Mustang Parts
   Carrying Saleen wheels and Bullitt wheels.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Should Ford Kill Mercury?

Bloomberg reports via unnamed sources that Ford's leadership is planning on killing Mercury in about four years.

Reasons they should: It's a small brand which probably doesn't make much money; it's a damaged brand which doesn't seem to stand for much.  Many of the major automakers only have a couple of U.S. brands, such as Toyota/Lexus, Nissan/Infiniti, Honda/Acura, VW/Audi, BMW/Mini, Mercedes/Smart.  

Reasons they shouldn't: Mercury sold 92,000+ cars last year.  That's more than Saab, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Smart, Infiniti, Porsche, Mini, Volvo, Audi, and Lincoln brands.  Many Lincoln dealers need the product to stay afloat, unless Lincoln is going to break out somehow into a larger volume brand. Oh, and Mercury has Jill Wagner.

What's In HR5381, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010

The House committee on energy and commerce has voted to release HR 5381, the Motor Vehicle Safey Act of 2010, to the full house for a vote.

So what is in it?  Here is a quick synopsis.  You can read it for yourself here.  My comments in italics.

Section 101: The NHTSA will create a Center for Vehicle Electronics and Emerging Technologies to focus attention on electronics.  The Secretary Of Transportation will set up an honors recruitment program which will make an effort to recruit from the top 10% of engineering students, particularly among minority institutions, and to provide a stipend for students who participate.  (What is this doing in an auto safety bill?  No wonder people are angry at congress!)

Section 102: The NHTSA has one year to design a safety standard for a bake-throttle over-ride system.  The system may be user defeatible, and may allow two-pedal driving under some conditions. (I think this is reasonable, as long as NHTSA has flexibility in how they do this)

Section 103: The NHTSA will update FMVSS 124 within two years with a rule that requires at least one redundant control to be present in an accelerator control system.  (This is not necessary.  All electronic throttle control systems that I am aware of have multiple redundant sensors and controls.)

Section 104: The NHTSA will consider a rule, within 18 months, to regulate the design of pedal spacing and clearance.  If NHTSA decides that the rule is appropriate, it will be in force within 4 years.  

Section 105: The NHTSA will consider a rule, within 2 years, to require minimum performance standards for electronic control systems.  If NHTSA decides that the rule is appropriate, it will be in force within 4 years.  (This is a difficult task.  Will NHTSA require certain levels of EMC testing, for example?  Lots of work for engineers going forward...)

Section 106: The NHTSA will, within 2 years, issue a rule to standardize the operation of push-button start systems.  (I have no problem with this, as long as there is flexibility in the rules to allow for future technologies)

Section 107: The NHTSA will, 1 year, issue a revision to FMVSS 102 to make automatic transmission gear selectors easier to use, and to make neutral obvious.  (This will be an intrusive regulation, but I don't really object, if it makes cars easier to use.  It may however force everyone to have similar shifter styling.)

Section 108: Event Data Recorders will be required starting in 2015 model year.  EDRs will store at least 10s of data, and will have a standard interface.  EDR information will be readable with commercial equipment.  EDR data is the property of the vehicle owner or lessee, and cannot be retrieved without his consent other than by a court order.  Government agencies can get the data if personal information has been scrubbed, for study purposes.  EDRs will be tamper resistant.  

Section 201: NHTSA early warning data from defect investigations will be made publicly availible.

Section 202: NHTSA's vehicle safety database will be made more accessible to the public.

Section 203: NHTSA will require automakers to put a sticker in each vehicle which informs the owner how to submit a vehicle safety defect complaint to NHTSA.  (This is lame.  Why put it on each car? Don't we have enough nanny stickers everywhere?  Why not put it in the owner's manual, where the warranty coverages and other related information go?)

Section 204: NHTSA will set up a hotline for dealership personnel to report potential defects.  (Can't mechanics use the existing system?)

Section 205: Automaker executives will be required to sign submissions to NHTSA, certifying that they have reviewed the reported information.  Anyone found to make a false report will be fined up to $5,000 per day. (Ouch)

Section 206: Allows people who have been rejected in claiming a defect to appeal the rejection to their court of appeals.

Section 207: If NHTSA can't make a deadline, they must explain why and also submit a new deadline.

Section 208: Sets up some reports NHTSA must make to congress regarding defect and crash investigations.

Section 301: There will be a $9 per car tax to help fund the NHTSA.  It will be indexed to inflation.  (In a 12 million car market, that will be a nice sum of $108,000,000.  Our cars will all get $9 more expensive)

Section 401: The maximum fine per vehicle that NHTSA will be able to levy for rule violations increases from $5,000 to $25,000.  The total cap increases from $15,000,000 to $200,000,000.

