Infiniti Announces Upcoming Fully Electric Crossover, Teases Sleek Design

Infiniti will join the ranks of other automakers exploring electrified crossovers when it premieres an all-new EV platform at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the company announced on Friday.

In January, Infiniti plans to debut its newest offering to the emerging electric car market. The automaker says that it will bring a "future fully-electric Infiniti crossover" to the NAIAS in order to show off its dedication to electric cars

The crossover is said to feature Infiniti's newest design language, meaning that we should see some likeness to the design trends shown off by the Q Inspiration. A teaser released by Infiniti (above) confirms quite a few trends shared between the two automobiles, such as luxury-inspired body panels uninterrupted by door handles, sweeping body lines, and a good bit of attention to detail. A familiar illuminated front emblem and accentuated front bumper lines can be seen on the crossover's teaser just as it was on the Q Inspiration concept. Its small-profile side mirrors suggest that we may perhaps one day soon see the inclusion of camera-based side mirrors should regulations permit.

Infiniti also confirmed that it plans to make the vehicle's luxurious interior a keystone of its future vehicle's selling points by designing cars to have extremely spacious, "lounge-like" cockpits. The Q Inspiration also showcases this similar approach by using a minimalistic design approach inside of its coaches and stuffing it full of display-based controls and entertainment. Like other manufacturers, Infiniti plans to take full advantage of the compact nature of electric motors in order to squeeze every little bit of extra room into its vehicle's footprint.

“Thirty years ago, as a 24-year old designer in the audience, I saw the birth of INFINITI in person and am proud to be part of the journey of creating iconic luxury automobiles,” said Nissan's Senior Vice President of Global Design, Alfonso Albaisa. “Now, 30 years later, Q Inspiration shows how new proportions triggered by the new electrified power of INFINITI has inspired a new direction, a new visual language. Alongside our Prototype 10 Pebble Beach Concept, both designs embody a deep simplicity inspired by the technology within and a new artistry inspired by our unique culture and of course our roots in Japan.”

Choosing the NAIAS to debut its newest offering to the emerging electric car market was no accident. Infiniti's first car, the Q45, debuted at the very same show as the brand's flagship vehicle in 1989. Showcasing the company's future on a landmark anniversary is Infiniti's subtle hat tip to the changing automotive market.

A USAF C-17 Flew A Secretive Mission Into Yemen To Rescue Wounded Emirati Troops In 2017

In 2017, a C-17A Globemaster III airlifter landed in Yemen in order to collect six wounded members of the United Arab Emirates’ military and deliver them to safety. As Congress continues to debate whether or not to keep supporting the Saudi Arabian-led coalition fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, this mission is a good reminder that U.S. military will almost certainly remain engaged in its own murky operations against Al Qaeda- and ISIS-affiliated groups in the country regardless.

The Air Force Association revealed the existence of the aeromedical evacuation mission, which a crew from the 62nd Airlift Wing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State had carried out, during its main annual conference and exhibition in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 17, 2018. U.S. Air Force Captain James Jenson accepted the 2018 Lieutenant General William H. Tunner Crew Award for most outstanding strategic airlift crew in the Air Force on behalf of himself and the rest of his crew, referred to by their callsign during the mission, Reach 865.

“The crew of Reach 865 executed an aeromedical evacuation of six Emirati soldiers from Yemen,” the announcer explained during the presentation. “They overcame a denial of air traffic services and degraded communications, deconflicted themselves from other American assets, and mitigated rapidly changing patient status to safely deliver the patients.”

We don’t know the exact date of the operation took place or where the C-17 landed in Yemen, how dangerous that location might have been, and where it subsequently delivered the wounded Emirati troops. U.S. Central Command confirmed the mission had occurred, but was unable to say whether or not any other aeromedical evacuations or Emirati or other U.S. partner forces in Yemen had occurred before that.

A C-17A Globemaster III from the 62nd Airlift Wing touches down at the Selah Airstrip within the Yakima Training Center in Washington State during an exercise.

There was also no indication that the CENTCOM public affairs office was aware of this particular mission at all before we inquired about it. At the time of writing, we have not received any response from Joint Base Lewis-McChord or the 62nd Airlift Wing regarding our queries about this mission.

Aeromedical evacuations are not unusual for C-17s and their crews, though. The U.S. Air Force has even developed a full surgical suite, called the Tactical Critical Care Evacuation Team-Enhanced (TCCET-E), which is designed to fit inside the aircraft so medical personnel can perform life-saving operations in flight.

