Friday, September 6, 2019

Fond Addio to the Fiat 500 in North America

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles


Introduced to the United States and Canada in 2010, the Fiat 500 represented the first physical addition to Chrysler’s merger with the Fiat Group in the North American marketplace. The classically-styled, European-derived vehicle made a handsome entrance supported by its chic appearance and a slick advertisement campaign. However, despite a strong debut for the subcompact car, sales have steady decreased over the years. After nine years visiting to left side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Fiat 500 will be departing.

When locking down their 2020 model year for the Fiat brand, parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles made a statement on the discontinuation of the Fiat 500 range. For 2019, the subcompact car lineup consisted of the base model hardtop, 500c Cabrio, performance-oriented Abarth and the all-electric 500e (sold in limited markets). Dealerships of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ will continue to maintain an inventory of 2019 subcompact car lineup that is expected to carry over into the 2020 calender year. Withdrawing the Fiat 500 product assortment, the Italian-themed brand will sell only three models in North America for the next model year. Fiat will continue to offer the 124 Spider, 500L and the 500X in their leaner market line.


Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/Car FYI



Inspired by the original Fiat 500 that achieved almost 3.9-million in sales between 1957 and 1975, the current version of the compact car was introduced in 2007. Initially sold in Europe, the Fiat 500 was also available in Mexico starting in late 2008 while the United States and Canada waited two years longer for the vehicle. While the new iteration of the Fiat 500 incorporated a sleek Italian style reminiscent to the legendary subcompact that came before, the recreated model would differ greatly to better accommodate 21st century motoring. In addition to using more sophisticated mechanical and electronic technology for improved performance as well as comfort, the modern Fiat 500 featured a front-mounted engine as opposed to the rear powerplant found on the original model. The new variant of the car was also larger than its predecessor measuring 22.7 inches longer.

From 2011 until the midway point of this year, current era motorists in the United States and Canada were able to sample the spirit of smaller cars from the late 1950s through to the 1970s among three major revived marques. The Fiat 500 once-again was positioned in a rivalry between the Volkswagen Beetle and the MINI all existing in modernized forms. Volkswagen’s farewell to the Beetle for 2019 in addition to Fiat dropping the 500 ends the modern renaissance of an iconic small car battle. 


Chris Nagy 2011 Canadian International Auto Show 789 Fiat 500
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/Car FYI

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles decision to phase-out the Fiat 500 was a certainty for some time just from observing vehicle sales. In the United States, sales of the Fiat 500 peaked in 2012 with a sale volume of 43,772 vehicles but the Italian-styled subcompact car’s popularity steady slid since. Annual sales for the product dipped to 12,685 in 2017 and nosedived to 5,370 in 2018. Sales of the Fiat 500 in Canada for the 2016 calendar year were recorded at 2,965 but fell to 269 vehicles at the end of 2018.

The slumping demand of the Fiat 500 also coincides with the decreasing emphasis for passenger cars in North America as customer tastes seek taller and more rugged offerings. General as well as Ford Motor Company have both made drastic changes recently by reducing their sedans and smaller cars in favour of crossover vehicles. In the case of the Fiat brand, they’re retaining two crossover-style models as well as a niche sports car.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

New Battery Extends the Range of 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV to 417 Kilometers

Photo Credit: Chevrolet/General Motors

Back in 2015, Chevrolet made a bold announcement confirming their first all-electric full-scale production car born from principles exhibited by the Bolt EV Concept. Relative affordability as a battery-powered vehicle as well as an operating range of 200 miles was among the key features advertised on the revolutionary product. Delivering on their interpretation of a zero-emission entry-level vehicle competing against the Nissan LEAF and Tesla Model 3, the 2017 model year premiere of the Bolt EV has been followed by modest sales. After three years on the market, Chevrolet’s all-electric Bolt EV hatchback will go the extra mile (or extra kilometer in Canada) to win over new customers.

For 2020, the Chevrolet Bolt EV will feature an extended range that is almost 10 percent greater than its 2019 counterpart. The updated 2020 Bolt EV will possess an EPA-estimated range of 417 kilometers (259 miles) on a single charge. Resulting in a range increase 34 kilometers or 21 miles over the 2019 model, the added driving range for the electric vehicle comes without any sacrifice to on-road performance. A permanent magnetic drive motor generating 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque will remain. Also unchanged on the 2020 Bolt EV are high-end  features such as Chevrolet Infotainment system with 10.2-inch touchscreen and the small car’s respectable 2,673 liters (94.4 cubic feet) of passenger volume. 
 
