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Update December 18, 2014


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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
 
 
 
Automania by Dr. Iain Corness
 

New Mercedes GLE Coupe SUV challenges BMW X6

GLE Coupe

Mercedes-Benz has now shown its first SUV-Coupe model, the GLE Coupe. Revealed at the Beijing motor show as a concept, the production model hasn’t strayed far from the show car’s unique and futuristic design.
Based on the ML SUV (to be renamed ‘GLE’ with Mercedes-Benz new nomenclatures), the GLE is aimed directly at the BMW X6 market.
The GLE Coupe features a long sloping roofline and stubby rear-end like the X6.
The interior design is clearly derived from the current ML SUV, with the GLE Coupe using the same dashboard and center console design with a steering column mounted gear selector. With the rear seats folded down, the cargo area totals a segment-best 1650 liters.
Engines slotted in for the GLE Coupe include the GLE 350 d which is a 190 kW/620 Nm turbodiesel unit, while the next one up is the GLE 400 with the 245 kW/480 Nm bi-turbo V6 petrol engine.
The range-topping GLE 450 AMG is Mercedes’ first ‘AMG Sport’ model which is a semi-performance grade in the same mold as Audi’s ‘S’ models and BMW’s M Performance cars such as the M 235i and X6 M 50d.
Powered by a 270 kW/520 Nm bi-turbo V6, the GLE 450 features unique AMG styling with more aggressive front and rear bumpers along with standard 21-inch alloy wheels. The torque-split of the performance model has also been changed from the standard 50:50 front-rear to a more tail happy 40:60. The AMG Sport model also gets sports seats, sports steering wheel and aluminium pedals, while carbon fiber or piano black interior highlights are available as options.
Eventually a full AMG GLE63 will be available, using the performance division’s 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 producing at least 386 kW and a significant torque increase as well.
All GLE models can be optioned with Mercedes’ new-generation Airmatic air suspension which is available for the first time with continuously variable dampers. This new setup is said to give the best possible ride comfort with the best possible dynamics, while also allowing the driver to choose between the usual Comfort, Sport and Sport+ drive settings.
In Sport and Sport+ modes, the new Active Curve System activates and uses the car’s electronic front and rear anti-roll bars to compensate for one-sided wheel impacts caused by potholes which can upset the car when it’s cornering aggressively.
The standard suspension fitted to GLE Coupe 350 d and 400 models is a conventional steel spring setup with switchable adaptive dampers.


Honda looks like sealing Takata’s fate

With the ongoing saga of exploding Takata air bags, to add to Takata’s problems, Honda Motor Co. said it will expand a nationwide recall of driver-side air bags that will add another 3.2 million vehicles to the callback.
Honda has confirmed the number. In total, 10 automakers have now recalled nearly 11 million vehicles since 2013 for air bags that may rupture.
Inflators in the Takata bags can explode and shoot metal shrapnel at drivers and passengers. At least four people in Hondas have been killed and 30 injured in the U.S., mostly in high-humidity areas such as Florida.
Honda said this week it would work with two other major suppliers - Autoliv and Daicel - to ramp up production to meet growing demand for replacement parts.
“Why are we doing this? Because our customers have concerns and we want to address them,” Rick Schostek, an executive vice president at Honda North America, told an American House subcommittee.
The big expansion raises questions about how long it will take Honda and other automakers to receive enough parts to fix all of the vehicles.
Defiant Takata Corp. refused to extend a recall of driver-side air bags, despite a demand by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Most recalls have been regional to date, limited to hot and humid places such as Florida and Hawaii, where most of the exploding air bags have been reported. Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata’s senior vice president of global quality assurance, told the House subcommittee the scientific evidence “doesn’t support a change from regional recall to national recall.”
He admitted the company still does not know the root cause of the problems but believes they are linked to long-term exposure to high humidity. NHTSA and automakers still don’t know if the replacement air bags could develop the same problem in five or 10 years - or if the chemical propellant used by Takata is part of the problem.
Last week, NHTSA formally demanded Takata declare that millions of vehicles sold with driver-side air bags nationwide are defective, the first step toward forcing the company to recall the vehicles. NHTSA has not sought a nationwide recall of passenger-side air bags.
Because Takata refused, the next step will be for NHTSA to demand a recall and to schedule a public hearing in which it could hear graphic testimony from people who have been injured. If Takata refuses after the hearing, the agency would have to go to court to enforce the recall demand.
Takata has estimated it could take at least a year or two to produce enough replacement parts even as it ramps up production from 300,000 per month to 450,000 in January.
Jan Carlson, CEO of Autoliv, which is working with Honda to produce replacement, said it would take six months to begin making deliveries of replacements.
“With quality as our first priority, we are assessing the current and upcoming market needs in order to match our delivery capabilities,” said the Swedish auto supplier CEO.
I believe that Takata could very well go to the wall over this unless the cause can be found very soon.


