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Get the Drift? Small Cars Go Rear-Drive

Wonder what the hottest powertrain layout in the world is right now?

Wonder what the hottest powertrain layout in the world is right now? It’s rear-wheel drive. Despite the plethora of front- and all-wheel drive powertrains, the number of front-engine/rear-drive chassis is about to explode for two reasons. First, this orientation has greater credibility for performance and sport/luxury vehicles. Second, the growth in the sport of drifting has caused many a manufacturer to rethink its lineup as small front- or all-wheel drive cars aren’t conducive to sideways trips around corners. It’s the second point that is causing all the midnight oil to be burnt in Japan, Korea, and the U.S.

It’s no secret by now that Hyundai will replace the Tiburon with a V6-powered rear-drive vehicle known internally as the “Hyundai Mustang.” If the budding pony car market is the focus of this car, you can be certain that a way will be found to shoehorn Hyundai’s upcoming V8 under the hood if enough customers ask for it. Especially when doing so would allow them to undercut the Mustang, Challenger, and Camaro with a vehicle more in tune with the tastes of Generations X and Y than Baby Boomers.

Nissan and Renault are jointly developing a small rear-drive sports car that will be powered by Nissan’s 1.8-, 2.0-, and 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engines. The car, said to be a production version of its 2006 Urge concept car, will be built on a global rear-drive platform with fully independent suspension and a near 50:50 weight distribution. With the arrival of BMW’s 1 Series in the U.S., Nissan also is looking at the possibility of creating a rear-drive entry-level coupe and sedan for the Infiniti brand.

Toyota has played with the idea of a small rear-drive coupe in the mold of the old mid-1970s Corolla that would offer decent performance and fuel economy. Insiders suggest the Celica name could be resurrected for this car, and that a high-performance version of the Corolla’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder could be used. In addition to a coupe, some within the company are pushing for a small sedan to be built off the same chassis, a vehicle that would be somewhat like the Datsun 510 (1968-1973), a sporty European-styled car.

Still to be heard from in this debate is Honda, which has a rear-drive contender in the current S2000. However, Honda reportedly will drop that car with no replacement currently scheduled. Honda has toyed with the idea of a small rear-drive sports coupe and sedan for years, but the S2000 was always the odd-man-out in a sea of transverse front-drive brothers, and more expensive than its image could support.

GM, on the other hand, will debut its rear-drive Alpha architecture around 2010, and build cars for Cadillac (BLS replacement), Buick, and Pontiac (G6 replacement) off this platform. It will support four-cylinder and V6 engines, making it readily adaptable should CAFE standards require a more fuel-efficient solution. Look for a 300-hp turbocharged Ecotec under the hood of Pontiac’s hottest model.—CAS

“I have heard people say that this process costs about a dollar per pulse, but that’s based on very old technology. Our coil is warranted for 50,000 pulses and can be used for as many as 75,000 and it costs about $2,000—or about four cents per pulse,” Blakely says. While the equipment needed to install a C3 magnetic pulse welding station is significantly more than gas metal arc welding, the process does not require filler materials or gas emission removal systems. What’s more, materials deformity is reduced while part quality is improved. Hirotec’s system is being utilized on an HVAC receiver drive application and manufacturing cycle times have been cut from 26 sec. on a two-pass system to less then 1 sec. on a single pulse cell, while rework rates have been slashed from 20% to nearly zero.

Magnetic pulse does have its limitations, especially when it comes to thicker grade materials, especially high-grade stainless steel. Using the technology on parts with complex forms also poses problems, since the electrical current does not flow evenly throughout larger dies. Still, Hirotec sees a number of unique application possibilities in the future, including development of a hybrid door beam made from aluminum that could be magnetically attached to the steel door structure, reducing weight. “We’re working with the research and manufacturing departments at some OEMs right now,” Blakely says, hinting Hirotec’s process may make inroads on several ’09-’11 vehicles.—KMK