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  • Innovation For Millions – Ford showcases its technology and highlights Australia’s changing role

    Ford Innovation Oz 1

    Ford and Australia are very much intertwined – the association stretches nearly ninety years now, and has seen CKD assembly from humble beginnings evolve into the design and manufacture of homegrown, market-specific models such as the Falcon and Territory.

    From its initial position as an outpost, the country emerged to become the flag bearer for the Blue Oval in the region. In more recent times, however, significant growth in the Asian region – and new manufacturing facilities there – plus the emergence of China has taken away much of the gloss from Australia, and changing market conditions over the past decade haven’t helped Ford Australia’s cause either.

    Plummeting sales over the years inevitably led to the decision in 2013 to cease its local manufacturing operations in Australia by end-2016 – production of the final iteration of the Falcon, the FG facelift and SZ Territory Mk II SUV will come to an end when the automaker’s Broadmeadows and Geelong plants are shuttered in October 2016.

    A transformation plan for the market has been outlined, and the marketing and retail side of Ford Australia is set to go on an aggressive product cadence, albeit with new, different faces – the company recently announced that 2015 will be a banner year, with introductions of a slew of new or refreshed vehicles.


    Leading the line will be the sixth-gen Mustang, (which arrives in Malaysia early 2016) in both coupe and convertible forms. Australia will be a significant market for the new pony car in the Asia-Pacific region – actually, it is set be the most sizeable, as the car plugs into the slot the ageing Falcon will leave behind, even if they are very different beasts. More than 15,000 expressions of interest for the S550 have already been registered, so that tells you how well the car is expected to do there.

    Also on the list are the new Mondeo, updated Kuga, recently unveiled third-gen Everest, the soon-to-debut Ranger T6 facelift and third-gen Focus facelift. The facelifted C346 Focus ST is also set to arrive in Australia next year, which brings about the question if it will be coming to Malaysia to continue its run, given that the stock of the pre-facelift Focus ST has been exhausted.

    So, the retail side of things looks set to progress, and visibly at that, but the company has also been keen to highlight the quieter, but no less important aspect, of its operations, which is its growth as a regional hub for research and development.

    The Blue Oval has been investing heavily in Australia – last year alone, AUD$340 million was poured into product research and development facilities in the country, bringing the company’s total R&D investment there over the past seven years to more than AUD$2.2 billion.

    Highlighting the R&D side of things and Ford Australia’s growing role in product development for the region provides the basis of this story, though this was very cleverly masked within an Innovation for Millions showcase the company held in Ford Australia’s Lara/You Yangs Proving Ground, a sprawling 2,300 acre testbed and research centre outside of Melbourne.

    The IFM event displayed technologies such as the company’s EcoBoost engine line up and safety tech in the form of the world’s first rear inflatable aeatbelt, as well as active safty systems such as Ford’s Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), Cross Traffic Alert and Active City Stop, the latter trio through demonstrations. Enhanced Active Park Assist, which enables perpendicular hands-free parking on top of the parallel parking system found now, was also shown.

    The sampling of Cross Traffic Alert and Enhanced Active Park Assist – accomplished in a Ford Mondeo – impressed in their simulated trials, the latter parking the Mondeo spot-on in the parking box. It’s not all automated though – the system takes care of the all the steering, but the driver still needs to provide shifting, acceleration and brake input. Works well, though.

    As for Cross-Traffic Alert, that works in tandem with BLIS and scans 20 metres in each direction – the equivalent of seven parking spaces – in order to warn drivers of approaching vehicles when backing out of a parking spot. The current system only provides warning and not stop intervention (the user still has to brake), but there are plans to work on incorporating automated braking. Neat thing to have, really, as many a KL driver would no doubt agree.

    Ford IFM Oz 1

    Also shown at the event was SYNC2, the second-generation of the company’s in-car communications and entertainment system. Such is the speed of progress that just as the MyFord-based system has rolled out in Australian models, the automaker has now announced SYNC3, which will arrive in US model year 2016 cars. The latter ditches the Microsoft operating system currently in place, and replaces it with Blackberry’s QNX system.

