Mustang Parts
   Carrying Saleen wheels and Bullitt wheels.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TxtStopper: Probably Illegal

I saw a press release about a device called the TxtStopper, which is a cell phone jammer you wire into your car's 12v power line to jam cell phones when your engine is running.  The idea is to keep your teenager from texting while driving.

This device is probably not legal in the U.S., since it interferes with legal and regulated cell phone signals.

Also, I don't see how they keep it just to your vehicle.  If it is so low powered that it doesn't extend much beyond about a 5 foot radius, it may not be powerful enough to reliably jam your phone.

Also, cell phones in vehicles have legitimate safety uses, such as 911. 

Bad idea.

Boycott BP?

Should you boycott BP?

Yes, maybe, no.

Yes because reduced wholesales of their products will hurt them in their pocket books and teach them a harsh lesson.

Maybe not, because chances are if you have a 401(k) or pension plan, you are infact a shareholder of BP, one of the largest (by capitalization) companies in the world.  You will help to damage your own retirement funds.

No, because you will hurt your local small-business owners who own BP stations, which are almost all franchises.  And BP is one of the largest employers in oil producing regions.  Many more people will lose jobs, than already are.

Myself, I am ambivalent.  I don't actively avoid BP stations these days, but I don't really seek them out either.  Besides, near me, Speedway and Valero brands are usually cheaper!

Want Less Oil Use? Raise Gas Taxes!

The laws of economics are nearly as immutable as the laws of physics.

If you want to reduce consumption of an item, increase its price, or reduce its supply (same effect, different mechanism).

David Frum points this out in a very lucid piece on, here.

We want to get the country off oil? Tax it. (Politicians may not wish to say it, but their advisers can at least think it.) Then liberate people to find their own best alternative -- and incentivize industry to develop alternatives that make sense at the new higher price. And be prepared to argue candidly and straightforwardly in the marketplace of ideas why this new tax is right and justified.
If not, then kindly please spare us the grand speeches about how the status quo is the thing you will not accept. It is precisely the thing you are accepting.

However, as Frum correctly points out, a politician who raises gas taxes by $1+ per gallon will soon be an ex-politician.  That's because there is not really a strong consensus on reducing our use of fossil fuels in this country.  As I write here so often, people want cheap gas and high fuel efficiency, but they aren't willing to pay much for it.

One sensible solution to the sting of higher taxes is to do a "feebate" scheme, where the taxes which are collected are distributed back to the taxpayers as tax rebates.  This way, you would nudge the consumer to consume less fuel, but on average wouldn't hurt the economy much.  Congress can even play with the rebate rules, to penalize higher income consumers less than low income consumers, exclude business and agriculture uses, etc.

Instead, we have the perverse system of CAFE, which tells automakers what cars to build and in what mix they can sell them, but is largely invisible to the consumer except on the window stickers at the dealership.  

Well, CAFE isn't free either.  Getting to 36mpg is going to have some nasty side effects on the vehicles available on the marketplace, foremost of which is that cars are going to get more expensive.   So instead of slightly less expensive cars and pricier gas, we are going to have cheaper gas and more expensive cars.  You still pay in the end, though--efficiency costs money.  The advantage of the market approach is that the consumer has choice--if someone wants to drive a thirsty vehicle, and they can afford the gas tax,they can choose to pay.  With CAFE, the very choice of the thirsty vehicle may be taken away, depending on how the fleet average works out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gordon Murray's (Controversial) T.25

There are new photos out of designer Gordon Murray's proposed T.25 city car (see photos here).

It looks like a very tidy design, with a 1+2 seating arrangement where the passengers sit behind the driver, who is front and center.  But the ergonomics look very tricky--to get those 2nd row passengers in their seats, they have to climb over (I assume) a folded forward drivers seat, after negotiation the forward tilting cab.  

Unless the rear of the cab opens as well?  It is hard to tell from the press photos.

Even if the rear cabin opens, I don't think a forward opening door will be well received.  If it is raining, you (and our seat) are getting wet while you work on getting in or out.  If you are in a front end accident, it seems like it would be harder to open the door, if the hinge was crushed.  

The half-windows are also not going to go over well, although perhaps in the U.K fast food drive-through is not as common as in the U.S.  

Mandatory Breathalyzer Interlock?

Did you know that the NHTSA, together with 13 automakers, is working on a device which will test your breath alcohol concentration, to be installed (they hope) in all vehicles?  Did you know that they are spending $2,000,000 per year (some of which is taxpayer money) on this project?  Now Senator Udall from New Mexico is proposing to increase funding to $12,000,000/year.   

To its credit, the DADSS project acknowledges that in order to be accepted by the public, the system they come up with must be practical and non-intrusive.  They are pursuing several methods of doing a passive test, to avoid having to have the driver blow into a tube and wait several minutes before allowing the car to start.

