Mustang Parts
   Carrying Saleen wheels and Bullitt wheels.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Tesla Model S and Carwashes

Did you know you are not supposed to take a Tesla S through a normal automatic carwash?   And this is the car of the future?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The 2015 Mustang Design

Ford unwrapped the new 2015 Mustang today, and it is a very handsome car.  Personally, I think they struck a good balance between retro styling and the Ford corporate styling, mixing classic Mustang bits with the new Fusion in reasonable proportions.

I did this quickie photoshop to compare the outline of the old and new.  You can see the basic proportions are the same, with a long nose and a fastback roofline, and a stubby rear deck.  There are some surprises here.  The new car is noticeably more compact, which enhances the low-and-wide aspect of its stance.  Notice how the hood line is very horizontal, and then has a pronounced curve downward towards the shoulder line, which includes the top edge of the headlamps.  On the rear quarter, there is less pronounced of a curve to the shoulder, but the rear pillars seem to move inwards quickly, leaving pronounced horizontal shoulders, which reminds me a bit of the Camaro.  Also notice the very vertical front nose profile.  And the old "hockey-stick" curve near aft of the doors is gone.

Part of the reason for the pronounced curve of the nose and the very flat front, I think, is probably the aggressive Euro pedestrian protection regs, which require crush space so that pedestrian legs and heads take less damage from car-people collisions.  

Overall, I think the 2015 Mustang is a very good design, which balances the needs of style, tradition, and all the other less obvious requirements such as aerodynamics and crash safety.   It is more conservative than I personally would have liked, but fresh enough to not look like a rewarmed 2010 model.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

NHTSA Is Not Investigating Tesla At Musks' Request

NHTSA does not initiate investigations on CEO request.  NHTSA says they chose to investigate Tesla battery fires independently.  Which means, in my view, that Musk was trying to spin in some damage control.

Detroit News: 

But NHTSA Administrator David Strickland told a House panel Tuesday that Tesla didn't request an investigation and that the agency had made an independent decision to open an investigation into 13,100 Model S vehicles after two battery fires were reported since early October in the United States.
"Investigations are independent," Strickland told The Detroit News in an interview after the hearing. "We have never — in my recollection, before I got to NHTSA (as a Senate staffer) or as administrator — have actually had an automaker ask for a formal investigation, but it causes a couple of implications: If a manufacturer asks me or asks the agency for a formal investigation, you've already made a determination that you may have a defect that imposes an unreasonable risk to safety. ... I don't think that would ever happen."

Friday, November 08, 2013

Tesla's Fire Problem

I think Tesla has a problem.

There are only about 17,000 Tesla Model S on the roads right now, but there have been 3 fires due to damage to the battery.  In two of these cases, it looks like the damage was mostly to the underbelly, and not due to a severe impact to the frame of the car.

In the third case, in Tennessee, the car apparently hit some debris, which caused a fire to start in the front area of the vehicle.  If you look at the photos, which I scraped off of the web, there does not appear to be frame damage.  In other words, the guy didn't hit another car, or a large stationary object.  He hit something small, but it destroyed his Tesla.

By comparison, a gasoline vehicle can run over pretty severe piece of road debris without catching fire.

I wish I had statistics for vehicle fires, caused by driving (not arson, forest fires, etc.), in vehicles less than 2 years old.  That would really put the probabilities in focus.  I am not sure where to get such data, it is possible that IIHS has it.

In each of these cases, the vehicle is basically destroyed.  Even if driver safety is not necessarily an issue, the cost to insure against a battery fire is going to drive up Tesla owner's insurance costs.

If these incidents continue to mount, Tesla is going to have to do several things to protect their business and consumer confidence.  They will likely have to add additional shielding to the underside of the car, adding cost and weight, and possibly reducing range.  They may also have to increase ride height.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Tesla Valuation

I don't understand Tesla's stock price and valuation.  TSLA is trading at about $175/share right now, with a market cap of $21 billion. 

So the market is valuing Tesla at about half the value of GM ($52B), and 1.5x the value of Porsche ($13B)

Based on what?

Tesla is emphatically not Apple.  Apple rose to become a top 3 player in mobile phones, the top player in tablet computers, and the top player in MP3 gadgets.  Apple sells millions of units, and makes money on hardware, software, service, and content.

Tesla has to make money selling cars--a very highly regulated, capital intensive business.  Tesla isn't able to sell direct to consumers in all states of the U.S. 

Let's compare Tesla to Porsche.

2013 Sales (1st 2 quarters)
Porsche 81,000
Tesla: ~10,000

2013 Revenue:
Porsche: ~$10 billion
Tesla: ~$1 billion

The stock buyers apparently think that Tesla is a growth company, and are pricing in the expectation that it will grow to something quite a bit more profitable than Porsche.  In 2012, Porsche recorded a profit of $2.7 billion.  To reach those kinds of results, Tesla has to sell approximately 125,000 cars a year (at $80,000 each) if they are making a similar margin to Porsche.  If Tesla goes down to an average price of $50,000/car, they have to sell about 200,000 cars/year.

That's about 8x their current capacity of 500 cars / week (25,000/year).

