Thursday, 4 May 2017

Torotrak signals the end of an era

Preston-based Torotrak, a developer and supplier of emissions reduction and fuel efficiency technology in vehicles, is to close its Leyland headquarters and make all staff based at the site redundant.

This is indeed the end of an era. But the end cannot be allowed to pass without some comment being made. For it seems that faith has been lost in the concept of traction drive transmissions which had its heart in Leyland, Lancashire for so many years.
This is an era that many people have forgotten about. Or not even aware. Some may regard it as a nostalgic era, when the future appeared not only bright but lucrative.
The era extends back at least until around 1962 (the actual date is unclear as one of the principal participants is no longer alive) when a 1957 Hillman Minx fitted with a Perbury continuously variable transmission (CVT) covered some 25,000 miles of testing to prove the capabilities of the CVT developed by Forbes Perry of Perbury Engineering Ltd.
Perbury Engineering developed a CVT for a car project centred within the British Technology Group (BTG and formerly NRDC) out of which blossomed Torotrak plc based at Leyland in Lancashire where there was also a CVT programme, again based on the Perbury design.
The era certainly embraces BL Technology, a small part of British Leyland, tasked with exploring new technology and based at Gaydon, in Warwickshire – now the home of Aston Martin and JaguarLandRover. Perbury-type transmissions were developed on this former RAF airfield site.
It is fair to say that designs of the Perbury transmission were based on the Hayes transmission (once fitted to Austin cars), it being the point at which Forbes Perry’s designs began to evolve and improve this type of transmission. He probably started serious work circa 1957.
A great deal of water has passed under the bridge, most of it happening within the confines of the facilities in Leyland Truck & Bus which undertook some work in applying the technology to buses. Facilities in Leyland near to the original truck plant became the bedrock for Torotrak.
Executives of major automotive companies made their way to Torotrak Leyland during the last 50 years, all in search of the ‘perfect’ seamless transmission – that disappearing elixir. But for one reason or another, the reality eluded everybody.
Perbury Engineering was for many years the hub of the fountain of ideas. Yet no one liked to admit that a stand-alone engineer knew more about the transmission than anyone else. It was as if he did not exist. Boffins at Leyland believed they knew everything and looked down their noses at ‘clowns’ working in workshops in deepest Oxfordshire.
The little company in Oxfordshire however built a variety of experimental prototypes including those produced by Leyland Truck & Bus, from which people moved across to nearby Torotrak as the company evolved.
                      Careers built on the back of CVT technology
Countless technical papers have been written down the years in Europe, Asia and North America, about CVTs as engineers expounded their ideas about one tiny facet or another of the design. Indeed, careers were forged on the back of the Perbury system.
Now it looks as though, in a bid to cut costs, a huge slimming down process is under way which could see the end of the Perbury-type transmission. Of course, many will dispute that the current design is a Perbury design, as so many man-hours have been invested in pushing out the frontiers of knowledge to expand the power base of understanding of this simple design which relies on traction drive characteristics.
Torotrak plc, which specialises in the use of ground-breaking KERS technology for buses and V-Charge to boost the power of smaller engines for cars, has seen its share price tumble as the car industry has turned its attention to electric cars instead of making traditional engines more efficient.
Interestingly, none of the directors of the company have any history in toroidal transmissions - a passion to drive the technology forward into the market place. None has held board directorship for longer than four years, with the exception of non-executive chairmanNick Barter who joined in 2003. The most recent encumbent is Adam Robson, (April 2015). John McLaren and Rex Vevers joined in June 2013 while Jon Hilton, who is also president of the prestigious Institution of Mechanical Engineers, joined in January 2014. 
In January, Torotrak (which has seen chief executives come and go) announced a strategic refocus of the group including the consolidation of its engineering resources to reduce its ongoing cash operating costs. Indeed, it is possible that some may view Torotrak's acquisition of Flybrid Automotive as a clever device for the Silverstone-based company to reverse into Torotrak plc. Time alone will reveal the outcome.
The company, which also has an office and workshops in Silverstone, has not given details of how many people will be affected but company accounts to March 2016 show it employed 85 staff, 57 of which were engineers at the Leyland site, and it had a total wage bill of £4.7million.
Significantly, perhaps, the Silverstone unit was the technology hub for Flybrid Automotive which became part of Torotrak and led to the emergence of Flybrid executives having a greater say in the running of the company. After all, it was Flybrid Automotive’s KERS technology which now appears to be driving Torotrak forward – if indeed it is making any headway at all.
Last year’s Torotrak plc pre-tax losses almost doubled to £14.3million on a turnover of £1.2 million. Could Torotrak be on the verge of throwing in the CVT towel? It appears not from today’s statement. But who knows the truth?
“The board continues to focus on realising value from Torotrak’s technology portfolio and other assets,” Torotrak said today in a stock market statement.
The group said it expects to close the financial year to the end of March with £5.1 million in cash, in line with expectations but added that the net assets of the company will fall below half of the value of the called-up share capital.  
Under Section 656 of the Companies Act 2006, when this happens the directors are required to call a general meeting of the company to discuss whether steps should be taken to deal with the situation. It will hold this meeting on 31st May.
“The board does not consider that any steps are required to be taken beyond those already in hand and accordingly, no resolutions will be put to Shareholders at the General Meeting,” it said.
So there we have it. The company rumbles on. The question has to be raised, after this recent activity: just how long can Torotrak survive? The technology does not seem to be attractive enough for an OEM to step in and buy the company to add to its portfolio. But of course this could change.
Only in the minds of those ‘running’ Torotrak is there perhaps the germs of ideas to take the technology strands forward. But these minds holding their real thoughts.


