Cars and Trucks

This Week in Cars: an 831-HP Mercedes, a Ram Van RV, and the Chip Shortage

Toyota started this year’s Tokyo Olympics on the wrong foot, when anger from Japanese citizens that the games were going forward amid the pandemic led the carmaker and Olympic partner to suspend its planned Olympics-related advertising in Japan. And now there’s a bookend stumble for the end of Toyota’s games: an autonomous shuttle operating in the Olympic Village during the Paralympic games collided with and injured a visually impaired athlete last week. Toyota briefly paused the shuttle rides, but then restarted them with extra safety workers on hand to prevent repeat incidents.

This Week in Sheetmetal

Audi showed an elongated, nearly teardrop-shaped electric sedan concept, also designed to showcase the possibilities of future autonomous driving technologies. The car, called the Grandsphere, would have 711 horsepower from two electric motors, a retractable steering wheel, and a potted plant sprouting out of the back of the center console.

Winnebago

Winnebago has designed a wheelchair-accessible RV based on a Ram ProMaster van. The RV, called Roam, is smaller than previous accessible RVs the company has built and can have a power-operated sofa bed, wheelchair tie-downs, grab handles in the shower, and an under-vehicle wheelchair lift.

Mercedes has provided more information on the next AMG GT63, scheduled to be the first plug-in hybrid from Mercedes’ performance sub-brand. The 2023 GT63 will have a combined 831 hp from a 4.0-liter V-8 and an electric motor on the rear axle. 2023 will mark the return of the Mercedes V-8 to the U.S. market. The company dropped eight-cylinder engines from almost all of its U.S. lineup for 2022 due to supply chain constraints.

Subaru shared some new (miniature, upside-down) teaser photos of its forthcoming inaugural EV, the Solterra. The car will come with standard all-wheel drive, as is appropriate for a Subaru, and will share its platform with the Toyota bZ4X. We expect it to go on sale next year.

discarded microchips at the recycling plant

Nail FattakhovGetty Images

Microchip Shortage, Still

Several automakers adjusted their third-quarter sales projections downward this week, as the ongoing microchip shortage limits production below demand. Ford said its August sales were down 33 percent due to the chip shortage. Mercedes said its third-quarter results would be “noticeably below” second-quarter sales. Volvo said its sales were down 10.6 percent compared to last August, and said it expecte slow sales through the second half of the year. General Motors announced more plant shutdowns, and a Bloomberg report said Tesla had to idle its plants in China for several days last month because of the chip shortage.

Meanwhile, Hyundai is looking for its own way through the storm. The company says it has developed its own microchip for use in a vehicle that will launch in the second quarter of next year, perhaps the Ioniq 6 EV. Hyundai will use local (to Korea) suppliers to manufacture the chip and hopes this strategy will reduce competition and uncertainty related to microchip sourcing.

Wear Your Seatbelt

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports a 10.5 percent increase in traffic deaths in the first three months of 2021 compared to the first three months of 2020, despite a 2.1 percent decrease in the number of vehicle miles travelled compared to last year. NHTSA attributes the increase in fatalities to a rise in risky behaviors such as speeding, impaired driving, and not wearing seatbelts. Traffic-related deaths were up 7.2 percent to 38,680 in the U.S. overall in 2020, even though Americans drove 13 percent fewer miles than in 2019. NHTSA blamed that increase on risky behavior by drivers enjoying empty roads during lockdowns, or drivers who thought police would not stop and ticket them during the height of the pandemic.

A representative for the self-driving coalition said the NHTSA report was evidence of the urgent need for self-driving cars, which “do not speed, become impaired, or get distracted,” but since truly autonomous driving technology doesn’t exist yet, we’ll stick with more old-fashioned advice: wear your seatbelt, and always remember that cars can kill you.

Further Reading

Remember when North Carolinians raised a stink about an increasingly popular car modification dubbed the Carolina Squat? Well, now the Squat is illegal (more or less).

Read in the New York Times about the various, sometimes destructive, strategies companies are taking to extract lithium, a crucial element in electric-vehicle manufacturing, from the earth.

Or read about the unlikely second life of a 1970 AMC AMX in the Wall Street Journal.

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