Roadmap to more fuel efficient vehicles

Amid tightening emissions regulations, car manufacturers are looking for new ways to make their engines more efficient. Volkswagen has used this year’s Vienna Motor Symposium to unveil a range of new technologies aimed at eking better mileage out of gasoline, hybrid and electric powertrains alike.

On the gasoline front, Volkswagen is searching for better efficiency through clever coasting capabilities built into its DSG gearboxes. At any speed up to 130 km/h (81 mph), the system will completely switch the engine off and decouple the gearbox as the vehicles coasts after the foot is taken of the throttle. According to Volkswagen, this can help shave 0.4 l/100 km (3 mpg) from the fuel use sticker, compared to 0.2 l/100 km (1.5 mpg) you get from current coasting setups.

To support its new, improved coasting function, Volkswagen has added a small lithium-ion battery to the existing 12-volt vehicle electronic setup. The little lithium-ion unit steps in to power all the requisite in-cabin electric systems when the engine is switched off, rather than leaning on the old-fashioned lead-acid battery. When the driver needs some power under their right foot, the engine can be restarted using the clutches in the DSG gearbox, the starter motor or a combination of the two.

Moving beyond gasoline power, VW is working to develop a compressed natural gas (CNG) powertrain for the next-generation Polo. Volkswagen isn’t alone in trying to make CNG happen – Audi is one of the biggest proponents, and the fuel is growing in popularity among trucking companies – but no one has really slotted it into a reasonably-priced family hatch.

New battery design for your auto car

One of the big stumbling blocks preventing the wide scale acceptance of electric cars is dreaded range anxiety. With an average range of around 100 mi (161 km) per charge, all-electric vehicles still can’t compete with more conventional cars – especially if lights, windscreen wipers, or air con are needed. To level the playing field a bit, Fraunhofer is working on a new battery design that could increase an electric car’s range to 1,000 km (621 mi).

Electric cars don’t have a single battery, but a collection of battery packs made of hundreds or thousands of individual battery cells that are packed in and wired together. These separate battery cells each require a housing as well as terminals, wiring, cables, and electronic monitors, which all combine to take up 50 percent of the space of a whole battery pack. Additionally, all those electrical connections sap away current through resistance.

In partnership with ThyssenKrupp System Engineering and IAV Automotive Engineering, the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden is developing EMBATT, a new type of battery that reduces the number of those components in a much simpler design that would free up space that could be used to provide extra electricity storage capacity.

EMBATT takes its cue from another electrical power source, the fuel cell. Fuel cells work by combining oxygen with a gas, like hydrogen or methane, across a permeable membrane, to generate electricity. One key component of such cells is what is called a bipolar plate. This plate covers both sides of the cell and has a number of functions, but its main purpose is to act as the electrodes to collect the electricity produced by the cell with one plate acting as the anode and the other as the cathode.

Fraunhofer’s idea is to replace the housings and individual connectors in the battery packs with similar plates. Instead of setting the battery cells next to each other, they would be stacked directly one on top of one other over a large area and covered by plates, which would carry the current across its surface. This would not only simplify the design, but greatly reduce resistance, making more electricity available more quickly.

In the Fraunhofer design, this bipolar plate is in the form of a metallic tape that’s coated on both sides with a powdered ceramic mixed with polymers and electrically conductive materials. The ceramic acts as an energy storage medium, with one side of the tape acting as the anode and the other as the cathode depending on the formulation of the coating. Fraunhofer says that this arrangement would allow for easy manufacturing and long service life.

The upshot of all this is that electric cars could carry bigger batteries that don’t takes up more space or add weight, giving cars a range of 1,000 km (621 mi) in the medium term.

Trial thrusts autonomous Waymo cars

As self-driving cars edge closer to production, manufacturers are expanding the range of scenarios they face during testing. Waymo, formerly known as the Google Self Driving Car Project, is now opening its cars up to the public in Phoenix, Arizona, in an attempt to see how they handle the cut-and-thrust of daily family duties.

At the moment, public self-driving trials generally involve taking people for one short ride. That process is a good way to raise awareness about what autonomous cars can do, but it doesn’t shed much light on how the technology works on a day-to-day basis, where repeat usage brings faults into stark focus.

Waymo has been running a small pilot program for the past few months, giving a tiny batch of Phoenix residents access to its fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Now, it’s being opened up to a much wider group of people, who will be able to call the cars at any time. The cars will be able to go essentially anywhere in the greater Phoenix area, making their coverage area around twice as large as San Francisco.

