Journalism is my life. I've been at it since the 1970s, starting in news and developing specialties in covering automobiles and motorsport. I hold more than 50 journalism awards for work in both newspapers and magazines. I have developed a global audience during my career.
Great racing drivers aren’t born, they’re made, the product of unshakeable personal focus and technical excellence gained by years of training and practice. It’s a learning curve that can’t be made any less sharp. For ordinary drivers, the kind who can go through a lifetime of motoring without getting paid or saluted for doing it, the kind of skills that racers possess have usually been unattainable. Only now, Toyota thinks it’s discovered a training tool. In cooperation with Stanford University in California, Toyota is gradually developing a list of algorithms that could be used to program driver-assistance technologies in future cars.
Stanford researchers have been putting professional drivers in a DeLorean DMC-12, of all things, modified for drifting and data acquisition. Using the drivers’ reactions in the DeLorean, which the research team has named MARTY, Stanford has been able to write algorithms that could, in both theory and practice, allow for autonomous vehicle reactions to sudden direction changes and the like, using a database gleaned from the drivers’ responses at the wheel. One such algorithm has allowed control of a rear-drive vehicle in a drift situation. Toyota has joined to adapt this collision-avoidance architecture to vehicles in its own fleet, such as the GR Supra. Toyota Racing Development is handling the bulk of the work with Stanford. Toyota has the stated goal of reducing the world’s 1.25 million annual traffic fatalities to zero.
It’s become very chic in some corners lately to bash China as the root of all things evil, but it’s difficult to argue that the world’s most populous nation – until very recently, it relied heavily on coal-fired steam locomotives for rail transportation – is getting provably serious when it comes to clean vehicles. Tackling the issue in partnership with Hyundai means taking advantage of the South Korean giant’s substantial strides into the realm of hydrogen as a vehicle fuel. If you’ve been following these posts, you’ll recall Hyundai’s extensive research on hydrogen fuel cells, which resulted late last year in making the first deliveries of its XCIENT heavy truck line, powered by fuel cells, for evaluation purposes in Switzerland.
The image above, from this past week, shows the next step in that process. Executives from Hyundai signed an agreement with Chinese officials from Guangdong Province to erect a new fuel-cell production plant in the provincial city of Guangzhou. Hyundai Motor Group will open the plant by late 2022, which will have the capacity to produced 6,500 fuel-cell propulsion systems annually, with subsequent increases in production volume. Initially, the Guangzhou plant will produce the same fuel cell being used for propulsion by the all-electric Hyundai NEXO SUV. Last year, the China Society of Automotive Engineers released a strategy to put a million fuel cell electric vehicles, mainly for commercial transport, on the road by 2035. Other automotive and technology firms from the United Kingdom and the EU have separately undertaken initiatives to help China achieve cleaner transportation.
If you were an auto executive, what would you do with your best-selling model? The smartest answer is to keep broadening its appeal. In the House of Audi, that distinction goes to the Q5 crossover, a compact not-quite-SUV that’s part of the B8 family of models, riding on the Audi MLB platform. The Sportback designation, which extends to the A7 and A5, adds a measure of disciplined aggression to the Q5’s outward appearance. Two such models have just been announced, the 2021 Q5 Sportback and SQ5 Sportback. Both variants have sporting pretensions, with one key difference.
That difference, as you might guess, is in the engine bay. The Q5 Sportback’s power comes from the 2.0-liter TFSI inline four-cylinder turbocharged engine, which Audi rates at 261 horsepower. Opt for the SQ5 Sportback, and you step up to the TFSI V-6, displacing 3.0 liters and capable of 349 horsepower. In either case, you get an automatic transmission (seven and eight speeds, respectively) and quattro full-time all-wheel drive. Appointments, led by a 12.3 inch touchscreen, are generously numerous.
If you don’t like hip-hop, or follow it even superficially, you might want to think about it. If you’re of a certain age, background and upbringing, you will likely understand that hip-hop, or rap, can truthfully be called the illegitimate child of punk rock. The best rap is spontaneous, angry and politically charged. That said, it’s largely reached the point today where hip-hop, country and pop are tough to distinguish from one another. There are some pretty stout rap acts coming out of Nashville lately, just so you know. When you realize that, the fact that hip-hop has no geographical or demographic boundaries anymore, you’ll understand why it makes good sense to embrace this culture while launching its new F-150.
