The autonomous car is approaching but Irish traffic legislation needs to be brought up to speed

It seems like the autonomous car has been approaching for years now with constant speculation as to what the self-driving car will look like and how it will behave. With automakers committed to a ‘driverless’ future it seems like the age of autonomy is finally here.

That is, the technology is capable, however, people and drivers still have a long way to go when it comes to entrusting their safety and ceding control to a driverless car. Many car makers have nailed their colours to the mast in respect of autonomous driving and there are today many cars that already contain a large amount of self-driving technology.

Swedish car manufacturer Volvo currently offers a semi-autonomous functionality called Pilot Assist on its 90 series cars. Pilot Assist gives gentle steering inputs to keep the car properly aligned within lane markings up to 130 km/h without the need to follow another car.

There are many other manufacturers who are looking to integrate the kind of intelligent driving capability into their cars but Volvo as a leader in automotive safety can lay claim to one of the most advanced programmes of this kind.

This summer Volvo launched ambitious and wide-reaching testing programmes for their AD cars in the Drive Me programme successfully carried out in Gothenburg and London. They are also in the process of setting up a programme with a number of cities in China. These programmes are designed to collect valuable information in a real world environment in what is virgin testing ground.

The automaker has also signed up with Autoliv Inc a worldwide leader in automotive safety systems, to set up a new jointly-owned company to develop next generation autonomous driving software.

Those in favour of AD cars predict that the self-driving car can impact on our roads in four positive ways: – safety, congestion, pollution and time saving.

Independent research has revealed that AD has the potential to reduce the number of car accidents significantly, in some cases by up to 30 per cent. Up to 90 per cent of all accidents are presently caused by driver error or distraction, something that could be reduced greatly with AD cars.

“Vehicle manufacturers are predicting that highly autonomous vehicles, capable of allowing the driver to drop ‘out of the loop’ for certain sections of their journey, will be available from around 2021. Without doubt, crash frequency will also dramatically reduce. We’ve already seen this with the adoption of Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) on many new cars. Research in the US by NHTSA predicts that by 2035, as a result of autonomous and connected cars, crashes will be reduced by 80%. Additionally, if a crash unfortunately can’t be avoided, then the impact speed will also drop as a result of the system’s performance – reducing the severity of the crash,” said Peter Shaw, chief executive at Thatcham Research.


In terms of congestion, AD cars allow traffic to move more smoothly, reducing traffic jams and by extension cutting dangerous emissions and associated pollution. Lastly, reduced congestion saves drivers valuable time.

While companies like Volvo are more than ready to start testing on our roads, in many cases legislation and regulations are not up to speed with the advancing tech. Many governments are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach to how they will deal with the coming wave of AD cars and that is probably not good enough.

The AD car is coming, that much we know for sure, but are Irish roads ready for them? The law in Ireland currently takes no provision for the presence of AD cars on Irish roads. The area is apparently covered in most countries by the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic of 1968. It was signed by 72 countries in ’68 but not all have ratified it. The Convention covers a wide range of subjects including vehicle registration display and signage. However, in respect to AD cars, Article 8 VC stipulates the requirement that a vehicle must have a driver, while Article 13 states that a driver must be in control of his or her vehicle in all circumstances.

The USA and China are the two most notable non-signatories and both are forging ahead with their own adaptive strategy to the advent of autonomous driving car technology on their roads.

While this looks set to change in the near future, the fact that Ireland never signed up to the agreement in the first place means it won’t affect autonomous driving in Ireland. Ireland has no evident plan to deal with AD cars when they arrive. It will most likely depend on consumer demand to tip the legislative bodies in to action.

The other major factor affecting AD cars here is the insurance industry and whether they embrace mass adoption of the tech. Significantly safer roads would make for lower premiums and a cleaner and more stable operating environment for them. The insurance industry could well hold enough sway to influence legislation in favour of AD cars in Ireland.

Ireland is not the only country with a piecemeal attitude to paving the legislative way for AD cars. The UK is in a very similar position.

“The US risks losing its leading position due to the lack of Federal guidelines for the testing and certification of autonomous vehicles,” explains Mr. Samuelsson.

Technology advances at a very fast rate and if there is a far reaching benefit for having AD cars on the roads then it is best that all invested parties work together on the issue.

Mr Samuelsson will welcome moves by regulators and car makers in the US and Europe to develop AD cars and infrastructure, but he will also encourage all the parties involved to work more constructively together to avoid patchwork global regulations, technological duplication and needless expense.

“AD is not just about car technology. We need the right rules and the right laws,” says Samuelsson.

“It is natural for us to work together. Our starting point is that both the public and private sectors stand to benefit from new technologies and industries, so it is better to build bridges and work together than to all go in different directions.”

“There are multiple benefits to AD cars,” continues Samuelsson. “That is why governments need to put in place the legislation to allow AD cars onto the streets as soon as possible. The car industry cannot do it all by itself. We need governmental help.”

