Monday, May 31, 2021

ANYONE CHECKING THE VISITORS' PASSES? by John Crawford

The gate guards at the Toyota and Hyundai styling studios need to be a bit more vigilant.

 

When I put these two photos together, I reckon one of the exterior designers must have been looking over the other guy’s shoulder. Just look at the confluence of style lines, creases, curves, grille patterns and fender bulges on the RAV4 and new Tuscon.




This is exactly what happened with trapezoidal grilles, which were all the rage ten years ago – everyone had to have one.

 

Some of my very good friends who were Design Directors used to complain to me from time to time that their young designers would go off to an auto show, like the Geneva Salon, a mecca for current, and budding, young designers, and come back with their heads full of stuff done by ‘other people’.

 

If they were persuasive enough, I was never surprised when there was a cross-pollination of some styling gimmick or another. Next thing you know, everybody’s doing it.

 

JOHN CRAWFORD

Saturday, May 29, 2021

ALFA ROMEO GTA - La Drammatica Giulia by Michael Taylor

The most brilliant piece of the Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA puzzle isn’t the 100kg they’ve stripped out of the Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde, and it’s certainly not the price they’ve doubled to $268,000 for the starter pack.




It’s not the added power, either, because it only rises to 397kW and the torque output remains at 600Nm for the eight-speed automatic, rear-drive sports sedan.

 

Nor is it the track widths at both ends, which push the tyres wide enough to need new wheel arch extensions.

It’s not even the aerodynamic fiddles, which make the carbon-fibre nose more aggressive, with adjustable downforce from the GTAm front splitter and the rear wing.

 

The brakes are uprated to monster carbon-ceramic units, the tyres are custom developed by Michelin and the suspension has been totally rethought.

 

But what makes the Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA and the track-focused GTAm so stunningly wonderful is that Alfa Romeo has finally pieced together a car that feels like an Alfa Romeo should.

 

Lost for at least 40 years, torn between marketing and accounting and, all too rarely, engineering, Alfa Romeo slipped into mediocrity and, worse, the butt of automotive jokes.

 

The Giulia GTA will put an end to that, at least for now.


I'm back at 'The Old Farm' at Balocco - Alfa Romeo's legendary test circuit, or should I say circuits.



The glory of this car, whose handling is on another plane from every other sports sedan in the world, is that it has taken the most evocative images and emotions people have about Alfa Romeos and distilled it into one (very expensive) car.



It’s not just fast, because some of the cheaper German sports sedans may be even faster against a stopwatch. They’ll never beat the Alfa for driving purity and sheer joy, released.


However, as drivers of the GTA will be 'really getting into it' the 'business end' may be all German sports sedan drivers will see.


 

It’s an incredibly cohesive car for what is clearly a collection of go-faster parts. The handling is crisp and it communicates with nuanced steering and forgiving, progressive ease at the limit.

 

The engine is meaty and strong, with the new titanium exhaust adding a tinny tone to all that muscle.




And it’s comfortable in GTA form (the GTAm removes the rear seat and adds a rear roll cage and lots of interior noise). It’s comfortable enough to use as a daily driver, soaking up road imperfections and cruising quietly at highway speeds.

 

No, the beauty of the Giulia GTA isn’t that Alfa Romeo has built a terrific, class-leading car.

 

It’s that Alfa Romeo has finally built a car that matches the ideals of the founders of Alfa Romeo. It is the SPIRIT of Alfa Romeo to its back teeth.




It’s the best car Alfa Romeo has ever – EVER – built!

 

Michael Taylor  

Thursday, May 27, 2021

DATELINE: BALOCCO, ITALY, MAY 20, 2021

Back at ‘the old farm’. My friend Michael Taylor (at right with Ms. Sammy, who reside in Cernobbio) received an invitation to sample Alfa Romeo’s new Giulia GTA and GTAM on the outer circuit of the Balocco test track.

 

Mind you, Alfa Romeo’s PISTA DI PROVA DI BALOCCO is the biggest thing in the village.


I only ever visited once, in May 1976, and was allowed a few laps of the road course in an Alfetta 1.8 sedan.





How big is Balocco itself?  Balocco is a comune in the Province of Vercelli in the Italian region Piedmont, located about 60 kilometres northeast of Turin and about 20 kilometres northwest of Vercelli. As of 31 December 2004, it had a population of 273 and an area of 16.7 square kilometres.

