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How Car Companies Are Trying to Win Back Millennials


BELMONT, Calif.—”Smile!” says Korina Loumidi, snapping a selfie of the two of us on her iPhone. In the past hour, I’ve wandered through a Silicon Valley office building with all the trappings of one of the hot tech companies in the neighborhood: Google, Facebook, Apple. I’ve seen whiteboard walls scribbled on with marker, pool tables and ping-pong tables, a cluster of 3D printers, and an Xbox-equipped TV. Each room throngs with young employees, who like Loumidi are mostly in their late 20s, exhaling the entrepreneurial energy that hangs in the Northern Californian air.

Only I’m not at a tech company—and certainly not one that was recently a scrappy startup. I’m at a research outpost of Volkswagen, the 77-year-old German car company, and the iPhone on which Loumidi has just snapped our selfie is mounted to the dashboard of an “iBeetle,” a new VW model that was designed in collaboration with Apple. The iBeetle app she’s demonstrating—which, on top of a specialized selfie feature, integrates with the owner’s Spotify, Facebook, and Twitter accounts—represents the latest attempt of a major car company to win back the attention of the next generation of would-be car buyers, many of whom are far more interested in the specs of the next iPhone than those of the next VW.

Research bears out the suspicion that Millennials, the generation born between the late 80s and the early 2000s, are less interested in cars than their parents were. People between the ages of 16 and 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles on average in 2009 than in 2001—”a greater decline in driving than any other age group,” per U.S. PIRG. According to the New York Times, the Federal Highway Administration has further found that only about 46 percent of potential drivers 19 and younger had driver’s licenses in 2008, down from about 64 percent in 1998. Trend pieces trot out variations of these statistics every few months, but the upshot for car makers is always the same. “We have to face the growing reality that today young people don’t seem to be as interested in cars as previous generations,” Toyota USA President Jim Lentz has said. Or, as U.S. PIRG’s Phineas Baxandall has put it, starkly: “Millennials aren’t driving cars.”

There are all sorts of reasons why Millennials might be less interested in driving. Most simply, the recent recession dampened the purchasing power of many young people and their parents, and cars are expensive. It’s also true that Millennials have a growing affinity for cities, where alternative transportation options are rife.

But a third trend underlying Millennial disenchantment with cars, according to many, has to do with the rise of online life. One recent study noted that Internet users, in particular, were less likely to have driver’s licenses. A Zipcar-funded study found that about 40 percent of Millennials would rather lose access to a car than to their smartphone or laptop. Young people today are more excited by the latest product announcement from Apple than from Ford. The gleam is off the car and on the iPhone, which has automakers scrambling to get it back.

•       •       •       •       •

If Millennials are too busy taking selfies to care about cars, then perhaps an ability to snap selfies in cars could lure them back? That’s the insight of Loumidi’s app, and it’s this third trend—tech obsession—that the VW Electronics Research Laboratory I’m touring is meant to address. Based in Belmont, California, ERL is just a 20-minute drive up Route 101 from the campuses of Facebook, Google, and Apple. VW has decided that if it can’t beat the smartphone set, it will join them; indeed, it works hand-in-hand with several nearby companies, even having one employee embedded full-time with the chipmaker Nvidia.

Though overrun by twenty-somethings like Loumidi, at ERL my main tour guides are Ewald Goessmann, the lab’s executive director, and Chuhee Lee, its deputy director. At 49 and 38 respectively, Goessmann and Lee are uncharacteristically old as far as ERL employees go, and there’s something of the feeling of a pair of college professors wandering among their students as we progress through the lab. Both have a youthful energy, though, and wear stylish fitted shirts that would make them at home among startup founders. Goessmann has only recently assumed this position, after years working for Audi (a VW-owned brand) in his native Germany. “Even two months here have been inspiring to me,” he says of the move to Silicon Valley. “Every week you get new ideas.”

Volkswagen has decided that if it can’t beat the smartphone set, it will join them; above, the Goessmann and Lee selfie is finished. (Courtesy VW)

There is a decades-long tradition of car companies having design studios in Southern California, where the strong driving culture has proved fertile for automotive innovation. It’s only in the last 15 or 20 years, though, that car companies have increasingly spun off outposts here in Northern California, to capitalize on and connect with the tech industry. In 1998, VW became the second to open a research arm hereMercedes was first, in 1994and ERL, with its 140 employees, remains the second-largest after the Mercedes lab.

A Wonka-esque energy infuses ERL. On one floor, a group of young researchers contemplate new ways to connect drivers to events in their area, scribbling notes on panels of frosted glass that double as a whiteboard. On another, a roomful of 3D printers hum, ready for rapid prototyping of ideas as they come to engineers. On another, social scientists tool around on a pair of driving simulators—one made from the sawed-off front half of an Audi A7, propped in front of a triptych of widescreen TVs—preparing to test a new in-car interface they hope could reduce distracted driving among Millennials. They won’t show it to me, alas, since car companies are notoriously secretive about products in the near horizon.

In a ground-floor garage, though, a 31-year-old engineer named Michael Buthut shows me a more distant-horizon ideas, something more research than development. Buthut is tasked with responding to trends in technology; one of these, he notes, is the fact that we are all generating increasing amounts of data, more than we know what to do with. We have less trouble recording moments of our lives, but more trouble sifting through them and retrieving the important ones.