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Diesel’s demise poses dilemma for Irish drivers

Since the introduction of the CO2-based motor taxation system in 2008, Irish drivers have been effectively incentivised into buying diesel-engined cars. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Since the introduction of the CO2-based motor taxation system in 2008, Irish drivers have been effectively incentivised into buying diesel-engined cars. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The tsunami of criticism that has pounded at the shores of diesel-powered motoring is looking ever more likely to wet the feet of the Irish motorist.

As daily revelations regarding air pollution, car manufacturers cheating on their emissions tests and even national governments conniving to protect their home-grown industry grind away at our motoring consciousness, the fact is that diesel power is almost inevitably now going to be officially penalised.

Growing concerns over the effects of diesel exhaust fumes on public health will almost certainly mean that motorists will have to bear the brunt of extra costs, possibly in the form of increased motor tax charges, or possibly in other “stealthier” ways if diesel use is to be curbed.

While plans are yet far from formed, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment confirmed to The Irish Times that it is working on a consultation paper for a new clean air strategy which “will seek to bring about improved health outcomes and the wider environmental benefits that will accrue from improved air quality.

“The strategy will target priority air pollutants in an integrated manner and will seek initiatives across the relevant sectors including transport with the aim of identifying cost-effective short, medium and long-term goals and action for reducing air pollutant levels” said a spokesperson for the department.

Extra charges

It’s not known yet known what form any extra charges or penalties could take nor whether they might be phased in for older, more polluting vehicles first.

When pressed on what is to be done with the thousands of Irish car buyers who, at the behest of government, bought into diesel since 2008, the department said that our queries would be best directed to Dublin City Council.

The council said that we should talk to the department, which presumably means that as with almost all in Irish politics, the final say rests with the Department of Finance.

Since the introduction of the CO2-based motor taxation system in 2008, Irish drivers have been effectively incentivised into buying diesel-engined cars, as until more recent technological developments in petrol and hybrid power, no other form of propulsion could guarantee a low enough emissions rating to qualify for cheaper tax.

In the wake of the Volkswagen “dieselgate” scandal, however, there are greater and greater concerns over the effect of diesel exhaust fumes on city centre air quality, not least because the most polluted air tends to become trapped by tall buildings and held close to the pavement, where it can do the most damage to the respiratory systems of passers-by.

Legislators around the world are moving to take action on perceived diesel problems, however. The city authorities in Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens last year confirmed that they would totally ban diesel car use by 2025.

Closer to home, diesel car drivers wishing to enter the city of London, and park there, will have to pay more from the April 3rd this year under plans being trialled by the City of Westminster Council.

The charges amount to an additional £2.45 (€2.88) per hour of parking, on top of the existing £4.90 (€5.78) per hour charge. The system, which applies to such high-density areas as the Marylebone Road, Baker Street and Westminster University, has been introduced following concerns that the concentration of nitrogen oxides (NOx, gases which are harmful to the lungs and which are produced in large quantities by diesel engines) and particulate matter have reached harmful levels, above the recommended healthy level.

Pollution concerns

It will use number-plate recognition systems to ensure that the appropriate parking charge is being paid.

However, Edmund King of the UK Automobile Association (AA) said that pollution concerns shouldn’t be used as a stick with which to beat drivers who thought they were doing the right thing.

“Like any new tax regime which makes money for local councils, this scheme is likely to spread like wildfire,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“However it will hit many drivers who bought diesel cars in good faith, with many of them encouraged to buy diesel cars by previous government incentives which promoted them. Frankly, they would do better to reduce air quality by getting rid of older diesel trucks, busses and taxis which cause most of the pollution.”

That is certainly a major issue, and asking the Irish motorist to carry the fiduciary can for diesel’s ills may well be politically untenable. Indeed, one senior Irish motoring industry executive averred, on condition of anonymity, to The Irish Times that the Government “is running scared from the idea”.

Presumably, officials are wary of triggering the sort of melt-down in second-hand values that occurred when the motor tax and vehicle registration tax regime was changed in 2008.

Values of petrol-engined cars, and cars with high CO2 emissions, melted down virtually overnight, leaving both individual owners and car dealers with cars that had suddenly, in some cases, become unsellable.

The notion that, forgiving the pun, bad news is in the air for diesel power is having a slight but noticeable effect on the Irish car market.

Diesel sales fell in January, by a not-insignificant 7.2 per cent, bringing total diesel demand to 65 per cent of all cars sold, much lower than the average since 2008. Demand for petrol cars rose by 3.55 per cent, but perhaps more significant was the sharp spike in sales of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars.

Hybrid sales rose 117 per cent compared with January 2016, while pure electric sales rose by a massive 242 per cent (from a staggeringly low base, it must be said). Plug-in hybrid sales were up by 6.8 per cent.

Hybrid power

One company benefiting most from this slow switch away from diesel is Toyota. The Japanese giant’s devotion to hybrid power is starting to pay off and Toyota Ireland’s chief executive Steve Tormey told The Irish Times that demand for the hybrid version of its new C-HR crossover is above 70 per cent of models sold.

