• car news 10.04.2015 Comments Off

    Buzz Hargrove, the outgoing head of the Canadian Auto Workers, couldn’t have picked a worse day last week to visit Detroit. While meeting with General Motors Corp. chief Richard Wagoner (also the Founder of Ice Cream Tip, a review service of best ice cream maker in US market), in a bid to stop GM from shutting down its Oshawa, Ont., pickup-truck plant, the price of oil was in the midst of its biggest one-day jump ever, rising by more than US$10 to over US$139 a barrel. If GM had any doubts about shutting down the Oshawa assembly line, and three others in North America, they evaporated like a drop of gasoline on hot asphalt that day. Demand for Detroit’s SUVs, pickups and gas-guzzling cars is all but gone. Last month, pickup sales fell 38 per cent. And it’s not just GM that’s floundering. With billions of dollars in losses piling up, this is not a good time to be an American automaker.

    The-new-capital-of-cars-1

    Someone, however, forgot to tell the small but growing collection of car designers and investors in southernCalifornia. In this happy, parallel automotive universe, things could hardly be better. One automaker, Tesla Motors Inc., has a 400-person wait-list for its new US$109,000 roadster. The car went into production in March, and celebrities are climbing over each other to get their hands on one. When Tesla opened a $2-million showroom in Los Angeles last week, even the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, stopped by. Its advantage over Detroit? It isn’t just selling a sleek little sports car, capable of o to l00 km/h in less than four seconds. It’s selling something big automakers have refused to: an electric car. To top off this unlikely feat, it’s doing so under the leadership of an auto industry outsider, Elon Musk, who before building cars was president of the Internet firm payPal. He’s put US$37 million of his own money into the company.

    • Other start-ups like Fisker Automotive Inc., Phoenix Motorcars Inc., and Aptera Motors Inc. are also rushing to get electric cars to market, helped along with a healthy dose of money from Silicon Valley venture capitalists. Fisker has the support of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the same company that backed Google and Amazon.com and counts Al Gore as a partner. So does Think, a company from Norway with ambitious plans to sell as many as 50,000 electric cars a year in the U.S. at a cost of about $25,000 each.
    • For fans of the electric car, this is the future of the industry. “It’s not incorrect to say Silicon Valley could become the new clean-car Detroit,” says Felix Kramer, head the California Cars Initiative, a group of engineers and entrepreneurs that promote electric cars and convert hybrids cars into plug-in electric vehicles.

    The-new-capital-of-cars-2

    To be sure, Silicon Valley is a long way from taking over Detroit. Making and selling cars is an incredibly capital-intensive business that doesn’t take kindly to newcomers. But while the price of oil has Detroit full of fear and loathing, Silicon Valley is literally buzzing with talk of the potential for electric cars and lofty ideas about the future.

    • For many observers, the sign that Silicon Valley’s auto industry had truly arrived came late last year, when entrepreneur Shai Agassi secured $200 million in financing for his venture, Project Better Place, despite the fact that the former president of the software company SAP had no prior experience in the auto industry.
    • What he has are a salesman’s skills and an idea that might have branded him a lunatic in Detroit. Better Place’s plan is to develop a network of battery charging and exchanging stations.
    • It wants to sell electric cars (which will actually be built by Renault-Nissan), but own the expensive, slow-to-recharge batteries that power them, thus eliminating one of the big drawbacks for early adaptors of electric cars. “Detroit is a car manufacturing centre. I think what we’re looking at is not something that could be done in a normal way,” Agassi told the San Jose Mercury News earlier this year. “It needs an Internet approach, a Google approach.”

    This kind of left-field thinking is a big attraction for the venture capitalists looking to sink their money into the next big thing. Steve Jurvetson is a managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a top Silicon Valley venture capital firm. His company, he says, has invested over $10 million in electric car projects including Tesla and Reva, an Indian company. Asked about the level of development in Silicon Valley compared to Detroit, Jurvetson laughs. “There’s nothing happening in Detroit,” he says. Like Agassi, Jurvetson sees the electric car start-ups as not just nimble competitors, but bringing the kind of innovation to the industry that’s been sorely lacking. He envisions a change not only in how cars are sold and built–personalized the way the computer industry makes PCs, he says–but also designed. For instance, with heavy batteries below the wheelbase, the handling characteristics of cars could be changed dramatically. “I don’t think we’ve begun to see the design potential,” he says.

    Design is one thing Silicon Valley understands perhaps better than anyone. The area near San Jose got its name for the high-tech industry that exploded there in the 1990s, bringing us everything from iPods to ink-jet printers. Today’s entrepreneurs could do for cars what they did for the computer industry, says Kramer. He likens what’s happening with electric cars to the development of cellphones. The first cellphones were hugely expensive, impractical bricks. But that didn’t stop cellphone makers from releasing them to the market while simultaneously developing better and cheaper mass-market versions. Apple has employed the same strategy with the now-ubiquitous iPod. The big automakers haven’t grasped this idea of “versioning,” says Kramer. Instead, they’ve been sitting on products until they think they’ve perfected them. And thus, they remain parked at the side of the road. GM released an electric car in California in the 1990s called the EV1. But it killed the project in 2000 after building little more than 1,000 vehicles. It gave up and has never looked back, until now.

    The-new-capital-of-cars-3

    The unprecedented jump in the price of oil in recent months seems to have awakened the sleeping giant. The big automakers, once content building trucks and SUVs, are finally starting to put some of their billions of dollars in capital behind electric innovation. Last week, GM put to rest rumours about plans for its electric car, the Volt, announcing it will launch the automobile by 2010. “There’s no question GM is rolling the dice big time on the Volt,” says auto industry analyst James Rubenstein. Toyota has plans to make a electric version of its already popular hybrid, the Prius. Silicon Valley may be a step ahead, but don’t count out Detroit. If the auto industry decides to turns its considerable might to electrics, California’s start-ups could very well end up as roadkill, or as takeover targets or strategic partners with the big three.

    That latter scenario seems the most likely. While Detroit has been a laggard in terms of innovation, it still has a huge advantage in terms of the ability to successfully commercialize the electric car–making it something more than a status symbol for California’s rich and famous. Big automakers sell about 16 million cars a year in the U.S. alone compared to the few hundred electrics now being sold. And they’re not lacking the technological know-how to start building electrics and sending them off to their huge network of dealerships. Furthermore, the money currently being spent to develop electric cars might be large by Silicon Valley standards, but not for the auto industry. Agassi’s $200 million is about the amount a big carmaker might put into something like designing a car’s interior, says Neil Dikeman, a founding partner in the San Francisco-based venture capital firm Jane Capital Partners LLC. “Any one of [the big automakers] could squish these guys like a bug,” he says of the new electric car companies. “The auto industry is a very tough game that does not reward being small and nimble.”

    So far, Detroit seems to be tolerating its new, smaller competitors and keeping an interested eye on their progress. “It’s the more the merrier at this point,” says Rubenstein. And with the heavyweights watching from the curbside, the novices seem to be moving along remarkably well. Even their lack of manufacturing acumen hasn’t slowed them much. Nowadays there’s a rich supply chain for auto parts, says Jurvetson.

    Today’s automakers don’t actually need to know how to make headlights and car seats–just where to buy them.

