Friday, February 25, 2011

Rolls-Royce develops electric car

Rolls-Royce used to boast that at 60mph in one of their cars, the loudest sound was the ticking of the clock. Now the world's best known luxury car is about to become even quieter, with the launch of the first fully electric model to bear the famous Spirit of Ecstasy mascot.

The one-off Phantom is being built to gather research data that could eventually lead to customers ordering their own all-electric Rolls-Royce. The firm, based at Goodwood in West Sussex, says that project 102EX is crucial to informing future decisions on alternative "drivetrains" – or propulsion systems – for Rolls-Royce cars.

Engineers will use the Phantom, which normally costs from £285,000, to establish whether they can develop a commercial model which can run long enough to be of use and can operate in extreme weather conditions, which are known to effect battery performance.

Despite its enormous price tag, such a commercial model would be exempt from road tax, London's congestion charge and would even qualify for free parking in some areas.

Torsten Müller-Ötvös, Rolls-Royce's executive, said: "We have engineered the world's first battery electric vehicle for the ultra-luxury segment.

"With this vehicle, we begin an exploration into alternative drivetrains, seeking clarity on which alternative technologies may be suitable to drive Rolls-Royce motor cars of the future."

A spokesman for the firm, which posted record sales last month, said that 102EX – also known as the Phantom Experimental Electric (EE) – said that the car company would "carefully test the opinions and reactions to alternative drivetrain options of a range of stakeholders including owners, enthusiasts, members of the public and the media".

The electric Rolls-Royce will be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show on March 1. It will then be taken on a tour of Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North America. Selected Rolls-Royce owners will be asked to test drive the electric vehicle and provide feedback on their views.

Rolls-Royce says there are 'no plans to develop a production version'. But, added Mr Müller-Ötvös: "I must be convinced that any alternative drivetrain we choose for the future delivers an authentic Rolls-Royce experience.

"It must be a technology that is right for our customers, our brand and which sets us on a sound footing for a sustainable future.
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lexus Builds Insanely Expensive Car

Lexus Builds Insanely Expensive CarIt’ll be business as usual for this LFA, which starts at $375,000 before tacking on another $70,000 for the Nürburgring package, bringing the total to $445,000. With just 50 racing-inspired packages to be created, it’d better be special, so Lexus adds new wheels, a carbon-fiber body kit, and an extra 10 horsepower for the 4.8-liter V-10 (re-rated for 562 horsepower). The six-speed sequential transmission changes gear even faster, needing just 0.15 second as the LFA rockets past the competition. It looks more aggressive with the rear wing and reworked body parts, but it’ll still go from 0-62 mph in 3.7 seconds and retain a manufacturer-stated top speed of 202 mph.

The Lexus LFA Nürburgring package is a massively expensive and insanely fast V10 powered monster that is at home, eating up other cars on the world famous German circuit for which it’s named. Lexus announced that they would only be creating 50 examples of this limited edition LFA and they have confirmed that it would be shown at the Geneva Motor Show next week. As if the standard Lexus LFA is weak or doft, the Nurburgring Pack will make it harder and more track-focused. It features additional aerodynamic elements, lowered suspension and engine revisions. Mind you, that engine revision is not very deep and results in just a mere 10 bhp increase in power from V10 engine to 562bhp, thus enabling the car for a 0 to 62 mph sprint of 3.7 seconds. In terms of handling modifications, the package features suspension tuning and a 10mm reduction in the ride height. Exclusive mesh-type wheels are introduced, fitted with dedicated high-grip tyres.
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lexus LFA Supercar Gets More Expensive with Nurburgring Edition

Lexus LFA Supercar Gets More Expensive with Nurburgring EditionAt $375,000, the Lexus LFA supercar was a sight to behold. Considering that it costs about four times as much as the competiting Nissan GT-R, you have to wonder why someone would want the most expensive road car that Toyota has ever produced. And now you wonder even more with an even more expensive version.

Upping the ante is the new Lexus LFA Nurburgring Package. While only 500 of the regular LFA supercars are being produced, a mere 50 of these upgraded Japanese supercars are going to be made available. With the bump in price to $445,000, the LFA Nurburgring is the most expensive road car ever made by a Japanese manufacturer.

