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+++ A small UK-based study has found programming a satellite navigation app to be more DISTRACTING for drivers than texting. Undertaken by UK road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) RoadSmart, the experiment focussed on determining which common ‘behind-the-wheel distractions’ have the most potential for disaster. To find out, 2 drivers were put behind the wheel of a professional racing simulator and given lap-time and braking challenges, while being faced with several potentially dangerous distractions, including entering a postcode into a satellite navigation app, sending a text message, making a phone call, eating, drinking, and talking to a passenger. From significant speed reductions to completely missed braking markers, the results found entering a postcode into a sat-nav to be the most distracting and potentially dangerous distraction, followed by sending a text message. Tasked with monitoring the results, IAM RoadSmart head of technical policy Tim Shallcross said both subjects experienced a level of distraction that would have made them “a menace to other road users” and unable to take emergency evasive action in the event of “a sudden incident. Those warning screens about not entering details on the move are there for a reason; don’t ignore them”, Shallcross said. Talking to a passenger proved the least distracting for completing lap times, however it still had a significantly negative impact on braking outcomes. “It was the least distracting of all in terms of lap times, but interestingly, both drivers failed to brake accurately at the target line”, Shallcross said. “Their ability to drive normally confirms the difference between the extra distraction of a phone conversation and the natural act of talking to a passenger, but still shows that any distraction reduces attention, and in an emergency, it might be critical”. +++

+++ HOLDEN has dropped 3 of its Opel sourced models, the Insignia OPC, Astra GTC and the Cascada. The trio have disappeared from the brand’s public website ahead of the arrival of the Insignia’s replacement, which will wear the Commodore badge when it goes on sale in 2018. A Holden spokesman said the decision was part of a refresh of the range and focus on newer models. The Insignia OPC was originally launched in Australia in 2013 as part of the short-lived attempt to have Opel as a stand-alone brand. But it was re-launched as a Holden in 2015 as an alternative sports sedan to the locally-made Commodore SS. In recent weeks the replacement for the OPC has been spied testing in Europe. The performance flagship has been spotted wearing new, wider bodywork and lower suspension. But what’s under the bonnet remains a mystery with the European Insignia not currently offering the 3.6-litre V6 that will power the top of the range Commodore. The Astra three-door is based on the superseded model and no replacement has been announced by Holden or European brand Opel. However, if one became available the Holden spokesman said the local arm would consider adding it to the range. But as the 3-door hatch departs, the brand is getting ready to add the new Astra Sedan by the end of June. The Cascada convertible has also been dropped due to its age. The drop-top never sold in great numbers but was added as a brand building niche model. +++

+++ LAND ROVER is looking to spice up your upcoming Range Rover with some military tech: a recent patent talks about a multi-mode central tire inflation system that adjusts pressure based on encountered conditions. Land Rover has snatched a patent for a central tire inflation system that could make off-road journeys much easier, and might even enhance fuel efficiency. Central tire inflation systems are common on military vehicles and off-road transporters; Land Rover takes the idea on the high-tech road by having the system automatically inflate or deflate the tires to specific pressures depending on the driving mode, based on sensor data or at the driver’s request. Land Rover’s patent illustrations show on-road, economy, off-road, and recovery modes for this system, each with specific tire pressure levels. The economy setting would see more pressure for improved fuel efficiency while cruising but when heading off-road, the system would first the legal minimum for use on the street, when speeds drops even further the pressure does too, and if the vehicle gets stuck the system would release even more air to increase the surface contact area. With Land Rover’s iconic legacy in terms of off-road prowess, this system would be a natural way to enhance its prowess, especially on flagship models such as the Range Rover series. +++