Harlem-born Derrick Jones, much better known by his D-Nice handle, is out front in the new Ford lifestyle campaign for the F-150 that’s called More Than Tough. The MC, producer and DJ is a true child of the New York City rap scene, having been a close cohort of KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions. D-Nice is best known recently as the impresario of Club Quarantine, a live Instagram home school that offset the pandemic during its nine-hour blast, which drew viewers including Mark Zuckerberg, Lenny Kravitz and Joe Biden. The campaign’s centerpiece is a 30-second spot following D-Nice as he hauls his turntables and mixers to a show, running them off the truck’s onboard power. Call Me D-Nice is the soundtrack. Yeah, it’s tough.
Consider this: According to research from the World Economic Forum, the demand for last-mile delivery – meaning the kind that ends at your doorstep – is fueled by unstoppable growth in e-commerce, and is expected to grow itself by 78 percent by 2030. That, in turn, will created a 36 percent increase in the number of delivery vehicles that will be needed in the world’s top 100 cities, all of them under serious ongoing pressure to reduce hydrocarbon emissions. By General Motors’ own calculations, that translates into a staggering global market for delivery systems of more than $850 billion. Everybody’s going to want a piece of any pie that well filled. To that end, GM has announced a new business called BrightDrop to meet this tsunami of demand for clean delivery solutions, and is rolling out its first two technologies.
The initial BrightDrop product is rather prosaic, the EP1, which is an electrically powered cargo pallet that can handle up to 200 pounds of goods in tight confines, such as warehouses or loading docks. The bigger news, literally and figuratively, is BrightDrop’s first light-commercial vehicle aimed at local deliveries, the EV600, being developed in partnership with FedEx. With an onboard Ultium battery array, the EV600 is projected to have a range of up to 250 miles, with a recharge rate of 170 miles per hour using a 120kW fast-charging station. The rig will have a gross weight south of 10,000 pounds and more than 600 square feet of cargo space. The sliding side doors evoke the International Harvester Metro van my uncle once used for delivering Arnold bread on Long Island. Over-the-air connectivity will allow for route upgrades and other changes on the fly. Both the pallet and the parcel van will be in operational use by the end of this year.
Just after Christmas, we paid a visit to the Museum of Arts & Sciences here in Daytona Beach, a terrific place to learn the heritage of central Florida. One of the museum’s major benefactors has been the Root family of Terre Haute, Indiana, whose business holdings have including a major Coca-Cola bottling plant. That’s one reason why MOAS has a major exhibition on Coca-Cola’s standing as an iconic American brand. The Root family has also long enjoyed a deep involvement in American motorsports, most notably at the Indianapolis 500, although their car also took part in a race for championship cars that took place very shortly after Daytona International Speedway was first opened in 1959. To our great surprise, we spotted a book in the MOAS gift shop – a really cool place, we should add – we found a book, commissioned by the Root family, that tells the story of their years in racing.
This is the story of Chapman S. Root, the grandson of the company’s founder, and good friend Don Smith decided in 1952 to form a racing team. They named it Sumar, a contraction of their wives’ names, and went on to assault the Midwest tracks, first with a Kurtis-Kraft 3000 Sprint car. That led to the car you see on the cover of this book, the Sumar Special, an early attempt at Brickyard streamlining. The book, largely the work of Chapman’s son, Preston Root, whose name you may recognize from his work as a broadcaster with the Motor Racing Network. It’s a fascinating, highly personal collection of photos of the team’s racing history during the 1950s. Sumar employed some of the era’s brightest stars, including Tony Bettenhausen, Jimmy Daywalt and Pat O’Connor. Another driver was the early NASCAR star Marshall Teague, who was killed in the car while attempting to set a speed record barely two weeks after the superspeedway’s opening. The Sumar Special was restored and now occupies a place of honor, along with the Sprint car, in a MOAS exhibition hall. We simply can’t get enough of this kind of 1950s racing history. Best of all, it’s only $19.95 for 90 large-format illustrated pages. You can get it directly from MOAS, whose contact information is on the website. Make sure you tell them we sent you.
It’s been under discussion for a long time, and as the new year arrives, it’s reality: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Groupe PSA have agreed, following a shareholder vote, to merge and form the world’s fourth-largest producers of automobiles behind Volkswagen, Toyota and Renault-Nissan. The new, combined company will be known as Stellantis (it loosely translates to “brighten with stars” in Latin), and is scheduled to begin trading January 19th on the New York Stock Exchange. The logic behind this is easy enough to grasp: The furious rush to embrace new automotive technologies including electric propulsion and autonomous driving has driven any number of big automakers to form technical alliances, despite the fact that they’d heretofore been fierce rivals in the marketplace.
