Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Spyker B6 Venator Spyder Concept

All images courtesy of Spyker
In case you haven't heard, Dutch automaker is back from the dead after trying to resurrect poor Saab (which is also back,interestingly enough). With some new Chinese backers the automaker is back to making some of the rarest and most unique cars in the industry. And it recently showed off the B6 Venator Spyder Concept, the drop top version of its earlier concept car.

The concept is supposedly essentially the production form of the car. Normally automakers tone down the crazy aspects of concept vehicles when they turn into production models, but Spyker is far from normal. I expect what we are looking at will be pretty much what you can purchase.

Another piece of good news: you might not have to drain your rainy day trust fund to afford the car. It will be a "downmarket" vehicle and so will likely only cost what you would pay for an AMG or two (approximately).

But look what you get for the price! Spyker has engraved its name and motto not only on the wheels, but the edges of the tailpipes. You don't find that kind of attention to detail in many cars these days. Oh, and in case you were wondering what "nulla tenaci invia est via" means, it is Latin and says "For the tenacious, no road is impassable." It's a fitting logo for an automaker that just doesn't give up.

The Venator also comes with green glowing gauges that look so very much like the instruments in old airplanes. The large switches and metal center stack are also a tribute to past airships.

My favorite detail is the quilted leather. It's a feature you can find on mass production vehicles like Infinitis, but Spyker did one better and wrapped the headrest fairings with quilted leather! It's touches like these that make Spyker a breath of fresh air in a field crowded with spontaneously combusting prancing ponies and Teutonic sledgehammers.

I'm a fan of funky design. This car looks almost steampunk and I hope it sees production.

What do you think of the Spyker B6 Venator Spyder?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bad Things Happen When Non-Car People Write About Cars Without Researching

Volvo Coupe Concept
I just barely ran across this article on the Motley Fool website that talks about three car brands that might not be around by the year 2020. I always click on these sorts of articles because I find them interesting -- I'm a car nerd! I started  to read through the article and it quickly became apparent the guy who wrote it knows nothing, absolutely NOTHING about the automotive industry. I doubt he looked up a damn thing before he started tapping away on his computer to spew out his ill-conceived notions.

Volvo Coupe Concept
So which car companies did he pick? First up was Volvo, because it's a popular one for ignorant morons to pick on. Disclaimer: I have owned two Volvos. I have mixed feelings on the cars, to be honest, but that's another story for another time. So why did this guy pick Volvo for an untimely death? I would bet it has something in part to do with the death of Saab, because they're both Swedish and quirky so of course Volvo is also on its way out, right? Wrong! A few years ago Volvo was bought by Chinese automotive giant Geely, meaning Volvo is flush with cash. The Swedish automaker just finished showing off its concept Coupe that turned a lot of heads worldwide. The new generation of the XC90 comes out next year, which will be the first production vehicle to use the same design language. But yeah, they're on death's doorstep. The only thing the guy could cite was that Volvo has not seen a recent uptick in sales like most automakers. The company is going through a transformation at the moment, so before declaring it dead let Volvo show us what it can do.

Next up is Suzuki. Why is Suzuki almost dead? Oh, because it is pulling out of America, and as we all know some Americans think the world ends at California and New York! This guy's a moron, did no research about Suzuki's sales in Asia, Australia or anywhere else in the world. If he had, he would have not been so fast to declare Suzuki a goner.
Jaguar X-C17 Concept

This third choice really tickles me because it most definitely exposes the guy's ignorance. Of course Jaguar is about to be put down! Why? I don't know, the guy doesn't like them? He doesn't know anyone who owns one or wants one? Since Jaguar and Land Rover were bought by an investment group, both automakers have been doing markedly better. The design and construction quality of their vehicles have improved by leaps and bounds. And now Jaguar is on the cusp of a new vehicle blitz, possibly as much as tripling the number of vehicles it offers. It just showed off a concept SUV and is about to pounce into 3 Series territory with a new compact sedan that looks likely to make waves in the industry. But yeah, guy who needed to make an editorial deadline and so did NO research, Jaguar is as dead as a door nail, because obviously its not innovating in any way.

Maybe I should contact the Motley Fool and ask if it needs a writer who knows something about the automotive industry? Judging from the comments at the end of the article, this guy pissed off quite a few people. I'm not mad at him but instead am just snickering at how lazy of a job he performed.
Jaguar C-X17 Concept

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Porsche 918 Spyder Sets a Nurburgring Track Record!

