Lewis Hamilton wins Russian Grand Prix in 1-2 victory for Mercedes

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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton coasted to a comfortable victory and led a Mercedes one-two finish at the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday to tighten his grip on a sixth World Championship.

In a calamitous few laps for Ferrari, the Italian team threw away a possible one-two finish of its own after Sebastian Vettel broke down and Charles Leclerc dropped from first to third.

Valtteri Bottas followed teammate Hamilton home at the Sochi Autodrome as Mercedes secured the full quota of points.

Hamilton now leads Bottas in the championship by 73 points. Leclerc is 107 points behind the British driver.

Max Verstappen finished fourth ahead of Red Bull teammate Alex Albon, who started last after he crashed out during qualifying.

“What an effort, guys,” said a jubilant Hamilton on the radio after the race. “What an incredible job. That is exactly what we needed. We never give up.”

Ferrari had already got themselves into a needless mess before Vettel retired with an engine failure on lap 28.

Vettel got the jump on pole-sitter Leclerc on the long drag down to the second corner but a curious pre-race arrangement had Leclerc calling for the roles to be reversed.

It appears that the team had agreed that if Vettel benefited from Leclerc’s slipstream and moved ahead of the Frenchman off the start line, he would have to concede the position.

Ferrari were on the radio to tell Vettel to let Leclerc by, but the four-time world champion resisted the order.

Leclerc protested over the radio.

“You put me behind and I respected everything,” he said. “We will talk later.”

The Ferrari pit wall were on to Vettel again, but again the German refused to let his teammate pass, fearing that he would be exposed to Hamilton in third place if he slowed down.

Leclerc was the first to stop on lap 22, but instead of calling in Vettel the next time around Vettel was left on old tires as his teammate put in several fast laps on his fresh tires.

Four laps after Leclerc pitted, Vettel was eventually called in and by the time he emerged he had fallen behind his teammate and into second place.

Just moments later disaster struck as Vettel broke down with an engine failure.

It was then to get worse for the Scuderia. With Vettel’s broken down machine in a precarious position, the virtual safety car was deployed to slow down the field, allowing Hamilton, who had yet to pit, a free stop for tires and the lead of the race.

George Russell then crashed out in his Williams and the full safety car was deployed. Ferrari decided to pit Leclerc and put him on new tires for the remaining 20 laps.

But their decision saw him lose a position to Bottas, and on a track where overtaking is difficult, Leclerc was unable to pass the Mercedes driver.

Hamilton crossed the line 3.8 seconds clear of his teammate to claim his ninth win of the season and end Ferrari’s three-race winning streak.

“It is incredible to have this result considering how quick (Ferrari) were off the start,” said Hamilton. “To keep up with them was an incredibly hard task.”

Reflecting on his probable sixth title, the Mercedes driver added: “I try not to think about the championship and take it one race at a time.

“We don’t want to stumble. It feels like a long time coming, but the first time, too, so that is why this win is special.”

Leclerc, meanwhile, declined to blame the team or his teammate for the mid-race drama.

“I will always trust the team but the tactic was me giving the slipstream and for us to be one-two, which happened, but then I don’t know.

“I need to speak to the team to know the situation better.”

McLaren driver Carlos Sainz was sixth, ahead of Sergio Perez in a Racing Point. Rounding out the top ten were Lando Norris of McLaren, Kevin Magnussen of Haas and Nico Hulkenberg in a Renault.

Source: AutoBlog.com

In Michigan steel towns, tariffs remain popular but jobs are still disappearing

ECORSE/RIVER ROUGE, Mich. — Some steelworkers who cheered President Donald Trump’s tariffs on foreign steel last year are now being laid off, an unintended consequence of his America First policy as United States Steel Corp reacts to sagging demand from automakers reeling from higher steel prices.

Steel prices rallied following the tariffs imposed in March 2018, feeding optimism in U.S. steel towns. But higher prices later hurt demand from automakers already squeezed by slowing demand for traditional gasoline-powered sedans.

Trump’s tariffs still enjoy support in the Rust Belt communities that helped elect him in 2016. But U.S. Steel’s layoffs, first reported by Reuters last month, demonstrate some of the risks he faces as he seeks re-election in 2020.

Steel prices peaked in May 2018 and have retreated to pre-tariff levels after American factories boosted production and demand weakened.

In June, U.S. Steel idled a blast furnace at the local Great Lakes Works plant in the cities of Ecorse and River Rouge in Michigan, an electoral swing state. Two months later, the company decided to temporarily let go of 48 employees and warned of up to 200 more layoffs by the end of September.

