Liberty Walk shows us how Japan does Lamborghini customs

Written By Thomas Ponco on Saturday, December 31, 2011 | 6:00 PM

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Lamborghini Murciélago LP 670-4 SuperVeloce

V12 / 6.496 cc / 670 PS / 487 lb/ft (660 Nm) @ 6.500 / AWD / 0 - 62 mph (100 km/h): 3,2 s / 0 - 100 mph (160 km/h): 7,2 s / Vmax: 213 mph (342 km/h)

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What will happen to automakers if the Euro zone implodes?

Written By Thomas Ponco on Friday, December 30, 2011 | 4:30 PM

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Toyota Prius Liftback



By Larry E. Hall





Say adieu to the Prius as a stand-alone vehicle name. Beginning with the 2012 model year, the car which has become a synonym for hybrid in the American lexicon will have a new name, the Toyota Prius Liftback.


Why is this? Because the Prius sub brand is growing. The larger Prius v is already on sale, and joining the Prius family in 2012 will be the Prius Plug-in Hybrid and the subcompact Prius c.


When it arrives in dealer showrooms in January, the Prius Liftback will have more than just a new name. Toyota has given its hybrid star a mild exterior refresh, newly styled 15-inch wheel covers, other enhancements and a small bump up in pricing. The 2012 model will continue with four trim levels – Two, Three, Four and Five – and seven configurations. The Prius Liftback One trim is available only to fleets.

Exterior








Up front, a revised front bumper with an enlarged lower grille gives the 2012 Liftback a more energetic, almost muscular face. The bumper also incorporates LED daytime running lights (DRLs) and a close look reveals new clear lens headlamps with a revised LED lamp arrangement. On the backside, slightly restyled taillights include LED lights.


These minor exterior changes haven’t altered the distinct space-age shape of the Prius; a deliberate effort by Toyota to maintain the Prius’ essential and iconic appearance. Its large, diamond-cut headlamps and snub-nose front-end are the starting point for the Prius’ quasi-flying saucer appearance. The angled hood seamlessly flows into the windshield, then to a flowing roofline that is sleek and low. Short overhangs and a chopped rear section finish off the hybrid’s futuristic hatchback character.


Of course, beauty is subjective, so the Prius continues to receive mixed reviews on its appearance. There are many who think the Prius looks gimmicky, if not entirely ugly. But for many hybrid owners, the distinctive look of the Prius sends a message which declares that we must take steps to reduce our voracious thirst for oil – with all its negative consequences in terms of the environment and geopolitics. For this camp, the Prius is like a middle-finger-on-wheels aimed at Suburbans, Expeditions, and the like.

Interior



Prius’ cabin design is as futuristic as its exterior styling and hits all the marks for comfort space and high quality materials. The past success of the Toyota Prius has been its ability to combine great fuel efficiency and utter practicality.


Five adults can fit comfortably, with a generous 21.4 cubic feet of cargo room left over in back. The 60/40 split rear seats also can be folded flat, creating a surprisingly large cargo space for groceries, strollers, large boxes, gardening supplies or what have you – all at the same time. The hatchback opening is large, but the load floor itself is rather high, so lifting heavy objects aboard isn’t as convenient as it might be.


Short and tall drivers should feel equally comfortable behind the wheel. The back seat is roomy, providing a little more legroom than the Civic Hybrid – and a lot more head, leg and shoulder room than found in the Honda Insight. The Honda hybrids are cheaper by a few thousand dollars.

Bells and Whistles



When introduced in 2010, this third-generation Prius had loads of gizmos – including Touch Tracer Display, high-tech energy monitor, and a moon roof with solar powered ventilation and remote air conditioning. For 2012, Toyota throws even more technology at the Liftback.


It starts with the optional Head Up Display (HUD), a feature long associated with General Motors’ Corvette and former Pontiac brands. The device projects information like speed, hybrid efficiency and navigation details onto the windshield just below the driver’s line of sight. Controls allow adjustments for brightness and position of the projected HUD image. HUD technology is touted as a big step toward reducing driver distraction of glancing at increasingly complex console displays and increasing automotive safety.