Mr Tormey also dropped a hint about one route that the Government might take to rebalance petrol and diesel sales without dramatically affecting existing residual values – attack the corporate and fleet market.

“The softening of diesel demand is something that commenced prior to ‘dieselgate’. Since then, the EU Commission seems to have taken a dim view on diesel and in the future the manufacturing costs of diesel engines will rise in order to meet stricter future regulations with a consequent reduction in the offer of diesel powertrains from the industry, especially in the smaller vehicle segments,” he said.

In relation to hybrid, as a significant and environmentally effective powertrain option we have had ongoing discussions with Government and have provided compelling evidence on how hybrid vehicles assist in the reduction of CO2 emissions and improve air quality,” said Mr Tormey.

“If the current grants for hybrid vehicles are continued to 2020 for all manufactures then these benefits will continue to support Government in its drive to reduce CO2 emissions, reduce the level of fines Ireland will be exposed to from the EU for failing to achieve agreed targets and critically improve public health.

“In addition, there is a request to Government to allow companies reclaim VAT on petrol fuel for hybrid vehicles similar to the existing scheme for diesel.

“Given the level of pent-up demand we are experiencing from companies and fleet buyers for hybrid, this remains one of the biggest impediments to transforming the Irish car market away from diesel. However, while companies can continue to reclaim VAT on diesel but not on petrol there is no incentive for them to make that change.”

Such a background tax change could have a profound effect, given time to propagate through the market, but Ireland is caught between a pollution rock and an emissions hard place – diesel power.

Car ownership grows

Nissan Ireland’s managing director James McCarthy says the Government’s vacillating on its electric car strategy could be plunging us into as much as a €6 billion fine from the EU.

“Ireland is failing utterly in its EV [electric vehicle] strategy and CO2 emissions continue to increase as the population and car ownership grows.

20,000 EVs by 2020 is achievable if the Government gets serious, takes action and stops making grand statements of intent,” said Mr McCarthy at the Transport and Climate Summit in Dublin.

“The initial target set in 2010 was to have 230,000 electric vehicles on our roads by 2020. It was reset to 50,000 EVs in 2014 and a new target of 20,000 EVs is now proposed. How do you hit a moving target? The delivery of an electro mobility strategy is central to Ireland meeting its commitments to reduce CO2 emissions. The combined 2020 and 2030 costs to the State of failing to meet those commitments is estimated at between €3 billion and €6 billion.

He proposed the introduction of policy requiring 20 per cent of the car fleets purchased by the State, public bodies and local authorities to be EVs, levying fines against local authorities who fail to achieve EV targets and a benefit-in-kind exemption for those driving EVs for business.

“Local authorities have no skin in the game. Dublin, with about 40 per cent of the national car fleet should have a minimum of 8,000 EVs registered by 2020.

The Dublin taxi fleet should be mandated to go EV from 2018 with the support of a scrappage scheme,” said Mr McCarthy.

“Currently, there are around 2,000 EV drivers in Ireland. The population and demographics of Ireland and Norway are quite similar and the same EV cars are available in both countries. Norway has succeeded in changing the dial on EVs because it took action to encourage and reward EV driving.”

Scrappage scheme

Such a scrappage scheme has been mooted and rumours are that it will form part of the Government’s consultation paper. But where will customers then turn, if they have to hand in their diesels?

Hyundai’s Tucson is the best-selling car in Ireland at the moment, and while all of the Tucsons sold so far have used the 1.7 CRDI diesel engine, there is a 1.6-litre petrol option.

Switching from the cheapest diesel to the cheapest petrol would save a buyer a potential €1,750 on the purchase cost. Their annual motor tax cost would go up by €190 a year (an extra €570 over three years).

The cost of fuel, at today’s prices, would go up by about €470 annually (to €1,494 in total), assuming an average annual mileage of 17,500km (splitting the difference between petrol and diesel mileage averages, according to the CSO), or €1,410 over three years of ownership.

Taking the Tucson as a test case, the cost of running a diesel would have to rise by about €300-€400 over three years to make it more costly than running a petrol model, although those figures would be considerably different depending on the make and model in question.

It might be best for the Government to sit tight and wait a while before it begins to penalise diesel. According to the vast Schaeffler Group, which owns vehicle and tyre technology company Continental, the cost of “mild hybrids” for petrol cars is coming down fast, and in the very near future the new technology of 48-volt hybrids will be able to reduce emissions from an average petrol-engined family car to as little as 85g/km of CO2.

Schaeffler chief technology officer Peter Gutzmer told Automotive News that “in our view, the future of the combustion-engine powertrain is 48-volt electrification combined with plug-in hybrid high-voltage solutions.

“The majority of automakers have to think about installing 48-volt hybrid drives. I think that in the next 10 years 48-volt systems will account for the majority of hybrids. I even think 48-volt systems will have the potential to extend or even replace what Toyota is very successfully doing.

“There’s only one question that needs to be answered: can we finally reach our cost targets? We are not there yet. We are close but not there.”

