Auto Designers Cater To China, the New Giant

Western automakers have started designing cars specifically for the huge Chinese market, and we don’t mean just meeting tighter pollution and fuel-efficiency standards.

The new cars and concepts have exterior contours that comport to Chinese ideas of balance, with interior colors and fabrics designed to signify status and evoke respect. The controls for entertainment and climate systems might even be moving to the back seat, because truly wealthy people don’t drive, they have drivers.

Thirty years ago, the People’s Republic of China was an automotive backwater. Today it’s the biggest market in the world, having just eclipsed the United States. So, its consumers are demanding the best from automotive designers.

The explosive growth of the Chinese market, where consumers bought 17 million new cars last year compared to about 10 million in the United States, has been a bright light in an otherwise dark time for the auto industry. As the traditional markets of North America, Europe and Japan stagnate or decline, automakers have seen their sales in China double and double again.

“This is clearly the market of the future,” says Freidhelm Engler, General Motors director of design in China. “It’s not going to slow down.”

That has automakers taking a fresh look at how they design cars for the Chinese market. Although Western designs have proven immensely popular in China, global car companies were slow to account for Chinese tastes and preferences. More often than not, automakers made a few small tweaks to the cars they sold in the West and shipped them over.

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Peugeot 207 S16 Special Edition Announced for UK

Peugeot has unveiled the 207 S16 special edition for the United Kingdom.

Based on the 207 Sport 1.6 VTi three-door, the S16 was created to celebrate Kris Meeke's win of the 2009 IRC drivers' title. As such, the car has rally-inspired graphics (which mimic those found on Meeke's IRC winning 207 S2000 rally car), a 207 RC Cup bodykit (with front and rear spoilers, aerodynamic side skirts, and a faux rear diffuser), and an interior badge signed by Meeke. Other styling touches include a mesh grille, dark tinted windows, and 17-inch Hockenheim alloy wheels.

Despite the racy appearance, the S16 does not feature any performance upgrades. Saddled with an anemic 1.6-liter VTi petrol engine, that produces 120 bhp (kW), the 207 runs from 0-62 mph in 10.7 seconds and has a top speed of 125 mph. On the up side, the engine returns a combined 47.1 mpg and has an emissions rating of 139 g/km.

Priced from £14,695 (OTR), only 250 special editions will be produced.

Jaguar builds all-electric XJ test vehicle

Jaguar Land Rover is still hard at work on series hybrid vehicles. Similar to the stance General Motors has taken with the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, Jaguar believes that the only real way electric vehicles can be made compatible with everyday life is to add a small range-extending gasoline-powered engine that's capable of keeping the batteries charged on the go.

Unlike GM, though, Jaguar has seen fit to contract its small engine work out to Lotus, which makes sense given the two British company's differing product specialties. Lotus has reportedly delivered a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine that generates 35 kW of power, which is carried – with a little help from a UK government grant or two – inside a new 2011 XJ sedan with a lithium ion battery pack.

Motive force comes courtesy of what Autocar believes is a 145 kW (194 horsepower) electric motor with 295 pound-feet of torque. Performance specifications sound pretty good – though not quite as impressive as we might have imagined – assuming all of this is accurate, with a range of 600 miles combined fuel economy of 47 miles per gallon (57 mpg UK) and carbon emissions of under 120 grams per kilometer. Top speed would reportedly come in at 112 miles per hour.

2010 BMW X6 ActiveHybrid

Wait a second here, isn't it a bit antithetical to strap a hybrid vehicle on a dyno to measure it for horsepower? Well, in some instances we might be tempted to agree – though our curious side tells us it's always good to know how much power any particular automobile makes – but definitely not in the case of the 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6.

After all, BMW itself proclaims that this vehicle is the most powerful production hybrid ever offered with 480 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque. Claims such as this must, MUST we say, be tested. Fortunately for us, the chaps over at Inside Line happen to have a dyno at their disposal, along with the aforementioned hybrid SUV. So, how'd it fair?

Measured output at the wheels came in at 368 horsepower and 402 lb-ft of torque. Now, it's expected that all vehicles will make a good bit less power at the wheels than at the engine's flywheel, which is how they are rated from the factory. But in the instance of the X6 Hybrid, it made way less than expected given its prodigious claimed figures.

There are all sorts of explanations as to why the BMW ActiveHybrid X6 may not have made as many pound-feet as expected, and you can find some of them by reading Inside Line's summary here. Acceleration tests are promised, meaning we may get an answer about those elusive few ponies soon enough.

Toyota to test Prius PHEV in Norway

With all the bad news about Toyota recently, it's about time for something a bit more positive. Toyota is in the process of deploying a fleet of several hundred plug-in Priuses in Japan, North America and Asia. Of the 200 Prius PHEVs destined for Europe, two are headed for the Norwegian capital of Oslo. Toyota Norge has reached an agreement to supply the plug-in hybrids for a three-year field test. The city of Oslo and trade group Energy Norway will run the test program jointly to evaluate real world performance as well as driver perceptions of the cars.

The vehicle usage tracking system will look at the efficiency of the PHEVs as well as how frequently and where drivers plug them in. Getting any advantage out of a plug-in hybrid requires that drivers keep the battery charged as much as possible in order to enable electric driving. If the car is not charged at every opportunity, it will not perform any better than a significantly less expensive non-plug hybrid. The cars will be delivered to Oslo in June 2010.