News: Mitsubishi to increase production of i-MiEV in respose to high demand

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Mitsubishi has announced that its Joint Venture — Lithium Energy Japan — will soon begin construction on its new factory in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture. The JV was founded between GS Yuasa Corp., Mitsubishi Motors Corporation and Mitsubishi Corporation in December 2007 to supply large capacity high performance lithium-ion batteries for the i-MiEV city car.

Lithium Energy Japan had initially intended to make batteries for 2,000 vehicles a year at its main plant in Kyoto. Mitsubishi Motors, however, raised its output target for the i-MiEV in response to higher demand expectations based upon a hugely positive response from the UK and other European markets. Along with other factors, this has prompted the project to build a separate plant to supply the additional anticipated demand.

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation has prioritized the development of the i-MiEV for introduction to the Japanese domestic market in 2009 and has confirmed its plans for introduction to Europe in 2010. MMC’s electric vehicle strategy is to become one of the leading car manufacturers of electric vehicles in the world.

Mitsubishi Motors in the UK has requested that a proportion of the first 2,000 Right Hand Drive units be allocated to the UK to support a launch in London in 2009. This is currently being seriously considered.

The brand new plant is scheduled to be ready for next April’s start of production of the i-MiEV all-electric 5-door city car. The plant will initially produce 1 million palm-size lithium-ion cells a year, which is enough to power 10,000 vehicles. An additional investment of more than 10 billion yen is planned by 2012 to add a second plant and doubling output to cope with demand.

News: Toyota Land Cruiser VX Ltd 2008 Review

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When you look at published lists of the most stressful things in your life usually they contain changing jobs, death of a loved one, moving house, divorce/separation, and personal illness. So, I’d say that the past couple of weeks have been fine — just two out of the five for me¦

It was made slightly more tolerable by my fortuitous booking of a gargantuan Toyota Land Cruiser 200 VX Ltd.

I wanted to move some things that I didn’t feel comfortable leaving in the hands of the removals guys, and the Land Cruiser just swallowed them up like a humpback whale taking in a mouthful of krill.

Opening the split folding tailgate revealed a capacious luggage area mildly compromised by seats six and seven, which are folded up against the side of the car. It would have been nice to be able to remove these, but it ended up not being necessary as the second row of seats folds forwards and hooks in place, giving an extra long loading bay that’s also around as wide as a standard station wagon.

I could have actually moved my whole house with the Land Cruiser — just hitched it up to the back and let the 650Nm from the twin-turbo 195kW diesel V8 ease it off its foundations. I write this as oil’s price has come tumbling down to US$110 per barrel — that’s a decline of more than 20% off its high, which means we’re officially in an oil bear market. That’s good news, because some people will always need big cars with torque-laden V8s. Many have boats, horses and other large items that require more than a van; or they need the off-road ability. Not that the Land Cruiser is that thirsty. Toyota quotes 10.3l/100km on the combined cycle; I managed 12.2l/100km.

Favoured by organisations that like to operate in rugged territories (like the UN, which has bought over 12,000 of them over the last few iterations), the Land Cruiser is built tough, but also built very luxuriously.

Not only do you get useful off-road features such as locking differentials, hill descent mode, a ground clearance of 225mm and full-time four-wheel drive with low range 6-speed gearbox, but inside you’ll find quad-zone air conditioning, phone integration, and a satellite navigation system that is extremely intuitive, allowing you to directly type a destination into the touch sensitive screen (no faffing around with a jog wheel and buttons like in a Mercedes-Benz or BMW, for example.)

The touchscreen allows access to all manner of audio functions and setup parameters giving you the ability to finely customise your car to you. One area where I would like to see a reversion back to dials, though, is the air conditioning — it was too difficult to control settings like the fan speed on the touch screen while driving, whereas with a dial it’s a simple twist.

As there’s no getting away from the substantial size, Toyota has included proximity sensors on the front and rear and a reversing camera with direction visualisation (lines that show you where you’re heading, depending on the angle of the steering wheel.)

