gate is a split fold affair, with the top half powered and can be switched off for manual operation. This allows access to the third row seats that are powered. In normal position they’re folded up against the sides and buttons for lowering or raising are easily accessed.The front row is a pair of powered seats, heated and vented, and as comfortable as they come. It’s almost a gentleman’s club feel, as the seats are supple, supportive, and the dash’s look is classy and up-market. The LX 570s has the mouse control for the screen and again it’s frustratingly close to being good enough. Far too often that extra one percent of pressure required had the on-screen marker go one notch too far. Other than that, the interface is typical Lexus in that it’s easy to read and follow, especially with the sub-menu system. the sound system is from Mark Levinson, with a digital tuner sounding superb. The system is well balanced and provides a clarity equal to home theatre systems.The driver has a non digital dash screen, at odds with the rest of the tech the LX 570s has. Analogue dials bracket the traditional digital screen. That’s accessed via the standard steering wheel mounted tabs and buttons. As always, that part is easy to use.A nice touch is the large centre console mounted cool box. Fed by the aircon’s cooling section, it’s big enough to hold a six pack of cans and works tremendously well in cooling items to a cold temperature. An extra touch is the wireless charging pad that is somewhat inconveniently located in a niche at the bottom of the centre stack. Although it’s big enough to hold a ‘phone with a six inch screen size it’s not quite ergonomically on song.Storage for bottles and cups is appropriate for the passenger count, with all doors and centre consoles front and rear able to provide a spot. And should passengers in the middle row feel as if they’re too close or too far away from the front seats, they too are electrically adjustable. Nor is it light on for safety. Dual front kneebags, for example, plus the front/side/curtain bags. Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Keep Assist, Autonomous Emergency Braking with flashing tail lights are all here. Auto LED headlights, LED tail lights (they look great at night, too), and Rear Cross Traffic Alert add to the overall package nicely. Two ISOFIX mounts are there for the middle row.The Outside Has:
Lexus’ distinctive “spindle” grille up front. It’s….eye catching enough on the smaller cars, but in a redesigned pattern in gloss black on a Land Cruiser sized vehicle it’s enough to frighten small children and challenge a blue whale for sifting plankton. The LX 570s gets some additional plastics up front and rear, too, and as good an off-roader it could be, they’re positioned just where a rock or tree stump would rip them off. Even a water crossing has the potential to do some decent cosmetic damage. That goes for the side skirts as well. But one suspects that the main base for this would be in suburbia anyways. However, should a person in a rural area have one, there is no doubt that it would be more than able to cope as long as there is a reasonably clear path.

It’s boxy when seen from the front or rear directly. Width is 1980mm, and height at 1865mm means it’s almost a 1:1 ratio in profile. Rolling stock is huge. Black painted alloys are 21 inches in diameter, and rubber is from Dunlop, at 275/55. That’s plenty of rubber for a footprint, and it also means the front end would “tramline”, following road imperfections momentarily.On The Road It’s:
Clear that it has a lot of mass. Punch it off the line and there’s a muted but distinct V8 rumble from each end. It slurs up through the gears just fine and the changes are largely seamless. Downhill runs have the ‘box holding gears nicely. Due to its mass the LX 570s is best driven with a judicious hand; even with the foot buried it’s not rapid from a standing start, and a more normal approach to moving forward yields better results. Rolling acceleration is adequate but, again, hampered by the mass of the LX 570s. Lexus quotes a kerb weight of 2510kg as a minimum, you see.

Handling is predictable and easily controlled. The steering is superbly weighted for the size of the machine and the wheels & tyres. It’s almost light enough for two fingered driving; on the wheel, not at cars outside. But the weight of the steering means both hands are better employed as that way the feedback is better communicated.

Sitting on height adjustable airbags with double wishbone suspension, the LX 570s does move about on the tops of the setup but never to a point that has the driver feeling out of sorts. Lexus have fitted higher performance dampers and the result is obvious to a seat of the pants driver. Initial compression on the damnable speed restrictors in shopping centres is brilliant, with virtually no wayward vertical movement in the cabin. In normal freeway driving it’s as composed as you’d want but that niggle at the back of the brain, knowing that it’s over two and a half tonnes, keeps you from thinking any sporty thoughts. And the brakes? They could do with some more initial feel. And when they do bite, they bite hard, pitching the five metre long machine forward on its somewhat shortish 2850mm wheelbase.The Warranty Is:
Four years or 100,000 kilometres, with the additional benefit of Lexus Drive Care. That covers items such as a up to $150 one way taxi fares, a courier service for small parcels, even personal and clothing costs up to $250. Contact Lexus for servicing costs, though.

