All Eyes on Cal Crutchlow



Yamaha Tech 3's main rider Cal Crutchlow is the man of the moment. He is not leading the provisional standings and he hasn't even won a GP race this season; yet, he is the man of the moment for several very good reasons.

One of these reasons is that Crutchlow has showed that a satellite bike can beat its factory siblings. Some might add that Lorenzo had problems, and Rossi is still not 100 per cent "back there" on his M1… and be right. However, in the end it's the result that matters, and that result showed Cal beating the works Yamaha machines fair and square. So it's possible, if one rides well.

We're also paying attention to the Brit because he's becoming better and better, race by race. In his case, it's more than Marquez' talent: it's hard work (just like pretty much any responsible rider puts in) and a granite-hard determination.

Is he looking for a victory in 2013? We simply won't be surprised at all to hear the British anthem after one of this year's rounds… because Crutchlow showed that beating the factory machines on a satellite bike is possible.

Would his Tech 3 ride beat the Hondas? In normal conditions, I'd say it would not, but with Cal riding as hard as he does now, making no mistakes and with a bit of luck he definitely could squeeze in front of them, by all means.

While we're only 5 rounds into the 2013 calendar, one thing is impossible to forget: Crutchlow's contract with Tech 3 ends at the end of the season and "what next?" is a question all those interested are asking today, hoping for a good answer before the final round in Valencia.

As far as what things look like right now, Cal Crutchlow has three roads ahead, and which one will he tread remains to be seen. To put things bluntly, it seems like these paths are named Suzuki, Ducati or Tech 3, which is the least likely, given the present order of things.

Tech 3

I tend to rule Tech 3 out because it's a satellite team and Crutchlow was rather explicit as he mentioned he was looking to ride a factory bike in 2014. Now, it may be that the 2014 MotoGP will no longer be a works vs. CRT business (details here) so adding the MSMA tag to Tech 3 could possibly calm things down a bit.

With Yamaha planning to lease their M1 engine to the CRT teams, the bikes using it will have a better shot at glory, though everybody knows they will not be THE M1 machines. And this looks like it won't be enough for Crutchlow. Or maybe they can find an offer too good for him to refuse…

The Brit is as close to the technical limits of his Tech 3 machine and it's little he, or the team, could do to make it better. Again, with just a tad of luck, he’s proved that he is good enough to beat the factory riders, remember that.

On the other hand, there have been some discussions between Yamaha officials and Aleix Espargaro's brother Pol. With Rossi in the last straight line of his career, the Tuning Forks should be ready for the change, but what this change will be is a question to which only Yamaha's boss Lin Jarvis seems to have an answer.

Will they go for young blood and hope Pol will be the next Marc Marquez, or will they prefer a very good, prove rider to be Lorenzo's next teammate? I dare not say. Talking to Autosport about Yamaha and Pol Espargaro, Crutchlow is quite blunt: ”Everybody thinks the next guy up is going to be as good as Marquez, but Marquez is like Valentino was 15 years ago; he is unbelievable. Pol is not going to beat Marquez. Would he [Espargaro] beat me? No." No need for too much psychology to sense Crutchlow's (normal, I daresay) irritation.

Crutchlow leaving Yamaha is not nice, from a sponsor's perspective: he has a deal with Monster and Monster loves him, because he is truly an emblematic presence: fast, joyful, witty and charming, but at the same time, a ticking time-bomb.

Crutchlow has that special edge which, we must all admit, has little to do with the corporate, politically-correct BS sometimes: he is all about racing and less about playing Ken's (remember Barbie dolls?) role.

And just to prove I am right, here are his words via Moto Matters: "[Yamaha] have signed Pol, as far as I am aware. It's none of my business and I don’t really care, but one thing is for sure, I won’t ride under Pol Espargaro in my team. So I will be leaving, that’s clear. I won't ride there if he has a factory contract and I don't."

So, I am really open to any suggestions: what could Yamaha do if they want to keep Crutchlow? Will they find a way to offer Cal an offer he can't refuse?

Ducati

Nicky Hayden is also becoming "free" at the end of the 2013 season, as his one-year deal with Ducati comes to be fulfilled, and this could mean seeing Crutchlow riding again with Andrea Dovizioso, his former teammate.

Could such a move be a good one? By all means, yes, as Cal gets a factory ride and he also gets to play an important role in the development of the machine. As for Ducati, things could also work out just great, as they'd have a skilled rider helping them build the new GP bike alongside Michele Pirro, thus increasing the speed of their comeback.

