Honda team up for cheaper electric motors

As electric cars become more common, manufacturers are battling to find new ways to improve their hardware and lower costs. Over at Honda, the desire to improve its battery-powered cars has led to a new partnership with Hitachi, which has a long history of building motors for electric vehicles.

Given the global push toward tighter emissions standards and the growing popularity of electric vehicles, both Honda and Hitachi are looking to lower the cost of mass producing motors. Should they be successful, the partnership could lead to cheaper electric cars for the masses – a situation where everyone wins. To make it happen, the two companies have signed a memorandum of understanding to generate a “technological synergy” between supplier and manufacturer designed to “strengthen their competitive advantage and business foundation for the motors at the core of an electric vehicle.”

Although the project will initially be based in Japan, there are plans to expand the joint venture with manufacturing and sales operations in North America and China. The two companies will be working in tandem, but they won’t be exclusive – Hitachi will keep working with other manufacturers, and Honda will continue to use motors it builds in-house in Japan in some of its cars.

All up, the joint venture will be worth ¥5 billion (US$44,750,000) with Hitachi shouldering 51 percent of the load. The new (unnamed) joint venture company will be formally be signed into action at the end of March 2017, with work set to begin in June.

This isn’t the first time Honda has joined arms with another manufacturer or supplier for cheaper, more advanced alternative powertrains. Earlier this year, the Japanese giant and GM teamed up to develop lower-cost hydrogen fuel cells, although that US$85 million deal represents a more significant investment than the Hitachi tie-up.

Bugatti lifts curtain on Chiron production line

Building and testing any production car is a fiendishly complex undertaking, but some cars require more time and attention than others – Bugatti’s new supercar, for example. Production of the Bugatti Chiron has officially started in Molsheim, and the company has peeled back the curtain to show the world how 1,800 individual parts come together to make someone’s dream a very, very expensive reality.

The production process starts, as you’d expect, with the customer nailing down the final specification of their car. Potential owners sit down with a consultant from Bugatti and run through the full range of options, choosing from a huge palette of standard paints and eight different carbon fiber weaves for the exterior before moving to the interior.

Here’s a hot tip: if you’re not good at making decisions, don’t try and configure the cabin of a Chiron. As if choosing between 31 different types of leather and eight shades of suede wasn’t enough, you can select a dizzying array of carpet, seatbelt and stitching options. And if that still isn’t enough, the team at Le Maison Pur Sang is able to make an owner’s most intricate fancies come to life with custom paint finishes, interior trims and option packs.

Once the customer has signed off on their final configuration, a production slot is assigned to the car and parts are ordered, starting a process generally spanning nine months. Before all the additional parts arrive, the naked bodyshell is assembled and sent to the paint shop, where it’s lavished with up to eight coats of paint. Each layer is done by hand, sanded back and polished before the next is applied – while cars with naked carbon fiber on the outside go through a separate, equally time consuming process.

Unlike most car factories, Bugatti’s facility in Molsheim isn’t fitted with conveyer belts or robots. The entire production process is carried out by hand across 12 individual stations, each of which is responsible for a small part of the overall construction of the car. The first station takes the quad-turbo W16, which comes pre-assembled from VW in Salzgitter, and prepares it for insertion into the chassis, before the second stop actually installs it.

Given its remarkable 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) of power and 1,600 Nm of torque, the engine can’t simply be dropped into the rear of the Chiron and bolted into place like most cars. The whole rear end is actually built around the engine, while the base monocoque and front end are connected and the wiring looms linked. Around the same time as all of this, the pipes connecting the engine with its front radiators are hooked up.

Having married the rear end with the monocoque, a feat which requires just 14 titanium bolts, the four wheels are bolted on and the car rolls forward to its next station, where all the fluids are put into the car, and the engine is fired up for the first time.

Seriously sophisticated supercar

Ferrari is on a roll at the moment, turning out stunning cars with oodles of power, but it still struggles with names. From LaFerrari (which translates to The Ferrari) to GTC4Lusso, which gives buyers no clue it’s the followup to the FF, sometimes it seems like the naming team in Maranello choose their new model badges by pulling letters and numbers from a hat. Unfortunately, things haven’t changed on the 812 Superfast. Sure, it’ll be unbelievably fast, and the chassis is smarter than ever, but Superfast? Really?

