After years of setbacks, misfortune and defeat at the hands of Porsche, it’s good to see Toyota achieve their second straight year of success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Although the victory might be slightly hollow as Toyota are the only manufacturer team competing in the fastest LMP1 class, this is a significant achievement in what is, in the opinion of yours truly, the greatest motor race in the world. A huge achievement for the drivers, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso as well. It’s no mean feat for a team of three drivers to constantly drive a car at extreme speeds for 24 hours straight.
Walkinshaw Automotive Group, of HSV (Holden Special Vehicles) fame, has introduced a 24 hour conversion line for its range of Ram utes. These vehicles are imported as left-hand drive vehicles from America, before being ‘re-manufactured’ to right-hand drive in Melbourne. Walkinshaw’s operation has factory backing and is perhaps the closest thing to an official factory RHD vehicle imported straight from the US.
Joshua Dowling from CarAdvice reports further:
“While it’s not the same as the mass production lines that built Fords, Holdens and Toyotas that fell silent two years ago – which could each pump out in excess of 100,000 vehicles annually – the facility in Clayton, south east of Melbourne, will push out close to 7000 vehicles this year and is reviving jobs in a sector most had written off.
Having just produced its 1500th right-hand-drive Ram locally, the company expects it will sell close to 3000 pick-ups this year, the largest share of the estimated 7000 vehicles across three brands that will come out of the same Clayton facility.
“Having been to Detroit and seeing how they build these actually gave us the idea to do this as efficiently as possible,” says Di Berardino. “We reverse what they do but fit more than 290 unique parts, using a lot of suppliers that previously made parts for Holden, Toyota and Ford. They know how to make parts to full manufacturing quality standards, so it was good to be able to bring them with us on this.”
Clearly this operation is nowhere near the same scale as domestic production by the Big Three, and is converting left-hand-drive vehicles rather than building them from scratch. Nevertheless, it’s good to hear that there is still some sort of automotive manufacturing continuing in Australia.
It’s exciting to see Ferrari build on its work with 2014’s LaFerrari and introduce its first plug-in hybrid vehicle, the SF90 Stradale. With the firm now taking a half-step into the EV game, this car further dispels the notion that plug-ins or electric vehicles can’t be performance cars. A combined power output of 735kW with acceleration figures of 0-100 km/h in 2.5s and 0-200km/h in 6.7 seconds is world beating, and I’d love to see someone do a drag race between this, a Bugatti Chiron and perhaps the Tesla Model S (for context, an acceleration of 0-100 km/h in 6.7s is still considered quick by typical hot hatch standards). Of course, neither of those cars would be able to hold a candle to the Stradale on a track.
Perhaps the defining design feature of the SF90 Stradale is the split design of the tail. In Ferrari’s words:
The end section of the engine cover features a suspended wing divided in two sections: one fixed, which incorporates the third brake light, and one mobile with a wedge-shaped front area. The latter has been dubbed the shut-off Gurney and is under patent. It is also the most innovative downforce management device on the car. In urban usage or at maximum speed, the two sections are aligned and suspended above the engine cover, with the mobile wedge acting as an efficient fairing to the fixed element, allowing the air to flow both above and beneath the shut-off Gurney.
In high downforce conditions (such as driving through corners, braking or in abrupt changes of direction), the mobile element is lowered by a pair of electric actuators, closing the lower blown area and uncovering the fixed element, generating a new tail geometry characterised by a broad load surface topped by a powerful nolder.
There’s a brief shot of this in action in Ferrari’s official launch film for the car at the 0:44 mark. In short, the black part between the tail lamps opens depending on factors such as speed and acceleration. Most importantly, it looks freaking awesome. I love that Ferrari has taken the effort to seamlessly integrate this split tail design with the rest of the rear bodywork, rather than taking the easier option of bolting on a massive rear wing or designing a simple rear lip spoiler.
The days of charging more than $4000 just for Apple CarPlay may not be over for Ferrari, but in a sign the company is now trying to keep up technologically, the SF90 Stradale is also the first Ferrari to feature Matrix LED headlights and a completely digital instrument cluster. Finally.
Rumour has it that the Australian allocation of 25 examples has already been sold out at well over $1 million each, so here’s hoping that least some of these owners decide to drive around in their car rather than leaving it locked up in a garage. I’d love to catch a glimpse of one of these on the road someday.
When the last Holden Commodore, a manual SS-V Redline sedan, rolled off the production line in Elizabeth, South Australia on October 20, 2017, it marked the end of nearly a century of local car manufacturing. At its peak in 2004, Holden built 165,000 cars. Record production levels from the other big two were not far behind at 155,000 for Ford (1984) and 148,000 for Toyota (2007). In 2002, the Holden Commodore was Australia’s most popular car with sales of almost 90,000.
For context, the total sales for Holden’s entire range in 2018 (now fully imported) were just 61,000. To emphasise, total sales of Holden cars were 30% lower in 2018 than that of a single Holden model back in 2002.
Above: The VFII Holden Commodore - the last car to be mass produced in Australia
Various reasons have been cited from industry sources, both sides of politics and a whole host of other experts for the demise of local automotive manufacturing. To surmise, these have included:
A small domestic market. Although Australians tend to have high rates of car ownership, our small population made the industry heavily export dependent, as domestic sales were insufficient to profitably sustain the industry.
