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Q&A: Tesla Motor Co-Founder Elon Musk

Settlement of lawsuit allows EV maker to move ahead.

by on Sep.21, 2009

After facing some tough times, early this year, Elon Musk's battery car start-up, Tesla Motors, is on track to introduce a new EV family sedan by 2012 - or sooner.

After facing tough times, early this year, Elon Musk's battery car start-up, Tesla Motors, is on track to introduce an EV family sedan by 2012.

Few folks took Elon Musk seriously when he announced plans, a few years back, for an all-new electric vehicle company.  After all, he seemed to have everything going against him.  A well-intended effort, by the State of California, to mandate electric vehicles had failed, in the 1990s, and the price of admission into the auto industry, even with more conventional technology, is enormous.

But Musk, a billionaire entrepreneur, whose ventures have ranged from PayPal to SpaceX, a company pioneering private manned space flight, wasn’t about to walk from a dream he’s had since his teen years, and in late 2008, after a variety of setbacks, Silicon Valley-based Tesla launched production of its new, high-performance Roadster sports car.  Now, with a mix of fresh private capital and a big infusion from the Department of Energy, Tesla hopes to move battery power closer to the mainstream, with the introduction of the Model S, a $57,000 family sedan.

While there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome, Tesla resolved one of the thorniest, today, with an amicable settlement between Musk and the company’s co-founder, Martin Eberhard, who issued a statement, declaring, “We can now focus on the most important issue: making electric vehicles successful, something we both are passionate about.”

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While neither of the co-founders will discuss their settlement, TheDetroitBureau.com did find Musk in an expansive mood when asked about his company, battery technology, and the many critics who’re now unveiling battery cars of their own.

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2009 Frankfurt Motor Show Round-Up!

by on Sep.18, 2009

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More than 50 new cars, trucks and crossovers debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

The press days are over, and the public is spilling through the turnstiles at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show.  But if you can’t make it to the sprawling Frankfurt Messe, don’t fret.  TheDetroitBureau.com was there and has in-depth coverage of all the breaking news, the previews, the people…and more.

Check the next page to see the continuing, updated list of stories to find out more about everything from the BMW Vision Diesel-Hybrid to the Mercedes-Benz SLS supercar, from the updated Ford C-Max to the new Hyundai i10 Battery-Electric Vehicle.

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Frankfurt Plugs In

Battery technology dominates 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show.

by on Sep.17, 2009

A foggy future for the electric vehicle; here the 2012 Audi e-tron battery supercar

A foggy future for the electric vehicle; here the 2012 Audi e-tron battery supercar

In years past, the debut of the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS would have been something of the norm for the Frankfurt Motor Show.  True, at a price of around $300,000, the supercar is far from the mainstream, but in keeping with the emphasis on technology and performance by the country that prides itself in the speed limitless Autobahn, muscle is normally a high priority.

There were certainly plenty of media on hand to witness the debut of the gullwinged SLS, which boasts a top speed of 197 mph.  But the supercar took something of a backseat, even on the Mercedes stand, where the bulk of the German maker’s news conference focused on high-mileage models like the S500, a hybrid-electric version of its flagship S-Class sedan, and the F-Cell, a prototype crossover vehicle running on clean hydrogen.

Plug in, Charge Up!

Plug in, Charge Up!

“For me, the key message of this show is that we, as industry are delivering on the promise we made two years ago,” said Dr. Thomas Weber, technology chief for Mercedes’ parent, Daimler AG.  At the 2007 Frankfurt show, he recalled, makers like Mercedes, “looked at where we would have to go to be sustainable.”

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Toyota Making Prius a Brand, Not Just a Model

An array of hybrids may soon share Prius badge.

by on Sep.17, 2009

What happens if you put the Prius badge on other hybrid models?  Toyota may soon try that approach.

What happens if you put the Prius badge on other hybrid models? Toyota may soon find out.

While hybrid sales volumes may still be modest, Toyota Motor Co. appears to be convinced there’s enough demand to introduce an array of gasoline-electric models that would share the Prius badge with the Japanese maker’s most popular entry into the emerging field.