Ducati made a huge progress since winter, when even their fans started to be so mad as to start petitioning them to leave the MotoGP and I was wondering whether their fate was indeed sealed.

With Herr Gobmeier as the new Ducati Corse boss and Audi backing, the Borgo Panigale factory managed to steer well outside the path of ridicule and disgrace they seemed bent for and things are looking well once more. Of course, there is still a lot to do, but the wind is now favorable, and with Crutchlow in the team (and possibly with some Monster money, too), 2014 could be the first of the rest of the good years…

With the Yamaha MotoGP machinery being obviously tuned to Lorenzo's riding style, we see Crutchlow trying to emulate the Spaniard's way of riding, in order to make the bike work for him, instead of battling it. And this means adaptability while retaining high-class racing quality and results… two more aces the Englishman has up his sleeve.

With Ducati, he could tailor the bike (already suitable for his aggressive style) to his preference and this may be a winning combo. Ducati seems to have great potential once more, and upping it with a rider of Crutchlow's class would certainly be a thing quite interesting to watch (for us) and… profitable.

Suzuki

The third way leads to Suzuki. First rumored to come back to MotoGP and now awaiting for the official “go”, the Suzuki factory team are bringing a new engine to the game.

They ditched the V4 and their new in-line machine is said to become better with each passing test. Randy de Puniet went to Motegi this week and rode it, and I can't wait to see how will it fare in the first official tests.

Though no official timings came from these tests, it looks like the new Suzuki is somewhere between 1.5 and 2 seconds slower than the fastest Motegi laps… pretty much where Ducati were 5 months ago. Given Ducati's example, it's obvious that Suzuki could reduce the gap as they've been in racing for such a long time now. Question is if they can really afford the price of this…

MotoGP racing is expensive and developing a really competitive bike is eating up much of the money pouring in. Suzuki is not exactly in their best period now, after their US automotive division bankruptcy, and not even the best intentions and dedication from engineers, riders and pilots alike could compensate for the needed dough.

Ducati has had a fair share of frustration not being able to bring the factory riders to the COTA… and in case Suzuki is not able to cope with the top-level racing expenses (engineering, development, testing and all the upgrades), we might just see them “hi-bye” once more.

Just as I’ve written recently, this almost looks like a soap opera, with so many possibilities and options, things we don't know, scheming and various moves which are out of sight and out of mind, even.

However, there is one major difference between MotoGP and soap operas: while one could easily stretch the story across thousands of episodes (remember The Young and the Restless?), the 2013 MotoGP season ends in Valencia on November 10. And things must be settled by then.

Until then, it's just "Go Cal!" for this Sunday.

By Florin Tibu

Tesla Model S Update: 3,000th Electric Sedan Delivered In CA

Tesla Model S parked in Menlo Park, California, March 2013 [photo: Eugene Lee]

Tesla Model S parked in Menlo Park, California, March 2013 [photo: Eugene Lee]

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In the last few weeks, it’s almost become a cliche: drivers in Silicon Valley say they see as many Tesla Model S electric luxury sedans on the roads as they do Nissan Leafs or Chevrolet Volts.

With a likely total production of perhaps 6,000 cars thus far, the Model S is outnumbered on U.S. roads by both Volts (34,000-plus) and Leafs (11,000-plus).

But Model S owners may be disproportionately concentrated in California, as a new piece of random data tossed out by Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] goes to show.

In a post last night on the “Inside Tesla” blog, the company’s George Blankenship notes that, “today we registered our 3,000th Model S in the Golden State.”

If random sightings, blog posts, and our own observations are to be believed, large numbers of those cars seem to be concentrated in a 50-mile radius of Tesla’s Palo Alto headquarters in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Right outside our own High Gear Media headquarters in downtown Menlo Park, it’s now common to see not just one but sometimes two Model S sedans at stoplights.

The photo above was snapped by one High Gear Media staffer en route to lunch: just another $80,000-plus Tesla Model S all-electric luxury sport sedan parked at a public meter.

In any case, the industry and electric-car advocates alike will be waiting eagerly to see what sales numbers Tesla provides for the first quarter of 2013.

Those numbers won’t arrive until Tesla files its quarterly 10K statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission in late April or early May, since (as we note routinely) Tesla doesn’t see fit to provide monthly sales numbers like every other operating automaker.

We’ll also see if Tesla provides an actual number or continues with the practice it started last quarter of stating “approximate” deliveries.

