In the upper reaches of motorsports, teams are pretty clear about who they are. Heck, even HRT (Hispania Racing Team, formerly Campos) in F1 is never misunderstood beyond what they are – a newcomer struggling to catch up to everyone and anyone as they had absolutely no pre-season testing. But when a team makes a blatant move to confuse the hell out of everyone, I feel like it’s worth speaking about.
I attended the qualifying session for the IndyCar Long Beach Grand Prix earlier today. A festive event for sure with a decent turnaround for a non-race day. Then I saw it whizz by while standing around in the pits. Takuma Sato in the KV Racing… umm… Lotus… powered by Honda. What the heck is going on? The livery sure looked like that you would find in the Lotus F1 car, but this isn’t Formula 1 for starters.
So how does this association make any sense whatsoever? Let’s trace things back a bit…
Takuma Sato was basically a Honda boy from day 1. He went to a driving school sponsored by Honda. His debut was in the former BAR-Honda F1 squad. Then he was relegated to the Super Aguri F1 team (still powered by a Honda). All in all, it makes all the sense that he would find a seat in a spec series powered by a Honda engine. Fine. But what does Lotus have to do with it all? It’s now a Malaysian-owned car company (parent company = Proton) which uses Toyota engines in their road cars such as the Elise, Exige and Evora. KV Racing is owned by an Aussie and an American who is a former CART champion. They’re racing on American soil but the title sponsor is a Japanese car company (Toyota). How does this make any sense whatsoever when Lotus has NOTHING to do with the driver, the racing series, the chassis (Dallara), the team nor the engine manufacturer.
To summarize, a Japanese driver “brought up” by a Japanese car manufacturer who was kicked out of a primarily European racing series racing in an American series for a team owned by an Aussie and an American running an Italian chassis powered by a Japanese engine at a race title sponsored by a competing Japanese manufacturer wearing the colors and brand of a Malaysian auto maker that has absolutely nothing to do with them. Phew. What a mouthful.
Seriously, who / what the hell are you KV Racing / Takuma Sato?
As the year of 2009 nears its end, there are a number of cars to look forward to next year. The cars below are some of the cars that are likely to excite both automotive consumers and those who are in the automotive industry. Which new cars in 2010 are you waiting to hear about?
Sports Coupe: 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe
The Cadillac CTS Coupe was officially unveiled on November 23rd, 2009. In 2008, the Cadillac CTS was supposed to be the model to uplift the Cadillac brand. It looks like Cadillac is on the ball again, launching their next two-door vehicle since 2002. The only parts that the CTS coupe shares with the sedan are the instrument panel, console, headlamps, front fenders and grill. Another thing that makes this generation’s CTS apart from others is the optional between RWD and AWD. This will definitely be a Cadillac to check out.
Hybrid/Electric Car: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
With the current mid-sized hybrid sedan market ruled by Toyota and Honda, it is always refreshing to see how other manufacturers answer back. So what you ask did Hyundai do, to take their Sonata one step further? Current hybrids use nickel metal hydride batteries, where as the Sonata will use lithium polymer batteries. Hyundai states that the lithium batteries weigh 30% less, have a 50% less volume, and are 10% more efficient. It will be interesting to see how this new battery, from LG Chem, will hold up against nickel batteries.
Compact Car: 2011 Mazda 2
In 2008, the Mazda 2 was awarded World Car of the Year. Why do most of us not know/remember this? Well, apparently, World Car of the Year, was not good enough for sale in the U.S., mostly because Mazda thought that such a small car would not offer much profitability. Well, with the boom in sales from Nissan’s Versa, and Honda’s Fit (and also partially due to the economy and rising gas prices), Mazda was definitely pounding their foreheads on that decision. It makes one wonder, is Mazda 2 late?
Exotic Car: 2011 McLaren MP4-12C
When McLaren teamed up with Mercedes to build supercars, they awed us all with the McLaren F1 and the SLR. That was the past, and the future will be without Mercedes-Benz. McLaren is now their own automotive division. So what does the McLaren MP4-12C offer that the Ferrari 458 Italia or Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 doesn’t? The entire frame is one piece, which makes it lighter and more rigid. We can’t wait to see how the McLaren will compete against Ferrari and Lamborghini.