The inside of a C-17 configured for aeromedical evacuations.

“During operations U.S. forces provided the Emiratis with intelligence support; airborne ISR; advice and assistance with operational planning; maritime interdiction and security operations; medical support; and aerial refueling,” a CENTCOM public affairs officer told The War Zone in an Email in September 2018. “However, due to security and force protection considerations, we will not discuss specifics regarding this operation.”

The Email did note that, at that time, the U.S. military did not have any standing aeromedical or casualty evacuation assets in place that were dedicated to supporting any operations in Yemen. However, in May 2018, U.S. Transportation Command had announced that it was looking to hire contractors to operate fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters and provide casualty evacuation and personnel recovery services at any of 10 different sites inside the country.

A map showing 10 seperate locations in Yemen, as well as other sites in neighboring countries. The ones within Yemen encompass what the U.S. military calls the Yemen Joint Special Operations Area. In May 2018, U.S. Transportation Command expressed an interest in hiring contractors to provide casualty evacuation and personnel recovery services within range of these locations.

“Please note, this was in support of counterterrorism operations, not the Saudi-led Coalition in their fight against the Houthis,” the CENTCOM public affairs officer stressed in their Email. “DoD [the Department of Defense] provides non-combat advisory support, refueling support to Coalition aircraft and intelligence support to assist Saudi Arabia in preventing cross-border attacks.”

This is a critical distinction. The U.S. government has been under increasing pressure from within to end the latter support to the Saudi-led coalition in the face of a still growing humanitarian disaster in Yemen, brought on in no small part by often indiscriminate Saudi airstrikes, as well as Houthi intransigence. On top of that, U.S.-Saudi relations are at an all-time low after the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi-born journalist and sometimes critic of the ruling monarchy in Riyadh, who had been living in self-imposed exile in Turkey, in October 2018.

The U.S. government has been providing various types of support to the Saudis and their allies in Yemen since 2015, but Congress has never officially approved any of it. A recent report from The Atlantic, found that U.S. taxpayers had actually been footing the bill for mid-air refueling for Saudi and Emirati jets flying missions against the Houthis specifically. Today, the Pentagon has still not formalized an agreement requiring those countries to pay for the tanker services, despite a clear legal requirement to do so.

In September 2017, The Intercept had already revealed that the U.S. military was not accurately tracking when and how much it was fueling Saudi and Emirati aircraft at all. Earlier in November 2018, the Pentagon announced it would no longer refuel Saudi-led coalition aircraft at all, officially at the request of officials in Riyadh.

A US Air Force KC-135R tanker refuels a United Arab Emirates F-16E Desert Falcon fighter jet during operations against ISIS in Iraq in 2016.

On Dec. 13, 2018, the U.S. Senate voted to pass a resolution invoking the War Powers Resolution of 1973 and calling for an end to all U.S. support for the Saudis and their allies in Yemen engaged in fighting the Houthis. That same day, they passed another non-binding resolution rebuking the Saudi government over Khashoggi’s murder and directly accusing Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of ordering the hit. Better known as MbS, the Crown Prince is widely seen as the real leader of Saudi Arabia as his father, King Salman bin Abulaziz, becomes increasingly old and frail.

The War Powers measure is unlikely to have any practical impact immediately since the U.S. House of Representatives has already rejected it. When the Democratic Party takes control in the House in January 2019, they will almost certainly revisit it, though. It is still a strong statement from legislators, including some Republicans, to President Donald Trump’s Administration, which has very publicly advocated for continuing to support the Saudis in Yemen. The U.S. government has also been highly supportive of the ongoing political process to end Yemen's civil war, which that has seen more momentum recently with direct talks starting between the rebels and the country's Saudi-backed, internationally recognized government in Sweden on Dec. 12, 2018.

It is worth noting, when it comes to supporting the Saudi-led coalition's operations, the Trump Administration has simply been continuing a policy that President Barack Obama put into place. It’s also important to understand that the resolutions that the Senate passed and the House voted down both included carve-outs for U.S. operations in and around Yemen that are otherwise approved under other legislation.

In its September 2018 Email, CENTCOM would not say what specific operation the 62nd’s aeromedical flight had been in support of, but we do know that U.S. forces were actively working with UAE personnel in 2017 to loosen Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) grasp on Yemen’s central Shabwah Governorate. “We have been working there with airstrikes as necessary and the authority to do ground operations where necessary,” U.S. Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told The Washington Examiner in August 2017.

