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One of the goals of AUTOWEEKLY.info was to provide an overview of real automotive news rather than having to go through the enormous amount of copy-pasted erroneous items on the news sites. After realising how little of the news items were anything else than filtered press releases from the OEM corporate websites, the goal was to provide direct links to those press releases and show their relevance by referring to the novelty compared to the rest of the industry.

After gathering the majority of relevant RSS feeds and email mailing-lists, the weekly total of news items hovered around the 2000 mark. Unfortunately this number was a bit too much to combine with something called life and a brain just recovered from a burn-out/mononucleosis.

A week in a remote cottage on the Vänern lake in Sweden gave clarity about how to continue with the AUTOWEEKLY.info project: reduce the content to a relevant weekly column/editorial and keep it both interesting and viable this way.

If time and energy allow, perhaps there will be some news again in the future on this website. In case you did appreciate the format used here before and would like it to continue, please do feel free to contact me via the contact form on this website or via the Facebook page. All feedback will be greatly appreciated.

Below for your convenience an overview of the majority of RSS feeds, including their YouTube siblings, which were used for the news item posts the past few weeks. Beware that subscribing to all of them will cause a considerable and continuous influx of information. ¤

News sites

autoblog.com | autoblog.nl | Automotive News | GT Spirit | Jalopnik | SupplierBusiness | WardsAuto ¤

OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer)

Aston Martin | Alfa Romeo | Audi AG | Bentley Motors | BMW Group | Caparo T1 | Chrysler | Dacia | FIAT | Ford USA | Ford EU | General Motors | Honda | Hyundai | Jaguar | JLR | KIA | Koenigsegg | Lamborghini | Lexus | Mazda | McLaren Mercedes F1 | Nissan | Opel | Porsche | Renault | Rolls-Royce | SEAT | SKODA AUTO | Tatra Trucks | Toyota | Volkswagen AG | Volvo Cars ¤

OES (Original Equipment Supplier)

3M | AutoLiv | BorgWarner | Brembo | Continental AG | Faurecia | FIAT Powertrains | General Electric | Grammer AG | IAC Group | Lear | Magna | Osram | Plastic Omnium | Robert Bosch GmbH | Bosch Automotive | Saint-Gobain Sekurit | Schaeffler AG | TRW Automotive | Valeo | Valmet ¤

Industry

ADAC | European Transport Safety Council | EuroNCAP | Fraunhofer | IIHS | ISO | Rheinmetall | Shell | ThyssenKrupp | TNO ¤

ESP (Engineering Service Provider)

KSPG | MBTech Group | Applus+ Idiada | TÜV SÜD ¤

This article first appeared on my now defunct www.autoweekly.info website on 2014-08-25.

BACK TO THE …

Currently a number of emerging sportscar manufacturers out there aim to establish themselves in the business of what they think are high-margin sportscars. The common (mis)perception seems to be that some mysterious potential customers are willing to pay a premium for something which does not have heritage, credibility or even newness. They would even accept a product which is not as sophisticated or refined as the established brands.

The paper napkin calculations of the budding entrepreneurs show that they can build a fast car for far less money than the competitors with decades of experience. Unfortunately they keep on forgetting what it actually costs to develop a vehicle and how much actually is involved in getting vehicles on the road and accepted by the market.

Since companies with racing departments, such as McLaren and Ferrari, are not able to create a proper race car for the road, the new player will (without any racing experience) bring just that to the market. Also it will not be merely a sportscar, but without a doubt at least a supercar or even a hypercar.

Minerva copied from Spyker the trick of using an old name which had some success a long time ago and now costs nothing to claim because everyone forgot about. Unfortunately for them it does not immediately give them the credibility of basing their vehicles on a proven racing heritage.

Ridiculous performance claims are good for creating some fuss, but so far it never resulted in anything else than doubts about the viability of the products. Good current examples are the Belgian Minerva J.M. Brabazon with 1200hp, the Trion Nemisis with 2000hp and the Keating Bolt with 2500hp from a turbocharged GM 7.0 V8. While it is not impossible to achieve these power ratings, it is not yet possible to get them reliable and usable.

