Mustang Parts
   Carrying Saleen wheels and Bullitt wheels.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fighting Comment Spam

Ugh, I am being inundated with comment spam.

I am tightening the policy for comments, from now on, only users with an OpenID or other form that Blogger accepts can comment.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fisker Suspension

Edmunds has a very nice photo review of the Fisker Karma suspension.

My takeaway: heavy car, expensive chassis, very complex.   But also very impressive, considering the complexity of the machine.   Tesla, for its Roadster, let Lotus take care of the chassis and suspension design and had to focus mostly on the powertrain.

I will be amazed if Fisker makes enough money to stay in business with this model.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cadillac 4 Cylinder

This is what the world has come to.   GM is putting a four-banger in a Cadillac.  

But this isn't the I4 of old, this is a modern, direct injected turbo with variable cam timing.  The GM 2.0L Ecotech makes 270HP and 260lb-ft of torque.  It is a similar engine to the Ford 2.0L Ecoboost which is now the fuel economy option for the Explorer. 

By comparison, the FWD versions of the famed Northstar engine family (LD8) made 275HP and 300ft-lbs, out of a whopping 4.6L of displacement.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

iDrive Prank Box

I was sent this prank gift box, which is hilarious.

It is designed to look like a believable (but crazy) product, the iDrive, which is a suction cup and claw mount to mount iPads and other devices on your steering wheel or other unsafe places.  Photos on the back show it being used in cars, on a factory runabout and also on a jet ski. I wonder, though, how the box maker gets away with using "iDrive", which is a real trademark for a number of different types of products, including data storage and surgical staplers.

The actual product is the prank box itself, one of many that are sold by Prank Pack.

I am going to use it on a friend, who is both a car nut and a Apple cultist.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Old People Cars

According to the Detroit News, this is the list of most popular vehicles for senior citizens.  I have added additional information: which models are discontinued.

1. Lincoln Town Car, 90%

2. Buick Lucerne, 87%

3. Cadillac DTS, 85%

4. Cadillac CTS, 74%

5. Cadillac STS, 71%

6. Hyundai Azera, 25%

7. Chevrolet Impala, 51%

8. Buick LaCrosse, 59%

9. Lincoln MKZ, 54%

10. Toyota Avalon, 54%

The interesting question to me is, what will the old folks buy now that the softly spring boats have mostly gone extinct?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Bridgestone Airless Tire Concept

Cool.  From

Michelin has also been working on the Tweel airless tire for some time now, but it isn't ready for civilian commercial sale, yet.  


Volt Battery Fires NBD

The blogosphere and news media have become somewhat excited about the Chevy Volt battery fires, and GM has been very defensive, going so far as to offer to buy back Volts from any skittish customers.

I don't see what the big deal is.

There zero cases of Volts having battery thermal issues after getting in an accident in the real world.  There have been a couple of cases of garage fires, however the causes are not yet known and it is quite possible that the fault lies in poorly done 240V wiring, and not with the Volt.  

There are four cases of Volt batteries having thermal reactions after being first disconnected from their liquid coolant supply, then damaged, and then overturned by NHTSA.  This is like sideswiping a pole at high speed, at exactly the point where the battery extends out towards the sides of the car, then rolling over, and then letting the battery sit damaged for several days without being discharged.  

Here's an experiment: smash a gasoline car in such a way as to rupture the gas tank. Then turn the car over and let the fuel run where it will.

Also, consider the number of gasoline vehicle fires that occur every year.  In 1999, there were 288,000 highway vehicle fires, due to all causes (accident and otherwise), according to the NFPA.  According to a 1990 study by NHTSA, motor vehicle fires due to accidents occurred at a rate of 2.86/1000 vehicles. 

So if Volts had the same rate of accident caused fires as gasoline vehicles, we would expect to see about 14 Volt fires this year.  But we haven't, even though Volts do carry gasoline on-board.

Aptera Dead!

I have been watching with morbid fascination the death spiral of Aptera, the designer of the electric trike that looks like a big spermatozoan, which didn't do well in the Progressive Automotive X-prize competition.  To stave off death, Aptera was working on a traditional 4-wheel vehicle concept which they hoped would attract new investors and help them qualify for a DOE AVTM loan.  Aptera stated that they needed $150 million in new money to start work on the new vehicle, but investors did not come to the table.

And that was a wise decision.  Despite an interesting and aerodynamic design, the Aptera 3-wheel concept was not practical for any large market, and would have been very expensive to produce in small volumes.   Like the other X-prize finalists running 3-wheel designs, Aptera was more of a design study than a marketable product.   

