New trucks from GM help educate tomorrow’s technicians

It’s Thanksgiving, which makes this a perfect time to feel some gratitude for the essential workers, from every field, that have done so much to help ordinary folks like us to navigate some very challenging times. Think of how we’d all get to medical appointments and such if car dealerships didn’t have trained technicians in their service departments to keep all our rides running properly. The line mechanic at the dealer who performs warranty or maintenance duties on your vehicle is indeed a do-or-die individual. Like the industry as a whole, General Motors considers a trained technician pool to be a very serious matter. To that effect, it’s made a $12 million investment in training new people who will be able to swiftly interpret the diagnostic readouts for you GM vehicle and take the appropriate corrective action.

Working in partnership with the Automotive Service Excellence Education Foundation, GM has handed over 219 copies of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups built in 2019 and 2020, all with 3.0-liter diesel power, to 50 participating colleges and three universities. The program, known as GM ASEP, jointly involves GM, its dealer network, ACDelco and learning institutions in the United States, Canada, China and Ecuador. Deliveries of this rolling classrooms, if you will, has been underway since the third quarter of this year.

VW lays out ranges for EVs

You can expect that in the coming years, the road to widespread acceptance and adoption of electric vehicles is going to become both straighter and shorter. Part of that journey will involve selling that the fact that these vehicles are actual, viable options for drivers with the objective of shrinking their carbon footprint. Volkswagen has just taken one such significant step, by disclosing that its all-electric ID.4 1st Edition and ID.4 Pro SUVs now have a genuine EPA estimate that both can travel 250 miles on a single charge, which Wolfsburg says is the equivalent of 94 MPG in combined city/highway driving.

Both of the new Volkswagen EVs use a rear-mounted permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor that produces the equivalent of 201 horsepower, and can go from 5 percent to 80 percent charged at a fast-charging station within 38 minutes. The rear-drive ID.4 is available for ordering at dealers right now, with the ID.4 Pro starting at $39,995 before a potential federal tax credit of $7,500 kicks in, a price that also includes three years of free recharging via Electrify America. This is the future, folks. If you need proof, consider the fact that the limited-run ID.4 1st Edition sold out the same day as its online launch. Later next year, Volkswagen plans to also roll out an AWD version of the ID.4.

McLaren chases a newfound measure of hybrid supremacy

At one time, if you wanted to drive at a sustained 250 MPH, you had two options. One was to head for the Bonneville Salt Flats when the Southern California Timing Association hosts Speed Week, the opportunity to arrow across the blinding white crust at supersonic velocity, if you dare risk the flesh and capital. The other was to enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans and scream down the Mulsanne straight before the chicanes were installed. A half-century ago, a longtail Porsche 917 teased at 240 and Mulsanne, and the tiny Rondeau prototypes of the early 1980s and the Peugeot 905 some 20 years later were the only cars known to flirt regularly with the magic number since then. Thanks to McLaren, however, the genuinely rich will have the chance to chase it on their own.

It’s called Artura, as the spy image here makes clear, and McLaren says this car will be the culmination of its experience in adapting hybrid powertrains to the most extreme performance imaginable. The Artura, due in the first half of 2021, will be the first car in the supercar category to use Woking’s new hybrid-specific platform, and will stand as a follow-on to the McLaren P1 of 2012 and to the more recent Speedtail Hyper-GT, which had a factory-certified top end of 403 km/hr, which works out to 250 MPH. Set for production in the U.K. at the McLaren Composites Technology Centre, the Artura will mate the marque’s High-Performance Hybrid powertrain technologies with an all-new twin-turbocharged V-6 engine, running on gasoline. This will be the first hybrid McLaren to see volume production, as opposed to being an ultra-lightweight competition or track-day car such as its semi-EV predecessors. As they say, details to come.

Once an MKX, now a Nautilus

Lincoln marked 100 years in 2020 since its founding by the Vermont machinist Henry M. Leland, the same guy who earlier created Cadillac. If you’re wondering of late what Lincoln’s been up to, here’s one answer: It’s been gradually distancing itself from its recent practice of assigning three-character nameplates, which a lot of observers either didn’t understand or couldn’t remember when it counted, to its lineup of vehicles. One such item is the compact SUV that was originally known as the MKX since it first appeared in 2007, but which has been more recently called the Nautilus. Few may realize it, but this has been Lincoln’s largest-selling model since 2016. Based on its corporate cousin, the Ford Edge, the Nautilus slots into the Lincoln lineup between the Ford Escape-derived Corsair and the Explorer-based Lincoln Aviator.