Customers who grew up in the 80's have some nostalgic feelings for more analog vehicles. That is, until they drive one. The return to simplicity ≠ the return to simple. Simple is not acceptable anymore. A car without ABS, ESP or advanced drivetrain (including traction control) only shows that its creator did not have the budget or ability for developing these systems. Vehicles without these systems, but with big power outputs are simply dangerous.

Almost without exception, they use the same GM LS3 'small block' V8. This engine was introduced in 2008 in the Chevrolet Corvette, but has since even been used a pickup truck. Current examples of these 'analog' European supercars are the German/British Sin R1, the Dutch Savage Rivale Roadyacht GTS and Vencer Sarthe and the British Arash AF8. While it is a very decent engine, it is hard to call it sophisticated. Same goes for the default Oerlikon Graziano or Tremec gearboxes.

The Corvette offers usually better performance and refinement for a fraction of the price of the newcomers. The Corvette is not know for its refinement, but it does offer good value-for-money. The finishing touch is simply not there with the newbie products after a development cycle which would embarrass the prototype workshop employees of OEMs. It is not possible to skip the multiple iterations required to reach decent quality level, which takes time and money.

Only with an experienced team with properly set up environment can achieve high quality at the first attempt. This type of cars are too complex to do alone or with a handful of people. While it is frequently stated that the infamous McLaren F1 development team only had a dozen members, they did have access to a full Formula 1 development environment including its brains and hands.

The easy to develop and manufacture tubular steel structures with carbon fibre body panels can hardly be considered to be new, innovative and advanced. It all depends on what your point of reference is. If you are new to the industry, possibly. If it is the mainstream Lamborghini Huracan with its aluminium/carbon hybrid base structure, it is not. If it is a car with a carbon tub, like the similarly priced but infinitely more advanced (though over-styled) McLaren 650, it certainly is not. If it is a full carbon/titanium/unobtanium construction like a Koenigsegg, dream on…

While certain customers are willing to pay a premium for exclusivity or other bragging rights, they will feel screwed if something costing 25% less beats their vehicle in just about every aspect which defines the breed. When they realise that their vehicle does indeed not live up to their expectations and they consequently want to sell it, they almost always will find out that the value of their investment has plummeted. A mistake certainly a wealthy person only makes once. ¤

This post first appeared on my now defunct website www.autoweekly.info on 2014-10-24

Newness

It takes mainly heritage and credibility to sell supercars, as mentioned in last weeks INSIDER INSIGHTS. Another factor mentioned was newness. This week's article focusses on a few genuinely new supercars on the market.

How to define newness? It can be in the form of a new styling language, a new approach to the supercar experience by stimulating one's senses differently (sound is an often used one), a new configuration, introducing a new technology or implementing an existing technology differently. Or it can be something completely different. And there is the catch: it has to be different to be experienced as something new, but it can only be experienced as different once.

Even though they have been around for two decades in the highest segment of performance cars (the co-called hypercars of Pagani and Koenigsegg) as well as racing cars, carbon fiber (CFRP) constructions are only just starting to be implemented by mainstream manufacturers (BMW with their i3 and i8 to be exact). Therefore this type of construction is still considered to be different enough, though they need something else innovative to be accepted as new.

The drivetrain is one of those areas where these innovations can be found. Two types of drivetrain previously not associated with performance vehicles now found there way there: petrol-electric hybrids, diesel-automatic and completely electric. The petrol-electric hybrid drivetrains are suddenly used to increase performance via torque fill, rather than efficiency. Trident Sportscars from the UK has built a performance GT with a modified GM Duramax and Allison six-speed automatic, in an attempt to prove the old saying that “horsepower sells cars, but torque wins races” (by hopefully selling a few and not doing any races…). Tesla in the past and hopefully in the near future Detroit Electric offer Lotus Elise based electric vehicles featuring relatively conventional battery based drivetrains are an attempt to make EVs acceptable as performance cars. The clean-sheet EV called the Concept One by Rimac Automobili, which fundamentally does the same, is in a different league though regarding newness. The Quant eSportlimousine wants to proof that it is not necessary to fill a car with hundreds of kilos of strong toxins, though the car needs that 920hp and 4x2900Nm to compensate for its 2300kgs and takes newness up to 11. Credibility though… It simply is much easier to take someone with a complete lack of hair serious than someone who seems to give it the highest priority in life.