Another manifestation of the size is the less-than-sporty handling around the city, as is to be expected from a car that weighs over 2700kg. Open road manners, though, are excellent. A couple of medium distance trips left me in no doubt that you can pop a couple of soft drinks in the built-in chiller, plug in your favourite selection of CDs, and ride the wave of torque from Auckland to Wellington, arriving feeling relatively refreshed.

So I’ve established that driving the Land Cruiser is fairly stress-free. Its multitude of features, pleasant cruising attitude, and superior parking assistance would make owning it easy. My own personal stress top 5 includes learning the layout of a brand new supermarket, running late, stationary traffic, people answering their cellphones in meetings, and finding out I’ve run out of deodorant on a hot day. I mean, I may be able to quickly navigate to a new supermarket and use the technology to park with ease, but finding the deodorant in unfamiliar aisles would be an absolute drama!

Click through to the next page to read the full specs of the Toyota Land Cruiser VX Ltd.

Price: from $126,490

What we like

  • Performance x size x fuel economy equation is more than reasonable
  • It’s loaded with everything you need¦almost
  • Starter button plus keyless entry is the way to do it
  • 14 airbags!

What we don’t like

  • It’s not the prettiest girl at the prom
  • No seat warmers

Brakes

Description     Multi-terrain Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Active Traction Control (A-TRC), Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC)
Front: Power-Assisted Ventilated Disc Brakes
Rear: Power-Assisted Ventilated Disc Brakes
Park Brake: Centre Floor Type Mechanical Parking Brake
Active Traction Control (A-TRC)
Downhill Assist Control (DAC)
Hill-start Assist Control (HAC)
Pedal Type Mechanical Parking Brake
Power assisted ventilated front and rear disc brakes
Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
Multi-terrain Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD)

Dimensions

Front Track      1640 mm
Rear Track     1635 mm
Gross Vehicle Weight     3300 kg
Kerb Weight     2675-2720 kg
Minimum Ground Clearance     225 mm
Overall Height     1905 mm
Overall Length     4950 mm
Overall Width     1970 mm
Tow Capacity Braked     3500 kg
Tow Capacity Unbraked     750 kg
Wheelbase     2850 mm

Engine

Engine Model Code      1VD-FTV
Type     V Type, 8 Cylinder, 32 Valve, DOHC with Twin Turbo Chargers and Intercooler
Alternator     150 Amps
Battery Voltage     12 Volts
Bore     86.0 mm
Capacity     4461 cc
Compression     16.8 : 1
Configuration     V Type
Condition     Combined
Emission     273 g/km
Test     Australian Design Rule – 81/01
Fuel Tank Capacity     93 Litres
Fuel Type     Diesel
Injection Type     Common Rail Direct Injection
Location     Front, Longitudinal
Maximum Power     195 kW
Maximum Torque     650 Nm
Starter     2.7 kW
Stroke     96.0 mm
Litres per 100km     10.3

Exterior

Body Coloured Exterior Door Handles
Front and Rear Mudflaps
Front Fog / Driving Lights
Fuel Cap with Tether Anchor
Intermittent Rear Wiper
Multi-reflector Halogen Headlights
Rear Spoiler
Side Door Impact Bars
Touch-up Paint
Washer-Linked Variable Intermittent Wipers
Aluminium Side Steps
Body Coloured Front Bumpers
Body Coloured Rear Bumper with Step
Chrome Plated Electric Exterior Rear View Mirrors
Chrome Plated Front Grille
Electric Luggage Area Exterior Door Handle
Front (2) and Rear (1) Towing Hooks
Front (2) and Rear (4) Parking Sensors
Green Tinted Side Privacy Glass
UV Resistant Glass
Headlight Cleaners
LED High Stop Light
LED Rear Combination Lamps
Radio Antenna Embedded in Left and Right Rear Window Glass
Rear Window Demister
Tinted Laminated Acoustic Windscreen Glass with Top Shade
Towing Hitch Attachment Point with Cover
Under Floor Mounted Spare Wheel Carrier