This may seem unrelated to driving, but in fact we generate data everywhere—and sometimes unsafely. If you’ve given in to the temptation of snapping a photo while on a particularly scenic drive, you’re not alone (and distracted driving is particularly prevalent among Millennials). But what if there was a way to focus on the road, Buthut asked, while your car took your pictures for you?

A Wonka-esque energy infuses ERL. On one floor, a driving simulator made from a sawed-off Audi A7 helps test a new in-car interface to reduce distracted driving among Millennials. (David Zax)

Next to Buthut is a VW Golf with four GoPro cameras mounted to the roof. The GoPros are rigged to take pictures every five seconds, generating 32 GB of data during a two-hour drive, a daunting number of photos for any human to sift through. But VW collaborated with the startup wise.io to create an algorithm that trains a computer (based on a set of human-rated pictures) to know which photographs are most likely to appeal to you. Buthut showed me how the algorithm pored over reams of photos from a recent drive, discarding bland, blurry street views and distilling the set to a handful of postcard-ready shots of gorgeous, hilly landscape. It’s the sort of thing to make an art photographer squirm, but it may work well enough to discourage young drivers from clicking-and-driving.

Another idea Buthut and his team are working on is called “smart accessories,” which envisions a future where your valuables are embedded with Bluetooth chips that communicate with your car to prevent theft (among other uses). In true Silicon Valley fashion, Buthut wasn’t entirely sure what would come of this idea; he just knew that it was cool. Nevertheless, he did show me one “use case,” in the tech world’s jargon: handing me his Pebble smartwatch, he grabbed a chip-embedded surfboard from the Golf’s roof rack and made off with it like a bandit. Once he reached a certain distance, the car’s lights began to flash, and the Pebble watch pushed me a message: “Alert! Your surfboard is missing!”

•       •       •       •       •

Volkswagen isn’t the only car company worried about Millennials’ dwindling affection for cars. Various brands have been responding to the trend in different ways. Some seem to feel that better outreach is just as important as design; GM hired a “youth emissary” named John McFarland some years ago (though GM says his role has since changed); it also retained a consultant from MTV to figure out what kids today were into. Ford, a latecomer to the Silicon Valley RD game (it only moved to create its own lab there in 2012), nonetheless teamed up with Zipcar to popularize its vehicles among college students. And though Honda did redesign the Fit mini-car partly to appeal to Millennials, its strongest pitch came in the form of internet-friendly videos featuring a BuzzFeed-ready meerkat.

But if most brands seem to be focusing on Millennial marketing for now, there’s still no shortage of eye-popping, futuristic design ideas like the kind VW is playing with. The question, though, is how many of these ideas will actually make it to market. Back in 2011, Toyota presented a car at the Tokyo Motor Show that it called the “Fun Vii.” If other car companies were interested in integrating vehicles with iPhones, Toyota’s design, originating at its Calty design lab in Newport Beach, California, seemed more like an attempt to turn your car into an iPhone.

The Fun Vii is a vision of a sleek car that has all the design appeal of your smartphone. The exterior and interior of the car itself are composed of giant, illuminated display panels; you can actually change the color of the car with the press of a button. The Fun Vii excited wide swaths of the press, garnering coverage in outlets that usually overlook car news. “It struck a pretty cool chord with the general public,” says Alex Shen, Calty’s studio chief designer.

The only problem? You can’t buy it. There was one copy made for the auto show, but it wasn’t even designed to be driven safely on public streets. It was what the auto industry calls a concept vehicle, which Calty’s Andrew MacLachlan loosely defines as a car company’s “dream of what could be.” Any given concept vehicle is typically a suggestion of what could be on the market in 10 or 15 years. Though that time horizon may seem distant, that’s actually when many Millennials may come into their own financially and be more willing to buy cars.

Toyota’s Fun Vii concept car has all the design appeal of your smartphone. (Chad Horwedel / Flickr)

This time lag underscores one of the challenges of designing cars for Millennials, whose tastes can change with the weather. It’s tough, says MacLachlan, but while there are “fashions and trends, there are values as well, and values change very slowly.” Toyota has conducted some of its own research to try to identify what these values are, particularly for the younger half of Millennials, sometimes called Generation Z. Calty concluded that three features of Generation Z are most salient when projecting what they’ll like in the future: this generation is digitally native, assertive about its green lifestyle, and a “creator generation” that wants to craft and customize both their digital and physical spaces. This, at least, is the moving target Toyota thinks it sees in the distance.

“It’s kind of guesswork,” says MacLachlan. “No one can tell five years from now what events will alter who we are, or our culture. But there are elements you can look at that don’t change so much.”

•       •       •       •       •

I think about this balancing act of timescales—juggling what’s possible now with what the market may be in the future—at VW’s ERL, as Chuhee Lee walks me through a kind of prototyping graveyard. He reaches up to a shelf, showing me a black robotic device resembling the head of Pixar’s Wall-E. “AIDA,” or the Affective Intelligent Driving Agent, was created in conjunction with MIT to “explore new vehicle-driver relationships.” But as VW continued to work on iterations of this and other physical avatars, smartphones took off, Siri was born, and the company eventually decided a dashboard-mounted robo-head wasn’t such a great idea after all.

In fact, it seems that one of the smartest things car companies can do when trying to appeal to Millennial tech habit is simply to design their cars in a way that makes them accommodating to the innovations of other companies. The lifecycle of a car design is five years, but Tim Cook takes the stage every year or so to tell us about the new iPhone.

