Virtual reality enters the realm of vehicle design at Hyundai and Kia

Anytime an advance in technology transforms the way that motor vehicles are created, we’re interested in hearing about it. The auto industry advanced the craft of designing cars exponentially when CAD entered the mainstream, allowing engineers to conjure mathematical models of automotive structures that could be tested for torsional rigidity, crush capability and other critical considerations. Co-branded South Korean giants Hyundai and Kia are about to undertake the next major advance, introducing virtual reality into design processes at their global headquarters in Seoul. This new protocol will allow up to 20 designers, working remotely in different parts of the world, to simultaneously work digitally on new vehicle platforms.

Unveiling the new technological discipline at the Namyang Research and Development Center in Seoul, Hyundai and Kia rolled out the result of a $12.8 million investment in this new design practice. Besides allowing a lot of designers to work on one project all at once, the virtual reality system is expected to scissor up to 20 percent of the development time now typically required by new-vehicle projects. Virtual reality will come to be used throughout the R&D and design procedures at both brands. Virtual-reality headsets will allow operating designers to enter developmental simulations, utilizing 36 motion sensors that will allow the designers to work together in real time, regardless of location. The system was first used in the development of the HDC-6 NEPTUNE heavy truck that was first shown in October at the North American Commercial Vehicle Show. The three-dimensional system is capable of returning results with 100 percent accuracy.

More power leads 2020 Super Duty chassis-cab upgrades

For some of us, it’s always all about the power. And if you’re the kind of person who needs a truck that dumps, can haul big hay bales or be converted for contractor or utility work, Ford’s got you in mind. The chassis-cab version of the 2020 Ford Super Duty is ready to start printing your paycheck, with additional horsepower and other powertrain upgrades leading the list of improvements. Leading the way, literally, is an all-new 7.3-liter V-8, the biggest gasoline-fueled engine in its class, rated at 350hp with 468-lbs.ft. of torque on tap at 3,900 RPM.

Need still more torque? Then you can opt for the new, Navistar-built 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 diesel, which produces a maximum of 825-lbs.ft. of axle-twisting work ability, all at just 1,600 RPM, a boost of 75-lbs.ft. over the previous diesel’s output. There’s also a 6.2-liter gasoline V-8 in the Super Duty power lineup. All can be connected to a new 10-speed TorqShift automatic transmission. Depending on engine selection, the Super Duty can be optioned to produce best-in-class payload capacity of 12,750 pounds. Interactive Ford Telematics and Data Services are available to help fleet operators keep track of their trucks’ productivity, among other functions.

Nissan wants to keep your Christmas safe and secure

Let’s get this out of the way right now: I’ve never been particularly enthralled with Christmas and all its trappings. The annual torment of Black Friday shopping – when does it get underway now, in June sometime? – has always been an exercise in self-flagellation to me. I hate it. That said, the rituals of holiday shopping are a very big deal for most normal people, and it involves a measure of personal safety if you’re going to really do it. Criminals, especially those who specialize in burglaries from motor vehicles, positively love Yuletide shopping. It’s very easy for them to smash a window and grab the new iPad or Xbox that you left in plain site while you headed into P.F. Chang’s for a break.

Christmas is just a couple of weeks off but if you run out tomorrow and score yourself a new Nissan Rogue or Rogue Sport, you can take advantage of its optional Divide-N-Hide system for organizing and storing cargo behind the passenger seats. Depending on the Rogue model, the system allows owners to configure their rear cargo area up to 18 different ways, which can help you in hiding most anything up to giant-screen TVs from the prying eyes of thieves. Rogue features also include a motion-detecting rear liftgate that raises itself as you approach while grappling with an armful of wrapped presents, like the poor schmuck in the Nissan image demonstrates. Feliz Navidad.

Still wondering whether trucks are big? GM provides your proof

In case you’ve been pulling a Rip van Winkle for the past decade, you know that sedans, once the foundation of new-vehicle sales, are decidedly becoming just another market niche. People today want to buy crossovers, hybrids, and SUVs. And, of course, pickups, of all sizes, which are adapting to market realities dictating better fuel economy through things like smaller engines with cylinder deactivation, the extensive use of aluminum, and more. But right now, this is all looking like an irreversible trend rather than just another market cycle. Consider what General Motors just announced. It’s going to sink $1.5 billion to bring its newest generation of full-size pickups into the showroom, a billion of which will be earmarked to upgrade its assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri – the onetime hometown of Chuck Berry – to produce its next generation of midsize pickups that will succeed today’s versions of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

While it hasn’t yet released any details on the forthcoming midsize trucks, GM is undoubtedly facing a more crowded playing field that includes the reconstituted Ford Ranger and the new Jeep Gladiator, plus a whole range of foreign-badged competitors. Consider this: Since it reintroduced the Colorado and Canyon in 2013, GM has sold more than 700,000 midsize haulers in the United States alone. Wentzville currently builds both those pickups, along with the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana full-size vans. First opened in 1983, Wentzville Assembly now employs more than 4,300 hourly and salaried autoworkers.