In any case, industry analysts who watch Tesla data obsessively can take note: The company says there are now 3,000 Model S cars on California roads.

Which is clearly a laudable accomplishment.

Now we’ll wait for those first-quarter delivery numbers.

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By John Voelcker

Tesla Buys $15 Million of Equipment and Parts From NUMMI Plant

Tesla Buys $15 Million of Equipment and Parts From NUMMI Plant

The NUMMI venture between Toyota and General Motors may be long gone, but some of that partnership’s parts and equipment will live on with Tesla.

The electric vehicle company just bought $15 million worth of assets from the NUMMI plant in Fremont, California.

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This follows Tesla’s agreement to purchase the plant for about $42 million. In July, Tesla and Toyota announced an electric version of the 2012 Toyota RAV4 SUV would be produced.

It’s possible the purchase of this equipment will help Tesla meet its deadlines for the Model S five-door. The car, according to Tesla, will head from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds and last 300 miles to a charge.

Shares of Tesla’s stock, which opened at $17 a share, closed at $19.10 on August 20.

Source: The Street, Tesla

By Zach Gale

The Future of Motoring is Electric



Oil does indeed make all of us laugh out loud, but currently, it’s not an amused type of laugh, but more of a ‘we’ll soon get rid of you’ kind of complacent laugh, as most automotive news headlines of the last two weeks have been dominated by the launch of the Tesla Model S – a real milestone in the history of the EV. It is the first genuinely good-looking, practical, luxurious, fun to drive and, most importantly, desirable electric car to have ever been built.

However, it wouldn’t have come along if it weren’t for the car bearing the ‘LOL OIL’ number plate, the Roadster. After selling 2,300 of them, Tesla gained both the confidence of potential buyers, as well as various US institutions, being granted a $465 million loan, along with other forms of government aid, which helped the California-based manufacturer to bring the Model S to the global scene.

In a few years time, though, and with the launch of more and more clean alternatives, we think that ‘LOL OIL’ will take on a different meaning, as we will finally begin to wean ourselves of oil, while finally and full-heartedly embracing the task of not damaging our planet any more, as well as repairing the damage we have already caused.

By Andrei Nedelea

Leases On 118 MPGe Honda Fit EV Available On West Coast This Friday

The electric Honda Fit EV will be available for lease in California and Oregon beginning this Friday, lining up the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt in its sights as Honda attempts to further their stake in the EV game.

“No other automaker on the planet is more deeply committed to produce and deliver more energy-efficient and sustainable transportation solutions than Honda,” said Steven Center, vice president of the American Honda Environmental Business Development Office, in a press release. “The 2013 Honda Fit EV is the latest example of this commitment.”

The Fit EV certainly has one thing going for it: In early June, the EPA handed it the highest fuel efficiency rating ever with a 118 MPGe (132/105) score.

That’s more than enough to best the Leaf (99 MPGe), Volt (98), Tesla Model S (89), Ford Focus Electric (105) and Mitsubishi MiEV (112).

But does that mean that customers will flock to the Fit EV? We’ve already seen a few zipping around the streets of Torrance, near Honda headquarters, and if the giant “EV” logo splashed across the side of the car doesn’t turn buyers away, the steep three-year lease price of $389 per month might. It adds up to a $36,625 MSRP – more than twice the cost of a base Fit ($15,325) and significantly more than a fully-equipped Fit Sport Navi ($19,690).

Honda is betting that customers are willing to shell out the extra money for a chance to be early adopters of the most fuel-efficient production car on the market; not to mention the most eco-friendly on their block. Plus, the Fit EV can fully recharge from a 240-volt outlet in just three hours and the Fit is well-known as one of the most versatile and practical cars available. The Fit EV will expand to six East Coast markets in early 2013.

As with all electric vehicles, the cost will level off as the technology improves and becomes cheaper to manufacture, and the important thing is that cars like the Fit EV are coming to market at all. Competition is certainly a good thing – now we’ll just have to see which EV the public responds to most.

Visit theautoMedia.comHonda Research Centerfor quick access to reviews, pricing, photos, mpg and more. Make sure to followautoMedia.comonTwitterandFacebook.

Does the Fit EV pique your electric interest? Let us know in the Comments below.

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By Ryan ZumMallen

March Plug-In Electric Car Sales: Tesla On Top, Leaf Roars Back (FINAL UPDATE)

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

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The big news in plug-in car sales for March was Tesla’s statement that it delivered “more than 4,750″ Model S electric cars from January through March.

That news early Monday not only sent stock in Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] soaring, it also cued up an interesting three-way horse race.

