Volvo successfully completes first real world testing of SARTRE Concept

Across the world, the name 'Volvo' is synonymous with safety & innovation. So, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that Volvo has partnered for yet another innovative program called SARTRE. In case you are wondering, SARTRE stands for 'Safe Road Trains for the Environment'. It is led by Ricardo UK Ltd and comprises a collaboration between the following companies - Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia of Spain, Institut for Kraftfahrwesen Aachen (IKA) of Germany, SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, Volvo Car Corporation and Volvo Technology of Sweden.

The project aims to encourage a step change in personal transport usage by developing environmental road-trains called 'platoons'. Systems will be developed facilitating the safe adoption of road-trains on un-modified public highways with interaction with other traffic. A scheme will be developed whereby a lead vehicle with a professional driver will take responsibility for a platoon. Following vehicles will enter a semi-autonomous control mode that allows the driver of the following vehicle to do other things that would normally be prohibited for reasons of safety.

To put it simply, a platoon works like this - A 'Lead Vehicle' will be driven by a professional driver between two destinations. Other road-users would be free to join the lead vehicle as and when they need, thus forming a road-train. Once in the train,  the vehicles will follow the actions of the lead vehicle through a complex system of sensors and telematics. When a particular user reaches his/her destination, he/she can voluntarily disconnect from the train and drive independently.

If you are thinking that the concept is all fine and how is this going to work out in real life, worry no more as Volvo and its partners have just completed the first successful on-road testing of this concept at Hallered test track in Europe. The Volvo truck (in the picture) acted as the Lead Vehicle with a professional driver behind its wheel. The Volvo S60 sedan joined the truck to form a platoon. As the electronics took over the control of the S60, the car was autonomously following the actions of the truck ahead of it and the car’s driver was free to take his hands off the wheel and do things as he wished. In the picture, you can see him sipping a cup of coffee and glancing through a newspaper.

As per SARTRE members, this technology, when implemented, will set free time for the driver, improve safety and decrease the environmental load. Of course, this test is just the beginning and it’s going to be many years before the system is refined, perfected and can be termed fit for road usage. But, for the project members, that’s going to be a much easier job than convincing the transport authorities and common people to take up this technology without any fear or apprehension. If that happens, then this would be yet another classic example of the machines getting smarter than humans.
(Pics Courtesy: Volvo Cars)


Spotted #3: Ford GPW (World War II Jeep)

A year and a half is quite a long time by any standards. That's precisely how long back I spotted an interesting automobile on road, something exotic or vintage, which spurred me to chase, snap and post it in my blog.

Today, when I first saw this jeep overtaking our Indica which was cruising at about 70 km/hr along the GQ near Tambaram in Chennai, I dismissed it mistaking it for an old Mahindra Jeep. Only then it dawned on me that its actually a vintage World War II Jeep which should have been made either by Willys or Ford. The jeep had actually went so far by then, it took a couple of minutes for us to get close to it again.

Immediately noticeable was the huge 'Ford' logo embossed in the rear, thus clearing the confusion and giving an hint that it should have been originally manufactured around 1941~42. Apart from the embossed Ford badge, the nine-slotted grille, the indicators and the split front windshield were some of the few noticeable authentic parts left in that vehicle. Most of the other iconic WW II Jeep accesories like the pickaxe and shovel in the left side, jerry can in the rear and one of the side lamps in the wheel arch were not to be found. The fact that it was converted to RHD and the presence of fake parts like the Mahindra taillights spoiled its originality.

However, what surprised me most was the fact that it was moderately well-maintained and comfortably did speeds of about 75 km/hr in the NH. What surprised me least though was, even after so many decades, it still managed to turn heads all along the way. I only wish that it had all the original bits of the Ford GPW so that I could have feasted my eyes even more.


2010 Top Selling Cars - USA

Every year, the month of January keeps all of us so busy dealing with various numbers and the countless titles being awarded world-wide. One such significant list of numbers is that of the best selling cars in USA, the second biggest automotive market in the world after China and a major influence in the profit-loss accounts of most global auto manufacturers.

