Post-Election Musings

November 25th, 2012 admin Comments off

Now that the 2012 elections are behind us, and the pundits – of both the left and right persuasions – are backwards-analyzing everything that was said and done, and how it culminated in the slate of political “leaders” that will take us forward for the next several years, it’s also an appropriate time to take a look at things from an automotive perspective. Below are a few random thoughts, including statistics which may be completely made up.

What you drive says a lot about who you voted for. And I don’t simply mean the Obama/Biden or Romney/Ryan sticker on your rear bumper. For example, in the Presidential election, more than 100% of Volvo wagon drivers voted for President Obama. Similarly, nearly every Toyota Prius driver went with the incumbent. On the other hand, Mitt Romney captured the vote of 3 out of every 4 Ford Mustang drivers. The same ratio holds true for Chevy Camaro owners – although the 25% that voted for Obama are all General Motors employees. Cadillac owners voted overwhelmingly for Romney – obviously. And Nissan Leaf owners – both of them – cast their ballot for Obama. Subaru drivers also helped keep Obama in the White House, as that brand is not only a favorite among outdoorsy hippie-types, but also lesbians. Scion drivers? Well, they didn’t vote in this election, since they’re all under the age of 18.

There is a lot of ignorance about where our energy comes from. Especially for our cars. Not long before the election, I heard conspiracy theories every time gasoline prices dipped a bit, proclaiming that the President was manipulating them in order to win the election, as if there were a knob located underneath the Resolute Desk that controls the digits you see on the sign at your local gas station. Gasoline prices are driven, for the most part, by the price of oil, which is a commodity traded in a global market, with prices dictated by supply and demand. The only way to keep gasoline prices low are to (1) increase supply (which is very short-sighted, given that petroleum is a finite resource), and/or (2) reduce demand (which we can do – with significant effort – domestically, but it will likely have little impact due to the expected exponential growth in demand from other countries like China and India, unless they follow suit). The only way the federal government can directly affect gasoline prices is via the federal gasoline tax – which hasn’t changed from the level of 18.4¢/gallon since 1993. (For an honest look at domestic oil production, check out what my smart friend Patrick Bean has to say.)

The partisan fighting extends to the automotive world. On a road trip earlier this year, I was stuck in traffic next to a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 – an impressive piece of machinery with a supercharged 5.8L V8 making 662 horsepower. And although we were doing the stop-and-roll on I-95 South out of Washington, D.C. averaging about 15 mph, that exhaust sounded so sweet. I was impressed – until I noticed the decal which featured a fat middle finger pointing upwards, with the caption, “F*ck your Prius“ in his passenger-side rear quarter window. I’m still not sure what the sentiment is there, unless it’s “I paid twice as much for my muscle-car as you did for your *overpriced* hybrid, and now I’m stuck in traffic going the same speed as you.

CAFE standards will become significantly more impactful through 2025. One of the current administration’s first-term achievements was the issuance of the joint Final Rule for fuel efficiency standards, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation, which will effectively set the fuel economy target of light-duty vehicles at 54.5mpg by 2025. As with most every other signature accomplishment of the current President, from the beginning of the primaries the field of challengers nearly all promised to change course and rid the nation of such “job killing” regulations. But now that there’s more certainty that the new standards will be around for a while, the automakers will start commercializing technologies to meet them. And that’s a good thing.

Climate change, recently pushed to the back-burner, has now fallen off the stove. Four years ago, much of the political discussion was around a price for carbon – whether in the form of a carbon tax or a system of cap and trade. Climate change was becoming a mainstream topic of debate. And while a few actions have been implemented (see CAFE standards above), the topic of global warming has all but melted and flowed down the Potomac out of D.C. Perhaps this is the success of a relatively few climate change skeptics who operate at the fringe? Which would be unfortunate, given that, of the 13,926 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles that related to climate science, only 24 reject the notion of climate change. As I’ve said before, the science is proven – the only remaining question is the degree to which we’ll alter the climate system.

Maybe I should start printing bumper stickers that read, “F*ck your climate.” I expect there’ll be quite a market.


Home Depot

March 23rd, 2012 admin Comments off

Remember when cell phones were new and novel?  Twenty years ago, they were anything but commonplace.  Thanks to Moore’s Law, you can now buy an iPad 3…

Within a decade, we’ll be saying the same thing about electric vehicles.  Case-in-point:  You can now buy your EV Charging Station at Home Depot.

