• Honda begins sales of Clarity Fuel Cell hydrogen-powered sedan

    March 13, 2016

    Honda has commenced sales of its new Clarity Fuel Cell, a hydrogen-powered 5-passenger sedan, and its co-developed external power output device, the Power Exporter 9000.

    Billed as the world’s first 5-passenger hydrogen fuel-cell sedan, the first sales of the Clarity went to government and businesses in Japan. These organizations are working closely with Honda to collect usage data about the car and its external power output device. After a trial period, sales to individual customers will begin.

    Honda says it has increased the Clarity’s range by about 30 percent over the previous generation, boasting a range of 750 kilometers (466 miles). That exceeds the farthest-driving electric vehicle, the Tesla Model S, by a substantial 196 miles. The Clarity also has a 70 MPa high-pressure tank that takes only 3 minutes to fill.

    The tank feeds a 174-horsepower electric motor. Unlike the previous generation, engineers were able to fit the entire hydrogen fuel cell powertrain beneath the hood of the Clarity by making it more compact. When combined with the Power Exporter 9000, the Clarity can serve as a power source that can supply approximately 7 days’ worth of electricity to the average household.

    Honda plans to introduce the Clarity to Europe and the US by the end of 2016.

    Live images by Ben Hsu.

  • Drivers of final Toyota Pro/Celebrity race announced

    March 13, 2016

    For 40 years, springtime has been welcomed in Long Beach, California by a high-profile carnival of mangled Aichi steel. The 2016 Toyota Pro/Celebrity charity race will be its last, and the list of drivers has just been announced.

    The longest running charity race in the US takes place ahead of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, held on closed-off public streets just down the street from the automaker’s Torrance, California US headquarters. Each year, the field is split between actual race car drivers and celebrity drivers, all thrown into identical Toyotas and let loose on the two-mile Grand Prix race course.

    Professionals have ranged from Indy champion Al Unser Jr. to Pikes Peak winner Rod Millen to top-ranked drifter Ken Gushi. Then there are the celebs, some of whom do have an well-known association with racing (like Top Gear USA host Rutledge Wood and Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman producer Adam Carolla, who, oddly, did not drive a Corolla) to randos you haven’t thought about in years (like Alfonso Ribiero and Frankie Muniz).

    Needless to say, the race has seen its share of spectacular wipeouts. Rear-wheel-drive Celicas were the car of choice when the event began, but in recent years Scion tCs and FR-Ses have been used.

    After four decades, the race on April 16, 2016 will be the last, as Toyota prepares to move its US headquarters to Plano, Texas. Toyota will continue to be the title sponsor of the Long Beach Grand Prix through 2017, but no announcements have been made as to what happens after that. The Toyota Pro/Celebrity race raises money for a charity called Racing for Kids, which benefits children’s hospitals. See the entry list below.

    Al Unser, Jr. 1985, 2009 and 2014)

    Pro/Overall winner in 1985, 2009, Pro winner in 2014. Dubbed “King of the Beach,” as the winningest driver in Long Beach, with six Indy Car wins and three Pro/Celebrity wins. Also a 2-time Indy 500 winner, and 2-time IndyCar Champion.

    Ricky Schroder 1989 and 1996

    Celebrity/ Overall winner in 1989. Most recently starred in “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors.” Golden Globe winning actor best-known for roles in “Silver Spoons,” “NYPD Blue” and “Get Him to the Greek.”

    Stephen Baldwin1990

    Celebrity winner in 1990. He has starred in film, television and radio. Best-known for his roles in “The Usual Suspects” and “The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas.” He also appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Celebrity Fear Factor.”

    Eddie Lawson 1993

    Pro/ Overall winner in 1993. Motorcycle Hall of Famer and four-time 500cc World Champion. He also earned back-to-back AMA 250 Grand Prix Series, AMA Superbike Series Championships, won the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hour race, and was a two-time winner of the Daytona 200.