+++ Vehicle manufacturers are demanding an increased number of ‘bespoke’ tyre designs for original equipment fitment, particularly at the premium end of the market, according to a MICHELIN executive who revealed that the French brand has separate testing teams to work with each car-maker. Asked whether there was increased demand from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for a unique tyre to complement the performance characteristics of their car, Michelin engineering support and operational marketing manager Charles Donohue replied “yes”. “Less than one per cent of the time do we take a tyre off the shelf and it works for them (new vehicle manufacturers)”, Donohue told at the international media launch of the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S in Abu Dhabi last week. “What happens when we tune a tyre and get that approval for original equipment, there will be this discussion and testing between Michelin and the vehicle manufacturer to actually define the final specification of the tyre. In the Michelin world, we have teams of test drivers, but each of the vehicle manufacturers have different orientations. Our test drivers become dedicated to either one or a couple of brands, because they want to become in tune with the customer expectations. So we’ll test on our side, the test driver who is assigned to that manufacturer will develop what he knows works for that manufacturer, so when it comes to a joint test for that manufacturer, hopefully we have an agreement on what the final definition of that tyre is”. Donohue said “customer expectations” varied considerably between new-vehicle manufacturers, leading Michelin to ensure specific engineering teams targeted tyre characteristics suitable for a particular car or SUV. “A Porsche Panamera for example, a big and heavy car, Cayenne, a big and heavy car, the weight balance is pretty easy and you don’t get too much unpredictable handling in this type of car”, he said. “So you see a lot of Michelin fitments on Panamera and Cayenne. Where we have some difficulties with Porsche is on their 911. It’s not because their product is not good enough, but this is about the weight balance, you’ve got the engine at the back and drive coming from the back as well, if this customer goes to the circuit and turns off traction and stability control, when you start to oversteer there is not a big margin for error before you spin. So what Porsche wants to do is not scare their customers and have that progressive handling at the limit. The tyre starts telling them ‘hey, we’re sliding’. If you take a tyre with a higher level of grip, that progressiveness becomes a sharper drop-off. On the limit, we’re sliding the car and we’re spinning. It’s just one of the aspects that Porsche try to tune, is the on-limit handling, how the tyre responds going over the limit then coming back within the limit”. Donohue also said there was increased competition among tyre brands for business from car-makers, and this formed a significant part of the development process and target of Michelin’s first new high-performance tyre in seven years, the Pilot Sport 4S replacement for 2010’s Pilot Super Sport. “We’re currently working with eight different manufacturers on 60 different OE opportunities so we hopefully can have a similar success with the Pilot Super Sport in generating that original equipment business”, he said. “When we’re developing a tyre we’re sometimes out of sync with vehicle manufacturers and when they’re bringing in a new tyre or a new car to market at least. So sometimes we have what we call co-development. We’re developing a tyre, and you might find Mercedes or Ferrari are developing a car, so you can bring your tyre to the market at the same time as they are introducing their car. We are able to announce three-and-a-half original equipment fitments (for Pilot Sport 4S): the Ferrari GTC4, the two AMG E-Class E43 and E63; now the reason I say half is we’re going to announce the next one in a couple of weeks. “Some of these vehicles you can imagine, a very high level of performance, and if you look at power outputs, real performance cars and they need a tyre to match to exploit the performance of the car”. +++

+++ They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. That’s what Harvey Payne did with his Chevrolet Bolt ( OPEL Ampera-e). Ever since he bought it, it had been experiencing a number of issues and had to be constantly brought to the shop. Hailing from California, Payne did what few people would probably do and that is ask the automaker for a buyback. In order to drive his point home, he made a 20-minute video revealing what has been happening and posted it on video-sharing site YouTube. According to him, he had just recently received the Bolt from delivery when it started showing the “service vehicle soon” light. He immediately took it to his local Chevrolet dealer and not surprisingly, said light went away. Since the dealership was unable to reproduce this particular issue, it returned the vehicle to Payne. After that the light returned and it was not alone. Other problems started cropping up. For example it went into reduced propulsion mode and even activated an initializing mode during startup. The vehicle also showed that all of the four tires did not contain air and of course, the “service vehicle soon” kept coming back. Ultimately the vehicle broke down with Payne forced to have it towed. Because of all this, Payne asked General Motors for a buyback saying it was justified under Lemon laws. While these laws differ by state, they typically allow “voluntary”, or even “forced,” buyback of cars experiencing problems. The catch is that a certain amount of attempts to fix the problem had to be unsuccessful. Failing that, customers can always file a lawsuit and take the company to court. In order to avoid the second option, most automakers will often agree on the buyback choice. In the case of Payne, it was days after he had contacted GM when he finally got an answer that the company would do just that. Payne, now with his new Bolt, thanked both the manufacturer and the dealer for handling this particular issue in an “awesome” manner. And sure enough, just a couple of days after contacting the automaker, the video uploader and owner of the problematic Bolt said GM would do just that. According to Payne, the manufacturer and his local dealer were “awesome” in handling the situation, and he’s currently enjoying life with his second new Bolt. The Chevrolet Bolt is a subcompact vehicle that is powered solely with electricity. Marketed in Europe as the Opel Ampera-e, this vehicle went into production last November 2016. Since then it has won a number of awards like the 2017 North American Car of the Year and the 2017 Motor Trend Car of the Year award. It was also the Green Car Reports Best Car To Buy 2017 and the AutoGuide.com Reader’s Choice 2017 Green Car of the Year. +++

