Archive for the ‘General’ Category


Sep 26

GM film was looking to autonomous vehicles in 1956


Do you think you know the future — 5 years from now, 10, 15, 20?

Recently GM dusted off a film from its archives and posted it digitally to its media site after CEO Mary Barra spoke on topics it focused upon. Her point was to show how forward thinking GM was, and is, and point taken, but much could be said about the video.

Personally I was fascinated by the culture and as much as I could glean from an obviously scripted presentation. I’ll add a video of the car itself in addition to two others.


The autonomous automotive future may be coming, but it’s been a long time coming as shown by a 9-minute 1956 General Motors feature film that gives a glimpse of a peak period for American optimism.

GM put together the post-World War II musical “GM – Key To The Future” to showcase its gas turbine Firebird II intended to drive in hands-free “safety lanes” as an answer to traffic congestion plaguing drivers 58 years ago.

It was shown at the 1956 GM Motorama and that was also the year President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act creating the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways – A.K.A. the U.S. Interstate Highway system.

As we hear projections today yet dependent on myriad variables coming into place, in 1956 they imagined 20 years into the future in 1976 things could look much different.

Following is a recent video explaining it, and the actual film is at the bottom of this post:


The film shows technology and human will were vying to make it happen, but “Key To The Future” was not an actual expectation from 1956, as Mary Barra told the 21st annual Congress of the Intelligent Transport Society on Sept. 7.

Part of its inspiration had come from GM’s 1952 “Better Highways” essay contest promising the winner a $25,000 prize – close to $250,000 in spending power today. This was offered to the person who came up with the best solution “’to plan and pay for the safe and adequate highways we need,’” said Barra. “Simply stated, the Firebird II was intelligent… and connected… even if some of its technology was considered science fiction.”

The Firebird II featured a regenerative gas turbine, all-wheel independent suspension with automatic load-leveling, power disc brakes, alternator, magnetic ignition key, electric gear selection, and individually-controlled air conditioning.

The Firebird II featured a regenerative gas turbine, all-wheel independent suspension with automatic load-leveling, power disc brakes, alternator, magnetic ignition key, electric gear selection, and individually-controlled air conditioning.


Beyond that, the film is illustrative of much, including that American society has changed markedly over the past six decades.

The car they are using is essentially a jet on wheels with, like the Chevy Volt, four seats. It had a titanium skin and was the second of three Firebird concepts GM created with turbine engines and predates the Jetsons cartoon series of the 1960s.

Chevrolet Electric Networked-Vehicle (EN-V) 2.0.

Chevrolet Electric Networked-Vehicle (EN-V) 2.0.

Today we frequently hear news of technological pieces of an autonomous vehicle puzzle moving into position by not just GM, but all automakers.

The idea has been cooking for a long time, and was planted into the cerebral cortex of society’s collective unconscious no less than 11 years after World War II when many looked toward a brighter future.

The Interstates are now old news, automobiles with turbine engines running on kerosene never made it, but we’re still on the road to the future. What that really looks like, we don’t know, we’re not the first to think we might, but on we go …


Sep 25

2016 ELR likely to be revealed at LA in November will get ‘engineering enhancements’


It’s ELR week here at GM-Volt! Or at least the last couple days.

Today’s news is Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell told Edmunds the 2016 ELR will be get “engineering enhancements,” it’s expected to be shown at the LA Auto Show, and the idea is to make the car more competitive.


Rivals named include the usual suspects: Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, Tesla Model S, and … BMW i3?

There they go again with these loosely similar comparisons. Is the BMW i3 a direct competitor? Actually GM names the BMW 4-Series along with Model S on its consumer Web site.

But more importantly, what could those “engineering enhancements” be? One of them is believed to be a 17.1-kwh battery from another EREV we all know, a little bird (with impeccable credentials) told us.

More than that is neither expressed nor implied, but it could be guessed at.

This video is of the first ELRs shipping last last year.

Could it be higher output? What can be done to help out the car that’s already being incentivized as much as $30,000 in total?

