Auto Manifesto

April 29, 2008

NHTSA Fuel Economy Proposal

The new CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) proposal is going to have unintended consequences. It’s based on the premise that each manufacturer’s fleet should have an average based on the size of each model and the number of vehicles produced.

The size of each model is based on its “footprint”, that is the track width multiplied by the wheelbase, and that the smaller this area is the higher the fuel economy (MPG) of the vehicle must be. It is intended that this would raise the average fleet fuel economy.

I also believe this is NHTSA’s solution to their dilemma of how to categorize a vehicle as a passenger car or a light truck, a dilemma that has become markedly more of an issue with so many different models now available from manufacturers.

However, this proposed regulation potentially won’t achieve its objective because manufacturers will build larger, less efficient models than they could since they have lower fuel economy hurdles to clear, relative to smaller vehicles. It’s a disincentive for manufacturers to offer smaller (and presumably more efficient) vehicles.

If that is the case then the way to have a more efficient vehicle fleet is to leave it to the market to demand more efficient vehicles by voting with its money. So why have the burden of this additional change?

Every manufacturer should be accountable to one standard, and not have their thresholds based on their product mix. Foundations should be built on level ground. NHTSA should clarify the definitions of automobiles and light trucks, and apply these definitions to all vehicle manufacturers the same way.

Here’s a link to the proposal (scroll down to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration):

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More Self-Parking Cars

Speaking of driverless cars, VW (among others) is working on self-parking cars.

It’s obvious that in order to have a driverless car the first step is to have a self-parking car. It’s only a matter of time.

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Gasoline Buffers

The main obstacle of electric vehicles is energy storage media. A gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel is about 6.5 lbs. The equivalent weight in batteries is in the neighborhood of 205 lbs. This is akin to carrying a memory stick with gigabytes of capacity compared to reels of film or floppy diskettes.

But there are many advantages to electric power such as the ability to decouple vehicle speed from engine speed, energy recapture during braking, silent operation, and no emissions when operating in electric mode. These factors add up to considerable potential energy savings.

This is why there are numerous projects aimed at developing series hybrids (the Chevy Volt being the first that comes to mind). In other words gasoline and diesel are excellent energy storage media while electric powertrains are much more efficient. So the challenge is to somehow combine the better aspects of the two in order to achieve a superior solution, and putting in place the infrastructure to support pure electric power when the energy density of batteries (or capacitors, etc) have matured sufficiently.

Right now that appears to be a revolutionary chassis combined with a small IC engine and electric drivetrain. By that I mean cars that are dramatically different and lighter than existing vehicles. Conventional designs fitted with electric power wouldn’t be nearly as much of an improvement. We should strive for major gains by thinking further outside the box.

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April 28, 2008

Flywheels As Bridges

I’ve been wondering lately if a mechanical flywheel could be a means to bridge the gap between battery and supercapacitors for on-board vehicle energy storage. Supercaps can be charged and discharged quickly, and their high bursts of power are good for acceleration but not so much for constant power.

On the other hand, batteries are slow to charge and discharge but are good for sustained cruising. Using supercaps and batteries together could provide for a wide range of power needs. Except thus far it doesn’t seem there’s any way to charge batteries quickly and maintain their service lifespans.

Possibly then a mechanical flywheel could be used as a bridge between the two in the sense that an on-board supercapacitor could be quickly charged and enable a vehicle to get back on the road. The supercap quickly charges the flywheel, and then the flywheel slowly charges the batteries.

At this point flywheel capability in a vehicle application is relatively unknown but it’s a potentially useful technology path. And with Formula 1 featuring KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) next year, this is a great opportunity for technology transfer from racing to the street.

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April 27, 2008

Gasoline to Battery Range Comparison

One tank of gasoline contains hundreds of millions of Joules of energy (MJ), about 45 MJ/kg according to Wikipedia. Let’s say your typical car is 3,000 lbs in weight, has a range of 350 miles on a tank of gas, and gets about 30 mpg highway.

By contrast a Nickel-Metal Hydride (NimH) battery is good for about 0.22 MJ/kg. For the sake of discussion, using today’s technology how much battery mass would it take to provide the equivalent?

