Win a trip to space, in case you’re not a billionaire

Autoblog may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Pricing and availability are subject to change. No donation or payment necessary to enter or win this sweepstakes. See official rules on Omaze. 

The billionaire space race has begun. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write in my lifetime. But what about us plebes who don’t have a ten-figure net worth? Are we stuck trying to imagine space through the lens of Star Wars? Do or do not, there is no try. And in this case doing is as easy as entering to win this trip to space on a Virgin Galactic flight, courtesy of Omaze. 

Win Two Seats on One of the FIRST Virgin Galactic Flights to Space – Enter at Omaze

Important things first, you only have until the end of the month to enter. That’s less than 48 hours. So click the link here or the photo above to get started. Second, some details. As I mentioned above, this is a Virgin Galactic flight, one of the first. If you win, you’ll get two tickets, one for you and one for a friend. Scared about take off? Don’t be. This isn’t like Apollo 13. Virgin Galactic flights takeoff and land just like an airplane, only they go much, much higher. Not only will you be able to see Earth in a way that very few people have, you’ll be floating around, experiencing the feeling of weightlessness while doing so. 

There will also be HD cameras recording everything so no need to worry about filming every aspect of this trip. Just experience it. Additionally, Sir Richard Branson will give you a VIP tour of Spaceport America in New Mexico. Not a bad way to spend your time as a faux-billionaire. 

If you haven’t clicked over yet, I’m not really sure what you’re waiting for. Just a reminder, the deadline to enter is August 31, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. Pacific.

Oh, and if you are a billionaire and thinking of entering this sweepstakes, please don’t. Leave something for the rest of us.


Honda Passport caught with a new nose in fresh spy photos

Honda is putting the finishing touches on an face-lifted Passport, and our spies captured these photos of the Ridgeline-inspired styling update that should officially break cover soon if it’s going to hit showrooms in time for the 2022 model year. 

The Passport is essentially a sawed-off Honda Pilot and only dates back to the 2019 model year. The current Pilot debuted three years earlier, and is expected to be replaced with a completely redesigned version for 2023. That too has been spotted, albeit with significantly more camouflage befitting something with a lot more changes in store.

What does this all mean? For starters, we can probably expect the Passport and Ridgeline to continue on their current platforms for at least a little while longer than the Pilot itself – but probably not too long. Given the fact that these Passport prototypes appear production-ready (or at least close to it), it will probably break cover before that all-new Pilot – perhaps even in the coming months as a 2022 model.

Whenever it shows up, hopefully (for Honda’s sake, anyway) it will be a boon to the midsize two-row’s rather uninspiring sales. Honda has sold roughly 31,000 of them through August; in the same period, it sold approximately 91,000 Pilots and 245,000 CR-Vs. 


Ford planning Mach-E updates to extend range in 2022, 2023, and 2024

New Ford Mustang Mach-E lead engineer Donna Dickson stopped by the vlogging studio of former Ford engineer Sandy Munro for an episode of Munro Live where she shared a few tantalizing tidbits about what’s in store for the electric crossover. 

The big news is that there will be range updates in each of the next three model years. At the moment, the Mach-E line-up starts at a minimum of 211 miles of range on the base trim with AWD and the standard range battery, and goes up to a maximum of 305 miles on the California Route 1 with RWD and the extended range battery.

“Its year-over-year improvement,” Dickson told Munro. “So, we’ll go and get additional range-improvement actions coming in for ’22, we have more coming in for ’23, and more coming in for ’24.”

She was coy about exactly how much range engineers wanted to add each year, and how they’d do it, but it will go beyond software and battery chemistry changes. Dickson said, “We know we have to get some weight out to better those numbers.”