The Great Lakes plant, situated along the Detroit river, primarily serves the automotive industry in Michigan. Top U.S. auto producer General Motors Co is closing production at three assembly plants and last year said tariffs on imported steel cost it $1 billion.

In the primary metal manufacturing industry in Wayne County, Mich., home of Great Lakes Works and “The Twin Steel Cities” of Ecorse and River Rouge, employment in March was down 3.3 percent from a year earlier.

City leaders said that without the tariffs, the situation could have been worse, noting that as far back as 2002, the local plant was on the verge of closing.

“Imported steel was killing us,” said River Rouge Mayor Michael Bowdler, a democrat, who was laid off in 1981 from Great Lakes Works. “Something had to be done.”

Last year, U.S. Steel restarted two blast furnaces and hired back about 800 workers at its Granite City plant in Illinois. Trump declared in front of cheering workers that U.S. Steel was “back”.

Since March 1, 2018, U.S. Steel’s shares have plunged 76% on softening steel prices and concerns about its debt-fueled investment program. The Pittsburgh-based company’s reliance on the auto sector has exacerbated the pain, and data compiled by Goldman Sachs shows U.S. Steel’s production costs are among the world’s highest.

Last week, U.S. Steel warned that falling steel prices would make its third-quarter loss steeper than expected. It said the blast furnace at the Great Lakes Works plant will remain idled through at least the end of the year.

It has proposed a $600 million investment to upgrade Great Lakes Works and make it more efficient, a commitment local officials called encouraging. But U.S. Steel wants a tax break from Ecorse and River Rouge to carry out the investment, which will not create new jobs.

It has negotiated a similar tax deal in Gary, Ind.

Democratic Conundrum 

News of temporary layoffs at Great Lakes Works spurred criticism of Trump’s trade policies from Democrats including presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke and Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib.

But widespread support for tariffs from members of both parties in manufacturing communities has made it difficult for Democratic candidates to campaign with a distinctive message in swing states like Michigan, which Trump won by less than 11,000 votes in 2016.

A majority of manufacturing workers surveyed in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll had a favorable view of Trump’s policies concerning them.

“We wouldn’t have the demises of some of these industries, had we done this 30-40 years ago,” said James Perry, executive director at the Downriver Community Conference (DCC), which runs retraining programs for laid-off workers in Southeast Michigan.

U.S. Steel is the largest employer in the two cities and among the biggest sources of revenues.

The steelmaker accounts for a third of Ecorse’s revenues. City officials are also eyeing another $100,000 in new revenues from the company’s proposed investment at Great Lakes Works. That is a lifeline for the city of 9,600 residents, which until two years ago was battling a financial emergency and was run by a state-appointed emergency manager.

The city of River Rouge, which was under Michigan’s financial oversight for six years, gets 60% of its revenues from U.S. Steel and DTE Energy. But the Detroit-based energy company has announced it will close its River Rogue plant in 2021.

In Ecorse, U.S. Steel runs internship and job shadowing programs for students and pays for the city’s annual fireworks.

In December 2008, the plant was shut for nine months, with more than 2,000 lay-offs that in turn hurt restaurants and retailers in River Rouge, aggravating the city’s fiscal crisis.

When the plant reopened, Bowdler said, excited residents came out in hordes to watch thick clouds of white smoke billowing from its chimneys. Some city officials had tears in their eyes, he said.

The latest layoffs are a blow to employees and families. A laid-off worker from the Great Lakes works said the unemployment benefits of up to $362 a week were not enough to pay her bills.

“You can’t survive on that,” Perry agreed.

(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and David Gregorio)

Source: AutoBlog.com

Explosions and subsidies: Why hydrogen is struggling to catch on in Korea

SEOUL — Aiming to cash in on a major push by South Korea to promote fuel cell vehicles, Sung Won-young opened a hydrogen refueling station in the city of Ulsan last September. Just one year on, he’s thinking about closing it down.

Sung’s new hydrogen station is one of five in Ulsan, home to Hyundai Motor Co’s main plants and roughly 1,100 fuel cell cars – the most of any South Korean city.

The government paid the 3 billion won ($2.5 million) cost – six times more than fast charging equipment for battery electric cars – and the two pumps, located next to Sung’s gasoline stand, see a steady flow of Hyundai Nexo SUVs daily.

Even so, Sung hasn’t been able to turn a profit, hamstrung as the equipment can only refuel a limited number of cars each day and by the government’s decision to set retail hydrogen prices low to bring consumers on board.