The biggest change for the 2021 Nautilus is a new interior with a heavy helping of convenience. The SYNC 4 system is standard, with a segment-leading touchscreen that measures 13.2 inches. The cabin is available in two new colors, plus Lincoln’s premium Black Label interior treatments known as Chalet and Flight. Three new exterior finishes are also on the palette. Available power goes up to a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6 producing 335 horsepower, with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four engine as standard equipment. In its materials announcing the 2021 upgrades, Lincoln makes it clear that China is one of the primary intended markets for the nudged-upward Nautilus.

Lexus looks, a clean tailpipe and rear-wheel drive, to boot

You may not immediately recognize this car, or its model name, but rest assured, that will change before much longer. Only three vehicles with hydrogen fuel-cell powertrains exist in North America, and they’re only sold in California – which by itself, constitutes one of the world’s largest automotive markets – and in Hawaii, because they’re the only two states where hydrogen-refueling stations currently exist. Toyota is one of the automakers that serves this market-in-waiting, and for five years, has offered the Mirai sedan to interested buyers. The Mirai is about to go into its second generation, involving changes that will ensure nobody ever mistakes it for a Prius.

The hugely aggressive, Lexus-themed frontal treatment for the 2021 Mirai is no accident, because the biggest coming change is the Mirai’s shift to a rear-drive platform, which generally mirrors the Lexus GS in dimensions, proportions and layout. That’s right, a legitimate rear-drive car that’s squeaky clean from an emissions standpoint. Offered in XLE and Limited trim grades, every 2021 Mirai will feature the Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ suite as standard equipment, and to combat all that quietude, an audio system with subwoofer, amplifier and 14 JBL speakers. The new-generation Mirai goes on sale next month.

Revitalizing historic Detroit, with a serious assist from Ford

When you come into Detroit after crossing over from Canada via Windsor, Ontario, the first thing you see is this huge, elegant building that at one time, was obviously a major public gathering place. And the building is a shambles, just like most other structures around it. This is your first view of a major American industrial city, and you’ll likely find yourself wondering how the hell things could have been allowed to deteriorate to this degree. It’s easy to write it off as more evidence of how badly Detroit, a place I lived for a while, has decayed since the race riot of 1967 that left great stretches of this proud city in flames. In pieces of varying proportions, Detroit has been able to haltingly move forward from a generation of neglect. It’s about to happen again, with a major assist from Ford.

The ravaged building just described was once the main passenger station of the Michigan Central Railroad, a once-spectacular structure that was nearly destroyed by years of unchecked arson and vandalism. Long a prime candidate for the wrecking ball, Michigan Central Station is instead going to be restored as the centerpiece of a 30-acre mobility research and innovation district. The station, abandoned since 1988, will be renovated under a plan first hatched in 2018 by executive chairman Bill Ford, which envisions a fully walkable environment for transportation research. Besides the passenger station, the district will encompass Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, Corktown, plus adjoining areas of North Corktown, Mexicantown, and the neighborhood known as Hubbard Richard. Besides the station, the district will encompass the Book Depository, a new structure to be known as Building West, and The Factory, an existing structure when about 250 Ford employees are already at work on autonomous-driving technology. The Book Depository was designed by Albert Kahn, the great industrial architect of the early auto industry, whose creations also included another Detroit landmark, the original Packard plan, which was slated for preservation until an investment plan recently collapsed. As envisioned, the Michigan Central project will encompass open space, biking trails, shuttles, retail and residential use. The station’s elevated tracks will be repurposed as an open mobility workshop, and a 1,250-space parking deck is also planned. Both the deck and the Book Depository are expected to open by early 2022. Here’s where you can go to learn more of this very good news.

Porsche power takes the WEC

Porsche, the powerhouse of Stuttgart, and dominance in international sports car racing go togehter like … what? Jaegerschnitzel and mushroom gravy? Bockwurst and sauerkraut? Like any tasty combination you care to offer, folks, because this playground has been the property of Dr. Ing. Ferry and his descendants since before I went through Confirmation. It’s happened again, this time at the recent eight-hour finale for the FIA World Endurance Championship in Bahrain, where Porsche wrapped up the season title via a one-two finish in the GTE-Pro category. The winning entry just has to be one of the world’s most thematically and aesthetically perfect racing cars, the Porsche 911 RSR, which fittingly wrapped up its debut season with an international title.

