#NAIAS15 – The 2016 Chevrolet Volt – Fully Recharged

2016 Chevrolet Volt

Eight years after the debut of of the original Chevrolet Volt concept at the 2007 North American International Auto Show and four years after the production launch, General Motors is ready to publicly debut the all-new second generation model.  I was part of a group that got an early look at the GEN2 Volt along with the leaders of the Volt team a few days before the big show.

Then vs Now

Eight years ago, the car we saw was a pure concept, powered by golf cart motor alongside a mockup of what the E-Flex propulsion system would look like if GM actually opted to build one.  The whole idea had only been thought up about nine months by former GM vice-chairman Bob Lutz and then-VP of program management Jon Laukner. Lutz and Laukner had been spitballing ideas for how to respond to the negative publicity around the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and the result was a extended-range electric vehicle (ER-EV). There were no firm plans at the time to actually produce the car.


#NAIAS2015 – Ford Performance Comes out Huge!


While Chevrolet went all in on plug-ins today at the North American International Show, Ford went to the opposite extreme, rolling out a take no prisoners lineup under its Ford Performance banner. Ford CEO Mark Fields reminded the audience that Ford innovation began with racing, referring Henry Ford’s famous 999 race car of 1901. The winnings earned by that car were used to fund the launch of Ford Motor Company.

Ford CTO Raj Nair announced the new Ford Performance division at an event in Dearborn last month where he also announced that former Mustang chief engineer Dave Pericak would become the global director of the group. Under Pericak Ford Performance will bring together the engineering and design groups from North America’s SVT, Europe’s Team RS and Ford Racing. Nair had also announced that a new Focus RS was coming and it would be available in America, but that car was not shown in Detroit.

The most extreme factory Mustang yet

After unveiling the all-new Shelby GT350 Mustang just before the LA Auto Show in December, the crew from Ford Performance/SVT has come back with an even faster version here on home turf. Like the Laguna Seca edition of the 2012-13 Boss 302, the GT350R turns up the performance wick to 11 by shaving weight and adding more go fast parts for the true track-day addict. By dispensing with non-performance enhancing trivialities like a back seat, air conditioning and audio system, Ford has reduced the workload on the new 5.2-liter flat-plane crank V8.


The Voodoo V8 engine remains unchanged in the GT350R with somewhere north of 500 normally aspirated horsepower and a six-speed manual gearbox. Further weight reductions come courtesy of available carbon ceramic brakes and the first ever use of carbon fiber wheels as standard equipment on a road-going vehicle. The 19-inch composite wheels are wrapped in 10-millimeter wider 305/30 front and 315/30 rear tires. All together, the GT350R has a more than 130-pound weight advantage over the baseline GT350.


The next-generation factory off-road race truck

Ford hit a surprising home run with the first generation SVT Raptor several years ago by creating a truly credible off-road racer style truck. The performance team has now applied the lessons from that effort to the new lighter aluminum-bodied 2015 F-150 for a second-generation Raptor. While the original launched with the 5.0-liter V8 and later upgraded to the larger 6.2-liter V8, like its more mainstream siblings, the new Raptor comes out of the gate with turbocharged EcoBoost power.

The 3.5-liter twin-turbo, direct-injected V6 that has powered 40 percent of F-150s in the last several years has been given some upgrades for its new role. Although Ford didn’t give specifics yet, they did say it would produce more than the 411-hp and 434 lb.-ft. of the outgoing V8. The Raptor engine will also be backed up by one of the first applications of Ford’s new 10-speed automatic transmission.


50 Years after its first victory at Le Mens, the GT is back

We’ve all heard the story about how the GT40 came to be. Henry Ford II wanted to beat Enzo Ferrari after failing to buy the Italian sports car brand. After two years of trying, the Ford GT40s earned the first of four consecutive victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. As the 50th anniversary of that first victory approaches, Ford has revealed a concept for the all-new GT that will go into production in 2016.


The last GT used an all-aluminum chassis but this time it will be equipped with the latest and greatest material technology with a carbon fiber tub and body panels.  Rather than a thundering V8 engine, the GT will emulate the new Raptor with turbocharged V6 power. A next-generation twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 based on the unite that was so successful in the 2014 Tudor United Sports Car Championship is the starting point. The production engine will send more than 600 horsepower through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to the rear wheels.


