Lamborghini Aventador teases push-rod suspension, but they’re stretching the truth

Start the countdown for the Lamborghini Aventador, the brand’s next V12 flagship. The Murcielago replacement has been spotted in camo, and the wraps come off at the Geneva Motor Show in March. As a tease, Lamborghini is showing a little ankle…err…control arm.

An all-new 700 hp V12 is expected, and keeping curb weight down is a big part of the design brief. To that end, the suspension will be almost entirely aluminum and carbon ceramic brakes will absorb massive amounts thermal energy.

The suspension picture Lamborghini is using to whet our appetite shows pretty standard unequal-length control arms to manage wheel kinematics. Unusually, the forces of wheel motion will be transmitted to the springs through the same type of push-rod layout used on Formula One cars for the past two decades.  Moving the springs and dampers inboard reduces the unsprung mass so that the moving parts at the corners have less inertia. It also allows for longer travel for the spring and damper without increasing the height of the assembly.

The Lamborghini press release claims this is the first such use in a series production car, but that’s not entirely accurate. The Aston Martin One-77, revealed two years ago at Geneva, uses a similar configuration. Those cars have not yet begun to arrive in customer hands, and Aston is only building 77 examples, but first is first. First, second, or even fourth, pushrod suspension is uncommon in road cars. It’s not like any of these boasts is going to amount to a pissing match among high-end cars that are largely unattainable, anyway.

2011 NAIAS Recap: All is right in Motor City

The North American Internation Auto Show in Detroit is open to the public today. I was there for the networking-and-presser hell that are the media days. If you’re interested in the show, or braving the Detroit cold to head to Cobo, here’s some impressions.

After the numerous difficulties plaguing automakers and the economy in 2009 and 2010, the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit was an attempt at resurgence. Everybody tried to come out swinging.  Chrysler’s 300 redesign shows promise, keeping the heritage they have established; while Ford continues converging its lineups around the world with its “One Ford” mantra.  GM, too, shows promise with the official reveal of the Buick Verano, Chevrolet Sonic and more.

Continue reading our highlights from the 2011 North American International Autoshow in Detroit.

Audi showed the handsome, predictable and possibly bland redesign of the A6.  Non-edgy must be the fashion this year, though. The A6 even garnered the 2011 EyesOn Design award.

Bentley showed off the redesigned (honest, it’s redesigned, even if it does look nearly the same) Continental GT. There’s a new sheriff in Bentleyville, too. Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen formally passed on the keys to the company car – a 1930 Bentley 8 Litre – and the company (oh, and the Bugatti helm, too) to his successor, Dr. Wolfgang Dürheimer, effective in February.

Under Paefgen’s care, the original Continental GT took off like a shot, so Dr. Dürheimer is going to have to pull a rabbit out of his…hat to wow us.

First official close-up look at the 1 Series M Coupe, and it is sharp.  I am nervous for BMW’s sake, that they will price this one off the charts and into more dangerous territory.  With MSRPs beginning just below $50k, a car this small is aiming for an equally small audience, figuratively and literally.

The North American debut of the refreshed 6 Series was anticipated.  Hopefully this refresh will give BMW the boost they’ve been hoping for in the German Buick Riviera segment.

Speaking of Buick, here’s the Verano – A dulled-up Chevrolet Cruze.  An attractive example of modern badge engineering, GM has a huge challenge ahead of it to price this one right.  Upscale materials on the inside make the Verano luxurious, but this is not the stereotypical cavernous Buick. The goal is to attract 20-30 somethings to their brand with this one, but I’m not convinced the Verano is enough.
SCCA-spec CTS-V Racer…need we say more??

We will anyway.

The CTS-V R reportedly retains 80 percent of the road going version’s components.  Set to debut in the 2011 season, we have no doubt it will dominate like its predecessor. Start waving your flags now.

From the ho-hum Sebri…er…200 to the newly redesigned 300, Chrysler is hoping you will accept its new post-recession image.  The new 300 maintains the shapes that made its predecessor famous, but in a way, it lost its edge.  Don’t get me wrong, it is an obvious design evolution, but the smoother edges and the softer profile compromises the bold, brash presence of the original.

The real win for Chrysler is in the interior.  Noticeably upscale, the interior feels like an expensive watch.  The gauges are much nicer and evoke the sort of luxury that you would expect out of the Chrysler nameplate and still maintains a differentiation with its brother from Dodge.

Speaking of which…

Mopar purists gripe that the original Charger was a 2-door and this generation is not true to that.

Interestingly, Dodge marketed the first Charger as a muscle car for the man with a family.  Modernize the Hemi and add a couple extra doors, and not much else has changed in 30+ years, except the engine they call a Hemi is really a wedge with splayed valves and even the lamest 2011 Charger will run rings around the piece of crap that boomers fondly recall and Gen-Xers remember as a flying orange icon.