Geographic isolation. With Australia far away from major automotive markets such as the EU, America and China, exporting vehicles to these regions was expensive, with high shipping and freight costs.
High wages & government-union relations. Compared to areas such as Thailand and India, the Australian car manufacturing workforce had much higher wages. Combined with the two reasons above, this made Australian made vehicles expensive to sell elsewhere.
Protectionist tariffs. These tariffs were important in making domestic car production viable by enticing fleets and government to buy Australian-made vehicles. Nevertheless, a counter-argument can be made that by reducing competition and becoming dependent on fleet sales, they made domestic manufacturers sluggish, and less willing or able to innovate and adapt to changing market conditions, especially in light of FTAs (free-trade agreements) signed with other countries.
Trade deals and ‘more suitable’ cars from overseas. Free trade agreements signed with countries such as Thailand made certain imported vehicles just as inexpensive to buy as locally made vehicles. Often, these cars were more fuel-efficient and cheaper to run than their domestic counterparts, or available in popular body-styles such as SUVs (Ford Territory excepted) that weren’t available through local production. On the other hand, whilst FTAs ostensibly made it cheaper to export Australian made vehicles overseas, these were substituted by ‘hidden’ tariffs that made it difficult to sell Australian vehicles. For example, whilst the Australia-Thailand FTA removed import tariffs from the Thai perspective, Thailand retained tariffs on vehicles with large engines. As Australian made vehicles fell foul of this ‘large engine capacity’ barrier, they practically remained expensive to sell in Thailand.
Exchange rates and oil prices. This issue became especially prevalent in the early 2010s as the Australian dollar was close to (and sometimes above) parity with the US dollar, thus further increasing the cost of exporting vehicles. Coupled with high oil prices, this made domestically produced cars, with their typically large engines and high fuel consumption, expensive to run.
Above all, perhaps what can be said is that the decisions by Ford, Holden and Toyota to cease local manufacturing were justifiable decisions. They weren’t absurd or irrational, they could be explained by logically examining the reasons summarised above.
The skills perspective - the car as the ultimate mobile device
Much of the rationale described above is still applicable today. However it’s important to note that fundamentally, the car of 5 or 10 years into the future will be vastly different from the Holden Commodore that rolled off the line back in 2017.
Cars of the past could be categorised as discrete mechanical engineering projects, with the focus squarely on designing, building and testing parts such as the chassis, engine and body. The car of tomorrow will use this as a basis, but - as summarised by Daimler - will also be connected, autonomous, shared and electric.
What does this mean? The automotive industry will increasingly require not just mechanical engineers, but also skill-sets in software and robotics, as vehicles become increasingly digital and autonomous, and developing software becomes integral to a model’s success rather than an afterthought. Just as important will the skills of designers in making this technology accessible, and marketers in working out how people will use their cars through services such as ride-sharing in the future.
Australia is known over all over the world for punching well above its weight in terms of education. Despite our small population, we have eight universities ranked in the world’s top 150. We clearly have the talent to bring significant innovation to each of these fields mentioned above. As described by an executive from a prominent technology company, restarting production of the ‘ultimate mobile device’ will significantly increase opportunities for STEM careers in Australia, and much like a reverse chicken-and-egg situation, greatly improve this skill-set amongst young Australians.
Although the prevailing short term economic conditions (as discussed above) mean that car manufacturing in Australia will likely remain unprofitable, I think we need to shift our perspective to a long-term, skills based mindset. Our society is on an unstoppable march to becoming digital, and that means the importance of STEM skill-sets, together with business acumen, will only increase in proportion. The car is the ultimate mobile device - a marriage of cutting edge digital software and robotics technology together with traditional mechanical engineering nous. More than anything, it is a true demonstrator of a country’s technological prowess. Germany is known as an engineering giant due to the quality of their vehicles. Similarly, work by Tesla, GM and Google on computer vision and robotics has led America to be known as the leader in autonomous driving technology. With the talent and skills that we have, Australia too can make its mark if we realise that a domestic car manufacturing program can be a lens through which our STEM skill-set can be developed.
Yilei Sun, Edward Taylor and Julie Zhu, writing for Reuters:
“BAIC informed Daimler of its intention to buy a 4-5 percent stake in the German maker of Mercedes-Benz cars earlier this year, two of the three sources said.
BAIC has asked local authorities in Beijing to support a 4-5 percent stake purchase, two of these sources said.
BAIC has started acquiring Daimler shares on the open market, one source said.
“Daimler’s share price is currently being underpinned by a buyer who appears to be building a stake,” a person familiar with the matter said.”
Perhaps more than anything, this goes to show how serious Chinese manufacturers are about gaining the technology and expertise to make cars that can be exported around the world.
Everyone loves supercars. The typical low-slung, wedge shaped profile of a high-performance supercar is a timeless design classic, and for good reason - not only does it look sexy, it is the optimal shape for reducing drag and lowering the centre of gravity to improve driving dynamics. It’s not a coincidence that vehicles such as the pioneering fifty year old Lamborghini Miura and the latest supercars unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, such as the Pininfarina Battista, share the same basic shape.
