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China Racing signs Piquet, Tung for Formula E

Posted Aug 21st 2014 2:30PM

China Racing

With the first dress rehearsal now complete and the inaugural race in Beijing now just a few weeks away, the last few seats are filling up fast for the FIA Formula E Championship as the China Racing team has announced its driver lineup.

Driving for the Chinese team will be Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Ho-Pin Tung, both experienced drivers who raced in GP2 and A1GP. Piquet may be the more recognizable name around the world, as the son of former world champion Nelson, Sr. has raced in everything from Formula One to NASCAR. He was forced out of the former during the Renault crashgate affair in which he was implicated for intentionally causing a crash on track in order to help his wingman under team orders. Nelsinho, as he's known, currently leads the Global RallyCross championship.

Tung, meanwhile, is undoubtedly the most prominent racing driver ever to emerge from China. In addition to A1GP and GP2, Tung has competed at Le Mans, Indy and the FIA GT1 World Championship. He'll be the only driver racing in front of a home audience at the Beijing race next month.

China Racing is also the only team thus far to have signed a reserve driver. Antonio Garcia is a three-time Le Mans class winner with the Corvette racing team and, like Tung, has tested in F1 as well. The announcement leaves only one race seat open, alongside Franck Montagny at Andretti Autosport.

News Source: Formula E

Xcar takes a closer look at the electrifying Renovo Coupe

Posted Aug 21st 2014 1:01PM

Renovo Shelby electric car

Xcar Films went to Pebble Beach and gave ex-Intel engineer and Renovo Motors CEO Christopher Heiser a platform to talk about his new electric supercar based on the Shelby Daytona Coupe. The relevant nuggets: 500 horsepower and 1,000 pound-feet of torque from direct-drive twin sequential axial flux motors powered by a lithium-ion battery, 0 to 60 in 3.4 seconds, top speed over 120 mph, 2,500 pounds, $529,000 to purchase.

While Heiser spends almost six minutes talking about the car and what it means to him, almost all of it is information we already know. When he gets to the bits that perk our ears, like when the mentions of advanced technology and upgraded parts, he skips the details. After four years of having to drive it at night to keep the secret, we don't even get to see more of what's inside, much less a daytime run with the Xcar chaps.

So we'll look forward to the next installment. In the meantime, this one's another beautiful entry in the Xcar catalog.

News Source: XCAR Films via YouTube

Image Credit: Copyright 2014 Drew Phillips / AOL

Nissan NV200 Taxi

Posted Aug 21st 2014 11:57AM



"You're a long way from home!"

When I signed up to drive a pre-production version of the Nissan NV200 Taxi, I expected to have a higher-than-normal level of interaction with the public at large. However, while I was hoping for unsuspecting Ann Arborites to perhaps hail me down, or maybe even get a hop-in when stopped at an intersection, I didn't really think I'd be hassled in parking lots so much. And yet, almost as if all of the Dad-Joke energy in the universe was drawn to my tall, yellow ride, seemingly everywhere I parked I heard some iteration of the phrase above.

Har har, guys.

So, my week as a taxi driver didn't go as I'd planned – not a single fare was earned. But I did get a good sense for why and how Nissan is making another significant push into the workaday world of commercial vehicles.

