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  • Aston Martin’s ultra-luxury SUV to be called Varekai?

    In the present day of car-making, the road to profitability often comes in the form of three words – Sport Utility Vehicle. At least for super luxury marques that is, whose brand ethos revolve heavily around making emotive, high-performance sports cars.

    The trend, first sparked by the Porsche Cayenne, has necessitated the creation of the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus, with sales of the latter doing unexpectedly well for the brand. Rolls-Royce too wants in on the action, and it won’t be long until we see its first ever SUV, the Cullinan. Lest you forget, Ferrari too, is “dead serious” about its high-riding venture.

    Aston Martin has long revealed its interest in making SUVs, having first previewed the DBX concept at the 2015 Geneva motor show. The latest headwind sees the company applying trademark for the name “Varekai”, and considering its plans to roll out the production model in 2019, the timing surely isn’t coincidental, right?

    If anything, the Varekai name adheres to the brand’s naming convention by starting with a V, such as the Vantage, Vanquish and Valkyrie. According to Autocar, its final design was signed off last summer, and the 105-year old company hopes that it will drastically boost sales volumes. CEO Andy Palmer previously said that the DBX will stand apart from its above-mentioned rivals “because it has not sacrificed any beauty to achieve its practicality or performance.”

    The SUV project was envisioned by Palmer before joining Aston Martin in 2014. Interestingly, it was officially kick-started on the fourth day of his career. “When you are talking about running a company like Aston Martin, you talk through your ideas with the owners before you are hired,” said Palmer. “My message was simple: if Aston Martin wants to survive, it must do an SUV.”

    “On my fourth day [as CEO], I got to spend some time with Marek [Reichmann, head of design] and I told him I wanted DBX. That was in October and I told him I wanted a concept car ready to show in Geneva by the following March.”

    “He and his team responded magnificently. One of the many beauties of Aston compared to a large car company is that we can move quickly. If something is agreed, we can leave the room and start working on it immediately, without the need for multi-layer presentations. It’s invigorating and I think we are starting to unlock the benefits of that now. I hope the Aston of today has a swagger — but never arrogance — that it hasn’t had for some time.”

    The DBX concept was a two-door, four-seater car that’s powered by electric motors mounted inboard of the wheels and powered by lithium sulphur cells. It featured an F1-style kinetic energy recovery system (KERS), and the SUV will be at the cutting edge of powertrain technology when it’s launched. Reichmann and his team also made a point to highlight practical elements, like cabin and load space.

    Palmer said the production model will carry much of the DNA previewed by the concept. He said: “There are aspects of the car that have changed dramatically — perhaps none more so than the fact that it is now a four-door — and, on a comparison basis, you will be able to pick out many details that have been modified. But in terms of the pure lines and the fundamental core principles of the car, you’ll recognise them.” Reichmann also suggested that the roofline will be much higher than the concept for improved practicality.

    The DBX/Varekai will ride on a new bonded and riveted aluminium architecture that is closely related in principle to the DB11. There were speculations that Aston would turn to partner Mercedes-Benz for its chassis technology, but Palmer said Aston preferred to make use of its own expertise. He did however, say that some sub-systems and V8 engines will come from the tri-star, as will all of its next-generation models.

    The DBX will be the first Aston Martion to be sold with four-wheel drive, but whether or not this is standard for all variants remains to be seen. The top model will get power from Aston’s own 5.2 litre twin-turbo V12, and it be retuned from the 600 hp/700 Nm unit found in the DB11. An AMG-sourced 4.0 litre twin-turbo V8 that makes 503 hp and 675 Nm could be offered as well.

    Further down the pipeline is an all-electric variant equipped with a proprietary powertrain that’s developed by Aston Martin with input from Williams Advanced Engineering. Palmer has ruled out diesel versions of the DBX, but confirmed that a hybrid version of the car will be developed. That said, it won’t be a plug-in hybrid because research suggests luxury car buyers do not consider the experience to be “premium” enough.

