By Gustavo Vieira - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - 0 Comments
Next time you’re stuck in traffic and you feel a vibration under your seat,…
Next time you’re stuck in traffic and you feel a vibration under your seat, it’s not your cell phone. If you are driving in Montreal, Victoria, B.C., or Windsor, Ont., and an ambulance equipped with the Rumbler or the Howler comes by, you will feel the boom of a sound wave—as these Boston Globe videos demonstrate. The thumping effect is created by a pair of subwoofers attached to the bumper of the ambulance, making it seem like it’s one of those souped-up bass-pumping cars.
The point of course is to get people out of the way, which, according to a Montreal fire chief interviewed by The Globe and Mail, seems to be a growing difficulty in the age of iPods, smartphones and ultra-silent cars. We’re yet to see a device that will give ambulance drivers the ability to broadcast a “get-out-of-the-way” message directly through the speakers of every car in their vicinity, but maybe we shouldn’t be giving them any more ideas. The Rumbler and the Howler seem to work just fine, at least according to the Montreal fire chief.
By Chris Sorensen - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
At the Detroit auto show, automakers are pitching style, flash and sports cars
Sirens wailed and guitar strings screeched as the 2013 Dodge Dart rolled onto a stage at this year’s Detroit auto show. Hundreds were there to see the first new vehicle spawned by the marriage of Chrysler Group LLC and Fiat Group Automobiles S.p.A. in 2009. They weren’t disappointed. The sporty small car, built using Fiat’s Alpha Romeo Giulietta platform, represents yet another attempt by Chrysler to reach into its rich past for an all-new vehicle—in this case, for the name of a popular sedan from the 1960s and 1970s—while shedding its reputation for building only powerful muscle cars and hulking pickup trucks.
The Dart is meant to compete head-to-head with the brisk-selling Chevrolet Cruze, sleek Ford Focus and popular Honda Civic by adding some attitude to the segment. Prospective buyers will have their choice from a long list of optional features, including LED accent lighting, an 8.4-inch touch screen and no less than seven different steering wheel choices. “The traditional ‘why buys?’ in the segment are price, fuel economy and reliability,” says Dodge president Reid Bigland, who chatted with onlookers following the unveiling. “But today those are no longer differentiators. They’re just simply the minimum barriers to entry. We wanted to do more.”
Chrysler wasn’t the only automaker flaunting a little extra flash at the annual industry gathering. Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled a Scion-badged rear-wheel-drive car called the FR-S, built in partnership with Subaru, marking the ﬁrst time in years it will have a sports car in its lineup. General Motors Co., meanwhile, displayed a sportier version of its subcompact Chevrolet Sonic and two Chevy concept cars that attempted to combine the look of raw power with a frugal budget (with mixed results). For those who can afford the real thing, a long-nosed Lexus sports coupe concept was also on display, as was a low-slung Acura NSX “super car” concept.
By Chris Sorensen - Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 10:50 AM - 16 Comments
Electric cars are hitting showrooms, but people aren’t buying
On a recent autumn day, employees of Tesla wheeled their latest electrified creation, the Model S sedan, into the concourse of a bank tower in downtown Toronto. Over the lunch hour, a handful of curious passersby ogled the dark-red vehicle’s sleek lines, leather interior and giant touch-screen monitor.
The Model S is the second production vehicle built by the Silicon Valley-based carmaker founded by American entrepreneur Elon Musk. Its first effort, the US$109,000 Roadster, was launched in 2008 and immediately grabbed eyeballs—not only because it was the first production vehicle to use lithium-ion batteries like those found in laptops, but because it looked car-magazine cool and was capable of zero to 60 mph in as little as 3.7 seconds. Tesla, which has yet to turn a profit, built and sold only 1,800 Roadsters, but that was hardly the point. “We needed to build a proof of concept that put itself on the map pretty quickly,” says Ricardo Reyes, a Tesla spokesperson.