Photograph courtesy of Porsche

The Nurburgring in Germany is a notorious racetrack. It is a place many automakers go to test their vehicles since the track will push a car to its limits, exposing performance weaknesses. It is also a track where a vehicle that turns out a good lap time automatically garners some huge bragging rights.

The latest car to score big on the 'Ring is the new Porsche 918 Spyder. The hybrid supercar set a record with a lightning fast lap of just six minutes and fifty-seven seconds. That is a new record for any street-legal vehicle, beating out times logged by some pretty impressive cars. Anyone who doubted how much of a performance machine the 918 Spyder is should be a believer by now. Porsche definitely did not build another Prius!

Check out the on-board video of the record-setting lap:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why Are Manuals Dying? Is it Because of Software Difficulties?

I ran across this interesting article on Jalopnik, which starts off trying to make the case that manual transmissions are dying because they do not behave well with software used in cars' various systems. Read the article by clicking here if you want to see all the nitty gritty details.

Basically what it came down to was a reader who worked for an OEM said that the real problem is that it's too expensive to produce software that works well with both manual and automatic transmissions if very few buyers opt for the manual transmission. In other words, its about the price of investment versus the derived benefit from that investment. Automakers aren't running charities (actually they all run charities, but that's another discussion for another day). They are in the market to make money, so they produce what they believe will be profitable.

The sad truth is manual transmissions are not dying outside of the United States. If you go car shopping in Europe you will find that many models can still be had with a manual transmission. Americans like a computer to do the shifting for them, despite issues like gear-seeking and a general lack of control. Sadly, I have to admit that right now I do not own a car with a manual transmission and have not for a while. Do I like that? No! If I had the extra cash right now I would buy something with a manual transmission just so I can feel the exhilaration of letting the RPMs climb before throwing the car in the next gear or of dumping it into a lower gear and feeling the car rocket forward.

And that's exactly what we as driving enthusiast Americans (if you are American, like me) need to do. We need to get out there and buy models with manual transmissions! If nobody buys them they will go away. You can get them on a number of vehicles still, so go find a vehicle that works for you and have at it. Now for me to figure out how to afford a new BRZ with a manual transmission so I can support the effort...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Toyota Finally Shows Signs of Life, Yet Haters Gonna Hate

Images courtesy of  Toyota
In the past I have argued that Toyota has killed off its soul as an automaker because it stopped producing exciting models like the Supra, MR2 and Celica and instead has been pumping out quite a few uninspiring vehicles in bland colors. This is why I was shocked when Toyota revealed it was co-developing the Scion FR-S (or Toyota GT) with Subaru. The Lexus LFA was another surprising move by a company known for its body rolls and numb steering.

It now seems that Toyota is not finished with its attempts to produce more exciting vehicles, even if it continues to produce massive amounts of Camrys for people who do not want to feel like they are driving when they are driving. And of course there are quite a few irrational haters out there who will continue to hate Toyota even as the automaker starts to break away from the thing these people supposedly hate it for.

One huge surprise was the recent reveal of the Toyota Hybrid-R, a high-powered and more aggressive-looking Yaris that is outfitted with a hybrid powertrain. I saw quite a few people gagging that Toyota used a Yaris for a performance concept as they complained that the Yaris is gutless or "too small." The gutless argument is irrelevant considering the car's powertrain has been swapped out. As for the "too small" argument, I'm sure plenty of these people would not have any qualms about getting behind the wheel of an MR2, Pontiac Fiero or something like that, which was a completely tiny car.

There were even some who still accused Toyota of being "boring" because their performance car was a hybrid and, as all of us who did not even get our GED know, hybrids are automatically slow, boring cars that are driven by "tree huggers" who care about not breathing in a bunch of carcinogens. These people irrationally fight against progress in the automotive industry and likely were on the forefront of letting everyone know why electronic fuel injection was ruining cars back in the day.

So what's to hate about the Toyota Hybrid-R Concept? It's styling is a little wild, but it's a concept vehicle. I'm not a huge fan of the look of the Yaris, but the big gaping air intake in the front fascia, larger wheels and side skirts actually make it look better. But the real exciting thing is Toyota has produced a hybrid vehicle that could spank the hell out of most pure gasoline-powered vehicles. The Hybrid-R's powertrain pumps out an impressive 414 horsepower. The car is outfitted with a motor that will send power to the rear wheels as needed so slippage does not occur during hard cornering maneuvers.