Years back, VW developed a black robotic device resembling Pixar’s Wall-E, but the company abandoned the dashboard-mounted robo-head after Siri took off. (David Zax)

You can hardly blame car companies for lagging. Facebook can take up the rallying cry “move fast and break things,” but VW can never have that luxury. With cars, “you want to go fast, but never break!” says Lee. A software company can rush out a program, then have customers download an update when glitches are found. Car companies can’t do this. If they try anything similar, their customers die, and they face Congressional inquiry.

With this underlying reality, I found myself most impressed by the innovations that enabled VW to simply accommodate the rapid waves of the consumer electronics industry. Lee and Goessmann explained, for instance, how VW is designing its next wave of cars with the on-board computer as a separate module, making it easier to introduce new hardware through the five-year span of a particular car model. Previously, car and computer were so intertwined that someone buying a car in 2010, say, might be stuck with the same in-car electronics as someone buying in 2006.

For all of the frantic effort of car companies to reclaim coolness from Apple, they seem at their best—and most Millennial-savvy—when they come to a Zen-like acceptance of the tech world’s ascendance. Which is why when Loumidi snaps our selfie in the iBeetle, it’s the first time that I (an admittedly old Millennial, at 30) see an innovation that actually stimulates my appetite for car-buying. It’s less the selfie feature I find alluring—though that’s fun—and more the elegance of the underlying iPhone integration: a basic dash-mounted dock; an app whose elemental features (music, social media, the ability to time my drive) are designed with jumbo icons I can take in easily with the briefest glance from the road.

And it’s this innovation that lingers in my brain as I pull out of ERL in my rental car, struggling to hear directions my iPhone barks at me from the cup-holder at my elbow. It now strikes me as barbaric to have a car that doesn’t integrate with my iPhone so seamlessly. For VW to have tapped into that hallmark of the tech industry—the ability to create dissatisfaction with products merely a few years old, even if they work passably well—it must be doing something right.

This article is part of ‘The Future of Transportation,’ a CityLab series made possible with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

Article source: http://www.citylab.com/design/2014/09/how-car-companies-are-trying-to-make-car-ownership-attractive-to-millennials/379377/

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Fremont police car design wins first place


FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — The Fremont Police Department’s new blue-on-black cruiser design is getting attention.

The design, which first hit the streets a year ago when the department rolled out two new Ford Taurus cruisers, was adapted to a new Ford Explorer six months ago, the Fremont Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1ztkkc6 ).

The current issue of Law and Order magazine awarded the Explorer first place in the Municipal 10-to-50 officers West Division cruiser design contest.

Judging was based on overall appearance, safety and the ability to identify it as a law enforcement vehicle.

Judges’ comments were that the blue-on-black design “really stands out and catches your eye. The seal and badge on the front are just the right size.”

Police Chief Jeff Elliott said officers told him shortly after he took over the office in the fall of 2012 that they wanted to change the cruiser design.

“We had the same design on the cruiser for nearly 20 years at that point,” he said.

“One of the things the officers wanted was a black and white car,” Elliott said. “When we looked at the black and white cars, the cost was anywhere from $900 to $1,200 more per car. We didn’t have that in our budget, so we started looking at black.

“I talked to the chief in Bellevue, and he said he ordered white cars and accidentally got a black one. He kept one of the black ones and it looked really nice, so I thought let’s go with black,” Elliott said.

Lt. Glen Still took over the design process with input from other officers.

“He was working with a company to make the design,” Elliott said. “They made a design for us, but initially (the decals were) red. I didn’t like the way the red looked because it made it kind of look like a fire marshal’s car. So Glen got ahold of them and asked them to change it to blue. … It looked better than we anticipated.

“I’m proud of the work that Lieutenant Still did on this and the input from the other officers, because several of the officers helped guide us in getting this to design,” he added.

A feature of the design is more reflective striping and lettering, helping to make the car more visible at night.

“With our old design,” Elliott said, “the striping is reflective, but there wasn’t a lot of it there. With this new design, during the day this is very visible, the black really stands out. And then during the night, with the new decals, it stands out much greater, especially against the black background.

“One of the things that I think made it stand out was we had our patch put on the front of the car, I think that’s what makes the whole thing stand out,” he said. “Additionally, one thing that we added was our motto at the bottom, which is ‘Committed to Excellence, Proud to Protect,’ and we never had that on the cars before.”

The magazine article mentioned that a trend in law enforcement vehicles is incorporating symbols, mission statements and mottos in their design.

“We really liked the design, and everyone we showed it to thought it was really neat, so we thought, let’s enter this in a contest. Lieutenant Still took it upon himself to get photographs of it and get the entry form filled out, and he got it entered in the contest,” Elliott said.

Five cars — roughly half of Fremont’s fleet — have the new black design now. As older white cruisers are rotated out of service, their replacement vehicles will include the new design.

The department currently has two sport utility vehicles, but only the Explorer has the new design. An older Ford Expedition has the white paint scheme.

“The reason we need an SUV is because we need a vehicle that can get around reliably in the snow,” Elliot said. “The current SUV has 140,000 miles on it, and its years of service are passing quickly, so we wanted a new SUV.

“It’s actually a supervisor’s car,” he said.

