What Do You Want in a Web-Connected Car?

If your car had a fast, always-on Web connection, how would you want to use it?I I wondered about this last night, as I sat in an "LTE Connected Car" promoted by Alcatel-Lucent and other members of the "ng Connect" program.

The car, a modified Toyota, had four screens, one for the driver and three for passengers. Each was running special software that would allow passengers to choose their own entertainment options.

As you would expect, there were driving directions (tied into a GPS) for the driver. And instead of picking your music only from CDs or a local station, you could also use Pandora or another Internet music source.

The LTE Connected Car could let passengers watch videos from YouTube and other Internet sources and buy video on demand. (Thankfully, video would be disabled for the driver when the car was in gear, and passengers in the backseat would hear their audio via Bluetooth headsets, so as not to distract the driver.) And of course, you could surf the Web, checking out the current weather and nearby points of interest, for example.

Representatives at the event said the car could handle four simultaneous HD video streams, and indeed, what I saw looked quite good. The streaming of both audio and video was provided via the LTE standard, a "4G" standard designed for wireless data streaming that nearly every wireless carrier (with the notable exception of Clearwire in this country) as endorsed. LTE hasn't been rolled out yet--Verizon is planning its rollout for the end of next year--so this demo was done with a base station just a few feet away; it wasn't really a test of LTE connectivity but more a demo of what could be done if you assume great connectivity.

The demo was prepared by the ng partners, including Alacatel-Lucent (which makes LTE hardware), QNX Software Systems (which created the basic software), Toyota Motor Sales, Atlantic Records, Chumby, and Kabillion. A real system is years off, though, because it would require a broad rollout of the LTE service, modified cars, and a business model that made sense.

For instance, you'd obviously need to pay for an LTE connection to your car, and it's unclear whether that would be the same service as for your handset. (In this demo, the car became a Wi-FI hot spot, so that may be a way around it, at least for when you are in the car.) Services like video on demand are typically pay services, so they'd probably have to be designed with different price points depending on whether you'd want to rent the movie or buy it; or want it for the car only, or also for your handset, or maybe your TV at home.

A lot depends on what car companies, wireless operators, and content providers choose to offer. But clearly, price and capability will be key. I'm willing to pay for a fast wireless connection to my handset (and my guess is most of the people reading are too), but the car service would provide a bigger screen and features designed for the automotive environment.

And there are services I would like: A bigger screen for navigation, real-time traffic, and reliable streaming music over good speakers are certainly worth something. But I'm not sure how much I would pay for that. (Then again, I don't have DVD players in my car either, and I know lots of families that do.)

I'm curious. What services would you like to see in a connected car, and how much would you be willing to pay for it? Let me know in the comments!

Scrappage sees UK car sales surge

New car sales recorded their biggest increase so far this year in October, helped by the scrappage scheme.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said 168,942 new cars were registered last month, an increase of 31.6% compared with October 2008.

The SMMT said the "cash for bangers" incentive scheme had accounted for more than 20% of the new car sales.

Demand was also helped by customers wanting to avoid the VAT increase due in January, it said.
'Encouragingly, there has also been an increase in demand in the fleet and business sectors, which will be critical in sustaining recovery next year,'' said SMMT chief executive Paul Everett.

Buyers receive a £2,000 discount when they trade in a car more than 10 years old for a new one. The cost is shared between the government and the car industry.

Similar schemes have also been in place in France, Germany and the US.

Ford's Fiesta is the best selling model so far this year, followed by the Focus.

'Purchasing power'

Howard Archer from Global Insight says the increase ''may also be a sign that a significant number of consumers have greater scope and willingness to step up their discretionary spending.''

He added that purchasing power has been lifted by sharply reduced mortgage interest payments, lower utility bills and a moderation in inflation.

Gordon Murray's electric city car gets green light

The UK Government tonight announced a major investment in Gordon Murray's radical new city car project. A £9 million grant will fund development of the T27, an electric city car successor to the original T25 being designed in the UK by the maverick engineer behind the McLaren F1 and numerous racing cars.

The money will be spent designing and producing four prototypes over a 16-month period, with the eventual aim of putting an electric car with sustainable manufacturing processes into full production here in the UK.

Gordon Murray's T27 and T25: a new range

The T27 will be the follow-up to the petrol-powered T25, a small city car designed by jointly by Gordon Murray Design and Zytek Automotive technology. Neither car has been unveiled officially yet, kept under wraps at presentations so far (as pictured) or shown as design doodles.

Murray said: 'The iStream manufacturing process behind the T25 and T27 is all about sustainable, low-energy process by design. The T27 programme is a great opportunity for us and our partners to create what will be the world’s most efficient electric vehicle.'

Zytek is a British firm best known for its work with Mercedes on the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) technology used by some F1 teams in 2009. It also developed hybrid drive systems for Le Mans series cars.
What's next for Gordon Murray?

