Opel Astra OPC hot hatch debuts in Europe

November 7th, 2011 by Darren Cottingham

Opel has unveiled its new Astra OPC known as the Vauxhall VXR in some markets. OPC stands for Opel Performance Centre and is the Euro brand’s in-house tuning division so this is the hottest Astra in the range.

The performance hatch is powered by a 2.0 litre turbocharged engine producing a huge 206 kW of power and 400 Nm of torque. These figures make it the most powerful Astra ever built and allow it a top speed of 250 km/h.

The large dose of power is sent exclusively to the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. To help the hot hatch put that grunt to ground there’s a mechanical limited-slip differential on the front axle. The front suspension is a version of Opel’s ‘High Performance Strut’ suspension package and the car also comes with Opel’s adaptive suspension system FlexRide which includes a sports setting.

Visually the VXR is distinguished over its lesser kin by an aggressive body kit that includes aerodynamic front and rear bumpers, deep side skirting and a hatch spoiler. There’s also integrated dual exhaust outlets and XL-size alloy rims.  Continue reading “Opel Astra OPC hot hatch debuts in Europe” »

Vauxhall reveals the full GTC concept

September 9th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Vauxhall has taken the unconventional approach and pulled the covers off its GTC concept well ahead of the main event at the Paris Motor Show. In its classic concept fashion, the GTC is released on massive 21-inch wheels that aren’t very likely to be found on the production version of the car…until the chavs get hold of it.

The GTC has a direct-injection, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine dropped in, complete with a functioning start/stop system and a six-speed manual gearbox.

Check out the gallery for a more detailed look. Vauxhall will show off the GTC Concept in Paris starting on September 30.

Dropping a Vauxhall Insignia from a great height

December 17th, 2009 by Darren Cottingham
The Vauxhall Insignia made its first public appearance when the vehicle, which emerged from the bottom of a container, aka as the “orb” suspended above Potters Fields Park, quickly lowered 45 meters in six seconds (7.6 metres per second) in front of a crowd of over 300 spectators.

The Vauxhall Insignia made its first public appearance when the vehicle, which emerged from the bottom of a container, aka as the “orb” suspended above Potters Fields Park, quickly lowered 45 meters in six seconds (7.6 metres per second) in front of a crowd of over 300 spectators.

Fiat to make more acquisitions including Opel and Saab

May 5th, 2009 by Darren Cottingham

Fiat logo

Fiat’s new alliance with Chrysler may only be the beginning for the Italian automaker. According recent reports coming out of the UK and Germany, the Fiat’s expansion plans aren’t limited to its 20% stake in Chrysler — Fiat is also considering acquiring General Motors’ European operations, including Opel, Vauxhall and Saab.

A new super-company would be formed that includes Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo, along with Chrysler and GM Europe, into one corporate entity worth around $106 billion USD and would rival Volkswagen in being the world’s second largest automaker behind Toyota.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Fiat’s CEO Sergio Marchionne spoke about the potential union, “From an engineering and industrial point of view, this is a marriage made in heaven” and with the full support of the automaker’s board, Marchionne hopes to have the deal completed this month, with shares of the new company temporarily dubbed Fiat/Opel — available in the coming months.

Marchionne believes that the alliance would make Fiat a stronger player in the global marketplace during the economic downturn and through merging Fiat and Opel’s B- and C-segment platforms, along with absorbing Opel’s larger D-platform and Fiat’s sub-compact A-segment offerings, could save around 1 billion euros each year.

German trade unions are throwing a spanner, citing concerns about job losses and factory closures, and according to the German magazine WirtschaftWoche, Fiat’s initial offer of $1.33 billion to acquire GM’s European operations was rejected.

Marchionne is scheduled to present Fiat’s plan to an assortment of German leaders this week. Check back for further updates.

Vauxhall Insignia wins European Car of the Year Award

November 18th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Vauxhall Insignia

The Insignia, the all-new family car from Vauxhall/Opel, has been voted 2009 Car of the Year — by the narrowest possible margin. The Insignia polled an impressive 321 votes to beat this year’s other favoured contender, the Ford Fiesta, by a solitary point. The Volkwsagen Golf, on 223 points, was third.

“This is the closest COTY competition for years,” comments Ray Hutton, president of the 59-strong jury of senior motoring journalists drawn from 23 European countries. “Car of the Year has often been decided narrowly, but it is eight years since another Ford, the Mondeo, was beaten by a single point by Alfa Romeo’s 147.” To underscore the closeness of the 46-year-old competition, the Vauxhall/Opel Insignia received most votes from 20 of the international jurors, while the Fiesta was placed first by 19 of them.

“We are delighted to be able to deliver good news at such a tough time,” says Steve Cropley, editor-in-chief of Autocar, COTY’s British-based sponsoring magazine, “The market’s the toughest we’ve seen for 20 years, but nothing alters the fact that the Insignia is a great car. However, this result is undoubtedly something of an upset. The Ford Fiesta seemed to many a winning contender. But in the end, the Insignia deserved to triumph and it did.”