There have been hardly any changes in the configuration of a vehicle. The Dutch Savage Rivale is in this regard a breath of fresh air. Even though the technical basis of the vehicle is a conventional front-mid-engined sportscar in a custom construction from conventional materials and technologies, the four-seat convertible configuration with its telescopic roof and champagne cooler just breathes newness.

The sportscar which achieves the highest level of newness though is one created by one of the most conventional and largest manufacturers. The Volkswagen XL1 features a resin transfer injection moulded CFRP tub with CFRP body panels, a diesel-electric hybrid drivetrain, futuristic styling, a compact seating arrangement which comfortably seats two, gullwing doors and weighs only 795kg. Not a bad achievement for such a megalomanic organisation. ¤

This article first appeared on my now defunct www.autoweekly.info website on 2014-07-25.

Vehicle mass reduction strategies

The advantages of having a low vehicle mass are obvious. Even though the definition of what is a low mass seems to have changed, all companies are doing their share of lightweighting. This and the next few FOCUS articles will be about these strategies for mass reduction.

There are most often used strategies to achieve mass reductions are using different materials and/or different constructions for the load carrying members and body panels. Perhaps more important though are not the mass reductions for the load carrying members, but for the components mounted to them. The mass of these can be reduced by reducing the total number of components by integrating functions or by reducing the size of the components.

Aerospace has traditionally been regarded as the industry where lightweight constructions were most relevant and therefore it had the most innovations in this regard. This seems to be no longer the case, since the regulations have become so strict that most changes have become impossible. The regulations in automotive are more realistic and it is more costs which prevent introduction of new approaches. There are several industry and government collaborative research & development projects, such as the SuperLIGHT-CAR project, which try to find solutions which are cost-effective and give the desired result of mass reductions without compromises towards structural performance.

The good thing of these cooperations is that the best technologies from the partners are used in their most optimal use rather than whichever tech they specialised and invested in. The result is usually a vehicle which uses a combination of various alloys of aluminium and steel at the most convenient and effective locations, while all of a sudden it becomes acceptable to reduce performance. Normally this is not an option, because the market does not accept it, but for a research vehicle it is almost expected.

Volkswagen created a Golf with a 100kg lower mass than the production vehicle by using a higher amount of high-strength steel while also optimising the construction geometry. Ford recently did something similar and presented a lightweight research vehicle based on an existing Mondeo which was developed in cooperation with supplier Magna. This vehicle was a claimed 25% lighter than the original vehicle, though no absolute numbers were mentioned. This vehicle did not have the same performance as the original though, with a downsized engine and bicycle wheels and tires.

While it is promising to see the developments in regular vehicles, the most interesting technologies are still used in the more expensive sportscars. The mass reductions have the strongest effect on performance and the cost pressure is lower, while smaller production numbers allow for different manufacturing and assembly options.

Some production cars are already more advanced than race cars when production methods are considered. The resin-transfer-molding used in the manufacturing of CFRP tubs and body-panels is one example of this.

While any fiber-reinforced-plastic seems to be infinitely more advanced than metals, from a cradle-to-cradle perspective this picture changes considerably. Next week there will be more information about the developments regarding aluminium constructions and it will be clear that there is still a big opportunity for this material. ¤

This article first appeared on my now defunct website www.autoweekly.info on 2014-07-23.

The mystery of selling supercars

Every year at least one startup wants to enter the supercar business. The margins seem appealing, the market is booming even though the rest of the automotive market is rather volatile. Still nearly none of them makes it. In this article you will find some reasons why.

The new guys are not hyper enough: since Koenigsegg and Pagani created the hypercar segment, super just does not suffice anymore. Since a mainstream manufacturer in the form of Bugatti came along in this segment and dominated it from a technological and commercial perspective, it had become the new benchmark for the ultimate sportscar. Supercars just were not enough anymore.

