Mustang Parts
   Carrying Saleen wheels and Bullitt wheels.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Google's Street View

I was playing with Google's Street View function in Google Maps, and I am amazed at how good it is. There isn't coverage in my immediate neighborhood, but much of my local area is.

Here for example is a side-view of the Maple and Old Woodward intersection in Birmingham, a place I like to go now and then.


What Google does is have cars drive around with roof mounted cameras, snapping photos that then get stitched together to form 360 degree views, and linked to their street location.

Google has also photographed a large number of neighborhoods, and I was able to find up-close photographs of my parent's house, and my in-laws house. I'm guessing those obsessed with their privacy are alarmed by this.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Laphroaig

A friend poured me a taste of Laphroaig 10 year old scotch.

Wow.

You know the "liquid smoke" you can get to add to dishes to make them smoky?
Laphroaig is like "liquid peat". It smells and tastes like pure peat smoke infused into distilled malt.

Now, at first, I thought it was disgusting. But then, after the third sip, I began to like it.
Later, I tried some Chivas, and realized, the peat was there all along, but more like an undertone. Laphroaig is like mixing the guitar out and letting the bass carry the tune. (Sandman, Morphine).

I need to buy a bottle of my own!

Video: Driver Hits Gas Station

Wow. Could have been a lot worse.


Chick Plows Into Gas Station - Watch more free videos

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Kenneth Cole: Don't Bother

Some time ago, say 6 months or so, my wife got me a nice looking Kenneth Cole "Reaction" belt. It was soft brown Italian leather, and appeared to be well made.

After a few months of use, the leather split near the buckle. Since I didn't keep the receipt and tag, I couldn't return it to Kohl's or wherever my wife bought it, so I called Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. on the phone and asked if I could have the belt exchanged. The customer service lady took my information, and told me to send it in.

I sent the belt in. And waited. A long time. Then, after about a month, I get a box from Kenneth Cole. And what did they send me? A wide, black, "bluejeans" type belt. Nothing like the soft, brown "business casual" dress belt that I sent in.

You'd think Kenneth Cole's people could tell the difference between a brown dress belt and a black casual belt.

I also discovered that Kenneth Cole supports a slew of liberal causes, including being aggressively anti-gun.

So, I have learned my lesson. No more Kenneth Cole junk for me.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Avoid Chinese Engines

Did you know that 3.4L V6 engine that GM puts in its Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent compact SUVs is build in China?

A much better choice would be the Saturn Vue or Ford Escape. Less of your hard earned dollars will wind up paying for AK47's for the Janjaweed in Darfur.

China's Thanksgiving Present

The government of China, organizer of the 2008 "Genocide" Olympics, coddler of Sudan, and friend to oppressive regimes everywhere, today administered a childish slap to the U.S. Navy.

The USS Kitty Hawk, an aircraft carrier, and her strike group were scheduled to dock in Hong Kong for Thanksgiving. In preparation, Americans living in Hong Kong were busy setting up Thanksgiving dinners for some sailers, and relatives of some sailers had flown to Hong Kong to spend the holiday with them.

Because the British (stupidly) gave Hong Kong back to China, China must give permission for the U.S. Navy to dock. China denied the Kitty Hawk strike group entry this Thanksgiving, ruining the plans of numerous sailers and their families.

Thank you, China, for your Thanksgiving present. I will give you a small gift in return: I will boycott your goods every chance I get. I will not visit your country. If my employer asks me to go to your country for business, I will refuse. And I will remind everyone I meet about your bad manners, and your support for genocide in Darfur.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Konichiwa, Chevy!

Check out this gem (Jalopnik via Dublin Saab). It's a photo of a Toyota racing trailer being pulled by... a Chevrolet.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ethanol Vs. Beer

One of the market distortions that is being caused by the government mandate for ethanol in transportation fuel is the rising cost of all kinds of food, including one of my favorites: beer.

According to the WSJ in a fascinating article from October 5th, 2007, small beer brewers are getting squeezed by dramatically higher prices of barley and hops.

Consumers could pay 50 cents to $1 per six pack more in the coming months for many small-batch "craft beers," as brewers pass on rising hops and barley costs from an unpalatable brew of poor harvests, the weak dollar and farmers' shift to more profitable crops. Other makers of craft beers, the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. brewing industry, say they may eat the higher ingredient costs, which will pare their profits.

...

Craft beer makers have faced escalating costs over the past year. Prices for malting barley, which accounts for a beer's color and sweetness, have jumped as farmers increasingly shifted to planting corn, which has been bringing higher prices because of high demand from makers of biofuels, like ethanol. The weak dollar also has made it more expensive for U.S. brewers to buy commodities from Europe.
The price of malting barley has increased by a whopping 75% in the last several months, from around $4/bushel to about $7/bushel. As a result, the price of small-batch beer is expected to increase, and some small beer makers are actually in danger of folding.

Wouldn't it be better to allow importation of Brazilian sugar beet based ethanol, tariff free, and leave more of our agricultural capacity for the tasty stuff?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

Unusual Car Sighting: Figaro

Went to Costco to grab some stuff, came out and saw this car parked nearby. It is a Nissan Figaro, a very small retro convertible with an interesting retractable roof. There is a nice Wikipedia article on the Figaro here.




Monday, August 20, 2007

Changes In The (Autoblogging) Landscape

When I started doing this, there were a few intrepid auto bloggers, pounding away in obscurity.

Then AOL bought Autoblog, and made it into a press release firehose. Jalopnik tries hard to keep up, but does it with more flair, OfficeSpace style. Eric of AngryEngineer was seduced by the dark side ("Jedi mind tricks don't work on me, only money") and joined Autoblog, wrote some kickass how-to articles, then disappeared.

Joe over at MyFordDreams, apparently worn down by his beloved Ford's inability to gain traction, slowed down to a trickle and then stopped. Now Carpundit has thrown in the keyboard, with the mysterious sign off "I am done with this blog. Blogging is over for me; three years was enough. Bye.". Automuse, perhaps the only female autoblogger, is very slow, but might still be going.

On the bright side, we now have Mark Tapscott, who took over the Carnival of Cars duties, and who actually gets on TV every now and then. Keep it up, Mark! And Pete De Lorenzo of AutoExtremist still throws it down weekly, pulling no punches.