    For the KERS system, the company could use a modified version of that which is fitted to the Valkyrie instead of turning to Mercedes. As for ride and handling, Palmer highlighted the characteristics of the Porsche Macan, and said “it is probably dynamically the best car in the SUV category.” How’s that for a benchmark?

    The cabin, on the other hand, will be designed to focus heavily on practicality. “There are certain issues you can’t compromise on that perhaps we haven’t given such credence to in the past — ingress and egress, for starters, and whether it is a car you sit on or sit in,” said Palmer. “DBX is a revolution for Aston Martin in so many ways, and that has meant that we have had to adapt our way of thinking in places.

    “We have one rule that never changes, which is that we don’t trade off beauty. But if you want the design to reflect its 4×4-ness and to deliver the sort of utility that customers expect from these cars, then you have find ways to achieve that. A 4×4 needs to be big, it needs to convey safety and security and yet it also needs to be easy to get in and out of.”

    Aston Martin has also established focus groups to gain input, including one comprised of women. This was after knowing that just 3,500 of the firm’s lifetime sales of 70,000 cars were to women. The new SUV will be built at a dedicated facility in Wales. The word Varekai comes from the Romani language, meaning “wherever,” which seems fitting for an SUV. Fancy yourself an Aston Martin SUV, guys?

    GALLERY: Aston Martin DBX concept

  • BARU: Artikel terkini dalam Bahasa Malaysia

  • Ford Bronco, Mustang Shelby GT500 and small SUV teased; new 2019 Kuga and Explorer also confirmed

    There’s big news over at Ford, which has confirmed and teased a slew of new models that will be offered in showrooms in the United States by 2020. The vase majority of these are SUVs, signalling an evolution of the Blue Oval’s strategy in an ever-changing market.

    Firstly, the company has previewed the shape of the all-new 2020 Bronco, and despite rumours and fears to the contrary, it won’t be a rebadged Everest. Instead, the retro nameplate will be paired to retro styling, with a distinctive boxy design, a tailgate-mounted spare wheel and a choice of three- and five-door models.

    It will still be based on the Ranger, which made its North American debut earlier in the year and will be offered Stateside with a 2.3 litre EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder petrol engine and 10-speed automatic transmission from the Mustang. Expect this powertrain configuration to also be offered on the Bronco.

    Sitting below it will be a smaller, yet equally rugged “utility vehicle” that will likely take the fight to the Jeep Compass. Ford has also confirmed that a new Kuga and Explorer will go on sale next year, with the latter getting a high-performance ST variant as with the Edge. No technical details have been announced, but the Explorer ST should get a tuned version of the current range-topping 365 hp 3.5 litre EcoBoost V6.

    Last but not least is a second teaser image of the new Mustang Shelby GT500, which was already previewed in a video earlier in the year. The photo shows a far more aggressive face than what the pony car has worn thus far, with a gaping grille flanked, oddly enough, by headlights from the pre-facelifted Mustang. It’s already been confirmed that this top dog version, which will arrive in 2019, will have over 700 hp.

    Away from the headlines, the F-150 will be made available for the first time with a 3.0 litre turbodiesel V6 later this year – the oil burner makes 250 hp and 597 Nm of torque, and will enable the massive pick-up to return 7.8 litres per 100 km. There will also be a new generation of Ford’s enormous F-Series Super Duty truck lineup next year, going on sale alongside the Ranger.

    The new Ford Explorer ST, alongside the new Edge ST

    On the hybrid side, a petrol-electric F-150 will debut alongside the new 14th-generation model in 2020, capable of serving as a mobile generator. It will form part of an expanded hybrid range which will also include the Mustang – all utilising a modular hybrid system that’s more efficient and less expensive than before. During the same year, an all-electric Mach 1 performance SUV will also make an appearance.

    In terms of safety, Ford is introducing Co-Pilot360, a suite of driver assistance systems that incorporate autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, automatic high beam and a reverse camera. The package will be rolled out as standard equipment across the range up to and including the F-150, starting with the facelifted Edge.