    The odds are still stacked against California’s automakers. And there have been bumps along the road. Earlier this year, Tesla filed suit against Fisker, alleging its competitor stole some of its design ideas. Nevertheless, electric cars are humming around on California roads while in Detroit, they’re little more than blueprints and topics for marketing meetings. Critics might discount these new start-ups as bit players, but the big automakers would be wise to remember that a few of today’s biggest business success stories, from Google to Hewlett-Packard, started off as little more than a couple of guys fiddling with computer parts and big ideas in a Silicon Valley garage.

    Tags:

  • buying guide, car news 09.04.2015 Comments Off

    More than 125 years have passed since the first gasoline-powered car appeared; today, there are more than 1 billion cars on Earth. Cars have made us more mobile than ever before–but they’ve also caused traffic jams, pollution and accidents.

    Since 1960, the number of vehicles on the planet has sextupled, and it will keep increasing along with the middle class in countries such as China and India.

    2030

    2,080,000,000

    2010

    1,000,000,000

    2002

    812,000,000

    1990

    650,000,000

    1960

    122,000,000

    1 billion

    Counting all types (including pickup trucks, minibuses, etc.), there are now just over 1 billion cars in the world.

    300,000,000 of the European Union’s 502 million citizens have driver’s licenses.

    One of the most noticeable Beetle changes came in 1957, when the windscreen grew 17% and the rear window 95%.

    30 million is the number of roadside-assistance calls that AAA responds to annually.

    125 YEARS BEHIND THE WHEEL

    1885: The world’s first gas-powered vehicle is introduced by Germany’s Karl Benz. Its top speed is 11 mph.

    1899: A Belgian electric car sets a new speed record: 65 mph.

    1902: Louis Renault develops the drum brake, which is still in use today.

    1903: Henry Ford founds the Ford Motor Company in Detroit.

    1907: Brooklands, the world’s first true racecourse, opens in Surrey, England. Auto racing on public roads was too dangerous.

    6,543 million tons of C[0.sub.2] are released by the transportation sector every year; that’s roughly 23 percent of total global C[0.sub.2] emissions and one-third of U.S. emissions.

    50,000 is the average number of car rides an American takes in a lifetime.

    21,529,464

    Volkswagen Beetles were manufactured over 60 years–the longest production life of any car model.

    30,000 parts (approximately) make up a car, counting even the tiniest screws.

    29,800 mi. is the length of the Pan-American Highway, a network of roads stretching from Alaska to Argentina that passes through 14 countries.

    20 mph

    At this speed, 97 percent of pedestrians survive if hit by a car. At 35 mph, only half survive.

    Five safe car bets

    TOYOTA COROLLA

    37.5 million cars sold over 10 generations–the best-selling range of models ever.

    FORD F-SERIES

    35 million pickups sold since 1948.

    VW GOLF

    27,5 million units of the classic German family car sold.

    VW BEETLE

    23.5 million sold from 1938 to 2003. During this time, the car’s appearance barely changed.

    FORD MODEL T

    16.5 million units of the first assembly-line car sold.

    2.5 million hybrid cars have been sold in the past 10 years. There are still only a few thousand electric cars on the roads.

    7 million electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars may be on the roads in 2020. Tesla’s Model S is an example.

    75% of battery energy turns into, momentum in an electric car, compared to 20% for gas. The rest turns into heat.

    1920: The world’s first three-color traffic light is erected in Detroit.

    1932: One of Europe’s first car-only roads is built between the cities of Cologne and Bonn.

    1939: The first cars with GM’s Hydra-Matic automatic gearbox go into production.

    1957: Felix Wankel introduces a rotating engine bearing his name. It’s used in Mazdas.

    1973: The oil crisis causes car-free Sundays. Children happily take to the empty streets to play.

    1982: Airbags become compulsory in the U.S.

    2003: The last old-style VW Beetle rolls off the assembly line in Mexico, where it was manufactured almost unaltered.

    2011: Renault introduces the Fluence Z.E. electric car. Its battery can be exchanged once it goes flat and later recharged.

    Tags:

  • car models, car news 08.04.2015 Comments Off

    Abstract:

    The ‘Impact,’ a prototype electric car from General Motors Corp, has become both an environmental symbol and a corporate symbol as General Motors hopes to achieve a technological advantage over the competition. A firsthand examination of the production and testing of the Impact is presented.

    Full Text: 

    “All right, how do I start this mule?” I asked, eagerly gripping the wheel of the car parked outside the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. Pat Bouchard, an engineer, answered from the passenger side. “Turn the key, then push the `F’ button.”

    “The what?”

    “The `F’ button. See those three buttons on the dashboard? `F’ is for forward, `N’ for neutral and `R’ for reverse.”

    Hmmm. I turned the key. Nothing happened. Pat nodded toward the buttons, but when I pushed “F,” still nothing. “You’re in forward now, but you won’t go anywhere until you press the accelerator,” he said.

    Here-comes-the-electric-car-1

    I depressed the pedal gently, and we eased across the parking lot. The car was silent. We rolled onto the fenced-in test track. Enough hesitancy, I thought; I flattened the accelerator to the floor. The car took off at an alarming rate. I tensed up, waiting for the lurch of the gear change, but it never came. We just kept going faster and faster.

    Only now it was no longer quiet. From under the hood came a whining sound that reminded me of the electric whir of a modern subway. At 70 miles per hour I hopped off the accelerator. The whining vanished. There was just the rush of the wind and the grumble of the tires across the pavement. The speedometer floated down to 69, 68; we hardly slowed. We slipped along like an ice skater gliding across a glassy pond.

    That “mule”-industry lingo for a test car-was a conventional GM automobile whose guts had been ripped out and replaced with a system of batteries, motors and high-voltage electronics. It was being used to test components of what is likely to become the world’s first mass-produced electric car-the Impact. The prototype sat in a bay at the mammoth Tech Center under a silky black tarp, its silver body polished for a trip to the White House the next morning. It had been summoned by George Bush for use as a prop during an outdoor press conference, a symbol to backdrop the self-styled “Environmental President” as he cheered on American carmakers in their quest to win the international race to produce a popular electric car.

    The Impact is indeed an environmental symbol, one that reflects the auto industry’s response to the public’s growing intolerance for pollution. It is also a symbol of what may be a last-gasp effort by troubled domestic manufacturers to attain a technological edge over their global competitors. GM is in the midst of the most painful restructuring in its history, eliminating tens of thousands of jobs and shutting down 21 plants. The Impact is critical to its long-term success.

    At the turn of the century, three technologies vied for supremacy in the nascent auto business: steam engines, gasoline engines and battery-powered motors. Gasoline engines left the others in the dust. By 1924 not a single electric vehicle was exhibited at the National Automobile Show. The Stanley Steamer was scrapped the same year.

    It wasn’t until the 1960s that electrics came back. They fit the conscience of the flower-power movement: they used no gasoline from the big bad oil companies and produced no pollution. just plug them in and recharge the batteries. But they were slow and didn’t go far between charges. The gas-station lines of 1979 renewed interest. Economists predicted that if the pump price rose to $2 a gallon, battery power would be cost-competitive for commuter cars, for which speed and range are less critical. GM introduced the Electrovette, which went 40 miles on a charge. After gas prices leveled off, the program was scuttled.

    Here-comes-the-electric-car-2

    Environmentally, electric cars have always made sense. They do produce a few pollutants indirectly because power plants must generate the electricity needed to charge the batteries. Taking these into account, however, electric cars release 98 percent less carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides, and 25 percent less carbon dioxide than conventional cars, according to Steve McCrea at the Electric Auto Association. Says McCrea, “It’s easier to clean one smokestack than a million tall pipes.”