 

And while appearance on the Home Depot website isn’t the only metric by which to classify something as mainstream, it’s certainly a good sign for those advocating electric transportation.

Categories: Electrification Tags:

…And More Books…

January 20th, 2012 admin Comments off

I’ve finished reading Peter De Lorenzo’s book, Witch Hunt, which I mentioned in my last post. And I’m disappointed. It’s essentially a collection of De Lorenzo’s posts from his blog, Autoextremist.com, during the past few years of turmoil in the U.S. auto industry. While there are a few interesting observations within its 328 pages, it’s essentially one long rant about the demise of the American manufacturing sector, filled with vague (and not-so-vague) insults hurled at everyone in federal government, the media, the environmental movement, American consumers, the UAW, and the auto industry (excepting Bob Lutz of GM and Alan Mulally of Ford, on whom De Lorenzo heaps praise so excessive it’s embarrassing), and with an overuse of clichéd catch-phrases so prolific that at times it’s difficult to read. (By the end of the book, everytime I read the words “that’s NOTGONNAHAPPEN.COM!” I swear I could hear studio-audience laughter from an episode of Three’s Company.)

Early on in the book, I decided that De Lorenzo must be a newcomer/outside observer to the auto industry (uh, much like I am) to put forth his wildly unfounded opinions with hardly any facts to support them. But apparently I’m wrong – Peter is a long-time auto industry advertising/marketing exec and journalist, and is an acquaintance of many of the higher-ups in Detroit. His background gives some of his anecdotes much-needed credibility. Unfortunately, that credibility is overshadowed by his obvious disdain for anyone who wasn’t entrenched in Michigan’s automobile manufacturing sector for the past several decades, as well as by his thinly veiled fantasy for De Lorenzo himself to be named CEO of General Motors.

I’m glad I read the book. But it certainly didn’t make me smarter.

On the other hand, an acquaintance recently loaned me a book, Turning Oil Into Salt, by Gal Luft and Anne Korin of the Set America Free Coalition. Anytime a book is put forth by a “coalition”, one has to think it’s simply to promote that group’s agenda. And that’s true in this case. Fortunately, the coalition appears to be legitimately non-partisan, and their agenda is to end oil’s status as a strategic commodity, by promoting fuel choice. “So, why would you want to turn oil into salt?” That’s a metaphor: In centuries past, salt was a strategic commodity. It was once the only way to preserve food, which meant that it was a matter of survival. Those with salt held particular power over those who needed it (i.e., everyone else). Wars were fought over it. It had a major influence on geo-politics of the time.

…Sound familiar? …Once the refrigerator was invented, salt became just a commodity. We still need it. But it’s not a matter of our daily survival. We have options.

Turning oil into salt means “stripping oil of its status as a strategic commodity” for our transportation needs. Luft and Korin argue that this can be done by offering fuel-choice in our vehicles. Flex-fuel plug-in hybrids that run on electricity, gasoline, ethanol, methanol, natural gas, or diesel and bio-diesel, from a variety of feedstocks is technologically achievable (though, as the authors rightfully point out, involves challenges that could initially be painful and costly), and would allow us fuel-choice that would demote petroleum to just another commodity, and release the hold that OPEC nations have over us through its manipulation of the global oil market.

Turning Oil Into Salt is a quick read, and it only touches the surface of a variety of issues that must be addressed to achieve what the authors envision. Although at times a little off-putting by its repetitive attribution of many of the global issues stemming from oil as being tied to “radical Islam”, in the end the book makes the reader think.

And that makes us smarter.


Categories: Auto Companies, Books, Policy Tags:

Books

January 5th, 2012 admin Comments off

It’s that time of year – when we all get to enjoy the bounty which was bestowed upon us by family and friends for the holidays…  By that, I mean presents. And in my case, those presents are quite often automotive-related.