    In any case, SYNC2, which is controlled by voice as well as through commands issued through an eight-inch, high-res touchscreen, is already a significant step up from the SYNC seen in current models in the Malaysian line-up.

    There’s a more comprehensive set of functions/control available, including using natural language commands such as “warmer” to turn up the air-conditioning, or saying “temperature 20 degrees” for more specificity. Additionally, a full address is no longer required for a point of interest location, and accessing music from an attached compatible smartphone or MP3 player has also become easier.

    Of course, SYNC3 – which also uses an eight-inch screen – takes things even further along, being faster and more intuitive in use. Its debut here may take some time though.

    Besides the host of working tech, product development was also subtly highlighted, aside from the shout given to the Ford Everest. Shown at the event in its Concept form, aspects of the Australian-led development of the new seven-seater‘s were underscored. Less so, the upcoming Ford Ranger facelift, though the number of disguised prototype mules within You Yangs provided plenty of visual notice.

    The new Ford Escort – developed by Ford’s Asia Pacific design team in Australia together with the company’s Research and Engineering Centre in Nanjing – was also seen at the facility undergoing final trials in its production-ready form (the car was initially previewed at Auto China in April).

    There was even the chance to get into one, which was undergoing NVH/suspension testing in one of the test chambers. It’s not the prettiest shape externally, but the Escort’s interior is quite the trick – plastics are decent, and the simple layout of the dashboard is very easy on the eye. And, as far as cabin space goes, it’s significantly roomier – especially at the back – than that on the Focus.

    As far as technological offerings stacked up at the IFM event, the star of the show was undoubtedly the new Ford immersive Vehicle Environment (FiVE) lab housed in the Virtual Reality Centre at You Yangs – the facility is one of two primary FiVE labs (the other is in Dearborn, Michigan). There are other centres in Germany, China, India, Brazil and Mexico, but these are collaboration centres.

    Ford Innovation Oz 5

    It’s nothing more than a dark-walled room with motion-capture technology, stereoscopic 3D displays and an array of computer gear, the FiVe lab, but what a show it puts on. Shades of Oculus Rift come to mind – the system employed by Ford uses a virtual reality head-mounted display identical to those used in the animation and gaming industry to provide designers and testers with a life-like experience of virtual vehicles.

    With the VR headset in place, users move through the room in a manner that they can interact with the virtual vehicle the same way they would in real life. The headset even provides a view into the physical world, so the user can see his or her body in relation to the virtual data.

    The system allows Ford engineers and designers around the world to quickly transition between different virtual design proposals to examine and select the best option, and enables designers to build a full-size virtual car years before a customer gets behind the wheel.

    Making use of sophisticated shadows and real-world lighting conditions, the process ensures that all production vehicles can be painstakingly reviewed for usability, consistency and design effects. In the case of the new Mustang, the system even helped identify an improved windscreen rake well before the car was finalised.

    Originally launched in 2012, the lab was given a significant upgrade earlier this year. The comprehensive overhaul updated the lab’s hardware and software, including a move to new photo-realistic virtual-reality software (VRED) to present a view in ultra-high definition, or four times the resolution of HD. A 4K-resolution display offers a high level of detail at which engineers can inspect issues that arise throughout vehicle development

    Also installed, greatly expanded motion-tracking equipment equivalent to that used in the animation/gaming industry, as well as a significantly expanded physical footprint to the lab itself. The new space is now large enough to amply “fit” an entire virtual car, enabling designers to perform “walkarounds” and experience the virtual model much like a consumer would experience a car at a dealership.

    In use, the system is breathtaking in its scope. There’s great dimensionality and perspective, and the level of detail on view is astounding. It was amazing to do a walkaround of the Mustang well before I eventually saw it in the metal, even managing to put my head into the engine block to view the pistons in detail, something that wouldn’t have been possible in the real world, well, short of a mishap at least, and I doubt that I’d get to see that much at that point.

    Some visual latency is still evident, which precludes long periods of use for most users, but the first-rate level of realism and detail is unbeatable. Mercedes-Benz has also begun exploring the VR route, but its system – as shown by a sampling of that one at the company’s North American R&D centre in Sunnyvale – has far less resolution on call, and it’s also not currently employed to study vehicle design in the same manner.

