Mustang Parts
   Carrying Saleen wheels and Bullitt wheels.

Friday, September 30, 2005

CAFE Is A Farce

The CAFE rules (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) are a farce. I like to post on this subject, so this isn't the first and won't be the last.

CAFE attempts to control fuel consumption by regulating the fleet average fuel economy of a carmaker. CAFE says "all the cars you sell this year have to average out to X". Notice that it does not regulate the fuel economy of individual cars. And it does nothing to regulate consumer behavior--only car makers.

So what are the effects of CAFE? Automakers are forced to make small, cheap, fuel efficient cars whether anyone wants to buy them or not. These have to be cheap because that is the only way that they can be sold in volume. It is a cliche, and it is true, that the American automakers can not make a profit on small cars. To offset the incentives required to sell the small cars that Americans don't want, automakers increase profit margins on SUVs and other larger products. Basically, the large cars and light trucks are subsidizing the small ones.

Automakers can play some tricks to duck under CAFE. For example, the Chrysler PT Cruiser, which is based on the Dodge Neon platform, is classified as a "truck", and therefore lowers DaimlerChrysler's truck fuel economy number. Another trick is the Flex Fuel program, which gives automakers CAFE credits, whether people actually use ethanol or not.

The stated purpose of CAFE is to reduce gasoline consumption. There are much better ways to do this, which would be direct and effective. And honest.

First, gas taxes could be raised. Consumers will choose more fuel efficient vehicles out of economic necessity. To protect farmers (which may be America's most favored class of businessmen) and other commercial users, a business fuel tax deduction could be implemented.

Many people hate this solution, but because it will regulate consumer behavior. But at the same time, most people say they want CAFE to increase, and that the carmakers aren't doing enough to produce fuel efficient vehicles. Meanwhile, consumers demand more power, midsize sedans push 250HP, and even minivans now sprint 0-60mph in under 8s. Hybrids? Sure, but they have to perform as well as IC only cars, and we don't want to spend $4,000 extra for them.

Another way to increase fuel economy would be to write the rules to regulate it more directly, on a per-vehicle basis, rather than as a fleet average. For example, a rule could state that passenger cars with interior volume between 100 and 120 ft^3 and weighing between 3000lbs and 4000lbs must have an EPA average fuel economy of 29MPG, or a gas guzzler tax of $1000 would be levied. The rules could be subdivided for every vehicle class and weight range. The NHTSA recently moved in this direction, but not entirely.

Ford Charity Auction on EBay

The Big 3 have had a close relationship with the United Way charity organization for some time, so close that they have used high-pressure tactics to convince employees to give.

I personally don't mind, because I think that charity is important.

Thanks to a tip, I just discovered that Ford has set up a charity auction on EBay to benefit United Way, which appears to be open to the public--your blogger was able to cast a bid without any check for corporate affiliation.

There are some interesting items up for auction, such as books autographed by Bill Ford Jr. and J Mays. Or this Ford Focus model, which quite collectible, because it was made to be a give-away at the SEMA show.

The Ford items can be found by looking at the auctions of EBay ID FordUnitedWayAuction.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Jeremy Clarkson (Heh!)

I realize that I am late to the game, but thanks to MyFordDreams, I have discovered that Jeremy Clarkson (of the BBC's Top Gear auto show) is published on the web here.

If you want a good laugh, take some time and read his reviews. He has a great sense of humor, but be warned he is tough on American cars. For example, here is what he wrote about the interior of the Jeep Grand Cherokee:
So it’s uncomfortable, cramped and feels like it’s made entirely from melted Lego. And it costs more than £30,000. Admittedly, you get lots of standard equipment for that, including a heater that works like American foreign policy, blowing either very hot or very cold but incapable of getting the temperature just right. You also get three headrests for your deformed rear passengers, the middle one of which obliterates all traffic in the rear-view mirror.
Melted Lego! Heh.