Aston Martin DB 10 built for Bond

Aston Martin DB 10

The new DB10 will be seen in the latest Bond movie, called Spectre, and is set for release in November 2015.
As opposed to the previous Aston Martins that were based on the road-going models from the DB Series, the DB 10 has been developed specifically for the film and built in-house by Aston's design and engineering team.
While the design of the latest Aston was led by the company's chief creative officer Marek Reichman, Aston said the Bond movie director Sam Mendes was also involved to ensure they created the ultimate car for the world’s most famous spy.
Just 10 examples of the DB10 will be built at Aston’s Gaydon, United Kingdom headquarters.
The company says the DB10 “gives a glimpse” of its future design direction, but it is widely believed it will replace the DB9 in 2016.
The DB10's design is an evolution of the look of all current Astons, but it carries a number of significant changes when compared with models such as the DB9.
Aston's trademark grille sits lower and wider and the bonnet line dives to a sharper-looking nose and overhangs are shortened at the front and the rear.
Its headlights feature a slim line design and give a far more modern look to the front of the Aston, and there are deep cut air vents on the side panels between the doors and wheel arches.
The body line found on most Astons running from the rear quarter window to the top of the boot lid remains, but slopes downward to the sleeker rear end, which features new slim line tail-lights not dissimilar to those belonging to Jaguar's F-Type.
There are no technical details for the car and no images of the cabin have been published, but Aston Martin will likely continue to feed details of the striking sports car to the media in the lead-up to the film's release late next year.
This year marks 50 years of Aston Martin's relationship with the 007 franchise which started with the DB5 featured in the 1964 film, Goldfinger.
The DB5 returned for the 1995 Pierce Brosnan-starring Golden Eye, who later drove a V12 Vanquish in 2002’s Die Another Day.
Daniel Craig who took on the role of Bond in 2006's Casino Royale drove a DBS and a DB5.
Rumors are circulating online that 007 will also be driving a Fiat 500 in the new film, but this is yet to be confirmed by Fiat or the film’s producers.
Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer praised the design and engineering team at the company's headquarters and highlighted the relationship between Ian Fleming's iconic character and the British sports car-maker.
“In the same year that we celebrate our 50 year relationship with 007, it seems doubly fitting that today we unveiled this wonderful new sports car created especially for James Bond.
“To be partnering once again with EON Productions is great news for this company and for everyone around the world that loves to see Bond at the wheel of an Aston Martin. I’m incredibly proud of everyone in the team at Gaydon who have brought this special project from concept to reality.”


Button hangs onto his seat

Alonso and Button

The annual F1 musical chairs has seen much mutterings, especially at McLaren, with Fernando Alonso having left Ferrari to return to Ron Dennis. However, as McLaren already had two drivers, one had to go. The end result was Magnussen, the new young charger, being pushed sideways into the reserve driver seat, and Button being retained on a one year renewable contract. It will be interesting to see the comparison between Button and Alonso, with most pundits predicting an Alonso superiority. Alonso will definitely be taking home a bigger sack of dollars, with word around the traps being that his salary is over $30 million, whilst Button will have to make do with $6 million, which is half of what he was getting before.


Autonomously driven

Drive me home, James!

Most of the major automobile manufacturers have moved on from experimental hybrids to autonomous cars, which will whisk us to our destination with a silent “chauffeur” dealing electronically with all the usual road hazards.