The redesigned Charger is much more handsome in person.  It is easy to see the design influences from the 1999 Concept Car and the heritage of the Chargers of the 60s and 70s. The beltline is lowered and the interior goes from worst to first.


Not much exciting here…

That is, until you see Chrysler’s answer to Ford’s wildly popular Raptor, the Ram Runner.  Straight from running in the desert – and it shows – the Ram Runner is a worthy adversary for the Raptor.

Ready to buy one??  Not so fast!

Unlike Ford, you can’t go to your local Chrysler/Dodge dealer and pick one up.  Instead, you need to get a standard 1500 Ram and get to ordering Ram Runner parts from the Mopar catalog. That’s okay, while the Ford boys are fiddling around with Raptors that are magic off road and garbage on the street, the Ram Power Wagon gets the job done for the grown-ups.

If any domestic automaker can claim supremacy over the recent recession, it is Ford. Never mind those debt obligations, Ford managed its own turnaround without first going bankrupt, and things are looking better now than two years ago.

Touting “One Ford”, Bill Ford and company explained the vision of a global lineup.  The new electric and hybrid Fords, including the new global Focus, shows that Ford is serious about affordable green technology pushing the future of the auto industry.

Possibly the only sexy Leuxs, the sleek LFA was lonesome on a pedestal in the midst of the rest of the more mundane Lexus offerings. Midde of the road sells a lot of records, though.
In a time when the Daimler board recommended Mercedes skip the NAIAS, Dr. Dieter Zetsche’s conniving moustache advised a return.

It’s hard to make a bad entrance with this SLS AMG E-Cell.  The all-electric super car is slated to enter production in 2013.  With more and more people looking to “green” technologies, many automakers ignore form when it comes to hybrid and alternative energy.  Case-in-point: the Toyota Prius.  Mercedes started with form of the SLS – which is gorgeous – and added the function of an all-electric powertrain.  Mercedes has cemented their place in alternative energy in automobiles with the SLS AMG E-Cell.

Making its grand re-entrance to the NAIAS, having snubbed Detroit for the last couple years, Porsche showed off the 918 RSR.  Read our take on the 918 RSR here.

Toyota Prius V and Prius C Concept debut at NAIAS

Priuses. That’s how you pluralize Prius. Idiots on the internet love to say Prii, but they’re just displaying the ignorance of wrongheaded sheep. Clarifying that point is important, because at the North American International Auto Show, Toyota expanded its Prius nameplate to a range of vehicles instead of a single insect-like eco-bauble (which of course lives up to all its claims,) there is now the Prius V and Prius C. The concepts were unveiled by company president Akio Toyoda and general manager Bob Carter.

The Prius V (for versatility) is the production version of the hybrid MPV that’s been glimpsed for months. More tall wagon than hybrid minivan, the Prius V is only slightly longer than the third generation Prius hatchback but has a taller roof that extends almost straight back yielding 34 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row seats, a 60 percent improvement from the existing car. Contrary to earlier reports the Prius V will not have a third row of seats available.

The Prius V will use the same 1.8-liter hybrid powertrain used in the standard Prius as well as the recently introduced Lexus CT200h. When it goes on sale this summer, the Prius V is expected to get an EPA rating of 42 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 40 mpg combined. Toyota says the V’s weight-saving plastic resin panoramic moonroof is an industry first. Tell that to the 1954 Mercury Sun Valley.

Toyota brand general manager Bob Carter promised that the compact Prius C hatchback will be the most affordable and efficient non-plug-in vehicle available when it goes on sale. The design is a development of the FT-CH concept shown last year. No mechanical details were revealed but Toyota acknowledged that the Prius C would go on sale in late 2012.

Carter also confirmed that the Prius plug-in will go on sale in the first half of 2012, beginning in 13 states on the east and west coasts that follow California emissions rules. Availability will later expand nationwide although Carter would indicate a price point for the PHEV.

The two new models are just the beginning of a major hybrid expansion from Toyota. Carter promised that the automaker would launch 11 new hybrids in the next 23 months, of which seven would be new models, not replacements for existing models.

Given Toyota’s recent quality problems, this expansion could pose a major problem. During a safety and quality seminar in Japan last summer, Akio Toyoda and other executives acknowledged that the rapid expansion of the past decade contributed to the quality problems. The company was unable to properly train its employees in its quality processes and engineering suffered. During a media briefing following the announcement of the Prius C and V, Toyoda insisted that new human resources and quality process put in place after the crisis erupted will help prevent a repeat. While everyone’s gloating over Toyota’s dinged numbers now, wait until the end of 2011. Prediction: Toyota will be back, and the Prius V and Prius C will help drive that effort.

