Category Archives: Car News

The Evolution of Car Keys Is More Interesting Than You Think

The Evolution of Car Keys Is More Interesting Than You Think

From the December 2017 issue

You’ve lost them and you’ve found them. The once humble key has grown up, gained utility, and may soon become obsolete. Here are some highlights of the key’s evolution:

The Evolution of Car Keys Is More Interesting Than You Think

1949 Chrysler: While the first key that turned on a car’s ignition arrived in the early 20th century, it required the push of a button to engage the starter. In 1949, Chrysler introduces the modern key that starts the car with a turn of the ignition tumbler.

1965 Ford: Ford brings out its double-sided key still used today in many modern cars. Unlike the single-sided keys preceding it, this one has cuts on both sides, allowing it to be inserted into the tumbler in either orientation.

1986 Chevrolet Corvette: To make the Vette harder to steal, Chevy adds a coded resistor to the key that is needed to start the car. This Vehicle Anti-Theft System trickles down to most GM cars by the ’90s.

1987 Cadillac Allanté: The ’83 AMC/Renault Alliance has the earliest example of factory-installed remote entry capable of locking and unlocking the doors that we could find. But we couldn’t actually find one of these fobs, so we settled for that of another early adopter, the ’87 Cadillac Allanté. By the early ’90s, keyless-entry fobs are going mainstream, forever changing the lives of parking valets.

1990 Jaguar: Dubbed the Tibbe key, this odd shaft with an oval-shaped tip makes its first appearance in the 1989 Merkur Scorpio before being widely used by Jaguar in the 1990s; it also makes its way into many Ford products. The Tibbe key reappears for the 2010–13 Ford Transit Connect before disappearing for good.

1990 Lexus LS400: One of the first uses of the laser-cut key. This design provides an additional layer of security, mainly because it’s difficult to replicate.

1990 Mercedes-Benz SL: New for 1990, the Mercedes SL introduces a “switchblade” key that flips out of an integrated remote-locking fob. The design would be widely copied and continues to be used in most modern Volkswagens.

1993 Chevrolet Corvette: GM experiments with proximity-key technology in the ’93 C4. Unlike proximity fobs of today, the Passive Keyless Entry system couldn’t start the car—you still needed a traditional ignition key for that—but it could automatically lock and unlock the doors simply by detecting the fob close by.

2003 Mercedes-Benz: The first fully functional proximity key design is short-lived. Made for the 2003 model year to fit in a wallet like a credit card, Mercedes’ Smart Card lacks durability. A year later, Mercedes-Benz adapts the technology to work in a more robust fob. In 2004, Lexus releases its own version of the Smart Card and still offers one on select models and also as an accessory.

2004 Chevrolet Malibu: Remote start has been available in the aftermarket world for years, but GM is the first carmaker to offer the technology direct from the factory, forever changing the way we warm and cool our vehicles.

2016 BMW: BMW’s modern Display key makes its debut on the 7-series and attempts to mimic a smartphone by adding an LCD touchscreen. From 1000 feet away, the key can lock and unlock the doors, set climate control, and open the trunk. Via the touchscreen, the car can be parked even when there’s no driver at the wheel. The display provides info about which lights are on, whether the doors are locked, fuel level, and when the next service is due. It charges using a micro-USB connection or wirelessly in the center armrest.

2018 Tesla: You may never receive your Model 3, but you might already have the key. Tesla’s smartphone app makes BMW’s Display key as obsolete and frivolous as a pair of Google glasses. Using Bluetooth low energy, the app is always running in the background, mimicking a proximity key. A credit-card-style key bails you out when your phone battery inevitably dies.

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BMW Ponders Batteries for 2021 EVs, Says Solid State Isn’t Ready

BMW Munich towers

This week, Colorado company Solid Power announced that it will partner with BMW to develop solid-state battery technology that could bring increased driving range, longer battery life, and better temperature tolerance to electric cars. The German automaker will invest an undisclosed amount in Solid Power, intending “to advance its technology in order to achieve performance levels required for high-performance electric vehicles.”

Although there’s a lot of buzz about solid-state batteries of late—and Toyota might have added to that in recent months—don’t expect BMW to bring the technology to production any time soon. Klaus Fröhlich, the BMW board member in charge of development and R&D activities, said that he doesn’t expect solid-state tech in a production vehicle from the company until at least 2025—partly because the temperature requirements remain too limited.

Mass-market deployment won’t be until at least 2030, Fröhlich anticipates, in part because lithium-ion batteries keep getting better. Energy density is increasing 30 percent every two or three years, he told C/D, while costs fall significantly.

