20161203

Nikola aims to be the Tesla of trucks, unveils its full-electric 'One' semi-truck

Who would have imagined Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American scientist famous for his contributions to alternating current electric supply, would have two companies named after him in the twenty first century? While Tesla has done everything right so far in challenging traditions, shaking the established car-makers out of their slumber and earning the respect, Nikola, cheekily named to possibly take advantage of Tesla's popularity, aims to do the same in trucks.


When Nikola announced the arrival on the big scene with renderings of it's One semi-truck earlier this year, they obviously made headlines everywhere. But we would be lying if we said we took them seriously. Blame it on the one too many promising proposals and renderings we had seen that never made it to reality. Squashing such thoughts however, Nikola unveiled it's 'One' zero-emission semi truck at an event held at Salt Lake City, Utah, United States of America.


With its sleek cab and flush wrap-around windshield split by thin A-pillars, the One looks quite chic and stylish for a semi truck. The cabin, from what we infer from the sole rendering available, is futuristic with a large touch screen-enabled dashboard and a smart instrument cluster. As its enormous size indicates, the cabin also has provisions for one or two beds for the driver and the co-driver to take turns for a nap, Wi-Fi and 4G LTE connectivity, a 40-inch curved TV, refrigerator, freezer and microwave. That's a living room there, literally. But the Nikola One is not about stylish looks or a fully-equipped cabin. It is all about what's underneath. 

The Nikola One has a fully electric drivetrain that's powered by a high-density 320 kWh lithium battery pack. Unlike a Tesla car that needs us to plug onto a socket for charging the batteries, Nikola One uses hydrogen fuel cells onboard to charge on-the-go. Nicola claims 1000 horsepower, 2000 pound-feet of torque, a 800 to 1200 mile range and fuel-efficiency equivalent to 15.4 miles per gallon for the One, almost twice as much as any other semi-truck on sale right now. Improved performance, increased fuel efficiency, usable range and zero emissions sure sounds a potentially lethal combination for rivals.


The biggest dampener for alternate fuel vehicles in general and hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles in particular is the lack of infrastructure to recharge or, in hydrogen fuel cell's case, refill. Nikola is aware of that and has plans to build a network of 350 plus Nikola stations spread across the United States and Canada. To make things better, Nikola One's purchase or lease agreement also gets 1 million miles worth of free hydrogen along with warranty and scheduled maintenance for 6 years. 

Nikola is still scouting for a location to build a manufacturing facility and has set itself a deadline to finalize on one in the first half of 2017. 2018 will see Nikola start building its hydrogen fueling stations, in time for a slated market launch of the One in 2020. 

Nikola claims pre-orders for the One totaling nearly three billion dollars, not a bad start at all considering the brand was pretty much unheard of until a few months ago and traditional rivals include biggies like Daimler, Volvo and Freightliner.

If you are still in doubt over the Nikola One, we have something for you. "This truck will come to market. I promise you that" were, apparently, the closing comments by Nikola founder and CEO Trevor Milton at the big unveiling ceremony. We are looking forward to it, Trevor!

20161119

2016 Los Angeles - Alfa Romeo stuns with the Stelvio Quadrifoglio

Alfa Romeo has been making cars for more than 100 years but they have never made a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) so far. At a time when demand for SUVs and crossovers are sky-rocketing, no automotive brand can afford to not have one in their lineup. Being late to the party as they are, Alfa Romeo unveiled it's first-ever SUV, the Stelvio, at the recently concluded 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show.


Named after the highest mountain pass in Italy, the Stelvio is all set to join the Giulia that debuted in 2015 marking the beginning of a new era for the Fiat-owned Italian luxury brand. Just like the Giulia, the Stelvio aims to offer Alfa Romeo's signature Italian flair and sporty handling in the booming SUV crossover segment, a combination that not many brands successfully manage to deliver.


