Episode 911 – BMW i8 Pricing Revealed, A-Class AMG, Euro NCAP Requires Autonomous Braking

June 14th, 2012 at 11:45am

Runtime: 8:07

BMW just announced the price of its futuristic-looking hybrid, the i8, and man, it ain’t cheap!  Who says big things don’t come in small packages?  Mercedes-Benz and the folks at AMG are hard at work developing the performance version of the company’s new A-Class and it is going to be unimaginably powerful.  In its effort to cut traffic deaths in half by 2020, Euro NCAP will add autonomous emergency braking tests to its crash ratings in 2014.  All that and more, plus John proposes a brand-new racing series where the only rule is there are no rules.

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Hello and welcome to Autoline Daily for June 14. I’m John McElroy and here’s the news.

Looks like the beginning of a move to close some assembly plants in Europe is starting to happen. GM announced it will close the Opel plant in Bochum, Germany, but not until the end of 2016. Analysts estimate that five assembly plants have to close in Europe to eliminate 2 million units of overcapacity. The fact that it takes nearly five years to close a plant doesn’t bode well for European manufacturers. This almost ensures they will lose a lot of money for the next five years, except for the German automakers, which do not have overcapacity problems.

BMW just announced the price of its futuristic looking hybrid, the i8. It will retail for €100,000, or about $125,000. BMW says it will sell the car in Germany through a mobile force of sale people, with no dealerships, and use the internet instead. The i8 will compete against the Fisker Karma which is priced at $103,000.

Who says big things don’t come in small packages? Mercedes-Benz and the folks at AMG are hard at work developing the performance version of the company’s new A-Class. Internally it’s referred to as the A45, externally it’s targeting competitors like the BMW M1 and upcoming Audi RS3. Under the hood this Swabian SCUD missile will be powered by a 2.0-liter turbo delivering an estimated 370 horsepower! That is an absolutely astonishing figure and it gives this little four-pot a specific output of 185 horsepower per liter! That’s unheard of for a production vehicle. Torque should weigh in at around 300 pound-feet. With this much vigor all-wheel drive had better be part of the equation. Interestingly, like other AMG engines every 2.0-liter turbo will be hand assembled by one person.

A mathematics professor at Drexel University has patented a new type of rear view mirror that was inspired by a disco ball of all things. Traditional mirrors are flat and give a limited field of vision – between 15 and 17 degrees. But this mirror spans a blind-spot killing 45 degrees. This mirror is not simply a curved pane of glass. Instead, its surface is made up of a vast array of tiny wide-angle mirrors. Each individual reflection may be slightly distorted but the overall image remains true. Unfortunately U.S. regulations require new vehicles to have flat mirrors on the driver’s side. It’s another example of unneeded regulation that is stifling innovation.

In its effort to cut traffic deaths in half by 2020, Euro NCAP will add autonomous emergency braking tests to its crash ratings in 2014. The technology uses Radar, Lidar, and/or video cameras to help drivers avoid crashes by warning them or applying the brakes automatically if the driver doesn’t react. The agency says the system can help reduce accidents by 27 percent. Currently, two-thirds of automakers in Europe don’t offer autonomous emergency braking and only 20 percent of new car models are available with it. But if they can’t get five-star ratings without that technology they will start to offer it.

Toyota just unveiled a funky concept at the International Tokyo Toy Show called the Camatte. It seats up to three people and is designed to be a family oriented, customizable vehicle that even children can use. The pedals and seats can be adjusted for a kid while the parent controls steering and braking. The body features removable panels to enable different design and color combinations.

Coming up next, it’s time for a whole new approach to motor racing, what I call Formula None.


Some of my favorite race cars of all time include the amazing Silver Arrows from Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz in the 1930s, the futuristic-looking Chaparral Can-Am cars that tore up the tracks in the 1960s, and the captivating winged Superbirds and Daytonas that swept through the superspeedways in the early 1970s.

From roughly 1900 to 1970 motor racing was as much about developing new automotive technology as it was about being a spectator sport. Important innovations in powertrain technology, metallurgy, aerodynamics, suspension geometry, steering and brakes, were transferred from the race track to the assembly line during those 70 years. Racing improved the breed.

Today, most car companies use motor racing simply as a marketing tool and almost all racing categories have become spec series in which teams are forced to develop very similar if not identical cars. But that doesn’t produce technological breakthroughs.

