Mustang Parts
   Carrying Saleen wheels and Bullitt wheels.

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Elio Question

Paul Elio is on a mission to produce a very lightweight (1250lb target) three wheel car, sort of a low-cost Aptera type thing, based on "off the shelf" tech and suppliers.

I have been watching his effort develop, and it is impressive how far Elio has come, considering how difficult it is to bring something to market.  

There is a nagging question hanging over the Elio: capital.   In order to actually produce the trike, Elio Motors must raise a huge pile of money.  They need money for development, testing, tooling, certification, etc.  They need to hire and train many more employees.  They need to build many prototypes to hammer out durability, crashworthiness, quality.

The problem is, after many obvious auto startup failures such as Fisker, Saab 2.0, Aptera, and even struggles of established players such as Smart, Suzuki, or Mitsubishi, investors are cautious about the automotive sector.  

Investors are asking themselves, even if Elio can deliver, will people buy this weird three wheel vehicle, which is legally a motorcycle in the eyes of the DOT and most states?  Will the safety claims play out?  Will it have enough refinement and comfort for a mass market?

Elio Motors can't fund their launch selling t-shirts and $1000 reservations.  Elio needs hundreds of millions of dollars.  Where will they get it?



Tesla Powertrain Failure Rates

I read with interest recently that a substantial number of Tesla S owners are getting their drive units (electric motor + gearbox) replaced by Tesla due to premature failure.  The early symptom of the failure is an audible gear noise which Tesla techs call "milling".  Edmunds and Motor Trend both had their cars fail in this way.

According to a Tesla Motors Club poll, here, 77 members have had their drive units replaced once, and an astounding 15 have had them replaced more than once.  

How bad is this?

It is hard to estimate because we don't know how many cars form the total sample for the poll.  Tesla Motors Club indicates 17,995 registered members, while total Model S sales in the U.S. are around 28,000 units (39,163 globally).

So let's play with the numbers a little.

Assume all members of the forum own Tesla Model S:
92 failures / 17,994 Tesla Motor Club members = 5.1 failures/1000

Assume all failures were reported in poll (seems unlikely):
92 / 28,000 U.S. sales = 3.3 failures/1000

Assume forum represents 5% of all Tesla owners (I saw this mentioned on InsideEVs.com):
92 failures * 20 / 39,163 = 47 failures /1000

In the auto business, a major component failure rate north of 5/1000 units is considered a major quality issue, and anything approaching 47 is a complete disaster.

If, for example, the 2013 Toyota Camry had a similar rate of transmission failures, somewhere between 5-47/1000, that would translate into repairs of between 2040 and 19,000 transmissions!  At the top end of that scale, likely a recall.

In other words, the "milling" issue is a major quality issue for Tesla. I am sure they have their engineers and suppliers pounding away at it, coming up with design fixes  to reduce the occurrence of this.


American Muscle Mustang Giveaway

My main blog sponsor, American Muscle, is giving away a tricked out 2014 Mustang GT, equipped with a Vortech supercharger, air suspension, and 20" staggered wheels.  

To enter, visit this page.  Enter by August 4, 2014.






Hiatus

Dear Reader,

"Real Life" has been keeping my time very occupied, and I have been neglecting my blog.  I hope to remedy this by gradually easing back into it.  

--TheAutoProphet

Monday, May 19, 2014

FTC Comes Out In Favor of Direct Auto Sales

The FTC has come out in favor of direct auto sales to consumers.  When asked for comment by a New Jersey legislator, FTC staff responded with a statement which suggested that banning direct automotive sales is anti-competitive and bad for consumers.

This is dangerous ground for the Obama administration, as the auto dealers are a powerful lobbying group, and quite a few dealers have unionized shops.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The BIg 2

Fiat has taken full ownership of Chrysler, and the combined entity will be called Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), and will be headquartered (for tax purposes) in the UK, not Italy.  With that, the "Big 3" are now the "Big 2", as GM and Ford are the only remaining American owned major auto makers.  (Sorry Tesla, you don't count yet, come back when you make over 100,000 cars/year)

I see some bruised feelings all around.  Auburn Hills is once again second fiddle.  Italy loses Fiat's corporate registration. And the "A" in FCA lost its cross bar for some reason.



Monday, January 20, 2014

Tesla's First Fire Related Recall

They don't want to call it a recall, but, NHTSA does.  And that's the law.