Groupe PSA combines vehicle brands including Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and Vauxhall, Peugeot having had the most recent presence in the United States automotive market, going back to the 1990s. That may change. It’s common knowledge in the industry that Groupe PSA president Carlos Tavares has long eyed North America as a growth target, or at least, the opportunity to at least grab a toehold in the world’s biggest sales reservoir for new automobiles. Peugeot and Citroen produce distinctive, quality cars and have a formidable footprint in global motorsports, even if the majority of Americans have never heard of either marque. If you’ve ever traveled in Europe, you already know that Groupe PSA builds some compelling stuff. If would be cool to see something like the vehicle above, the new-generation Peugeot 208 – available in its home market with gasoline, diesel or electric power – end up as buying choice over here.
Most of us have been around long enough to recall when Coca-Cola muddled around with its original formula, or when McDonald’s tried to sell hamburgers made out of seaweed. Both were object lessons that you don’t mess around blithely with a very successful product. The same logic applies to the products’ trademarks: Can you see McDonald’s ever giving up on the golden arches, or Nike abandoning the swoosh? In the world of cars, it’s equally difficult to envision Ford jettisoning the blue oval that was once applied to the Model T, the three-pointed star going behind a cloud at Mercedes-Benz, or Chevrolet canning the bowtie in favor of some shapeless, organic logo. Reconfiguring an automotive brand is never a step that’s undertaken without a great deal of deliberation. Consider the case of Kia, which this week, entered the new year with a new-look logo.
You will be excused for wondering what, exactly, is new, or what the point of all this may be. It’s the initial element of a sort-of rebranding of the South Korean automaker, with an accompanying revision to the corporate slogan, that’s scheduled to be formally rolled out in the middle of the month. The new logo is more gently stylized than the block of simple-font letters in the oval that preceded. In the company’s view, the new logo evokes “symmetry,” “rhythm” and “rising,” the last not to be confused with the post-9/11 song by Bruce Springsteen. What we’re told is, this is supposed to evoke a hand-lettered signature. It’s in keeping with the new slogan, which was also leaked ahead of the big reveal: “Movement that inspires.” Need more inspiration? Check out the Kia channel on YouTube to see the actual corporate presentation.
While the rest of us have been doing this and that, the team that decides what Hyundai vehicles of tomorrow will resemble has been both industrious and successful. As evidence, we present the fact that Hyundai made a good showing at the most recent Good Design awards, one of the world’s leading competitions for industrial and artistic innovation. Hyundai completed it with four awards for excellence in the competition’s transportation category. Two of them went to Hyundai concept vehicles, the Prophecy and the 45, both EVs. The 45 concept, is a follow-on to the better-known Pony Coupe Concept, and incorporates themes expected to make it to market once Hyundai introduces its production IONIQ 5, its first dedicated EV, next year.
The other honored concept was the Prophecy, which made its auto show debut in March, and suggests a future course for appearance based on the brand’s Sensuous Sportiness identity. Hyundai products already on the market scored well, too: The 2021 Elantra’s revised shape was recognized, and Hyundai’s ultra-fast Hy-Charger recharging system for EVs, was recognized for its contribution to the infrastructure that electric vehicles will require as they continue to approach widespread buyer acceptance.
While constantly evolving, Mercedes-Benz has nonetheless stood squarely for excellence throughout its existence, especially when it comes to its premium offerings. Yes, everything that Mercedes-Benz builds has that aura of technical superiority, but the notion is particularly pronounced when you consider its premium cars, the S-class, which are often considered limousines in their home market. The S-class was fully redone for 2020, now upgraded to include available all-wheel steering and over-the-air update capability for more than 50 digital or electronic functions. Known internally as the 223 model series, the 2020 S-class stands as the 11th generation of Mercedes-Benz’s large passenger car, a lineage that can trace itself back to the first 220 sedan of 1951. This photo, captured at the Immendingen test track, demonstrates how far these highly coveted sedans have progressed in just their more recent iterations.
Engineering is everything with this marque; always has been. The 220 sedan of 1951 pioneered the conical-pin door lock that’s simply the best component of its sort ever designed. The “fintail” Benzes from 1959 forward featured the industry’s first passenger safety cell with crumple zones, along with disc brakes and air suspension. The next generation, the W109, included the fabled 300 SEL 6.3, the first true German muscle sedan. If you’re of a certain age, however, your fave will likely be the 116 model series that arrived in 1972, the first generation of these cars to be called the S-class. This series include the 450 SE and SEL, whose contemporary notices from the global motoring press termed it the best sedan in automotive history. And that was before Bosch-developed antilock braking first appeared in 1978 as an option. Within two years, ABS was standard across the board for all Mercedes-Benz models. That’s the kind of progress these cars have exhibited as long as they’ve been around.