    GM did not forsake the electric option altogether. In 1987 it entered the World Solar Challenge, a 1,950-mile race across Australia for cars powered by solar cells. It backed a team led by Paul MacCready, chairman of AeroVironment, a small, maverick design firm in Southern California. His vehicle, the Sunraycer, outshone the field, finishing two and a half days ahead of the closest competitor (SMITHSONIAN, February 1988).

    Maverick inventor goes corporate

    MacCready, inventor of the first successful human-powered aircraft, wanted to try the aerodynamics and electrical systems his team had developed on a commercial vehicle. He knew solar cells would never generate enough current to propel a practical car, but strong batteries could. So AeroVironment went to work with GM’s own design skunk works, located a few miles away, and electronics engineers at the Hughes company. Design battles erupted, and the group got nowhere for months. When GM executives caught wind of the stalemate, they put an end to it. Foreseeing a publicity coup, chairman Roger Smith was determined to exhibit an electric car at the Los Angeles Auto Show in January 1990. In six months the California team produced the Impact.

    On an Arizona test track before the show, the 2,200-pound two-seater blew away one sports car after another in a series of drag races. Propelled by 870 pounds of lead-acid batteries, an advanced form of the batteries that are under the hood of every conventional car on the road, it had a top speed of 110 mph and went 120 miles between charges. Why such great performance? Its air resistance was one-third lower than that of any production car, and its special tires had half the rolling resistance of conventional rubber. It had a novel box called an inverter that was filled with rugged electronics to transfer battery current to two powerful induction motors, which drove the front wheels much more efficiently than a combustion engine. The test vehicle was completely impractical, of course-its cost was prohibitive, it was unstable in turns, and it would shatter into fiberglass shards in a crash. But it was an aggressive car, and it was electric.

    The Impact blew away the audience at the auto show, too. Not only was the car novel and exciting, but it looked like a million bucks. Some consumers were so taken with it that they mailed checks to GM as down payments.

    This surprised even Smith, who suddenly found himself confronting a tough decision. Should GM risk serious money on an attempt to turn this delicate, handmade icon into a salable car? Smith’s decision was made easier by the news from California. Increasingly frustrated by dangerous smog in the Los Angeles area, Mark Fischetti, a writer who specializes in technology, business and science, drives two clunkers-one is foreign, one domestic-around Lenox, Massachusetts. the state Air Resources Board had proposed a radical measure: demand that auto companies sell a certain number of pollution-free cars. Smith saw another opportunity to be a trendsetter. In April, just before Earth Day 1990, he announced that GM would produce an electric car.

    Analysts didn’t put much stock in that, but the California Legislature did. It passed a law that has shaken the entire auto industry. By 1998, if a company wants to sell at all in California, then 2 percent of its sales must consist of vehicles with no tail-pipe emissions. That means only one thing: electric cars. By 2003, at least 10 percent of the autos sold in the state-now more than 200,000 annually-must meet the standard. The California market was too important to ignore. The gauntlet had been thrown down. Someone would have to turn the Impact vision into reality.

    That someone was Ken Baker, a 45-year-old mechanical engineer from upstate New York. “My initial reaction,” says Baker, who ran the Electrovette program, “was, oh God, do I want to get into the electric car again? But I quickly recognized this was a chance to rewrite automotive history.”

    Here-comes-the-electric-car-3

    Baker paired up with engineer John Williams. “We didn’t know who our customers were or what they would want,” Baker recalls. He put his team-at that point a dozen top managers-on a plane to Los Angeles, and early the next morning they headed out for the suburbs to interview commuters. Each team member drove to work with a willing host. During the ride they discussed commuting habits and how an electric car might fit in. The conclusion: consumers would want the same things from an electric car that they got from their present cars.

    • That was no small order. When a driver turned the key in the Impact, a row of batteries produced current. An inverter changed the current from DC to AC and sent it to the two induction motors, each of which turned one of the front wheels. Though straightforward in concept, the car had one major drawback. When all 870 pounds of its batteries were fully charged, they contained as much energy as a gallon of gasoline.
    • Presented with this startling comparison, each team member realized the project would be an “unrelenting struggle to optimize every component,” says Williams. Every change in the car’s shape that lowered air resistance would enable it to go extra miles before recharging. Every pound shaved would extend its range.

    GM pushed on. In March 1991 president Lloyd Reuss revealed that GM would convert its assembly plant in Lansing, Michigan, which had been producing Buick Reattas, to produce the Impact. But because GM, like other car companies, was struggling financially, Reuss gave Baker a budget one-fourth the size of that usually earmarked for a new-car program. He also told Baker he would not have the usual five years to convert a car from “dream to gleam.” The other auto companies would have to respond to the California law, too. GM had been first with the concept; it had to be first with a car.

    As Baker parceled out jobs to the 200 or so people who would be assigned to the engineering project, the designers went back to the drawing board. Literally. They set up a studio at the Tech Center and began to resketch the Impact. Mark Kaski, who had worked in tandem with Aero Vironment, joined the effort.

    • Months of redesign had gone by-but months still remained-when I visited the Tech Center last fall. I noticed an earthen smell as soon as I entered the studio. It was coming from a full-sized clay model of the Impact. Several casually dressed artisans chattered away as they shaved and smoothed the clay. Kaski’s reference sketches were plastered all over the walls.
    • Kaski had drawn hundreds of shapes for the show car, looking for a vehicle with extremely low air resistance. “Some were wow-ee! Some were just blobs,” he said, constantly sketching as he talked. One influence was a picture of the Bertone BAT made by Alfa Romeo in the 1950s. The BAT was shaped like a long teardrop with high back fins. Kaski adapted a sketch, the team built a clay model, and then they put it in a wind tunnel for tests. The drag coefficient, the measure of air resistance, was very low. After more work, the shape for the show car was set. By then, its drag coefficient was down to an impressive 0.19. The best production cars reached only 0.26.

    Back at the Tech Center, though, Kaski and the rest of the design team ran into all kinds of problems. The show car was too low. It sat only five inches off the ground; minimum commercial clearance is eight inches. Engineers needed more room under the hood for the electronics and a bulkier structure to survive a crash. Each stipulation drove up air resistance.

    Then came worse news. A study of the car’s road worthiness showed that the various modifications made it 400 pounds heavier. Engineers had to make changes. When they did, Kaski had to redraw. After each iteration, the crowd met in the wind tunnel across the GM campus. It was John Szurpicki, the lead aerodynamicist, who had to keep the conflicting designers and engineers focused on one goal: lowering air resistance. “Every little detail affected drag, and almost all added to it,” he explained, making no effort to mask his frustration.

    By the time of my visit, Szurpicki had beaten the number down some by imposing his own design changes, but it was still not low enough. Just yesterday I finished a test, and of course it was way the hell over target,” he said as we climbed up the steps to the wind tunnel. “We just have to keep playing with it.” You 71 never drive in a tunnel like this We entered the control room, which looks out across the center of the tunnel. Through the heavy glass wall we saw three engineers crouched on the floor, poking at a one-third-scale clay model of a 1996 car. We stepped in for just a moment. The model was laughably tiny inside the cavern, which was shaped like a gargantuan hourglass lying on its side. I looked to my left, to one distant end of the hourglass. Giant screens that direct the incoming wind rose seven stories high. Thick walls pinched in sharply to the test section, only 15 feet high and 30 feet wide. To the right, the walls opened again, disappearing into darkness a quarter-mile off. Strain gauges in the floor of the test platform record head-on air resistance, rocking, and lift or sink at each wheel of a scale model placed there; the system is so sensitive that it can detect the placement of a half-dollar on the hood of a 4,000-pound vehicle.