Blogging is actually a lot of work, if you want to say something you think is your own, and don't want to sound stupid--although I can't claim to avoid that consistently. It's easy to repackage a news story from the Detroit News or a press release from Isuzu, harder to come up with a coherent commentary on what it means.

Do you have an opinion? Why don't you try your hand? We need more real bloggers, guys who sit in their basements in furry slippers at 2:00am trying to shout some common sense at the people in the private jets.

Cheap Insurance: Gerber Seat Belt Cutter

After the Minneapolis bridge collapse, my wife asked me if we could get some seat belt cutters "just in case". She wanted some extra confidence, in case she was ever trapped in her car, or needed to help someone else out.

I did a Google search, and found a very nice tool made by Gerber, which also makes the excellent Multi Plier multi-tool (second only to the high end Leatherman tools). Amazon sells it (here) for a very reasonable $5 plus shipping.


The knife has a simple and easy to use design, with a cutting hook on one end, made from two opposed straight blades, a body made of tough black plastic, and a nylon lanyard at the other end. To use it, you hook the cutting end over a seatbelt and pull, drawing the two blades through the fabric.

Once you get one of these, another important consideration is where to keep it. If it is in your trunk, or the back of your glovebox, it won't do you much good. A better way to keep it is to use duct tape or velcro tape to affix the cutter to the underside of the driver's seat, or a similar out of the way surface, where you can grab it quickly and easily.

Will you ever need a seat belt cutter? Probably and hopefully not. But for $5, it is a cheap bit of extra insurance.

P.S. I also keep a center punch, to easily break safety glass with. $10 at any hardware store.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Few Dream Cruise Photos

I went to the Woodward Dream Cruise late, when it was starting to rain, and didn't really see much that was all that new or exciting. There were lots and lots of 60's and 70's muscle cars, which get old after a few minutes. Here are a few photos I grabbed.

A carefully restored 1965 Volvo. With Arabic script on the rear window.


A not yet carefully restored Volvo.


This dog was posing in front of his owner's hot-rod.


The street preachers took up shop outside the Hall Of
The Mountain King, near some Avantis.


Near the Ford area, some Edsels (still ugly after all these years).
In the upper right is an experimental hydrogen fuel cell powered Edge.


This horned monster truck was cruising through the
Birmingham shopping district. Too much, dude, too much.


A segway nerd scoots past a non-plussed Oakland County sheriff.

The Dream Cruise experience was under-whelming. Too many muscle cars, not enough really old cars. I did see a restored deuce-and-a-half WWII vintage truck cruising around, which was neat. There was also a cube van plastered with huge photos of dismembered fetuses, to protest abortion, which was not. I am pro-life, but man, don't rub it in my face like that. There were a lot of for sale signs on cars--if you were in the market for an expensive toy, you could have done very well at the Dream Cruise this year.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Scoring SCORE

In an article in their vehicles section, Forbes online published a list of the least safe 20 vehicles, ranked according to the Statisical Combination Of Risk Elements (SCORE) metric. The SCORE metric is published by an organization called Informed For Life (which I have not heard of before), and is an attempt to rate how safe a vehicle is by combining various statistics into one number.

I have some reservations about the usefulness of the SCORE metric, however, because it doesn't really correlate that well with actual driver death rates, as published by the IIHS.

Here is a plot published by IFL which claims to show the correlation between the SCORE an driver death rates per million registered years:


What you might notice right away is the large spread of SCORE values for any given driver death rate bin. For example, for the 50-60 bin, which is well below average, the SCORE varies from 80 to 180--from 20% better than average to 80% worse than average. I also notice the R^2 value of 0.48, which is not a stellar mean squared error. SCORE clearly has some correlation with driver death rates, but it is rough.

Here are some specific examples of vehicles that have high (bad) SCORE scores but have pretty good real-world safety records:
  • Mid-sized SUV: 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee
    • SCORE = 181 (ave = 100)
    • IIHS DDR = 57 (ave = 79)
  • Small SUV: 2004 Ford Escape
    • SCORE = 172
    • IIHS DDR = 65
  • Mid-sized car: 2004 Buick Regal
    • SCORE = 123
    • IIHS DDR = 57
  • Compact car: 2004 Saturn Ion
    • SCORE = 114
    • IIHS DDR = 67
  • Compact car: 2004 Pontiac Vibe
    • SCORE = 115
    • IIHS DDR = 62
All of these have higher-than average risk according to the SCORE metric, but in real life have lower than average fatality rates! It seems that SCORE puts too much emphasis on crash survivability, and not enough other factors like the ability of a vehicle to avoid an accident. It also seems to over-state the danger of rollovers. Something that is not widely publicized is that 70% of rollover fatalities occur when occupants are not wearing seatbelts (source: NHTSA). However, most people (~80%) are wearing their seatbelts nowadays, which partly accounts for why SUVs have a good safety record overall. The SCORE is really an estimate of how safe a car is in an assumed buy unspecified crash.

Aside; The IIHS driver death rate statistic also has some problems. IIHS does not account for driver behavior, which causes some vehicles such as sports cars to have much higher driver death rates than their crash test results would suggest. An interesting example of this is the DDR number for the Ford Mustang convertible (DDR 97) vs Ford Mustang hard-top (DDR 150). The two cars have nearly designs, from a crash point of view, but the Mustang hard-top has a much higher single vehicle death rate. It would appear that hard-top owners drive stupid more frequently than convertible owners.

The SCORE metric is an inconsistent predictor of vehicle safety in the real world. That doesn't mean it is worthless, but like anything, even the IIHS driver death rate statistic, it should be considered as part of a larger picture.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Autoblog Advice

Some advice to the guys over at Autoblog: slow it down, 'kay? You aren't Engadget. I know you feel like you have to stay on top of the automotive news world, but most of us can't check your site every two hours. Miss a day and you miss like two front pages worth of stuff. Raise your standards for what is worth posting and what isn't (hint: do it yourself articles by Eric are awesome, warmed over press releases are not). Otherwise, you risk burning out your readers.

LemonFree

I got an email from an outfit called LemonFree, which is an upstart auto classified service. Lemonfree's method is to offer free auto ads, and to make money from advertising. They have a nice, uncluttered web site. A very nice feature is that they offer free hosting of up to 10 photos with your ad. They don't have many ads yet, though, so if you try to actually search for a car, you will probably get a list of eBay motors auctions. Hopefully they will do better than that in the future. I'm also concerned about their name--it implies that they check the quality of the vehicles that are listed, but in fact, they do not. So it is possible to get a lemon. I wish them luck--the 800lb gorilla in this business is Craig's list.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Video: F1 Crash At Nurburgring

Video I saw on YouTube of a recent Forumula 1 crash at the Nurburgring. Left front tire blew out, and car slid off track and into the safety barrier. Driver survived.

Flipping the BMW

Much money, few brains.


Rich Kid Bad Burnout - Watch more free videos

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Tweel Video

I saw a prototype of Michelin's Tweel (tire wheel) at an SAE congress not long ago. This short, neat video about it is making the rounds on the web.


Reinventing The Wheel - Watch more free videos

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Birthday USA

Have you taken the time recently to read the words of The Star Spangled Banner?

O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

(the rest, not commonly heard)

On the shore, dimly seen thro’ the mist of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream

’Tis the star-spangled banner. Oh! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation,
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our Trust"

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
A good, solid performance of the national anthem usually leaves me choked up, it is really a powerful poem.

I am fortunate beyond words to live in the USA. There are many great nations, and I could probably be happy in one of them, but on the other hand, I could have been fated to live in Cuba or Zimbabwe. My country is not perfect, but compared to the alternatives, She practically is.

Happy Birthday USA!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Side View Mirror Setting

Most people set their side view mirrors to partially show the rear quarter of their car. A few years back, I heard Tom and Ray Magliozzi of Car Talk counsel someone to try a different method. I have been using this technique ever since, and I am very happy with it. The wide setting method virtually eliminates rear quarter blind spots by moving the side mirrors out somewhat to reduce overlap with the rear view mirror. Here is a diagram (click for full size):


It is important to note that you don't move the mirrors out so far that you have no overlap at all. By having a little overlap, you continuity between your rear view and side views.

The downside to this method is that you can't automatically see what is immediately beside and to the rear of your car, which is even more of a problem for vehicles with poor rearward visibility such as trucks and SUVs. To see what is beside you, you need to lean forward and left or right a little, depending on which side you want to see. Overall, though, I find I am much more frequently interested in lane changing safely than in backing into a parking spot.

Cartalk has a detailed explanation here.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Automotive Darwin Award Nominee

I don't think this guy died, but I do think we need an automotive version of the famous Darwin Awards--people who do the stupidest things, and wind up wrecking their cars.


New Jeep Isnt Trail Rated - Watch more free videos

The Fuel Economy Trade-Off Game








































































































Technology/Technique

Cost

Safety

Convenience

Durability

Fuel Save

Total

Comments

Reduce Mass: downsize

+1

-2

-2

0

+1

-2

Americans like big roomy cars.
Safety suffers due to interface with older cars.

Reduce Mass: materials

-1

-1

0

0

+1

-1

Al, Mg, carbon fiber cost more.

Reduce Engine Output

+1

0

-2

0

+1

0

Americans like powerful cars.

Mild Hybrid Powertrain

-1

0

0

-1

+1

-1

More complexity (batteries,
generator) hurts durability.

Full Hybrid Powertrain

-2

0

-1

-1

+2

-2

Even more complexity.

Gas Turbo Direct Injection

-1

0

0

-1

+1

-1

More complexity.

Flex Fuel (Ethanol)

0

0

-1

0

+1*

0 (-1)

Fuel availability problems; less
gas used, but nearly same carbon output.

Passenger Car Diesel

-1

0

0

-1

+2

0

More complexity due to emissions
regs.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

-1

0

0

+1

+3

+3

Still a research project.



How do you compare the different ways to increase fuel economy? If you are an engineer, you might make a table which assigns weights to different characteristics and then levels for each one. Combine the numbers, and you have a handy way to compare different choices.

Here is a swag at the fuel economy trade off game, according to my near-expert opinion. The method is to equally weight Cost, Safety, Convenience, Durability, and Fuel Economy. -2 means big decline (more cost, less safety, less convenience, less durability), while a +2 means a big improvement (less cost, more safety, more convenience, etc.). Minus bad, plus good.

So, the way I see it, for a modest fuel savings, the best all around technique is to reduce power, followed by gas turbo direct injection. For large fuel savings, the light diesel seems best. The Holy Grail, as always, is the hydrogen fuel cell.

What is inevitable is that you can't have everything--this is a law of engineering, where physics and economics meet. Want lots of power? Lose weight (and safety). Want safety and fuel economy? Gain cost.

We Americans need to have a serious discussion about what it is we really want, and we need to tell our legislators. What are we willing to give up?

OK, Edmunds just posted a great article which assigns grades to the various fuel saving technologies. You may not believe me, but in fact I was working on the same type of post. I was trying to figure out how to make the table work right.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Monster Camper Van

The other day, this monster van showed up in one of the parking lots not far from my house. I couldn't help but notice it, and quietly snapped a couple of pictures.



A quick trip to Google, and I learn all about it. The builder is an outfit called Sportsmobile, which starts the process with a Ford or Chevy van or Dodge (Mercedes) Sprinter. Various interior amenities are added, such as a head, beds, mini-kitchen, swiveling chairs, and cabinets. A pop-up camper roof can also be added.

The example in my neighborhood is a top of the line specimen, as it has been given a Quigley 4x4 conversion in addition to the camper treatment. This van would cost approximately $70,000!

A nice trailer or 5th wheel camper plus a 4x4 truck to tow it seems like a better deal, to me, since you can use the truck for many non-camping activities, and you would have a much larger living space as well. Even if it doesn't make the most sense to me, these monster vans are an impressive product.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Comparing Cars--SpD

Recently, MotorTrend tested a bunch of high performance cars, and presented the results as spiderwebs, with a combined performance number based on things like steering accuracy, brake feel, roadholding, etc. The result was neat, but not practically useful because it didn't factor in cost.

