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Weekly Recap: The divergent paths of Tesla and Fisker

08/02/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Tech, Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Jaguar, Mercedes Benz, Fisker, Tesla, Electric

Fisker Automotive

There's no doubt that Tesla is downshifting while Fisker has been grinding its gears. But it wasn't always that way.

In the wake of Tesla's recent success, it's easy to forget that there were once two California electric carmakers with bright futures.

Remember Fisker Automotive?

Both companies were back in the news this week. Tesla confirmed it will team with Panasonic to build a battery factory, and Fisker won approval of its bankruptcy plan to pay creditors and allow it to have a fresh start with Chinese investors, Wanxiang Group.

There's no doubt that Tesla is downshifting while Fisker has been grinding its gears. But it wasn't always that way.

Five years ago, many observers thought Fisker had just as much potential to make a go of it as Tesla. Elon Musk was still known as the SpaceX and PayPal guy who supposedly knew nothing about cars. Fisker, meanwhile, was founded and led by Henrik Fisker, an industry celebrity who designed sexy sports cars like the Aston Martin DB9 and the BMW Z8.

Separated by about six hours of California highway, Tesla and Fisker were billed as the new wave of American manufacturing, two electric carmakers that could do what the Rust Belt-anchored Detroit Three could not. Their rivalry became so heated, Tesla even sued Fisker in 2008 alleging theft of technology, with Fisker emerging as the nominal victor, netting $1.1 million in court fees from Tesla.

As recently as 2012, Tesla only had one car, the Roadster, which was built on a Lotus chassis with an electric-powered motor in place of a traditional engine. It was the definition of a niche product. That year, however, Tesla followed up with another car, the Model S. With an all-electric range of 265 miles and the capability to sprint to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, the Model S was a runaway hit. It had the size and power of a BMW 5-Series, and it didn't burn a drop of fuel.

Continue reading Weekly Recap: The divergent paths of Tesla and Fisker

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Edmunds' long-term Tesla Model S has been wonderful, woeful

08/01/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Maintenance, Hatchbacks, Tesla, Electric

Tesla Model S

We generally don't report on other outlets' long-term model tests, but Edmunds just completed a 17-month ownership experience with a 2013 Tesla Model S. It's just too interesting not to share.

The site bought a 2013 Model S Performance model for the added range of its 85-kilowatt-hour battery and tossed on a good variety of options for a total price of $105,005, including a wall charger. In terms of driving the electric hatchback, the folks there seemed to love it. There were a few minor gripes, but for the most part it offered sufficient driving range, plenty of space and generally good quality.

However, the ownership experience was hardly flawless. The journalists there were never quite able to hit the Model S' promised range of 265 miles, with a best real-world result of 230.4 miles during their ownership. Also, while they had it, the Model S had a rash of unscheduled trips for service - seven times - and their Tesla left them stranded by the side of the road once.

These weren't just some minor quibbles, either. The drive unit was replaced three times and the main battery once. That massive center info screen had to be manually reset nine times and was completely replaced once, as well. Edmunds writers forgave some of the faults, though. Their Tesla was an early production model, and some of the fixes were a result of technical service bulletins. They never had to pay for any of it, other than buying a new set of tires.

While this is all anecdotal evidence based on just a single Model S, it doesn't make the Model S sound like an easy car to live with all the time. You can get the full skinny on the love/loathe affair directly from Edmunds by clicking here.

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Infiniti to get Leaf-based electric sedan after all

08/01/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sedans/Saloons, Crossovers/CUVs, Hatchbacks, Infiniti, Electric, Luxury

Infiniti LE

Infiniti suffered a huge blow a few weeks ago when CEO Johan de Nysschen jumped ship after two years on the job to take the helm at Cadillac. As boss, he spearheaded change within the Japanese luxury brand and was among the biggest champions of the Q50 Eau Rouge. However, the company is far from sunk. Plans put in place prior to de Nysschen leaving are still on the table, according to Nissan product planner Andy Palmer to Automotive News, and that could mean a rosy future for the once AWOL LE sedan (pictured above) and other models.