Interior

12-Volt Accessory Power Outlet
2×3-Point ELR Front Seat Belts with Pre-Tensioners & Force Limiters
Adjustable Front Seat Belt Anchors
Automatic Glare-Resistant Electrochromic Interior Rear View Mirror
Centre Differential Lock Switch
Child Proof Rear Door Locks
Child Restraint Tether Anchor and ISO Fixing Points
Cigarette Lighter with Illumination
Clean Air Filter with Pollen Filter
Coolbox
Cruise Control
Dash Light Dimmer
Digital Clock
Digital Type Heater Controls
Door Ajar Warning
Door Scuff Plates
Driver’s Footrest
Engine Immobiliser & Alarm System
Front and rear door operated interior room lights
Front Ashtray
Front Headrests with Height and Angle Adjustment
Front Personal Lights
Front Seat Back Pockets
Fuel Level Warning Light
Gear Shift Position Indicator on Gear Lever and Instrument Panel
Illuminated Entry System
Key Reminder Warning
Leather Door Trim
Leather Seat Material
Lockable Glovebox with Light
Optitron Instrument Panel
Outside Temperature Display
Power Windows with One Touch Auto Up/Down, Anti-Jam Safety Function
Rear Coat Hooks
Rear Personal Lights
Remote Fuel Lid Release
Shift Lock System
Tachometer
4 Spoke Leather and Wood-style Steering Wheel with Audio, Display and Bluetooth Controls
40/20/40 Split Folding Second Row Seats with Slide, Recline and Tumble Functions
50/50 Split Folding Third Row Seats with Recline, Fold and Space-Up Functions
Adjustable Second Row Outer Seatbelt Anchors
Auto Off Headlights
Card Holder
Downhill Assist Control (DAC) Activation Button
ECT 2nd Start Button
EMV (Electronic Multi-Vision) Display with DVD Satellite Navigation System, Bluetooth Telephone Capability, Audio Controls, Climate Controls, and Reversing Camera
Front (2), Rear (2) and Third Row (4) Cup Holders
Front (4), Second (4) and Third (2) Row Assist Grips
Front and Rear Door Armrests
Front and Rear Door Courtesy Lights
Front and Rear Door Pockets with Bottle Holders
Front and Rear Four-Zone Climate Control Air Conditioning with Independent Temperature Controls
Power Adjustable Front Seats with Slide, Recline, Tilt and Height Functions with Driver’s Lumbar Support
Front Sunvisors with Illuminated Vanity Mirrors, Cover and Sub Visors
Fuel Sediment Warning Light and Buzzer
Leather and Wood-style Gear Lever
Luggage Area Cargo Hooks (4)
Manual Idling Control Button for Improved Heating Performance
Multi-Information Display (with Twin Trip Meters, Gear Lever Position, Driving Range, Average Speed, Distance Travelled, Current and Average Fuel Consumption and Warning Functions)
Park Assist On/Off Button
Pioneer AM/FM Radio and 6 Disc In-Dash MP3/WMA CD/DVD Player with 9 Speakers
Rear Console Box with Cup Holders (2)
Rear Seat Centre Arm Rest
Roll-Sensing Curtain Shield Airbag (RSCA) On/Off Button
Second and Third Row Headrests with Height Adjustment for Second Row and Inner Third Row Seats
Silver Interior Door Handles
Smart Key System with Remote Central Door Locking & Answer Back Function
Smart Start System
Power Tilt and Telescopic Steering Column with Automatic Retract Function
VSC/A-TRC On/Off Switch
3×3-Point ALR/ELR Second Row Seat Belts with Outer Pre-Tensioners
3×3-Point ALR/ELR Third Row Seat Belts
Driver and Front Passenger Seat Belt Warning Lights and Buzzer
Driver and Passenger Front, Knee and Side Airbags, 2nd Row Side and Full Length Curtain Shield Airbags

Steering

Description      Engine Speed Sensitive Power-Assisted Rack and Pinion Steering
Minimum Turning Circle     11.8 m
Steering Ratio     16.7
Turns lock to lock     3.14

Tilt and Telescopic Steering Column

Suspension

Front      Fully Independent Double Wishbone Coil Spring with Stabiliser Bar
Rear     4-line Coil Rigid Suspension with Lateral Rod and Stabiliser Bar
Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS)

