The Continental’s Geneva Notepad: A Changing Lexus, Bentley and Lambo SUVs, and More Turbos
I hear from various sources that VW Group chief Martin Winterkorn is more than a bit unhappy with the styling of the Bentley EXP 9 F concept, which, due to a logistics problem, wasn’t seen by group executives until it was far too late to fix. Now everybody is watching the damage control in Crewe, while Lamborghini is preparing for a spectacular launch of its SUV concept at the Beijing auto show next month. The Lambo SUV concept’s debut was delayed to avoid interfering with Bentley’s show in Geneva.
The manual transmission appears to be losing more ground. I hear that Mercedes-Benz will stop manufacturing manual boxes for its rear-wheel-drive cars and buy them from ZF in the future. One of the reasons? Sales numbers are getting lower and lower. The transmissions will be based on the same architecture that is used for the manuals supplied to BMW.
But it’s too early to declare the outcome of the battle. Audi engineering executive Heinz Hollerweger says that the manual is here to stay, citing its superior real-world efficiency. Dual-clutch and torque-converter automatics often fare much better in the official European cycle than three-pedal setups because the test uses set shift points for manuals; the automatics, of course, change whenever the software decides. Some in the industry argue that the cycle-testing protocols should allow manuals to be shifted as soon as an indicator light in the dashboard comes on. That would only be fair, and the outcome would reflect the natural order of things again.
So if the manual survives, will it remain a five- or six-speed, or will the industry follow Porsche’s lead with the seven-speed manual? The latter scenario is unlikely. Interest in seven-speed manuals is virtually nonexistent, I hear from transmission experts. Porsche’s gearbox, which is derived from the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, doesn’t even offer much of a weight advantage. It’s a good thing the latest Boxster keeps a six-speed, and hopefully the next GT3 also will be allowed to retain the entirely sufficient and far lighter six-speed box.
Turbocharging has become a huge business, with Europe the leading adopter and the U.S. and China close behind. The traditional players—Honeywell (Garrett), BorgWarner, IHI, and Mitsubishi—have very recently been joined by Continental/Schaeffler and Bosch/Mahle. Conti is launching with inexpensive, low-inertia turbos for gasoline models, but I am told the company is working on a turbo-diesel concept that could be ready by 2016 or 2017.
By Jens Meiners