Luxury Car: 2011 Hyundai Equus
Hyundai did great things with the Genesis sedan, which went after the Lexus GS and Mercedes E-Class. We are hopeful to once again be surprised by Hyundai’s quality, that will excel the Equus above the Lexus LS, Mercedes S-Class, and the rest of its competitors. Hyundai may have to bring back that commercial of different “manufacturer executives” yelling the name Hyundai.
SUV: 2011 Land Rover LRX
With India’s Tata Motors recently purchasing Land Rover and Jaguar, it will be interesting to see Tata’s future plans for these automotive brands. Apparently, the 2011 Land Rover LRX will be Land Rover’s first more fuel efficient Land Rover.
You will always be a legend and probably one of the best we have ever seen in motorsports (although we contend that Ayrton Senna was THE best). With that being said, staging a comeback at this point in your life seems trivial at best and we don’t feel it’s the best move for Formula 1. 2009 was a pretty crazy year, with teams dropping out at the end of it all, Renault “convicted” of shady practices and several drivers really putting the best foot forward. All this makes us want to forget this past season and really look forward to 2010, when we can start fresh. What’s there to look forward to?
Jenson vs. Lewis
Fernando at Ferrari (and probably a Fred vs. Massa battle)
All the new F1 teams – Campos, Virgin, Lotus, USF1
Does F1 really need the distraction that is Michael Schumacher? Wouldn’t the empty seat at Mercedes, formerly Brawn, be better served by a younger driver who has the talent but may not have had an adequate car to shine? Coming back to try to win again seems very much like teams who never had real passion for racing but doing it for the sake of doing and creating a storyline with which to sell cars. I’m sure your wife and kids would appreciate you staying retired as well.
Although Bernie would probably love to see you come back to sell tickets, that’s not in the spirit of racing, is it? Please give us an opportunity to remember you as the 7-time World Champion with countless records under your belt, not as a Mickey Rourke-like wrestler pining for a last bit of glory.
With SEMA a few weeks behind us and plenty of time to digest the show, a few deep thoughts remain:
Where will the Japanese manufacturers be in 2010 in making a serious bid for enthusiasts’ dollars as aftermarket support in this segment wanes? Some of the biggest names in the marketplace was absent from the show, challenged by dwindling sales and the weakness of the US dollar.
Can domestic aftermarket manufacturers answer the call? From what we saw, the answer is yes. As mentioned in a previous editorial, the Chevy Camaro seems to have singlehandedly revived the aftermarket industry. Even names that have been traditionally aligned with sport compact performance making positive inroads into supporting the domestic car market, the future looks bright for those who have had the foresight.
Will hybrids and electric cars damage the aftermarket? From our perspective, yes for the time being. People who purchase cars in this segment aren’t looking for excitement. In many respects, we feel these buyers are completely abandoning the notion of any behind-the-wheel fun. Gas mileage is what they are after, not vehicle dynamics. Nor acceleration. Nor braking. Nor handling. But companies like Tesla are making inroads in offering a package that still keeps in mind that driving should be fun. We keep our fingers crossed.
Fractured aftermarket presence in local communities will present a challenge for those car owners who deem that “stock” just isn’t good enough. Even in the car mecca that is Southern California, many “speed shops” have closed their doors due to a declining demand for services. And forget parts sales. Anything that can be purchased in the brick-and-mortar world can be purchased online. Specialized niche services, an excellent reputation and competitive pricing are the bare minimum a retail operation must offers its customers just to survive.
OE makes stand to gain from this downturn in the economy by offering those services and parts that a customer just can’t acquire from their local shop. Although this advantage in scale can tilt things in the dealer’s favor, they will have to work hard to change the opinions of car owners who deem them as “stealerships.”
Let us hope that 2010 will be a turnaround year for the OE and automotive industry.
Touted as “the world’s first affordable, zero-emissions car,” the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle made its way Stateside with the kickoff of the Nissan Leaf Tour. This program will travel around the US, touting the advantages of the Yokohama, Japan- / Nashville, Tennessee-based car maker. We had a chance to check out the car up close and personal in a posh setting complete with an open bar and upscale setting in Santa Monica, CA.