Riders will provide feedback on their experience, helping the team at Waymo tailor their designs for the rigors of daily life. The trial is free, and applications are open at the moment. Applicants will be accepted based on their commuting habits, but the program will be placing a focus on throwing the cars into as many different situations as possible.

Waymo will be purchasing an additional 500 Chrysler Pacifica minivans to support the 100 already doing the rounds.

The push to slot self-driving cars into the everyday reality of average Arizona families represents another significant step in autonomous driving development. Waymo has covered more than 3 million miles since its inception in 2009, and the benefits of that experience are beginning to show.

According to reports submitted to the Californian DMV earlier this year, Waymo cars covered 635,868 miles (1,023,330 km) last year, and human drivers only needed to intervene 124 times. That’s a huge improvement over 2015, where self-driving systems disengaged 341 times in just 424,331 mi (682,895 km) of testing.

Concepts and other Auto Shanghai

Auto Shanghai 2017 got underway this week, bringing with it a look at the near future of the world’s largest single auto market and the market of that world at large. It looks like auto buyers are in for a much more attractive selection of electric cars, even more SUVs and crossovers (if that’s even possible), and some vehicles from brands that didn’t even exist a few years ago.


Volkswagen continues its electric surge

Volkswagen is absolutely dead set on getting the world to forget all about the diesel fuel and emissions testing debacle, and it’s using flashy electric concept cars to do it. A major auto show rarely passes these days without the introduction of a new VW Group electric concept car, and what better place to release an all-new trio than the world’s largest EV market. Shanghai hosted the world premieres of the Audi e-tron Sportback, Volkswagen I.D. Crozz and Skoda Vision E.

We’ve seen electric Volkswagen and Audi visions before, but the Vision E is the first electric Skoda. It looked a bit sleeker and more swept in the initial sketches, but it’s still an attractive e-UV, and its 301-hp AWD electric powertrain and 311 miles (500 km) of range only make it more so. The concept is a nice first step into electric power and autonomy for Skoda. If this is what the future of electrification has in store at the Czech marque, we look forward to it.

The Vision E is attractive enough, but it’s not the most attractive electric concept in Shanghai. We’d say the MG E-motion easily takes that crown, though its styling runs a little too close to Mazda and a few others to be too enamored with. A lack of specs and details doesn’t help foster excitement. We know it’s electric, runs about 311 miles per charge, accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in under four seconds, and has an infotainment system. And that’s about all. Still, when you’re that pretty, you can charm without saying a word.

How his Boring Company plans to tunnel under traffic

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk is sharing yet another vision for the future, and this time it’s totally underground. The originator of the Hyperloop, purveyor of snazzy solar panels and man with a plan to connect our brains showed off a concept for escaping rush hour traffic via high-speed conveyance through a network of tunnels at TED in Vancouver on Friday.

Last December, Musk announced via Twitter that his irritation with Los Angeles traffic was inspiring him to start yet another company, cleverly named “The Boring Company.”

“Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…”

This month, a boring machine showed up at SpaceX headquarters near Los Angeles where it will soon begin to bore some test tunnels, and Musk shared a brief video at TED showing how he hopes to help cities dig their way under and around gridlock.

The video shows cars on the ground level pulling into specially designed platforms that Musk calls “skates.” The skate is then lowered into a multi-level underground system of tunnels where the vehicle is conveyed on the skate to its destination at speeds up to 124 mph (200 km/h). Musk pointed out that it should be possible to dig tunnels several levels deep, comparing them to mines that extend several stories deep below the surface.

Of course, big dig projects are never the simplest or easiest things to complete. The world’s longest railroad tunnel was recently finished in Switzerland, an achievement 17 years in the making.

However, few people are known for looking further into the future than Elon Musk, who announced his hopes to build a million-person colony on Mars by the end of the century. The Boring Company certainly doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to route traffic underground anytime soon.

“This is basically interns and people doing it part time,” Musk said. “We bought some second hand machinery. It’s kind of puttering along but making good progress.”

Mercedes Sprinter Vansports Camper

Creating a different look for the Mercedes Sprinter camper van, Hartmann Tuning keeps interior furnishings and equipment minimal and flexible, opening up a lot of space for gear and cargo. Its SP Vansports Camper looks like an intriguing way to journey deep into the outdoors, set up camp and spend a few days exploring by dirt bike, surfboard, mountain bike or ski.