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Toyota to put fuel cells in heavy trucks

Toyota Motor North America, Inc. has revealed “Project Portal” - a hydrogen fuel cell system designed for heavy duty truck use at the Port of Los Angeles.

Friday, 17 March 2017

VW uses Hololens to design cars of future

Volkswagen’s Virtual Engineering Laboratory in Wolfsburg is using augmented and virtual reality techniques to design cars of the future.

Friday, 10 March 2017

VW and Tata Motors to explore cooperation

Volkswagen AG and Tata Motors Ltd. have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) aimed at exploring long-term strategic cooperation in clearly-defined fields.

JLR to boost its design, engineering resources

Fuelled by success at home and overseas, Jaguar Land Rover Automotive (JLRA) is boosting in engineering resources at Gaydon, the former home of sibling BL Technology Ltd in the days of British Leyland.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Navistar has woes but Clarke remains bullish

Navistar International Corporation has announced a first quarter 2017 net loss of $62 million, compared to a first quarter 2016 net loss of $33 million.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Cummins to have new 12-litre I6 by 2018?

According to truckinginfo.com Cummins Inc. is working on a new engine, the X12, that will be available in 2018.

China and US markets bolsters JLR

JaguarLandRover (JLR), the UK's leading manufacturer of premium luxury vehicles reported its best February retail sales figure of 40,978 vehicles, up nine per cent on February 2016, driven by strong sales performances in China and North America.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

When is a new engine a new engine?

Journalists are frequently criticised for highlighting the ‘smoke and mirrors’ marketing departments use to create something new that is not really new at all.

Ford explores large-part 3D printing

Ford is exploring how large one-piece car parts could be printed for prototyping and future production vehicles. It claims it is the first automaker to pilot the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer.

Monday, 6 March 2017

PSA-GM: The final solution?

It is quite clear that executives of General Motors Europe and PSA Group have been working behind the scenes for quite some time in secret to cobble together a deal to off-load General Motors’ Europe (GME) vehicle-making operations.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Uncertain times ahead for Bridgend Plant

It looks as though Ford Motor Company is set to reduce its workforce at the Bridgend Engine Plant in south Wales, UK, by 2021 as Dragon begins to show its teeth and JLR pulls out.

VW-Navistar: Full steam ahead

Expect some changes at Navistar International Corporation now that two top Volkswagen AG executives are on board the train following the authorities‘ approval of Volkswagen Truck & Bus GmbH's stake in U.S. partner Navistar International Corporation.