So, what does all that extra cash buy you? Power output is only marginally increased from 552bhp to 562bhp, but they’ve worked on several aerodynamic improvements that allow the monster to race around the legendary Nurburgring track in under 7:20. That’s bloody fast, in case you’re wondering. They’ve also improved the sequential gearbox to switch between gears in 0.15 seconds, compared to the 0.2 on the regular LFA.

In addition to the little changes here and there, buyers of the LFA Nurburgring also get a special jacket commemorating the purchase, a night’s stay at Nurburgring, and a one-year pass to the circuit to rip around the track. The white, orange, and black models are selling at the aforementioned $445k, but matte black comes in at a $20,000 premium.
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

McLaren MP4-12C

McLaren MP4-12CThere are several ways of looking at this. A British supercar caparisoned for battle with Ferrari's 458 and Lamborghini's Gallardo. Built in Woking, at the creepily hi-tech home of McLaren Automotive (aka RonWorld), with 300 skilled jobs in the offing and on sale this May at a price of £168,500. Hurrah!

Another viewpoint is that since Formula One's inaugural world championship race at Silverstone in 1950, just one team – Ferrari – has consistently made road cars under its own name. Granted, BRM, BMW, Cooper, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz are just some who have built or added their name to road cars, but they've not continuously been involved in F1. Founded in 1963, late Kiwi Bruce McLaren's eponymous team is the second oldest in grand prix racing, so what could be more fitting than its own road car.

Yes, it has built them before – and not just the epochal 1992 F1, the no-compromise road racer that won the Le Mans 24 Hours at its first attempt, in 1995. McLaren also built a series of Mercedes-Benz SLRs, an unhappy project that at least gave both parties some practical experience.

Or perhaps the MP4-12C is simply the next chapter in the endless story of how a small clique of men made themselves obscenely rich off the back of F1 and now need alternative employment: Bernie Ecclestone into property development, Max Mosely into civil-liberties litigation and Ron Dennis into supercar manufacture.

The cold drizzle at Dunsfold aerodrome in Surrey washes away most of these thoughts as I prepare to climb behind the wheel. The chill has even taken some of the bounce out of chief test driver Chris Goodwin, who's thumbing the illuminated red starter button on the centre console.

Based around a resin-transfer-moulded carbon-fibre tub, with aluminium sub-frames at each end, the MP4 is powered by a new, 3.8-litre, twin-turbocharged, dry-sump V8 designed by McLaren and built by Ricardo in Shoreham, Sussex.

The engine sits behind the cockpit, with a seven-speed, Italian-made Graziano twin-clutch transmission hanging on the back. Upper- and lower-wishbone suspension is augmented by clever hydraulics, which replace conventional anti-roll bars by pumping the suspension to suppress the effects of body roll, pitch and squat. The system is not dissimilar to that used in the brilliant Citroën 2CV and also incorporates real-time adaptive damping, which helps moderate the ride quality – sometimes an issue in super-stiff, carbon fibre-bodied cars.

Comfort was a key feature of our drive around the snow-ravaged roads of Surrey. You hear the bumps as the wheels react to the huge potholes, but the McLaren rides through them like a family hatchback and there's no steering reaction, either. The engine, too, is docile and mercifully quiet.

The gearbox is fussy and lumpy at low speeds, which is fairly typical in cars such as this. Changes are made via steering wheel-mounted paddles, which are yoked in the middle so a pull on one equals a push on the other. It's a good system, derived from racing practice, but eschews the industry protocol that a pull on both paddles selects neutral. Some owners might find this confusing.

The car's manoeuvrability is also notable – McLaren has pinched every inch to reduce the width and that means threading the MP4-12C through busy market towns is less nerve-racking than it would be in some rivals.

The cabin is surprisingly practical, too. There's space for a couple of small cases under the bonnet and the two seats are comfortable: the centre console is shaved to such an extent that the satnav screen is upended, but you are sufficiently far apart not to touch shoulders. Widely adjustable seats and steering enable a good driving position for most and the pedal box is mercifully large, so you can drive in brogues rather than racing boots. It has a nice steering wheel, too: oval and squared-off at the bottom, it feels like the precision instrument it is.