    Alfonso Ribeiro 1994, 1995, 1996 and 2015

    Celebrity/ Overall winner in 1994 & 1995, Pro/ Overall winner in 2015. Currently the host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” on ABC and “Unwrapped 2.0″ on the Cooking Channel. Known for his iconic role of Carlton on “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and in 2014, he took home the coveted Mirror Ball trophy on “Dancing With the Stars.”

    Rod Millen 1992 and 1995

    Pro winner in 1995. Winner of three-consecutive Grand National Sport Truck titles, 5-time Toyota Pikes Peak Unlimited class winner, and 3-time Toyota off-road stadium truck champion.

    Dara Torres 2002, 2004 and 2015

    Celebrity/ Overall winner in 2002. 12-time Olympic medalist swimmer, who was named as one of the “Top Female Athletes of the Decade” by Sports Illustrated. In 2002, she was the first woman to win the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race.

    Max Papis 2004

    Pro/ Overall winner in 2004. “Mad Max,” a stock car race driver has competed in many top-level motorsports events including the Le Mans 24 Hours, Formula One and Champ Car. He has three Champ Car victories.

    Chris McDonald 2001, 2004 and 2005

    Celebrity winner in 2004. Currently co-starring in HBO’s “Ballers,” after a stint on CBS’s “The Good Wife.” He has starred in over 100 movies, but is best-known for playing ‘Shooter McGavin’ in “Happy Gilmore.”

    Frankie Muniz2004, 2005, 2006 and 2011

    Celebrity winner in 2005. Starred in “Sharknado: Heart of Sharkness,” and best-known for his role in “Malcolm in the Middle.” His diverse resume also includes race car driver, drummer of pop-rock group’s Kingsfoil, and Ambassador for the Armed Forces Foundation.

    Mike Skinner2007 and 2008

    Pro winner in 2007 & 2008. 1995 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion, and the 1997 Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year. He has competed in over 550 races in NASCAR’s top three divisions.

    Doug Fregin 2009, 2012 and 2014

    Charity auction winner in 2009, 2012 & 2014. He has donated over $320,000 to “Racing For Kids.” Co-Founder of Research in Motion (now Blackberry) and Quantum Valley Investments Fund.

    Brian Austin Green 1997, 2010 and 2011

    Celebrity winner in 2010. An actor, director, and producer, who came to fame on “Beverly Hills, 90210,” recently starred on “Anger Management” on FX. He’s also known for roles in “Desperate Housewives,” “Smallville” and “Las Vegas.”

    Jimmy Vasser 2010

    Pro/ Overall winner in 2010. Former Toyota Atlantic Series and IndyCar driver. 1996 IndyCar World Series Champion. He is an IndyCar team owner, and owns three Toyota dealerships.

    Ken Gushi 2011

    Pro winner in 2011. He was once the youngest, most successful drift competitor in Japan, and in the U.S. With numerous Top 3 finishes in national and international drifting competitions, his racing career has just begun.

    William Fichtner 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012

    Celebrity/ Overall winner in 2011. A television, theater and film star, he will be seen in the June releases of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” and “Independence Day: Resurgence.”

    Adam Carolla 2003, 2010, 2012 and 2013

    Celebrity/ Overall winner in 2012, Pro winner in 2013. He is best known as a comedian, actor, radio personality, television host and New York Times bestselling author. He can be heard daily on his podcast “The Adam Carolla Show.”

    Rutledge Wood 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015

    Celebrity/ Overall winner in 2013. A NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports, he can also be seen in History Channel’s “Lost In Transmission,” and as co-host of “Top Gear USA” which just finished filming its sixth season.

    Brett Davern 2013, 2014 and 2015

    Celebrity/ Overall winner in 2014. Actor who stars as ‘Jake Rosati’ in MTV’s hit series “Awkward.” He recently appeared in the Beach Boys bio-pic “Love & Mercy” and “The Stanford Prison Experiment.”

    Dave Pasant 2001, 2002, 2003, 2010, 2013 and 2015

    Celebrity winner in 2015, and 7-time charity auction winner. A retired insurance executive, he has participated in this race six ttimes, donating a total of $417,000 to “Racing For Kids.” He is also an executive producer of “Road Hard,” starring Adam Carolla.

