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Archive for August, 2013

Honda Testing Ways to Reduce Motorcycle, Pedestrian Crash Fatalities

High-tech solution could spot hidden obstacles.

by on Aug.28, 2013

Honda's WiFi-like system can spot motorcycles and pedestrians even when they're out of the line of sight.

While traffic fatalities have fallen sharply over the last decade, deaths involving pedestrians and motorcycle riders have remained stubbornly high. But Honda is experimenting with a new, wireless technology that could significantly reduce those numbers in the years ahead.

And unlike camera, radar and laser-based systems, the Dedicated Short-Range Communications, or DSRC, system the Japanese maker demonstrated this week can track pedestrians and motorcycles even when they’re out of the line of sight – hidden, for example, on the other side of a parked car or around a corner.

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The new systems are part of a broader array of Intelligent Transportation Systems that, “we believe will be the next step towards a crash-free car,” said Jim Keller, Honda’s Chief Engineer of Automotive Technology Research.

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Obama Admin Reviving Controversial Loan Program

$25 bil fund intended to back development of alternative vehicles.

by on Aug.28, 2013

Tesla's early success gives proponents of the Energy Dept. loan program something positive to point to.

Senior officials from the Department of Energy have signaled the Obama Administration is ready to restart a controversial automotive loan program designed to kick-start the development of alternative vehicles.

The program was effectively put on hold two years ago following several problems and halt in funding was blamed for the failure of several potentially promising recipients – while critics blamed poor oversight for the loss of money loaned to several other start-ups.

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A total of $15 billion, or 60% of the original $25 billion set aside for the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program is still set aside and there is no official end date the administration has to meet. But proponents point to the need to rush new technologies to market to meet upcoming increases in fuel economy standards – and they point to California start-up Tesla Motors as a successful example of what the ATVM program was meant to achieve.

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Driving? Riding? Co-Piloting an Autonomous Vehicle

New vocabulary needed when operating hands-off driving technology.

by on Aug.28, 2013

A prototype Nissan Leaf autonomous vehicle negotiates a simulated urban intersection, complete with cross traffic.

Today’s new cars are routinely loaded with an array of advanced technologies, so it wasn’t a complete surprise to see the small ports cut into the front fenders and rear door panels of the little Nissan Leaf, nor the camera mounted behind the rearview mirror. But there was no way to completely prepare for what happened as the vehicle was shifted from conventional to autonomous mode.

With just a brief warning in synthetic speech, the Leaf suddenly came to life, surging ahead as if possessed, heading out onto a course designed to mimic a typical urban route, complete with stop signs, passing lanes – and oncoming traffic.

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The extra hardware – and the words, “Autonomous Vehicle” on the side of the car – were, in fact, the giveaway that this was a prototype of the self-driving car Nissan this week promised to put into production by 2020. It is so confident of the role that autonomous vehicles will play in the future that the Japanese automaker’s global product development chief said the technology will quickly roll out across the Nissan line-up.

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Mazda Adds Zoom-Zoom to the Assembly Line

"Mother plant" in Hofu churns out Mazda6 sedan at a prodigious pace.

by on Aug.28, 2013

Mazda6 sedans roll down the Hofu line.

It’s long billed itself as the “zoom-zoom” car company, but it’s not the performance of products like the little Mazda roadster or the new Mazda6 sedan that has the Japanese maker crowing this week.

Expected by some industry observers to face serious problems after the break-up of its long-running relationship with Ford Motor Co., Mazda had been delivering plenty of surprises lately, including a solid profit for the most recent quarter.

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And the maker says a key ingredient has been finding a way to ramp up the speed of its key assembly plant in Hofu to a pace even competitors like Toyota have to admire and envy. The nearly 31-year-old Hofu plant — which celebrated the production of its 10 millionth vehicle this week – is now rolling them off the line at an industry-leading rate of one every 54 seconds.

By comparison, Toyota Motor Corp., whose manufacturing system has long been considered an industry benchmark, takes anywhere from 57 to 115 seconds to roll out a new vehicle.

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Nissan to Put Autonomous Vehicle on Sale by 2020

But will legal climate keep hands-free driving technology out of the US?

by on Aug.27, 2013

Nissan EVP and global product chief Andy Palmer with a prototype autonomous vehicle.

Nissan will put a fully autonomous vehicle into production by 2020, the automaker announced Tuesday during a California event designed to show off its latest products and technologies.

Hands-off driving has become the Holy Grail of the auto industry, a concept that proponents claim could not only curb crashes, injuries and fatalities but also improve traffic flow, reduce energy consumption and limit CO2 emissions.

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Describing hands-off technology as “the next frontier for the auto industry,” Nissan’s global product chief, Executive Vice President Andy Palmer declared, “We will be ready to bring a readily affordable, fully affordable autonomous vehicle to the market by 2020.”