Perhaps this is also a reason why so many supercars were unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. From the aforementioned Battista, Bugatti’s La Voiture Noire, the Koenigsegg Jesko, near-production concepts from Aston Martin and the new Ferrari F8 Tributo, these supercars (and hypercars) all share some common themes. Namely, a shape that will be a sure-fire hit with customers, and the opportunity to sell these vehicles in limited numbers at exorbitant prices. The pricing, of course, also allows manufacturers to include breakthrough engineering and performance that would otherwise be unviable for affordable, mass produced vehicles, and garner the consequent media attention.
So it’s a very welcome surprise, then, that Honda’s e-Prototype overshadowed these supercars at this year’s show. And with good reason. This car proves that industry leading design doesn’t have to be industry leading in terms of expense as well. When Honda thinks outside the box, so to speak, they can create a box like no other.
Above left and right: the Honda e-Prototype and the Honda Civic Type-R. It’s hard to fathom that these two cars are both produced by the same company.
The most striking thing about the e-Prototype is its clean, uncluttered exterior design, and how stark of a design departure this is from Honda’s current design language. At 95% production ready, the e-Prototype is a calming, Bauhaus inspired design icon compared to the almost maniacal, manga styled craziness that is the Civic Type-R.
The exterior is almost pebble like in its surfacing, with only a subtle character line to highlight the tumblehome being present. Additionally, the use of flush door handles and cameras, rather than wing mirrors, work with the otherwise smooth, clean panels to allow the underlying proportions of the car to shine through. A key design feature this reveals is that the wheels have been pushed right to the extremities of the car, much like the original Mini. This bodes well for its dynamic performance with regard to handling and grip.
Electric vehicles need much less cooling than their combustion engined counterparts, and the e-Prototype’s clean design also enables it to take full advantage of this fact. Unlike other electric vehicles who have had their noses awkwardly closed off to signify they are an electric vehicle, the e-Prototype uses its front to enhance the symmetry of its design. Notice how closely the contrasting black panel and circular headlights mirror that of that tail. This all speaks to a vehicle where the front and tail were cohesively designed by the same team, and together with the pure surfacing, creates a friendly and genuinely timeless look.
Just as importantly, the e-Prototype is a vehicle that is unashamed to be electric. It needs to be plugged in, and Honda isn’t afraid to own this. This is most obvious by contrasting colour of the charge port. Rather than hide it within a taillight or place it towards the rear like the fuel door in a typical combustion vehicle, the e-Prototype’s port is clearly visible, front and centre, and almost stands proud of the bodywork. Together with the darkened glass roof, and the blacked out A and B-pillars, this lends the styling a sense of character and prevents it from being so utilitarian that it’s boring.
The interior continues the Bauhaus theme of the exterior with a similarly clean, uncluttered look. Honda’s press release says the following about the interior design objective:
“Inside, a spacious cabin with a modern minimalist aesthetic creates a relaxed ambience for occupants. A comfortable lounge-like feel is achieved with the application of melange-style sofa fabric and other tactile materials often found in contemporary homes. The sense of spaciousness is enhanced by the walk-through flat floor in the front and rear of the cabin.”
I’d say this goal has been emphatically achieved. With a clear emphasis on the horizontal axis to enhance the sense of width within the car, the dashboard seamlessly blends form and function in a design that is fresh and contemporary without being unusable. The use of dashboard spanning displays above a matté plasti-wood dashboard recalls a TV perched upon an entertainment unit, and the use of some buttons and knobs ensures that all critical controls are at hand and easy to access. Note also the complete absence of a central tunnel to divide the driver and front passenger areas. In a typical front-wheel-drive combustion engined car, this is necessary to accomodate the transmission. In an electric car, no transmission is necessary, there is no engineering need for such a tunnel, and therefore not having one opens up the front cabin and adds to the lounge atmosphere by creating a much greater sense of space.
(As an aside - I love the new two-spoke steering wheel. It adds to the contemporary ambience and I wish more companies would design cars with one.)
The rear compartment offers an even greater sense of the open, lounge-like atmosphere that Honda has tried to develop in the e-Prototype. The flat rear seat (without any contours), with fabric upholstery that extends to the armrests is a clear reference to the typical family room sofa, and creates a relaxed, ‘home away from home’ ambience that reflects the themes developed from the exterior.
The greatest achievement of the e-Prototype is that, much like its spiritual predecessor, the Mini Cooper, it serves as a reminder that good design does not have to be expensive design. The e-Prototype has a certain purity and focus to its styling that is rare to find today. It isn’t aggressive, nor is it dowdy or boring. It’s clean surfacing means that its styling is highly unlikely to date quickly. Likewise, the interior is special too. The lounge atmosphere developed through the flat rear seat, sweeping dashboard and the absence of a centre console creates an abundance of something often lacking in vehicles of the e-Prototype’s size - namely, a sense of space.
The e-Prototype is a testament to the potential of Honda’s design and engineering teams when they’re let off the proverbial leash, and I can’t wait to see it on the road. Bravo.
The Supra. Over the last 20 years, perhaps no other car has achieved a cult-like legendary status through a movie franchise. The Fast & Furious series and the fourth generation, A80 Supra go hand-in-hand like the much clichéd wine and cheese - or perhaps more fittingly, a well tuned engine and its accompanying NOS system.
Above left: The famous railway crossing scene from the original Fast & Furious film. Above right: The fourth-gen Supra’s fabled status was confirmed during the tribute to the late Paul Walker at the end of Fast & Furious 7.