Transmission

Description      6-Speed Super ECT (Electronically Controlled Transmission) with Artificial Intelligence (AI), Shift Control and Sequential Manual Mode
Type     6AT
Drive Type     Full-Time 4WD
Diff Type     Torsen Centre LSD (Torque sensing Limited Slip Differential)
Gear 1 Ratio     3.333
Gear 2 Ratio     1.960
Gear 3 Ratio     1.353
Gear 4 Ratio     1.000
Gear 5 Ratio     0.728
Gear 6 Ratio     0.588
Reverse Ratio     3.061
Final Ratio     3.909
Shift Type     Auto
Rotary Switch Type for High/Low and Momentary Switch for Free/Lock

Wheels

Description      8J x 17″ Alloy Wheels
Tyre Size     285/65 R17 steel belted radial ply tyres
Wheel Type     Yokohama Geolander G94
Full Size Alloy Spare Wheel

Words and photos Darren Cottingham


Road Tests / Car Reviews: Saab 93 TiD Vector Lux 2008 Review

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Many people buy a certain brand of car because that’s what their parents drove. There seems to be strong family ties with Fords and Holdens in New Zealand, but for me (growing up in the UK) it’s Rover and Saab. Because Rover is dead (and rubbish), that just leaves Saab to prompt the nostalgic moments.

Dad got his first Saab 9000 Turbo just about at the time when I wanted to start driving (age 11 or 12). Its substantial power, significant turbo lag, and stupendous torque steer were a damn site more exciting than Mum’s Mazda 323 (even though it did have spotlights and a speed stripe) and, in my mind, much closer to the Lamborghini Countach in the poster tacked to the wall above my bed. So, I wanted a Saab. I wanted to get to 100kph in under 8 seconds. It was my mission.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I don’t want a Saab anymore, because I’ve seen the Aston Martin Vanquish. But don’t let that make you think this Saab 93 TiD is not good, because it is. Look past the dashboard (which takes you back to the mid-‘90s), and what you’ve got is a smooth, solid-feeling cruiser with comfortable seats and pleasant road manners.

Sitting in a new Saab feels like sitting in any Saab; on the inside, the aesthetics are quaint — too much like an older Saab 900. But the new exterior styling is bold up front with the accented grille (inspired by the Aero-X concept car) flanked by bi-xenon headlamps, and sleek down the sides where no unnecessary creases spoil the flow. Very Scandinavian! Elegant 17-inch alloys with five wide spokes adorn the four corners, again keeping the look clean.

On the boot, there’s a TiD badge, because this 93 sports a 1.9-litre 110kW diesel engine, and has a turbo for force-fed assistance. This makes it a bit laggy from rest, but once moving there’s plenty of power for overtaking. The automatic ‘box has a manual mode, either using the gearstick, or the buttons on the steering wheel. A sport mode is available that changes up later and down earlier.

Nothing about the engine and gearbox really encourages you to thrash the Saab 93. It’s not that kind of car; more a highway cruiser that will transport you to your dinner date, leaving your tuxedo unruffled, and calming your nerves. It’s not softly sprung — the suspension is nicely firm — but it does insulate you from harsh surfaces somewhat.

Instrumentation is simple and easy to read. There’s a button marked nightpanel which turns all the dials and instrumentation lights off except for the speedo — I’m not sure why it’s necessary, because it certainly isn’t stealthy with the diesel engine clattering away up front.

Dual stage seat heaters are an obvious inclusion for a Swedish car. Raise your gaze up to the stereo and this is the main area that needs a design update. The stereo itself has a solid kick and fairly crisp treble, and is simple to operate. The speakers are arranged along the top of the dashboard, using the windscreen to reflect sound back into the cabin. This method often gives a clearer stereo spread in the front of the car, and it’s no exception here.

Having the stumpy key near the handbrake is a design flaw — it takes away space that could be used for storage. Like a Holden, the Saab’s handbrake integrated with the design of the central console, but in the Saab it works well; in the Holden, it doesn’t.