2010 Top 10 in USA:
1. Ford F-Series - 528,349
2. Chevrolet Silverado - 370,135
3. Toyota Camry - 327,804
4. Honda Accord - 311,381        
5. Toyota Corolla - 266,082
6. Honda Civic - 260,218
7. Nissan Altima - 229,263
8. Ford Fusion - 219,219
9. Honda CR-V - 203,714
10. Dodge Ram - 199,652

* Star Performer of 2010 - Hyundai Sonata
* Expected Star Performer for 2011 - Hyundai Sonata

(Source for Sales Figures - www.autoblog.com)
For the 29th year in a row, you read it right, yes, for a record 29th straight year, Ford F-Series was the largest selling vehicle in USA by a considerably big margin. Chevrolet Silverado managed to beat Toyota Camry (2009's second best-seller) to the second spot in 2010. The fact that both the F-Series and the Silverado range includes many variants ranging from a Light Truck to a Heavy-Duty Truck is a different thing altogether. Even after so much negative publicity, the Toyota Camry has fared rather well and continued to be the largest selling car in USA.

After that comes the usual train of Honda Accord, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Nissan Altima. The year 2011 could very well see the Accord and Civic overtaking Camry and Corolla respectively, going by the recent downward trend of the Toyota duo. As a matter of fact, both the Honda models are already snapping at the heels of their respective competitors from Toyota. After its high profile entry into the Top 10 in 2009, Ford Fusion continued its good run and took the 8th spot for 2010. Honda CR-V and Dodge Ram completed the Top 10.

Among the models in the Top 10, only the two Toyota models posted negative sales compared to 2009, the recent 'Recalls' not helping the company's cause. All the other models posted growth over 2009 numbers, with the two Ford models increasing their sales by over 20%. Honda continued its dominance with three of their models in the Top 10 despite having the least number of product platforms and models sold amongst the top companies.

As predicted in this blog last year, Hyundai's new Sonata has been a stupendous success and was really the 'Star Performer' in the American market with sales of around 196,623 units in 2010, an impressive 64% more than what Hyundai sold in 2009. With the recent addition of Turbo and Hybrid versions, I strongly feel that the Sonata will continue its upward sales climb and stands a fair chance of entering the Top 10 in 2011.


Kia 'Transform' looking mighty good

The Oxford Dictionary states that “Transformation” is a sudden dramatic change of personality in a particular object’s existence. As it is, no auto manufacturer fits in this definition as well as the closely-associated Korean majors Hyundai and Kia Motors. The ‘Transformation’ they have undergone in quality and reliability is old news now. But the real transformation has, in fact, occurred in the ‘Design’ or ‘Wow Factor’ associated with their vehicles, especially Kia.

Whether the arrival of the new millennium spurred the top management at Hyundai-Kia to reinvent the fussy designs for which they were known for till then or the sudden focus in improving quality in the late nineties called for matching improvements in design or whatever the reasons would have been, the Hyundai-Kia duo hunted down globally reputed designers which finally saw the signing of Mr. Peter Schreyer, one of the top rated automotive designers of our times into Kia's pay-rolls. This man, apart from the iconic Audi TT Coupe, has been responsible for most of Audi’s stunning designs in the recent years.

Whoa, what a transformation he has made to Hyundai’s little sister brand? Just google 2009 Sportage and 2011 Sportage and similarly 2009 Optima and 2011 Optima to see the best of results for yourself. If that is not called as Transformation, what else will? I am sure that this design breakthrough will be extended to much of Kia’s model range with the signature ‘Schreyer’ corporate grille a standard fixture on all Kias.

If that is Kia’s version of a remarkable turnaround, the biggie Hyundai is not lagging behind either and is scripting an equally impressive chapter, but that should be a separate post altogether. As an auto-enthusiast, I write this with full of hope that these beautiful transformations would continue to feast the eyes of onlookers, myself included. By having a majority of customers and critics impressed, Kia is perfectly poised for global growth.


2010 Top Selling Cars - India

The year 2010 ended on a high note for the automotive industry across the world and more so in India with the market exploding towards the second half of the year. Though most manufacturers were well prepared to meet this increase, some of them struggled to cope up with this sudden surge. Its time now to look at the top-sellers of 2010.

There are no surprises at the top. Maruti-Suzuki Alto remains India's largest selling car by a wide margin, helped in big part with the recent addition of K10 model. It has also created history by becoming the first ever name-plate in India to record sales in excess of 300,000 units in a single calendar year.

Hyundai's brilliant small car, the i10 takes the second place with Maruti-Suzuki Wagon-R close in its heels. 2011 will most probably see the second and third places reversed going by the recent upward trend of the Wagon-R and the downward trend of the i10. A small price correction for the i10 would help increase its numbers massively. Is Hyundai listening?  

Maruti-Suzuki Swift and Tata Indica finishes just outside the podium. Maruti-Suzuki's Swift Dzire is the largest selling sedan while its Omni is the largest selling Utility Vehicle in India. Considering the fact that the existing Swift is almost 5 years old and with the impeding launch of the new Swift and Dzire this year, I expect their numbers to go up further.