Back in 2012, Infiniti promised that it would have the LE on the market as a premium electric sedan by 2014. It was supposed to share the battery pack with the Nissan Leaf but with a more powerful, 134-horsepower motor. But have you seen one on the road recently? The luxury EV was eventually shelved, but de Nysschen pledged the idea wasn't dead. Maybe now is a better time for it. According to Automotive News, the LE is rescheduled to launch in 2017 or 2018. The latest version would use the Leaf platform but with a more potent, next-gen battery to give it a range over 90 miles.

Of course, the LE isn't the only thing on the way from Infiniti; it also appears to be planning a two-pronged approach for small cars. Palmer recently tweeted that the company would build the forthcoming Q30 hatchback and QX30 crossover in the UK in 2015. Additionally, the automaker is firing up a new joint venture factory in Mexico with Mercedes-Benz; building compact models there starting in 2017. According Automotive News, the Mexican-built models will be more US-focused while the UK-built ones will appeal more to Europeans.

Finally, it looks like de Nysschen's plan for a flagship Infiniti sedan may still see the road too around 2018. It will be called either the Q80 or Q90 and use four-door coupe styling with a turbocharged V6 boasting about 600 horsepower, according to AN. For a guy who is no longer with the company, he appears to still be casting a long shadow over its future products.

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Autoblog editors come clean about their controversial automotive beliefs

08/01/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Etc., Dodge, Mazda, SMART, Subaru, Toyota, Electric, Diesel

thumb down

We all have controversial opinions. Be it whether you think the Nissan Juke is actually pretty attractive, manual transmissions aren't always better, or you honestly didn't hate the Pontiac Aztek, we all harbor some persuasion, be it big or small, for which we catch copious flak upon expression.

In recognizing that all of us here at Autoblog harbor at least one viewpoint that stubbornly goes against the grain of popular opinion among auto enthusiasts, we've decided to come clean with them right here, proudly speaking our minds in a mature, structured manner - a striking contrast to how these things tend to come up while debated in the office.

We'd also like to invite you to share your unpopular and controversial opinions with us and the Autoblog faithful down in Comments. Don't be ashamed - this is a safe place.

Continue reading Autoblog editors come clean about their controversial automotive beliefs

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What you missed on 7.30.14

07/31/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Time Warp, Coupes, Hybrids/Alternative, Sedans/Saloons, Sports/GTs, Trucks/Pickups, Auctions, Chevrolet, Nissan, Rumormill, Electric, Diesel

Daily U-Turn

Nissan Frontier diesel muleNissan lets us sample a diesel Frontier prototype

Hey. You. Yeah, you. Do you think Nissan should build a midsize pickup truck with a diesel engine? Yeah, so do we. And we just got the chance to drive just such a beast, though it's anything but a production model at this point. This particular example is fitted with a 2.8-liter four-cylinder from Cummins, and it puts out 200 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, enabling it to tow as much as 7,000 pounds.

2016 Chevy Volt spy shot2016 Chevy Volt coming soon to an auto show near you... probably

There sure is a lot we don't know about the next generation of Chevy's extended-range electric vehicle. What we do know, though, is that it ought to be making its auto show debut sometime soon. How soon? Likely either Los Angeles later this year or else Detroit, Chicago or New York in early 2015, according to an anonymous source.

Blood muscle auctionBlood Muscle auction? Sounds terrible, looks awesome

It's nicknamed the Blood Muscle auction because the cars, which will be sold each to the highest bidders on September 12, were attained by the president of a blood-testing company who is now incarcerated for alleged bribery. There's a Boss Mustang, a trio of Yenko Chevrolets and our personal favorite, a Plymouth Superbird, among others, up for bidding.

Top Stories

  • Parents of terminally ill child sue after son dies following make-a-wish-style ride
  • Jaguar shows the face of its upcoming XE S sports sedan
  • New drifting world record set in Toyota GT86
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Icon Helios streamliner with Tesla bones is a dream from which we don't want to wake

07/31/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Concept Cars, Time Warp, Coupes, Tesla, Design/Style, Electric

Icon Helios Streamliner

Icon Helios StreamlinerWhen it comes to truly, genuinely interesting automotive design and craftsmanship, Icon is one of the finest outfits in the game. We've covered the company and its founder, Jonathan Ward, in the past, and have remarked on just how fully and intricately done the automotive art it turns out is. The company's next big thing, though, is a far cry from the modified Land Rovers and Chevy Thriftmaster pickups.

