Category Archives: Automotive

Alternative fuels being put to the test

Hydrogen-powered vehicles promise no local emission motoring, but face significant problems in the refueling and storage of the hydrogen fuel. Students at the Technical University of Eindhoven in The Netherlands have avoided these problems, albeit at the expense of energy density, by developing a self-contained system that helps power an electric bus using hydrogen produced from formic acid.

The formic acid system is designed to act as a range extender for the electric-powered bus. It’s towed behind the bus in a compact trailer, and converts a fuel called hydrozine – made up of 99 percent formic acid and 1 percent a performance enhancing agent – into hydrogen and CO2. In turn, that hydrogen is used to generate electricity in a conventional fuel cell.

According to the students, there are a few benefits of using hydrozine to create hydrogen on the fly instead of just fueling the vehicle with hydrogen in the first place. For one, pure hydrogen needs to be pressurised in big tanks, something that adds weight and complexity to the vehicle as well as refueling stations. The University of Eindhoven team says the fuel has four times the energy density of a conventional battery, too, for big range in small packages.

On top of that, formic acid occurs naturally in some plants and ants, but it can also be manufactured easily on an industrial scale. All the CO2 created in the process of turning the formic acid-based hydrozine is used in the energy production process, making it a net zero-emissions fuel source. And because it’s a liquid, it could be slotted into existing filling station infrastructure with very little modification required.

The “Team FAST” students that developed the fuel initially built a scale model of the range-extending trailer, known as REX, in early 2016. The subsequent year and a half was spent refining the design, resulting in a system that can output 25 kW. The standalone system was officially released overnight in Eindhoven, alongside the first hydrozine filling station.

Although it’s just a prototype at the moment, Team FAST is hoping to have REX running around Eindhoven before the end of 2017. Long term, the goal is to make hydrozine a widely used, industry standard fuel source.

Formula E with fully-fledged factory team

Audi has committed to Formula E for the upcoming season, completing its push away from its World Endurance Championship glory days. Having slowly grown its involvement in the sport through ABT Sportsline this year, the company will be the first German manufacturer to line up on the Formula E grid when the season kicks off in December.

Although it offered a significant injection of money and development support into the ABT Sportline team ahead of the (current) 2016/17 Formula E season, the German giant stopped short of becoming a fully-fledged factory entrant. That changes next year, when ABT Sportline becomes Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler.

The team will be taking on the 2017/18 season with a new powertrain, developed in tandem with partner Schaeffler. Although strict regulations limit the potential for significant differences between powertrains, teams are able to tweak their motors, transmissions, software and suspension components.

“Formula E delivers spectacular motorsport in the hearts of fascinating cities and is a tremendous stage to present electric mobility and motorsport in their most emotive forms,” says Head of Audi Motorsport, Dieter Gass. “We’re currently seeing an extremely exciting season with a gripping title race. I’m happy that now everything has been put on track for a successful future too.”

The Ford Transit into a modular

Van life has become such a big trend we’re not even sure it’s counter-cultural anymore. Actually, it seems like a pretty nice business to get into, whether you’re tallying up followers on Instagram or selling van conversions. California’s ModVans is one of the latest to do the latter, transforming the Ford Transit into a comfy rolling abode made to wander countrysides, coastlines and cityscapes. The modular van can also convert back to passenger and cargo forms, so when van life has to cede the stage to real life, it can handle daily commutes and errands just as well as it handles open-road adventures.

The Ford Transit doesn’t seem to get quite as much camper van love as the Sprinters, Transporters and Ducatos of the world, but Ford does in fact own a 64 percent share of the American motorhome chassis market when you add in larger Class A and C models with Class B camper vans, according to data from Statistical Surveys, Inc. The Transit is also quite young in North America, and Ford is quick to point out that American converters only just got started making Transit campers last year. Dearborn seems confident that the Transit will find its footing on the big wave of camper van enthusiasm.

If ModVans gets its operation up and running, it’ll give Ford some help gaining that footing. The startup has built a Transit-based prototype van named the CV1 that looks quite well thought out. It’s now trying to get a full-fledged conversion business off the ground.

