Next Ford Focus RS could use hybrid drivetrain

July 28th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Hybrid vehicles are the way of the future it would seem and while the Toyota Prius is hardly an excitement machine, hybrid tech will shortly be in many performance cars. The latest vehicle to be apparently receiving electric power is the next-generation Ford Focus RS. It’s another sign of things to come, that one of Europe’s hotest hatches may come with a hybrid drive set-up similar to that of the Peugeot Hybrid 4.

Recent reports state that senior sources at Ford say that the automaker is in the early stages of developing a hybrid set up that would mate a 2.0 litre EcoBoost unit with an electric motor on the rear axle, turning the Focus RS into an all-wheel drive sport hatch.

The 2.0 litre turbo EcoBoost engine would spit out around 250 bhp for an ST variant (XR5 Turbo), while the RS version would feature the same amount of power for the engine, while the addition of the electric motor would provide for a significant amount of extra power and torque. Total output would probably top out at around 300 bhp, similar to the current RS variant.

Naturally the new set up would offer far better fuel-economy than the current Volvo-supplied 2.5 litre, 5-cylinder turbo seen in the current RS now, which Ford may no longer have access to since it sold Volvo Cars earlier this year.

Ford will likely provide more details on the next Focus RS when it debuts the Focus ST at the Paris auto show later this year.

Click here to read a Car and SUV review of the current model Focus XR5 Turbo.

Porsche using three electric Boxsters for testing

July 27th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Porsche is rapidly ramping up its vehicle electrification program, ranging from the top-level plug-in hybrid 918 Spyder concept and the 911 GT3R Hybrid racer to the new Cayenne hybrid that has now entered production. But the latest addition to the electric drive program is a group of three experimental Boxsters that are all electric.

Porsche is keeping closed lips on these new Boxsters for now and no technical details have been released. The Boxster prototypes will be used to test the new electric drivetrain systems as well as see what infrastructure is required to facilitate them. It’s no secret that Porsche is interested in a production version of the 918 Spyder and is likely using these Boxsters to evaluate the battery systems, along with the motors and power electronics.

Toyota Camry Hybrid i-Tech 2010 Review

July 23rd, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

It’s not just a hybrid drivetrain that’s arrived in NZ with the latest Toyota Camry, it’s come carrying great anticipation too. While it’s often only badge fans that eagerly await a new model, the Camry Hybrid has sparked interest from private buyers, fleet purchasers, the environmentally conscious and even interested Taxi Drivers. Why shouldn’t it be anticipated either, it’s (almost) locally produced in South Australia, has the latest in fuel saving tech and is a fresh take on an old favourite. So is this hybrid machine really worth all the fuss? Car and SUV spent a week playing an eco-friendly, fleet-buying taxi driver to find out more.

While Toyota’s Prius was always designed to be a hybrid-only vehicle, the Camry doesn’t share that luxury and small tweaks have been made to its appearance for both functional reasons and to distance it from lower-spec siblings.  The most noticeable difference comes with a unique front bumper and grille. More than just give it a reworked face the new front end provides additional cooling to the engine bay and drops the coefficient drag by six percent to just .27cd. There’s also eye-catching blue tinted headlights, ‘Hybrid’ badges all round and some classy chrome trim on the boot and front grille. Our tested top model Camry Hybrid i-Tech also features 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps, LED rear lights and a rear boot spoiler as standard kit. Elsewhere it shares the same low-key but modern styling as the rest of the Camry range.

In the cabin there’s a distinct luxury feel with black leather upholstery and high-grade dark plastics. One point of interest is an all-new instrument cluster that looks fantastic and drops the traditional tachometer in favour of an instantaneous fuel consumption meter. This special meter allows the driver to gauge how economically they are driving and lets them know when the petrol engine is off and the car is regenerating energy. The central instrument panel is also of note with its cool blue illumination, silver switchgear and large control screen. This touch screen handles standard stereo functions but also gives a detailed fuel consumption graph and an energy-use display that tells everyone when the electric motor is working and when it’s recharging. The rest of the cabin is slightly uninspired but offers good visibility and comfortable seating for five adults. The leather seats are nicely soft but could use more lateral support and there are ample small storage options front and back. Boot storage however, has been compromised by the nickel metal hydride battery packs and capacity is reduced by 71-litres to 389-litres. It’s also more difficult to load longer items into the boot, but the back seat still split-folds to reveal a slim ski-port.

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Toyota to cut domestic production by 20%

July 23rd, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Toyota and Honda have been making hay while the sun shines on their hybrid vehicles in Japan. But that is set to change as the Japanese government’s incentives for eco cars, which has been running for the past two years is about to end. The Toyota Prius has been the top-selling vehicle in Japan for more than a year and even the mixed-reviewed Honda Insight has sold beyond expectations. The eco car incentives end in October and with the expected drop in sales, Toyota is now planning on a sizeable cut to domestic production.