Yesterday also, GM announced another “Top-End” Cadillac will be made at Detroit-Hamtramck.

It’s called the CT6 – the name is part of Cadillac’s new simplified naming convention, and is derived from Cadillac’s use of CTS for its centerpiece carline.

“The Cadillac CT6 continues our brand’s elevation and global growth,” said Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadillac chief marketing officer. “CT6 will constitute an entirely new approach to the prestige sedan, emphasizing a dynamic driving experience and advanced technology.”

Cadillac said the rear-wheel-drive car will be launched late-2015, and will expand the range upwards – “meaning it will not replace any current product.”

The Hamtramck plant is part of a previously announced $384 million investment in the facility. For those of you with concerns, in April, GM announced a $449 million investment in “preparation for the next generation of electric vehicles and advanced battery technologies.”

The CT6 will be above the CTS and XTS product lines, and “the CT6 aims to join the elite group of top-class large luxury cars.”

“This Cadillac will be the lightest and most agile car in the class of top-level large luxury sedans,” said Travis Hester, executive chief engineer, Cadillac CT6. “Using the lessons learned from our dynamic ATS and CTS product lines, we have developed an entirely new vehicle architecture for the CT6. It will employ a mixed material philosophy that combines the best and most efficient components optimized for each area of this new top-of-the-range car.”

GM mentioned “advanced, lightweight materials and new body construction techniques to reduce fuel consumption while enhancing driving dynamics and safety,” but said nothing about electrification.

That for now will have to be handled by the ELR which will get enhancements to its engineering. What could they be?



Sep 24

Cadillac moving to NYC; ELR will be revised


Of broader interest is Cadillac is moving its sales and marketing offices to New York, and of particular interest here is the ELR will be continued to a generation two.

More details are available on the move to NYC from Detroit than about the ELR (as in none), but the short story is the SoHo district is supposed to be more inspirational to a brand that’s down 5 percent since last year.



“There is no city in the world where the inhabitants are more immersed in a premium lifestyle than in New York,” said Cadillac’s president, Johan de Nysschen. “Establishing our new global headquarters in SoHo places Cadillac at the epicenter of sophisticated living. It allows our team to share experiences with premium-brand consumers and develop attitudes in common with our audience.”

Cadillac will be a “separate business unit,” said GM in a press release, and the new office will have around 100 employees with R&D continuing in Michigan.

de Nysschen’s move follows Infiniti’s similar 2012 decision to get close to the constituency, and coincidentally, Nissan had hired de Nysschen from Audi which he’d built into a fast-growing luxury brand.

As Cadillac’s third president in two years, he told Automobile that rumors of the ELR’s inevitable cancellation have been greatly exaggerated.

“I am fascinated by the technology and completely convinced of the longer term potential,” said de Nysschen to Automobile in a lengthy interview. “I read [a news story] recently claiming there will be no ELR successor. I can tell you that’s complete nonsense. Whether the successor to ELR is exactly a compact two-door coupe is still under evaluation.”

Automobile said de Nysschen said the ELR will be a “similar model.”

Beyond that, your guess is as good as any.

More clear is Cadillac seeks to do better and among sooner to be seen cars is a redesigned SRX and a new full-sized sedan next year.

And, said de Nysschen, a native of South Africa, there could be a couple more crossovers, including one above the SRX, but below the Escalade.

News of a new V8 which can run on four or six cylinders was also mentioned, and you can read the Automobile interview if you want more general news, but if you want more on the ELR, as true of the new Volt, we’ll have to wait.


Sep 23

Fast electrified car videos


I searched for Volt news and top of a google search was something about a Nike sneaker with “volt” colorway. Uh huh. There are some re-runs out there, and there may be a drive review by the Poughkeepsie Journal just discovering the EREV, but GM is expected to sneak gen 2 news out there later. Some time. Before January when many more questions will be answered.

