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Category: Susan Carpenter

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Detroit Auto Show: Honda reveals all-new Civic concept

HondacivicsiconceptHonda's Civic Si concept makes its world debut at the North American International Auto show today. It will be the ninth generation of the Honda Civic and will go on sale this spring as a 2012 model.

Available as both a sedan and a coupe, the 2012 Honda Civic will have multiple engine choices: Conventional gasoline, hybrid and natural gas drivetrains will all be available.

The new shape of the popular Civic is more windswept and aggressive. The Civic Si concept coupe, pictured above, showcases a more angular front end, mesh grille and tapered rear roofline.

In its hybrid incarnation, the 2012 Civic marks Honda's first use of lithium-ion batteries in a Honda hybrid. As a gasoline-powered model, the 2012 Civic will employ the same Eco Assist technology that Honda debuted on its CR-Z hybrid last year, which allows drivers to select between different drive modes that alter fuel economy. The natural-gas-powered GX will be the only CNG passenger car assembled in North America.

The new 2012 Civics will be fighting for a spot in what has become an increasingly competitive compact-car market. Whereas once the Civic had to worry only about its main rival, the Toyota Corolla, now there are many new entrants into the segment, including competitive small cars from the American automakers.

Ford Motor Co. is launching its new-generation Ford Focus, which has done well overseas, in markets where the small-car segment is a larger percentage of sales than in the United States. General Motors Co. is selling its new Chevrolet Cruze, a compact that has received initial good reviews from  the auto press; today, Chevrolet also announced it will produce a small car called the Sonic

Additionally, South Korean manufacturer Hyundai is about to launch a new version of its Elantra. The car is bigger than previous generations but can get up to 40 miles per gallon. 

At the same time that Honda is bringing out a new-generation Civic in the U.S., it has decided to eliminate the model in its home Japanese market, citing the popularity of even smaller cars.

-- Susan Carpenter and Jerry Hirsch

Photo: 2012 Honda Civic Si concept. Credit: American Honda Motor Co.

Detroit Auto Show: Hyundai innovates with its new Veloster

HyundaiVelosterHyundai introduced its Veloster three-door coupe at the Detroit Auto Show on Monday. Designed with a passenger-side, forward-hinged rear door to enable functionality similar to a hatchback, the Veloster is a sort of utility coupe targeting twentysomethings.

The sporty, front-wheel-drive car features Hyundai's first dual-clutch transmission, which uses one clutch for gears 1, 3 and 5 and another clutch for gears 2, 4, 6 and reverse. The dual-clutch transmission yields up to a 6% improvement in fuel efficiency and as much as a 7% improvement in acceleration over a traditional automatic, according to Hyundai. The Veloster will get up to 40 mpg highway using a new 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine.

HyundaiVeloster2 The Veloster incorporates a BlueLink telematics system for voice text messaging, alarm notification, vehicle diagnostics, stolen-vehicle slowdown and automatic crash notification and assistance, among other things. A multifunction 7-inch screen operates Pandora Internet radio, virtual CD downloading, AVI and MPEG video playback, video-game-console connectivity and Bluetooth.

Production of the 2012 Hyundai Veloster begins in May. Pricing is likely to be in the $17,000-to-$18,000 range, according to Hyundai Motor America spokesman Miles Johnson.

-- Susan Carpenter

Photos: 2012 Hyundai Veloster. Credit: Hyundai Motor America

Detroit Auto Show: Chevrolet unveils new Sonic


Chevrolet revealed its latest small car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday. Going into production later this year for the 2012 model year, the Sonic will be available in sedan and hatchback versions and use the same two engine types offered for its Cruze: a turbocharged 1.4-liter with about 138 horsepower and a 1.8-liter estimated at 135 horsepower.

Designed to blend the practicality of a small car with a fun driving experience, the Sonic's suspension was tuned by Corvette engineers to give its ride and handling a sporty feel, the automaker said. 