This year, I received a copy of Bob Lutz’s book Car Guys vs Bean Counters – The Battle for the Soul of American Business.  It’s a pretty interesting inside-look at Bob’s final tenure at General Motors, beginning in 2001, up through and including the bankruptcy and restructuring of GM.  Once the reader gets past Lutz waxing moronically about the left-wing-socialist-media propagating the great hoax of global warming, and ignorant government bureaucrats promulgating regulations which favored foreign manufacturers (which, in his mind, played a role in the events that led to GM’s demise), there are interesting tidbits about the inept product-development practices within GM that led to mediocre cars that didn’t appeal to consumers.  Lutz’s focus is product design – creating vehicles that people want to buy – and he disparages what he calls the overly academic, data-driven analysis approach that the glut of MBAs that infested the ranks within GM espoused.  His bottom line is that you must create a great product in order to succeed.  Developing streamlined, efficient business processes to produce perfectly pedestrian vehicles will lead to failure.  Cars should be created by car guys. With this, I agree.  (Lutz’s book also gives an interesting GM-centric perspective on the government bailout of the company, which is a nice counterpoint to [while being consistent with] the version contained in Steven Rattner’s book Overhaul.  Which I was given last Christmas…)

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Coincidentally, I also received another book this year:  Cars: Freedom, Style, Sex, Power, Motion, Colour, Everything, by Stephen Bayley.  This mini-coffee-table book views automobiles as art, and the vast majority of its pages contain black-and-white photos of Bayley’s list of the most beautiful 86 cars ever produced.  The first 30 pages, however, contain text that set the stage for the reader, and describe how the automobile was at one time designed to appeal to the senses.  These moving masterpieces were metaphors for personal achievement, and captured the essence of what people aspired to be.  They moved people, rather than just moving them around.

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…Which I think is sort of what Lutz was trying to get GM back to.  It’s sort of ironic that the beginning of Bayley’s book effectively summarizes the point that Lutz is trying to make:  ”…It was art that really made the car America’s primary product.  And later Europe’s, then Japan’s.  The management consultancy pioneer, Alfred McKinsey, believed everything can be measured and if you can measure it, you can manage it.  But art is as notoriously resistant to both measurement and management as it is powerful in its effect.  From the moment car manufacturers discovered art in the 1920s, there have been attempts to manage it, to systematize it, but none has been successful.  Even in an industry as hierarchical and stratified as automobile manufacturing, the great cars have been products of creative genius – aberrant, cussed, irreverent – not of scientific management.”

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As a final note, I also received a copy of Peter De Lorenzo’s book Witch Hunt: Essays on the U.S. Auto Industry and the Blithering Idiots Who Almost Killed It.  I’ve only just begun reading it.  While De Lorenzo, too, makes the point that, in the car business, product is king, the lesson that I’m really taking from this book is:  Bloggers shouldn’t publish their work in hard-cover.

 

Opinion

September 26th, 2011 admin Comments off

There’s been a lot in the news lately about how much our federal government spends, and questions about whether  it spends it wisely.  Specifically, those who proclaim fiscal conservatism have recently called into question the benefit of using tax-payer money for environmental efforts, such as funding the EPA, providing grants and loan guarantees for clean energy projects, and supporting automakers that build more efficient vehicles.  (The recent media hype around the bankruptcy of solar panel-maker Solyndra certainly appears to lend weight to their argument, although that’s certainly more a case of corporate mismanagement rather than government/corporate cronyism as some claim.)

The logic goes that the government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers.  And that argument might make sense if the government only funded a single corporate entity for a single technology in any given sector.  But it doesn’t.  For example, in the automobile industry, the feds provide financial support to all of the domestic OEMs (and numerous players up and down the supply chaim) for projects related to electric-drive vehicles, efficient gasoline-burning vehicles, and lightweight technologies.  These projects aren’t picking winners, but are creating jobs as well as solutions that will promote energy security and environmental benefits for the long term.

So what happens when the Feds don’t step in?  Others do. And given the risk-averse mindset of investors in the current economy, the “others” are often from other places.  Like China. Where investors recently put up $125-million for lithium-ion battery maker Boston Power.  Who, as a result, decided to move its manufacturing facilities to China.

“American jobs” seems to be the economic topic most prevalent in the political discourse today.  And some of the battery makers who have received government funding have publicly stated that they would have built facilities overseas instead of the U.S. had they not received federal support.  Others – like Boston Power – obviously go where the money is.  And I don’t blame them.  But to say federal investment in new technologies doesn’t create jobs – a notion espoused by many of our lawmakers and pundits on the conservative side of the fence – is just nonsense.

