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Automotive News – May 20, 2010

The latest developments in hybrid car technology. The importance of design in building car brand loyalty. Computer hackers threaten Internet-linked cars. These and other stories from the auto industry in this week’s Automotive News.

Hummer Maker to Go Green

Ford’s Transit Connect Electric VanAM General, the South Bend, Ind.-based auto manufacturer best known as the maker of military Humvees and the civilian Hummer H2, has announced it will now “go green” by assembling the new Transit Connect all-electric van for Ford Motor Co. Ford makes Trans Connect bodies in Turkey; it plans to ship those bodies to AM General’s Michigan plant where the company will install their Azure Dynamic electric engines. Electric Transit Connect vans will be sold through both Azure Dynamics and local Ford dealers. AM General has reportedly been eager to find a new partner since shrinking consumer demand caused General Motors to discontinue the Hummer line last year.

BMW to Introduce Hybrid Versions of Smaller Models

BMW 5 Series HybridGermany’s BMW AG has announced it will soon offer a full hybrid version of its 5 series automobiles and likely its 3 series as well. Both car lines are set to use the company’s new ActiveHybrid gas/electric engine, which was introduced at the Geneva auto show last March. Like the popular Toyota Prius, the 5 Series hybrid will be able to be driven in full-electric mode once the vehicle’s brakes have converted enough kinetic energy produced by its small gasoline engine to electricity. BMW expects the needs for high-mileage, low emission hybrids to increase steadily over the next several years as government-mandated fuel economy standards rise in Europe, Asia and the United States.

3rd General Prius Improves Power and Fuel Efficiency

3rd Generation Toyota PriusAnd speaking of the Toyota Prius, reports are that the Japanese company’s new third-generation hybrid automobile does the (usually) impossible by improving both performance and fuel efficiency compared to previous models. For example, third-generation Priuses can reportedly hit 60 mph in just 9.8 seconds — compared to 10.6 seconds for the second generation car — while bumping city/highway fuel economy up to 51/48 mpg compared to 48/45. Toyota credits this success to the car’s total design, not just its engine or drivetrain.

They Gotta Love You, Says Ford Exec

Ford Start Concept CarEmotion, not logic, drive most car purchases and brand relationships, insisted J. Mays, Ford Motor Co.’s group vice president and chief creative officer, at the recent Ward’s Auto Interiors Conference in Detroit, Mich. Comparing cars to smart phones, all of which perform the same basic functions, Mays said that an iconic design and brand image like Apple’s industry-leading iPhone can draw customers and keep them loyal for years. Not only must exteriors be distinctive, but interiors should also reflect a clear, powerful message, Mays stated. He pointed to the minimalistic Ford Start, unveiled at last month’s Beijing auto show, as an example of how car designers can make a strong, bold statement that buyers can embrace.

Car Hacking on the Horizon, Experts Warn

Car ComputerWith more and more cars becoming intimately tied to the Internet, the danger of hackers causing potentially fatal disasters is becoming a growing danger. This is the warning of experts from the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Washington who are studying the benefits and risks of vehicle computerization. Having already demonstrated how skilled hackers could seize control of a computerized car and send it out of control — and then insert malicious software that erased all evidence of their intrusion — the scientists stressed the need for the development of enhanced safeguards and protocols to improve auto network security.

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