At The End Of The Drive.
The 2019 Lexus LX 570s is a lot of car, with a lot of money for a buyer to invest in it. It’s comfortable to be in, reasonably easy to drive, has plenty of fruit but, for the money, a better drive package can be had elsewhere. A measure of how could be the Mercedes-Benz GLS 500. At the time of writing its drive-away price was just over $177, 600. Audi’s forthcoming Q8 with a turbocharged 3.0L V6 is looking at under $130K plus on roads. True, that’s a five seater but you get the idea.

And with the inexorable shift towards more fuel efficient powertrains, the consumption figures in this vehicle speak against it too. Plus, although undoubtedly a very good off-roader, the likelihood of it seeing such is akin to Elvis recording a new album with John Lennon.

More information can be found here.

The Least Useful Bells And Whistles On Modern Cars

You really have to hand it to the car designers and developers.  They really do a great job of putting out new models all the time and coming up with all sorts of new things.  Some of these innovations are fantastic and useful – improved battery range in EVs, increased torque alongside better fuel economy in a diesel engine, and finding more places to stash airbag. Inside the car, you have delights like chilled storage compartments where you can put your secret stash of chocolate where it won’t melt on a hot day, and comforts like heated seats.  Some of the innovations and nifty luxury features you find on cars today aren’t quite as useful.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not knocking any of these things.  In fact, I quite like a few of them, especially as I’m a major sucker for anything that involves sparkly lights and LED technology. It’s just that they’re kind of pointless and not really necessary.  They definitely fall into the category of “nice to have” but if an otherwise decent new model didn’t have these features, it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker.  Kind of like having a cool print on a ski jacket – it won’t keep you any warmer than a plain jacket but it looks nice.

So what are some features that you can find on modern vehicles that could be classified as “useless”?  Here’s a selection…

  1. Colour Changeable Interior Lighting. This is one of the ones I actually quite like while admitting that it’s not really necessary to good or safe driving.  LED technology can do all sorts of pretty things, and this is one of them.  At the touch of a button, you can select a different shade for the lighting inside the cabin of the vehicle, either from a pre-set selection or a customisable shade.  It’s quite fun but it’s not going to make you a safer or better driver unless you let fractious children play with it so they don’t bug you and whinge, causing a distraction.
  2. Illuminated Door Sills. Another example of LED technology being put to use, this involves a wee light, possibly showing a brand logo or badge, on the doorsill.  Right where you put your grubby shoes.
  3. Lane Departure Warnings. Look, if you can’t tell you’re drifting to one side by, you know, looking out of the windscreen, you shouldn’t be behind the wheel.  These sensors and warnings also have no way of telling if you’re carefully easing around the council mowing machine that’s bumbling along the grass verge, overtaking someone in the bicycle lane, avoiding a trail of debris or edging into a median strip – or if you’re really drifting out of your lane.  Active lane departure correction is even worse…
  4. Integration with Social Media. You should not be checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or any other form of social media while behind the wheel.  If merely texting is distracting and the cause of more than their fair share of accidents, then seeing someone’s loopy video share is worse.  Checking your social media on a display screen at eye height is just as distracting and takes your eyes off the road just as much as a phone does.  Are you really that hooked on your online presence and that full of FOMO that you can’t even stop while you’re driving?  If it’s that bad, then just take the bus and use your phone or tablet.  (I don’t count the ability to access your Spotify playlists while driving to be useless, by the way, which is probably the only thing that justifies this feature.)
  5. Paddle Shifters on Anything with CVT. The whole point of a CVT system is that it doesn’t have regular gears and doesn’t change from one to the other like your standard manual or auto transmission.  What, then, do paddle shifters on a CVT actually do apart from looking cool and making you feel like a racing driver?
  6. Gesture Control for Audio. It’s very cool and sci-fi: you wave your hand or make a similar gesture and your audio system turns up the volume or turns it down.  OK, it might be fractionally safer than reaching down to fiddle with a knob while driving. However, it will also respond to any hand motion in the sensor’s vicinity.
  7. Dinky Roof Rails. Roof rails are very useful if they are large enough to actually strap something like a kayak, skis or a ladder.  If they’re teeny-weeny things, however, they’re just there to look sporty but don’t really do anything much.
  8. “Door Open” Alarms. I’ve got this on one of my Nissans and it’s a feature that’s been around for a while. The idea is that if you have the door open and the key in the ignition, the car beeps at you so you don’t lock your keys in by mistake.  The trouble is that it keeps beeping if you leave the door ajar while refuelling or if you have to hop out to open a gate, driving passengers nuts.  I don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to find that beeper and smash it!
  9. Images in Puddle Lamps. Puddle lamps in themselves are not useless, especially not in a Landrover or other 4×4 driven how they were originally intended to be driven (i.e. off road), as they help you see if you’re about to step out of the car into a pile of horse or cow crap.  Even around town, it’s nice to see if you’re about to step out into a puddle while wearing your nice shoes.  But is it really necessary to cast a shadow of the image of the car into the middle of the light?  Cool, yes.  Useful, no.
  10. Automatically Switching Off The Cabin Lights When The Door Opens. Now try and retrieve your cabin baggage by feel in the dark with the lights off, and hope you don’t miss your wallet.  Honestly, the old-school system where the lights came on when the door opened was better, although it could lead to drained batteries if you left the door open too long… but a manual switch usually took care of that.

