The eighth-generation Chevrolet Corvette. It’s a mid-engined masterpiece that is so far pretty great in both base and Z51 flavors. And it will have even more variants in the future. That much is almost certain. What exactly these variants are, however, remains an open question until Chevy makes it official. That said, intel that we’ve gathered suggests a Z06 is on the horizon. While the C8 Z06 is an extremely exciting proposition, it’s the so-called “E-Ray” that truly has our attention.
What Is the Chevy Corvette E-Ray’s Name All About?
To be very clear, nothing’s official until Chevy tells us so. And at this early date, we have only rumors and a few scant firm details to work with. Still, this combination gives us a reasonable idea of what to expect from the gasoline-electric hybrid Corvette. For one, General Motors has held the “E-Ray” trademark since 2015. It renewed it in August 2020. Automakers hold trademarks for lots of reasons, and it doesn’t always mean they intend to produce a vehicle so named. However, with the latest GM push toward electrification, the stars are aligning for an electrified C8.
Will the C8 E-Ray Be a Hybrid?
That’s the rumor at the moment. We’ve heard the E-Ray will adopt a pair of front-mounted electric motors, which will provide low-speed motivation, as well as an extra kick in various performance scenarios. The layout would be loosely reminiscent of the recently-departed BMW i8: an internal combustion engine aft of the cabin, and two electric motors powering the front wheels. That means the E-Ray would be all-wheel drive.
What Gas Engine Will Power the Corvette E-Ray?
The E-Ray is anticipated to use the stock 6.2-liter V-8 engine found in the regular C8 coupe and convertible. For such a large engine, the V-8 returns reasonable fuel economy thanks to a bevy of advanced fuel-saving features, such as Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation). GM could detune the engine slightly for better economy, considering the E-Ray’s electric motors will likely add a good deal of power to the powertrain stable. We’re confident that if an E-Ray comes to market, it’ll best the stock C8’s 495-hp and 470 lb-ft of torque (when equipped with the performance exhaust). We envision power numbers that slot it firmly in between the regular C8 and the high-zoot Z06.
E-Ray May Not Be the Only Hybrid C8
We’ve heard that the E-Ray’s electric motors could be paired with a twin-turbocharged version of the Z06’s flat-plane crank V-8. The resulting all-wheel-drive hybrid monster could be called the “Zora” to honor the “Father of the Corvette,” GM engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov. We expect it to have more than 900 hp. In other words, it’ll be a true monster of a Corvette. It’d be a smart way for GM to re-use some of the development dollars spent on the E-Ray, too, giving the C8 a variety of mix-and-match powertrain components to dial in several performance price points. Again, GM hasn’t confirmed the Corvette Zora, so things may change in the future.
When Will the E-Ray Arrive?
As soon as we find out when the E-Ray is due, we’ll let you know. The C8’s been out for a while, and after GM’s recent EV and electrification announcements, the time is certainly ripe for the company to announce the addition of the E-Ray. Unfortunately, with most auto shows canceled due to the pandemic, we can’t point to a particular show that might serve as the likely reveal date. Stay tuned.
Way back in 2015, Congress passed the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act (LVMVMA). It required the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to come up with guidelines to allow certain small vehicle manufacturers (those that sell less than 5,000 vehicles globally per year) a path toward producing turn-key replicas, instead of kit cars, in a limited number and with a variety of restrictions. And then … nothing happened. Until now.
The NHTSA has finally gotten its act together after prodding (and lawsuits) from SEMA and others, and we finally have a look at the LVMVMA’s final rules (PDF document). Here’s the gist: these companies can build up to 325 replica cars annually for sale in the U.S., and they don’t have to be kit cars. More importantly, companies don’t have to adhere to modern safety regulations. And while the cars are required to resemble vehicles 25 years old or older, they are not required to be exacting replicas.
There are a few catches, the most vexing of which is that the powertrains must be California Air Resources Board (CARB) compliant—this bill exempts vehicles from safety, not emissions, standards. We spoke to Stanley Young, Communications Director at CARB, about what powertrains manufacturers could use in these newly-constructed replicas. The answer is none, for the moment. GM’s E-Rod line of V-8 engines, which come with a full suite of emissions control equipment, are the sort of thing that manufacturers could use, but unfortunately they are only CARB-certified for use in pre-1995 vehicles as a replacement engine. They can’t be used in newly-manufactured vehicles until GM re-certifies them, if it decides to.
That said, CARB is expecting manufacturers to submit applications to certify engines for new vehicles, so there will likely be some CARB-certified options in the future. These small-volume emissions certifications, Young noted, are slightly less rigorous than those applied to regular cars.
And, Young added, “a modern day engine with all its emission controls that was certified by an OEM in a new OEM car in the same model year as the small volume car is built” would also meet the regulations. “Manufacturers who wish to supply engines to the replica car builders will have to be certified just like other light duty manufacturers.” He also pointed out that any fully-electric powertrain would be compliant, of course, since there would be no tailpipe emissions at all.