Problems? With no conventional external door handles, the MP4-12C has a touch-sensitive switch just under each cut line and they're impossible to find – shades of TVR here. You need the touch and sensitivity of Evgeny Kissin at the Bechstein just to get into the bloomin' thing, all the while noting that when open the scissor doors increase the MP4's width by two feet on each side. That car at the far end of the supermarket car park will be the McLaren, then.

Being turbocharged, the engine is mainly dormant at low speeds: just as well really, because with 592bhp and 0-62mph taking only 3.1sec, the last thing you need is an over-sensitive throttle. Two dial switches on the centre console alter the characteristics of the suspension and engine/transmission respectively. Restarting reverts to Normal, but a push on the Active button restores the configuration last used. Goodwin illustrates how much more pointy and roll-resistant the big Mac becomes in Sport mode, then increases the intensity to Track and floors it.

Like, er wow, Scoobs... On a greasy, damp track, the 1.4-ton MP4-12C leaps away from the line, its engine bellowing lustily and the traction control moderating the inevitable wheelspin. Extended to about 6,000rpm, this is a remarkably fast car. Push up to 8,000 and it's a rocket.

With not a whisper of tribute to Philip K Dick, McLaren uses a clutch preloading system called Pre Cog: with slight pressure to the gearchange paddle, this makes the selection process almost instantaneous.

The charge down the main straight of this old airfield, where the Harrier jump jet was developed, feels almost as fast as that much-missed aircraft. Whap, the needle scrolls up to 8,000rpm and it takes a flurry of fingers to access the next chapter of this amazing engine's yarn, a process that continues all the way to seventh gear. The hydraulics help out here, pumping to keep the chassis as flat as possible and maximising grip and traction.

Steel brakes are standard, but we were using the optional carbo-ceramic discs, which clamp down speed as though you threw out an anchor. In a way you have, because the rear wing flips up just as it did on Juan Manuel Fangio's 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. This pushes the rear end down while the hydraulics moderate the suspension to avoid terminal dive.

Yes, the MP4 will understeer if you aimlessly twiddle at the wheel, but balance throttle and steering and the turn-in is as good as it gets in this class. Exiting a bend, the traction, hydraulics and stability electronics are joined by a brake-steer system, which uses the rear brakes to reduce understeer and keep the car straight under hard acceleration. Who says motor racing doesn't improve the breed?

My abiding memories? Power and speed, stability under braking and the way a duffer like me could steer it on the throttle without disappearing into the scenery. It's a class act, the McLaren, and clearly finely honed in every department.

If the Italians are all sound and passion, the McLaren, with its more sober Frank Stephenson design, is more serious. A stunning debut, then, for a supercar that's arguably more practical than its rivals. McLaren aims to build 1,000 this year and 1,500 per annum after that. I doubt it will have many problems selling them.

THE FACTS

McLaren MP4-12C

Tested: 3.8-litre, 90-degree V8 with chain-driven double-overhead-camshafts per bank, twin MHI turbochargers, seven-speed twin-clutch transmission, rear-wheel drive

Price/on sale: £168,500/May

Power/torque: 592bhp @ 7,000rpm and 443lb ft @ 3,000rpm

Top speed: 205mph

Acceleration: 0-62mph in 3.1sec (on optional Pirelli Corsa tyres)

Fuel economy: 24.2mpg (EU Combined)

CO2 emissions: 279g/km

VED band: M (£950 first year, £435 thereafter)

On the stereo: Keep My Motor Running by Roy Orbison

Verdict: Stunning debut for the Woking F1 team. More understated than the competition, but just as able and certainly as fast.

Telegraph rating: Five out of five

THE RIVALS

Ferrari 458 Italia, £169,546

One of the best ever from Maranello. Wrapped in scanty aluminium-alloy couture, this is one of Pinifarina's finest hours. The naturally-aspirated, 4.5-litre V8 drinks more fuel than the McLaren, but provides a more linear power delivery and is almost as fast. Ferrari on tip-top form and very hard to beat.