At the same time, U.S. special operations forces were taking part in an operation known as Yukon Sceptre. While we don’t know the exact details about that operation, the so-called “first word” “Yukon” in operational nicknames is almost exclusively linked to activities in Yemen. Sometime prior to 2017, there had been another counter-terrorism operation in Yemen known as Yukon Viking.

A slide from a 2017 briefing by the heads of the US Navy's Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and the US Marine Corps' 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit covering their activities that year. This included support for US special operations forces engaged in

In February 2018, the U.S. military began Yukon Journey, which the Pentagon only publicly acknowledged in November 2018. Yahoo News later confirmed this was indeed a new American operation in the country. However, this specifically referred to American support for the Saudi-led coalition’s fight against the Houthis.

It is possible that Yukon Sceptre referred to the separate fight against AQAP- and ISIS-affiliated groups in the country, which the U.S. government understands to be authorized under the 2001 Authorization For Use of Military Force, or AUMF, which Congress passed into law after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. If all these different operations, with unclear timelines and objectives, seem confusing and murky, that’s because they are.

A list of operations and other activities within US Central Command, which Yahoo News was first to report. Yukon Journey, misspelled

It’s also difficult to say for sure where the U.S. counter-terrorism operation ends and the Saudi-led coalition fight against the Houthis begins. For example, there’s no indication the U.S. knew or knows now whether Emirati aircraft it was refueling as part of aid to the Saudi-led coalition went on to strike Houthi or AQAP targets.

Further underscoring the complexities of the situation in Yemen, in their fight against the Houthis, the Saudis have decided to embrace other Islamist groups they had previously opposed and accused of having links to AQAP and the Muslim Brotherhood. This most notably includes the Yemeni political party Al Islah.

At the same time, the Saudi’s ostensible ally the UAE continued to target Al Islah members until December 2017, going so far as to reportedly hire an American-based hit squad to murder them. It remains unclear still whether the Emiratis conducted those activities under the guise of the fight against the Houthis, their U.S.-backed mission against AQAP and ISIS, or as part of a third front they pursued entirely independently.

The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, one of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, second from the left, meets with members of Yemen's Al Islah during a meeting organized by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, to his right, in December 2017.

As such, no matter what support the U.S. military does or does not render to the Saudi-led coalition, there remains a significant risk that American personnel in Yemen will find it difficult to segregate their operations from those of other countries fighting the Houthis. A good example of this was when Houthi forces shot down a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper in 2017.

We don’t know what operation this drone was supporting and, for all practical purposes, it doesn’t matter. Had the Houthis seen the 62nd’s C-17 on its aeromedical mission, there’s no reason to imagine they might not have decided to engage it, too, thinking that it might have been delivering personnel or equipment to the Saudi-led coalition. The U.S. military's designated "Yemen Joint Special Operations Area" spans the entire country. In addition, the UAE itself operates its own C-17s, further increasing the likelihood that the rebels would seek to shoot it down.

All told, even if Congress succeeds in ending U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis, which looks increasingly likely, there is absolutely no indication that this will bring an end to American operations in Yemen. It would not automatically end support for members of that coalition, primarily the UAE, ostensibly fighting AQAP and ISIS, either.

There have been far fewer calls for more public oversight of these other American military activities in Yemen, as evidenced by the aeromedical mission in 2017 that apparently went unnoticed even by certain elements of the U.S. military itself. Congress has shown little stomach for repealing or amending the 2001 AUMF, despite some recent attempts to do so.

Unless more dramatic changes in U.S. foreign policy occur, the U.S. military looks set to be involved in Yemen for years to come. Without clarity as to the full scope of its activities there, the United States’ activities in the country will similarly remain as controversial as ever.

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Commandos Ride Black Hawk Helo And Stealth Boats During Shadowy Exercise In Miami Port

Yesterday, a reader of The War Zone happened to look outside their office overlooking the Port of Miami and see what appears to have been an interesting inter-agency training exercise. Unlike some drills that have occurred in and around major U.S. metropolitan areas, this one, which included a UH-60M Black Hawk very similar to one that appeared over Chicago this past September and specialized stealth boats, seems to have gone largely unnoticed.

Owen from Miami has been nice enough to share with us the pictures he was able to take of the activity he could see, as well as a timeline of events. At around 9:30 AM, he first noticed what was going on at a portion of the Port of Miami that the non-profit Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC) owns and operates from. The drill appeared to wrap up some time after 3:00 PM.

