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In Gear

In Gear offers a fresh look at the world of cars – its technology, economics, and future – through the eyes of Monitor staffers and other automobile writers from around the world. 

The Toyota Prius C hybrid is displayed on the final press preview day for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last year. The 2014 Prius has the best 'new car' value among 2014 models, according to Consumer Reports (Mike Cassese/Reuters/File)

Toyota Prius: best new-car value, Consumer Reports says

By Richard ReadGuest blogger / 12.21.13

It's December, and by now, nearly every automaker has rolled out its 2014 models, giving new-car shoppers lots to look at. And right on cue, Consumer Reports has just named its best and worst new-car picks. 

To determine where models fall in the rankings, Consumer Reports compiles data on each car, truck, and SUV: its reliability; its performance in the magazine's extensive road tests; and its projected five-year cost of ownership, which factors in everything from fuel and insurance to maintenance costs and depreciation.

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For the second year in a row, the Toyota Prius has nabbed the title of Best New-Car Value. Not only has the Prius performed well in Consumer Reports' tests, but it's proven to be highly reliable, and its cost of ownership averages out to be just 47 cents per mile. According to the magazine's automotive editor, Rik Paul, "The Prius’ 44 mpg overall is the best fuel economy of any non-plug-in car that Consumer Reports has tested. Though it’s not particularly cheap to buy, the Prius’ depreciation is so low that it costs less to own over the first five years than its initial MSRP. We call that a bargain."

In its cruise to the top, the Prius topped several serious contenders. Here are all ten of the magazine's best-in-class winners: ( Continue… )

A Lamborghini sports car logo is pictured in downtown Milan. The new Lamborghini Huracan will debut next March at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show. (Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters/File)

Lamborghini Huracan to debut at 2014 Geneva Motor Show

By Nelson IresonGuest blogger / 12.20.13

The Lamborghini Gallardo has soldiered valiantly for the last several years of its decade-long run, with special edition upon special edition making the very most out of its now aged platform. But the Gallardo's time has come. A new Lamborghini has arrived. The Huracán.

To be precise, it's the Huracán LP 610-4. As you suspect, the 610 references the car's horsepower, though as usual, it's metric, so the American horsepower figure is closer to 600. Nevertheless, the 5.2-liter V-10 that produces the power, which arrives at a screaming 8,250 rpm, now benefits from direct fuel injection and also generates 480 pound-feet of torque.

In the Huracán's 3,140-pound chassis, that 600-horsepower V-10 is, as predicted, matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and capable of accelerating you to 62 mph in just 3.2 seconds--a figure that's likely to brush against the 3.0-second mark in the real world when the measure is 60 mph. Keeping your foot to the floor, 124 mph arrives in 9.9 seconds, and, if you have the nerves--and the nearly limitless closed course--for it, the Huracán will carry on to a top speed of more than 202 mph.  ( Continue… )

The interior of the 2014 BMW i8 is photographed at the Los Angeles Auto Show last month. A BMW i8 Spyder model may be nearing approval. (Jae C. Hong/AP/File)

BMW i8 Spyder convertible may be on the way

By Antony IngramGuest blogger / 12.19.13

The 2015 BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car is one of next year's most anticipated cars, and now it appears a convertible version is also on the cards. BMW showed off a convertible i8 Spyder when the i8 was still at its concept stage, but Bimmerpost suggests the model might have gained official approval for production. It's touted for a late 2015 introduction, which confirms earlier estimates that a Spyder model would arrive around two years after the coupe hit the market.

The company first unveiled the i8 Spyder in 2012, following the original i8 concept's introduction at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show. It was the first i8 concept to allow a closer look at the final production car's styling, without the unique glass doors of previous concepts. It's expected that many of the Spyder concept's styling details will make it through to the final production version, such as the clearly defined tonneau humps behind the driver and passenger. However, much of the car's styling will be a straight port from the production coupe.

A production intent model apparently shown to BMW insiders featured a Solar Orange color scheme--the same shade available on the i3--with blue highlights, a familiar feature of BMW's i-car range. It's set to feature an identical drivetrain to the coupe, which means a 1.5-liter TwinPower turbocharged three-cylinder gasoline unit, complemented by an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. The engine provides its 231 horsepower to the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, while front drive is handled by the 131-horse motor. There's enough juice in the battery for up to 22 miles range--though naturally, gasoline power extends it well beyond that.

