Ford introduces the Drift Stick performance e-brake for the Focus RS

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Ford Performance just pulled the wraps off of a little SEMA surprise for Focus RS owners: the Drift Stick, a rally-style aluminum handbrake that slips over the existing handbrake. It doesn’t just look cool, because a micro-switch inside talks to the RS’s electronics and lets you do some big e-brake slides, just as if the car was equipped with the kind of hydraulic handbrake system you’d get in a rally car.

Let’s back up for a second and talk about the Focus RS’s Drift Mode, a clever bit of programming that tells the AWD and torque vectoring systems to play nice with the stability control, allowing you to swing the RS around in big, smoky drifts. It’s not quite ready for Formula D, but it’s a fairly safe way to have some fun under controlled conditions – and unlike a completely analog drift machine, it’ll attempt to save your butt if you muck it up.

Where the Drift Stick comes in is if you want to do a rally-style handbrake turn, as opposed to a smoky Drift Mode drift. When you pull the Drift Stick, the electronics inside tell the ABS system and rear differential clutches to allow for the rear brakes to lock the wheels, letting the car rotate without having to hold in the clutch pedal. It lets you do very quick, wide-angle turns without the extensive modifications (and expense) of installing a hydraulic system, so it’s perfect for rotating around a lightpole or a guy in a gorilla suit.

If that tips you off that Ken Block was involved, well, of course he was. This is the perfect thing for him to be involved with, and vice versa.

Installation seems easy. Clamp it over the existing handbrake, bolt a rod to your inboard front seat mount, and plug in the cord into the diagnostic port. That’s it. Easily reversible. And here’s a neat bonus: since it talks to the OBD system, there’s a USB port on the Drift Stick. Plug a cable into that and it acts just like Ford’s diagnostic tool. That means you can download diagnostic data, and more interestingly, upload different tunes. Installing the Drift Stick itself won’t void your warranty, either.

The Drift Stick goes on sale Dec. 1, and it’ll set you back $999. If you want one, head to your local Ford Performance distributor or get one online.

[Source: Autoblog]

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Taking a truly driverless ride in Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica

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Today was a first for me: I drove in a fully autonomous vehicle on roads without anyone behind the wheel. They weren’t public roads, but they did have intersections, other vehicles, pedestrian traffic, cyclists and more, and the car managed a fairly long route without any human intervention — and without any cause for concern on my part.

I’ve done a lot of self-driving vehicle demos, including in Waymo’s own previous-generation Lexus test vehicles, so I wasn’t apprehensive about being ferried around in Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivan to begin with. But the experience still took me by surprise, in terms of just how freeing it was once it became apparent that the car was handling things all on its own, and would continue to do so safely regardless of what else was going on around it.

Waymo’s test track at Castle (more on that facility here) included multiple intersections with traffic lights, a roundabout, cars stopped on the shoulder, crossing foot band cycle traffic and more. Even if these were staged, they’d be hard to replicate in exact detail every time, so despite the fact that Waymo clearly had more control here than they would out in the real world, the driving experience was still impressive.

This is essentially the same car driving riders around Chandler, in Phoenix, where the current Waymo pilot is operating. It’s still essentially a stock Pacifica van, with a premium trim upgrade, but included features in that vehicle, including the many USB ports for charging located throughout, the dual screens mentioned above on the seat backs, and the rear cabin AC and climate controls all make it particularly well suited to the task of putting the rider first.

I also noticed that the Pacifica drove in a manner which itself made me feel more comfortable as a rider, essentially by making it familiar. It edged into intersections cautiously, moved forward slowly when it had the right of way but its path was obstructed by a pedestrian crossing the street, and did a number of other things that made its driving feel more “human” than you might expect from an exacting computer system.

Waymo’s self-driving car ride won’t be my last, and it certainly wasn’t my first – but it was the first that suggested we might be closer than many think to Level 4 autonomous vehicles operating on public roads for a public customer base. When asked directly for a timeline on a public service launch, Waymo CEO John Krafcik declined to even claim a specific year, but he did say it’s probably going to happen sooner than many would believe.

[Source: Autoblog]

Honda Civic Type R K20C1 turbocharged crate engine debuts at SEMA

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Honda pulled the covers off its K20C1 crate engine at SEMA today, greatly reducing the hassle for enterprising racers wishing to bolt 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque into their track-day weapons of choice. Details on how to apply for the right to purchase one of these powerplants can be found at Honda’s Racing Line site.

