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Battery Box: The Mercedes-EQ Line Grows With EQT Small Van

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UPDATE 5/10/21: Mercedes-Benz Vans has released images and more details about the Concept EQT, which you can see in the gallery below. 

Capable of seating up to seven in three rows, its maw looks more like the Vision EQS Concept than, say, the production EQS sedan. Expect the production version, perhaps, to be toned down slightly, with a less prominent grille, if it follows the formula of other EQ models as they transition from concept to production. Inside, the gauge cluster, steering wheel, and center stack stand out with a contrasting light tone and bold, shiny materials. An unusually-shaped panoramic glass roof (with a “starscape layered into it”) adds some interest, and dual sliding doors add practicality. Do not expect the electric longboard stored beneath a transparent cover in the cargo area to make it to production, but that’s a neat touch.

The original article continues below.

Mercedes-Benz Vans’ lineup in Europe is a little bit confusing, and since we only get the Sprinter and the Metris on these shores we’ll spare you a detailed examination of how the new T-Class partially replaces the current Citan. So here’s what you need to know: There is a T-Class there, a joint-venture with Renault and related to the Kangoo small commercial van, and this new Concept EQT previews an electric Mercedes-EQ EQT version of said T-Class.

To put it another way, think of the T-Class as being roughly the same size and shape as a Ram ProMaster City or Ford Transit Connect. Now, electrify that and put a Mercedes tri-star on it, and you’re in the right headspace.

The Mercedes-EQ lineup is getting serious now. We just saw the flagship EQS luxury sedan (in the gallery below) and the EQB small SUV, and the EQC midsize SUV is a solid first shot at a full-bore EV from the company. And Mercedes-EQ ain’t done yet, with the EQA compact SUV on the way, too. And Mercedes-Benz Vans isn’t going to let the EQT roam the streets alone, as Mercedes already sells the eVito and eSprinter vans in Europe.

Not that this is exactly a pure work van. Mercedes-Benz Vans is using the T-Class (and EQT) to target non-commercial customers with small, utilitarian, and upscale vans. What, exactly, that’ll look like in EQT form remains to be seen, but it sounds like the company is targeting “active lifestyle” customers who want a well-appointed and luxurious vehicle or camper.

The EQT Concept will debut on May 10, and the production version should arrive sooner rather than later. After all, the related 2021 Renault Kangoo is already on sale, and that includes its ZE electric version, so a production EQT can’t be too far off.

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2022 Volkswagen Taos Gets Basecamp Accessory Package for More Effective SUV Cosplay

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Volkswagen is introducing an outdoorsy accessory line for the all-new 2022 Taos. The accessories add a rugged look to the compact SUV and are available bundled together in a package or sold separately.

Inspired by the Basecamp line for the Atlas, the package includes custom plastic body cladding, front and rear fender flares with integrated splash guards, and lower side plates. The grille also gets a Basecamp badge. The Basecamp package gives the Taos a more aggressive appearance and creates a cohesive styling upgrade that extends from the nose to the rear.

In addition to the new Basecamp accessory line for Taos models, Volkswagen has a full suite of equipment options that bolster convenience and vehicle protection. Featured gear from the extensive catalog consists of Rubber MuddyBuddy and carpeted floor mats and Bumperdillo guards for the rear bumper that help prevent damage when loading and unloading cargo.

Aimed at folks with an adventurous lifestyle looking to boost functionality while adding distinctive styling, Volkswagen seeks to build on the vehicle’s dynamic exterior design. Except for the Basecamp badge, which is only a part of the complete package, the dealer-installed components are available individually. The Taos Basecamp bundle costs $999 and is on sale now.

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Tesla’s New AMD Graphics Chipset Should Have Sony PS5 Performance

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During Computex 2021 (aka Taipei International Information Technology Show), AMD disclosed it is providing APU- and RDNA2-based GPUs to Tesla to use in its new Model S and Model X’s infotainment systems. That explains Tesla’s bold claims, noted on its website, that “[u]p to 10 teraflops of processing power enables in-car gaming on-par with today’s newest consoles” in its Model S and Model X vehicles. Essentially, Tesla is putting a gaming computer on wheels, but more importantly, it shows the company is doubling down on a smart-connected vehicle future.