    Bob Carter

    Carter is the Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.

    “This should be a thrilling race with so many of the participants past winners here at Long Beach,” Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach said. “It will be interesting to see who best recalls the racing technique that will enable them to once again stand on top of the podium.”

    Since 1991, Toyota has donated more than $2.3 million to the “Racing for Kids” organization on behalf of this race and its participants.

  • Mazda’s Koeru-inspired CX-4 crossover spied in China

    March 13, 2016

    Low-resolution spy shots taken in China have prematurely revealed the production version of the Mazda Koeru concept.

    Called CX-4, the crossover retains the Koeru’s basic design with only minor modifications. The tall belt line, the low roof line, and the rakish D-pillar are essentially unchanged, but the CX-4 gets new tail lamps and a less futuristic front end that falls in line with Mazda’s current design language.

    The CX-4 is believed to ride on the same platform as the CX-5, and it will likely use the same engines. That means entry-level models will boast a 2.0-liter four-cylinder mill rated at 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft. of torque, and more potent models will benefit from a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter four-banger. Buyers will likely be asked to choose between a six-speed automatic transmission and an enthusiast-friendly six-speed manual gearbox.

    Mazda hasn’t announced when the CX-4 will make its public debut. We wouldn’t be surprised to see it debut later this month at the New York Auto Show, but the fact that the spy shots were taken in China suggest that the Japanese car maker might hold off on revealing it until the Beijing Show opens its doors next month. Either way, the CX-4 will go on sale in time for the 2017 model year.

  • Abarth introduces track-only 595 OT

    March 13, 2016

    Fiat’s Abarth division has unveiled a new version of the 500 called 595 OT that’s designed specifically to compete in the Italian Touring Car Championship.

    Based on the street-legal Abarth 500, the track-bound model is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that sends 190 horsepower to the front wheels via a six-speed transmission. Racers who want to turn the sport dial up to 11 can order an optional performance package that brings that brings a racing exhaust system and bigger front brakes.

    Visually, the 595 OT is wider than the regular 500, and it sits a little lower thanks to a tweaked suspension. Pictures of the interior haven’t been published yet, but Abarth promises it has stripped the cabin in order to shed weight and added bucket seats as well as a full roll cage.

    On sale now in its home country, the Abarth 595 OT will make its competition debut on May 22nd on the storied Monza track in Italy. It will compete in the Turismo di Serie (TCS) category against similarly-modified versions of the Peugeot 308, the Alfa Romeo MiTo, and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, among other models. Pricing information hasn’t been announced, and it’s too early to tell if the turn-key racer will compete in the other touring car championships across Europe.

  • NY: 2017 Mercedes-AMG E43

    March 13, 2016

    Mercedes-AMG will unveil the first evolution of the new 2017 E-Class at the New York Auto Show. Called E43, the sedan is positioned between the regular E-Class and the upcoming E63.

    The E43 is powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine that pumps out 396 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 384 lb-ft. of torque from 2,500 to 5,000 rpm. That’s enough grunt to send the 4,145-pound sedan from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and on to a top speed that’s electronically limited to 155 mph.

    The only transmission available is a nine-speed automatic unit that can be left in drive or controlled by shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel. A sport-tuned version of Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive system sends 31 percent of the engine’s torque to the front wheels and 69 percent to the rear wheels. The E43 has bigger brakes than the E-Class, and it features a specific air suspension as well as a more direct steering system.

    The E43 wouldn’t be eligible for an AMG emblem if it didn’t look the part. Designers have added specific grille accented by chromed pins, a new bumper with three air dams, side skirts, and a new rear diffuser. The cabin receives sport seats, red contrast stitching, and red seat belts.

    The 2017 Mercedes-AMG E43 is scheduled to arrive in showrooms early next year. It will be followed by a full-blown, range-topping model called E63 that’s expected to pack a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 tuned to develop at least 600 horsepower.