It may sound dire until more powertrain options gain CARB approval, but the NHTSA’s interpretation of the law has also has a silver lining, giving manufacturers a little more flexibility in what they can build. A replica’s dimensions don’t need to exactly match the original’s, although the NHTSA’s comments make it clear it will not allow carmakers to make an end-run around the law and try to sell vehicles that are merely vintage-inspired. Nor will companies have to prove to the NHTSA that they hold the intellectual property rights for the design.
There are a few low-volume makers that will benefit immediately. DeLorean Motor Company has been pushing for the law from the beginning, hoping to put newly-manufactured cars on the road. As the company said in a statement, the long delay from the law passing to the NHTSA finally promulgating rules has created some difficulty. Any automaker, such as DeLorean, that was lining up suppliers hoping to take advantage of the law back in 2015 has been adversely affected by the delay, with some suppliers having gone under in the meantime.
What’s this all mean for you? It means you might soon be able to get a modern version of your favorite classic car without having to spend hundreds of hours in the garage bolting it all together, and it gives replica and homage manufacturers another way to get their products into the hands of more people. Seems like a win-win for everybody.
Firefighters thought they had extinguished the post-crash blaze. Then they heard popping sounds.
On the scene of a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model X in Mountain View, Calif., in March 2018, the fire department contemplated the energy hazards that lay in the wrecked electric vehicle before them. When further complications and potential dangers surfaced, the fire department called for help from the vehicle manufacturer.
In this case, it was fortuitous that Tesla’s headquarters was just across San Francisco Bay. In a matter of hours, two Tesla engineers had arrived at the crash site. But not every electric vehicle crash occurs in close proximity to industry-leading engineers.
As EVs proliferate, safety advocates and crash investigators are increasingly concerned about the risks lithium ion batteries pose to emergency responders.
In a report issued this month, the National Transportation Safety Board found vehicle manufacturers have given firefighters and other responders insufficient guidance on how to counter high-voltage battery fires and dissipate stranded energy, which can remain in batteries damaged in crashes and result in post-crash fires days or weeks after a collision.
First responders need to know “when it’s safe to transport the vehicle, how long they need to leave the road shut down, when it’s safe for a tow-truck operator to come and how to control risks for thermal runaway,” Kristin Poland, NTSB deputy director, tells Automotive News. “There are aspects of this where we feel the manufacturers have the best information and can help those emergency responders make good decisions.”
A review of the response guides for 36 models found that automakers provided vehicle-specific guidance on fighting battery fires in only two cases, according to the NTSB report.
The report does not delve into vehicle or battery designs; instead it concentrates on better protections for emergency responders in the aftermath of crashes and fires. It recommends manufacturers provide more specific information in emergency-response guides on mitigating thermal runaway, identifying stranded energy during a response and storing EVs with damaged batteries.
Further, the NTSB recommends that federal safety regulators consider a manufacturer’s adherence to ISO and SAE International standards when compiling emergency-response guides for EVs.
“This is very supportive of the fact fire service needs this training, and it’s critical they receive it,” said Michael Gorin, emerging issues program manager at the National Fire Protection Association. “The electrification process is continuing onward, especially with the new administration, and we need to continue to raise awareness and deliver this training.”
To date, the association’s training on EVs has reached approximately 250,000 firefighters. But that leaves the remaining three-quarters of the nation’s firefighting work force uncovered, not to mention law-enforcement officers, tow-truck operators and other responders.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Gorin said.
EVs account for only a sliver of the 170,000 vehicle fires that occur each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and there are no known instances of first responders suffering major injuries or being killed by battery malfunctions following crashes.
But the NTSB, the federal agency charged with conducting investigations into transportation crashes and forming safety recommendations, is concerned the dangers will grow as electric vehicles move into the mainstream.
Concerns over the use of lithium ion batteries in transportation began in June 2011, when a plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt caught fire in a salvage yard three weeks after undergoing crash tests. Two years later, the NTSB probed battery fires aboard a Boeing 787 in Boston and assisted in two international investigations into similar lithium ion fires on other aircraft.
“Whether that battery is in an airplane or car, it’s the same issue,” said Tom Barth, a survival factors investigator for the agency who worked on the aviation investigations and spearheaded this month’s EV report. “What it comes down to is, ‘If you have thermal runaway occur in a cell, how do you stop it from propagating from one cell to the next or from one module to the next?’ ”
The question persisted. An August 2017 crash in Lake Forest, Calif., involving a Tesla Model X brought renewed automotive concerns. Firefighters extinguished a post-crash fire but did not realize they needed to spray water onto the battery compartment underneath the vehicle. The battery experienced thermal runaway and reignited when a tow-truck operator winched the vehicle onto the tow truck.
The NTSB reviewed four cases in its safety report, and all four involved fires with Tesla vehicles in 2017 and 2018. But Poland stressed that the recommendations in the report should be heeded industrywide.
“We did not think as we started to go through this that it was a specific Tesla issue,” she said. “We felt like the safety issues that we identified were common to all electric vehicles, and we were seeing that through information we saw in Europe and other locations that were having problems extinguishing these fires with high-voltage lithium ion batteries.”
