Wednesday, November 20, 2019

An Auto Racing Enthusiast's Review of Ford v Ferrari




For the first time in more than seven years, I was drawn to a movie theatre this weekend for what may be an obvious reason when I inform you that my last cinema experience was attending the documentary Senna in Toronto. In 2019, my film-going motivation was based on the big screen adaptation of the great American auto racing story behind Ford’s reign at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the latter part of the 1960s. Ford v Ferrari is a docudrama with the polish of a big Hollywood production that admittedly both excited and concerned me prior to the positive word of mouth after the Toronto International Film Festival debut since sport-related movies are a hit or miss affair. The production values of the Ron Howard movie Rush has inspired confidence that auto racing can be depicted honourably on the big screen. Much like the Ford GT40 race car that went on to climatic greatness on the race track in 1966 as well as on film screens today, the right balance of parts and components make Ford v Ferrari into a sensational performer.

Ford v Ferrari’s story is set mainly between 1963 and 1966 as the Ford Motor Company works to construct a sports car purpose-built to beat the world’s best performance name. A rivalry stoked by Ford’s failed attempt to purchase Ferrari, the movie establishes the means required to reach their desired results. Ford v Ferrari is directed by James Mangold who possesses a stellar filmography that includes the Johnny Cash biography Walk the Line and the 2017 hit X-Men based movie Logan. From the very capable directing, the movie receives fully-developed scenes with excellent acting.

In order to make their GT40 a winner, the automaker contracted with American sports icon Carroll Shelby that is played by the talented Matt Damon. The star from the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy Christian Bale assumes to role of racer Ken Miles who served as the Ford GT40's primary test driver. Both Damon and Bale play their characters in a manner that brings the two great men of motorsports back to life. Bale’s Ken Miles performance stands out as an outwardly abrasive yet passionate racer. Shelby’s point of view is prominent as the team’s orchestrator but the film also gave a compelling focus on Miles and his family (Caitriona Balfe plays Ken Miles’ wife Mollie while Noah Jupe puts on a wonderful performance as son Peter). A most refreshing aspect of Ford v Ferrari’s story was with Mile’s family as supportive of his racing career. Too often in Hollywood pictures around sports we end up with family members or significant others who do nothing more than endlessly worry about the dangers. In Ford v Ferrari, the only conflict arose when Ken Miles’ wife simply wanted her husband to be honest with his passion for racing.

Although Ford v Ferrari provides radiant portrayals of some legends of the automobile, the movie doesn’t itself into being a biography of any individual. Throughout the movie’s long though well-utilized 2-hour, 32-minute runtime, we witness not only the thriving to create a Le Mans-winning race car through Shelby and Miles but the movie also takes us into the corporate culture within Ford. Historical figures Henry Ford II, Lee Iacocca and Leo Beebe appear in Ford v Ferrari as complicated individuals who support the Ford GT40 program exercising their own authority. Specifically, Henry Ford II (grandson of the automaker’s founder) is depicted as a tough-as-nails persona who could be both stubborn as well as occasionally receptive. From other historical accounts I have been privy to this is actually an accurate depiction. There’s one scene where Henry Ford II walked into one of his company’s auto plants and hollers to his employees how they have to think about how to save the automaker. I’m sure one or two workers would have a thought swirl in their heads that the company wouldn’t be in such a slump if the corporate head didn’t push for the Edsel brand. Ford v Ferrari also includes some amusing minor casting choices. Playing late American racing great Dan Gurney the driver’s youngest son Alex appearing in a minor clip. While the story is based on the aspiration for a car to cross the line ahead of another car, some strong acting performances provide an unexpected thrill ride of emotions.

Overall, the film does a great job characterizing the egos involved in big league racing during the 1960s. With technology and the motorsport spectacle at its peak, winning a major competition meant more than perhaps even today. Ford v Ferrari shows the personalities in conflict with each other as they achieve what is presumed as harmonious team effort at the time. While battling Enzo Ferrari’s team, the Ford GT40's second major battle occurred between Shelby’s team and Ford management. Made out to be somewhat of a villain to Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles in the movie, Leo Beebe (played by Josh Lucas) was among the pushier influences from the Ford corporate level that included the infamous photo-finish. Beebe’s meddling in the race team depicted in Ford v Ferrari is mostly confirmed by Beebe himself in interviews prior to his passing in 2001.

One of the easiest things to praise about Ford v Ferrari is the film’s visual presentation. We are fully integrated with 1960s sports car racing with charming realism. It’s simply a majestic sensation to see classic race vehicles on the big screen. In the climax of the movie is the Ford GT40 battling a Ferrari 330 P3 at Le Mans looks brilliant. I also applaud that the majority of the soundtrack for Ford v Ferrari is the engines of these legendary cars. Too often with 20th century period pictures, there is a compulsion to heavily pepper in music of the era in order to constantly remind us of the setting.

Leaving the theatre after seeing Ford v Ferrari, I was left with fulfillment as a fan of auto racing. Knowing the real-life history of the Ford GT40 program at Le Mans, it was my privilege to admire such a marvelous cinematic reenactment. It was a special indulgence to watch such a well-crafted, thoroughly entertaining motion picture that shared my love for the sport.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Defending A Legend: The All-New 2020 Land Rover Defender

Photo Credit: Jaguar Land Rover



Today, the Land Rover brand exists in a landscape it could not have predicted back when they constructed a Centre Steer prototype meant as a rugged postwar utility vehicle. Land Rover originally developed products directed towards more practical customers envisioning their vehicles on a farm or in other off-roading environments. Of course, today’s automotive customer is now attracted to the marque’s four-wheel drive vehicles as versatile and tough while also supported by premium equipment. The metamorphosis towards a more luxurious focused Land Rover product line largely gave way to its strictly purposeful presence in recent decades with exception of one model.