Meanwhile the BMW i8 is making the rounds. Who cares, right? Well some do (I know which of you don’t, and he lives somewhere in Missouri). To make it half interesting the i8 beat a Model S P85+ in a European drag race, and does alright against a Chevy. Corvette. And for extra kicks, someone asked for a video of Lord Drayson’s 220-mph EV to give idea of Formula E cars. The difference is the former LeMans Lola weighs sub 2,000 pounds (Formula E weigh sub 1,800) and the Drayson has 850 hp versus like 270 so you won’t have Chris Harris exclaiming “It’s fast!” quite as loudly if they ever do let him drive 140-mph Formula E cars.

But more appropriate here, is this race is not a sprint, it’s marathon.

Consumer Reports Compares Tesla Model S and BMW i8


It did not take long, and now Consumer Reports has posted a video review of the Tesla Model S and BMW i8.

While we were more discrete when we loosely compared the Model S to a Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, calling it “apple and orange,” CR flat out says the i8 and Model S comparo is “kind of stupid.”

Why? The 4,650-pound Model S is a luxury performance sedan, and the 3,300-pound i8 two-door is aiming at more-focused sports cars.

And, we’d add, one’s a hybrid, and the other’s an EV.

But, people are drawn to the two very different plug-in cars that each cater to a different kind of buyer despite them being in fundamental ways, worlds apart.

The all-wheel-drive BMW is a plug-in hybrid using a rear-mounted turbo 3-cylinder like the new Mini Cooper gets albeit more boosted and augmented by a 129 horsepower electric motor up front. CR also figures most fun is in sport mode with engine running.

Tesla’s rear-wheel-drive creation is of course all electric, with either a 60 or 85-kilowatt-hour battery and sold in three basic highly optionable configurations.

Price-wise the Model S is a lot less than the i8, with versions ranging from $71,070, $81,070, and the P85+ starts at $95,740. If you absolutely check all the optons, you might get the Tesla to within $3,000 of the BMW’s starting price of around $136,000.

So far, the Model S is selling circles around luxury cars with gas engines, and as CR observes, the i8 has yet to prove itself. The car went on sale in the U.S. last month and BMW has said it does not aim to compete overly much in the sales charts against Model S.

CR’s Tesla is an 85-kwh model.

Tesla Smoked By BMW


Where the race would really be won is around a closed road race course with some curves where the 1,400-pound-lighter BMW (ICE burner in disguise) could do its thing (in spite of relatively skinny tires – standard is 195/50R20 tires front; 215/45R20 rear, optional: 215/45R20 front; 245/40R20 rear).

Its AER is a PiP-like 15 miles, it starts at $137k, but gee it’s sure getting the clicks for its neato plug-in capability.

The Tesla forum was pondering whether this was the “MS” “S85″ or “P85+.” Someone came along and showed pics it was the plus.

i8 vs. Corvette


So, if i8 beats Tesla, and regular Stingray is far closer to i8 is Corvette faster than Tesla?

Looks like it, especially since this was done at high altitude which diminishes he Corvette’s output.

Point to Prove


This thing has gone to Bonneville and last October set the World Electric Land Speed Record for sub-999 kilogram cars at the FIA-sanctioned runs at Elvington Airfield in Yorkshire, England.

It’s unofficially gone 220 mph and has 850 horsepower 2,950 pounds-feet of torque for a car that weighs half as much as a Volt with driver.

It also has something in common with the BMW. Its AER is also 15 — as in minutes, if not only 10. But it’s a fun 10-15 minutes. Then the battery runs out and the driver has to have a Volt come fetch him. OK, we made that last part up but you knew that. Didn’t you?


Sep 22

How Formula E stands to benefit electric cars


Many of the races are in far-off cities but the blatant activism of Formula E hopes to help everyone.

Not unlike Tesla’s tactics, Formula E aims to make EVs look neato, and jump start a revolution, or at least help with a strong trickle charge. What’s amazing is they put this whole thing together in under three years – and they make projections 25 years out which apparently are part of their elevator speech to big sponsors who’ve bought.