My idea is to form a racing series called Formula None. There would be no rules. You just “run what you brung.”  The size, shape, weight, powertrain and fuel would be determined by each team. The idea would be to turn the engineers loose and see what happens. Actually, there would be some simple rules for a safety cocoon to protect the driver.

Formula None would attract participants and sponsors from outside the automotive industry, especially from the aerospace, defense and electronics industry. It would certainly cross-pollinate different industries with new ideas and designs. Can you imagine the public’s anticipation to see what the teams would show up with every year?

I’m throwing the idea out there in the hopes that someone grabs it and runs with it, even if it just starts out as a once-a-year race, maybe as a support race for one of the bigger events. But over time Formula None could become the biggest and most relevant racing series of them all.

A programming note here, Autoline After Hours will not be running tonight, but will return to its normally scheduled time next Thursday. And that is going to be a very unique show. We’re going to be celebrating the 15th anniversary of Autoline and we’ll have a great cast of guests appearing on the show. It may even be something of a first on the internet. You won’t want to miss it.

But that wraps up today’s show, thanks for watching and please join us again tomorrow.

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33 Comments to “Episode 911 – BMW i8 Pricing Revealed, A-Class AMG, Euro NCAP Requires Autonomous Braking”

  1. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I like the idea of Formula None, almost. Since the cars would presumably be sharing the same race track, I think there should be rules for maximum width and length, and a fairly narrow range of allowed weight. It sure would be cool, though, to see what teams would do with engine choice, if there were no rules on that.

  2. Tony Gray Says:

    That Camatte looks interesting, especially in Afrika Corps tan.

    As for Formula None, I couldn’t agree more. IndyCar has killed its fan base by insisting on spec cars. Even though they have brought in Chevrolet and Lotus this year as engine manufacturers, every single car looks the same. And now it looks like the team owners are killing the idea of different aero packages that were supposed to be instituted next year, meaning we will be stuck with 33 identical vehicles on the Brickyard once again. How I long for the Novi’s, the Cummins Diesel Specials, the STP Turbines or the F1 Tyrrells…

  3. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I suspect there is a reason for the requirement of flat mirrors on the driver’s side, which has to do with “objects may be closer than they appear” with convex mirrors. Over time, people would get used to convex mirrors on both sides, but if they started being used, I’d expect an increase in “overlap” crashes.

  4. pedro fernandez Says:

    Why not incorporate autonomous racing? why not? it’s just as stupid as autonomous vehicles is!

  5. Kit Gerhart Says:

    When Novis were running at Indy, there were rules, but more freedom in engine choice. You were allowed less displacement for a boosted engine, but both boosted and natually aspirated engines could run. It would be cool to have turbo and non-turbo engines running against each other now, but there seems to be no indication that will happen. I guess rules makers are too obcessed with equalizing things, and it’s never easy to have two technologies compete equally well.

  6. HtG Says:

    If one reason for Formula None is to develop tech that will make it onto the street, then I would say two things. 1, energy recovery systems like batteries, capacitor, and flywheels, are already being developed in racing by the likes of Porsche and Infiniti(Renault), and will likely make into cars. 2 So much of what goes into making cars a viable product doesn’t involve speed, but rather issues of mass production, finance, and regulations.

    I’d just like to see racing become interesting again. Lessen the dependence on aerodynamic grip so that cars can race close to each other, and take away engine displacement and wide slick tires so the driver can just light it up.

  7. RonE Says:

    I think the Camatte would be a fun car. Reminds me of the VW Thing.

  8. HtG Says:

    And one more thing,(warning, ad for Audi), if you listen to Dr. Baretsky, Audi engine boss, they are thinking very much about transferring tech to road cars. For instance, Dr B has spoken about the control of the atomization of fuel and how it combines with oxygen to burn most efficiently. Making their fuel allotment for the 24 hours of Lemans is a key competitive category for Audi, but Audi owner will benefit. And this is happening in teh highly constrained rules environment of sports car racing.

    Here’s a clip,


    (sorry Audi, but I root for Toyota and Corvette)

  9. C-Tech Says:

    Why does it take 5 Years to close a plant in Germany? Does it have to do with their government regulations?