To date, there are still no production-ready enclosed 3-wheelers for sale in the U.S. and I doubt there will ever be.  The inherent safety and comfort trade-offs are too great for more than a few novelty-loving customers.

The question in my mind is, who is next to fold?  Up-start auto companies funded by venture capital don't have a shining history (DeLorean, Bricklin...).  Will Tesla and Fisker make it, financially, or will they burn through their cash before catching on?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How To Reset Your Garmin

I needed to reset my Garmin 1390 GPS unit, before giving it to a friend, to erase all of my personal data.  I found out there is a nice factory reset function which will clear all user data.

To factory reset your Garmin:
  • Power off the unit
  • Press and hold the lower right corner of the screen
  • Power on the unit.

I also found that if you do the same thing but press and hold the upper left of the touch screen, it will re-calibrate the touchscreen.

Monday, November 28, 2011

NHTSA: Volt Battery Pack Post Crash Risks

NHTSA posted a press release on its web site which explains its recent test results with Chevy Volt batteries.

In an effort to recreate the May test, NHTSA conducted three tests last week on the Volt's lithium-ion battery packs that intentionally damaged the battery compartment and ruptured the vehicle's coolant line. Following a test on November 16 that did not result in a fire, a temporary increase in temperature was recorded in a test on November 17. During the test conducted on November 18 using similar protocols, the battery pack was rotated within hours after it was impacted and began to smoke and emit sparks shortly after rotation to 180 degrees. NHTSA's forensic analysis of the November 18 fire incident is continuing this week. Yesterday, the battery pack that was tested on November 17 and that had been continually monitored since the test caught fire at the testing facility. The agency is currently working with DOE, DOD, and GM to assess the cause and implications of yesterday's fire. In each of the battery tests conducted in the past two weeks, the Volt's battery was impacted and rotated to simulate a real-world, side-impact collision into a narrow object such as a tree or a pole followed by a rollover.

So in short, NHTSA is crashing Volts with  very specific protocol--a narrow pole, which will cause severe deformation/penetration of the body structure, followed by a rotation to simulate a rollover.

The batteries aren't catching on fire right away, rather they seem to take some time to build up heat.  

I don't think there is anything to worry about, yet.  First, this is a very specific and severe type of crash, and second, it takes hours or days before the battery self-heats to the point of fire.  As NHTSA and GM both point out, no on-the-road accidents are known to have caused battery fires.

However, GM apparently was late to the game, by not developing beforehand a procedure to discharge (and render safer) the Volt battery.  They are now rolling this procedure out to first responders, who need to know how to neutralize a charged lithium ion battery after a severe accident.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Review: Davis CarChip Pro

This is a review of the Davis Industires CarChip Pro . 

The CarChip is a small device which plugs into your vehicle's OBD-II port, and acts as a datalogger.  It can record vehicle speed every second, and up to 4 other items at a slower rate of one sample every 5 seconds. Retail prices are around $80.

The device is simple to configure.  Once you install the software (which worked fine on Windows 7), and plug the CarChip in with a mini-USB cable (included), a step-by-step configuration walks you through the initial setup.

For example, you can choose to record 4 parameters at every 5s, from a choice of several standard OBD-II parameters, including engine speed, throttle position, engine coolant temp, engine load, air flow rate, spark timing, air/fuel ratio, battery voltage, and oxygen sensor voltage.  You can also set audible alarms, to have the device beep at you if you exceed a top speed, or a max accel/decel rate.

For my testing, I plugged it into my 2007 (which would be using CAN OBD-II), and drove a few trips.  I also induced two powertrain diagnostic faults: I loosened my fuel cap, and for a short time, disconnected my intake air temp sensor (IAT).

After removing the device and downloading the data to my PC, I was able to use the software to plot the recorded channels, and the device properly logged two DTCs, one for evaporative emissions (P0456) and one for the IAT circuit test failure (P0113).  By clicking on a menu choice, you can tell the CarChip to clear the codes next time you plug it into your vehicle.

Overall, I liked the CarChip, and I would recommended for several use cases.  A hobbyist or fleet owner who wants a low-cost way to log mileage, driving style, fuel economy, etc. would do well with a CarChip if they don't mind plugging into it every so often to download the data.  It could also be useful to someone who wanted to program it as a "trainer", to teach themselves (or their kids) not to accelerate too hard or brake too abruptly, to teach a high fuel economy driving style.

However, I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as a primary diagnosis tool, for example to debug DTCs or do performance tuning, because of its offline nature.  Someone who wanted to quickly determine why they have a Check Engine lamp, and perhaps check some of their engine control sensor values as part of the debug would be better off with an interactive scan tool.  Also, the relatively slow 5s sampling rate may cause users to miss some aspects of the engine performance, such as sudden lean fuel excursions or speed fluctuations.

