Continental's New Wheel Concept

Jonathan M. Gitlin, writing for Ars Technica:

"EVs can't ditch the conventional brake. There needs to be a redundant system for situations when regenerative braking isn't possible, like when the battery is full and can't accept more energy. A consequence of using regenerative braking is that the friction brakes get much less use than in a conventional car, so they tend to last a lot longer. But there is a downside to this: a buildup of rust that can impair their performance when you need to use them, according to Continental.

So there's a wheel rim, to which the tire is mounted, and then an inner component called a carrier star—the bit with spokes that mounts to the axle. Instead of mounting a brake disk to the axle, here it's married to the carrier star, with the caliper attached to the inside. That means that the disc can be much larger than a conventional brake disc, which needs to be small enough so that there's room to fit the caliper without impeding the wheel itself."

This is a very interesting innovation that takes advantage of a key driving characteristic of electric vehicles- regenerative braking- to solve a potential rust problem caused by reduced usage of conventional brakes. I'd love to see how this would work in daily use on a production vehicle.

 

 

Thoughts on Audi's new naming system

From the Audi press release:

"The reference value for the new model designations is the power output of the individual model in kilowatts (kW). Audi is thus subclassifying its model range into different performance levels – each identified by a two-numeral combination. For example, the numeral combination “30” will appear on the rear of all models with power output between 81 and 96 kW. And “45” stands for power output between 169 and 185 kW. The top of the Audi model range is the performance class above 400 kW, which is identifiable by the number combination “70”. In each case the numerals appear along with the engine technology – TFSI, TDI, g-tron or e-tron.

The changes will kick off with the new Audi A8 generation in the fall of 2017. First among the two six-cylinder engines to be redesignated will be the 3.0 TDI with 210 kW – as the Audi A8 50 TDI, and the 3.0 TFSI with 250 kW – as the Audi A8 55 TFSI."

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Above: Audi's new naming system on the A8

On the face of it, this new numbering system aligns Audi with Mercedes and BMW, who also use a series of numbers to denote the relative power outputs of their model variants.

Historically, the model designations for Mercedes and BMW would be based on engine displacement. The underlying logic behind this was the assumption that the larger the engine, the more power it produced. Thus, 'E300' would would mean an E-Class with a 3.0L engine and '320i' would be equivalent to a 3-Series with a 2.0L engine. Although this is no longer the case (for example, the new E300 uses a higher-powered 2.0L engine) the long-running use of this type of nomenclature by both brands means that customers are still familiar with the underlying logic behind the system. A customer who walks into a Mercedes dealership may not know the size of the engine in the E300, but they will understand that it's a more powerful car than the E200. A decades long history of using the same basic system develops a contextual familiarity for the customer.

Audi's new two digit numbering system is a stark departure from the previous system where the engine displacement was directly labelled. Without the historical precedent that Mercedes and BMW share, the Audi customer cannot be expected to understand what numbers such as '30', '55' and '70' mean. Moreover, with the industry focusing on electric vehicle development, other characteristics such as range (i.e. the distance the car can travel between charges) also become important, which is a metric that is not described by the new numbering system. 

Overall, I feel that this new 2 digit numbering system is too little, too late. The system is too simplistic to cover characteristics that will be important in the future, such as vehicle range. Without historical precedent, it is likewise confusing for future prospective Audi customers.

With cars having a number of important performance characteristics such as power, torque, acceleration and range, it is difficult to concisely and clearly express all of these into a single alpha-numeric combination.

Perhaps a better option would be to scrap this model designation system entirely and instead follow the Ferrari route. Focus on marketing (and badging) the model only, e.g. Audi A4/A6/A8 and tabulate all performance characteristics on a hidden plaque or badge inside the car, together with any customer ordered options and other specification such as paint colour and wheel design. This way, all performance characteristics can be clearly displayed and understood. Additionally, this system would be beneficial come resale time, as all customer ordered options and preferences would be evident (with personalisation being key at the premium end of the market).