The increase range for the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV is credited to a new lithium-ion battery pack. Engineering advances of the cell electrodes by Chevrolet’s battery team is cited as the reason for the improvement. Raising from 60 kilowatt-hour to 66 kilowatt-hour in energy capacity, the enhanced battery’s succeeds in the auto company’s objective to improve vehicle range without taking up additional space. Even more remarkable is that the 2020 Bolt EV’s new 430-kilogram battery pack is 5 kilograms lighter than the previous unit.

Battery-powered fully electric vehicles are still and will probably remain a niche product along motorists for the foreseeable future but that market is showing signs of growth. Thanks in part to the Canadian federal government’s Incentives for Zero-Emission Vehicles program introduced this year, sales of battery-powered automobiles through the first six months of the year are 30 percent higher in 2019 compared to 2018. Electric or zero-emission vehicle sales now account for 3 percent of new automobile sales in Canada.
 
When General Motors released its quarterly sales in July, Canadian sales for the 1,716 Chevrolet Bolt EV for the first six months of 2019 reflected a 19.7 percent increase over previous year. Sales of the Bolt EV in the United States registered a 5.4 percent increase for the period between January to June in 2019 equating to 8,281 vehicles. In both Canada and the US, the Chevrolet Bolt EV’s sales data is closely comparable to the Nissan LEAF (LEAF sales in Canada outnumbered the Bolt EV by just 28 vehicles as of the beginning of July).

The 417-kilometer range of the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV will certainly help to combat the lingering issue of range anxiety that haunts the minds of potential electric car buyers. Although electric vehicles are not compatible with all driving lifestyles, some drivers may not be as affected so badly by an alternative to gasoline. According to a 2017 release by Statistics Canada titled Journey to Work: Key Results from the 2016 Census, the median distance from home to work for half of employed Canadians is 7.7 kilometers. With the 2020 Bolt EV, a one-way trip can be comfortably undertaken between Toronto and Windsor.

Pricing for the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV has yet to be announced.


Friday, August 9, 2019

IndyCar Commits To Hybrid Power Units for 2022 Race Cars

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/Car FYI Canada



Auto racing has long been a showcase forecasting the advancement of automotive technology. Countless aspects found in modern passenger cars owe their existence towards innovative engineers, designers and drivers finding a competitive edge on the race car.

Even though the technology transfer is less pronounced in an era where rules in motorsports is more policed then in earlier racing decades, a push remains by auto manufacturers and racing leagues to give audiences the impression that the vehicles on track have some connection to the production cars attached to a brand. As automakers are pushing towards greater use of electric-powered or electrified powertrain vehicles present a new opportunity for motorsports to promote a new future for road cars. In preparation for their 2022 season, the NTT IndyCar Series has announced intentions to introduce hybrid powerplants.

When competitors take the grid for the 2022 IndyCar Series, their vehicles will contain an internal combustion engine paired with a single-source hybrid unit. Consisting of a multi-phase motor, inverter and an electrical storage device gaining energy through regenerative braking, the single-source setup means a sole supplier will provide the electric propulsion system to all manufacturers. Specifications for the internal combustion engine portion of the power unit remains unannounced.  The two current IndyCar engine suppliers Chevrolet and Honda have both committed support for the upcoming adaptation for hybrid power units. IndyCar is also hopeful that the new propulsion guidelines will entice an additional manufacturer for the 2022 season.

Targeting a maximum performance potential greater than 900 horsepower, the upcoming hybrid power unit for IndyCar competition cars is eagerly welcomed for providing several benefits. Along with improving the efficiency of a liter of fuel, hybrid technology grants an enhanced burst of power currently referred to as push-to-pass in the racing series. Another major upgrade coming with the 2022 introduction of a hybrid powertrain is the inclusion of an on-board starting system that is mentioned as the first time for the IndyCar Series. An on-board starter will lessen the amount in stalled cars stopping on-track and reduce full course cautions. Though IndyCar Series (relating back to the Indy Racing League) have retained a manual starting system since its formation, this was not the case if counting the Champ Car World Series in which IndyCar merged with in 2008 concluding what was a draining war between two major North American open wheel series. In 2007, Champ Car series competitors exclusively campaigned a Panoz DP01 chassis with a Ford-badged Cosworth engine that utilizing an on-board starter.

While an energy recovery through braking works on road course and street circuits, a drawback in such a hybrid system would currently appear when the IndyCar Series is running on ovals. High-speed ovals such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or Texas Motor Speedway are far less dependant on braking therefore reducing the effect of an electrified performance. IndyCar has not stated in their announcement whether the hybrid technology will only be employed on non-ovals for the 2022 season but the limitations of a braking-based recovery system could provide a challenge for part of the IndyCar Series.