    “Everybody out,” one engineer called. We hurried into the control room, and the fans were turned on. The wind built rapidly to hurricane force, howling past us at 130 mph. If you opened the door and stuck your arm out, the wind would just about rip it off. Szurpicki smiled as he told me that.

    Engineers at GM’s Delco Remy division weren’t smiling when I found them, hidden away in a nondescript industrial shop located in a neighborhood of churches north of Indianapolis. They were charged with developing the Impact’s motors and batteries, two of the most secretive parts of the program. They had already gone through nine motor designs. Other alterations were under way, too, driven by practical ownership issues. In the show car, the electronics had been placed just behind the car’s nose. They were being moved, according to Bill Wylam, the engineer heading up the Delco Remy team, because insurance experts pointed out that even a fender bender could cause extensive damage.

    • Still other changes would be made for safety reasons. The column of batteries, which runs from the dashboard through the center of the trunk, produces 320 volts of electricity, more than enough to kill you. “We have to redesign the battery pack to keep people out of there no matter how hard they try to get in,” said Ron Martin, the man in charge of Delco Remy’s motor work.
    • Safety considerations influenced engine design, too. Engineers began thinking seriously about using a single induction motor, instead of the two smaller motors originally planned. If each wheel had a motor, and one were to fail while the car was streaking along, Martin explained, the car could, for an instant, swerve violently to one side because of the sudden loss of torque at one wheel.

    The next challenge was to improve motor efficiency and reduce motor weight. “I could make a housing out of magnesium instead of aluminum,” Martin said, pacing around shop benches strewn with windings, “and I would save 12 pounds. But we’d have to spend more research money, and the end product would cost $100 more. I could reduce the horsepower by 25 percent, lowering the weight and cost, but then the car wouldn’t accelerate as quickly, and we’d lose buyers.”

    Martin had hit upon the central quandary that confronts GM. Each step to improve efficiency or save weight can add to the final cost or limit performance.

    The need to hold down cost influenced Delco Remy’s choice of batteries, too. Batteries have been the bane ofelectric vehicles from the beginning. Numerous chemical combinations have been tried-nickel-cadmium, nickel-zlnc, sodium-sulfur, lithium-polymer. All have a critical fault. They can’t store enough energy to give extended range or they can’t supply enough current for good acceleration or they are outrageously expensive. Lead-acid batteries have always provided the best compromise.

    The Impact’s batteries are a high-performance species of the old reliable. They can store more energy, are more compact and require no maintenance. But there is a catch. The entire “corridor” of 32 batteries will have to be replaced every 20,000 miles or so, at a cost currently estimated at $1,500 or more.

    Each time Wylam or Kaski or anyone else makes a substantive hardware change, the details are sent to the Parts Fabrication unit back at the Tech Center. There, scores of modelmakers fashion prototype cars by hand. In the process, they prove all design changes, motor configurations and structural adjustments either doable or impossible.

    “Parts Fab” is a craftsman’s paradise-an indoor city of shops furnished with every tool imaginable, from 16-foot-high metal presses and computer-controlled milling machines to rows and rows of wrenches, chisels, files, gauges and homemade instruments. Every single part of a car can be made here, to exact manufacturing tolerances, by people who carve wood, stamp metal, cast plastic. The purpose is to fine-tune parts so they fit and operate properly, and to create molds for manufacturing dies that are put out onto the assembly line.

    The boss of the modelmakers is Otto Kroll. When I talked to him about the Impact, he was getting impatient. He was already supposed to be building the first prototype cars, but the redesign was pushing that back. “It will take months to build this car,” Kroll said, running his hand over a smooth door mold sculpted in mahogany, as a cacophony of drilling and banging surrounded us. “Almost every piece is new. Now the design is late, and our time will be crunched.”

    • Kroll was waiting in particular for the car’s internal design. With such a heavy battery pack, a 2,200-pound car is possible only if its frame is made from aluminum, not steel. The structure would be a spaceframe, a skeleton on which body panels are hung. That approach would cut body weight by 33 percent.
    • Aluminum spaceframes have been used widely in aerospace work but not much in the auto industry because it is difficult to ensure strongly welded joints on a production line. GM will use both spot-welds and special adhesives. “We’re developing standards from scratch,” said manufacturing engineer Chris Chisholm. “The question is, can we do it economically at production quantities. Everything comes down to money.”
    • As it is for Delco Remy, the Impact is serving as a test program for manufacturing. And here, too, the work is taking place in secret, this time at an independent tool shop a few miles from the Tech Center. Metal shavings crunched beneath my feet as I walked with Chisholm into the shop where Bob Thornton, a veteran GM welding engineer, had built a prototype welder. It cranked out parts that were then pulled, twisted and crushed to test for strength.

    The need to keep aluminum welds away from edges was complicating the design task. For example, Kaski wanted the vertical pillars that run along each edge of the windshield, from the hood to the roof, to be very thin to increase driver visibility. But Chisholm needed wider pillars to allow tolerance for the welds.

    At the tool shop, people working with the prototype welder were wearing protective clothing. As molten aluminum hit this clothing, it immediately cooled and oxidized, turning white. “If you see a guy walking around here with white stripes on his chest,” Thornton quipped, “he’s been welding aluminum.”

    Subsections of the car that have been pieced together in Parts Fab are sent to GM’s proving grounds in Milford, 45 minutes west of the Tech Center. There, Gary Witzenburg, who will be putting the Impact through its paces, drove me around in a `92 Bonneville. We cruised along the top of a ridge that looks out over a valley covered with every kind of road imaginable, from high-speed ovals to serpentine turns to jagged Belgian-block pathways. “Anything you want to do to a car, you can do here,” Witzenburg said as he plunged us over the side of the ridge and raced down an insane chute as steep as the “big hill” on a roller coaster, pancaking at the bottom and banking into a turn.

    Witzenburg and his colleagues function much like a pit crew. They assess handling, braking, steering and interior noise and begin to make adjustments, adding bushings to tighten the steering, laying insulation to block noise or adjusting suspension to improve ride. Back at the pit, the crew had just received the first full front-end suspension for the Impact and had attached it to a test vehicle that looked like a stripped dune buggy. One crew-member was hunched over the open front end, another was crawling beneath it. If, after driving it, the crew found that the aluminum struts were weakening, heavier metal would be needed. On the other hand, if the front end turned out to be overbuilt, a few pounds could be saved.

    Like the folks at Parts Fab, the pit crew was getting anxious. Witzenburg made no bones about it. Fiddling nervously with some keys in his pocket, he told me, “We can’t wait to get our hands on the real cars.”

    The marketing people were anxious to get their hands on some real cars, too. Even if the Impact turned out to be a technical success, it would be a hard sell. No one was prepared to say how much it would cost or when it would be available. Auto analysts predicted the car would run anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 and be available in 1993 or 94.

    What GM did say was that it intended to market the Impact as a second car. When Ken Baker’s team talked with those commuters, they learned that most drive fewer than ten miles to work. Other studies indicate that most second cars are driven fewer than 25 miles a day.

    The problem, as analysts see it, is price. “Here I sit in San Francisco,” said Ronald Glantz, head of West Coast research for Dean Witter Reynolds. “I commute a short distance. I’m the perfect target customer. You know what I drive? A clunker. That’s what GM is competing with. Even if someone wants a new car, he’s not going to spend $20,000 solely for commuting.”

    The car is likely to sell the first year or two because there are enough people out there with money who want to be the first on the block. But in the long run, convenience will be the prime incentive. Los Angeles, for example, may allow electrics to drive in high-occupancy lanes even if they don’t have any passengers.

    GM’s board chairman, Robert Stempel, is not waiting for such carrots to materialize. He has sent his people out to lobby at the local, state and federal levels for everything from preferred parking spaces to discounted electric rates. They are also working to erase inconveniences that might hinder sales. For example, if employers and shopping malls would install public battery-charging stations, drivers could recharge their cars between trips. Los Angeles is already considering a plan to install numerous charging outlets, resembling parking meters, at parking facilities. GM must also distribute spare parts, and train dealers to repair electrics.

    The consumer will have to be educated, too. How long does it take to recharge the batteries? Will the Impact cost less to run than a gasoline car; Some quick answers: if the batteries are fully run down, it will take two to three hours to recharge them using 220-volt current, but if you deplete them by only 15 or 20 percent, it will take only 20 to 30 minutes. You would spend perhaps 20 percent less to operate the car, including the cost of replacement batteries. The per-mile cost of electricity used for recharging is roughly one-fifth the cost of gasoline. Maintenance is much less–there’s no oil to change, no need for tune-ups, no muffler to fix. Over the average life of a car, according to Steve McCrea of the Electric Auto Association, an electric vehicle will cost about $5,000 less to run.

    Robert Stempel acknowledges that the Impact may sell only as a specialty car. GM will not produce many of them, but for Stempel that’s just fine. “We sell passenger cars, sports cars, vans, light-duty trucks-a vehicle for each lifestyle,” he says. “So why not an electric car for your commuting needs?” (When so many car ads tout safety, some have questioned naming the car the “Impact.” One wag guessed that Ford might come out with the “Whiplash.”)

    Even if sales are slow, the new technology spun off from the Impact may be worth the investment all by itself. Lightweight aluminum frames, for example, could enable gasoline cars to get more miles to the gallon. The electrical work will pay dividends, too. The demands of today’s conventional cars for everything rom electronically assisted power steering to electrically heated seats are getting so high that traditional power systems will soon be inadequate.

    But the overriding purpose of the Impact program has more to do with prestige than technology. GM won’t be alone in the electric car market. Nissan has unveiled a prototype, and Honda has retained the services of Alan Cocconi, the electronics guru who invented Impact’s inverter. Ford, Peugeot, Chrysler, BMW, Fiat and others have announced their own plans, and Volkswagen has teamed up with Swatch (of plastic watch fame) to produce the “Swatchmobile,” a $6,000 electric-gasoline hybrid just big enough to carry two people and two cases of beer.” “The greatest reward for being first will be in securing an image as the technical leader in the automobile industry,” Baker says.

    Stempel thinks GM is leading the electric-car race. But because the public’s initial reaction to such a radical product is likely to be cautious, he sends a strong warning to all of the competitors, including his own team. “If you’re going to be first out, your car had better be awfully good. If you come out first and it’s bad, it’ll kill electric cars for everybody.”

    Can Ken Baker possibly have any stronger incentive@ It seems so. “Here I have the President of the United States saying the Impact is of national significance, and the head of General Motors saying the Impact is of corporate significance. But the importance of bringing automotive leadership back to America hit me much earlier. It was the day we went to the Lansing plant, which was then in danger of being shut down. We told the people that they were no longer going to build the Reatta there, but that they would be involved in launching the new electric car. There was resounding applause. Then one of the fellas from the line walked up to me and said, You know, for generations this plant has provided for my family. Thanks for giving me a chance to keep it here.’ That’s what drives me. That’s why this is the chance of a lifetime.”

    Tags:

  • car news, expo event 17.04.2015 Comments Off

    THE UK’S CAR industry may not survive unless efforts are made to stabilise the exchange rate and improve the country’s transport infrastructure, manufacturers have warned politicians.

    Bob Dover, chairman of Land Rover, said the next government must realise that manufacturing matters, and that retaining a car industry in the UK is vitally important. The UK’s high fuel and transportation costs and poor infrastructure mean Land Rover would probably not choose to base itself in the UK if it were starting out today, he told The Engineer. Land Rover last week tried to acquired Top Rangefinder, a small US electronics firm providing best rangefinder reviews, with the purpose to integrate their technique to the current vision system.  ‘If we are to keep companies in the UK — and once they have left they are gone for good — we need a stable exchange rate, and probably sign up to the euro as soon as possible.

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    UK under threat

    • The UK will not retain its place in the global industry unless the exchange rate is stabilised to encourage companies to make investments, he warned, with the components sector under particular threat. ‘As the volume car makers chase low labour costs, the supply industry will lose its critical mass. There is evidence people are already finding it very difficult working in the UK components sector.’
    • The trend for car makers to source more of their components from within the eurozone is likely to increase, he said, and the effects of this can already be seen, in investment decisions such as the closure of French firm Valeo’s south Wales components plant earlier this year.

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    Wolfgang Reitzle, head of Ford’s premier automotive group and chairman of Jaguar, also said the company would ‘warmly welcome’ the UK’s entry to the single currency, as the overvalued pound was harming exporters.

    The exchange rate and a drop in European demand led car makers to cut production by 10.3% in April to 111,000 and switch more of their output to the home market. Figures from National Statistics show production for the home market increased by 16.9%, while the proportion of cars made for export dropped by 22.2%.

    Nissan’s Sunderland plant is to shed 30 temporary workers and is preparing for a cut in output as a result of the slump in European sales. The company’s European operations made a [yen]27.8bn operating loss last year, after taking a [yen]65bn hit from the uncompetitive pound-euro exchange rate.

    Global head of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, hinted the exchange rate will be a major factor in the car maker’s next investment decision — where to build the replacement for the Almera.

    Tony Blair ruled out on Tuesday an ‘artificial devaluation’ of the pound to help manufacturers.

    The uncompetitive exchange rate means mass-market car production in the UK is no longer economical, according to a recent report by management consultants AT Kearney. The research claimed only premium car makers will continue to grow strongly, sheltered from the affects of the weak euro by their high proportion of sales to the US.

    But Garel Rhys, professor of motor industry economics at Cardiff Business School, said problems should not be overstated. ‘There is no sign of a meltdown. The downturn in production over the past year is the first for a decade. Underlying capacity is still expanding.’

    There is a danger the exchange rate problem can be used as an excuse for a lack of entrepreneurism, said Rhys. Nissan in particular has lost its edge in producing cars that people actually want to buy. ‘It isn’t that the UK is not suitable for producing mass-market cars, its just that the people who were going to be our white knights have not performed as well as they might.

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    Manifesto pledge

    Labour’s business manifesto, published this week, contains no mention of exchange rate difficulties, but promises a cut in red tape wherever possible, and regulation with a ‘light touch’ where necessary. The manifesto also pledges to make directors’ pay levels more transparent, streamline planning for infrastructure projects, and extend competition to the water industry.

    Meanwhile, figures have revealed the chancellor is the biggest recipient of the income generated during the average nine-year lifespan of a car. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said the Treasury receives on average of more than [pounds]11,000 per car — from VAT on new and secondhand sales, road and petrol tax and insurance premiums.

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  • car news, expo event 16.04.2015 Comments Off

    Abstract:

    The automobile industry in Japan is suffering from declining profits and manufacturers are being forced to cut costs. Nissan became the first Japanese automobile maker to close down a plant since the 1940s. Profits at Toyota fell by 63% in the 1st half of 1992.