Mission accomplished—sort of. With Tesla leading the way and governments throwing money at “green” industries, electric cars have gone from auto-show concept vehicles to production models, seemingly overnight. There’s only one problem: consumers have so far shown little interest in vehicles that are perceived as expensive, time-consuming to recharge and having a limited driving range. “The buzz around electric cars in the marketplace is far greater than what’s actually being purchased,” says Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst for the car website Edmunds.com. “Electric cars are not catching on.”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 3:19 PM - 0 Comments
Problem with ignition may stall engine
Nissan said today it is recalling 2.14 million vehicles after finding an ignition problem that may stall the vehicles. Cars in U.S., Japan, Europe, and Asia are being recalled. So far, there have been no accidents associated with the defect. The problem affects smaller models like the March, Cube and Note though up to a dozen other models are affected.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 11:33 AM - 2 Comments
$235 million project hoped to bring back jobs
General Motors Co. has announced a multimillion dollar upgrade to its St. Catharines plant as part of a major plan to refurbish five of its North American factories with technology for building more efficient vehicles. The new spending means another possible 400 jobs and a secure future for the Ontario plant, and gives new hope to 250 workers who are on indefinite layoff following the near collapse of the automaker. In all the refurbishment plan will spend $890 million to upgrade factories in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, and to build a new eight cylinder engine at a plant in New York state.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 3:18 PM - 4 Comments
Joint standards aim to reduce pollution, greenhouse gases
Canada and the U.S. will work together to introduce tougher auto emissions standards for vehicles in model years 2011 to 2016, the CBC reports, meaning that the two countries will have uniform standards for cars and light trucks. By 2016, the new standards should reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by 25 per cent from 2008 models, requiring 2016 model-year vehicles to meet a target of 35.5 miles per gallon (100 km per six litres) combined for cars and trucks, an increase of nearly 10 miles per gallon over present standards (about 100 km per 8.6 litres). Environment Minister Jim Prentice said the new standards are an important part of the commitment Ottawa made at the Copenhagen conference on climate change to reduce total emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. The auto industry and environmental groups also lauded the move. “This provides the clarity vehicle makers need into their long-range production cycles … to allow for a wider implementation without restricting vehicle availability,” said Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Association of Vehicle Manufacturers.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 12:09 PM - 1 Comment
Space agency will examine electronic throttles
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced that the NASA space and aeronautics agency will help analyze Toyota’s electronic throttles to see if they’re to blame for incidents of unintended acceleration, Reuters reports. In addition, experts from the National Academy of Sciences will study unintended acceleration across the auto industry after the issue was raised by congressional lawmakers at the Toyota hearings. While the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is just starting to look into Toyota, the government and Toyota both blame mechanical and equipment flaws after 8.5 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles were recalled due to unintended acceleration in the last six months.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 10:28 AM - 1 Comment
Auto sales have picked up, the big winners are‹you guessed it—pickups
Remember all that brave talk about fuel efficiency? How governments were going to use their regulatory powers and financial clout over a collapsing auto sector to cure our addiction to size and horsepower? Well, so much for that. Canada’s auto guru, Dennis DesRosiers, has released annual sales figures showing big, fat pickup trucks—the Dodge Ram, the Chevy Silverado and the Ford F-Series—counted among the top-selling vehicles last month compared to February 2009. The Volkswagen Golf did pretty well too, as did the Honda CR-V. But to DesRosiers, the message is clear: “Government regulations are targeted at the car manufacturers, not the consumer. And as witnessed in the first two months of this year, if consumers want a less fuel efficient vehicle, they will find a way to buy it.”
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 11:38 AM - 1 Comment
Toyota bosses appear before House transport committee to answer questions about safety problems
Senior Toyota executives were in Ottawa today to answer questions about the company’s handling of a series of high-profile recalls that affected some of Toyota’s most popular vehicles. Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles globally, including hundreds of thousands Canada, because of concerns that gas pedals can become stuck beneath floor mats, or because of flaws in the gas pedal assembly itself that can cause the mechanism to stick or return slowly to the idle position. Echoing criticisms leveled by U.S. lawmakers, some members of the House transport committee accused the automotive giant of dragging its feet on what many consider to be troubling safety defects. But Stephen Beatty, the managing director of Toyota Canada, stressed that the company moved quickly to address the issue as soon as it was brought to its attention last October, and has worked closely with Transport Canada throughout the process. He also stressed that, despite reports to the contrary, Toyota has been unable to identify any problems with its vehicle electronics that could lead to instances of sudden unintended acceleration. Yoshi Inaba, the president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor North America, also appeared before the committee to stress that the company is committed to building vehicles that are safe and reliable.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 2:36 PM - 5 Comments
Thanks to a highly integrated industry, massive recalls shouldn’t be a surprise
First, it was Toyota issuing recall after recall. Then others, including Honda, Nissan, and General Motors, followed suit. With millions of vehicles from different auto manufacturers affected over the last few months alone, drivers could be forgiven for feeling nervous. But experts say these seemingly massive recall numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Following harrowing reports of runaway vehicles, Toyota issued its largest-ever recalls, covering some 5.6 million vehicles in just the U.S. As executives were hauled before U.S. Congress, other automakers rolled out campaigns of their own (last week, GM recalled 1.3 million North American vehicles over faulty power steering). With Toyota drawing fire over its alleged foot-dragging on safety issues, rival automakers likely “didn’t want to be tarred with the same brush,” says Craig Hoff, a professor of mechanical engineering at Kettering University in Flint, Mich.