“All hydrogen stations will have no choice but to shut down unless the government subsidizes operating costs,” Sung, 32, told Reuters. “Otherwise, this place will just become a 3-billion-won chunk of steel.”

If those impediments to commercial viability were not enough, a fatal hydrogen storage tank explosion this year has spurred protests against the government and Hyundai’s ambitious campaign to promote the zero-emissions fuel.

Calling hydrogen power the “future bread and butter” of Asia’s No. 4 economy, President Moon Jae-in has declared himself an ambassador for the technology and targeted 850,000 fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) on South Korean roads by 2030.

That’s no mean feat given fewer than 3,000 have been sold so far. Japan, also a big proponent of FCVs and with an auto market three times larger, plans 800,000 in the same timeframe.

The challenges of building out refueling infrastructure in South Korea underscore the long and uphill battle FCVs face to widespread adoption at a time when electric cars are stealing much of the green car limelight.

And for the government and Hyundai, the only automaker selling a fuel cell car in the country, it is an expensive project with no guarantee of success.

Moon is set to spend the equivalent of $1.8 billion in central government funds to subsidize car sales and to build refueling stations for five years at current subsidy levels, Reuters calculations show.

Subsidies cut the Nexo’s price by half to about 35 million won ($29,300) and sales of the model, launched in March 2018, have surged this year. In contrast, Japanese subsidies fund one third of the hydrogen fuel cell Toyota Mirai, bringing its price to around $46,200.

Some critics argue Hyundai is the main beneficiary of the government’s ardent backing, but the automaker also has much at stake. With its suppliers, it plans to invest the equivalent of $6.5 billion by 2030 on hydrogen R&D and facilities.

“There are risks that come with the need to make large-scale investments in building (hydrogen car) production facilities, securing supply channels and establishing sales networks,” Hyundai said in an e-mailed statement.

High Pressure

In May, a hydrogen storage tank at a government research project in the rural city of Gangneung exploded. It destroyed a complex about half the size of a soccer field, killing two and injuring six. A preliminary investigation found the blast was caused by a spark after oxygen found its way into the tank.

“One victim was blown away by pressure and then killed after being hit by rock,” said Kong Gikwang, a lawyer who represents the family of one of the two who died in a lawsuit against the research complex.

One month later, there was an explosion at a hydrogen refueling station in Norway. This week, a hydrogen gas leak and subsequent fire at a South Korean chemical plant caused three workers to suffer burns.

Such safety concerns have fueled protests by South Korean resident groups worried about hydrogen facilities being built in their areas.

Kim Jong-ho, who began a month-long hunger strike against a planned fuel cell power plant in the port city of Incheon two days before the Gangneung blast, said the explosion refocused attention from pollution risks of hydrogen production to safety. Incheon has since agreed to review the safety and environmental impact of the plant.

Potential station operators have also gotten cold feet since the explosions.

Pyeongtaek city in April picked two gasoline stand operators to run hydrogen stands but within three months, both decided to bow out, forcing the city to restart its search.

“At first, I had great interest. But once I looked closely, I realized the government was pushing for something that can’t make profits,” one of the prospective operators said, asking not to be identified.

“And I couldn’t live worrying about whether there would be an explosion.”

To counter such fears, the government is holding briefings for residents, while Hyundai said it is working to convince consumers of hydrogen’s safety with information promoted through YouTube and social media.

2019 Hyundai Nexo

‘Valley of Death’

Despite government plans for 114 hydrogen stations – key for the widespread adoption of FCVs – to be built by end-2019, only 29 have been completed. Difficulties in gaining funds from local governments or businesses meant to help shoulder half the costs, delays in finding sites and opposition from residents have also hobbled efforts.

Those constructing the stations know they are in for a slog.

“There will be a period of going through the valley of death,” said Yoo Jong-soo, CEO of a consortium that has been tasked with building 100 stations but that does not expect to make money until 2025.

The consortium, which includes Hyundai, has also called on the government to subsidize operating costs for hydrogen stands. Such a move is under consideration, an industry ministry official told Reuters, declining to be identified as the plan has not been finalized.

“This will only increase the burden for taxpayers who have to pay for the government’s hydrogen society splurge,” said Ryu Yen-hwa, a former Hyundai Motor engineer and auto analyst who believes FCVs do not make commercial sense.

Just last month, Moon’s administration announced it would more than double spending on the ‘hydrogen economy’ to over 500 billion won next year.

That includes 359 billion won on FCVs and refueling stations, up 52% from this year and a huge leap from the 29.8 billion won spent in 2018.