 

The original project, spread over 191 hectares [472 acres] included a main track (the current Misto Alfa Romeo ), within which was created a track with a shorter duration, as well as areas with special paving, and the reproduction of a country road, all designed for testing of the road cars.

 

The mixed circuit was inspired by the tracks that were part of the Formula 1 World Championship calendar in those years: from Monza , for example, the Curva Grande or Curvone (today called the Biassono curve ), and the first of the two curves were copied by Lesmowhile the design of the Hugenholtzboch hairpin was borrowed from Zandvoort . This route was inaugurated and went into operation in 1962.



 


When the Fiat Group absorbed Alfa Romeo , the Group also began to use it for testing related to the other brands it owned.

However, it is often used to introduce new models to the automotive media.

 

Under the new management, the facility has undergone important changes, which have given it several new routes, with different characteristics and purposes.

 

In 1992 the high-speed loop came into operation, a 7.8 km long tri-oval , with elevated curves characterized by a gradient of up to 30%, which allows maximum speeds of more than 300 km / h., around which another similar three-oval but with flat curves was built in 2010, dedicated to high-speed testing of Iveco heavy vehicles .

 

In 1993 another extremely characteristic route came into operation: the Langhe route. This is not a real racing circuit, but rather the reproduction of a secondary road (inspired by the Langhe region ), with numerous escape routes and variants that allow you to derive different routes.

 

Overall, the Langhe track measures over 22 km , a length comparable to that of the Nürburgring Nordschleife ; with the German circuit the Langheit also has other characteristics in common, such as the unevenness of the road surface and the numerous undulations (gradients up to 14%), designed to reveal the shortcomings on the set-up of the cars to be tested.

 

It is a legendary proving ground, and I truly envy Michael’s experiences there. In the next Post Michael reveals details of the GTA test day.






John Crawford

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

AUSTRALIA LEADS IN NEW BATTERY TECHNOLOGY by John Crawford

Back in June 2014 I highlighted the presence of an exciting new product, known as GRAPHENE. Here's the link, so you can study its unique qualities.

http://www.drivingandlife.com/2014/06/tree-tech-carbon-tech-combination-of.html

Now, Australian-based Graphene Manufacturing Group, in a joint venture with University of Queensland, is working on developing an electric vehicle battery pack using Graphene.

  • The company claims that a Graphene aluminium-ion battery can triple the driving range of an EV.
  • GMG claims that graphene aluminium-ion battery can charge up to 60 times faster than a lithium-ion battery.
  • CEO of GMG stated that this tech can be used in smart phones, calculators and any kind of electronic part


Australian-based Graphene Manufacturing Group is working on developing the electric vehicle batteries using Graphene aluminium-ion. The new technology is being used by GMG-UQ making prototypes for coin cells, which are scheduled for customer testing later this year.


This new battery can be used in smartphones, watches, laptops, grid storage as well as in electric vehicles.


GMG claims that compared with conventional lithium-ion battery packs, graphene batteries can provide three times more driving range, because the Graphene-Aluminium-Ion batteries are three times more energy dense than Lithium-Ion batteries. Which is great news for EV buyers of the future.



The G-A-I batteries will also be 60 times faster to recharge. And testing will reveal if the claim of over 2000 charging cycles can be realised.


The battery cells feature aluminium atoms inserted inside tiny perforation in graphene planes using nanotechnology. The other major benefit is that at present the processing and supply chain for lithium is only carried out in China (top) and Chile (bottom). It is currently severely restricted.


Lithium extraction is a messy business, and leaves the remaining landscape completely desolate, and uninhabitable.



China has already stated it aims to restrict production, processing and supply of lithium in order to monopolise financial benefit and market domination.


The new technology manufacturing process uses graphene, aluminium and natural gas, and does not depend on lithium or any other rare earth metals.

In addition, 90% of aluminium is recyclable, and that process is also more efficient than recovering ‘used’ lithium and recycling that for second stage use.


The Founder and CEO of Graphene Manufacturing Group, Craig Nicol, has ruled out competition from most of the rumoured ‘new age’ battery technologies, such as ‘solid state batteries’ because they are a long way from commercialisation, and cost effectiveness.


The only competitor on the horizon he says are Lithium-Sulphur batteries which have not yet begun full lab trials to prove the concept.

Battery technology experts say Australia is well-placed to further develop this technology because it does not depend on lithium and rare earth metals, and Australia has excellent supply of both aluminium and natural gas.