So, the market seems to think that within a few years, Tesla will be able to open several new plants, and successfully increase their sales and distribution network to rival Porsche, while moving downmarket enough to drive higher volumes.

I am doubtful.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

EU Proposes Satellite Based Speed Limiters

A great demonstration of how the Europeans are not necessarily worth emulating.  The EU has proposed ISA (intelligent speed adaptation) based on GPS or sign reading cameras, which would first warn a driver and then automatically slow a vehicle down, if they were exceeding local speed limits. 

The scheme would work either using satellites, which would communicate limits to cars automatically, or using cameras to read road signs. Drivers can be given a warning of the speed limit, or their speed could be controlled automatically under the new measures.

Something like this would simply be laughed out of Congress in the States.  But in Europe, the EU central regulatory agencies have a lot of power, and top-down regulation is a way of life.

Source: Telegraph

Friday, August 30, 2013

Diesels: Good MPG, Less So Carbon

I have heard man advocates of small diesels moan that we "just don't get it" here in the U.S. and we need to be more European, and somehow encourage light duty diesels.

What the compression ignition lovers don't realize is that the U.S. policy is very much now based around global warming and carbon reduction, whereas it used to be about reducing oil consumption for geopolitical reasons (OPEC etc.)

So, let's look at carbon emissions:

1 gallon of gasoline when burned will emit approximately 19.64 pounds of CO2.
1 gallon of diesel will emit approximately 22.38 pounds of CO2.

Diesel is about 14% more carbon emitting than gasoline.

But, a diesel engine is about 30% more fuel efficient than a similarly sized gasoline engine.  So if we do the math, a similarly sized diesel powered car will emit about 14% less CO2 than a similar diesel car.   Not bad, but not huge.

Meanwhile, diesel fuel offers no advantage in the U.S. in cost (it is more expensive than gasoline by about 30%), and the vehicles cost more due to the diesel hardware premium.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tesla's Extra 0.4 Star

Tesla is trumpeting the Model S' excellent performance in NHTSA's safety tests.  Tesla says that the model S has achieved a combined rating of "5.4 stars":

Palo Alto, CA — Independent testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has awarded the Tesla Model S a 5-star safety rating, not just overall, but in every subcategory without exception. Approximately one percent of all cars tested by the federal government achieve 5 stars across the board. NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5, however safety levels better than 5 stars are captured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers, where the Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars.

This is very odd publicity, to me.  NHTSA awards star ratings as integers, and 5 stars is the most you can get.   A 5 star rating means that you have less than a 10% chance of serious injury in a serious accident, according to NHTSA's statistical model. 

You can't get more than 5 stars, awarded by NHTSA.

Tesla is just trying too hard, here, I think.   A 5-star result is excellent, and they should proudly publicize it.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Ford's C-Max Debacle Explained

Ford yesterday announced that it was re-stating the fuel economy label of the C-Max hybrid, from 47 city / 47 highway /47 combined to a still very good but not as impressive 45city / 40highway / 43combined.  Note the large decline in the highway number.

So what happened?  Did Ford cheat the test?  Not really. 

What happened was that Ford used the Fusion Hybrid test results to certify the C-Max, which they are allowed to do according to EPA regulations.  The EPA regs allow manufacturers to certify vehicles as a group if they are in the same weight class and share powertrains.

Here is the EPA's short report on the matter.  An excerpt: 

Ford based the 2013 Ford C-Max label on testing of the related Ford Fusion hybrid, which has the same engine, transmission and test weight as allowed under EPA regulations. For the vast majority of vehicles this approach would have yielded an appropriate label value for the car, but these new vehicles are more sensitive to small design differences than conventional vehicles because advanced highly efficient vehicles use so little fuel.

In this case, EPA's evaluation found that the C-Max's aerodynamic characteristics resulted in a significant difference in fuel economy from the Fusion hybrid.

Was this intentional, a case of Ford using the higher number for marketing purposes?  Or was it a case of simply not knowing that the C-Max would test out so much differently?  I have no idea.  But I think in the future, Ford and other carmakers are going to be more careful about publishing fuel economy numbers based on assumptions, after this PR disaster.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tesla Quality Checking

An interesting insight into Tesla's assembly and delivery process over at Wired, here.

Tesla is testing every car they  build with a battery of tests which takes a whopping 5 hours to complete.  This compares with the end-of-line testing of a true high volume mass production auto plant, which takes typically several minutes.  At the end of the assembly line, the completed car is run on a rolls machine (chassis dyno) which takes the car through an automated test sequence which spot checks the engine, brakes, transmission, and other systems.  There are also final visual inspections. 

And that's it.  In a modern plant, the quality checks and reliability are built into the assembly process and design itself.  Most cars fire up at the end of the line and are ready for a consumer to drive them 150,000 miles.

If Toyota, for example, took 5 hours to test and quality check each Lexus they built, they would not be able to produce many cars, and the plant would not make money.

Is Tesla's extensive end-of-line testing due to a lack of confidence in upstream processes and parts?  

If Tesla hopes to be a major player, they will need to increase throughput and reduce  in-plant time. They won't be able to check each car for 5 hours. 