There are some honourable mentions that could go on this list but they might possibly be useful.  One is the ECO light, which comes on when you’re driving fuel-efficiently.  As I could give the stereotypical Scotsman serious competition in the stinginess stakes, this one might help me save a few dollars here and there… not that I’d pay extra to have this feature!  Night vision is the other one I’m unsure about.  Yes, knowing that there’s a warm body somewhere on or near the road might be useful and help safety (as well as looking really cool) but in most cases, headlights will let you know about any obstacles – and night vision requires you to look at the dash display rather than the road.

I’m sure that there are other features found on modern cars that are cool and fun but not really useful – give us your top picks in the comments!

Kia Is Turbocharged: Kia Picanto GT and Cerato GT

Kia’s news of late 2018 about the addition of two new turbocharged cars to the range has been confirmed. Kia Australia recently released details of the Kia Picanto GT and Kia Cerato GT.The Picanto model is almost an oddity in the Australian market, yet it has a fiercely loyal following. That dedication is sure to grow now it has a 1.0L, three cylinder petrol engine and turbo that produces 74kW and a handy 172Nm. Transmission is a five speed manual. Handling has been fettled with the MacPherson struts and torsion beam rear getting some extra attention.Springs were given a stiffer rate, the shocks a different absorption rate, with the end result even less body roll, better ride comfort, and better control. Rolling stock has been upped to 16 inch alloys, with 195/45 rubber aiding grip.But the centre piece is the revamped engine. The turbo’s wastegate is electrically controlled for more precise monitoring, re-using clean air for better efficiency. An integrated one piece exhaust manifold reduces weight, provides better component sealing, and brings down exhaust temperatures.All up, it sees a quoted combined fuel consumption of 4.8L/100km, with urban running at 6.2L/100km. Along with niceties such as Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, body work, and a revamped body structure, the ask of $17,990 is a real bargain.

The Cerato has also been given a turbo, and the hatch has been re-added to the range. In a 1.6L capacity and a $31,990 driveaway price, the extra poke and suspension work sees the Cerato sharply positioned to further increase its market share.Having 150kW is one thing, as that’s produced at 6000rpm. It’s the spread of torque, 265Nm worth, that will make it a driver’s car. That;s available between 1500 – 4500 rpm, a flat delivery across a very useable rev range. That’s powered through to the ground via the front wheels and a seven speed DCT or dual clutch transmission. Wheels are 18 inches in diameter, with 225/40Z Michelin rubber.A slightly bigger overall body has an added increase in luggage room. That’s gone up by 84L to 741L when measured using the SAE. Wheelbase, though, has remained the same. Underneath the svelte body is a redesigned subframe, with stiffness up by 16 per cent. The steering system has been reworked to further lessen that detached, artificial, feel.Contact Kia Australia via their website for further information.

Return Of The Icon: Suzuki Jimny Is Back!

Suzuki Australia has released details of the hotly anticipated 2019 Suzuki Jimny. Packed with proper off-road cred, historic styling cues, and some good looking new cues, the fourth gen Jimny goes on sale in the final days of January.  Pricing is $23, 990 and $25, 990, with both the manual and auto on a drive-away price. Unveiled to members of the Australian motoring press at the Melbourne 4×4 training grounds, near Werribee, west of Melbourne, the Jimny was put through its paces alongside its more soft road oriented sibling, the Vitara. That car has also been given a freshen up.

Jimny will come with a five speed manual or (disappointingly, just a four speed) auto, but, pleasantly, comes with a low range transfer case. This was put to the test across a variety of surfaces, slopes, (which included a thirty degree incline), and river fording.

Power is courtesy of a single engine choice. A seemingly small 1.5L petrol engine, (there’s no diesel) proved more than adequate in motivating the Jimny through these test sections. Peak power of 75kW and peak torque of 130Nm propelled the 1435kg (GVM) machine without issue.