Perhaps nothing illustrates the complexity like the fatal Mountain View crash, one already familiar to NTSB investigators because the board had probed the role Tesla’s Autopilot played in the crash.
After arriving, Tesla’s engineers attempted to inspect battery components, but popping sounds again emanated from the battery, according to the report. They decided it was too risky to further analyze the vehicle along Highway 101.
Authorities needed a flatbed to avoid further stress on the vehicle structure. But it was metal, so they propped the Model X on wooden blocks. Six hours after the crash occurred, a fire truck escorted the flatbed from the scene and along an hourlong, uneventful ride to an impound lot.
When the Tesla engineers arrived, they underscored the importance of leaving a 50-foot radius around the vehicle. That was impractical, so the workers “did the best they could,” according to the report. Twenty minutes later, a California Highway Patrol officer heard popping sounds coming from the Model X, and the San Mateo Fire Department was summoned. Forty-five minutes later, they were called again. The battery had reignited.
Five days after the crash, the battery ignited one last time, and firefighters arrived to find flames 8 to 12 inches high.
“For me, that one was really eye-opening,” Barth said. “The fire department had access to the engineers, and there was still confusion about how to handle this vehicle and the attempts to remove the stranded energy; they were not able to do it effectively. That pointed to the fact that, ‘Hey, this stranded energy, there’s still gaps in the regulatory approach.’ ”
Despite the presence of two fire departments familiar with electric vehicles and two battery engineers from the vehicle manufacturer, the solution proved vexing, the risks resilient.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s government said Friday it has approved a request by 12 automotive companies for additional time to meet new regional content requirements under the North American trade agreement that came into force in July.
The economy ministry said in a statement that under the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, companies could request a so-called alternative transition regime to comply with the higher content requirements under the trade deal.
The request was granted for Tesla Inc., Volkswagen de Mexico, Volvo Car USA, FCA Mexico, Hyundai Motor America, Mazda Motor de Mexico, Toyota Motor de Mexico, Kia Motors Mexico, Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, Nissan Mexicana, Ford Motor Co. and Cooperation Manufacturing Plant Aguascalientes, it said.
For tariff-free trade in light vehicles, the agreement requires 75 percent North American content compared with a 62.5 percent threshold under its predecessor, the North American Free Trade Agreement.
DETROIT — Ally Financial Inc. reported Friday an 82 percent jump in fourth-quarter net income driven by fewer reserves for credit losses and $1 billion growth in auto originations.
Ally, one of the largest U.S. auto lenders, reported net income of $687 million. Fourth-quarter adjusted earnings per share of $1.60 were the highest in company history, and revenue rose 21 percent year over year to $1.98 billion.
Ally’s earnings before taxes were impacted by a $34 million cost relating to establishing its charitable foundation and a $78 million cost it set aside for a pending legal settlement. The case, Ally Financial v. Alberta Haskins, et al., began as a dispute over a vehicle repossession and is pending in a Missouri court.
Ally’s fourth-quarter results displayed strong resilience to the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 400,000 Americans and skyrocketed unemployment.
This past year presented one of the most complex lending environments in Ally’s history, CEO Jeff Brown told investors Friday, though many of the company’s 2020 contingencies will help it navigate the year ahead.
“As we move into 2021, we’re well positioned for an outlook that indicates rising new and used auto sales as demand persists, OEM production that should gradually replenish depleted inventories on dealer lots, and some normalization of U.S. values from the record-setting levels we saw in the third quarter,” Brown said.
The company’s full-year net income of $1.08 billion represents a 37 percent decline from 2019.
Credit loss reserves
The lender set aside less cash in the fourth quarter for loans it believed would not be repaid amid the ongoing crisis. Ally closed the year with $102 million in total credit loss reserves, setting aside $174 million less than last year. The bulk of those reserves are slated to cover potential losses from auto loans and leases.
Ally set aside $903 million for loan losses in the first quarterwhich suffered the brunt of coronavirus costs. Across 2020, provisions for credit losses increased $441 million over 2019’s figures.
Ally CFO Jenn LaClair said on a conference call with analysts the lender padded its reserves conservatively and could profit if the economy further stabilizes in 2021.
“We have not built any stimulus into our trajectory. We are well reserved,” LaClair said. “We’ve taken the pains in our income statement in 2020.”
Ally is projecting net-charge off rates, or the rate of loans the company expects will never be repaid, to accelerate in the second quarter, reaching a peak in the third and fourth quarters of this year during the gradual vaccine rollout.
Consumer auto originations of $9.1 billion were up 12 percent year over year, driven by growth in retail auto loan and lease business. Used-vehicle loans made up 52 percent of Ally’s auto originations in the fourth quarter, with $4.7 billion. Lease originations of $1.2 billion were flat from the fourth quarter of 2019, and new-vehicle originations rose 6.7 percent to $3.2 billion.
Ally decisioned 12.1 million auto applications in the quarter from 18,700 dealership partners — the highest number of dealership clients in the lender’s history.
Ally stock has been hitting all-time highs in recent days. Shares rose 1.7 percent to close Friday at $40.61.