Monday, August 05, 2013

The Chicken Tax--Bad and Good

There is an interesting piece in the Detroit News today about the possible impact of the "Chicken Tax", the 25% import duty on foreign built (exa-NAFTA) pickup trucks.   According to "analysts", pickup trucks in the U.S. may have a several thousand dollar premium compared to what they would cost without the protectionist tariff. 

The average selling price of full-size pickups has grown at more than twice the rate of the overall industry — cars and trucks combined — since 2005. The average truck sells for more than $40,000, nearly $9,000 more than the average vehicle, according to automotive research Automakers in recent years have added more luxury items to pickup trucks — and cars, too — so it's difficult to pinpoint how much an uncompetitive market can be attributed to price.

But Jesse Toprak, an analyst for vehicle pricing website, said in a telephone interview that weak competition in the truck segment results in a "couple-thousand-dollar premium" paid by consumers.

The Chicken Tax, like any other protection tariff, has both bad and good effects.

Bad Effects
  • Less consumer choice--
    We can't have the globally built small/midsized pickups that are sold overseas because with a 25% tariff no one would buy them.
  • Higher prices--
    local production is done in part by UAW labor, which is more expensive than overseas labor. 
  • Foreign retaliation

Good Effects
  • Local production means more jobs, and more business in U.S (and NAFTA region).  If you add up direct and indirect jobs, thousands of Americans (and Mexicans and Canadians) are employed because of local truck production.  Some are unionized but many are not.
  • Higher quality pickup trucks.  Due to the high cost of entry, only large established players like Toyota and Nissan have the means to set up a local plant to build trucks--so they have to bring high quality, high margin products. Cheap junk won't fly.  Marginal brands like Mahindra or Great Wall have a hard time making a business case for low cost products, due to the high barriers of local labor costs and the regulatory environment.

Judging by the sales numbers (number one selling vehicle is F150, followed by Chevrolet Silverado) the higher prices do not seem to hurt pickup truck sales.  Trucks have become a luxury good, as much as a work tool, and people are willing to pay $40,000 for a loaded pickup truck. 

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Tesla's Hungry Doorhandles

Edmunds discovered that the Tesla S motorized door handles will not detect your fingers if you have them in the way when they want to close--they will pinch your hand. 

Tesla, you might want to fix that.  Some little kid is going to try it and get hurt.

Top 20 Vehicles June 2013

Here is a list of the top 20 best selling vehicles in the U.S. through JUne, 2013.  Data table courtesy of Good Car Bad Car.

June 2013 
% Change
% Change
Ford F-Series 367,486 + 22.0% 68,009 + 23.6%
Chevrolet Silverado 242,586 + 24.7% 43,259 + 28.9%
Toyota Camry 207,626 - 2.9% 35,870 + 11.7%
Honda Accord 186,860 + 20.4% 31,677 + 9.5%
Dodge Ram 170,319 + 22.9% 29,644 + 23.8%
Nissan Altima 167,787 + 6.8% 26,904 + 23.3%
Ford Fusion 161,146 + 17.8% 24,313 - 0.5%
Toyota Corolla/Matrix 158,972 + 4.8% 26,458 - 0.7%
Honda Civic 158,704 - 2.4% 29,724 + 8.1%
Ford Escape 156,626 + 23.2% 28,694 + 0.7%
Honda CR-V 145,763 - 0.6% 26,572 + 14.1%
Ford Focus 134,785 + 2.6% 23,144 + 9.2%
Chevrolet Cruze 133,689 + 17.4% 32,871 + 73.2%
Chevrolet Equinox 126,397 + 14.0% 23,645 + 13.7%
Hyundai Elantra 126,244 + 29.1% 22,163 + 25.5%
Chevrolet Malibu 111,100 - 21.4% 21,288 - 32.2%
Hyundai Sonata 103,010 - 12.3% 19,454 - 7.1%
Toyota RAV4 101,274 + 13.2% 20,540 + 35.8%
Ford Explorer 101,243 + 30.0% 16,597 + 13.5%
Ford Explorer 95,302 + 25.9% 15,588 + 11.2%
Ford Explorer Police Interceptor 5941 + 173% 1009 + 67.3%
GMC Sierra 87,633 + 20.1% 16,568 + 32.8%

Some interesting things going on here.

Full size trucks are still king -- Ford F-series, Chevrolet Silverado, and Dodge Ram are all in the top 5. 

Camry, Accord and Altima are the beset selling sedans, but Camry sales are slowing, while Accord and Fusion are accelerating.  Could Fusion overtake Altima and break into the top 3 sedans?  Malibu is slipping badly, down 21% YTD.

The Ford Escape is charging up the chart, with a 23% YTD gain in sales, and has beat the CR-V, Equinox,  and RAV4, the latter by a large margin. 

In small cars, Corolla is still king, and Honda Civic seems to be wilting a little.  Ford Focus is hanging on, but the big story is the Cruze, with a huge 17% increase. 

Another impressive achievement for Ford, the Explorer has cracked the top 20 list (once upon a time it was one of the most popular nameplates in the country), racking up 95,000 retail sales YTD.  The Explorer is the only larger SUV in the top 20.