News agencies in Japan have been reporting that Toyota will slash production from its current 14,000 vehicles a day to fewer than 12,000 for the final quarter of the year. The automaker does expect sales to recover again later in the year and has kept its same production targets for the full fiscal year.

Honda to cease diesel engine development

July 19th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

It’s no secret how far diesel engines have come in the last few years. Old issues like rough running, nasty smells, loud operation and narrow power bands have all been ironed out. But after all that hard work, many automakers are now turning much of their focus on to electric and hybrid vehicles.

According to sources in Japan, Honda is joining the list of global automakers that have abandoned plans to move further into diesel power development. Instead, Honda will continue to focus entirely on hybrid basket, developing a new system for use in larger vehicles. Currently, Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist technology is used in the Civic Hybrid and the Insight.

Honda’s next hybrid system should further improve its current IMA tech, which has fallen short of the fuel efficiency and performance of rival Toyota, but is able to operate on the electric motor alone for longer stretches.

In addition to stopping development of clean diesel tech, Honda has also put the brakes on the new microcar plant in Japan that was to build future Kei cars for the domestic market.

Toyota working on new MR2 and Supra models

June 29th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

The rumors are back again that Toyota is getting busy developing a new MR2 and a hybrid Supra. This type of Toyota-based speculation isn’t new but it may have some traction now with hybrid sales on a upswing and the idea of a V6 hybrid sports car seeming more realistic. Apparently the vehicle to mark the grand return of the Supra is being developed alongside the FT-86, a car that appears to be constantly delayed. The most optimistic date for seeing either car will be 2013.

Apparently the MR2 will get a 1.5-litre hybrid set-up, following the lead of the now popular-in-Japan Honda CRZ, which itself was the claimed rebirth of the CR-X. According to the recent reports, the MR2  was the pet project of Hiromu Naruse, Toyota’s chief test driver. Unfortunately, Naruse died last week while testing another one of his projects, the Lexus LFA (read news). With it being only in a planning stage and having lost its leader, the new MR2 will most likely be on hold once again.

Next-generation Nissan GT-R could go hybrid

June 24th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Rumors of a hybrid-drive system for the next Nissan GT-R aren’t exactly new and have been dominating fan websites since last year. But now there may be some truth behind the speculation. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s has made a very public commitment to electric vehicles, so it won’t be a surprise that the automaker is seriously considering adding some form of battery power to the next version of its hero sports car. Speaking at a recent event over in Australia, GT-R chief engineer Kazutoshi Mizuno confirmed that an alternative powertrain of some description will be a necessity to keep the GT-R up-to-date and to help meet future emissions and fuel economy regulations.

Over in Europe big guns Mercedes-Benz and Audi have already announced plans to build electric versions of the SLS AMG and R8. According to Mizuno, Nissan is hedging its bets and this stage and is considering a straight battery variant, a hybrid or even a diesel version. A battery version is a strong possibility, but Mizuno also says a hybrid wouldn’t be too hard thanks to the GT-R’s front engine/rear transaxle layout. Currently the Nissan Leaf and other EVs are giving Nissan some breathing room on the total emissions regulations, so a new GT-R isn’t going to happen tomorrow. At this point work hasn’t begun on the new model and no official decision has been made on the powertrain. Stay tuned.

Rotary-power rumours for next-generation Mazda MX-5

June 18th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Some interesting rumors have started surfacing that the next-generation 2012 Mazda MX-5 could tip the scales at just 1,000kg and deliver an impressive 4.7l/100km economy without dropping any horsepower. Initial reports claimed that the MX-5 was achieving this feat by using Mazda’s forthcoming SKY-G engines, but now a very different story is coming out of Mazda HQ.

Apparently the 2012 MX-5 will receive a rotary powerplant with a displacement of either 1.2 or 1.3 litres, this will help the roadster drop off a few pounds in the process. However, the Wankel engine isn’t exactly known for its fuel efficiency so the rumored rotary would be of the hybrid variety. That sounds unbelievable, but the Wankel/hybrid pairing has already been achieved in the form of a Fiat 500 prototype built by FEV. The little Fiat contains a rotary engine that also acts as a generator for a Lithium-Ion battery pack.

While it’s an intriguing concept, this time round the MX-5 will most likely use a small, efficient four-cylinder with turbocharging. After all, one of the most attractive qualities of the MX-5 is it’s bargain price tag, and hybrids aren’t cheap, or that light either.