Science and innovation minister Lord Drayson is set to put a petrol-powered T25 through its paces on Thursday. Prototypes of the electric T27 are scheduled to be complete by February 2011.

We're glad to see this British innovator take a step forward. The £9m grant is the first tranche of what will be many funding requirements over the coming years – Murray's eventual aim is to license out the technology and production processes to partner firms

Porsche Boxster Spyder

The most treasured model in Porsche's history, the Spyder, is about to take to the road again! The German company has announced the release of a new lightweight, driver-focused version of the mid-engined Boxster, known as the Boxster Spyder.

Inspired by the 1954 550 Spyder, which stood only three-feet high and weighed a slender 550kg, the Boxster Spyder sports a new, low-slung silhouette with a lightweight, low-lying soft-top and windows.

Completing the look is a pair of humps which extend across the boot-lid to the rear spoiler and transform the normally awkward looking Boxster into something that more closely resembles the Carrera GT supercar.

Due to be unveiled at the Los Angeles Motor Show in December, the new car weighs in at just 1,275kg, which is 80kg less than the Boxster S and enough to make it the lightest Porsche on sale today.

Under the bonnet, the Spyder uses Porsche's tried and tested 3.4-litre 'boxer' engine, newly tweaked to put out 320bhp. The uprated engine can be paired with a standard six-speed manual gearbox or the PDK twin-clutch system, which has now done away with its counter-intuitive steering wheel mounted controls in favour of a pair of paddle-shifters.

Porsche claims that a Spyder, fitted with the optional PDK gearbox and Sports Chrono Pack will sprint to 60mph in a blistering 4.8 seconds, that's almost a second quicker than a PDK equipped Boxster S. Top speed is more familiar, with the Spyder's top speed of 166mph only 3mph more than the S.

Renowned for its responsive handling and excellent brakes, the original Boxster package is hard to improve, but that hasn't stopped the Porsche engineers from trying. A lower centre of gravity coupled with a slightly revised suspension set-up allows the Spyder to be even more agile than its predecessor.

However, the new Porsche isn't just about torque and tyresmoke; consumption figures of 30.4mpg, again with the optional PDK gearbox, should help cut down time spent at the pumps and should also save around £200 a year in road tax over the standard Boxster S.

The new Spyder will go on sale in February 2010 as a final farewell to the Boxster, which originally went on sale in 1996. Priced at £44,643 the Spyder is almost identically priced to Audi'd TT RS Roadster and undercuts the SLK 55 AMG by £5,000.

Included in the price is a chance for customers to test the limits of their new Spyder, by taking to the track at Silverstone with a special Porsche-run driving experience

RIDES/LUX Motorwerks Hyundai Genesis Coupe - SEMA 2009

RIDES has teamed up with LUX Design to create a one-off Hyundai Genesis Coupe for the SEMA Motor Show.

While details are limited, the car features a custom body kit with a new front fascia, a redesigned rear bumper, a modified grille, aggressive side skirts and vented fenders. The coupe also boasts orange paint from the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, a matte black roof, smoked taillights, and 20-inch Vossen VF051 wheels wrapped in General Exclaim rubber.

Under the hood, RIDES equipped the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a Turbonetics GT-K 350 turbocharger and a Spearco front-mounted intercooler. Other performance tweaks include a GReddy Racing Ti-C turbo-back exhaust system, StopTech brakes, and an A'PEXi coilover suspension kit.

Chrysler to outfit Fiat 500-approved dealers with specific showroom "salons"

Listening to Chrysler's long and rambling 2010-2014 Business Plan, it was clear that the company and its dealerships are very much looking forward to finally getting the fuel efficient Fiat 500 in North America. Much like what happened when BMW launched the Mini brand eight-odd years ago, it's hoped that the cute little 500 will attract a whole new customer to the Chrysler fold.

In order to properly court those new wallets buyers, Chrysler plans to open "specific interior showroom branded salons" in select dealerships, mostly in metropolitan areas. A dedicated set of salespeople will be assigned to sell the Fiat 500 in the States... ya know, since they otherwise wouldn't know how to sell the important car to American consumers.

There will also be a full line of accessories made available to customize the new car, which we would expect will include unique color and stripe packages both inside and out along with a slew of optional wheel designs. Whatever, make ours an Abarth and we're good. Expect all of this to take place before the end of 2010 as the Fiat 500 finally starts to show up in those selected dealerships.

Williams not releasing Rosberg until January

Williams is holding Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima to their contracts until the last day in December.

It is believed the decision explains the hold-up in an announcement about Rosberg's team for 2010, with the German's deal not likely to be made public until after 1 January.

"Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima remain our drivers until the end of 2009," reads an excerpt of the media statement in which Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hulkenberg were confirmed as Williams' drivers for next season.