Initially, there was a green painted UH-60M Black Hawk sitting on the dock together with a black-and-gold Bell Model 407 helicopter. Tied up together in the water alongside were four rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) and four other, larger watercraft. More than 20 uniformed military or law enforcement personnel were also present.

The scene at a dock at the Port of Maimi that Omen from Miami saw when he initially looked out his office window.

Despite its coloring, often associated with the U.S. Army, the Black Hawk does not appear to be a military helicopter. It lacks the titles and other markings that Army UH-60s have and has a distinctly different antenna arrangement.

As we mentioned earlier in this post, a similarly configured helicopter took part in a separate training exercise in Chicago on Sept. 26, 2018, which most likely belonged to an element within the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG). CIRG includes a variety of elite, specialized FBI units, including the famed Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), the U.S. government's top national law enforcement counter-terrorism force. The Department of Justice has been publicly acquiring UH-60Ms for the FBI via the Army since 2009.

It is not clear who the boats belong to, but the larger ones are similar, if not identical to the U.S. Navy's Combatant Craft Assault (CCA) Mk. 1. Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen (SWCC) assigned to three Special Boat Teams operate these and other custom boats in support of the Navy SEALs. These boats have also been seen on the super secretive special operations mothership M/V Ocean Trader. You can read more about the 41-foot long CCAs here.

The CCAs have a distinct and purpose-built stealthy design that allows them to sneak close to shore to deploy and recover special operators. It also gives them the ability to approach other, larger ships discreetly so teams can board them, especially under the cover of darkness, leveraging the element of surprise. This is a valuable capability to have and helps enable raids on potential smuggling vessels or rescuing hostages from pirates and terrorists. They can also execute more general littoral patrol duties.

US Navy CCAs lead a formation of RHIBs while US and Jordanian helicopters fly overhead during an iteration of the annual Exercise Eager Lion in Jordan

It's not clear from the pictures that Owen was able to take whether these are CCA Mk. 1s or a very similar design. The examples in the Port of Maimi have the notable low-observable rear-mounted mast, which has a small surface search radar and other sensors.

However, they appear to have a slightly different style of windscreen and protective panels around the main crew area in the center. The Navy has been working on a CCA Mk. 2 and may have some of these improved boats in service already. At the same time, any apparent differences could also just be an illusion as a result of the angle and distance at which he took the pictures.

A short of one of the stealthy boats showing what appears to be a slightly different mold line from the Navy's CCA Mk. 1s.

Whatever their exact configuration and whoever was operating them, the stealth boats might help explain what Owen saw from his office window. He told us that shortly after the boats had left the dock and headed out to sea, The Florida Explorer, one of MRSC's Responder-class Oil Spill Response Vessels (OSRV), also left the port. At that time, Florida Explorer's civilian crew, with their orange hard hats, were the only ones visible on deck.

While the boats were out, the Black Hawk came and went a total of three times. The first time it left, personnel on the dock had loaded up what appeared to be a particularly heavy piece of gear that took two of them to carry. The second time the helicopter was only on the ground briefly. On its final trip, it returned to the Port of Miami along with Florida Explorer.

When the OSRV docked again, its orange hardhat wearing crew and uniformed personnel disembarked. The uninformed individuals got into two pickup trucks and a sport utility vehicle (SUV) and left. The small boats never came back.

A very plausible scenario is that the Florida Explorer acted as a target and its crew was masquerading as either smugglers, pirates, terrorists, hostages, or some mix thereof. Personnel on board the UH-60M and the boats would have practiced intercepting and boarding the vessel from the air and the sea. The U.S. government routinely charters privately operated ships to support training activities, either as platforms to operate from or as simulated objectives.

Uniformed personnel walk by an SUV on the dock. Personnel leave the Florida Explorer after the apparent conclusion of the drill. A member of the crew is visible wearing an orange hardhat. Other individuals appear to be from the uniformed force.

For instance, every year, Tampa, Florida hosts the National Defense Industry Association's Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, or SOFIC, which includes a demonstration by U.S. and foreign special operators. This often includes some sort of maritime component, with commandos sometimes seizing control of a "captured" boat. FBI SWAT Team members from the Tampa Field Office joined SEALs, SWCCs, and other military special operators during the most recent iteration of this event, which occurred in May 2018. The FBI's HRT, and other specialized units within CIRG, routinely train together with elite U.S. special operations forces, including the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, in general, too, especially during realistic exercises in domestic urban areas.