These movies made the Supra a poster boy for the stereotypical modified, ‘boy-racer’ car and in the process transformed it into a symbol for the culture of individuality, freedom and rebellion that the franchise espoused. One only has to look at the current stock of Supras for sale to see that the vast majority have been modified in some form.
Of course, the movies weren’t the only reason why the Supra was a popular boy-racer car. One of the most important factors with the car itself was the twin-turbocharged 2JZ engine. Utilising an iron block and an over-engineered, stronger than normal crankshaft, it proved to be easily capable of more power in the hands of tuners without significantly affecting reliability. In fact, the hero-status of the 2JZ engine rivalled that of the Supra itself, to the extent that ‘2JZ engine swaps’, where the engines of other cars are swapped with a 2JZ from the fourth-gen Supra, are now commonplace in the aftermarket scene.
Above: The super-tough 2JZ engine from the A80 Supra - easily capable of more power than that produced from the factory
Perhaps the other helpful factor for the fourth-gen Supra was the extremely driver focused interior, which acted as a statement of intent. The centre console and all controls were tilted heavily towards the driver, with the front passenger being a clear second-class occupant in the vehicle. Despite this model having token rear seats, anyone driving a Supra knew that this was the most selfish of vehicles.
Above: The interior of the fourth-gen Supra. As evident from the picture, all controls (including the radio and A/C) were arranged in a swooping arc around the driver. Little thought was given to the ergonomics for other occupants, and this marked the Supra out as a car for enthusiasts.
Put together, what did all of this mean? The Supra was the car for boy-racers, tuners and the aftermarket scene, and it was unashamedly so. In a society with increasingly restrictive laws around speeding and modifying cars, the Supra carved itself out as an icon for those who were not afraid to express themselves and to be known as an enthusiast. The Supra wasn’t a crowd-pleaser - it was divisive and all the better for it.
The new Supra
Almost 25 years after its predecessor, the new, fifth-generation ‘A90’ Supra presents itself as an evolution of its predecessor to cater for a new generation of enthusiasts.
It’s clear from the outset that the new Supra gets its fundamental proportions spot-on. The typical RWD sports car silhouette of a long bonnet and dash-to-axle ratio, coupled with a short rear deck, is present and correct. In turn, this provides a great base to build up the rest of the Supra’s design.
In a nutshell, the Supra’s styling is best described as voluptuous. The muscular, heavily flared rear haunches shift the visual focus of the car backwards to emphasise the power contained within, and give the impression of a car ready to pounce. The tail, with its huge, blacked-out diffuser and ducktail rear spoiler, appear to be more concept than production and work with the rear haunches to create a very aggressive rear profile. A neat touch is the reversing light integrated into the diffuser, which resembles an F1-style brake light.
Above: The blacked out diffuser, arching ducktail spoiler and horizontally arranged tail-lamps combine with the rear haunches to give the Supra a wide, aggressive stance. Note also the similarities in the reversing lamp with an F1 car (see right image).
As evident from the images above, another neat touch is the wraparound design of the new Supra’s glasshouse. Not only does this recall classic cars such as Toyota’s own 2000GT and the Lancia Stratos, it resembles the visor of a racing helmet and hints further at the car’s sporty intentions.
The styling themes that create the muscular haunches and aggressive rear stance continue at the front with the oversized air dams. These intakes combine with the slim headlamps and sculpted, tapering nose to create a bellicose, if slightly fussy, predator face. Above, attention to detail is again demonstrated with the Peugeot RCZ style double-bubble roof, which has the distinction of not only being a relatively unique styling feature, but also reduces vehicle drag and maximises occupant headroom.
Above left to right: The new Supra, BMW’s older 2-Series coupé, and BMW’s new Z4 and 3-Series. Note the similarities in the infotainment, gear-shifter and HVAC and media controls between the Supra and the 2-Series. Meanwhile, the new Z4 and 3-Series utilise BMW’s current Operating System 7.0 for infotainment and the latest BMW design for their A/C and media controls.
Also - that red leather looks damn nice!
The interior is perhaps the part of the new Supra where its BMW roots are the most immediately obvious (the car shares its basic platform, engines and drivetrain with the new BMW Z4). Utilising hand-me-down BMW components, the Supra appears to run BMW’s superseded iDrive 6 infotainment system and shares its gear-selector, HVAC and media controls with the older 2-Series. Nevertheless, these parts are still substantially better than the rubbish infotainment systems and controls on other Toyotas, and means that the Supra (somewhat surprisingly given its sports focus) has the best infotainment system in the Toyota range.
I especially like the Supra’s instrument cluster. Appearing to be a hybrid analogue-digital panel, it combines a central tachometer as its focus (a traditional sports car characteristic), with the modern conveniences offered by a digital display.
Truth be told, the aggressively sculpted styling of the new Supra means that it’s never going to be a timeless, classically elegant sports car in the way the Porsche Cayman, Alfa Romeo 4C and Alpine A110 are.
But it doesn’t have to be. The Supra isn’t a petite, lithe European coupé. It’s a Japanese muscle car. More Mundine than Messi. Japanese car design of late has been following its own aggressive beat, and is all the better for it - models such as the LFA, LC and the LS from Toyota’s sister brand, Lexus, attest to that. And ultimately, who in their right mind would want Toyota to make a replica Porsche 911 when, left to their own devices, Toyota designers can produce something as brilliant as the Lexus LC?