Aside from navigating snowy roads, the SUVs also offer more interior roominess.

“Our larger officers have problems getting in and out of the Taurus,” Elliott said, pointing out that officers wear bulky gear, and cruiser counsels are packed with electronics equipment ranging from siren and light switch boxes to scanners, radars and video cameras.

“It gets hard to maneuver in those Tauruses, and these SUVs give a little more room to some of those big guys,” he said.

“Another thing is the back allows for more room to carry additional equipment when it comes to rifles, shields, accident investigation equipment, AEDs and all that kind of stuff. It’s easier to put that in the back and get at it than it is the trunk of a cruiser,” he said.

“Eventually,” Elliott said, “we’d like to move toward more SUVs. … I know that some of the guys driving Tauruses would love to have SUVs, but we just don’t have enough of those right now and don’t have the money to buy them.”

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Information from: Fremont Tribune, http://www.fremontneb.com

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Fremont Tribune

Article source: http://siouxcityjournal.com/ap/state/fremont-police-car-design-wins-first-place/article_fe3d2b6a-c120-52ac-9e84-4c941c282197.html

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Renault Alpine Sports Car Design Signed Off, Won’t Look Like Concept


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2012 Renault Alpine A110-50 Concept

Enlarge PhotoRenault and Caterham announced plans in 2012 to jointly develop a new platform that could underpin sports car models for their respective brands. Development started in earnest shortly after but earlier this year the two automakers went their separate ways.

The good news is that both Renault and Caterham plan to develop their respective sports cars in time for a promised launch in 2016. It’s now been revealed that design for the Renault version, which will be marketed under the French automaker’s performance brand Alpine, has been finalized.

Unfortunately, per Autocar, the finalized design doesn’t look anything like the striking Renault-Alpine A110-50 concept car from 2012, previously thought to be representative of the new sports car.

Production of the Renault sports car will take place at the original home of the Alpine brand, Renault’s Dieppe plant in the north of France. Expect a lightweight, mid-engined coupe powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivering between 250 and 300 horsepower.

Should the project prove successful, Renault may launch additional Alpine-branded cars. Of course, each of them will need to be supported by a strong business case.

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Article source: http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1023839_renault-alpine-sports-car-design-signed-off-wont-look-like-concept

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Will Cars of the Future be Designed for Women Only?


When Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan at the end of July 2014 that women’s increasing influence on the automotive industry was one of the four major trends shaping the global car business, the other auto makers probably felt he had revealed their secret, as the whole industry is pointing to women.

My May blog – “Women in Cars: Overtaking Men on the Fast Lane” – highlighted the fact that there are more women with driving licences in the U.S. today than men, across all age groups, and in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom. The parity is expected to happen within the next two to four years steering car companies to focus on women as a prime customer. Interestingly, over the last few months, strong evidence has emerged that car companies are now incorporating this trend to develop new vehicles, customized vehicle technologies, and sales solutions just for women.

So it seems the battle ground has been drawn, and as auto makers are not ones to miss a bloodthirsty fight over a consumer segment, they have started revving their engines. The war over women has been raging for some time within the categories women have a significant presence – city cars and cross-over SUVs. However, “women” is not one consumer group that can be gratified with an SUV. Women are as diverse and complex as the male side of the auto buying market, and the female consumer of the future will dominate across all segments.

There are rumours in the industry that following on Porsche Porsche’s footsteps, another German vehicle manufacturer (OEM) is going as far as launching a vehicle designed for women. Porsche took a bold step by positioning its Porsche Macan, the smaller twin brother (or sister perhaps) of the Cayenne, towards women. This of course was in response to the Land Rover Evoque, which, somewhat thanks to Victoria Beckham’s design and endorsement, is driven more by women than men.

In the past, the “cars for women” concept has been unsuccessful as they have simply been pink – think Mary Kay Mary Kay car pink. But, the reality is, by optimizing key vehicle model designs for women, the OEMs win both genders. FIAT say their 500 is designed to “move the emotional soul” inside a customer. One might assume this is aimed toward and designed for women as women have a tendency to purchase on more of an emotional level. However, FIAT has retained both genders through customization. Starting from the two basic unisex 500 models (Pop and Pop Star), they then brought in Lounge and Cult (primarliy for women), and Sport and GQ (primarily for men). Other popular models with both genders like the BMW MINI, Renault Renault Twingo and Citroen C1 have integrated features such as increased wheel base, shortened overhangs, touchscreens, and leather and woven materials in their 2014 models. Men certainly aren’t complaining, and women are buying more of them.

So what do women really want from their cars? Frost Sullivan research shows that women demand intuitive vehicle controls, automatic assist features, integrated technology and a quiet, comfortable and plush cabin. It could be that the devastating realization we’ve all had that nice trim and comfort costs you a pretty penny in extras may push dealers to make these features standard, in order to win the female customer. The innovation in design for women will broaden the concept of personalization in the future.

The 2014 Mercedes S Class developers say they have designed their cabin around the concept of “energizing fitness” and feature a host of options including a perfume atomizer, ionising air system and strictly no plastic. The new Porsche Macan – aimed at women – has almost endless customization options. No wonder Ford’s automatic boot opener ad portraying a woman dangling her stilettos was such a success – it even translated into high sales of the Ford Kuga (and BMW copying the feature and ad).