Exciting times ahead for Australian research and technology.


John Crawford

Sunday, May 23, 2021

MOTOR INDUSTRY 'REVOLUTION' DOWN UNDER by John Crawford

A 'new' Australian automotive industry has emerged from the shambles that remained after the big carmakers packed up and left, and the potential is excellent.

 

The dregs of the industrial debris have been picked over and some gems have come to light.

None more so than Victoria’s CARBON REVOLUTION.

The company, which makes carbon fibre road wheels for three OEMs, also has 16 other wheel development and production plans underway for six more OEMs.



Its latest success is a contract to supply all the wheels for Ferrari’s new 812, which has led to an investment of AUD$95 million in new production facilities to cope with its burgeoning order book.




CARBON REVOLUTION (in the city of Geelong) makes wheels for eight Ferrari models, plus Renault and Ford. Its total production to date is 40,000 wheels.

 

Its wheel design and manufacturing expertise is considered a gold standard in the wheel industry, and are one of the most complex carbon fibre products produced anywhere in the world.

 

The greatest concern is that the Australian Federal Government becomes aware that although the Australian automotive industry has changed in shape and form, it now offers potential to be a global leader in providing both simple and complex products and components for international carmakers.

 

Here's where the Board of the industry’s peak body, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) should get off their collective arses.

The FCAI should employ a communications professional who is not only well-informed about ALL aspects of the automotive industry, but who also thinks strategically about communicating with the government, the industry and the general public.

 

The Australian people deserve to know that even though we no longer make cars in this country, there is potential for a host of smaller industries operating at world class benchmark standards and providing both technology training and jobs for young Australians.




John Crawford

Friday, May 21, 2021

MAZDA MX-30 - ART FOR ART'S SAKE? by John Crawford

I think Mazda’s design team may have been on the funny mushrooms, weeds, or brownies with a bite, the day they signed off the MX-30. It’s a hard car to appraise. It’s quirky, unusual, mixes ‘green’ technology with normal car stuff like vinyl, leather and carpet – with the usual ‘plastic’ dash and interior mouldings.




The MX30 comes hot on the heels of the stylish CX-30. The MX-30 separates itself by offering those beautifully misnamed ‘suicide doors’ – in other words, access to the rear seat is via rear-hinged doors.


They appear to be tiny at first glance, but combined with very wide front door apertures, this unusual ingress/egress system, is the same as a two-door coupe, and a nod to the Mazda RX-8 rotary-engined sports coupe – which is not surprising as the RX-8 designer, Ikuo Maeda, is now Mazda’s Head of Design.

 

The MX-30 shares its platform with the new Mazda 3, CX-30, and an upcoming EV which will feature a 35 kWH battery, recharged in part by a small version of the Wankel rotary engine, plus the usual regenerative systems.

 

Early drives of the pure EV are not encouraging. Testers in the USA struggled to achieve the paltry 124 miles of range, and in direct contrast to Tesla’s ‘Ludicrous’ setting, the MX-30 EV takes 10 seconds to accelerate to 100 km/h! Maybe more ‘fairy dust’ will be needed before the EV hits showrooms.

 

But, back to this slightly weird MX-30. The data sheet says it’s a five-seater, but the one in the middle in the second row had better be a dwarf-like creature with short legs. Also, because of the rakish fastback styling, the trunk (load space) offers just 300 L.



So, on the back, the badge says eSKYACTIV G, which sent me looking for a press release to describe what the 'e' stands for, because looking at the instrument pack, there’s none that you would normally associate with a hybrid, or a pure BEV.


Very conventional instrument pack, plus the usual animated icons


Turns out this first step by Mazda into the world of current rather than litres, is described as a ‘Mild’ hybrid. It offers the same 2L four-cylinder petrol as the Mazda 3 and CX30, but augmented with a boost from the battery. Mazda is a little coy about telling us how ‘much’ boost, so don’t ask me.

 

On the road it’s quite a sweet car to drive, with a supremely comfortable ride, responsive handling and great swathes of equipment and high-tech features.




In its global markets Mazda has assumed a status as a ‘premium’ manufacturer and does not seem to unduly care much about the impact of pricing for its levels of finish. Indeed, the view from the driver’s seat is quality finish, impressive trim margins, a logical layout of controls, and one of the least invasive steering systems among the latest batch I’ve driven.