To show just where Mercedes-Benz are in this timeline they demonstrated their Mercedes-Benz S500 Intelligent Drive autonomous prototype, recreating the historic drive of Carl Benz’ wife Bertha.
In August 1888, Bertha Benz started off on the first long-distance automotive drive in history in the Patent Motor Car of her husband Carl Benz, thus paving the way for the worldwide success of the automobile. Her route, which ran southward from Mannheim to Pforzheim for around 100 km, was used by Mercedes-Benz developers as the real test track for another pioneering achievement in mobility exactly 125 years later: proof of the suitability of autonomous drive systems for everyday use in the highly complex environment of overland and urban traffic.
“This S-Class spells out where we’re headed with ‘Intelligent Drive’ and what tremendous potential there is in currently available technology,” says Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the Board of Management at Daimler and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.
“With our successful test drives, we have demonstrated that highly automated driving is possible without the luxury of specially closed-off sections of road and relatively straightforward traffic situations,” says Thomas Weber, member of the Board of Management at Daimler with responsibility for Group Research and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Development.
This experience will now be incorporated into the engineering of future vehicle generations to be equipped with such innovative, further-developed functions. Thomas Weber stresses: “With the new S-Class, we are the first to drive autonomously during traffic jams. We also want to be the first to provide other autonomous functions in series production vehicles.
The now successfully conducted autonomous test drives along the Bertha Benz route allowed the Daimler researchers to gather important information on the challenges that remain to be addressed on the way to highly and fully automated driving and what, for example, still needs to be done to enable a car to navigate safely in highly complex situations.
Improvements were made to the number and arrangement of the sensors in order to achieve comprehensive coverage of the vehicle’s surroundings in every direction, and to obtain additional information on the area around the vehicle. Examples of specific technical modifications compared with the standard-production version of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class are the enhancement of the base width (distance between the eyes) of the stereo camera to allow more-distant objects to be detected not only by the radar system, but also by the camera, and a new color camera for the monitoring of traffic lights.
The autonomous research vehicle records the entire sensory data collected by the vehicle, which flows in at a rate of 300 gigabytes per hour from the images of the stereo camera alone.
Based on these sensor data and determination of the vehicle’s own position with reference to information from a digital map, an autonomously driving vehicle analyzes the available free area for driving and plans its own route. In addition to the road layout, this map - which must meet special requirements with regard to accuracy - includes information on the number and direction of traffic lanes and traffic signs as well as the positions of traffic lights. Digital maps of this kind are a key prerequisite for autonomous driving.
The autonomously driving S-Class was monitored during the tests by specially trained safety drivers who, whenever the system made an incorrect decision, were able to intervene immediately and take over control of the vehicle. A record was made each time it became necessary for the safety driver to take over control of the vehicle. This information was then evaluated by the development team, thus making it possible to extend the vehicle’s repertoire of maneuvers. This advances the development of the technology platform, enabling it to cope with more and more traffic situations.
A particular challenge for autonomous vehicles is the way in which they communicate and interact with other road users. Coming to an agreement with an oncoming vehicle on who should proceed first around an obstruction is something that requires a very great deal of situational analysis. Where a human driver might boldly move forward into a gap, the autonomous vehicle tends to adopt a more cautious approach. This sometimes results in comical situations, such as when, having stopped at a zebra crossing, the vehicle gets waved through by the pedestrian - yet the car stoically continues to wait, because M-B failed to anticipate such politeness when they programmed the system. (Local readers will understand that this situation will never happen in Thailand!)
I have no doubt that driving oneself to the shops will have a totally different meaning to it in five years, though it will probably be 10 years before it becomes commonplace. One of the biggest hurdles will be the litigation aspect. When an autonomous car collides with me self-driven one - who is to blame?


Custom 1939 Rolls Royce Phantom Pick-Up

The Ultimate Pick-up?

This 1939 Rolls Royce Phantom (chassis 3DL70) was offered with little information on its eBay listing, but some quick Googling reveals it was recently custom built from a non-running donor car in order to replicate the factory truck Rolls used to deliver finished Merlin V12 aircraft engines during WWII. The quality of work seems to be very good, and note that the bed was donated from a 1930’s Ford pick-up. Find it on eBay in Saint Augustine, Florida for USD 150k OBO.
With RR (BMW in reality) talking about an SUV Roller in 2016, perhaps the pick-up will be the next variant?