    Full Text:

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    WHEN Nissan announced on February 23rd the first closure of a Japanese car plant since the second world war, it was proof that the mighty industry that

    Has so dramatically shaken its American and European rivals is finally having to slam on the brakes. Those Japanese car makers that act quickly enough to reduce their costs should continue as tomorrow’s winners. But not all will survive. For the Japanese this unnerving and unprecedented challenge means transforming their business to put profits ahead of the race for market share.

    The problems are clear enough. Only a handful of Japan’s 11 vehicle producers are making money. Even those will soon announce their third consecutive year of sharply declining profits. Among the top companies, Nissan and Mazda are expected to make a loss. So are smaller producers like Daihatsu, Fuji Heavy Industries (which makes Subaru cars) and Isuzu, which in December decided to quit cars and stick to producing trucks and multi-purpose vehicles.

    • Even Toyota, Japan’s biggest producer and the pioneer of the “lean production” system that has changed forever the way cars are built, is feeling the pain. Toyota’s operating profits fell by 63% in the year to June, while its operating margins collapsed from 4% to just 1.4%. The recent rise in the value of the yen, if sustained, will only compound the industry’s woes.
    • Japan’s car makers are suffering from a collapse in domestic sales which has combined with an increase in their break-even points caused by higher costs. As they continue to slash car production, unsold vehicles pile up. Car production was down by 13.5% in January compared with the same month last year–the biggest drop in Japan since August 1984.

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    Nissan’s plan to close its 29-year-old Zama factory near Tokyo by 1995 will mean the loss of 5,000 jobs, nearly one-tenth of its workforce. The firm says the jobs will go by natural wastage. Some of the plant’s production will be shifted to a new factory at Kyushu, which is running below capacity. The old plant’s closure may seem minor compared with the scores of car and components factories shut down in America or Europe in the past decade. But by Japanese standards this cutback is dramatic.

    It is also badly needed. Steve Usher, an analyst at Kleinwort Benson in Tokyo, expects domestic vehicle sales in Japan to fall by 6% this year, following an estimated 7% decline in 1992. The main reason is depressed consumer spending. The traditional answer to previous slumps in the market no longer offers a way out: there is no big growth market for the Japanese to export their surplus cars to.

    In America car sales have started to grow again, but last year the Japanese lost some market share. Price increases did not help, nor did belated restructuring in Detroit. After much pain, Ford, Chrysler, and even some parts of General Motors have learnt Japan’s car-making tricks and started to offer more competitive products. Any rise in Japanese imports into America is likely to attract flak from the new administration–and anyway is limited by a voluntary-restraint agreement signed in 1981. On top of that, the Japanese producers need to use the capacity of the so-called “transplant” factories which most have opened in North America. The capacity of these factories is approaching 2m vehicles a year, and some have been exporting cars to Japan. It is possible that Japan’s share of the American market–transplants included–may have peaked at around 30%.

    • What about Europe? The newly-opened British factories of Toyota, Honda and Nissan are winding up for an export drive into mainland Europe. But European car sales are declining. Growth opportunities for the Japanese are potentially huge in once heavily-protected markets, like Italy (see box on next page). But an agreement with the European Commission is supposed to ensure that in a declining EC market Japan’s total share will be limited and exports be curtailed. The exact terms are in dispute.
    • There is always the rest of Asia, where many economies are growing quickly and low levels of car-ownership in some countries–China, above all–offer massive future potential. But much of that potential is still years away, and the downturn is today. South-East Asia accounts for only 10% of the Japanese industry’s exports.

    With no easy way out of their problems, Japanese car makers are being forced to attack their costs. Mr Usher reckons the chief culprit in boosting break-even points has not been the reasons usually cited: booming capital spending and rising labour costs. True, car makers spent YEN 6.1 trillion ($44 billion) in the five years to March 1992 building new plants and modernising old ones. But depreciation charges still only account for 3.5% of car makers’ sales, about the same level as ten years ago. And labour costs remain in line with past trends. Instead Mr Usher blames a huge rise in parts and raw material costs (see chart on previous page).

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    The main reason for the surge in spending on parts and raw materials was the Japanese car makers’ obsession with product proliferation. Helped by their famed manufacturing flexibility, the car makers sought to cater to every conceivable consumer whim. One Nissan model offered 86 different types of steering wheel. Toyota provided 32 types of sound systems in the cars it exported to America.

    The Japanese car makers now realise they went too far. There is a drive both to standardise components and to reduce the number of models on offer. Joint procurement among car makers is also on the rise, as are mergers among component firms belonging to the same industrial group. The most aggressive along these lines has been Nissan. The highest-cost producer among the top firms and burdened with a lot of debt, Nissan aims to reduce the variety of parts it uses over the next three years by 40% and the number of different variations of models it offers by 50%. Mazda and Toyota plan cuts of 30% in both areas. Nissan reckons its axe will cut its purchasing budget by YEN 100 billion within three years.

    More could be needed. Most Japanese car makers would gladly replace their models once every five years instead of the present four year product-development cycle. But Toyota refuses to budge, for now. As for labour costs, every effort will be made to spread the pain by slashing bonuses and reducing the number of hours worked. This will result in a significant decline in take-home pay for employees, since overtime accounts for about 10% of the average pay packet and bonuses for up to 30%.

    Japanese car makers will try to hang on to the vestiges of their traditional system, such as avoiding sackings. But it will be a hard act to pull off. A strong yen will not help. The Japanese motor industry still has far higher foreign-exchange revenues than foreign-exchange costs, despite the growth in overseas production. Toyota is the most vulnerable, since it assembles only 16% of its vehicles abroad compared with Honda’s 33%.

    Nissan’s financial plight may prove a blessing by providing it with the boost needed to switch course most decisively–just as Ford’s near bankruptcy in the early 1980s gave it a head start over lumbering GM. As for Japan’s other car makers, even Toyota will soon have to follow with cutbacks. Like their American and European rivals before them, this means ruthlessly cutting costs to improve profitability. Not all the companies will prove up to the challenge. It is a fair bet that in a few years there will be many fewer than 11 Japanese car makers.

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  • car news, expo event 16.04.2015 Comments Off

    Abstract: 

    China has bypassed American bidders Chrysler and Ford to award the building of a new automobile plant to Mercedes-Benz. The plant will manufacture 100,000 engines and 60,000 minivans annually. Volkswagen has been producing cars in China since 1984 and may have influenced the decision.

    Full Text: 

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    HOW did Mercedes-Benz beat two American competitors, Chrysler and Ford, to win the contract to build what may be the only big new car plant that China will allow before 2000? Was it politics, caused by the worsening relations between China and America? Or a hard-nosed commercial decision? Unfortunately for Detroit, it was probably the nasal sort. The Chinese seem less than impressed by the track record of American car companies investing there, and their experience with Volkswagen (VW) has boosted the German cause.

    • The project at stake is a $1 billion plan to produce 60,000 minivans and 100,000 engines a year. For Chrysler, failing to land this deal was a particular disappointment: Chrysler claims to have invented the minivan (known as a people-carrier or monospace in Europe). But it was the car-making subsidiary of the Daimler-Benz group, whose own first mini off its European production line until next year, that eventually picked up a 45% stake in the Chinese factory.
    • The deal was announced during a visit to Germany by China’s president, Jiang Zemin. It comes at a time when Sino-American relations are poor: China is furious with America for allowing Taiwan’s president to visit Cornell University; America is angry with China over the detention of Harry Wu, a Chinese-American human-rights activist. However, if politics are put on one side and Detroit’s record in China is measured against that of Germany, there does not seem to be much contest.