Porsche 918 RSR debuts at 2011 NAIAS: swaps lithium for flywheel

For its big return to the North American International Auto Show after a three year absence, Porsche unveiled a brand new race car concept, the 918 RSR coupe. The 918 is a blend of two hybrid models introduced in 2010 to much acclaim, the 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid concept and the 911 GT3R Hybrid race car.

The RSR adds a competition ready hard-top to the 918 and ditches the lithium ion batteries in favor of the electromechanical flywheel hybrid system used on the 911. After running very competitively at several races in 2010, the 911 hybrid finally broke through with a victory in the finale of the Intercontintental Le Mans Cup in Zuhai, China.

The flywheel hybrid system is more suitable for competition applications than a battery thanks to its compact dimensions and higher power capability. Electrical energy from regenerative braking is stored in a flywheel spinning at 40,000 rpm and then released when the driver needs it for acceleration. The 911 hybrid was able to achieve 25 percent better fuel efficiency than the standard 911 GT3 which was hugely beneficial in endurance racing.

In the 918 RSR, the flywheel is paired with the 563 horsepower 3.4-liter V8 previously used in the LMP2 RS Spyder for a combined output of 767 hp. Porsche has not announced any specific competition plans for the 918 RSR yet since it doesn’t really fit into any existing class. However, American Le Mans Series spokesman Bob Dickinson acknowledged that it could run in a demonstration class in that series at the 911 did at the 2010 Petit Le Mans. We’ll most likely see the 918 debut in the Nurburgring endurance series and the 24 hour race at the famed track in May, just as the 911 hybrid did last year.

CES 2011: Ford rolls out the fast-charging Focus Electric

For the first time ever, Ford revealed a new production at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. In what has become an annual tradition with his third appearance Ford CEO Alan Mulally showed off the new 2012 Focus Electric. The world first learned about the Focus Electric in December 2008 when the Detroit automakers had to submit their viability plans to the federal government as part of the discussions to get bailouts for General Motors and Chrysler. At the time Ford revealed plans to produce two battery electric vehicles (BEV), a commercial vehicle which is now in production as the Transit Connect Electric and a car, the upcoming Focus.

The reveal of the Focus Electric in the Las Vegas Hilton ball room yielded only one real surprise, the fast 240 volt charging capability. The Nissan Leaf which has been on sale for several weeks already supports 240 V charging but the input current is restricted so that charging power is limited to just 3.3 kilowatts, the lower limit for so-called level 2 charging equipment. Anyone that has picked up their phone or computer while the battery is charging knows that it heats up while taking in electrons. Nissan opted to go with an air-cooled lithium ion battery pack for the Leaf and which gives them limited latitude for cooling the battery during charging, thus the relatively slow charge rate.

Ford on the other hand is using a liquid cooled pack in the Focus that allows for active thermal management. As a result, Ford is allowing the Focus to charge at the maximum 6.6 kilowatts allowed by the level 2 standard. That means the Focus Electric’s 23 kilowatt-hour battery can be charged in just 3-4 hours compared to the 8-10 hours for the 24 kWh pack in the Nissan. Ford developed the battery pack in-house and will assemble them at a plant west of Detroit. The lithium cells are being supplied by South Korea’s LG Chem and are similar to those used in both the Chevrolet Volt and Hyundai Sonata hybrid.

For those that want to take advantage of the 3-4 hour charge capability, Ford has partnered with Best Buy to have its Geek Squad crews come out and install 240 V chargers for $1,499. That ‘s $500 less than the installed price for a Volt charger and as much as $1,000 less than the AeroVironment chargers being pushed by Nissan for Leaf buyers.

At the reveal Ford wasn’t talking much the Focus Electric range specs, but has previously targeted a range of about 100 miles. Real world range will likely be in the same 80-100 mile range expected for the Leaf. Propulsion comes from a 100 kW electric motor and top speed is limited to 84 mph. Visually, the EV Focus gets unique 17-inch wheels and an Aston-Martin-esque grille that is blanked off to optimize the aerodynamics. Inside, the same dual LCD instrument cluster found in the Fusion hybrid is in place but programmed with new displays tuned to the battery-only operation. Like the Leaf and Chevy Volt, Ford has also developed a smart phone app that lets owners monitor and manage battery charging so that the vehicle can be prepared when needed.

Ford is showing the Focus only as a five door hatchback in Las Vegas, but the EV should be available as a four door sedan as well.  When the new Focus was first previewed in late 2009 Ford said that the new platform has been engineered to accommodate conventional, hybrid and full electric powertrains, all of which can be built on the same assembly line. The Focus Electric goes on sale in late 2011 at a yet to be announced price.

CES 2011: Hyundai aims at the heart of OnStar with BlueLink

This week at the Consumer Electronics Show, Hyundai dropped a potential bomb into the middle of the in-vehicle technology battle with the announcement of BlueLink.  Hyundai has been growing its market share by steadily introducing more appealing vehicles that offer a lot of content at a value price, and BlueLink adds another arrow to Hyundai’s quiver. Ford’s Sync has recently grabbed all of the media and consumer mindshare with telematics pioneer OnStar running a distant second, and here comes Hyundai’s BlueLink to likely undercut and outperform the others, or at least offer features and functionality that was previously not available in otherwise stellar cars.