A direct competitor of the Ford Fiesta, the Sonic will offer best-in-segment cargo capacity in both the four- and five-door models, Chevrolet said, adding that it will be equipped with remote start, heated front seats and a sunroof.

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic. Credit: Chevrolet

Detroit Auto Show: Ford announces first plug-in hybrid electric


Ford announced its first plug-in hybrid production electric vehicle Monday. Based on the recently announced five-seat C-MAX multi-activity vehicle the manufacturer will begin selling in 2012, the C-MAX Energi will be capable of traveling more than 500 miles using a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine, lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor.

Ford also announced a pure hybrid version, the C-MAX Hybrid. Both vehicles will be available in North America in 2012.

The C-MAX Energi will operate similarly to the Chevrolet Volt, running in pure-electric mode before switching over to its Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine, which will then operate the car in hybrid mode. Ford says the C-MAX Energi will recharge 100% overnight using a common household 120-volt outlet.

The C-MAX hybrid will deliver better fuel economy than Ford's Fusion Hybrid, which, at 41 mpg, is the most fuel-efficient sedan on the U.S. market today. The C-MAX Hybrid targets 47 mpg.

The C-MAX Energi and Hybrid will both incorporate a new MyView feature that will inform drivers of the electrical demands of the accessories they are running, such as air conditioning, which negatively impact fuel economy. They will also include a Brake Coach feature so drivers can optimize their use of regenerative braking, which recaptures kinetic energy and feeds it back to the battery.

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Ford C-MAX Energi. Credit: Ford Motor Co.

Mission R electrifies Long Beach International Motorcycle Show


Faster. That was one of the many objectives Mission Motors had for its highly anticipated Mission R electric superbike. The latest EV racer from the San Francisco firm that is the Tesla of motorcycles is capable of traveling at least 160 miles per hour. The Mission R will make its world debut today at the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach.

"One of the key challenges of the electric motorcycle industry is, how do you pack a lot of power and energy in a very compact form?" said David Salguero, Mission Motors marketing manager.

The answer: Design the smallest motor controller possible and pair it with energy-dense lithium-ion battery cells. Then hire renowned chassis designer James Parker to figure out how to configure them as close to the bike's center of gravity as possible.

The Mission R is powered with a liquid-cooled, 100-kilowatt AC induction motor. Its 14.4 kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion batteries are sealed in a carbon-fiber box in a space that, on an internal-combustion machine, would normally house a gas tank and engine. 

The proprietary motor controller incorporates regenerative braking and adjustable throttle mapping, as well as Wi-Fi and 3G data connectivity.

The Mission R electric drivetrain occupies less space than that of a typical 600-cc bike, Salguero said. It's tucked inside a trellis frame made of billet aluminum and chrome-moly.

While the bike tips the scales at a chubby 545 pounds, making it "a hefty number," Salguero said, "in electric motorcycle racing, it's a combination of power, balance and having enough energy storage to go the distance at a high speed."

A follow-up to the Mission One electric race bike that once claimed the land-speed record for an electric motorcycle, clocking 150.059 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2009, the Mission R makes 141 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque with its single gear.

Many of its additional components are from well-known performance brands. The adjustable front and rear suspension are Ohlins. The 17-inch wheels are forged magnesium Marchesinis. And the brakes are, of course, Brembo.

Mission will race its new R in the 2011 TTXGP electric motorcycle racing series.

Mission Motors Mission R

Powertrain: Liquid-cooled, three-phase AC induction motor; 14.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack; 100-kilowatt motor controller with adjustable throttle mapping, regenerative braking, Wi-Fi and 3G data connectivity; single-speed

Top speed: 160-plus mph

Horsepower: 141

Torque: 115 pound-feet from 0 to 6,400 rpm

Curb weight: 545 pounds

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Mission R electric superbike. Credit: Mission Motors

Video car review: the Chevy Cruze from GM

 Los Angeles Times autos writer Susan Carpenter says General Motors' Chevrolet Cruze is an economical sedan that can get you from Point A to Point B with a touch of style.