Autocar interviews Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is the chief designer of the Range Rover Velar, which in the opinion of yours truly is the most beautiful SUV in production today. His interview with Autocar offers some fascinating insights into the design process:

“Some people still think our job is to apply styling to an existing set of hard points. It was like that back in 2004, when I came back to Land Rover after my time with Lincoln in the US. Go away and make it look good, they’d say. But if you’re forced to do it that way, the horse has already bolted. Hard points define volumes and proportions, and together they’re the number one requisite for a great-looking vehicle. Get them wrong and it’ll never look any good, however good your details and surfaces. That’s why designers need to be involved in these decisions.” Everything changed, says McGovern, with Tata’s acquisition of Jaguar and Land Rover for £1.3 billion in 2008. “There was lots of mumbling, both in Europe and India, about Tata buying us. Everyone asked the same question: what do they know? But then Mr [Ratan] Tata arrived and asked the killer question: why does design report to engineering? He’d trained as an architect, he loved cars and knew exactly what our job entailed. I won’t interfere, he told us, and no on else will. It’s your destiny and you control it.”

There's still a common misconception that design simply relates to how a car 'looks' on the inside and out. Design is a lot more thorough than that. It focuses on how a user interacts with their car. Everything from their reaction to the styling when they see the car at a first glance, to how they operate the air-conditioning controls, or to the feel of interior materials, are all interactive experiences that need to be designed. Design is a very holistic concept, and for a vehicle to have great design, close collaboration with engineers that will put the designer's vision on the road is key.  

Mazda and Toyota to collaborate on electric vehicle development

Hans Greimel, writing for Automotive News:

"Toyota will take a 5 percent stake in Mazda, while Mazda reciprocates with a token 0.25 percent stake in Toyota, the car manufacturers said in a joint statement Friday.

Toyota and Mazda said they will also collaborate in developing electrified vehicles and connected car technologies. They will also step up supplying vehicles to each other.

In electric vehicles, Toyota is being positioned as working on the battery-side of electric vehicles, while Mazda works on the overall architecture. The two companies will jointly develop the hardware and software sides of electric vehicles but produce them separately, Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi said at a joint press conference in Tokyo.

In connected cars, Toyota and Mazda will cooperate on vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, seen as a key toward self-driving and advanced safety systems."

This appears to be a beneficial move for both parties.

For Mazda, it represents a cost-efficient and potentially time saving strategy to jump on the electric and autonomous vehicle bandwagon, by leveraging Toyota's greater resources and battery expertise, whilst retaining control of overall design and vehicle development.

Toyota, in turn, can make use of Mazda's product development and engineering expertise that has been responsible for the famed handling qualities of its SkyActiv architecture. This partnership is sure to also complement Toyota's existing collaboration with BMW on battery development and lightweight materials.  

The New York Times editorial on electric vehicles

The New York Times wrote the following in response to the UK committing to ending sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040:

"Much depends, too, on where the electricity comes from. If it comes from coal-fired plants, there could be a net increase in the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet; if from natural gas plants, a modest net decrease; if from carbon-free sources like wind and solar power, a huge net benefit. President Trump’s antagonism to the Paris climate accord and his affinity for fossil fuels demonstrate the difficulty of making this shift; and despite Volvo’s exciting announcement that it will make only electric or hybrid cars as of 2019, many manufacturers may well resist abandoning the engines they have spent the past century perfecting."

This paragraph makes an important point that often doesn't receive enough attention in the current fanfare around electric vehicles. If the electricity used to power cars is from a non-renewable source, then greenhouse gas emissions are simply being shifted up the electricity supply chain rather than being reduced. A holistic overhaul of the world's electricity supply chain, that ensures power is sourced from renewable energy, is needed. Electric vehicles are ultimately only one component of this modernisation.

Faraday Future stops building Nevada factory

Stefan Krause, Faraday Future's CFO, quoted in an article by the Nevada Independent:

“We have decided to put a hold on our factory at the Apex site in North Las Vegas. We remain committed to the Apex site in Las Vegas for long-term vehicle manufacturing.