The sketches you see above are of the Helios, Icon's latest mad creation. While still remarkably early in the planning phases, it's safe to say that the streamlined, Art Deco-inspired, boat-tailed (every vehicle should be boat-tailed) coupe is the company's single most ambitious vehicle yet.

"Although almost all of our projects thus far have been recreations inspired by vintage vehicles, I am fascinated about the concept of revisiting history in our own way," Ward told Jalopnik staffer and former Autoblog editor Damon Lavrinc. "The most interesting way to do this is by celebrating a particular era of design, or design language."

Technically speaking, the era that Ward is referring to never existed.

It's a world where there was no Black Friday, or Great Depression or second world war. Instead, man's fascination with aircraft and aerodynamics soldiered on untarnished by war and poverty, translating to four-wheeled creations so extreme they'd make the radical, rocket-inspired designs of the 1950s blush.

It is a stunning concept as a simple vehicle - you could drop this onto a Honda Civic platform and it'd still be a marvel. But it's Ward's plan for a powertrain that ups the already ample dose of outlandishness inherent in the Helios.

"In keeping with the founding premise at ICON, of fusing vintage design with the best modern drive experience and technology, I can think of no better platform to build this on, than the Tesla," Ward told Jalopnik.

In particular, Ward is targeting the upcoming Model X.

"I want to take the new Model X platform - so selectable AWD, 380-mile range, pure electric - and fuse it with this lost language," Ward said, adding that he's actively trying to score a meeting with Tesla founder Elon Musk and that he "will move mountains to figure out how to get [it] built."

Here's hoping that he can make that happen, because the automotive world sorely needs something this wild, this extreme and this utterly, utterly breathtaking.

You can expand the images above or head over to Jalopnik for a closer look at the Helios. After that, be sure to visit the Comments. We really want to hear from you on this one.

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Audi readying diesel PHEV models for US and Europe

07/30/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Hybrids/Alternative, Tech, Crossovers/CUVs, Audi, Electric, Diesel

Audi Q7: Spy Shots

With the racing pedigree provided by the Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the German king of Le Mans is capitalizing on the connection between its road cars and race cars at every opportunity. Maybe there's an entire range of Le Mans Editions for the automakers diesel-hybrid offerings, with perhaps Tom Kristensen acting as the brand's spokesperson for the technology in Europe. You'd be wrong, though, because despite the R18's overwhelming successes in endurance racing, Audi the road-car manufacturer doesn't offer a single diesel-hybrid production car.

This factoid will hopefully be as short lived as it is disappointing, though, as a diesel-electric is around the corner, according to the brand's tech boss, Ulrich Hackenberg. In fact, it gets better than a mere diesel-hybrid; it will be a plug-in diesel-hybrid, only the second to hit the market, alongside the European-market Volvo V60.

According to Hackenberg, the new tech will be the result of a marriage between the brand's well-received 3.0-liter, TDI V6 with an electric motor. The next-generation Audi Q7 (shown above) will be the initial recipient, confirming previous reports that claimed a PHEV TDI could come to the next-gen CUV. Its MLB architecture, meanwhile, would allow the plug-in-hybrid-diesel powertrain to be fitted easily enough to the A8 luxury sedan. While the new Q7 should hit the market at some point in 2015, it's unclear when the PHEV TDI model could see the light of day.

Still, it's a combination that Hackenberg seems bullish on, and based on his comments, it's a virtual certainty that it'll arrive in some capacity in the US market.

"The hybrid will be another argument to go for diesel in the US," Hackenberg told Automotive News Europe. "We have the combination of low CO2 emissions, necessary to meet market demand and regulations, and we have the diesel which gives a lot torque, which is very necessary for driveability."

"In the USA if you look to sportiness it is very important to be quick away from the traffic lights. In combination with the electric engine, a diesel hybrid delivers very good torque from the start," he added. We'd wholeheartedly agree.

