• Toyota to build third US research facility in Ann Arbor

    April 8, 2016

    Toyota has detailed plans to establish its third US research facility in Ann Arbor, near the University of Michigan campus.

    Known by the monicker TRI-ANN, the new Toyota Research Institute facility will focus on research initiatives related to artificial intelligence, robotics, materials science and other subjects.

    A team of 50 researchers and technicians will be tasked with enhancing automobile safety, helping develop a car that is “incapable of causing a crash” regardless of the driver’s skill or condition. The wording suggests the vehicle will take advantage of semi-autonomous technology to help prevent accidents, even if the car is not operating in a fully autonomous mode.

    The company also promises to expand access to cars for seniors and individuals with special needs, while exploring potential ‘indoor mobility’ products to move goods or people.

    The Ann Arbor campus will complement work already being done at TRI-CAM in Cambridge near MIT, and TRI-PAL in Palo Alto near Stanford.

    “TRI was drawn to Ann Arbor because of the strength of the university; the utility of Mcity and the Mobility Transformation Center which we currently sponsor; the promise of the future American Center for Mobility at Willow Run; and the proximity to, and synergies with, our two well-established Toyota Technical Centers nearby,” said TRI chief Dr. Gill Pratt.

    The new facility is scheduled to open in June.

  • Spied: Alfa Romeo Stelvio

    April 8, 2016

    Our spy photographers have nabbed the first-ever shots of Alfa Romeo’s upcoming utility vehicle. Called Stelvio, the Alfa Romeo-badged SUV is expected to begin production later this year before going on sale in early 2017.

    Although still clad in heavy camouflage, it’s clear that the Stelvio will borrow some design cues from the Giulia sedan, including Alfa’s signature front grille treatment. The rear of the Stelvio is concealed by a tent-like apparatus, but it appears as though the SUV will feature a fast-sloping rear hatch, giving the utility vehicle a sporty appearance that should match its driving dynamics.

    Alfa will offer a Quadrifoglio Verde version of the Stelvio that should come packing the same Ferrari-sourced 2.9L twin-turbocharged V6 found in the Guilia Quadrifoglio Verde. However, given the wheel/tire package and the smallish brakes on this prototype, it’s probably a lesser version of the Stelvio. Other powertrains will include four- and six-cylinder engines, some of which will be of the diesel variety. The Stelvio will ship standard with rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive will be available.

    Codenamed Tipo 949 D-SUV, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio will debut before the end of 2016, with sales set to commence in early 2017. However, it might take the Stelvio slightly longer to reach dealerships in the United States.

  • Tesla Model 3 pre-orders reach 325,000

    April 8, 2016

    Pre-orders for the Tesla Model 3 have continued to skyrocket, climbing to 325,000 deposits in the week since the sedan was first unveiled.

    The figure represents a 50 percent increase from the impressive first-day count of 215,000 units. Eager customers have now placed $325 million in reservation deposits.

    Tesla suggests the pre-orders are worth approximately $14 billion in implied future sales, representing the “biggest one-week launch of any product ever.” The company’s estimate assumes an average sale price of around $43,000, though the bare-bones package will sell for $35,000.

    “This interest has spread completely organically,” the company said in a statement. “Unlike other major product launches, we haven’t advertised or paid for any endorsements.”

    Chief executive Elon Musk recently claimed Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory is theoretically capable of producing a half million vehicles annually. Current production rates for the Model S and Model X are much lower, running at a combined total of 2,000 weekly or 104,000 units annually.

    Tesla does not expect to ship the Model 3 until late next year. If the company merely doubles factory output from current levels, existing pre-orders will not be fulfilled until the end of the decade.

  • GM design head Ed Welburn to retire

    April 8, 2016

    Ed Welburn has announced that he is retiring from his post as General Motors’ head of global design, effective July 1.

    Welburn, 65, started his career at GM 44-years ago. Welburn ascended to head of GM design in 2003 and took over the automaker’s global design studios in 2005. Under his lead GM established 10 design centers in seven countries.

    “GM Design is among the most respected and sought-after organizations in the industry because of Ed’s leadership. He nurtured a creative, inclusive and customer-focused culture among our designers that has strengthened our global brands,” said Mary Barra, GM chairman and CEO.

    Michael Simcoe, vice president of GM International Design, will be taking over the reins from Welburn. A 33-year GM veteran, Simcoe started his career in 1983 as a designed from GM’s Australian Holden division. Smile climbed through the ranks, eventually landing the position of executive director of North American Exterior design in 2004. In that role he oversaw the design of the GMC Terrain, Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac CTS. Most recently he’s credited for developing the Buick Avenir concept car.

    May 1 will be Simcoe’s first day on the job. He’ll take over full time for Welburn on July 1, becoming the seventh design leader in GM’s history.

  • Ford Police Interceptor Utility gets stealthier light bar

    April 8, 2016

    Ford has introduced a stealthier light package for the Explorer-based Police Interceptor Utility.

    The company has stashed new super-low-profile light bars at the top edge of the windshield. The thin LED arrays are placed directly in front of the visors, better concealing the lights from nearby motorists.

    The covert feature is said to eliminate the need for a traditional roof-mounted light bar, which quickly alerts scofflaws to the presence of a law enforcement officer.

    “Today, agencies typically use aftermarket interior visor light bars that are somewhat bulky and can obstruct the field of vision – especially for taller officers,” said Ford police marketing manager Stephen Tyler.

    The lights are configured to alternate blue and red LED illumination, with optional red/red and blue/blue programming. The strips can also provide bright white ‘takedown’ and ‘scene’ lighting, with options for manual or automatic dimming to avoid dazzling motorists at night.

    The Police Interceptor Utility is claimed to be the best-selling law-enforcement vehicle in the US market. The latest announcement represents Ford’s latest attempt to offer popular features from the factory, providing an alternative to traditional third-party upfitters.