But the pile-up of recalls also shows how, in such a highly integrated industry, problems can spread like wildfire. In a growing trend, Toyota is one of several manufacturers using “the same platform—the underpinnings of a vehicle—across a variety of models,” Hoff notes. Some even share designs and parts with competitors, and are reducing the number of suppliers they deal with, creating even more overlap. France’s PSA Peugeot Citroën had to recall nearly 100,000 vehicles made in the Czech Republic, where it shares a factory with Toyota; and the Pontiac Vibe, sold by GM but jointly manufactured with Toyota, was also subject to a recall. This week, Daihatsu Motor, a subsidiary of Toyota, recalled 275,000 vehicles in Japan.
According to Tony Faria, an automotive expert at the University of Windsor, “today’s cars are as safe, or safer, than before.” But as companies move to an ever-smaller number of platforms and suppliers, he says, recall numbers “will keep getting bigger.” M
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 12:03 PM - 2 Comments
Toyota driver’s 90-mile-an-hour terror ride
A terrified Prius driver was forced to use a police vehicle to help stop his runaway car after the accelerator stuck and the car exceeded 90 miles an hour on a San Diego freeway. The problem began for driver James Sikes when he tried to overtake another car: “As it was going, I was trying the brakes … it wasn’t stopping, it wasn’t doing anything and it just kept speeding up,” he told the Times of London. He called the police for help, and a patrol car soon caught up with him and pulled alongside. Using a loudspeaker, police officers told Sikes to push the brake pedal to the floor and apply the emergency brake at the same time and then head toward a steep gradient. “Between those three things, they got it to slow down,” he said. In a statement, Toyota said that it had dispatched a field technical specialist to investigate the incident which comes on the heels of the recall of nearly nine million vehicles worldwide in recent month because of acceleration problems in many models and braking issues in the Prius.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 2:42 PM - 0 Comments
Latest blow to world’s largest automaker
Toyota has announced a significant expansion to its current list of vehicle recalls due to brake problems in the Prius and other hybrids. The announcement brings the number of recalled vehicles to 8.5 million, which includes a major recall due to faulty accelerator pedals. In Canada, just under 3,300 vehicles are part of the 2010 Prius recall, along with just over 300 2010 Lexus HS250h vehicles.
By macleans.ca - Friday, February 5, 2010 at 11:09 AM - 2 Comments
No action yet taken on the Prius brakes problem
Speaking at a hastily assembled news conference, Toyota president Akio Toyoda apologized for the massive recalls his company has faced, calling it a “crisis” in his first public comments since global recalls were announced on Jan. 21. He said Toyota is setting up a special committee headed by Toyoda himself, the Associated Press reports, that will review internal checks, consumer complaints, and talk to outside experts about their quality problems. “I offer my apologies for the worries,” he says. Meanwhile, the company has yet to announce a recall on 270,000 Prius cars sold last year in Japan and the US, which seems to have a programming glitch. Toyoda has been criticized for not speaking sooner about the company’s problems.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 11:46 AM - 3 Comments
Announcement is the latest of Toyota’s woes
The U.S. Department of Transportation has launched an investigation into brake problems in the 2010 Toyota Prius, adding to the Japanese automaker’s woes. The announcement follows reports that drivers temporarily lost the ability to brake on uneven road surfaces, the CBC reports. On Thursday, Toyota acknowledged design problems with the anti-lock brake system on its latest model of the Prius, a gas-electric hybrid, but the company has yet to decide how to inform people who bought them. The model under investigation first became available in May; about 170,000 were sold in Japan, and 103,000 in the U.S. In the U.S. and Japan, about 180 complaints have been lodged about braking problems. This follows a worldwide recall of 4.2 million Toyota vehicles over sticky accelerator pedals.
