Category Archives: Car & Truck

More Logical Than Ludicrous: Tesla Semi Will Need to Deliver Reliability

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Elon Shows Us His Semi: Tesla’s Next Big Thing Is Big Indeed

Tesla Semi

Roughly 18 months have passed since we first learned about Tesla’s plan to add an electric semi-truck, of all things, to its automotive product family. At the time, it was said to be in the early stages of development and was expected to appear sometime in 2017. Lo and behold, this past April, we were crawling around a pair of Tesla Semi prototypes at the company’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters. Then in May, Musk took to Twitter and claimed that the Semi would be unveiled in September . . . sigh (at least this is a month that ends in “ember”!). More important, it seems worth the wait.

“Like a Bullet”

As with Tesla’s other product reveals, the Semi was introduced at a huge Hollywood-style party filled with Tesla owners and fans, red carpet and all. Yes, a red carpet and multiple layers of security for a semi-truck introduction—that’s a first. And Musk wasted no time producing his two prototype rigs for the adoring throng to behold, both of which circled a vast expanse of asphalt in total silence before poking their sleek, sloped noses through the open hangar doors at the Jet Center in Hawthorne, California, adjacent to Tesla’s HQ.

“We designed the trucks to be like a bullet,” said Musk, and indeed, each of these day-cab trucks look as deliciously futuristic as one could hope them to look, particularly the low-roof matte-gray version—which turned out to be carrying some very precious cargo. With the exception of the windshield wipers and the exterior rearview mirrors, everything on the front and sides of the Semi’s body has been smoothed and flush mounted, including low-set headlamps, the upper clearance lights, and the Model 3–sourced door handles. The bottom of the truck is flat. Behind the cab are extendible panels that automatically detect the size and location of the trailer’s leading edges and extend out to meet them, effectively sealing them together from an aerodynamic standpoint. The wheels have aerodynamic covers, too, with the gray example featuring full skirting over the rear wheels. The coefficient of drag is a stunning 0.36. 

Tesla Semi

Sitting in the Doghouse

Even more revolutionary, at least in contrast to the often cramped cabs of today’s big rigs, is the Semi’s interior, which we were allowed to crawl around in briefly before the official unveiling. First of all, access to the space is provided by a couple of steps mounted at a slope just inside the door, a relatively easy climb up compared to the repelling exercise most truckers endure every time they get in and out. Even in this day-cab form, the Tesla Semi’s low floor and tall ceiling allow one to stand up inside and easily walk over to the passenger seat on the other side of the cab or around to the center-mounted driver’s seat. That’s right: Without an engine protruding into the front center of the cab—its covered housing is known in trucker circles as the doghouse—the Tesla Semi places its driver front and center, affording him or her a commanding view forward and to the sides. Dual touchscreens flanking the steering wheel fully integrate all vehicle information, navigation, travel logs, and communications—say, with one’s dispatcher—without cluttering the space with ancillary components. And, yes, there’s a pull strap for the horn.

Mercy Sakes Alive! Zero to 60 in Five Seconds! 500-Mile Range! Powered by Sunlight!

The futuristic styling and captain-of-the-starship driving environment are nice, but what matters most to Tesla, insofar as Musk has the goal of proliferating electric technology across the transportation industry, lies beneath all that. Like the Model S and X, the Semi’s structure is built around its battery packs, which are located between the front and rear axles beneath the cabin, affording it an exceptionally low center of gravity. Both prototypes feature dual rear axles, with each of the four rear wheels powered by its own dedicated electric motor (borrowed from the Model 3). The lack of a transmission frees the driver from having to shift—which is a notoriously complicated process in many rigs—and reduces the amount of jostling inflicted on the cargo.

And this truck will be quick, even by passenger-car standards. Musk claims that a bobtail Tesla Semi will be able to hustle to 60 mph in five seconds, compared with 20 seconds for a typical diesel truck. Add a trailer heavy enough to bring the rig’s total weight to an 80,000-pound GVWR, and the Semi’s zero-to-60-mph time increases to a similarly remarkable 20 seconds. Up a 5 percent grade, that same trailer-totin’ Tesla Semi can maintain 65 mph, whereas, Musk claimed, “the best diesel trucks” today can maintain only 45 mph. Going fast, of course, isn’t really the point of these rigs, but as time lost is money lost to many drivers, Musk pointed out, a less sluggish truck can make a big difference to the folks who actually use these things. Interestingly, the truck can still run even if one or two of the motors fails, in which condition “it’ll still beat a diesel truck,” Musk said.