Alright, we’re going to put the name aside for a moment and talk about what’s hiding under the skin of the new Superfast, because Ferrari has gone to town on its replacement for the F12Berlinetta. The naturally aspirated 6.5-liter V12 under the hood now produces a scarcely believable 789 hp (588 kW) at 8,500 rpm, up from the 740 hp (552 kW) in the old car thanks (in part) to 350 bar variable direct injection and Formula 1-derived variable geometry intact tracts.

As the world moves toward a turbocharged future, it’s worth noting the 718 Nm of torque on offer in the free-breathing Ferrari. Sure, peak twisting force doesn’t kick in until 7,000 rpm but 80 percent of that peak is available from just 3,500 rpm. Hooked up to a retuned dual-clutch gearbox capable of faster shifts in both directions, drivers should enjoy razor-sharp throttle response and linear thrust from almost any speed.

With so much power being sent to the rear wheels, Ferrari has pulled out all the stops to make sure enthusiastic drivers don’t go flying backwards when they breathe on the throttle. Gone is the old hydraulic steering rack, and in its place is the first electric power steering system to emerge from Maranello. Interestingly, the press materials don’t mention (oft written about, rarely defined) steering feel, instead saying the swap will “fully exploit the potential of the car’s performance.”

The latest iteration of Side Slip Control should allow drivers to creep closer to the edge (and slightly beyond it) without fear of a massive accident, and an evolution of the rear-wheel steering system debuted in the F12tdf has also been fitted. By all accounts, that car was an absolute handful, so it will be interesting to see if Virtual Short Wheelbase 2.0 has been toned down for general consumption.

Delivering staggering performance and nimble handling is one thing, but Ferraris are expected to work as pieces of art as well. Designed in-house, the 812 Superfast certainly fits the brief. Its basic silhouette is largely unchanged from the F12 but the details, from the skinny new headlights to the quad taillights, give it a look more in line with the 488 GTB and J50.

The fresh shape is also much smarter than before, with a more refined take on the active aero flaps at the front of the car and a clever aerodynamic bypass on the rear flanks helping keep the car settled at speed. Given the 340 km/h (211 mph) top speed and 2.9 second 100 km/h (62 mph) sprint, that’s probably a good thing.

Durango SRT is a muscle car in SUV clothing

Once wild animals full of wanderlust, SUVs have long been domesticated into quiet, loyal family haulers used for bringing home groceries and shuttling sports and spectator gear to the field. Dodge believes that there’s still some feral nature left in these still-formidable beasts and it’s drawing it out in a big way with the all-new Durango SRT. Dubbed the “Dodge Charger of the full-size SUV segment,” the new Durango packs power and performance previously unimaginable for a factory Durango.

We’ll have to wait until the New York Auto Show in April to see the all-new Challenger SRT Demon, the “ultimate performance halo” Dodge has been teasing for weeks in a series of videos. But Dodge won’t be limping into this week’s Chicago Auto Show without an exciting muscle car debut. Only this muscle car is an SUV, a three-row SUV Dodge calls the fastest, most powerful and most capable out there.

The first Durango SRT ever becomes the larger brother of the ever-exhilarating Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. Like the Jeep, it’s powered by a 6.4-liter HEMI V8. That engine makes 475 hp at 6,000 rpm and 470 lb-ft (637 Nm) of torque at 4,300 rpm.

With help from a launch control system, specially calibrated TorqueFlight eight-speed automatic transmission and performance-tuned AWD system, the SRT V8 inspires some brilliant performance, starting with a 0 to 60 mph (96.5 km/h) in just 4.4 seconds and 12.9-second quarter-mile.

In case you momentarily forgot while looking at those times, that’s a bulky, 200-in-long (5.1-m-long) Dodge Durango we’re talking about.

To assist with cornering at high speeds, Dodge and SRT have stiffened up the front and rear springs and rear sway bar. Bilstein adaptive damping is integrated into the short- and long-arm independent front suspension and the specially tuned multi-link system at the rear.