2019 Hyundai Nexo

Driver Frustrations

Hyundai, which touts the Nexo as an “air purifier on the road”, is banking on Seoul’s aggressive targets to help it achieve economies of scale and bring down costs.

It aims to cut the cost of a hydrogen car before subsidies to 50 million won once annual FCV production reaches 35,000. It hopes to make 40,000 per year by 2022, compared with plans for 11,000 next year.

In the meantime, however, the constraints around refueling and the limited number of stations are causing much frustration.

Hydrogen stand operator Sung said while refueling itself takes about 5-7 minutes, the next driver must wait another 20 minutes before sufficient pressure builds in the storage tank to supply the hydrogen or the car’s tank will not be full.

That means he can only service about 100 fuel cell cars a day, compared to up to 1,000 at his gasoline stand. Many drivers can also not be bothered to wait 20 minutes and leave without a full tank.

Choi Gyu-ho, who bought his Nexo to take advantage of low fuel prices, also noted that a lack of stations elsewhere made it hard to leave Ulsan.

“It is very inconvenient. I feel anxious when I drive out of the city,” he said.

Source: AutoBlog.com

Rideshare drivers: How to make the most of your vehicle’s interior

When it comes to the ratings Uber and Lyft passengers give to drivers, nothing effects their opinions about the quality of a ride more than how clean and well-kept the interior of the car is.

Yes, other factors are equally important, such as whether or not the driver took the best route or how safely he drove. But the quality and cleanliness of the interior, where the passenger actually sits and experiences the ride, is no less important than those other factors.

If you’re a driver, it’s easy to overlook the importance of your car’s interior for a couple of reasons. That’s because you don’t sit where the passenger sits, so you don’t see it through their eyes. Another possible reason is that you have gotten used to the mess. Dirt and wear accumulate so gradually that we simply become accustomed to it, but for someone who is seeing it for the very first time, it may be quite shocking.

So, let’s look at some obvious and not so obvious ways you can improve the experience for your passengers by putting a little time and effort into your car’s interior.

General cleanliness — the key to better ratings and more tips

This should be an easy one one, but I can’t tell you how many Ubers I’ve gotten into where the driver was obviously oblivious to this important ratings factor.

I’ve seen Uber cars with all kinds of dirt and trash on the seats and floors. Gum stuck on the seats, candy wrappers on the floor — things that you would think any driver with half a brain would clean up before allowing passengers to get in. But it’s amazing how often drivers either don’t notice or don’t care.

If a passenger sees old, chewed gum stuck on one of your seats, they will surely knock off a few stars when they rate you. And it will increase the likelihood that they will rate you, as angry passengers are more motivated to leave a rating than content ones.

The best drivers pay attention to every detail, even the smallest ones. But some details are less obvious, like making sure the cupholders are clean or that the steering wheel doesn’t look worn and ratty.

Things you don’t have to do

A lot of advice columns tell drivers they need to thoroughly wash their cars every day. We’re not going to tell you that because it’s not necessarily so. Passengers do have a tolerance for a certain bit of exterior uncleanliness.

My rule of thumb is, if the car appears no dirtier than you would expect it to appear after a single day of work, then it’s fine. Passengers are pretty good about understanding that you can’t take your car to the car wash after every trip, so they don’t expect it to be perfectly pristine.

If it’s a rainy day, passengers will understand if your floormats are wet or your windows are dirty. They don’t expect you to get the car washed immediately after the rain ends, but they will be less tolerant come the next day. If it’s autumn and there are a lot of dead leaves on the ground, a few leaves on your floormats is acceptable. Passengers are not going to be so understanding if there are two days’ worth of leaves on your floor.

There may be times when your car looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in a week after just a day of work. In those cases you should get it thoroughly cleaned, but normally, full-time drivers can go four to five days in between major cleanings, as long as they pick up any trash and do a light cleaning of the interior and exterior of the car.

I use a micro fiber car duster, which are available for both the exterior and interior of cars. They do an excellent job of removing surface dust and dirt and making your car look almost newly washed. During periods of good weather, these can easily get you more than a week between major cleanings.

These dusters don’t just push the dust around. They actually lift them off your car and trap them in the duster itself, and they last an amazingly long period of time. I’m still wondering where all the dust has gone in mine because it’s still working great after more than a year.

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Beyond cleaning

Beyond basic cleaning, there are a lot of other things you can do to improve your car interior for your passenger’s comfort.

Seats: If you have ugly seats or seats permanent stains and spots, you could cover them with waterproof universal seat covers. I only recommend these, however, if your seats look really bad and you can’t afford a more expensive solution. Because these seat covers are pretty ugly and will not delight your passengers. However, you have to be the judge. If your seats are even worse without them, then they might be a good solution for you.