Some of the weight savings will come from removing some components and replacing others. For example, when Munro himself tore down the Mach-E’s rear motor, he discovered a mechanical pawl for the parking brake. When he dismantled the frunk, he found a bundle of hoses that could have been attached to a rat king. And there are four pumps at the front of the vehicle, two of them for cooling the motors. Dickson said all those bits were installed as known quantities that could stand up to the automotive use cycle, and were what engineers believed was needed. As real-world data has come back to the team, she said they already plan to get rid of one pump, rework the “overdesigned” hose situation, and replace the pawl with an electronic parking brake.

The range discussion begins at about 26 minutes. However, with a total time of nearly 39 minutes, Munro and Dickson talked a lot more than range. The improvements Ford has planned start right at the front of the Mach-E, with Dickson explaining how EPA regulations influenced the frunk’s design and prevented an automatic hood release. She then said that an OTA update would add an automatic release to every Mach-E that’s already been delivered. Anyone interested in the Mach-E should give the whole thing a watch.


It’s about time: NASCAR gives Wendell Scott’s family his 1963 race trophy

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Wendell Scott’s grandson stood on his tippy toes, leaned over and kissed the trophy that was nearly 60 years in the making.

NASCAR presented Scott’s family a custom trophy commemorating his historic 1963 victory prior to Saturday’s Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Scott was the first and remains the only Black driver to win a race at NASCAR’s top level.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps gave Scott’s son, Frank Scott, the trophy on stage following a pre-race concert and just before driver introductions. Driver Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s lone full-time Black driver, joined several of Scott’s family members on stage for the ceremony.

As they started to leave the dais, Warrick Scott got his chance to pose with the trophy. Instead of holding or hoisting it, he decided to kiss it. It was maybe the most telling scene of what this meant to the family.

Wendell Scott passed Richard Petty with 25 laps remaining at Speedway Park in Jacksonville on Dec. 1, 1963, in the Jacksonville 200. But Buck Baker, who actually finished second, was declared the winner and received the trophy in victory lane.

Race officials discovered hours later that Scott was the actual winner and had lapped the entire field twice. But he was not credited with the victory for another two years, and his family has long pushed for a proper celebration.

“It matters because my father earned it and it was something he had to labor on,” Frank Scott said. “He always wanted to get his trophy and he predicted that he would get his trophy one day. He said, ‘I may not be here with you all, but one day I’ll get my trophy.’”

Scott retired because of injuries suffered in a 1973 crash at Talladega Superspeedway, and the Danville, Virginia, native died in 1990 of spinal cancer.

He was posthumously inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015, two years after the city of Danville awarded Scott a historical marker. The statement on the marker praises Scott for “persevering over prejudice and discrimination, Scott broke racial barriers in NASCAR.” In a 13-year career, Scott notched 20 top-five finishes.

NASCAR picked the regular-season finale for the presentation because of its proximity to Jacksonville and because it comes one day before what would have been Scott’s 100th birthday.

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2022 Kia Niro gets new badge, a few price drops

It would seem that Kia looked at the 2021 Niro and decided it liked everything it saw except for one glaring thing. The small electrified crossover will arrive on dealer lots with no major changes except for the new Kia badge placed on the grille, tailgate, wheel center caps, and steering wheel. The PHEV and Electric versions of the Niro also get the new badging. 

Beyond the car itself, there are some minor updates to pricing and trim levels. Five trims will cross into next year, the same number as now, but with one name change: Touring has become LXS SE. And there are three noteworthy price decreases. The lineup and pricing after a $1,175 destination charge, with any difference from 2021 in parentheses: 

  • LX: $25,865
  • LXS: $27,265
  • LXS SE: $28,765 (currently the Touring, an $800 price drop comes with the trim name change)
  • Touring SE: $29,890 ($1,060 price drop)
  • EX Premium: $31,990 ($960 price drop)

Kia gave the Niro some extra convenience features for the 2021 model year like wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as a proximity entry. The carmaker also raised prices on the LX, LXS, and Touring trims by a couple hundred dollars. The price drop on the LXS SE wipes out this year’s increase and then some.

The Niro plug-in hybrid pricing is found below. 