Dodge touts benchmark braking, saying the combination of Brembo high-performance six-piston front/four-piston rear calipers and vented rotors will bring the Pirelli 295/45ZR20 Scorpion Verde all-season tires and 20-in “Goliath” five-spoke wheels to a crisp stop from 60 mph (96.5 km/h) within an estimated 115 ft (35 m).

Of course, not every drive in a full-size SUV is going to be a full-speed hurl, and Dodge has worked to ensure a ride balanced enough for everyday life. The SRT seven-mode drive system lets the driver quickly tweak settings like shift points, front/rear torque splits and active damping. Among those seven modes are a relaxed Auto setting for basic, everyday driving, an aggressive Track setting for the highest levels of performance on smooth, dry surfaces, a traction-enhancing Snow setting, a fuel economy-boosting Eco setting, and a Tow setting for best putting the Durango’s 8,600-lb (3,900-kg) towing capabilities to work.

The pop top camper bus with accessorized Atlas

The Chicago Auto Show starts on Thursday, and Volkswagen will brighten up midwinter in the Windy City with a taste of summer road-tripping. The Weekend Edition concept adds some strategic accessories to the new Atlas SUV, transforming it into a shuttle set for family recreation and adventure with room to pack the kids, gear, suitcases and even the family dog up for a long weekend on the road.

Revealed last October, the new Atlas will hit US roads this spring. Volkswagen is marketing it as an active lifestyle vehicle that it hopes inspires people to “live a life as big as their imaginations,” and the Weekend Edition better illustrates what it means, for those that might not have the biggest imaginations.

The Weekend Edition designation recalls the “Weekender” packages once offered on classic Vanagon and Eurovan pop-up campers. Unfortunately, the Atlas package doesn’t get a true pop-up roof or overnighting amenities of its own, but it does get a distinctive roof box that Volkswagen imagines as a modern version of the pop-up roof.

The Urban Loader cargo box looks like a hard-shell roof-top tent, but it only provides space for resting gear and cargo, not resting campers. The box expands to offer up to 17.7 cu ft (501 L) of storage for whatever bits and pieces are required for the trip.

If VW really wanted to pay tribute to its classic pop-tops, it might have opted for a modern roof-top tent-cum-cargo box, such as the Tepui White Lightning or Roost, offering flexible space for sleeping campers and hauling recreational gear. But we guess such a tent wouldn’t provide enough sleeping space for the full Atlas-load of passengers, so it was probably right in just sticking with a pure cargo box.

The Urban Loader cargo box can also be removed, and the crossbars used to carry skis, kayaks, bikes and other large gear. Side steps help occupants access whatever’s riding up top.

Whats The News of Origami inspired

The ancient art of origami has been inspiring engineers and designers for decades. The principles behind this Japanese folding technique have been appropriated by everyone from solar array designers for implementation in space to medical engineers creating ingestible robotics. Now a team at Brigham Young University (BYU) has created a lightweight bulletproof shield inspired by a Yoshimura origami crease pattern.

After consulting with law enforcement and several federal departments, professor of mechanical engineering Larry Howell and his BYU team realized that current bulletproof shields and barriers, which are heavy, cumbersome and lack portability, were well overdue for an update.

In the quest for something lighter and more compact that would still provide protection from bullets, the team developed an innovative new shield design made of 12 layers of bulletproof kevlar that takes only fives seconds to deploy. At only 55 lb (25 kg) the barrier is almost half the weight of current steel-based shields and can safely protect two to three people at once.

“It goes from a very compact state that you can carry around in the trunk of a car to something you can take with you, open up and take cover behind to be safe from bullets,” says Terri Bateman, BYU adjunct professor of engineering. “Then you can easily fold it up and move it if you need to advance your position.”

During testing, the researchers found the shield to be even more successful than they had initially predicted, stopping bullets from 9mm, .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum handguns.

“Those are significant handguns with power,” says Howell. “We suspected that something as large as a .44 Magnum would actually tip it over, but that didn’t happen.”

Currently still in prototype form, the team is continuing to work with law enforcement agencies and has tested it with officers on site who have been impressed. The team also believes the barrier could have broader uses, such as for safety in schools or protecting the wounded in emergencies.

