Peapod, up close and personal with the electric vehicle in Manhattan

You know, the GEM version 2 folks. While saying this is the next-generation GEM is technically correct, the Peapod is really a fresh concept for Chrysler (which owns GEM and made Peapod Mobility its own company earlier this year).

Peter Arnell, the chief innovation officer at Peapod Mobility, took us on a quick descriptive tour of the Peapod and said that the design was influenced by three things. Ready for the list? The reflection in Buzz Aldrin's helmet when he stepped onto the moon, a turtle and Darth Vader. Yeah, that's what we thought, too. Find our more about the Peapod after the jump.

First and foremost, the Peapod is a neighborhood electric vehicle, and has all of the benefits and drawbacks that entails: zero emissions, a 25 mph top speed, two-cents a mile estimated running costs, and a 30-mile range. A full charge takes 6-8 hours from a 110V outlet. This is all standard NEV stuff. The Peapod stands out by design. From the outside, the totally curvy body smiles at you from pretty much every angle, but especially the front. Even when you're sitting in the car, there is a feeling of openess. The entire top is see-through and removable, for example, and all four mesh seats in the rolling prototype we got to spend time with are Aeron-like and greatly increase the spacious feel of the interior. There is a push-button dirve/reverse selector and an integrated iPod dock. The LED instrument cluster display is barebones and clear. Arnell surprised us by pointed out that the interior light doubles as a removable flashlight. Here's another surprise: the Peapod might cost $12,000 when it goes on sale. Orders are supposed to start this month, on Earth Day, with deliveries scheduled for the end of summer.

Before leaving, we got a quick peek at the Peapod Mobliity office where we saw renderings of Peapod trucks (Utilitypod), two-seat (Twinpod) and four-seat models, and some of the technical bits that power the vehicle. Arnell also showed off a range of design experiments that show how the Peapod design evolved. We were sad to leave without a quick spin around the block, but those should be coming soon.

World Best Small Car is Toyota iQ

The race may now be set not to go to the swift, but the small. Toyota, evidently spurred by the positive reception to Daimler's Smart car, is planning to bring its iQ model to America soon after it's introduced in Japan this November, and Europe next January. Japan has already proven itself to be a receptive market for small cars, and Toyota says that the only thing standing between the iQ and similar success in the United States, is meeting American safety standards. If all goes as planned, the iQ has the potential to give the Smart—currently the littlest car sold in the U.S.—some serious competition in terms of fuel economy and versatility in the micro class.

For starters, the iQ is a four-passenger vehicle while the Smart only carries two. Some might quibble over the size of the iQ's backseat, and question whether the car can comfortably carry four American adults—Toyota actually told journalists it was a "3 ½-seater," as if to excuse a semi-functional rear seat.

The iQ is larger than the diminutive Smart, but not by much. Its wheelbase is a little more than five inches longer, and on the whole, the car is only about a foot longer than the Smart—11.4 inches to be exact. That said, its slightly larger size and some under-the-skin engineering wizardry will give the iQ better handling than its competitor, according to Hiroki Nakajima, the vehicle's chief engineer.

Nakajima also told Automotive News that the iQ will have the best fuel economy of any Toyota other than the Prius. The Prius is currently rated at 48 City/ 45 Highway, while the Yaris gets 29/36—Daimler's Smart gets 33/41. Chances are, the iQ will be very close to the Smart in terms of fuel economy, and if it does any better, it's likely to be only a mile or two difference per gallon.

Although it's 33 inches shorter than the Yaris, Toyota claims the iQ has more interior space due to engineering advances such as smaller heating and air-conditioning units and high-tensile steel frames that allow thinner passenger seats. The iQ will also be priced close to the Yaris, which could make it a sub-$10,000 vehicle in base trim. The Smart starts about $2,000 higher.

In Japan (and most likely the U.S.,) the iQ will come with either a 1.3 or 1-liter gasoline engine. The latter is the same size as the Mitsubishi powerplant that is found in the American Smart. In Europe, the iQ will offer a 1.4-liter diesel, which should turn in even better fuel economy. The European Smart diesel clocks in at more than 60 mpg on the highway.

The good news is that more choices in the mini car arena are just what consumers are asking for right now. If the U.S. version of the iQ can deliver breakthrough design features at an enticing price, it could be the first step toward turning micros from a mere curiosity to a mainstay on American roads.