The Hardware

The current MCU2 (the second-generation media control unit) found in all Tesla models on sale today uses an Intel Atom processor, which is a lower-end product usually found in budget laptops. This new chipset from AMD—some Tesla fans have dubbed it “MC3″—should be a major upgrade, and Tesla claims it will be in vehicles this month. The APU (a CPU with an integrated, lower-performance GPU) generally handles the media system, using less power to handle simple tasks. The high-power dedicated GPU kicks in for high demand applications such as AAA games.

According to an earlier leak from developer Patrick Schur on Twitter, this high-power chip is based on AMD’s Navi 23 GPU, which should put it more or less on par with Sony’s PS5 gaming console in terms of raw computing power. Since the new Tesla infotainment screen has a 2200 x 1300 resolution, gaming performance should be at least equivalent to a PS5 hooked up to a 4K (3840 x 2160) TV.

Overall, this new chipset from AMD is a huge leap from the old Intel chip; think of it like going from a $400 netbook to a $2,000 gaming laptop. However, this change to a higher end chipset may put Tesla in a slight manufacturing disadvantage for a while, as the current global microchip shortage and strong demand from both gamers and crypto miners means GPUs are scarce. The demand is far bigger than supply, and manufacturing can’t scale up quickly to accommodate the demand, so don’t expect this new chipset to trickle down to higher volume Teslas such as the Model 3 and Model Y any time soon.

(Speaking of crypto-mining, the AMD GPU should provide 40-60 MH/s—millions of hashes per second—for mining Ethereum, but don’t buy a Model S as a mining rig. At the current rate, profit is roughly $4 a day, you will need 20,000 days to reach ROI, unless you “diamond hands” hold and ETH moons someday. And it’s not like Tesla would let you install any mining software, anyway.)

The Software and Future Potential

Nerdy hardware talk aside, what does this new chipset bring to the in-car experience? A smoother infotainment UI should be the most noticeable benefit. The Intel Atom chip from 2018 has started to show its age as Tesla added more functions throughout the years; the in-car browser can’t even scroll smoothly on this site, motortrend.com. And entertainment features such as Netflix and YouTube UI have started to feel sluggish. The new chip will almost certainly improve the UI experience.

Being able to run AAA games—big-budget blockbuster video games, in other words—is a gimmick that helps sell an expensive car, but it’s a gimmick no other brand has attempted. But there is more to it below the surface: This highly capable hardware paves a path for extra revenue for Tesla in the future, should it decide to sell games and apps on its own platform. The gaming industry is worth $150 billion; Apple’s AppStore made an estimated $64 billion in 2020.

Tesla has the ability to reach a user base of over a million owners, so selling software and subscription features is a potential revenue stream that is difficult to ignore. When driver-assistance technology becomes more mature in the coming years, and drivers don’t have to monitor the road at all times, the in-car infotainment system may become the major feature for car buyers.

It took Apple’s iOS 13 years to build up a customer base capable of generating $64 billion in one year. Since Tesla is intent on developing true self-driving systems in the future, it makes sense to start thinking about how to lock their customer base into their software ecosystem.

Game Time

To see how the current MCU stacks up, we booted up some AAA games for an unscientific test. It worked … with a few caveats.

As mentioned above, due to chip shortage, don’t expect to play AAA games in the Model 3 and Model Y anytime soon. But what if you really wanted to play high-end games while waiting in line for an available Supercharger in a parking lot (stationary, absolutely NOT driving on the road), and you didn’t have the latest Model S or Model X? Well, Tesla’s in-car browser is based on Google’s Chromium—the open-source code that underpins Chrome and many other browsers—and Google has a game streaming service named Stadia, so in theory you can play AAA titles through the in-car browser.