  • Mercedes confirms plans for new compact 7-seater

    The Mercedes-Benz model range is more diverse now than ever before, no doubts about that. But the world’s most valuable car brand never really had a proper seven-seater compact car to rival the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer. The B-Class never came with a seven-seat configuration, and only had the 2 Series Active Tourer to contend with.

    Well, the wait may finally be over. In a report by Automotive News Europe, Mercedes-Benz’s global sales boss Britta Seeger said there are plans to produce a compact seven-seater model. Apparently, the model is in the works for markets like China, but it’s unclear what name or form it will take.

    “In our new compact family, we will also bring seven-seat vehicles to market. We see a growing desire for seven-seat vehicles in China and we must satisfy this demand,” she said. “Will it be a minivan or an SUV? You will have to wait and see. So far you have seen the first new model, the A-Class, which is really a lovely car and a very substantial product.”

    Mercedes-Benz GLB spyshots

    So where does this leave us? For starters, there’s a good chance the car will materialise in the form of a larger (next-gen) B-Class with three-row seating. That will take on the 2 Series Gran Tour head on, filling the niche premium compact MPV segment gap that’s currently occupied by the bulbous front-drive Bimmer.

    The second and more interesting option is a 5+2 version of a compact SUV, which could potentially be the all-new GLB. It will ride on the company’s next-gen transverse-engine architecture, dubbed the Modular Front Architecture 2 (MFA2). If the GLB comes in a three-row configuration, it will be the only offering in the premium car category. Currently, no other premium brands offer such a vehicle type of the size.

    Now, it’s no secret that the MFA2 platform will form the basis of eight new models by 2020. Even if we take into account the standard B-Class along with the new GLA and both coupe and shooting brake versions of the CLA, there’s still four additional new models to come. With the GLB and A-Class sedan also confirmed for production, that leaves two more spots – perhaps a B-Class L for China? What do you think?

    GALLERY: Next-gen Mercedes-Benz B-Class spyshots

    GALLERY: Mercedes-Benz GLB spyshots

  • Mazda to develop 12-volt lithium-ion starter batteries

    Mazda has announced that it is entering into a joint-venture project with Elity Power and Ube Industries to develop durable heat- and impact-resistant 12-volt lithium-ion batteries for vehicles. Meant as replacements for lead-acid starter batteries in cars, the project aims to get these into the market by 2021.

    The lithium-ion route offers a promising alternative to conventional lead-acid car batteries, but its application in cars has been limited thus far due to safety concerns – there’s a need for a car battery to withstand high temperatures in an engine bay, and there’s also potential impact forces of a collision to consider. The new project hopes to overcome such issues and bring about a stable, safe battery.

    Mazda will conduct model-based research of the chemical reactions that occur inside batteries and will take a closer look at how to manage high-performance batteries from a vehicle-total perspective and develop a general purpose model for use in motor vehicles.

    Elity Power will leverage its experience in developing safe, water-proof, impact-resistant battery technologies with excellent cold-weather performance to lead design and development of the basic battery unit. Ube Industries, meanwhile, will use its accumulated expertise and engineering knowledge gleaned from the development of key components such as electrolytes and separators to develop an electrolyte with a higher flash point and better heat resistance.

    The three companies said that the project will also bring about the potential for further collaboration in a range of fields, including using the technologies resulting from the JV as base for other low-voltage lithium-ion batteries applicable to vehicle electrification technologies other than starter batteries.

  • VIDEO: Toyota Direct Shift-CVT functionality explained

    In late February 2018, Toyota revealed a whole range of new technologies that will be used in future vehicles based on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA). One of those technologies is the Direct Shift-CVT, which features a launch gear to increase the efficiency of the belt-driven system.

    To better understand how it works, Jason Fenske from Engineering Explained has uploaded a video to explain the purpose of the launch gear, and how it improves the CVT.

    In Toyota’s new transmission, the CVT switches to the launch gear when setting off from a stop. This provides direct gear drive, much like starting in first gear in a manual transmission. However, as the vehicle speeds up, the launch gear is dropped and the transmission switches to belt drive and operates like a regular CVT.

