First Audi wins the prestigious 24 Hours of LeMans with a diesel-powered sports car, and now Volkswagen is trumpeting the success of not one but three turbodiesel-powered Touaregs at the annual Pikes Peak Hillclimb. Has diesel become the 21st century's new race gas?
Probably not, but both companies-and surely others to come-are trying to demonstrate that diesel fuel isn't just for buses, 18-wheelers, and other utilitarian vehicles. With the new availability of ultralow-sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel in the U.S., auto- and truckmakers want to exploit it as a power-packed, clean-burning alternative to conventional gasoline.
The Touaregs, powered by VW's 5.0L V-10 diesel burning ULSD fuel, tackled the Peak's 12.4-mile, 156-corner course and made it to the 14,000-foot summit in just over 14 minutes-very respectable times for what were essentially stock vehicles modified more for safety requirements than anything else.
VW's V-10 puts out 310 hp and a whopping 553 lb-ft of torque. The TDI Touareg had been on sale a couple years ago, but was pulled from the U.S. market for emissions reasons. New emissions control systems, in combination with the ULSD fuel, make the '06 diesel Touareg now emissions compliant in all 50 states, and it will go back on sale in the U.S. in September.
Big Three Modifies Trucks for Diesel
Speaking of the new ultralow-sulfur diesel, Dodge, Ford, and GM will all make changes to their diesel-powered trucks so they can burn the new fuel and meet revamped EPA regulations that go into effect January 1, 2007. According to Automotive News, Dodge will add a diesel particulate filter and oxides of nitrogen absorber to the Cummins diesels in its Ram 2500 and 3500 trucks as a running change during the '07 model year to meet the new requirements. Ford will replace its 6.0L Power Stroke (shown) with an all-new, 6.4L engine, and GM is upgrading its Duramax engines with new variable geometry turbochargers, a new exhaust-gas recirculation system, and other modifications.
There's been no word from any of the makers regarding what these changes will do to the engine's power output or, for that matter, cost. We'll bring you more detail about these changes as the makers release the information.
Toyo Wins at Crandon
The guy you see in the air is Ben Wandahsega, CORR's current Sportsman 2 class champion. He and his 600hp Chevy Silverado had a great weekend at the summertime 2006 Forest Potawatomi Brush Run in Crandon, Wisconsin. After taking a Second Place in the Saturday race, he came back for an outright win on Sunday. Likewise Kyle LeDuc, who wheels a Ford Ranger in the CORR Pro-Lite class, also grabbed a First Place at the Potawatomi Brush Run. What do these guys have in common other than winning races in Crandon? Both of their race trucks are shod with Toyo Open Country M/T tires. Toyo has made a significant investment in off-road racing lately, an investment that seems to be paying off for their sponsored racers.
National Anthem Project Gets Graphic
No, that isn't just crooked handwriting. Those are 300-some Chrysler Group employees wearing white Jeep T-shirts and spelling out the first few words of "The Star Spangled Banner" as part of the National Anthem Project, an educational initiative whose goal is to reteach Americans those very important lyrics. Jeep is a sponsor of the project, and this graphic representation of the song's opening words was done on the lawn of Chrysler's Auburn Hills, Michigan, headquarters as the project came to metro Detroit.
Turns out we're not the only ones who think the name of VW's current SUV is hard to pronounce. It's a problem worldwide, so much so that Volkswagen doesn't trust itself to name its new compact SUV (which we'll see some time in 2008). Instead, VW is holding a contest, asking readers of a German enthusiast car magazine to vote for one of five names: Nanuk (Eskimo for polar bear), Namib (an African desert), Rockton (a made-up name playing up the strength of a rock), Tiguan (mixing "tiger" and "iguana"), and Samun (a hot African desert wind).
No one asked us, but we like Samba, the nickname given to some of VW's old-school minibuses.
