Lamborghini unveiled a radical 600-horsepower SUV concept at the Beijing motor show this week, making the many other debuts at this increasingly newsworthy event seem tame by comparison.
The four-door four-seater SUV is still officially a concept, although Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann said the SUV is "a perfect match for the Lamborghini brand." Of course, that's similar to what he said in 2008, when Lambo unveiled the Estoque sedan concept four years ago, and that four-door still seems no closer to market.
Lamborghini is not specifying what type of engine will get the SUV to the approximate 600 hp figure, but it seems likely to be either a variation of the current 560-hp V-10 in the Lamborghini Gallardo, or a tweaked version of the turbo V-8 that's found in the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, or perhaps even a V-12, as was shown in Bentley's awkwardly named EXP 9 F SUV concept.
All of these vehicles will share similar all-wheel-drive architecture underneath, though Winkelmann said the Urus would weigh about 100 kg less than its rivals, thanks to Lambo's exclusive heft-reducing carbon fibre technology. Lambo wants to be best in class for carbon dioxide emissions in the high-end SUV segment, with Autoweek magazine reporting this week that although nothing is confirmed, the Urus is expected to receive a plug-in version of the new turbocharged Audi V-8 that also appears in the Bentley Continental GT V-8.
The report suggested that the Urus would arrive to market by 2016, with Winkelmann explaining that the Estoque was put on hold for a number of reasons, including the lack of a suitable platform. Lamborghini hasn't given up on the sport sedan idea entirely, he suggested, but he sees more potential in the SUV concept.
Unlike the blocky 1986 Lamborghini LM002 that started out as a military vehicle commission and ended with Lambo badges and strakes slapped on a Hummer-like monstrosity, the Urus will be styled in line with its more exotic two-door siblings. This new Lambo SUV will breathe fiery on-road performance instead of brutish off-road capability, featuring a relatively low roof but a variable ride-height, and a paddle-shift dual-clutch transmission, with no more column stalks for turn signals, wipers or headlights, as dispensed with in the Ferrari 458 Italia as well.
Chinese Sylphy basis for new Sentra
An all-new Nissan Sentra will arrive in North America this fall and, since it will be based on the Chinese-market Sylphy that made its debut this week, it appears Nissan will finally start making its compact car more expressive than the staid lines allowed for the last few Sentras or the recently re-done Versa sedan.
Nissan North America released a short statement about the upcoming Sentra soon after the unveiling of the Sylphy, saying that this continent would receive a "uniquely styled" SR model.
A short teaser video provided glimpses of this new Sentra SR, surely a high-line performance-oriented model, given its rear spoiler and LED headlight strips, the name also evoking the cherished SE-R designations of go-fast Sentras past. The video suggests that although the SR model may be specific to North America, the overall styling of the car will be the same around the world.
The Sylphy, and likely the Sentra, will use a new 1.8-litre engine and a new-generation continuously variable transmission with smaller pulleys that approximates the addition of more gears in a conventional transmission, as it allows for wider ratio range.
This model will be especially key for Nissan Canada, as it has largely been shut out of the massive compact-car market in this country, which accounts for the majority of the top 10 best-selling cars in the country, thanks to the Sentra's rapidly aging styling, minimal updates and lack of a hatchback model.
Audi acquires Ducati
Audi AG announced last week that it had acquired Italian superbike company Ducati, further expanding the Volkswagen Group to include a two-wheel counterpart to its Italian Lamborghini supercar division.
The northern Italian motorcycle company also joins design studio Italdesign under Audi AG stewardship, with Audi chairman Rupert Stadler extolling the virtues of the Ducati brand as a performance as well as technological leader. The bike brand's expertise in lightweight construction and its combustion chamber control systems were cited as potentially useful for Audi and the VW Group.
Another side benefit of the deal is that it sweeps the marketing rug right out from under Mercedes-Benz's AMG performance brand, which had formed a wide-ranging marketing deal with the Italian street and Superbike competitor. That association is obviously over, as per Benz's short statement on the matter.
"The [Ducati]company takeover by a rival car manufacturer has understandably resulted in the end of any further collaboration [with AMG]" said Mercedes-Benz. "The takeover of Ducati was never our aim – our focus lies clearly in developing and producing premium performance cars and we will be concentrating all our energy on this."
Green car sales on upswing in U.S.
Fuel-efficient hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicle sales are up a booming 44 per cent in the first quarter of 2012 in the United States, while diesels are up 35 per cent, according to various sales reports.
And those numbers are not just a result of low first-quarter sales last year or rapidly increasing gas prices, trade journal Automotive News says, since the market share of these vehicles has also increased past the point they reached during previous gas price spikes in 2008 and last spring, garnering a small yet growing 3.3 per cent share of the market in 2012, the highest yet for hybrids of all kinds and EVs.
The majority of this sales increase was for conventional hybrid vehicles, with new models like the Toyota Prius v and Prius c hitting the market around the same time as mainstream micro-hybrids like the Chevrolet Malibu Eco and Buick Regal eAssist models. But more advanced plug-in vehicles like the Volt and Nissan Leaf were also up significantly, increasing 323 per cent from a small base a year ago, according to a sales analysis by research firm Baum and Associates, which put U.S. hybrid car sales up 37.2 per cent.
The overall vehicle market in the United States was up 13.4 per cent over that first quarter, the research firm's study found. And though the breakdown of hybrids, diesels and plug-ins is likely proportionally less in Canada, the sales numbers in the U.S. are important indicators of where – or whether – auto maker interest in alternative powertrains and green vehicles will evolve. Which they must, if auto makers are to achieve increasingly stringent fuel economy and even zero emissions mandates south of the border.