    Ford IFM Oz 11

    Culminating the event was a driving session at You Yangs, not on the facility’s 4.8 km-long high-speed parabolic track (which was being used by Everest mules), but on the high-speed ride and handling course on the inside of that. Ford Australia brought out pretty much of its entire current model line-up, including the Focus ST and Fiesta ST.

    Two laps each (with another two laps later, being taken around the course by the Ford test drivers) may not be much, but provided a good indicator to the Fiesta ST’s workings in relation to its bigger sibling. Being familiar with the Focus ST probably helped – the car behaved in exactly the fashion I’d expected it to.

    A quick aside on the other solitary car that was sampled before them – the chance to get behind the wheel of a manual Fiesta EcoBoost proved too good to resist. The hatchback proved spirited and willing, quite the fun thing to drive, even if the iB5 gearbox continued to exhibit its familiar rubbery shifter. Shame SDAC isn’t bringing this one in.

    Ford IFM Oz 10

    Back to the ST duo. The Focus didn’t do badly at all over the course, but felt heavy-set in curves that the Fiesta ST simply carved through, essentially missing the deftness and agility the smaller three-door showed over the course. Conversely, the Focus was less bumpy and felt better planted down the straight.

    At You Yangs, with comfort not being paramount though, there was no denying which one proved more alluring – its levels of tenacious front-end grip, allied to an outstanding ability to handle mid-corner transitions in rapid, razor-like fashion, made the Fiesta ST a standout. The test drive of the car here in Malaysia validates the initial observations – our review on it will be out soon, and without spoiling anything, let’s just say we’ve got a surprise in store for that one.

    The IFM showcase served to parade the Blue Oval’s technology, and that it did, but it also showed that despite manufacturing coming to a stop in Australia, it’s definitely not the end of the world for the brand Down Under. A new, expanded model line-up promises improvement to the retail side of things, while R&D and product development – for a wider, more global audience – is set to come to the forefront in larger fashion. Every cloud has a silver lining, indeed.

  • KL Electric A-gogo EV car sharing service announced


    The signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between KL Electric Mobility, a subsidiary of Masers Energy Inc, and the Kuala Lumpur City Council (DBKL) sees the announcement of a new electric vehicle sharing service, dubbed ‘KL Electric A-gogo’.

    A total of RM1.5 billion is touted for investment over the period of two years, which will see at least 3,000 dedicated charging stations established all over strategic locations. The service is intended as a vehicle “rental” platform, whereby members will pay a certain amount of money for the convenience of using the electric cars.

    Speaking at the press conference earlier today, the CEO of KL Electric Mobility stated that there are plans for a total of 150 electric cars to be brought in, while between 10-50 charging stations are expected to be ready in the Golden Triangle region of the city by the first quarter of 2015.

    For this phase alone, the company plans to invest a total of US$10-20 million (RM34.7-69.4 million). “This agreement marks an important and profound commitment towards Malaysia’s transition to a zero-carbon nation by 2030. We are currently working with the transportation sector to convert to the ‘fifth fuel’ and usage of electric vehicles as part of our strategy on providing cheaper, cleaner and reliable energy for the nation,” said company CEO Datuk Seri Hj Suhaimi.

    As for the car itself, the exact model that will be employed here was not present at the launch, but KL Electric Mobility has stated that it will echo the Autolib carsharing programme seen in France. The model employed in the Autolib programme is known as the Bolloré Bluecar and is manufactured by Cecomp in Italy.

    Powering the Bluecar is an electric motor that pumps out the equivalent of 67 hp. It’s juiced up by a 30 kWh lithium polymer battery, providing a top speed of 130 km/h. On a full charge, the car is capable of covering a total distance between 200-240 km – slightly lower than an average petrol-powered car.


    More or less the same as a Perodua Myvi in stature, the Bluecar is a three-door hatch that’s capable of seating five. As for the charging stations, KL Electric Mobility was keen to point out that it will be able to charge other models of electric vehicles, including (get this!) the BMW i3 and i8, which at present are not planned to be deployed in Malaysia.

    Four packages will be made available to customers, with varying rates for the daily, weekly, monthly and annual subscription. The daily package is aimed at tourists and will cost RM50 for a half hour slot. From then on, it’s a RM50, RM125 and RM600 membership fee, coupled to a RM35, RM32 and RM30 per half hour slot for the rental of the cars, respectively.

    If all this seems familiar, it probably is because of a similar service known as COMOS. Utilising the Renault Zoe, Twizy and the Nissan Leaf, the platform aims to provide customers with access to the cars via a form of “rental” service. Also, a corporate lease programme – which includes unlimited mileage, periodical maintenance and a wall-mounted charger at the client’s location – is already operational.

    In October, a MoU between First Energy Networks (FEN) – a subsidiary of Edaran Tan Chong Motor – and GreenTech Malaysia was signed with the aim of expanding EV charging infrastructure throughout the nation. First Energy has a government grant to establish the aforementioned infrastructure.

    KL Electric Mobility, meanwhile, is looking pretty ambitious as it plans to cover both ends – the EV car sharing service as well as the establishment of the charging infrastructure.

  • Infiniti Concept Vision Gran Turismo zooms onto GT6

    INFINITI CONCEPT Vision Gran Turismo

    Another month, another Vision Gran Turismo concept – the series of virtual flights of fancy on the Gran Turismo 6 racing game has grown one more, in the shape of the Infiniti Concept Vision Gran Turismo.

    The latest VGT concept was born from Infiniti’s internal competition to “design a pure Infiniti GT car,” which was won by the newly-established Infiniti Design team in Beijing. The result is a long, wide, impossibly low-slung coupé that the company calls “part beauty, part beast.”

    It’s a striking product – all the usual Infiniti design cues are present, including the grille, the almond-shaped head- and tail lights, the strong haunches and the crescent-shaped C-pillar kink, but here they have been amplified, exaggerating the sense of drama. These are joined by underfloor airflow control, front and rear diffusers and a prominent rear spoiler to boost aerodynamic efficiency without compromising on aesthetics.

    INFINITI CONCEPT Vision Gran Turismo

    Under the skin, the (imaginary) front-midship powertrain and rear transaxle layout achieves a 45:55 weight distribution front-to-rear, which Infiniti says “fills users with the joy of driving by actively drifting the rear,” whatever that means. The company adds that it conducted thorough examinations and calculations of technical details such as aerodynamics and engine performance to ensure its capability in the game.

    Players are able to try out the Infiniti Concept Vision Gran Turismo in GT6 right now by installing a software update. The car joins a host of other VGT concepts, including those from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen, Nissan, Toyota and Chevrolet.

  • VIDEO: Hyundai Sonata LF has an Android head unit

    The new Malaysian spec Hyundai Sonata LF comes with a double-din touchscreen head unit powered by Android KitKat. It’s standard on the Elegance and Executive variants, with only the basic Elegance B variant getting a normal radio/CD/MP3 head unit. The head unit is a locally sourced head unit, not the official Hyundai BlueLink unit which supports features like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

    Other than the relatively new version of Android, what’s most interesting to us is the availability of the Google Play app store and the fact that the head unit does not shut off when you drive. This means there should be absolutely no issues downloading Waze from Google Play and using it when you drive.

    We decided to head over to the Hyundai 3S centre in Glenmarie to record a short video playing around with the head unit. Other than Waze, we also tried the Youtube app and the web browser. While there’s no built in SIM card, the head unit has Wifi connectivity so it can access your phone or MiFi device’s hotspot.

  • Honda conducting internal testing on airbag defects, CEO Ito “angry” at Takata’s response – report


    Honda is reportedly frustrated with Takata’s response over its defective airbag inflators and its inability to zero in on the cause of the problems, with the carmaker’s CEO Takanobu Ito said to be “angry” and “betrayed” by the Japanese auto parts manufacturer, according to Reuters.

    Insiders told the news agency that Honda was so worried about the rising number of recalls on its products that it bought used and scrapped cars to conduct its own tests. They said an evaluation of 100-150 Takata airbags at Honda’s quality centre in Japan in the first half of the year showed flaws in the quality of Takata’s manufacturing, adding that it casted doubts on the competence of one of Honda’s core suppliers, or keiretsu.

    Honda’s tests apparently showed Takata was “extremely sloppy” in preparing the propellants in the inflators. One of the insiders claimed the samples contained varying amounts of ammonium nitrate and secondary ingredients – many of which went beyond preset margins of error – and varying amounts of compounds that strayed from Honda-approved inflator recipes.

    Some propellants were said to have displayed colourings, which one of the individuals attributed to damage from exposure to moisture – a leading theory of the exploding airbag inflators that have caused five deaths so far, including one in Malaysia.


    Ito’s opinion of Takata reportedly went sour after the tests concluded in the middle of the year, as he felt Takata was not providing him with enough details as to the cause of the defects. One of the insiders remarked that Ito considered Honda a “victim” in the ordeal, and said that he had no sympathy for Takata, adding that he would not intervene to save the company if it fell into financial difficulties.

    To its end, Takata has denied that Honda conducted these tests because it was unhappy with Takata’s explanation into the defects, saying it was not informed of any quality problems found.

    “If Honda did the kind of quality tests on Takata inflators you’re describing, wouldn’t you assume Honda would communicate with us, to ask us about the quality lapses they supposedly found?” said a Takata spokesman. “As far as we know, and we looked into it extensively, there has been no such communication between us.”


    So far, carmakers have recalled 21 million cars around the world since 2008 due to the defective Takata airbag inflators. Honda itself has called back 14 million cars, mostly in the United States. The company has stated that it was looking to rival parts makers Autoliv and Daicel for replacement parts to help repair cars involved in Takata-related recalls.

    Honda Malaysia recently issued a recall involving 15,734 units of the 2003-2004 Honda City, as well as the 2004 Honda Jazz to replace the driver’s side airbag. They join a separate recall announced last June, which involved the 2001-2003 Honda Stream, 2002-2003 Honda Jazz, 2003 Honda City and 2003 Honda Accord, this time for a front passenger airbag issue.

    UMW Toyota has also recalled 18,700 units of the 2000-2003 Toyota Camry and Toyota Corolla Altis, while Edaran Tan Chong Motor (ETCM) recalled four units of the CBU first-generation Nissan X-Trail.

  • Lotus chief engineer leaves for Aston Martin after 26 years; to head development of next-gen Aston models

    Lotus Exige LF1-06

    Lotus chief engineer, Matt Becker, has left the company after 26 years of service for Aston Martin, as Autocar UK understands. Becker, who followed his father into Lotus more than two decades ago, will be tasked with a similar role at Aston Martin come January 5 next year.

    As Gaydon’s new chief engineer, Becker will be tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the development of the next-generation Aston Martin models. Andy Palmer, the firm’s new chief, has placed Becker in charge of vehicle dynamics, NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), aerodynamics and vehicle durability.

    The first of the next-gen Astons are due for an appearance in 2016 and will be powered by powerplants sourced from Mercedes-Benz. Back at Lotus, Becker’s role is understood to be taken up by Dave Marler – a 17-year veteran at Lotus Engineering – and Lotus Motorsport’s technical manager, Gavan Kershaw.

  • VIDEO: Audi Q7 flaunts its new interior in latest clip

    Audi Germany has released a short clip of its all-new Audi Q7, providing viewers a glimpse into some of the new tech that’s featured on the second-generation SUV. While the action shots are pretty self-explanatory, the beginning of the video previews the Q7’s revamped instrument cluster.

    The standard seven-inch MMI monitor on the centre console can be specced up with a fancier 8.3-inch one with the optional MMI navigation plus option. With that box ticked, the instrument cluster is replaced with a monumental 12.3-inch screen with a 1,440×540 TFT display, with graphics by Nvidia’s T30 processor.


    Apart from the streamlined exterior design and refreshed interior layout, the other major change is the significant drop in weight. With the 3.0 TDI engine, the new Audi Q7 tips the scales at just 1,995 kg – impressive when compared to rivals like the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5.

