• Former Hyundai CEO to lead Google’s autonomous car program

    September 14, 2015
    John Krafcik, the former chief executive officer of Hyundai Motor America, has been tapped to lead Google’s autonomous car division.

    Krafcik’s hiring is the biggest poach yet in Silicon Valley’s bid to revolutionize the automotive industry. Krafcik, who was Hyundai’s CEO from 2008-2013, was an integral part of transforming the Korean automaker from an also-ran into a household name.

    “This is a great opportunity to help Google develop the enormous potential of self-driving cars,” Krafcik wrote in an email to Automotive News. “This technology can save thousands of lives, give millions of people greater mobility, and free us from a lot of the things we find frustrating about driving today. I can’t wait to get started.”

    Landing Krafcik is another indication that Google is serious about its goal of having a self-driving car on the market by 2020. Although Google doesn’t have any plans to get into the business of manufacturing automobiles, the company is widely expected to lean on established suppliers to get its self-driving car to market. Krafcik’s deep industry ties will certainly help on that front.

    Google’s self-driving car program is still under the umbrella of the search engine, but it’s possible the division could be split into its own company under the new Alphabet Inc. holding company.

    Krafcik has spent the last couple years as president of the car search Web site TrueCar. Although initially a promising enterprise, TrueCar has since fallen victim to problems with regulators and lawsuits from dealers. Last month TrueCar CEO Scott Painter resigned after disappointing second-quarter earnings sparked a drastic drop in the company’s stock price.

  • GM highlights new Camaro’s lighter chassis, improved performance

    September 14, 2015

    General Motors has highlighted the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro‘s lighter chassis, which helps improve both handling and performance across the entire range.

    The redesigned muscle car is up to 390 pounds lighter than its predecessor, but with a stiffer chassis. The sometimes conflicting attributes were achieved thanks to the latest computer modeling technology, requiring approximately nine million hours of computational time to develop an optimized architecture for all of the Camaro’s body styles.

    Engineers created 12 different modular components to help refine stiffness throughout the range. Some of the pieces, including an underbody ‘x’ brace and rear ‘y’ brace, are geared for the basic convertible and the open-top SS package. Other components are shared with the convertible packages and the SS coupe, providing an even stiffer chassis than the entry-level hardtop coupe.

    “Every Camaro model offers exceptional chassis strength and rigidity, but the modular design made the architecture more adaptable and mass-efficient, because we didn’t have to compensate for the unique demands of, say, the SS convertible when building a 2.0L Turbo coupe,” said Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser. “The result was an elegant engineering solution: 12 chassis components that could be combined to meet the structural requirements of each specific model, without adding unnecessary mass to other models.”

    GM claims the 2.0-liter Camaro with an automatic transmission is capable of reaching 60 mph from a standstill in 5.5 seconds, cornering at up to 0.85 g and braking from 60 mph back to nil in 129 feet. Stepping up to the RS package, powered by a 3.6-liter V6 with Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, brings the sprint time down to 5.1 seconds, with cornering bumped to 0.89 g and stopping in 124 feet. The SS package, meanwhile, can hit 60 mph in four seconds flat, get back down to a halt in 117 feet, and whip around corners at up to 0.97 g.

    The company points out that the new 2.0-liter model offers the same horsepower rating and better acceleration than the Camaro Z28 from 1993-1995, which was powered by a 5.7-liter V8 mill.

    Live images by Brian Williams.

  • Frankfurt preview: Brabus 850 Widestar

    September 14, 2015

    German tuner Brabus will travel to tomorrow’s Frankfurt Motor Show to introduce a new model dubbed 850 Widestar. The 850 Widestar is based on the Mercedes-AMG G63, but it gains a long list of upgrades inside, outside and under the hood that make it worthy of wearing the Brabus emblem.

    Mechanically, it packs a 5.9-liter version of the G63′s twin-turbocharged, hand-built 5.5-liter V8 that has been tuned to make 838 horsepower and 1,069 lb-ft. of torque. It can reach 60 mph from a stop in four seconds flat and go on to an electronically-limited top speed of 162 mph.