Those sales put the Model S on a par with the Volt, ahead of the Leaf, and add roughly another third or so to the total number of plug-in cars from established makers that were delivered for the quarter.

Would Chevrolet manage to deliver more than 2,000 Volt range-extended electric cars to outsell the Model S?

And how quickly would sales of the 2013 Nissan Leaf rise now that cars are flowing freely from the Tennessee assembly line where they’re now built?

CEO Ghosn promises Leaf sales

Last month, while Volt sales recovered, Leaf deliveries were hampered by low inventory.

With production of the U.S.-built 2013 Nissan Leaf ramping up at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee, assembly plant, supplies were low for the first two months of the year.

But at a press roundtable at the New York Auto Show last Wednesday, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said that the company expected to deliver around 1,900 Leafs during March.

The actual number turned out to be 2,236–higher than Ghosn’s no-doubt lowballed estimate–bringing the Leaf’s quarterly total to 3,539. Not at Tesla levels, but by far the Leaf’s best-ever monthly total.

Ghosn went on to say that a level of around 2,000 monthly sales was NOT where Nissan expected to settle–implying that higher volumes were in the cards for the rest of the year. We hope Nissan’s U.S. sales staff is listening to their boss.

Volt gets close–but not close enough

As it turned out, Chevrolet delivered 1,478 Volts during March, fewer than last month’s 1,626.

That number brings first-quarter Volt totals to 4,244, decisively below the Tesla total.

While the Volt is still ahead of the Leaf for the first three months of the year–4,244 to 3,539–it was outsold in March by Nissan’s battery electric car, for the first time since January 2012.

The third-place monthly ranking has got to be a blow for GM’s electric-car team–although, in fairness, the price of the average Model S is likely twice that of the average Volt and Tesla has a backlog of eager customers who’ve waited up to three years to take delivery of their cars.

Plug-in hybrid models to come

In fourth place during the first quarter was the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, which outsold the Leaf through February to take a solid second place behind the Volt.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

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We said yesterday that if March sales tracked at their level during the first two months of the year, the Prius Plug-In would come in between 700 and 900 units.

And in fact, Toyota delivered 786 plug-in Priuses in March, for a first-quarter total of 2,353–bumping that car down to fourth place for the quarter, now that we have Tesla numbers.

As for Ford, it continues to increase sales of its Energi line, with 494 C-Max and 295 Fusion plug-in hybrids sold.

The Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid appears to be on a slow upward trend. Just 19 were delivered in January and February combined, but March saw 26 sold–a far slower pace than the first months of the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid.

Compliance cars coming too

As for the battery-electric compliance car segment, deliveries of the Ford Focus Electric totaled 180 cars in March–its best-ever month, bringing total sales since December 2011 over the 1,000 mark for the first time.

(We’re still waiting for Ford to address our questions about whether the Focus Electric actually is a compliance car, though its continuing pessimistic and downbeat predictions on the Focus Electric’s sales potential may well be self-fulfilling.)

Remarkably, 133 Toyota RAV4 EVs were sold in March, by far the highest monthly number ever–bringing total sales since last September to more than 400, or one-quarter of the number Toyota needs to build.

Honda delivered 23 Fit EVs in March, equaling the previous two months’ sales combined and bringing the lifetime total to 139.

Finally, as for the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, after a couple of months that totaled almost 600 sales, the littlest electric car on the market slumped back to its 2012 levels of 31 cars delivered.

The i-MiEV isn’t a compliance car, but the March sales are at that level–and a disappointment to the hopes of those who like small, minimalist plug-ins.



2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

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Next: Tesla Q1 sales call in May

Analysts will now be looking for comments from Tesla–which may not come until its Q1 earnings call in May–about the level of reservations for Model S.

Not all reservation-holders will convert into sales, but the rate at which the company can add new reservations versus starting to clear its queue of more than 10,000 Model S depositors will be keenly watched as an indicator of its ability to sustain sales beyond its first audience of early adopters.

Finally, one note on sales outside the U.S.: In its first full month of deliveries, 1,089 Renault Zoe all-electric subcompact hatchbacks were registered last month in France.

That number is fully 80 percent of plug-in electric car sales in the country for March.

French carmaker Renault is an alliance partner of Nissan, with the two companies together having delivered 70,000 battery-electric vehicles since December 2010.

The Zoe is its first high-volume battery electric vehicle, following the Kangoo ZE small electric delivery van and the low-volume Fluence ZE mid-size sedan with a swappable battery pack, designed for–and mostly sold to–the Israeli company Better Place.