Categories: Policy Tags:

Settled

September 10th, 2011 admin Comments off

Not long after my last post on CAFE regulations (where I mentioned that the White House was leaning towards a 2025 target of 56.2 mpg), the matter was “settled,” at a proposed 54.5 mpg.  (The difference doesn’t amount to much – less than 6/100ths of a gallon of gasoline for every 100 miles that a vehicle travels.  But, the lowering of the goal was enough to get some of the major auto manufacturers to fall in line and support the proposed regulation – at least publicly.)

Behind the scenes, however, automakers and other opponents to tighter CAFE rules complain that the target is too tough, and that it will lead to slow, underpowered cars that people won’t want to buy at significantly increased costs.  Being a realist, I tend to think that – yes, it’s true that new, advanced technology does tend to cost more than the old, but the benefit far outweighs the cost.  On the other hand …

Reading my latest issue of Autoweek magazine, I came across an article about the new Range Rover Evoque, which states that its 4-cylinder engine “generates 240 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque, which is more than the 233 hp and 234 lb-ft from the 3.2-liter six currently in the Land Rover LR2.”  It’s also rated at 24 mpg, vs 17 mpg for the LR2.  Now in this case, the Evoque does come at a premium (approximately $44k as compared to the LR2′s $37k), but it’s a completely new model, in a higher-end segment than the LR2, and you’re paying for more than just a more powerful and more efficient engine.  So …

A few pages later is an article about the new Jeep Wrangler, which gets a new V6 for 2012.  As compared to the 2011 powerplant, Autoweek tells us its “output grows by 83 hp and torque gains 23 lb-ft, to 260 lb-ft.  That blows the old 3.8-liter engine and its 202-hp, 237-lb-ft raings off the trail.  Despite the power boost, fuel economy also increases to up to 21 mpg on the highway.  The base price remains the same…”  More power?  More efficiency?  Same price?  And then …

There’s the next article about the new Mercedes Benz M-class.  Since car mags are so good at telling us what’s changed between the new model and the old, let’s see what Autoweek has to say.  ”Power is up, along with fuel economy, in both versions that will be offered at launch in the United States.  The gasoline direct-injection, 3.5-liter V6 ML350 4Matic, with 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, has an estimated fuel economy of 17 mpg city and 22 mpg highway (versus 15/20 mpg in the outgoing model).  The ML350 Bluetec 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel has an output of 240 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque and estimated fuel consumption of 20/25 mpg (versus 18/25 for 2011).  Pricing stays the same for 2012…”

It’s not like these are isolated, special cases.  Automakers are great at increasing efficiency and power without increasing cost.  They’ve been doing it for years.  It’s just that they’ve been using that ability to make our cars bigger, heavier, and faster, rather than making any significant gains in fuel economy.  As a result, they now have a long way to go to meet upcoming CAFE regulations.

The automakers (well, not all of them) publicly support the new CAFE targets.    My guess is they’ll find a way to comply.  From a fuel consumption standpoint (i.e., the y-axis on this graph), most of the work has already been done.

 

Curmudgeon

July 6th, 2011 admin 1 comment

Apparently, all of my blog posts since February of this year have involved me complaining about someone else for getting it wrong.  From the media’s promulgation of inaccurate information, to Saab’s inability to correctly mount tires, it seems all I’ve done recently is look for ways to point fingers and criticize.  And that’s just not healthy.  In the midst of it, ThatCarBlog‘s second anniversary came and went (my Inaugural post was June 26, 2009) without so much as a self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back.

So as I begin my third year of randomly typing words about cars whenever I get a few spare moments, I’m going to be more positive.  And that means looking for opportunities to point out when other folks get it right.

Roland Hwang got it right.  In his June 29 post on the National Resources Defense Council Staff Blog, Mr. Hwang describes the auto industry push-back as a result of the Obama administration’s suggestion that the CAFE regulations for light-duty passenger cars and trucks in 2025 should be 56.2 mpg (which is eerily similar to the push-back at every past attempt by the feds to regulate the auto industry, whether it be seat-belts, air-bags, catalytic converters, or the removal of lead from our gasoline).  There’s really nothing I can add here – Roland beat me to it.  Click the link and read it for yourself!  (The irony isn’t lost on me that, in my attempt to commend another for a job-well-done, it is to some degree Mr. Hwang’s criticism of the auto-industry that I am commending…)

But why do we use miles-per-gallon (mpg) as the metric to measure fuel efficiency?  It’s the amount of fuel we use that is of primary concern – not how many miles we drive. Since the dependent variable (gallons) is in the denominator of the mpg metric, we get a skewed sense of actual fuel efficiency.  As cars get more fuel efficient, people overestimate the benefit of additional mpg improvements. [Richard Larrick and Jack Soll, of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, wrote about this "MPG Illusion" a couple of years ago, and it's worth a read.  For example, most people tend to think that improving a vehicle from 34 mpg to 50 mpg (a 16 mpg improvement) would result in greater fuel savings than an improvement from 18 mpg to 28 mpg (a difference of 10 mpg).  In actuality, it is the latter case that provides more benefit - more than double the fuel savings of the 16 mpg improvement in the already-efficient 34 mpg vehicle.]

The reason for this can be seen in the graph below.  The big-red-line illustrates how mpg (on the x-axis) relates to fuel-consumption (in gallons per 100 miles, on the y-axis).  On the left (steep) side of the curve, small mpg gains result in large reductions in fuel consumption.  However, as cars become more efficient (and we move to the right side of the curve), it takes quite a large mpg improvement to result in any significant fuel reduction benefits.

 

So, what does this mean in the context of CAFE regulations?  When NHTSA implemented the first regulations (of 18 mpg) for model year 1978, it meant passenger cars would use about 5.5 gallons of gasoline to go 100 miles.  Seven years later, the CAFE regs were 27.5 mpg – a nearly 10 mpg improvement, resulting in a fuel consumption benefit of nearly 2 gallons per 100 miles.  The regulations stagnated here (and actually went down slightly) until 2011, when they started rising further, to 39 mpg for 2016.  This 14.2 mpg improvement over the 1985 regulation saves just under 1.5 gallons of gasoline per 100 miles.  (Notice that?  The 14.2 mpg improvement between 1985 and 2016 actually saved less fuel than the 10 mpg improvement between 1978 and 1985.)

For 2025, the administration is proposing a 56.2 mpg standard.  (This is the combined target, for both passenger cars and light trucks, unlike the previous numbers that I cited, which are just for passenger cars.  Sorry for the inconsistency.)  While this may seem like an insurmountable increase – cars must improve by 17.2 mpg in just 9 years! – it represents only a 0.8 gallon reduction in fuel consumption per 100 miles of driving.  Relative to the other CAFE regulations, that doesn’t seem so bad.

CAFE is a complicated – and dry – subject.  Which means “Part 2″ of my dissertation on it will have to wait until later.  Stay tuned!

Categories: Fuel Efficiency, Policy Tags:

(Un)Fit to Print

July 1st, 2011 admin Comments off

The majority of folks these days get their news and information from some form of mainstream media outlet.  Which is a shame. Because, while most of us (myself included) assume “they must know what they’re talking about,” when it comes to subjects about which we ourselves have no expertise, it’s on those occasions when they so ignorantly cover a topic of which we DO have intimate knowledge that we then call into question their comprehension of basically anything.

I know stuff about cars.  Alex Taylor III does not.

In a June 27 Fortune Magazine online article (also published on CNN.com), Alex The Third writes about how all the Chevy Volt enthusiasts out there are incredibly misguided because, although the Volt can travel an average of 35 miles on electricity alone, it only gets 32 mpg in the city (36 mpg highway) once the battery is depleted and the gasoline engine turns on.  The upcoming plug-in version of the Toyota Prius, on the other hand, can be expected to get 51 mpg city / 48 mpg highway (same as the current “regular hybrid” Prius) once its battery is depleted after 13 miles of electric driving.  Thus, Mr. 3 contends:  “On trips of 13 miles or less, the Prius plug-in and Volt deliver the same all-electric mpg: zero.  On trips between 13 miles and 35 miles in length, the Volt beats the Prius.  But after 35 miles, the Prius handily outscores the Volt.”

Unfortunately, Alex has failed to understand simple math. The actual cumulative fuel consumption of the plug-in Prius as compared to the Chevy Volt is shown below.  (I’ve used Taylor’s assumptions here, except for the 32/36 mpg that he cites for the Volt.  Although that’s what Popular Mechanics experienced, the EPA figure is 36/37 mpg, and since he uses the EPA figure for the Prius, we might as well be consistent.)