Of course, this is for faulty charger pigtails, and not battery road damage induced fires. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

"Military Grade" Aluminum F150?

I'm trying to absorb Ford's marketing for the just revealed 2015 F150.  The most significant new feature, of course, is the aluminum body (fenders, hood, cab, doors, and cargo box).  Ford keeps calling the aluminum ally "military grade", but I'm not sure what that means.  It may just mean that the alloy they chose for the truck (something in the 6000 series) has an official U.S. military specification.  

Ford's job, of course, is to convince the guys in Texas that the new truck will be as tough and durable as the steel truck.  I think the up-coming webisodes about durability testing will go a long way towards that.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Tesla Model S and Carwashes

Did you know you are not supposed to take a Tesla S through a normal automatic carwash?   And this is the car of the future?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The 2015 Mustang Design

Ford unwrapped the new 2015 Mustang today, and it is a very handsome car.  Personally, I think they struck a good balance between retro styling and the Ford corporate styling, mixing classic Mustang bits with the new Fusion in reasonable proportions.

I did this quickie photoshop to compare the outline of the old and new.  You can see the basic proportions are the same, with a long nose and a fastback roofline, and a stubby rear deck.  There are some surprises here.  The new car is noticeably more compact, which enhances the low-and-wide aspect of its stance.  Notice how the hood line is very horizontal, and then has a pronounced curve downward towards the shoulder line, which includes the top edge of the headlamps.  On the rear quarter, there is less pronounced of a curve to the shoulder, but the rear pillars seem to move inwards quickly, leaving pronounced horizontal shoulders, which reminds me a bit of the Camaro.  Also notice the very vertical front nose profile.  And the old "hockey-stick" curve near aft of the doors is gone.

Part of the reason for the pronounced curve of the nose and the very flat front, I think, is probably the aggressive Euro pedestrian protection regs, which require crush space so that pedestrian legs and heads take less damage from car-people collisions.  

Overall, I think the 2015 Mustang is a very good design, which balances the needs of style, tradition, and all the other less obvious requirements such as aerodynamics and crash safety.   It is more conservative than I personally would have liked, but fresh enough to not look like a rewarmed 2010 model.




Thursday, November 21, 2013

NHTSA Is Not Investigating Tesla At Musks' Request

NHTSA does not initiate investigations on CEO request.  NHTSA says they chose to investigate Tesla battery fires independently.  Which means, in my view, that Musk was trying to spin in some damage control.

Detroit News: 

But NHTSA Administrator David Strickland told a House panel Tuesday that Tesla didn't request an investigation and that the agency had made an independent decision to open an investigation into 13,100 Model S vehicles after two battery fires were reported since early October in the United States.
 
"Investigations are independent," Strickland told The Detroit News in an interview after the hearing. "We have never — in my recollection, before I got to NHTSA (as a Senate staffer) or as administrator — have actually had an automaker ask for a formal investigation, but it causes a couple of implications: If a manufacturer asks me or asks the agency for a formal investigation, you've already made a determination that you may have a defect that imposes an unreasonable risk to safety. ... I don't think that would ever happen."

Friday, November 08, 2013

Tesla's Fire Problem

I think Tesla has a problem.

There are only about 17,000 Tesla Model S on the roads right now, but there have been 3 fires due to damage to the battery.  In two of these cases, it looks like the damage was mostly to the underbelly, and not due to a severe impact to the frame of the car.

In the third case, in Tennessee, the car apparently hit some debris, which caused a fire to start in the front area of the vehicle.  If you look at the photos, which I scraped off of the web, there does not appear to be frame damage.  In other words, the guy didn't hit another car, or a large stationary object.  He hit something small, but it destroyed his Tesla.

By comparison, a gasoline vehicle can run over pretty severe piece of road debris without catching fire.

I wish I had statistics for vehicle fires, caused by driving (not arson, forest fires, etc.), in vehicles less than 2 years old.  That would really put the probabilities in focus.  I am not sure where to get such data, it is possible that IIHS has it.

In each of these cases, the vehicle is basically destroyed.  Even if driver safety is not necessarily an issue, the cost to insure against a battery fire is going to drive up Tesla owner's insurance costs.