Section 402: If NHTSA determines that a defect is an "imminent hazard", an imminent hazard order will be issued within 10 days.  (This isn't a recall, just a quick notification to the public, if I understand it correctly.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

IBM Patent: Traffic Signal Engine Shutdown

IBM has filed a patent application for a smart traffic signal communication system, where a traffic signal would communicate with the queued cars, telling them to shut down their engines, and scheduling when to restart their engines, based on where in the queue each car is.    From Slashdot.

This is not a bad idea, but it may be overly complicated and expensive.  Automakers and suppliers, including my own employer, are actively working on engine start-stop systems which will prevent long engine idling by shutting down the engine if the vehicle comes to a standstill for more than a few seconds.  The engine is then restarted when the driver lifts off of the brake pedal.   It sounds like the IBM proposed system would save a few seconds of idle time per car, and perhaps schedule a smoother restart, but at the cost of additional electronics at each intersection, and in each vehicle.  

There is also a question about consumer acceptance of the traffic signal system being able to shut down your car.  

Thursday, May 20, 2010

IIHS: NEVs Aren't Safe (On Public Roads)

Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) are not safe enough for public roads.  That's because they don't have to meet Federal automobile crash standards, and are very light.  In any meeting between an NEV and a real car, the occupants of the NEV have a good chance of being squashed.

IIHS demonstrates this quite graphically, here.

Anyone driving an NEV on public roads is only a little better off than riding a scooter.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Buick Regal Impressions

I was at the Birmingham art fair this weekend, where Buick had set up a small display with two 2011 Regals.

The Regal is a sharp looking car, with taught lines and a hint of curve. I thought they looked like a mix if Mazda and BMW.

Thankfully, no stupid faux portholes.

Inside the car I sat in was decidedly un-Buick with nice materials, tight seams, and no fake wood in sight.

My only complaints: my right leg was rubbing up against the center console (but I wasn't in a real driving position) and the center stack seemed to have about 50% more butons than it ought to. Buick should hide more of that stuff behind a touch screen. Maybe there is one and I was just sitting in the cheaper variant.

If the Regal drives as sharp as it looks and feels, then I think Buick will do all right.

Hacking Cars? Not So Fast

In a widely publicized paper, here, a pair of research teams were able to "hack" cars, to demonstrate that modern cars are not sufficiently secure.

Don't worry, you're not in danger, yet.

The key to hacking a car is that the vehicle communications bus, typically a mix of high and low speed CAN bus, is not encrypted.  By connecting to the OBD-II port with the right tools (such as a laptop with a CAN communications interface device), a determined hacker could monkey with key signals.  To do so, he would have to either reverse engineer or obtain from other sources the CAN messaging protocol.  Then, by reading in, modifying, and rebroadcasting key messages, he could indeed do bad things, like shut down the car.  For example, a hacker could broadcast an erroneous vehicle speed on the bus, causing the speedometer to display the wrong speed, and other systems to think the car is moving (or not) at a different speed than it actually is.  

However, the only practical way to do this is to attach a foreign device to the cars CAN bus.  So your car would have to be physically compromised, either by having the wiring modified, or by having some sort of dongle installed on the OBD-II port.  The ECUs that form the vehicle CAN network are not typically easy to reflash with unauthorized firmware, so "hijacking" an ECU or installing a car virus is not really feasible.  The ECUs I have worked with all have memory checksum functions, and VIN compare software, to verify that the ECU has valid software and is in the correct vehicle.  According to the research paper, the team was able to compromise a telematics module and run malicious code on it.

The paper does point out some holes in vehicle bus security, and there are some things which can be done in the shorter term to mitigate such a threat.  ECUs should have robust challenge/response sequences before accepting diagnostic and test commands, for example.  They should also have robust checks against invalid software, so that it is difficult or impossible for a hacker to flash a module with homegrown software.  

Friday, May 14, 2010

New Carnival Of Cars

A new auto blog on the block, Automedia, is hosting a Carnival Of Cars. Check it out here.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Grass Fed Kosher Beef!

I'm throwing this out there in case someone else is interested in the information.

The company that is supplying some Costco stores with kosher beef, Colorado Kosher, uses cattle that are grass-fed for the first part of their lives, then finished on a feed lot (e.g. grain) for the last 4 months or so. So they aren't 100% grass fed, but they are a combination. I got this information from the company, when I called to ask.

So, if you wanted to try the taste of grass-fed beef, and keep kosher, find out if you local Costco store stocks this brand.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Buy A Paper Poppy

Today, I went to a local market to buy some lunch supplies.  Out front was an old fellow in VFW gear, Chris, selling the wire and paper poppies.

I dropped a dollar in his milk jug, and thanked him for his service.  

On the way out, I stopped to ask him where he served.  "North Africa and Italy" he said, which made me pause--this guy was a WWII vet, probably about 90 years old.  I asked him what his job was in the army.  "Infantry--I carried a tommy gun, do you know what that is?".  Chris is short, about 5'6", with sharp blue eyes and a straight posture.  He has a firm handshake and a clear voice.  