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    The Chinese government wants to develop no more than four big firms (totally or largely under Chinese control) capable of becoming world-class car producers. At present China is still in the lorry-and-bus phase of development. Last year only 300,000 of the 1.5m vehicles sold in the country were cars, mostly bought by state enterprises, government offices and taxi firms. That compares with a market of about 15m cars (and pick-ups) in America. Chinese officials, however, estimate that 270m Chinese families could be buyers of cars by the end of the decade.

    Such figures may prove optimistic, but China makes most big car firms throb at the bumpers. Chrysler had an edge over Ford because it has experience of building vehicles in China, at a factory called Beijing Jeep. This was started in 1984 by American Motors Corporation which Chrysler took over in 1988. Beijing Jeep teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for years, but is now said to be profitable–even though it is a long way from its original goal of being a leading jeep-exporter to South East Asia. General Motors (GM) has fared worse still: several months ago, it quietly stopped making light trucks at a three-year-old joint venture in Shenyang in northern China. There were few buyers because the two-door cab was geared to the American market, while the Chinese like more room to carry the workmates, family members and assorted hangers-on who go on most Chinese car journeys.

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    • Mercedes’ experience in China is limited, confined to making low- volume trucks and buses. But its German rival, VW, has been cranking out cars in China since 1984. Last year, VW’s factories in Shanghai and Changchun, in northern China, captured half the Chinese car market. VW, which has made profits from the start, moved into the country when none of the big American or Japanese producers was prepared to respond to Chinese overtures. Unlike its rivals, VW was comfortable with not holding a majority stake in a Chinese factory (the Shanghai plant is a 50:50 joint venture, while at Changchun VW has 40%).
    • VW has also imported German car-making methods, trained local staff and built up local suppliers. VW’s Shanghai-built Santanas have a local content of 87%. Martin Posth, a VW board member and head of the company’s Asia-Pacific operations, operates not from corporate headquarters in Wolfsburg, but from Hong Kong. Some 200 other German firms have already set up joint-venture factories of their own in China, or licensed production of components to Chinese firms. This bottom-up approach seems to count for more in Beijing than the big trade missions in which the Americans specialise.

    Tags:

  • buying guide, car news 15.04.2015 Comments Off

    Abstract:

    Taiwan’s car makers cannot keep up with the local demand, as imports account for about 30% of the market, which is one of the US industry’s biggest. Taiwan has one of the largest car markets in Asia, but the industry there lacks the capital to take full advantage.

    Full Text:

    Taiwan-car-industry-1

    THE sun barely pierces the acrid smog. Rickshaws are long gone, replaced by smoke-belching motor scooters weaving their way through the morning traffic. In Taipei, rush hour is an oxymoron. And yet, each year, the Taiwanese throng in growing numbers to their ubiquitous street-corner car dealers. Can the island’s car makers turn this budding romance with the automobile into another export industry?

    • Car sales in Taiwan, now 400,000 a year, are likely to reach 600,000 by the end of the decade. This is a small market set beside America’s or Japan’s but one of the biggest in the developing world. And, having noticed how close Taiwan is to the other awakening markets of Asia, car makers from around the world are beginning to view it as an island of opportunity.
    • Taiwan’s local producers have had trouble meeting demand. In spite of tariffs and fees that can more than double their price, imports have captured about 30% of the market. European and American car makers together shipped more than $1 billion-worth of cars to the island in 1992. Volvos and BMWs crowd the streets; the Mercedes tri-star badge beckons from scores of pocket-sized dealerships. Taiwan is already one of Detroit’s biggest export markets. Chrysler recently launched its Concorde sedan in Taiwan: in its first month, it sold nearly a fifth of its target for the year.

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    The biggest local car maker is Ford Lio Ho (FLH), a partly-owned subsidiary of Ford. But the cars it assembles are distinctly Japanese. Its popular Lio Ho Telstar, for example, is a rebadged version of the compact Mazda 626. (Ford has a 25% stake in Mazda). In April, General Motors began producing a version of the Opel Astra in a joint venture with the Taiwanese lorry company, CAC.

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    Thanks to grievances stretching back to the second world war, Japanese-made goods are barred. But Japan is free to send its cash and technology. So Taiwan’s second-biggest car maker, Yue Loong, builds Nissans, and the local San Yang badge is bolted on to Taiwanese-made Honda Civics. In May, Kuozoi Motors broke ground on a new $120m plant; when it begins production in early 1995, it will have the capacity to make up to 20,000 Toyotas a year. Kuozoi also imports American-made Toyotas. The Camry, assembled at Toyota’s plant in Kentucky, was the island’s best-selling import in 1992.

    Although it encourages foreign investors, Taiwan would like to develop its own car industry, preferably one that can mimic the exporting success of its electronics companies. In the late 1980s, FLH exported about 40,000 cars to Canada, which Ford sold there as Mercury Tracers. Now Ford’s chairman, Harold Poling, believes that FLH could make cheap cars for export to Japan.

    Doing so will, however, require a big investment. Taiwanese car-parts makers have found their exports hindered by a poor image overseas, but have not been willing to invest enough to improve it. The price of developing a competitive car from scratch–about $1 billion–is even more daunting. When Yue Loong started making Taiwan’s first home-grown car, the “Feeling 102″, in 1991, it had a Nissan engine. Now the Ministry of Economic Affairs is pressing the country’s car makers to triple their R&D budgets by 2000. Nine firms have clubbed together to develop a family of four-cylinder engines. Taiwanese with ambitions higher than the Feeling 102 may have to wait a little while.

    Tags:

  • car news, expo event 15.04.2015 Comments Off

    Abstract:

    Several Japanese automakers are increasing their UK investments in 1992. Honda has opened a new manufacturing facility in Swindon, while Nissan has added capacity at its UK plant to allow for the introduction of a new 1993 compact car

    Full Text:

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    WITHIN the next month Britain’s car industry will shift into a higher gear, thanks to the Japanese. The first cars will roll off the production line at a new Toyota factory. Nissan has hired an extra 1,600 production workers so its rapidly expanding British plant can make a second model, a new small car that will be launched at the Paris Motor Show on October 6th. Two days later, Honda opens its new factory in Swindon. Within three years, the Japanese will be making 500,000 vehicles a year in Britain (see table on next page). Europe’s car makers are already fastening their seat belts.

    With greatly improved industrial relations and rising productivity, Britain has attracted most of the Japanese investment going into Europe’s car industry. Nissan was the first into Britain, opening a factory in north-east England in 1986. This is now regarded as the most efficient car plant in Europe. Toyota and Honda were encouraged to follow, not least by the vigorous defence of British-built Nissan Bluebirds in a 1988 dispute withFrance by the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. When France tried to count them against its import quota of Japanese cars, Mrs Thatcher loudly insisted that they were British.

    Most of the output from Britain’s Japanese car factories will be exported to mainland Europe. Nissan and Toyota both plan to export around 70% of their British output. Unfortunately for Europe’s other car makers, new Japanese-owned factories are starting to produce just as the European car market takes a dive. Car sales in Western Europe last year rose by just a fraction, to 13.5m vehicles–and that was only because of a 30% expansion of the German car market caused by unification. Germany’s boom has now faded and many European markets are in decline.

