Renault E-Tech models – preconditioning…
Even the most hardened EV sceptic must concede that introducing high-voltage electrics results in some genuinely useful tech. One of these is the ability to adjust the cabin to an ideal temperature before the journey commences, regardless of the weather. The feature is seen as so beneficial that Renault has introduced it throughout its E-Tech BEV car and commercial vehicle ranges, which encompasses the new Mégane and Zoë, plus the Renault PRO+ Kangoo and Master E-Tech vans.
The French manufacturer says that its preconditioning works most effectively when the vehicle is switched off, plugged in, and the battery state of charge exceeds 45%. In such conditions, the high-voltage HVAC system is powerful enough to achieve the desired cabin temperature in just thirty minutes. The high-voltage battery is not depleted during this process either, because the system takes its power directly from the charge port. Renault alleges that, when used properly, battery life can also increase. As the air conditioning will not need to work flat-out as soon as the car is driven, the battery will not be drained as quickly. Additionally, in cold weather, the lithium-ion battery can also be pre-warmed to its ideal operating temperature. Apart from increasing battery longevity, a bonus is a range increase, so the vehicle can travel longer distances between charges.
Renault acknowledges that most other BEVs have pre- conditioning features that are also controlled via a smartphone App. Yet, the company proclaims its system offers superior ease of use; all you need are just three taps to set your ideal temperature, making it simpler to use than many dashboard LCD touchscreens.
Volvo EX90 – SunLike LED interior lighting…
The health benefits of natural sunlight exposure are well-established. Yet, it is not always possible for the sun’s rays to permeate enclosed spaces, especially vehicle interiors. Furthermore, energy-saving policies have seen Light Emitting Diodes proliferate, not always with great effect. Whether in our homes, or fitted to vehicles, their sharp colours and uneven light spread were downsides. Unsurprisingly, LED development has accelerated considerably and has reached a stage, where they are getting close to mimicking natural sunlight. The development has seen museums, schools and even hospitals engaging the South Korean company, Seoul Semiconductor, for their lighting needs.
Volvo has attracted column inches recently, announcing not just its aims to be an EV-only company but also the cessation of saloon and estate UK imports. These reports may have detracted that it is to become the first carmaker to introduce SunLike lighting in the three- tonne, £100,000 EX90 EV SUV, poised for its UK launch early next year.
Volvo promises that all non-decorative lighting within EX90s will be SunLike LEDs, incorporated on the ceiling, floor, door pockets and within the luggage compartment. The company highlights that better lighting aids comfort and, therefore, safety. It says that the suppression of blue light and flickering from artificial interior lighting can reduce eyestrain and headaches.
Additionally, the new lighting strategy feeds into the Scandinavian design mantra that the Chinese-owned firm relies on so much to differentiate these products from its Germanic competition, in particular. The company’s designers report that SunLike LEDs provide a light output that enhances the interior features and materials, far better than existing lighting used by the automotive industry.
Audi Q8 e-Tron – Recycled seat belt buckles…
Sustainability has become a buzzword. Yet, out of all the machines that the modern world discards, the motorcar is one of the most thoroughly recycled, achieving over 90% by weight. The announcement by Audi that its range-topping Q8 SUV (starting price: £70,000) has recycled seat belt buckles might appear to be a laughable greenwash sop but it is not.
One would imagine that the recovered materials would be suitable for new cars but this is not entirely true. Many recycled materials are impure, making them inappropriate for certain applications, especially safety-related car parts. The situation has become even worse, now that cars utilise not just more plastics but also a greater variety of them, often within the same component.
While carmakers strive to reduce (or eliminate) fossil fuels to propel their vehicles, they also seek to reduce oil use within their raw materials. A possible solution is to employ recycled materials but this is not always technically viable. In response, plastics manufacturer, LyondellBasell and Audi have established the PlasticLoop project to recover plastic waste. As part of the pilot process, Audi sources scrap plastic parts from its dealerships and crash repair firms. These components, from accident-
damaged, or end-of-life vehicles, are stripped of any other materials, such as metal, before being shredded. Most plastics are processed in this way but, instead of being used to produce new products, the plastic shreddings tend to be burnt as a fuel. LyondellBasell and Audi have added an additional stage, where the plastic is treated and heated to produce pyrolysis oil. This oil forms the basis of granules that can be used in safety applications. The Audi Q8 seat belt buckle cover contains at least 70% pyrolysis oil. It may be a small step but it shows what is possible, when carmakers work proactively with their supply chains and pay more attention to vehicle scrapping, which many OEMs have neglected historically, to their cost.
Subaru range – Eyesight (Generation 4)…
Subaru is a bit of an oddity in this country. Compared with other territories, such as North America, the Japanese manufacturer sells a mere handful of cars in the UK. Part of this may be down to a post rallying identity crisis, since high-performance Imprezas and STI models bit the dust. Today, the model range comprises a pair of self-charging hybrids: a high-riding Impreza hatchback (called the XV) and the Forester SUV. These are flanked by the new 2.5-litre Outlander estate/SUV crossover and all-electric twin-motor all-wheel-drive Solterra BEV, which is a badge- engineered Toyota. Not one of these cars features a manual transmission. The range sounds very boring, because it is. Yet, some Subaru weirdness remains. Despite suppressing the characteristic flat-four ‘thrum’, all engines remain true to the ‘boxer’ configuration. Just as Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive kept Colin McRae (mostly) out of the scenery, the current models possess grip levels that are superior to virtually every other competitor in their class.
Even so, our focus is on part of Subaru’s ADAS suite, which it calls EyeSight. Fitted to over five million vehicles worldwide, the latest fourth-generation EyeSight uses a pair of high- resolution colour cameras mounted to the windscreen, rather than one used by most other manufacturers. The functions that it controls include pre-collision warning, braking and throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane departure visual and audible warnings, plus autonomous emergency steering. It also includes a Lead Vehicle Start Alert, which provides a driver prompt if a vehicle in front has moved in stationary traffic. Subaru has announced that it is introducing EyeSight for manual transmission versions of its second-generation BRZ sports car. Unfortunately, the BRZ is not offered in the UK and all other models offered to us are blunted with Subaru’s CVT Lineartronic automatic transmission.