 

The ‘green’ touches on view are also quirky. The hinged-tops of the cupholders, and the lowest level of the 'floating' centre console are finished in recycled cork, and there’s some other weird-feeling material on the tops of the door interiors, not unlike what we use to refer to as ‘mouse-fur’ when it was originally applied to headliners. According to the press handouts, it’s made from some sort of recycled something-or-other.




The total package, and the overall recipe is very bewildering, and I am seriously unsure who it’s aimed at. Some reviewers refer to it as an SUV, but with front drive only, scrambling for grip on loose surfaces, believe me the MX-30 is just a stylish crossover, and I certainly wouldn’t be planning a crossing of the Simpson Desert in an MX-30.

 

Pricing starts at AUD$33,990, with the most expensive variant at AUD$36,490 – but be warned there are a couple of ‘special packs’ which may tempt you – although you may drive out paying close to 60 grand!

 

However, this is Mazda showing it’s capable of creating a different animal from the pack (which it has never been afraid to do). As usual the high quality of design, fittings, finishes and interior ambience is first rate, and certainly worthy of a ‘premium’ label.


Design-wise I like the clean lines; the 'cantilevered' extension of the hood over the grille and the gradual maturing of the Kodo design theme.




However, I’m afraid I was left with the unanswered question: “Why?” I suppose the Mazda guys and gals will reply, “Because we can.”

 

JOHN CRAWFORD

Thursday, May 20, 2021

HYUNDAI NEXO FCEV - YOU CAN DRINK ITS EMISSIONS by Paul Gover

You cannot buy a Hyundai Nexo in Australia.




The hydrogen-powered compact car is reserved for lease deals with a small number of government and fleet buyers, who are being used for on-the-road research.

 

Toyota is also investigating the use of hydrogen for cars, focussing on Melbourne, as Hyundai bases its small line-up of Nexo future cars in Sydney and Canberra.

 

But I have driven a Nexo and taken a trip into the (more distant) future of electric cars.

 

Right now, electrification of motoring means hybrids like the Toyota Prius, plug-in hybrids with bigger batteries and more electric-only range, and the fully battery-electric cars that start with MG and run up through Tesla to Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.

 

There are a growing number of all three types on sale in Australia, right now, for people who want to green their driving. And are happy to pay a considerable premium.

 

Then there is the Nexo, which frees you from the electric grid - and petroleum power - with what is called a ‘fuel cell’ that converts hydrogen into onboard electricity. This test of an FCEV is something I have been looking forward to, after reading so much about them in previous editions of DRIVING & LIFE.


The first fuel cells were used on space missions to the moon and, since then, their size, complexity and cost has fallen dramatically like all breakthrough technology.

 

If you could buy a Nexo it would probably be in the $140,000 region, a giant amount of money.




 

But the Nexo is surprisingly ’normal’ to drive, with the performance of a ‘regular’ electric car, but a real time range of up to 666 kilometres on a full tank of hydrogen gas.

 

My drive is shorter and basically just a taste. 


And, on that front, the only emission from a hydrogen car is water.


I know because the first time I drove an FCEV, the Honda Clarity in California, I drank a glass of water that was collected from its exhaust pipe. There have been no ill effects.

 

The basics of the Nexo are shared with the Hyundai i30 and so it looks and feels positively normal when I collect it from Hyundai HQ in Sydney. 

 

It is only half-fuelled, a precaution by Hyundai with a car that is so advanced, so I’m restricted to a maximum of 300 kilometres.



But it takes far less time, and driving, to accept and enjoy the Nexo.
 

It is quiet and comfortable, the performance is good - although not remotely like a Tesla in ‘ludicrous’ mode - and I have none of the ‘range anxiety’ that hits when I’m driving a battery car that needs to be plugged-in to keep it going.

 

I’m not a fan of the Nexo’s interior layout, which is fussy and confusing, but it feels lighter than a similar battery car in all conditions from braking and acceleration to big bumps and potholes.




That’s because it doesn’t have a giant battery pack under the floor, instead using hydrogen tanks with a capacity of 156.5 litres, the fuel cell in the nose, and a much smaller battery to make its way in the world

 

Right now, the Nexo is a trip into the future and a promise of motoring technology that can work in Australia without reliance on a huge new set of infrastructure and endless plug-in points. There are questions about how the hydrogen is made, with complaints about burning coal to extract the gas, but Hyundai and many others are working on ways - solar and wind power for a start - that will be totally green.

