Thursday, August 25, 2011

Most Americans not open to buying cars from India, China

A wave of new Indian and Chinese automobiles are poised to make their debut in the US market in coming months, but a new study has found that most Americans are not open to the idea of buying a car from companies like Tata , Mahindra and BYD.

Market research firm GfK Automotive's Barometer of Automotive Awareness and Imagery Study found that Chinese and Indian auto-makers could face a similar purchase consideration curve to Korean vehicles when they launched in the US.

In that case, it took more than 15 years for consumers to significantly increase their consideration to purchase Korean vehicles.

The majority of American consumers are not open to buying a car from a Chinese or Indian manufacturer. Such auto-makers looking to break into the US market face challenges in brand awareness and acceptance, said the study.

The Barometer of Automotive Awareness and Imagery Study found that only 38% of the respondents would consider buying a Chinese car and 30% an Indian vehicle. In contrast, 95% are open to buying from an American company, 76% from a German manufacturer, 75% a Japanese vehicle and 49% a Korean model.
Gen Y consumers were the most open to buying Chinese or Indian vehicles, with 52% saying they'd consider a car from China and 41% open to a car from India.

Predictably, Baby Boomers were the least interested. Supporting its report, GfK cited the challenge Hyundai initially had gaining market acceptance in America, stating that "Chinese and Indian automakers could face a similar purchase consideration curve".

"However, we would add that the quality, performance, safety and reliability of the models make all the difference. And Hyundai initially trailed in all those regards. Perception took years to change, because the company itself took over 15 years to offer competitive products," it said.

Companies such as BYD (China), Chery (China) and Mahindra (India) have in recent years declared their intent to launch products in the United States, only to repeatedly delay their introduction. "Clearly, the time will come when cars arrive on our shores directly from such manufacturers. For some, arguably, the time is now, as the current parent company for Land Rover and Jaguar, Tata, is an India-based corporation. And Volvo is owned by China-based Geely," GfK Automotive said in its report.
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Here comes the sun-powered car

Here comes the sun-powered carA roof-mounted solar panel announced by Ford in the US this week could help to drive electric versions of its Focus small car up to 1600 kilometres a month for free. The panel, developed in co-operation with solar panel provider SunPower, can generate up to 3000 kilowatt hours of power each year and would supplement - or completely replace - plug-in electricity as the vehicle's power source. The US-based program is an intriguing premise considering Australia's high levels of sun exposure. It could become a key development in making electric vehicles more sustainable to drive in Australia.

The only mass-produced electric vehicle on sale in Australia, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and several more due to arrive here next year derive their energy chiefly from coal-fired electricity, which is considered among the dirtiest and least-sustainable forms of power generation. Ford is not the first brand to use rooftop-mounted solar panels. The Toyota Prius brought solar panels into the mainstream in 2009 with a rooftop-mounted system. However, it only powers the car's ancillaries rather than the electric motor.

A pioneer in the field is considered to have been the Mazda 929 from the early 1990s, which used solar cells embedded in the sunroof to power the car's ventilation system. Fast-forward to 2011 and the futuristic Fisker Karma sports car is one of the first production cars to integrate a rooftop solar panel into the production process. Like the plug-in Focus, the Karma's solar panel will feed electric energy directly into the car's motor or its battery pack for storage.

Ford and SunPower will charge customers about $US10,000 ($9500) after US government tax credits are applied. It would cost the owner of a petrol-powered Focus about $148 to drive 1600 kilometres, based on a petrol price of $1.40. As part of the package, US-based owners of the Focus Electric will be able to monitor the solar charging process in their car remotely, from either a website or a mobile phone application.

Ford will also offer the Drive Green For Life solar panel program on the C-Max Energi, a five-seater people-mover it will release early next year in the US. Ford Australia launched the new-generation Focus this week with petrol and diesel engines but has no current plans to import the plug-in electric version, nor any variant of the C-Max people-mover. The Detroit-based brand plans to spin a total of 10 new models off the Focus platform by the end of next year, including five plug-in electric vehicles.