Hartmann’s Mercedes Vito-based Vansports Camper appeared at last year’s Düsseldorf Caravan Salon alongside other Mercedes camper vans of various styles and sizes. The larger Sprinter version offers more room for living and playing.

Instead of trying to turn its Sprinter camper van into an elaborate home on wheels, Hartmann keeps things simple and utilitarian. The Sprinter Vansports Camper features an open layout, aluminum load floor, slim, removable furniture, and surfaces dominated by blacks, grays and metals.

In place of the usual folding seat bed, Hartmann uses two side panels that drop down to create a single 5.7 x 6.2-ft (1.75 x 1.9-m) bed. When the bed is not in use, the two halves swing up against the interior walls, opening up a lot of free space that could be filled with bikes, surfboards, skis, tools, supplementary camping gear, or all manner of other things.

In front of the bed, two rear passenger seats stand next to a slim kitchen area. Instead of integrating the two-burner stove into the top of the kitchen block, Hartmann slides it away in a cabinet, keeping the countertop free and open. A sink hooked up to a 12 L fresh/12 L waste water system sits next to the counter, with an 18 L Waeco compressor fridge down below. A removable table hooks up to the kitchen, and the front passenger seat swings around when it’s time to eat.

Air to offer 200 mph performance

Lucid Motors is one of the most exciting automotive startups since Tesla, and the big claims continue rolling in ahead of its first production car – the Air – hitting the market. We already know the base model will be cheaper than the base Tesla Model S, but a recent chat with the company has shed light on the crazy performance you can expect from its range-topping cars.

The performance potential on offer from electric cars is clear: the Tesla Model S P100D will hit 100 km/h (62 mph) in less than three seconds, putting it on pace with exotic hypercars, while offering seating for five and room for all their luggage. In an attempt to one up the Ludicrous best from Elon Musk, you can expect the flagship Air to hit 60 mph (98 km/h) in 2.5 seconds on its way to a top speed beyond 200 mph (322 km/h). In testing, the company has apparently seen 217 mph (349 km/h).

“It was actually software limited, as we were evaluating aero and powertrain cooling,” David Salguero, Marketing Manager for Lucid Motors, told New Atlas. “The car will go faster, but we have yet to settle on a top speed. In any event, it will be a 200 mph+ car.”

Performance isn’t the only area where Lucid is gunning for Tesla. Whereas the largest battery pack on offer in the Model S is 100 kWh, the Air will be offered with 65, 100 or 130 kWh options, delivering a maximum range of 400 miles (644 km). According to the company, battery cell tech is where it got its start, and the Air will benefit from all its past experience.

“Lucid has actually been around for nearly 10 years,” says Salguero. “Previously named Atieva, we developed battery packs for applications in several types of vehicles. Those packs have logged over 20 million real-world miles to date. So we have a great deal of experience in EV batteries.

“At the pack level, we have developed innovative packaging and cooling solutions to pack more cells in a small area while maintaining reliability. At the cell level, we have worked together with Samsung SDI to develop a cell chemistry that is far more tolerant of repeated fast-charging than the chemistries found in existing EVs. This means the Air will be able to fast charge repeatedly with minimal loss of battery capacity, which is important for owners using these vehicles in fleet applications.”

Expands Nismo to wider range of cars

Nismo is one of the most recognizable names in world motorsport, but Nissan has been slow to capitalize on its pull. It didn’t arrive as a genuine sub-brand for road cars until 2013, and the fabled badge has only been applied to the Juke, 370Z and GT-R since then. You can expect that to change, following a big announcement from Nissan this week.

Although Nismo Cars Business Department has been established to rapidly expand the range of cars wearing a Nismo badge, the team Nissan is remaining coy about what those cars will look like. Globally, the performance sub-brand turns over around 15,000 cars per year across Japan, North America, Europe and the Middle East.

By better integrating Nismo into the development process of regular Nissan models, the company is hoping to shorten the time taken to make a regular, mundane family car into something much more special, while also making them available in more markets.

“As a Nissan sub-brand, Nismo further builds upon the core values of Nissan cars,” says Takao Katagiri, president and CEO of Nissan Motorsports International. “With the combined expertise of Nissan group companies, Nismo road cars will make customers enjoy Nissan cars more than ever.”