They are looking at both contacting and non-contacting methods.  One method is to have an IR spectrograph system which reads the blood alcohol level by analyzing the reflected light from a persons skin, which would have to be touching a sensor hidden somewhere such as the steering wheel or shift knob.  Another method would be to analyze the vapor in the cabin using several "sniffers".

However, even a passive system has some significant issues that will need to be overcome before the average person will agree to have one in their vehicle.  The chance of a false positive must be vanishingly small.  But at the same time, the system must be difficult to defeat, or it loses its protective effect.
And any system that degrades over time, to the point where it starts calling false positives, would not be acceptable.   

Consider a contacting spectrograph sensor.  What if it is winter, and our driver wants to wear gloves?  Do you make him remove his gloves to start the car?  Would people submit to that? (No).   

Can the system tell the difference between a bag of saline solution and a persons finger?  Could it be fooled with a hot dog? 

Or what if you are using cabin air sensors, and you are sober but your friend in the passenger seat is drunk?  The system must be able to tell the difference reliably to be acceptable.

Would an air analyzer system work with the windows down, or with the ventilation fans blowing?  Any solution which requires people to start with closed windows or without ventilation won't be accepted.

Could a cabin air analyzer be fooled by taping over the sensor inlet ports?

To be effective and safe, the system would have to make an up or down call quickly while the car is parked.  Which means it will almost certainly have to be a default-to-guilty (restrictive) system as opposed to a non-restrictive  default-to-innocent system.   If the system allows you to drive away, but then makes a "intoxicated" call later, and stops your car, it may leave you in an unsafe situation.  

I am skeptical about the idea that every car should have an alcohol detector on board.  I think many lives could be saved if, instead, the system were required as an after-market installation for anyone who is caught DUI.  I am not ready to accept, and I don't think most people would accept a system which presumes that you are drunk unless you can prove otherwise.  

You can read more about the DADSS project at

An interesting source of counter-advocacy is here:, which is run by the American Beverage Institute.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Camry Most "American" Car?

According to the Detroit News (here), finds that the Camry is the "most American car", based on domestic parts content and popularity.

I suppose it is fair, and congratulations to Toyota for supporting the U.S. economy as much as the Camry does.


If you follow the flow of engineering and the flow of money, the picture is a little different.  The Camry has quite a bit of its engineering done in Japan, which means that Japanese engineers are doing the work, not U.S. engineers.  Also, the profits from the sale of the Camry flow back through Japan, though the shareholders of Toyota are global.

Consider instead a car designed in the U.S. and built over the border, such as the Ford Fusion, or the Chrysler 300.  Yes, it is being bolted together by Mexicans (or Canadians, or even Mexican-Canadians), from parts that flow from all over.  However, U.S. engineers and technicians worked on the product, and and the profits flow mostly to U.S. shareholders (and the .gov in the case of Chrysler and GM).

It isn't black and white, and if you buy a Camry, to my thinking it is much better than buying a car designed and built overseas.  But if you want to support American engineering and American shareholders, you can do better than Camry.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Truth About The Vuvuzela

The vuvuzela was originally invented by the Jews! Made of a rams horn, the shofar was blown during battle, and I am sure during ancient soccer games. Today, it is blown during the high holidays.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Why Not Small Cars?

Mark Tapscott at the Examiner (link) does a good job discussing why it is that small and fuel efficient cars are not taking off in the marketplace yet. He mentions several major reasons, such as safety issues (perceived and real), and cargo capacity.

I can add a few more.

Perceived Value: Americans still associate size/mass with value. Many of them are not yet ready to agree to pay mid-sized car prices for a small car.

Ride and Handling: Americans seem to be divided on how they want their cars to handle. Some of the best selling cars (Toyota Camry, Corolla) are comparatively squishy, while others (Honda Accord, Civic) have sharper handling and firmer rides. While it is not impossible to produce a small car with a softer ride, light weight and short suspension travel limits do make it more difficult. Also, when efficiency is the overriding design factor, one of the easiest places to lose weight is in sound isolation materials. Do the "silent majority" want little cars with go-kart manners (Mini, Smart) or do they want scaled down couches? Currently, most small cars are tuned more towards go-kart.

Styling: Looks still matter. Americans want a sharp looking car, although what "sharp looking" is is not always consistent. Designers have to work hard to avoid designing short little jelly beans with high roofs, which is really the most space efficient design with some aerodynamic efficiency. On a larger car, there is more surface to play with, and more ways to draw the eye. Americans don't really want something that looks like a rollerskate, with a tall roof and little wheels pushed out to the corners.