Driven initially on dried and compact mud, the Jimny immediately impressed with its neutral handling and ready willingness to absorb the variance in the dirt. Given a short run-up to the concrete ramp, with first gear and low range four wheel drive selected, around 3000 revs were dialed up before the ascent of the ten metre plus incline. Straight away a downhill run was proffered, and Hill Descent Control showed its mettle.A gentle nudge over the edge, the leap of faith by keeping the foot off the brake to let the Jimmy do its thing, and seconds later back to the horizontal. Jimny is helped in its dexterity thanks to a departure angle of a staggering 49 degrees, with an almost equally short overhang providing a nearly as staggering 37 up front. Ramp or breakover angle is also impressive at 28 degrees and this also was tested without fuss.

Driven through some river crossings, the 210mm wading depth and 195/80/15 rubber gave ample traction for the Jimny, with the the comparatively lightweight machine feeling planted and stable.

Jimny rides on a ladder chassis that’s had an extra “x-member” and two cross members fitted for superb lateral and linear strength. Coupled with rigid axles front and rear, coil springs, and eight rubber body mounts, overall car control and feedback is superb inside the 2250mm wheelbase. That’s mightily impressive considering the 3480mm bumper to bumper length. Left in two wheel drive for normal performance, the turning circle is 4.9m but in 4×4 mode that increases.The aforementioned external styling cues come with the low set rear tail lights, distinctively circular front lights, five slot front grille and shallow angled bonnet with flutes in the bottom of the “A-pillar”. The indicators are separate to the headlights as well, as per the heritage ethic. A few extra touches come from the drip rails over the doors, solid and assertive black polyurethane body guards, and those low set tail lights allow a wider rear door opening to the plastic coated backs of the rear seats.

Modernity hits the Jimny with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satnav, a touchscreen of seven inches, and Bluetooth. Autonomous Emergency Braking, Hill Hold Control, Hill Descent Control, Lane Departure Warning, and auto headlight dipping, along with six airbags round out a well rounded safety package. However, the doors don’t have bottle holders, the seatbelts are well behind the driver and passenger shoulder, and the passenger’s grab bar looks as if reinforcing is needed.Pricing for the spunky and funky 2019 Suzuki Jimny, with a range of six colours, will be released later this week.

(David was given the opportunity to drive the new Jimny courtesy of Suzuki Australia.)

Race Academy International Is Ready To Go Live.

In the minds of many in the automotive and motorsport families, driver education and driver training should be mandatory past the basic driving test. Racing drivers around the world, from karters to Formula Ford and Formula Vee, from Production Touring Cars to Supercars, practice, practice, practice, their driving, finessing and honing their skills. Academy International is a major subscriber to the driver education school of thought. But there is more to this fledgling organisation that teaching people how to be a better driver.

Founded in mid 2018, RAI will be holding its first event in 2019. To be held at Sydney Motorsport Park on March 28, RAI will be seeing a group of candidates in various classes put through their paces, all under the watchful eye of a selection of Australia’s best driver trainers and motorsport pilots.

But if there’s no goal to achieve, why bother? RAI do have an end goal, and it will take a driver that is adjudged the best in their class through to a racing drive. A longer term goal is to have a driver placed into an international competitive drive in 2022.The team members that will be part and parcel of Race Academy International are varied in age and experience. All have one thing in common, and that’s to utilise the vast collective of knowledge each possesses and shares, to see a winner become a better driver, and an inspiration. Amongst them is Trevor Mirabito, founder and director of RAI, and with years of driver training experience behind him across a number of different race tracks, will lead a great team. There’s Gary Mennell, well known in racing circles as both a driver, but, importantly, a team manager. Important because entrants will be graded on their social interaction, how they deal with others and how they receive feedback. It is, essentially, why there is “No I in team”.

But there was big news in late 2018 and early 2019. A former British Formula 3 driver, Sam Abay; former V8 Supercar driver, Lee Holdsworth, and current Erebus driver, Anton de Pasquale, have joined RAI as mentors for the event. They assist drivers in the four categories on offer. Freshman, Clubman, State, and Ultra will look at driver skill, their feedback, how they cope with media training, and will complete driving sessions with their qualified instructors.The winner of the Freshman group will drive in three E36 BMW rounds, with the Clubman winner being entered into two rounds of the Production Touring Cars Endurance as a co-driver. State level winners will be entered into the 2019 season of the Production Touring Car series (excluding the season opener in February, of course), with the Ultra winner being placed into a fully paid up round of the 2019 Performax TA2 Muscle Car series.

