Acura to challenge Audi, Peugeot at 12 Hours of Sebring




Every time he slams the brakes entering the hairpin turn Saturday at Sebring International Raceway, Gil de Ferran will be reminded of two things:

Why drivers have big necks and why Acura is sticking its neck out to enter the premier division of the American Le Mans Series.

"We're pulling 4 Gs in a lot of corners, and that feels like hanging 120 pounds off your helmet," de Ferran says with a laugh. "Some people actually call that fun, and it is because it's challenging.

"That's how I feel about entering LMP1 with Acura. Will it be easy? No! But it's what we do."

Moving up a class to P1 this year with de Ferran Motorsports and Patron Highcroft Racing, Acura will face competition that's as stiff as many competitors will be under the collar at the end of the Mobil 1 Twelves Hours of Sebring.

The 2009 season opener will feature two of the world's most dominant sports-car teams. Audi, which has scored nine consecutive LMP1 victories at Sebring, is rolling out two new R15 turbo-diesels against rival Peugeot's 908 HDi diesel.

he European manufacturers squared off last season at Sebring, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Petit Le Mans, and Audi barely swept all three events.

Acura will bring a formidable lineup to Sebring, Fla., in trying to turn P1 into a three-horse race. De Ferran, the 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2000-01 CART champion, takes the wheel of his team with Simon Pagenaud and defending IndyCar and Indy 500 champ Scott Dixon. For Patron Highcroft, ALMS veterans Scott Sharp and David Brabham will team with Dario Franchitti, winner of the 2007 Indy 500 and IndyCar titles.

But the key to surviving Sebring's abrasive and punishing 3.7-mile layout — teams employ masseuses and trainers to keep drivers loose in a race that de Ferran says is the world's most grueling — is having a car that's durable and lightning-quick.

The diesels of Peugeot and Audi offer better fuel economy and horsepower. Parent company Honda has no diesel-powered cars in its U.S. lineup.

"With limited knowledge of diesels and no marketing tie-in, it'd be harder to justify a new era of those powerplants for us," Honda Performance Development president Erik Berkman says. "We thought if we think outside the box, we can find a way to compete against those guys with gasoline."

The philosophy was to build an ARX-02a that could overcome deficient speed on the straightaways with state-of-the-art handling in the turns.

The revolutionary design maximizes downforce with a lightweight suspension and four tires of identical size, a concept that Berkman says "is unheard of in sports car racing" (rear tires normally are larger).

De Ferran, who estimates the car's corner speeds can hit 160 mph, is fascinated by a power steering system, which reminds him of the title character in the movie Robocop "with all these levers and cables running everywhere.

"If you're a gearhead like me, you look at the car and think, 'My god, it's beautiful,' " he says.

The diesel engine's horsepower was reduced by about 10% (according to Berkman) by offseason rules changes, but Peugeot was fastest in two practices Wednesday with Audi ranked second. Acuras were fourth and fifth.

Allan McNish, whose Audi team won the overall class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year, says the diesels retain an edge in torque ("the kick coming off the corners") but that Acura must be respected.

China Uses Green Cars To Bolster Auto Sector




BEIJING -- China announced measures to kick-start domestic automobile demand by encouraging the development of more environmentally friendly cars, the latest move to bolster the Chinese auto industry amid slowing sales growth.

The new package, which is supposed to supplement auto-industry stimulus steps announced in January, is designed to keep overall sales in the world's second-biggest car market growing at an average of 10% annually over the next three years, the government said.
The 10% growth target is considered ambitious by some analysts, but if China succeeds, it would have auto sales of well over 10 million units this year, and could displace the U.S. as the world's biggest auto market by unit sales.

January sales in China exceeded those in the U.S., where demand is shrinking rapidly amid the downturn. Some analysts believe U.S. sales may fall to about 10 million vehicles this year.