Perhaps a more relevant question is whether the new Supra could feature in a future instalment of the Fast & Furious series. And, for me at least, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. The new Supra is simultaneously a homage to its fabled predecessor, and gives a new generation of enthusiasts and boy-racers something to crave. Its story is yet to be told, but it’s clear that the legend is reborn.
The all new Hyundai Sonata has just been revealed, and in Australia will replace the outgoing model towards the end of 2019. Here are some of my thoughts on its design:
As the traditional, three-box midsize sedan segment continues to dwindle in sales compared to SUVs, affordable manufacturers are increasingly trying to style their offerings as a ‘four-door coupe’ and move their positioning upmarket. The new Sonata follows in the mould of cars like the Peugeot 508, VW Arteon and the Holden Commodore in being a cut-price alternative to something like an Audi A5 Sportback.
I’m not sure about the excessive amount of chrome that’s been used towards the front of the car. The chrome ‘blades’ running through the bonnet visually elongate the car and definitely create a distinctive look, but they appear too gaudy for me. I’ll reserve further judgment until I see the car in person.
Hyundai describes these chrome blades as “Hidden Lighting Lamps” that “appear to be of a chromic material when switched off and become dramatically lit when turned on.” Notwithstanding the overly buzzword-y description, this looks to be a genuine innovation that could set apart future Hyundai vehicles from the competition. I hope it works as well in real-life is it does in the CGI press image below:
Gaudy it may be, the Sonata does have a cohesive design, with the full-width chrome strip running below the front grille mirrored by the light bar across the tail of the car. The light bar is the new ‘must have’ styling feature currently sweeping through the industry - I think it looks cool and futuristic right now, but am worried about this quickly not being the case if it’s overused by every manufacturer.
The interior, like the Nexo, draws significant inspiration from Lexus. Putting the infotainment display adjacent to, and on the same plane as the instrument cluster closely resembles what Lexus has done with the ES and UX in particular. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, and I’m happy that Hyundai’s interior designers have included a cream coloured interior option - it makes the interior space feel modern, light and airy.
In plain English:
“The advanced airbag system immediately prepares for additional crashes once it recognises an initial collision, in cases where the collision is not serious enough to warrant a deployment, the conglomerate said in a statement.
If the first collision is a minor one but the vehicle continues on and collides with something else, such as trees or street lamps, the airbag system optimizes itself to prepare for additional crashes,” a company spokesman said over the phone.
Existing airbag systems do not inflate once it determines the initial collision is minor, even if subsequent impacts involve greater force and can lead to serious injury, it said.”
Hyundai’s press release contains a more technical explanation, but suffice to say, this is a landmark development in automotive safety. As described, I can see it being a lifesaver in pile-ups, rollovers or other severe collisions. Here’s hoping that Hyundai is able to roll this technology out as soon as possible across its range globally. I also hope they follow Volvo’s example, and do the right thing in making this technology freely available to use across the industry. Automotive safety is far more important than the money gained through patent licensing or royalty fees.
As a side note, this goes to show how rapidly the Korean automotive industry has improved in the last 20 years. From making cheap trash like the Hyundai Excel and being the bane of the wider industry, to being innovators in not only safety technology, but environmentally friendly vehicles as well, with models such as the Kona EV and the Nexo. I can’t wait to see what they come up with in the next 20 years.
Richard Dredge of Autocar magazine has an excellent, comprehensive article on the first model produced by every key car manufacturer still in existence today. I especially like the streamlined design of the Saab 92, which remains elegant today.
From the press release:
“This demo car is the first step of the proof of concept (PoC), but is an important step towards technology driven innovation,” said Yunseong Hwang, Director of Open Innovation Business Group from Hyundai Motor Group. “Future mobility windshields will be more than just a piece of glass. AR holographic powered glass will serve as a platform to provide new services and open up new in-vehicle experiences.”
AR (Augmented Reality) is going to be a key technology in the future with uses across multiple industries. Whilst applications in the automotive space are currently in the prototype or proof-of-concept stage, I can see it offering numerous benefits for the driver. Foremost, safety would be improved. Warnings and other hazards identified by ADAS (Advanced Driver Assist Systems) such as AEB (autonomous emergency braking), lane departure and blind spot warning systems could be directly marked out and highlighted in the driver’s line of sight, making them more visible, easier to understand and minimising the time that the driver spends looking away from the road. Likewise, navigation would become much more intuitive, with the driver being able to ‘see’ precisely which road to make a turn on or which lane to be in.
A highly advanced AR windscreen of sufficient size, resolution and contrast could replace both the driver’s instrument cluster and the infotainment display entirely. One section of the windscreen could be dedicated to displaying driver relevant information such as speed, ADAS warnings and navigation, whilst the other could serve as a display for selecting music, choosing a radio station, or viewing album art and other media. Shifting these displays onto the windscreen would create a further sense of space and potentially improve visibility, of both the outside and the infotainment system itself, for passengers.
From the press release on AutoNews:
“Mitsubishi Motors Australia established a new annual sales record of 84,944 vehicles in 2018, according to official VFACTS figures released today.
The record annual result capped a solid year for Mitsubishi with sales up 5.3% year-on-year against an overall decline of 3.0% in the new car market.
Triton was Mitsubishi’s best-selling model last year with over 24,000 units sold.