See, the Prius driver doesn’t suddenly overcome the Volt driver with respect to fuel saved at the 35 mile mark.  It takes quite a few miles of the Volt burning gasoline before the break-even point is reached.  In fact, one must drive 97 miles before any fuel-savings is realized by the Prius compared to the Volt.  Which is a lot more than most people drive each day.

But this isn’t even the full story.  I’ve driven both the Volt, and the plug-in Prius (in near-production form).  The architecture of the Volt lets you accelerate hard on electric-power alone.  It lets you reach triple-digit speeds with no help from the gasoline engine.  It has a true all-electric driving range of around 35 miles.  On the other hand, the plug-in Prius is largely the same as the conventional Prius, but with a larger battery.  The low power of its electric motor means that, if you press the accelerator more than just a little, the gasoline engine turns on.  Due to mechanical limitations of the motor-generator attached to the sun-gear of the planetary gearset in its power-split transmission, its electric-only speed is limited to 62 mph.  So if you’re on the freeway (and not stuck in D.C. traffic), the gasoline engine will turn on.  If you try to pass someone, the gasoline engine will turn on.  If you try to drive it at all like a normal person drives a normal car on a normal road, the gasoline engine will turn on.  The 13-mile “electric range” really isn’t.  This pushes the break-even mileage well beyond my generously calculated 97-mile mark.

Don’t get me wrong – the Prius (especially the plug-in version, which is not yet available) is a technically sophisticated, well-engineered vehicle that offers incredible fuel economy, with an internal combustion engine that is more advanced and efficient than that in the Volt.  And it’s true that the charge-sustaining MPG numbers for the Volt are somewhat disappointing (although that’s the penalty for lugging around a large 35-mile battery).  But Alex asserts – in Fortune Magazine – that the Prius is “a better idea” than the Volt, and that the numerous accolades the Volt has received are “an excess of praise in the wrong place.”

Which simply illustrates that he doesn’t know much about either car.

Contrast

June 27th, 2011 admin Comments off

Last month, Autoblog Green writer Eric Loveday wrote about an interview with Bob Lutz – former Ford/Chrysler/BMW executive, most known for his recently-ended stint at General Motors where he retired as Vice Chairman of Global Product Development.  Now, as a car-guy, I’ve always sort of admired Maximum Bob.  He’s a car-guy as much as a businessman, and he oversaw the development of more than a few worthwhile vehicles in his career.  But, he does have some flaws in his thinking, which are painfully revealed in the Loveday interview…

Bob Lutz

Bob’s a climate-change skeptic, and it shows in his opinions related to CAFE regulations and the federal government’s role in the auto industry.  He says of the initial CAFE rules from the 1970′s,The feds basically handed our market to the Japanese.”  He then describes how the American automakers made perfectly desirable vehicles until CAFE came about, forcing the domestic industry to abruptly redesign and re-engineer everything in order to comply.  And since change is hard, American auto quality suffered.  He also blames the State Department for granting Japan a favorable exchange-rate, making American competitiveness even more difficult.  (I’m no economist, but I’m pretty sure the State Department doesn’t set exchange rates.  Am I wrong?)

Bob describes the U.S. federal government as the only one in the world that is hostile to its own auto industry because of the policies it places “against” the automakers, born of what he calls a complete lack of understanding of what is technologically feasible.  He describes a mandate of 42 mpg by 2025 as physically impossible, tantamount to mandating that all cars have to “hover off the highway by two inches.”  (For what it’s worth, 42 mpg is the below the range of what NHTSA has been considering as the 2025 CAFE rule; instead, the agency has been considering improvements of 3%-6% per year beginning in 2017 within the realm of possibility, equating to 47 mpg to 62 mpg by 2025.  Additionally, today the White House “unofficiallyreleased a proposed CAFE target of 56.2 mpg.  I wonder what Bob thinks about that?  …Actually, I’m pretty sure I already know…)

Bill Ford

In contrast, Bill Ford – Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company – recently spoke at the TED2011 conference, and penned an opinion piece on CNN.com, describing the global gridlock we face as the number of cars on the planet doubles or quadruples over the coming decades from the nearly 1 billion vehicles we have now.  Bill accurately describes the downside:  traffic jams, squandered time, stifled economic opportunity, and the resulting loss of mobility options and lower standard of living.  He then suggests a few solutions:  better mass transit systems, smart cars, smart infrastructure, and cooperation among corporations, entrepreneurs, NGOs, universities, and governments.  In stark opposition to Lutz’s tack, Ford anticipates the unsustainability of the current paradigm, and envisions possibilities to overcome the challenge.  (Lutz, on the other hand, only envisions external factors as the cause of difficulty for his industry.)