    The launch gear results in better acceleration when setting off, and helps deal with the “sluggishness” that people find when driving a CVT. With the launch gear taking over accelerating duties from a standstill, Toyota has also been able to fit smaller belt and pulley components, along with a narrower belt angle (9 degrees from 11 degrees), result in shifting speeds that are 20% faster.

  • PAS GE14 manifesto touts zero excise tax for first car buyers, interest-free loans – is this good for us?

    This time around, the rejigged opposition’s election manifesto for the upcoming 14th General Election (GE14) did not trumpet lower car prices if it came into power so loudly, unlike in the previous GE, when “Turunkan Harga Kereta” was part of a turun everything campaign. However, dig in and you’ll find that Pakatan Harapan intends to cut excise duties on imported cars below 1.6 litres for first-time buyers. PAS, now divorced from PKR and DAP, has made a somewhat similar pledge.

    The Islamic party has unveiled a manifesto for its Gagasan Sejahtera platform, which includes Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia (Ikatan) and Barisan Jemaah Islamiah Se-Malaysia (Berjasa). The manifesto includes the expected promise of abolishing the Goods and Services Tax (GST), but it also threw in something car related – exempting excise tax for first-time car buyers.

    The proposal by PAS is to exempt excise tax for first-time car buyers, applicable to vehicles with engine capacities below 1.3 litres. The party also proposes an interest-free loan for the first-timers. Of course, nothing is mentioned on how a potential government can replace the shortfall of income from this stream.

    It is an important stream. In 2014, minister of international trade and industry Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said that the government cannot give up excise duties under its (then) current fiscal position. “The auto sector is a very important contributor to the government’s coffers – 75% of the duties collected from the auto sector comes from excise duties,” he said at the 2014 National Automotive Policy announcement.

    “On excise duties, the position of the government is as follows. Given the current situation of the budget, it is not possible for the government to review excise duties, but the government, of course, in the next few years, will review the fiscal situation. And as the fiscal situation improves, the government will consider looking into the possibility of gradually reducing excise duties,” he added.

    We pay three different kinds of tax on our cars – import duty, excise duty and GST. Import duty is on a downward trend as Malaysia is part of many trade pacts and bilateral agreements – the rate is already 0% for cars coming in from ASEAN countries, for instance. However, excise duties are the prerogative of the government, and as the MITI minister mentioned, it’s a valuable source of income.

    Unlike import tax, excise duty is levied on all products, whether imported, manufactured locally or national. Rates range from 65% to 105%, but many car manufacturers pay less than that in exchange for a higher rate of localisation. According to Mustapa, the average excise duty being paid per car is about 50% (2014 figures).

    The PAS promise is nothing new. In 2014, minister for youth and sports Khairy Jamaluddin’s proposed a “Youth First Vehicle Scheme” where young people earning under RM4,000 a month can buy their first car tax-free. We calculated – based on a 10% downpayment, 3.5% loan interest rate and a seven-year tenure – and found that one could save from RM30 to RM330 per month for locally-made cars ranging from a Perodua Axia to a Toyota Vios. More on this, here.

    But are cheaper cars truly beneficial for the rakyat? Should the plan to scrap excise tax come to fruition, manufacturers and buyers will be rubbing their hands in glee, and the sluggish market might receive a temporary boost. But things might not be so rosy in the longer term. With every high, there’s a hangover, and Thailand has already experienced the cycle.

    The Thai auto market contracted severely after the country’s December 2012 expiry of a first-car scheme, which started in September 2011. The government gave a 100,000 baht tax refund for first-car buyers opting for a locally made car priced below one million baht, with an engine no bigger than 1.5 litres.

    It was reported that the good intentions of the then Thai government cost it US$2.5 billion (RM9.79 billion) in tax income, according to World Bank estimates. It also left more than 100,000 indebted customers defaulting on their loans because they couldn’t afford to buy new cars under normal circumstances. Of course, owning a car isn’t just about the monthly instalments – there are many other costs involved such as insurance, fuel and parking, just to name a few.

    At the proposal stage, cheaper cars are meant to help out the young, but in Thailand, it left many youngsters trapped in debt. The situation would probably be the same or worse should a similar scheme be introduced here.