ASX and Outlander contributed over 19,000 and 15,000 sales respectively, with the ASX maintaining its position as the best-selling small SUV in 2018.
Mitsubishi Motors Australia, CEO, John Signoriello said the market last year was much more challenging than anticipated but the investment in our SUV and LCV model range had delivered a good outcome for the brand.”
The ASX isn’t something I would buy given that it is nearing obsolescence, however this goes to show that in a cutthroat segment of the market, heavy discounting that undercuts better competitors works. It would be fascinating to see how much of a profit dealers are making on the ASX. The model itself was first introduced in 2010 and is based on a platform first introduced in 2005 - and given the dated technologies being used, would be cheap to manufacture; however, this would be offset by the discounted prices.
Above: Mitsubishi ASX
Another thing this result demonstrates is the strong growth of SUVs and Utes in the Australian market over passenger cars (i.e. sedans/hatchbacks/station wagons). The age of the family sedan which had the Commodore, Falcon and Camry as its flagbearers is at an end. Over the last 10-15 years, Mitsubishi has shifted to an SUV/Ute dominant strategy, with the positively ancient Lancer and Mirage the only passenger cars in the lineup. Based on these results, it seems the company has put its eggs in the right basket.
Eric Loveday, writing for InsideEVs:
“The Polestar 2 will be fully revealed in the coming weeks, but here are some initial specs and information:
First full BEV from Polestar and the Volvo Car Group
~300 miles of range (all final specs to be announced shortly)
~400 HP (all final specs to be announced shortly)
Four-door “fastback” body type
World debut of the new Google Android HMI, which in turn is also the debut of the in-car version of Google Assistant
Will be sold in the Tesla Model 3 price range
Available on subscription, which will be a slightly more premium version of our sister brand’s Care by Volvo package, although we will honor/take cash sales”
I’m really excited for this car, and those specifications mean it will likely be a direct competitor to the Tesla Model 3. There’s not much to say about the final design from the teaser image, but it appears the tail will follow the contemporary design trend of having a rear light-bar.
Amy Chozick, writing for the New York Times:
She [Caroline Ghosn] and her sister Maya Ghosn, 26, do not have direct knowledge of their father’s business discussions, but both said watching Mr. Saikawa address the national news media had cemented their belief that internal company dynamics were at play.
“Wow,” Caroline Ghosn said. “He didn’t even waste a breath. He didn’t even try to cover up the fact that the merger had something to do with this.”
Maya Ghosn, who works in philanthropy, agreed. As Mr. Saikawa was “talking about the alliance, it was clear to me that there was way more associated with it,” she said. “My gut reaction was that this was bigger than the accusations against my dad.”
Nicholas Maxfield, a company spokesman, said: “These claims are baseless. The family would never have had any reason to be privy to discussions related to the future of Nissan and the alliance.”
“The cause of this chain of events is the misconduct led by Ghosn and Kelly,” Mr. Maxfield said. “During the company’s internal investigation into this misconduct, the prosecutor’s office began its own investigation and took action.” (Asked specifically whether a merger had been discussed, Mr. Maxfield said a previously announced six-year plan had called for “additional synergies and further convergence among the member companies.”)
Mr. Ghosn has remained in a small jail cell without the opportunity for bail since his arrest.
It will be a long while before the truth is finally revealed, but what a soap opera this is becoming for Nissan, Renault and the wider automotive industry. I don’t know much about the Japanese legal system, but locking Ghosn up without bail appears to be a heavy handed tactic for someone who hasn’t committed any physical crimes.
Michael Fisher (MrMobile) has an excellent road-trip review of Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel-cell powered Nexo:
I really dig the exterior styling of the Nexo. Hyundai’s ‘Cascading Grille’ family face combines harmoniously with the pseudo-front light-bar design of the headlamps to create a futuristic, sci-fi look whilst also visually widening the stance of the vehicle. Another detail I like is the metallic copper paintwork - copper is a rare colour to be offered on a new car these days, and on the Nexo it works particularly well around the rear three-quarters view, creating a distinctive contrast with the black band that creates a floating C-pillar and flows into the tailgate. With electrical wiring typically made from copper, this colour, unintentionally or not, also provides a subtle hint to the powertrain underneath.
To clarify, hydrogen vehicles are electric vehicles in the sense that they incorporate an onboard fuel-cell that takes hydrogen and converts it to electricity, which is subsequently stored in a small battery that directly powers the vehicle. For the sake of clarity, this article uses the term ‘battery electric vehicle’ (BEV) to refer exclusively to electric vehicles that are directly charged from mains electricity rather than using an onboard fuel cell. For further information please see my articles on how hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles and battery electric vehicles work.
The interior must be the most luxurious offered in a Hyundai branded vehicle in recent memory. It fuses a Mercedes-Benz inspired horizontal dual screen setup with a Lexus-style centre console, and is all the better for it.
Above left to right: The interior of the new Hyundai Nexo compared to the new Mercedes-Benz GLE and 2011 Lexus CT 200h. Notice the similarities in the horizontally oriented dual-screen setup with the Mercedes, and the design and arrangement of controls in the centre console with the Lexus CT.