One thing that's likely to change is the price. BMW has already confirmed the coupe will retail from $135,925, and it's unlikely the Spyder will cost any less. For some form of comparison, the latest 4-Series Convertible costs over $8,000 more than its coupe equivalent, and there's a similar gap between the 6-Series coupe and its convertible counterpart.

A Russian plane carrying emergency aid arrives at the Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. The aviation industry is gearing up to a very real push toward biofuels. (Bilal Hussein/AP)

Are biofuels best suited to air travel?

By Antony IngramGuest blogger / 12.18.13

Given how familiar most of us are with cars, it's easy to see them as the be-all and end-all when it comes to cleaning up transportation. Reduce fossil fuels, increase electric propulsion, increase use of biofuels, job done.

With over a billion cars on roads around the world improving them is clearly a priority, but other industries are seeking alternatives to conventional fossil fuels too, one of which is the aviation industry.

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And as aviation gears up for a very real push towards biofuels, we ask--is aviation actually the ideal market for such fuels, rather than the car industry?

The latest column from industry analysts Navigant Research suggests it could well be, as a whole supply chain for biofuels builds around it and several airlines begin to incorporate aviation biofuels into their routes.

It isn't just small-time airlines either. ( Continue… )

The company logo of car manufacturer BMW on a car in Munich, Germany. BMW plans to open up a plant in Brazil late next year. (Matthias Schrader/AP/File)

BMW to open up plant in Brazil

By Viknesh VijayenthiranGuest blogger / 12.17.13

Just days after Jaguar Land Rover announced it will start building vehicles in Brazil in 2016, BMW has announced it has started construction of its own Brazilian plant, which is expected to come online by the fall of 2014. BMW already has a motorcycle plant in Brazil but strong sales of luxury cars in not only Brazil but much of the South American region has prompted the German automaker to start production of vehicles locally as well.

“Our strategic principle of ‘production follows the market’ has previously proven effective in markets such as the U.S. and China,” BMW production chief Harald Krüger said in a statement. “[The principle] will also ensure our success in Brazil as an important future market.”

The location of the new BMW plant is the Brazilian city of Araquari, and the site will include a body shop, a paint shop and an assembly facility. The plant will only be set up to produce 30,000 vehicles initially but gradually BMW will expand capacity.

Models destined to be built at the new plant include the 1-Series, 3-Series, X1 and X3, as well as the MINI Cooper Countryman. Future versions of the X1 and Countryman will share a platform, which is why BMW will be able to economically build both at a single plant. It’s not clear if the models built at the plant will be limited to sale in South America.

Once built, the plant will extend BMW’s production network, which currently comprises 29 production and assembly facilities in 14 countries. Other luxury makes that have announced plans to build vehicles in Brazil include Jaguar Land Rover as well as Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

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The Michelin Man introduces Michelin winter tire warranty at a promotional event. A Michelin tires recall involves 1.2 million tires sold in the US. (Michelin/PRNewsFoto/File)

Michelin tires recall affects 1.2 million truck tires (+video)

By The Associated Press / 12.16.13

Tire-maker Michelin says it is recalling about 1.2 million tires sold in the U.S. because an increasing number are experiencing tread loss or rapid air loss.

The tires are commonly used for pickup trucks, heavy-duty vans, small RVs and commercial light trucks. The Greenville, South Carolina-based company says no deaths or injuries have been reported because of the Michelin tires recall.

The tires, known as Michelin LTX M/S tires, were manufactured between January 2010 and June 2012. They were sold as original equipment on some vehicles and as new replacement tires.

The company says that fewer than 200 of the tires have been returned by customers. Owners can have them replaced at Michelin stores for no charge.

The Mazda 3 is unveiled during New York press event in June. Thanks in part to the lack of large trucks on its roster, Mazda had the highest average fuel efficiency among major automakers in 2012, according to a new set of EPA statistics. (John Minchillo/AP Images for Mazda/File)

EPA: Cars getting lighter, more fuel-efficient

By Antony IngramGuest blogger / 12.16.13

You might be forgiven for thinking that as cars get ever heavier, better equipped, safer, more practical, more powerful and faster, fuel economy would suffer.