A purchase price of $6,519.87 (plus shipping) sounds downright reasonable for a factory-fresh, ready-to-run engine with this kind of reliability and power. Remember, this is the engine that powers the Civic Type R, which is capable of lapping the legendary Nürburgring in just 7 minutes and 43.8 seconds. But before you start dreaming up that perfect engine swap scenario, know that Honda won’t sell a crate engine to just anyone.

The Japanese automaker says these crate engines are available “to U.S. grassroots and professional racers for verified, closed-course racing applications,” which means these turbocharged beasts are not intended for the street. That said, we won’t be surprised at all the first time we see a K20C1-powered Integra at the local Cars and Coffee…

Honda’s cutesy robot cooler keeps drinks within reach

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Honda didn’t just unveil a slick-looking EV coupe concept at the Tokyo Motor Show. It also had a robot… though it’s definitely not the kind of robot you’d expect from the company. Its RoboCas Concept is a super-cute cargo bot that can follow you around while hauling whatever you like in its large, customizable carrying space. Basically, it’s an autonomous cooler with giant eyes. Honda imagines people using it to open pop-up curry shops or haul pumpkins home from the farm. We could see this being incredibly helpful if you don’t have a car, or if you’d rather not drive just to haul some food and drinks to the park for a picnic. There’s just one problem: it’s not clear that RoboCas will move past the concept stage.

The transportation giant hasn’t said whether or not RoboCas will go into production, and The Verge notes that the prototype shown at the Tokyo Motor Show was stationary and had a Windows tablet unceremoniously stuck to its back. We don’t know the full capabilities of the robo-cooler, let alone whether or not it would be affordable as a production model. All the same, the idea is intriguing. Honda isn’t just planning for a transition to self-driving cars– it’s arguing that robotics can eliminate the need for any car in certain situations.

This story originally appeared on Engadget, your guide to this connected life.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Drivers’ Notes | Haulin’ the groceries

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Powered by the same supercharged Hemi at the heart of Dodge’s Hellcat cars, the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is the sort of vehicle that comes from a “Why not?” attitude from the maniacs at SRT. It’s not for the faint of heart, nor for the cash-strapped. With 707 horsepower and 645 pound-feet of torque, it’s capable of a 0-60 sprint of just 3.5 seconds. Its base price, however, is $86,995, though our tester’s sticker totaled just a few bucks shy of $100,000.

Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: “What business does a Jeep have going 0-60 in 3.5 seconds?” This was my thought as I merged into rainy rush-hour traffic on Woodward Avenue in the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. “Why does an SUV need to have ‘Track’ in the name?” I thought as I unintentionally broke the tires loose pulling away from a stoplight. I hit the “Eco” button, but the Jeep still roared with every toe-tap, and still managed to gulp down nearly a quarter of a tank of gas on my ride home.

That sound, though, is amazing, and surely more unsettling to other drivers coming from such a big beast of a ute.

Anyway, this Jeep feels more grown-up than other Hemi-powered vehicles I’ve driven. The fit and finish in this $99,000 Jeep is far nicer than, say, the Dodge Durango SRT (though at a much higher cost). If another driver didn’t pay close attention to the badging, they might see this and think it just another Jeep. The sound, though, will give it away every time.

Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: If Fiat-Chrysler knows how to do anything, it’s making fast SUVs, and the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is further proof of that. And by that I mean, they know how to make them fast, and they know how to make them pleasant to drive.

The Trackhawk definitely handles the fast part better than its SRT Durango and SRT Grand Cherokee cousins, what with its extra 230-odd horsepower. This big beast seriously rockets when you punch the throttle. The nose rises up, the supercharger screams, the exhaust rumbles and the speedometer ticks up much faster than you’d ever think. And it feels strong at all revs. Also impressive is that you don’t have to really think when flooring it. The all-wheel-drive and fat tires offer so much grip the Jeep simply goes.

The pleasant to drive part comes in the fact that the Trackhawk is very comfortable. The suspension has plenty of give, providing a good ride over pockmarked Motown roads. But it still handles well, if perhaps not quite up to the standards of European super SUVs. But the thing is, no SUV is going to have sports car handling, so the tradeoff toward a bit more comfort is welcomed. Adding to the good suspension are wide, bolstered, well-padded seats that should be excellent for long-trips. The UConnect is easy to use, and there’s plenty of space inside. It’s a great all-around SUV, and it just happens to go extremely fast.

Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore: I was psyched to drive the Trackhawk. It’s one of the most anticipated Jeeps ever — and it totally lived up to the hype. Obviously, the Hellcat engine is the spotlight feature, and it’s well-suited to the Grand Cherokee. That was the part I was curious about. It didn’t seem like a logical fit, but everything is well-tuned and sorted. It sounds good, yet not overdone. It’s also a sleeper vehicle. Yes, something is up with this Jeep. You can tell that at first glance. But Hellcat power isn’t immediately obvious. I like that. It’s also pretty chill when you’re cruising at steady speeds.

Inside, I wasn’t a fan of this maroon leather. Otherwise, the FCA U.S. controls and infotainment remain among the best in the industry. The touchscreens work, and the knobs and buttons are intuitive. Can’t ask for more. Also, many years into its lifecycle, the Grand Cherokee remains a strong, attractive player in its segment. Giving it the Trackhawk treatment wasn’t necessary, but I’m sure glad FCA did.

Dodge Demon lightweight by SpeedKore Performance comes to SEMA

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We already know that the Dodge Demon is crazy fast. We experienced that firsthand. But its more than ample amounts of built-in speed doesn’t mean that owners won’t be tinkering with it to make it faster. But if you don’t want to add more power (or even if you do), you can always make the car lighter. That’s what SpeedKore Performance Group has done, and it will bring its lightweight carbon fiber Dodge Challenger SRT Demon to the SEMA show in Las Vegas, where it will be introduced by none other than rock legend Sammy Hagar.

Last year, SpeedKore brought its carbon fiber-bodied Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat to SEMA, and now it has applied the same treatment to the 840-horsepower Demon. The body panels and spoilers will be manufactured using SpeedKore’s autoclave in Grafton, Wisconsin.

SpeedKore will also be one of many companies bringing a modified Ford Mustang to SEMA. A carbon-bodied Ford Shelby GT350R by SpeedKore was recently featured on “Jay Leno’s Garage.” Last year, Leno also drove SpeedKore’s 1970 Dodge Charger Tantrum, which features a carbon fiber front end and a 1,650-horsepower Mercury Marine engine.

[Source: Success]

Ford U.S. pickup sales lift its profit

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Ford reported a better-than-expected quarterly net profit on Thursday, driven largely by U.S. sales of its high-margin pickup trucks, and it raised the low end of its full-year earnings forecast.

Ford’s positive results came despite an overall decrease in vehicle sales to U.S. dealers.

A large part of the company’s profits came from its F-Series pickup trucks, which have been the best-selling vehicle in North America for decades. Ford said the average transaction price for its trucks rose $2,800 to $45,400.

Ford said its North American margin rose to 8.1 percent from 5.8 percent a year earlier. Earlier this week, GM reported a third-quarter margin for North America of 8.3 percent.

Apart from North America, the only other region that was profitable for Ford was Asia Pacific, driven by sales increases outside China. Ford Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks said sales volumes, market share and margins were all down in China.

He said its European operations would return to profitability in the fourth quarter and for the full year.

New Chief Executive Officer Jim Hackett is under pressure to please Wall Street. Following his first 100 days in office, Hackett’s overarching message to Wall Street focused on plans to slash $14 billion in costs over the next five years, and shift capital investment away from sedans and internal combustion engines to develop more trucks and electric and hybrid cars.

Wall Street has been underwhelmed, particularly by Hackett’s caveat that most of the savings will not show up on Ford’s bottom line until 2019 and 2020.

By comparison, main rival GM has impressed Wall Street with promises to put the first self-driving vehicles into commercial service before 2020 and introduce 20 electric vehicles by 2023.

Year to date, GM’s stock is up nearly 30 percent, while Ford is down almost 1 percent.

When asked by reporters about the flagging stock, CFO Shanks said Ford has a “really good plan” for electric vehicles and self-driving car technology.

“I think the market will reward us,” he said.

Ford said it had lower engineering, advertising and promotion expenses than in the third quarter.

The second largest U.S. automaker posted a quarterly net profit of $1.56 billion, or 39 cents per share, up more than 60 percent from $960 million, or 24 cents, a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, Ford reported earnings per share of 43 cents, above Wall Street expectations of 32 cents.

Revenue rose to $36.45 billion from $35.94 billion a year earlier.

Ford said it now expects full-year earnings in a range of $1.75 to $1.85 per share. Previously it had looked for $1.65 to $1.85.

In premarket trading, Ford shares were up 1.7 percent at $12.24.

[Source: Autoblog]