Points allotted to the other COTY finalists were VW Golf 223, Citroen C5 198, Alfa Romeo MiTo 148, Skoda Superb 144 and Renault Megane 121. The competition’s first stage was in October, when jurors chose seven finalists from a field of 37 contenders. To be eligible for COTY, a car must be launched within the past 12 months and must be available in at least five European countries.

The COTY jury is made up of 59 senior motoring journalists from 23 countries. Their objective is to choose the most outstanding new car to go on sale in the past 12 months. Jurors vote twice:  first to select a short-list of seven from the new cars launched in Europe, then again to choose the winner.

COTY PREVIOUS WINNERS

2008                        FIAT 500
2007                        FORD S-MAX
2006                        RENAULT CLIO
2005                        TOYOTA PRIUS
2004                        FIAT PANDA
2003                        RENAULT MEGANE
2002                        PEUGEOT 307
2001                        ALFA ROMEO 147
2000                        TOYOTA YARIS
1999                        FORD FOCUS
1998                        ALFA ROMEO 156
1997                        RENAULT MEGANE SCENIC
1996                        FIAT BRAVO / BRAVA
1995                        FIAT PUNTO

Vauxhall to debut Insignia Estate at Paris Motorshow

August 15th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

vauxhall-insignia-wagon-fq

These are the first official shots of Vauxhall’s new Insignia estate, which will debut at the Paris Salon in October.

Known as the Sports Tourer, it will be available to UK buyers in the second quarter of 2009 and will feature two new engines — a more powerful turbodiesel and a smaller capacity turbocharged petrol unit — in addition to the five powerplants available from launch in the saloon and hatchback models. An ecoFLEX Sports Tourer with competitively low emissions and fuel consumption will also be available in the near future.

New Zealand will not be receiving the Insignia any time soon as plans to put a Holden badge on the car have yet to be finalised.

Designers gave the rear of the Sports Tourer a unique, yet cohesive appearance by pulling the wraparound tailgate deep in to its flanks and accentuating it with large, fully integrated tail lights.

Inside, as with the Insignia saloon and hatch, the Sports Tourer has ample room for five adults and one of the best loadspace volumes in its class. Despite this, Vauxhall has retained the hatch and saloon’s wheelbase (2,737mm) and added around 80mm to its length.

The new petrol and diesel engines available in the Sports Tourer will complement the Insignia’s existing line up of three petrol and two diesel units, including the 130 and 160PS 2.0 CDTi which achieve 4.8L/100km on the extra urban cycle, the 220PS 2.0i Turbo, and the 260PS 2.8i V6 range-topper, capable of powering the Insignia from 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds.

Like the Insignia hatch and saloon, the Sports Tourer will also be available with front- and all-wheel drive, as well as Vauxhall’s FlexRide system with its Adaptive Stability Technology.

The new estate model will also benefit from the high levels of technology showcased at Insignia’s launch, such as Vauxhall’s latest generation Adaptive Forward Lighting (AFL), with its nine light beam settings, and the Front Camera System, which can read and memorise road signs and alert drivers if they unintentionally veer off the road.

Vauxhall introduces new technology for mid-price cars

June 23rd, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

vauxhall-insignia-fq

Vauxhall has introduced a dual-function camera that not only reads speed limit and no-overtaking signs and displays them on the instrument panel, but also alerts drivers when they unintentionally veer out of their lane. Known as Traffic Sign Recognition and Lane Departure Warning, the two systems improve driving safety, reduce stress and can even prevent costly speeding tickets.

“These new features follow Vauxhall’s philosophy of enhancing driving excitement by assisting drivers without reducing their level of control,” explains Hans Demant, Managing Director of GME Engineering. “That means the system gives drivers information, but it doesn’t intervene.”

Known as the Front Camera System, the wide-angled, high-resolution camera and processors were jointly developed by Vauxhall/Opel engineers and specialists from supplier Hella. The camera, located between the windscreen and the rear-view mirror, detects road signs and lane markings. It’s not much bigger than a mobile phone, yet can take 30 pictures per second. Two signal processors filter and read the photos.

Depending on light conditions, the Traffic Sign Recognition function begins to repeatedly read signs at 100 metres. It starts by focusing on circular patterns then identifies the numbers inside them via contour comparison. When a match is found in the car’s software, the sign is displayed in the instrument panel; it will even prioritise a no-overtaking sign over a speed limit warning sign.

When the Lane Departure Warning function is turned on, it uses a second signal processor and software to read traffic lanes and record a driver’s normal lane-changing behaviour, taking into account steering input and indicator usage. If any deviation is detected, an audible and visual warning is sent from the instrument panel, preventing hazardous situations, such as a driver falling asleep at the wheel.

The Front Camera System, featuring Traffic Sign Recognition and Lane Departure Warning will be available as an option on the new Insignia, with other Vauxhall models benefiting from the system in future.

Camouflage and disguise: the fight against prototype paparazzi

March 19th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Vauxhall insignia camouflage

Camouflage and disguise are crucial when new model prototypes first leave the well-protected confines of the design studio or workshop and head out onto the test track or open road. Although a great deal of today’s vehicle proving can be conducted in advance by computer simulation or on the test bench, there inevitably comes the day when all test results have to be validated, and the car must be released into its natural habitat — the road.