Brands of the top 20: Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, GMC. Notable in its absence is Chrysler, which can't seem to crack the big-volume game. 

Corporate prizes in the top 20:
  • Ford: 5 vehicles (F-series, Fusion, Escape, Focus, Explorer)
  • GM: 5 vehicles (Silverado, Cruze, Equinox, Malibu, Sierra)
  • Toyota: 3 (Camry, Corolla, RAv4)
  • Honda: 3 (Accord, Civic, CRV)
  • Hyundai: 2 (Elantra, Sonata)
  • Nissan: 1 (Altima)
  • Dodge: 1 (Ram)

Conclusions: Ford and GM are doing great.  Toyota is showing some weakness in sales numbers.  Chrysler is MIA.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

GM's eAssist: 25% improvement?

In a recent blog post, GM claims that their eAssist mild hybrid (starter/generator) system is good for an average 25% fuel economy improvement.

I'm not sure how they got this number, it doesn't pass the common sense test for me.

Here are the EPA ratings for the eAssist Malibu vs the 2.5L I4 gasoline Malibu, copied from the EPA's web site:

2014 Malibu eAssist
City: 25mpg
Highway: 36mpg
Combined: 29mpg

2014 Malibu 2.0L
City: 21mpg
Highway: 30mpg
Combined: 24mpg

So, comparing Malibu vs Malibu, by getting the eAssist system, you gain all of 5mpg for the EPA combined number, which is a 20% improvement, not 25%.

And these are EPA numbers!  In real life, where people will drive faster than the EPA does, the benefit of eAssist will drop further.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Musk: Batteries Are Expensive

"The biggest single challenge for electric vehicles is affordability." -- Elon Musk

This comment was made during a recent shareholder's meeting, reported by Inside EVs.

Musk thinks Tesla can produce in "three to four years" an EV which has sufficient range to be broadly practical, which is affordable to a large number of customers. 

Which is probably something like a $30,000 vehicle which has a real world range of 200miles or better.  Based on the sales numbers of the current crop of 100mile vehicles, which aren't great, I am guessing the range needs to double before the masses really take notice.

But doubling the range of a car like the Leaf will add approx. $10,000 to its price, at current battery costs of approx $500/kWh.

So the billion dollar question is, how will Tesla get ~45kWh of batteries for $10,000, leaving them $20,000 for the base vehicle and profit?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Spotted: 2014 Corvette Stingray

I saw this M-plate (GM test fleet car) 2014 Corvette Stingray at a local Lowe's.

The interior is a big improvement over the previous car.  The exterior design leaves me a little cold--I think it is a bit busy for my taste. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

NHTSA Delays Backup Camera Rule

The NHTSA has decided to delay the regulation requiring backup cameras until 2015,  announced in a latter to Senator Jay Rockefeller from Ray Lahood.  One reason stated was that NHTSA needed more time to study the cost/benefit equation for the backup cameras.

My issue with the proposal is that it will force carmakers to add expensive LCD displays to vehicles which may not already include them, driving up the price of the lower feature vehicles. 

If rear ultrasonic sensors are cheaper, I would suggest that method as an acceptable alternative.  The backup warning systems have the added benefit of reducing accidents that happen when people aren't careful when reversing the vehicle.  In theory, a backup warning mandate would reduce insurance costs.

Source: Bloomberg

Thursday, June 13, 2013

iOS For Your Car?

Apple's recent announcement that they would be working with automakers, including heavyweights GM, Honda, and Hyundia + Kia, to integrate an iOS interface into their dashboard infotainment systems.

Notable in their absence from the announcement were the major automakers Ford, VW, Toyota, Fiat + Chrysler.

I think the holdouts have the right idea.  Getting married to Apple's iOS interface means giving up the branding of the infotainment system, and some control over how it behaves.  A better approach is to use a system designed to integrate tightly with the vehicle, which has the right interfaces built into it to talk to any smart (or dumb) phone using open standards such as BlueTooth.

According to recent sales numbers, Android and iOS about the split the market in the U.S., and internationally, Android is the runaway winner.  Any global automaker that embraces an iOS optimized infotainment system may be making a business error.

Inline image 1

(Graph courtesy of Tech-Thoughts)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Should Chrysler Recall The Jeeps?

NHTSA wants Chrysler to recall 2.7 million vehicles to install some kind of crash mitigation hardware on the vehicle to reduce the likelihood of the fuel tank rupturing in a rear end crash. 

Should they?

On one hand, according to the data, the Jeeps in question are about 2x more likely to leak fuel and catch fire in a rear end crash than other vehicles.  NHTSA found that Jeeps were having rear crash fire deaths at a rate of 1 per million miles travelled, while the average for all vehicles is 0.5 fire deaths / million miles. 

On the other hand, recalling that many vehicles and repairing them will be a very large task, and very expensive for Chrysler.

Chrysler rightly argues that its vehicles met all safety standards that were in force at the time they were certified.  NHTSA is essentially asking for a retroactive safety recall.