My advice to Davis, to improve this product, would be to add a "live mode" which pulls the OBD data in real-time via the USB, and to add some sort of wireless interface so that the data can be monitored and downloaded via bluetooth without having to plug into the unit directly.

  • Simple to use software, easy setup
  • Ability to set speed/accel/decel alarms
  • Fault code logging and clearing
  • Small, unobtrusive
  • Data can be easily exported
  • Slow sampling rate (5s) on user-configured data channels
  • No apparent "live mode" to look at data interactively, while connected
  • No wireless transfer mode (bluetooth or wifi).
* Davis provided me with a sample unit, however I recieved no compensation for this review.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Predatory Lexus Face

When I saw the new design for the 2013 Lexus GS 350, I was reminded of something... 


Or perhaps

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

You Walk

Saw this hilarious billboard on the outskirts of Pontiac the other day.  Rough neighborhood, I guess.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Coda: Does Anyone Care?

The Coda is an all electric sedan built on a Chinese copy of a Mitsubishi compact sedan chassis, stuffed with batteries and electric motors.  It looks cheap.  But it will cost $40,000 like the Focus BEV, Chevrolet Volt, and Nissan Leaf high trim model.  

Does anyone really want one at this price?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

New Fiat 500 Abarth Commercial


Translation from a YouTube viewer:

What are you looking at? Uh!?

What are you looking at?! (slap)

Are you undressing me with your eyes?

Poor guy…you can't help it?

Is your heart beating? Is your head spinning?

Do you feel lost thinking that I could be yours forever?

(by the way has a slightly non-italian accent)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Smelly Anarchists Begone!

NYC has finally had enough of the Occupy Wall Street crowd in Zuccotti park.  A judge has denied a lawsuit for a restraining order against NYPD, on the grounds that

To the extent that  City law prohibits the erection of  structures,  the use of  gas or  other  
combustible materials, and the accumulation of  garbage and human waste in public places, 

enforcement of the law and the owner's rules appears reasonable to permit the owner to maintain its 
space in a hygienic, safe, and lawful condition, and to prevent it from being liable by the City or  others 
for  violations of  law, or  in tort.  It  also permits public access by those who live and work in the area 
who are the intended beneficiaries of  this zoning bonus.  
The movants have not  demonst rated that  they have a First  Amendment  right  to remain in 
Zuccotti Park, along with their tents, structures, generators, and other installations to the exclusion 
of the owner's reasonable rights and duties to maintain Zuccotti Park, or to the rights to public access 
of  others who might  wish to use the space safely
. Neither have the applicants shown a right to a 
temporary restraining order that would restrict the City's enforcement of  law so as to promote public 
health and safety.

Presumably, now the NYPD will begin moving the squatters out of Zuccotti park, so that the damage can be repaired. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

EVs Should Be Loud

Today, while crossing a busy grocery store parking lot, I was really startled by a silent Prius driving accross my path.  Since I didn't hear a noise, I didn't expect to see it moving near me.

I'm coming down on the side of noise pollution here.  EVs (BEVs or HEVs in electric mode) should make some sort of noise, loud enough for a pedestrian to hear within about 15 feet or so.  Silent cars are not as safe.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The End of Saab (Again)?

This might be the be the end for Saab.  GM is stating that it does not support the sale of Saab to two Chinese auto companies.  Without financing, Saab is likely to be liquidated by the Swedish courts, a process that was suspended when Saab made a deal to sell itself.  

I have friends who own Saabs, and I wonder what will happen to them as far as vehicle service and replacement parts go.  Perhaps someone will step up and buy the parts inventory, if there is money to be made in service.  Some Saab models are really re-badged GM or Subaru vehicles, so those likely can be serviced at those dealerships.  

Prius Smugness Run Amok

Smug Prius owner goes apesh*t because a guy is idling his diesel pickup in an adjacent parking spot.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

EVs Are Expensive!

Ford today announced the pricing for the electric Focus, $40,000.  Facebook and blogs are howling at the price.

Truth is, the price is not unfair.  Li-Ion batteries are running around $600/kWh these days.  If the Focus matches the Leaf's 24kWh battery, then it is carrying about $14,000 in batteries.  A nicely equipped Focus goes for around $23,000, which gets us to $37,000.  

I suspect that Nissan is losing money on the Leaf, and calling it a marketing expense.  At a price of $32,000, the Leaf only allows for a base vehicle price of $18,000.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: Drop Stop Car Wedge

Drop Stop Car Wedge is a simple product that does one thing very well. It blocks the gap between your car seat and the center console, so that you can't drop stuff down into that hard to reach spot. 