Replace cloth seats with leather: If you have cloth seats — a definite downer for passengers — you could greatly improve your ratings and tips with leather seats. There are companies that can install them for you, but it’s relatively expensive, starting at around $1,500.

It might make sense, though, in two scenarios. One, if you were thinking about getting a new car with leather seats, this could be the cheaper option, as long as your current vehicle has a lot of life left in it.

The other scenario in which it might make sense is if you’re in a situation where you have to get a new car. In a case like this, you could potentially save a lot of money by purchasing a car with cloth seats and having leather installed afterwards. For cars that are sold with either a cloth or leather option, the is usually part of a higher trim option. These options can cost $4,000 to $5,000 more. If that’s the case, it would be much cheaper to buy the cloth option and then pay $1,500 for an aftermarket leather upgrade.

Floors: Of course floormats are very important. You may opt for the hard rubber all-weather mats that will give you nearly 100 percent protection. However, you have competing needs. You want to protect your car, but you also want to give your passengers the best possible experience.

The hard rubber all-weather mats are ugly and will make your car feel more like a bus than a luxury vehicle. While they will completely protect the carpet underneath from any water or dirt, the mats themselves get dirty pretty easily and it usually takes a good soaking at the car wash to get them clean again. Plus, over time, the edges tend to start curling and warping, which makes them look terrible.

In my opinion, the carpeted mats are your best bet. They give you the best balance between your two competing interests of protecting your car while pleasing your passengers. They don’t claim to be 100 percent effective in protecting your flooring, but I’ve found they do a fine job. Even on rainy days, I’ve never had any problem with wet spots on my underlying flooring. The mats themselves can get pretty wet, but they absorb enough of the water that it rarely, if ever, reaches the base flooring.

The carpeted mats are also very easy to clean. All you have to do is shake them out and perhaps hit them with a brush a couple of times and they’ll look good as new to your passengers. And if you vacuum them every time you go to the carwash, they’ll keep looking for a good long time too.

They’re cheap as well – less a tenth of some of the all-weather hard rubber mats. I buy a new set twice a year and they keep the back seat looking brand spanking new all the time. It’s amazing how far new carpeted floor mats go in making a great overall impression on your passengers.

Steering wheel: If your steering wheel is showing signs of age, you can easily find a good gel carbon fiber cover for them. And it may even improve the feel under your hands.

This is one of those things you might not realize passengers notice or care about. They probably aren’t consciously aware of it either. But when they get in a car and notice anything that looks worn and old, it leaves a bad impression on them. The more you can cover up worn parts with something that makes them look new, the better off you’ll be when it comes to ratings and tips.

Sickness bags: Yes, sickness bags. While they will not do anything directly to improve the appearance of your car’s interior, they may just save you from having some of that interior ruined by a late night drunk.

Portable vacuum: A good, portable wet/dry vacuum is invaluable. You can pick one up for under $20. The ability to vacuum out your car whenever you need to — without having to wait until your next car wash — will do wonders for your riders’ satisfaction.

Car organizer: A disorganized mess in the front seat will be far more noticeable to your passengers than it will be to you. You’ve grown used to it and they’re seeing it for the first time. What’s normal to you will be an eyesore to them, so organize everything you have with you as you drive each day with a neat car organizer.

Get some perspective

When it comes to making the most out of your car’s interior, it’s all about the details. Pay attention to every single minute detail that you or your passengers can see. If it’s visible from the back seat, you have to make sure it’s clean and tidy.

Also, sit in the back seat once every couple of days and take a look at your car from the passenger’s point of view. I do this all the time, and I’m always amazed at how I see dirty spots or other messes that, from the driver’s seat, I didn’t even know were there.

If you pay attention to the interior details of your vehicle, it really will go a long way in improving your ratings and your tips.

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Source: AutoBlog.com

McLaren 720S MSO Apex Collection celebrates high-speed grip

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McLaren continues to toy with the 720S while we wait for the supercar’s next major revision. A little too late for Fashion Week but just in time for the fall/winter season, the MSO division has released the Apex Collection for the coupe. The collection name refers to apexes at five famous European grand prix circuits, the same tracks McLaren has used to test and reaffirm its brand values for more than 50 years. A crowning touch is that each car is identified with the high speed that a McLaren performance driver achieved through a particular apex.

The speeds, corners, and tracks are: 103 miles per hour through Eau Rouge at Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps, 85 mph through Mobil 1 Kurve at Germany’s Hockenheim, 110 mph through Abbey at Great Britain’s Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit, 104 mph through Signes at Circuit Paul Ricard in France, and 90 mph jinking through the Ascari Chicane at Monza in Italy.