The Holy Grail of brand loyalty is when the kids start buying what the parents drove, but with the thousands of options available nowadays, and people’s urge to be independent, this could possibly be a futile wish by the car manufacturers of the future.

Certainly the Saab is a car for the slightly more mature buyer (not necessarily old, but not really in his/her 20s). This could prove difficult for Saab — it really needs a car to hook in the younger affluent purchasers, and there just isn’t one. In those early independent car-buying years, you can get hooked on another marque and totally forget about the thrill you might have had as a child in the passenger seat of a powerful Scandinavian machine, cruising at 80mph through the English countryside. Thanks for the memories, anyway.

Price: from $66,900

What we like

  • As ever, it’s a confident and comfortable cruiser
  • Pleasant exterior styling
  • Folding rear seats are practical

What we don’t like

  • Redesign the dashboard please — this isn’t the ‘90s, it’s not an old Saab 900, and I want my key on the steering column
  • Engine a bit laggy from rest (typical of turbo diesels), and noisy at idle
Diesel engine Four-cylinder in-line, Aluminium cylinder head, cast iron block. DOHC 16v . Common rail, direct and multiple injection. Turbocharged, VNT, intercooled. Dual-mass flywheel. Particulate filter. Euro 4 Emissions (Jan 06) compliant
Ignition/Fuel injection Bosch EDC 16. Ignition/ fuel-injection system.
Displacement (litre) 1,910
Bore/Stroke (mm) 90.4 / 82
Compression ratio 17.5:1
Max boost pressure (bar) 1.35
Max. Power 110 KW (150 hp) @ 4,000 rpm
Max. Torque 320 Nm @ 2000 – 2750 r/min
Fuel Diesel
Top speed (km/h) Manual 6-speed (M6) 210; Automatic 6-speed (A6) 210
0-100 km/h M6 9.5; A6 11.0
60-100 km/h fourth gear M6 7.6
80-120 km/h fifth gear M6 9.5
Fuel consumption (l/100 km)* M6 7.7/4.7/6.2; A6 9.7/5.2/6.8
CO2 emissions combined (g/km) M6 163; A6 181
Luggage compartment 425 litres VDA. Rear seats fold down completely or 60/40 %
Fuel tank capacity 58 litres
Max trailer load 1600 kg
Max roof load 100 kg
Tare Mass 1436-1576 kg depending on specification
Seating Capacity 5
Drive train Front wheel drive
Sentronic six-speed automatic 6 speed automatic transmission with Saab Sentronic manual selection, steering wheel buttons standard

Words and photos Darren Cottingham


Blogs: Crashing the car of the future will be a pleasure

James Yates from Skoda just informed me that the new Superb will have nine airbags, and I can confidently predict that within the next 5-6 years crashing a car will be a pleasurable experience, perhaps almost like playing in a bouncy castle (you remember those from your childhood, surely). That is, except for the impact on your insurance premium. But I might be wrong, because after 30 years of the airbag it should by now be impossible to die in a modern car, unless significantly exceeding the speed limit (in which case, the world may be grateful for the removal of your genes from the gene pool.) But it’s not. We still have ‘edge cases’ – those awkward accidents that are difficult to protect against (large truck hits driver’s door, or concrete post comes through windscreen, for example).

Fellow scribe Ben reminded me that in Demolition Man, Stallone was saved from a serious crash by expanding foam inside the car. This won’t become a  reality because you’ll need to trash the interior. But the inclusion of more and more airbags can only be a good thing in terms of driver safety. The worst thing is that the more airbags that go off, the more likely insurance companies are to write off a car in an accident because of the expense (and potential liability) of replacing them. In which case, foam might be every bit as valid!

News: Customers put their names down for IFR Aspid

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More than 100 potential customers have signed up for an exclusive two day test drive of the new Aspid sports car. Following the successful introduction of the car, IFR Automotive is now seeking to create a network of international dealers.

IFR, an automotive engineering consultancy that developed the supercar, expects most of its clientele will use the ride and drive event to confirm their interest and place deposits. It means the company could be facing a full order book for the next couple of years as it plans to produce the exclusive hand-built cars at the rate of less than one a week.