It is not just the cars and the features that are now the source of car companies’ attention. The battleground is shifting to car dealerships. Nissan has come out as the first car company that plans to revamp 300 of their dealerships in Japan tailoring to women. Called the “Ladies First” project, Nissan has opened a pilot dealership in the Tokyo suburb of Fuchu. This dealership is managed by women, manned by women, and aims to make the shopping experience more welcoming and seamless.  The intent is to appeal to and win over females using other car brands and to those new to the car buying process.

The dealerships are modern with a serene atmosphere and are equipped with a team of female concierges providing child care during appointments and female mechanics who avoid the use of unnecessary auto jargon to explain the value-add of a vehicle in plain English (Japanese). Ghosn wants a minimum of 50 percent of sales and retail teams globally to be women. He says 80 percent of women going to a car dealer want to have a woman sales person, whilst men are 50/50. So – aspire to do what females want (and win the men too). As the saying goes, “Happy wife, happy life.” I think Nissan is on to something here.

Whereas efforts towards workforce diversity will take some years to come to fruition, in the meantime, Ghosn has established a system called “fJury” (female jury), where a panel of women provide feedback and approve every stage of any vehicle design process.

BMW has been forced to look at their long and largely successful “ultimate driving machine” marketing slogan. They realized it worked with piston heads, but something far more sophisticated was needed to capture a new female consumer. Thus, the “Joy” campaign was born. Going from taglines such as “Fasterpiece” to “Joy is Maternal” consequently brings a different feel to the brand.

Diversity is a global goal, but the auto industry is seeking to win female talent at all levels as a key factor to success. Ghosn and the Nissan Renault Alliance have been quietly building the most diverse regional business unit of any automaker globally in Brazil. This is not just because it’s the right thing to do but because they clearly believe they can win a whole emerging market this way and intend to do the same in Russia and China.

In China, over 50 percent of cars purchased in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities are women; a lot of them are first time buyers with new earning power and are securing their independence via buying a vehicle. Major auto makers are putting women at the head of vehicle design and roll out in these key future markets. Lamborghini’s trim and colour assembly team is 75 percent female, and BMW has an all-female team of engineers working on product development for the BMWi user interface.

For the auto industry the discerning, often brand agnostic, female consumer has thrown the innovation arms race wide open. The question now is will they develop and launch only vehicles designed for women, or will they customize cars for both sexes. I trust the former.

This article was written with contribution from Olivia Price Walker, Senior Consultant and author of Frost Sullivan’s “Women in Cars; Changing Auto Industry Dynamics,” to be published October 2014.   

Article source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/sarwantsingh/2014/08/28/will-cars-of-the-future-be-designed-for-women-only/

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Volvo XC60 D4 Automatic R-Design – car review


Volvo have always been good at safety. They were first to introduce the three-point seatbelt as standard equipment over 50 years ago. Now, this car, with its Driver Support Pack, does a lot more than tether you to your seat in three places. It will stay the right distance from the car in front, and stop you from drifting into the wrong lane. It will warn you of an impending collision, and brake for you if you fail to. It can recognise pedestrians and cyclists, see in your blind spots and read road signs.

It can even read your mind and will tell you off, in Swedish (you can choose the gender of your rebuker), if you sit in the driver’s seat with the wrong attitude.

All of which, bar one (I won’t say which), are true. The Driving Support Pack costs an extra £1,900, but if it saves your arse, or the arse of a pedestrian or the Lycra-covered arse of a cyclist, then that’s £1,900 well spent. It’s still possible to crash, but it makes it as hard as possible. A lot of other manufacturers now do some, or all, of the above, but I’ve found Volvo do it best.

Safety aside, there is a lot else that impresses about the XC60. This 181hp diesel engine is plenty powerful, but it is also quiet and smooth, as well as surprisingly economical and unpolluting for a car of this size. On the outside, it is not unhandsome. Inside, it is a pleasant place to be, comfortable and tasteful, plus there’s loads of room, for offspring and stuff.

I don’t like it, though. Basically because I don’t like any SUVs. Maybe you cannot call this one a gas-guzzler, but it does guzzle space – in the supermarket car park, on the school run, on city streets that weren’t built for cars of this size. Not like its monstrous and loathsome big brother the XC90, maybe (plus all the other big ones: Range Rovers, the Discovery, X5s and Q7s), but still an unnecessary amount.

How can I call myself a proper motoring journalist, you say, when I worry about gas-guzzling and don’t like big cars? Well, to be really honest, I don’t (call myself a proper motoring journalist, about which more next week). But I do actually enjoy driving, on the rare times circumstances allow. And I’m not enjoying driving the XC60. I’ve got the power, and the poise; I’m comfy and a bit smug. But I don’t really feel any connection to the road; it’s an oddly disengaged experience.

I would get the equivalent estate, the V60, instead. It’s nicer to drive, as well as cheaper, has nearly as much space inside, for offspring and stuff, and is available with all that arse-saving equipment. Plus, it has the advantage that I won’t disapprove of yours. Your arse, that is.


Volvo XC60 D4 Automatic R-Design

Price from: £32,480.
Top speed: 130mph.
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds.
Combined fuel consumption: 60mpg.
CO2 emissions: 124 g/km.
Eco rating: 7/10.
Cool rating: 6/10.

Article source: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/30/volvo-xc60-d4-automatic-rdesign-car-review

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Fremont police car design wins first place


FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — The Fremont Police Department’s new blue-on-black cruiser design is getting attention.

The design, which first hit the streets a year ago when the department rolled out two new Ford Taurus cruisers, was adapted to a new Ford Explorer six months ago, the Fremont Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1ztkkc6 ).

The current issue of Law and Order magazine awarded the Explorer first place in the Municipal 10-to-50 officers West Division cruiser design contest.

Judging was based on overall appearance, safety and the ability to identify it as a law enforcement vehicle.

Judges’ comments were that the blue-on-black design “really stands out and catches your eye. The seal and badge on the front are just the right size.”

Police Chief Jeff Elliott said officers told him shortly after he took over the office in the fall of 2012 that they wanted to change the cruiser design.

“We had the same design on the cruiser for nearly 20 years at that point,” he said.

“One of the things the officers wanted was a black and white car,” Elliott said. “When we looked at the black and white cars, the cost was anywhere from $900 to $1,200 more per car. We didn’t have that in our budget, so we started looking at black.

“I talked to the chief in Bellevue, and he said he ordered white cars and accidentally got a black one. He kept one of the black ones and it looked really nice, so I thought let’s go with black,” Elliott said.

Lt. Glen Still took over the design process with input from other officers.

“He was working with a company to make the design,” Elliott said. “They made a design for us, but initially (the decals were) red. I didn’t like the way the red looked because it made it kind of look like a fire marshal’s car. So Glen got ahold of them and asked them to change it to blue. … It looked better than we anticipated.

“I’m proud of the work that Lieutenant Still did on this and the input from the other officers, because several of the officers helped guide us in getting this to design,” he added.

A feature of the design is more reflective striping and lettering, helping to make the car more visible at night.

“With our old design,” Elliott said, “the striping is reflective, but there wasn’t a lot of it there. With this new design, during the day this is very visible, the black really stands out. And then during the night, with the new decals, it stands out much greater, especially against the black background.

“One of the things that I think made it stand out was we had our patch put on the front of the car, I think that’s what makes the whole thing stand out,” he said. “Additionally, one thing that we added was our motto at the bottom, which is ‘Committed to Excellence, Proud to Protect,’ and we never had that on the cars before.”

The magazine article mentioned that a trend in law enforcement vehicles is incorporating symbols, mission statements and mottos in their design.

“We really liked the design, and everyone we showed it to thought it was really neat, so we thought, let’s enter this in a contest. Lieutenant Still took it upon himself to get photographs of it and get the entry form filled out, and he got it entered in the contest,” Elliott said.

Five cars — roughly half of Fremont’s fleet — have the new black design now. As older white cruisers are rotated out of service, their replacement vehicles will include the new design.

The department currently has two sport utility vehicles, but only the Explorer has the new design. An older Ford Expedition has the white paint scheme.

“The reason we need an SUV is because we need a vehicle that can get around reliably in the snow,” Elliot said. “The current SUV has 140,000 miles on it, and its years of service are passing quickly, so we wanted a new SUV.

“It’s actually a supervisor’s car,” he said.

Aside from navigating snowy roads, the SUVs also offer more interior roominess.

“Our larger officers have problems getting in and out of the Taurus,” Elliott said, pointing out that officers wear bulky gear, and cruiser counsels are packed with electronics equipment ranging from siren and light switch boxes to scanners, radars and video cameras.

“It gets hard to maneuver in those Tauruses, and these SUVs give a little more room to some of those big guys,” he said.

“Another thing is the back allows for more room to carry additional equipment when it comes to rifles, shields, accident investigation equipment, AEDs and all that kind of stuff. It’s easier to put that in the back and get at it than it is the trunk of a cruiser,” he said.

“Eventually,” Elliott said, “we’d like to move toward more SUVs. … I know that some of the guys driving Tauruses would love to have SUVs, but we just don’t have enough of those right now and don’t have the money to buy them.”

___

Information from: Fremont Tribune, http://www.fremontneb.com

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Fremont Tribune

Article source: http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Fremont-police-car-design-wins-first-place-5723616.php

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Bryan Thompson Turns ‘Motor City Masters’ Winnings Into LGBT Car Design …






 

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Article source: http://www.frontiersla.com/frontiers-blog/2014/08/27/bryan-thompson-turns-motor-city-masters-winnings-into-lgbt-car-design-scholarship

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Georgia designs armored car for Saudi Arabia


Tbilisi, Georgia, Aug. 29

By Nana Kirtzkhalia – Trend:

Georgian military engineers are designing a special armored vehicle for Saudi Arabia. An armored vehicle is designed for the evacuation of wounded servicemen from the battle area, head of the foreign trade department of the Georgian Military Scientific and Technical Center “Delta” Otar Chiteishvili told Kommersant radio Aug. 28.

Georgia participates in the tender announced by Saudi Arabia for this armored car design. Its sketches with technical characteristics were sent to the tender commission Aug. 26.

In case of winning the tender, the Georgian side will provide Saudi Arabia with 600 armored vehicles during the first year, but a few thousand vehicles within the contractual 10-year period.

The minimum cost of an armored vehicle is $240,000-$250,000.

Follow us on Twitter @TRENDNewsAgency

Article source: http://en.trend.az/scaucasus/georgia/2306307.html

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The car designer who turned a sailfish into a supercar


How would your boss react if he had to sign off for an expensive stuffed fish you’d bought on a whim on your holiday? Most of us would probably answer “not very thrilled”. But Frank Stephenson’s boss is not your average boss; his workplace is not your average workplace; and the fish? Well, that’s not your normal fish either.

Stephenson is design director of McLaren Automotive, the carmakers behind a range of highly prized, high-priced cars. While on holiday in the Caribbean, he noticed a sailfish on a wall in the resort where he was staying. A man working there told Stephenson that he was proud to have caught the fish because it was so fast. Stephenson was intrigued – he began doing some research on the species to find out why it was so quick.

The McLaren P1 hybrid supercar uses design tricks inspired by the sailfish’s skin (McLaren)

On the way back to London, Stephenson stopped off in Miami and went down to a local fishing village, where, in a stroke of luck, a local fisherman had just caught a sailfish. He bought it, sent it downtown to get it stuffed and eventually got it delivered to the scanning department of the McLaren Automotive aerodynamics laboratory in Surrey – where the carmakers set to work trying to learn the secrets of the super-speed fish’s abilities. It’s just one of a number of recent initiatives by automotive companies to try and learn from techniques that have been used in nature.

The sailfish is a kind of turbo swordfish; one that has been clocked swimming 100m in around half the time it takes Usain Bolt to run it. They are capable of these bursts of breath-taking speed in order to chase down the small, fast-swimming fish they eat. The analysis revealed that the scales on the sailfish’s skin generate little vortices that result in the fish being enveloped in a bubble of air instead of denser water. This reduced drag allows the fish to move even faster.

Evolutionary design

McLaren’s designers applied the same texture as the scales of the sailfish to the inside of the ducts that lead into the engine of their P1 hypercar. This increased the volume of air going into the engine by 17%, improving the car’s efficiency: the P1 has hybrid engines creating 903 horsepower and thus needs large amounts of air pumped into the engine to help combustion and engine cooling.

The P1 also borrowed from the sailfish little ‘diplets’ on the torso of the fin where it meets the tail fin that the fish uses to straighten out the flow of pockets of air and water that move past it. This, Stephenson says, made the car more aerodynamic.

Stephenson’s sailfish now has pride of place on the McLaren design studio wall (McLaren)

Nature has had millions of years to evolve its designs, says Stephenson, which is why he is trying to incorporate those tricks into his projects. “It just simply makes sense,” he says. “How can a lizard go upside down and stick to the surface for example? Well, if you can find out why, you can just apply that technology to the tyres of the car such that when the surfaces are wet, there’s no way that the car can slide.”

Hydrodynamic principles have often been refined by nature long before humans discovered them. For example, engineers from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have recently developed an air lubrication system that separates water from the surface of ships to reduce drag up to 80%; gas is not as dense as water, so the ships has less friction and glides more easily. This is a similar technique to that used by the sailfish. And it turns out it’s just as useful on land as it is in the water.

Boxfish brainwave

The McLaren design studio is a mix of science lab, art workshop and music rehearsal space.  Its aim is to help designers gain a cutting edge, by taking them out of their comfort zone. “Everyday I’m doing research in my office, it looks like I’m studying biology in my office rather than car design,” says Stephenson.

McLaren have some company in this biomimicry department. Mercedes Benz’s bionic car was inspired by a boxfish with hexagonal plates on its outer skin which is like a “suit of armour”, giving the fish rigidity, protection and manoeuvrability. The cube-shaped structure doesn’t create drag; by mimicking this boxy shape, engineers were able to achieve a record-breaking drag coefficient – a value used to quantify the amount of resistance an object faces whilst trying to move through air or water. The Mercedes Benz engineers also managed to lower fuel consumption by 20%, and lessen nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%.

The boxfish’s plate-like scales are another design copied by car manufacturers… (Wikimedia Commons)

Japanese carmaker Nissan, on their quest to create the ultimate collision-free vehicles, have created small “cute” robots called Eporo, which also feature tricks learned from creatures living beneath the waves. “We needed to look no further than Mother Nature to find the ultimate form of collision-avoidance systems in action, in particular, the behavioural patterns of fish,” says Toru Futami, the engineering director of advanced technology and research. The movement of fish, which move in schools and avoid obstacles en masse, is the elementary principle of the algorithm that the locomotion of the robots is built on. “This algorithm is very simple,” adds Susumu Fujita, the co-creator of Eporo.

“Fish follow these three rules: Don’t go too far, don’t get too close and don’t hit each other” explains Futami. The robots have already inspired features in Nissan cars including Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA) and Forward Collision Warning (FCW). These are the bases that the new autonomous cars could be built on, eliminating the need for lanes, traffic lights and even indicators. Even some car parts could become obsolete. “We have systems that are going to eliminate the need for windscreen wipers – you don’t see animals with windscreen wipers on their eyes,” asserts Stephenson.

… In this case to create the shape of their new Bionic concept car (Mercedes-Benz)

Of course, not all inspiration comes from underwater. The Eporo, for example, contain Laser Range Finder (LRF) technology that was developed in a previous project from Nissan. It is inspired by the way a bumblebee can detect objects across a wide range, and can sense obstacles up to two metres away in a 180-degree radius. If one is detected, the robot is able to turn its wheels at right angles or greater to avoid collision.

Biomimicry has become a watchword for many car companies, but nature’s secrets are also having an effect off the road. Recently, Nasa also asked members of the public to select a spacesuit for the future, one of which  was inspired by “the scaly skin of fish and reptiles”.