SUVs aren't always pretty but the Stelvio, unveiled in Quadrifoglio version in Los Angeles, surely is. The brand's trademark shield-shaped grille with apertures around it and the big air dams hint at power and aggression as do the functional air vents in the hood. Alfa Romeos have always vowed us with their impeccable surfacing and the Stelvio is no different - just look at the interplay of surfaces in the hood, bumper and the fenders! The racy profile has flared wheel arches and two prominent character lines to show off. Don't miss the cloverleaf 'Quadrifoglio' logo and the gorgeous alloy wheels! The rear, though, is more station wagon than SUV but, with a contoured trunk lid, diffuser and quad-exhausts topped off by a beautiful spoiler, we aren't complaining.


The driver-centric cabin is simple yet elegant. The steering wheel is beautifully shaped and textures and has a plethora of controls including the push button start. That, and the angled dashboard with the diagonal central tunnel, puts a lot of focus on the driver and the driving position. While this Quadrifoglio version has a 8.8-inch touchscreen multimedia in the dashboard, the standard Stelvias get a 6.5-inch display.

Powering the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a 2.9-liter BiTurbo petrol engine shared with the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Mated to a ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic transmission, this engine generates 510 horsepower, enough to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.9 seconds. All other variants of the Stelvio get a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo petrol, also shared with the Giulia, that churns out 280 horsepower.


Stelvia's all-wheel drive hardware includes an active transfer case and front differential combined with Alfa Romeo's Torque Vectoring system, all of which are controlled by a Chassis Domain Control system. A double wishbone front suspension, Alfa Romeo's patented 'AlfaLink' multilink rear suspension, the new DNA Pro selector - offering Dynamic, Natural, Advanced Efficiency and Race modes and a perfect 50:50 weight distribution mean the Stelvio Quadrifoglio has all the characteristics to make us grin ear to ear when we are behind the wheel.

The Stelvio is slated to go on sale in 2018. With the Giulia getting rave reviews wherever it goes, we are sure the Stelvio wouldn't be far behind. Good times are ahead of Alfa Romeo, we think!

20161117

Empty your wallets and your bank accounts, the Vespa 946 Emporio Armani is now in India!

What happens when iconic Italian flair meets the ultimate in Italian fashion? The result is the Vespa 946 Emporio Armani. As the name suggests, this special edition scooter is an ode to the original 1946 Vespa with styling inputs from Giorgio Armani, the famous Italian fashion house.

Designed to commemorate 140 years of existence of the Piaggio Group and 40th anniversary of the Giorgio Armani foundation, the Vespa 946 Emporio Armani is truly one-of-a-kind. Indians got a first glimpse of the scooter at the 2016 Auto Expo in New Delhi with Piaggio officially launching it earlier this week. The price? That's a whopping ₹12.04 Lakhs, ex-showroom Pune. Your eyes are perfectly fine. This scooter costs 12 Lakh Rupees!


The regular Vespa 946 sports retro-modern styling that mimics the original 1946 Vespa. The Emporio Armani edition takes it to the next level. Wearing a unique matte black paint job and bespoke alloy wheels, the 946 Emporio Armani's feature list include full LED lighting, Anti-lock Braking, Anti-slip Regulator traction control system, front and rear disc brakes, LCD instrument cluster and leather-wrapped handlebars. The words Emporio Armani are prominently placed on both sides while Armani's eagle logo is stuck on top of the headlight.

Just look at it, complete with that unconventional seat and the beautiful leather bag fitted on to the carrier. If this isn't a fashion statement, what else is? We could keep staring at it all day!


Unfortunately, the 946 does not have the go to match its show. The single cylinder 125cc engine is shared with the regular Vespas and generates 11.7 horsepower and 10.3 Nm of torque mated to an automatic transmission. While the engine is adequate enough for everyday riding, it just doesn't make you feel 'special' after paying what Vespa is asking for this scooter. Think of it, Vespa is charging us 1 Lakh Rupees for every horsepower!