I have been using one, and It works great. I do notice that I can feel the right side of my seat is button cushion is a little bit firmer due to compression, but it doesn't bother me.

The wedge is a tube made of black neoprene, with a pass-through for the seatbelt latch.  It is stuffed with filler.  To install it, you slip it over your seatbelt latch and then stuff it down, working it forward and back smooth it out. 

At $20/pair plus shipping, it isn't cheap, but isn't outrageously expensive either.  It should outlast your vehicle.

  • Simple, effective
  • Unobtrusive
  • Seems durable
  • Unknown country of origin (not on packaging)
  • $20+shipping is a little steep for what is basically a stuffed fabric tube
  • Limited distribution (Can't buy it on Amazon, etc.)
  • Adds firmness to right seat cushion side

*Note: DropStop did not provide any payment for this review, other than sending me a test unit.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sonic Drop Breaks Down?

Chevy is doing a stunt to promote the new Sonic b-car.  They are dropping it off of a huge tower attached to a bungee cord, and using web clicks to move it towards the edge of the leap.

Looks like it broke, though.  

I hope those guys are careful.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Minor Fact Check: Volt Charging Handle

According to Mike Davis at The Detroit Bureau, the Chevy Volt charging cord has a safety feature similar to a certain .45ACP pistol that I know and love.

"To my surprise, I found the In cord had a squeeze-handle like the safety grip on a Model 1911 A1 .45 pistol"

Sorry Mike, this isn't right.  The 1911 has a grip safety on the backstrap of the gun, where the web of your thumb rests.  The Chevy Volt has a safety lever located under the trigger finger.

Electric Delorean?

Jalopnik's Kevin McCauley was invited to test drive a Delorean DMCEV, an electric conversion applied to a Delorean chassis by the new Delorean Motor Company.  DMC hopes to build these for sale in 2013.

It will be a really cool looking car, but remember that this thing is built on a 1980's design.  It wouldn't pass modern handling or crash standards.  And chances are, it will be really expensive--because to avoid meeting the modern standards, each one of these will have to be a conversion of an existing Delorean chassis with an existing VIN.  In other words, take a rare car, and then apply expensive electronics and batteries.

I have to say, though, the Delorean is still a great looking car.

Electric DeTomaso, Pantera, anyone?

Birmingham Ferrari

Spotted in downtown Birmingham on Sunday.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blackwood Sighting

The Lincoln Blackwood was a white elephant for Lincoln. A car that
did well as a concept but flopped bad in production. I saw this one
the other night.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Ford Quietly Kills Off Hybrid Escape?

Ford has announced that the next Escape, based on the European Kuga, will come with 3 flavors of I4 engines, 1.6L Ecoboost (GTDI), 2.0L Ecboost, and 2.5L NA.  No mention was made of the hybrid powertrain currently available, giving Ford bragging rights to "most fuel efficient SUV".  So it looks like Ford is quietly killing off the hybrid Escape in favor of the C-Max hybrid and plug-in hybrid.  

If I have this wrong, Ford PR is invited to comment.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SUVs Less Dangerous To Others*

A new study by the IIHS shows that SUVs which strike cars of a similar weight are now not more dangerous than other types of vehicles.  This is great news, as it shows that automakers have been taking the interface issue seriously.   By adjusting the heights of crash structures, moving towards unibody designs, and improving crumple on light SUVs, automakers have been able to meet or even exceed sedan crash performance.  


The study looks at crashes where vehicles collide which are within 500lbs in weight of each other.  It does not say much about crashes where the vehicles are farther apart, for example a 5000lb SUV striking a 3500lb car.  In cases like those, injuries and deaths are still going to be lopsided, with the occupants of the lighter vehicle suffering more damage.  

This chart from IIHS is telling, it shows how heavier vehicles tend to have higher partner death rates than lighter ones.  

At the end of the day, a larger, heavier vehicle is still safer, for the people riding in it.  But not necessarily for the others on the road.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Sad HP Tale

I decided to replace my stuttering old Dell Optiplex desktop (Core 2 circa 2008) with a new desktop.  I saw a very good deal on Woot!--an HP Pavilion with a quad core AMD CPU and 1TB HDD for all of $300.  It was, of course, refurbished.

That was a mistake.

The HP came loaded down with crapware (trials, useless media players, etc.).  The Pavilion case was made of very thin metal, and thing made a lof of an and drive noise compared to my old machine.  But the worse part was that it came broken.  Despite having 4 RAM slots, the motherboard would not boot if I put more than 2 sticks of memory in it.  HP agreed this was an issue, but informed me my machine was out of warranty.  After several long phone calls with customer service (in India) I finally got them to extend my warranty to the proper 90 days, and accept the machine for repair.