Susan Carpenter's Cruze review in print: A Car Off the Value Menu With Some Upscale Ingredients 

Videos from the 2010 Los Angeles Car Show

Susan Carpenter reviews the X-Prize-winning E-Tracer "cabin motorcycle"

--Pat Benson

L.A. Auto Show: Smart continues to think small with Ebike concept

SmartebikeThe German manufacturer of the Smart Fortwo is going electric, not only with a new electric drive version of its ultra-compact car but a two-wheeler.

Its concept Smart Ebike, on display at the L.A. Auto Show, further demonstrates the company's ideology of urban transportation with a light footprint.

Like many production electric bicycles already on the market, the Smart Ebike is propelled with a 250-watt brushless DC motor in the rear wheel hub and a 36-volt lithium-ion battery pack hidden in its aluminum frame. Unlike heavier production e-bikes, it weighs just 48 pounds, has an appealing modern style and intelligently integrates handheld technology.

Designed in collaboration with the Berlin-based electric-bicycle manufacturer Grace, Smart's Ebike works in conjunction with a smartphone. A dock in the center of the handlebars holds the phone, which not only activates the electric drive system but also functions as the bicycle's speedometer and GPS system. Removing the phone automatically locks the drivetrain, preventing the bike from being wheeled away by thieves.

The Smart Ebike is operated with a "muscle power/electric hybrid drive." In other words, the electric motor kicks in whenever the rider pedals. The Smart Ebike can travel between 18 and 56 miles on a single charge, depending on what level of power assist has been selected with a button on the handlebar. That range can be extended through regenerative braking, which feeds energy back into the battery when the brakes are activated.

The Smart Ebike's motor has a top speed of 15 miles per hour; riders can, however, move faster by pedaling harder.

The bike fully recharges in two to three hours using a household outlet.

Smart hasn't said whether this concept will become a reality.

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Smart Ebike. Credit: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times

L.A. Auto Show: Chrysler overhauls its Sebring, renames it the 200 unveiled its new 200 sedan Thursday. The four-door five-seater, formerly known as the Sebring, has been overhauled and, as a result, renamed to make the car more of a little brother to Chrysler's flagship, the 300.

"I must confess that we didn't start with a new name," said Chrysler President and CEO Olivier Francois. "We just started dissecting the car piece by piece with a very simple assignment to the engineers: Whatever lives up to Chrysler's expectations ... we keep. Everything that doesn't, we drop."

Everything but the roofline and the doors were changed. The 200 has a completely new front end, new hood, new grille, new LED headlamps, new front facia, new fog lamps and a new wheel design.

Inside, there are softer touch points throughout. Under the hood, there is a new six-speed transmission and an all-new suspension. Most significantly, the flagship S model, pictured above, is powered with an all-new Pentastar V-6 engine that makes 283 horsepower and gets 29 miles per gallon highway. 

That's when "we drove it and we just realized that we were not driving the same car," Francois said. "So we realized we could change the name and we adopted this 200 for one very simple reason. With this name, we start a new nomenclature. We have a 300. We have a 200. So we may have other hundreds below or above."

The Chrysler 200 starts at $19,995, is going into production now and will be available in December.


Mazda goes upmarket with concept Shinari

Infiniti joins hybrid parade with the 2012 M Hybrid

Porsche's Cayman R is for where the sun don't shine (VIDEO)

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Chrysler 200. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

L.A. Auto Show: Mazda goes upmarket with concept Shinari

Mazdashinari Mazda has unveiled its Shinari. The four-door concept, revealed Wednesday, is the first iteration of the Japanese manufacturer's new Kodo design philosophy: "soul of motion."