Monday, 27 February 2017

International launches A26 for Class 8 trucks

International Truck yesterday used the AMC annual meeting and exhibition in Nashville, Tennessee, to launch its 'new' CGI-based A26 engine for the US Class 8 heavy-duty truck market at the 2017.

Renault-Nissan expand driverless fleet activities

Another automaker is expanding the driverless vehicle bandwagon. Renault-Nissan Alliance and Transdev have signed up to a research contract to develop mobility services system for self-driving vehicles. In so doing they are to jointly develop driverless vehicle fleet system for future public and on-demand transportation.

Working to mitigate HMMWV rollover

Ricardo Defense Systems, LLC, and LIFT - Lightweight Innovations For Tomorrow, a Manufacturing USA institute, have launched a $7.5 million joint project to address persistent rollover issues related to the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV).

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Is PSA now set to “push-for-pass” on Proton?

For the third year, the PSA Group has achieved growth of the Automotive division operating margin to 6 per cent 5% in 2015; growth in vehicle sales to 3.15 million, up 5.8 per cent; and growth of its net financial position due to €2.7 billion free cash flow; and finally a group recurring operating income up 18 per cent compared with 2015 of €3,235 million.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Volkswagen shows it can ride out diesel crisis

Volkswagen Group is making progress despite the diesel crisis with sales revenue exceeding expectations, increasing by €4.0 billion to €217.3 billion. Group's operating result before special items reached €14.6 billion.

Nissan stamps its mark on Sunderland

Proof of Nissan’s commitment to the UK can be found in a new extra-large 5,200-tonne press at its manufacturing plant in Sunderland.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Friday, 17 February 2017

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

GKN’s all-wheel-drive rolls out in China

GKN Driveline’s Chinese Joint Venture is bearing fruits. Its partner SDS has commenced production of the complete all-wheel drive (AWD) Disconnect system for small to medium-sized vehicles in China.

Can PSA Group gain where GM loses?

What does Peaguot SA know that so far has eluded General Motors in Europe? It remains to be seen. But, if you’re gonna buy something, you sure as hell gotta make it work.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Ambassador brand falls under the hammer

Hindustan Motors, owned by the C K Birla Group, has sold the Ambassador brand name to Peugeot SA in a the deal closed last Friday and said to be worth Rs 80 Crore. Production of Ambassador cars stopped around three years ago.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Is this new 4x4 a 4x4 too far?

A new company, Ineos Automotive has been formed to manufacture a rugged off-roader in the style of Land Rover’s discontinued Defender, according to Jim Ratcliffe who runs the Ineos Group.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Nissan UK supports its Japan parent

Nissan UK claims that while stronger business across the European continent, helped by high demand for Qashqai and X-Trail models, has pushed sales higher difficulties in Japan have given the firm's financial performance a knock.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

BMW pencils in another record year for 2017

Following a sixth consecutive record-breaking year, BMW Group sales achieved their best-ever start to the year with January figures showing increased deliveries in all world regions.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

McLaren plans for volume CF output in 2020

McLaren Automotive's new Composites Technology Centre will be responsible for the development and manufacturing of the Monocell and Monocage carbon fibre chassis in future McLaren cars from 2020 onwards.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Hitachi and Honda set to motor together

The prospect of increased electric motor sales for electric vehicles has driven Hitachi and Honda into each other’s arms.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Daimler achieves another record year in 2016

Daimler AG grew profitably once again in 2016 and achieved best-ever figures for unit sales, revenue and net profit.

Monday, 30 January 2017

GM-Honda SOP of fuel cells set for 2020

As if to emphasise the growing shift to electric vehicles (EVs), General Motors and Honda have set up the auto industrys first manufacturing joint venture to mass produce an advanced hydrogen fuel cell system that will be used in future products from each company with SOP set for 2020.