Toyota has steadily expanded its line-up of hybrid-electric vehicles, or HEVs, since launching the first version of the Prius, a decade ago.  It eventually promises to offer the high-mileage technology in virtually every product in its line-up.  But as TheDetroitBureau.com first reported, last month, senior American officials have been seeking to broaden the use of the Prius name, essentially creating a hybrid-based brand-within-a-brand.

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Based on a meeting, in Las Vegas, between senior Toyota Motor Sales USA executives and American Toyota dealers, earlier this week, it appears that the American argument is carrying sway, not surprising since the maker’s new CEO Akio Toyoda believes the U.S. market is critical to Toyota’s long-term success.

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Incredible, Shrinking Detroit

Big 3 makers barely visible at 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show.

by on Sep.17, 2009

See the Blue Oval?  If not, no surprise, like its cross-town rivals, Ford's presence at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show was minimal. Where once it occupied nearly an entire floor, it now has a display no larger than Hyundai or Dacia.  Dacia?

See the Blue Oval? If not, no surprise, like its cross-town rivals, Ford's presence at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show was minimal.

It’s hard to find an inch of unused space at the grand Festhalle pavilion that Mercedes-Benz has filled with its newest products and displays touting its latest technology.  Nor is there any more room left at Halle 11, the newest addition to the Messe, the convention center, where BMW has set up shop for the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show.

But try to find General Motors’ Chevrolet brand, and you’ll have to turn down a side alley off one of the lesser pavilions, where the division has been parked in a small tent.

The situation isn’t much better for Chrysler, which abandoned its traditional auto show display, settling instead for a corner of the stand set up by Fiat, the Italian automaker that has taken control of the struggling U.S. automaker.

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Even Ford Motor Co., generally considered the healthiest of Detroit’s Big Three, and one of the top brands in Europe, isn’t much more visible.

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BMW Puts Frankfurt Auto Show Stand into Motion

Display includes indoor track to display new models in action.

by on Sep.16, 2009

BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer circles the test track at the automaker's Frankfurt Motor Show stand in a classic Bavarian roadster.

BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer (in passenger seat) circles the test track at the automaker's Frankfurt Motor Show stand in a classic Bavarian roadster.

Among automotive aficionados, you’ll frequently hear it said that this model or another “looks different” on the road from how it appears at the auto show.  There may be a good reason, considering that cars are meant to be driven, rather than worshipped, like sheet metal art, sitting atop a turntable.

BMW is trying to put things into a more real world perspective, at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show.  The Bavarian maker relocated from its normal display near the front of the Frankfurt Messe, but it’s betting potential customers won’t complain too much once the walk nearly a kilometer to the back of the sprawling convention center and look inside the newest pavilion, Halle 11.

Track the Industry!

Track the Industry!

As Ken Zino previously reported, in a corner of the BMW stand, which fills the entire building, the automaker has created a circular track, on which it will continuously run its latest offerings, for the excitement and amusement of visitors.

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First Look: 2010 Lamborghini Reventon Roadster

What price individuality?

by on Sep.16, 2009

CEO Stephan Winklemann drives onto the stage in a 2010 Lamborghini Reventon Roadster, of which only 15 will be built.

CEO Stephan Winklemann drives onto the stage in a 2010 Lamborghini Reventon Roadster, of which only 15 will be built.

A key component of the luxury market is exclusivity.  Okay, leather, wood, carbon fiber and high-performance engines don’t come cheap, but those willing to spend the really big dollars are looking, as much as anything, to have a product they won’t see parked next to them at the shopping mall or country club.

And so, for those who think that even a Ferrari, Bentley or Rolls-Royce is a bit too commonplace, Lamborghini is weighing in with the Reventon Roadster, an open-top version of the already exclusive Lamborghini Reventon 2-seater.

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The numbers suggest that Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winklemann is probably on target when he describes the open-top supercar as “the most extreme car in the history of the brand.”