Designed to symbolize an upmarket sophistication that retains Mazda's reputation for value, the Shinari is more athletic than its Nagare predecessor, with a more pronounced grille and slits for headlights and side mirrors.

"The prior generation had this feeling of flow, which was this nice movement through the side of the car and through the details, which was very powerful and well-received," said Derek Jenkins, Mazda Americas' design director. "We wanted to evolve that. We wanted something a little more clean and sophisticated."

The Shinari's  wheels are an oversized 21 inches and they're ringed with tight fenders that feature a crease line that runs into the front doors before disappearing. A lean and low car that looks as if it wants to spring into action,the Shinari has taken the covers off the lenses of its lights and signals.

The cocooned and driver-oriented interior is finished with luxury details that take their cues from  chronograph watches and fine leather shoes, Jenkins said.

According to Jenkins, "Mazda has a dream customer demographic: very young, well-educated and upwardly mobile. But oftentimes we find the young Mazda 3 buyers, as they mature, they leave the brand, and so what we're trying to do is say, when our great younger buyers become young professionals, how we can give them that feeling of sophistication and maturity but still with all the passion of a Mazda 2 or 3? This car is a little bit symbolic of that."

In development for a year, the Shinari was conceived alongside other products currently in development. It will probably evolve into those as-yet-unnamed projects.


Infiniti joins hybrid parade

Lotus to build its own engine for 2012 IndyCar season

Porsche's Cayman R is for where the sun don't shine (VIDEO)

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Mazda Shinari. Credit: Mazda

L.A. Auto Show: Chevrolet to invest $40 million in sustainability projects

Chevrolet_volt General Motors Co. is leveraging the many kudos it's been receiving for its new plug-in electric hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt. Thursday the Detroit automaker announced its Chevrolet brand will invest $40 million in various clean-energy projects.

Its goal is to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emission by 8 million metric tons -- matching those it says will be generated in 2011 by the 1.8 million vehicles it expects to sell in the U.S. next year.

"We believe this is the right thing to do for our customers, our communities and our company," General Motors CEO Dan Ackerman said in a conference call Thursday.
"This is an important announcement for GM and what it says about our focus and priorities going forward," he added. "This morning we launched an IPO [initial public stock offering], which is an important milestone on the way to being the new and better GM. ... GM is doing things differently now, and one way is through our brands."

Chevrolet, Ackerman said, will be investing the $40 million in energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy conservation projects throughout the country. He cited installing solar panels on schools and wind farms in rural areas as possible investments.

Specific projects haven't been determined. General Motors is soliciting ideas at a dedicated website.


Chevrolet Volt 2011 wins Green Car of the Year

Porsche's Cayman R is for where the sun don't shine (VIDEO)

Mayor Villaraigosa promises to make LA homes electric car-ready in under 7 days

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo. The Chevy Volt. Credit: General Motors

L.A. Auto Show: Chevrolet Volt wins 2011 Green Car of the Year Award

Green_car The Chevrolet Volt was named 2011 Green Car of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Thursday, two days after it was named Car of the Year by Motor Trend Magazine.The Volt beat out the Hyundai Sonata hybrid, the Lincoln MKZ hybrid, Nissan Leaf and Ford Fiesta.

"As we began the quest to identify finalists, we found this to be an increasingly difficult task," said Ron Cogan, editor of Green Car Journal, which ran the juried competition.

Among the jurors were four leaders from environmental groups, including Carl Pope, chairman of the Sierra Club, as well as Jay Leno and other automotive icons and editors.

"In years past, the number of vehicles that could truly be considered worthy could be counted on two hands," Cogan said to a full lobby in the South Hall of the L.A. Convention Center. "That's no longer the case. Today, there are many models designed and built to environmental standards we would not have thought possible many years ago."


New electric vehicle consumer website launches

Honda unveils electric Fit EV, available in 2012 (VIDEO)

Porsche's Cayman R is for where the sun don't shine (VIDEO)

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Chevrolet Volt. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times


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