It came back with a new motherboard, and would accept more memory.  But this one would run for a seemingly random amount of time, and then freeze solid. It wouldn't even write the errors into the Windows system log, so I had no way of knowing what was wrong.

The machine went back to Woot for a refund, and I bought a factory refurbished Dell Optiplex 780, with Intel Core 2 Quad CPU.  

The Dell Optiplex came with no crapware, other than a a free trial for a virus scanner, which was easily removed.  The machine is quiet, and fast, and with a free web coupon, it was cheap too.  And, unlike the HP, the Dell came with a 3 year warranty, and an actual restore DVD.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The I3 Is The New I4?

Ford has unveiled a GTDI (gasoline turbocharged direct injection) 3 cylinder engine, which they brand Ecoboost.  The 1.0L inline 3 will power the Fiesta and Focus C-Max in Europe in 2012, and will be competitive in power to the 1.6L I4 Ford currently offers, according to Ford's PR.  That means HP and torque numbers around 100-120HP and 110-120 ft-lb of torque.   Due to reduced weight and the variable-displacement effect of turbo charging, fuel economy numbers will be big.

Getting 100+ HP out of 1.0L is impressive, and matches the power output of such high-end makers such as Audi, BMW, and Porsche.  

The only other automaker that I have heard was working on a 3-cylinder engine, potentially for North America, was BMW (Mini).

Ford hasn't announced North American plans for the 1.0L Ecoboost, but I expect it will show up here eventually in Fiesta and possibly as a base engine for the Focus.   People will have to get used to such a small engine, and only 3 cylinders, but thanks to CAFE, very small engines are the way of the future. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

HEVs: Make Some Noise

The industry is busy trying to decide what noise HEVs and BEVs should make when running in electric mode.  

My humble proposal is here.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Volvo Kills V8

So I'm a few months late, but I just now noticed that for 2012, Volvo is no longer offering the Yamaha sourced narrow bank V8 (4.4L, 311HP) on the XC90.  It was available in 2011, offering a dismal EPA fuel economy of 16MPG combined.

I never liked the idea of Volvo selling a V8.  Volvo has for many years been known for inline engines (I5 and I6), often hopped up with turbos.  This allowed them to stretch for performance without giving up too much fuel economy.  

The last Volvo I owned was a naturally aspirated I5.  It wasn't quick, but it got the job done, and I was able ot average around 26MPG around town.

No Buick Wagon For U.S.


According to a Buick spokesman who spoke to Edmunds, there won't be a Buick wagon for the U.S.  

Won't someone build a fun-to-drive wagon for the U.S. market?  Hello?  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ford, Toyota Co-Developing RWD HEV Powertrain

The new CAFE standards are proving to be a real matchmaker.  Ford and Toyota have jointly announced a co-development program to develop a RWD hybrid powertrain.  

Ford,of course, is one of the top sellers of light trucks (F150) and body on frame SUVs (Expedition, Navigator).  Toyota is not a major player in trucks, but does sell Tundra and a variety of BOF SUVs such as the Sequoia and 4Runner.  By working together, the two companies can reduce the high development costs of a new hybrid powertrain, and eventually be able to meet or exceed the CAFE standards for light trucks.

What is odd, to me, about this tie-up is the cooperation between to major rivals.  Remember recently the dust-up over IP, when Ford and Toyota agreed to cross-license HEV patents, and the ensuing confusion in the consumers mind, where some people thought Ford was buying Toyota's Prius system.  Why not GM?  GM/Allison have been doing RWD truck hybrids for a while now.  Oh, maybe this is why not.

In general, we are going to see more of these cooperative moves.  For example, Chrysler will need to get in bed with someone to develop their own truck hybrid system, as trucks are a big part of Chrysler's business model. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pre-Cruise: Ferndale Police Cars

Some of the police cars in Ferndale.

Pe-Cruise: Ferndale Choppers

I saw this lovely orange chopper in Ferndale.

And this bicycle was neat, too.

Pre-Cruise: Public Safety Fun On Woodward

One of my favorite places to go at Dreamcruise time is the area in Ferndale near city hall, where many interesting police, fire, and EMT vehicles are displayed.

More Pre-Cruise Photos

Some stuff I saw in and around Ferndale today.

Woodward Pre-Cruise: The Focus ST

I took off of work early today and went to Fashionable Ferndale to see if I could find Ford's Focus ST which they were going to show off. Hidden in plain view behind a trailer, and freshly detailed, here it is in its golden glory.