Toyota Tacoma All-Terrain Gamer (ATG) takes gaming to illogical conclusions

The Toyota Tacoma All-Terrain Gamer (ATG) combines outdoor sports activities and video games to create the ultimate active lifestyle vehicle for young Tacoma pickup truck owners. The special vehicle was designed to take Tacoma owners to their favorite remote locations where they can pursue their passion for outdoor sports activities and also provide a haven at the end of the day to play their favorite interactive video games.

To create the Tacoma ATG Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc. teamed up with a group of partners who are among the finest in their fields of expertise. The partners included The B.A.D. Company as the primary builder,along with Microsoft Xbox, Kicker, Toyota Racing Development, INNO Advanced Car Racks and Cannondale.

Toyota provided a 2009 Tacoma Double Cab Long Bed PreRunner V6 five-speed automatic to The B.A.D. Company to transform it into the rugged ATG. The builders felt this Tacoma configuration provided the best combination of on-road and off-road capability, a spacious cab to haul friends and a full-size bed to carry cargo and equipment.

The B.A.D. Company removed the B-Pillars and installed double gull-wing doors to increase space and create a "patio like" shelter for gamers. Adjustable theater style seating was created by removing the front seats and repositioning them to the outboard rear locations. This theater seating configuration intensifies gaming action by creating a communal experience, especially effective when playing Xbox's new HALO ODST team oriented four-person video game. Large steps were created to allow easy ingress/egress and leg support for outboard chair gamers.

Four interior monitors were placed on two swing arms to allow the vehicle to be easily converted from a video haven to a drivable truck. The swing arms were designed and contoured to provide each game seat optimum screen distance and angled to maximize the high definition experience.

To increase storage capability an INNO Ridge Wide Cargo Box is attached to a roof mounted roll bar. Two Upright Lock Bike Racks mounted to truck base rack systems, each provided by INNO, are mated directly to the tonneau cover. The two Lock Bike Racks carry Cannondale RZ ONE Twenty and Cannondale Moto 4 high performance mountain bikes.

Exterior modifications also included three base colors of a custom metallic anthracite (pulled directly from the Xbox brand guide), drilled aluminum interior panels, color-matched protective floor coating, an acrylic hood with an engine view port, a 66-inch plasma monitor with a custom roll cage enclosure, tonneau cover with "Craze" paint technique, blacked out front grille, sponsor logo windshield sun shade, front and rear bumpers, smoked front head and rear tail lamp treatment, and Xbox graphics.

The Xbox gaming system in the Tacoma ATG is complemented by a two-channel custom Kicker audio system, providing the ultimate sound design to maximize the video game experience. The system generates a total of 2,150 watts of power from studio grade rack-mounted amps to minimize sound quality deterioration over extended use. Gamers will feel the action via the 1,500 watt 12-inch Kicker Solobaric L7-12 Subwoofer in a custom enclosure with vents at each corner directing air into the cab. Sound will rain down on gamers from eight Kicker QS65.2 6.5-inch mid-range speakers handling a combined 650 watts of power to complete the gaming experience.

Additional interior modifications include four Simpson custom upholstered off-road racing seats with four-point black racing harnesses, custom three-tone upholstered interior and a mini-fridge energy drink dispenser.

In addition to being the ultimate gaming vehicle the Tacoma ATG also needed to be able to transport outdoor enthusiasts to their favorite remote locations. Toyota Racing Development (TRD) contributed to the project with the installation of its 304 horsepower 4.0-liter Supercharger to increase vehicle torque and better traverse rugged landscape. TRD 16-inch bead lock wheels with BF Goodrich LT295/75R16 All-Terrain T/A tires were added to improve off-road stability and increase traction.
After its debut at the 2009 SEMA Show the Tacoma ATG is scheduled to be used by Toyota, Xbox, Kicker, and INNO for a variety of consumer and industry events.

Tacoma All-Terrain Gamer Accessories

Partners and Sponsors
Principle: Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc.
Builder / Fabricator: The Big American Dream Company (B.A.D. Co.)
Gaming: Microsoft Xbox
Audio: Stillwater Designs / Kicker
Performance: Toyota Racing Development (TRD)
Sports Equipment: INNO Advanced Car Racks
Mountain Bikes: Cannondale

Custom three-tone paint with "Craze" technique
Driver & Passenger side double gull wing doors with B-Pillar removed, custom hinge mechanism and light synchronization system
Custom steel roof mounted roll bar
Acrylic hood with view port and engine compartment lighting
Tonneau cover with "Craze" paint technique
Custom rear monitor protective enclosure
Blacked out front grille, front & rear bumpers
Smoked front head & rear tail lamp treatment
INNO Ridge Wide Cargo Box mounted to roof mounted roll bar
INNO Upright Lock Bike Rack mounted to Tonneau cover holding two Cannondale mountain bikes.
1. Cannondale RZ ONE Twenty
2. Cannondale Moto 4
Xbox 360 graphics