"You must have seen so much, I can't even imagine what you went through", I said.  "I am reading Audy Murphy's memoir, and it is amazing what you guys survived".  

I hit a nerve.  Chris stuttered, and turned away from me, wiping his eyes. "Excuse me, I don't want you to see..." he said.  I was caught off guard, and felt ashamed for making an old man cry.  "There was a job we needed you guys to do... " I stammered "... and you did it."  He composed himself after a moment and turned back to me.  "We did it, what we had to".  I asked him about some of his experiences, based on Audy Murphy's book.

"I hear you guys were always hungry, sometimes really hungry" I offered, "that's not something we worry about much these days".  We were standing next to a vegetable display, piled high with tomatoes and cucumbers.

"There was this time once," he said, "when we were diggin in in Italy outside of..." (I missed the placename, rats) "...and one of the guys yells, 'Scallions!'.  Well, there was this pile of manure with scallions growing out of it.  We all dropped our shovels and ran over.  We plucked them out of the manure pile, brushed them off on our coats, and ate them."

"In this one town, we went through, and someone told us that we had to meet a local girl.  It turned out that she was from Brooklyn.  She had come back to Italy to visit her family, and they [the fascists] took her passport.  It was 1939, and after that, she was stuck there.  So she meets us, and she goes to the wall of her house, and takes a stone out.  Behind there is bunch of cheese, and sausages, she had hidden from the Germans.  She puts it down in front of us, we had a nice meal."

I asked him about the Germans, was it true that sometimes prisoners were not taken?  (In Murphy's book, there is a scene where the Germans tied a pair of captured American officers to the front of a tank, hoping to avoid fire.  The GIs hit the tank with an anti-tank gun anyway, killing their own men).  

"Not my company, but one that was to the right of us on the line, one of their patrols was captured by Germans.  The German officer killed 7 prisoners.  After that, well, there weren't any prisoners for the next several months."

"Later, in May, the Germans in Italy surrendered.  I was on guard by the side of the road outside of the village where my company had stopped.  A German jeep came up the road, with a couple of officers in it, holding a white flag.  If those guys had made a sudden move, I would have let them have it.  I told them to keep that white flag high, and showed them the road to the general, where they could surrender"

"I never kept that tommy gun on safe.  You had to be ready all the time. The whole time I was on the front."

I shook his hand, and held it for a moment.   "You should write this all down," I told him, "You should save your memories for your great grandchildren.  It's a treasure.  And it will keep your mind young."

"If I could get the money together,", he said, "I would go back to Italy.  The people are so wonderful, and the food is so fresh."

If you see an old guy selling poppies for the VFW, stop and say hello.  Thank him for his sacrifices, because chances are that he may have gone through hell to protect our way of life.  He may have lived in mud.  He may have been wounded, and watched his friends be blown to pieces.  He probably buried some of his friends in far away fields, the names of which we are forgetting.   Maybe buy a poppy, to help the old soldiers keep their memories fresh, and keep our history from fading.

Parents Magazine FAIL

Parents magazine has published its list of top family friendly vehicles for 2010.  But their screening criteria are full of fail.

"We've only included models equipped with antilock brakes and front, side, and side-curtain air bags. "


I can't recommend any vehicle which does not have ESC, particularly any vehicle with a tall profile such as most CUVs and SUVs.  

Monday, May 03, 2010

Mahindra Trucks, Waiting... Waiting...

Mahindra is not inspiring confidence.  After several delays, the news is that they are almost ready to submit EPA certification paperwork.  Which means that an actual approval to sell their trucks in the U.S. is still some time away, on the order of months.  Meanwhile, dealers are getting antsy.  Some of them have paid around $200,000 for a franchise,  plus much more for showroom remodelling, but don't have anything to show for it yet.  And Mahindra is clamming up, refusing to comment to Automotive News:

Repeated efforts to speak with top officials at Mahindra and Global proved unsuccessful. A spokesman for Global Vehicles said CEO John Perez was out of the country and unavailable for comment. A request to speak with other Global Vehicles executives went unanswered. 

Efforts to reach Perez -- a normally talkative businessman with a rich baritone that carries a slight trace of his childhood in Cuba -- drew a response from a U.S. representative of Mahindra & Mahindra in New York. The representative said that Goenka would prefer to handle discussions of the venture instead of Perez. But Goenka was not available for interviews. 

Read more: item here.

One of the reasons for the delay is that the U.S. importer asked Mahindra to make many changes to the trucks, to bring them up to American customer expectations.  This forced some re-engineering of the trucks, which then required re-testing.  

I am planning on looking one of these over, maybe test driving it, when (and if) they finally do go on sale.

It isn't easy to break into the consumer auto business.  There is a reason that only a few huge companies are able to do it, and (sometimes) make money at it.  The regulatory hurdles are very high.