How Hybrid Cars Work

Hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) combine the benefits of gasoline engines and electric motors and can be configured to obtain different objectives, such as improved fuel economy, increased power, or additional auxiliary power for electronic devices and power tools.

Some of the advanced technologies typically used by hybrids include

Regenerative Braking. The electric motor applies resistance to the drivetrain causing the wheels to slow down. In return, the energy from the wheels turns the motor, which functions as a generator, converting energy normally wasted during coasting and braking into electricity, which is stored in a battery until needed by the electric motor.

Electric Motor Drive/Assist. The electric motor provides additional power to assist the engine in accelerating, passing, or hill climbing. This allows a smaller, more efficient engine to be used. In some vehicles, the motor alone provides power for low-speed driving conditions where internal combustion engines are least efficient.

Automatic Start/Shutoff. Automatically shuts off the engine when the vehicle comes to a stop and restarts it when the accelerator is pressed. This prevents wasted energy from idling.

New York 2009: EVII shows off the Wave and Inizio

EV Innovations Inc. (EVII) was formerly known as Hybrid Technologies. The old name never really fit, because the company specializes in electric vehicles, not hybrids. Here at the New York Auto Show, EVII began rectifying that oversight with a display of three pure-electric vehicles, including - and this is a first for the company no matter what it's called - two models of their own design.

EVII has a couple of conversions (the latest is the LiV Harmony, an ex-Pontiac Vibe). LiV is EVII's designation for their converted vehicles and includes the LiV Dash (a smart fortwo) and the LiV Flash (a MINI). These cars can be purchased today and EVII will also take your order for their all-electric line. All this means is that you can put a deposit down and then EVII will build your vehicle soon. Hill said they hope to build 10 each of the 2010 Inizio and the 2010 Wave in the next 12 months. The what and the what, did you say? Find out after the jump.

The $139,000 Inizio is EVII's sports car model. Cerven said he hopes the Inizio is like a Porsche or a Corvette that you're proud to sit in and drive. The Wave, which will start at $34,900, is more the grocery-getter. The Wave's top speed is 80 mph and will have a range of 170 miles. The Inizio has a totally inappropriate top speed of 170 mph and can go up to 200 miles between charges. 0-60 times is a hoped-for 4 seconds. These models will have designations (like L8 or L10) that describe the number and type of batteries that the customer chooses when they buy the car (so, L8 would mean 8 lithium ion polymer packs). Cerven said it hasn't been decided just how or if you'll be able to upgrade the number of packs in your car after you take delivery.

EVII is testing two styles of the Wave, one with three and one with four wheels. As regular readers might suspect, the three-wheeled vehicle is being tested because it'll be cheaper to bring it to market because it would be registered as a motorcycle. The problem, Cerven said, is that "nobody has signed off on [three-wheeled] vehicles yet." People just aren't used to driving a trike, and so the company is working on a four-wheeled model as well. He said he expects the four-wheeler to come to market, and, yes, the $34,900 price is for the quad.

Hill said that currently, there is one rolling Inizio prototype and one each of the three-wheeled and four-wheeled Wave models. In the booth, EVII left the body of the Inizio at home to show off the car's suspension, build and powertrain, as you can see in the picture above.

BMW 760Li & 760i Revealed with Newly Developed 6-Liter V12 Twin Turbo Engine

BMW has officially unveiled their new 760i and 760Li which are powered by a brand new twin-turbo V12 that produces 400 kW (544 hp) and 750 Nm (553 lb-ft) of torque. Directly aimed at the 5.5-liter biturbo V12 Mercedes S600 with 380 kW (517 hp) and 829 Nm (612 lb-ft) of torque, the new BMW 760's have more horsepower but less torque.

The new all-aluminum 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12 was designed from the ground up and features the latest technology such as high precision fuel injection, infinite double-VANOS camshaft adjustment, and a volume flow-controlled oil pump. BMW went to great length to specifically design the two exhaust gas turbochargers so they would provide unparalleled power and performance worthy of the wealthy owners who typically flock to this high-end model. Despite the fact that the car boasts more power than its predecessor, the new 760i actually features a 4.5 percent increase in fuel economy for an estimated rating of 12.9L/100km (21.9mpg UK / 18.2mpg US). In the terms of performance, 0-100 km/h comes in just 4.6 seconds while the top speed is limited to 250 km/h (155 mph).