Comfort: Americans are not getting thinner. I recently witnessed about 500lbs of female Target shopper (a mother and daughter?) flow out of both sides of an old Dodge minivan, you could almost hear the springs sigh in relief as the ride height jumped by 2" in front. Show those women a Fiesta and they will probably laugh at you. They might then go ahead and eat it.

Toy Story 3

I went to see Toy Story 3 today, it is a real work of art, absolutely wonderful. The opening scene features a wild get-away by train robbing Potato Heads in a purple Barbie corvette driven by Martians.

Even if you have not seen the earlier installments, go see this one.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cheap Gas, Low Demand For Hybrids, B-Cars

According to Ward's Auto, sales of fuel efficient vehicles (cars with 30mpg+) are falling, as customers move back to their mid-size cars and crossovers.  Toyota's Prius is selling well, but the hybrid Camry and Honda Civic Hybrid are declining.  Small gasoline cars such as the Yaris (down 38%), Honda Fit (down 20%), and Smart ForTwo (down 63%) are not doing well.

Unless Obama can find a way to ramp up the price of gasoline soon, the near term sales of the many new B-cars are not going to be pretty, and fleet fuel economy improvements are going to be small.

Let's face it, Americans don't want little cars.  They want cheap gas and large cars.  I can't wait for the public reaction when the 36mpg CAFE regulations force people to look at B-cars, or pay a premium for larger vehicles.  


Thursday, June 17, 2010

HP2G Vaporware?

I keep tabs on HP2G, Doug Pelmear's startup which is working on a hybrid electric V8 engine design, because he is somewhat local (Toledo OH) and makes some astonishing claims (110 MPGe and 400HP).  As you may have heard already, HP2G was a Progressive Automotive X-prize contender but dropped out in the early stages of the competition.  HP2G also had a deal with Revenge Design to supply the HP2G engine for a hybrid supercar, the Revenge Blade.  Revenge has broken off its relationship with HP2G, and posted this nasty item on its web site:

Revenge Designs Inc is announcing the withdrawal of all support and funding to Hp2g llc, due to numerous requests for third party validations to the claims of their 110mpge Hp2g engine. Revenge Designs was informed the patents were in place late 2009, since then Revenge Designs has requested documentation for the third party testing to no avail. Revenge Designs finds this to be unacceptable. 

A quick search of the U.S. patent database shows that the only patent that Doug Pelmear has to his name at this time is one for an engine block brace--nothing about his magnetic cylinder assist system.  There are no applications by Pelmear in the U.S. patent application database.  A quick search of the EU patent database also shows only the engine block brace patent.  So it appears that HP2G has failed to apply for a patent for its magnetic hybrid engine technology until very recently.  And it is odd that HP2G refuses to allow 3rd party testing of its prototype, an old Mustang.

Does Pelmear have a 110MPGe V8 engine that also makes 400HP, or is he selling snake oil?  I wonder if we will ever be able to find out.

New J.D. Power Initial Quality Rankings

Some interesting results in the new J.D. Power IQS. (Full press release here)

For 2010, "domestic" brands are beating "import brands" as a group, 108 PP100 vs 109 (Problems Per 100).

Toyota has fallen to significantly below average, at 117 PP100. That crashing sound you hear is the sound of Toyota execs jumping out of high-rise windows.

All GM brands are below average, though all but GMC are better than Toyota.

Ford has charged up to just above Honda, well above average, and Lincoln is better than industry average, but oddly Mercury is below average.

Land Rover continues its dominance as the worst in the industry.

Audi (VW) has improved dramatically over the last few years, from 136 PP100 in 2007 to 111 in 2010. VW has also improved, 135 PP100 in 2010 vs 160 in 2007, but relative to average, is still near the bottom.

Volvo improved from below average to above average since 2007.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mahindra Trucks, In Trouble?

This may be a sign that Mahindra's attempt to import diesel pickup trucks into the U.S. is in big trouble.

According to Global Atlanta (here), Mahindra's U.S. distributor Global Vehicles has filed a federal lawsuit against the company.  Mahindra, despite rumors to the contrary, has not yet filed for EPA certification of its pickup trucks.  Which likely means, they aren't making emissions.

Meanwhile, the many U.S. dealers (some of them closed Chrysler or GM dealers) who put down money on a franchise to sell Mahindra trucks have nothing to show for their investments.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I heard on the morning news that GM is instructing its employees to always refer to Chevrolet as Chevrolet, not as Chevy.  They apparently want to portray a grown-up, mature brand.

Good luck with that.

Chevy is ingrained in the culture.  They'll have to retrain thousands of NASCAR fans.  

They'll have to get songs re-written: "Drove my Chevrolet to the levr-o-let but the levr-o-let was dry"

It's good for Dodge (Ram) and Ford, through--they only have one syllable.  Easier to say.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Fiat Cinquecento (500) Spotting

You see some neat cars sometimes, living near Woodward Ave.