In addition, both the FBI's CIRG and the U.S. military, including U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), are actively involved in port security and otherwise securing America's maritime borders. For example, U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) leads an annual, regional inter-agency counter-terrorism exercise known as Vital Archer. The 2015 iteration of that drill reportedly involved a simulated radiological or nuclear attack in or around Northumberland, Canada, which sits on Lake Ontario.

A member of the FBI's Tampa Field Office's SWAT Team takes part in the special operations demonstration during SOFIC 2018.

In August 2017, we at The War Zone also investigated a still largely unexplained training exercise involving a super-secretive U.S. Air Force CN-235 surveillance aircraft flying near Seattle. One of our working theories was, and remains, that the drill including watching for simulated threats at the city's sea and airport facilities.

The requirement for this kind of realistic training is obvious. Personnel rappelling on a fixed spot on land or climbing ropes and ladders onto a "ship" on land cannot ever truly represent what it's like to board a ship sailing in the open ocean. Just like joint training within the U.S. military, interagency training is also an especially valuable opportunity for different units and organizations with different standard operating procedures to practice working together in a simulated real-world scenario. It provides a chance for these groups to share lessons learned and best practices, too.

So, if you live or work near a port, you might want to keep an eye out like Owen did and possibly catch elite law enforcement and military units practicing these operations yourself.

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Ford Is Reportedly Working On a Small, Focus-Based Pickup Truck

Even though the Focus is not long for America, Ford is apparently working on a small pickup truck based on the to-be-defunct compact, Ford Authority reports.

The publication's unnamed sources say the new, unibody truck would slot underneath the Ranger, be powered by a selection of transverse-mounted naturally aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinders, initially be front-wheel drive with the potential of all-wheel-drive options, and launch in 2021 for the 2022 model year. Engineering and design work reportedly kicked off several months ago and the first prototypes are said to hit the testbeds very soon.

Sources also say the compact pickup will most likely (and quite intuitively, we'll add) be called the Courier. Ford even apparently filed a trademark for the name back in July 2016. Proper Ford nerds will note, however, that a Courier already existed in the form of a small, Fiesta-based truck sold in South America. Another possible moniker the small truck could take is Ranchero—a legacy nameplate taken from an El Camino competitor Ford built throughout the '60s and '70s.

1966 Ford Ranchero

That other Focus-based utility vehicle, the Focus Active crossover, was originally going to be sold in the U.S. until President Trump's tariffs imposed on cars imported from China made it less than financially advisable. Where exactly the Focus-truck will be built and whether or not it'll be sold in American showrooms remains to be seen. If it does, though, we predict it to start at somewhere close to $20,000.

Watch Joey Logano’s NASCAR Mustang Tandem Drift the Charlotte Roval With Vaughn Gittin Jr.

Ford Performance has just released a video to its Youtube channel showing off its new NASCAR Mustang, as well as the skills of driver and 2018 Cup Series champion Joey Logano behind the wheel. Rather than just have the car run around the oval of Charlotte Motor Speedway, as would be typical for a NASCAR race, the team has instead decided to film Logano slide around the track's infield with Formula Drift veteran Vaughn Gittin Jr. backing him up in his own Mustang. Gittin's RTR team also pitched in the livery design that Logano's car wears for the video.

While both of these cars bear the Mustang name, they have many differences. Gittin's Formula Drift ride has been modified with the typical steering angle kit and inboard suspension but is still based on a factory Mustang. Logano's machine, like all modern stock cars, rides on a complete tube frame chassis. Both cars are powered by Roush Yates-supplied pushrod V-8s. The Formula Drift Mustang also uses the more modern six-speed manual transmission, while NASCAR still relies on the old school four-speed. RTR also tells The Drive that Roush had added a handbrake and angle kit to the NASCAR Mustang to get it sliding around more easily.

In an RTR release, Vaughn Gittin Jr. had this to say about his NASCAR co-star: "Drifting door-to-door in the new Roval infield at Charlotte Motor Speedway with Joey behind the wheel of the new 2019 NASCAR Mustang was a wild and fun experience.” He continued, “I have never seen a driver from another [racing] discipline take to drifting like Joey did. After a bit of instruction, he was linking turns and I was comfortable to get super close."

Conversely, Joey Logano had a few words to say about Gittin. "I had an incredible time drifting the 2019 NASCAR Mustang with Vaughn Gittin Jr. This was a really fun way to be welcomed into the Mustang family. I'm looking forward to doing more Mustang burnouts and donuts on the way to victory lane next year!"