Increasingly, designers are finding that nature’s tricks can surpass their own ideas. And so it makes sense to seek that inspiration from anywhere – even a stuffed sailfish on the wall of a resort in the Caribbean.

Video produced by Dalmeet Singh Chawla, recording by Van Le. Music by Mehmet Ece.

Video images: Science Photo Library/ National History Museum, Tring/Shannon, Flickr/McLaren Automotive

If you would like to comment on this article, or anything else you have seen on Future, head over to our Facebook or Google+ page, or message us on Twitter

Article source: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140828-how-a-fish-inspired-a-supercar

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Acura’s design chief: ‘Through cars, I’ve met everybody’




 

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Krishnan M. Anantharaman

Automotive News
August 25, 2014 – 12:01 am ET

MONTEREY, Calif. — In the auto design world, there are the suave, black-turtleneck types and there are guys like Dave Marek, a chatty hot-rodder who’d rather skip a fancy dinner than get dressed up for it.

The 57-year-old global creative director of Acura is one of the key decision-makers in the new Acura Business Planning Office, a task force charged with reinvigorating Honda’s luxury brand and cementing its identity. If Marek gets his way, that identity will be defined not by floaty sedans, but rather by performance models such as the coming NSX supercar.

“The brand started that way, and needs to retain its roots in a performance-based image,” said Marek, whose tenure at American Honda began in 1986, around the time Acura was born.

In addition to Acura’s production vehicles, Marek oversees designs for Acura’s motorsports program, such as vehicle graphics and paint schemes and styling of prototype vehicles.

During afternoon competition at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca near here, he spoke with News Editor Krishnan Anantharaman, though his eyes tended to wander toward the zoom of the cars on the track.

Q: What kinds of cars get your attention?

A: Non-ours, you mean? Any Porsche race car I’m just fanatical about. Road cars — it’s gonna be what everybody likes. Exotic cars always get everybody, I think.

I have a lot of friends in the design business because of my longevity, and I teach at Art Center, so I know every student that has come through. So whenever I see a car they did I have some pride in that, that I knew that I helped teach them.

I’ve always been a 911 guy. The progression of that car from inception — you know, I had a ’67, so I had the first year — and then you see what they’ve become. I’ve always admired that.

I like the Tesla. I like the feel of it. It feels modern but normal enough to get people to buy it.

That’s a great hat. What do you look for in a hat?

I am a hat guy. The New Jersey hat is always good. Honest to God, It’s like a car. I literally will buy hats and I wear them backwards because of the rake. I can’t have them be the wrong attitude on your head. So I’ll turn them around.

How many watches? How many pairs of glasses?

I have a Swatch collection. I probably have 300 Swatches and other watches. A hundred pairs of glasses. And I go through them. Glasses, more than anything, are like cars, because other than Ray-Bans or something classic, I’ll pick them up and go, “Dude, those look old now.” I’ll just eliminate those, and they just kind of sit there because I can’t bear to part with them. But then I started giving them to Out of the Closet or Goodwill because people need glasses. Why am I hoarding these?

I’ve painted some. I’ve taken them apart and painted them and put them back together. It’s more for the individuality, something unique about them. No one else has these. “Where’d you get those? I painted them.”

You’ve had some interesting celebrity encounters. Which ones stand out?

I was standing with Brad Pitt. He goes to this restaurant in Hollywood called Mexico City. And there’s a big line for the bathroom. I think it was Cinco de Mayo. He’s standing there, right behind me. And I can feel him being edgy, like he really had to go, and he’s kind of bumping a little. I turn around and I go, “Just ’cause you’re famous, you ain’t cutting in front of me.” He started laughing and said, “That’s OK.” But then we kind of had a conversation.

It’s fun to just encounter them because you never know what their personality is going to be — or mine. I’m not very vocal about what my profession is. And most of them, when they get down into it … they’re like, “Wow, that’s so cool!” Because, you know, rock stars want to own cars, and car guys want to be rock stars. Through cars, I’ve met everybody.

What’s your office like?

When you walk in, there’s a full-size model, a full-size model, a full-size model and they’re all lined up, and you can view them all [in a row] … which is perfect for me because I want to see what the hierarchy is and what’s happening at the time.

And everybody seems to work around the models. We all have desks, but everybody is on the floor, and they all work down by the car. We’re Friday-casual all the time. We’re actually Saturday-casual all the time.

What’s in your garage?

Uh, a bunch of old refrigerators? No. I don’t own a car right now. It’s amazing. You get to a point where you’re like, it’s going to be that or that. I’m gonna get maybe an old [Porsche] 550 or I’m going to get a ’55 Chevy or a ’32 Ford. Daily it changes with my mood.

The car I want is unattainable: a [Porsche] 917/30. That’s the car I just go ape over.

• Title: Global creative director, Acura

• Age: 57

• Born: Sacramento, Calif.

• Attended: Art Center Academy, Pasadena, Calif.

• Hired: 1986

• Interests: Auto racing, hot-rodding, collecting watches and eyeglasses

• Drives: Acura MDX

You can reach Krishnan M. Anantharaman at krishnan@crain.com.

Article source: http://www.autonews.com/article/20140825/OEM03/308259989/acuras-design-chief-through-cars-ive-met-everybody

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