I think a nice middle ground solution might be for Chrysler to develop a retrofit kit, and offer to repair customer vehicles on a request basis.  Those who are concerned will get the fix, and those who aren't will not bother.  Likely it will be much less than 2.7 million customers.

Fox News: Aptera Not Dead

The guy who bought Aptera's bones was trying to set up Chinese manufacturing for the chassis.  That isn't going so well, so now he says he is going to build them here in the U.S. 


Monday, June 03, 2013

Tesla Legislative Defeat In Texas

The Texas legislature failed to advance bills sponsored by Tesla that would allow direct-to-consumer sales.  This means that to sell in Texas, Tesla has to work through dealer franchises.   Tesla won't be able to try again until the next session, not due to start until 2015.

You can read the Automotive News article here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kudos to 2014 Impala

I took a look at a new Impala this morning, and I have to give GM props for the nice job they did on the body assembly.  All of the panel gaps were small, the trim alignment was good, the doors shut tightly.  The car looked expensive, even though it is a Chevrolet and not an Audi.

This car is a huge improvement over the car it replaces, the ancient w-body based 2006-2013 Impala.  That car was so out of date, it was difficult for me to understand why anyone but fleets purchased it.  And even the fleets had better choices.

The styling of the 2014 is clean, with a little sculpture and a little chrome, but a tasteful amount. 

Inline image 1
(Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tesla Market Craziness

Tesla's stock drive through $100/share this morning, giving the company a market value of around $11 billion.  That is more than Fiat/Chrysler ($8b) and almost as much as Porsche ($12b)!

That's nuts.  This is speculation, I think. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sad News Down Under

Ford has announced that they will cease manufacturing operations in Australia in 2016.  Product engineering will continue.  However, this may be the end for the indigenous Falcon vehicles, which include RWD V8 sedans and Utes (cars with open pickup beds). 

GM has followed a different strategy, using Australia as an export base for the Holden based Pontiac G8 (defunct) and later the Caprice PPV, based on the same platform.

Tesla Pays Back ATVM Loans... But Why?

The big announcement yesterday in the auto business was that Tesla was paying off its ATVM loan off early.

I am puzzled by this, it seems from the outside like a bad business decision.

The ATVM loan was cheap money, carrying an interest rate equal to Treasury notes.  Current 10 year notes are below 2%.

By paying off the ATVM loan early, Tesla traded the cheap government money for stock and a public bond offering of their own notes, also running at about 2% interest. 

But Tesla could have done both--kept the ATVM loan and issued their own bonds--and had extra cash with which to develop the Model X and future less expensive vehicles. 

Was this as simple as Elon Musk not wanting to be under some government oversight, and not wanting to be seen as a government supported enterprise?  

Monday, May 20, 2013

Will BEVs put auto service shops out of business?

Inside EVs asks, "Will Electric Vehicles Drive Mechanics Out Of Business?", after an article in The Street.

The answer is yes, mass electrification will eventually put some mechanics out of business.

The low-skill places like quick-lube joints will be really hurt.  Independent ASE certified shops, and ASE certified chains like Midas will see a slow down, as brake changes will be much less often and exhaust systems will never need work.  However, BEVs will still require cooling system repairs, air conditioning work, and suspension fixes.

Tire shops that specialize in tires and suspensions will do fine.

I expect that some independents and many large chains will invest in specialized tools and training, to be able to do BEV specific jobs like battery pack diagnosis/replacements, battery cooling system repairs. 

I also expect that in time, a healthy market will develop in after-market high voltage batteries, where you will be able to buy a rebuilt battery pack for a competitive price from a 3rd party supplier, much like you can buy replacement 12v batteries today.

It may be very different, actually, than you expect, because we don't know which alternative fuel technology will win out.  If consumers balk at the high cost of BEVs, and we don't have the elusive super-battery breakthrough, then we may see a long term shift to other energy storage forms.  For example, we may have a large number of engines running on CNG in the future, as fracking accelerates and the prices continue to drop. 

Since CNG engines are still combustion based, that path would have a busy future for today's mechanics.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Telsa's Profit

Tesla's profit this first quarter, $11 million, was due in part to income from selling EV credits in California to other automakers.  Tesla made $85 million not from selling product, but from cashing in on environmental regulations

This means that when you look at profit and loss from selling cars, Tesla is still losing money, at a rate of about $74 million last quarter.  And this is after slowing down R&D work, delaying the Model X, likely to save cash.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Another ATVM Borrower Fails

VPG, which designed (and actually built) a purpose-built vehicle for handicapped transportation, has shut down.

The company ran out of money before it could become self-sustaining, after burning through about $400 million in private capital and a $50 million AVTM loan.

VPG's MV1 mobility vehicle was basically a homely body on top of a Ford truck frame, and uses many parts from existing vehicles.  It was well designed for transporting wheelchair bound passengers, with not much consideration for style.  Besides being ugly, the MV1 is heavy and thirsty, with EPA mileage of 11/14 for the gasoline version.

Inline image 1

If you want to buy one, there are still a few for sale, priced around $40,000.  Since they use a common Ford 4.6L V8 powertrain, service should not be an issue.