Offering an effective range of 100 miles, the Leaf can be charged up to 80% of its full capacity in under 30 minutes with a quick charger (we have no idea what this charger looks like nor was it on display at the event). Charging at home through a 200V outlet (with which US homes aren’t equipped so a call to an electrician will be required) to full capacity will take approximately 8 hours.
Two immediate points come to mind. One, this vehicle certainly isn’t designed for rural areas where the distance between, say, home and work is longer than 100 miles. It’s definitely realistic for city dwellers who drive no more than 30 miles a day between home, work and play. Two, any vehicle that forces people to change their driving behavior, such as filling up with fuel at a gas station in 5 minutes, and adapting to an 8-hour charging cycle at home is going to be a tough task.
The longer term consideration is this – since only about 18% of electricity in the United States is generated through renewable resources, could this and other electrical vehicles truly be considered as “zero emissions”? The electricity has to come from somewhere and it’s not coming from wind, solar or hydroelectric sources for the most part. Sure, ongoing innovations and increases in renewable resources will surely help til the balance in nature’s favor but I believe “zero emissions” is a misnomer at best. At least for now.
When we reviewed the Hyundai Genesis Sedan back in June, we were incredibly impressed with the performance, quality and comfort afforded by the Korean maker’s premium sedan. Heck, the price factor doesn’t even come into play in considering the Sedan as one of the very best offerings from across the Pacific. Needless to say, we were excited to get our hands on the Genesis Coupe, with high expectations based on the experience we had with its 4-door luxury brethren. The Coupe we received for evaluation was the 3.8 Track model, equipped with a 3.8L 24-valve V6 engine and ZF-sourced 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
With keys in hand to the more powerful variant of the Coupe, we set out to find out whether the Hyundai could offer a competitive package against the all-too-natural competitor, the Infiniti G37 Coupe. When all was said and done, we came away wanting more… much more.
The Genesis Coupe is certainly a handsome vehicle. At first glance, you can’t help but to be reminded of the Infiniti G37 coupe – the sloping bodyline that starts from the trunklid to the hood, the sharply raked windshield and rear window and bulging fender wells draw direct comparisons to the Nissan-made sports coupe. But the differences really end there as Eric Stoddard and the rest of the Hyundai Kia America Design Center team put their own touches on this handsome coupe, such as the dip in the rear quarter windows, an aggressive front end fascia that’s far more finished in looks than the G37 and a rear spoiler that looks like it actually belongs there than the afterthought-like whale tail on the G37.
While the exterior of the Coupe is quite well put together, the same can’t be said for the interior. As we discovered, the prevailing theme to describe the driver and passenger environment is cost-cutting:
Inside, all passengers and driver are welcomed by leather-covered seating surfaces; considering the $32,000 price tag, however, the quality of the leather seems to be on the low end lacking any smoothness or silkyness found in higher quality leather
The entire dash is covered in hard plastic with an abrasive texture; rather than applying some sort of padding underneath a vinyl-covered surface, Hyundai seems to have taken the easy (and cheaper) way out
Amazingly enough, the same hard plastic material covers the steering wheel, providing an uncomfortable driving interface; considering our tester was dubbed the “Track” model, shouldn’t it have a steering wheel covered in leather?
The cheap look-and-feel theme continues with the shifter mounted in the center console – it looks cheap, feels cheap and does’t have any weight to it whatsoever
As with most other makes that don’t quite get it right, the shifter action for up and downshifts are reversed – rather than forward for downshifts, the Genesis Coupe offers upshifts with this action, literally translating “upshifting”
The paddle shifters for the ZF 6-speed transmission are mounted to the steering wheel which prevents shifting off of the apex of a turn unless you have your arms completely crossed and glued to the 3 and 9 o’clock positions
Speaking of the paddles, they are made from – again – cheap plastic; Hyundai would have served themselves well by mimicking the magnesium paddles shifters offered by Nissan / Inifiniti in the GT-R and G37 coupe, respectively
What might be deemed as the strangest, most un-ergonomic placement of controls in a car, the side mirror adjustment / door lock / window controls are laid flat against the door on both sides, forcing you to turn the hand in a weird angle to use these controls
Most cars have either automatic lights or do away with them altogether in vanity mirrors – in the Genesis Coupe, the light is built into the headliner but you have to flip a switch to turn them on
Fire up the 3.8L V6 and you immediately realize the powerplant means business. With 306bhp and 266ft-lbs of torque on tap, opening up the throttle elicits an aggressive bark out of the twin exhaust out back. Off the line, there’s good acceleration from a standing start, although the Genesis Coupe doesn’t seem as hurried as the G37. But unlike the Nissan powerplant, there’s none of the noticeable vibration or noise at the upper end of the rev spectrum.