    Brabus has fully rebuilt the eight-cylinder with forged pistons, billet connecting rods, a billet crankshaft, optimized cylinder heads and a new ECU. It is also fitted with a redesigned exhaust manifold and a full stainless steel sport exhaust system. Power is sent to all four wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission controlled by shift paddles.

    Outside, the Widestar gains 23-inch alloys tucked under flared fenders, a carbon fiber scoop built into the hood, new bumpers on both ends and a sprinkling of Brabus-specific emblems all around. All told, the 850 Widestar is more discreet-looking than other members of the Brabus family.

    Buyers who’d rather let their chauffeur handle the 838 ponies can sit in the back and relax thanks to power-folding tray tables, numerous USB ports, an iPhone charging dock, a built-in fridge and a 15.6-inch LCD screen built into the headliner. The Widestar boasts leather upholstery on the seats and the door panels, aluminum pedals and real carbon fiber trim on the center console.

    Pricing information hasn’t been announced yet. For what it’s worth, the base G63 starts at over $137,000.

  • VW-owned SEAT teases Frankfurt-bound Leon Cross Sport

    September 14, 2015
    Volkswagen’s Spain-based SEAT division has announced it will travel to the Frankfurt Motor Show to introduce the Leon Cross Sport.

    Details surrounding the Leon Cross Sport are vague at best, but it’s safe to assume that it will bow as a design study rather than as a production model. Based on the two-door Leon SC hatchback, the Cross Sport features a much higher suspension, black plastic cladding over the wheel arches and on the rocker panels, honeycomb inserts in the grille and in the lower bumper as well as roof rails.

    Photos of the back end have not been published yet. Similarly, what the concept looks like inside and what it’s powered by is anyone’s guess at this point. The Golf-sized hatchback on which it’s based is offered with a long list of engines ranging from a 1.2-liter that makes 86 horsepower to a 2.0-liter tuned to generate 285 ponies.

    We’ll learn more about the SEAT Leon Cross Sport tomorrow when the Frankfurt show opens its doors to the press. While the Leon on stilts is likely little more than a concept, SEAT isn’t shy about admitting that it’s busily developing its first-ever SUV, so the Cross could give us insight into what we can expect from it.

  • VW’s Walter de Silva new head of ItalDesign Giugiaro

    September 14, 2015

    Walter de Silva, head of Volkswagen Group’s design, will be the new chairman of ItalDesign Giugiaro.

    According to Automotive News, De Silva will keep his position as design director in charge of all of VW’s brands. Under his leadership, Italdesign Giugiaro will become a design and innovation hub for them all, Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini, and Ducati included.

    Earlier this year, legendary auto designer Giorgetto Giugiaro stepped down from the company that bore his name, which he founded in 1968. At the time he and his son sold their remaining stake in the firm after an Audi buyout in 2010.

    De Silva began his career with VW Group in 2000 when Ferdinand Piech appointed him to the company’s SEAT division. In 2002, he began working under Audi, guiding the brand’s design revolution that took place during the 2000s. By 2007, he had become head of VW Design.

    Cars credited to de Silva include most modern Audis — including the 2004 A6, 2006 TT, 2005 Q7, A5, and the R8 supercar — as well as the VW CC, 2008 Golf and Scirocco, 2010 Jetta and Passat and Touareg, and 2011 Beetle. De Silva has also penned the 2006 Lamborghini Miura concept and the 2013 Lamborghini Egoista. Prior to VW, he worked at Alfa Romeo.

    ItalDesign Giugiaro, which will boast a workforce of 1,000, will also open an academy for designers in 2018 to coincide with its 50th anniversary. In addition to industrial design, the academy will teach students, numbering 50-60 each year, disciplines such as fine arts, history and philosophy, because De Silva believes that “Good design is a product of good culture.”