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By John Voelcker

Tesla Gives Complete Battery Warranty



Electric automaker Tesla will offer a full battery warranty for the new Model S luxury sedan, as part as of its promise to deliver the ‘world’s best service warranty program.’

Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that the company will cover all battery damage issues from the customers, including intentional abuse or improper maintenance. No matter what, Tesla will replace the damaged battery with a factory reconditioned unit free of charge.

Also, while the customer’s car is being taken care of, he will get a top model replacement Tesla Model S. In some areas, they can even opt for a Roadster replacement to roam around the streets while their luxury EV sedan is in service.

Another nice thing Tesla will do for its customers is the fact that they will hire valets to collect and replace the cars for clients and even return them the repaired car and recollect the loaned one.

By Gabriel Brindusescu

Video Shows Tesla Model S Body Painting Process [Video]



After having previously shown you how the Mode S’ body panels being formed out of sheets of metal, this week Tesla are showing us the process through which the sleek lines of the sedan’s body come to life – paint.

The Model S currently has a rather limited color palette, but all 10 available colors are great, and if we were to hypothetically buy one, we would have a very hard time choosing the one we thought looked best. The painting procedure is fully automated, judging from what we’ve seen in the official video, using robotic arms to apply paint uniformly all over the car’s body.

However, defore the actual painting starts, the naked aluminium body is submerged in a tank of electro-coating solution “to enhance the appearance of subsequent paint layers.” Afterward, the still-unpainted body is baked inside an oven to create a layer of corrosion protection all throughout the body. All these procedures apparently give an excellent-looking and long-lasting paintjob – a definite nod in favor of quality here from Tesla.

We can’t wait to get more details on the Model S, the first EV which has made us genuinely excited and the first one we’d love to own and drive on a day-to-day basis and feel cool, instead of smug (like some ‘green’ drivers).

By Andrei Nedelea

Meet the anti-Tesla: Terra Motors’ electric 'tuk-tuk' trike has big-name backers

Terra Motors tuk-tuk

There appears to be an ever-growing push to go ‘green’ in the emerging Asian auto markets. The latest vehicle to meet the demand is from the Terra Motors startup out of Japan. It has put together what it calls the electric tuk-tuk, which is an all-electric three-wheeled vehicle, which will be primarily used as a taxi (or “tuk tuk,” pronounced “took took”). 

First offered in the Philippines, the all-electric trike will cost around $6,300, which is far more than the $1,500 gasoline versions currently on the market.

Capable of a 31-mile range on a two-hour charge, according to a TechCrunch report, the electric tuk-tuk is estimated to save owners $5 in gas per day, which might just make up for its recharge time inconvenience.

The EV trike looks much more futuristic than its gasoline competitors but is just as versatile. At three meters long, the electric tuk-tuk can seat up to six passengers.

By 2016, Terra Motors hopes to replace as many as 100,000 gasoline-powered tuk-tuks on the streets of Asia. Looking at the Terra Motors investor list inspires enough confidence to believe the fledgling company just might have what it takes to succeed. Former executives of Apple Japan, Google Japan, Sony, and Compaq have all invested in the Japanese EV venture.

Dutch and Chinese companies have already produced similar offerings but none is as ambitious as the Terra creation.

If Filipino taxi drivers plan their day correctly, the electric tuk-tuk could save them money and also afford them a nice two-hour lunch. When you break the benefits like that, it makes us re-think our career paths.

By Nick Jaynes

PG Elektrus: Carbon-Fiber Electric Lotus Elise



Production of the Tesla Roadster might have ended, but it’s opened up a whole new market. This is the creation of a German company called PG, which has created another Lotus Elise-based electric car, only this one has some serious attributes.

That silly looking grin at the front and the whole body for that matter is made up of carbon fiber, which is why it weighs less than a ton, just a bit over 900 kg in fact. The motor for this bad boy produces 272 horsepower and 350 Nm (258 lb-ft) of torque. Now that might not sound like much, but the ridiculously low weight, it’s enough to push the Elektrus past the first 100 km/h (62 mph) in just under 3 seconds and on to a top speed of up to 300km/h (186mph).

The range on a full charge should be 350 km (217 miles) but only if you don’t floor it. Only 667 of these will be built and the starting price has been announced at €240,000 ($312,500).

Check out the PG Elektrus: Carbon-Fiber Electric Lotus Elise photo gallery

By Mihnea Radu

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