The Apex Collection builds on the 720S Track Pack, which sheds about 50 pounds and adds carbon fiber exterior trim, a sports exhaust, and the McLaren Telemetry System. Further customization involves MSO extended side sills, extended shift paddles behind an MSO steering wheel marked at the 12 o’clock position with a dual-color Alcantara, and an MSO throttle pedal and key shell. Visual identifiers outside are limited to MSO Apex logos on the rear fenders.

McLaren will make three of each theme, for 15 cars total, six of them in right-hand drive, all reserved for the European market. They’ll each command £288,813 in the U.K. ($355,641 U.S.) to take home, before options. That’s a £36,000 ($44,200 or so) premium over the standard 720S Track Pack, but MSO throws in a few extras beyond the exclusivity. Every buyer gets a Formula 1 Paddock Pass to a grand prix, and a shotgun ride in a 720S for a Pirelli Hot Lap during the weekend. 

And as a sly way to goose participation in the Pure McLaren track driving events, the English carmaker invites Apex Collection buyers to learn how to increase their skill at apex speeds at one of the courses held across Europe. Of course, a Paddock Pass and Pure McLaren combined cost a whole heap less than £36,000, but exclusive clubs cost exclusive money.

Source: AutoBlog.com

Meet the engineer who fixes what car makers can’t

Mannings founded the company when he was a schoolboy, selling parts to make Honda mopeds (the X8R in particular, hence the company name) go faster. He then moved on to selling undercar neon lights on the internet, cashing in on the Fast and the Furious craze by sending parcels from his university student digs.

While there, he noticed his girlfriend had to use a pencil to open the boot of her Renault Mégane. The release button had failed and a replacement was £150 from the dealer. Mannings took the lock to pieces, saw a tiny plastic ring had disintegrated and made her a new one from stainless steel. It worked perfectly and will never break again. He began selling them online and it is still one of X8R’s core products.

That led him to look for similar faults in other cars. By scanning forums and talking to mechanics, he soon found plenty to keep him busy. His current best-seller is also a boot lock fix but, this time, it’s for the Mk1 Nissan Qashqai.

Mannings says: “If you start looking, you’ll see Qashqais with duct tape holding on the boot handle. They’ve got flimsy mountings and they just snap. A new one is £70 from Nissan. You need to pay extra to get it painted and you know it’ll just break again in time. We do a kit to fix the original part and make it stronger for £18.90. We sell about 10 every day.”

It may sound simple but perfecting and testing the fix took Mannings nine months. The X8R unit is littered with parts of old car that have been used for testing and measuring. On the desk is a Vauxhall Astra door mirror, being tried with a new 3D-printed prototype cover. Vauxhall doesn’t sell the easily smashed bottom half of the outer shell and there’s an eager market for them. Another strange contraption turns out to be a Ford Galaxy handbrake assembly. X8R’s new £35 fix for a snapped cable takes 30 minutes to fit, versus a full day for the main dealer to replace the original, flawed part.

Two designers work on the technical drawings and prototype parts are 3D printed before being tested. The components are then built to X8R’s spec in various factories around the world before being sent to Ramsgate.

Some parts are exported out of the country again. Mannings points to X8R-branded crates that are on their way to his distributors in the US and South Africa. They’re filled with cast-iron exhaust manifolds for BMWs (to replace the crack-prone stainless steel originals) and air suspension pump refurbishment kits for Land Rovers and Audis (£15, whereas a dealer will only sell you a new pump for £300-plus).

Other, smaller crates are filled with parts that are being picked and sent to customers in the UK and mainland Europe, who have found X8R via eBay, Amazon or a link from a forum. The crate labels feature the names of numerous car makers: reinforcements for Volkswagen Beetle door handles, Mercedes-Benz gearlever bushes, Toyota Prius boot releases and BMW swirl flap, DISA valve and Vanos repair kits.

Source: AutoCar.co.uk

Charles Leclerc takes fourth straight pole at Russian Grand Prix

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SOCHI, Russia — Charles Leclerc clinched his fourth straight pole position and championship leader Lewis Hamilton was second in qualifying at Formula One’s Russian Grand Prix on Saturday. Leclerc finished 0.402 seconds clear of Hamilton, with Leclerc’s Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel third fastest at the Sochi Autodrome.

Hamilton is bidding for his first win since the summer break and his Mercedes team is often the dominant force in Russia, having won all of the five races staged here. Hamilton is 65 points ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas in his quest for a sixth world title, but looks to have his work cut out against Leclerc.