From 1983 to 2016, the Defender nameplate stood alone in Land Rover as a less spoiled sport utility vehicle embodying the traditions of the brand’s original models first sold in the late 1940s. The Land Rover Defender maintained a charmingly bulky shape that included a proven off-roading capability but attempted to blend more contemporary elements improving on-road performance and passenger comfort. However, the Defender’s classic theme would ultimately clash with tightening government regulations and requirements for new vehicles. The Land Rover Defender’s brief availability in North American ended ahead of 1998 due to more stringent safety regulations while advancing safety features in the United Kingdom led to the demise of the old-school sport utility vehicle. As prove with the discontinuation of the old Defender, often we just need to accept changing times and try to make something great out of the new world. Land Rover decided to take that approach by reviving their famed adventurous sport utility for the 2020 model year.

The all-new 2020 Land Rover Defender transitions the nameplate from a delightful relic of the past to an ultramodern showcase of versatility. Excelling to project the image of an accomplished 21st century four-wheel drive machine, Land Rover is presenting their latest vehicle with a slew of new innovations and enhanced personalization.


Photo Credit: Jaguar Land Rover



The 2020 Defender is shaped through stunning body panels that still capture the essence of the classic design. Short overhangs at the front and rear, a side-opening tailgate with a mounted spare tire and a unique body color-matching side pillars among the styling elements included on the 2020 Land Rover Defender that possesses a distinctive look compared to sister vehicles such as the Discovery or the Range Rover lineup. Beyond the refreshing exterior style, the Defender’s new look is based on a D7x platform utilizing unibody-style frame made of aluminum. Combining lightweight construction with rigidity that is three times greater than a sport utility vehicle using body-on-frame architecture, the monocoque used for the latest Land Rover is well-equipped to look and act the part of a terrain-conquering product. Through testing, Land Rover has subjected the 2020 Defender prototypes to a variety of extreme environments including extreme Arctic cold and high attitude terrain found in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

Arriving first as the four-door Defender 110 with a two-door Defender 90 body style next year, the new Land Rover features permanent four-wheel drive and a fully-independent suspension. For the Canadian and United States market, the 2020 Land Rover Defender’s performance will be supplied by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine generating 296 horsepower or a 396-horsepower inline-six Mild-Hybrid Electric Vehicle (MHEV) power unit that incorporates a 48-volt electric supercharger. An eight-speed ZF automatic transmission and a two-speed transfer box are mated with both powerplant choices. Standard equipped on the Defender X trim model is a Configurable Terrain Response that allows a driver to tailor handling through the vehicle’s powerplant, steering, differentials as well as traction control. All 2020 Defender models will also come with a system called Wade Sensing program configured to allow a driver to better manage travelling through waters. The Defender’s maximum wading depth in water is 35.4 inches. Wade Sensing can be selected within the Land Rover Terrain Response 2 menu.


Photo Credit: Jaguar Land Rover



In Canada, the 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 lineup will arrive in four conventional trim levels. The S trim model includes electronic air suspension with Adaptive Dynamics, 12-way adjustable front seats with heated control, 19-inch wheels and wireless charging. The Land Rover Defender 110 S also contains the all-new PIVI Pro infotainment system that incorporates over-the-air software updates. Premium LED headlights, Clear Exit Monitor, 20-inch wheels and a 10-speaker Meridian Sound System are included on the Defender 110 SE while the HSE model upgrades consist of Windsor leather seating as well as a sliding panoramic roof. The 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 X is the top-trimmed variant featuring orange-coloured brake calipers, a 700-watt sound system and an electronic active differential. A First Edition version will be a special model that includes specific interior elements, a refrigerator compartment and unique badging.

The interior compartment of the new Defender creates an atmosphere of luxury while also exhibiting the vehicle’s backpack-like, off-road utility ambitions. Spaciousness and simplicity inside are a call-back to the flexibility traditionalists have come to expect from Land Rover. Interior designers of the 2020 Land Rover Defender insured the traditional utilitarian style was given a place in the more modern cabin. Exposed structural components and the appearance of body panel details around the interior door trim enlightens new passengers to the charm of past off-roading greatness. The modern space inside the 2020 Defender can 110 be occupied by a five or six-passenger seating arrangement as well as an available 5+2 passenger layout. Modern premium refinements including standard central touchscreen as well as a variety of seating trims and veneers are matched with rugged, durable features such as rubberized flooring.


Photo Credit: Jaguar Land Rover

Land Rover is also allowing riders to customize their Defender starting with a selection of four accessory packs. Explorer Pack, Adventure Pack, Country Pack and Urban Pack options provide a selection of features adhering to the styling themes. Another appearance option available for the first time by Land Rover through the 2020 Defender is a Satin Protective Film that can be applied over select paint colours.   

Excepted to arrive in North American showrooms for spring of nexy year, the Canadian starting price for the 2020 Land Rover Defender is $65,300 for the 110 S model. For extra luxury and off-road capabilities, the top-trimmed Defender 110 X will have a retail price of $93,600.

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.