The latest measures, which appear to be aimed at restructuring the industry over the long term, include 10 billion yuan, or about $1.5 billion, in research subsidies over the next three years to improve Chinese auto makers' use of safety, alternative-energy and other technologies.

Wolfgang Bernhart, a senior executive at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, said the plans highlight a shift in the country's industrial policy to encourage companies to focus on electric-vehicle technology.

The government wants Chinese auto makers to use the relatively low barrier to entry for electric vehicles to narrow the gap with bigger foreign rivals and guarantee the industry's steady long-term growth, he said.

The Chinese government over the weekend also released details of a similar restructuring and revitalization plan for the steel industry, although most of the contents of that plan had been reported previously.
The new auto-industry plan, announced on the main Web site of China's central government, said China aims to create capacity to produce 500,000 "new energy" vehicles, such as all-electric battery cars and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles. The plan aims to increase sales of such new-energy cars to account for about 5% of China's passenger vehicle sales.

Growth in China's auto sales slowed to 6.7% last year, ending a decade-long run of double-digit sales growth. Many observers expect sales this year to grow at about the same pace as last year.

U.S.-based consulting firm CSM Worldwide forecasts China's overall vehicle sales to grow by 6% to 7% to about 10 million vehicles. Achieving 10% growth in overall vehicles sales this year "will not be so easy" given the slowdown in China's export-led economy, said Yale Zhang, a Shanghai-based senior analyst at CSM.

Other recently announced measures to aid the auto industry include a 50% reduction in the sales-tax rate on smaller cars, a cut in retail prices for gasoline and diesel fuel, and plans for five billion yuan in subsidies to encourage rural residents to replace old vehicles. The government also has said repeatedly that it would encourage auto makers to make more financing available for vehicle purchases by consumers.

The weekend announcement also reiterated Beijing's determination to consolidate the country's fledgling auto sector, which has more than 80 auto makers across the country. The government wants a less-splintered industry with fewer auto companies each generating significantly larger sales volumes.

The Chinese central government wants to consolidate the auto industry through mergers and acquisitions into fewer than 10 groups of manufacturers, down from the current 14, according to the announcement. The announcement said the government would "encourage" FAW Group Corp., Dongfeng Motor Corp., SAIC Motor Corp. and Changan Automobile (Group) Co., among others, to "implement mergers and acquisitions" around the country to form large auto groups.

Facebook, Orkut being used for viral marketing




Ratan Tata has worked out a viral marketing strategy to promote the Nano at the lowest cost. Like Anand Mahindra, who used the online medium to grab consumer mind-share ahead of Xylo’s launch, Tata is using social networking sites Facebook and Orkut to help build up a network of prospective customers to virally market the small car.
While the official Tata Nano Facebook profile counts 3,840 fans as its members — including Vismaya Firodia Bakshi, younger daughter of Kinetic group chairman Arun Firodia, and Vishal Gondal, CEO of Indiagames, the Orkut site lists 4,822 members.
Tata Motors also has a micro-site for Nano on its website. It has been running a contest for customers to correctly guess the price of the three Nano variants. “We have received over 10,000 entries for the contest that has been running for the past 10 days. The contest closed at 5 pm on March 22,” said Debasis Ray, head, corporate communication, Tata Motors. Winners of the contest are being invited to the launch function in Mumbai on Monday.
On the Facebook and Orkut Nano sites, a frequently asked question is how to book the car. Tata Motors plans to post on Monday a list of dealers and other agents. On the Nano micro site, a response form allows potential customers to be alerted once bookings are open. “Most of the enquiries that we have received are mostly from India,” said Ray. But there are several Facebook groups from several countries in the Americas and elsewhere, who are Nano fans.
Since Tatas have decided to use banks such as State Bank of India as booking agents, Ratan Tata has worked out a plan to help keep the dealers pacified. The company is set to launch Nano collectibles that will be sold at dealer outlets. This will allow dealers to offer a unique selling proposition to their customers who walk in to get a first look and feel of the car. The Nano goodies, as they are being called, will be given first to the contest winners, and include Nano watches, caps and T-shirts, among others. Ray refused to comment on the collectibles range which is to be unveiled on Monday.
In addition to attractive packages for financing of the cars to be announced by public sector banks, Tata Capital, a subsidiary of Tata Sons, and Tata Motors Finance too are expected to announce financing schemes for the Nano, Tata group officials told FC.

A century of people's cars




Almost a hundred years 101 to be exact, if you please separate Henry Fords masterpiece, the Model T or Tin Lizzie, with Ratan Tatas baby, the
Nano which will be launched on Monday. Different cultures aside, both stand for freedom from drudgery and beacons for affordable personal mobility. Henry Ford had strived time and again to perfect the horseless carriage and while there were other great American automobile
names then producing even grander and more technologically proficient cars, the basic simplicity of the Model T, its robust build and its durability helped put not just the worlds greatest nation on wheels but also showed the rest of the world the way to go forward with four wheels and mass motoring for its citizens, reports Adil Jal Darukhanawala

FORD MODEL T | 1908-1927

The Model T Ford started out in 1908 at a $850 price point. About 18,257 cars were sold that year which was a great achievement for that period. However, the beauty of the Model T was not just the car but also the process, the moving assembly line was perfected by Henry Ford based on the four principles of accuracy, continuity, system and speed. It sparked a social revolution in Yankeeland. Fords workers were among the best paid because they produced the most, the profits of FoMoCo (popular slang for Ford Motor Company) went through the roof. By 1925, the Model T was uprated and refined but its price had come down to $260. In 1925, Ford sold over two million Model Ts. The Model T remained in production till 1927 when it was finally replaced by the Model A. It wasnt just about the 15 million plus cars which had been built but the fact that it showed the rest of the worlds car makers the way to go ahead.

AUSTIN SEVEN | 1922-1939

What the Model T did for the US, the Austin 7 did for the UK. Made by the Austin Motor Company from 1922 to 1939, the Austin 7 was considerably smaller and more compact than the Ford Model-T. It was lighter, less than half the Model Ts weight to be specific at 360 kg. While giving it adequate performance was a 747cc engine with a modest 10hp. Again like the Nano, the Austin 7 was the bargain of the car industry for being the lowest priced car on the market. Several Sevens made it to India as did the Model Ts and quite a few of them continue to appear in decent numbers in vintage car gatherings all across the land to this day.

FIAT 500 TOPOLINO | 1936-1955

Designed by the great Dante Giacosa, Fiat 500 Topolino (Mickey Mouse in Italian) that was introduced in 1936, seemed a scaled down version of a large car but so finely detailed were its lines and proportions that it went on to attain instant success. The 500 was produced in three different variants until 1955 with minor mechanical and cosmetic changes.

VOLKSWAGEN BEETLE | 1938-1998

Unveiled in 1938, the Volkswagen Beetle was the outcome of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitlers vision to give the German masses a really affordable and easy-to-run car, in which a family of five could travel easily, even over tough mountainous roads. The job was handed over to Ferdinand Porsche, who developed a small family car in 1936 which went into production in 1938. The Volkswagen Beetles success was largely credited to its cuddly and endearing appeal and the engineering tour de force of Ferdinand Porsche. The chassis was built in a way that allowed for more than one body type to be fitted on it. Americans embraced the Beetle massively and by the time production finally ended in Mexico, over 22 million units had been made.

CITROEN 2CV | 1948-1990

The 2CV was the original Toute Petite Voiture (thats French for Very Small Car) much akin to Nano. The idea for 2CV came from leader-thinker and Citroen-Michelin boss Pierre Boulanger. Within months of its 1949 launch, the waiting list grew to be three years long. At that time, second hand 2CVs demanded a greater premium than new ones, only because they would be delivered sooner. With a 375cc air-cooled opposed-twin cylinder engine and a very pliant and innovative suspension, the car was capable of a true speed of about 60 km/h while delivering a fuel efficiency of 33 kmpl.

This car was very actively being considered for manufacture in India in the early 1980s by none other than Escorts but the government of India did not want to see any competition to Maruti Udyog and denied Escorts the permission to manufacture it.

AUSTIN MINI | 1959-2000

The original Mini is said to be Britains Beetle by many thanks to its mass appeal. Under the fiercely passionate and iron fisted control of its designer, Sir Alec Issigonis, some may even think that the process was similar to Ferdinand Porsches quest for the German peoples car. Under the skin and in terms of design, however, the Mini was a revolution. No wonder then that it was voted the second most influential car of the 20th century. The car had its genesis in the 1956 Suez Canal petroleum crisis, which gave Issigonis the idea to make a small car that was not only fuel efficient, but also packed the maximum interior space in the minimum possible road space.

MARUTI 800 | 1988-PRESENT

Europe and America have had their share of peoples cars in the form of the Ford Model T, VW Beetle, Austin Seven, just to name a fewcars which pretty much changed the face of the automobile industry in their day. So it might be difficult for some to understand how the cute little Maruti 800 fits into the same league as these, considering that it was just a rehashed Japanese Kei (ultra-compact) car built for the Indian market. But what the Model T and the Beetle did for the world when they were introduced was just what the 800 did for India when Maruti launched it back in 1983.

In an era of cars like the Premier Padmini and the HM Ambassador, which embodied a socialist approach to making automobiles just as their names would suggest, the Maruti 800 was a revelation. An edgy compact design that was reminiscent of Japanese car making philosophy at the time, it could easily accommodate four adults and was well suited for navigating through congested city streets, making it the perfect car for India. But it wasnt really till the economic reforms of the 90s that the 800 really became a car for the masses.

How Magna's ready-made electric car helps Ford, and everyone else




You may have heard on the news recently about President Obama's big plan to help auto suppliers. While the OEMs generate most of the auto news headlines, suppliers are a huge part of the auto industry. CNN offers a good story on how the strides that supplier Magna International has made in developing a lot of electric vehicle technology helps not only Ford, which is working with Ford on the Focus-based electric car that's due in 2011, but also the rest of the auto industry. To showcase its progress, Magna International's contract manufacturing unit, Magna Steyr, unveiled the Mila EV in Geneva recently (see gallery below and read more here).

After two years of electric vehicle talks, Magna showed Ford the Focus EV prototype last August, impressing people like Nancy Gioia, Ford's Director of Sustainable Mobility. After looking at all of the work that Magna had done, Ford was able to figure out what it will take to bring a car like this to market. And, because the Ford deal is not exclusive, Magna says it can design an EV for other OEMs. The result? Cheaper EVs from more manufacturers on a quicker timetable than it would take if everyone was designing them independently, Magna says.

Lastly, to stir the pot a bit, here's a quite from the article by industry analyst Bill Pochiluk: "This vehicles [sic] makes you wonder: why do we need the Volt?" Thanks to Paul S. for the tip!

MyCar EVs now available in London from evstores for £9,995




he Hong Kong-built, Italy-designed MyCar CV.2 is now available for sale in the UK through Ev Stores in London. The little two-seater seems to fit in the quadicycle category along with the likes of the Reva G-Wiz thanks to its 40 mph top speed. Manufacturer EuAuto notes in the spec sheet that the speed potential and 70 mile range are both on "flat roads" so real world performance is likely to somewhat (extremely?) short of those numbers. Energy storage is by way of a pack comprising four 12V lead acid batteries so you'll likely be swapping those out every couple of years. Propulsion to the rear wheels is via a 3.73 kW DC motor, so acceleration will be leisurely. Ev Stores is asking £9,995 (approx $18,500) for the CV.2 but it is exempt from road and congestion taxes.

2010 Mercedes E63 AMG Sedan Teased




Here's a teaser for the upcoming E63 AMG sedan, which will be unveiled next month at the New York auto show.

That's an un-identified man, likely a Mercedes-Benz executive, getting cute with the camera and showing us the face of the car. Luckily, we have spy photographers that can get us a better look, and we've already seen several sets of shots of this E63 AMG sedan.

Mercedes has been rather patient-less recently with the launch of AMG models, with AMG variants coming on the heels of new launches without the marketing folks taking too much time in-between to build anticipation. Perhaps they have their reasons for the strategy. But it's, no doubt, good news for those waiting on an AMG E-Class like this one.

Details on the new E63 are still few. There's a 6.3 liter V8 under the hood, with 525 hp and 630 Nm of twisting power churning at the 7-speed automatic transmission, already seen in the SL 63 AMG. Those power ratings are evidence that AMG does, indeed, believe that the horsepower wars are over, as it declared a few months ago, since competitors like the RS6 (579 hp) feature more thunderous numbers.

But it may be just that, a horsepower number that AMG can match with weight reduction and better aerodynamics, which it has promised to do. We'll have to see the E63 take a few laps around the track to see how much progress AMG has made with the model, but the performance division has already shown it has the technology to make up for less power upratings.

Price tag is expected to be somewhere over 80,000 euros in Germany, likely closer to 90,000.

Nano Tanks up For Road Test Challenge




NEW DELHI: Capping a journey full of admiration but not bereft of controversies, the Tata Nano is all set to steer India into automotive
history.The small yet innovative car, revered for its tag of being the worlds cheapest, is ready to fuel up, promising an affordable and comfortable vehicle to millions of Indians for whom a car was far out of reach.

The evolution of the snub-nosed, 4-seater 623cc rear engine car an idea and dream project of Tata group chairman Ratan Tata is considered as revolutionary as Fords Model T, Volkswagens Beetle and the British Motor Corps Mini, all of whom went on to rewrite automotive history. But as it gears up for its much-awaited launch on Monday, the car also stares at one of its stiffest challenges delivering on promises.

With Nano, Tata redefined frugal engineering for global automakers when it promised to bring out the car for as low as Rs 1 lakh, below $2,000 at current exchange rates. Many automakers, though dumbfounded by Tatas budget price, questioned the veracity of the project and said it would not be able to meet the stiff safety and emission norms of today. But at its unveiling at the Auto Expo last year, Tata proved them wrong, reiterating that the Nano would not only meet the safety and emission norms prescribed in India but also in other developed countries, where it would be sold in the coming years.

But the journey to Nanos launch which has been delayed by at least six months has not been an easy one neither for Tata Motors nor for Ratan Tata. The project got mired in a political controversy in West Bengal, where Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul Congress spearheaded an agitation against the land given for the cars factory at Singur. After lingering for long, the issue reached a flashpoint and saw the Tatas withdrawing from the state late last year, only to head to Sanand in Gujarat, where production will take at least one year to start.

Tata Motors will now launch the Nano, but with limited production capacity that is believed to be only around 50,000-60,000 units in the first year (from makeshift assembly lines at its existing plants). This will make it a slow beginning for a blockbuster product where demand far outstrips supply. The Gujarat plant will see the company go full-out in production as it will churn out 2.5 lakh units annually.

Controversies apart, the Nano is also seen as a lifeline for the ailing Tata Motors, which saw its first loss in seven years in the December 08 quarter. Hit hard by a slowdown in demand for commercial vehicles and its cars, the company is in deep financial trouble. This comes at a time when the company has to refinance the remaining $2 billion of a $3 billion loan it took to buy the Jaguar and Land Rover brands from Ford Motor Co in June last year. Thus, performance of the Nanoand its success or failure would be crucial for the financial health of Tata Motors.

Domestic market apart, Tata Motors also plans to take the car global as it recently unveiled the Nano Europa in Geneva, which is a slightly more robust version of the Indian model, and would be on sale in Europe in 2011.