Nevertheless, I am sceptical that hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles will ever have widespread private adoption. Despite substantial structural reinforcements and extensive testing, there is no getting around the fact that hydrogen is an extremely flammable fuel, and liable to explode in the event of an extremely severe collision. Although petrol and diesel vehicles today share the same flaw, I can see media coverage and public opinion around hydrogen vehicles becoming extremely cynical following a fatal accident, especially in light of the fact it is a new technology, and irrational cynicism from certain quarters and influential people about electric vehicle technology.
As highlighted in the above video, whilst hydrogen vehicles themselves don’t produce any greenhouse emissions, there are very limited ways to produce hydrogen itself in an environmentally friendly manner. Unlike electricity which can sustainably be produced through solar or hydro-electric power plants, the production of hydrogen involves the release of carbon-dioxide emissions. In this sense, hydrogen vehicles are merely shifting emissions up the hydrogen supply chain, rather than being a holistic, environmentally friendly transport solution.
Right now, a key advantage of hydrogen vehicles over their electric counterparts is the minimal time required to refuel - approximately 5 minutes versus at least 45 min-1 hour for a battery electric vehicle (BEV). However, this is a narrow-minded comparison that fails to take into account the convenience and versatility that battery electric vehicles offer. Fundamentally, hydrogen vehicles follow the same mindset as the typical petrol/diesel car. In order to fill up, you have to go to a dedicated refuelling station, which can be an errand in itself or another stop on a longer journey. In contrast, BEVs offer a huge convenience advantage in that you can charge your car at home. This virtually guarantees that your car is fully charged as soon as you’ve left your driveway, and on shorter day-to-day trips especially, saves the time and worry of having to stop specifically to refuel your car. This is compounded by the versatility of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Whilst dedicated charging stations/networks such as Ionity and others are available, unlike hydrogen refuelling stations and petrol/diesel pumps, these networks are by no means the only way to recharge your car. The extremely widespread availability of electricity today means that it’s easy to build charging points within multi-level carparks, shopping centres, hotels and other frequently visited locations. In these scenarios, it doesn’t matter that charging an electric vehicle takes longer than a hydrogen or petrol/diesel car, as the driver is off doing another activity whilst the car can charge unattended. As no time is spent solely on refuelling the car, the driver effectively saves time which can be used for other things. Thus, strict comparisons between the refuelling/charging time of hydrogen and BEVs are irrelevant as they don’t take into account the charge-at-home convenience and versatility offered by BEVs.
So, what does this all mean for the Nexo? As a vehicle itself, the Nexo is excellent; however, it’s a victim of Hyundai’s bet on the wrong propulsion technology. What I’d love to see is a battery electric version.
Doug Demuro has an excellent review of the legendary Porsche 959. With electronically controlled adaptive suspension, all-wheel-drive, torque vectoring, ABS, sequential turbochargers and a part Kevlar body, the 959, released in 1986, truly was 15 years ahead of its time. With a 0-100km/h acceleration of 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 317 km/h, the 959 remains fast even by today’s standards.
The all-new Skoda Scala slots in between the Rapid and Octavia in Skoda product range, and marks the first time in a while that Skoda has offered a direct competitor to popular models such as the VW Golf, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3 and Ford Focus, among others. Let’s go through why the Scala might be a worthy entrant into this segment.
As per Skoda’s press release, ‘Scala’ is Latin for ladder or stairs, and implies a new, perhaps more upmarket progression for the brand with regard to technology and design. As a result, I think that this name is appropriate for a few reasons for this car. Foremost, it marks the production version of Skoda’s ‘Vision RS’ concept, and the debut of an evolved visual design that places a greater focus on sharper, more geometric creases in the bodywork accompanied by ‘crystal glass’ elements in the headlights and tail-lights.
Above top: The sharper, more geometric creases in the Scala’s bodywork are reflected in this triangular wheel design. Below: The ‘slats’ along the bottom of the headlights evidence the crystal glass design that the Scala embraces.
Moreover, the Scala ostensibly debuts the Volkswagen Group’s third generation infotainment system, perhaps marking the first time that the budget oriented Skoda marque gets first dibs on technology new to the entire VW group. I say ostensibly, as the system appears to be less advanced than the triple screen setup used in certain Audi models.
The Scala introduces an extended, blacked-out rear glass windscreen which visually divides the tailgate into two distinct sections by contrasting with the bodywork below. This design is quite reminiscent of Volvo’s C30 and V40 hatchbacks, and, as with those vehicles, adds another point of difference from run-of-the-mill designs.
Above left to right: The design of the Scala’s tailgate apes the Volvo V40 and C30 - both of which drew inspiration from Volvo’s 1800ES estate.
An interesting, nitpicky, detail is the use of Skoda lettering across the tail, akin to the Volvos. I think this detail could be changed depending on the market where the car is sold to further enhance brand and model recognition. In markets such as Europe, where the Skoda brand is popular and well known, the Skoda lettering could be replaced with only ‘Scala’ instead. The car is already recognisably a Skoda, and doing so would focus attention on the new model line in particular and the evolved design language that it presents.
Of course, currently both the marque and model designation are clearly displayed on the tailgate, however this creates an asymmetrical, unbalanced look with no corresponding lettering on the right side.
As discussed previously, the front of the Scala presents an evolved, geometric interpretation of Skoda’s crystalline design language. I like it - it gives the Scala a differentiated look without being tasteless or overdone. Importantly, in a sign of attention to detail, the creases match up. Note how the bonnet creases either side of the Skoda badge flow precisely into the vertical grille slats, helping disguise the radar sensor, whilst additional character lines adjacent to the bottom of the grille align with those flowing into the headlamps.