 

Don’t expect FCEVs inside the next 10 years, but they are coming and they promise many advantages over battery-electric travel.



The Nexo is far more normal than I expected, even though it feels more like a science experiment than an everyday commuter car.


NEWS FLASH: Hyundai-Kia and the Volkswagen Group will work together on hydrogen fuel cells. Audi will lead the cooperation which includes all Volkswagen brands, and Kia.


In a first step, they agreed to cross-license patents and on access to non-competitive parts.

 

The deal is to help both Hyundai, as well as Audi, to accelerate the development and to “achieve attractive cost structures for the breakthrough of the most systematic form of electric driving,” said Audi Board Member for Technical Development Peter Mertens.

Paul Gover

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

MERCEDES-BENZ A250 e - A PHEV WITH SURPRISES & DELIGHTS by Paul Gover

Plug-in hybrids are the new frontier for SUV families, but the Mercedes-Benz A 250 e puts a more affordable and city-centric spin on the switch to second-generation electrification with 73 kilometres of fully-electric range.


The newest member of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class clan is also the fourth plug-in hybrid for the German luxury brand.

The difference is that it is not an SUV, but a city-friendly compact car that is available as either a hatchback or sedan from AUD$63,400.

For most Australians their first exposure to 'Hybrids' was when Toyota unleashed its first Prius models. PHEVs have been a bit on the rare side, with Mitsubishi being one of the few to explore the advantages. However, PLUG-IN HYBRID EVs are likely to become much more common as a stepping stone to fully-electric; or, even FCEVs (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles) which Mercedes-Benz can claim to have been an industry leader.



It is also the first Mercedes model available with high-speed DC charging ability with the promise of a boost from 10 to 80 per cent of battery capacity in as little as 25 minutes.

The showroom sticker for the A 250 e, from AUD$63,400 as a hatchback and AUD$66,000 as a sedan, is just the start of the potential savings for the greenest of the new A-Class family.

 

Running fully electric for weekday commuting is a genuine probability and means visits to the petrol pumps will be rare, and usually only needed for longer runs into the country.

 

The price difference between the 250 e and an equivalent petrol-powered model is AUD$11,900 as a hatch, and AUD$12,500 as a sedan, but the extra spend gets a lot of extra technology.



It’s still a front-wheel drive car but has the latest eight-speed DSG gearbox and standard equipment runs from 18-inch alloys and a fully-digital widescreen dashboard to wireless charging, and LED headlights. 

 

Something new is ‘pre-entry climate control’, which means the cabin can be pre-cooled or heated using a smartphone app.






 

The 5-star safety suite is as expected from Mercedes, with everything from nine airbags and Pre-Safe crash anticipation to traffic-sign recognition and adaptive high beams.

 

The newcomer sits in the middle of the electrification roll-out by Benz, following the EQ Boost ‘mild hybrid’ system that uses a 48-volt battery with a starter-generator, and ahead of the fully-electric EQC range.


The heart of the system is an electric motor tucked inside the transmission, and a 15.6 kWh lithium-ion battery below the back seat.



The operation of the system is complex like all hybrids, as the car can run in parallel, series, and pure-electric modes. The default setting is electric and the 1.3-litre combustion engine can provide charging, a performance boost or pure petrol power.

 

Outside the car, the basic charge time is eight hours. Taking advantage of Benz’s home wallbox (AUD$1250) the figure halves to four hours, and the DC Charging Package (AUD$1490) cuts it all the way to 25 minutes to achieve 80 per cent of battery capacity.

 

The headline number for the A 250 e is 73 kilometres. That’s the car’s electric-only range, as measured to the Australian Design Rule standard.

 

But the car has far more potential and will easily cover 350 kilometres, even with a tiny tank to fuel the combustion engine, if you have a chance for regenerative charging in rolling countryside.

 

The many modes of the system, from ‘electric’ through to ‘boost’, can be controlled entirely by the car or the driver can get involved at several levels.

 

Pushing the accelerator beyond the ‘kick-down’ point figures the combustion engine, the flappy paddles for the gearshift can be used for regenerative braking, and it’s possible to go one-pedal driving to use regen for slowing, or ride the brakes on a downhill run to give the battery a top-up.




The A-Class is a hybrid to genuinely like. And enjoy.


Paul Gover