VPG at least made it to production, unlike Carbon Motors, the other famous failure in the purpose-built service vehicle sector.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Elio, stalled?

It sounds like Elio Motors is having a hard time raising capital to fund development.  According to KTBS, Elio has not raised enough money from private investors yet to build the next level of prototype, and is asking for seed money from the Louisiana parish where their plant would be located.

Caddo Parish should be very cautious.  While jobs are great to have, it takes many millions of dollars to bring as complex a product to market as an automobile. 

Chances are unfortunately high that Elio could wind up as another Fisker or VPG (who built cars and the flamed out) or Aptera (who never managed to actually deliver a finished vehicle.)

In the meantime, Elio is taking non-refundable reservations for the vehicle, and selling t-shirts.

I wish Elio luck, this would be a neat vehicle to see on the road, and it might be fun vehicle to drive if done right.  But in the current climate, after numerous failures, raising money for a new car company is probably very, very hard.

Terrafugia's "Flying Cars"

Terrafugia, a company made up of MIT grads, has developed a "flying car", which is really an airplane that can be driven on roads to get from the garage to the airport. 

It can only legally exist as an airplane and as a car due to a pile of regulatory exceptions, everything from weight (to still be classed as a LIght Sport Aircraft by FAA) to airbag and ESC exceptions by DOT.

So it is basically a small 2 seat airplane with steerable, non retracing landing gear and folding wings.

Don't get me wrong, this is an amazing engineering feat.  But this thing is like a flying Aptera--a neat design study, but not a commercial proposition.

To "drive" one of these, you have to have a pilots license.

To drive one on public roads, you also have to be very carefree. Even a small fender bender could prove to have very dangerous side effects.   And insurance--I can't even imagine what insurance would cost.

The dream of flying cars--soaring above the gridlock--has been with us for many decades.  However, the practical reality is so complex, I just don't see them being affordable or practical for the average person even in the distant future.

I think the very wealthy would be better served buying personal helicopters, and the rest of us, we'll just telecommute.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


Not surprisingly, CODA is bankrupt.

With it, one of the first street legal Chinese produced cars (the CODA glider came from Hafei, a re-badged Saibao III sedan) you could buy in the U.S. dies out, after paltry sales of about 100.

The other street legal Chinese car you can buy right now (sort of) is the Wheego LiFe.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How to get your 5% off from Home Depot, online

I wanted to order an item from Home Depot online, using my Home Depot credit card, but there was no indication that I would get the 5% discount that store credit card users can ask for when buying at the physical store.

I used the web chat feature to talk with a customer service rep, who informed me that the 5% discount only applies in-store... however, she offered to give me the 5% discount anyway.  I just had to send her the order number after I checked out.

So, if you are ordering online from Home Depot and you want your 5%, there might be a way to get it.

Kudos to's customer service team for helping me out.

But, jeers to Home Depot for making the 5% discount such a pain to get.  At Lowes, you get it automatically just by using your Lowes card.

Does Telsa Need Texas?

Inside EVs has a nice write-up of Elon Musk's appearance in Texas to lobby for an exception to that state's dealer franchise laws.

Musk said that selling direct is "life or death" for Tesla.

But is it really "life or death" that Tesla sell in Texas?  With all of the other states he could be in?

Perhaps he meant that that selling his cars direct to customers is "life or death", but I wonder about that too.

If Teslas are profitable cars with solid demand, then dealerships should be able to sell them and make money, and Tesla should be able to make money.  After all, that's how everyone else does it, from tiny Mitsubishi (surprisingly) to the big boys.

Smaller volume players, like Lamborghini, Fiat, or Smart, either use multi-brand dealers, or small boutique shops to market their product.  How is Tesla fundamentally different from a small volume sports car brand?

If Tesla can't survive without eating the margin that would normally go to a dealer, what does that tell us about the strength of their market?

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Friday, April 05, 2013

Fisker: The End?

There are reports that Fisker has terminated most of its employees, leaving a "skeleton crew" in place to try to find a buyer for what is left of the company, and to deal with the DOE ATVM loan payment which is about to come due.

In other words, it looks like Fisker is finally done.

A "going concern" would not fire product development people. 

Making money selling cars is hard.  Carmakers need access to billions of dollars in cash to fund daily operations, and these borrowings aren't easy to come by at a time when banks and investors want some certainty of repayment.  People aren't willing to gamble much on companies that may not become profitable. 

The big question in my mind is Tesla.  Tesla is the best capitalized of the EV start-ups, but is also in a race against the bank.  Tesla must become cash-flow positive to a degree that lenders will loan it short term operating funds with which to run the business.  Otherwise, when Elon Musk's wealth dries up, game over.

Still, I have to hand it to Henrik Fisker and crew.  They worked hard, and managed to build a beautiful, if impractical and buggy, luxury sportscar.  Collectors will be swapping Fisker Karmas for decades to come, and I expect to see Fisker meet-ups at car shows and drive-ins.

Maybe someone will buy Fisker and try to make a go at it, but I doubt we'll see any more cars built. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

That new Tesla Lease...

... is not $500/month.  Don't be fooled.