It was the kind of Porsche putsch that would have made Ferry’s chest swell with pride: The Bahrain round marked the 911 RSR’s third win in the eight rounds that made up the pandemic-revised WEC season. The season actually spanned two calendar years, in keeping with current FIA WEC practice, as Porsche took the opening round last year at the historic Silverstone circuit in the United Kingdom. Taking the overall win at the Bahrain International Circuit were teammates Kévin Estre and Michael Christensen, with Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni clawing their way from fourth on the grid to place second.

Mexican artwork on wheels

Volkswagen has had a major presence in Mexico for most of its post-World War II existence. It operates a huge assembly plant in Puebla, the capital of the eponymous Mexican state, which builds thousands of vehicles destined for the North American market. Mexico was also among the very last places where the immortal air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle was still legal for production, and still enjoys local status as a cultural touchstone that has somewhat eluded the United States since the first Golf, nee Rabbit, reached these shores in 1975. In Mexico, the Beetle has long served as a canvas for artistic expression; the famous “Wedding Beetle” is one such creation. Here’s another collaboration between one of Germany’s most storied automakers and the artisans from one of its biggest markets.

Officially, this colorful creation is known as the Vochol, a takeoff on Mexico’s fond moniker for the ageless Beetle, vocho. What we have here is a Mexico-market 1990 Beetle festooned with more than 2.2 million glass beads, transforming it firmly into an artifact of rolling sculpture. It’s name recalls not only the vocho, but also the term Huichol, which is a colloquialism that describes the indigenous Wixárika people native to the western Mexican states of Nayarit and Jalisco. Eight artists from a pair of Huichol families labored on this Beetle for eight months, coating its sheetmetal curves with resin and then applying the glass beads by hand, one by one, in a variety of geometric patterns. The project consumed some 9,000 hours of hand workmanship, and features symbology relevant to Huichol spiritualism. It’s the largest single piece of Huichol beadwork ever created, and the bead-bedecked vocho now resides at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City when it’s not on loan, a journey that’s taken this car all around the world.

Title time for Corvette Racing

The pandemic-rescheduled 12 Hours of Sebring made some significant news this weekend before the race itself was even in the books. Chevrolet needed only to take the green to secure the season title in the GT Le Mans Manufacturers category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with the mid-engine Corvette C8.R, marking the inaugural season of pro-level competition for the landmark Corvette design. It was the second time the bowtie brigade struck IMSA gold this month, as team drivers Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor captured the GTLM driver and team championships two weeks ago at the WeatherTech round at Laguna Seca.

The C8.R is built by longtime Chevrolet technical partner Pratt Miller of Michigan, and thumps out horsepower courtesy of Katech Engines, another Michigan-based GM performance cohort of long standing. This is the third championship title for Corvette Racing, as the effort is formally known, in the past five years. It’s the 13th IMSA manufacturer’s title for Chevrolet since 2001, but only the second time that a first-year Corvette model has been the basis for a title-winning effort, the first coming in 2005, also in partnership with Pratt Miller. The Sebring weekend also spotlighted the final career start for longtime Corvette Racing team driver Oliver Gavin, who is ending is full-time driving career.

Lexus LS 500, 500h abound with performance and refinement

We all know how much Toyota’s premium nameplate, Lexus, has done to redefine what a Japanese automobile is since it appeared on these shores in 1989. The original LS 400 made it clear to everyone that maybe, just maybe, not every interpretation of the S-class had to necessarily come from Mercedes-Benz. Lexus introduced the latest version of its flagship LS sedan in 2018, and it’s heading into 2021 with a raft of refinement that’s applicable not only to the hydrocarbon-fueled LS 500, but also to the part-time-electric LS 500h.

With that oh-so-pronounced grille treatment leading the way, the LS series remains on the Lexus GA-L platform, which receives revised shock absorber and spring rates for 2021, enhancing its ride quality. Adaptive Variable Suspension incorporates adjustable ride height. Standard power, hybrid and otherwise, is the Toyota-designed 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V-6, with all of 416 horsepower on tap, linked to a standard 10-speed automatic transmission. AWD is an option, and the LS offers six choices of powertrain responsiveness, selectable by the driver. A new Palomino interior treatment, with black accents, will be offered, and a 12.3-inch multimedia touchscreen becomes standard, now with Amazon Alexa compatibility. All LS variants hit the showrooms late this month with a starting MSRP of $76,000.