Five-doors prove popular as Audi and VW launch new models


HARD SHOULDER:IT SEEMS TO BE a week of rear doors in small cars. Audi is now taking orders on its five-door version of the A1 supermini, with prices starting at €19,910.

The three-door version of the A1 has had limited appeal since its launch in September 2010, but the five-door version is expected to prove far more popular with Irish buyers.

And with that in mind, sister brand Volkswagen has confirmed the introduction of a five-door version of its Up city car (above). The three-door version will go on sale here in March with the five-door variant arriving in June.

While prices have yet to be confirmed, estimates suggest they will start at €11,000, with a €500 premium for a five-door variant.

Opel’s Junior aims to challenge the Fiat 500

OPEL IS FINALISINGits testing on an upcoming small car that it hopes will challenge the likes of the Fiat 500. Codenamed Junior, the 3.7meter-long three-door is based on a shortened Corsa platform and will be sold alongside the utilitarian Agila and conventional Corsa supermini in Opel’s small-car range.

Nick Reilly, GM Europe president, said one of his first decisions upon taking charge in November 2009 was to “prioritise and accelerate” development of this car. Its a chic and stylish minicar that fits with today’s hip, urban spirit, said Reilly. It is not a low-cost version of the Corsa. Expect the Junior prices to be similar to the Fiat 500. According to Opel design chief Mark Adam: “We have a heritage in small cars, but we wanted to do this in a contemporary way. It’s modern but with real personality.”

GM Europe is investing €11 billion in new cars and powertrains over the next three years. A new small engine family is planned for the Junior. GM confirmed its new small car will also be sold as a plug-in battery-electric version.

The Junior production will begin at the Eisenach plant in Germany in late 2012, with sales beginning in 2013. Meanwhile, US regulators have ended their investigation into the electric hybrid range extender Chevrolet Volt, due to be sold here as the Opel Ampera.

After several months of investigation into the risk of fire from the car’s batteries, they now say the electric-powered vehicles do not pose a greater risk of fire than petrol cars.

Toyota moves to reduce reliance on ‘rare earth’ materials

TOYOTA HASreportedly developed a way to make hybrid and electric vehicles without the use of expensive rare earth metals, in which China has a near-monopoly. Toyota, the world's leading producer of hybrid cars such as the Prius, could bring the technology to market in two years if the price of rare earths does not come down, Japan's Kyodo News reported.

Rare earth metals like neodymium and dysprosium are used in the powerful magnets in motors that power hybrid and electric cars, and demand is expected to surge as more of the environmentally friendly cars hit the market.

China produces more than 95 per cent of the worlds rare earth metals. Its efforts to limit exports, citing resource depletion and environmental degradation, have alarmed its customers and trading partners and have sent prices soaring.

Japan accounts for a third of global rare earth demand and is aiming to cut consumption, providing subsidies for recycling and investing in new ways to limit their use.