Then Winding Road got in the game, and proposed the Speed/Dollar index, which is HP/weight/price * fudge factor.

A problem with the SpD metric is that it only cares about power/weight ratio, which can favor cheap cars with big engines, such as the Mustang GT, or even a V8 Chevy family hauler. Nice in a straight line, but what if you are interested in autocross or rallying?

I think a better metric would be something like (HP/Weight + Slalom Speed/60)/Price * K, which would add a dynamic handling component--the speed through a slalom course, in this example. Or perhaps a lap time or average speed around a reference track would be better.

Both Winding Road and Motor Trend put the MazdaSpeed 3 near the top of their list, in terms of bang-for-the buck. Now I want one.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Top Sellers MPG

If the price of gas is such a problem, why don't Americans buy smaller cars? (Answer: because they don't want small cars.)

Here is the list of the 2006 top sellers, by volume, for the U.S. (list courtesy of Edmunds). I have added the average fuel economy numbers from the EPA's 2007 fuel economy list.

1. Ford F-Series (includes F-150, F-250 Super Duty and F-350 Super Duty) — 796,039
Fullsize and just plain huge trucks.
Ave. fuel economy: 17mpg (V8 combined City and Highway numbers)

2. Chevrolet Silverado (includes 1500, 1500 Classic, 1500 SS Classic, 1500HD Classic, 2500HD, 2500HD Classic, 3500HD, 3500 Classic — 636,069
Fullsize trucks.
Ave. fuel economy: 17mpg (V8)

3. Toyota Camry and Camry Solara — 448,445
Midsized car.
Ave. fuel economy: 29mpg (I4)

4. Dodge Ram (includes 1500, 2500 and 3500) — 364,177
Fullsized Trucks.
Ave. fuel economy: 17mpg (V8)

5. Honda Accord — 354,441
Midsized Car.
Ave. fuel economy: 29mpg (I4)

6. Honda Civic — 316,638
Compact Car.
Ave. fuel economy: 35mpg

7. Chevrolet Impala — 289,868
Large Car.
Ave. fuel economy: 26mpg

8. Toyota Corolla — 272,327
Compact Car.
Ave. fuel economy: 35mpg

9. Nissan Altima — 232,457
Midsize Car.
Ave fuel economy: 30mpg (I4)

10. Chevrolet Cobalt — 211,449
Compact Car.
Ave fuel economy: 28mpg
What I see in these numbers is that the love affair for large vehicles continues, despite fuel costs. Where is the landslide towards small thrifty cars? It isn't here yet.

Of the top ten best sellers, approximately 2,160,000 units (F150, Silverado, Ram, Impala) get worse than 28mpg (CAFE target is 27.5 for cars). 1,835,100 units (Camry, Accord, Civic, Corolla, Altima, Cobalt) get better than 28mpg.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Response To A Comment

One of my few readers left a comment in my recent post about Bob Lutz' opinion on the cost of raising CAFE standards. His comment was so whacky I thought I'd respond to it point by point. My reply in italics.

Anonymous said...

As an engineer myself, I'm quite dubious of your claims. Working in the auto industry as an engineer doesn't necessarily qualify you as a subject matter expert on mileage or CAFE standards or future locomotive technologies or for that matter, of thermodynamics.

Hey, it's my blog, and my opinion. If you think I'm an idiot, start your own blog! Being close to the problems, I think I do have something to say about fuel economy.



Throttling the Big Three on efficiency will drive innovation. Unfortunately, likely not from the Big Three. Unfortunately, your industry is one of the most lackluster at innovation. That includes your foreign competitors. GM has spent over $100 billion in research over the last quarter decade and for that we get .... what? A Chevy Aveo with lower MPG ratings than a Chevette of 1984. Look it up on the government CAFE web site. $100 billion sent a man to the moon and created entire new industries and technologies with the Apollo program. Yes, inflation makes it apples to oranges but....

Lackluster? What? Check out all the stuff we have that we didn't in 1984. Airbags. ESC. Seatbelt pretensioners. Rollover sensors. Computer simulated crashes. Self diagnostics of all types. Much of this was not driven by regulation, but by market competition. Do you have any idea how many microprocessors are used in your average car? How many thousands of lines of software code?

As for your Chevette, that is not a valid comparison. How much did that Chevette weigh in 1984? How much horsepower did it have? What was the 0-60mph time? Did the Chevette have power steering, power brakes, side impact beams, front and side airbags, etc., all of which add weight? The lowly Aveo is much more car than a Chevette, in every way.




Innovation will happen in transportation because its now out of your hands. It's in the hands of the world's scientists and entrepreneurs. You may incorporate the technology or with new advances in manufacturing, you may actually see small volume niche players eating your lunch as the landscape of innovation could easily create.

I'm not sure what you just said. Many of the world's scientists are working for automotive OEM's and suppliers.


By the way, CAFE standards in Japan and Europe are 2x what they are in the US and China is following suit. Better quit whining and start getting ingenious. Seems like they can sell cars in all three markets for substantially less than the average selling price in the US. Your $5000 claim is meritless. He was talking about America's stringent diesel emissions. Innovation will make that a nonstarter as well just as when Honda embarrassed the Big Three in the 1970s when they said they couldn't meet the emission standards and Honda ended up doing it without a catalytic converter.

Where did you get the idea that cars are cheaper in Europe and Japan than in the U.S.? Again, compare apples to apples. The average car in Europe or Japan is a "B" class car--about the size of a Civic or Corolla. That's the family sedan. Very few people can afford a "C" or "D" size car (Accord and larger). Many people drive "A" cars, such as the Smart. Full sized pickup trucks virtually don't exist--here they are the biggest selling vehicles (Silverado, F150).

Why is my $5000 claim meritless? You didn't give any example s of what things cost.

Sorry buddy. You need to go back to engineering school. Hey, if you are going to blog, be factual, be honest and expect negative feedback when you are wrong.

Sorry buddy, you need to learn how to argue. If you are going to comment on a blog, and call the blogger out, you had better bring some facts.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Ford Selling Volvo? Why?

According to a news wire story from Reuters, which picked it up from a Swedish newspaper, which got the news from an un-named Ford source, Ford is considering selling Volvo, and BMW is kicking the tires.