Different EVs, Same Building Blocks

BMW is keeping that solid-state technology in its R&D departments for now, because its focus for the next decade is to produce electrified vehicles at a far more rapid rate. It has taken BMW more than four years since the first deliveries of its i3 electric car to reach just 200,000 cumulative global sales of electrified models. While half those cars were built in the past year, BMW will need to do much more if it is to achieve its goal of offering 25 fully electric or plug-in hybrid models worldwide, including versions of nearly all of its models, by 2025.

Mini Electric Concept

A fully electric Mini is on the way next year, and an all-electric version of the BMW X3 comes in 2020; BMW also keeps dropping hints about more models for its green/urban-focused BMW i sub-brand. But BMW’s electrification push accelerates in 2021, when it will release the fifth generation of its electric drivetrain and battery technology.

“[BMW] has to define its format for the next 15 years.”

— BMW Group R&D boss Klaus Fröhlich

Conceived for far higher production volumes—and to be scalable to work with all of BMW’s models, including battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids—this new modular electrification kit incorporates the motor, drive gearing, and power electronics as a single, integrated core component. It draws power from a battery module that isn’t bound to any one model or purpose.

What Goes in Modules

Battery packs remain the most expensive of the major components in electric cars. BMW has put a tremendous engineering effort into developing proprietary battery modules that can be packaged into liquid-cooled battery packs of varying size and shape depending on the vehicle. “With the modules, you control the life cycle, the aging of each cell—so you can reduce cost or increase function,” he explained.

“What’s important is that I always use the same module,” Fröhlich explained. “I have a high module for SUVs, and I have a low module for sedans or perhaps sports cars.” The automaker, he said, worked especially hard on the lower-profile battery pack.

BMW prototype battery pack

Regardless of the shape, the modular strategy better accommodates the nearly continuous improvement of lithium-ion cells. “Every two years, when I have an update on the cell chemistry, I could roll it out, within some months, to the whole portfolio,” Fröhlich said.

BMW has already been trying this on a smaller scale with its i3 and i8. A Gen 4 battery will soon be deployed to the refreshed i8 roadster and i8 coupe, less than 12 months after the i3, which reaps those same chemistry changes, hits the market. Looking ahead to Gen 5 and the full modular approach, BMW points to the Vision Dynamics concept, revealed this fall at the Frankfurt auto show as well as at the Los Angeles auto show. It’s an all-electric sports sedan with a 370-mile driving range that goes from zero to 60 mph in less than four seconds and offers a top speed of more than 125 mph.

BMW i Vision Dynamics Concept

Actually making battery cells, modules, and packs in much higher volumes is another hurdle. “I have to define my format for the next 15 years. Because the architectures, and all the factories—the gigafactories—they can’t move,” said Fröhlich.

Aping Apple

BMW isn’t going to get directly involved in the battery-cell business. Instead, it has established a $240 million Battery Cell Competence Center next to its R&D center in Munich, where the aim is to build prototype cells, modules, and battery packs and lay out how they’ll be assembled for vehicles. According to Fröhlich, BMW is looking for an approach that’s a bit like the Apple manufacturing ecosystem. “The battery is not produced by Apple, but all the manufacturing details are defined by Apple,” he said, dodging a question about Chinese supply for North America. “So that’s what we intend to do, because manufacturing has such an impact on function, quality, and cost.”

As for the cell format, BMW is hoping for a good automotive-duty prismatic cell—the rectangular sort used in some personal electronics—because packaging is compact and more easily protected from intrusion. But it also could embrace pouch style batteries—the form used in the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Kia Soul EV, for instance—if the next-generation version becomes the prevalent one. The one battery format BMW simply won’t use is the cylindrical one—as Tesla embraces for all of its models—because cooling and packaging become more challenging. “The active material is only a third [by volume], and we have prismatic at more than 40 percent,” Fröhlich explained. “So if you want the same energy density you have to have an aggressive chemistry, with all the risks.”

BMW e-powertrain module

Battery aside, BMW is looking to innovate in other ways. For instance, the new modular electric powertrain that arrives in 2021 will include a high-efficiency current-excited motor that, unlike permanent-magnet designs, isn’t dependent on rare-earth elements.

Charging remains a wildcard. BMW will start with a 400-volt architecture in 2021 with the modular platform (and likely 150-kW fast charging, which could return about 200 miles of range in a half hour); but switching to 800 volts (to keep up with the upcoming Porsche Mission E) isn’t a big deal, Fröhlich said.

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Whoa, 3.0! 603-HP 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S Sedan Tested!