Notch yet another innovative design solution up to the ancient art of origami.

The boot to wheel boots

We’ve all seen them … illegally-parked cars that have had wheel boots placed on them, which won’t be removed until the fine is paid. Those boots are heavy and cumbersome to carry, however, plus the people who put them on typically have to kneel dangerously close to passing traffic. That’s why New York-based Ideas That Stick developed the windshield-blocking Barnacle.

Folding in half when not in use, the Barnacle adheres to the windshield using two pump-activated commercial grade suction cups that can reportedly withstand hundreds of pounds of pulling force. Parking officials can carry several of the devices in the back of their vehicle, and need only lean across offending cars from the curb in order to install them.

Should the drivers of those cars try removing the Barnacle on their own or driving away with it still on, a built-in alarm will sound (that said, one has to wonder how many people might just drive it away with it on anyway).

Instead, once they’ve paid their fine over the phone, drivers will be given a numerical release code for the Barnacle on their car. After punching that code into the integrated keypad, the suction cups will release and the device will come off. They then have 24 hours in which to return it to a drop-off location – if they don’t, presumably they’ll be fined once again.

Additionally, in instances where parking fines remain unpaid, cars can be towed with the Barnacle still in place. With wheel boots, the device has to be removed before the car can be towed.

The voltage for the Quant

It’s that time of year again. The Geneva Motor Show is approaching and Nanoflowcell is showing the latest version of the Quant, its ever-developing, flow battery-powered electric sports car concept. Unlike the Quants of Nanoflowcell past, the new 750-hp Quant 48Volt sees its voltage drop precipitously, from 700 V on last year’s Quant FE to the namesake 48 V. Performance doesn’t drop at all, though, at least not on the latest piece of paper Nanoflowcell has issued. In fact, it only gets better: 0-62 mph (100 km/h) in 2.4 seconds, a 186-mph (300-km/h) top speed and a 620-mile (1,000-km) range.

Nanoflowcell first showed its 48 V electrical system on the more modest, everyday-driver Quantino concept, which debuted next to the 1,075-hp Quant F at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show. After running through a couple of years of Quantino testing and development, Nanoflowcell announced last month that it had readied a variably controllable flow cell, allowing it to drop the supercapacitors it had previously relied on to store energy and regulate current flow, saving both weight and money.

“It has previously not been possible to vary the control of flow cells directly, meaning they needed buffer storage, so-called supercapacitors, to be able to manage the flow of current for regulating driving speed,” Nanoflowcell explained in that announcement. “However, supercapacitors are very expensive and comparatively heavy. The breakthrough with the new low-voltage flow cell drive in the Quantino 48Volt is that it will no longer require supercapacitors.”

With the 2017 Quant 48Volt, Nanoflowcell packages that new 48 V technology inside the Quant supercar concept it first hit the scene with back in 2014, creating a car with more unbelievable (quite literally) numbers than ever. The Quant 48Volt has an all-wheel-drive layout of four low-voltage motors, teaming up to create 751 hp. The motors have been redesigned for this latest concept car and rely on a “solid aluminium net structure” in place of the copper windings familiar in electric motor design. Nanoflowcell says this reduces the volume, weight and cost of the motor while also making series production simpler.

As usual, the juice spinning those motors comes from the flow cell, where it’s the result of the electrochemical reaction of two electrolyte solutions separated by a membrane. Nanoflowcell explains how it optimized this process in its 48 V system:

“Over two and a half years of development, the company successfully applied a specialist nano process to increase the size of the flow cell’s membrane surface in a way that multiplied the reaction surface by several orders of magnitude without compromising the compactness of the cells. Another innovation is the first series connection of six flow cells, enabling more bi-ion electrolyte to be discharged in a shorter space of time, thus allowing more energy to be generated. Furthermore, this new cell design has also been configured to enable the Nanoflowcell to process a higher energy density in the bi-ion electrolyte solution (more than 600 Wh).”

The big selling point of the low-voltage electrical system is that it makes the vehicle safer, Nanoflowcell illustrating that point by mentioning that you can go ahead and touch the flow cell’s poles without worrying about frying yourself. The liquids used are neither flammable or explosive, so even less worry weighing on the Quant driver’s mind.