Uh, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Ford doesn't report the Volvo financials separately, but the industry guess is that Volvo is probably the most profitable of the Euro-luxury brands. Volvo is also a leader in automotive safety technology, with a valuable portfolio of intellectual property. They are also a leader in environmentally friendly carmaking, another priority for Ford.

Would Ford really keep money-pit Jaguar and sell Volvo? And why would BMW want Volvo, after their sour experience with Land Rover? I am not sure I see how Volvo fits into BMW's portfolio--BMW's cars are sportier, and every bit as safe. They overlap considerably in price.

According to the news article, Ford could gain as much as $9 Billion on a sale of Volvo. That's a nice chunk of change, but then what? Ford would be left with a real hole in their product line-up, with no credible competitor to European luxury brands, with Jaguar being weak and too far upscale and Lincoln not yet a credible threat.

Man, those college professors and Vermont commies are gonna be pissed--BMW isn't what most of them would call a progressive company.

Inflation Adjusted Gas Prices

This chart, from www.InflationData.com , shows the inflation adjusted average annual gas price since the 1920's. What is interesting is the general downward trend since 1920 in the inflation adjusted price, with the exception of the oil embargo of the 1970's and the recent run-up. If the current bump smooths out, according to this trend line we should land somewhere between $2.00/gal in a few years. Or so I hope!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Shopping the Competition--At The Dealer?

Mark Tapscott comments on his blog about how GM is suggesting to Chevrolet dealers to rent a Toyota Camry to show next to the new Malibu.

Wow, that's ballsy. Good for GM. It could backfire, though--"Look, honey, the Camry has a much nicer..."

Ford was already doing the "taste test" ads where people supposedly like the Fusion better than the Camry or Accord... but putting the competition's car in the showroom takes it to a new level.

Tapscott wants them to go even further, and allow test drives of the main competition, like that insurance company that offers to let you shop the competition on their web site.

I'd be very surprised if that happened. Not just for cost or liability reasons, but what about credibility? Think of how this could be abused--the Chevy dealer could secretly sabotage the Camry, introducing squeeks and rattles, or knocking out the highest gear on the transmission to increase engine noise. If you had a bad Camry experience at a Chevy dealer, would you trust it?

Ethanol Backlash

There's a good piece here about the rising back-lash against corn-based ethanol mandates. The government is now finding out that mandating more ethanol is putting pressure on corn prices, which has some undesirable unintended consequences. Such as more expensive feed for livestock, which will translate into more expensive meat; more expensive corn syrup, which is the cheap sweetener of choice in just about every commercial food; more planting means more land use and more pesticides.

Corn ethanol seemed unstoppable, but a remarkable thing happened on the road from Des Moines. Just as the smart people warned, the government's decision to play energy market God and forcibly divert huge amounts of corn stocks into ethanol has played havoc with key sectors of the economy. Corn prices have nearly doubled, which means livestock owners can't afford to feed their animals, and food and drink manufacturers are struggling to buy corn and corn syrup. Environmentalists are sour over new stresses on farmland; international aid groups are moaning that the U.S. is cutting back its charitable food giving, and many of these folks are taking out their anger on Congress.

...

Things are even hotter in Washington, where lobbying groups are firming up their positions against corn ethanol. The hugely influential National Cattlemen's Beef Association has gone so far as to outline a series of public demands, including an end to any government tax credits (subsidies) for ethanol and an axe to the import tariff on foreign ethanol. Put another way, the cattlemen are so angry that they are demanding free markets and free trade--a first.

Those wacky cattlemen.

Once again, a great example of how poorly considered government rule-making can distort the market.

If we really wanted to increase ethanol use, we would drop the tariff on imported ethanol, a whopping $0.54 per gallon. We could then import Brazilian ethanol, which is made more cheaply than our own. But the truth is, the ethanol mandates are mostly a farm lobby pay-off.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Chelli's Bentley

Yesterday, on Southfield Road, I pulled up next to a shiny black Bentley Azure convertible, like this one:


Driving it, slowly, and chatting on a cell phone was (if I recognized him correctly) Chris Chelios, the senior defenseman from the Red Wings, and owner of Chelli's Chilli Bar restaurants.

It doesn't really matter to me what our local celebrities drive, as I don't care much for celebrity one way or another, but it was neat to see a Red Wing and his wheels.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Spotted In Birmingham: Holden Crewman

I stopped by the Border's Books in Birmingham the other day, and found myself parked next to one of these, sporting an M-plate. Sorry for the stolen pics, I dont' have a cell phone camera.















It is a sharp looking car, outside and in. Some lucky engineer from GM probably got to drive it for evaluation purposes.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sometimes, We Need Big Brother

Today, I had a near miss because an idiot in front me of me had exactly one of three brake lamps working. He also had near-black tint on his front windows (technically illegal in MI) and non-functioning hood pins. On a battered Mercedes 200-series!

I would not advocate emissions testing to qualify for vehicle registration, but I am thinking now that mandatory safety inspections may be a good idea.

Should we let people drive with bald tires? Dead brake lamps? Dead headlights? Undamped, bouncing wheels? Worn out brakes? Ridiculously high lift kits that could result in decapitations in a collision with another vehicle?

I'm all for individual freedom, up to the point when people's poor maintenance or poseur engineering endanger the others on the road.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Slip-sliding away, slip-sliding away...

"Domestic" auto sales (Chrysler + Ford + GM) have fallen below 50% market share, and are not likely to recover any time soon, if ever.

But market share doesn't so much matter; the important thing is for the domestics to be sustainable, profitable businesses at the size they wind up at.

How likely is this? It is hard to say. I personally think that GM and Ford are large enough that they might pull itoff, with concessions from the UAW, product updates, and relocating production of low-margin vehicles to low cost countries.

Chrysler, I think, is a tough problem, because they aren't strong enough to stand on their own. Whoever winds up with Chrysler will have to join into alliances with other automakers to keep Chrysler's product pipeline full. If Chrysler's new owner is only interested in making a quick buck, there is a real chance that most of the company will simply evaporate, as the valuable pieces are sold off.