I would think people would welcome a Toyota hybrid that can whip around a track, instead of yet another version of the Prius. Maybe some people are, but there are plenty of whiny little fanboy racers who are taking to social media to roast Toyota when the company finally is showing some signs of life once again. Because haters are gonna hate irrationally no matter what.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Smart Shows off the Fourjoy Concept

Photography courtesy of Daimler.
In today's automotive industry automakers simply cannot stand still. This is true even if an automaker is owned by a humongous company like Daimler, which is why it is concerning Smart seems to have stalled out. Sure, the company has released all kinds of weird takes on the quirky (and herky jerky) Fortwo, including a version with wings that look straight out of Mario Kart. And while the Fortwo makes for an incredibly easy car to park, Smart needs to start expanding its product lineup.

With a new generation of the Fortwo on the horizon (which is being co-developed with French automaker Renault) Smart recently showed off a new concept vehicle at the Frankfurt auto show. The concept vehicle is called the Fourjoy because it is for four occupants and supposedly will be a joy to drive (the jury's still out on that one). As you can see from the pictures, the vehicle looks quite futuristic, like it was designed for the next Tron movie or maybe yet another futuristic movie with Tom Cruise playing futuristic, black gloves-wearing
tough short action hero. In all seriousness, though, this is pretty normal for concept cars.

Getting back on the subject of the Fourjoy, Smart is playing the details on its new generation of vehicles close to its chest. The Fourjoy does offer some clues about what the rumored four-door Smart car will look like. Smart has revealed that it will keep the rear engine layout and that the platform will be shared with the Renault Twingo. The Fourjoy comes with the drivetrain from the current Fortwo Electric Drive. It is missing a roof, doors and rear window, but speculation is that by slapping those parts on the car we have a good look at the future
four-door Smart.

And of course what is a concept car without some crazy features? The Fourjoy comes with two electric skateboards (because pushing is just too much exercise) and helmets that strap into a compartment in the rear. The car also comes with an HD camera that allows you to share those joyous driving moments with friends on social media, which is a feature you should expect to see not only in future Smart vehicles but from other automakers as well.

Would you consider driving a Smart Fourjoy? What do you think of the funky, futuristic interior? Would you be interested in a future Smart with removable doors so you can be like Wrangler owners? Leave a comment below.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Is the C7 Chevy Corvette Stingray Really a 911 Killer

I recently read a brief, rather uninformative article on CNN about how the Stingray Corvette is finally a Porsche 911 "killer." The author of the article did not really explain how that was, so I was left wondering how the Stingray accomplishes such a task.

I grew up idolizing both the Corvette and 911. As I grew older I realized they are different beasts. The Corvette is like a sledge hammer, brutally powerful but lacking the incredible finesse of the 911. The Corvette relies on a big V8 engine in front while the 911 has a relatively small straight six in the rear. Despite what the public at large thinks, the 911 is not the best handling car on the road. To an extent handling is a preference, but even the most rabid 911 fans have to admit the car is the undisputed king of oversteer. That can be a fun thing, but it also makes the 911 a tough beast to wrangle on a track, unless you have a model with all-wheel-drive.

The  911 also comes in many formats. The new 991 architecture, which boasts many improvements over the impressive 997, is also rolling out. So far only the race-hardened GT3 version of the 991 has been unleashed on the world, but it has picked up tremendous praise (despite its lack of a manual transmission). For the Stingray to hang with the 991, it will have to be as good as some are saying. I haven't had the chance to drive one yet, so for me the jury's still out.

One thing that annoys me about the claim that the Stingray "kills" the 911 is that there is no mention of what version of the 911 it does that to. I can only assume people are referring to the 997, since the GT3 is simply in another class of vehicle. But to just say the one car "kills" the other is quite oversimplified. There are many performance aspects to a car, and no car is perfect in every sense, yet none of these aspects are cited as  reasons the Stingray is superior. Usually professional car reviews are more meticulous.

Here's my opinion: GM loves to make wild, blanket claims. How many times have I heard that some new GM model will turn the company around? Far too many. Wasn't that what Saturn was supposed to be about? Add to that the list of brands the company has killed due to gross incompetence, or in Saab's case pure sabotage, and I have become pretty cynical about GM's wild claims to out-engineer companies that have long track records for superb engineering.

So forgive me if I don't join in the ranks of American automotive writers who are eager to declare the quintessential American sports car beats the legend from Germany. Besides, the thing nobody is mentioning is how the Stingray stacks up against Nissan's Godzilla, or have we all forgotten about that incredible car?