• Mercedes unveils autonomous Vision Tokyo concept

    October 28, 2015
    Mercedes-Benz has made a surprise appearance at the Tokyo Motor Show to introduce a new concept dubbed Vision Tokyo.

    The concept takes the form of a tall, sleek-looking van that’s capable of driving itself. Slightly smaller in all directions than the 2016 Metris van, it boasts thin headlights and a huge grille that lights up to display a wide variety of colors and patterns. Its design language is influenced by the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept that was shown earlier this year at the CES show.

    The cabin is accessed via a wide, top-hinged door on the passenger side of the car. Inside, the Vision Tokyo offers space for five passengers on a lounge-like oval couch upholstered in white leather. The infotainment system is displayed on holograms, while screens built into the side panels display important information about the van and its surroundings.

    The rear windows are screen printed to ensure the occupants travel in total privacy. The concept drives autonomously a vast majority of the time, but a jump seat built into the couch lets the passengers take the wheel if needed.

    Power comes from an advanced hybrid drivetrain that uses a hydrogen fuel cell to generate electricity. Full technical details are being kept under wraps, but Mercedes promises the concept offers a total driving range of over 600 miles.

    Although Mercedes’ Vision Tokyo concept is highly unlikely to reach production as-is, it likely serves as a preview of the autonomous technology that will debut on the next-gen E-Class next January. Similarly, the hydrogen-electric drivetrain could make the jump from concept to production in the medium-term future.

  • Tokyo LIVE: Mazda’s rotary-powered RX-Vision concept

    October 28, 2015
    Mazda has unveiled a stunning, rotary-powered concept car at the 44th edition of the Tokyo Motor Show.

    Dubbed RX-Vision, the concept takes the form of a close-to-production coupe that was built to preview Mazda’s next RX-badged sports car. Its front end falls in line with the company’s Kodo design language thanks to styling cues such as a shield-shaped grille and thin headlights. Out back, it gains four round tail lamps connected by a razor-thin spoiler and a pair of round exhaust tips.

    The RX-Vision offers space for two passengers in a driver-focused cabin that’s fitted with the just the bare essentials. The instrument cluster is made up of five analog gauges grouped in three separate pods, the steering is commanded through a retro-inspired three-spoke wheel, and the only button on the center console is the one used to start the engine. There is no infotainment system, and it doesn’t look like the coupe is fitted with any kind of climate control unit.

    Mazda has opted not to publish technical specifications. All we know at this point is that the concept is powered by a rotary engine dubbed SkyActiv-R that spins the coupe’s rear wheels via a manual transmission. The company explains that development of the Wankel engine has been on-going for decades even though it’s not currently being mass-produced.

    Executives acknowledge there are a few obstacles on the RX-Vision’s path to production. However, if everything goes according to plan the coupe will be added to the Mazda lineup as a regular-production model before the end of the decade.

    Live images by Ben Hsu.

  • Subaru introduces Impreza 5-Door Concept in Tokyo

    October 28, 2015

    Subaru has traveled to the biennial Tokyo Motor Show to introduce a close-to-production design study dubbed Impreza 5-Door Concept.

    As its name implies, the Impreza 5-Door Concept is an accurate preview of the next-generation Impreza that will likely land in time for the 2017 model year. It looks a lot sharper than the Impreza that’s currently on sale in Subaru showrooms thanks to swept-back headlights, an angular grille, a more rakish window line, sculpted flanks and C-shaped LED tail lamps.

    The concept’s overall proportions are closer to those of the third-generation model that was axed in 2011 than to those of the current model. It’s about four inches wider than the 2016 Impreza.

    Surprisingly, Subaru hasn’t published technical details and pictures of the concept’s interior.

    What’s next?

    While official launch information isn’t available yet, the production version of the next Impreza is expected to bow at a major auto show next year. Essentially a toned-down version of the concept that will be shown in Tokyo, it will be lighter and wide than the current model because it will ride on a brand new platform developed to underpin most of Subaru’s next-gen lineup.

    Mechanically, the 2017 Impreza will usher in more efficient flat-four engines fitted with direct fuel-injection and Subaru’s fuel-saving cylinder deactivation technology. A plug-in hybrid model might join the lineup a little later in the production run.

  • Honda’s future fuel cell vehicles to sport conventional styling

    October 28, 2015
    Honda’s latest Fuel Cell Vehicle, due out this week at the Tokyo Motor Show, looks radically different from anything else in the automaker’s lineup, but that could change by the end of the decade.

    That’s because Honda is working alongside General Motors to develop an all-new hydrogen fuel cell system by 2020. That new fuel cell promises to be significantly smaller than today’s unit, making it easier to package into conventional vehicles.

    “The most important thing with this FCV is getting the fuel cell stack under the bonnet,” Kiyoshi Shimizu, chief engineer for large projects at Honda’s R&D center, told Autocar. “That means that it can be accommodated with gasoline engine-like packaging in the future, and this opens up lots of possibilities; we could use the same stack in an SUV as in a saloon. In the future we will not need a dedicated design for a fuel cell vehicle.”

    Using more conventional styling could help jumpstart fuel cell sales. Cost reduction will be another big help; The fuel cell stack in Honda’s FCV is 90 percent cheaper to build than the one used in the company’s previous FCX Clarity. Those costs should only continue to fall with further development.

    Honda will introduce its next-generation FCV in 2020, but it remains to be seen when the tech might be offered in a run-of-the-mill model like the CR-V crossover or Accord mid-size.

  • Ford posts best-ever quarterly results

    October 28, 2015
    Thanks to brisk sales of its higher-margin vehicles in the United States, Ford has posted its best quarterly results in company history.

    Ford announced on Tuesday that third quarter pretax profits shot up 89 percent to $2.7 billion. That figure is the highest quarterly profit recorded in the company’s long history. Ford pocketed a net income of $1.9 billion, up from $833 million during Q3 of 2014.

    Fatter operating margins were a large part of Ford’s success during the quarter. The automaker’s operating margins checked in at 11.3 percent during the period, up from 7.1 percent during the same period a year prior.

    “The Ford team delivered an outstanding quarter — with record third quarter profit, best quarter ever for North America, higher wholesales, higher revenue, higher market share and improved margin,” said CEO Mark Fields. “We are delivering a breakthrough year.”

    After a sluggish start, Ford’s new F-Series line had its best third quarter in nearly a decade. Sales at Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand were also up 15 percent during the period.

    North America was easily the brightest spot in Ford’s portfolio, with the region pulling in $2.7 billion in pre-tax income. Europe remains a weak point, with the division losing $182 million on a pre-tax basis. That compares to a $257 million pre-tax profit in Q3 of 2014.

    In South America Ford posted a $163 million loss compared to a $7 million profit last year. Ford’s Asia Pacific arm went from a $24 million loss in 2014 to a pre-tax profit of $20 million in 2015.

    Ford isn’t expecting a repeat performance during the fourth quarter due to costs associated with an upcoming UAW contract.

    Photo by Mark Elias.