So, yep, Nanoflowcell is really kicking ass when it comes to vapor.. er.. nano tech. Or so it tells it. The company must really like the phrase “we’ll believe it when we see it” because there’s generally nothing else to say after seeing the outlandish claims surrounding its annual concept cars.

To its credit, Nanoflowcell did put Autocar and Top Gear behind the wheel of the Quant FE and Quantino last October, but the test drives were far from the in-depth shakedown those following the story are waiting for. Before that type of thorough review, claims like 2.4 seconds to 62 mph (one of the quickest in the world) and 620 miles of range will be greeted with healthy skepticism, if not rolling eyeballs.

Method can levitate just about anything

Levitation may look like magic, but there are a number of scientific tricks behind it. Magnetic systems are usually behind gimmicky consumer products like floating lightbulbs and speakers, optical levitation turns up in more academic pursuits like quantum computing, and acoustics could help suspend tiny particles to make better drugs. These techniques only work with certain objects, but researchers at the University of Chicago have developed a method to levitate basically anything, using differences in temperature.

“Magnetic levitation only works on magnetic particles, and optical levitation only works on objects that can be polarized by light, but with our first-of-its-kind method, we demonstrate a method to levitate generic objects,” says Cheng Chin, one of the researchers on the team.

Balls of ceramic, plastic and glass, ice particles, seeds and pieces of lint have been used to demonstrate the technique, and the team found that the levitated particles could be held aloft for over an hour rather than a matter of minutes, and wouldn’t wobble around sideways.

The researchers achieved this versatile levitation through the process of thermophoresis, which manipulates particles by placing them between sources of different temperatures. In this case, the objects were placed in a vacuum between two plates – the bottom one, made of copper, was left at room temperature, while the top plate contained liquid nitrogen, cooling a stainless steel container to -300º F (-184º C). The relative heat would flow from the bottom plate toward the top one, lifting the particles along with it.

“The large temperature gradient leads to a force that balances gravity and results in stable levitation,” says Frankie Fung, lead author of the study. “We managed to quantify the thermophoretic force and found reasonable agreement with what is predicted by theory. This will allow us to explore the possibilities of levitating different types of objects.”

Provides shelter high in the Slovenian mountains

Some 2,118 m (6,948 ft) high up in the Triglav National Park in Slovenia’s Julian Alps, an aging wooden mountain shelter built in 1936 was recently decommissioned. Its replacement replicates its predecessor’s bell-shaped design, but also adds some much-needed modern upgrades, including a tough aluminum shell and solar power.

The alpine shelter is called Bivak II na Jezerih (or Bivouac II on the Lakes), and comprises a total floorspace of 9.15 sq m (98 sq ft). Weight comes in at roughly 1,300 kg (2,866 lb), which was a concern as it was air-lifted into location via helicopter, piloted by the Slovenian Armed Forces.

The shelter is required to withstand extreme temperatures, heavy snow loads, and wind speeds of 200 km/h (124 mph). In addition, owing to its remote location, it was necessary to ensure it was as maintenance-free as possible.

Its frame is made from welded steel and anchored in place with concrete. Timber and Rockwool insulation provide protection from the cold, and it’s clad in aluminum sheeting.

The interior of the shelter is simple, though looks very welcoming. There’s space for up to six climbers to use it comfortably, while available furniture includes a folding table, a bench, and a sleeping area. There’s no toilet or running water though, so if nature calls, occupants simply make use of the mountainside.

A few basic emergency supplies are installed in the shelter, including a first aid kit, a lighter, matches, and some other equipment like basic tools to repair crampons, etc.

A small 20 W solar panel is also affixed to the exterior, which in turn is hooked-up to a regulator and two usb ports to provide power for mobile devices. A shovel is stored underneath the shelter outside, in case the entrance gets covered in snow when climbers first arrive.

The shelter was designed by architect Darko Bernik, who very closely followed the original wooden shelter’s design by Karel Korenini. He also had help from Anže Čokl, members of the local alpine club AO Jesenice, and others to install it. Some 600 hours of volunteer labor went into the project, and the old shelter was donated to a local mountaineering museum.