After becoming disillusioned with larger Class C motorhomes, entrepreneur and ModVans founder P.J. Tezza thought smaller and decided to go with a camper van build. He narrowed his base van choices down to the Sprinter and Transit, choosing the latter based on reviews and ease of serviceability. Specifically, he started with a long-wheelbase (148-in/3,759-mm) Transit with 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine.

Sublime scenery from the opening stages

The Silk Way Rally doesn’t get the same coverage as the legendary Paris-Dakar, but it’s one of the toughest tests in the automotive world. The course spans almost 10,000 km (6,214 mi) along an approximation of the ancient Silk Road, beginning in Moscow and weaving through Russia and Kazakhstan on its way to Xi’an, China. Here are some of the best images from the first three legs of the event, which kicked off earlier this week.


At the moment, the highly-fancied Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi piloted by Sebastien Loeb is sitting in the race lead, just a few seconds ahead of teammate Stephane Peterhansel. Peugeot is one of the favorites for the event having won the last two Paris-Dakar rallies, and arrived at the start line in Moscow with a different take on the 3008 DKR for Loeb to test ahead of the Paris-Dakar.

As you might have gathered from the Maxi name, it’s a whopping 20 cm (8 in) wider than the model it replaces, which opens the door for a 10 cm (4 in) increase in suspension track. According to the team, that makes for a more stable ride on rough roads at high speeds. Given these rallies are conducted at high speeds on rough roads, that’s probably a good development.

Although Loeb and his Peugeot teammates aren’t likely to be taking too much notice, the rally is run on some simply stunning roads. The event organizers have developed a route that highlights the history of the region, and are hoping to position it as a high-profile part of the world motorsports calendar.

Andretti Autosport for factory Formula E entry

BMW has announced plans for its i Division to join the burgeoning Formula E series. It won’t be the first German manufacturer to enter a factory-backed car in the pure-electric category, but the move signals a strong focus on electro-mobility from the suits in Munich.

Although it hasn’t been an active competitor, BMW i has been involved with Formula E from the very start. Its i8 has been used as the safety car since the category started in 2014, but there were a few issues with the series that prevented the partnership from evolving. Those roadblocks, such as BMW’s objection to cars being swapped mid-race – akin to a fuel stop in traditional car races – are set to be removed in Formula E’s fifth season, which kicks off in 2018.

“Because it is very important for us to demonstrate our technological expertise, we have shown a firm commitment to this project through the registration of BMW AG as an official manufacturer and are facing up to the growing competition there,” says BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt. “The changes we required for our involvement will come into effect in Season 5 – these include, for example, the omission of the car changeover.”

Along with some welcome publicity, BMW is hoping Formula E will help it develop the electric powertrains showing up a wide range of its production cars. Although the i8 and i3 are the most recognizable EVs in the range, iPerformance hybrid powertrains are available in an ever-growing number of models, making electrification a big part of BMW’s future.

A closer look at the Aston Martin Valkyrie

The bespoke AM-RB001 Valkyrie became one of the most talked about cars in the world when Aston Martin and Red Bull announced it in Melbourne last year, and the hype hasn’t faded in the intervening 18 months. We’ve now been given a detailed look at the road-legal version of the Valkyrie, complete with unbelievably intricate underbody aerodynamics and a stunning, pared-back interior.

We can’t quite believe it either, but apparently the stunning slice of British design and engineering you see here will be road legal. Imagine seeing one sitting at the traffic lights, rubbing shoulders with mundane hatchbacks and hulking four-wheel drives. Most journos scoffed when Aston said the Valkyrie, known as the AM-RB001 at that point, would be an LMP1 car for the road, but this is one case where we’re sure they’re very happy to be proven wrong.

Red Bull Racing aerodynamicist Adrian Newey is responsible for the insane underbody setup, designed to draw as much air as possible over the shapely carbon fiber diffuser through twin venturi tunnels. Newey actually told New Atlas the car debuts technology and aerodynamic devices deemed too radical for the (frustratingly restrictive) F1 rule makers.