At 30 mpg it would take 11.67 gallons of gas to go 350 miles. If each gallon is roughly 6.5 lbs, then we have roughly 76 lbs or 34.5 kg of gas. Based on 45 MJ/kg that’s 1,552 MJ of energy.

We know a 350 mile range would be too far for batteries. So how much would the market accept as an alternative? Let’s assume 2/3 of that which would be 210 miles. For the same vehicle then 210 miles would require 2/3 as much energy which would be equal to about 1,035 MJ. But keep in mind that a gas engine is about 25% efficient whereas an electric power train is closer to 75%.

That means if you’re using 1,035 MJ of gas at 25% efficiency, you would only need about 345 MJ of electricity (1,035 x 0.25 / 0.75).

Using battery tech with 0.22 MJ/kg we’d still need an astounding 1,568 kg (or 3,456 lbs) of batteries. No wonder the ranges being discussed for plug-in hybrids (PHEV) are more often in the 50 to 100 mile range, using lithium batteries.

However, all is not lost. If we can pare the weight of the vehicle down from 3,000 lbs to say 1,500 lbs we can probably save another 1/3 in the energy for the same range. If that was done battery mass would come down proportionally to 1,045 kg (2,305 lbs). Still not practical but that’s for a 200 mile range. If the range were cut to 50 miles then it looks like we could get away with less than 600 lbs of batteries (2,305 lbs x 50 miles/200 miles = 576 lbs) if the car is very light. This does not yet account for the weight of the batteries either.

It’s clear there are only 3 main ways to increase PHEV range without additional fuel:

Improved battery energy density
More efficient powertrains
Drastically lighter vehicles

While there’s a lot of work being done on improving battery technology, it should be noted that dramatically lighter vehicles will strongly contribute to the growth of PHEV vehicles. And in doing so we’ll probably see a lot of refreshing concepts in the very near future.

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F1 Notes – Spanish Grand Prix

Some observations of today’s event:

Fernando Alonso did a great job in qualifying, almost got pole. He was lucky to get away with his off during the warm up lap when he nearly hit a wall. Good start from the Ferraris.

Lewis Hamilton probably made the best one, certainly the decisive one of the race when he jumped Robert Kubica. He’s done this on more than one occasion at the start where he’ll go to the outside approaching the first turn and then dart inside to take the position from the car ahead as it tries to defend the mid-outside line. It often pays off.

Not a good day if your name was Sebastian. Vettel was taken out by Adrian Sutil’s failed move on someone else ahead of him. More reason to qualify further ahead.

Speaking of Sutil I don’t see him lasting the rest of the year unless he really improves his performance. Teammate Giancarlo Fisichella outqualified him by about 0.7 of a second which seems like somewhere between a kilometer and a mile.

Then Sebastian Bourdais had the accident with Nelson Piquet which eventually took them both out.

Couldn’t believe there was an audience of 132,000 people. Huge turnout for Fernando Alonso.

Then Heikki Kovalainen has a massive accident due to mechanical failure. It looked awful as the car wedged itself under the tire barrier having impacted it nearly straight on at high speed. When the car was finally extricated there was visible daylight in the cockpit, not a good sign at all. Heikki was taken away on a stretcher but appeared to be mostly ok. Hopefully he’ll be fine and his promising career won’t be adversely affected.

Hard to imagine the consequences of such an impact if the wall was concrete as they likely were in the recent past.

Steve Matchett on Speed TV really knows his stuff. Always fascinating to hear him speak about strategy and the many considerations that go into running the cars.

The rule prohibiting refueling in the pitlane when it’s closed due to a safety car period is both confusing and cumbersome. Totally ruined Nick Heidfeld’s race. A 10 second penalty for refueling when you had to? Utterly ridiculous.

It’s time for David Coulthard to hang up his F1 gloves. He’s become an obstinate curmudgeon, party to too many accidents when getting passed, and today’s result was he was lapped by his teammate Mark Webber who actually finished, and in the points to boot.

If Red Bull are to win they need to replace Coulthard.

In the end Jackie Stewart’s pre-race prediction was right on the mark no one would challenge Kimi Raikkonen for the win. Raikkonen gets criticized unfairly for his perceived lack of emotion. But he gets my vote for not only being the best driver on the grid, he doesn’t complain and gets the job done without drama. That is a mark of a true champion.