The "elephant in the room" is the massive legacy cost of the pension and retiree health care obligations. These costs mean that the domestics are significantly underwater--for each vehicle they build, they have less money available to put into content. The problem seems intractable, and at some point it will have to be dealt with. Either retirees will be thrown under the bus, or we will see some of the largest bankruptcies in American business history.

Either way, it will be excruciating.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Where I Buy Volvo Parts

Every now and then, my Volvo breaks in some annoying little way... like the wimpy cupholders that slide out from the console lid, packaged like origami and about as strong.

I have two places that I usually use to buy replacement parts from, and neither one is the local dealer, who has a healthy mark-up on his parts (although they do have nice free breath mints and chocolates at the service counter).

The first is an outfit called FCP Groton, at www.fcpgroton.com. FCP has a good selection of tune-up and wear-out parts for Volvo and a number of other European nameplates. The prices are very good.

The other place I have been dealing with is www.getvolvoparts.com, which is an e-commerce site for an auto dealership in Rhode Island called Tasca Automotive Group. When I needed a secondary air valve recently, Tasca had a great price, and very friendly service. If you need help, you can call or email them and they will support you. Tasca has a very nice online parts catalog, where you can find just about any part on your Volvo.

* I am not being compensated for this plug in any way, I am just a happy customer.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Grindhouse!

I saw Grindhouse. Loved it. This is a typical Tarantino movie--vulgar, sharp dialog, well crafted. I think they just have used the m-----f---er about 1000 times. The fake movie trailers shown before each half are hilarious.

Tarantino's half of the double feature is "Death Proof", a car chase/revenge story about some stunt-girls who duel it out with a stunt man who gets his kicks stalking pretty girls in his big black muscle car. There is a lot of talking, which you don't mind much because there are four pretty girls doing the talking (interesting somewhat right-wing tangent on gun rights in one scene), followed by a pretty spectacular car chase. The car chase, supposedly was done with "real" cars, no CGI.

If you don't mind sitting through a (pretty funny) disgusting zombie movie to get to the car chase, and don't mind the word "m-----f---er", and understand Tarantino's idea of humor, then definitely go see it, you won't be disappointed.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bob's $5,000

Bob Lutz recently said that dramatically increasing fuel economy standards could add $5,000 to the price of the average new car.

He's right. This isn't just auto industry doom-saying.

The efficiency of internal combustion engines has plateaued. Every relatively cheap trick that could be used is being used. This includes variable valve timing, high efficiency lubricants, lighter weight materials, higher precision machining, and complex sensor networks and computer controls. And these advancements have added hundreds if not thousands of dollars to the cost of your engine*.

Major leaps forward require large increases in complexity. For example, diesel engines are more expensive because they must be built to withstand high pressures, and need turbochargers for driveability. Hybrid electric drivetrains keep all of the complexity of the existing gas engine, and add in parallel batteries, electric motors, regenerative braking, etc. Even with high-volume production, adding more stuff will always cost more money.

So how can automakers meet high fuel economy standards, without raising the prices dramatically?

The most obvious way is to down-size engines. As recently as the early 1990's, the average family car was packing something like 150HP. Today, a mid-size car with 150HP is considered lame, and 200HP+ is the norm. 0-60 times have likewise been dropping, with 8 second minivans becoming commonplace. But, what will the public say, and especially the automotive press, when the V6 becomes an expensive option, and the I-4 becomes the standard engine?

The other way, which Lutz mentioned, is to pursue ethanol fueled vehicles. Ignoring the problems of producing enough ethanol, for a moment, it is true that E85 uses less fossil fuel because it is by definition 85% ethanol. And by tuning engines specifically to take advantage of ethanol's high knock resistance, by increasing the compression ratio, automakers can overcome the performance hit from the reduced energy content of E85. An example of this technology is Saab's Biopower powertrain.

There is no free lunch. Drastically higher fuel economy will require consumer and taxpayer pain, and compromises. There isn't a 100mpg carburetor sitting on a basement shelf, gathering dust, somewhere in Auburn Hills, Dearborn, or Detroit.

*Ever have to replace an O2 sensor or a secondary air pump? Ouch!

B-Class Cars?

Besides the Flex, the other vehicles that inerest me are the Chevrolet small-car triplet Beat/Trax/Groove. These are fresh and practical looking small cars, which would have as good a chance as any of being a success, if Americans would be willing to buy small cars. (Image courtesy of AutoBlog. Cutie not included)

Which they aren't.

Despite the current meme that Americans are dumping SUVs for cars (only partly true), there is not a groundswell of demand for very small cars. Americans don't want small, fuel efficient cars, they really want cheap gas. Absent cheap gas, they want large cars and mid-size SUVs to replace their large SUVs.

There are some small cars which do well because they fill a specific niche. The Mini, for example, or the upcoming Smart. Others, like the Yaris (son of the abominable Echo) only really appeal to people who can't afford something better, or rental car fleets. Smart, by the way, has not been profitable since its inception in its home market.

On the regulatory side, the new CAFE calculations, which use a vehicle's footprint to calculate fuel economy targets rather than an arbitrary number, should give manufacturers the flexibility to avoid b-cars and concentrate on improving the efficiency of their larger vehicles.

The Ford Flex in NY

One of the more interesting vehicles to come out of the New York Auto Show is the production intent version of the Ford Fairlane concept "people mover", renamed to Flex. I like it, but I do have the requisite "buts".