  • PHEV LXS: $30,765 ($31,940)
  • PHEV EX: $33,390 ($34,565)
  • PHEV EX Premium: $37,665 ($60 price drop)

The Niro Electric offers fewer trim levels, both of which now come standard with a 10.25-inch touchscreen that features navigation. It is eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit. 

  • EV EX: $41,165 ($900 drop)
  • EV EX Premium: $45,825

It’s possible Kia’s guarding its powder to make a Niro-sized bang later this year. Autocar reports Kia will debut a new Niro later this year for a 2023 introduction. The new generation will supposedly adopt “a more overtly SUV shape” outside and take a lot of inspiration for its insides from the Kia HabaNiro concept the brand debuted at the 2019 New York Auto Show. We’ll have to see if that makes it to our shores, or if, like the Sportage, Kia plans a spicier Euro-specific Niro.


Electrify America’s charging app now supports Android Auto, CarPlay

It’s been a long time coming, but if you depend on the Electrify America mobile app to find nearby charging stations, you can soon access the software through your vehicle’s Android Auto or Apple CarPlay infotainment system. Electrify America announced today it’s rolling out support for both systems this week.

The software allows you to find the location of all the approximately 650 charging stations the company operates across the US. You can also see details about each station, including the availability of individual chargers and their capacity. Once you’re at a station, you can then use the software to remotely start and stop a charging session.

While it’s something of a head-scratcher it took Electrify America until 2021 to offer Android Auto and CarPlay support, that functionality is at least now in place as the company works toward nearly tripling its network by the end of 2025. Critically, it’s also another way Electrify America needed to catch up to Tesla. The automaker’s Trip Planner, which you can access through your car’s touchscreen display, will route you to Supercharger locations that are on the way to your next destination.

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The EV boom is pay-dirt for factory machinery makers

DETROIT — The investment surge by both new and established automakers in the electric vehicle market is a bonanza for factory equipment manufacturers that supply the highly automated “picks and shovels” for the prospectors in the EV gold rush.

The good times for the makers of robots and other factory equipment reflect the broader recovery in U.S. manufacturing. After falling post-COVID to $361.8 million in April 2020, new orders surged to almost $506 million in June, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

New electric vehicle factories, funded by investors who have snapped up newly public shares in companies such as EV start-up Lucid are boosting demand. “I’m not sure it’s reached its climax yet. There’s still more to go,” Andrew Lloyd, electromobility segment leader at Stellantis-owned supplier Comau, said in an interview. “Over the next 18 to 24 months, there’s going to be a significant demand coming our way.”

Growth in the EV sector, propelled by the success of Tesla, comes on top of the normal work manufacturing equipment makers do to support production of gasoline-powered vehicles.

Automakers will invest over $37 billion in North American plants from 2019 to 2025, with 15 of 17 new plants in the United States, according to LMC Automotive. Over 77% of that spending will be directed at SUV or EV projects.

Equipment providers are in no rush to add to their nearly full capacity.

“There’s a natural point where we will say ‘No'” to new business, said Comau’s Lloyd. For just one area of a factory, like a paint shop or a body shop, an automaker can easily spend $200 million to $300 million, industry officials said.

‘Wild, Wild West’

“This industry is the Wild, Wild West right now,” John Kacsur, vice president of the automotive and tire segment for Rockwell Automation, told Reuters. “There is a mad race to get these new EV variants to market.”Automakers have signed agreements for suppliers to build equipment for 37 EVs between this year and 2023 in North America, according to industry consultant Laurie Harbour. That excludes all the work being done for gasoline-powered vehicles.

“There’s still a pipeline with projects from new EV manufacturers,” said Mathias Christen, a spokesman for Durr AG, which specializes in paint shop equipment and saw its EV business surge about 65% last year. “This is why we don’t see the peak yet.”

Orders received by Kuka AG, a manufacturing automation company owned by China’s Midea Group, rose 52% in the first half of 2021 to just under 1.9 billion euros ($2.23 billion) – the second-highest level for a 6-month period in the company’s history, due to strong demand in North America and Asia.