Tesla Semi

Range, of course, is perhaps the greatest consideration for customers of electric vehicles large or small. Tesla said that, thanks in part to regenerative brakes capable of returning a remarkable 98 percent of the kinetic energy to the battery, the Semi can travel 500 miles on a full charge. That’s roughly double the real-world range of Tesla’s next-largest vehicle, the Model X. And that’s at 60 mph, with maximum payload.

Moreover, the net efficiency gain of a Tesla Semi driver traveling in a convoy of more than two rigs rivals rail transport. A planned network of new solar-fed high-speed Megachargers can replenish the truck with enough juice to give it an additional 400 miles of range in 30 minutes, Musk said—incidentally, that’s the same amount of time legally required for a driver to take a break every eight hours. These Megachargers would be installed either at points of origin or along heavily trafficked routes, according to Tesla. Other helpful technology bits include anti-jackknife stability control, blind-spot monitoring, and standard Enhanced Autopilot with automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and lane-departure warning.

Cost Neutral?

While Musk didn’t provide pricing for the Semi, he claimed that operating costs will be comparable to those of current diesel trucks, thanks in part to cheaper maintenance and nonfluctuating energy costs that Musk said would be kept at $0.07 per kilowatt-hour. Citing the Semi’s ability to drive even with two of its four motors down, Musk stated, “We are guaranteeing that this truck will not break down for a million miles.”

You’re forgiven if you still haven’t yet gotten your head around the idea of electric semi-trucks. It took us a while, too. But after doing a bit of reporting on tougher emissions regulations soon to apply to big rigs, the notion is starting to make sense. And Tesla is not the only company thinking this way, with other EV semi-truck proposals appearing during the past year or so, including Nikola Motor Company’s fuel-cell-powered semi prototype and a Class 7 Cummins electric semi prototype. This regulatory environment is subject to change, of course, particularly given the current administration’s enthusiasm for rolling back environmental regulations. But don’t expect any change in the mandates to affect Tesla’s resolve. It plans to make its Semi a common sight at truck stops around the country starting in 2019—just not at the pumps.

Tesla-Semi-Reel

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Testing with Hard Access P2

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid: Value Priced—for a Limited Time Only?

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

The 2018 Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid is a comfy sedan that can go 47 miles solely on electric power—which is plenty for most weekday commutes—and then operates as a gasoline-electric hybrid for another 293 miles before you fill up the tank again. More than the Clarity fuel cell, which is only available in specific markets in California, and the Clarity electric, with its total range of just 89 miles, the plug-in hybrid is the member of the 2018 Honda Clarity lineup that makes the most sense for Americans. Honda has announced pricing for the plug-in hybrid, and it’s quite the deal: $34,290 in base form or $37,390 in top Touring guise, or just $26,790 (base) or $29,990 (Touring) after the $7500 federal EV tax credit. Additional incentives apply in some states.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

The bad news is that the Clarity plug-in hybrid might not be such a great value for long. The EV tax credit is on shaky ground as the current tax bill works its way through Congress. The version that the House of Representatives passed yesterday includes the repeal of the EV tax credit; the Senate plan retains it. If both bills pass, a joint committee will ultimately determine whether the credit stays or goes.

Honda has said that it will push ahead with its product plan with or without the tax credit. It aims for electrified vehicles to make up two-thirds of its global sales by 2030.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

PHEV Rivals

The Honda’s direct rival is the Chevrolet Volt, which can achieve 53 all-electric miles before its engine starts. Honda says that the Clarity plug-in hybrid’s range of 47 miles is better than any other plug-in hybrid sedan; that’s true on a technicality, as the Volt is a hatchback. The Volt undercuts the Clarity plug-in hybrid slightly, at a base price of $34,095 (or $26,595 after the credit), and while its features aren’t all that different, the Clarity plug-in has a roomier, more upscale cabin. In an early prototype drive, we noticed one other key difference between these two models: You can’t, as in the Volt, lock out the gasoline engine when you have a full charge in the Clarity plug-in hybrid.

Congress is looking to make the tax changes effective for the 2018 tax year. That means buyers would have to take delivery by the end of December 2017, to take advantage of the current credit. PHEV buyers might want to act fast; the days of this government-abetted bargain pricing could be numbered.