Eye Pollution

A quick message to the guy who was driving in front of me on the way to work, the one in the black Ford 500 with huge chrome wheels, chrome trim, and a vinyl fake convertible roof:

Your car is effing ugly.

The 500 is not a very sexy car, but it does have clean, modern lines, albeit borrowed from VW's previous generation.

Vinyl roofs on any post-1970's car should be a ticketable offense. And car bras, too, especially when people put them on good looking cars.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Send Robots, Save Money, Save Lives

Not entirely an automotive post, but sort of an engineering post.

I recently read about NASA's plans to send astronauts back to the moon. I was floored.

The moon program is estimated to cost about $100 billion, which means that it will actually cost more like $200 billion--which is about how much the U.S. military spends a year on R&D, personnel, and procurement combined. It's a lot of money.

And what are we going to learn, by sending humans back to the moon, that is worth over $100 billion?

The highly successful Mars rover mission, by comparison, cost about $900 million. Not cheap, but only about 1/5th the cost of a nuclear aircraft carrier. You could pepper the solar system with robots for the cost of another moon landing.

We have gotten very good at building robots. NASA should stop wasting money and human lives on glorious but risky missions. There would be much more bang for the buck in robotic missions, space telescopes, and fundamental research down here on earth.

The manned space program has become something of a pork project. It is sexy to send people up in a shuttle, so they can live in a space station. But most of the science that is being done is focused on improving or developing man's ability to survive in space. When was the last time you heard about an amazing find aboard the ISS? The ISS is basically welfare for Russian scientists, to keep them from moving to Iran and building bombs. It eats $1.6 billion a year--one and a half Mars rover missions. Why not contract some of the robots out to Russia, instead?

Think of what kind of work could be done with $100 billion. For example, how much improvement in hydrogen fuel cell efficiency, or hydrogen generation and storage could we buy for $100 billion?

Or deep sea exploration? Particle accelerators? Cancer genetics? Applied zymurgy...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Wanted: In-Car Bluetooth MP3 Interfaces

I would like to see automakers and their electronics suppliers join with the MP3 makers and the Bluetooth consortium to develop a standardized automotive interface for personal MP3 players.

I want to be able to get into my car, power up my MP3 player, and have it look like a CD changer to my radio, without needing wires or expensive adapters. I want the MP3 player to stream music to my radio digitally, so that sound quality is preserved, without the static that comes with an FM modulator. The MP3 ID tags should be displayed on the radio as if I was playing an MP3 disc, and I should be able to navigate by folders, songs, artists, etc. Playlists should be supported.

I think that people would be willing to pay little extra for that kind of convenience--I know that I would.

(Steve Jobs is missing the point, when he says people wouldn't want a bluetooth enabled iPod. It wouldn't be for wireless headphones, it would be for streaming your music!)

Monday, September 19, 2005

VW Irrelevant?

Pete DeLorenzo at Auto Extremist says that VW has become irrelevant in the U.S. market.

I agree with him. VW has poor quality, high prices, and perhaps the biggest sin of all--bland styling. They are neither a premium brand, nor a performance brand, nor an economy brand.

2.70 And Falling

Regular gasoline prices in the Metro Detroit area have drifted down over the last week, from about $3.00/gal to pre-Katrina prices in the neighborhood of $2.60/gal.

What I found amazing was that even when gasoline was selling for $3.15/gal, I still saw lots of people driving their Dodge Durangos, Ford Expeditions, and Chevrolet Avalanches. With no passengers. At 80mph, get the hell out of the way.

For all of the whining that people were doing on the evening news, about how they weren't going to be able to buy as many Christmas presents this year, no one seemed to change their driving habits much. Just slowing down from 75mph to 65mph can give a 10% boost in fuel economy, I have heard*, but people refused to do even that.

Consider: at 65mph, a 15 mile trip will take ~14 minutes. At 75mph, the 15 miles takes 12 minutes.

Would you notice if your drive to work was 2 minutes longer? Most people wouldn't. There is probably at least that much variation day to day based on irregular traffic flow, and variations in when you reach traffic signals.