“We ran out of capacity for any additional work about a year and a half ago,” said Mike LaRose, CEO of Kuka’s auto group in the Americas. “Everyone’s so busy, there’s no floor space.”

Kuka is building electric vans for General Motors at its plant in Michigan to help meet early demand before the No. 1 U.S. automaker replaces equipment in its Ingersoll, Ontario, plant next year to handle the regular work. Automakers and battery firms need to order many of the robots and other equipment they need 18 months in advance, although Neil Dueweke, vice president of automotive at Fanuc Corp’s American operations, said customers want their equipment sooner. He calls that the “Amazon effect” in the industry.

“We built a facility and have like 5,000 robots on shelves stacked 200 feet high, almost as far as the eye can see,” said Dueweke, who noted Fanuc America set sales and market share records last year.

COVID has also caused issues and delays for some automakers trying to tool up.

R.J. Scaringe, CEO of EV startup Rivian, said in a letter to customers last month that “everything from facility construction, to equipment installation, to vehicle component supply (especially semiconductors) has been impacted by the pandemic.”

However, established, long-time customers like GM and parts supplier and contract manufacturer Magna said they have not experienced delays in receiving equipment.

Another limiting factor for capacity has been the continuing shortage of labor, industry officials said.

To avoid the stress, startups like Fisker have turned to contract manufacturers like Magna and Foxconn, whose buying power enables them to avoid shortages more easily, CEO Henrik Fisker said.

Growing demand, however, does not mean these equipment makers are rushing to expand capacity.

Having lived through downturns in which they were forced to make cuts, equipment suppliers want to make do with what they have, or in Comau’s case, just add short-term capacity, according to Lloyd.

“Everybody’s afraid they’re going to get hammered,” said Mike Tracy, a principal at consulting firm the Agile Group. “They just don’t have the reserve capacity they used to have.”

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Junkyard Gem: 2010 Suzuki Kizashi SE

American Suzuki Motor Corporation filed for bankruptcy in 2012, and new Suzuki-badged cars stopped being sold here the following year (meanwhile, Suzuki went on to create one of the biggest-selling cars in its home market). While many of the United States-market Suzukis of the previous decade had been Daewoos beneath the emblems, the Kizashi sedan was designed and manufactured entirely by Suzuki. There were high hopes – at first – that it would revive the brand’s American fortunes. Here’s a first-model-year example, found in a San Francsico Bay Area self-service yard a few months back.

The word Kizashi means “something great is coming” in Japanese, but the Great Recession and the decreasing popularity of non-truck-shaped new vehicles in the United States kept sales of these cars low (even as Monster Tajima broke the ten-minute barrier in a Suzuki at Pikes Peak). You could buy a new Kizashi here until American Suzuki folded its tent and left in 2013, leaving just two-wheeled Suzukis available here for highway use.

That was unfortunate because the Kizashi provided a lot of value for the price. This Kizashi SE had an MSRP starting at $21,499 (about $27,085 in 2021 dollars), and it had a pleasant interior and a bunch of unexpected standard features.

You got keyless ignition, power seats with memory, 17″ alloy wheels and a pretty decent seven-speaker audio system with USB and Bluetooth inputs (both of which were still uncommon in lower-priced cars at the time). If you upgraded to the GTS or SLS trim levels ($22,499 and $24,399, respectively), you got goodies including a thumping 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system, a power sunroof and 18-inch wheels.

But unless you were selling Hayabusas or KingQuads, 2010 wasn’t a great time to have a Suzuki sign in front of your American showroom. The days of Geo- and Chevrolet-badged Suzukis roaming every American road ended with the Metro and Tracker; by the end, only the Kizashi, SX4 and Grand Vitara remained here.

It appears that a Ford dealership in Pennsylvania sold this car at some point prior to its migration west.