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‘Futuristic’ cars powered by voice controls steal the show at CES in Las Vegas

Futuristic cars powered by voice controls that can read passenger emotions and drive themselves drew the biggest crowds on the first day of CES.

The technology trade show in Las Vegas opened its doors for the first time on Thursday, with around 170,000 visitors expected across four days.

Many flocked to car giant Toyota’s booth to see the firm’s Concept-i car, which instead of buttons and screens is interacted with using voice. The built-in virtual assistant Yui uses artificial intelligence to measure emotions based on passenger responses and alters the car’s settings according, Toyota says.

Start-up Faraday Future also publicly showcased their first production car, an electric vehicle it says is capable of reaching 60mph in less than 2.4 seconds.

Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota unveils the new Toyota Concept-i concept car, designed to learn about its driver is unveiled during the Toyota press conference at CES in Las Vegas, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota unveils the new Toyota Concept-i concept car, designed to learn about its driver is unveiled during the Toyota press conference at CES in Las Vegas, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The car also has autonomous features and can park itself.

However only 300 of the FF91, which the firm says will challenge Tesla, have so far been announced as going into production.

There were also concept cars on show from less traditional sources, as appliance firm Bosch presented a car it says could become the “third living space” alongside home and work.

The concept includes voice and facial recognition software to personalise the car, as well as driverless capabilities and an internet connection to enable passengers to carry out other tasks safely.

Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota unveils the new Toyota Concept-i concept car, designed to learn about its driver is unveiled during the Toyota press conference at CES in Las Vegas, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota unveils the new Toyota Concept-i concept car, designed to learn about its driver is unveiled during the Toyota press conference at CES in Las Vegas, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Corning, a company that specialises in glass production – notably the Gorilla Glass used on some smartphones – also had a concept car on display.

The car had been fitted with Gorilla Glass windows and sunroof and windscreen, which Corning says reduces the car’s weight by up to 30%, improving braking and fuel efficiency.

The windscreen also had augmented reality capabilities and could be used to display relevant information.

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Sorting out World Car vote, electric chat, Octavia surge, opening windows, Haiti rally

Bentley Bentayga
Bentley Bentayga

I’m in the middle of voting for the World Car of the Year awards and I’m struggling a bit with the overall winner.

The finalists for that overall title are the Audi A5, Q2 and Q5 – yes three from the German maker, Fiat 124 Spyder, Honda Civic, Jaguar F-PACE, Mazda CX-9, Skoda Kodiaq, Toyota C-HR and Volkswagen Tiguan.

The World Luxury car is easier but I’m not saying a word yet: Bentley Bentayga, BMW 5-Series, Genesis G90, Mercedes E-Class and Volvo S90/V90.

The World Performance car will come from the Aston Martin DB11, Audi R8 Spyder, Honda/Acura NSX, McLaren 570s and Porsche Boxster Cayman.

The new Urban Car category includes the BMW i3 (94 Ah), Citroen C3, Ford KA+, Smart Cabriolet and Suzuki Ignis.

And the World Green Car will emerge from the Hyundai Ioniq, Tesla Model X, Toyota Prius Prime, Chevrolet Bolt and Honda Clarity Fuel-Cell.

Finally there is the World Design Car of the Year: The Audi A5, Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet, Mazda CX-9, Jaguar F-PACE, Toyota C-HR.

I’ll let you know how I voted as soon as the winners are announced but I’d love a bit of feedback on what single car you would pick for the overall award (

* Fair dues to Alan Nolan of the SIMI. We were talking about electric cars last week at the SIMI quarterly review. I think he summed up our current predicament in a couple of sentences: “The only place where you will get a big take-up of electric cars is Dublin. But as long as Dublin County Council stays ‘negative’ there will be the current haphazard system.”

* Volkswagen are being sued by the first major German customer over the diesel scandal. The fish distributor company Deutsche See claims its fleet of Volkswagens were bought on the promise they were the most environmentally friendly option.

* BMW Motorrad is to introduce its new 2017 models to the Irish public for the first time at the Carole Nash Irish Motorbike and Scooter Show at the RDS (from March 3-5). There will be three new versions of the hugely popular GS.

* SsangYong says it has designed the world’s first touch-window system. It would allow you to open and close windows simply by touching them.

Expect to see the technology before the end of the year.

It’s not the first time this technology has been mooted but SsangYong seem nearer to market with theirs.

* Skoda are pushing hard. They have increased peak power and torque on their rebadged Octavia vRS 245 (245bhp) which replaces the 230 (and before that the 220). It will come in hatch and estate. Look forward to that.

* Toyota and Suzuki have agreed to start serious discussions about collaborating in environmentally friendly technologies, safety systems, information etc.

* Best of luck to former championship rally driver Ronnie Foreman as he plans a ‘Rally for Haiti’ fund-raiser for Haven around Ireland (April 3-7).

Ronnie is coming out of retirement to do so.

He will start in Lisburn, take in Belfast, Derry, Donegal, Sligo, Galway, Limerick, Cork, Kilkenny, Swords, Dublin and finish back in Belfast.