With common sportscars (such as the C6 Corvette Z06), as well as fast saloons (such as the Mercedes E63 AMG) offering more than 500hp and acceleration figures from 0-100km/h of less than 5 seconds and all of them offering at least 250km/h (frequently limited) top speeds, it is nearly impossible to compete on these performance characteristics.

Buyers of the vehicles in this segment want Top Gear's Clarkson to be able to say that it is or has the most of something 'in the world'. It needs to be the fastest, like a Koenigsegg. It needs to be the most extravagant or artisan, like a Pagani. It needs to be the most expensive, like a Bugatti. Anything which gives the owner bragging rights and the rest of the world compensation joke thoughts.

Strangely enough it does not have to be the most exclusive. Whenever Ferrari wants to sell a limited edition vehicle, it tends to sell all of them before production even started. One example is the recent LaFerrari, of which all 499 items were pre-sold. Given the brand's total annual sales of 7000 vehicles or the production numbers of the established competitors Lamborghini and McLaren, this does not seem that exclusive at all. The same goes for the 375 items for the McLaren P1. Porsche did not manage to pre-sell all its 918 Spyders, but with 918 planned items and the $845k price tag, that is not too surprising. That they already managed to sell about two-thirds of them, is nothing less than impressive.

So why have the other accepted hypercar manufacturers such a hard time selling only a limited amount of vehicles? Bugatti is struggling to sell the last vehicles of its planned 300 items production run for the Veyron, Koenigsegg never goes over 20 vehicles annually and Pagani manages to keep its production numbers below the radar.

There are a few factors which help selling these million dollar hypercars.

Newness is a major sales element and one often misunderstood by the newcomers. Most of these startups show their products to the market in the early prototype stage. If they manage to reach production, the vehicles have taken several years to reach maturity. When the final items are presented to the market, everyone thinks it is an old design because they were allowed to become familiar with it for several years. Just ask Spyker how deadly it is to show a new prototype every year on the Geneva motorshow, while never managing to get it into production before the next showcar is presented. All pre-ordered vehicles will be cancelled by this point, since nobody wants to pay the premium price for last year's model. This usually happens anyway if this spoiled customer group has to wait for more than a year on something they crave instantly. Be like Gordon Murray and only present when you are ready to sell.

What worked for a while for the hypercar niche manufacturers, was to offer limited editions of their vehicles. Bugatti had a few World Record specification vehicles, Koenigsegg had their Edition, the Trevitas and now the One:1, while Pagani had their Cinques and Tricolores.
This strategy seemed to work better than the one-offs. Bugatti has been using this exclusively since a few years and Pagani used it as well for about a dozen of Zondas after the production of this model officially ended. This strategy seems exhausted by now as well, since every vehicle was specified uniquely anyway.

Having the latest and greatest technology seems to be another obvious sales argument. Strangely enough it is more the perception of technology than the actual state-of-art or advanced level of the vehicle construction. No educated person would want two powertrains in one vehicle, due to complexity, mass and costs. But still that is what the world just witnessed. It happened because of the public opinion regarding how ecological hybrids are supposed to be, as well as this being the only way to fool the regulations regarding consumption and emissions if you want to achieve certain performance figures.

So what makes it possible to sell cars in this segment after all? It seems to be a combination of heritage and credibility.

Heritage can only be achieved over time and time is the scarcest resource for a startup. Buying a brand with all its fame and glory like Spyker or many others did, might be a worthwhile investment. Having racing successes helps, though only old race successes are considered to be worthy of extra appreciation. Vroeger was alles beter.

Credibility can be achieved in several ways. Being consistent with performance is a major contributor. Being able to confirm competitive claims helps as well. But also for credibility it is true that time is the most important factor to achieve it. Since time is money and startups tend to have neither, it is not very likely that they will succeed.

Unfortunately the old saying 'The fastest way to become a millionaire in the sportcar business is by starting as a billionaire' still holds true. It will be interesting to see if new players will be able to make it. As Koenigsegg and Pagani have proven, it is not impossible. They had to create a new market segment to achieve this. Is this necessary again? Time will tell. To those who want to try: godspeed and please read the above... ¤

This article first appeared on my now defunct website www.autoweekly.info on 2014-07-17

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