It's a lovely little car. But it is little. Will it save Chrysler? What do you think?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Onstar Vs. Sync

A friend of mine was looking for a luxury car, and was wondering about the differences between Onstar (Cadillac) and Sync (Lincoln).  

There is a major difference in how these two systems work.

Onstar is a concierge service--when you press the little blue button, you initiate a voice call to a data center where someone will offer to help you.  Likewise, when something goes wrong, they can call you and ask if you are OK.  Onstar has a subscription fee.

Sync is a speech recognition system.  You don't talk to a human, you talk to a Microsoft box which integrates some functions of the car with some functions of your cell phone.   Sync does not have a fee.

Onstar advantages: the phone is built into the car, so it is always on, you can talk to a real person, Onstar can do things like unlock your doors or stop your car remotely if it is stolen.  

Onstar disadvantages: it has a subscription fee.  

Sync advantages: it is free.  It has a nice interface for iPod control, will read text messages to you, get news and weather updates, etc.  Sync will have apps that users can download and run, and there will be more of them over time.  

Sync disadvantages: If you don't have your phone with you or your phone is damaged, Sync can't help you as much.  Sync can't do things like immobilize your car or unlock your doors.  Some phones or devices aren't fully supported, depending on how they implement bluetooth and other details.

Both systems offer 911 functionality, Onstar through a concierge and Sync through an automated dial-out using your phone.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Gaza "Peace" Flotilla

If the "peace activists" of the Mavi Marmari just wanted to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza, why did they bring slingshots, metal poles, gas masks, and knives with them?

Video here.

If the "peace activists" wanted to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza, why did they prepare to attack the Israeli commandos before they boarded the ship?

Video here.

if the "peace activists" wanted to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza, why didn't they just follow the Israeli navy to Ashdod, and have the cargo inspected, as they were offered?

If the Israeli commandos came with the intent to injure "peace activists", why did they rappel down from a helicopter armed with paintball guns?

If the Israelis wanted to injure "peace activists", why didn't the helicopter's machine gun fire into the crowd?  

If the Israelis wanted to injure "peace activists", why did the men hold off on using their lethal weapons (handguns) until they were being hurt themselves?

The blockade of Gaza is a legal military action, according to international law, as Israel is in a state of war with Hamas, who runs Gaza.  Under a legal blockade, Israel has the right to board any vessel which shows that its intent is to run the blockade.  

Israel has a right to prevent non-humanitarian materials from reaching Gaza, which could be used to make missiles or tooling for missiles.  For example, concrete can be used to make metal molds, for casting rocket parts.  Electric wheelchairs can be dis-assembled for wires, motors, switches, microprocessors, batteries, etc.  

The "peace activists" where in fact running the blockade with the intent to provoke Israel into doing something embarrassing, and with the intent to use the other passengers as human shields.  The "peace activists" were in fact engaged in an act of war.  The "activists" who were killed were not murdered, they were shot in self defense.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

$5000 Event Data Recorders? Not Likely

Automotive News has an interesting article where they speculate on the possible cost impact of the EDR requirement in H.R. 5381.  Somehow, they manage to throw out numbers like $5000 per car, but if you read the article, you see that they are extrapolating from airplane flight data recorders, which are required to survive deep submersion, very hot fires, and huge g forces.  

Many cars already have EDRs, such as the much maligned Toyota unit, which is a closed system, and can only be read with Toyota tools.

The way the EDRs work is that they write data to flash memory in the few milliseconds before, during, and after a safety event, such as an airbag deployment.  They typically have a large capacitor onboard, which provides a little bit of power so the unit can finish writing the data if it loses power during a crash.

I think it is unlikely that NHTSA will mandate that car EDRs be made to the same deep submersion and high temperature survival specs that airplane black boxes are made, as these are much less likely to occur in even a very severe car accident.

What may be required is a larger capacitor or a backup battery to keep the thing running longer after losing powere, and more memory to store a longer trace.  For example, if the unit needs to store 64 bytes of data at a very vast 1ms rate, a minutes worth of data would require about 3.8 MB of storage.  So we are talking about a few dollars worth of flash memory, and maybe another few dollars for longer term keep alive capability. 

I could see the cost of EDRs going up by, say, $50-$100 per vehicle.  But not $5000.

The Smoker Slob

I understand, lady in the crossover SUV with the MSU theme license plate and the hardshell roof cargo carrier, that you can't drive to work in the morning without your cigarette.  You pay the taxes, so may as well enjoy your vice.  But do you have to throw your cigarette butt out your window when you are done with it?  Can't you keep your butt to yourself?