General Motors hasn’t yet taken the step of predicting when the global supply shortfall might experience long-term stability, but Volvo Cars is taking a crack at it. First, Volvo reported August 2021 sales of 45,786 new cars, representing a drop of 10.6 percent over the same period last year. Like GM, Volvo is attributing the drop to supply issues that have cramped its ability to produce new cars. The Volvo-specific problem currently is a directly COVID-associated supplier shutdown in Malaysia, which in turn forced temporary production halts at Volvo Cars assembly plants in Sweden, Belgium, China, and most recently, at its U.S. facility in Ridgeville, South Carolina, near Charleston, which is already scheduled to become the first Volvo plant to adopt all-EV production.
At Volvo, and elsewhere, there’s evidence that the supplier shortage is temporary and that the long-term market forecast – essentially, remediating pent-up demand from the pandemic that’s now been percolating for close to two years – reflects solid fundamentals. Volvo cars predicts that once supplies stabilize, sales in the second half a 2021 should at least match last year’s pace. Despite the slowdown, models from the Recharge line of electric-capable vehicles still accounted for 47 percent of Volvo Cars’ overall sales, in August, the highest such percentage ever, and global year-to-date sales for 2021 were up more than 26 percent over 2020 despite the recent supplier blips in Southeast Asia.
For the third straight month, a chronic global shortfall in the production and shipping of crucial semiconductor chips has forced General Motors to impose a widespread series of shutdowns to its North American assembly operations. Nearly all plants on the continent, including the already-stopped CAMI Assembly in Ontario, Canada, and San Luis Potosi Assembly in Mexico, will cease operations for at least two weeks in September until the supply situation stabilizes. The shutdowns are in addition to a stoppage at the Orion Assembly facility outside Detroit, following the recall of more than 100,000 Chevrolet Bolt EVs over possible fire risks associated with their LG Chem high-voltage battery packs. The auto industry has been the most visible casualty of the chip shortage, which has effected supplies at the retail level of everything from home appliances – the chips are essential for today’s “smart” refrigerators and washing machines – to laptops and tablets.
Under CEO Mary Barra, GM has pledged to go fully carbon neutral by 2040. GM spokesman Dan Flores told the Detroit Free Press last week that the chip shortage is a stubborn, lingering effect of COVID shutdowns across its international supplier chains. The phenomenon isn’t exclusive to GM – locally, the hugely expanded Subaru retailer had a single new vehicle in its expansive showroom last week. There are some ongoing bright spots: Production of high-profit SUVs and full-size pickups will continue, at least for now, at Arlington Assembly (Texas) and Flint Assembly (Michigan), respectively. And there was no immediate slowdown announced for Bowling Green Assembly in Kentucky, the Chevrolet Corvette’s historic home; or at Lansing Grand River Assembly in Michigan, which produces performance versions of the Chevrolet Camaro and the newly unveiled Cadillac Blackwing sedans.
You can visit the sacred soil of the Badlands, or watch the slowly evolving sculpture of Crazy Horse that’s being carved from a mountainside take shape. Personally, I had my first two bison burgers in the Black Hills and at the famed tourist trap, Wall Drug, just off Interstate 90. But if you find yourself in the Peace Garden State this month, you’ll be pleased to discover that South Dakota, one of the most lovely landscapes in this country, is also going to host a major, megabuck extravaganza of American open-wheel racing without the adulteration of overhead wings. The inaugural Huset’s Speedway USAC Nationals on the famed third-mile loop of loamy soil in Brandon, South Dakota, will have a stunning total purse of $236,000 for three straight nights of USAC national Sprint car and national Midget action, running from September 10th through 12th.