The 2.4-liter four-cylinder made 185 horsepower, better than its four-cylinder Mazda6 and Altima rivals. Smaller-displacement versions of the J24B engine went into the Aerio, Esteem, Sidekick, Tracker, and Vitara; the Grand Vitara got the 2.4.

A six-speed manual transmission was available in the Kizashi’s other trim levels, but SE buyers had to take the CVT.

Those Suzuki dealers – at least, the ones in Siberia or perhaps Nunavut – were taking anything as a Kizashi trade-in for 2012. Yes, there was an all-wheel-drive option available.

In a much warmer market, Maruti Suzuki offered the Kizashi for a few years.


Watch The Hardcore Aston Martin Vantage V12 RS Tear Up The Nurburgring

At around five minutes into the above video, the V12-powered Aston Martin Vantage prototype can be seen racing around the Nurburgring along with other prototypes including the new hybrid Aston Martin DBX. Sadly, the sound is muffled, so we don’t get to hear its V12 powertrain roar very clearly.However, there are some noticeable modifications that suggest this Vantage doesn’t have a standard V8 under the hood. The fenders are much wider than the regular Vantage, there are extra air intakes, and the hood has been modified, which suggests the prototype has a much larger engine.

Takata’s ticking time bombs are still on the road by the millions

Not quite a decade ago, the potential for defective Takata air bags to explode in a crash erupted into the global auto industry’s most complex and far-reaching safety crisis in history. Roughly 100 million of them were recalled worldwide. But Ruy Drisaldi, a 42-year-old originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, never learned of the risks until last December, when the air bag in his wife’s used Honda CR-V exploded after another car backed into hers near their home in the southeastern Mexican city of Merida, killing her.

Neither Drisaldi nor his wife, Janett Perez, an American citizen, had received a single warning about the recall, he says. “Someone needs to be held responsible,” he says. “You buy a car with air bags and assume you’re protected. I now realize all the years we had that car, we were driving with a gun pointed to our heads.”

Although the Takata callbacks have largely faded from the public eye in much of the world, Drisaldi’s story is a reminder that the defective parts continue to put drivers at risk. As of early July, more than 14 million still hadn’t been fixed in the U.S. alone, in addition to an unknown but likely substantial number in the rest of the world. That means that millions of car owners like Drisaldi—especially in countries with weak consumer protections—may remain unaware that the propellant used in their cars’ air bags could be degrading as a result of heat and humidity, turning their vehicles into potential explosion hazards.

At least 37 fatalities and 450 injuries allegedly linked to the defective parts worldwide have been reported to U.S. auto safety regulators. Of the deaths, 19 were in the U.S., while others have been reported from all corners of the globe, including in French Guiana, Nigeria, Brazil, Australia, and China.

Perez’s death, caused by a piece of metal that ruptured the bag and struck her neck, added Mexico to the fatalities list. The next day, a friend from Argentina sent Drisaldi a news clip about the exploding Takata air bag inflators and the worldwide recall that ultimately sent the company into bankruptcy. Honda later confirmed that the driver side air bag in Perez’s SUV exploded.

The incident in Mexico illustrates how auto safety recalls, even for deadly defects, can fly under the radar in parts of the world with weak regulatory regimes. In the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has taken unprecedented steps to not only oversee but also coordinate the industry’s campaign to replace the tens of millions of inflators. An independent monitor also prodded companies into adopting more effective outreach techniques beyond what’s required by law. Nothing similar is going on in Mexico, where companies say there’s not even an effective registration system through which they can locate owners of used cars.

“While the U.S. recall system is flawed, in other countries we see systems that are virtually nonexistent,” says Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies Inc., a consultant and advocacy organization in Rehoboth, Mass.

The death of a driver of a Honda Accord in April is the latest Takata-linked fatality in the U.S. Since then, Honda said it had made more than 100 attempts to reach owners of that particular vehicle through calls, emails, mailed letters and even in-person visits. But in Mexico, companies have mainly used broad outreach campaigns through ads placed in newspapers and notices on websites.