McLaren Special Operations Goes Vintage With 3 New 570S Racing Liveries

McLaren's bespoke branch, McLaren Special Operations, unveiled its newest commissions on Tuesday, and they're a motorsport junkie's dream. MSO's "Racing Through the Ages" themes for the McLaren 570S Coupe and 570 Spider, split into three distinct color combinations, honor the company's racing heritage.

Followers of MSO Defined will have already heard of the Muriwai livery, which is based on the custom Muriwai White exterior color. The hue itself is a mixture of white and blue inspired by the color of Bruce McLaren's home, in turn inspired by Muriwai, New Zealand, the town where he won his first ever race at the age of 15. For the Muriwai 570S, a "Speedy Kiwi" logo has also been added.

Papaya Spark, a revamp of the iconic Papaya Orange Macca color, is of course based on Bruce McLaren's livery of choice during his most lucrative years in motorsport, during the 1960s and 1970s. This bright orange is complemented by a blue rear wing, another nod to McLaren's race cars of the period.

Sarthe Grey pays homage to Le Mans' famous Circuit de La Sarthe and the McLaren F1 GTRs that controlled it in 1995, the manufacturer's first and only Le Mans win. If this reference wasn't obvious, MSO has painted "24 HEURES DU MANS – WINNERS 1995" on the wing's endplates.

The only bad news is that just six of McLaren's Sports Series supercars will be treated to these iconic racing liveries—three Coupes and three Spiders. In addition to the nifty paint jobs, all six cars will feature a unique rear wing, 10-spoke forged wheels, titanium SuperSports exhaust, and the MSO Defined Black Pack aesthetic upgrade. A multi-color, GT4-style stripe runs from hood to spoiler and forms the baseline of the interior color palette. Each interior also features “1 of 6 – RACING THROUGH THE AGES” plaque for extra collectibility points.

All six custom 570Ss were commissioned by McLaren Beverly Hills, the most profitable MSO seller in the world this year. McLaren BH unveiled its new motorsport-inspired toys alongside some actual, historic McLaren race cars at an event called "An Evening with MSO" last Tuesday.

“It’s exciting for us at MSO any time we are able to merge McLaren’s racing heritage with current McLaren Automotive road cars,” said Ansar Ali, managing director at McLaren Special Operations. “Working alongside our retailers such as McLaren Beverly Hills to create these distinctive, limited editions of special cars for McLaren customers is an increasingly important part of our business as the demand for bespoke commissions becomes more popular.”

2020 Cadillac XT6 to Boast Three-Row Seating, Be Revealed at Detroit Auto Show

Cadillac confirmed that it will be officially unveiling the XT6 crossover on the eve of the 2019 Detroit Auto Show in January.

As with many automakers, Cadillac understands that the large vehicle market is on fire and, as a result, has killed several of its sedans to make room for more crossover production. Such is the case with the XT6, which came at the expense of the XTS, ATS, and CT6 models.

The new luxury family hauler will be positioned between the Cadillac XT5 and Escalade full-size SUV. It’s expected to arrive on dealer lots by the summer of 2019.

Cadillac has had loads of success with the Escalade, but the company's lineup hasn’t been as well rounded as other brands', especially in terms of smaller mid-size SUVs and crossovers. Along with the XT4, the XT6 will fill in the gaps that have been left open in recent years.

It’s expected that the new offering will be produced at the Spring Hill, Tennesse plant since GM recently invested just under $300 million in the facility for a future Cadillac-branded crossover.

The Drive reached out for specifications, details, and pricing, but the reps over at GM are remaining tight-lipped until they get a chance to get the XT6 to the show. After the Jan. 13 unveiling, expect a full spec sheet with other pertinent information on the Caddy cash cow.

The upcoming XT6 will certainly be a crucial part of Cadillac's plans going forward, which include relocating away from New York City and moving back to its home of Detroit. This, along with a product switch-up, could help carry the GM brand into a successful decade of sales and popularity.

Lincoln Hints at Revival of Suicide Doors on New Continental

Lincoln Motor Company has hinted on social media that it may bring back stylish suicide doors for its top-shelf sedan, the Continental.

Suicide doors are hinged at the rear rather than the front and have become a rarity in the modern world. The last mass-produced vehicle to use suicide doors (save for some extended cab pickups) was the Mazda RX-8 sports car, which went out of production in 2012. Rolls-Royce still uses them, but almost all their vehicles are built in limited quantities and to the specification demanded by clients.