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2010 Bentley Mulsanne – By the Numbers

Plenty of power, especially if you crank up the radio.

by on Sep.16, 2009

If numbers impress, consider the 2010 Bentley Mulsanne will boast 505 hp, 752 lb-ft of torque - and 2200 watts of audio power.

If numbers impress, consider the 2010 Bentley Mulsanne will boast 505 hp, 752 lb-ft of torque - and 2200 watts of audio power.

When it comes to launching its all-new flagship sedan, the Mulsanne, Bentley is playing it by the numbers – and those numbers are huge.

The British marque pulled the covers off the replacement for its aged Arnage sedan, last month at the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, but it provided little more than a glimpse at the 2010 Bentley Mulsanne, saving the details for a preview at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show.

And those details, in fitting fashion, are big.  The lavishly-equipped saloon car’s massive, 6.75-liter V8 turns out a whopping 505 horsepower and 752 pound-foot of torque, most of that at low RPMs.  Power is channeled through a new 8-speed automatic gearbox.  Despite bumping up performance, Bentley claims the 2010 Mulsanne will get 15% more mileage out of a gallon of gasoline, and a Flex-Fuel version is in the works for 2011, which will further reduce CO2 emissions.

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The really big numbers, however, come from the car’s infotainment package, the audio system provided by Britain’s exclusive NAIM brand turning out a jaw-dropping – and ear-splitting 2200 watts.  Bentley owners won’t have to take a back seat to the kid with the tuner car whose base notes are booming out at a stoplight.

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Opel Ampera E-REV on Target for Late ’11 Launch

European version of Chevy Volt targets Euro commuters.

by on Sep.16, 2009

Despite the financial crisis at Opel, the German maker intends to launch its extended-range electric vehicle, the Ampera, in late 2011. Opel CEO Carl-Peter Forster (c) says it will be "very close" to the concept version appearing at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show.

Despite the financial crisis at Opel, the German maker intends to launch its extended-range electric vehicle, the Ampera, in late 2011. Opel CEO Carl-Peter Forster (c) says it will be "very close" to the concept version appearing at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show.

The crisis surrounding Opel, the German subsidiary of General Motors, hasn’t delayed the planned launch of the maker’s extended-range electric vehicle, or EREV, the Ampera.

Sharing much of its fundamentals with the U.S. EREV, the Chevrolet Volt, the Opel Ampera will still reach market during the second half of 2011, confided Frank Weber, the program manager, during an interview at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show.

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There has been plenty of concern about Opel’s product plans considering the operation has bordered on bankruptcy, in recent months.  The German-based operation has survived only with the financial assistance of the Berlin government – though German leaders pressed GM to relinquish a controlling stake in the company, in return.  Last week, the U.S. maker confirmed it would sell 65% of Opel to a consortium led by parts supplier Magna International.  The deal could be completed within the next 8 weeks, officials have confirmed.

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BMW Unveils Vision Concept, and a Range of Efficient Dynamic Models

From X1 and 320d to Hybrid 7-Series.

by on Sep.15, 2009

The Vision Concept is designed to show you can deliver great performance and equally solid fuel efficiency, here using a diesel-hybrid powertrain.  No production is planned.

The Vision Concept is designed to show you can deliver great performance and equally solid fuel efficiency, here using a diesel-hybrid powertrain. No production is planned.

BMW often goes to great lengths to prove a point – especially when it wants to convince the media that it really does have some of the greenest cars in the luxury segment.  The automaker devoted virtually its entire news conference, at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, to unveiling various new Efficient Dynamic models large and small.

The term is a sort of catch-all for various clean, high-mileage technologies, from downsized diesels to hydrogen cars.  And nearly every possible form of “green” powertrain was on display.

But the star of the stand was clearly the 2010 BMW Vision Concept we analyzed before, a prototype diesel-hybrid designed to show that you don’t have to abandon the performance the German maker is known for in order to get truly spectacular mileage.

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The heart of the Vision is a 3-cylinder turbo diesel paired with two separate electric motors, one on each wheel – which effectively gives the Vision all-wheel-drive.

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