IFR is determined not to fall into the classic trap of setting unrealistically high sales targets and can make the project profitable building even fewer than 50 cars a year. By restricting the number of cars it builds it is also aiming to protect the investment of its clientele.

Weighing in at less than 700kg, yet full of luxury touches such as climate control and touch screens as well as having an enclosed cabin, the Aspid will try to engender the philosophy of lightweight compact sports car but be packed full of advanced technical innovations in the chassis, suspension, brakes and electronic systems.

Interestingly, the majority of potential customers for the car have expressed a preference for the more expensive supercharged model, which is priced at £107,000 (NZD$290,000), more so than the 270bhp naturally aspirated version which will be sold at £75,000 (NZD$205,000).

News: Chery shows off ‘mild’ hybrids in Olympic bid

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As a part of the transportation arrangements for the Beijing Olympics, a 50-unit fleet of hybrid vehicles co-developed with Ricardo is being provided by Chery Automobile Company Ltd. Known as the “Olympics Green Messengers”, these vehicles are some of China’s first hybrid vehicles and will go into full production in the months following the games.

With its expertise in hybrid electric vehicles and its wide-ranging skills in systems integration and vehicle control and electronics, Ricardo was a natural choice of engineering partner for Chery when the Chinese automaker decided to develop its first hybrid products. Two new vehicles, both based on its existing A5 sedan model, were identified by Chery. The first is a stop-start hybrid based on a 12-volt Belt Starter-Generator (BSG) linked to 1.6 litre gasoline engine, itself linked to a 5-speed manual transmission. The second is a more comprehensive mild-hybrid based on the same baseline vehicle but instead equipped with a 1.3 litre gasoline engine and a 12 kW crankshaft-mounted 151-volt Integrated Starter-Generator (ISG). These technologies have been configured to be capable of providing significant fuel savings through the use of advanced powertrain control and energy management strategies.

Key Ricardo responsibilities for the BSG programme included full architecture, sub-system and components requirements definition, hybrid control unit design, vehicle and communications interface development, system design — including detailed thermal analysis — and powertrain control strategy for safety and efficient operation. The focus of the engineering programme and the efficiency of the development programme were such that the first prototype vehicle was run with production-intent hardware and complete with hybrid strategy and application software, just ten months from programme start. The final fuel economy results are no less impressive: in tests over the ECE Urban drive cycle, the BSG vehicle achieves approximately a 7 per cent improvement in fuel consumption over the baseline product, and it is expected that the improvement will be greater than 10 per cent in real-world urban driving.

For the more complex ISG product, Ricardo carried full system design authority including specification and integration of the ISG system, high-voltage battery pack and battery management system, and developed an integrated hybrid control unit that incorporates the motor drive power electronics, DC to DC converter, and hybrid supervisory and safety functions into one compact package. The safety-critical application strategies and software were defined, engineered and validated including extensive vehicle and hardware-in-the-loop testing. With its comprehensive mild-hybrid functionality, the ISG-equipped sedan provides a significant increase in performance over the equivalent baseline A5 vehicle fitted with a 1.3 litre engine; peak power and torque of the ISG-equipped vehicle are comparable with that of a larger 1.6 litre engine.  Final production calibration and testing of the vehicle systems are still taking place, but the fuel consumption improvement over the NEDC cycle is expected to approach 15 per cent compared to the 1.6 litre benchmark vehicle. In addition, the system enables engine restart within 200 milliseconds, thus allowing stop-start functionality to be included in the hybrid control strategy.

The new BSG and ISG powertrain equipped A5 models of Chery Automobile Co. Ltd underscore the position of this fast-growing Chinese automaker as one of China’s automotive technology leaders. Engineered to exacting European emissions requirements, these new vehicles are due to enter full production shortly and will be available for both domestic Chinese and export markets.

News: Suzuki to show off new model and concepts in Paris

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The Paris International Motor Show (Mondial de l’Automobile) is the venue for Suzuki Motor Corporation to exhibit the new Alto and two new ‘fuel-cell’ concepts.

