Auto Manifesto

February 14, 2013

Why Google Wants to (and Should) Drive

The big picture issue I see is that so many things in life are becoming secondary activities to our connectivity.  This new world consumes an ever growing share of a limited resource – attention; taking people to a state of mind that is distinct from their physical presence.  In the early stages this took place in front of a desktop computer.

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November 26, 2012

Nissan Deltawing

The Nissan Deltawing has acquitted itself well this year. Powered by a turbocharged, direct-injection four-cylinder Nissan engine producing about 300 horsepower, it has comparable straightline speed to other cars with twice the power since its narrow profile has about half the frontal area. Despite having been crashed out of the 24 Hours of Le Mans by another car and retiring after just 75 laps, the Highcroft Racing team came back strongly in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Even though it tangled with yet another car in practice, the team was able to rebuild the car and get it into the top ten in qualifying. In the race it had to start from the back of the 42 car field since it was an unclassified experimental vehicle. Nevertheless, it went the full 1,000 mile race distance and finished 5th overall in only its second race outing. That it has half the weight, half the drag and half the power of the leading cars is quite a testament to the design and the team. I'm impressed, even if the look has yet to grow on me, and even more excited about the innovations this car will inspire.

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March 17, 2012

DeltaWing Race Car Debut

The DeltaWing race car's appearance contradicts a lot of commonly accepted race car design principles. Because it is so extreme, this car is either ahead of its time or a technical dead-end. There's no middle ground. I don't know what to make of it yet but the design certainly brings up a number of interesting points.

It was originally proposed as a single-seater for IndyCar competition beginning in 2012. However, IndyCar chose to go with a Dallara design instead.

So the team shifted its focus to racing as an experimental entry in this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. The video above is footage from its recently completed shakedown test at Buttonwillow Raceway.

With minimal frontal area and few appendages to disturb airflow, there is no doubt about its ability to reach high straightline speeds with a lot less power than traditional race cars. The principles are sound.

The area in question is its ability to turn. In order for a car to effectively turn the front wheels must have sufficient traction which is a result of tire contact patch area and downward force.

In the video it doesn't sound like it is being driven very hard so it's hard to judge. At 0:49 there's just a hint the tires (presumably the fronts) start squealing at what appears to be a pretty moderate pace. That would be a possible indicator of understeer.

With each front tire a mere 4" wide, spaced very closely together and most of the car's weight on the rear axle (weight distribution has not been revealed) it seems the car needs a tremendous amount of front end aerodynamic downforce to prevent understeer and the risk of "wheelies". Tire wear could also be a concern since a lot is asked of them.

The car essentially has half the weight and power but almost ¾ of the tire footprint of its competitors. But on thing is for sure. It's not lacking in its backing.

A number of highly respected names have lent their support to the project including Dan Gurney, Don Panoz, Highcroft Racing, Nissan and Michelin. Whatever the outcome at La Sarthe they should be applauded for pioneering such a radical concept.

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February 21, 2012

Video: Presentation by Richard Parry-Jones

This is a very insightful talk by the famed Ford engineer. He covers a number of topics including chassis tuning, vehicle development, manufacturing, and F1 racing sprinkled with anecdotes and stories throughout.

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February 13, 2012

A Path to Smarter Roads

How often do you have a day where your routine drive to work is full of red lights? Every last intersection seems to present you with a red light, even at those where there are no waiting cars on the cross street.

Occasionally there is a distracted driver in front who doesn't go for a while when the light turns green. Which results in the next light turning red on you too. Then it just cascades from there and the trip takes far longer than normal.

Though far better than having uncontrolled intersections, the road system can be maddeningly inefficient. Traffic lights only seem to get added, never taken away because the vehicle population has steadily risen and such removal could also pose a legal liability for those jurisdictions in which they're located.

If there were an effective way to know or estimate:

  • The number of cars on the road at a given time.
  • Where they are going
  • How fast they are traveling

Intelligent routing could occur. It seems the mobile phone is the way to go to provide that information. They offer much faster adoption rates and shorter technology life cycles than anything built into cars. Should enough motorists use such a technology we could likely make a material dent in congested local roads in a short amount of time.

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June 17, 2011

Sixty To Zero - An Inside Look at the Collapse of General Motors...

I just finished reading "Sixty to Zero", an engaging and insightful read by Alex Taylor III on the collapse of General Motors.

He succinctly articulates what I've always thought. The reasons why Detroit has produced so many duds is because the companies have mistakenly tried to satisfy right brain desires of the market using left brain answers, filtered through a host of other management issues on top of that.

...Band-Aid solutions like needs segmentation provided only mechanistic solutions to emotional problems: creating cars that people wanted to buy.