I plugged in my Stadia controller to an in-car USB slot, opened up the browser and logged into my Stadia account. And … it worked. I was able to play Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on a Tesla Model 3’s screen.

But it didn’t work well. In fact, it was nigh-unplayable, due to frequent disconnects and numerous input lags. Game streaming requires a stable internet connection, and the car’s network module failed to provide that. Whether it was on full bar LTE cellular or a stable WIFI home internet, the MCU2 struggled to maintain a stable connection. Still, it works, in a technical sense, and the better internet module that will come with the MCU3 hardware improvements should bring Tesla’s dream of premium gameplay to a small screen near you.

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Obscure, Futuristic ’70s Mazda RX500 Concept Was Immortalized in Die-Cast Form

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With a wild, eye-catching wedgy shape, it’s no wonder the RX500 inspired a Matchbox model that outlived it.

It’s late 1970. Mazda has been at the rotary engine game for almost a decade, developing the problematic Felix Wankel/NSU design into a formidable, powerful, and futuristic little powerplant. It was the highlight of the forward-looking production 1967 Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S. While beautiful, and interesting, the Cosmo Sport merely (albeit expertly) epitomized the now. The RX500 Concept, which took the stage at the 17th Tokyo Motor Show, envisioned a rotary-powered future straight out of a Syd Mead sketchbook.

The RX500’s aesthetic is pure ’70s sci-fi, with a wrap-around windshield that makes it look like a starfighter for the road. The ports on the engine cover and fenders look like exhausts for some sort of fusion reactor, the mirrors look like sensor pods, the large inlets just behind the windows could be jet intakes. Fair in the wheels, and it looks like it could hover, or fly. Pop up the butterfly doors and the impression is enhanced.

But the profile is the most striking. The high, nearly horizontal rear decklid streams backwards from the roof, terminating in a bluff rear flanked by a quadrangle-vented dark ring. Inset is a huge red-painted stripe emblazoned with the words “Powered by ROTARY.” Underneath, two prominent square exhaust outlets are painted red. There’s a loose thematic link with the Ferrari 250 GT SWB known as the “Breadvan,” but the RX500 is much busier in the details, yet arguably more elegant overall.

The shape came from Mazda’s design team, in particular Shigenori Fukuda, who later became head of the company’s design team. The designer admitted some influence from Italy in an interview with Pen, in particular Bertone’s work, but the design is on the whole original. And the spaceship influence is quite overt, directly inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, Fukuda told the outlet.

It wasn’t enough to simply build a futuristic mid-engined supercar, albeit one with a modest (by today’s standards) 247 horsepower from a modified two-rotor 10A engine that revved to a stratospheric 15,000 RPM. As was the trend at the time, the RX500 explored safety concepts, with a taillight cluster that used colored indicators to show whether the car was accelerating, braking, or coasting. That particular concept didn’t catch on, but adaptive brake lights did, decades later.

What did endure was the shape, although not in a full-size vehicle. In 1971, Matchbox immortalized it with a die-cast model, which differed from the fantastic RX500 mainly in the re-imagined engine cover, which opened as one piece (as opposed to the gullwing engine bay doors on the RX500).

The RX500 speaks to a future that never was for Mazda, and one that arguably wouldn’t have worked out very well considering the oil crises that followed shortly after the concept’s debut. While Mazda never built a road car much like the RX500, its mid-engined race program eventually led to an overall win at Le Mans with the legendary 787B in 1991—after which rotary engines were banned from the series. The Autozam AZ-1, a mid-engined kei car with gullwing doors, is perhaps the closest thing to this RX500 to hit production, and it utilized a Suzuki I-3 engine.

Just one RX500 was made, and it was restored in 2008 to display at the Numaji Transportation Museum in Hiroshima, the home of Mazda. But the 1:59 scale Matchbox model remained on sale for over a decade, with a hiatus of several years in between, giving the RX500 a broad fanbase and a stronger legacy than it might have had otherwise.

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