The all-new Alto builds on the strengths of Suzuki’s knowledge of small-car development. It combines eye-catching style and easy urban mobility with great performance in terms of high fuel efficiency and low CO2 emissions. The new compact car offers light weight achieved through downsizing yet provides ample interior roominess and comfort. For the compact body, Suzuki designers tailored a stylish, sporty and youthful look that simultaneously exudes solidity and urban energy. It is perfectly matched to European tastes and supports a low drag coefficient. With overall higher levels of quality, comfort, and safety, the all-new Alto is a response to the needs of today’s motorists.

Suzuki seeks to further strengthen the environmentally conscious advantages of its products and aims for further reductions of their impact on the global environment. One way to achieve this is fuel cell technology. The latest two fuel-cell models will be exhibited in Paris: the first is the SX4 FCV and is equipped with a GM-made high-performance fuel cell stack, a Suzuki-developed 70MPa hydrogen tank, and a light, compact capacitor. The second is the “crosscage” that features a simple, compact, and lightweight air-cooled fuel-cell power system from British specialist company Intelligent Energy, plus a high-performance lithium-ion secondary battery.

The Alto is yet to be confirmed as a starter for the New Zealand Suzuki line-up.

News: Lexus tops J.D. Power survey for 14th consecutive year

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Deterioration in vehicle quality during the first three years of ownership-determined by comparing long-term dependability rates to initial quality problem rates-strongly affects overall customer satisfaction as well as customer willingness to recommend their vehicle model, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Vehicle Dependability StudySM (VDS).

The study, which measures problems experienced by original owners of 3-year-old (2005 model year) vehicles, finds that, on average, customers report experiencing 75 percent more problems in the third year of ownership than during the first 90 days. Those models with the largest increase in problem levels show the most pronounced declines in satisfaction and the likelihood of owners to recommend their vehicle model. In addition, while no model has fewer reported problems in the third year of ownership compared with the first three months, those models that average less than 35 percent problem growth actually demonstrate improvement in overall satisfaction during the three-year period.

The study also finds that five of the top 10 problems reported industry-wide in the 2008 Vehicle Dependability Study were also among the top 10 most frequently reported problems in the 2005 Initial Quality Study, suggesting that the problems are identified by owners during the initial ownership period, but have not been rectified by automakers during the three-year ownership period.

The problems include:

* Excessive wind noise
* Noisy brakes
* Vehicle pulling to the left or right
* Issues with the instrument panel/dashboard
* Excessive window fogging

For a 14th consecutive year, Lexus ranks highest in vehicle dependability, improving by 25 problems per 100 vehicles since 2007 to achieve a score of 120 PP100. Following in the top five rankings are Mercury, Cadillac, Toyota and Acura, respectively.

In addition, Lexus garners six segment awards-the most of any nameplate in 2008-for the ES 330, GX 470, IS 300, LS 430, LX 470 and SC 430. Toyota follows with five segment awards for the Highlander, Prius, RAV4, Sequoia, and Tundra. Ford and Honda each capture two awards. Ford models receiving awards are the Crown Victoria and Ranger, while Honda earns awards for the Element and S2000. Models by Buick, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Mazda and Mercury each rank highest in one segment.

SAAB is the most improved brand in the study, although it continues to rank below the industry average. SAAB improves by 65 PP100 since 2007.

The study finds that long-term vehicle quality has improved by 5 percent industry-wide in 2008-with an overall decrease of 10 problems per 100 vehicles-compared with 2007. More than 60 percent of the 38 nameplates included in the study improve in 2008, compared with 2007. Among the 19 segments included in the study, the midsize premium MAV segment demonstrates the most improvement in 2008-36 PP100 fewer than in 2007. The compact car and midsize car segments also have much lower problem levels in 2008 than in 2007, and together account for more than one-half of the overall industry improvement.

The 2008 Vehicle Dependability Study is based on responses from more than 52,000 original owners of 2005 model-year vehicles. The study was fielded from January through April 2008.

Find more detailed findings on vehicle dependability as well as model photos and specs by reading an article and reviewing brand and segment dependability ratings at JDPower.com.