Likes:
  • Distinct, clean, modern design. Cues from Land Rover, classic station wagons of old, and the "427" theme. I like the white roof. Nice wheel proportions.
  • Long wheelbase, lots of room for 2nd row passengers.
  • Decent interior design.
  • User programmable color lighting.
  • Standard electronic stability control and side curtain airbags
  • Capless fuel filler, which uses a rotating valve instead of a screw-off cap
  • Lock keypad hidden in black b-pillar, with backlit buttons. Slick.
  • Sync driver interface with a hard drive for storing MP3s onboard.
  • The new aluminum 3.5L V6, 260HP
Buts:
  • The name. "Flex" doesn't strike me as very elegant. It may also confuse some people that the Flex is not a FFV (Flexible Fuel Vehicle). On the other hand, Ford could make a Funk Master Flex edition of the Flex.
  • The (predicted) price. Ford hasn't announced a price, but I doubt they will sell this for much less than the mid-range Edge or the Freestyle/Taurus X. I'm betting this will start at just below $30k and will probably option out north of $35,000. Not the most affordable people mover, compared to the basic minivans of yesteryear.
  • The optional refrigerator. The cooler is located in the 2nd row, and if purchased will remove the middle seat of the 2nd row. The driver can't reach the cooler in that location. I like Chrysler's cooled glovebox design better.
  • The 7th passenger (if the cooler is not installed) appears to sit on a very narrow bench seat, probably only suitable for a kid. This is not true three-across seating, like in a minivan, but more like 2-and-a-half across.
  • Suicide doors, like on the concept, would have been neat.
  • The center stack design looks rather plain.
  • Is this vehicle sufficiently different from a Taurus X (F.K.A. Freestyle)? Will Ford have two very similar vehicles competing for the same buyers?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Beware Of Birds

Birds and high performance cars don't mix much better than birds and planes. The windshield did a good job staying solid!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Al Gore: KWh Bandit

An enterprising Tennessee organization called the Tennessee Center for Policy Research did a little bit of digging into Al Gore's personal energy consumption. According to the utility bills, Gore's McMansion uses 20 times the energy of the average American house.

The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average.
Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.
Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.
Gore’s extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore’s mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year.

And, do you know where most of that energy is coming from? Coal. Heh.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

66 Mustang Limo

A waste of a perfectly good old Mustang? Perhaps. But it does have a strange charm to it. For sale on eBay.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Why Buy Chrysler?

Speculation is rampant about who may buy the Chrysler group from DCX. The Detroit News reports one rumor that GM is considering buying out Chrysler.

I'm not seeing it.

Where is GM strong? SUVs (Hummer, GMC, etc), crossovers, trucks, high end luxury cars, large family cars, sports cars (Corvette, coming Camaro) and economy cars (Aveo, Cobalt). Where is Chrysler strong? SUVs (Jeep), minivans, trucks (Ram), large family cars (300 family), sports cars (Viper, upcoming Challenger?), economy cars (Caliber family).

Both companies are weak on near-luxury (Buick) and moderately priced mid-sized cars.

Where would the "synergy" be, to use the management buzzword of the decade? GM needs viable mid-sized cars, not more trucks. The only Chrysler properties that would make sense for GM to buy would be Jeep, because of the obvious Hummer/Jeep tie-in and a corner on the hard-core off-road market, and maybe the minivan lines.

In addition, Chrysler brings bloated inventories, cranky UAW locals, debt, too many dealers, pension and healthcare obligations--in other words, more of the same problems GM already has.

If Chrysler is spun off from DCX, I would expect that it would be bought by an overseas company which wants a larger presence in SUVs and trucks (Hyundai), or a private investment group.

Friday, February 02, 2007

MI AG, Mike Cox, Rocks!

Michigan's attorney general, Mike Cox, has issued a ruling effectively banning automated red-light ticket cameras in MI.

Cox's legal opinion rekindled the debate over the growing number of red-light cameras, which are used in 22 states and 200-plus communities nationwide. They can't be installed in Michigan because state law only lets police cite motorists after personally seeing a violation, with an exception for cameras at railroad crossings, Cox said.
I thought his tussle with big-dog trial attorney and Democrat loudmouth Jeffrey Feiger was odd and distasteful, but I love how Cox walks the conservative walk.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Neat Jeep Video

A group of young men decide to destroy a Jeep by running it off road. It seems to hold up quite well--if this isn't a Jeep ad, it should be. Check out the tire re-beading technique they use at around 2:30.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Automotive Angle of the SOTU Speech

A quick take on the policy proposals that the White House has posted as part of the State Of The Union Speech.

PRESIDENT BUSH'S DOMESTIC AGENDA

Energy

President Bush Will Ask Congress And America's Scientists, Farmers, Industry Leaders, And Entrepreneurs To Join Him In Pursuing The Goal Of Reducing U.S. Gasoline Usage By 20 Percent In The Next Ten Years – Twenty In Ten.

America Will Reach The President's Twenty In Ten Goal By:

  • Increasing The Supply Of Renewable And Alternative Fuels By Setting A Mandatory Fuels Standard To Require 35 Billion Gallons Of Renewable And Alternative Fuels In 2017 – Nearly Five Times The 2012 Target Now In Law. In 2017, this will displace 15 percent of projected annual gasoline use.
This sounds like increased mandatory ethanol mix, as well as possible mandates of biodiesel. Unless an open international market in ethanol and biodiesel is permitted, fuel prices will likely go up.
  • Reforming And Modernizing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards For Cars And Extending The Current Light Truck Rule. In 2017, this will reduce projected annual gasoline use by up to 8.5 billion gallons, a further 5 percent reduction that, in combination with increasing the supply of renewable and alternative fuels, will bring the total reduction in projected annual gasoline use to 20 percent.
Not much detail here, but likely it means "increase CAFE", which is a mixed bag. On one hand, it will make cars more expensive or less powerful. On the other hand, more regulation means more competitive advantage to the established players, and a steeper hill to climb for the Chinese.
  • Congress Must Reform CAFE For Passenger Cars. The Administration has twice increased CAFE standards for light trucks using an attribute-based method. An attribute-based system (for example, a size-based system) reduces the risk that vehicle safety is compromised, helps preserve consumer choice, and helps spread the burden of compliance across all product lines and manufacturers. Congress should authorize the Secretary of Transportation to apply the same kind of attribute-based method to passenger cars.
So cars would be graded approximately by weight (footprint = wheelbase x track) rather than all being required to average out to the same number. This is a smarter way to do CAFE (a smarter way to do a stupid thing) because it takes size into account. However, we don't know yet how hard the new rule will push on fuel economy.

The President's Plan Will Help Confront Climate Change By Stopping The Projected Growth Of Carbon Dioxide Emissions From Cars, Light Trucks, And SUVs Within 10 Years.

