Mustang Parts
   Carrying Saleen wheels and Bullitt wheels.

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.