We at Faraday Future are significantly shifting our business strategy to position the company as the leader in user-ship personal mobility — a vehicle usage model that reimagines the way users access mobility. As a result of this shift in direction, we are in the final stages of confirming a new manufacturing facility that presents a faster path to start-of-production and aligns with future strategic options.”

Krause's statement is full of vague buzzwords such as 'user-ship personal mobility' with no substance behind them, and the firm's commitment to 'long-term vehicle manufacturing' is a nice euphemism for the minuscule chance that it will ever put a vehicle into mass production. The death knell is sounding for this vapourware peddling company. 

Volvo to include electric motor on every vehicle from 2019

From the Volvo press release:

"Volvo Cars will introduce a portfolio of electrified cars across its model range, embracing fully electric cars, plug in hybrid cars and mild hybrid cars.

It will launch five fully electric cars between 2019 and 2021, three of which will be Volvo models and two of which will be high performance electrified cars from Polestar, Volvo Cars’ performance car arm. Full details of these models will be announced at a later date.

These five cars will be supplemented by a range of petrol and diesel plug in hybrid and mild hybrid 48 volt options on all models, representing one of the broadest electrified car offerings of any car maker."

This is another significant development for Volvo, which has lately been having a renaissance under the ownership of Geely in forging its own, differentiated identity. To go from zero fully electric vehicles in 2018, to five by 2021, a space of only three years, will be a big achievement. More importantly, it is a substantive acknowledgment by a 'traditional', mainstream automotive manufacturer that the writing is on the wall for the internal combustion engine. 

It's understandable that a mainstream manufacturer such as Volvo may not desire to leave existing customers (that live in areas with poor electric vehicle charging support) to hang out to dry by immediately ceasing support and development of combustion engined vehicles. But what is more important to understand is that hybrid vehicles that marry an electric motor to a combustion engine are a mere transition point, and not the final solution to achieving sustainable transport.

The only pragmatic option for sustainable transport is a fully electric vehicle powered by electricity from a renewable energy source. The sooner the automotive industry realises this, and follows Tesla's lead in independently building the requisite infrastructure, or forms a partnership with government to do so, the better. At this early stage, however, it's applaudable that Volvo has looked to the future and boldly taken a bet on a powertrain that currently only makes up a minuscule, albeit growing, share of the global automotive market.

Above: From left to right, the Volvo S90, V90, XC60 and XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid range. These vehicles represent Volvo's current range of only partial electric vehicles. 

Polestar to become a separate high-performance brand

From the Volvo press release:

"In the future, Polestar will offer Polestar branded cars that will no longer carry a Volvo logo, as well as optimisation packages for Volvo’s range of cars under the Polestar Engineered brand.

Polestar will enjoy specific technological and engineering synergies with Volvo Cars and benefit from significant economies of scale as a result of its connection to Volvo. These synergies will allow it to design, develop and build world beating electrified high performance cars."

Above: The new Polestar logo.

Whilst it's unclear as to whether the models sold under the Polestar brand will be derivatives of existing Volvos or new, independently developed models, this is a positive step for the marque. Newly launched Volvos such as the XC90, S90, V90 and XC60 are evidence of a renaissance for the brand, which has developed a 'differentiated premium' image through a focus on honest design, advanced safety features, autonomous driving and electrification. Through its T8 powertrain, Volvo remains the only brand where the most powerful, top of the range Volvo currently available is a plug-in hybrid. Separating Polestar to focus on performance electric vehicles creates further differentiation from the mainstream 'big three' German trio of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, and is a relatively unique proposition that is perhaps matched only by Tesla.

These are exciting times for the automotive industry, and with manufacturers being bold enough to explore new avenues such as autonomous driving and electric vehicles, the potential for innovation and change in the industry is greater than ever before.     

Build from scratch or convert to an electric vehicle?

Rachel Burgess, writing for Autocar:

"Which is wisest? The use of a single electric platform must make engineering infinitely easier, rather than heavily adapting existing architectures. But the obvious upside of offering electric variants of existing models is the equity of that model’s name. Aren’t you much more likely to buy a well-regarded model that just happens to have an electric powertrain rather than an unknown?"