Side profile and proportion
A recent article in Autocar magazine provides an illuminating set of reference images in order to judge a vehicle’s proportions by:
Above: The Range Rover in correct and incorrect proportions. It’s easy to see which one has the more appealing visual design.
Using those two images as a comparative benchmark, it’s clear that the Scala has been designed with the right proportions. The swage line across the side profile visually elongates the car, and the wheels (at least in this spec) and overhangs are appropriately sized. Together with the steeply raked D pillar, this creates a more aggressive, sporting appearance. Nevertheless, a small detail I dislike is the chrome trim around the door edges - this begins at the bottom of the doors before hooking and stopping abruptly halfway up the D-pillar. There doesn’t seem to be any design benefit to this, and it simply looks like an obvious cost-cutting measure.
The interior appears to be standard VW/Skoda fare, with an emphasis on the horizontal axis of the dashboard, and logically placed, easy to use HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) controls. What is jarring is the use of a dated, space consuming manually operated handbrake instead of an electronic push button parking brake.
Overall, I quite like the design of the new Skoda Scala. The name is largely apt, the visual design is differentiated from key competitors and I’m pleased to see that, after a long time, Skoda is directly competing with vehicles in this segment.
Stefan Menzel, Martin Murphy, Dietmar Neuerer and Volker Votsmeier, writing for Handelsblatt:
“From 2006 to 2018, Volkswagen sold around 6,700 test cars in Europe and the US, a VW spokesman said, confirming German media reports. Around 4,000 were sold in Germany and the remainder in the rest of Europe or North America.
The cars, made to test and showcase new models before the launch of large-scale series production, should officially have been scrapped, but instead VW sold them as new or second-hand cars. The problem: motor transport authorities never approved these test models, only the ones produced in series.
Some models only needed a software update or a new navigation system to make them compliant, but others were so different from production cars, their only destination would be the scrap yard. VW explained that potential safety issues were the reason for the recall.
The matter has been deemed a serious offense by local authorities and the German Transport Ministry is deciding whether to fine VW a couple of thousand euros per test vehicle sold. Legal experts said VW may also face lawsuits, because consumers bought cars which may not have met the criteria the carmaker promised.
VW's own dealers are also angry. "Yet again we have to compensate the customer for damages that actually originated in Wolfsburg," said one car seller in southern Germany.”
This is, frankly, appalling. It’s unbelievable that one of the world’s largest car companies had, for 12 years (!!), no way of clearly distinguishing prototype and pre-production vehicles from production cars.
From a company as established as Volkswagen, it’s obvious for the customer to expect a certain standard of quality and a guarantee that the car will perform as marketed. Thus, having a potential range of issues as broad as simply needing a software update, to poor quality or non-compliant parts, likely worsens the situation for the customer by creating an additional air of uncertainty about the potential safety risk of the vehicle they’re driving. It appears that the customer has no further knowledge about whether their car might require a software update or substantial structural repairs/replacing.
As Volkswagen franchisees, this news will also have an adverse impact from a dealership point of view. Dealerships are typically the first port of call for the customer. Not only will they be responsible for providing compensation (hopefully VW corporate compensates them back) and going through the expense of organising, handling and repairing/replacing affected cars, but they will also share some of the ‘bad blood’ generated from this scandal through no direct fault of their own.
For Volkswagen itself, this episode further drags VW’s brand reputation through the mud, compounding problems for a company still reeling from the ‘Dieselgate’ saga. Whilst 7,000 or so cars over a 12 year period may seem minuscule compared to the millions of cars that the VW group sells annually, this news is sure to have an outsize impact on the brand’s previously heralded reputation for quality and safety.
It’s always great to see fantastical concepts from mainstream manufacturers make production, especially when the car is a collaboration between Nissan and Italdesign (a VW subsidiary). Costing more than a million dollars and with only 50 examples set to be produced, this is a guaranteed modern classic. I’m not sure about the gold-painted tail in the press photos above, but I love the futuristic interpretation of the GT-R’s iconic ‘stove-top’ tail lights.
Excellent article by Hilton Holloway from Autocar on the changes happening to the US vehicle market:
“Many new cars are sold to buyers at barely above their cost to the dealer, he said. Unless the dealership also has an active used car operation, new car sales are often not enough to pay the bills.
One big fear is the extent to which US car buyers have moved into leasing cars (much like the UK) since the Credit Crunch. Around 31% of new cars are sold as monthly leases and the cheap deals of recent times are running out.
The extent to which drivers who have borrowed themselves into significant debt, finding they owe $20,000 on a car they want to dispose of but which has a $10,000 trade-in value, is also a big concern for the industry, because people with negative equity can’t and won’t go out and buy a new car.
And it’s not just disappearing consumers who could undermine the carmakers – massive market shifts are catching them out as well. GM’s recent decision to close three plants and kill 14,000 jobs was mostly a consequence of the collapse in US road car sales as the market swings decisively to crossovers and pick-up trucks. “
It sounds like a combination of factors, from alternative ways to own cars (such as leasing and subscription services), to a shift in demand to SUVs and utes, have combined to create a hurricane that is disrupting the traditional process of outright purchasing a new car through a dealership. Watch this space.