Lamborghini Gallardo LP570 Superleggera, £174,840

Until we get the Aventador later this year, the Gallardo will have to do. In Superleggera form it's better than ever, although the styling is outrageous, so not for the shy and retiring. The 5.2-litre V10 gives a spine-chilling soundtrack and it's almost as fast as the McLaren, but its ride quality falls way short.

Driving on Jeremy Clarkson's own test track

Little known fact: Dunsfold aerodrome is not just BBC 2's Top Gear test track. It is one of the McLaren test team's homes, too, although the MP4-12C was also honed on the company's own F1 simulator as well as tracks in Sweden and southern Spain. "I actually prefer the F1 simulator," says test driver Chris Goodwin, "because it means I get home in the evening."

The press photos accompanying this piece were shot in sunny Portugal, but Dunsfold was not wet enough to wipe away the slime, nor dry enough to provide much traction. The treacherous surface gave the McLaren's sentient safety systems plenty to think about, not that I helped much. Featureless airfield circuits are some of the hardest to learn and, despite seeing it countless times on Top Gear, I didn't have the faintest idea which way it went. It didn't help that some asphalt is used twice in a loose, figure-of-eight configuration and an early dusk obscured some of the corners. That's my excuse, anyway.

Stars in a reasonably priced car would have done a better job, but let's just say that I ended the day with a new-found respect for them and the new Stig. Top Gear's track is a lot harder than it looks on TV, even if Goodwin makes it look easy.
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Friday, February 11, 2011

New 2012 Acura TL Debuts at Chicago Auto Show

New 2012 Acura TL Debuts at Chicago Auto ShowSleek and refreshed, the newest version of Acura’s best-selling model, the TL performance luxury sedan, bowed Wednesday at the Chicago Auto Show. While the car’s exterior appearance may be only slightly revised, the changes are significant in that they cumulatively add up to a tauter, more aggressive look. In addition, the 2012 Acura TL boasts a new six-speed automatic transmission.

Acura says the TL’s new look includes redesigned front and rear bumpers, revised grille, new fog light design, updated headlights, taillights and turn signals – and a shorter front overhang. The result is a shorter overall length and a lengthened hood.

Power for the TL lineup is still the same: 280-horsepower 3.5-liter and 305-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 engines carried over from the 2011 model year. But the mating with the new six-speed automatic trannies – which Acura calls Sequential SportShift -- results in a 3-mpg fuel economy improvement, rated at 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway. But the double kick-down feature of the Sequential SportShift allows drivers to command a double downshift – say, from fifth to third gear. The Drive-by-Wire throttle system helps match gear speeds while downshifting. A six-speed manual transmission is still offered on the 2012 Acura TL Super-Handling AWD model.

Other changes include a larger, 60GB hard disc drive (HDD)-based navigation system, more expansive map coverage, faster USB connection speed, and full VGA monitor that’s brighter and features richer colors. A new Advance Package is available that incorporates all-new ventilated front seats and a blind spot information system to alert the driver of vehicles in close proximity. New wheels – 17-inch seven-spoke aluminum (TL) and 17-inch five-spoke aluminum (SH-AWD) are standard. With available Advance Package, TL comes with 18-inch five-spoke wheels, while SH-AWD is fitted with 19-inch split five-spoke aluminum wheels with new performance minded all-season tires.

Overall, not huge changes, but Acura already had a winner with the 2011 TL. For families seeking a performance luxury sedan, the 2012 Acura TL may just fit the bill.
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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mercedes SL65 AMG makes the most Expensive Car Insurance Rate

Mercedes SL65 AMG makes the most Expensive Car Insurance RateMercedes SL65 AMG, the most expensive car model for 2011 topped 2010, Porsche 911 Carrera GT2, for being the most expensive car to insure.

According to the calculation done by Quadrant Information Services for Insure.com, the average premium of the 2011 Mercedes model is about $3,544, 17 % higher than last year’s Porsche 911 Carrera GT2.