Ford Australia spokeswoman Sinead Phipps says the local operation is unlikely to consider the roof-mounted solar panels for its locally made Falcon or Territory models. ''I would say probably not,'' she says. ''From what I have seen I'm not sure of its applicability. It definitely wouldn't be in our immediate planning scope.''However, the Focus Electric remains a car of interest to Ford Australia. ''We're interested but it's not something we'd do by ourselves,'' Phipps says.
'It would have to be an Asia-Pacific roll-out of the Focus Electric. ''We also remain to be convinced that there's enough electric vehicle infrastructure in Australia for it to be viable. ''We think electric vehicles are a key element of the way to move forward but we also think there needs to be broader discussion about infrastructure. Holden says it is ''considering a range of alternative technologies" but would not comment directly on whether parent company GM is investigating solar panels for its cars.
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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Maruti Suzuki launches new Swift

Maruti Suzuki launches new SwiftFurther intensifying the price-war in the premium hatchback segment, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. (MSIL) on Wednesday launched the new version of Swift, priced between Rs.4.22 lakh and Rs.5.53 lakh for the petrol versions and Rs.5.17 lakh and Rs.6.38-lakh for the diesel variants. Built on an entirely new platform, MSIL's popular hatchback offers improved fuel efficiency and over 140 new features, many for the first time ever in an entry-level variant, claims the company.

MSIL, which sold over six lakh units of Swift since it was launched in 2005, has invested over Rs.550 crore in the project. Interestingly, new weight reduction techniques have helped MSIL engineers offers more mileage — 6 per cent more in diesel (22.9 km a litre) and 4 per cent more in the petrol version (18.6 km a litre). The carmaker has also introduced the VVT engine technology in all petrol variants that gives 87 PS of power, while the DDiS diesel engine delivers 75 PS of power.

“We have launched the new Swift at a time when there was significant demand for the outgoing model. In keeping with the Swift's iconic status, we had to ensure that the brand continues to offer the latest and the best in terms of features, design, performance and aspiration,” MSIL Managing Director and CEO Shinzo Nakanishi told journalists here. MSIL already has 50,000 bookings of the new Swift. “We are increasing the production of the car to about 17,000 units in the next few months from 12,000 units at present. Our second production unit in Manesar (Haryana), scheduled to be operational from next month, will start with rolling out of Swift that will help bring down the waiting period from 3-4 months to 2-3 months,” Mr. Nakanishi said. Asked when the company would introduce the sedan version of the new Swift, Mr. Nakanishi said: “We should have a new sedan type of vehicle of this car…no timeline has been fixed yet.”
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Friday, August 19, 2011

Cadillac hybrid sports car confirmed

Cadillac hybrid sports car confirmedCadillac hybrid sports car confirmedThe Cadillac Converj coupé concept, first shown at the 2009 Detroit motor show (and it must be said, the subject of constant speculation since then) is finally going into production - and that's official.

General motors has confirmed that Cadillac's first electric car will be called the ELR, apparently the closest they could get to “electric” using the brand's three-letter model naming convention.

It will use a more powerful version of the Chevrolet Volt system with a 181kg, T-shaped lithium-ion battery, an electric motor driving the front wheels and a four-cylinder petrol engine driving a generator.

Like the Volt, it will use the battery as its primary power source around town and plug into a mains outlet to recharge between commutes. When the battery runs low (after about 40-80km, depending on speeds), it'll switch to extended-range mode, using the generator to power the electric drive-train for as long as there's petrol in the tank.

Development of the ELR coupĂ© has only just started, say GM bosses, so they don't have details such as performance, price and timing yet, but they're waxing lyrical about “a combination of electric drive with striking design and the fun of luxury driving.”Apparently the ELR is due for production late in 2013 as a 2014 model, so they'd better get their skates on.

Mind you, Cadillac's engineers certainly haven't been sitting on their hands since GM bounced back from bankruptcy; the company has recently announced two new models for 2012 - the XTS limousine and the ATS, a new compact (by US standards anyway) luxury sedan - and it also reveal another new concept car on Thursday (August 18) at a media event ahead of the annual Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in California.
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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

More power to you

More power to youThe spirits of an Indian petrol-head have been inversely proportional to the prices of petrol, and diesel aficionados have been having quite the laugh with the market players obliging them with a flurry of diesel-powered cars in the last few months. But all it takes to put a childish grin on a petrol-head's face is something such as the Audi A6 3.0T. With its 295bhp engine, this one's definitely putting the grin back where it belongs.