2012 Liftback buyers can also be treated to the optional Entune infotainment system – Toyota’s answer to Ford’s SYNC system. Connect a smart phone via Bluetooth or a USB cable and Entune’s features are then operated using the vehicle’s controls or, for some services, by voice recognition. Mobile apps for Entune include Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, and Pandora. Entune data services include a fuel price guide, sports scores, stocks, traffic and weather.


Other high-tech goodies include an optional radar system using advanced millimeter waves that enables “Lane Keep Assist” to help the driver stay safely within the lane, while the “Pre-Collision System” retracts seatbelts and applies the brakes in certain conditions when a crash is unavoidable. Intelligent parking offers settings to help guide the Prius into parking spaces. A backup monitor, which provides a view of rear obstacles when reverse is engaged, is available with an optional voice-activated navigation system.

Under The Hood



The 2012 Prius Liftback powertrain and mechanical features are unchanged. Prius uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive System, which allows it to travel at around-town speeds on electric power alone. Sensors decide when to employ gasoline engine power or a combination of gas and electric propulsion: the goal is to efficiently balance fuel economy and acceleration.


The gas engine is a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder engine producing 98 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. Together with its electric motor, the hybrid system generates a combined 134 net horsepower. Prius uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which acts like an automatic transmission but employs infinite ratios rather than preset gearing.





The hybrid system uses the engine and regenerative braking to recharge the nickel-metal hydride battery pack; there’s no plug-in capability. With the batteries sufficiently charged, the stop-start system can further save gas by automatically shutting off the engine and restarting it while the car is stopped.


The Prius Liftback is the only vehicle available today to offer 50 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving, a distinction it will give up in a few months. Toyota has stated the compact Prius c will exceed the Liftback’s fuel mileage although it has not provided specific numbers.

On The Road



The Prius Liftback isn’t the quickest, fastest, best handling or quietest car you can buy. But, if fuel economy and overall comfort are at the top your list, the Prius is difficult to beat.


Handling balance is nose heavy and the electric power steering has a numb, disassociated feel. Both are impediments to competent cornering; even straight-line tracking seems compromised by the steering’s artificial feel. Enthusiast-minded drivers will turn their noses up at these characteristics but as an urban commuter family car, it offers an acceptable drive. On the plus side, engine start-stop is unobtrusive and the overall ride quality is good.





For sharper handling and a sporty demeanor, Toyota offers a dealer-installed PLUS Performance accessory package. The TRD (Toyota Racing Development) engineered package starts with a seven-piece aerodynamic ground effects kit that delivers an aggressive and lower-profile stance. The custom body kit is aerodynamically designed and engineered to reduce the vehicle’s coefficient of drag, maintaining its fuel efficiency.


Seventeen-inch forged alloy wheels reduce the unsprung weight. The wheels are fitted with low profile 215/45R17 tires and have a custom offset, which increases track width yet maintains the car’s low rolling resistance. Toyota says the track-tuned lowering springs lower the vehicle 1.1 inches in the front and 1.3 inches in the rear to enhance steering response and improve cornering ability. A tuned rear sway bar helps reduce body lean for flatter cornering.


If you’re looking for a quiet ride, the Prius Liftback might disappoint. Noise intrusion created by the 15-inch low-rolling resistant tires is quite noticeable. This isn’t an issue isolated to the Prius. Honda’s Insight and Civic Hybrid also exhibit high noise levels caused by low-rolling resistant tires.





Some Prius drivers complain that the hatchback design limits the visibility through the rear window. They refer to this drawback as the “Prius blind spot.” Hatchback visibility makes some people crazy and is a non-issue for others. Take a test drive to see what you think.