Thankfully, the EPA's latest set of statistics proves that isn't the case--and dispels other notions such as increasing weight and ever greater power figures, too.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just released its full set of statistics for 2012 model year cars and trucks, which have now hit a record 23.6 mpg on average.

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No, that's not a lot altogether. But when you consider how many large trucks make up U.S. sales, it's a sign that both regular vehicles are getting ever more efficient, and that trucks themselves are improving enough to allow that average to rise overall, rather than remain constant.

That figure represents a whole 1.2 mpg improvement over the 2011 model year--the second highest improvement in the last 30 years, according to The Detroit News. And when statistics for the 2013 model year land, the overall average could top 24 mpg--another record. Since 2004, economy has risen by 4.3 mpg, or 22 percent. ( Continue… )

Holden cars are pictured at a dealership located in the Western Australian city of Perth December 12, 2013. General Motors Co said it would stop making cars in Australia by 2017 due to high costs and a cripplingly strong currency, fueling fears rival Toyota Motor Corp will follow suit and put the entire local autos industry at risk. (David Gray/Reuters/File)

Ford, GM pull out of Australia. The end of an auto industry?

By Richard ReadGuest blogger / 12.14.13

Two days ago, General Motors announced plans to stop manufacturing cars in Australia -- or, as GM put it in a carefully worded statement:

As part of its ongoing actions to decisively address the performance of its global operations, General Motors today announced it would transition to a national sales company in Australia and New Zealand. The company also said it would discontinue vehicle and engine manufacturing and significantly reduce its engineering operations in Australia by the end of 2017.

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GM's current CEO, Dan Akerson, added that:

"The decision to end manufacturing in Australia reflects the perfect storm of negative influences the automotive industry faces in the country, including the sustained strength of the Australian dollar, high cost of production, small domestic market and arguably the most competitive and fragmented auto market in the world."

Sound familiar? It should. That's pretty much what Ford said earlier this year when it, too,ended production in Australia, blaming "increasingly challenging market conditions – including market fragmentation and the high cost of manufacturing".

And with Ford and GM out of the picture, that leaves just one automaker building vehicles in Australia: Toyota.

At first glance, that might sound like great news for Toyota. As the only rooster in the hen house (or however that saying goes), you might think Toyota would be in prime position to do some bang-up business. ( Continue… )

Angie Vorhies plugs in the charging cord to her Nissan Leaf electric vehicle at a mall in San Diego last month. Many automakers are exploring electric cars as backup power sources for buildings. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP/File)

Blackout? No problem for Nissan Leaf-powered buildings.

By Antony IngramGuest blogger / 12.11.13

Japan's geological instability poses a real energy problem for the country--as witnessed during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Generating power and transmitting it to homes and businesses can be difficult following an earthquake or Tsunami, which is why several Japanese automakers have explored electric vehicle-to-building systems.

Nissan is the latest to demonstrate its own system, in impressive style.

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As Slashgear reports (via Japan Daily Press), just six Nissan Leafs are capable of powering the company's Advanced Technology Center in Atsugi City, Japan.

It isn't all about providing power in blackouts, though--even though that's a useful side-benefit of the "Vehicle-To-Building" power system.

Instead, its main purpose is to reduce energy use at peak times. When power is cheaper during off-peak times, the cars are charged, and the building receives power as normal. But as prices shoot up, the building starts to draw power from the electric cars. ( Continue… )

A Nissan Leaf charges at a electric vehicle charging station in Portland, Ore. Oregon, among the country's top states for electric cars, now has a state Chief Electric Vehicle Officer. (Rick Bowmer/AP/File)

Top states for electric cars. Where does yours rank?

By John VoelckerGuest blogger / 12.10.13

If you live in parts of California, electric cars--from the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid all the way up to the Tesla Model S--are no longer uncommon.

The streets of Palo Alto, in the center of Silicon Valley, are practically crawling with Teslas these days.

But in other parts of the country, you may go months without seeing a single car with a plug.

Three weeks ago, Mother Nature Network took a look at which states have the most plug-in electric cars, and why.  ( Continue… )

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