    The I8 looks great and BMW’s reputation for driving dynamics make $120K look like a “reasonable” price for its exclusivity. I’ll still hold on to my Acura though.

    If this mirror is worthwhile then just as “sealed beam” headlights were de-regulated, then flat-mirrors will be deregulated. If not in this country then elsewhere first.

    Cammatte? I’ll pass

    John I like your concept of formula none (limited to safety regulations) just keep in mind the reason why each series is so (overly)regulated is due to costs spiraling out of control, the tech and cost spread between the have it teams and the have nots, and the poor racing that resulted. How many NASCAR races features cars which finish multiple laps down without a breakdown or accident anymore? That was common in the past. Formula None will probably require $100 million dollar teams to be competitive, good luck with getting that kind of sponsorship. Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to see cars like you describe compete again.

  10. C-Tech Says:

    John please tell us you and the staff are planning a secret takeover of the Car Talk franchise? With the knowledge and entertaining staff that you have, your connections with PBS TV stations already, please SAVE us from endless reruns of Click and Clack! I’m sure you (or Seamus and Craig) would expand their audience.

  11. Chuck@GM Says:

    It’s too bad drag racing isn’t like it was when I was growing up. You could take “Daddy’s Car” to the track and get a few runs in.

  12. Wim van Acker Says:

    John: You mentioned the BMW I-8 is priced in Germany at EUR 103,000 (= $125,000). And that it will compete againast the Fisker Karma priced at $103,000. That seems like an easy win for Fisker, being $22,000 cheaper. IF … the $103,000 Fisker Karma price you mentioned is the price in Germany. John, is it? Or is the $103,000 Fisker price the price in the U.S.?

    If so, please bear in mind that due to the higher direct and indirect taxes in Germany than in the U.S., prices are higher in Germany. And therefore the price of a vehicle in Germany cannot be compared with the price of a vehicle in the U.S.

  13. Darren Says:

    Formula none? Is that what NASCAR used to be?
    Time to run factory stock cars again with only mods for safety.

  14. Tim Driver Says:

    HELL YES ! I have preaching this idea for 30 years. Race-what-ya-brung and hope ya brung enough. Diffenatly use a safty cockpit, but beond that……..the skys the limit. I would not only support this but would love to enter a couple of cars myself.

  15. blucat2000 Says:


    Formula None. Great idea but it needs to be done in fuel classes. I don’t know…. how about a 20 lap race with 2, 10 and 50 gallon fuel classes. That way people get to apply different technologies against a limit (fuel consumption) and juggle all the other parameters. The technologies brought to bear would include maximum economy and pure power. It also creates financial classes so the guy with the biggest most powerful and expensive motor doesn’t just blow everyone away without any practical application of technology. You know, the facebook car?

  16. HtG Says:

    Bon Voyage, John! Lufthansa flight LH443? I’ll take care of you!

  17. Chuck Grenci Says:

    A more plausible alternative to Formula None would be to relax strict rule infrastructure (especially in the ‘spec car’ racing venues. Innovation should be encouraged to improve the breed; diverting better cars for fairness keeps the status quo and makes the racing almost a matter of chance in some circumstances. A lot of series do this; NASCAR (probably the most blatant, dictating every moving/non moving part practically) as well as others (to differing degrees). Formula None is noble in theory but just wouldn’t be economically feasible for many/any.

  18. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Formula None racing would bring back that fan-powered “suck down” technogy that was used by an F1 team years ago to enhance traction. Who used that? Anyone remember?

  19. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Red Bull would dominate FN. No one else in the world is so good at selling large quantities of something that is so cheap to make for so much money. They would be able to spend whatever it would take to win.

  20. Brett Says:

    I think this headcold is making me cranky.

    1. John, don’t be so fast with that “regulations stifling innovation” B.S. It’s “technology getting out in front of regulations.”

    This happens all the time. When the regulation was written, nobody could imagine a mirror that could provide a panarama view without distortion. Only a flat mirror could provide an undistorted image, so that’s what was written into the regs.

    The regulation will be rewritten to say instead, “must provide an undistorted image” and the mirror will be allowed, although I wager that it is one of those situations where “once you perfect something, it’s obsoleted” because the industry is going to be using rear-view cameras to improve aerodynamics and, thus, fuel economy.