But that's the whole point. See this as a scooter and it makes no sense to plonk your hard-earned money to buy one. But, look at the 946 Emporio Armani as a style statement - a sort of expensive piece of sculpture that could move around - and it suddenly makes sense for those with deep pockets to have one at their disposal.

As for the rest, go rob a bank in the vicinity. Even that won't guarantee enough funds to buy one of these!

20161116

Jaguar guns for Tesla with the I-Pace Concept

Who would have imagined Tesla's full-electric Model X SUV would see a rival as early as 2018 from Jaguar? Yes, the British luxury car-maker pulled a proverbial cat out of the bag during the run up to the 2016 Los Angeles International Auto Show by taking the wraps off its I-Pace Concept. It might only be Jaguar's second-ever SUV after the stylish F-Pace but, crucially, it leaps ahead with its fully electrified drive-train.


When we post on Jaguars, we usually begin with describing how beautiful they are to look at. But this isn't a regular Jag. This is Jaguar trying to make a statement against its more popular rivals - Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Lexus included. This is Jaguar announcing its leap, pun intended, from internal combustion engines straight to zero-emission full-electric vehicles, skipping the usual step of plug-in hybrids in between.

Powering the I-Pace are two electric motors, one each at the front and rear axles. Together, they generate 394 horsepower and a whopping 700 Nm of instant torque. With zero lag, no transmission losses and all-wheel drive traction, the I-Pace can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 4 seconds flat. That's close to Jaguar's own F-Type SVR, a thoroughbred sports car. 


A 90 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, designed and developed by Jaguar, is an integral part of the I-Pace Concept's body structure. Located beneath the floor and between the axles, the lightweight, liquid-cooled pack can be charged to its full capacity in about 2 hours on a 50 kW fast-charging DC station. Once charged, Jaguar claims the I-Pace can go more than 500 km on the European NEDC combined cycle and more than 220 miles on the US EPA cycle. That's a wee bit less than Model X's claimed-and-tested range but we are nit-picking here.


With such credentials, one would have forgiven Jaguar for giving up on form over function when designing the I-Pace. Fact is, they haven't. The I-Pace Concept is quite a looker in its own right and every bit a Jaguar. The brand’s distinctive trapezoidal grille with hexagonal grids has not been chucked out like in many other electric vehicles. It still occupies prime position up front flanked on either sides by full LED headlights with ‘Double-J’ Daytime Running Lights. In the absence of an engine underneath, the hood is scooped out to reduce drag. The profile is sweet with short overhangs and a long wheelbase that gives the I-Pace Concept classic proportions. The cabin is brought forward and sits low compared to regular SUVs. Flush door handles and the flowing waist line that leads to muscular rear haunches not just look beautiful but also aid aerodynamics. At the rear, the fastback-like sloping windshield, F-Type inspired taillights and functional rear vents that replace the conventional tailpipe stand out.


Being a concept, Jaguar has taken full liberty to come up with a minimalist yet futuristic cabin. A configurable 12-inch virtual HD instrument cluster and a full-colour Head-up Display ensure the driver is presented with all the information needed at all times. The dashboard has a 12-inch primary TFT touchscreen supported by an auxiliary 5.5-inch secondary touchscreen that lets users change multimedia and climate control settings without interrupting the main multimedia screen’s display. Those tactile rotary controllers with a rich knurled finish for the climate control system look fantastic and lifts the cabin ambiance. The floating center console and the absence of transmission tunnel liberates a lot of space, making the I-Pace a spacious and comfortable vehicle to travel around. In fact, the flat second row’s legroom and the 530-litre boot space at the rear complemented by a 28-liter luggage compartment under the hood rival larger SUVs and sedans.

Slated to go on sale in 2018, the I-Pace will begin a new chapter in Jaguar-Land Rover’s history, with the scalable electric architecture allowing the two brands to come up with more battery-powered vehicles as and when they find it appropriate. So, Model X isn't the only model Tesla should be worried about. 