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April 21, 2008

Primitive Alien Life May Exist, Stephen Hawking Says

Here’s an interesting article that deals only tangentially with transportation:

But the headline caught my eye because nothing says “That’s Us!” like primitive alien life, considering how far we’ve come in only a brief span of time and some of the basic problems we are still challenged by like world peace, keeping our tires properly inflated, and driving with our headlights off at night….


IC Engine Technology Paths

Assuming a conventional gasoline engine is about 25% efficient, that means for each liter of fuel we put in we can expect 1/4 of a liter’s worth of work out of it. Moving forward we have to strive for 30%, 40%, 50% efficiency and beyond – whatever is possible.

Despite all the alternative propulsion sources, they all have to be cost effective, reliable, durable, perform well, and be efficient. The internal combustion engine will probably still go strong for another decade or two as the benchmark by which all others are compared.

So what kinds of improvements can we expect to see in that arena? It appears there are basically 3 trends that will continue. Reduction of friction, use, and weight, which ultimately leads to reduced fuel consumption and increased efficiency.

First, we’ll see more use of efficient fuels on a cost basis (say Joules/$). Diesel will probably gain marketshare from gasoline engines, with government subsidies on alternative biofuels a wildcard.

Next, the way the fuel is burned will be a factor. We’re seeing more and more direct-injection and a lot of research into areas of combustion. HCCI (Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition) and other methods of combining the best of two and four cycle engines are understudy.

Also, forced induction (primarily through turbocharging) is gaining in popularity as a means of moving more fuel and air through smaller engines. It is the dominant induction method in heavy trucks in North America, an industry known for efficiency. Useful recovery of waste heat can also help recapture some of the energy that would otherwise be lost.

Further, we’ll see smaller displacements and lower weights. A lot of vehicles will probably step down a notch or two in cylinder counts and engine sizes. Examples include Cadillac going from V8 engines to V6 engines, the next generation Corvette and BMW M3 among others.

Then there’ll be lower friction through improved coatings and materials. Who knows. Maybe we’ll see a day of engines without any lubricating oil at all.

Finally, decoupling methods will continue to proliferate with improvements in electronics and software. Examples of this include variable valve timing which will next probably lead to engines with valves actuated electronically, cylinder deactivation (running on fewer than all cylinders under light loads), idle reduction at traffic lights through stop/start algorithms.

Ford (and others) is putting into place some of these elements under the name Ecoboost, and will surely continue to do so. Any company that already makes engines is no doubt reviewing their product mix and R&D plans with more emphasis on efficiency than ever before.

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Sustainable Technology Choices

We now have a global population of well over 6 billion. Per capita consumption of many precious resources is rapidly increasing. Multiply those two factors together and the outcome is BAD.

Put it this way. We have a room with a pie in it. There are four pie lovers in the room and they can split the pie into four pieces and get their fill. Now put twelve pie lovers in the same room with the same pie and the slices can get smaller or things can start to get ugly. Replace the pie with any commodity and replace the people with countries. It’s clear everyone needs to consume a lot less.

I’m not saying anything new. But it’s important to reiterate these points. There’s not much that’s being done to curb population growth. Seems to be politically unpopular to suggest that when the typical ways it occurs is through war, disease, famine, or other natural disasters. Or industrialization, where people just end up not having as many kids.

But that won’t help either because the paradox is that a lower birthrate does not necessarily equal less consumption per capita. So total consumption might not decrease with lower population growth. The USA is the poster child for that.

So going forward we can expect volatile commodity prices with upward trends. Oil is the first thing that comes to mind at this point. Energy, precious metals, other metals that are becoming more precious (steel, aluminum, copper, etc), staple crops, drinking water are a few others that come to mind. Where will it end?

We continue to operate on smaller margins of error. Why? Commodity supplies can be assumed to be fixed. There’s only so much dirt, water, and air to go around. As the population is projected to reach nine billion people, the per capita availability of resources goes down. Thus prices must spike and trend upward over time. At a world population of 2 billion there is a threefold margin of demand as there is at population of 6 billion.

The ideal solution to this problem is:

Population growth slows.
Per capita consumption decreases dramatically.
Massive and efficient recycling infrastructure are in place. To be sustainable, commodity prices have to be high enough to make it work, whether through market forces or government intervention.
As far as transportation goes, technologies must be developed to account for the risk of supplies going low, even if it’s good technology. The risk factors affecting supply must receive more scrutiny than in the past.