A Brit legend scores big in Bahrain

If you look at the schedule for the World Endurance Championship, you’ll notice something a little bit odd. Right now, the WEC is at the midpoint of its current season, which uniquely spans two calendar years. Part of the racing lineup was an inaugural event, the Bapco 8 Hours of Bahrain, which this past weekend saw Aston Martin score a very well-earned victory in a contest that saw the legendary British marque swap the lead throughout the race with Ferrari, its historic rival in the WEC’s GTE Pro category. The winning drivers were the Danish duo of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen, who gave Aston Martin its second win of the season despite starting at the rear of the grid.

This Drew Gibson image furnished by Aston Martin shows the winning Vantage GTE exiting the pits during its run to victory, a finish that saw all three works Aston Martins finish on the podium. In a battle of conserving brakes and tires on the hot Bahrain circuit, Thiim and Sorensen were able to capitalize on a botched Ferrari pit stop and assure the win, which under the WEC’s sometimes-convoluted rules structure, awarded the team 1.5 times the points for a “normal” six-hour endurance race due to Bahrain’s additional two laps of the clock. Aston Martin continues to hold the WEC lead in GT manufacturer’s points. And about that schedule: It now goes on a two-month hiatus and resumes in February with the Lone Star Le Mans at the Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Texas.

A Snake that doesn't slither

The company that the immortal Carroll Shelby founded has a long history of doing crazy things with Fords (and, we know, Chrysler products, too, at least for a while). You can get yourself a bucking hunk of Mustang from these people, with more than enough horsepower to hurrah any highway hoon. The concept of a performance truck isn’t exactly new – you may recall the Ford F-150 Lightning, or the Chevrolet C1500 SS454 that came along around the same time – but what Shelby American is doing now is absolutely beyond the pale. The historic performance purveyor has announced that it will make 250 copies of its new Shelby F-150 Super Snake Sport available through Ford dealers. We’ll get to the particulars in a moment, but for openers, Shelby American is flatly saying this is the fastest street-legal truck available for sale anywhere, or at least at a Ford dealership.

The crowd went nuts when this beast made its first appearance last month at the SEMA show in Las Vegas. Lots of manufacturers are hitting big output numbers with their performance vehicles, but this is outrageous: Its 5.0-liter Ford V-8 is topped with a pulley-driven, powder-coated Roots-type supercharger that nearly doubles the engine’s normal capability to 770hp. Remember, that’s from 302 cubic inches. The blower is fed by functional cold-air scoops on the truck’s hood. The Super Snake Sport exhales through a Borla exhaust system, and all that momentum is stopped by Shelby-spec Baer brakes. Factory testing revealed a 0-60 time of 3.45 seconds and 0-100 MPH in 8.3. Honest, we’re not making this up. If you want the fully supercharged engine, be ready to part with $93,385. Even at this price, the trucks are a certainty to be snapped up fast by eager collectors.

Toyota's RAV4 is a hometown hero

It’s always nice when your peers step up to the plate and salute your achievement, winning one for the home team. And Toyota has just hit a certified dinger in its home market, as its reimagined RAV4 crossover has brought the Asian auto giant its first Japan Car of the Year award in an even decade. A jury of some 60 home-market journalists gave the RAV4 the nod over the Mazda3, with the BMW 3-Series placing third in the balloting and thereby winning the Import Car of the Year honor.

There’s a whole lot that’s new about the new RAV4 behind that aggressive grille. First off is the fact that it’s offered in a TRD version, which stands for Toyota Racing Development, and means that the vehicle receives standard Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD and has a rally-tuned suspension. Improved multimedia and entertainment systems have been added to every RAV4 equipment level, and the RAV4 XLE gets an expanded, higher-capability weather package that includes a windshield-wiper deicer, something yours truly would have killed to have while living in Vermont and upstate New York. The RAV4 holds singular honors in the United States as the market’s top-selling non-pickup small SUV for the last two consecutive years.