They had not figured out how to offer usable fantasy as well as their competition.

Think for a moment about the world of fashion. Imagine a company that makes pants, and they make them from burlap sacks and use rope for a belt. They do this because it's cheap and the pants work. But would you ever buy them?

Pretty much the same thing happened with cars in Detroit. The people who ran things didn't "get it". These days they're turning out better cars than ever but it remains to be seen if the Detroit 3 can really turn things around.

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January 16, 2011

F1 Budget Cap: Impossible to Enforce

This exactly why I've always thought that the budget cap was flawed and unenforceable. Capping budgets is a good intent but there is no way to go about it convincingly with the way F1 is currently structured. The teams that have the money to spend will spend it, and there will never be a realistic and reasonable way of policing that. It's going to take a lot more than a gentleman's agreement and some accountants to ensure that a cap is adhered to.

And even if (IF) this system worked how can this be explained to the fans succinctly, and why should they care? It has little to do with racing other than holding out the potential to mar the credibility of a championship as we're seeing with the rumors that are going around about the Red Bull team's spending in 2010.

Furthermore, suppose the team was found to have exceeded the cap. Then what? Strip them and their driver of the titles? That would be a PR disaster. The problem with racing rulemakers is too often they come up with rules that are not practical to enforce. Sure, it would be great if no team spent more than the cap. But proving or disproving that is so far removed from the realm of what the fans care about that it's academic.

I've said it time and again: Racing results should be decided definitively at the moment the checkered flag is waved. There should never be any doubt of the race result right then. And should there be an exception (scrutineering, driver penalties, etc) it should be decided quickly after the event. It should never drag on into another day.

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September 29, 2010

Saab Turnaround

Following its acquisition from General Motors by Spyker, Saab has been on the move with a number of notable projects:

  • Introduction of the new 9-5 for 2011.  Much of the development was done by GM prior to the transition.  The results look promising.
  • Saab recently signed Jason Castriota, formerly of Bertone and Pininfarina, as design director.  Some of his works include the Ferrari 4/5 one-off and the Maserati GranTurismo.
  • Beginning in 2012 BMW will be supplying turbocharged 1.6 liter 4 cylinder engines.
  • The 9-3 will be updated for 2012, presumably with the BMW engine as one of the engine choices.
  • There is a smaller 9-2 model now under development. 
  • And Saab also began researching a fully electric 9-3 project with a Swedish coalition, with batteries coming from Boston-Power.  The EV is expected to reach the market mid-decade (2016).
With all of these changes, it looks like the venerable brand may have a future yet.

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May 18, 2010

Unintended Acceleration, Unintended Consequences

Automotive News reports that in response to the recent issues surrounding unintended acceleration, Federal Regulators are expected to undertake a rulemaking to require brake override and event data recorders (EDR) on passenger vehicles.

The changes for brake override, where engine power is reduced when the brakes and throttle are pressed simultaneously, have mostly to do with software and should be fairly straightforward to implement.

However, one unintended consequence could be that it will no longer be possible to heel-and-toe a car equipped with a manual transmission.  That's a technique used during performance driving, where the driver "blips" the throttle while shifting and braking to keep the engine at a higher RPM for more and faster power delivery once the next gear is selected.

Event Data Recorders (EDR), also known as "black boxes" will be a bit more involving.  The costs will vary greatly with the rule's requirements.  I worked on this issue for 6 years for heavy trucks and there are a lot of things to consider.  They've also been required to record data a certain way on passenger cars IF those cars were equipped with such a device.  Typically, manufacturers install them to trigger and record data to protect themselves from liability.

NHTSA's cost estimate for these devices in the 2004 rulemaking was laughable, the low end starting about $0.50 to install them on each new car.  Let's hope whatever comes out is reasonable and effective.

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April 13, 2010

A Few Fuel Economy Details

Picked up some interesting tidbits in an SAE article on fuel economy. Fuel consumption, measured in grams per second, is about 0.2 for your typical idling car. That can jump to 2 or 3 g/s under light acceleration, a factor of 10 to 15 times as much. And the average driver launches at about 0.2 g.
Further, the engineers interviewed said that lowest speed in the tallest gear is the most efficient point for each vehicle's fuel consumption.

Cold weather also increases engine friction with the article estimating it is twice as much at 0 degrees C than it is in warm conditions.

Hybrid vehicle fuel economy is more sensitive to driver aggressiveness. For example, during hard braking energy that could be recaptured is wasted if the vehicle's regular friction brakes have to supplement the regenerative brakes.

A few more pieces of info: The average car loses about 4% fuel economy for basic electronics (engine control, brake lights, etc), while it can lose up to 15% when including the use of heated seats, audio, defrost and so on.  Neat stuff.