    A total of five engine options will be made available, two of which will be launched at a later date, comprising of the usual petrol and diesel units together with a plug-in diesel hybrid variant dubbed the Q7 e-tron quattro. All powerplants are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

  • Aston Martin Works 60th Anniversary Limited Edition Vanquish – just six to be built, and all bespoke

    Aston Martin Works 60th Anniversary Limited Edition Vanqui~1

    To celebrate its 60 years at Newport Pagnell, Aston Martin Works has commissioned six limited-edition vehicles – the half-dozen offerings, known as Works 60th Anniversary models, will be versions of the current Vanquish super GT in either Coupe or Volante form.

    Each of the six will be subtly different, and individually tailored to reflect one of the six decades being celebrated. The Anniversary cars will feature unique trim and paint colour treatments – elements include Anniversary Yellow-accented side strakes and alloy wheels as well as an Aston Martin Works 60th Anniversary logo.

    The cars will also feature bespoke centre console rotary controls. Each rotary – with laser-etched Works’ Anniversary wording – has been cast from metal that was previously a piston in an Aston Martin engine of the relevant period.

    The six pistons have been drawn from engines in the 1955-1965 DB 2/4 Mk II saloon, 1965-1975 DB5, 1975-1985 V8 Coupe, 1985-1995 V8 Vantage X-pack, 1995-2005 V8 Vantage supercharged and 2005-2015 original Vanquish. In each case, the relevant piston has been sourced from an engine that has been rebuilt or reworked at some point in its life.

    Inside, the edition vehicles will get white/black Duotone seat centre panels, unique sill plaques depicting the era the car relates to and distinctive colour/trim treatments such as contrast yellow stitching in the leather and a new heavy-weave carbon-fibre.

    No mechanical alterations to the Vanquish super GT’s 6.0 litre V12 AM29 petrol engine and new Touchtronic III eight-speed automatic gearbox. As for pricing, AM Works says that it’s all price on application for the six.

  • Lexus GS F super sedan teased ahead of Detroit debut


    It seems next month’s Detroit Auto Show will be the coming out party for a number of long-awaited Japanese performance heroes. Just yesterday, Honda announced that the production NSX will finally make its debut – now, it is confirmed we will also see Nippon’s first proper stab at the BMW M5, the Lexus GS F.

    From what little we can see in these two teaser photos, it is clear that the big sedan will nick a few styling cues from the RC F coupé, with details such as a full-length mesh spindle grille flanked by a pair of massive sculpted air intakes, as well as large front fender vents that channel air from the wheel wells. The wheels themselves are gorgeous cross-spoke items hiding enormous brakes with striking orange callipers.


    Interestingly, the headlights seen here differ from those on the regular GS, with slimmer RC- and NX-inspired full-LED units underscored by separate tick-shaped daytime running lights. Seeing as the fourth generation of Lexus’ BMW 5 Series fighter is now past its third year of production, we’re expecting these items to filter down to other GS models as part of a facelift.

    Technical specifications of the GS F remain scarce, but it is expected to make use of the RC F’s 2UR-GSE 5.0 litre direct-injected, naturally-aspirated V8, albeit tuned far beyond its smaller sibling’s 470 hp and 530 Nm to match the M5 and Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG‘s near-600 hp power outputs. Also set to be borrowed from the RC F are its eight-speed automatic gearbox and its Torsen limited-slip differential.

  • VIDEO: Range Rover Sport SVR – taken to the limit

    Range Rover Sport SVR-12

    Land Rover has come out with a new video clip on the Range Rover Sport SVR, which made its debut at Pebble Beach back in August. The 90-second film demonstrates the adjustability, poise and body control of the new SVR, all in dramatic fashion.

    The RRS SVR is powered by an uprated version of the AJ-V8 Gen III 5.0 litre supercharged V8 offering 550 PS and 680 Nm, 40 PS and 56 Nm more than the regular Range Rover Sport Supercharged. Power from the mill is channeled through a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission to a permanent four-wheel drive system.

    Performance figures include a 0-100 km/h time of just 4.5 seconds and an electronically-limited top speed of 260 km/h, making it the fastest, most powerful Land Rover ever built. The numbers were also good enough to get the SVR to lap the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 8 minutes 14 seconds, a record for an SUV around the Green Hell.

    The order books for the vehicle opened in October, and the first deliveries of the second offering to come out of Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) – after the Jaguar F-Type Project 7 – are due to begin sometime in the first quarter of next year.


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