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Safety first with Volvo

Volvo Cars has cemented its position amongst the leaders of automotive safety innovation with its new S90 sedan and V90 wagon by being the first car maker to score a full six points in the Autonomous Emergency Braking for Pedestrians (AEB Pedestrian) test procedure and an overall five-star rating for both cars.

The Volvo S90: Scored a full six points in the Autonomous Emergency Braking for Pedestrians test procedure and an overall five star rating.

The S90 and V90 results surpass the best overall score of any model tested last year and now make Euro NCAP’s top-3 best performing cars ever all Volvos.

“The result follows in the footsteps of the XC90, which was the first car from any manufacturer to score full points in the Euro NCAP Autonomous Emergency Braking Car to Car rear-end tests (AEB City and AEB Interurban),” the company commented.

It further boasted that the S90 and V90 performed “as expected” in the 2017 testing cycle, achieving a full 5 stars, thanks in large part to the high level of standard safety equipment in the new cars.

“We work hard to ensure that our cars fulfil all safety requirements and pass all testing procedures that the ratings agencies develop.

“Our main focus is, and always has been, real-life safety.

“Autonomous Emergency Braking systems, such as our City Safety offer, also represent a clear step forwards on our journey toward fully autonomous cars, which we see as a key element to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries,” said Malin Ekholm, director of the Volvo Car Safety Centre at Volvo Cars Group.

Volvo Cars has a long held vision that no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car by the year 2020.

The S90 and V90 are further proof of Volvo’s continuing investment in and commitment to automotive safety leadership.

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Iconic Ioniq has all the fruit

The Ioniq comes with a choice of three drivelines overseas.
The Ioniq comes with a choice of three drivelines overseas.

Although it’s a spin-off from the i30 range, Hyundai’s Ioniq family of maximum economy flagbearers is a completely different engineering proposition to the popular hatchback.

Designed from the ground-up to accommodate three different drivelines, the Ioniq allows Hyundai engineers to demonstrate readily accessible technology, hopefully ahead of its major competition.

The Ioniq concept is to engineer a lightweight and efficient automotive template that has nimble suspension, a high level of driving dynamics, plenty of people and luggage room and a cabin fit-out that matches some premium cars.

The difference is you then plug-in one of three optional drivelines to deliver the blend of electrons that is your preference.

On the outside, the car still displays an echo of Toyota’s well-established Prius, with a sloping rear roof line and a tall impression from the front.

It’s for aerodynamics, but most hybrids spend their lives in cities and suburbs where aerodynamics plays little part in the fuel statistics.

The Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid’s set-up.
The Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid’s set-up.Picture: Supplied

Connectivity is of course critical, and the Ioniq inherits the new i30’s crammed-full package of features that turns the car into an adept extension of home or office. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto deliver what is becoming a standard in cars, and wireless conductive charging in a small compartment forward of the centre console is standard for compatible devices.

Tom Tom LIVE services are also on board to deliver the information owners are starting to consider essential.

Vehicle systems are optimised for energy efficiency. The Ioniq’s climate control has an efficiency mode and the dual-zone system can be set to a driver-only mode to reduce the load on the energy package.

Batteries are all lithium-ion polymer and vary in size between the three, but despite the big difference between the hybrid pack and the all-electric’s resource, the car’s basic architecture doesn’t change.

Weight savings have been high on the list of must-dos for the engineers, who selected aluminium for the hood and tailgate, the biggest slabs of sheet metal. The hybrid and plug-in share a multi-link rear suspension system with dual lower arms, and also includes a healthy dose of aluminium that chops around 10kg from the suspension.

On the all-electric version, space requirements means a torsion beam rear axle is used to fit the 28kWh battery pack, which extends into the spare wheel well.

All the cars use a new-generation permanent magnet electric motor with reduced thickness of core components and rectangular section copper wire to decrease core and copper loss.

In detail the differences between the three cars are significant.

The Ioniq inherits the i30’s bells and whistles.
The Ioniq inherits the i30’s bells and whistles.


The new Kappa 1.6-litre GDI petrol engine is an Atkinson cycle unit with a healthy thermal efficiency of 40 per cent. It produces 77kW and 147Nm of torque. The control unit combines this with the 32kW and 170Nm electric motor to produce a total output of 103.6kW and 265Nm. A top speed of 185km/h serves to illustrate potential and the all-important fuel figure is drilled down to as low as 3.4L/100kms.

A six-speed dual clutch transmission gives the drivelines an edge missing in the competitive hybrids, and the software manages to keep an unbroken stream of torque available at any speed. Multi-link rear suspension and a tight front suspension helps the Ioniq hybrid to stick to the line you select and reward a driver looking for something more stimulating than just getting there.

The petrol engine is small and develops its power over a wide range. But the instant torque boost from the electric package keeps the front wheels dragging the car around bends without interruption.

A high-resolution instrument cluster is in fact a digital display that presents requested information in a different hue, depending on the drive mode selected. A revolving speedo surrounded by a tacho appears in SPORT mode.