The unique underbody aerodynamics bring a number of advantages. Aston Martin says the car develops more than 1.8 tons of downforce at high speed, so the system clearly works, but it also makes for a fascinating profile. There are a lot of interesting cutouts and shapes lurking under the smooth bodywork, but the top of the car is unmistakably an Aston. The pairing of Newey and Marek Reichman, Head Designer at Aston Martin, is one we’d love to see more of in future.

The London EV Company

The iconic London black taxi is getting a 21st century makeover. The London EV Company, previously known as the London Taxi Company, has unveiled the modern, hybrid TX for eco-minded cabbies. It might look similar to the black cabs you’re used to, but the TX should be kinder to drivers’ wallets and the environment.


Before we go any further, there’s one thing we need to get out of the way. London taxis are an instantly-recognizable British symbol, but the London EV Company is owned by Geely, which is 100 percent Chinese. Although the company is named after the British capital, the TX will be a truly global product, with a batch of 225 bound for the Netherlands shortly after launch.

Power will come from a hybrid battery-electric drivetrain with a claimed 400 mile (644 km) range. The car will be able to cover over 70 miles (113 km) with no local emissions, before leaning on a small petrol generator to extend range from the battery. LEVC is calling the powertrain an eCity setup, and promises it will save drivers around £100 (US$128) per week in fuel costs.

The cabin of the taxi has been brought into the 21st century, too. There are phone charging ports for drivers and passengers, and on-board Wi-Fi is also standard. Up front, the steering wheel and central touchscreen will look remarkably familiar to anyone who’s sat in a modern Volvo. Oh, by the way, Geely owns Volvo as well.

From the outside, the new TX is instantly recognizable as a London taxi, with an upright grille and circular headlamp detailing. The back doors are hinged from the rear and open to 90 degrees, for easier entry and egress after a few lagers at the local tavern. The body itself is made of aluminum, designed to offset the extra weight associated with adding all the heavy electric components.

“From our heritage as the manufacturer of the iconic London Taxi, we have unparalleled insight into the needs of commercial operators,” says Chris Gubbey, CEO of LEVC. “Drawing on the best of British design and engineering as well as technical expertise from our sister company Volvo, our products will help transform city living and provide taxi drivers with an average weekly fuel saving of £100 compared with our outgoing diesel model.”

The high tech sedan becomes the first production car

After months of teasers and information trickles, the all-new, fourth-generation Audi A8 has officially arrived. The high-tech sedan becomes the first production car to include Level 3 autonomous capabilities, and it also has an intelligent active suspension, heavily digitized cockpit with new MMI infotainment engine, and all-wheel steering. Buyers in this segment who weren’t thinking Audi before might just want to wait a few months and schedule an A8 test drive.

Audi revealed the all-new A8 at the Audi Summit in Barcelona on Tuesday, focusing in on the German version, which will launch in late 2017.


Autonomy reaches Level 3

There’s a lot of technology going on under the gently massaged skin of the new A8, the most newsworthy being the advanced piloted driving functions. Audi has been one of the world leaders in testing and demonstrating autonomous tech, and it’s now cashing in by making the A8 the first production car with Level 3 capabilities.

That means the driver will be able to take hands off the wheel completely, for extended periods of time, under specific conditions. It provides a “flipping through a magazine or reading email” level of disengagement, though naps are out since Level 3 requires that the driver be prepared to take over when conditions begin to exceed autonomous system capabilities.

Level 3 autonomous driving is achieved under the push-button Audi AI traffic jam pilot system, which operates in slow moving traffic up to 37 mph (60 km/h) on freeways with a barrier separating the two directions of traffic. Once the button is pushed, the car takes over all starting, accelerating, braking and steering functions, freeing the driver to do something else entirely.

“They can take their hands off the steering wheel permanently and, depending on the national laws, focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the onboard TV,” Audi explains.