Driving Notes
  • My NV200 test vehicle wore a 2013 model year designation but was technically specified as a 2014 taxi model with New York City livery.
  • Though Nissan NV200 taxis are popping up, or about to, in markets all over the country, my test car was liveried for New York City where the model is now in service. It was NYC taxis and other fleet cars that honed the NV into the vehicle you see here; cabbies and passengers helped tailor its content to fit real needs.
  • From a passenger perspective, this means the luxury of room, if not luxurious materials. The rear bench seat has acres of legroom to go with just enough width to fit three abreast. There's also room for a fourth passenger in the front, though that sorry sucker will miss out on amenities like a really big rear entertainment screen (sadly non-functional in my demo car) and easily accessible 12-volt and USB charging ports. There are even independent climate controls for passengers that get too hot or cold.
  • As I mentioned, materials and surfaces tend towards durable and not stylish. Nissan tells me that the simulated leather seating surfaces are easy to clean, which I can believe, and also anti-microbial, which seems like a great idea. One extra effort against cold and flu season.
  • The driver's seat, meanwhile, has a breathable cloth surface on the seat bottom and back that is also a little bit grippy, for what it's worth. The seat itself is pretty flat and soft, perhaps designed to wear well, but it won't be the most supportive chair for long stints behind the wheel.
  • The driver also faces one of the most austere dashboards and instrument clusters I've seen in some time – though that's hardly unexpected for a work vehicle. The 5.8-inch infotainment display is unspectacular in view of regular passenger cars, but is kind of a high-end feature in this segment. Everything else, from the hard-surfaced steering wheel to the flinty gray and black plastics and the basic switchgear all seems aimed at long life and cost reduction.
  • Handling is actually very direct and nippy for the tall-but-short (wheelbase) NV200. Quick steering allows for easy maneuverability, both at low speeds and between lanes, and forward and lateral visibility are excellent, allowing for confident swashbuckling with traffic. Comparisons with the outgoing Ford Transit Connect are apt, and accurate.
  • And the powertrain? Well, I'll just say that each one of the 16-valve, 2.0-liter four's 131 horsepower are called into regular service. That power output, with 139 pound-feet of torque, is enough to move this little van around in city traffic without major penalty, but your 85-year-old, Lincoln Towncar-driving grandpa wouldn't be fooled into calling it "quick." Mat the throttle, listen to the continuously variable transmission let the engine drone, and check you watch – you're not going anywhere terribly soon. Hey, it's a taxi, not a racecar.
  • Fuel economy is rated at 24 miles per gallon in the city (25 on the highway), which is about double what the ubiquitous Ford Crown Victoria cab is regularly reported as getting in service. Though it's fair to mention those figures are less impressive than those observed by the Ford Escape Hybrid cabs that have seen an explosion of popularity in NYC.
  • I'm hardly an expert, but this NV taxi feels as though it's smartly constructed for drivers and fleet companies, while still offering easy, comfortable transport for riders like you and me. And if you happened to see a version in Michigan, wearing NYC stickers and being driven by a large Dutchman, flag it down – you'll probably get a free ride and a high-five.

Image Credit: Copyright 2014 Seyth Miersma / AOL

2015 Ford Mustang fuel economy ratings leaked

Posted Aug 21st 2014 10:30AM

2015 Ford Mustang GT

Thinking about buying a new Mustang, but want to know what kind of fuel economy it'll get? Well we have our first indication as the pony-car enthusiasts over at Mustang6G.com have gotten a hold of the Monroney window stickers for a few of the new 2015 Mustang models.

Although the V8 model is not among them, we can now see how the EPA has rated those models with a half dozen pistons or less. The Mustang EcoBoost with the turbo four and a manual transmission has been rated at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway. The V6 manual gets 17 city and 28 highway, while the V6 automatic squeezes out a bit more in the city at 19 mpg but carries the same 28 highway rating.

By way of comparison, the latest Chevy Camaro with the V6 and a stick shift gets the same 17/28 EPA rating as a similarly equipped new 'Stang, and the V6 automatic Camaro gets 18/27 (slightly behind the Ford, but if you opt for the Camaro 2LS with its V6, automatic and 2.92 rear axle ratio, you'll be looking at 19 and 30).

Dodge doesn't offer a manual on the six-cylinder Challenger, but with the new eight-speed automatic, it gets the same 19/30 rating as the Camaro 2LS, both better than the six-cylinder, automatic Mustang on the highway – though the EcoBoost has, as expected, emerged as the most fuel-efficient pony car on the market.
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News Source: Mustang6G.com

ETC

Only 1 in 234 pass Melbourne's tough new taxi driver test

Posted Aug 21st 2014 8:00AM

Taxi Driver Protest Jams Melbourne's CBD

In London, cab drivers undergo a grueling testing and memorization regime known ominously as "The Knowledge." Obtaining a license to drive one of the British capital's distinctive black cabs is so difficult that students often use motor scooters to get around and learn some 320 routes on 25,000 roads, a process that takes two to four years. They then need to take a completely random oral test, just to make sure they know their way about the city.