On the other hand, getting 10% better fuel economy on your morning commute probably isn't that impressive for most people. Assuming 15mpg (the average full-size SUV or maybe a late 90's Chevrolet Impala SS), the difference between 75mph and 65mph might be 0.10 gal, or $0.32 (@ $3.15/gal). Two trips a day for a work-week, and you save one gallon of gas.

20 minutes a week, or $3.15? Which would you rather have?

*Wind resistance increases exponentially with speed.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Details About Volvo ETM Failures

Don Wilson, a retired metallurgical engineer, has posted a detailed analysis of the failures of 1999-2001 Volvo ETMs (Electronic Throttle Modules) at his web site, VexedVolvo. He has photos of a disassembled unit, clearly showing how the resistance film potentiometers wore through, and the wiper contacts picked up debris.

Image courtesy of

Don's conclusion:
The construction of this potentiometer is obviously not suitable for the application. Considering that in the life of the car there will be multiple millions of cycles of the throttle, the action of the hard metallic finger tips riding on the soft thick film carbon resistor element is a designed-in shortcoming that will result in an estimated 100% or more, failure rate in the life of the Volvo automobile.
I am glad that I drive a throttle-by-cable car!

(HT: Autoblog)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Zeta Confusion

Some time ago, GM announced it was stopping work on the Zeta mid-size-to-fullsize RWD platform, to focus resources on releasing upcoming truck and SUV products.

Then, GM announced that Zeta was coming, after all.

Now, Bob Lutz tells TheCarConnection (near the bottom of the page) that Zeta is looking too expensive to import into the US from Australia.
GM's vice chairman set out to set the record straight on a variety of issues following the Opel reveal on Tuesday. For one thing, he told reporters, the automaker's new rear-drive Zeta platform "is not dead or cancelled." Well, not exactly. The original version was, indeed, scrapped a few months back because "we did a lot of not-smart things…that didn't make business sense. We accepted the delay." As originally planned, GM's Australian subsidiary, Holden, will play the lead in developing the revised Zeta platform. But it is less and less likely that it will be able to export cars based on Zeta, at least to the United States. The Australian dollar's gain on the U.S. dollar "pretty much cancels your profits margin," Lutz lamented, so "exports to the U.S. don't look real promising at this point." But there will still be opportunities for Holden to ship product to other markets, such as the Middle East .

What interested me about this quote is that there is no mention of whether a version of Zeta would be built in North America for the US market. The implication is that Zeta will not be built in N.A., which of course leads to a question.

What about the Camaro?

I have read on AutoBlog that GM is looking at using one of its other RWD platforms for a Camaro, such as Sigma (Cadillac CTS) or Kappa (Solstice). Kappa doesn't seem likely, as it would have to grow substantially to be a mid-size muscle car. Sigma is said to be expensive.

Monday, September 12, 2005

New Jeeps in Frankfurt

Two of the guys behind Autoblog are in Frankfurt, Germany, snapping pictures of the auto show. One of the more interesting photos they grabbed was this image of the Jeep display, showing two new products, the Compass and Patriot.

Image courtesy of AutoBlog

The Patriot is a small SUV which looks very much like a resurrected and refined Cherokee, except that it is apparently build on a car based unibody platform. According to Edmunds, both are built on the same platform as the forthcoming Dodge Caliber, which was a joint development with Mitsubishi to replace the aging Neon. So the Patriot is likely to be front wheel drive/all wheel drive, with independent suspension, very much unlike the solid axles of the old Cherokee. I would be surprised if it came with a low-gear transfer case. I think it looks pretty good, and will be a nice competitor to the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CRV. I also like the name.

With the Compass, however, Jeep has lost its way. It looks like Jeep took a Subaru WRX stud, bred it with a Toyota Matrix mare, and grafted on the nose from a Liberty. In other words, the thing is ugly, and looks much meaner than it will likely actually be, unless Jeep puts a turbo on the 2.0/2.4L engines planned for this platform. I really dislike the way that the Jeep front end looks on a vehicle with tall wagon proportions.