Alex Albon crashed out of qualifying. The London-born Thai spun at the slow-speed Turn 13 before slamming into the barriers. The driver was unhurt.

Vettel finished ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen but the Dutch driver will be bumped back five places following a grid penalty for changes to his engine.

Ferrari, winless in the opening half of the season, is now the team to beat as it seeks a fourth consecutive victory.

While Vettel ended his 13-month losing streak in Singapore last weekend, it is Leclerc who continues to impress in his opening season with the Scuderia.

This marked his sixth pole this season and it is also the 10th straight round Leclerc has out-qualified Vettel, the four-time world champion, who was 0.425 slower in qualifying.

“It definitely feels great to be back on pole,” said Leclerc, who became the first Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher to claim four straight poles.

Leclerc is 96 points behind Hamilton in the championship, with a total of only 156 to play for in the remaining six races. Hamilton has not been on pole since the German Grand Prix in July, a streak of five races, but was delighted to have split the Ferraris with his final effort.

“I gave it everything I could in the end and I am so glad it came together,” Hamilton said. “I wasn’t expecting to be on the front row so I am really happy.”

Bottas finished fifth in qualifying. The Finn will join Vettel on the second row following Verstappen’s penalty.

Earlier Saturday, McLaren said the team will be powered by Mercedes from 2021, ending its association with Renault at the end of the 2020 campaign. The long-term agreement will run until at least 2024.

Source: AutoBlog.com

U.S. labor judge rules that Tesla broke labor law

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Tesla interfered with legitimate union organizing and must read a notice to workers explaining their rights in a meeting requiring attendance from Chief Executive Elon Musk, a U.S. labor judge ruled on Friday.

The company committed a series of violations of the National Labor Relations Act in 2017 and 2018, Amita Baman Tracy, a California administrative law judge ruled in a court filing.

Among the violations of the law cited in the filing was a tweet sent by Musk in May 2018.

“Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare”, Musk wrote in the tweet from last year.

The tweet amounted to “threatening employees” with loss of stock options if they vote in favor of the union, the judge said in her ruling on Friday.

The ruling has called on the electric carmaker to hold a meeting at its California assembly plant where either Musk or his agent must inform the workers that the National Labor Relations Board has concluded that Tesla broke the law.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Friday’s ruling.

In the past, the company has been plagued by safety complaints brought by workers, allegations that Tesla denies. Workers have said that long hours and pressure to deliver vehicles quickly takes a toll, and some have pushed for a union.

Source: AutoBlog.com

These brand-new luxury cars are selling at a huge discount

  • Image Credit: Jaguar

Luxury cars at discount prices

Just because someone has enough money to afford a luxury car doesn’t mean they’re not looking for a good deal. Fortunately, there are plenty of great options for anyone interested in a premium driving and ownership experience but still wanting to save big off the sticker price.
We’ve assembled an assortment of premium-branded vehicles currently for sale in the States that are at least 10 percent off their sticker prices and sorted them in descending order based on the percentage of their discount. We’ve included each vehicle’s average transaction price, too, and limited the list to vehicles that sticker for more than $50,000.
Interestingly, the list includes a lot of Jaguars and a few BMWs, among others, and covers sports cars to sport utility vehicles and everything in between. There’s even one fully electric option.
We’ve created one slide for each automaker represented on the list, and listed off each vehicle from that brand that’s selling for at least 10 percent off the price on its window sticker. Click on the image above to get started.