Plug-In Hybrid

I didn’t get to drive the plug-in as its release date is still a few months away from its hybrid and all-electric brothers, which are already on sale in South Korea and the US.

But in essence, the major difference is, recharging the battery pack doesn’t depend entirely on the engine driving the electric motor in regenerative mode. That’s there as well, but you can plug your car in when you’re stopped to provide you with a healthy 50km of pure electric range before the engine will cut in to top up the charge.

The plug-in’s electric motor is rated at 45kW, 13kW more than the hybrid.

The Ioniq looks similar to the Toyota Prius from the rear.
The Ioniq looks similar to the Toyota Prius from the rear.Picture: Supplied


You don’t start an electric car. You turn it on. One press of the “Power” button, which replaces the “Start/Stop” button in the i30, and the systems engage. The dash lights up telling you some things you need to know, like battery state, range and distance to a recharge location, and a lot of stuff you don’t.

A fan under the bonnet cranks up to cool the inverter stack sitting across the top of the electric motor unit, but apart from that it’s silent.

Foot on the brake pedal, press “D” and off we go.

I had the new Ioniq EV five-door around the environs of Incheon, a satellite city to Seoul, to see how Hyundai’s electric experience shaped up.

Two conclusions were immediately apparent. Firstly, it’s no Tesla-beater, but secondly, it’s a better drive than most other electric vehicles short of top-end premium technological explosions like the BMW i8.

Thankfully, the car is completely free of any electric “whine.” Silent progress is as good as any other small car, while Sport mode opens the electron’s pipe for a liveliness that starts with a punch on the back on take-off and a fair amount of wheel spin if you’re not careful.

A surprise is the paddles on the steering wheel. They’re not for gears, but to control the three levels of regenerative braking, with level three making the brake pedal unnecessary except in coming to a complete stop.


As a price indicator, in the US the three cars start at $US22,200 ($28,850) for the hybrid, with the all-electric on sale from $US29,500. The plug-in hybrid hasn’t been released yet but is likely to be priced somewhere between its brothers. Hyundai can look to a procession of environmentally conscious buyers — and lookers — heading to Australian showrooms when the cars arrive soon. Putting an electric small car on the road in Perth is a move guaranteed to stimulate much more discussion on issues such as range anxiety and noiseless motoring.

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GENEVA MOTOR SHOW: Velar hints at Range Rover luxury car

Premium luxury brand considers move into passenger vehicles as Range Rover stretches boundaries

The new Range Rover Velar could be a significant step toward the British SUV brand building luxury passenger cars for the first time.

That’s the possibility aired by Land Rover’s chief design officer Gerry McGovern, the man ultimately responsible for shaping the most road-oriented vehicle to ever come from the now Indian-owned SUV company.

The existence of the five-door, five-seat Velar SUV coupe was confirmed today, with full details set to be revealed on March 1 ahead of a motor show reveal the following week in Geneva.

The Velar shares its core IQ architecture with the Jaguar F-PACE crossover and eschews the hard-core off-roading capability of fellow Land Rover models such as the Range Rover and Discovery.

The fourth model in the Range Rover line-up, it sits between the entry-level Evoque and Range Rover Sport.

“If you look at other [passenger] brands they have come into the SUV territory and why couldn’t Land Rover-Range Rover go into that [passenger] territory,” McGovern said.

“The thing about Range Rover as a brand is it has massive equity. It has equity comparable to certain fashion brands … I’d argue Range Rover as a brand is peerless, there is nothing else like it.

“We have proven with things like the Evoque and we will prove with the Velar we have the ability to stretch and give much greater resonance in the marketplace.

“So I think there are lots of opportunities. But we still have to keep people guessing — otherwise we give the game away.”

Speaking to Australian media at the global launch of the new Land Rover Discovery in Utah, McGovern was clearly enthused by what his design team has achieved with the Velar.

It has been generically described as an SUV coupe, a much-maligned form of automotive design, intended to take on the likes of the BMW X6, Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe and Porsche Macan.

But McGovern rejected any pigeon-holing of his new vehicle.

“It is not a coupe,” he insisted.

“What I would say about the Velar is it is a new type of Range Rover for a new type of customer and I think it will really change the perceptions of what the brand is about.

“And it has been done in a very unique way. There might be things that are comparable in terms of its overall size, but there is nothing like it in terms of what it is.

“This will blow the spots off the lot. Wait till you see it, I am telling you, wait till you see it,” he added

“People can criticise the hell out of me, but I am telling you the brand is on fire and what will be the proof in the pudding is the way these vehicles sell.

“And when you see Velar – because some people have seen it and have been quite surprised by it — I think … it really is a master class in a modern less-is-more approach.”

McGovern also made it clear Velar would retain Land Rover’s commitment to off-road capability, even if it is shaping as the most road-oriented Range Rover yet.

“Every Land Rover we do has to be incredible, has to be the best in terms of its ability and it (Velar) will be,” McGovern promised.