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In China, Tesla Model S is missing one basic feature

07/26/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: China, Tesla, Electric

Tesla Model S Nav Screen

There were questions about the nav system in the Tesla Model S when the vehicle launched in the US, and there are still people who don't like it. But here's the thing: the US version at least has a nav system. With the luxury electric vehicle now available in China, drivers are discovering that the car is shipping without a working navigation system at all.

As China EV blogger Alysha Webb reports, Tesla's explanation for the lack of a nav system is that "Google maps are not supported." At least the company is working on an alternative map database for the land where Google doesn't work right. We've confirmed with Tesla PR in the US that Webb's report contains an official Tesla response, which includes the following:

Currently there isn't a navigation system in Chinese Model S as Google maps are not supported in the country. However, teams are currently working on a solution with Chinese text and voice recognition. We plan to introduce navigation to Chinese cars later this year (as already communicated to our customers). Once it's available, maps will be pushed to customers' vehicles through software updates.

One interesting quirk is that Tesla can't yet push the updated map to everyone over the air, since, "remote over-the-air software updates are not yet supported in Chinese Model S." Instead, Tesla will have to rely on its backend system to update the EV to what most American customers would consider standard equipment in a car in this price range. You can read the whole thing here.
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Nissan: We lose money on each Leaf replacement battery

07/25/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Nissan, Electric

nissan leaf

Nissan has been playing its cards pretty close to its chest when it comes to the production costs for Leaf battery packs. The company recently put a price on replacement batteries for customers at $5,500 plus the requirement to return the old battery. If the decommissioned battery is worth $1,000 to Nissan, as they have stated, that means the battery costs about $6,500 to make, right? Maybe even less if Nissan wants to turn a profit, as automakers are wont to do? Wrong.

Green Car Reports spoke to Nissan about these battery costs, and found that the automaker actually loses money on selling the replacement battery for the Leaf at the current price. Jeff Kuhlman, Nissan's vice president of global communications said, "Nissan makes zero margin on the replacement program. In fact, we subvent every exchange." All you English majors will know that "subvent" is a fancy way to say "subsidize." Kuhlman added, though, "We have yet to sell one battery as part of the program."

The fact that Nissan offers its replacement batteries for less than it costs to manufacture them is telling of a company both cares about what its customer needs and is dedicated to the success of its product. In this case, both of those things encourage people to give up fossil fuels and adopt electric mobility, which is heartening. As more people switch to battery-powered driving, though, battery technology should become better and cheaper, and the scale of production should cause manufacturing costs to decrease. Eventually, Nissan could easily see itself breaking even selling the Leaf battery replacements.

Nissan Leaf replacement battery is covered under the same eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty as the battery in a new car.

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Tesla halts production to prep for Model X

07/22/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sedans/Saloons, Plants/Manufacturing, Crossovers/CUVs, Tesla, Electric

Tesla Model X

That darling of the electric car world, Tesla, is idling production at its factory in Fremont, CA, for the first time in order to expand the factory in preparation for its future Model X crossover. The $100-million renovation will add 25 robots and upgrades to the body shop and assembly line to support the new vehicle.

Since it will be offering two models simultaneously, Tesla will need to be able to keep up with the pace of demand. "This represents the single biggest investment in the plant since we really started operations and enables us for higher volumes," said Tesla spokesperson Simon Sproule to Bloomberg. The new robots will be able to boost production by 25 percent and will allow the automaker to build the Model S and Model X on the same assembly line. There won't be too much downtime at the California plant, though. The upgrades will be finished within the next two weeks.

With these factory updates, the Model X may finally get its electrically powered wheels on the road. The CUV has been delayed multiple times since its announcement. It was originally supposed to be on sale in early 2014, then later in the year, but now the latest news from Elon Musk places the crossover's launch in the second quarter of 2015.

Until the Model X is on sale, the renovations should also provide a nice lift in Model S assembly. In the company's first quarter financial report, Tesla said that it expected the sedan's production rate to grow from about 700 cars per week to 1,000 per week by the end of the year, with the expectation of selling a total of 35,000 of them in 2014. That should help quell demand in new markets like the UK and expansion in Europe.

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