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Straight to Valhalla: Aston’s Valkyrie Hypercar to Get an Even Faster Track-Only Sibling

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2019 Ford Focus Hatch Spied Nearly Uncovered!

2019 Ford Focus Hatchback Spy Photos

What It Is: As the hashtag on this Ford Focus prototype reads, it’s Time to Focus—on Ford’s upcoming 2019 Focus. We’ve spotted the hatch before, albeit slathered in bodywork-obscuring camouflage; ditto the four-door sedan variant. This marks our first good look at the car’s final sheetmetal and the outlines of its headlights, taillights, and grille. READ MORE ››

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Sexy Sedans and Brute Utes: Infiniti Design Chief Talks Flagships

2018 Infiniti QX80

Now that the towering Infiniti QX80 SUV finally looks suitable to serve as a flagship of the SUV lineup, we posed some questions to Alfonso Albaisa, Infiniti’s head of design. The brand has gone without a proper flagship sedan since the Q45 departed in 2006, so we asked what plans the company might have to change that situation, while we also sought to learn more about the QX80’s future and whether off-road prowess matters to its buyers.

First, regarding the QX80’s role, Albaisa definitely considers it the flagship of the SUV lineup, but he wouldn’t go there when we asked him if he thought it was the flagship of the entire Infiniti brand. He did say, however, that with the technology, the active suspension, and the open-pore wood that has heretofore been offered on the QX80, “it has a level of luxury that is our flagship [SUV],” but that it needed to look more assertive.

Ever since the first Infiniti FX appeared as a 2003 model, he said, “SUVs have been the cars that resonate very strongly with our customers. I myself felt that we should push this car out in the sense of its visual presence.” Furthermore, the QX80’s customers are particularly emotional about the product, often buying it as a reward, he said. “It’s one of those cars that people come in and they’re not wavering; they want this car.”

2018 Infiniti QX80

Yet the QX80 is the only Infiniti with body-on-frame construction—it shares its underpinnings with the Nissan Patrol, which is sold globally outside of the United States, and it also serves under the Nissan Armada. It’s decidedly old school for an ostensibly performance-driven brand that, unlike Land Rover’s Range Rover, doesn’t have much of an off-road legacy. Would it remain that way? we asked. And, more broadly, are off-road bona fides important to the Infiniti QX80 customer in the first place?

“Naturally, this question comes up because of our competitors, which have this full-size SUV authenticity and aren’t body on frame,” said Albaisa, clearly referring to the Range Rover. “But our engineering has created a body-on-frame feeling—a lot of that is the suspension and the smoothness of motor—that almost feels unibody in that sense.” The technologies that make it so today will stick around for the next generation, he said, saying that Infiniti is just starting to work on it. The main consideration for the next QX80 is reducing mass to give it a a sense of smooth power, stability, and agility. “The cumbersome beast is not welcome,” he said.

Albaisa appeared to dismiss the idea of the QX80 migrating to a more modern, crossover-like unit-body construction, if only to preserve its standing in places where the Patrol is a legend in its own right.

“We’re very strong with this car in the desert regions—in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and all of these places. They have a tendency to take the car off-road, not in the sense of the forest because they don’t have one, but in this sense of ‘King of the Dunes.’ Those regions tend to appreciate very much the car’s capabilities because they use it. They have fun with it. This is a car they go and do stuff with.” In other markets, Albaisa said, it’s an urban vehicle. “This car is valued for smooth delivery. You’re sitting up high, it’s super quiet, you can see everything. It has values that people love for the road. Maybe people don’t want to take their $70,000 vehicle and throw it around, but there’s a value to people knowing this car can do stuff.

“And as cars start to drive themselves,” he said, “all of these technologies that make driving easier and more pleasurable and better will apply to the next one. I’m quite excited about the next technologies we have moving forward.”

Speaking of Infiniti’s future, we pressed Albaisa about the big gaping hole at the top of Infiniti’s sedan lineup, and he hinted that Infiniti will present something at the 2018 Detroit auto show in January that may start “an interesting conversation” about a flagship Infiniti sedan.

“In Detroit, we will show something about that subject which is super nice,” he said. Don’t expect a conventional sedan: “The straight sedan is losing a little bit of appeal again,” he said. Rather, we should expect it to fall more in line with the sleek, “sexy sedans” that seem to be gaining traction both in the mass market and in the premium segment, the ones that their makers tend to call four-door coupes.

