Monday, June 16, 2008

HONDA FCX CLARITY - Honda's First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car

Honda's new zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cell car rolled off a Japanese production line Monday and is headed to Southern California, where Hollywood is already abuzz over the latest splash in green motoring.

The FCX Clarity, which runs on hydrogen and electricity, emits only water and none of the noxious fumes believed to induce global warming. It is also two times more energy efficient than a gas-electric hybrid and three times that of a standard gasoline-powered car, the company says.

Japan's third biggest automaker expects to lease out a "few dozen" units this year and about 200 units within three years. In California, a three-year lease will run $600 a month, which includes maintenance and collision coverage.

Among the first customers are actress Jamie Lee Curtis and filmmaker husband Christopher Guest, actress Laura Harris, film producer Ron Yerxa, as well as businessmen Jon Spallino and Jim Salomon.

"It's so smooth," said Harris, who played villainness Marie Warner on the hit TV show "24" and was flown over by Honda for the ceremony. "It's like a future machine, but it's not."

The FCX Clarity is an improvement of its previous-generation fuel cell vehicle, the FCX, introduced in 2005.

A breakthrough in the design of the fuel cell stack, which is the unit that powers the car's motor, allowed engineers to lighten the body, expand the interior and increase efficiency, Honda said.

The fuel cell draws on energy synthesized through a chemical reaction between hydrogen gas and oxygen in the air, and a lithium-ion battery pack provides supplemental power. The FCX Clarity has a range of about 270-miles per tank with hydrogen consumption equivalent to 74 miles per gallon, according to the carmaker.

The 3,600-pound vehicle can reach speeds up to 100 miles per hour.

John Mendel, executive vice president of America Honda Motor Co., said at a morning ceremony it was "an especially significant day for American Honda as we plant firm footsteps toward the mainstreaming of fuel cell cars."

The biggest obstacles standing in the way of wider adoption of fuel cell vehicles are cost and the dearth of hydrogen fuel stations. For the Clarity's release in California, Honda said it received 50,000 applications through its website but could only consider those living near stations in Torrance, Santa Monica and Irvine.

Initially, however, the Clarity will go only to a chosen few starting July and then launch in Japan this fall.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for a statewide network of hydrogen stations, but progress has been slow.

The state has also recently relaxed a mandate for the number of zero-emission cars it aims to have on roads. By 2014, automakers must now sell 7,500 electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, a reduction of 70 percent.

Spallino, who currently drives Honda's older FCX and was also flown in for the ceremony, said he will use the Clarity to drive to and from work and for destinations within the Los Angeles area. The small number of hydrogen fuel stations is the "single limiting factor" for fuel cell vehicles, he said.

"It's more comfortable, and it handles well," said Spallino of Redondo Beach. "It's got everything. You're not sacrificing anything except range."

The world's major automakers have been making heavy investments in fuel cells and other alternative fuel vehicles amid climbing oil prices and concerns about climate change.

Although Honda Motor Co. was the first Japanese automaker to launch a gas-electric hybrid vehicle in the U.S. in 1999, it has been outpaced by the dominance of Toyota's popular Prius.

Toyota announced in May that it has sold more than 1 million Prius hybrids, while both the Honda Insight and the hybrid Accord have been discontinued due to poor sales.

Honda also plans to launch a gas-electric hybrid-only model, as well as hybrid versions of the Civic, the sporty CR-Z and Fit subcompact.

Toyota has announced that it would launch a plug-in hybrid with next-generation lithium-ion batteries by 2010 and a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle later in Japan later this year.

U.S. carmaker General Motors Corp. plans to introduce a Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric vehicle in 2010. It also introduced a test-fleet of hydrogen fuel cell Equinox SUVs.

Honda has no plans for a plug-in electric vehicle. President Takeo Fukui said he does not believe current battery technology is good enough to develop a feasible car.

The company has not revealed how much each car costs to make, and it is unclear when, or if, the car will be available for mass-market sales. Takeo has set a target for 2018, but meeting that goal will depend on whether Honda can significantly lower development and assembly costs as well as market reaction to fuel cells.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ford moving towards cars over trucks and SUV's

Ford Motor Co is assembling a plan to retool its North American truck plants to build cars in a bid to keep up with changing consumer demand in the United States, the Detroit News reported on Wednesday.

Ford spokeswoman Angie Kozleski declined to comment on the report, but said plant managers and local union leaders from across the United States have been summoned to meet at Ford's Dearborn headquarters on Friday.

"It's a private meeting to discuss the state of the business," Kozleski said. "What we're going to do is to keep everyone up to date on the changing business situation."

The No. 2 U.S. automaker would revamp some of its North American plants to produce vehicles currently built in Europe, where it is a leader in the small-car segment, the paper reported, citing people familiar with the company's plans.

Details of the plan are expected to be announced in July, it said.

Ford is currently reviewing its entire product pipeline in North America to accelerate the introduction of more fuel-efficient cars and build more vehicles on fewer platforms.

Ford's U.S. vehicle sales plunged 12 percent in the first five months of 2008 from a year earlier as record gasoline prices depressed sales of large gas-thirsty trucks and SUVs.

Last month, Ford dropped its long-standing goal of returning to profitability in 2009, saying the shift in consumer demand toward fuel-efficient cars and crossovers and away from trucks and SUVs is permanent.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ferrari Recall's 2,171 612 Scaglietti's

Fiat SpA's Ferrari is recalling 2,171 cars of its model 612 Scaglietti due to a possible malfunction of a sensor in the Formula One transmission, Auto Motor und Sport magazine said, citing a spokesman for Ferrari.

The malfunction could make it impossible to shift gears, the magazine said in its online edition.

The recall affects 612 Scaglietti model cars build between 2004 and 2007, the magazine said.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Automakers bring back Purchase incentives following dip in market

With gas prices high, a weakening economy and slowing demand, automakers will need incentives to lift sluggish automobile sales, automaker Chrysler decided Friday.

"Incentives will be a key part but the focus will shift on those products that are facing the headwinds, such as trucks and SUVs, rather than those benefiting from the tailwind like cars." said Chrysler LLC President Jim Press, according to Dow Jones Newswire.

Incentives, which can help raise sales numbers, are not always an automakers ally as they cut into the profit margins of their dealers.

Some of the major automakers began to phase out the buying incentives early this year and offset any reduced sales with expense reductions, choosing to keep plants idle rather than produce an inventory build up. With May auto sales down across the board, automakers are quickly shifting their philosophy.

Employee price discounts have already been brought back by Ford for its F-series pickup trucks.

For the month of May, Chrysler had an average incentive per vehicle sold of $3,714, the highest among the major automakers.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

HYUNDAI Tries to compete with Mercedes with the new HYUNDAI GENESIS

Hyundai's production version of its first rear-wheel drive luxury sedan is about to hit showrooms. The Genesis will have a choice of three powertrains: a 3.3-liter V6, a 3.8-liter V6, and a new 4.6-liter V8. Starting at under $30,000, the Hyundai hopes the Genesis will be strong competitor to $60,000 premium sedans such as the Mercedes E-Class, Infiniti M, and Lexus GS.

Hyundai will offer a host of safety features on the Genesis including standard stability control, eight airbags, electronic active head restraints, and adaptive cruise control, which adjusts the vehicle speed to maintain distance from the vehicle ahead.

What is new or notable? Hyundai claims the V8, dubbed the Tau, will produce 368 hp on regular fuel. With the Tau matched with a six-speed automatic transmission, Hyundai says it will propel the Genesis from 0-60 mph in less than six seconds.

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