To lease a Model S, the deal is something like 10% down, and a residual value percentage equal to a Mercedes.  Federal/State incentives go to Tesla.

A monthly payment on the 60kW Model S will cost around $1100.  Then, to get you down to $500/month, they pretend gas costs $5/gallon, and factor in a business tax deduction!

Then they offer to factor in saved time from not buying gasoline, and saving time by riding in HOV lanes in California.

Drop the business tax deduction, assume gas costs $4/gallon, and ignore the HOV lane time savings trick, and I get a monthly "equivalent" lease cost of $914.  

I can't believe the press is lapping this up without doing 10 minutes of research.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Carbon Motors: The End?

According to Indianapolis Business Journal, Carbon Motors has removed their stuff from the former Visteon plant they had hoped to use for production.  And, ominously, their blog at is down, and their Facebook page is missing.

Looks like the end of Carbon Motors, which never really got off of the ground, due to a really dubious business case.  

Friday, March 01, 2013

The Fallacy of Fuel Economy Law Suits

Lawyers are firing up lawsuits against Ford for misleading consumers on the fuel economy of the C-Max hybrid and Fusion Hybrid.   Ford certified them as 47/47 mpg (city/highway) on the EPAs fuel economy tests, but consumers are seeing lower numbers.

The only way the lawsuits have merit is if the attorneys can prove that Ford gamed the EPA test, and that in fact they don't get 47mpg when tested according to the regulations.

But EPA has not come out and stated that Ford's tests are invalid, the way they did with Hyundai.  

The issue is, I think, that the vehicles get great (and probably repeatable) results in the lab, but in the real world they are sensitive to environmental conditions and driving style.  

This puts Ford, and other OEMs, in a tricky spot, because they are required to advertise the EPA mileage on the new-car ("Monroney") sticker.  The usual marketing jargon "up to" and "your mileage may vary" is deployed, but people still get the idea that the EPA number is what they should be getting.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Brand Graveyards.

Take a look at,,,, and  

Kinda sad.

Then there's  Not as sad, since they never really took off.

Who's next?

I nominate Misubishi and Smart, but who knows?  Maybe they have lots of money left to yet lose.

Monday, February 25, 2013

New Jeep Cherokee... Maybe Not That Bad

I am willing to give the 2014 Jeep Cherokee a second look, but only if it has body-colored fascia.  With body colored front fascia  the split lamp design doesn't seem as bad, and the front end looks (slightly) more harmonious and less squinty.

I hope the two-tone model was a pre-production mule and not a planned trim level.

Image courtesy of Autoweek.

Inline image 1

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Friday, February 22, 2013

The Leaked Jeep Cherokee Reminds Me...

The leaked Jeep Cherokee reminds me of something a that might have happened if a Chinese car company tried to rip off Jeep by slapping Jeep-like styling on the grille of a Hyundai knock-off small SUV.

Yes, I am saying it is like a bad self-imitation.

2014 Jeep Cherokee = FUGLY

Jalopnik has dropped some spy shots of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, apparently taken inside the assembly plant.  

Chrysler must be hitting the grappa really hard over there in Auburn Hills, because this thing is gorram ugly.  I realy don't think squishing the vertical trademark vertical grille, and putting squinty-eyed headlamps on the front of a Jeep does much for the brand.  The sides profile is also very organic and anonymous, like they are trying to remind us of Kia and Hyundai.

Remember that the old Cherokee, many of which are still running, was a small, square wagon with serious off-road chops.  This thing, I am not sure what it is.  I guess we'll find out.

(Image (stolen from) courtesy of Jalopnik.)

Inline image 1

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Cruze Diesel: Does It Make Sense?

How much sense does the upcoming Chevrolet Cruze Diesel make in today's U.S. auto market?  I think it mostly will depend how much money GM offers as incentives.   MSRP is $25,695, which is a premium over the gasoline Cruze Eco, which is $21,685 MSRP, of $4,000.

Currently, premium gasoline in Detroit (the Cruze Eco gets its high EPA number with premium) costs about $3.70/gal.  Diesel costs about $3.80/gal.
The combined EPA FE of the Cruze Eco is 33mpg.  If the diesel gets a combined number of 34 mpg (matching the VW Jetta), then the cost per mile for each vehicle (fuel only, not including urea) is $0.11/mile!

This means that break-even will never happen, mathematically, at current prices.  Only if GM discounts the Cruze Diesel below the price of gasoline vehicle   would it make economic sense.

So the potential buyer is left with a decision: is up to 280 ft-lb of torque at 2000RPM worth the hassle of stopping to get urea fluid every 10k miles, and the cost penalty of $4,000?

Also consider that the VW diesel Jetta has a 0-60 time of around 8.3s , while the Cruze Eco gets to 60mph in about 9s (Car and Driver numbers).

My prediction is that the Cruze Diesel will not sell in any significant numbers.   A few diesel enthusiasts might choose it, but the average buyer will see the price and opt for the turbo gasoline car.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Superbowl Auto Ad Winner: Chrysler

A quick review of the Superbowl ads from carmakers.  