Surprises only work if they’re not revealed beforehand, so the team responsible for camouflaging prototypes begins making their preparations for the test phase when the new car first progresses beyond computer simulations and clay models. Together with chief designers and engineers, the team establishes which of the car’s characteristic lines should be kept hidden the longest from prototype paparazzi.

Together, they develop a “facelift” for the upcoming model that would disguise the prototypes as much as possible. In the case of the UK’s Vauxhall Insignia shown in the images, one of the variants had an especially elegant, flowing rear section, for instance, so a pronounced spoiler was designed to mask it. A wooden model was built as a cast to form the plastic camouflage parts needed for around 200 test cars that have to be disguised in the run-up to series production.

Covers for other characteristic body components were also designed and produced using the same process. As always, the first prototypes were brought to a workshop in a particularly well protected area to be disguised as the initial test cars.

First “facelift” should make the car as ugly as possible

For this part of the camouflage operation, experts use special adhesive and foil, which ensures a smooth surface and remains flexible and tear-proof at temperatures ranging from minus 40 to plus 70 degrees Celsius. In other areas, the foil is shimmed with foam to change the car’s contours. This adhesive material is also used to camouflage characteristic window lines.

Small, highly contrasting covers are fitted to obscure other prototype body surfaces. For years, the practice at many car manufacturers was to use a black and white chessboard pattern, but Vauxhall has replaced this with by “Fishies” — rounded, fish-shaped diamonds designed to confuse camera lenses and spying eyes. This disguising job will soon be done even better by Flimmies, a new type of camouflage whose pattern creates a flickering effect.

If it has Vauxhall logo, it’s definitely not a Vauxhall

Fixing false brand and identification marks to prototypes is a popular trick in the camouflage business. So a test car with a Vauxhall-like logo is most probably not a Vauxhall.

Headlamps and rear lights are especially difficult to disguise as vehicle licensing authorities stipulate that a car’s — even a prototype’s — cone of light, brake lights and all other exterior functions must meet legal regulations. Unfortunately, headlamps and rear lights are a popular means for designers to make the cars’ brand easily recognisable, and therefore must be well disguised. To do this, camouflage experts fit simple, round lights from an accessories shop to the rear of the car, and make special components for the headlamps.

Another challenge for camouflage experts is that disguising elements also need to be removable. For certain tests, such as acoustics or aerodynamics, any body styling parts are a hindrance, regardless of security. That’s why some automakers favour large wraparound covers that can be attached to the car’s body with Velcro and lashing belts. Vauxhall opted for a different approach, as such large covers can come loose at high speeds, damaging the camouflage and endangering other road users.

Biggest obstacle in a perfect camouflage operation? People

The biggest potential compromise to camouflage operations is always going to be the technicians associated with the test car. The car manufacturers have internal rules relating to how camouflaged vehicles can be driven. In Vauxhall’s case, rule 531 states that no camouflaged test car may stop in a public place, for instance, while the driver has a quick snack. A tarpaulin must also always be on board in case a prototype breaks down during its test phase and must be quickly covered over.

To protect plant secrets, prototypes are always accompanied by a second car on public roads, so help is always at hand if needed. Over long distances prototypes have to be transported in closed trucks, such as for test driving in Finland. In the past, resourceful photographers would all too often quickly lift up the truck’s tarpaulin and snap some shots while the driver was taking a well-deserved break.

But why such an effort? In short, the automobile industry lives and breathes new cars, and this is of great interest to two particular groups: competitors and the media. While competitors want to react to new products as quickly as possible with their own innovations, for the media, the news of any new innovations is a valuable means of attracting readers or viewers.

One of the most important characteristics of a new car is its exterior design. It is the customer’s first impression of the car, it defines a brand’s appearance for the public, and often lets judgments be made about what possible technological innovations are concealed beneath the bodywork. That’s why shielding new body styling from prying eyes has become an art form within the auto industry over past decades.

Prototype paparazzi: The nemesis of camouflage experts

The principal opponent of camouflage experts are specialist photographers called prototype hunters, or simply photo spies. The prototype paparazzi have a very good idea where the automobile industry’s preferred test circuits are located around the world.

These photographers face increasing competition from amateurs who happen to capture an unknown car on their camera phones. Or then again maybe not, as some pictures that land on editors’ desks are of series-production models that are only unusual because they are not for sale in the photographer’s country, and therefore seem exotic or mysterious.

Professional photographs, on the other hand, can command five-figure sums, depending on brand, timing and image quality, and are the main income of a small, but highly specialised group known as ‘Photoshoppers’. In the past, trained designers artistically adapted photos of camouflage cars with crayons and India ink to form often very accurate images of the latest innovations. Nowadays, it is Photoshop touch-up artists who try to create realistic images of these new models. To help them, they have prototype photographs and design concept cars, which automakers use to test public reaction at motor shows, and also to stir up anticipation of future series-production vehicles.