It might be tempting to catch some shut-eye, particularly if things are deep bumper-to-bumper with no signs of free-up, but the driver monitoring system is there to keep the driver awake. A camera does the monitoring, and the system issues alerts should it sense the driver becoming drowsy or sleeping, because the driver will have to take over when things start moving back up toward highway speed. When that time comes, the A8 will inform the driver with a multistage alert, and should he or she not get the memo, the car will brake itself to standstill.

A 420 hp performance hybrid

Hybrid power used to be associated with boring, eco-minded driving, but the technology is evolving. Having announced plans to electrify its entire range by 2019, Volvo has unveiled a hybrid that will warm the heart of motoring enthusiasts worldwide. With more than 400 hp on tap, this family SUV makes hot hatches look slow.

Given the popularity of mid-size luxury four-wheel drives at the moment, it’s not surprising to see manufacturers developing faster, more expensive versions for families in a rush. The new BMW X3 range is headlined by the 360 hp (265 kW) M40i, and Audi was arguably first to the segment with the SQ5. But neither of those cars is hybrid powered, and neither can match the 421 hp (314 kW) on offer in the Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar.

Like the XC90 T8 Hybrid with which it shares a powertrain, the hot XC60 doesn’t drink like a performance car. It can cover 28 miles (45 km) on battery power alone, and uses 2.1l/100km (134.5 mpg) on the New European Drive Cycle. You’d have to tread very gently to match the official claims in the real world, but the ability to cruise around town without any local emissions is something no direct rival can offer at the moment.

When the driver decides to forget about efficiency, they’re likely to enjoy the more responsive accelerator, sportier gearbox tune and more aggressive off-throttle behavior tuned into the car by Polestar. The (oddly-named) tuning house is now an official part of the Volvo brand, making it the equivalent of AMG to Mercedes or M Performance. That means we’re likely to see more cars like the XC60 T8 Polestar down the track.

“Our goal is to create useable performance in everyday driving situations for Volvo owners who want an enhanced driving experience,” says Henrik Fries, Vice President, Research and Development at Polestar. “The new XC60 has provided us with an excellent base to work on with a dynamic chassis and a state-of-the-art powertrain. With the Polestar optimisation, it makes the new Volvo XC60 a true drivers’ car.”

The world of Formula 1 racing

On July 16, 1977, Renault made its first foray into the world of Formula 1 racing. It did so at Britain’s Silverstone Grand Prix, with a car known as the RS01. Among other things, it was the first Formula 1 car to feature a turbocompressed engine. Now, the automaker is marking the 40th anniversary of that event by introducing a limited-run … teapot?

Given that it was exploring new technological ground, it isn’t surprising that the RS01 initially had some reliability issues. As a result, it was often seen streaming white smoke due to engine problems. Racing team boss Ken Tyrrell thusly called it the “Yellow Teapot,” and the nickname stuck.

The actual teapot reportedly “takes up all the aesthetic codes of the Renault Formula 1 and plays on the design, the graphics and the colours” – in fact, it features the official paint of Renault’s new RS17 racer.

Starting in September, it will enter use at the L’Atelier Renault cafe on Paris’ Champs-Elysées. At that time it will also become available for purchase, both at the cafe and through its e-shop, priced at €129 (about US$147).

If you want a Yellow Teapot of your own, though, act quickly – only 40 are being made.

When the driver decides to forget about efficiency, they’re likely to enjoy the more responsive accelerator, sportier gearbox tune and more aggressive off-throttle behavior tuned into the car by Polestar. The (oddly-named) tuning house is now an official part of the Volvo brand, making it the equivalent of AMG to Mercedes or M Performance. That means we’re likely to see more cars like the XC60 T8 Polestar down the track.

“Our goal is to create useable performance in everyday driving situations for Volvo owners who want an enhanced driving experience,” says Henrik Fries, Vice President, Research and Development at Polestar. “The new XC60 has provided us with an excellent base to work on with a dynamic chassis and a state-of-the-art powertrain. With the Polestar optimisation, it makes the new Volvo XC60 a true drivers’ car.”