The Australian state of Victoria, meanwhile, is doing its best to match London's notorious standards. It recently announced new tests to "weed out" bad taxi drivers. The first round of exams were so challenging, though, that only one in 234 wanna-be cab drivers passed. Drivers are allowed to take the test twice before they're forced into a 12-month waiting period.

"There's 55 questions in each unit and you get an hour to do it," Karen Downie, the sole driver to pass the tests, said. "[It's] a lot of knowing your bus lanes and tram rules and how to deal with people with disabilities. Having done the test now myself, I'll be much better at helping others to prepare for it."

Some, though, are concerned that the exacting standards will lead to a shortage of cab drivers.

"If things don't change we're probably looking at a 25 percent reduction in the taxi fleet by Christmas," Stuart Overell, the COO of 13Cabs, told Yahoo! News Australia. That's a view disputed by Taxi Services Commissioner Graeme Samuel.

"What it indicates is that there has been poor training and poor assessment in the past," Samuel told Yahoo!, adding that drivers who fail this round of testing will still be re-accredited for 2015.

"Drivers, however, who come up for accreditation from the first of January next year and fail the test will have their accreditations removed," Samuels said. "Frankly 13Cabs is just being mischievous putting out that sort of nonsense."

News Source: Yahoo! News Australia

Image Credit: Scott Barbour / Getty Images

Tar Sands vs. EVs

Posted Aug 20th 2014 7:55PM

tar oil sands

It's pretty common knowledge - especially if you're the type to regularly visit sites such as AutoblogGreen and its ilk - that it's simply cheaper to drive a mile on electrical power than on gasoline. We also know that it is inefficient to convert oil sands into usable fuel relative to other sources of oil. Yet the demand for gasoline remains high, mining the tar sands of Canada remains profitable and it has also undeniably created a lot of jobs, so that petroleum is coming out of the ground.

For a deeper look at the economics, look at this article from Hybrid Cars, which breaks down (and even quantifies) what is involved in producing gasoline from the bitumen mined in places like Fort McMurray, Alberta, and how that compares in cost and efficiency to filling up from the socket. Basically, it takes a certain amount electricity and natural gas to turn the bitumen into a gallon of gasoline in a multi-step process that even consumes some of its own product. It is much more efficient and economical to convert that natural gas into electricity to power our vehicles. The author compares it to feeding bread to cows instead of grain, with the oil sands crude industry as the baker.

Plug-in vehicles eliminate the middleman, along with the associated costs. And though the electric car industry is still young, it is here to stay, and will only grow and improve. What impact will this have on tar sands operations? The conclusion is powerful, particularly after following the journey of the tar sands to the gas tank. Dig deep over at Hybrid Cars.

News Source: Hybrid Cars

Image Credit: Jennifer Grant, Pembina Institute

Should self-driving cars be equipped with adjustable ethics?

Posted Aug 20th 2014 6:31PM

Nissan Leaf autonomous car, front three-quarter view.

Autonomous cars are piloting their way into the wide philosophical sea of ethics. Right now the autonomous cars are unaware of this because the driver's will always comes first, but when we start getting cars that can overrule commands or choose a particular ethical outcome either without or in spite of driver input, we'll have a lot of decisions to make. Which means we have a lot of decisions to start considering right now.

Patick Lin considers some of them in a piece in Wired, starting with the trolley problem - whether a person who has control of a runaway trolley should let it kill five people tied to the track without intervention, or should pull a lever so that only one person on another track is killed. From there, he wonders about the possibility of fixed ethics settings, created by manufacturers, versus user-adjustable ethics settings that, for example, allow a driver to prioritize his own safety over others, or prioritize the safety of children over that of the elderly.