Lincoln hasn't featured suicide doors on the Continental since 1969, the last year for the fourth-generation Continental, but social media posts by the automaker imply that the quirky yet glamorous feature could soon return to the model for the first time in 50 years.

Lincoln shared an image showcasing the side-by-side door handles of the last Continental with suicide doors, tagging it as a "throwback Thursday," but also coyly suggesting it could be embarking on a bigger journey than a stroll down memory lane.

Lincoln's tease calls to mind a report from March, which claimed Lincoln showed its dealers a suicide-doored Continental rendering at the 2018 National Automobile Dealers Association in Las Vegas. Despite troubled sales for the Continental, its status as a sort of halo car for the company is reportedly bringing customers into showrooms and regularly means they exit with the keys to another Lincoln model.

Amidst this, poor sales are alleged to mean the model's discontinuation after its tenth and current generation. Unless the possible suicide-doored Continental leads a luxury car design trend that other automakers follow, its revival of the style could be short-lived.

Startup Claims Microwave Pulse Ignition Could Cut ICE Emissions by 80 Percent

A German startup is developing a potential replacement for spark plugs: microwave pulse ignition.

The tech is under development by MWI Micro Wave Ignition AG of Empfingen, Germany, which claims that its ignition system can be used in both gasoline and diesel engines, reducing fuel consumption by as much as 30 percent. Additionally, lower combustion temperatures are said to reduce nitrous oxide emissions—normally caused by high combustion temperatures—by as much as 80 percent. MWI even says that engines don't need to be redesigned to accommodate the technology, which can be retrofitted to existing production engines.

Backers of the company include a group of stakeholders led by former Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking, credited with saving the automaker in the 1990s.

"I am convinced that MWI is a disruptive innovation with a huge market potential," says Wiedeking of the technology.

MWI has begun to discuss the use of its ignition system in mass-produced vehicles with Chinese and Korean automakers, according to Bloomberg. One of these companies could be Hyundai, which is pursuing a lofty 50 percent thermal efficiency target from its internal combustion engines under a program called SmartStream. The Drive contacted Hyundai and MWI to inquire as to whether the two are in touch, and we will update when we receive comment.

One certain near-future appearance of microwave pulse ignition will be in Porsche Supercup, a spec racing series in which all competitors use the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. MWI announced Thursday that it has partnered with longtime entry Fach Auto Tech, which has competed in Porsche Supercup since the series' second year of competition in 1994.

"I am very pleased to have an innovative company like MWI AG by our side," said Alex Fach. "Our partnership is about helping each other by exchanging know-how. We will actively support the company in advancing the technology. At the same time, this provides us the opportunity to become one of the first parties to benefit from this new technology in the future."

"With this partnership, MWI has the opportunity to bring a highly modern, new technology to racing," added MWI CEO and co-founder Armin Gallatz. "With the mutual support and knowledge transfer between the two partners, we will explore ways to bring microwave ignition to high-performance engines."

MWI does not bill its ignition system as a way to increase an engine's power output, though many past technologies meant to make engines more efficient have been repurposed for performance. Hybridization, for example, started out as an augmentation to economy cars but has been recognized for its potential in the racing world with heavy use in endurance racing and Formula 1. Efficiency can often be turned on its head to produce power, and microwave ignition could be another route toward power increases.

Even if microwave ignition has no tangible performance benefit, its claimed emissions reductions could be crucial to keeping our beloved internal combustion cars on the market and on the road. For all we know, microwave ignition could help automakers like the above Hyundai or even Mazda with its planned Skyactiv-3 engine series to achieve sky-high thermal efficiency figures, as great as 56 percent in the latter's case.

Mazda, in particular, is known for playing with advanced ignition systems, such as the spark-controlled compression ignition system in its upcoming Skyactiv-X engine. It has played with plasma and laser ignition as ways to revive its Wankel rotary engine for one last hurrah, balking each time at the cost of these systems, but if microwave ignition proves a cheaper alternative, the long-awaited return of the RX series of rotary sports cars could be more than a fantasy.

For Bell Helicopter, the Future of Flight Lies in Air Taxis Anyone Can Fly

The path to a future filled with electric air taxis streaking across the sky will be bumpy indeed. Battery-powered aviation is still young and unproven, especially for vertical-lift machines that will need to spring straight up into the sky and land on a dime. No one has yet shown that the vehicles will be safe and quiet. And even now, with 2020 less than 13 months away, the rules and regulations for it all are barely a twinkle in the FAA’s eye.