In the press release, Ian Hoban, Jaguar’s vehicle line director is quoted as saying “Electric vehicles are inevitable - Jaguar will make them desirable”. We couldn’t summarize the I-Pace better. Kudos Jaguar, on a job well done!

20161115

Hyundai launches the all-new Tucson in India

Hyundai's SUV and crossover lineup in India is limited to the blockbuster Creta and the highly-capable Santa Fe. Between the two models is a huge price gap. In comes the Tucson, to plug that gap. 

Launched in New Delhi yesterday, the all-new third-generation Tucson is making a comeback in the Indian market. Hyundai launched the first-generation Tucson here amidst a lot of hopes but it failed so miserably that the Korean automaker pulled the plug and never bothered to bring along the second-generation model. Now that SUVs are high on demand and Hyundai has had back-to-back hits in the premium segment, the Tucson is back.


Following Hyundai's Fluidic 2.0 design philosophy, the Tucson looks bold and mature. The chrome-lined hexagonal grille dominates the fascia flanked by a pair of sleek wrap-around projector headlamps. The bumper has a thin air dam underlined by a skid plate with hexagonal-shaped fog lamp enclosures on either sides. The profile is characterized by a prominent shoulder line and beefed-up wheel arches that lend character to the design. The window line goes up and up, almost ending at the top of the rear windshield. Just like the i20 and the Elantra, the Tucson has wrap-around taillights that extend well into the tailgate. Dual chrome-tipped exhaust pipes and plastic-clad bumper complete the rear.


Hyundai has been consciously moving away from flashy designs and the Tucson's cabin is yet another step in that direction. The dual-tone dashboard is neatly-designed in such a way it would offend none. Build quality, fit and finish would be top notch, something we have experienced with Hyundai time and again. Though the Tucson can seat just five, it can do so in absolute comfort given the space on offer. 

Feature list runs into pages with several segment-firsts like full LED headlamps with static bending, puddle lamps, powered tailgate, electric parking brake and auto-folding rear view mirrors with heated function. Other features include full leather upholstery, 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control with cluster ionizer, smart key with push button start, automatic headlamps, cruise control, 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, split-folding rear seats, cooled glovebox and a 8.0-inch touchscreen infotaiment system that can support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 

Having said that, the base variant of Tucson appears severely under-equipped. Would you believe us if we tell you it comes with fabric seats and manual air-conditioning while lacking features like keyless entry and rear air-conditioning vents? 


For a premium vehicle like the Tucson, it is unfortunate that the safety kit isn't standard across the range. While six airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Vehicle Stability Management, Hill-start Assist Control, Downhill Brake Control, Brake Assist, front and rear parking sensors, ISOFIX child seat anchor system and electronic shift lock system are on offer, most of these are reserved for the top-end GLS variant only.

Powering the Tucson are a pair of 2.0-liter engines. The 'Nu' petrol engine is shared with the Elantra and generates 153 horsepower and 192 Nm of torque. The 'R' diesel engine is all-new and churns out 182 horsepower with 400 Nm of torque. While the base variants come with a 6-speed manual transmission, the GL and GLS variants are equipped with a 6-speed torque converter automatic transmission. 4WD isn't on offer at the moment and is expected to join the lineup next year. 


In terms of pricing, Hyundai has positioned the Tucson bang in between the Creta and the Santa Fe. The two petrol variants retail at INR 18.99 and 21.79 Lakhs while the diesel variants are priced between INR 21.59 and 24.99 Lakhs. Pricing is a hit and miss. The base variants are competitively priced but the top-end variants are so close to Ford Endeavour and Chevrolet Trailblazer territory which have the advantage of offering 7 seats. 

Despite common perception that it was overpriced, the Creta has been a smash hit in India selling around 8000 units a month. The Elantra has started off strongly as well with over 1000 bookings within a couple of months of its launch. Will the Tucson be Hyundai's next big hit in the premium segment? We have our fingers crossed.