Back in 2010, another more innovative option for hybrid power unit hardware was mentioned when I was composing an article for Performance Racing News magazine looking ahead at the conceptualization for the 2012 IndyCar vehicle. With a multitude of options on the table (including the radical DeltaWing) the series senior technical director Les Mactaggart eluded to adapting a thermal energy recovery (TER) system that would convert heat into electrical power. This technology is currently being utilized by Formula 1 cars and is known as the MGU-H. For the time being, this hybrid technology is untapped on passenger cars but automotive supplier and longtime IndyCar Series supporter BorgWarner has recently shown an engine heat recovery system designed for long-haul transport trucks. For IndyCar racing, energy recovery using this method could potentially supply ample electrical power for a hybrid gasoline/electric powertrain to function effectively on oval and road courses.

The transition to hybrid powertrains in auto racing has presented a fair amount of growing pains. In sports car racing, vehicles powered by hybrid power units have achieved successes by beating non-electrified race cars taking the 12 Hours of Sebring as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In fact, since Audi’s 2012 victory with the R18 e-tron quattro, the overall winner at the big race at Le Mans has remained hybrid powered. The biggest issue with hybrid technology in sports car racing has been the cost of developing the systems that are unique to each vehicle. Resulting some highly elaborate hybrid race vehicles including an Audi R-18 e-tron quattro variant that used an electric turbocharger, the World Endurance Championship (WEC) had seen the departure of Audi and Porsche at the end of 2016 and 2017. 

The new IndyCar Series powerplant specifications in 2022 will coincide with the debut of a next generation chassis that is also under development.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Ford's On The Right Track After All-Electric F-150 Prototype Pulls 1,250,000 Pounds

Photo Credit: Ford Motor Company



If there is one thing to know about the Ford Motor Company, the automaker certainly does not tolerate a competitor’s attempt to best their F-Series pickup truck (and for good reason). Ford’s light duty F-150 as well as the tougher F-Series Super Duty products combine to become the best-selling vehicles in North America. Along with 42 consecutive years leading the American truck sales charts, the Ford F-Series brand in Canada is actively working on extending its moniker of being the country’s top-selling pickup truck to 54 years in 2019. To keep their position as a leader in the market, Ford is dedicated to providing a configuration to please almost any potential customer. In recent years, Ford’s truck line has showcased engineering and innovation meant to outshine the competition from General Motors and Ram as well as to a lesser degree Nissan and Toyota. With the anticipation that Tesla Motors is planning to enter the pickup truck market with an all-electric vehicle, Ford seeks to beat the newcomer at its own game.

The evitable shift of vehicles towards electrification for the future of motoring is embedded into Ford’s future lineup looking to increase fuel efficiency and reduce tailpipe emissions. By 2022, the blue oval auto company has committed to offer 40 electrified products across the world with their high-volume pickup truck included in their plans. First announced in late 2017, Ford is preparing a hybrid gasoline/electric-powered version of the F-150 is slated for release in 2020 containing a mobile generator system. This past week, a prototype to an upcoming all-electric Ford F-150 has shown that an environmentally-focused horizon can still consist of some serious muscle.

In a grand display that would raise the eyebrows of fans and even critics of electric vehicles, a load of 10 double-decker rail cars containing 42 2019 Ford F-150 pickup trucks was hauled a distance of 1,000 feet (304.8 meters) by an experimental battery-powered F-150. In a video presentation created by the auto manufacturer, four loyal owners of Ford trucks spanning several generations were treated to a show in a rail yard where the all-electric F-150 prototype performed two demonstrations. The first test of the all-electric Ford F-150 was with empty rail cars weighing 1,000,000 pounds translating to the equivalent of 500 US tons or approximately 453.59 metric tons (tonnes). In the second performance, the 42 Ford F-150 pick up trucks (representing each year of the vehicle’s top-selling status in the United States) weighed 1,250,000 pounds that’s also the equivalent of 625 US tons or just less than 567 tonnes. Both attempts were accomplished by Ford’s Linda Zhang (F-150 Chief Engineer) at the wheel of the prototype truck.


Photo Credit: Ford Motor Company



An astounding feat to observe from a pickup truck, it pales in comparison to the load handling of a freight locomotive. Railway company Union Pacific states the maximum capacity of their heavy axle rail cars can weigh up to 315,000 pounds. The all-electric Ford F-150 pulled equivalent of just less than four fully-loaded rail cars.

Under development, the all-electric Ford F-150 prototype is a loose representation of what kind of truck customers can expect. The demonstration of the more than 1,000,000-pound load pull was also accompanied by a disclaimer that the all-electric pickup truck was towing beyond the rated capacity of the intended production version. No major details given of the prototype or production all-electric Ford F-150 have been announced but more details should be provided before 2022. Among the 40 electrified vehicles Ford plans in three years are 16 battery-powered products.


Below is YouTube video from Ford's official channel of the more than 1,000,000 pull by the all-electric Ford F-150 prototype: