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Car chiefs on progress

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“Many of the new trucks and cars on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this year [last January] are being shaped not just by the automakers’ designers and engineers, but also by the government,” wrote Bryce Hoffman and David Shepardson in an article in ‘The Detroit News’.

Of course, they mean that by 2025 - just ten model-years from now- the government mandates the average car to have a fuel consumption of 54.5 miles per gallon, or use only 4.3 liters /100 km. That’s the ‘Corporate Average Fuel Economy’ or ‘fleet average’ between the smallest and the largest car any carmaker produces.

Those rules require changes in powertrains, but the shape of cars will change along with that; a lot of new ideas coming from engineers and designers.

All that will be “alternative transportation” — what a convenient excuse for writing all these articles !!

Governments are also pushing for greater safety with newly devised crash tests, especially for the new genre of sub-compact commuter vehicles. Manufacturers are working towards autonomous, self-driving cars, able to take over automatically when the driver fails to react.

More articles on alternative transportation !

Are we there yet? — At auto shows, Journalists asked the carmakers’ chiefs about the main objectives under development now: reduction of fuel consumption/ emission by various new-energy drivetrains, and reduction of injuries by passive and active accident prevention systems.

This is what some of the leading automotive people said: Mary Barra, General Motors’ new chief since January 15, confirmed that GM’s European Opel/Vauxhall division will produce an all-new vehicle that for competitive reasons she couldn't name.

“It’s always going to be a combination of solutions — partly engines, partly transmissions, partly materials, partly aerodynamics, partly plug-in hybrid,” Bob Lutz, General Motors’ former Vice Chair said; “There’s so many ways to get there and there is no single best way.”

“We know we have to meet the one national standard by 2025. And that’s important. But what’s more important is, ‘What does the customer want, and how can we exceed that so that we have a competitive advantage?’ ” was Ford COO Mark Fields’ answer.

This is how Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne explained the new transmissions: “Technologically, it’s the most advanced thing you can do, (It’s) probably the most compact rendition of a planetary transmission you can find.” [meaning the new multi-ratio, 7 to10-speed gearboxes which keep the engine running in the most fuel-efficient RPM range].

“We have a huge advantage with hybrids,” said Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota North America, noting that the company sold 345,000 in 2013 alone. “Hybrids are going to remain our core technology.”

"The electric car cannot be a compromise on wheels," Volkswagen’s CEO Winterkorn said. "It must convince customers in every respect." The plug-in hybrid has the "greatest market potential."

The VW Group plans to offer as many as 40 electric or hybrid vehicles in the next few yeras; in 2014 they will produce 14 vehicles with alternative drivetrains. Martin Winterkorn introduced the e-Up electric small car and a battery-powered version of the Golf hatchback.

“The worlds of consumer and automotive technologies have never been more closely aligned, and this alliance will only pave the way for faster innovation,” said Ricky Hudi, Head of Electrics/Electronics Development at Audi. “Working toward a common ecosystem benefits driver safety above all.”

About self-driving cars, Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche said: “Our vision is that the driver continues to be in control — but whenever he does something which puts his life or the life of other parties at risk, the car will step in.”

“We’re going to get there even sooner than we think,” Carlos Ghosn said after testing the self-driving Leaf. “What’s going to be left is only the reliability of the system.” He is the head of the Renault-Nissan alliance.

“We are excited to announce that our customers using Android will soon be able to enjoy the continuous user experience in their Hyundai and Kia vehicles,” said Dr. Woong-Chul Yang, Vice Chairman of R&D, Hyundai Motor Group. “By introducing the latest IT technologies safely and securely throughout our full range of vehicles, we continually strive to provide the highest levels of convenience and to enhance the in-vehicle experience.”

Who would have thought that “Computers on Wheels” will drive us accident-free in the future, while in the past horses took us everywhere - just a short century ago.

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