Custom expandable theater style rear seat gaming area with removable front seats repositioned to extend beyond the edge of the cab
Custom aluminum seat support frame with lighting treatment
Four Simpson custom upholstered off road racing seats with four-point black racing harness
Custom swing out four game monitor mounting system
Custom protective floor coating
Custom aluminum roll cage
Custom drilled aluminum headliner
Custom three-tone upholstered interior
Mini-fridge energy drink dispenser

TRD 4.0L V6 Supercharger
Air to liquid intercooler
High flow fuel injectors
Cold Air Intake
TRD Stainless Steel Cat-back single outlet exhaust
304HP & 334 lb/ft of Torque
16"X7.5" TRD Cast Bead Lock Wheels with custom finish
BF Goodrich LT295/75R16 All-Terrain T/A Tires

Four Xbox Elite Game Console Bundles
Alpine IVA-W505 touch screen head unit
Kicker KQ5 Preamp Equalizer
Behringer DCX2496 Crossover
QSC CX702 1500 Watt (8 Ω) Power Amplifier for subwoofer
Two QSC CX302 325 Watt (4 Ω) Power Amplifier for midrange
Total system produces 2150 Watts of power
Kicker Solobaric L7-12 Subwoofer with custom vented enclosure
Eight Kicker QS65.2 6.5-inch Midrange
66-inch Sharp Aquos Plasma High Definition public viewing monitor
Four Samsung 24" High Definition flat panel game monitors.

2009 Renault F1 Race car

Shooting down speculation to the contrary, Renault's F1 managing director Jean-Francois Caubet insists a working budget for 2010 has been approved and the team will race in formula one next year.

Following the announcement of Toyota's departure on Wednesday, the Renault board met in Paris, triggering reports that the French carmaker could be the next to quit F1.

But Caubet told the sports daily L'Equipe: "We have already contracted our drivers, had our budget approved and are enrolled in the world championship. Season 2010 has begun already."

He said Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn has also laid out his expectations for Renault's 2010 season; that the team "returns to a good level".

"We will not be world champions in 2010, but we do have hopes to be much improved," Caubet continued.

Perennial wishes: Auto industry execs calling for higher gas tax yet again

How often do the Wall Street Journal, Bill Ford, Jr. and Thomas Friedman agree on something? When it's the gas tax, it's 100 percent of the time, and now a number of auto executives have added their voices in favor of a gas tax in order to reach the end goal of getting more fuel efficient vehicles into use.

Speaking at the Reuters Autos Summit in Detroit, people like Jerry York, a former GM board member, and Mike Jackson, chief executive of AutoNation Inc., said that setting the price of gas at at least $4 a gallon would be a better way to get Americans to use less gasoline than giving out billions in loans and grants to develop new, more efficient technologies. Only with some pain at the pump, Jackson said, will car buyers care about fuel efficiency, adding that the best way to set the price floor would be with gradual gas tax increases until the $4 or $5 price limit is reached. Tim Leuliette, chief executive of supplier Dura Automotive, suggested that $8/gallon should be the target by 2020, stressing that the increases need to be telegraphed far in advance so that automakers and buyers can prepare for them. Rebates or other assistance for low income families should also be considered

Porsche Boxster Spyder Revealed - World Premiere in Los Angeles

Porsche has released the first images and details about the 2010 Boxster Spyder.

Described as the "...purist form of the Porsche sports car - light, powerful, consistently open, and very efficient", the Spyder is powered by a 3.4-liter six-cylinder engine that produces 320 hp (10 hp more than the Boxster S). Backed up by the optional PDK (Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe) transmission, the Spyder accelerates from 0-100 km/h in 4.8 seconds before topping out at 267 km/h (166 mph) - with the roof down. If that isn't impressive enough, the roadster consumes just 9.3L/100km (30.4 mpg) in the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC).

To further maximize the Spyder's sporting prowess, Porsche put the car on a diet (it only weighs 1,275 kg / 2,811 lbs which makes it the lightest model in the Porsche lineup), lowered the center of gravity, and added an all-new sports suspension.

In terms of styling, the car features a unique soft top, extra-low side windows, and two rear deck lid bulges which are meant to resemble the ones used on the Carrera GT. Other design touches include modified front and rear bumpers, 10-spoke alloy wheels, and revised air intakes. Inside, the roadster boasts an exclusive interior with sport seats, 'Boxster Spyder' branded scuff plates, and a body-color center console.

Set to debut at the Los Angeles Motor Show, the Boxster Spyder will go on sale in February 2010 for €53,100 (€63,404 in Germany, after a 19 percent VAT and country-specific features are applied).