The new GT eschews the retro look of the last edition in favor of a more modern design that retains a few cues for familiarity, most notably the two large triangular vents in the front cover. I can’t wait to try this one out!

#NAIAS2015 – 2016 Buick Cascada – Thankfully Not a Riviera

2016 Buick Cascada Convertible

Ever since Opel launched the compact Cascada convertible in Europe two years ago, the question has been when, not if it would join the Buick lineup here in North America. The Cascada is the first open-top Buick since the demise of the Reatta more than two decades ago.

Buick already builds and sells a re-badged Opel Astra as the compact Verano sedan and the Cascada is built on the same underpinnings so this addition was a natural. Despite sharing mechanical bits with its closed top sibling, all of the bodywork is unique to the Cascada including the resculpted flanks. Thankfully, Opel opted to go with a folding soft-top rather than a mechanically complex hardtop. The result is a much more attractive and better proportioned car with the top up or down than the now discontinued VW Eos and Chrysler 200. The top can even raised or lowered at speeds up to 31 mph.

2016 Buick Cascada ConvertibleEver since GM’s 2009 bankruptcy, Buick and Opel have been gradually converging, much like Saturn had tried to do with the European brand a decade ago. Previously however, Opels like the Insignia, Astra swapped their grilles for the traditional Buick waterfall when they made the trip across the Atlantic. This time, the Cascada keeps both its name and horizontal bar grille, replacing only the Opel lightning bolt with the Buick tri-shield emblem.

The Buick convertible also retains the 200-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder from the Opel driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transaxle. Like the more powerful versions of the larger Regal and LaCrosse, the Cascada uses a HiPer strut front suspension that separates forces to help improve steering feel and minimize torque steer.

Unfortunately, the Buick Cascada doesn’t go on sale until early 2016.

Production 2016 Acura NSX to Debut at Detroit Auto Show


After what seems like about 63 concept versions of a second-generation NSX since 2007, Acura will finally reveal the definitive production model at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on January 12, 2015. The following day, at the Honda press conference, the company will show the final concept version of the new fuel cell car that will go on sale in early 2016. American Honda executive vice president John Mendel declared that 2015 would be the “Year of Honda.”

Over the next 12 months, Honda will launch the new NSX, begin deliveries of the HondaJet executive jet, return to Formula One racing with McLaren and start production of a new downsized turbocharged engine at the Anna, Ohio engine plant. This winter, Honda will also launch the new subcompact crossover HR-V followed by an all-new Pilot in the spring.

The first production HondaJet achieved its first flight on Friday, June 27, 2014. The flight marks another milestone toward aircraft certification and entry into service in 2015.

The first production HondaJet achieved its first flight on Friday, June 27, 2014. The flight marks another milestone toward aircraft certification and entry into service in 2015.

For enthusiasts, the big news is the production NSX with an all-new engine and a three-motor hybrid system. The three motor layout was announced at the 2013 Detroit show with two motors on the front axle for all-wheel-drive and a third motor integrated with the new V6 engine at the back. In a teaser video to be released by Honda today, we get our first hint of what the NSX will sound like and it’s clear that this is no Prius.

Honda hasn’t yet revealed details about the displacement or configuration of the new Ohio-built engine or which cars it will be installed in. It will be part of the first turbocharged member of the Earth Dreams family of direct-injected engines and will of course use Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing system.


New Cadillac ELR retains current Chevy Volt powertrain with software tweaks including… 4

In album

New Cadillac ELR retains current Chevy Volt powertrain with software tweaks including Regen on Demand

Cadillac finally revealed the ELR coupe to the world yesterday and as expected, it hasn't really diverged much from the original plan. It looks almost exactly like the original and stunning Converj concept from 2009 although the wheelbase and track have grown ever so slightly. 

Contrary to some wild and unfounded speculation last spring it also doesn't have a new powertrain or 2.0-liter turbocharged range extender.