Re-engineering a combustion engine car to fit an electric powertrain appears to be the pragmatic option in terms of retaining brand awareness and minimising the cost and time taken to develop the car. In 2020, the ordinary consumer will know exactly what a VW e-Golf is; namely a compact, affordable five door hatchback with an electric powertrain. How many of those consumers, in contrast, will know what a VW I.D. is? I would wager far less than the e-Golf.

What is even more clear, however, is that the electric powertrain is fundamentally different from that of a combustion engined car. A car with a powertrain so different from its combustion engined counterpart must, in turn, be built from scratch in a fundamentally different manner in order to reap the maximum benefits of the electric powertrain.

Consider the remarkable Tesla Model S, for example. The Model S is able to offer peerless acceleration and best in class safety and practicality (with a 'frunk' and large rear boot) because, not despite, it being been built and designed from the ground up for an electric powertrain. Could Tesla have saved time and money buying an existing, conventional mid-size platform and chassis from any number of manufacturers and then refitting an electric motor, akin to the original Tesla Roadster? Of course. But would it have enabled the same levels of practicality, performance and safety as a new, specially engineered ground up design? Most likely not.

The Tesla story goes to show that tailored design and engineering can create a substantially better product than an ostensibly easier 'swap engine for electric motor' approach. Famously, Tesla has undertaken little to no marketing of the Model S. How often do you see a print, television or web advertisement of a Tesla vehicle? Yours truly has certainly never seen one, and yet the Model S and upcoming Model 3 are the talk of the town. For Tesla at least, the fact of the matter is that its approach to electric vehicle design and engineering has developed vehicles so substantively better than the competition that traditional marketing is unnecessary and word-of-mouth alone is enough. 

Word-of-mouth has long been known to be the most effective form of marketing. After all, are you more likely to believe a company's own advertisement or the recommendation of a trusted friend or family member? Ultimately, this solves the challenge posed by Burgess in the quoted Autocar article. With tailored design and engineering producing a substantially better product, the car will market itself and eventually create a greater brand equity than if the manufacturer had chosen a conventional 'engine swap' approach.

Kia Stinger designer interview (Autocar)

Steve Cropley, reporting for Autocar:

"Standing next to the new Stinger, the key facets of the layout become obvious: the long bonnet, the short front overhang, the low roof of a cabin pushed to the rear and, above all, the generous dash-to-axle dimension that clearly advertises the fact that there’s a potent north-south engine in there, driving either the rear wheels or, in some cases, all of them.

Even for this emotional car, Guillaume says, there were numerous areas where design restraint was needed, such as leaving out a rear hatch. “We wanted the fastback look,” he explains, “but not the extra structure and weight of a hatch”. Likewise, they decided against an active rear spoiler because of weight, complexity and the fact that it would have introduced an extra rear shutline. But the original concept’s vents behind the front wheels were kept (Guillaume calls them “breathers”), because they have a genuine function in reducing aero pressure in the wheel housings."

Excellent interview with Gregory Guillaume, Kia's European design chief.

Design is as much about choosing what to leave out as what to put in. The Kia Stinger is the most elegant Korean car ever made. I'm glad Kia left that gaudy gold interior on the drawing board, though. 

Profile: Gosford Classic Car Museum

The automotive landscape extends well beyond the new and used car markets. Classic cars remain an important part of the industry, not least as a growing market in their own right, but also due to their importance as time capsules of the design and technological capabilities of their era, and the inspiration that they provide for the development of new models.

The Gosford Classic Car Museum is the largest such privately held collection of classic cars in the Southern Hemisphere. Owned by entrepreneur Tony Denny, the museum boasts a rotating collection of 550 vehicles, with 370 on display.

Above: Staff with a part of the museum's collection.

But how does one define what a classic car is? Is it simply the age of the vehicle? Ken Grindrod, museum curator, contends that apart from having an age of between 50-70 years, the historical significance of the vehicle and the number produced are other important factors to take into consideration.

"Every car needs to be looked at on its merits. [There are] some cars that would never be a classic but be collectible, and other cars that will always be a classic."