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From Rock Star to Automotive Entrepreneur

Catherine Wheel’s Rob Dickinson wants to “bottle and preserve” classic Porsche 911s.

by on Aug.27, 2013

Rob Dickinson with hiss latest Porsche 911 recreation.

There’s an inside joke behind the name of Rob Dickinson’s new venture, Singer Vehicle Design – but that said, the customized classic Porsches he’s producing are nothing to laugh at.

The irony is that the British entrepreneur set out to earn a degree as an automotive designer at Britain’s Coventry University before taking a detour and becoming the lead singer in the English alternative rock band Catherine Wheel. But, almost by accident, his knack for customizing old Porsches for his own pleasure has turned into a serious business.

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The latest example was on display at the 2013 Quail Motosports Gathering earlier this month, decked out in “Singer Racing Blue and Orange,” a color combination meant to celebrate the motorsports era if the 1970s.  There are a number of automotive entrepreneurs who’ve set out to build something new, supercars from Spyker and Pagani quickly coming to mind.  Dickinson, on the other hand, is rebuilding something old.

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First Drive: 2014 Toyota Corolla

New sedan quietly delivers with more style and efficiency.

by on Aug.27, 2013

Toyota delivers an all-new and more exciting midsize option with the 2014 Corolla sedan.

By almost any measure, the Toyota Corolla is one of the most significant vehicles built over the past half century.  That’s certainly true if you’re going by sales, the compact sedan lagging only the bigger Toyota Camry on the passenger car charts.

That said, the outgoing Corolla has taken its share of criticism, even from within Toyota where senior officials have been promising to move away from the bland styling of the outgoing model.  They gave a hint of what they had in mind with the Furia Corolla concept unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show last winter. And while the production 2014 sedan has clearly been toned down, the new Corolla will likely disappoint few of its traditional fans.

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The only ones who might take pause are those few looking for something smaller. If anything, the 2014 Toyota Corolla has grown both longer and a bit wider than its immediate predecessor. The wheelbase has been extended by 3.5 inches – and the payoff is obvious for both those sitting up front and in back since most of those extra inches have been translated into interior space.

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Infiniti Reveals Q30 Concept

Show car blends bits of coupe, hatchback and crossover.

by on Aug.27, 2013

Infiniti's Q30 Concept will come quite close to the production version of the coupe...er, hatchback...er, crossover...er, vehicle.

To paraphrase the old Doublemint Gum tagline, the new Infiniti Q30 Concept is three, three, three cars in one.

Set to make its official world premiere at the Frankfurt Motor Show next month, the prototype is, as Infiniti’s release puts it, “not a coupe, not a hatch and not a crossover but a fusion of the three body styles.”

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The Q30 is the latest in a long-running series of prototypes – including the well-reviewed Essense, Etherea and Emerg-e – intended to reveal what the Nissan luxury brand refers to as “the contemporary design vision” it is following at this rather critical stage in its corporate life.  Long stuck in the second tier of largely U.S.-focused upscale brands, Infiniti is now determined to reposition itself as a truly global Tier I luxury marque.

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Toyota Weighs Option for Corolla Hatchback

Sees 5-door as appealing to Millennial males.

by on Aug.27, 2013

The 2014 Toyota Corolla makes its official debut. A hatchback version could be in the offing.

Toyota is contemplating the option of adding a five-door hatchback version of the all-new 2014 Toyota Corolla in an effort to attract more of the younger buyers the Japanese giant has been struggling to win over.

While the ideas has been discussed inside the company in some detail, senior Toyota executives in the United States and Japan have not yet signed off on the project, officials cautioned TheDetroitBureau.com.

“Nothing is envisioned,” at this point, said Shinici Yasui, the chief engineer responsible for the Corolla, the sedan version of which has gone through a complete redesign for the 2014 model-year.

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Nonetheless, Yasui indicated that Toyota was concerned about the opinions of younger buyers who have been showing a renewed interest in hatchbacks – a body style particularly popular in both Europe and Japan. And a few key models, such as the hot-selling Chevrolet Sonic and Spark, as well as the Ford Fiesta, have shown the potential for bringing three- and five-door body styles to the U.S.

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Volvo Teases New Concept C

Show car slated for Frankfurt reveal.

by on Aug.26, 2013

Volvo video gives a quick glimpse of new Concept C.

Volvo has been making plenty of promises for the future, the Swedish maker hinting at a variety of new products and a major transformation of its powertrain line-up to start rolling out over the next few years.

We’re likely to get a good look at what it has in mind during the Frankfurt Motor Show next month – and if a new teaser video released on Youtube.com is any indication, the Volvo Concept C will be anything but the plain “vanilla,” wagons that prior generations had grown used to.

What a Concept!

True, the now Chinese-owned maker has been steadily moving away from its boxy design roots in recent years, and the Volvo Concept You shown at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show offered a clear glimpse of where things are going. But if the snippets seen in this brief teaser are any indication, the Volvo design language is evolving rather rapidly.

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