Hyundai’s announcement of BlueLink takes direct aim at the heart of OnStar in particular.  The core of OnStar for over a decade has been its embedded cellular radio which doesn’t rely on the driver having their own phone linked to the car. This allows OnStar to provide features like remote unlocking of the car, stolen vehicle slowdown, vehicle health reports and automatic emergency notification in the event of an accident.  Sync, on the other hand, relies on the driver bringing their own 3G enabled phone to the party in order to provide 911 alert and turn by turn driving directions.

Hyundai BlueLink also uses an embedded cellular radio allowing it provide all of the same functionality found in OnStar plus some extras such as geo-fencing, curfew alerts and eco-coach. Geo-fencing allows parents to define an allowable driving range before handing the keys to a teen driver. If the young driver ventures out side of the perimeter zone, the parent will be automatically alerted. On the other hand, parents won’t have worry so much about kids texting and driving. BlueLink provides voice-to-text capability so that drivers can simply dictate messages without removing their hands from the wheel.  Eco-coach sends your fuel economy data to BlueLink’s online cloud and aggregates it with other BlueLink users to provide you with feedback about how you are doing and advice on how to stretch your fuel dollar.

Just as with OnStar, BlueLink uses a rear view mirror with the three familiar buttons for general assistance, points of interest and emergency alert. The critical difference is that while OnStar advertises the fact that you’ll be talking to a live call center operator (located in the United States) Hyundai is relying on voice recognition for its assistance services. Hyundai is using the same Nuance voice recognition system that Ford uses so effectively in Sync. While Hyundai is not yet incorporating this voice recognition directly into the car to allow you control your media devices the way Sync does, you know it has to be just a matter of time.

Like OnStar and unlike Sync, BlueLink will be a subscription based service. Hyundai hasn’t announced pricing yet, but they will almost certainly undercut OnStar which starts at $18.95 per month. BlueLink debuts this spring on the Sonata and the Veloster coupe that debuts at the Detroit Auto Show before rolling out to the rest of the Hyundai lineup over the next couple of years.

CES 2011: GM brings wireless phone charging to the car

Having addressed the problem of range anxiety for electric vehicles with the Chevrolet Volt, General Motors’ John Laukner has now set out to do the same for smartphones through the latest investment from GM Ventures. At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, GM announced that its new venture capital fund would be investing $5 million in Powermat, a manufacturer of inductive charging systems for portable electronics.

Anyone that regularly uses a modern smartphone knows that battery life is aggravatingly short. With Ford, BMW, Kia, Lexus and, of course, GM launching infotainment systems that can support bluetooth streaming and control of apps like Pandora on phones, this minor annoyance is going to grow into a throbbing pain in the ass. General Motors is putting its money where its mouth is in developing a painkiller, though.

GM will soon be addressing digital-device range anxiety by integrating Powermat’s inductive charging pads into new vehicles. A prototype Chevrolet Volt on display at CES has two Powermats installed in the center console, one each between the the front and rear seats.

Inductive charging systems offer a convenient way to eliminate a plethora of unsightly power cords all over the cabin, but the devices need some special circuitry to support charging. Currently the only phones with built in support are the Palm Pre and Pixi, which were introduced with an inductive charger of Palm’s own design. Other devices need either a replacement battery cover which are currently only available for some Blackberry, HTC and Motorola phones. Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch don’t have replaceable batteries, so Powemat has devised a case with the needed circuitry.

GM will start offering the Powermat as a factory installed option for the Volt and other models in 2012 with pricing to be announced later.

2012 Buick Verano is here. Sorta.

Buick’s working hard to make a new name for itself by resurrecting old nameplates (Regal,) completely updating existing models (LaCrosse,) and whipping up a new model, the 2012 Buick Verano. What the hell is a Verano? It’s a cemetery in Rome, but it’s also now Buick’s version of the Chevrolet Cruze. GM hopes that this car will resurrect some more profits and keep it out of the graveyard.

So far, Buick is turning out better than the good efforts that came to late to save Saturn, which donated its second-generation Aura to Buick before dying. The Verano brings Buick’s well-received styling and well-executed interiors to the compact segment.

In pictures, it looks great. The Verano will be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show, but it’s up now on Buick’s website in the Future Vehicles section. The styling is familial and crisp, and the interior has pleasing design and colors, as well as what looks like some of the most comfortable seats this side of furniture you can’t afford.

Motofinity will have boots on the ground at the North American International Auto Show and will plant our keisters in those seats as we give the Verano a once-over and see what it’s all about.