Lin admits that the examples are outrageous in order to stress the point of the question. Still, it's worth a read because we already have cars that can make driving decisions, and it might not be long before "Five-Mode Adjustable Prime Directive" shows up on the options sheet. Head over to Wired to read the full piece.

News Source: Wired

Image Credit: Nissan

Sakti3 says 480-mile EVs possible using safe, affordable solid state batteries [UPDATE]

Posted Aug 20th 2014 5:59PM

Sakti3 safety video

*UPDATE: We've put the official announcement from Sakti3 below.

Every now and then, we hear a little bit more information from the Michigan battery company Sakti3, which is somewhat secretly working on advanced solid state lithium batteries. In March, for example, the company was named an affiliate of the US Department of Energy's Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR). This week, according to GigaOM, Sakti3's founder Ann Marie Sastry announced that its solid state li-ion battery will be able to double the range of an electric car (or, make things like cell phones last twice as long between charges). If applied to a vehicle like the Tesla Model S, that would mean 480 miles on one charge. This should permanently remove the phrase "range anxiety" from our vocabulary, shouldn't it?

Even more interesting is the claim that Sakti3 believes these batteries could be had for just $100 per kWh, well under not only today's costs but also the predictions others have made for the near future. Of course, the batteries are not here yet, but the company says its test packs were made on "fully scalable equipment," implying that the time to put up or shut up should be here soon, don't you think?

Another bit of news, if we can call it that, is a video that is supposed to show what happens when you drop hot soldering material onto one of the Sakti3 cells: basically, nothing and the cell continues to work safely. Note, though, that the title of the video is "Please DO NOT try this with your own battery!" which is just good advice. Watch the audio-free clip below.

Despite the relatively low profile, Sakti3 has been able to get investment attention. The company got $4.2 million from GM Ventures and Itochu in 2010 and $2.5 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. in 2008, for example. In total, Sakti3 has received over $30 million for its better-battery tech. We're ready for the cars any time now.

News Source: Sakti3 via YouTube, GigaOM

BMW, Sixt carsharing making money most places

Posted Aug 20th 2014 4:31PM

bmw activee

The DriveNow carsharing service, which is a partnership between BMW and Sixt, is growing quite rapidly. "We've been surprised about the explosion of new subscriptions, which has helped boost revenue," says Sixt CEO Erich Sixt. The number of DriveNow users has increased from 215,000 at the end of last year to 300,000 today.

Sixt says that DriveNow has been profitable in cities in which it has been established for over a year. Perhaps encouraged by its unexpected success, DriveNow is set to expand even further. The service is currently available in five German cities, as well as in San Francisco, California, and the involved parties are considering a five-year plan to expand to 25 more cities in Europe and the US.

Still, Sixt expects DriveNow to report a "small-to-medium, single-digit" loss for this year, according to Sixt CFO Julian zu Putlitz. It's no big deal, just the result of startup costs in new areas. Sixt, which is Germany's largest car rental company, also reported that its own second-quarter income rose 12 percent to $37.7 million, while sales rose 7.6 percent to $585.78 million.

DriveNow uses a membership and pay-per-minute model that allows customers to rent BMW and Mini vehicles as they need them. The service also acts as a way to let potential customers try out the vehicles and familiarize themselves with the brands before they buy cars of their own at some point. Depending on the location, DriveNow's fleet includes the BMW 1 Series, ActiveE and X1, as well as several Mini vehicles like the Cooper, Clubman and Countryman.

News Source: Bloomberg

Image Credit: Copyright 2014 AOL

Hyundai Prius-Fighter Hybrid could preview next attack on Toyota's champion

Posted Aug 20th 2014 2:01PM

Hyundai Prius-Fighter Hybrid spy shot

Hyundai is no stranger to the hybrid game, selling a gas-electric version of the Sonata in the US since 2011. The 2015-model-year version gets 38 miles per gallon combined, which is certainly admirable but not quite in the same league as the hybrid champion Toyota Prius (50 mpg combined). New spy shots reveal that Hyundai might be finally ready to targeting the non-plug-in fuel economy leader. Why else would some mysterious Hyundai prototypes be cruising through the desert hills with a few Priuses in tow?