Modest Price Increases



For 2012, Toyota bumped up the Prius Liftback’s suggested retail price by an average of 3.2 percent. The least expensive Prius Two has a base price of $24,000, a $480 increase. It includes keyless entry, cruise control, a new 6.1-inch touch screen multi-information display and Touch Tracer controls. The Prius Three, the most popular 2011 model, starts at $25,565, up $1,045. It adds the Entune audio system, navigation, backup camera display, and Smart Key.


The Prius Four with leather trim, heated front seats and auto-dimming mirror adds JBL GreenEdge speakers and an eight-channel JBL amplifier. Its suggested price of $28,235 is a $915 increase. The most expensive Prius Five, which includes light-emitting diode (LED) headlamps, foglamps, and 17-inch alloy wheels starts at $29,805 – up $1,015. Additional options for most trim levels include navigation and an advanced technology package.






The 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid challenges the Prius on refinement, and according to some reviewers, offers a better driving experience. It is more expensive at $28,700 but is a midsize car with lots of interior room.


Honda’s Insight hybrid is priced considerably less than the Prius: $18,350 to $23,540 fully loaded. While it is a noticeably better handling car, it’s smaller and doesn’t get the fuel mileage of the Prius.


Then there’s the all-new 2012 Camry Hybrid. Yes, at $25,900 to $27,400 it costs more and it has a lower fuel economy rating but, believe or not, it’s fun to drive, is spacious and offers some of the high-tech features found on the Prius.


What none of these competitors have, however, is the middle-finger-on-wheels image.



Prices are Manufacture Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of writing and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing..

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Lancia Flaminia Zagato Serie 1

V6 / 2.458 cc / 142 PS / 150 ft/lb (203 Nm) @ 3.600 / Vmax: 124 mph (200 km/h)

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Yo-Auto Promises First Russian Hybrid in 2012

Written By Thomas Ponco on Thursday, December 29, 2011 | 1:30 PM

Published December 29, 2011


By Jeff Cobb



This week Russian automaker Yo-Auto said it would begin offering Russia its first hybrid car by December 2012.



The company caught attention at the Frankfurt auto show when it showed an avant-garde model with sliding doors (see video below) as one of the unique vehicles to be offered by billionaire company founder, Mikhail Prokhorov, 46.



Yo-Auto has said for its first models, it would like to sell “peoples’ cars” for under $10,000 each.



It is now accepting pre-orders for the vehicles which have the option to run on CNG or petrol, and either two- or four-wheel drive.



Other features Yo-Auto promises to equip as standard include:



• Multifunctional steering wheel


• Touchscreen control panel


• Climate control


• GPS navigation system


• Automatic ICE start/stop


• Remote diagnostics


• Audio amplifier output


• Optional rear view camera


• Optional road sings module recognition


• Multimedia system with "extended ё-functionality," internet access, audio or video playback from external USB storage devices, hands-free phone system.



Yo-Auto has also been racing a hybrid car using a rotary vane engine that works on petrol and natural gas and is linked to a pair of electric motors. This "Yo-Mobile" uses a super-capacitor instead of a lithium-ion battery pack.



While more details have yet to come forth about its inexpensive production car, the company’s site also shows a light commercial truck and a passenger crossover utility vehicle, says it has major plans, and explained some of its philosophy as follows:



At various times, different countries have produced people’s cars. The main features of such vehicles were related to mass production and price.



Why then do we call ё-mobile vehicles people’s cars? Hundreds of Russian inventors, qualified engineers, and common, self-educated people were involved in the development of the ё-mobile’s design. More than 3,000 design solutions were received by our company in less than a year, and among them we have discovered profound applications that facilitate production technology. Therefore, everything is dedicated to achieving the best, most-affordable consumer properties.



In general, the ё-mobile concept refuses to consider any inefficient solutions.