(By the way, has anyone seen any comment between Elon Musk and Formula E or vice versa? … you did notice the only petrol; burner out there is a BMW i8 safety car, and the some-would-say-more-likely-candidate Model S EV is not the safety car …?)

Regardless whether you personally like motorsports, or not, alternative energy fans may want to seriously consider cheering on Formula E or at least hope it succeeds.

For more than a century internal combustion vehicles have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship between racing and cars we can buy, and a key goal for Formula E is facilitating a similar state of affairs for battery powered vehicles.


But to build momentum, the races held at international cities will need to remain interesting to enough people over the long haul. The inaugural race at Beijing Saturday September 15 was a well-orchestrated show and media coverage was inadvertently stimulated by a last-lap crash that took out the top-two drivers with fortunately no serious injuries – or fire, by the way.

In any case, as many as 40 million people watched it, and 75,000 were in attendance at the Beijing Olympic Park’s “Bird’s Nest” Stadium.

The promoters say they hope to ”appeal to a new generation of motorsport fans” but probably also needed will be traditional fans who on another day get excited about Indy racing, NASCAR, F1, or one of many other forms of competition.

And however it plays out, assuming “ePrix” events develop a sufficient following, and the series is managed well, the underlying reason for Formula E can best be met.

“Organizers hope the new series will also help increase the interest in electric vehicles and promote sustainability, as well as accelerate the technology available which, over time, will filter into the road-going electric vehicle market,” says Formula E.

And with that, we’ve compiled with input from a Formula E, three ways everyone will win, assuming Formula E wins going forward.

1) Prestige For EVs

Formula E has already attracted some well-regarded public figures to imbue glamour onto this colorful spectacle.

Just some include Formula 1 celebrities Alain Prost, Mario and Michael Andretti, and environmentalist entrepreneur Richard Branson is a fan and backing the Virgin Racing team.

Big-name corporate sponsors include Renault, BMW, Michelin, McLaren is contributing powertrain components it first developed for its P1, Qualcomm is contributing technology and funding, as are others.

Beyond that, new stars stand to be made and all of this could add to perceived prestige for a sport all about EVs.

And that, says Formula E, is one foundational idea behind the series.

“Most EVs today are perceived as slow and odd looking (except for a few high-end/high-priced models),” it says in a statement. “Formula E can help change opinions. Formula E cars are sleek, quick and attractive.”

The aim is to help EVs come across to more people as authentically cool – and driving electric cars not just a matter of doing what’s good for us like eating bland vegetables because mom is making you when you’d rather have dessert.

Formula E’s potential is to make EVs look desirable not only for those “on the fence” about purchasing an EV, says Formula E, but also for “the next generation of car owners.”

2) Public Education/Awareness

Related to number one, but with a different focus is the potential for Formula E to lead to greater mainstream understanding of alternative energy technologies, and why they are a good idea.

If consumers want to make informed decisions, and U.S. automakers hope to sell much outside of California, increasing global awareness will help the marketplace before anyone starts myopically focusing overly much on news of less-than-stellar EV acceptance.

Fact is, studies continue to show a significant percentage of consumers remain uninformed about EVs, plug-in hybrids, and even regular hybrids. One survey by Synovate in 2011 polled 1,900 people actively shopping, and comprehension was lacking.

Responses included 33 percent said EVs do have tailpipe emissions (they don’t), 72 percent said regular hybrids are zero emissions vehicles (they aren’t), 77 percent said plug-in cars run on hydrogen (fat chance). Further, 85 percent said battery electric cars run on gas as well as electric (not unless it’s a Chevy Volt), half did not know it takes more than 15 minutes to recharge EVs (this was before much rollout of quick charging), and so on.

More people are likely up to speed on EVs 101 now, but we still hear misinformed statements regularly, like just the other day when a person asked why Tesla needs Superchargers because he thought the Model S recharges its batteries as it drives.

No surprise there, as late last year, Navigant Research published a white paper documenting a serious awareness gap yet exists between those for whom the light bulb has lit, and the others with an unclear view.