Check out the website for more details.

Home-Grown Zero-Carbon Hydrogen Technology

CSIRO’s Toyota Mirai HFC vehicle (image from CSIRO)

There are three possibilities when it comes to finding an alternative to the standard fossil fuels used in the majority of vehicles on the road.  The first is a switch to biofuels (biodiesel, ethanol, etc.), the second is to go electric (the sexy new technology that’s mushrooming) and the third is hydrogen fuel cells or HFCs.

I discussed the basics of HFCs in my previous post.  If you can’t remember or if you can’t be bothered hopping over to have a look, one of the points I raised was that most of the hydrogen gas used to power HFCs comes from natural gas, with methane (from sewage and effluent) coming in as the more sustainable second possibility.  However, there’s another possible source of the hydrogen fuel that’s being worked on by our very own CSIRO researchers right here in Australia: ammonia.

Most of us are familiar with ammonia as the thing that makes floor cleaners (a) really cut through grease and (b) smell horrible.  However, ammonia is also produced as a waste product by living cells and in humans, it quickly turns into urea and is excreted as urine.  In fact, some of the pong associated with old-school long-drop dunnies comes from the urea in urine breaking back down into ammonia again (the rest of the smell comes from methane and some sulphur-based compounds, depending on what you’ve been eating).

Ammonia is chemically rendered as NH3, which should tell you straight away that there are three nice little hydrogen atoms just waiting to be turned into hydrogen gas; the leftover nitrogen is also a gas –and that’s one of the most common elements in the atmosphere (it makes up three-quarters of the earth’s atmosphere, in fact).  Yes, ammonia in its pure form is a gas (the liquid stuff in household products is in the form of ammonium hydroxide or ammonia mixed with water).  The fun here from the perspective of HFC technology consists of splitting the ammonia gas up into nitrogen gas and hydrogen gas, and then separating the two.

And this is precisely what the ammonia-to-hydrogen team at CSIRO have been working on.  In August year, they made the big breakthrough by developing a membrane-based technology that will convert ammonia into hydrogen gas.  The hydrogen gas can then be used by vehicles powered by HFC technology.  The bit they’re all rubbing their hands with glee about is because up until now, one of the obstacles with getting HFC-powered motoring off the ground is that it’s hard to transport hydrogen gas from wherever it’s produced to the hydrogen equivalent of a bowser.  However, ammonia is a lot easier to get from A to B.  This means that with this home-grown technology, Australia will be able to export hydrogen (in the form of ammonia during transport) to the markets that want it.

Asia seems to be the hot spot for vehicles using HFC technology, with Toyota and Hyundai really getting behind the tech; European marques, on the other hand, seem to be concentrating on electric vehicles.  In fact, Japan is eyeing up hydrogen as a source of energy for generating power for homes as well.

The question has to be asked where they’re going to get all this ammonia from.  However, it’s possible to take nitrogen gas and water, then zap it with electrical current and turn it into ammonia – and it was an Australian researcher who came up with the tech to do this. It’s kind of like a fuel cell – which breaks down gas to produce electricity – but in reverse: using electricity to produce ammonia.  The new Australian technology is considered to be an improvement over the traditional method of producing ammonia (which is needed for making the fertilizer that grows the food you eat), which takes hydrogen gas from fossil fuels and reacts it, spitting out a good deal of CO2 in the process.  The new Aussie tech skips the bits involving carbon in any form, as it takes nitrogen from the atmosphere (N2) and water (H2O) and puts out NH3 and O2.  O2 is oxygen – what we breathe.

The idea is that in the future, they’ll set up a plant or two in the middle of the outback where there’s lots of solar and wind energy available for generating electricity, pump in some H2O and get ammonia for export AND use in hydrogen cars thanks to the new membrane tech out the other end with zero carbon emissions.  It could be asked where they’re going to get the water from in the middle of the Outback but I suppose that it’s not essential to use clean, fresh drinking water for the process, as it’s pretty easy to distil pure water out of wastewater.  In fact, one has the very happy vision of a process that takes sewage from cities, whips out the ammonia, urea and methane already in there (bonus!), distils out the water for making more ammonia and exporting the lot; any solids can probably also be used for fertilizer.

It’s going to take a little while for all the systems to get into place.  It’s still very early days for HFC vehicles but a start has been made and some of the hurdles have been overcome.  A few HFC vehicles have made it onto these shores.  The analysts say that it will probably take another decade or so until HFC cars become common on our roads but it’s likely to happen.  Look what happened with electric vehicles, after all.  Once they were really rare but now there’s charging points just about everywhere you look.

You can find more information here , here  and here .