The Chris Pedersen photo from the United States Auto Club shows two of USAC’s top guns, Robert Ballou in the 12 and Justin Grant, just off an overall win in last weekend’s Sprint Car Smackdown at Kokomo Speedway in Indiana, who will be chasing the big dollars in buffalo country. It’s the highest combined purse ever offered for Sprint and Midget competitors in USAC’s history, which reaches back to 1955. Full preliminary programs for both divisions will be held the first two nights, leading to a no-qualifying feature finale with lineups based on point totals from each qualifying night. Can’t make it all the way to South Dakota? Accept our condolences, along with our assurances that the entire program will be streamed live on Floracing.com, which is a must-have service for race fans, and you can order swag by visiting the event website.
Just last night, Ovation (I think) was running one of the 007 movies that starred the late Sir Roger Moore, who brought a level of high camp to the productions that was unseen since Adam West did his best Uriah Heep impression during the TV run of Batman. The James Bond franchise – industry? – is about to achieve a benchmark with this month’s release of No Time To Die, the 25th feature film in the series. Confession: Last night’s interlude on Ovation, until I changed the channel, marked my first-ever Bond movie and based on my assessment, likely my last. The bigger news is that 007 inspired one of the most successful toys in history, the gotta-have Corgi Toys replica from 1965 of Sean Connery’s Aston Martin DB5, complete with working accessories that included the ejection seat, tire cutters and bulletproof rear screen. Aston Martin evidently has some sort of product-placement deal in effect for the new movie. Which brings us to our subsequent point.
Okay, we’re being sarcastic here. An actual DB5 does get screen time in the new movie, which we assume stars the new Bond who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Vladimir Putin. So do three other Astons, famously including the new Valhalla hypercar. So it was probably irresistible for Aston to put an actual DB5 into a full-size Corgi box replicating the original diecast car’s packaging, which was posed this week on the Coaling Jetty outside London’s landmark Battersea Power Station. The actual DB5 inside is one of 25 Goldfinger continuation cars that are being produced, all in the correct Silver Birch finish, the car in the Corgi box also having the requisite special-effects goodies. All very nice, but here, we believe camp is a dish best served with a heaping side of Bat-foolishness.
It’s still a long way from winter, which means that the notion of probing deep into the wilderness doesn’t yet pose a masochistic challenge. Spend any time in a resort area and you’ll soon realize that people like where trucks can take then as passionately as the vehicles themselves. To that end, the truck people at GMC have strutted out their newest concept truck, the Canyon AT4 OVRLANDX, with the spelling correct. Fittingly, GMC held the reveal last week in Loveland, Colorado, at the Overland Expo Mountain West 2021 trade show for outdoorsy types. The OVRLANDX takes a Canyon AT4-package midsize pickup, with a 3.6-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission for power, and starts piling the crates on the wagon, pardner.
When it comes to proper stance and accessorization, it’s immediately clear that with the OVRLANDX, GMC has clearly rung the bell here. With 10 inches of ground clearance and a 27.7-degree standard approach angle, the OVRLANDX rides on 33-inch BFGoodrich KM3 Mud-Terrain tires on 17-inch AEV Crestone wheels. Guy lines at thre corners of the windshield lift overhanging branches away. A roof-mounted tent, 270-degree awning, traction boards, onboard cooler and kitchenette are part of the package. So is a solar panel. Turnkey brush-busting option groups are popular with truck and SUV retailers, most notably Jeep. It’s clear that at least some of this package will make it to the showrooms intact, and likely soon.
Here’s how all this got started. I was watching the Cars.TV channel on cable when it segued into a 30-minute wrap of the most recent Grand National Roadster Show, as it’s now called. For 72 years (COVID claimed the 2021 edition), this show has presented the most prestigious award in hot rodding, the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award, most recently captured by the ultra-smooth, flamed 1932 Ford of Monte Belsham. In the world of hot rodding, which is indisputably a serious part of American automotive design heritage, the AMBR is it, the everything, the most-desired prize. At one time, winning it often meant that a plastics manufacturer might reproduce the car in scale as an assembly kit. And it one didn’t, a coterie of very skillful and practiced model builders would find the right mixture of leftover kit parts, paint and putty to make it themselves. There used to be a whole universe of magazines, suppliers and shows that supported modelers like these. To an extent, they still exist. The worlds of automotive styling, full-size rodding and scale automotive modeling are close cousins, so it’s fitting that there’s a field of honor for those who seriously build automobiles in miniature. Seeing the AMBR program on TV made me think of one such manifestation.