Beyond that, stories are common of car salespeople who aren’t compensated to adequately explain and hold people’s hands through a more detailed plug-in car sale. And let’s not forget automakers who at this juncture seem less than gung ho to push plug-in tech beyond compliance cars.

That doesn’t help things when there’s already a raft of obfuscation and willful or inadvertent misinformation floating out there from various media.

Can Formula E solve all this? Not likely all by itself, but it will be one more avenue. The intent is to make EVs more fun, interesting, and as this continues, people will naturally learn more about these whirring cars, and the hope is, synergy will build.

3) Trickle Down Tech

Racing subjects cars to the most brutal torture tests and failure is avoided at all costs. Especially true when teams begin developing their own cars, in order to win, they’ll find out what works. Lessons learned can then be passed along from this real-world lab to production electric cars.

It’s been said “racing improves the breed,” and while internal combustion cars have long-since benefitted, there are so many potential ways EV tech stands to gain.


Of course, automakers and others say they are independently working on innovations, but development of motors, controllers, batteries, software, chassis, suspensions, brakes, transmissions, and more will have another motivated EV gene pool.

As the series develops, so will the cars, and ultimately “environmental sustainability” is the point, says Formula E.

“Electric vehicles are the future—they’re efficient and better for the environment,” says Formula E.

So, in direct contradistinction to internal combustion racing which generates human adrenaline by burning fossil and financial resources, Formula E’s aim is a calculated dedication of resources aimed at cultivating rewards that are indefinitely sustainable.

It’s all being done under the condition that everyone enjoy themselves, and it’s anything but austerity measures while Formula E’s promoters hope the greater good will still be served.


Sep 19

’40′ miles AER, 235 mpg, does this sound familiar … from Renault?


GM was once told not to advertise 230 mpg but the headlines now for a Renault concept that may lead to a production Nissan PHEV are boldly proclaiming nearly the same number.

As it is, Nissan is suffering with battery production issues while a plug-in hybrid could be announced not long after Volt Gen 2 is finally seen.


Renault’s Eolab plug-in hybrid could net 282 mpg on the Euro cycle and in the U.S. it reportedly might achieve 235 mpg under more stringent EPA tests.

A prototype of the four-passenger car has been driven by Top Gear, they say it works basically as advertised, but for now, the concept is to be displayed in the automaker’s home country in October.

We’ve seen crazy hyped-up mpg figures before, but one of the more compelling possibilities with Renault’s Eolab is this one was built under mandate to develop affordable solutions, and they are planning to put aspects of it into production cars by 2018.

In Europe the 2,100-pound (955 kg) car is reported to be a future variant to the small Renault Clio by 2018 “for well under £20,000,” ($32,750) says the UK’s Top Gear, and in the U.S. Green Car Reports suggests this may be part of the future plans for a Nissan plug-in hybrid.

Unlike VW’s over $100,000 XL1 2-seater, which made headlines hay with uber-high mpg often insufficiently explained, Renault’s exercise in light-weighting, aerodynamics, and efficient powertrain uses more existing tech and may benefit the common person more.


Core stats for the subcompact concept’s powertrain include a 76-horsepower 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine sourced from a Twingo, a 67-horsepower (50-kw), 150 pounds-feet torque “axial flux discoid” electric motor. The volume and weight of the transmission-motor unit is on par with that of a normal five-speed gearbox, and powered by a modestly sized 6.7-kwh li-ion battery.

On the easier-to-ace EU cycle, it can run 37 miles on battery alone, and reach up to 75 mph. The car is designed to look sporty, and kind of is, however it is no hot hatch. Rather, this one’s all about max efficiency.

But to be clear, ultra-high mpg scores we regularly read rely heavily on being nursed through mileage tests with a zero-gas-consumption, zero emissions electric motor sparing the gasoline usage. By the same token, you could say a Nissan Leaf gets 1,000,000 mpg – or infinite “miles per gallon.”


A PHEV’s amazing advertising mpg only lasts as long as the plug-in battery lasts, then, regular hybrid mode nets less stratospheric results, but actually, the Eolab is still frugal.