Image courtesy of AutoBlog

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Diesel Cars in the US

I regularly hear and read claims that there is some industry conspiracy against bringing diesel cars to the US, or that Americans won't buy diesels because of the bad taste left behind by the terrible diesel products of the late 70's.

Both claims are, to use an old fashioned word, bunk. Here is a short explanation of why I think diesels are not being introduced yet.

The most significant engineering problem with using diesel engines in light duty vehicles, at this point, is the EPA and the California Air Resource Board (CARB). The EPA has mandated that light duty vehicles meet very stringent emissions standards, called Tier II. Because of their inherently high NOX emissions, diesels can not (cheaply) meet these emissions standards. Diesels can be made to meet these standards with a few tricks. CARB's rules are even more stringent than EPA's--diesel passenger cars have not been certified for sale in California since 2003.

First, clean diesel fuel is necessary, with low sulfur levels, so that catalysts can be used to change the NOX into N2 and O2. Without low-sulfur diesel, the catalysts get "poisoned" by the sulfur in the fuel, and can not do their job. Cleaner diesel fuel should start showing up at the pumps in 2006.

An alternative to using a precious metals based catalyst for NOX controls is to use urea injection, where the chemical is injected in the hot exhaust stream. GM is proposing to use this system for its pickup trucks, but EPA has not approved it yet, as the system would require the driver to keep a urea tank filled.

The other major diesel emissions issue is particulate emissions, or soot. The current solution is to capture the particulates in a particulate trap oxidation catalyst at lower temperatures, and burn the particulate at high temperatures.

As to the noisiness and hard-to-start legend of diesel passenger cars, the myth would be dispelled the moment that modern diesel engine cars from Europe would be demonstrated here. American's aren't stupid, and we don't have a very long memory (not necessarily a good thing). The real consumer objection to diesel performance is that they are low horsepower, high torque engines. Diesel engines don't like to spin fast (peak power might be at 4000RPM, dropping dramatically at higher speeds). In order to get performance closer to a gasoline engine, diesel engines need to be turbocharged (like the VW TDI), and also may need an intercooler.

Diesel engines, because of their higher internal pressures, and high torque output, need to have much stronger internals then a corresponding gasoline engine. A diesel engine may have a compression ratio of 20:1, compared to a gasoline compression ratio of 10:1. A diesel engine will tend to be heavier than a comparable gas engine.

The problem with diesel engines for light duty passenger vehicles boils down to basically one thing: cost. To have a diesel engine that meets EPA and CARB requirements, you need to have a complicated and expensive dual catalyst or urea injection + catalyst system. You need to have a turbocharger and intercooler. You need a much stronger engine block, crank, pistons, connecting rods, valves, and head. You may wind up with an engine that costs several thousand dollars more than a comparable gasoline engine. At which point, the added cost of the powertrain outweighs the short term fuel savings (like HEVs), and the average consumer has no great incentive to buy a diesel powered car.

If the "value equation" isn't right, there is no way that automakers are going to invest heavily in passenger car diesels.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Buyers Be Wary

AutoMuse predicts a flood of flood damaged used cars on the used car market, due to Katrina. She goes on to analyze the legal background of salvage and flood titles. It is possible that some cars will make it onto the market without being clearly marked as being flood damaged.

There is, however, an answer. Carfax. Don't buy a used car that has been registered in the Hurricane ravaged states unless you know its history.

Massive Ford Recall (Ouch)

The Reuters news service reports that Ford is recalling 4,000,000 trucks, built between 1994 and 2002 to repair the cruise control deactivation switch. This switch is under NHTSA investigation for underhood fires. The theory for the switch failure is that the brake fluid may be ignited by the switch, which his always hot, if the internal seal fails.

I applaud Ford for doing the right thing, but you can almost hear Ford's investors, dealers, and customers collectively wince, "here we go again".