+++ Self-driving TESLA cars will be able to go between Los Angeles and New York City by the end of this year, chief executive Elon Musk said. Musk spoke on a number of topics, including the status of driverless cars and his new project, The Boring Co., which aims to create a network of tunnels that would lay the foundation for a series of underground roadways for cars. Presumably, drivers will still be required for that cross-country drive, but the ability to sit back and relax will arrive shortly: Musk also said a concept of a truck is expected to be unveiled in September. Meanwhile, Tesla, the only publicly traded company that Musk leads, is days away from reporting first-quarter results. The company’s shares ended at a record high close. Tesla has hit a string of record highs this month ahead of its quarterly results and hopes the Model 3, the linchpin of the company’s expansion plans, is on track to sell by the end of the year. +++

+++ TOYOTA disclosed that it will be bringing 2 of its Mirai fuel cell vehicles to China by October of this year. Tests will then be conducted on these FCVs in order to determine how they perform under China’s environment. The brand will also study the quality of hydrogen in China and conduct other durability and quality tests. While this may be the first in China, the Mirai has been tested in different countries like Australia, U.K., the U.S., and even Scandinavia. The testing to be done is China is under the project titled “Accelerating the Development and Commercialization of Fuel Cell Vehicles in China” and will begin on 2017 and end by 2020. In addition to the tests being conducted, the brand will also conduct promotional activities in order to determine how customers in this country react to the Mirai. An example of such an activity includes, but not limited to, putting the Mirai up for exhibit during domestic events. Toyota says that the main objective of these events is to make consumers know more about FCVs. At the same time as the tests, Toyota revealed that it will be setting up a hydrogen station at Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing China. Located in the Jiangsu Province in China, this is the site of Toyota’s research and development. Currently there are 5 hydrogen stations in the country but are mainly positioned in metropolitan areas like Guangzhou, Shanghai, and of course, Beijing. For the one that Toyota is planning to build, it will be the first such facility to be put up in Changshu. To ensure the success of this project, Toyota says it will need to partner with the Chinese government as well as other local business and private organizations with the auto industry. These collaborations will help Toyota determine the advantages of having a hydrogen-based society. Toyota has been known for years now to take the lead when it comes to developing environment-friendly vehicles like electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, hybrid cars, and FCVs. It does so in a way that the brand is able to fully utilize the benefits offered by the different systems. Choosing the Mirai for tests is rather a no-brainer as Toyota believes this is the ultimate eco-car. Performance is truly exceptional especially with no CO2 emissions. Even then it has the convenience that is generally experienced in gas-powered version especially when it comes to cruising range and refilling time. Officially unveiled during the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, Toyota estimates that between December 2014 and February 2017, 3,000 units have been sold across different countries like those in Europe, the U.S., and Japan. Its largest market is currently Japan with 1,500 units sold followed by the U.S. at 1,200 units. +++