Winners: Hyundai, Chrysler, Toyota.  Hyundai for silly humor, Chrysler for touching patriotism.  Toyota was pretty funny, "infinite witches"
Losers: Lincoln (huh, what?), Mercedes (devil, meh).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

CARB Hubris

In classical literature, a character that show the flaw of hubris, extreme arrogance, often winds up being toppled.

California's Air Resource Board (CARB) has been showing hubris for years, as they have been pushing a zero emissions vehicle mandate.   They were chastened several times, when their mandates were simply impossible to achieve, and they had to back off on electric car requirements.

In a recent interview published in the Detroit News, ARB chairwoman Mary Nichols stated that

By 2016 or 2017 — when tough requirements kick in — Nichols said: "By then everyone will be buying them."

Everyone? Really?

To date, electric cars have not exactly caught on, even in California.   The best selling all-electric car, the Nissan Leaf, only managed to sell about 6,000 units in California in 2012.  That's out of a market of about 1.5 million new cars!  But ARB expects that in just 3 or 4 model years (one design cycle!) electric cars will be a mainstream product in California. 

How is this going to happen?  Batteries might get a bit cheaper, but no one thinks that we are going to get close to gasoline parity by 2016, that I have heard of. 

Until electric cars are close enough in convenience and purchase price to gasoline cars, or until gasoline becomes much more expensive, electric cars are not going to be a common purchase, and I expect that CARB is going to have to eat crow, again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I ♥ Leatherman

I have an addiction.  I can't stop buying Leatherman tools.

Somewhere, I have an original Leatherman PST, which came with a leather case with an brass snap button.  
Then, every few years, when they came out with a new better tool, I had to have it.  I now have about 6 of them stashed away in different places.  One in my car, one at work in my drawer, another in my laptop bag.  

My newest addition was a clearance priced ($20!!!) set from Home Depot: a Wingman and Style combo set.  The Wingman has a liner-lock knife, spring action pliers, and a very nice feeling handle, but does skimp on scissors (no return spring).  The Style does have spring return scissors, and fits very nicely in a pants pocket or on a keychain.

There are some great things about Leatherman, the company.   They stubbornly keep making their tools in the U.S.A, in their Oregon plant.  If you break one, they'll fix it or replace it no questions asked.  I once got a new tool, for free, even though the reason for the breakage was that I had used the pliers to cut a piece of wire which was too hard, and damaged the pliers joint.  Meanwhile, companies like Gerber have moved their production to China.  Leatherman also makes a series of military specific tools, for uses such as weapon maintenance.

My only significant beef with Leatherman is that the owner of the company is known for supporting left-wing politicians, and some of the attendant causes such as gun control and environmentalism.  However, I'm willing to overlook his politics based on having a good product, good service, and American manufacturing.

*Note: this is not a sponsored post, I really do like Leatherman.   No consideration was given for this posting.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Zlaty Meyer at NAIAIS

A local journalist, who has a pretty good sense of humor, did a video dispatch from the North America International Auto Show in Detroit. It's worth watching.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Steel vs Brass Ammo

Shooting is a hobby of mine.  I own several firearms, and though I don't get out as often as I like, I try to stay proficient.

Gun blog has published an amazing and technically complete analysis of what happens when you shoot your AR-15 rifle with cheap Russian steel-case ammo for 10,000 rounds.  

The amazing conclusion: even though you will need a new barrel after around 6,000 rounds, it is still cheaper to run the steel case stuff.

You can read the whole thing here.  

Friday, January 04, 2013

Elio Motors: Another Zap or Aptera?

A startup named Elio Motors (website) has announced plans to buy GM's closed Shreveport LA plant, with intent to produce their 3 wheeled vehicle.  The Elio prototype is a 2-seater enclosed tricycle with fairly anonymous styling, with two wheels up front and one in back.  A very aggressive price of $6800 has been announced.

I am skeptical of Elio's ability to sell these in any volume.   The trike has some major limitations  including practicality, possibly compromised snow handling, and virtually no crash requirements.   Vehicles like the Elio, and the Zap and Aptera designs are legally considered motorcycles as far as the Feds are concerned, which means that in many states (example: Ohio), drivers may have to get motorcycle certifications and even wear a helmet, until laws are updated.  Unlike passenger cars, the Elio will not be required to have stability control.

I am also skeptical that they can produce a quality, safe, and refined vehicle for only $6800.  Many high-volume motorcycles are priced in this range, which lack the additional equipment (airbags, etc.) that Elio is promising.  A better comparison would be a very small car, such as the Tata Nano.  A European spec Nano was speculated (if it ever arrived) to cost $6,000-$8000.  The cheapest U.S. legal cars I am aware of are the Nissan Versa and Chevrolet Spark, both of which can be purchased for around $12,000.  

At best, I see Elio selling a few thousand cars to people who want an enclosed motorcycle, or like driving something very different.  

Thursday, January 03, 2013

IIHS Top Safey Picks for 2013 (so far)

IIHS has published their list of "TSPs" (Top Safety Pick) for 2013 models.  I am pleased to see that the "Home team" (Ford, GM, Chrysler) are well represented.
Link: IIHS