BMW Announces Megacity hybrid-electric vehicle

BMW Chairman Norbert Reithofer has reportedly confirmed a new eco-friendly machine called the Megacity Vehicle as part of the automaker's Project i. Beyond the name, details are sketchy. According to Reithofer, "Customers will have the choice between a fully electric drive and a high-efficiency combustion engine. Large-scale production could start in the first half of the next decade."

We're not entirely sure yet if that means the vehicle will be some sort of hybrid or if it will be offered with two separate and distinct powertrain options. We're also wondering if the Megacity has anything to do with the rumored small car development with Fiat, which would supposedly spawn new city cars from both the German and the Italian automaker. BMW is also "pursuing a radical approach toward establishing a truly sustainable value chain-from development to production and sales," said Reithofer

Citroen to Launch Green Brand

Citroen, perhaps the quirkiest of the big automakers, is reportedly planning to launch a new green brand that it would sell alongside its current models and the future DS line that was announced at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this month. The first model would be based on the C-Cactus concept that debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2007 and would use the underpinnings from the French automaker's C4 model.

So far, there's no indication of what the new brand may be called. Possible powerplants currently under consideration for the production C-Cactus reportedly include a fully electric option, a hybrid drivetrain and a small 3 cylinder diesel engine borrowed from corporate partner PSA.

In related news, Citroen's current practice of releasing a sporty version of each model under the VTS designation will supposedly come to an end. Instead of adding performance, future VTS models will focus on adding premium content.

Nissan launches first flexfuel model in Brazil

The fact that one of the most important automakers in Brazil didn't offer a flex-fuel vehicle there is quite a surprising fact. Nissan is fixing this by offering the Nissan Livina, a compact 5-seat van (think Mazda5), with a flex-fuel engine option. The same engine can also be used in other models, so we're likely to see more flex-fuel Nissans soon. The Livina is one of Nissan's "global" cars and is a close relative to the Nissan Tiida/Versa that is also sold in South Africa, China and Indonesia. The car is built in São José dos Pinhais, Paraná, a plant where Brazilian Renaults are also manufactured.

Production delays to hit Tata Nano delivery

With the date of the launch nearing, it is learnt that Tata Motors’ Rs 1 lakh car, Tata Nano, will be available at a booking amount of about Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 from the second week of April.

The delivery of the car may take 12 months due to production constraints, sources said. It is believed that Tata Motors may collect at least Rs 400-500 crore on account of booking of the Rs 1 lakh car.

Nano’s base version volumes are likely to be low but financing for the car is likely to be higher than the current interest rates on passenger cars, sources added. Tata Motors may get its marketing and booking expense with the booking form cost and is likely to collect Rs 10 crore.

CNBC-TV18's Swati Khandelwal reports.

As far as a consumer is concerned who is looking at buying the Tata Nano—not so much of good news coming in as far as our sources are concerned. We understand that both the timing as far as the consumer will have to wait for the car and the price that he is looking at getting it may not be what it is claimed to be.

According to sources, currently, as far as the production volume is concerned, Tata Motors has only managed to manufacture 700-800 Nanos till today. Of course, they are trying to ramp-up the production as and when, and their target is to manufacture one lakh units by this fiscal year, which, most of the industry and other vendors feel is quite ambitious, and expect it to be around 70,000 units.

If we assume that they book the entire 70,000 units for a year’s time, there would be huge amount of delay. Delivery for up to 12 months for somebody who has booked a car today will have to wait because the production constrain is huge as far as this car is concerned.

Lower Hybrid Car Prices Means More In Reach of Average Buyer

For the first time in the US, a hybrid car is truly being aimed at a mass market—and will be sold for under $20,000. On March 24th, Honda will introduce its Insight with a sticker price of $19,800—which means the idea of buying a hybrid could become a reality for many more people than ever before.

By way of comparison, Ford's Fusion hybrid starts at around $27,000, and the most bare bones model of the infamous Prius starts around at least $22,000.

This is big news. There are two major obstacles hybrids have faced in gaining traction in the US market: a) an expensive price tag—that's the obvious one. But also, there's b) the idea that hybrids are only for wealthy liberal "elites." Finally having an option that many Americans can afford could go a long ways in overcoming both hurdles. And if you're in the market for a car, it should get you thinking.

Twenty grand still isn't what we consider a cheap car—but it definitely lands the hybrid in the "realistic" range for the car-hunting masses. Throw in the fact that Honda has a sterling reputation for making solid, durable vehicles—if not the flashiest cars on the market—and we have ourselves a very real contender for a sort of "Hybrid for the People." Expect the incoming ad campaign to capitalize on that.

The bottom line is that this is great news for green-minded car buyers and for the state of the hybrid in the US in general. And bear in mind that if you wait even a couple months more, used Insights are bound to start popping up in car lots; and we could be seeing hybrids selling for $12-15 grand on a regular basis.

Perhaps, recession be damned, 2009 will be the true year of the hybrid.

Going Green with Cayman's first electric car!

The world is changing right before our eyes,” says John Felder of Cayman Automotive. “And we don’t need Al Gore to tell us that.

“For years we in the US liked our big trucks, and our gas-guzzling over-sized SUVs. But in the next three to five years we are going to see a deluge of electric cars coming on the market, not only in the US, but all across the Caribbean and right here in Cayman. Not only are these cars super fuel efficient – which is now a major advantage in the current economy, they also emit zero tailpipe emissions. There is absolutely no pollution from these cars. They are the cleanest cars in the world. And we all need to become more ‘clean and green.’

Mr Felder knows of what he speaks. Aside from being President and CEO of Cayman Automotive, he also had previously worked for many years with the Chrysler Corporation, the iconic big American maker. Ten years ago, Chrysler launched its Global Electric Motorcars [GEM] division specifically to produce electric cars. And last week, Mr Felder brought in the first fully all-electric car to Cayman, the GEMe4.