+++ UNITED STATES car sales may be slowing, but the profit engines of Detroit’s Big Three auto makers are still in high gear. General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles all beat Wall Street’s expectations last week when they reported first-quarter earnings, mostly because of strength in the North American market. All three kept their full-year earnings forecasts intact, a signal they don’t expect the wheels to fall off. That comes despite clear signs overall demand for passenger vehicles is weakening. April is expected to mark the fourth straight monthly decline in U.S. vehicle sales when the industry reports volumes on Tuesday, raising the likelihood that 2017 will end a seven-year run of increases. Industry observers say they don’t expect a collapse in sales, even if demand drifts below record levels hit last year. “Total sales are still strong from a historical perspective and the decline is very gradual”, said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at Edmunds, an auto-research firm. “It shouldn’t really be seen as alarming”. Auto makers say they’ll stay disciplined and trim production levels to reflect weaker demand instead of cutting prices to keep their factories humming. General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler are in a relatively stronger position than some of their foreign-based rivals because they rely less on sales of sedans, which are in free fall as buyers switch to crossover wagons, SUVs and pick-up trucks. U.S. brands specialize in those vehicles, which tend to offer high profit margins. “The industry shift that we’re seeing around the world from cars and into SUVs plays to our strengths”, said Mark Fields, Ford’s chief executive officer, on a conference call with analysts. The shift toward light trucks (a category that includes pickups, SUVs and crossovers) is helping auto makers keep prices high overall, even as they dole out bigger discounts on cars. In recent months, light trucks have accounted for more than 60% of total sales volume. J.D. Power, a market-data provider, says the average price paid by buyers from the start of the year through mid-April was a record $31,380. While all three Detroit auto makers posted profits that surpassed Wall Street analysts’ expectations in the first quarter, Ford’s earnings dropped by more than a third compared to the same period last year, when it debuted the latest iteration of its F-150 truck model. Detroit auto makers’ growing exposure to those more expensive and typically less fuel-efficient cars and trucks could prove disastrous if consumers become more sensitive to gas-pump and sticker prices. For 2 years now, auto-industry insiders have been girding for the end of an unusually long upward sales cycle, which began in 2010 as the U.S. was emerging from the Great Recession. Tame gas prices, cheap credit and pent-up demand from consumers who put off car purchases in the bad times have converged to fuel the run. Clouds have started to appear on the horizon, including rising discounts, cratering used-car prices and overflowing dealership lots. Concern spread when March sales dipped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 16.6 million, the slowest in 2 years. “The competitive intensity is increasing”, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said on a call with analysts. Marchionne said he is watching North American inventory levels “like a hawk”, but that he doesn’t expect spending on sales incentives to spark a price war like the one hat started in 2007 and sent the industry into a tailspin. “We’ve all collectively developed enough sense now not to cause repetition of the problem that we saw a decade ago”, he said. Concern about rising spending by auto makers to maintain sales growth may be overblown, Barclays Capital said in a recent research note. Industry incentives as a percentage of average transaction prices came to 11.2% in the first half of April, the lowest level since June, the brokerage said. “A big driver of the improvement is General Motors, which is pulling back on incentives despite elevated inventories”, it said. In recent months, market watchers have pointed to GM’s inventory as among the most visible signs of trouble. The nation’s largest auto maker ended March with a 98-day supply of vehicles, versus 71 days a year earlier. GM finance chief Chuck Stevens told analysts the company built up stocks of some SUV models ahead of scheduled down time at several factories this summer and fall, and said inventory will return to normal later in the year. He said that even with more discounts, price levels remain healthy. “It’s not like we’re sitting and waiting for a downturn”, Stevens said. “Day to day, we’re very focused on acting like we’re in a downturn” by cutting costs and trimming vehicle production to meet demand, he said. +++

+++ VOLVO is gearing up to launch its all-important XC60 before the expected launch of an all-new 40-series model at the end of the year. The all-new models are part of the company’s massive new-model rollout that kicked off with the XC90 seven-seat SUV nearly 2 years ago. The second-generation XC60, revealed at this year’s Geneva motor show, will be the fourth model spun off Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). It follows the big XC90 from 2015, the S90 large sedan that was launched in October, 2016 and the related V90 (Cross Country) that has quietly gone on sale. The XC60 has been the Swedish car-maker’s top seller. As previously reported, the model onslaught will see all existing models replaced, as well as new model lines added to the roster, by the end of this decade. While the S60/V60 mid–size sedan and wagon twins are the most likely candidates to be replaced next given they went on sale in 2010, it appears that the new compact 40-series models are next in line. Volvo previewed its suit of new-generation 40-series models with the Concept 40.1 and 40.2 in May last year, revealing the expected design of a future crossover (likely dubbed XC40) and a small Audi A3-rivaling Sedan respectively. Volvo confirmed that the first 40-series model, which will eventually replace the existing V40 and V40 Cross Country, will beat the next-generation S/V60 to market and it could be in the showrooms as early as the first quarter of 2018. “The S60 and V60 current series is an ongoing production. We will make comment on new model introductions closer to the dates of start of production. The first new 40 series car is expected to go into production in 2017 and, depending on exact timing, we will see the first 40 series vehicle in the showrooms a couple of months later”. While the next S/V60 will, like the XC60, S/V90 and XC90, be based on the SPA underpinnings, the 40-series (which is also expected to include a third hatchback body style) will be produced using the new Compact Modular Architecture (CMA). This platform will also form the basis of models from Volvo’s Chinese parent company, Geely, as well as the recently announced models from its youth-focused brand, Lynk & Co. +++

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