Our photographers believe these mules hint at an all-new hybrid model, which makes us think of the Blue Will concept from the 2010 Detroit Auto Show. At the time, Hyundai said the concept could be a preview of a future dedicated hybrid that would compete with the Prius.

We don't know what it all means for sure, but our spy photographers found four heavily modified Elantra GT prototypes driving around with a standard Prius and a Prius V. As if that wasn't enough of a clue, the four changed Elantras represent different approaches Hyundai might be using to go after Toyota, since there were two versions driving by our photographer's lenses, with different rear extensions indicating that both the standard Prius and the larger V might be in Hyundai's sights.

Despite the inclusion of a battery pack and a high-voltage cable running under the car, there was no obvious sign of a plug, so the old rumors of a Sonata PHEV will likely remain in the dustbin for now. Unless that strange rectangle of tape on the gas cover is hiding something surprising, of course.

Image Credit: Glenn Paulina / KGP Photograhpy

Recharge Wrap-up: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Finishes AXCR, Nissan Leafs drive 528 million collective miles

Pro Golfer Wins BMW i3; Electric Luxury Cars On The Rise; Uber Hires Former Obama Campaign Manager

Posted Aug 20th 2014 10:02AM

mitsubishi outlander phev asia cross country rally

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has successfully completed the Asia Cross Country Rally 2014. The plug-in Mitsu finished first in the EV class, and 14th overall, clocking in at 19 hours, 17 minutes and 12 seconds. For its second year in the competition, the Outlander PHEV used a new suspension with more ground clearance to help it tackle the race's treacherous terrain. Besides the glory of taking on the challenging competition, the rally helped Mitsubishi gather valuable data for EV development. The race took place over 1,367 miles of varied terrain from Thailand to Cambodia. Read more at Hybrid Cars, or visit Mitsubishi UK's Facebook page.

Nissan Leaf drivers have driven more than 528 million miles worldwide. That accounts for a reduction of 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions since the EV's 2010 launch. Nissan projects that Leaf drivers will surpass a collective 1 billion electric kilometers (621 million miles) by January 2015, or perhaps even sooner if sales keep increasing. The mileage data was collected through the car's CarWings telemetry. Read more at Green Car Congress.

40 percent of luxury cars will be powered by some form of electrification by 2030, according to Audi. Whether it's battery-electric, hybrid, or plug-in hybrid, electrons will be doing their share to get the well-heeled from place to place. According to an article at The Sydney Morning Herald, PHEVs are "the most promising option." The BMW i8 is a fine example, as is the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, and Audi and Mercedes-Benz have plug-in plans of their own. Lexus, not so much. Read more at The Sydney Morning Herald.

PGA golfer Hunter Mahan has taken delivery of a BMW i3 he won by scoring a hole-in-one. BMW offered a free, all-electric i3 to the first player to score a hole-in-one in the 2013 BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club, which Mahan did on the 17th hole. The BMW Championship raised money for Evans Scholars Foundation. BMW Hole-in-One Scholar Melyzjah Smith, who was awarded a full four-year college tuition and housing scholarship in honor of Mahan's slick shot, was on hand to meet the golfer as he received his i3. Read more in the press release below.

Uber has hired President Obama's 2008 campaign manager as its senior vice president of policy and strategy. David Plouffe will help the ride-hailing app navigate government policy and relations. The Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association didn't think the move was a good one. The group's president, Robert Werth, released an official statement that says, "Uber loves to portray itself as a plucky little tech startup fighting against an imaginary Goliath. But look who just bought themselves one of the best spin doctors in the country. As deceitful as Uber is, they are going to need him." Learn more at The New York Times.

Adomani EV school bus approved for use in California

Posted Aug 20th 2014 7:55AM

adomani electric school bus

Your children or grandchildren may very well be riding an electric bus to school soon, and probably sooner still if they live in California. We've just recently seen the funding of the National Strategies demo buses. Now another fully electric school bus has been approved in the Golden State. The California Highway Patrol has greenlighted the Adomani EV bus for use in the Gilroy Unified School District (GUSD).