Ahead of any possible expansion into passenger cars, McGovern made it clear there was expansion of the Discovery and Range Rover families to be catered for as well as the return of the Defender as a family of vehicles.

“If you look at where we currently are and where we could be in six or seven years’ time, it is a massive shift,” he said.

McGovern hinted that another future direction was an SUV smaller than the Evoque.

“You think about small cars,” he said. “You think about how small can you go with an SUV and do it creditably.”

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Jeep defends conservative Compass design

Jeep exterior designed says scaled-down Grand Cherokee styling is a purposeful push for segment sales

Jeep’s new Compass small SUV might eschew the polarising styling of its larger brother, the mid-size Cherokee, but at a glance it could easily be mistaken for its two-segment-up sibling, the Grand Cherokee.

But according to the US off-road brand’s head of exterior design, Vince Galante, the model’s traditionalist, mini-Grand Cherokee design is no coincidence.

Speaking to at the international launch of the Compass this week, Galante said it was important for the brand’s five SUVs to offer different styling, noting that C-segment (small) SUV segment buyers are more conservative than those elsewhere.

“We tried to capture the essence of that car [the Grand Cherokee],” Galante explained.

“It’s muscular and at the same time athletic, and there’s something about its body that looks protective or indestructible. We tried to keep that in mind.

“With the Cherokee it was different. We intentionally wanted to do something adventurous, because we felt that segment was pretty established,” he added. “While with the Renegade we also wanted to do something adventurous, to appeal to the younger, funky buyer.

“But with the Compass we knew right away that this is the biggest SUV market – the C-SUV segment is the most popular globally – and we knew that we’d have to really appeal to a wide range of people. So, we did, on purpose, make it more of a simpler, more conservative design,” he admitted.

Globally, the Compass will sell into a market segment expected to reach 7.5 million sales by 2020; and while Jeep was keen to retain its stand-out four-wheel drive ability, it was equally aware of the need to remain mainstream stylistically.

Galante said the brand had originally considered a more avant-garde design, but that the broad appeal and solid sales of the Grand Cherokee had an affect on toning things down.

“We always start out trying to scare ourselves, but then we reel it back,” he laughed.

“We tried lots of different things, but as we learn more about the markets the Compass will sell in – and seeing how widespread the appeal for this model would be – we chose to embrace a style similar to the Grand Cherokee, which is universally loved.”


We questioned Galante about the difference in styling between its SUV models, and asked whether the lack of similarly had worked for or against drawing buyers up through the line-up. He defended the design differentiation between the Jeep range, saying it was important that each model stood strong on its own merits.

“There’s a really broad range in personality in what Jeep can be,” he explained. “Every Jeep looks like a family, but they’re all different. We have a spread of personality with our models — each is like its own person,” he enthused.

“If you look at a lot of the car companies, and the German car companies are particularly well known for it, each of the models looks like a scaled version of the next. Ours are all related in a different way.”

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New car sales accelerate to record high for second year

Annual new car sales have reached an all-time high for a second consecutive year
Annual new car sales have reached an all-time high for a second consecutive year

Annual new car sales have reached an all-time high for a second consecutive year – but are expected to fall in 2017, according to an industry trade association.

Some 2.69 million cars were registered in the UK last year, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.

This is up by 2.3% on 2015.

The organisation’s chief executive, Mike Hawes, said growth was due to “very strong” consumer confidence, low interest finance packages and a raft of new models.

“P eople are obviously driven by new technologies,” he told reporters at a briefing in central London.

“Increasingly people do want to see connectivity. People are wedded to mobile phones. They expect equally to have that connectivity on the move.”

Mr Hawes predicted that registrations would decline by “between 5% or 6%” in 2017, but said this was still ” historically an incredibly high level” and insisted it would not represent “a collapse in the market”.

He said five consecutive years of increased sales has been fuelled by latent demand built up during the recession.

“We have to recognise that growth can’t be inexorable,” he said. “There is undoubtedly a levelling off.”

More than 85% of new cars bought in the UK are imported and their cost is “gradually going up” due to the reduction in the value of the pound, Mr Hawes said.

Although manufacturers hedge against currency risk and absorb some of the additional costs, there have been price rises of “2% or 3%”, he added.

Mr Hawes expects 2017 car sales to be “lumpy”, adding that, although the triggering of Article 50 for the UK to leave the EU would “probably not immediately” have an impact on purchasing patterns, he acknowledged that “we have not seen the full effects of Brexit”.

Jim Holder, editorial director of magazines Autocar and What Car?, described the 2016 figures as “very positive”, saying “the expected Brexit bump was mostly negated”.

He told the Press Association that some people within the automotive industry are warning that sales could drop by 10%-15% this year, so manufacturers would be “very pleased” if the SMMT’s prediction of a 5% or 6% drop-off proved accurate.

He added: “When you’re at record levels and you bounce down, I think that’s reasonable.”