But perhaps the most dire challenge is who—or what—will pilot the air taxis of tomorrow. After all, the autonomous flight controls that will be needed to make the system economical and efficient will take decades to evolve to the point that these aircraft can operate without human pilots on board. Problem is, we already have a severe pilot shortage in the current air transport system, and it’s only likely to get worse in the coming years. Where are we going to get thousands more who are capable of piloting tricky, lightweight, multi-rotor air taxis from front yards to urban rooftops—stopping at Starbucks on the way, of course—dozens of times each day? Air-taxi startups mulling this challenge are eyeing the time and costs involved in training skilled pilots—spoiler: they’re significant—and finding it a worrisome proposition.

But vertical-lift-flight veteran Bell, the 80-year-old helicopter manufacturer that has joined the pack in hot pursuit of air taxi glory, is eyeing a different strategy: make flying easier, and thus widen the potential talent pool. Doing so has already been acknowledged as likely an essential key to the early days of air taxi operation—but Bell, one of the most experienced players in the air-taxi horse race, is the first to be pushing aggressively to determine what precisely that means.

Above: Bell's air taxi cabin mockup

“Urban air mobility vehicles pose new challenges in terms of actually getting pilots into the seats,” says Bell experimental test pilot Jim Gibson. “These won’t be commercial airline pilots coming in with 1,500 hours of experience. These will be folks coming in with no experience whatsoever. So we want to incorporate these potential new pilots into the system’s development process as fast as we can.”

To that end, the Fort Worth, Texas-based company—which is unveiling its full air taxi concept at CES next month, a year after debuting the cabin mockup—has launched a three-phase study to determine what types of control systems will allow “minimally trained” pilots sufficient control and oversight without necessarily requiring them to have the same skills possessed by crews flying today’s complex helicopters and airliners. That doesn’t mean they’re dumbing the technology down so far that anyone with a driver’s license can command an air taxi—such a move likely wouldn’t inspire much confidence in early riders—but simply ensuring the controls are optimized for the widest range of potential pilots, and that simplification and automation is pushed as far as they can be. “We’re also really interested in what interfaces are the most intuitive to non-pilots,” Gibson says.

The mock-up of the interior

The first phase of the study, currently underway, involves surveying a wide spectrum of individuals who might be inclined toward a career as an air-taxi pilot. They’re asked about their previous experiences in a wide range of vehicles and even subject areas—gaming, for instance—and what abilities they bring with them, Gibson says. “We want to learn how all these things contribute to their ability to learn a new vehicle,” he adds.

A big part of this phase involves the participants trying out a range of flight simulators that use different control mechanisms and styles: conventional helicopter setups, dual-stick controls, arrangements with all functions consolidated into a single joystick. Participants take off and follow dotted lines through the the sky, maneuvering around obstacles as needed, while the computer assesses the difficulty they might be encountering—or, conversely, the ease with which they’re able to fly in more intuitive systems. The simulators will be on the floor at CES next month, and all the data collected there and elsewhere—including schools, music festivals, and many other environments where Bell will be trying out young talent—will help the company develop the control mechanisms for their final product.

Much of that work will take place in phase two of the study, scheduled to happen next year, where the company will reassess whether non-pilots grasp control inputs and their effects the same way professional pilots do. With fly-by-wire systems, engineers can program controls to do anything—and it might turn out that what have long been aviation's traditional inputs and responses may not actually be ideal for human pilots. In fact, the final controls may not even look familiar; a joystick might be replaced with, say, a sphere or gesture controls or any number of seemingly sci-fi options, while displays might be completely revised based on what the pilots truly need to see (and not see). There will also be greater degrees of automation, the extend of which will be influenced by this study. (Bell is partnering with aerospace technology suppliers Thales and Moog to develop the flight controls for the air taxi.)

The prototype dashboard

Then comes phase three, expected in 2020. At that point, Bell will advance the system to include the integration of artificial intelligence and different degrees of automation, as well as the systems that will integrate the aircraft—and pilot—into the airspace with other vehicles in flight.

Ultimately, the lessons learned in this study may also trickle up to professional pilots, as well. Gibson notes that each generation of new pilots is more and more amenable to simplification of their flight controls and automation of different phases of flight.

“If this proves to be better for everyone, we’d absolutely consider expanding it beyond just air taxis,” he says.