“We have also created a database of breakthrough developments for the future development of the ё-mobile and other products,” the company continues. “If you have ideas that can be implemented in the ё-mobile’s design, please send them to: ginzbourg@yo-auto.ru”



So Yo-Auto's designs involve collaboration writ large, and the company itself is actually a joint venture between truck manufacturer Yarovit Motors and Prokhorov’s Onexim Group located near St. Petersburg, Russia.



Prokhorov also owns the New Jersey Nets basketball team and has announced his intention to run for the Russian presidency in 2012 against current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.



He made his $18 billion or so in metals and banking, was ranked by Forbes as third richest person in Russia, 32nd richest in the world, and one of his personal modes of transportation is a 202-foot yacht that he reportedly charters out for $325,000 per week.





With regards to his political aspirations, Prokhorov recently said on Russian TV, “If I become president, I won’t be able to party anymore,” and, “If the country says it’s necessary, I’ll marry.”



In 2007 he was detained for several days by French police on charges of "pimping" while vacationing with friends and eight women believed to be prostitutes.



Meanwhile, as a member of the one-tenth of one percent, he says he is willing to be just as sober as he attempts to put many of his countrymen belonging to the 99 percent into his company’s innovative, frugal, but well-equipped green automobiles.



"I have a very strong team and a highly-skilled and professional staff and all the projects I announced in business will be implemented in full," he said.



Yo-Auto's annual production capacity is estimated at 45,000 cars. Intentions are to double this after a second stage of the plant is built.



Source






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BMW 640i Gran Coupe

S6 / 2.979 cc / 320 PS / 332 ft/lb (450 Nm) @ 1.300 - 4.500 / twin turbo / 0 - 62 mph (100 km/h): 5,4 s / Vmax: 155 mph (250 km/h)

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Threat of Rare Earths Shortages to Hybrids and EVs Remains Unclear

Published December 28, 2011



According to a recently-released Department of Energy report (PDF), several clean energy technologies—including electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid vehicles—are at risk due to the “critical risk” posed by short-term supply disruptions in the rare earth elements market. The DOE's newly release report, titled "2011 Critical Materials Strategy," outlines several components, including five rare earth metals, that it says will face severe supply challenges in the years that lie ahead.



According to the report, five rare earth metals—dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium—were found to be in critically low supply in the short term (2012–2015.) These rare earth metals are typically found in magnets used in today's wind turbines, electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Supply of other elements, including cerium, indium, lanthanum and tellurium—were found to be near-critical in the short and medium term (2015–2025.)



But lately, the market seems to disagree. Shares of the world's leading rare earths mining companies have plummeted in recent months as demand for the minerals has failed to meet even half of Chinese export quotas. Since China currently dominates international production of rare earth metals, the inability of those quotas to keep up with forecasted demand has long been seen as a threat to hybrid and electric vehicles, whose batteries and motors become more costly as rare earth prices rise.



According to the DOE, the future success of clean, advanced automobiles relies on the availability of several of these rare earth metals and elements. Therefore, it's thought to be essential that supply issues are solved before plug-in vehicle production hits massive levels.



But the importance of minerals like neodymium and lanthanum to producing hybrid and electric vehicles is complicated and often overstated. Tesla's electric vehicles are virtually rare-earth-free, and Toyota is developing motors for its hybrids that eschew the minerals in favor of inductive magnetism. It possible to produce hybrid and electric vehicles without rare earths, but since many major automakers like Toyota have longstanding contracts with spelling out fixed prices for the minerals, it simply hasn't been necessary yet.



Is the department of energy wrong in worrying about short-term disruptions in the rare-earths supply chain creating headaches for some hybrid and electric vehicle makers? Probably not, but in the long term, electric-drive vehicles should be just fine regardless of Chinese export quotas.







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Analysts predicting up to 14M auto sales in 2012

Written By Thomas Ponco on Wednesday, December 28, 2011 | 3:00 PM

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Lincoln Continental Custom 1951

No technical specification available

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Toyota Launches Aqua Hybrid in Japan

Written By Thomas Ponco on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 | 1:30 PM

Published December 27, 2011


By Jeff Cobb



Announced yesterday by Toyota Motor Corporation, the home-market version of the Prius C – called the “Aqua” – was launched as a frugal and evolved member of the growing Prius line.



