Newsflash: Mazda werkt aan waterstof wankelmotor

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+++ As the shift from fuel to electric continues to grow ever stronger in the automobile industry, internal combustion engines as well as the craftspeople behind them, seem to be heading towards an inevitable fate of becoming obsolete. When electric cars hit the road in the late 90s and early 00s, not many took them seriously. Fast forward to 2021, and most major car manufacturers have already made self-imposed extinction events of internal combustion engines from their lineup in as little as 10-20 years from now, leaving many wondering what lies in the future behind the workforce that puts them together. JAPAN , one of the world’s leading auto manufacturing nations, is already facing a job redundancy issue. Honda had announced in June that it would be shutting down its powertrain factory in Moka by 2025 as part of its commitment towards an electric future, meaning that around 900 of its employees will be relocated to other sites. The company has claimed that its lineup of vehicles will be completely electric or hydrogen-powered by as soon as 2040, and its new initiative to offer early retirement to employees over the age of 55 starting this spring could be indicative of a need to reduce the workforce. According to industry experts, it takes half as many parts to build an electric motor as it does to build an internal combustion engine, most of which have as many as 30.000 parts. And this simple factor affects the entire ball game. For the longest of times, large-scale auto manufacturers used production expertise to dominate the top of the industrial pyramid with suppliers filling the lower layers, but that could be changing quickly. Electric vehicles with their motors and invertors, along with a few other components, are far less complicated to build. This opens the door for new entrants, who have the advantage of focusing on design and software while the actual production can be outsourced to third party contractors. One company that has already got their eyes on the price is Hon Hai Precision Industry, the Taiwanese electronic manufacturer known as Foxconn. The company is famous for its assembly of global products like the iPhone, PlayStation, and Xbox. Foxconn aims to provide an entry point for new businesses to cater to their target clientele without the financial burden of building factories, and they’ve already signed a deal with Stellantis.
Back in Europe, Germany is already facing job redundancy issues, as they lead a charge to EV transition. The Ifo Institute for Economic Research headquartered in Munich conducted a survey concluding that as many as 215.000 jobs will be influenced by the transition. 2019 saw well over 600.000 jobs make up or relate to the production of internal combustion engines. That’s 40 % of the workforce. There’s another concern too. It might be worth noting that the everyday household will end up having to rethink budgets as well. Prices of raw materials like lithium carbonate and copper have skyrocketed since automakers ramped up EV production, they are likely to end up bumping up the prices of household products, most of which use the same materials for their manufacturing purposes. +++

+++ KIA had only just refreshed its Stinger sports sedan for 2022 when I heard that the entire model line would be dead by next spring. Despite being launched to critical acclaim in 2017, the Stinger never shifted the volumes Kia had hoped for. Thus it has one year to live, after which its production line will be modified to build the Carnival Hybrid minivan. Mind you, right now that’s just a rumor. I contacted the automaker and this is their reply: “As far as Stinger, Kia has nothing to announce at this time, however, the Stinger is an important component of the Kia brand and remains a halo vehicle in the lineup”.The Stinger was, and is, a solid product: good looking, well equipped, and, especially in V6 guise, fun to drive, if a little on the porky side. But that wasn’t enough. The Stinger’s problem is that most people would rather have a SUV than a sedan and many of those keeping the faith in ‘low’ vehicles would rather theirs came with a prestige German badge than a Korean one, still shrugging off the last remnants of its budget beginnings. But the Kia Stinger is far from the only car that found it harder to win over potential customers than journalists. Other examples are: the McLaren F1, the Honda NSX and the Dodge Viper.+++