The car was formally unveiled on Friday, 13 March, at Boatswain’s Beach before the local media, assorted business figures, and a contingent of officers from the West Bay Police Station. Also on hand were representitives from Chrysler.

Classified as a Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle [NEV] in the US, GEM vehicles are limited to a top speed of about 30mph and can legally only be driven in those areas where speed limits are less than 35mph.

Next month, in Washington DC, the Democratic Congress is planning to push its “Green the Capital” initiative to make the House of Representatives carbon neutral within the next few years. And one way which that goal might be achieved is by allowing the use of electric cars within the capital city’s designated “Green Zone.”

Mr Felder would like to see the Cayman Islands Government follow suit and declare the area around George Town as an official “Green Zone” which would restrict speed limits to no more than 30mph.

“The GEM car has already been operated in the US for 11 years and nearly 40,000 electric cars are on the roads today – so this car has really been fully road tested” Mr Felder said. “They are very popular with post offices, and on college campuses, where they are used by the security and maintenance staff.”

He added that Grand Cayman, in particular, would be an “ideal model for all the Caribbean, leading the way in reducing tons of harmful pollutants in the air, while simultaneously saving millions of gallons of gasoline.” He also noted that the Sister Islands could benefit from the GEM car immediately because of their low population density and low speed limits.

The GEM car comes in six different models - three for passengers, three for utility. The passenger car comes in two-seater, four-seater, and six-seater models. The car can be fully re-charged in six to eight hours from virtually any 110 voltage outlet, much like plugging in an electric hair dryer. A Chrysler representative told Lifestyles of Cayman that “you can never over-charge the battery.” Depending on the model, there are six to nine of these, which are neatly hidden under the seats. The batteries should last three to five years.

All GEM vehicles have independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. The vehicle’s front wheels use disc brakes, with hydraulic drum brakes for the rear. The passenger model has a rear storage trunk which can carry approximately 100 pounds. The larger utility models have a payload of up to 1,450 pounds. All of the GEM cars also carry three-point seatbelts, headlights, windshield wipers and safety glass, which are required by US law before they are considered road worthy.

According to Chrysler, the cost of electricity to travel 50 miles in a GEM car is about US$1.00. The prices of the vehicles range from US$10,000 to $22,000, depending on the model and the number of options available; options include such items as mud flaps, embroidered floor mats, an audio system and electric accessory outlet.

While saving the environment and saving money were clearly the twin themes of John Felder’s GEM of a launch, one thing was also absolutely clear, the cute compact car with the surprisingly roomy interior – thanks largely to the expansive headroom and large windows, was fun to drive.

Taking her blue and white GEM for a test spin brought a big smile to West Bay Chief Sub-Inspector Angelique Howell. And Richard Hew, President and CEO of the Caribbean Utilities Company also clearly got a big charge out of his own test ride.

The technology is here, the price is right, and now it’s only a matter of political will to see the future and to embrace it, says an enthusiastic John Felder.

2010 Lincoln MKZ Pricing Starts at $34,965

Lincoln has announced US pricing of the redesigned 2010 MKZ sedan will start at $34,965 for FWD models and $36,855 for AWD models.

The updated sedan receives a thoroughly revised exterior that boasts a new MKS-like grille and sleeker styling which should help to further differentiate the MKZ from its corporate cousins, the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan. Inside, the MKS inspired styling continues as the new MKZ has a similar interior design that uses high quality materials.

As with any near-luxury car, the 2010 Lincoln MKZ comes nicely equipped with leather front seats that offer power adjustment as well as heating and cooling, a reverse parking system, and the SYNC entertainment and connectivity system. Power comes from a 3.5-liter V6 engine with 263 horsepower which allows the car to run from 0-60 mph in 7.1 seconds.

Potential owners can choose to outfit their new MKZ with a sport appearance package which features a revised suspension, 18-inch "Euroflange" polished wheels, a unique grille, darkened headlight units, contrast piping on the seats, and aluminum interior accents. Other options include a premium THX II Certified 5.1 Surround sound system, a Blind Spot Information System, and a Cross Traffic Alert system which warns drivers about approaching vehicles when the MKZ is being backed out of a parking spot.

Design Project: 2020 Hyundai City Car Concept

Looking ahead 10 years into the future, Nicolas Stone, a recent graduate of the College for Creative Studies, has developed a city-car concept as part of his thesis. The project was sponsored by Hyundai and features a design based on advanced technologies from MIT.

The concept features some pretty far-out technology. Try to follow this:

The car's body consists of transparent solar panels, which "collect ambient light" and create electricity. Now, that current doesn't simply power an electric motor. The electricity is fed into a water tank to split the hydrogen from the oxygen. The hydrogen is stored and used to power the vehicle while the pure oxygen comes out the exhaust. The car essential functions like a plant does, with its own version of photosynthesis. Funky, isn't it?

This technology is the result of research conducted by MIT professor Daniel Nocera, who calls the method "artificial photosynthesis." The pure oxygen helps replenish the "city" air we breathe, or can be pumped back into the cabin (like they do in Las Vegas casinos) to give you the extra boost you need on your way to work. Or an actual high depending on the quantity of O2 we're talking about - how's that for air "conditioning".

The car was designed by Nicolas Stone, and sticking with the naturalist theme, the interior cabin comes with a design that mimics "leaves growing off a stem" and with the seating laid out asymmetrically. The cabin's principle is to keep things as "open and airy" as possible.

That's your future city car au naturelle. Hey, if this works out, in 2020 you can trade in your obsolete 10 year-old Chevy Volt for this oxygen-filled, happy-making machine. Sounds like fun.