:: These are the UK’s new car registration figures for recent years:

2012: 2,044,609

2013: 2,264,737

2014: 2,476,435

2015: 2,633,503

2016: 2,692,786

December was the second month of 2016 when sales decreased, down 1.1% on the same month in 2015.

Fleets were responsible for most of the annual growth, with demand up 4.8% to 1.38 million.

Private registrations were down 0.2% to 1.21 million.

The market share of petrol cars rose from 48.8% to 49%, while alternatively fuelled vehicles such as hybrids and pure electric cars went from 2.8% to 3.3%.

Diesel cars were down from 48.5% to 47.7%.

In September 2015 US regulators told Volkswagen to recall 482,000 diesel cars after discovering they contained illegal defeat devices.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the software allowed cars to release fewer smog-causing pollutants during tests than in real-world driving conditions.

It then emerged that about 11 million cars worldwide were fitted with the software, including 1.2 million in the UK.

SMMT figures show that sales of Volkswagen cars in the UK suffered their first year-on-year fall this decade in 2016, down by 7.5% on the previous year.

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Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate: Paragon of style, class and practicality

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate: Paragon of style, class and practicality

I went racing in Leopardstown recently with a few friends and when they quizzed me about what mode of transport I would be ferrying them in, I was hardly surprised to hear a chorus of approval that they would travel in a Mercedes E-Class estate.

Just the job I was told; you cannot beat a bit of quality when you’re mixing it with the silks and tweeds brigade.

Now, given that the E-Class saloon was one of Examiner Motoring’s Cars of the Year in 2016, the prospect of driving the new Estate version was certainly something to look forward to, especially if it came anywhere close to its saloon sibling in the style, pizzazz and looks departments — not to mention the engineering and technology. It did.

The E-Class Estate is a fine looking thing and a wonderful car to drive. From its’ AMG ‘Exterior Pack,’ which adds a number of tasteful visual additions to the standard offering, to its’ excellent new 220d two litre turbodiesel engine, there is much to admire here.

On the engine front, it is once again worth lauding the manner in which this unit — allied as it is to Mercedes’ nine speed auto ‘box — goes about its business.

One of the quietest turbodiesels you’ll find, it is capable of a 7.7 second 0-100 km/h time, a top speed of 235 km/h, and yet delivers 4.4 l/100 km (60-plus mpg) while emitting just 120 g/km of CO2 for an annual tax bill of just two hundred quid.

The test car also eschewed the iPad-stuck-to-the-dash design of the regular car for a widescreen cockpit layout which is fantastic to use and live with, even if it does add nearly €6,000 to the overall cost.

The traditional roominess of the E-Class estate is one again a feature and the voluminous capacity of the boot — especially when the rear seats are folded away — will only encourage people to move house very regularly. With this thing on hand, they’d pretty much be able to fit everything from a three bedroom semi into the back.

It drives beautifully too, although I will caution that the suspension is terribly hard when in ‘sport’ mode and not really suitable for B-road work as the ride becomes very tiresome. In all other situations, the car has a nice balance, excellent handling and top drawer grip levels.

One thing that annoyed me, however, about the advertising campaign for the E-Class was the Mercedes claim that it is the ‘next step on the road to autonomous motoring.’

Sure it has adaptive cruise control — and very impressed my passengers were by it having seen it in action going and coming from Dublin — but believe me, this is a very long way from autonomous motoring.

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate is loaded with the latest technology.

Car companies in general get very excited when they add some new piece of kit or savvy tech to their production machines and they do tend to towards hyperbole such is their enthusiasm. They do lose the run of themselves sometimes, though, and the Mercedes example is only a small indication of how this manifests itself.

I mean, Ford, Opel, BMW, Citroen, Lexus (and Toyota – by association), Nissan (Renault — ditto), Audi (VW, Skoda and Seat — ditto) all have this sort of technology and while each or any of them may have made ludicrous claims about it, none has as yet gone down the ‘autonomous motoring’ road in an attempt to sell it.

I wrote at length about Ford’s system some time ago and how much I was impressed I was with it, although noting it was nothing like as intuitive as the combination of a pair of legs and a brain. Similarly so with the Mercedes system: very impressive in its own right but not seamless as when a human is in charge.

It doesn’t drive the way people normally drive. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing in general terms is open to argument, but in terms of the four heads in the E-Class Estate that day, there was general agreement that while the system was impressive enough initially, it was not flawless.

“You’d never normally have let that guy out,” one passenger remarked drily as the car braked to avoid a cheeky opportunist cutting into the fast lane when they shouldn’t have. And he was right. The system certainly does have its good points but it is clearly not blessed with the sort of intuition most good drivers have in abundance.

So Mercedes, easy on the hyperbole next time around; save it for when it truly means something.

I will say that the system on the car was as good if not better than most I’ve encountered, but it is a long way from being the real deal — in the same way as the much touted safety stuff like lane changing warnings is a long way from being useful for anyone other than, maybe, a long distance truck driver.

The bottom line however, is that in the E-Class Estate Mercedes has built another paragon of style, class and practicality and, in this case, some mildly impressive technology as well.

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