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VW's New Beetle turns 10 years old

It's a long way from the record production run of the original, but Volkswagen's New Beetle celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

It’s a long way from the record production run of the original, but Volkswagen’s New Beetle celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and that is itself a significant accomplishment. Few vehicles last a decade without major changes to their design.

The New Beetle was based on a design study called “Concept 1,” which was introduced at the Detroit auto show in 1994.

While it echoed the bug-like profile of the original Volkswagen, it incorporated a liquid-cooled, in-line four-cylinder engine, mounted up front and driving the front wheels, rather than the original’s air-cooled flat-four in the rear.

Both J Mays, now Ford’s global design chief, and Freeman Thomas, former head of advanced design at Chrysler, now in charge of Ford’s North American design strategy, were key players in the Concept 1’s design when they both worked for Volkswagen.

The production car made its worldwide debut in 1998. More than one million New Beetles and New Beetle Convertibles have been sold worldwide since that introduction.

According to J.D. Power and Associates, its distinctive silhouette is considered the most easily recognized profile in automotive history.

Nissan develops `by-wire’

Nissan has unveiled a new concept car called “EA2” equipped with drive-by-wire (X-wire) technology that uses wires and electrical impulses instead of mechanical linkages to control major systems such as steering, braking and the transmission.

X-wire technology, which has long been used for aircraft controls, first gained prominence in the auto industry with the introduction of General Motors’ AUTOnomy concept car in 2002.

It was a key component of that fuel-cell-powered car’s design, enabling interchangeable bodies to be adapted to a “skateboard” chassis platform.

Most automakers employ a form of X-wire for throttle controls. GM has since built several driveable concepts and test prototypes incorporating the full potential of the technology, and Mercedes-Benz has applied it in limited form for braking – an application since abandoned. But it has not yet reached production in any broader form.

The challenges of obtaining regulatory approval and the potential for litigation in the event of system failure are significant obstacles to its adoption.

Still, the advantages the technology offers keep automakers pursuing the concept. Nissan says it eliminates many restrictions in how vehicle systems are integrated, allowing greater flexibility in vehicle packaging.

To that end, the space saved by using X-Wire in the EA2 – the basis for which is a first-generation Murano crossover – allowed the interior to be repackaged to create more space without changing the vehicle’s overall length.

Indeed, that repackaging has added 110 mm to the vehicle’s interior length – enough for the EA2 to incorporate a third-row seat, thus making it a seven-seater.

The use of X-wire also helps to reduce vehicle weight, resulting in gains in performance, economy and emissions, the company says.

Nissan has not announced any plans to use the technology in production models.

In-car Internet for BMW

BMW will reportedly introduce in-car Internet access on some models sold in Europe as early as September. It is expected to be the first of its kind to allow unrestricted Web access in an automobile.

Part of BMW’s ConnectedDrive package, it will permit Internet use only if the vehicle is stopped or moving at less than 5 km/h. If the vehicle has a rear-seat DVD system, passengers in the back will be able to access the Internet with the vehicle moving at any speed.

The system will operate through BMW’s iDrive control interface, with Web surfing enabled by a small joystick mouse.

Among other features, it will permit maps to be downloaded and other information related to a destination to be entered into the vehicle’s navigation system at the press of a button.

Although no plans have been announced, BMW is expected to offer the option in North America some time after its European debut.

GM adds to ethanol portfolio

General Motors has made an equity investment in another non-corn-based ethanol company – Boston-based Mascoma Corporation. Earlier this year, GM announced an investment in Coskata, which is also working on the production of cellulosic ethanol.

Mascoma’s technology is based on a single-step biochemical conversion of non-grain biomass into ethanol with the use of enzymes. The Coskata technology uses a thermo-chemical process.

Coskata is building a pilot plant in Pennsylvania to provide fuel to GM for testing.

“Demonstrating the viability of sustainable non-grain based ethanol is critical to developing the infrastructure to support the flex-fuel vehicle market,” said GM president Fritz Henderson.

Mascoma’s single-step cellulose-to-ethanol method, called consolidated bioprocessing, uses proprietary micro-organisms developed at the company’s laboratories. It is said to lowers costs by limiting the additives and enzymes used in other biochemical processes.

Mascoma is testing its technology and expects to begin producing ethanol later this year at its demonstration plant under construction in New York.

“Our job is to take what happens in nature over hundreds of years and bring it down to a matter of days,” said Bruce Jamerson, Mascoma’s chair and CEO. “We think we are well-positioned to make cellulosic ethanol a commercial reality.”

Drunk driving fight saves lives

Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada has released a report showing that the fight against impaired driving has resulted in 30,589 Canadian lives saved since 1982.

According to Transport Canada, there were 39,487 alcohol-related fatalities on Canadian roads during that period. But MADD estimates that the number could have been 70,000 had there not been significant efforts in place to reduce impaired driving deaths.

“Our report delivers a reliable estimate of the total number of lives that have been saved as a result of the fight against impaired driving,” said Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada. “MADD Canada accepts these numbers as a challenge to redouble our efforts to make further gains in reducing the number of alcohol-related deaths in the future years.”

Murie cited a number of government and public initiatives that are contributing to the reduction in fatalities.

These include enhanced graduating licensing and zero blood alcohol content for those under 21, alcohol interlocks, vehicle impoundment and seizure programs, and MADD Canada’s Campaign 911, which encourages motorists to phone police when they spot an impaired driver.

Rumblings

GM of Canada has announced that its new rear-wheel-drive Pontiac G8 sedan will go on sale at Pontiac dealerships in June. The 3.6 L, V6-equipped G8 has a starting price of $31,995 and the 6.0 L V8-powered G8 GT model starts at $36,995.

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