Autocar test the BMW i8 hybrid sports car [VIDEO]

Autocar's in-house race driver Steve Sutcliffe tests the BMW i8 in Scotland.

The i8 has a transverse mid-mounted 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine that drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox. An electric motor acts as a starter motor but can also fill in any torque gaps in the engine’s delivery. The front axle is driven separately by an electric motor and two-speed gearbox to create a car of incredible flexibility and complexity.

In eDrive mode the i8 is a zero-emission, front-wheel-drive machine with a useful 129bhp and 184lb ft, a top speed of 75mph and a range of 23 miles. In Comfort mode the i8 is a plug-in hybrid that’s quiet, refined, has a range of up to 310 miles and can be charged from zero to 80 per cent inside two hours.

Select Sport mode by simply moving the gear selector from ‘D’ to ‘S’ and the i8 transforms again. Now the internal combustion engine and electric motor combine as effectively as possible to deliver maximum power, noise and excitement. So configured, the i8 generates 357bhp and 420lb ft. It also tightens its damping, reduces the electric power assistance for the steering and manages the car’s balance by manipulating drive to the front axle for ultimate agility and engagement. The numbers say the i8 combines 135mpg and 49g/km on the one hand or 0-62mph in 4.4sec and 155mph (limited) when driven like a sports car should be.

Panasonic to build gigafactory, produce batteries for Tesla Motors

Japanese electronics giant Panasonic is teaming with Tesla Motors to build batteries for the American electric car manufacturer.

Panasonic is expected to sign a contract this month to help Tesla construct a plant and produce batteries for its vehicles.

Initial operations at the plant are scheduled to commence in 2017 and become fully operational by 2020. The facility will produce batteries for 500,000 vehicles annually.

The American company had been seeking partners for the venture and plans to invest up to $5 billion in the joint project. Panasonic is to be the core participant, likely investing more than 200 million dollars.

Tesla will invest $2 billion in the factory, while the construction will require $4–$5 billion. The rest of the fund will be provided by Tesla’s partners. Tesla is considering other potential investors, such as suppliers of raw materials for the investment.

Panasonic and Tesla signed a deal in Oct 2013, under which Panasonic will increase the supply of battery cells to 2 billion in the 4-year timeframe till 2017. Panasonic has supplied 200 million cells to Tesla in the last 2 years.

In addition, Panasonic doubled its investment for auto batteries to $275 million this year. Panasonic will utilize this additional investment to boost the domestic production of the small lithium-ion batteries for Tesla.

The collaboration ultimately boosted the earnings of Panasonic's lithium-ion battery section into the black for fiscal 2013.

Tesla Motors anticipates selling 35,000 Model S vehicles this year, a 55 percent increase from 2013. The company is also planning to release the Model X, an SUV type electric vehicle, in 2015. The new factory is expected to ultimately boost the number of batteries sold to Tesla Motors.

Panasonic is seeking to increase sales in its EV battery cell sector to 4.5 billion dollars in fiscal 2018. That goal would be a 3.5-fold increase from fiscal 2012.

The company is expanding its battery operations in the hopes of establishing it as a core business. Panasonic's household electronics business previously held that position, but sales have stagnated in recent years.

Toyota Prius Plug-in TRD sets Nürburgring lap record [VIDEO]

Three-digit records are nothing new at the Nürburgring, the go-to location when car manufacturers want to prove the pace of their latest models, but until now, these feats have always been about miles per hour, not miles per gallon.

Toyota turned tradition on its head when it took its Prius Plug-in hybrid to the track, setting out to show not how fast the car could go, but just how little fuel it could use on a single lap of the notorious Nordschliefe.

A first-of-a-kind Nürburgring record was in its sights, but with no help from any clever technical tweaks or trick bodywork. Instead, Toyota designed a genuine, real-world test with the car running in traffic during a public session and complying with all the circuit rules, including the 60km/h minimum average speed.

Tesla’s $35,000 car will be called the Model 3

In an interview with AutoExpress, CEO Elon Musk revealed that the $35,000 vehicle will be called the Model 3 (with three bars to represent it), after Ford put the kibosh on calling it the Model E.

“We were going to call it model E for a while and then Ford sued us saying it wanted to use the Model E".

Musk has repeatedly targeted 2017 as the release window for a smaller vehicle. He's said it will be the third generation after the original Roadster and Model S, and in the interview claims it will have a range of over 200 miles per charge, probably using batteries built in Tesla's planned Gigafactory.

Musk also told the magazine about a range boost upgrade coming for the original Roadster that will give it a modern battery capable of up to 400 miles on a charge, "which will allow you to drive from LA to San Francisco non-stop."

Next Generation Toyota Prius To Get Electric All-Wheel Drive

Automotive News reports the next generation of Prius, set to begin production in December of 2015, may get an all-wheel drive option in addition to its default front-drive layout.

“I think we will possibly do it,” said Koei Saga, senior managing officer in charge of powertrain development, speaking about all-wheel drive. Saga also says that there will be two different battery options available with the 2016 Prius, a low-cost nickel-metal hydride unit or a more expensive lithium ion pack.

The choice of two batteries could possibly deliver a low-cost version using the tried-and-true nickel-metal hydride technology that Toyota has used since it launched the Prius in 1997. And for those wanting longer electric-only driving range, a larger-capacity lithium ion pack could be offered as an upper trim model with a higher price.

The 2016 Prius will ride on a new platform, making the car lighter, smaller and more efficient. ”The batteries will be renewed. Everything will be revised. And I think we will come up with a fuel economy that will surprise everyone,” Saga said.

It looks like the top selling Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV may get some AWD competition.

Next Generation Toyota Prius To Get Electric All-Wheel Drive

Automotive News reports the next generation of Prius, set to begin production in December of 2015, may get an all-wheel drive option in addition to its default front-drive layout.

“I think we will possibly do it,” said Koei Saga, senior managing officer in charge of powertrain development, speaking about all-wheel drive. Saga also says that there will be two different battery options available with the 2016 Prius, a low-cost nickel-metal hydride unit or a more expensive lithium ion pack.

The choice of two batteries could possibly deliver a low-cost version using the tried-and-true nickel-metal hydride technology that Toyota has used since it launched the Prius in 1997. And for those wanting longer electric-only driving range, a larger-capacity lithium ion pack could be offered as an upper trim model with a higher price.

The 2016 Prius will ride on a new platform, making the car lighter, smaller and more efficient. ”The batteries will be renewed. Everything will be revised. And I think we will come up with a fuel economy that will surprise everyone,” Saga said.

It looks like the top selling Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV may get some AWD competition.