Monday, September 05, 2005

New NRA President [Politics]

The new president of the NRA (my favorite political organization), Sandra Froman, is a woman. A Jewish woman.


Gas Tax Economics 201

If any of my (few) readers are knowledgeable about economics, and the economics of gas prices in particular, please chime in.

In support of my earlier post, calling for a temporary suspension of gas taxes, I wanted to explain why I though this would work. I have read a counter-argument that because gasoline is a commodity, it will rise to the pre-tax cut price.

My (admittedly limited) understanding of gas price economics goes like this: There is an international market for oil, price X. Refiners refine the oil into a finished product such as gasoline (or diesel), blend it as necessary, and sell it to retailers at some price, which is X+margin+fuel tax. Retailers get the gasoline, mark it up for retail, and sell it at (x+margin+fuel tax) + retail margin. The core price, X, is set by international demand and market economics, such as speculation. The refined fuel price is set also by refining capacity. The gas pump price is changed mostly by local effects, such as local runs or local competition.

I have heard that the gas station business is a low margin business, and the real money is all made on beer, cigarettes, coffee, and junk food. The primary price mechanism happens at the distributor level.

So my prediction is, that if the federal and state fuel tax applied to the refined product was dropped, the price of gas at the pump would drop by about that amount, unless increased demand caused the refiners to increase the price to the retailers.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Wasted Buses [Politics]

This photo shows a yard full of school buses in New Orleans, neatly parked in rows, partly submerged.

Courtesy of Yahoo!

This text is from the City of New Orleans own web page, from the "Comprehensive Plans: Hurricanes" section.

The City of New Orleans will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas. Those evacuated will be directed to temporary sheltering and feeding facilities as needed. When specific routes of progress are required, evacuees will be directed to those routes. Special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific life saving assistance. Additional personnel will be recruited to assist in evacuation procedures as needed.

Slow developing weather conditions (primarily hurricane) will create increased readiness culminating in an evacuation order 24 hours (12 daylight hours) prior to predicted landfall. Disabled vehicles and debris will be removed from highways so as not to impede evacuation. In local evacuations involving more than fifty (50) families (i.e. 50 single dwelling units), staging areas may be established at the closest available public area outside the threatened area. Upon arrival at the staging area, evacuees will be directed to the appropriate shelter facility. Evacuees will be encouraged to stay with friends or relatives in non-threatened areas whenever possible. Security measures will be employed to protect the evacuated area(s) in accordance with established procedures and situations.

The use of travel-trailers, campers, motorcycles, bicycles, etc., during the evacuation will be allowed so long as the situation permits it. Public information broadcasts will include any prohibitions on their use. Transportation will be provided to those persons requiring public transportation from the area. (See Special Needs Transportation, ESF-1). An orderly return to the evacuated areas will be provided after the Mayor determines the threat to be terminated. Transportation back to the evacuated area after threat termination will be provided as available.
The mayor of New Orleans is ranting that George Bush, FEMA, and the military didn't do enough. But according to his own plan, New Orleans officials were supposed to arrange for emergency transportation for "special needs" persons--such as hospital patients, the mentally ill, and the elderly.

Why are those school buses parked in the city bus yard? Why weren't they used before Katrina hit to get the poor and the sick out of New Orleans?

FEMA may have reacted slowly. But the first line of defense for the people of New Orleans was the city government, and it wasn't ready or wasn't able to meet the challenge.

(HT: JunkYardBlog)

Friday, September 02, 2005

Suspend Gas Taxes

One solution to the (temporarily) out of control gasoline prices: Congress and the state legislatures should immediately pass bills suspending taxes on gasoline. The lost revenue should be categorized as disaster relief spending.

For example, in Louisiana, the state gas tax is 20c/gal. The federal tax is 18.4 c/gal, for a total of 38.4c/gal. (Source:

Update: The IRS has reduced the tax on diesel ful, by allowing commercial uses to buy "duty free" diesel intended for farmers and government vehicles. Story here.