In fact, the hardware bits are essentially identical to the slightly updated hardware that debuted in the Volt last summer including the revised battery chemistry that upped the capacity from 16 to 16.5 kWh. However, all the expected amenities that make this a Cadillac including the 20-inch wheels, mean this car weighs 300 pounds more than a Volt. In order to provide the performance boost people expect from a Cadillac and still maintain the electric range they would want from this type of car, the engineers took advantage of the real world experience they have gained with the Volt over the past 2.5 years.

The traction motor has been recalibrated to provide some extra output, now 117-135 kW depending on the mode the driver selects including the available sport setting. Now that the GM has more confidence in the durability of its battery system, the ELR is now also using more of the available capacity to retain a 35 mile electric driving range. In fact, I would be surprised if GM doesn't make those latter adjustments to the 2014 Volt software to boost it's range by a few more miles. 

One other aspect that is exclusive to the Cadillac is Regen on Demand. Most cars in this segment with automatic transmissions have steering wheel mounted paddle shifters that the driver can tap to downshift and get some extra engine braking going into corners or downhill. With its single speed gearbox, this obviously isn't an option on the ELR. However,tapping its paddles allows the driver to get some short pulses of regenerative braking when desired, providing a similar effect to quick downshift without touching the brake pedal.

Definitely a rather nifty touch although for a likely price of $65-70,000 such details are needed. #NAIAS  

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"Maximum Bob" Lutz announces his latest venture, VL Automotive

The very last press conference at the 2013 North American International Auto Show media preview today, featured none other Bob Lutz, "retired" vice chairman of +General Motors (also formerly of +Ford Motor Company, +BMW and of course +Chrysler). During his long and storied career in this industry, Lutz has sheparded some amazing machines onto the road including the +Chevrolet Volt and the +Dodge Viper. 

Despite being technically retired, the 80-year old Lutz remains more active than many people 1/3 of his age. At #NAIAS  today, Lutz and business partner Gilbert Villarreal announced their new venture, VL Automotive. VL has struck a deal with +Fisker Automotive to purchase Karma gliders straight from the Valmet factory in Finland and have them shipped to a facility in Auburn Hills, MI.

For those not familiar with automotive jargon, a glider is a vehicle that is partially complete but missing a powertrain. When +Tesla Motors was building Roadster, Lotus built Elise gliders that were shipped to California where Tesla installed the battery and electric drive system. This deal is different because Fisker is supplying it's car minus the A123 lithium ion battery or the electric drive system. 

At the VL facility, technicians will install a supercharged 6.2-liter from a Corvette ZR1 and the 6-speed automatic transaxle (along with other assorted driveline components. The result is a car with the stunning good looks penned by Henrik Fisker along with a durable, reliable conventional powertrain. Best of all, without the battery, it weighs about 1,000 pounds less than the rather portly stock Karma. 

What makes this deal particularly interesting is some of the players involved. When Lutz and Jon Lauckner conceived the extended range electric vehicle (ER-EV) architecture that eventually became the Volt in early 2006, one of the first people they brought onto the team to lead the engineering effort was Tony Posawatz. Tony was appointed Vehicle Line Director for the Volt and remained with the program until after it finally went into production in late 2010.

During the Volt's gestation, Henrik Fisker started to start his eponymous car company and designed his luxury sports sedan around a similar ER-EV powertrain concept to the Volt. He agreed to a deal with with GM to buy 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder engines for range extenders. 

Posawatz retired from GM about a year ago and several months later he was hired as CEO of Fisker. Fisker now has a problem because it can't build and sell Karmas until battery supplier A123 Systems comes out of bankruptcy. This deal at least gives Fisker the opportunity to sell some partial cars. 

When I learned about this car, one of the first things that occurred to me was another car from Lutz's past, the 1991 Chrysler 300 concept. Two years after showing the original Viper concept, Chrysler was looking at other uses for the chassis and V10 engine it was developing for the production version. The 300 was luxury four-door sedan with similar proportions to the Karma.

Ultimately, Chrysler where Lutz was president opted not to build that 300, but the VL Destino is in many ways its spiritual successor. VL hopes to sell a few hundred units a year at a price of $180,000. Hopefully, they will succeed.

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