  • Image Credit: Jaguar

Jaguar

2019 Jaguar XF:
Retail Price: $68,620
Average Transaction: $58,045
Savings: $10,575
Percentage Discount: 15.4%

2019 Jaguar F-Pace:
Retail Price: $53,686
Average Transaction: $46,260
Savings: $7,426
Percentage Discount: 13.8%

2019 Jaguar XJ:
Retail Price: $78,852
Average Transaction: $68,556
Savings: $10,286
Percentage Discount: 13%

2019 Jaguar I-Pace:
Retail Price: $79,653
Average Transaction: $70,697
Savings: $8,956
Percentage Discount: 11.2%

Jaguar XF Information

  • Image Credit: BMW

BMW

2019 BMW 7 Series:
Retail Price: $84,645
Average Transaction: $72,822
Savings: $11,823
Percentage Discount: 14%

2019 BMW i8:
Retail Price: $160,644
Average Transaction: $139,883
Savings: $20,761
Percentage Discount: 13%

2019 BMW 6 Series:
Retail Price: $74,324
Average Transaction: $65.061
Savings: $9,263
Percentage Discount: 12.5%

BMW 7 Series Information

  • Image Credit: Maserati

Maserati

2019 Maserati Ghibli:
Retail Price: $78,780
Average Transaction: $68,708
Savings: $10,072
Percentage Discount: 12.8%

2019 Maserati Levante:
Retail Price: $83,534
Average Transaction: $74,090
Savings: $9,445
Percentage Discount: 11.3%

Maserati Ghibli Information

  • Image Credit: Acura

Acura

2019 Acura MDX:
Retail Price: $50,905
Average Transaction: $43,193
Savings: $7,712
Percentage Discount: 15.1%

2019 Acura NSX:
Retail Price: $159,326
Average Transaction: $140,660
Savings: $18,666
Percentage Discount: 11.7%

2019 Acura RLX:
Retail Price: $62,049
Average Transaction: $54,785
Savings: $7,265
Percentage Discount: 11.7%

Acura NSX Information

  • Image Credit: Infiniti

Infiniti

2019 Infiniti QX60:
Retail Price: $52,150
Average Transaction: $45,279
Savings: $6,871
Percentage Discount: 13.2%

2019 Infiniti Q70:
Retail Price: $54,420
Average Transaction: $47,759
Savings: $6,661
Percentage Discount: 12.2%

Infiniti QX60 Information

  • Image Credit: Volvo

Volvo

2019 Volvo XC90:
Retail Price: $60,950
Average Transaction: $53,290
Savings: $7,659
Percentage Discount: 12.6%

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country:
Retail Price: $54,045
Average Transaction: $47,647
Savings: $6,399
Percentage Discount: 11.8%

2019 Volvo XC60:
Retail Price: $51,087
Average Transaction: $45,404
Savings: $5,683
Percentage Discount: 11.1%

Volvo V90 Cross Country Information

  • Image Credit: Cadillac

Cadillac

2019 Cadillac Escalade:
Retail Price: $88,769
Average Transaction: $78,428
Savings: $10,341
Percentage Discount: 11.6%

2019 Cadillac CTS:
Retail Price: $57,252
Average Transaction: $50,591
Savings: $6,661
Percentage Discount: 11.6%

Cadillac Escalade Information

  • Image Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz

2019 Mercedes-Benz S-Class:
Retail Price: $116,069
Average Transaction: $104,224
Savings: $11,844
Percentage Discount: 10.2%

Mercedes-Benz S-Class Information

Source: AutoBlog.com

2020 Chevrolet Blazer 2.0T priced at $33,995

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The 2020 Chevrolet Blazer with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that the automaker announced in July now has a price: $33,995 after destination for the 2LT, so sayeth Cars Direct, after seeing the order guide. Upgrading to the 3LT will cost $38,195. The 2.0T isn’t available on the entry-level Blazer L, which starts at $29,995 with a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder.

The first MSRP figure isn’t far off the speculation when the new engine was announced, which put pricing “around $35,000” to create “a nearly even split between the $28,000 Blazer L and the $40,600 Blazer RS.”

What we didn’t know at the time was that Chevrolet would price the 2.0-liter at only $500 below the 3.6-liter V6. Plumping for the V6 on the 2LT or 3LT costs $34,395 and $38,695 respectively. The turbo four makes 230 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque for the 2.0T versus the 3.6-liter’s 308 hp and 269 lb-ft. That puts the turbo at 37 hp and 70 lb-ft more than the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder, 78 hp and 11 lb-ft less than the V6.

A Chevy spokesperson told Cars Direct that the 2.0T was added to the lineup “to provide Blazer customers more choice.” It will be up to customers to figure out if the choice is worth saving $500 compared to the V6, especially when the turbo motor requires premium gasoline, and the Blazer’s max 4,500-pound tow rating is only possible with the V6.

We’ll need to wait for fuel economy ratings and a First Drive to get a better look at Chevy’s rationale. The EPA rates the 2020 Blazer with the 2.5-liter — which only comes in FWD trim — at 21 city miles per gallon, 27 highway, and 23 combined. The 3.6-liter with front-wheel drive rates 19 city mpg, 26 highway, and 21 combined; the AWD model loses one mpg in the city and the highway, but retains the 21-mpg combined rating. By way of comparison, the Equinox, which is 700 pounds lighter than the Blazer and gets 252 hp from its 2.0T, returns 25 mpg combined with FWD, 24 mpg combined with AWD. 

It shouldn’t be long before we can put everything together, the 2020 Blazer 2.0T expected on dealer lots next month.

Source: AutoBlog.com