Lucky pupils in the Garlic Capital of the World will be riding a 2007 Blue Bird All American school bus, converted from diesel to electric by Adomani. It has a range of 40 miles, plenty of charge to meet the route's 22 miles. The EV bus uses the same charging plug as the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt for easy charging. The GUSD has installed solar panels to power its charging station, making the Adomani Blue Bird truly capable of emission-free rides.

The bus was apparently quick to be approved upon inspection, with verbal approval coming just one day later. Newly appointed Adomani board member Jim Reynolds, a school bus industry expert, says, "That is by far the fastest I have seen approval come in. I was anticipating a few months of processing."

Adomani wants to convert more school and commercial buses, providing up to 100 miles of electric range, and says it can retrofit the vehicles in a matter of a couple weeks. The company, pleased with the swift turnaround of the Gilroy project, is moving its headquarters from Florida to California. Adomani founder and CTO says, "After the conversion for Gilroy, moving to California seemed like the right fit, though we plan to retrofit vehicles throughout the country." Learn more in the video below or over at Domestic Fuel.

News Source: Domestic Fuel, NBC Bay Area

Image Credit: NBC Bay Area

Looking back at the Citation IV concept that likely shaped the GM EV1

How Chevy's Time In The Wind Tunnel Taught GM An Aero Lesson

Posted Aug 19th 2014 7:45PM

1984 Chevy Citation IV Concept

GM EV1Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. We're not sure how that applies to the GM EV1, but we'd still like to share something from Autoline Daily, an online automotive new show with our friend John McElroy. He's been covering the business for decades now and recently found something interesting: pictures of the 1984 Chevrolet Citation IV concept, seen above.

Displayed half a decade before the first electric concept that would become the EV1 (inset), McElroy says it's now clear that the elegant, aerodynamic EV1 took a lot of styling cues from the Citation IV, which was developed in part thanks to GM's new-at-the-time Aerodynamics Laboratory. We agree with him that the spats over the rear wheels, the flush glass, and the covered headlights all bear a certain kind of similarity between the two cars. That the colors almost match is a nice coincidence. The Impact (the concept version of the EV1) looked "frumpier," McElroy says, because it wasn't as long as the Citation.

You can read a lot more about the Citation IV here and check out McElroy's thoughts in the video below. Find the Citation starting at around 3:45.

News Source: Autoline Daily via YouTube

Surprise Costs Have A Cost: Why we turned down the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

Dealer Added $70 A Month To Advertised Price, Which Tipped The Scales

Posted Aug 19th 2014 5:44PM

Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

They say you can always tell the pioneers. They're the ones with the arrows in their backs. Unfortunately, that was our experience pursuing – and eventually rejecting – the new hydrogen fuel cell-powered Hyundai Tucson.

I first heard about Hyundai's new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV) at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2013. As a tech buff, the thought of driving a new, clean technology vehicle sounded exciting. Best of all, Hyundai was wrapping the new vehicle in a smart, familiar package, as a loaded current-generation Tucson SUV. The FCV Tucson was billed as $499 a month with $2,999 down, with free fuel and free maintenance. Our family needed a new, small, fuel efficient SUV, so I signed up for information on the upcoming lease program.

Someone has to go first. Why not us?

In the spring of 2014, I learned more at a Clean Fuel Symposium, held on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. The panel was packed with experts on alternative fuel vehicles. One spokesperson outlined the chicken or egg problem with alternative fuels like hydrogen: fuels first or vehicles? Another said something that I should have heard more clearly. "If the argument [to move to alternative fuel vehicles] has to start with a change of behavior from consumers, that's a hard row to hoe." I would soon to learn what an FCV would really cost, both in hours and in dollars.

Nonetheless, I was ready to try jumping the hurdles and get an alternative fuel car. A low impact on the environment, plus free fuel and a solo car pool lane sticker? What could go wrong?

Image Credit: Copyright 2014 Drew Phillips / AOL, Hydrogen Pump: Michael Sohn / AP Photo

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