What you see above is the result of a museum effort to recreate the AMBR vibe, all of it, in 1/25th scale, including its longtime home. The guy in the T-shirt is Ken Hamilton, who constructed the scale replica behind him, an actual, proportionally accurate model of the Oakland Coliseum, which hosted the roadster show for decades before it moved to its current home at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona. We’ll get to the model, and how it happened, in a minute. Ken is an extremely serious and gifted scale modeler, and likely the only person in history to win both a Gold Award for excellence from the National Model Railroad Association and a class award at the GSL International Scale Vehicle Championship, widely considered the world’s most prestigious and competitive model car competition. Talent-wise, he’s got both feet in some very deep water. I found out that like me at the time, Ken lived in South Jersey, so I wrote a newspaper feature on the lighthearted car-themed dioramas he created, which I’d seen in Scale Auto Enthusiast. That story helped get me hired at Hemmings Motor News. Today, Ken lives in Charleston, South Carolina, where his work is curated and displayed at Lowcountry Artists Gallery, where as a resident artist, he creates 3D studies that make extensive use of traditional modeling and detailing skills that he possesses copiously.
The GSL Championship is organized in large part by Utah attorney Mark Gustavson, himself a top-level automotive modeler, through the institution he founded, the International Model Car Builders’ Museum, which like the contest is in Salt Lake City. Mark decided to salute the AMBR and its link to automotive modeling by commissioning a special exhibit for the museum: A 1/25th replica of the Oakland Coliseum with the winning cars as they existed to that date. An all-star lineup of modelers contributed the minutely detailed cars themselves, but thanks to his diorama excellence, Ken became the building contractor.
Let’s explain what was involved here. The model of the coliseum was constructed entirely from scratch, primarily from plywood, with fold-down sides and a slide-up rear door for photo access. The skylights and all interior lighting are fully functional, the latter originally illuminated, pre-LED, with grain-of-wheat incandescent bulbs. There are working colored-light wheels, just like the car shows used to have, powered by electric motors underneath the coliseum floor. See the interior roof bracing? It’s all scratchbuilt, using scaled-down plans of the actual building that Ken created, the structures made from hand-cut, -shaped and -glued lengths of styrene beams, tubes and sheets from Evergreen Scale Models, a company everybody in this world knows intimately, which donated materials to the Oakland Coliseum project.
Here’s the finished exhibit as it appears today on the museum’s website. How many of these landmark rods and customs can you name? If you like what you see, check out Ken’s subsequent work, which can be commissioned.
Here’s a timely disclosure, especially since Toyota Gazoo Racing again copped last weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in the first outing for the new hypercar class, encompassing hybrid-powertrain prototypes and replacing the existing DPi category. Cadillac swiftly followed by announcing its full intentions to rumble in this new sandbox, which exists thanks to a rules alignment between the NASCAR-owned IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship in North America and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest in France, the historic Le Mans organizers. Beginning in 2023, Cadillac will take on the so-called hypercar category of global endurance racing with a fourth-generation V-series prototype that will, indeed, be in the hypercar ranks.
The very preliminary conceptual sketch from GM Design gives one indication of what the Cadillac LMDh-V.R prototype, to use its formal name, may end up looking like. Cadillac’s competition partners will be Chip Ganassi Racing and Action Express Racing. The joint IMSA-ACO hypercar formula requires entrants to run a standardized chassis and spec hybrid powertrain system combined with a manufacturer-specific internal-combustion powertrain and bodywork. In keeping with past practice, the hypercar platform will be jointly developed by GM Design and longtime IndyCar chassis supplier Dallara, which maintains a race car factory in Speedway, Indiana, just down Main Street from You Know Where. A new Cadillac engine package incorporate the hybrid system is under development. Cadillac already owns four IMSA titles and four straight overall wins in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.