By macleans.ca - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 4:20 PM - 10 Comments
Japanese automaker flags defects in nine million vehicles
For a measure of just how big the Toyota recall is, consider this: the number of cars that have so far been flagged as defective is now approaching the total number of vehicles sold by all automakers in the U.S. last year. Today, the Japanese automaker expanded its recall to include eight European models, bringing the worldwide total to nine million. At issue in the European models, according to a company statement, is accelerator pedals that may stick. Concerns around the accelerator are also behind recalls in the U.S., where 2.3 million cars have been identified as having gas pedals that could wear down, and five million that had gas pedals that could become stuck in the floor mat. In Washington, two House committees are now holding hearings into whether the defects, which have been linked to 19 deaths in the U.S. in the past decade, put the public at risk.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:43 AM - 0 Comments
Automaker to slow production, suspend sales amidst recall
Toyota is recalling 270,000 vehicles in Canada—and about two million in the U.S.—to address a problem with accelerator pedals that stick. There are eight models affected by the suspension and recall, including the 2009-2010 models of the Corolla, Matrix, and Camry. As part of the plan, Toyota is halting production at seven factories on the week of February 1, including the Cambridge and Woodstock plants. This recall comes just months after Toyota recalled 4.2 million vehicles due to gas pedals becoming stuck under floor mats, causing the car the accelerate.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 2:06 PM - 0 Comments
The latest chapter in the Saab soap opera sees the carmaker rescued by a small Dutch firm
Spyker Cars, a tiny Dutch supercar maker, will buy Saab from General Motors, reports the Wall Street Journal. The price tag? Spyker will pay an almost paltry US$74 million, with the European Investment Bank covering the bulk of the purchase with US$566 million. GM, which had earlier announced that it would shut down the brand, will take US$326 million in shares in the new Saab. The Swedish car maker has a devoted following, but the brand has languished under GM ownership, becoming a financial headache. Despite the last minute reprieve, its future still seems far from secure.
By macleans.ca - Monday, January 25, 2010 at 3:28 PM - 0 Comments
Wireless systems that open car doors and turn on ignitions have hidden dangers
As old-fashioned keys are being replaced with wireless systems that open doors and turn on the car, questions are being asked about their safety. It turns out that many drivers don’t understand how the system works. In complaints to American regulators, motorists have reported that they were unable to shut down engines during highway emergencies, including sudden acceleration events. Making matters worse, automakers have adopted different procedures for using the keyless ignition systems. As a result, owners may not know how to operate their own cars in an emergency, let alone a rented or borrowed car. “Where you have a second to make an emergency maneuver, you shouldn’t have to search around for the right procedure to use on a switch,” said Henry Jasny, general counsel at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C. that pushes for laws to make roads safer.
By Chris Sorensen - Friday, January 15, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 7 Comments
After a horrid year, Detroit sees hope in a small, green future
There was a whiff of optimism, albeit of the cautious variety, mixed with the usual scents of rubber, new car and acres of indoor carpet at the Detroit auto show this year. After a brutal 12 months that saw sales plummet across North America and two of the former “Big Three” Detroit carmakers file for bankruptcy, auto executives were understandably eager to put the past behind them and get back to the business of selling cars, trucks and SUVs amid growing evidence of an economic turnaround.
While the show lacked the glitz and glamour of even just a few years ago—no trucks were dropped from the Cobo Center’s ceiling or cattle-herded through downtown Detroit—the cloud that had hung over last year’s displays lifted to reveal an industry that, if not completely transformed, believes that it’s finally found the right mix of smaller and greener cars to survive in the new and more cutthroat automotive landscape.
By Colin Campbell - Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 1:45 PM - 0 Comments
Winners and losers in a big year for the auto industry
Forget the hybrid. This year, the American auto industry went back to doing what it does best: making affordable sports cars with big, throaty engines. The Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro (above) and Dodge Challenger were all surprise hits for the Detroit Three. While overall car sales saw double-digit declines, muscle car sales jumped over seven per cent. Perfect for the driver who wants to get where he’s going fast—and preferably in a straight line.