The President's Plan To Strengthen America's Energy Security Also Includes:

  • Stepping Up Domestic Oil Production In Environmentally Sensitive Ways
Good. Supply and demand--reduce demand, but also increase supply. Require more ethanol mixing, but reduce the price of the major component to offset some of the pain.
  • Doubling The Current Capacity Of The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) To 1.5 Billion Barrels By 2027. Doubling the SPR alone will provide approximately 97 days of net oil import protection, enhancing America's ability to respond to potential oil disruptions.
Interesting. The SPR is not just used to control market prices, and Bush didn't seem to suggest that it would be. Is he preparing for another possible embargo from the Arabs over war policy? The turmoil in the Persian Gulf caused by a war with Iran would certainly cause a huge spike in oil prices. Update: I did a little reading about the SPR, it only has a capacity of 700 million barrels, in underground caverns. To double it would take a long time.

So, overall it looks not too bad but also not great for the auto industry. CAFE pressure will increase, which will cause vehicles to be more expensive as more technology (hybrids, turbos, direct injection, etc.) is thrown at the problem. A quick answer will be to sell more cars with less powerful engines, so as a result the V6 and V8 options may become pricier. OTOH, CAFE will help keep the Chinese out longer.

Increased mandatory use of ethanol will cause fuel prices to go up (also corn) but may be offset by additional supply, if Congress agrees (unlikely). Increased fuel prices will encourage a mix of smaller vehicles--more pain for the midsize/large truck based SUVs, and fullsized pickup trucks.

Friday, January 19, 2007

CU Effed Up, Schooled By NHTSA

When Consumer's Union (Consumer Reports) reported that the majority of infant seats they tested failed a side impact crash test, NHTSA was horrified and sprang into action. They tested samples of the same car seats that CU was claiming failed--and they couldn't duplicate CU's results. NHTSA deduced that CU had tested an equivalent of a 70mph side impact, not a 38mph side impact.

“Our initial review of the Consumer Reports testing procedures showed a significant error in the manner in which it conducted and reported on its side-impact tests. The organization’s data show its side-impact tests were actually conducted under conditions that would represent being struck in excess of 70 mph, twice as fast as the group claimed. When NHTSA tested the same child seats in conditions representing the 38.5 mph conditions claimed by Consumer Reports, the seats stayed in their bases as they should, instead of failing dramatically.”
I have always been suspicious of Consumer Reports "scientific" methods--they don't reveal details of their testing, use tiny sample sizes, and inject (mostly liberal) politics into their conclusions. For example, CU apparently gives the same weight to a burnt out lightbulb on a new car as a non functioning ABS system--both are "problems". Obviously, one is major and one is not.

CU has retracted their report, but the damage has already been done to the car seat makers, who were pilloried by the local nightly news ("Your kids at risk! News at 11:00!"). Even worse,they may have convinced some people that their car seats are unsafe. I hope they get sued.

Here's a video of a re-test that NHTSA did of one of the "failed" car seats, at the actual speed of 38mph:



Here's a video of an unrestrained infant dummy:



(Please, don't be a dummy!)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Video: Car Curling, Or Maybe Hockey?

Funny/scary video from Portland. Icy street, apparently on an incline, clueless drivers. Add them up, and you get life size curling!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Imam: Beat Your Wife (Wives?) Carefully.

According to this authority, a Muslim may beat his wife (or wives?) but only if he is carefull--no broken bones, no bruises, don't hit the face, and not in front of the kids. Very progressive!



Question: when was the last time any Rabbi, Pastor, Priest, or Minister told you it was OK to beat your wife, and outlined the parameters of how it should be done?

Question: can a religion condone wife-beating and still be a "religion of peace"?

*Before you guys get all huffy on me, let me say that I don't believe that all Muslims are wife beaters. I am certain that some streams of Islam don't condone wife beating. But a sizeable portion of the Muslim world is still stuck in about the year 1200.

Ultimate Used Parts eBay Auction

Wow. Just wow. Check out this eBay auction for a collection of vintage cars and parts.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ethanol: Corporate Welfare for Farmers

A large part of the political support for ethanol--for mixing requirements, CAFE credits, and outright subsidies--is old fashioned "special interest" pandering, nest feathering, corporate welfare.

One aspect of this farmer protection program is the import tariff on ethanol. Currently, ethanol imports are taxed at a whopping $0.54/gal (per gallon!). The effect of this is to protect the domestic ethanol producers, and to keep ethanol expensive. But it isn't the "family farm" that is being protected--the big winners are the huge producers of ethanol, corn, and seed--companies like Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland.

This doesn't make much sense for the bigger picture. Ethanol derived from corn and soybeans is much less energy efficient than ethanol derived from sugarcane, according to a Wall Street Journal article I just read. Corn has an ethanol energy factor of 1.3 (1.3 BTU's out for every BTU it took to produce), while sugarcane has an efficiency of a whopping 8.

If our priorities are to reduce our use of oil, we should be working on getting the cheapest ethanol possible. I guess we'll find out what the priorities of the New Democrat Congress are soon enough--pork, or oil?

Winter Safety Gear

There have been some reminders recently of how dangerous nature can be, especially in winter, including the Kim family tragedy and heavy snowstorms and avalanches in Colorado.

Everyone should ideally carry a minimal safety kit in their car, which would support basic first aid care and short term shelter. A longer term kit is a must for anyone who lives in harsh or rural areas, where help may be days not hours away.

Since I am a suburban Detroiter, my car safety kit is pretty minimal, as far as supplies go. Some of the supplies I carry:
  • Fix-a-flat goo
  • Extending lug wrench
  • Reflective emergency blanket
  • An old waterproof coat with hood
  • An old pair of glove (also comes in handy for repairs)
  • Red road flares
  • First aid kit
  • Mag-lite D-cell LED flashlight (will run a looong time)
  • Leatherman multi-tool
  • Hand sanitizer
  • $50 cash
  • Spare headlight bulbs
  • Duct tape
  • Jumper cables
  • A few MREs
  • Bottled water (in glass)
After the James Kim story, I decided to add a few MRE's and water to my emergency trunk box, just in case I was stuck somewhere far away from rescue, but I doubt I'll ever need them.

Some day, when I set aside the time, I will do the legal paperwork to be able to legally carry my 1911 in my car. Around here, the sad truth is, there is more threat from uncivilized men than from avalanches.