Nissan gives the GT-R a little less R and more GT

Godzilla

Nissan in Japan has released the 2015 version of its celebrated GT-R, known colloquially as “Godzilla” for its prodigious horsepower from the turbo V6 engine. At one stage in Australia it was banned from competition because nothing could get near it! It is still one of the fastest production cars around Germany’s Nurburgring.

However, this succeeding version has been tweaked in the suspension department, rather than the under the bonnet (which is more than adequate).
The softening up of spring rates and shock absorbers has made the ride less jarring on anything other than motorway smoothness. This makes it more ‘gran turismo’ in line with its GT-R badge.
Nissan’s engineers claim the new shocker settings actually help the GT-R’s cornering, being able to be compliant with the road imperfections to aid stability and allows the driver to better choose the best driving line.
“The same modifications reduce the amount of steering corrections necessary on rough roads, adding a further sense of security in less than ideal driving conditions,” Nissan says in its media release.
The high-performance tyres have also come in for attention, with improved materials and a fresh inner structure that is said to deliver better straight-line stability and increased stability over uneven road surfaces.
Brakes have been revised for better stopping power and less noise, while a number of modifications have been made to address noise, vibration and harshness.
The drivetrain has been modified to reduce backlash, while the steering damper has been changed to address vibration through the steering wheel at idle.
The throw-out bearing in the flywheel housing has been changed to reduce noise, while a new boot carpet material improves noise insulation.
Nissan engineers describe the revised GT-R as “more civilized”, with “dramatic” improvement to ride quality.
They say previous engineering efforts had mainly focused on the “race” element of the GT-R’s handling, but this time more attention was paid to the effortless touring side of owning a GT-R.


FIA releases F1 Provisional 2015 calendar

March 15 Grand Prix of Australia
March 23 Grand Prix of Malaysia
April 12 Grand Prix of China
April 19 Grand Prix of Bahrain
May 3 Grand Prix of Korea (TBC)
May 10 Grand Prix of Spain
May 24 Grand Prix of Monaco
June 7 Grand Prix of Canada
June 21 Grand Prix of Austria
July 5 Grand Prix of Great Britain
July 19 Grand Prix of Germany
July 26 Grand Prix of Hungary
August 23 Grand Prix of Belgium
September 6 Grand Prix of Italy
September 20 Grand Prix of Singapore
September 27 Grand Prix of Japan
October 11 Grand Prix of Russia
October 25 Grand Prix of USA
November 1 Grand Prix of Mexico
November 15 Grand Prix of Brazil
November 29 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi
The F1 calendar above, and those quick with mathematics will see that there are now 21 Grands Prix slated for 2015. Is this too many? With the problems and expenses involved in a GP weekend, many teams were too financially strapped this year, with Marussia having gone completely to the wall. Caterham looks to be next. “Lotus” and FIndia are also shaky. And what is the FIA doing about it? Extra races will certainly not have improved matters. But they have at least scrapped the ridiculous double points for the final GP.


Touring cars come to Thailand

The FIA World Touring Car Championship 2015 Calendar is also released, and our new Chang International circuit at Buriram is hosting the WTCC event next November. I will be running at Buriram in the TBX Retro Escort next week and will give you my impressions of the circuit after that.
March 8th - Termas de Río Hondo, Argentina
April 19th - Circuit Moulay El Hassan, Morocco
May 3rd - Hungaroring, Hungary
May 16th - Nordschleife, Germany
June 7th - Moscow Raceway, Russia
June 21st - Slovakiaring, Slovakia*
June 28th - Paul Ricard, France
July 12th - Vila Real, Portugal
September 13th - Motegi, Japan
September 27th - Shanghai, China
November 1st - Buriram - Thailand
November 22nd - Losail, Qatar*


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

New Mercedes GLE Coupe SUV challenges BMW X6

Honda looks like sealing Takata’s fate

Aston Martin DB 10 built for Bond

Button hangs onto his seat

Autonomously driven

Custom 1939 Rolls Royce Phantom Pick-Up

Nissan gives the GT-R a little less R and more GT

FIA releases F1 Provisional 2015 calendar

Touring cars come to Thailand

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