+++ MAZDA ‘s pledge to release more electric vehicles might not signal the end of its celebrated rotary engine. The firm is developing a hydrogen-burning Wankel that could be used to power a successor to the RX-8. Mazda has never fully stopped developing the rotary engine. It significantly scaled back the program after production of the RX-8 ended in 2012, but reports circulated and even patents for rotary tech appeared in the intervening years. It expanded it again in the late 2010s to design a range extender for the MX-30 electric crossover. The development team’s focus has now shifted to making a Wankel that’s capable of burning hydrogen. Details such as horsepower, torque, and the number of rotors haven’t been released yet, likely because the engine is still at the embryonic stage of development, but it’s a solution that presents several technical advantages. One of hydrogen’s weak points is that it tends to ignite at heat spots inside the cylinders. There are no heat spots in a Wankel engine, because it uses rotors rather than pistons, so it’s well suited to burning hydrogen. Igniting hydrogen is uncommon; most of the carmakers who dabble in the technology use the fuel to generate electricity, which then zaps one or more electric motors into motion. It’s not unprecedented, however. Mazda tested and even leased experimental RX-8s whose engines could run on either gasoline or hydrogen in the 2000s, though the system took up the entire trunk and weighed nearly 200 pounds. The engine was even used in some test Mazda5 minivans. More recently, Toyota (which is working with Mazda on several projects) built a Corolla endurance race car powered by a turbocharged 3-cylinder that burned hydrogen. There’s no word yet on what the new rotary would power. One possibility is the RX-Vision concept-like coupe that appeared in trademark filings in August 2021. It could arrive as a hybrid with a pair of in-wheel electric motors. If it looks anything like the 2015 concept, fans would undoubtedly welcome it as the RX-8’s heir. “If we decide to do it, the prototype will be completed within 3 years. The most likely system is one that combines an electric turbo”, an anonymous Mazda official told. Making a prototype is relatively easy; making a business case that holds water is much more difficult. Ultimately, whether the project receives the green light for production depends on how much development will cost and whether enough people will buy the car. Mazda hasn’t commented on the report, and its future plans for the rotary engine are murky at best. There were some reports that said the range extender might have been frozen, but reports since have said that they’re continuing unabated. +++

+++ General Motors has informed some Chevrolet Bolt ( OPEL Ampera-e) owners that it will replace all the modules in their batteries with new ones. This is the latest step the automaker has taken to address issues in some Bolt models that make their batteries more likely to catch fire. GM has recalled the Bolt twice in a little over a year before this, and after over a dozen incidents wherein the vehicle went up in flames due to battery-related issues. GM recalled over 68.000 Bolt cars back in November and rolled out a firmware update to limit their charging capacity to 90 percent. In July, the National Highway Traffic Administration issued a safety alert in July advising owners of a 2017 to 2019 Chevrolet Bolt not to park their cars indoors or leave them charging overnight. That warning came after 2 Bolt cars caught fire in the U.S. Finally, in April, the automaker released what was supposed to be the final software fix for the issue. Clearly, that wasn’t able to completely solve the problem and GM had to find another solution. Electrek says GM has informed some owners that they’ll be able to start booking appointments on August 23 to have all the modules in their batteries replaced. Owners who go through with the replacement will also get a new 8-year 160.000 km warranty. That said, Chevrolet will only replace battery modules in Bolts produced within the timeframe GM suspects battery manufacturing defects were present. Based on the vehicles that caught fire, GM will likely prioritize 2019 models followed by 2017 and 2018 models. The company will also replace modules for owners who routinely do deep discharges. GM told that they’re taking this step “out of an abundance of caution”. Further, GM and LG (the battery’s manufacturer) will examine the replaced modules and find their defects. They’ll also try to figure out if they can devise an in-situ detection method that would allow owners to figure out if their batteries are at risk of catching fire. +++

+++ PORSCHE will travel to the first edition of the Munich auto show to unveil what it calls a future-oriented concept study. While the full design is still hidden, a preview image published by the firm contains a few valuable hints. Posted on social media, the teaser sketch depicts the front end of a bright red car with boomerang-shaped headlights. The 4 individual LEDs create a visual link between the concept (whose name hasn’t been revealed yet) and the Taycan, so I’m guessing this is another EV. I’m told it will feature “cutting-edge technology”. Several electric cars appear on Porsche’s product timeline, including the second-generation Macan, but we don’t think this is an SUV. The company pointed out that it has been testing new features and technologies on the race track for over 70 years, and that the concept follows this path. This statement is accompanied by the #sportscar hashtag, so we might be looking at something along the lines of an electric 2-seater, though this is speculation. Of course, there are other possible options. Unverified rumors claim Porsche officials are debating whether to release a smaller electric sedan that would slot beneath the Taycan. Coupe and convertible versions of the Taycan are still on the table, according to an earlier report, though they haven’t been approved for production yet. What’s certain is that the concept won’t preview an electric 911; company boss Oliver Blume told me it’s not happening. Regarding the technology the preview alluded to, there are a lot of new additions to Porsche’s armada of powertrain solutions. It will start building a new type of battery cell for race cars in the 2020s, and some high-end production cars will use them as well. That project is still at the embryonic stage of development, so it might be too early for the company to preview what it has in store. It’s also working on several joint projects with Croatia-based Rimac. Porsche will present its next concept on September 6, and it will stream the unveiling online. The design study will make its public debut on September 7 at the 2021 Munich auto show, which replaces the Frankfurt show. +++