After driving a working prototype, Top Gear reported the Eolab on gasoline alone might be able to get close to 80-90 mpg or so, far above the Renault Clio which in Europe reportedly nets 60-mpg-plus.

“Even if it’s never plugged in, it would go half as far again on each litre of fuel as that regular Clio,” wrote Top Gear.

For now, the 2,100-pound (955 kg) Eolab is indeed expected to be a future variant to the small Renault Clio by 2018 said Top Gear, and in the U.S. Green Car Reports suggests this may be part of future Renault-Nissan Alliance plans for a U.S. Nissan product.

Nissan naturally has said nothing official, but known is it’s heavily invested in battery production, sustainable transport, and increasingly cross-pollinating among its global products.

Green Car Reports cites an interview with former Nissan product head Andy Palmer saying larger Nissan plug-in hybrids are in the works by end of 2015.


But for now, says Top Gear, the existing concept’s body is a nonstarter as it’s built of composites, ultra-high-strength steels and magnesium. Today’s car factories would face a “nightmare” trying to build it, and body shop repair would be also daunting.

But, just as VW has considered trickling down some aspects of its XL1 – like the powertrain to an Up! – so is Renault but maybe on a broader scale.

SEE ALSO: Chevy Volt Gets 230 MPG City EPA Rating

Nearly all the ideas in Eolab says Renault will be production-possible by 2020, and many of them much sooner, said Top Gear.

“The car was built in response to a French Government challenge to both Renault and PSA to demonstrate ideas for cars for the end of the decade that are affordable and mass-produced and can do 2.0litres/100km (141mpg),” said Top Gear.

It may be only mildly instructive for now, but Top Gear came away favorably impressed with the working PHEV it drove – and noted the Eolab heading to Paris will be a non-functioning concept showpiece. Reports have said the Eolab concept’s coefficient of drag is 0.235, but Top Gear reports even lower 0.227 for the car it sampled, and significantly, it’s enjoyable to drive.

The prototype feels kind of sporty, top speed is 100 mph, and 0-60 takes 9.0 seconds. Electric range in commuter oriented “weekday” mode is “40 miles” and the engine kicks on at 75 mph.

“It always moves away electrically. It’s silent, smooth, responsive and as clean-feeling as EVs always are,” wrote Top Gear. “Then the petrol engine starts at about 25 mph. Because you’re already rolling, it chugs to life unobtrusively. Whatever you do with the accelerator, it stays running as long as you don’t drop below that speed.”

The transmission has no clutch, and only three gears. One gear is engine driven, the other two by the e-motor and they are used in various combinations, said Top Gear.

“This means the car can effectively change gear between four ‘gears’ (not just three) with the engine running, and the engineers say it should feel as smooth as a double-clutch,” reported Top Gear. “At the moment it doesn’t – there’s a notable pause, like an early single-clutch flappy-paddle.”

The takeaway is this work-in-progress has promise.

“It can be chucked into bends without a care, and finds about as much grip as a decent supermini, despite the skinny aero tyres,” wrote Top Gear. “Again, that’s its lightness paying off. It rolls a bit but you feel quite racy sat down low. The power steering feels unnatural going gently but actually gets livelier when you’re cornering hard, so the fundamentals are right.”

The brake pedal needs work and still feels grabby for the computer-controlled regen system with no mechanical link between pedal and calipers, but the “ride is supple and the body feels impressively tight and rigid.”

Most importantly, “Renault insists most of the innovations won’t be too costly,” and it’s a good looking design that “drives like a normal car.”

But if the U.S. EPA is targeting low 40 mpg on the sticker by 2025, will this be an overachiever if core aspects of it show up in Nissan guise?


That’s open to conjecture, but more certain is Renault is developing the Eolab’s technologies for Europe where they are at least as adamant, if not more, about reducing CO2 and improving mileage.

Americans can only hope we get some of the company’s latest developments sooner, rather than later, and who knows? We just may.

Top Gear, Green Car Reports.