    2. DON’T MODIFY UNIQUE!!! Unique means singular, one of a kind. It cannot be “slightly unique”, “very unique”, etc. Unique is unique is unique!!!

    3. Formula None – Nobody could afford to compete. That’s why all the racing series are spec series now. It was too damned expensive to compete if the rules weren’t locked down tighter than a bull’s ass at fly-time. It’s the arc of technology that does it. We’re too smart for our own good anymore. Things change too fast.

    Sorry. As I said, I feel lousy and it makes me cranky… :)

  21. HtG Says:

    18. It was a Brabham, designed by Gordon Murray for Bernie Ecclestone, driven by Niki Lauda, and raced once, after which it was banned. Flat Alfa Romeo 12 cylinder engine. The team had claimed the fan was for cooling purposes.(see who you’re dealing with here, Kit?)
    19. The oil companies are the real money now that the cigarette companies have been driven out. Petrodollars have an interest in getting and keeping people interested in vrooooom! vroooom!
    Gotta give RB respect for competing against such big interests. Perhaps the beer people? Meth?

  22. Brett Says:


    If you want racing to be interesting again, get rid of all aerodynamic aids and ban radial-ply tires. (“The underside of the open-wheeled vehicle must conform to an arc of at least 36″, outside edge to outside edge and be no less than 3″ from the road surface.”)

    I’d like to see the sort of racing and drivers as in the 1967 Grand Prix season, but with fuel cells, harnesses, HANS devices, etc. so it wasn’t as deadly.

  23. Brett Says:

    Does the front-end of the CAMMATTE remind anybody else of the original Meyers Manx dune buggy?

  24. HtG Says:

    22 There’s an argument for keeping aero aids in the interest of keeping the cars stable at speed. Go fast enough and cars get light and take off. The original Ford GT40s had noses that lifted. Maybe a slight wing shape for open wheel cars.

    But I agree, races are better in the rain when the aero downforce goes down, and mechanical grip is the key. Also, lots energy is wasted today overcoming drag from wings and diffusers.

  25. HtG Says:

    Sorry, I meant to say ‘a slight wing shape for the underside of open wheel cars.’

  26. C-Tech Says:

    @ #18
    If I remember correctly there was a Can-Am racer, a Chapparral 2C, which used 2 fans driven by a snowmobile motor to suck air from the underside of the car. The nickname was the “Vacuum Cleaner” . It was banned for “safety reasons” because if the fan motor or belts failed then it would lose most of its traction. If you had open specs, then I don’t care what winged or wingless shape you come up with as long as it is competitive. Perhaps a dollar limit of 1 million per car would inspire competitive teams like the “24 hours of Lemons” $500 cap.

  27. C-Tech Says:

    Correction to #26, it was the Chapparral 2J

  28. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Thanks for the info on the “fan car.”. You saved my looking it up.

    Yeah, meth, and maybe even pot would compete with RB as high profit products.

  29. HtG Says:

    Here’s a link to a technical article on Formula1 blown diffusers. At this level of detail, one can see how the engineers are competing. To me this is pretty exciting information, notwithstanding the high cost of subscribing to such a magazine. But for the average fan, fan cars, six wheel cars, and other gross scale differences between cars would be much more interesting, I believe.


  30. Thom Bailey Says:

    FN as a series would die of bordom. That’s why we have spec racing to keep things close so the audience doesn’t go home too soon. John, have you even tuned into F1 lately? A diferent winner every wk. so far! Try street racing some time…that is true unspec. go for. But I haven’t noticed many paying customers, just betting patrons.

  31. Bill Murdock Says:

    A race series with essentially no rules – isn’t that how Can Am started?

  32. Richard Tait Says:

    I disagree with Formula None. The bigger teams would turn it into a fiasco and the smaller teams would complain bitterly (as was the case with FIA WRC). Homologation (where teams must build a certain number of road cars that are virtually identical to the race cars) is the answer. Out of homologation rules we got the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Galant VR-4; Subaru Impreza WRX and Legacy GT; Lanica Delta HF Integrale; Nissan Pulsar GT-R; Toyota Celica GT-4; and the mighty Ford Escort and Sierra RS Cosworths. I say run-watcha-brung, but be sure that whatcha brung is run on Sunday and then sold on Monday.

  33. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Thanks for that link. Interesting stuff.