Are auto shows dead? For news-making, the comeback-train 2021 Chicago Show was largely a bust and reviews have been mixed on the Frankfurt Show (IAA), relocated to Munich this year. But the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS, aka Detroit Auto Show) is definitely dead as we knew it. In its place is Motor Bella, an outdoor new-car buyers’ tire-kicking extravaganza staged at the M1 Concourse “car country-club” in nearby Pontiac Michigan, amped up with ride and drive opportunities and other user experiences.
If you live in Southeast Michigan, are in the market for a new vehicle, and interested in seeing 350 of them in the same place, Motor Bella should prove worth the price of admission ($10-$20 plus $20 parking). The sole Motor Bella new-vehicle debut was the off-road-themed 2022 Ford Expedition Timberline Edition. The event also marked the public debut of the 2022 Toyota Tundra, and we managed to glean some interesting tech news courtesy of the AutomobiliD mobility-tech event that has preceded the public days of the last few Detroit Auto Shows. Here’s a quick spin through what we saw during the very wet first two days in Pontiac, Michigan:
Wet and Wild
Mother Nature frowned and cried hard on Motor Bella’s press days, dropping almost three inches of rain that flooded several of the indoor tent venues and cancelled day two of the press preview, but the forecast looks less threatening for some of the public days. So, yes, the Motor Bella show is literally and figuratively a wet blanket thrown over the traditional NAIAS format.
Ford Expedition Timberline Edition
While it’s not quite a Ford Raptor SUV, at least the Expedition Timberline that debuted at Motor Bella gets off-road-enhanced springs and anti-roll bars, along with off-road-tuned steering. The suspension isn’t lifted, but the beefy 33-inch-tall 265/70R18 Goodyear Wrangler all-terrains on 18-inch black aluminum wheels help boost ground clearance to 10.6 inches. There’s an electronic locking diff plus seven drive modes and unique fascias boost the approach and departure angles to 28.5 and 23.7 degrees. The best part is the 440-hp/510-lb-ft EcoBoost V-6 that spins through a 10-speed automatic and two-speed transfer case.
Exotic cars quit the Detroit Auto Show many years ago in favor of a more private showing at the nearby MGM Grand Casino called The Gallery. Motor Bella revives the Gallery with a collection of Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, and other high-end vehicles under a big tent.
Ride and Drives
The northeast two-thirds of M1 Concourse’s 1.5-mile road course features professional drivers giving rides in various high-performance vehicles, including some Dodge SRT and Lexus LC models that are part of the M1 Concourse Performance Fleet used in the M1 Signature Driving Experience.
During the public days, some manufacturers will also permit attendees to drive their cars on Woodward, after submitting to a mandatory breathalyzer. Ford is giving trailer-towing demos, and Jeep/Ram have built a mountain and other off-road obstacles on which to demonstrate their vehicles’ off-road chops.
Motor Bella Tech: Lyten Lithium-Sulfur Batteries
Everyone knows that mining precious metals like the nickel, manganese, and cobalt that comprise the cathodes of the lithium-ion batteries powering today’s fleet of electric cars is carbon-intensive, damaging to the environment, and often imperils human rights. At Motor Bella, Silicon Valley startup Lyten introduced its LytCell EV lithium-sulfur (Li-S) battery, featuring a brand-new cathode technology that trades those precious metals for a 3D graphene structure capable of “caging” sulfur molecules. Their proprietary electrolyte, lithium metal anode, and entire process leverages the high energy density benefits of sulfur while preventing the “polysulfide shuttle” phenomenon that has plagued all previous attempts to commercialize lithium-sulfur battery technology.
The result is triple the energy density in terms of weight. Lyten produces the carbon graphene in a process that involves reacting methane gas with high-energy electric plasma. Methane and sulfur are cheap and abundant, meaning the cost of materials is low enough to bring costs below those of a combustion powertrain. The process is as green as the energy used to produce the graphene, and because the internal elements inside Lyten’s Li-S battery include no oxygen, the fire risk is extremely low. They’ve demonstrated automotive-grade life (1,400 cycles or more), and they function over a broad temperature range (-20 to 140 degrees F) so they require less heating/cooling. The cells tolerate fast charging (zero to 80 percent in 20 minutes). The technology can be applied to cylindrical, pouch, or prismatic cells that can be assembled on today’s assembly equipment at twice the production rate. Speaking of production, Lyten expects to have batteries available for 2025-2026 model-year vehicles.
Motor Bella Tech: Tesseract Aluminum Foam
Fayetteville, Arkansas-based Tesseract Structural Innovations showed off a Uniform Deceleration Unit (UDU), comprised of aluminum foam. The foam is produced by blowing air bubbles up into a sheet of molten aluminum seeded with nanoparticles that help keep the air from bubbling out of the aluminum. The lightweight foam blocks are comprised of 15 percent aluminum/85 percent air and can absorb more crash energy in a shorter package than can hollow steel or aluminum structural rails. This will be increasingly important as large, bulky engines give way to compact electric motors, eliminating an impact load path and shrinking vehicle front ends.
By incorporating hollow cylinders or placing foam blocks inside rectangular section steel channels, the material can be tuned for greater strength in one direction or another, and by compounding various different blocks, various crash absorption strategies can be achieved. The material can be tuned to absorb 70-140,000 pounds of force before collapsing all the air voids. UDU blocks can improve real-world small-overlap impact survivability. When a late swerve results in an oblique angle impact that might bend a traditional crash rail out of the way, a Tesseract aluminum foam rail can absorb oblique angle impacts.
Motor Bella Tech: Aira Wireless Charger
Do you sometimes have trouble charging your phone on the wireless charger in your car because it slides off the “sweet spot” where the charging happens? Does it always end up hot? That’s because the typical Qi-protocol charging mat consists of three electromagnetic coils and only a limited area where phones can accept a strong charge, and the heat comes from inefficient charging.
San Diego-based Aira showed off its FreePower Technology, which overlaps multiple charging coils. The device constantly monitors for devices, and when one is located, it activates the coil or coils best able to charge the device most efficiently at up to 15 watts. Multiple devices can be charged at once, placed anywhere on the pad, and automakers can specify any size surface to accommodate as many or few devices as they like. An unnamed manufacturer has signed to incorporate the Aira FreePower charger in a vehicle next year.
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