But first, there are a few things you need to know about this car's powertrain. It's supercharged, with direct-injection and unlike the old A6 3.0T, which had a six-speed auto box, the latest model comes with a seven-speed twin-clutch transmission that incorporates a launch control function. This translates to 0-100kph in six seconds, 0-200kph in 24.32 seconds and a top speed limited to 250kph — reasons to opt for the petrol over the diesel. Compare spec sheets and the petrol has 50bhp more than the diesel, makes 6kgm torque less and is exactly 0.3sec faster to 100kph Now, this may not look like a whole lot more than the 3.0 diesel A6 and the truth is that in the real world, the diesel would gamely keep up but the 3-litre petrol in its latest iteration is just so much more thrilling.

For starters, it revs quite freely for a forced induction engine and the way you can wind it to its redline of 6500rpm (versus the diesel's 4500rpm) thrills you like no diesel can. This engine snarls like you're trying to steal its food and pulls like a runaway train all the way from 2000rpm to the rev limiter.

Displacing all of 2995cc from its six cylinders set in a 90deg vee, this engine's belt-driven supercharger which makes up to 0.8 bar of boost, sits between the two cylinder banks and is driven off the crankshaft. Compressed air passes through two intercoolers before entering the combustion chamber, and because the supercharger is located between the cylinders, the compressed air doesn't have to travel far, which helps engine response.

And boy, is it responsive. Thanks to the wide power band, the engine responds anywhere and everywhere in the rev range. Taps on the throttle are rewarded with instant forward motion and strong pulling power — the engine makes 44.8kgm of torque. The biggest difference though is with the gearbox. The old A6's torque converter was jerky in its gearshifts, but this twin-clutch unit is a lot smoother. Gearshifts are lightning-quick and the new A6, unlike the old one, gets paddle-shifters, which makes it all the more fun to run up and down the gearbox. It has no qualms about spinning the engine upto the redline on downshifts either, so on the right road it's huge fun to squeeze the most out of the engine. That it remains extremely smooth even at the edge of its rev counter only encourages you to do so.

Of course, a strong petrol engine is heavy on the wallet. The ‘Efficiency' mode in Audi's MMI system does help in disengaging the flywheel when the car is coasting, but in our back-to-back highway runs (once in ‘Efficiency' mode and again in ‘Comfort' mode) didn't change any numbers. We're sure that there'll be some savings in the city cycle which gave us an average of 7kpl, which isn't too bad. The car comes with start/stop system too.

The Quattro system with its new centre differential gives the A6 loads of grip and the car displays good poise around corners. However, the A6's handling isn't very involving and the inherent understeer (you have to push hard to find the limit) and benign steering doesn't make it engaging to drive.

There's also the mushy brakes — the pedal action is not very linear with almost nothing initially and strong bite later. Ride quality however is exemplary. Audi's adaptive damper system is standard on the car and offers a smooth ride in ‘Comfort' and controls body movements brilliantly in ‘Dynamic'. What helps the ride are tyres that are slightly taller than before but we wished, for the sake of aesthetics, Audi would offer slightly wider tyres than the standard 225/55-R17 rubber. In fact, the previous A6 had chunkier 255/50-R17 tyres and the downsizing on the new model is probably to reduce rolling resistance and hence fuel consumption.

The interiors are a familiar story — richly equipped, well designed and superbly built. The front seats are properly supportive and the cabin feels rightly sporty, yet luxurious. Like the diesel, the rear seats have good space but not enough thigh support.

The A6 3.0T will cost Rs. 56 lakh (estimated), and apart from the rather shocking omission of powered steering adjust, our test car came well-equipped. It has powered seats with memory, four-zone climate control, adaptive suspension, Bluetooth connectivity, reverse camera and keyless and go.

For performance and refinement, the A6 3.0T writes its rival's epitaph. It is easily the quickest car in its class and the strong engine makes it amazing to drive. The purist in you probably won't like its aloof handling and road manners, while the chauffeur-driven passenger will find the rear seats a tad low. In terms of value, like any other petrol luxury car, it's not great. However, this is a car that'll get the petrol-head grinning every single time.
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