A few observations. I tried to see if I could tell if it has the new REVO knuckle or not, so I took a few undercarriage photos. I'm still not sure, because there wasn't much space to put a camera down there. However, this one is clearly FWD, not AWD as some had hoped.

Some cladding in the way, hard to see the front suspension.
No RWD on this one.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

California Clean Cars Confusion

In California, an umbrella organization called the California Clean Cars Initiative is advocating ever tougher standards.  It is a coalition of various organizations, including respectable ones such as American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, and others which are more pollitlcally radical such as The Center for Auto Safety (trial lawyers) and Union of Concerned Scientists.  

And, as usual, Consumers Union joins with the lefties to advocate for unaffordable cars, in opposition to their consumer oriented mission.

One trick that the CCCI pulls is that they conflate "healthy" and "clean" air with "climate change".  I think everyone agrees that smog forming compounds such as NOx and ammonia are dangerous.  The automakers have met every LEV requirement thrown at them, drastically reducing the amount of air pollution from combustion and fuel evaporation.  

However, CO2 is not a carcinogen, and it doesn't form smog or acid rain.  It's plant food.  Hypothetically, a hydrocarbon fuelled vehicle could be designed which would combust its fuel so cleanly, and apply an effective aftertreatment, so that the exhaust would be composed only of CO2, NO2, and H20--complete combustion, with allowance for nitrogen interactions.  However, CCCI would not consider this "clean and healthy" air, because of the global warming lobby.

CCCI would be better off advocating for the removal of dirty-running old cars from California's roads, and going after non-transportation sources such as lawnmowers, boats, and airplanes, if they were serious about the health effects of real pollution.

Yaris Fail

I have not seen the new Toyota Yaris in person yet.  Maybe I'll cross paths with one on Woodward this weekend.  Anyway, looking at the photos and early impressions from other reviewers, I think I can sum it up by quoting Toyota's Yaris tagline. 

"Yaris.   It's A Car."

Or, to quote the ever snarky Car And Driver, "Yep, it's a car. There's not much else to say."

In other words, Toyota is making no effort to build an interesting small car.   They are relying on their reputation for safe, comfortable, reliable cars, and a little bit of styling upate, to try to compete against a very hot small car marketplace.  Meanwhile, Fiat 500 brings style and cute by the bucket.  Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 bring sharp styling and zippy handling.  Honda's Fit brings excellent packaging, good handling, and good fuel economy.  Chevy Rio brings interesting styling and promises strong performance.

So why the capitulation?  The b-car space is going to become more important as fuel economy targets tighten, it seems odd that Toyota would hold back.  If I had to guess, I would say that Toyota was saving its powder for its refresh of its key product, the Camry.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Goodyear's AMT Project

Goodyear is working on an R&D project to design and demonstrate truck tires which maintain their own pressure with some sort of internal pump and valve system.

Goodyear's Air Maintenance Technology (AMT) will enable tires to remain inflated at the optimum pressure without the need for any external pumps or electronics.  All components of the AMT system, including the miniaturized pump, will be fully contained within the tire.

This is an interesting idea, and not totally new, a company called CODA in the Czech Republic has been promoting a design recently which self inflates.

However, the problem with this concept is that it scavenges energy from the tire rotation to pump the air--which will increase rolling resistance.  There is huge pressure on tire makers to reduce rolling resistance as part of fuel economy improvements.  Unless the government somehow gives credit for the technology to reduce the up-front efficiency hit, I don't see automakers being enthusiastic in replacing their old fashioned tires.  That's because fuel economy tests are performed in a lab, and tires are always properly inflated.

Goodyear press release here.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Steer Safe: Are The Joking?

There is a hilariously bad invention up on Kickstarter called Steer Safe which is supposed to help people "safely" use their smartphone while driving, by hanging it from the top of the wheel on a cradle.

Why is this so bad that it is funny?

Well, for one thing, it isn't even remotely "safe". It blocks the drivers view of the vehicles instruments. It encourages fiddling with a touch screen while driving. It may interfere with good hand-to-hand steering. And, perhaps most dangerous of all, it is close to the deployment zone of the driver's airbag.

Can you imagine the damage that thing could do, if you are in an accident with airbag activation? As your body moves forward during the crash, the airbag flap opens violently, flinging a glass and metal smartphone up towards your forehead.

Or in a rear-end accident, your iPhone becomes a projectile, snapping out of its holder and flying towards your face.

This thing is so poorly thought out, I have to believe that they guy posting it is joking. Right?

Review: id America Gasket iPhone Case

id America, a maker of iPhone cases and covers, sent me their Gasket iPhone case to review.