A Swedish couple travelling in Italy planned to visit the idyllic Isle of Capri. Instead, they drove 650 km off course to the industrial city of Carpi. They had mistyped the destination into their car’s GPS device. “Capri is an island,” noted a local official in Carpi, in northern Italy. “They did not even wonder why they didn’t cross any bridge or take any boat.”
For the auto industry, the month of August stood out like a gleaming new Ferrari in a junkyard. That was when the U.S. government’s US$3-billion cash for clunkers program kicked into high gear and Americans were offered as much as US$4,500 to trade in their old cars for new ones. Car sales spiked and the entire North American economy was given a brief boost.
Toyota, perhaps best known for making reliable, if bland, family sedans, launched a US$375,000 supercar, the 552-hp Lexus LFA. Not to be outdone, Porsche introduced its first four-door sedan, the Panamera, which costs US$133,000 for the turbo version. Audi has a new version of its R8 supercar (above), the V10—a US$146,000 car that auto critic Jeremy Clarkson called “spectacularly good. It’s like Scarlett Johansson’s lips.”
Car doors have been an overlooked design element. But the doors of the new Mercedes SLS, which swing straight up, are a thing of beauty. This latest take on an old idea gives the car its moniker, the Gullwing. Swedish manufacturer Koenigsegg is also taking door design to a new level with what it calls the dihedral synchro-helix actuation system. The doors on its cars slide forward and away from the car, then pivot up. Somewhere, an engineer earned his keep.
Got a boost?
Chrysler disbanded the group of engineers working on its electric-car program. The world’s most hyped electric car, GM’s Volt (above), is still a prototype. Canada’s Zenn Motor Company said it was getting out of the electric-car-making business to focus on battery technology. The only real electric carmaker in North America is Tesla, with its $100,000 Roadster. Are electric cars the future? We’re still waiting.
The meltdown that industry watchers have taken to calling the Carpocalypse saw the demise of some much-loved brands. Saturn was dropped by GM, as was the storied Pontiac nameplate, despite its loyal following and a critically acclaimed new model, the G8 GXP. Rick Wagoner, GM’s long-time chief executive officer, also didn’t last (he was forced aside by the Obama administration). Car dealers felt the
sting, too—GM is shuttering 42 per cent of its Canadian dealerships.
The new BMW 760 Li (below) is a fortress on wheels. It is big, comes with a V12 engine, and features a host of high-tech features: night-vision technology, radar sensors to detect cars in its blind spot, and cameras on the front fenders to help drivers see what’s coming at intersections. Mercedes has a comparable monster, the S63 AMG. One advantage it has over the Bimmer: front and rear massaging seats. Both sell for about US$135,000 (chauffeurs not included).
It was a tough year for Formula One racing. Toyota announced that it would pull out of the circuit. Renault was found guilty of race-fixing. The good news: Jenson Button. The British driver came out of nowhere to win the world championship while driving for a brand-new team, Brawn GP. Asked to describe in three words what it’s like to be an F1 driver, he told the BBC, “Wow, wow, and wow.”
A driver crashed his $2-million Bugatti Veyron into a saltwater marsh near Galveston, Texas, after he said he became distracted by a low-flying pelican. In Peterborough, England, the driver of a $125,000 Lamborghini Gallardo (above) noticed smoke billowing from his car. He stopped to search for a fire extinguisher, but the vehicle burned to a blackened crisp. Both incidents ended up on YouTube. Lovers of fine sports cars quietly wept.
Ford’s new sonar-based parallel parking system can guide your big SUV into the tightest spots. It automatically steers; you simply work the gas and brake. Not to be outdone, Volvo has a system on its new XC60 in which the vehicle will automatically brake if you’re about to hit the car in front of you. Future young drivers rejoice—with cars like these, driver’s licence tests will be a snap.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, June 24, 2009 at 4:28 PM - 0 Comments
Exxon teams with Mississauga firm on a zero-emission, battery-powered car with the name of a beautiful robot
The Maya 300′s top speed is just under 60 km/h and will travel almost 200 km on one charge, perfect for city driving. Its zero emissions rely on the same kind of lithium ion battery that likely powers your laptop. This week, Exxon and and Mississauga-based Electrovaya, which developed the Maya using Exxon technology, announced they were teaming up to provide visitors to the Maryland Science Center test-driving opportunities with the vehicles. Later this summer, 10 Maya 300s will be made available for an all-electric car-sharing and rental program called AltCar.