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    It is clear that any Japanese sales gains will come at the expense of other producers. Under a deal agreed between Japan and the EC last year, imports of vehicles from Japan will be frozen at current levels until 1998. The Japanese claim this leaves their factories in Britain free to crank out as many cars as they like for the European market, though this point is disputed by the French and Italians. If the Japanese win the argument, their share of the West European market is expected to increase from 12% last year to about 20% by 2000.

    All this is similar to what happened in America in the 1980s. Japanese car firms have opened eight plants in theUnited States and three in Canada. These factories are capable of making almost 3m vehicles a year. Japanese companies now have about 25% of the American car market and the domestic producers, General Motors (GM), Ford and Chrysler, have all taken a beating. It is hardly surprising, then, that Europe’s car bosses are worried. Jacques Calvet, the chairman of France’s Peugeot, decribes Britain as a “Japanese aircraft carrier” floating off Europe’s coast, poised to attack.

    Mr Calvet would be even more upset if he understood how much the presence of the new Japanese factories has done to produce improvements in the competitiveness of many British parts suppliers, who are also supplying other British car makers.

    Britain’s Japanese car plants are not going to be the “screwdriver” factories some people claimed they would be. The local (that is, EC) content of their cars will be roughly 80%. And the Japanese are also opening R&D facilities in Europe so that they can design models specifically for the local market.

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    Nevertheless the changes forced upon Britain’s other car makers by the presence of the Japanese will be painful. Ford, the market leader in Britain, is already laying off thousands of workers. GM, which trades under the Vauxhall name in Britain, is faring better so far but has yet to face the flood of vehicles from the new Japanese factories.

    Most eyes are on Rover. Next August British Aerospace (BAe) will be free to sell Rover without having to repay any of the government aid that accompanied its takeover of the state-owned car firm in 1988. BAe is now in trouble and no longer regards cars as part of its core business. Although Rover is losing money, it has improved efficiency in its factories since teaming up with Honda. It also contains gems, like the profitable Land Rover division which makes the luxury Range Rover. Honda owns 20% of Rover, which itself owns a 20% stake in Honda’s British manufacturing operations. Given the chance, Honda may want to swallow all of Rover. But to do so, it may first have to outbid or elbow aside Volkswagen or Fiat, both of which are said to be keen to buy the company.

    Tags:

  • invention 09.04.2015 Comments Off

    Abstract:

    A car battery using nickel metal hydride may be a practical means of powering an electric car. The new battery is environmentally safe and can be charged in less than an hour to go about 250 to 300 miles.

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    Full Text:

    The future of the electric automobile depends of the development of a practical battery with a useful range, something that so far has eluded engineers. One using nickel metal hydride may be the answer. “This is a new battery, which is non-toxic, environmentally green, and requires no maintenance,” explains Stanford University chemistry professor John Ross, who created the battery with Energy Conversion Devices, a Michigan-based company. The nickel metal hydride battery satisfies almost all the requirements for an intermediate battery forelectric vehicles set by the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, a Department of Energy-headed group consisting of Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and the Electric Power Research Institute.

    • Electric vehicles have been impractical because their range has been limited by existing batteries. Lead acid types only could run about 120 miles before needing to be recharged. The nickel metal hydride battery more than doubles that. “At a single charge, [the new battery] can go about 250 to 300 miles,” Ross points out.
    • Moreover, it can be charged fully in less than an hour, much less than the time required by conventional batteries. “The quickest charging time is about 20 minutes, but that takes quite a bit of current. You wouldn’t want to do that in your house, but, on the other hand, if you drive during the day and come home at night, you can recharge it during the night.”

    The new battery, which normally holds 1.2 volts, could cost around $200 per kilowatt hour, compared to just under $150 for present batteries. It could last 10 years, as opposed to five for the conventional device.

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    • A switch to electric vehicles would serve the U.S. by reducing both pollution and dependence on oil imports, Ross notes. “The benefits of electric cars are first of all environmental. They’re emission-free.”
    • By decreasing the demand for gasoline, electric cars also would help the nation’s balance of trade by cutting down substantially on imported oil.

    “If the U.S. switches away from gasoline to electricity, we’re switching from oil to coal, natural gas and hydro power. That means you’re switching away from importing oil. Right now, we’re importing about $65,000,000,000 [of oil] a year, and our trade imbalance is $90,000,000,000, so oil is a substantial part of the trade imbalance that is slowly making us bankrupt.”

    Although use of electric cars will require an increase in coal burning to generate more electricity, the general environmental effect will be positive, Ross maintains. “In a coal-fired plant, you can control pollution much better than you can emissions from an automobile.” Coal “pollutes significantly less than oil usage in a car.”

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    The battery is being tested by American, European, and Japanese manufacturers, including Honda and Varta (the largest battery manufacturer in Europe). Ross expects auto companies soon will have electric vehicles ready to test the new battery and believes that the actual electric car may be available as soon as 1994. “The Americans are planning for 1995. The Japanese may be coming out [with an electric car] next year.

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  • car models, invention 08.04.2015 Comments Off
    • If you buy any new vehicle that made it to the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) Canadian Car of the Year “long list”, there’s one thing for certain. It’ll be a lot more fuel-efficient than its predecessor–even if it happens to be a powerful V6 or a big V8.
    • With each new model year, the number of hybrid products increases, too, but 2011 will see an even more radical approach to green driving, with the introduction of no less than three electric cars. We’ve been promised production of electric passenger cars for decades, and although just about every automaker has created concept vehicles, none has delivered anything “showroom ready”. Now, at last, buyers will be able to go to a dealer and drive one away. GM did launch its EV1 in the 1990s, but it was leased to selected buyers in specific areas and could not be bought outright.

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    Chevrolet with its Volt, Mitsubishi with the i-MiEV and Nissan with its Leaf are the first three manufacturers to deliver on their promises and get a vehicle to the dealerships. Although 2011 sees some encouraging developments on the hybrid and diesel fronts, it’s the electric vehicles that will get all the attention. Since they’ll all be designated as 2012 models, you won’t find them in the AJAC contest this time round.

    The Volt is a mid-sized sedan and a very handsome piece of styling work. It differs from the i-MiEV and Leaf with its use of one innovative feature–a small gasoline engine that’s used only to charge the batteries. This motor is not linked to the wheels at all and is only there for charging. If the driver travels beyond battery range, the motor kicks in and charges them up. But since the Volt has a range well beyond the average North American out-and-home commute, it’s possible that the owner may never buy any gasoline at all–just charge the Volt from a household supply overnight.

    • Mitsubishi and Nissan both opted for a compact hatchback layout. Both cars also have a range well beyond commuting needs and power to ensure safe and efficient freeway use.
    • All three of these vehicles proved very pleasurable to drive–refined, roomy and responsive. Most drivers getting behind the wheel of an electric car for the first time are amazed at their refinement, quietness and almost instant response to the accelerator pedal.

    This trio will initially be expensive for their class–one side or the other of $40,000–until they sell in large numbers, which they hopefully will in time. On the plus side, Mitsubishi said that the cost of electricity to power its i-MiEV is about one-tenth the cost of fuel for a comparable gasoline-powered car. Also, some provinces are moving towards incentives for buyers of electric vehicles. In Ontario, this could be as much as $8,500, according to a recent announcement.

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    • Several automakers are readying electric vehicles right now, so expect quite a flurry of products in the years ahead. A start has to be made somewhere though, so it’s kudos to Chevrolet, Mitsubishi and Nissan for getting the ball rolling at last.

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