Merida, where Perez was killed, is well-known for heat and humidity. Those are factors investigators have said cause the air bags’ ammonium nitrate propellant to become unstable and prone to ignite with too much force in an accident, shattering the metal inflator canister. Many of the potentially deadly inflators were manufactured at Takata’s plant in Monclova, Mexico, and were exposed to uncontrolled moisture conditions, according to a NHTSA report.

Frank Melton, a lawyer for Perez’s family, says her death “could have been prevented had the same recall efforts used in the U.S. been implemented in Mexico.” Perez was born in Los Angeles, and because of her U.S. citizenship, her family was able to file a claim with the Takata victims’ fund in the U.S. But Mexican citizens who’ve been injured by Takata bags there have no such recourse.

Honda has repaired about 72% of its affected cars in Mexico, compared with 89% in the U.S. That means it has yet to fix almost 114,000 vehicles in Mexico. Toyota’s 41% rate there means almost 144,000 owners may be driving unaware of the potentially deadly air bags. General Motors says it’s repaired just 36% of its vehicles with recalled Takata bags in Mexico, leaving 213,000 such vehicles with potential problems.

Nissan and Mitsubishi declined to share information on repaired cars but said they’re working to reach customers. Ford and Toyota didn’t reply to requests for comment.

Honda defended its outreach efforts in Mexico, saying it’s tried to increase awareness and track down owners of recalled vehicles. “We proactively do everything within our reach to find the owners of vehicles that have been recalled,” says spokesman Fernando Maqueo.

As cars change hands to second, third and even fourth owners, it gets harder for carmakers to locate them, says Chris Martin, regulatory and legal communications manager at Honda in the U.S.

Automakers in the U.S. are required to alert drivers about recalls using mailed notices and rely on state vehicle-registration systems for addresses. For the Takata recalls, most automakers have used multiple sources of driver information that are updated more frequently than state systems, such as insurers and repair-shop data. They’ve also used e-mail, postcards, certified mail, and targeted social media ads, according to a January report by the NHTSA-appointed monitor overseeing the campaign.

“We’ve gone to really unprecedented extents in the U.S. to repair these, using lots of different outreach mechanisms including even knocking on doors,” Martin says. In Mexico, there is no equivalent vehicle registry, Maqueo says.

Mexico’s consumer protection agency, Profeco, pointed Bloomberg News to a recall alert on its website and didn’t respond to additional questions on the disparity between efforts to reach car owners there and in the U.S.

Perez’s death is the only one tied to a faulty Takata air bag in Mexico, Honda says. Experts say there’s no global database or investigative process used by authorities to know whether that’s true.

“Cases are tied to these failures only when companies acknowledge the problem,” says Alejandro Furas, head of the New Car Assessment Program for Latin America and the Caribbean. The nonprofit has been lobbying governments in the region to upgrade safety rules. “We’re regrettably in the hands of the industry. The companies know this and take advantage of it.” (Among the program’s donors is Bloomberg Philanthropies, a nonprofit headed by Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg Businessweek parent Bloomberg LP.)

Honda’s Martin acknowledges that other Takata-related deaths could have gone unreported in parts of the world where the problem isn’t well-known or that lack the same regulatory and safety infrastructure that exists in the U.S. “If somebody doesn’t tell us or a government official about it, there’s no way to be sure,” he says. “People picking up the pieces after a crash may not know what they’re looking at.

Indeed, Kevin Fitzgerald, a former Takata propellant engineer who resigned in 2014 and cooperated with the U.S. government’s investigation of the supplier, says he’s skeptical that only one injury and one fatality have occurred in Mexico. “That’s awful hard to believe,” he says. “I just cannot wrap my head around that.”

Furas says Mexico—and Latin America as a whole—needs governments to get ahead of these problems by setting up vehicle certification systems. But that’s no easy task. “The truth is Latin American governments don’t like these kinds of regulations,” he says. “They require investments.”

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