Life isn’t about how much horsepower you have but how you use it. Armed with the 603-hp version of AMG’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engine, Mercedes-AMG’s E63 S falls short of Dodge’s 707-hp Charger SRT Hellcat and Cadillac’s 650-hp CTS-V. (The non-S E63, which we don’t get in the United States, makes “just” 563 horses.) And yet thanks to its new nine-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic+ all-wheel drive, the AMG lays down its lesser output far more effectively than either of those rear-drive muscle machines. READ MORE ››

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Product Placement: Our Favorite Custom Promotional Vehicles

Product Placement: Our Favorite Custom Promotional Vehicles1939 Pontiac Ghost Car1939 Pontiac Ghost Car1939 Pontiac Ghost Car1984 Ford Econoline Mutt Cutts VanHot Wheels Deora II and Twin MillHot Wheels Deora II and Twin MillDomino’s DXPAnheuser-Busch is most famous for its teams of Budweiser Clydesdale horses, but it was also a pioneer in the art of the promotional car. Back in the middle 1910s, the Anheuser-Busch marketers acquired a torpedo-bodied Overland touring car and used it to promote its Bevo brand of near beer. That’s a malt beverage the company made during Prohibition that lacked alcohol, making it not really beer at all.- -Sometime around 1930, the brewer’s Vehicle Department, which usually occupied itself making refrigerated trucks and rail cars, produced a few more Bevo boatlike promotional vehicles including this one, the Budweiser, photographed in 1931. Classy, eh?Moxie Mobile vPepperidge Farm Goldfish MobileHershey’s Kissmobile CruiserGood Humor TruckGood Humor TruckGood Humor TruckOscar Mayer WienermobileOscar Mayer Wienermobile

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2018 Honda Odyssey Nine-Speed Tested: Gives Up a Gear, Doesn’t Lose Much

2018-Honda-Odyssey-Nine-Speed-Automatic-Placement

What It Is: Honda’s Odyssey is one of the most established players in the minivan game, and it was fully redesigned for the 2018 model year. Practicality and family friendliness remain its key tenets, along with a focus on driving enjoyment that’s rare among vehicles with this much people- and cargo-carrying capability. It has stiff competition, however, in the form of Chrysler’s latest minivan, the excellent Pacifica, which narrowly outscored the Honda to claim victory in our latest comparison test. We were still eager to spend more time with the new Odyssey, and we’re thousands of pleasant miles into a 40,000-mile long-term test of a top-trim 2018 Odyssey Elite. READ MORE ››

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2018 Honda Odyssey Nine-Speed Automatic – Quick Test

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2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S Sedan – Instrumented Test

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The Time We Tested a Vector W8 Highlights Why We Test Cars in the First Place

The Time We Tested a Vector W8 Highlights Why We Test Cars in the First Place

Before the word “vaporware” existed, there was the Vector. The promises were big, the styling jaw-dropping, and a drivable production car elusive. That’s the thing about vaporware—it’s all too easy to be seduced by a great-looking body and assurances that it works as advertised. Vector struggled to build a production car in the ’80s, but the W2 prototype enjoyed supercar mystique and street cred nonetheless. C/D was guilty of helping to foster that image. It started with a story in our December 1980 issue in which then associate editor Larry Griffin heaped praise on the car and its creator, Gerald Wiegert. But Griffin never drove the Vector. Arty shots on a dry lake bed helped make a car years away seem real. READ MORE ››

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Bargain Bug: Federalized Bugatti EB110 Going to the Auction Block

1993 Bugatti EB110 GT

Before the Chiron or the Veyron, there was the EB110. The Bugatti supercar was unveiled in 1991 and produced through 1994. Powered by a quad-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-12 engine, the all-wheel-drive EB110 produced an eyebrow-raising (for the time) 560 horsepower and utilized a state-of-the-art carbon-fiber chassis. Paired with a six-speed manual transmission, the mid-mounted V-12 engine was able to wail well past 8000 revs before the tachometer needle tapped the redline.

Fewer than 150 EB110 supercars were built before the company went out of business. August Nuechter found out the hard way that the company was in financial ruin when he took this EB110 to the factory for service in September 1995. Instead of being met by smiling factory workers, he was greeted by the frowns of employees who had been informed that the company was declaring bankruptcy.

1993 Bugatti EB110 GT

In spite of a lack of factory support, Nuechter held on to his EB110, putting 2821 miles on the car throughout more than two decades of ownership. Nuechter even brought the black EB110 with him when he moved to America. The car was certified for U.S. road use in August 2005.

Set to go up for auction at RM Sotheby’s Phoenix, Arizona, auction in January, this rare EB110 is projected to sell for $750,000 to $950,000. Expensive in the grand scheme of car buying, but in the world of Bugattis this EB110 is practically a steal. Consider that a new Chiron will set you back more than $2.5 million, while a classic 1932 Bugatti Type 55 roadster recently sold for more than $10 million at auction. If you’ve always wanted a Bugatti, this federalized EB110 may be one of the least expensive ways to put one in your garage.

1993-Bugatti-EB110-GT-REEL

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Bargain Bug: Federalized Bugatti EB110 Going to the Auction Block

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