+++ RANGE ANXIETY is one of the biggest barriers to EV ownership, even though most modern electric cars can drive much further on a full charge than their ancestors could. But there’s a huge disparity between between current EVs in terms of how far they can travel, how that real-world range compares to the official range, and how efficient they are in terms of kilometers travelled per kWh of energy consumed. To separate the EV champions from the also-rans, 10 of the newest and most popular electric cars available in Europe, including the Mazda MX-30, VW ID.3, Kia e-Niro, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Audi Q4 e-tron and Tesla Model 3, were driven until they died. In the interests of safety and consistency they performed the test, not on the road, but at a former GM proving ground in Bedfordshire. Starting with a full charge, each car was repeatedly driven around a 15-mile loop that included 2.6 miles of simulated stop-start driving, 4 miles at 50mph and 8 miles at 70mph. Unsurprisingly, given its tiny 35.5 kWh battery is the smallest of the bunch, the Mazda MX-30 gave up the ghost first, dropping out after just 185 km. That’s against an official WLTP range of 200 km. The new Fiat 500e was even more disappointing. It might have outlasted the Mazda, covering 225 km before keeling over, but Fiat says it can do 320 km. At the other end of the list the Tesla Model 3 Long Range proved the most efficient, achieving 4.1 km per kWh, but could only manage 454 km against a WLTP rating of 576 km. The Porsche Taycan 4S’s 452 km doesn’t sound that great until you consider its official rating, which is 467 km. But the range king was the Ford Mustang Mach-E with the 88 kWh battery. It was the least efficient and couldn’t get close to Ford’s 610 km claim, but its 486 km real-world rating is the best figure. So if you’ve got range anxiety, get the Mustang Mach-E. +++

+++ SUBARU ‘s second-generation BRZ made its debut in late 2020 with a bigger engine than its predecessor. It offers more power, which enthusiasts spent years clamoring for, but its fuel economy figures aren’t significantly worse. In its most efficient configuration, so equipped with the optional 6-speed automatic transmission, the new BRZ returns 21 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Sticking with the standard 6-speed stick lowers those figures to 20, 27 and 23, respectively. For context, the original model posted 24, 33 and 27, respectively, with a 6-speed automatic, meaning the BRZ lost a pair of miles per gallons as it entered its second generation. The last-generation stick-shifted model was rated at 21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. Note that every variant requires premium gasoline. In exchange, enthusiasts have 23 extra horses to play with. Power for the new BRZ comes from a 2.4-liter flat-four rated at 228 hp and 250 Nm. The previous BRZ’s 2.0-liter flat-four made 205 horsepower and 204 Nm. The engine is still naturally-aspirated; adding a turbocharger wasn’t an option. Fuel economy figures for the Toyota GR86 haven’t been released. They should be very close to (if not exactly the same as) the new BRZ’s numbers. Both cars are again almost identical underneath the sheet metal. +++

+++ The second generation of the Subaru BRZ and TOYOTA GR86 siblings are 2 lightweight naturally aspirated and rear-wheel-drive sportscars designed with the purists in mind. While we understand the reasons behind Subaru’s and Toyota’s decision not to add a turbocharger to the boxer engine (packaging, weight, low center of gravity, etc), we’d love to see a more powerful version. This could happen with the help of electrification. People from Subaru said that the integration of hybrid technology in the BRZ is “not impossible” given that the model was developed in collaboration with Toyota which is at the forefront of electrified powertrains. This is definitely not a confirmation of any kind, however it is a sign that the engineers are considering different options for the development of future variants/models. The addition of an electric motor and a battery pack to the Subaru BRZ / Toyota GR86 would definitely add weight, but it would also increase the combined output and torque figures. The placement of the batteries could also lower the center of gravity, benefiting handling. At the same time, electrification would make both the Toyota GR86 and the Subaru BRZ more future-proof, as emission regulations make it more difficult for ICE-powered sportscars to exist. As a reminder, the Japanese sportscars can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 6.3 seconds with a top speed of 240 km/h. I know that the next generation of pretty much every vehicle will be electrified (if not fully electric) so it doesn’t surprise us that people are discussing hybrid options for sportscars. Even Mazda’s MX-5 is expected to be electrified in the future, so we guess the automakers will find a way to keep sportscars fun to drive. What will certainly happen with electrification is fewer emissions and significantly improved acceleration figures associated with electric motors. +++