    Malaysian household debt levels are already among the highest in the region (84.6% of GDP as of September 2017; it was RM1.086 trillion or 88.4% of GDP at end 2016) and giving fresh grads an “extra excuse” to buy a new car may be bad for their long term financial health. With up to RM1,000 per month less in savings, that elusive first home will be even harder to achieve.

    Also, lower car prices will not necessarily mean that young adults will have more money to spare. It’s likely that many will take the opportunity to use the original budget for an “upgrade” – for instance, if the original budget allowed for a Perodua Myvi, the first-time buyer might now go for a Honda Jazz, for the “same price”. And we haven’t even mentioned the impact on urban congestion.

    Anyway, are cars really as expensive in Malaysia as we think? As shared with BFM earlier this month, RM60k buys you the base Yaris J Eco in Thailand. The Myvi-sized hatch is powered by a 1.2 litre engine, rolls on steel wheels and doesn’t have a radio. Contrast that with the RM55k Myvi 1.5 Advance, with its LED headlamps, keyless entry and autonomous emergency braking.

    On the other end of the scale, the BMW 530e plug-in hybrid, launched here in January at RM344k, retails from RM457k in the Land of Smiles. The PHEV G30 benefits from CKD hybrid incentives in both countries. Those doing direct conversions from countries such as the UK and Australia might also want to consider the cost of insurance, fuel and inspection there, among other costs. What’s your opinion on car prices in Malaysia?

  • 2018 Mercedes-Maybach Pullman debuts with 630 PS

    It’s time now for the Mercedes-Maybach Pullman to get its facelift, after the Maybach and regular S-Class models received theirs. Apart from an updated design, the VV222 also gets an updated equipment list and powertrain.

    On the exterior, there’s now a new front grille that is similar to that found on the Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 concepts. There’s also a set of 20-inch wheels in a 10-hole design, while the colour palette now includes new two-tone paint finishes.

    As before, the Pullman measures 6.5 metres long and has a wheelbase of 4,418 mm, which is 1,053 mm longer than the X222 Maybach S-Class. Customers will also get new colours for the interior, including magma grey, mahogany brown and silk beige/deep sea blue.

    All the creature comforts of the Pullman are retained here, but there’s now a front view camera so rear passengers are able to monitor the traffic in front the limousine even when the partition screen is closed. Additionally, the sound system now comes with a “two cabin sound” feature, allowing for independent music control.

    The S 600 moniker of the pre-facelift model is now gone, and the new Pullman is now identified as the S 650. A 6.0 litre twin-turbo V12 continues to be of service in the S 650, but now has a higher output of 621 hp (630 PS) and 1,000 Nm of torque – the previous S 600 “only” had 523 hp (530 PS) and 830 Nm. Despite its size, the Pullman will complete the 0-100 km/h sprint in just 6.5 seconds.

    If you’re interested, the new Pullman is priced from around half a million euro (about RM2.4 million). Mercedes-Maybach will likely give the Pullman Guard, an armoured version of the limousine, a similar update in the future. That one may cost quite a bit more.

  • Malaysia to begin issung VEP tags from next month

    Malaysia will begin issuing Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) tags for all foreign-registered vehicles entering the country via the Causeway and the Second Link expressway from the middle of next month, the New Straits Times reports. This will be done in stages, according to transport minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

    He said that the tags will be introduced once application tests are completed. “The VEP system will prevent foreign vehicles from being cloned and sold in the country. It will also allow us to prevent vehicles with outstanding summonses from leaving the country,” he said.

    The VEP tag is fitted with radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology and will integrate a cashless payment system developed by Touch ‘n Go.

    Liow said that the introduction of the cashless payment system was in line with the country’s aspiration to accelerate the creation of a robust and secure digital payment ecosystem. “This will act as a catalyst to promote cashless solutions in Malaysia and create a cultural change as we embark on our continuing drive to developing a Malaysia of tomorrow through digitisation and technology,” he explained.

    He added that the ministry is also in the process of introducing the VEP system in phases at the Malaysia-Thailand border as well as the Sabah/Sarawak-Indonesia/Brunei borders.