The contrast between these two auto executives – and their view of the world – couldn’t be more apparent.  It’s a good thing for GM that Lutz is now a former executive.

Education

April 29th, 2011 admin Comments off

Earth Day recently came – and went – and, given the push for green transportation these days, a lot of the major car magazines put forth issues devoted to fuel-efficient vehicles in honor of the event.  Autoweek was one of these, with an Earth Day Special Issue, containing a bevy of articles about hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, and clean diesels.  But the article that caught my eye devoted a third of its page layout to a photograph of a Nissan Leaf being loaded onto a tow truck, with the title, Riding the Flatbed of Shame.

The author of this article, Mark Vaughn, describes his 45-mile (one way) journey to a track to conduct testing of the new all-electric Leaf.  Track testing – as in 0-60 mph acceleration tests, pedal-to-the-floor quarter-mile runs, and skid-pad exercises.  (In other words, activities that won’t do much to preserve the state-of-charge of his Leaf’s battery.)  He began this journey with 73 miles of range showing on the dash – which should have made it obvious that he wouldn’t be returning home on the same set of electrons with which he began.  But rather than deal with that reality, Vaughn continued to test the car, even with visual and audio “low battery” warnings of increasing ferocity.  Eventually, our fair automotive journalist set out to an auto electric shop, to cobble together an adapter to connect the Level 1 charging cord that came with the Leaf (which allows for connection into any standard household socket) to a dryer plug. Which immediately ruined the charger.  And required the tow-truck.

If you had *this*, and needed electricity at the other end, what would *you* do?

I have a few problems with this article.  Although the message is really, “If you’re an idiot, an EV won’t work for you,” the visual of the Leaf on the flatbed is simply “EVs don’t work.”  Secondly, Vaughn declares that you have to lay out every mile of your trip and compare it with every kilowatt-hour of charge in your lithium-ion battery pack.  If the numbers don’t add up, don’t go, which is sort of an alarmist view of EV usage.  Thirdly, Vaughn didn’t think, for whatever reason, to plug the charge-cord-he-already-had into a plug for which it was intended – instead taking on the challenging task of putting a square peg in a round hole.  And finally, in describing the final outcome of his mistake of plugging the 110-volt, 12-amp cord into a 220-volt, 50-amp outlet, he explains, with 38 amps more than the cable was designed for, it immediately fried.  Although non-electrical-types can’t be blamed for not realizing that the 50-amp rating of the outlet had nothing to do with the charger failure (it was the 220 volts that got him), as an automotive journalist writing in a major magazine, Vaughn should get his technical information correct.

Put simply, consumers must be educated about new technologies, such as electric-drive vehicles.  And Vaughn’s article only serves to miseducate.  (At least he correctly asserts that “it was nobody’s fault but my own.”)

Recently, I watched an episode of Speedmakers on Speed TV, dealing with Electric Vehicles.  It was an interesting piece that highlighted the Chevy Volt, Tesla Roadster and Model S, and Jaguar C-X75.  Unfortunately, the narrator consistently referred to the 16-kilowatt battery pack in the Volt, and the 52-kilowatt battery pack in the Roadster.  Which is sort of like me saying my Audi has a 50 horsepower gas tank. What the gentleman means to say is kilowatt-HOUR, which is how battery capacity is measured.  Education…

Earlier this month, there was a garage fire in a Connecticut home.  The garage was completely destroyed, as were the two cars in it.  One of these cars was a brand new Chevy Volt, plugged in and charging overnight.  The other was a Suzuki Samurai that had been converted by the owner to an electric vehicle, also plugged in (to a home-made charging system) and charging overnight.  Although the cause of the fire has not yet been determined, that didn’t stop local news outlets (such as WFSB) from declaring that the Volt may have ignited the fire.  In the headlines… As for me, I’m suspicious of the home-made conversion and its charging system.  The Volt was almost certainly the victim here.

In any case, I sure am glad that gasoline doesn’t burn.

Education…

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