Insure. com stated that Mercedes SL65 AMG is probably used by drivers for speed, making car crashes and racking violation increase. In addition, Insure.com claimed that claims from high insurance rate vehicles; including high-performance sports cars and expensive vehicles with expensive parts; are higher than those vehicles under average rates.

Insure.com notes that cars that are least expensive to insure are family vehicles. Example of these is Chrysler Town & Country LX, whose average premium is around $1,092. According to the company, family vehicles have the least premiums because, drivers of such vehicles are more careful and are less involved in car crashes.
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Friday, February 4, 2011

Maruti Q3 net down 18% at Rs 565.17 cr

Maruti Q3 net down 18% at Rs 565.17 crDragged down by rising input costs, adverse foreign exchange movement and higher royalty payout, the country’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki India (MSI) on Saturday reported 17.80 per cent decline in its net profit for the third quarter ended December 31, 2010 at Rs 565.17 crore. The company had posted a net profit of Rs 687.53 crore in the same period a year ago, MSI said in a statement.

Net sales during the third quarter this fiscal, however, rose by 26.49 per cent at Rs 9,276.73 crore as against Rs 7,333.77 crore. “The third quarter this year compared to the same period last year was marked by pressure on margins primarily due to adverse foreign exchange movement and higher royalty payout,” the company said. Increase in commodity costs during the quarter also impacted the margins, it added. In terms of units, the company’s total sales grew by 28.16 per cent at 3,30,687 units as against 2,58,026 in the year-ago period.

Domestic sales during the quarter grew by 36.83 per cent to 2,99,527 units as against 2,18,910 units in the corresponding quarter last fiscal. The growth was led by Alto, Wagon R and Swift. It had posted the highest-ever sales in the domestic market with 1,07,555 units in October 2010.

In November 2010, the domestic sales touched 102,503 crossing the 1 lakh milestone for the second time in the quarter. Exports during the quarter was down by 20.34 per cent to 31,160 units from 39,116 units in the same period last fiscal, it said.
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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Maruti gears up for future with Kizashi launch

Maruti gears up for future with Kizashi launchMaruti, which sells roughly half the cars sold in the Indian market, does not expect Kizashi to substantially boost its performance in the near term.

"We are anticipating that this market will grow; there will be demand for such cars," Managing Executive Officer Mayank Pareek told reporters.

The luxury sedan segment has a mere 2.8 percent of the total auto market in India, one of the world's fastest growing, but a burgeoning middle class is seen spurring demand for premium cars.

"With Kizashi, we will expand our portfolio. But at the same time, we will not forget the small cars," Maruti's chief executive Shinzo Nakanishi said.

A base model of Kizashi, priced at 1.65 million rupees ($36,340) in New Delhi, will compete with the likes of Toyota's Corolla, Volkswagen AG's Jetta, General Motors's Chevrolet Optra and Honda Motor Co's Civic.

With demand for cars in developed markets stuck in low gear, global automakers have been increasing their focus on faster-growing regions such as China and India.

Maruti will initially import Kizashi, deliveries for which will begin in March, as completely built up units (CBU) from Suzuki's Sagara plant in Japan. It will consider assembling or manufacturing the car in India at a later stage, Nakanishi said.

Shares of Maruti, valued at about $7.8 billion, closed down 2.02 percent at 1215.85 rupees in a firm Mumbai market. The sector index fell 0.09 percent.
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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Most (and Least) Expensive Vehicles to Insure

The Most (and Least) Expensive Vehicles to InsureThe Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG is the most expensive 2011 model vehicle to insure in the United States, according to a new ranking of average premiums for 2011 models that Insure.com released earlier this month.

The rankings, which the insurance information and shopping site publishes annually, are based on the premium that a 40-year-old man with a good driving record (no speeding tickets or accident claims), a good credit record and a 12-mile commute would pay annually.

The insurance data company Quadrant Information Services calculated the average premiums for Insure.com by averaging late December 2010 car insurance rates from six large carriers across 10 ZIP codes in each state.

According to the results, the national average annual premium for the SL65 AMG is about $3,544 — 17 percent higher than the cost to insure the most expensive vehicle in last year’s results, the Porsche 911 Carrera GT2.
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