Expect to see more Nismo cars popping up in Nissan showrooms later this year, or early next year. The success of BMW M, Audi RS and Mercedes AMG shows people have a desire for sportier, faster versions of their daily commuters, so Nissan’s move seems like a no-brainer.

Saoutchik Torpedo Roadster heads to auction

The sale of one of the best known and most impeccably credentialed cars in the world will headline RM-Sotheby’s Villa Erba sale during the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este weekend in Northern Italy later this month.

This 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680 S Torpedo-Sport Saoutchik Avant-Garde Roadster was the display car for Mercedes-Benz at the 1929 New York Auto Show. In a world where growth seemed limitless and millions of Americans experienced newfound affluence after the country’s wealth doubled in the prior decade, this car was regarded as the absolute pinnacle of luxury automobiles during the height of the “roaring twenties.”

Clothed by Parisian coachbuilding company Carrosserie Jacques Saoutchik and designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, Hans Nibel, and Fritz Nallinger, its 6.8 liter supercharged motor produced 180 horsepower and it was one of the fastest road cars in the world.

It was also to become part of the famous Mercedes-Benz S/SS/SSK lineage that defined the newly formed amalgamation of Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler’s two companies. The Mercedes-Benz S/SS/SSK line was one of the nominees in the penultimate round of voting for the Car of the Century award in 1999 – quite some recognition.

Inside, it had all the hallmarks of the most ostentatious of the great French luxury car manufacturers, including another display of Saoutchik’s penchant for exotic reptile skins in the seat coverings and interior lining.

Workhorse powers

Tesla may be working on an electric pickup truck, but it won’t be the first to inject a little electric-guided design into the pickup market. At this week’s Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo, Ohio-based OEM Workhorse revealed what it’s calling the first electric pickup truck designed for the fleet market. A range-extended electric, the W-15 puts a new face on the classic pickup truck while combining Panasonic and BMW tech for a range close to 400 miles (644 km).

Amp Electric Vehicles once thought the future was all about electrifying SUVs like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but it eventually shifted its focus to commercial vehicles. It acquired the Workhorse brand in 2015 and moved forward as Workhorse Group Incorporated, busying itself with range-extended, medium-duty electric trucks and delivery drones.

Now, Workhorse has gone a bit smaller in presenting its vision of the range-extended electric truck of the near-future. With the W-15 pickup, it’s followed the Tesla model of creating a ground-up build bringing together fresh style, clean driving and tech-focused construction. This ground-up strategy distinguishes the pickup from range-extended electric trucks like VIA Motors’ converted Silverado.

The W-15 definitely looks different from other pickups in its facial construction, wearing a more modern, electric-driven design in place of a big, shiny grille. A thin mesh grille and prominent “Workhorse” logo provide a little contrast color within the heavily body-matching front-end design.

Beyond that, the W-15 looks like a rugged pickup, following the usual formula of straight lines, sharp corners and flared fenders.

Raptors adaptable four wheel drive system

Ford has thrown the kitchen sink at the new Raptor, fitting it with a clever four-wheel drive system capable of adapting to the terrain it’s on. Now, thanks to more detail from Ford, we have an idea of how the high-flying pickup automatically switches from Baja to Rock Crawler mode and back again.

Usually, four-wheel drives run with one of two types of transfer case: on-demand systems using a clutch pack to shunt power to the front axle, or electronic switchable systems that use mechanical locks to power the front and rear axles at the same time. Electric systems are generally associated with family SUVs and crossovers, because they don’t require the same heavy hardware as a mechanical diff-lock.

On road, electronic systems also allow owners to leave the car in four-wheel drive mode without worrying about driveline binding, something that can happen when you leave mechanical locking systems in four-wheel drive mode on the tarmac.

The electronic system in the Raptor is designed to blend the best of both worlds. Although it can mimic a full, low-range four-wheel drive lock in Rock Crawler mode, the electrically controlled clutch pack in the transfer case allows the driver to leave the car in 4Auto on the tarmac without fear of damaging the drivelines.

The system is able to actively modulate the clutches on the fly, varying the amount of power sent to each axle as surface traction levels or the drive mode changes. In Sport Mode, the system sends more power to the rear wheels for a sportier feel, while Rock Crawl mode locks the differentials for four-wheel drive and engages a special gear reduction ratio for better low-rev performance.

Along with its usual armada of durability tests, Ford put the Raptor transfer case to the test at the 2016 Baja 1000. You can get a look at the dune-jumping Raptor in the video below.