Hummer Markets Customized H3
Looking for some custom touches for that new Hummer? Now you can order an accessorized H3 straight from the factory. Called the H3x, this '07 Hummer is fitted with lots of chrome-18-inch wheels, a brushguard, tube steps, appearance package, a fuel filler door, and bright roof-rack crossbows-plus a body-colored grille and hard spare-tire cover. Like the rest of the '07 H3s, this model receives GM's new, 242hp Vortec 3.7L I-5. Look for it at a Hummer dealer near you for just a tick over $38,000.
Bye-Bye Freelander, Hello Maria Sharapova
Well, this news item should be about Land Rover's new LR2 sport/utility, which takes the place of the Freelander and goes on sale in the U.S. next spring. But since the LR2 will share a platform with Volvo and Ford sedans, we figured you'd find this space more interesting if we shared a photo of tennis superstar Maria Sharapova posing with the LR2 at a prelaunch party.
Drivelines: How is your Hummer H3 different from other trucks you've raced?
Robby Gordon: The Hummer H3 was built to be a Dakar rally truck, even though it could race in SCORE. In the 2006 Dakar it ran an LS2 Chevrolet, and in the 2007 rally it'll run an LS7, which is the current upgraded 427ci Corvette engine. The Hummer has a transaxle compared to a solid-axle rearend. It will have a manual six-speed going into the 2007 Dakar rally, where the trophy truck has a three-speed automatic with a big torque converter. Wheel travel on the H3 is down to 22 inches at all four corners, where in the trophy truck we have 36, 38 inches of travel in the back and 24 in the front. So there's quite a bit of difference between the two.
DL: You had such highs and lows in the Dakar rally, from kicking ass in some stages to an ultimate DNF. What lessons did you learn for next time?
RG: Dakar Rally 2006 obviously didn't end up where we wanted to, we had some transaxle problems, and then we ended up knocking the radiator out of it and DNF'ing, but we learned a lot. We've been doing a lot of testing. We've put about 6,000 miles on the Hummers since the Dakar rally of last year, working with Chevrolet and their engineers in the wind tunnel, trying to optimize the package as best as possible. So I think we'll be a lot more reliable. And we should be able to match the Mitsubishis and the Volkswagens and even the Schlesser-Ford on top speed. That's our goal, to be able to run the speed that those guys run. It seemed like that's where they put some time on us.
DL: Do the Baja races seem like a cakewalk in the wake of Dakar?
RG:Not really. Baja is tough too. But Baja would be like one stage of the 16 stages we run at Dakar. You can run harder at Baja, but even at Baja, if you make a mistake, you get beat. The competition level has definitely risen in off-road competition, and you can't make any mistakes. It doesn't matter if it's Dakar or Baja. You have to keep the car on the road all day long, keep it moving at all times.
DL: We've seen videos of you grabbing huge air at Glamis. Is that truck a prerunner, and what's it got in it/under it?
RG:Actually that's the Red Bull trophy truck we run at the Baja and the truck that [team member] Andy McMillin races all year long. That's the one that has 24 inches of travel in the front, 36 to 38 inches of travel in the rear, 37-inch Toyos on 17-inch wheels all around. It has an automatic transmission, and probably 850 hp. In the past, as the season has ended after the Baja 1000, Thanksgiving weekend is a huge weekend out at Glamis. I've taken it out there and blasted through the dunes on paddle tires, so that's where a lot of those shots have come from.
DL: What do you get from off-road racing that your various pavement rides-NASCAR, Indy Car, sports cars-don't offer?
RG: With all of my pavement rides, sooner or later you're going to hit the same corner again. When we go off-road racing, like at the Baja, every corner's different. It's a point-to-point race; we never see the same piece of the race track twice, so you never know what's around those corners. It's that challenge of being able to control something out of control. You never know what's in front of you, whether it's livestock, rocks, or another car pocked out in front of you before you come by. There are just so many different, variable challenges that the Baja 1000 or Dakar gives us, and that's the fun.