While on the go, you can leave the shifter in “D” mode, or slide it left to sport mode. Utilizing the paddle or the shifter itself, running up the gears is smooth and precise. On the downshift side, however, things go in a bad direction. First off, the transmission DOES NOT rev match when going down the gears. So instead of a smooth transition from, say, 4th to 3rd, the tranny catches the lower gear after some hesitation and you are immediately subject to engine braking. Again, for a car dubbed with the moniker “Track,” it doesn’t seem very track-like. Second, as mentioned before, there’s some hesitation on downshifts. Imagine our surprise when the car was downshifted from 2nd to 1st for a slow turn and the gear was engaged mid-corner. We were thrown against our seatbelts as a result of the engine braking and what should have been a smooth journey through the tight corner turned into a very messy one. Based on this experience, we recommend anyone considering the Track model to consider the standard 6-speed manual instead. The automatic variant just isn’t worth the extra cost nor the disappointing shifting performance.
Braking, courtesy of calipers and rotors by Brembo, was predictably good and solid. There’s nothing to fault here.
In terms of cornering performance, the Genesis Coupe held its ground very well. It was easy to drive the car at its limit, with militd oversteer, and bringing it back into line required just a quick lift of the throttle. The chassis is solid, without any noise or flex that takes away from sheer exhiliration. We did notice, that the suspension could use a bit milder dampening on the compression side. Although cornering on smooth pavement is great, the outside front wheel has a tendency to hop / bounce cornering through a rough patch of tarmac. This effectively decreases the contact patch the 225-width tire has with the ground and a bit of drama ensues. We would definitely like to see more compliance to combat this problem.
Fitted with virtually every electronic safety feature available – stability control, traction control, electronic brake distribution, anti-lock brakes, et al. – you are assured a pretty safe ride inside the Coupe. Traction control was a bit on the intrusive side, as travel over expansion joints and security gate rails immediately kicked in the system and lit up the dashboard. We would like to see this scaled back a bit so that the driver has a bit more control over the drive.
At $32,000, the V6-equipped Genesis Coupe is a relative bargain considering its great looks, tight chassis, smooth engine and cornering performance. But the the myriad of what are evidently cost-cutting measures really detract from making the vehicle a true value. There are just way too many characteristics that undermine its designation as a “Track” model. We would love to see the moonroof taken away as a feature – considering it adds weight to the highest point in the car, hence raising the center of gravity – and using the cost involved to a better dash and steering wheel treatment, including the shifter paddles. With these and other tweaks, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe would come so much closer to fulfilling its promise as a genuine competitor to the Infiniti G37 coupe. Until such changes happen, however, we feel we’re just going to be left wanting more from the Korean manufacturer.
US car makers are reinventing themselves in this era of bailout money, bankruptcy and “cash for clunkers.” It’s a stark flashback to the early 1980’s when Chrysler received a government bailout – Chrysler is a repeat offender in this regard. Lee Iacocca came over to the struggling auto maker, leading the charge to turn things around. Turn things around they did, in terms of sales, but turn things around they did not do in terms of product. The entire Chrysler recovery was based on K. The K platform. Virtually every car they produced was based on a single platform. The LeBaron. Dodge Voyager minivan. You name it, it was based on the same old thing. Mr. Iacocca even went on television, in commercials espousing the “new” Chysler. Hard to believe it has been 25 years since this commercial aired on national television. Does it not remind you of a new set of commercials from yet another Detroit automaker that’s hitting the airwaves as we speak?