Power flows to the rear wheels through a newly developed eight-speed automatic transmission that was designed to provide maximum gearshift comfort, sportiness and efficiency. By partnering with transmission specialist ZF, BMW was able to find a way to allow the car to use its highest gear at reduced engine speeds for improved fuel economy and smoothness.

Exterior styling differences between the 760i and 750i are minor but include the addition of V12 badges, a slightly revised grille, unique 19-inch light-alloy wheels, and special dual exhaust tips. Interior changes include new stainless-steel door guards with illumination, a leather wrapped instrument panel, an alcantara lined roof, and exclusive burr walnut wood trim.

As BMW's flagship model, the new 760's boast a high level of performance driving equipment such as dynamic damping control, dynamic driving control, speed sensitive steering, an air suspension, and the dynamic drive anti-roll stability system. Luxury features include GPS navigation, four-zone climate control, automatic soft close doors, cruise control with automatic braking, and park distance control. On the options list there is active cruise control, a night vision system with pedestrian detection, a heads-up display, a rearview camera, and high-beam assistant.

Get close to hundreds of new cars this June

Car enthusiasts dismayed by the cancellation of next year's British International Motor Show should take heart - organisers of the London Motorexpo this June have revealed plans for their biggest show yet.

More than 200 vehicles from 40 manufacturers are lined up for the event, which takes place in the imposing Docklands setting of Canary Wharf.

Mercedes-Benz will headline the show with a full line-up of vehicles on Canada Square, using the occasion to debut its long-awaited new E-class in the UK.

Other makers who have booked stands at the show include Saab - which will show off its new 9-3X - and Land Rover, which has promised to debut its 2010 model line-up. The off-road firm will also entertain visitors with an "interactive consumer driving experience", both on and off-road.

Suzuki will show off its new Alto city car while Vespa and Piaggio will showcase their latest scooters for those who prefer two wheels. Superbike World Championship manufacturer Aprilia will also be there, displaying the road-going version of its RSV4, among other high-powered machinery.

Volvo will exhibit a range of models at the London Motorexpo, with the emphasis on its "green" technology, while Porsche will be celebrating the recent opening of its new Canary Wharf dealership.

Footballers wives' favourite - the Hummer - will be on hand with the firm promising to demonstrate its "versatility and suitability" for the "toughest of terrains through to the most elegant of urban environments". Other big marques to present their model ranges at the Motorexpo include BMW, Aston Martin, Cadillac, Corvette and Jaguar, with more names to follow.

Graeme Carver, the managing director of the Canary Wharf Motorexpo, said: "I am delighted that we are seeing such strong support from across the spectrum of manufacturers. Our 2009 exhibitor line-up already surpasses that of last year's event; we look forward to working with all our exhibitors to try and generate sales as this very tough time".

The New cars 'cheaper than used ones

New cars are currently cheaper than used ones for the first time in the UK, according to a comprehensive guide to UK car prices.

Heavy discounting of new cars and rising prices of second-hand cars due to a shortage of supply have led to this bizarre situation.

Parker's says this is first time used cars have commanded a premium since it started collecting price data in 1972.

However, Parker's warns that this price reversal will not last long.

'Shifting stock'

The recession in the UK has led to a dramatic fall in demand for new cars, so carmakers are having to slash prices to entice customers to buy.

Indeed, figures out on Monday showed that car sales plunged more than 30% in March, compared with a year earlier.

At the same time, a shortage of good quality used cars has seen second-hand car prices rise significantly since the start of this year.

"Price cuts on new cars designed to shift stock, and big discounts from car supermarkets, mean that the price of selected new, pre-registered cars can be the same and, in some cases, even lower than one-year-old used cars with several thousand miles on the clock," Parker's said.

Price rises

For example, it has found a 2008 Vauxhall Corsa 1.0 litre with 5,160 miles on the clock for £6,494. A new, pre-registered 2009 version is available from one dealer for £5,995, a saving of almost £600.

But normality should return to car prices before long, Parker's added.

As stocks of new cars are reduced, deals will soon dry up, it said.

And imminent price rises for new cars will also have an impact.

"New car prices are set to go up, as a number of manufacturers are raising the list price of their cars to improve their margins, despite new sales continuing to slump," Parker's explained.

Ford are set to increase prices by 3.75%, Seat by 3.5% and Nissan by 3.4%, it said.