The case is made of brushed aluminum, and is designed to look like an engine block, with cut0uts reminiscent of cylinder bores and cooling passages. In addition to the aluminum shell, the case comes with two clear protectors, for the back and for the front screen. The aluminum shell has a suede inner lining to cushion the phone.

I found the case to fit the phone snugly, and the screen protectors did their job without ruining the usability or feel of the touch screen. Installation was not too hard, though it does take some practice to attach the clear protective film (using the supplied squeegee) without leaving any dreaded air bubbles. Once I had it together, the case felt sturdy and substantial.

Overall, I found the case attractive and effective. I like the automotive inspired design. I would definitely buy one for myself, or as a gift for a fellow gear-head.

The Gasket case can be purchasd from id America here for $30.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

CAFE: Rise Of The Turbo

One way that automakers will meet the new CAFE standards will be to downsize engines and add turbocharging, as a relatively inexpensive and proven way to get variable displacement. And with direct injection and EGR, the ignition charge can be kept cool, allowing the engine to run highly efficiently on regular octane rating gasoline.

This won't be entirely popular, because even today's low mass, twinned turbos do have some power lag, and they do make different and more annoying noises than a traditional big bore motor. Personally, I would drive a 2.0L gasoline or diesel turbo over a 3.0L naturally aspirated engine, if it would save me 20% or more on fuel, whatever noises it makes.

Another concern about turbos is their durability. I think that Audi, Volvo, Saab, and most recently Ford have proven that modern turbos are robust and can last for the design life of the engine. Ford's "torture test" YouTube series is entertaining, if you want to see a turbo engine severely abused.

The reason turbos help fuel economy is that at low engine load, say when you are cruising down the highway, your engine isn't using much of its power, the turbo isn't really running, and the engine is like a 2.0L I4. However, when you are accelerating, or otherwise making a high power demand, the turbo spools up and allows the engine to consume more air (and fuel), temporarily making it more like the 3.0L V6 you used to drive. Because the EPA fuel economy tests have a good bit of steady state driving, and idling, this variable displacement effect of the turbo really helps the MPG rating.

A smaller turbo engine, all else being equal, will also tend to be lighter weight than a comparable larger engine, which is another source of fuel economy gain.

Since turbos are cheaper than batteries and electric motors, the early CAFE gains are likely to happen through engine downsizing rather than hybridization. The next steps will probably be mild hybrids (start/stop, launch torque) coupled with downsized turbocharged engines.

Engineers: CAFE Won't Be Easy

Wards has published a survey of 1,100 automotive engineers (I am sure I was one respondent) which highlights the trade-offs required to meet the new high CAFE standards.

The best part of the article is some of the comments left in the open ended comment box:

In all, survey respondents left 100 pages worth of comments.

"Consumers don't understand what this will cost, and environmental groups don't care," is a typical comment.

"Aerodynamic blobs on the way," another quips.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Mighty Have Fallen


Consumer Reports, formerly certified fanboys of Honda, have utterly dogged the 2012 Civic

It isn't recommended.   Too boring, too plasticky.  

Honda had better be careful.. if they stray too far from their zippy heritage, they are going to get eaten by the very aggressive new up and comers such as Elantra and Focus.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Truth About 60MPG

There is furious lobbying going on, as the automakers and the greens try to sway the Obama administration on future CAFE standards.  The greens, including Consumer Reports, NRDC, and others are claiming that not only is 60MPG feasible, but it will be good for us. Here are some of their main claims.

1)  60MPG will increase jobs and profitability of the Big 3.  Apparently, Citibank looked into a crystal ball and decided that the Big 3 market share and margins would increase with higher fuel economy vehicles.  But the Big 3 rely on large vehicles, even today, for a lot of their profits.  And jobs?  That depends.  If free trade with China continues, I see batteries and other components coming from China, which is a powerhouse in rare earth mining and raw materials processing.  Look at it this way--in the rise of Li-Ion batteries for tools and laptop computers, where are all the parts coming from?  China and Korea.

2) 60MPG will not cost much, and will pay for itself.   True, at $4/gal, a 60MPG car will pay back a sizeable premium in 3-4 years.  However, the cost estimates of some the technology are pie-in-the-sky.  What happens to li-ion battery costs if we start making millions of relatively huge car batteries?  Are the greens ready to strip-mine China for lithium?  What about the supply of rare earth metals for the powerful magnets needed by the motor/generators?   

3) Americans want 60MPG cars.  Sure they do--but they don't want to pay much for them.  As many surveys have shown, when you attach costs to highly efficient cars, interest drops off rapidly.  Today, there are numerous highly efficient small and medium cars available.  However, trucks and SUVs are still hot sellers.   What Americans really want is free efficiency.  They want large cars and cheap gas.  They want fat free french fries.