Citing “17 years of Toyota expertise and technology in the development of mass-produced hybrid vehicles,” Toyota said its 1.5-liter Toyota Hybrid System II (THS II) with reduction gear powertrain delivers about 100 horsepower and “world-leading” efficiency.



On the extremely optimistic Japanese JC08 test cycle, the Aqua gave 35.4 km/L (83.3 mpg U.S., 2.8 l/100km) and 40.0 km/l (94 mpg U.S., 2.5 l/100km) under the MLIT 10-15 test cycle.



The Atkinson-cycle engine uses a cooled Exhaust-Gas Recirculation (EGR) as well as an efficient battery-powered water pump, a friction-reducing beltless design and precise coolant-water-flow volume control.



The hybrid transaxle, which includes the power control unit, the power-generation motor and drive motor, has also been designed to be small and light.



Like the regular Prius, a selectable EV Mode enables short-range, low-speed driving with only the electric motor.




Usable cargo area of 10.8 cubic feet has been retained, with the hybrid battery being placed under the rear seat.



Toyota touts it as “fun and easy to drive,” with many options as one would expect, as well as several options for this Japan-market car that support access and operation for disabled people.



These include a Rotating Passenger Seat to facilitate smooth ingress and egress for people without use of their legs, as well as an electric loading/unloading mechanism for manual wheelchairs and designed-in wheelchair stowage capability.



Several other handicapped features are available including a special-purpose power steering that reduces the force necessary to turn the steering wheel, helping to ease steering during initial acceleration and low-speed driving.



Among the more ordinary options for non-handicapped people are LED headlights, navigation, backup camera, advanced info displays, upgraded sound system, and more (see press release linked below).



The vehicle ranges from 1,690,000 yen ($21,7905) to 1,790,000 yen ($22,989) to 1,850,000 yen ($23,760) for three non-handicap access models.



If you’re curious, prices for seven disabled-person access models intended for the company’s home market range from 1,950,000 yen ($25,044) to 2,679,000 yen ($34,406).



The monthly sales target in Japan is 12,000 units. They will be assembled at the Iwate Plant, Kanto Auto Works, Ltd.



When its U.S. version arrives next year, the Aqua will have shed its artful name, of which Toyota says:



“Derived from the Latin word meaning water. The name is meant to evoke an image of clean transparency as well as of something that is universally cherished. Also, the Aqua is meant to break the conventional image of hybrid vehicles, becoming something fluid and not constrained to any one shape or role – like free-flowing water. With this image, it is hoped that even more people will choose to experience the joys of hybrid vehicle ownership.”



Here it will simply be called the Prius C – but costing less and being more efficient than the Gen-3 Prius Liftback, Americans will be free to contrive their own flowery descriptions if they wish.



Toyota Press Release






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Subaru promises BRZ, Impreza STI concepts plus rally return at Tokyo Auto Salon

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Nissan Juke-R

V6 / 3.799 cc / 480 PS / 466 ft/lb (632 Nm) @ 3.200 - 5.800 / turbo / AWD

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Ford F-150 EcoBoost hits 100,000 sales

Written By Thomas Ponco on Monday, December 26, 2011 | 4:30 PM

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Fiat 8V Supersonic Coupe by Ghia

Written By Thomas Ponco on Sunday, December 25, 2011 | 9:30 AM

V8 / 1.996 cc / 106 PS / Vmax: 112 mph (180 km/h)

Ghia sold the same design to Jaguar as well:

Jaguar XK 120 Ghia Supersonic - 1

Jaguar XK 120 Ghia Supersonic - 2

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Hennessey rolls out 800-hp twin-turbo Jeep Grand Cherokee

Written By Thomas Ponco on Saturday, December 24, 2011 | 1:30 PM

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