A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird:
2012 Porsche 911 officially revealed
The new, totally redesigned Porsche 911 is finally here, and wow! What a total departure! This new model has three-and a half-doors, is powered by a front-mounted V-7 engine that runs on juiced turnips and is built out of equal parts carbonfibre and pÃ¢tÃ© de foie gras.
Only joking. In fact, the new 911 isn't about to upset any Porsche purists with radical changes. Like The Who song says, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
The same, but different. Porsches are always about refining an already excellent car with incremental changes. They've been at this for 48 years with the 911. Let's take a look at the details on this new one.
First, the new car is slightly longer, by four inches. The extended wheelbase allows that classic flat-six to creep a little farther forward, taming the pendulum effect of hanging the engine out back. It's a glacier's march towards a mid-engined layout.
The new 911 is also lower, slipperier and lighter, with clean-burning 3.4-litre and 3.8-litre engines making a nice round 350 horsepower and 400 h.p. in the base Carrera and the Carrera S. Both cars will sprint to 100 kilometres per hour in the low four-second range.
So it's a bit faster and a bit more fuel-efficient, and the interior is a bit nicer. No major changes then. Well, there is one: the 911 is now going to be the first car available with a seven-speed manual transmission.
That's right, seven gears, not counting reverse. My bicycle only has one more than that. It sounds silly, but with automatic transmissions having eight gears these days, why not one more for the manual?
U of A researcher developing cow-based plastics
How about a nice cow interior in your next new car? No . . . no, not leather. Cow.
If you are a vegetarian, you have my permission to run screaming into the hills at this point. Also, if you're squeamish, I suggest skipping ahead.
David Bressler, an associate professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Food, Nutrition and Agricultural Science has been spending his days trying to figure out what to do with mad cow parts left over from the Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis outbreak in 2003. These tidbits include such delicacies as the skulls, brains, nerves, spinal cords and eyeballs of cows that went cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.
Bressler's method uses high-heat to break down the component proteins of these unwanted by-products. Once split into smaller pieces, the proteins are polymerized by cross-linking them with other proteins, such that they form a rigid-yet-flexible network, similar to petroleum-based plastics.
Now, apart from this being the to-date most disgusting story ever carried in this column, all this technology is pretty clever. You may not want a radio dial made of COW BRAINS (ick!), but the sheer amount of waste from the beef farming industry is nothing short of appalling.
Using every part of an animal was a sign of respect for the aboriginal hunters of the Prairies. I'm sure they didn't envision turning bison into dashboards, but hey, that's progress for you. Ford unveils stunning Evos design concept
I'm hesitant to keep harping on about this, but the Ford motor company has been undergoing something of a renaissance in the past few years. The Fiesta is selling like crazy. The Focus is simply beautiful to drive. The Fusion Hybrid spanks the Camry Hybrid in the fuel-economy wars, and the Edge crossover is an AJAC Awardwinning segment leader.
So what's next for the big blue oval? Well, check out the concept car that's bound for the upcoming Frankfurt auto show. It's called the Evos, and if you squint, I think we might be looking at the next Mustang.
Now obviously Ford's not going to do anything too crazy with their pony car for a while. Right now, I think it's just achieved that perfect blend of retro-styled old-school muscle and new-school tech and handling. The Boss 302 variant, for example, will wipe the floor with a BMW M3, but still looks like something Steve McQueen's Bullitt would drive.
Also, Ford's not going to make the same mistake it did with the good looking (in its second generation) but unfortunately named Probe. Nobody wants a front-wheel-drive Mustang.
But they might just want this one, five years down the road when gas is a billion dollars a litre. The Evos concept boasts a plugin hybrid powertrain to go with its slitted headlamps and futuristic hexagonal grille. Even if it's not the next Mustang, you'll be able to see these design details showing up in Ford designs for the next few years, and that's good news for fans of the blue oval.
BMW testing self-driving car
Much hay has been made of Google's self-driving cars. However, while that company has a CEO that thinks human beings are too unpredictable to be allowed behind the wheel, it's another, more driver-friendly manufacturer that's now making waves with an autonomous car.
BMW's self-driver is a bit different. Basically, their 5-series-based tester can take over driving duties once you get out on the highway, allowing the driver to relax and fiddle with the in-car entertainment while the miles roll past. Then, once you're ready to take back the wheel on the backroads, just hit a button. It's exactly like autopilot!
The BMW system is not just stay-in-the-lane cruise control: it's also capable of passing slower traffic if it doesn't detect anyone in the passing lane. There's nothing fun about commuting, so why not let the car do the boring driving?
What's more, technology like this has the ability to make our roads more efficient at moving cars and people around. Self-driving cars could eliminate the human-caused "slinky" effect, where one car brakes a little, the next brakes a little more and ten or twenty cars back there's a traffic jam.
However, the biggest problem to self-driving cars isn't figuring out the technology: it's going to be getting drivers to trust the tech in a world that's used to computers crashing daily.
Follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendan_mcaleer, or submit your own auto oddities to email@example.com.