This Just In
* More diesel happenings: "Suppliers and industry sources" have tipped off Automotive News that Ford is planning a 4.4L V-8 diesel engine for its F-150 pickup for later in the decade. Reportedly the engine will be a variant of the 3.6L diesel V-8 Ford produces for Range Rovers in England. It's possible that engine will also find its way into future Expedition models, as Ford seeks fuel-efficient strategies to compete with GM when the crosstown competition releases fullsize SUVs with the upcoming Two Mode gas/electric hybrid systems. It's possible Ford will develop a hybrid powertrain for the Expedition, but given the difficulty the company is having selling its hybrid Escape, it may be looking for alt-fuel alternatives.
* "Days to turn" is a car sales term that indicates how long new vehicles are sitting on dealer lots before they're sold. It's one of the indicators of a vehicle's sales success (or not), and a recent study by J.D. Power shows that midsize SUVs are not as popular as they once were. In these days of volatile gas prices, it's probably no surprise that the compact-car segment enjoyed a quick days-to-turn rate of just 35 days in May, when the survey was done. Midsize SUVs, on the other hand, were sitting on dealer lots an average of 73 days. Some SUVs did better-Toyota's 4Runner and Jeep's Commander clocked 56 days. Others were worse-Kia's Sorento sat on lots an average of 105 days, while the Dodge Durango stalled at 118. Sounds like it's time to cut a deal on a new SUV...
* On the heels of this report comes word, via Automotive News, that GM will kill its Chevy TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy midsize SUVs by 2010. They will probably be replaced by new "crossover" SUVs. You know, those vehicles with all the brawny off-roading looks but none of the performance.
Coolest Large-Caliber Reading Place
On behalf of my fellow soldiers and myself (in the Green Bay Packers hard hat), thank you very much for the care package filled with awesome items. Please find attached photos of us displaying your items near one of the 155mm "Big Gun" Howitzers, which has a range of 30 kilometers, far enough to blast the surrounding mountains and make Al Qaeda and Taliban members think twice about attacking us. The "Big Guns" are operated by soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division. I am an engineer in the 416th Engineer Command, serving under the 82nd.
I am five months into a one-year deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, located at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno, Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border. During the summer it easily reaches over 120 degrees in the shade. It is definitely a different lifestyle here-not exactly all the comforts of home. I live in a tent, my office is in a tent, and showers and latrines are in stand-alone containers. I always have to remember to take bottled water when I go to brush my teeth. I'm not the type of guy to complain, but I do miss my wife, my home, and my hobby: truck pulling with my '72 Chevrolet Cheyenne Super Stock 4x4 Puller. I am very much looking forward to returning home to Johnson Creek, Wisconsin, and the good ol' U.S. of A.
Thanks again for your support,
Sfc. Michael Derr
416th Engineer Command
FOB Salerno, Afghanistan
Coolest large mammal reading place
On a recent trip to India, I took advantage of down time to catch up on my reading. On this particular day, I was on a tiger safari and waiting for the trackers to return from the field on their elephants.
Environmental & Political Watch
Chrysler Group President and CEO Tom LaSorda, Ford Motor Company Chairman and CEO Bill Ford, and General Motors Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner sent a letter to the U.S. Congress stating the three automotive manufacturers plan to double annual production of vehicles capable of running on renewable fuels-like E85 ethanol or biodiesel-to two million cars and trucks by 2010. "We need business and government to work together to enhance the production, distribution and use of renewable biofuels," the CEOs said. "Our hope is that with this commitment, fuel providers will have even more incentive to produce ethanol and other biofuels and install pumps to distribute them." A press release from GM noted that there are currently more than 5 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road and the three domestic automotive companies will add an additional million cars and trucks this year alone. If all of these vehicles were running on E85, they would displace more than 3.5 billion gallons of gasoline a year, an amount comparable to the yearly gas consumption in a state such as Missouri or Tennessee.