Despite having one of the world's largest classic car collections, the museum hasn't compromised on quality in pursuit of quantity. Mr Grindrod states that each vehicle goes through a rigorous due diligence process prior to being purchased.  Previous ownership, when the car was last restored, where the car originated from and available documentation, amongst other criteria, are all evaluated before a decision to purchase the vehicle is made. Whilst there is a preference towards Concours-level vehicles, the museum itself does not restore cars and each car is assessed individually for its value rather than having to meet a strict checklist of essential requirements.

"We track back who owned it, where it came from, because there are stories there to go with the car. In some cases, even though a classic may not be in top condition, its better to leave it as it is rather than restore it as it preserves the patina of the car."

Of course, market trends are another consideration that the museum takes into account when determining whether to add a car to the collection. Mr Grindrod comments that these trends vary upon the historical origin of the vehicle, with English, German and American cars, for example, continually changing in value in correspondence with altering buyer preferences. 

"Part of running a large collection of classic cars is that we have a knowledge of these trends, and that we follow and predict these trends" affirmed Mr Grindrod.

Given the importance of accurately analysing these trends, it might be reasonable to assume that the museum utilises a dedicated team of economists who have expertise in forecasting future trends in the classic car marketplace. However, this is not the case. Mr Grindrod confirms that as part of their responsibilities, museum staff collectively monitor trends, and are 'tapped into' several websites around the world that attempt to predict what will happen in the future. Moreover, by holding such a large classic car collection, Mr Grindrod contends that the museum has the ability to be a trendsetter in its own right. 

"We believe that because we're one of the biggest classic car buying people in the world, we can not only predict these trends, but quite often we set these trends ourselves."

Asked to elaborate on some current market trends, Mr Grindrod hints that British cars, especially older Jaguars and Austin-Healys, as well as certain American vehicles such as older Fords and Duesenbergs, are vehicles that are currently increasing in value. In supporting his claim, Mr Grindrod cites the example of a recent sale of a lightweight Jaguar D-Type that participated in the prestigious Le Mans endurance race; initially sold for $5 million, the car was subsequently auctioned off for $7 million two weeks later.

Vehicles such as the 1948 Jaguar Mark IV Drophead (above) are examples of classics that may increase in value.

A key aspect of owning a various range of exotic vehicles from all over the world is maintaining them and ensuring that they remain in a pristine, drivable condition. This presents a challenge for newer, more complex vehicles that may not have officially been sold domestically, and thus have limited local support channels. The museum's Ferrari LaFerrari is a prime example. Part of a limited production run of 500 and the fastest production road-going Ferrari to date, the vehicle is cared for directly by the Italian manufacturer, who regularly send a team of specialist mechanics to charge the vehicle's batteries and ensure that it is in perfect condition. The museum remains closed two days per week so that each car in the collection can be thoroughly maintained.

Above: Gosford Classic Car Museum's LaFerrari.

With the classic car market remaining sustainable, Mr Grindrod rejects any notion that the museum needs to alter its collection to cater for a younger audience. With the classic car market outstripping the overall automotive sales market in terms of growth rate, Mr Grindrod suggests that the museum's focus in the foreseeable future will remain on cars, rather than expanding to trucks or other types of classic commercial vehicles.

Above: 1950 Alvis TB14 Roadster

Since opening its doors eleven months ago, the Gosford Classic Car Museum has had over 100,000 visitors, including attendees from overseas, and Mr Grindrod highlights this fact to underscore the contribution that the Museum has made to the tourism industry in Gosford and the wider Central Coast area.

"The big dimension is what this is actually doing for Gosford. You only get back the effort that you put in, and we hope that the Museum will become one of Australia's major tourist attractions."

Above: 1993 Aussie Invader III. Australian built and piloted, this vehicle recorded a top speed of 1026 km/h in 1996. 

For further information about the Gosford Classic Car Museum, please visit www.gosfordclassiccarmuseum.com.au. All images in this article are to the credit and copyright of Gosford Classic Car Museum, and used with their permission.

I would like to place on record my thanks to Ken Grindrod, curator of the Gosford Classic Car Museum, for being available for this interview.