    At the Johor entry point, the VEP was supposed to have begun operating last June, with collection of the VEP charge starting from mid-July, but it was postponed. With the implementation, every foreign-registered vehicle will need to apply for the VEP when entering the country from the two links to Singapore. A processing fee will be levied, and the permit will be valid for five years.

    A separate per-entry road charge of RM20, implemented since November 1 last year, is currently being levied on vehicles entering Malaysia from Singapore.

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  • F39 BMW X2 spotted in Malaysia ahead of launch

    The F39 BMW X2 has been spotted in Malaysia ahead of its official launch debut on March 21, 2018, where it is estimated to retail at RM320,000 without insurance. Those who are interested can pre-book the vehicle for a fee of RM3,000 per unit at a dedicated website, here.

    As reported previously, Malaysians will have access to a sole variant, the sDrive20i M Sport, which comes in fully-imported (CBU) form. Under the hood is a B48 2.0 litre four-cylinder petrol engine, making 192 hp and 280 Nm of torque. Drive is directed to the front wheels via a seven-speed wet dual-clutch transmission.

    The car in this photo features a Galvanic Gold exterior finish, with other colours being Misano Blue and Sunset Orange. The M Sport pack includes aggressive front and rear bumpers and side skirts, highlighted in Dark Shadow grey. There’s also a tailgate spoiler as well as M Sport suspension (10 mm lower ride height).

    Standard equipment includes full LED headlights, LED fog lights, 19-inch M double-spoke alloy wheels, Comfort Access keyless entry, auto air-con, Parking Assistant, a head-up display, a Professional navigation system with an 8.8-inch screen, a powered tailgate and a reverse camera. The interior also comes with sports seats and Aluminium Hexagon Anthracite interior trim.

    With the launch date just days away, find out more about the X2 from our review of it in Lisbon. Alternatively, you can also check out our video review of BMW’s sportier “coupé” version of the X1.

    GALLERY: F39 BMW X2 review

  • China’s K-One electric car copies Mercedes-Benz GLA

    Here comes yet another China-made copycat, this time taking full design inspiration from the Mercedes-Benz compact car range. Dubbed the K-One, the all-electric SUV looks like a weird blend of the W176 A-Class, CLA and GLA.

    According to AutoHome, the K-One is 4,100 mm long, 1,710 mm wide, 1,595mm tall and has a wheelbase of 2,520 mm. That’s significantly smaller compared to the outgoing GLA’s footprint of 4,417 mm (-317 mm) length, 1,804 mm (-94 mm) width and 2,699 mm wheelbase (-179 mm). However, it’s a great deal taller compared to the Merc’s 1,494 mm (+101 mm) height.

    The K-One weighs around 1,400 kg and is said to be fully electric. Word is that the sole electric motor will make around 54 PS (with a peak output of 130 PS), and it will be juiced by a lithium-ion battery pack made by Harbin Coslight Power. Not much is known of its performance, but the car is allegedly capable of hitting a top speed of 102 km/h.

    Design-wise, again, it’s not a sight for sore eyes. The front fascia is a complete rip-off of the CLA, from the shape and design of the headlights to the chrome-pinned diamond grille and side mirror caps. It rides on 16-inch alloys wrapped with 205/55 profile tyres.

    Move your eyes rearward and you’ll quickly notice why it’s over 100 mm taller than the GLA. The roof, for one, is drastically raised to improve headroom (something the GLA admittedly lacks of), and the K-One appears to have a higher ground clearance.

    Over at the back, it has taken inspiration from Mercedes-Benz GLC for the design of the tail lamps, albeit shorter to better suit the K-One’s compact proportions. Further down, the bumpers are aggressively styled with faux air outlets, blue highlights and twin exhaust exits. Not sure what a zero-emissions car need exhausts for, but for those who prefer a busier rump, there you go.

    The K-One will be launched in China soon, so expect more details to come in the near future. Meanwhile, what do you think of this? Let us know below.


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Last Updated 15 Mar 2018


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