+++ The future may belong to electric cars, but for automakers in the UNITED STATES , trucks will rule for years to come. Automakers in North America plan to build more big pickups and SUVs than electric vehicles well into the late 2020s, chasing sales trends that run counter to the Biden administration’s goal of boosting EVs to half the market by 2030, according to internal production forecasts. The popularity of Detroit’s big trucks is a challenge both to the industry and efforts by lawmakers and regulators to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other exhaust gas pollutants from combustion engines. Unflagging demand among American consumers for full-size trucks and SUVs, among the industry’s most profitable vehicles, will largely fund a combined $100 billion in investment commitments for new North American EV and battery plants by General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. Factories that build Detroit’s trucks employ thousands of union workers; a key constituency for President Joe Biden. At the same time, Detroit’s combustion-powered large pickup trucks and SUVs generate on average more than twice the CO2 over their lifetimes as the typical electric vehicle, according to a analysis of data generated by Argonne National Laboratory’s Greet modeling tool; the same model used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The 3 automakers in a joint statement described as a “shared aspiration” Biden’s target of pushing EVs to 40-50% of production by 2030. That goal would mean boosting annual North American output of electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to 7 million vehicles or more. The entire industry, however, is planning as of now to build just 2.6 million battery electric vehicles (BEV) and another 585.000 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) in 2028, according to AutoForecast Solutions (AFS), which compiles production estimates that are widely used across the industry. If automakers stick to those plans, EVs would account for just 15 % of total North American production in 2028, with plug-in hybrids representing another 3.4 %. In that case, automakers would have to more than double EV and PHEV production within two years between 2028 and 2030 in order to hit Biden’s low-end target of 40 %. AutoForecast’s outlook is consistent with the U.S. government’s own predictions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that it expects electric and hybrid vehicles to account for 8 % of U.S. car and light truck sales by 2026, a shade under AutoForecast’s projection of 10-11 %. Researcher IHS Markit estimated automakers would need at least 18 % of their total sales to derive from EVs in 2026 (a figure in line with AutoForecast’s estimate) in order to have a realistic chance of meeting the proposed 2030 targets. “Far more demand for electric vehicles will be needed in order to hit the 2030 goal of 40-50%”, said Sam Fiorani, head of AFS global vehicle forecasting. But “many buyers will come up with excuses not to make the switch” to EVs from vehicles with combustion engines. A shortfall in EV demand, while pickup and SUV sales remain robust, could hamper a broader effort to combat climate change. “We’re going to have to find some way to make those predictions fall short”, said Mary Nichols, former chair of the California Air Resources Board and a longtime clean-air advocate. “It’s not just about the companies, (which) are doing their best to design and build electric vehicles that people want and make sure there are batteries that get greater range and that there will be charging available. That part is moving pretty fast but it’s going to have to go faster”, said Nichols, a board member of Veloz, a California-based industry-government coalition advocating greater electric vehicle use. Automakers have been careful to frame their electric vehicle sales goals as dependent on consumer demand and government subsidies. “We’ve said for months that Ford expects battery-electric vehicles to be at least 40 % of our global volume by 2030. That’s not an aspiration: it’s what we’re anticipating”, a Ford spokesperson told. “We believe we’ll be well-positioned for BEVs to account for 40 % to 50 % of our U.S. sales by then”. GM reiterated what it termed its “aspiration” to eliminate tailpipe emissions from light-duty vehicles by 2035, as well as its aspiration to push EVs to 40-50 % of its sales volume by 2030. Stellantis said it does not comment on speculation about future products. The present-day reality for all U.S. automakers (other than electric-vehicle leader Tesla) is that pickups and SUVs are in high demand, with consumers willing to pay premium prices for them. Electric vehicles from established automakers are still niche models. The industry this year expects to build 3.3 million full-size pickups and SUVs in North America, according to the latest AFS forecast. Virtually all of them will be powered by gasoline or diesel engines. In 2028, that number is expected to climb to 3.75 million and only a fraction of those will be offered with electric motors and battery packs. With production this year hampered by a global shortage of semiconductors, GM, Ford and Stellantis cannot keep sufficient supplies of these vehicles in stock at dealers, many of whom are commanding a premium above the manufacturers’ suggested list prices for the hottest models. +++

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