Overall in the Top 10, 5 models are from Maruti-Suzuki, Hyundai and Tata have 2 models each and Mahindra has 1 model. Hyundai's high-priced premium hatchback i20 just missed out being in the Top 10. But with phenomenal sales over the past few months, I strongly feel that the i20 will enter the Top 10 in 2011. That is if the Tata Nano does not see considerable increase in sales.

In the German slug-fest for the crown of India's largest selling luxury brand, BMW (6246 units) once again beat Mercedes-Benz (5819 units) to the top spot. With the recent launch of X1 at extremely competitive prices, BMW is all set to maintain its lead in 2011 also. Audi finished a distant third with 3003 units sold in India.

2010 Top 10 in India:
1. Maruti-Suzuki Alto - 300,950
2. Hyundai i10 - 159,158
3. Maruti-Suzuki Wagon-R - 156,509
4. Maruti-Suzuki Swift - 142,549
5. Tata Indica - 104,841
6. Maruti-Suzuki Swift Dzire - 103,306
7. Maruti-Suzuki Omni - 92,539
8. Hyundai Santro - 87,800
9. Tata Indigo - 85,201
10. Mahindra Bolero - 78,895

Star Performer of 2010: Maruti-Suzuki Alto
Expected Star Performer for 2011: Hyundai i20

(Source for Sales Figures: www.team-bhp.com)


2011 North American Car & Truck of the Year Award Winners announced

The winners of the 2011 North American Car and Truck of the Year titles were announced recently at the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. And the winners, as predicted, were the Chevrolet Volt and the Ford Explorer. This is the 18th year of these awards, which are designed to recognize the most outstanding new vehicles of the year. These vehicles are benchmarks in their segments based on factors including innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar.

After winning a multitude of awards, the Chevrolet Volt, rather least surprisingly, takes this most prestigious title too. By the way, this should make the Volt the first proper electric car to win this award. The highly-acclaimed and super-successful Hyundai Sonata ended up second in the title fight while the Nissan Leaf, the 2011 European Car of the Year award-winner, ended up last.

1. Chevrolet Volt - 233
2. Hyundai Sonata - 163
3. Nissan Leaf - 94

* 2010 - Ford Fusion Hybrid
* 2009 - Hyundai Genesis
* 2008 - Chevrolet Malibu
* 2007 - Saturn Aura
* 2006 - Honda Civic

Its a ha-trick of NATOTY awards for Ford, this time with the redesigned all-new Explorer taking the honors. Though GM had two finalists, one each from Jeep and Dodge, the Ford managed to trounce them in the final standings. Jeep Grand Cherokee came in a distant second while the Dodge Durango ended up last in the standings.

1. Ford Explorer - 253
2. Jeep Grand Cherokee - 138
3. Dodge Durango - 99

* 2010 - Ford Transit Connect
* 2009 - Ford F-150
* 2008 - Mazda CX-9
* 2007 - Chevrolet Silverado
* 2006 - Honda Ridgeline


All-new Hyundai Verna spotted again

It's not news anymore that Hyundai is going to launch the all-new Verna in India in the first quarter of 2011. Hyundai has been making it clear by sending the lightly camouflaged Verna for test just-about everywhere in Chennai. But, as far as I know, these should be the closest and clearest shots yet of the new Verna ever captured in India. Thanks to my friend, who managed to take these snaps at 01:00 AM in the midnight, with the car parked close to his home.  

Its once again clear from these shots that we will be getting the Russian-spec hexagonal grille and front-end treatment in India and not the Chinese-spec horizontal slated grille. While enough has been said about how good the exterior design is and really transforms the current Verna's looks, these shots also throw light into the interiors.

Starting from the much-loved, three-spoke steering wheel of the i20, the two-tone beige and black dashboard to the satin silver finish in the center console, door handles and the steering wheel, the interiors look classy and much better to the existing Verna Transform. Being Hyundai, you can also expect the quality, fit and finish to be top-notch, loosing out only may be to the Honda City.

This car also seems to have an automatic transmission with the option of slotting the lever into a second gate for driving in semi-automatic mode. In Hyundai terms, its called H-Matic or Shiftronic in other models and we shouldn't be surprised if its called the same in this model too. With the options of manual and automatic transmissions and its usual arsenal of  Gamma petrol and CRDi diesel engines, expect the new Verna to offer one of the widest choices in the premium mid-size segment.