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Auto blogThu, 08 Aug 2013 13:31:00 EST
Bloomberg Markets is reporting that BMW, Volkswagen and Ferrari have been using tungsten ore sourced from Columbia's FARC rebel terrorists. The extensive story focuses on Columbia's illegal mining trade and calls into question the provenance of the rare ore that is used not only in crankshaft parts production, but is also found in the world's computing and telecommunications industry for use in screens.
The ore is mined by the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People's Army), and exported to Pennsylvania, where it is refined. The refined ore is then sent over to Austria, where a company called Plansee turns it into a finished product. Now, it's important to note that we aren't talking about the world's supply of tungsten here. In 2012, Plansee's American refinery purchased 93.2 metric tons of tungsten, valued at $1.8 million. That's peanuts, with the entire Colombian tungsten mining industry producing just one percent of the world's supplies.
That doesn't make indirectly supporting FARC any more acceptable, though. BMW, VW and Ferrari are all committed to not accepting mineral supplies from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is also in the grips of a guerrilla insurrection funded, in part, by illegal mining. The same commitment would figure to extend to Colombian mining, but as BMW points out, it's difficult for a multi-national manufacturer to know where every item in its supply chain comes from. A company spokesperson says as much, telling Bloomberg, "These few grams out of the billions of tons of raw materials passing through the BMW supply chain are of no practical relevance."
Hedge fund managers have been suing Porsche for years now, alleging that the car company lied about its intentions during its failed attempt to take over Volkswagen, a gambit that caused them billion in losses. Over the same period, authorities in Stuttgart built a criminal case against former CEO Wendelin Wiedeking (above, left) and Chief Financial Officer Holger Härter (right), filing charges in December 2012. When those fund plaintiffs lost their most recent court case, one of the dimming lights in the dark and receding tunnel was that the criminal investigation might unearth more evidence about Porsche's actions that could help the plaintiffs in pending litigation.
Bloomberg reports that another light has gone out, though, with a Stuttgart court dismissing the market manipulation case before going to trial because, as a court spokesperson said, "there wasn't enough evidence backing up the charges." When prosecutors get the files back from the court, they have a week to decide to refile, but unless they've been sandbagging evidence that could bolster the case, the only lights at the end of the tunnel will be those welcoming Wiedeking and Härter back to the world of legally unencumbered men.
In 2007, the European Union mandated fleet average CO2 emissions of 158.7 g/km. For 2015, that figure will drop to 130 g/km, and the target for 2020 is an ambitions 95 g/km. Thanks to some German politicking, that target will be phased in from 2020 to 2024, but it will still apply to 80 percent of passenger cars in that first year. In US miles per gallon, that's the equivalent of going from about 35 mpg to 42 mpg to 57 mpg. The current Volkswagen Golf is rated from 85 g/km of CO2 to 190 g/km depending on model - and zero for the e-Golf, so for the next-generation MkVIII hatch due in 2019, to meet the goal, Volkswagen engineers will need to introduce a bunch of new tricks. According to a report in Autocar, VW be mining its hyper-efficient XL1 for some of them.
Predictions for the next Golf include a variable-compression engine, an electric flywheel and an electric turbo, along with taking greater advantage of coasting. Volkswagen could be getting help from Audi with the electric turbo and variable-compression engine and electric turbo, with Audi already having shown off the former and brand technical boss Ulrich Hackenberg confirming the VW Group is working on the latter. It's possible the flywheel system could also have the mark of The Four Rings: Autocar mentions a British system that Volvo is testing, but the R18 e-tron Quattro racer has been using one for years.
The need for such features is because the company won't be able to net enough future gains from just aerodynamic improvements and advanced materials. As price will be a factor (the regulations are expected to "add hundreds of euros to the cost of building a car"), adding much more aluminum or carbon fiber is an unlikely option. We're told the next generation won't be longer or wider than the current car, and being Europe's most popular model, VW doesn't want to make a big bet on futuristic aero, but the report says the MkVIII will "likely" have "the most aerodynamic treatment yet seen on a production vehicle," the area where lessons learned from the XL1 will truly be seen.