Torotrak cuts V-Charge in favour of KERS

When a company begins a statement to the effect that “priorites have changed”, you know there’s trouble ahead. And so it is with Torotrak which is refocusing on KERS and IVTs. And it's all the fault of EVs and diesel technology.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Mack Trucks pulls 16-litre engine

According to Transport Topics (TT). Mack Trucks in the US has opted to pull its Titan model and its 16-litre MP10 engine.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

JLR is UK’s largest automaker – again

JaguarLandRover (JLR) has once again been named the largest automotive manufacturer in Britain, accounting for more than 30 per cent of all domestic car production last year.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Opposed-piston engine work is ‘no joke’ – Achates

Under perceptive questioning by a WardsAuto reporter, Achates President and chief executive officer David Johnson claims interest from vehicle builders is serious and will lead to production.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Automakers begin to mull the Trump effect

As UK Prime Minister, Teresa May, become the first foreign leader to meet new US President Donald Trump, focus will be on trade. And trade with Trump will be the one notion that senior executives in the global automotive industry this weekend will be the mulling the implication of Trump’s inauguration.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Opposed-piston – promises, promises, promises

Opposed-piston engines for road vehicles have proved to be a moving target. Mystifying and elusive. Promises are made and not fulfilled. But now it looks as though there could be light at the end of the tunnel. But still the light at the end of the tunnel is set for 2018.

SinterCast responds to 'dieselgate' issues

Swedish foundry process control specialist SinterCast is one of the first leading automotive-related companies to respond to possible issues surrounding the impact of 'dieselgate' on its business.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

More SUVs to emerge from Vauxhall

Vauxhall has revealed it all-new Crossland X, what it sees as a second vital ingredient to the company’s burgeoning SUV offering, which is due to grow still further in 2017 with the launch of the larger Grandland X later in the year. 

VW ‘dieselgate’ chief in the firing line

Oliver Schmidt’s name is likely to go down in the annals of automotive history, irrespective of what happens in the coming weeks and months.

EPA and CARB approve VW dieselgate 'fix'

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Registration Board (CARB) have a proved a 'fix' for 67,000 of the 475,000 Volkswagen and Audi 2-litre diesel engines programmed to 'cheat' US emissions tests.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Cummins distances itself from FCA fall-out

As shares in Renault fell sharply late last week following reports that French prosecutors are investigating the carmaker over possible diesel emissions claims, Cummins Inc. has become the latest manufacturer to distance itself from the vehicle emissions scandal.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

FCA faces the wrath of the EPA

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has lodged a complaint against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) of failing to disclose software in 104,000 diesel pickups and SUVs that allows them to exceed pollution limits.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Production of Micra returns to Europe

Production of the latest Nissan Micra has begun at Flins in France and, according to Nissan, final checks have ensured the vehicles are finished to the “highest quality”.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

SinterCast confirms F-150’s 3-litre diesel

The 2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) provided a positive start to the year, with the unveiling of a new SinterCast-CGI diesel engine for the Ford F-150.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Toyota commits to US; BMW to Mexico

Japanese car giant Toyota says will it invest $10bn (£8.2bn) in the US over the next five years - the latest car giant to announce major investments.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Ford fits 3-litre diesel to F-150 pick-up truck

Ford, the US’s leading truck leader, now offers an all-new 3-litre Power Stroke V6 turbo diesel and the “next generation” 2.7-litre EcoBoost engine in  the new 2018 Ford F-150. Ford now has a truck to more than match the Fiat Chrysler Automotive Ram 1500 with its VM Motori V6 turbo diesel and which, like the 'new' 3-litre V6 from Ford has a CGI vee cylinder block. Ford's move raises one simple question: How will GM, the sleeping giant, respond? Will the 'new' 4.5-litre Duramax appear sooner rather than later? Another vee CGI diesel? The US rumour mill says the CGI Duramax will bow in summer 2018.

Friday, 6 January 2017

New funding for cleaner US diesel buses

New funding for cleaner US school buses announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will allow for significant air quality improvements by replacing older diesel buses with newer, more efficient technology – primarily advanced clean diesel technology. EPA is awarding $7.7 million to replace or retrofit 401 older diesel school buses in 27 states under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA).

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Ford: Flat Rock gains as Mexico loses

Ford Motor Company is investing  $4.5 billion investment in electrified vehicles by 2020, offering customers greater fuel efficiency, capability and power across Fords global vehicle lineup.