If these incidents continue to mount, Tesla is going to have to do several things to protect their business and consumer confidence.  They will likely have to add additional shielding to the underside of the car, adding cost and weight, and possibly reducing range.  They may also have to increase ride height.






Friday, October 04, 2013

Tesla Valuation

I don't understand Tesla's stock price and valuation.  TSLA is trading at about $175/share right now, with a market cap of $21 billion. 

So the market is valuing Tesla at about half the value of GM ($52B), and 1.5x the value of Porsche ($13B)

Based on what?

Tesla is emphatically not Apple.  Apple rose to become a top 3 player in mobile phones, the top player in tablet computers, and the top player in MP3 gadgets.  Apple sells millions of units, and makes money on hardware, software, service, and content.

Tesla has to make money selling cars--a very highly regulated, capital intensive business.  Tesla isn't able to sell direct to consumers in all states of the U.S. 

Let's compare Tesla to Porsche.

2013 Sales (1st 2 quarters)
Porsche 81,000
Tesla: ~10,000

2013 Revenue:
Porsche: ~$10 billion
Tesla: ~$1 billion

The stock buyers apparently think that Tesla is a growth company, and are pricing in the expectation that it will grow to something quite a bit more profitable than Porsche.  In 2012, Porsche recorded a profit of $2.7 billion.  To reach those kinds of results, Tesla has to sell approximately 125,000 cars a year (at $80,000 each) if they are making a similar margin to Porsche.  If Tesla goes down to an average price of $50,000/car, they have to sell about 200,000 cars/year.

That's about 8x their current capacity of 500 cars / week (25,000/year).

So, the market seems to think that within a few years, Tesla will be able to open several new plants, and successfully increase their sales and distribution network to rival Porsche, while moving downmarket enough to drive higher volumes.

I am doubtful.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

EU Proposes Satellite Based Speed Limiters

A great demonstration of how the Europeans are not necessarily worth emulating.  The EU has proposed ISA (intelligent speed adaptation) based on GPS or sign reading cameras, which would first warn a driver and then automatically slow a vehicle down, if they were exceeding local speed limits. 

The scheme would work either using satellites, which would communicate limits to cars automatically, or using cameras to read road signs. Drivers can be given a warning of the speed limit, or their speed could be controlled automatically under the new measures.

Something like this would simply be laughed out of Congress in the States.  But in Europe, the EU central regulatory agencies have a lot of power, and top-down regulation is a way of life.

Source: Telegraph

Friday, August 30, 2013

Diesels: Good MPG, Less So Carbon

I have heard man advocates of small diesels moan that we "just don't get it" here in the U.S. and we need to be more European, and somehow encourage light duty diesels.

What the compression ignition lovers don't realize is that the U.S. policy is very much now based around global warming and carbon reduction, whereas it used to be about reducing oil consumption for geopolitical reasons (OPEC etc.)

So, let's look at carbon emissions:

1 gallon of gasoline when burned will emit approximately 19.64 pounds of CO2.
1 gallon of diesel will emit approximately 22.38 pounds of CO2.

Diesel is about 14% more carbon emitting than gasoline.

But, a diesel engine is about 30% more fuel efficient than a similarly sized gasoline engine.  So if we do the math, a similarly sized diesel powered car will emit about 14% less CO2 than a similar diesel car.   Not bad, but not huge.

Meanwhile, diesel fuel offers no advantage in the U.S. in cost (it is more expensive than gasoline by about 30%), and the vehicles cost more due to the diesel hardware premium.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tesla's Extra 0.4 Star

Tesla is trumpeting the Model S' excellent performance in NHTSA's safety tests.  Tesla says that the model S has achieved a combined rating of "5.4 stars":

Palo Alto, CA — Independent testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has awarded the Tesla Model S a 5-star safety rating, not just overall, but in every subcategory without exception. Approximately one percent of all cars tested by the federal government achieve 5 stars across the board. NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5, however safety levels better than 5 stars are captured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers, where the Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars.

This is very odd publicity, to me.  NHTSA awards star ratings as integers, and 5 stars is the most you can get.   A 5 star rating means that you have less than a 10% chance of serious injury in a serious accident, according to NHTSA's statistical model. 

You can't get more than 5 stars, awarded by NHTSA.

Tesla is just trying too hard, here, I think.   A 5-star result is excellent, and they should proudly publicize it.