The second tier of feasible alternative propulsion, apart from the current trends involving battery packs and hybrid powertrains, includes the fuel cell – FC in engineering shorthand – which essentially uses electrolysis to separate hydrogen, an energy carrier, from water, using an anode and a cathode separated by an electrolyte. At the cathode, hydrogen ions then combine with electrons for form hydrogen gas. It’s a potentially groundbreaking way to extract renewable energy on a nearly zero-emissions basis. Much of the current research into FC powertrains involves their potential use in trucks and other heavy commercial vehicles. Toyota is now using one of its U.S. plants to move this emerging powertrain technology closer to real-world production.
Beginning in 2023, Toyota will establish a dedicated line at its assembly plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, for volume production of integrated FC modules for installation in heavy trucks that are undergoing evaluation by several producers, including Toyota itself. Toyota is exploring partnerships with other manufacturers on EV production – the forthcoming Subaru Solterra hybrid, which uses Toyota battery technology, is one example – on bringing FCs to the Class 8 heavy-duty truck segment as well. Each such module, as shown here, weighs about 1,400 pounds and can deliver up to 160 kW of continuous, emissions-free power. Theoretically, that should give your typical 80,000-pound rig about 300 miles of range at highway speeds while fully loaded. With a workforce of about 10,000, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky achieved a different kind of milestone last month, building its 10 millionth new Camry sedan.
If you love automobile racing, and pay respectful attention to the founding heritage of the sport, you’ve simply got to get familiar with the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association. The SVRA, founded into 1978, is the United States’ largest and most influential organization that focuses solely on the preservation and enthusiastic use of competition cars of the past, maintaining records of literally thousands of such cars in its databases. SVRA is additionally in the event business, and to that end, it’s just announced its 2022 schedule, which comprises an ambitious 17-event lineup of vintage races, led by a return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back on its traditional Father’s Day date.
This image of SVRA member Tom Malloy’s vintage Formula 5000 Eagle-Chevrolet from 1975 gives you an inkling of the kind of very serious, yet magical, wheeled archives that get properly wrung out at an SVRA happening. The series performs at some impressive venues besides Indy, with 2022 stops also slated for Auto Club Speedway in California, Sebring, Charlotte, Road Atlanta, Road America, Laguna Seca and Sonoma, with the 2022 season finale set for the Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Texas, current home of the U.S. Grand Prix for Formula 1. With its coterie of generally well-heeled participants and fans, SVRA is also a strong sponsor platform, whose welter of partnerships including significant backing from Mazda, Pirelli, Sunoco and WeatherTech, among a raft of others. If you like race cars from the past, an SVRA outing is very prudent.
Genesis, the luxury/halo brand of Hyundai and Kia, is joining its broader-based siblings in the charge, if you will, to electric propulsion, underscored by last week’s rollout of its forthcoming GV60 crossover, which is due to arrive in North American showrooms next year. The GV60 will share its E-GMP dedicated EV platform with the Hyundai Ioniq 5 ad the Kia EV6, which will underpin most of the 23 new EVs that Hyundai is planning to add to its model portfolio by the end of 2025. The E-GMP has an expandable tray for liquid-cooled batteries, which gives the platform the capability of supporting high-performance and even racing vehicles in addition to the more pedestrian stuff.
Genesis is Hyundai’s luxury nameplate, so although performance and specific appointments for the GV60 have yet to be announced, both areas should be copiously accommodated. One such advance, however, has been disclosed: Instead of side-view mirrors, the GV60 is expected to mount rear- and side-vision screens on its A-pillars. A dual-motor, all-wheel-drive powertrain layout is likely here.