4)  60MPG is within easy reach, with off the shelf tech.  Sure, for small and mid-sized cars.  Give me a B/C platform and let me add a couple of thousand dollars in engine upgrades, more transmission gears, aluminum and high strength steel components.  You'll have a 60MPG small car that costs $25,000.  Great.  Now, how do you do it for a mid-sized SUV or minivan?  Or the Texas workhorse, the 1-ton pickup?  Not so easy.

Here are some of my thoughts about CAFE standards.

A)  Reducing vehicle weight will reduce overall safety, or add cost due to expensive countermeasures like additional airbags.  It's physics.  In a two car crash, the heavier car does better.  Until all the old heavy vehicles are off of the road, about 10 years after the lightweight ones are introduced, the new vehicles will be at a disadvantage.

B)  High CAFE standards will increase up-front costs, and reduce sales.   Suppose CAFE adds $4,000 in today's money to a typical family vehicle.  Some people will respond by buying used, some will buy smaller or cheaper, and some will defer their purchase.   Yes, you will save money down the road.  But you have to pay the down payment and the taxes now.  I agree with the AAM that sales volumes will be decreased.  Fewer new car sales means fewer jobs in sales and manufacturing.  However, there may be a renaissance in the old car repair industry, as people keep their old beaters longer.

C) High CAFE standards will reduce consumer choice.  How do you make a pickup truck which can pull a 10,000lb trailer, or haul 2,000lbs of bricks in its bed, which gets close to 60MPG?  I don't think it is possible.  Batteries are heavy and reduce payload.  Beefy suspensions and large engines all work against efficiency.  Even with efficiency improvements, in order to be able to sell pickup trucks, the automakers will have to get people to buy smaller cars to offset them.  That's how CAFE works.  The only way to do this is through price manipulation--either lose money on small cars, or jack up margins in large trucks.  Since method one nearly killed the Big 3 once already, I suspect the answer is going to be method two.  People who want muscle cars or pickup trucks will have to pay a lot more for them or do without.  Instead, there will be strong pressure on consumers to pick small cars and range limited EVs.  Products like high-performance sports cars may be very different under a 60MPG regime--slower, more expensive.

So what is the answer?

If you want to influence consumers directly, and do it in a transparent way, you need to tax fossil fuel.  Don't specify a fleet efficiency standard, rather, increase gas taxes slowly until consumers start to respond.  You can make it revenue neutral by rebating the taxes, or offsetting somewhere else.  But there isn't political will to do that.  It's easier to hide behind CAFE.  

Eventually, though, people will notice that CAFE is just another tax, just applied in a more complicated, hidden way.  Unfortunately, it may be too late, after the industry has changed in drastic ways.

Increase performance and gas mileage with a performance chip. Performance Chips Direct sells ECU chips for trucks and cars.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Ritchie Boys At Holocaust Memorial Center

One of the Detroit area's hidden gems (well, it isn't that hidden) is the Holocaust Memorial Center. A fascinating, if grim, museum of Holocaust history with stunning architecture.

The HMC debuted a new exhibit this last weekend, about the Ritchie Boys, a unit of soldiers who were trained in intelligence gathering and interrogation techniques at the Army's Fort Ritchie, before being sent to Europe to help with the invasion. Many of the Ritchie Boys were Jews who had German language skills.

I went to the opening and shot a few photos.

Out front, a pair of (Brits!) WWII reenactors set up a very nice mini-camp, featuring a lovingly restored Jeep, as well as some excellent replica Browning machine guns, real Garands, and some token barbed wire.

Some old timers

A member of the Jewish War Veterans honor guard

One of the Ritchie Boys, Si Lewen, was an artist and sketched what he saw during the invasion

One of the Ritchie Boys tells his story

One of their misions was propoganda. The would drive around in a truck with a huge amplifier to broadcast German language de-motivation. This was dangerous work, as the Germans would often shoot towards the sound, and they eventually learned to run wires to the speaker some distance away, to draw the fire from the truck.

Paratooper uniform

My favorite part of the exhibit... they should have had more guns. They should have had a Colt 1911 and a Garand, at least.

Infantry uniform

Guy Stern, one of the Ritchie Boys, and also a director of the HMC, speaks about his experience

Class notes from Fort Ritchie, about identifying German weapons and units.

Tools of the trade.

Memorial Flame

A few more Jeep photos

If you haven't gone to the Holocaust Memorial Center, I suggest you take half a day and visit. It is pretty heavy, depressing stuff, but it is a good experience.