“Honestly, we have a little bit of a new proportion because of new technologies, and without saying too much, we will have some news in Detroit,” Albaisa said.

Infiniti Q80

Infiniti’s last flagship sedan concept, the Q80 Inspiration from 2014, never actually turned into a production model. However, almost every Infiniti concept vehicle since then actually has previewed a subsequent production model—and relatively accurately, too.

If the 2018 Detroit show follows suit, Infiniti may go from having no flagships to two flagships in the near future, one an old-school SUV and one thoroughly modern luxury car.

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Why Did Chevy Unveil the Monstrous ZR1 Corvette in Dubai?

Dubai, city of cranes, is home to the world’s tallest building (the Burj Khalifa), and a premier grower of artificial islands (google Palm Jumeirah). Yesterday, this tax-free emirate on the Persian Gulf played host to another spectacle of prodigiousness: the reveal of our homegrown superhero, the 755-hp Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. Clearly they do it big out here. Still, it might be natural to ask, “Why launch the baddest Corvette in the Las Vegas of the Middle East, when we have the real Las Vegas here in Nevada?”

So we did. The car’s executive chief engineer, Tadge Juechter, told us there’s a big fan base for the car here, “and it really started with the new one [C7].” Indeed, there’s an active Corvette club in the United Arab Emirates, established in 2007, with its own website, mission statement, and roughly 75 active members. The club was there in force at the car’s reveal.

Chevrolet’s global boss, Alan Batey, concurred: “We have a long history in the Middle East, and we have a very passionate following, with Corvette always one of the favorites. With Dubai becoming a global icon, we felt it would be a great place to show the most powerful and fastest Corvette ever—the ZR1.”

In addition to those rational reasons, we might speculate on some irrational ones: Cars, i.e., non-crossover-type vehicles, aren’t DOA over here, and the market for supercars continues to grow with the local economy. And though gas isn’t quite Saudi low in Dubai (it’s about $2 a gallon), no one looks at you funny if your car yowls with a mega-horsepower V-8. But maybe most important for the Plastic Fantastic, the Bowling Green Bomber, the car even many a red-blooded American would make hajj for, is that the ZR1 is a true exotic over here, as potent a symbol of exclusivity as any Lamborghini, despite its resolute affordability.

zr1reel

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2018 Honda Accord 1.5T Automatic Tested: Base with Grace

2018-Honda-Accord-1.5T-PLACEMENT

Our love for the new Honda Accord knows no bounds. We’ve squealed in delight about the transcendent subtlety that comes with the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four in the high-end models. Whether that’s with a six-speed manual or a 10-speed automatic transmission, the 2.0-liter turbo is a critical element in a wonderful car. The thing is, if history is a guide, the majority of the Accords that Honda sells won’t have that engine. READ MORE ››

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New Alfa Romeo Engine Leaks: Will We See a 350-HP Giulia Veloce?

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.0T AWD

We’re big fans of the Alfa Romeo Giulia in its basic 2.0-liter, 280-hp trim as well as in its 505-horse cloisonné-cloverleaf-badged Quadrifoglio configuration. The Italian sports sedan delivers a degree of nimbleness and engagement that the Bavarians have forgotten and the Swabians, Japanese, and Americans have only occasionally appeared capable of producing. While we’re disappointed by the lack of a manual here in the United States, we’re heartened by rumors of an upcoming Veloce model, which is seeming to gather steam via recent posts to social media.

Bozi Tatarevic posted the image shown above on Twitter yesterday, which he cribbed from Mopar Tech Authority, FCA’s OEM service site. Engine options beyond the two we’ve come to know in the States include a 2.2-liter diesel and a 350-hp version of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas burner. Tatarevic noted that the site does show global service info, so we reached out to FCA for clarification and received the following from Alfa Romeo USA product communications manager Berj Alexanian: “No plans for any other engines for Giulia in North America for 2018 model year besides the 2.0L and 2.9L [gasoline] versions.” The Quadrifoglio, in case you weren’t aware, is powered by a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V-6.

Note that Alexanian said nothing about the 2019 model year. If we were guessing, we’d expect a spring auto-show debut for the hotter, non-Quad Giulia, although the fact that the new engine is already in the Mopar service system might mean that the car could bow earlier. Given the impending arrival of a Giulia coupe, we’d expect the new motor to help the Italian go toe to toe with Audi’s S4 and S5. We’ve also reached out to Alfa Romeo HQ in Italy and will update if further clarification arrives.

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