The only competitive advantage then is to use less of everything in any solution to arrive at the desired outcome. The world needs to become dramatically more efficient in order to maintain some semblance of the lives we’ve become accustomed to and demand.

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April 16, 2008

Curbing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Wall Street Journal (among other sources) reports that President Bush is proposing to halt grown in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2025, not with specific legislation but to influence broader policy to move in that direction. There will be emphasis on the power industry which produces approximately 40% of US CO2 emissions. Seems to me that this is vital in order to work toward uniform, national legislation on this front-and-center issue rather than run the risk of a state regulatory patchwork that we literally cannot afford.

It makes a lot of sense. Don’t know if it’s going to be enough, but it makes sense. Especially focusing on power generation since it is technically and administratively a lot more feasible to regulate than mobile sources (see my thoughts on rolling chemistry sets).

And within that time frame it is likely that vehicles will have shifted significantly to off-board power generation in the form of battery electric vehicles (or maybe even somehow to hydrogen).

It is also expected that any agreement will also have to include other major emitters such as China and India to help ensure a more level playing field for all involved.

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April 15, 2008

Guess it’s getting ugly with allegations and rumors about Tesla and Fisker going to court. According to Automotive News (subscription required), Tesla is suing Fisker for breach of contract. Tesla had hired Fisker to design the interior and exterior of its upcoming WhiteStar electric sedan. The suit accuses Fisker of doing a substandard job in order to stall the development of the WhiteStar while stealing trade secrets, business plans, and engineering data in order to develop their own car. The prototype of that car, the Fisker Karma, was unveiled in Detroit in January.

Someone’s probably going down in flames before this is all said and done. Here’s an article from AutoBlog:

4/16/08 Update - Then Tesla gets sued by Magna:

This is becoming a soap opera. Let’s see more cars please…

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Following up on my previous post, there’s a whole lot of development going on with infrastructure, navigation, and communication.

Clearflow launched last week. They’re using predictive algorithms to predict traffic conditions and best routes/times:

Then we have another story about eight radio broadcast companies coming together to form the Broadcaster Traffic Consortium to include traffic and digital maps in the HD radio spectrum. Read more here:

Finally, we’ve got BMW’s partnership with Google to input your frequent driving destinations into your navigation system like speed dial telephone numbers in your phone:

The number of moves afoot to provide improved traffic and congestion information is impressive. While all this is a boon to the battle against congestion, I’d like to see more emphasis placed on reducing traffic in general by people planning their trips better, increasing flex work hours and telecommuting, and alternative modes of transportation such as rail, buses, and bicycles.

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DOT Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Request for Information

The US DOT has put out a request for information on potential business models for Vehicle Infrastructure Integration. Rather than rewrite the text, I'll just quote a portion of it:

The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) is requesting information concerning potential business models for achieving the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) vision. The VII vision is predicated on the existence of ubiquitous, vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle data communication capabilities, which will enable public and private user services to improve roadway safety and, also, enhance mobility, traffic operations, relieve congestion, lessen the environmental impacts of transportation, promote energy conservation, enable electronic payment of transportation-related fares, tolls, and parking fees, as well as allow for user access to the Internet from motor vehicles. Background information on VII is available at the U.S. DOT website,

It is proposed that Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) technology be used to build a smarter road network. The Federal government wants to deploy 150k to 250k of these locations throughout the country in order to get vehicle manufacturers to equip their vehicles with DSRC and end the chicken versus egg stalemate that currently exists.

The gist of the request is to figure out how this is going to be paid for and how it will make money for companies that supply or operate on the network. The deadline to respond is May 2, 2008. To read the full text go here:

and do an advanced search for "Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Business Model".

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April 14, 2008

Vehicle Miles Traveled – The New Metric for Fees?

According to a recent article in Transport Topics (3/31/2008), Oregon has done a pilot study of nearly 300 motorists who volunteered to be guinea pigs. Their vehicles were fitted with a small GPS data recorder that tracked each.

Of course there are concerns from some about privacy and the “big brother” issue. While I agree that some of those concerns are valid, it really isn’t much different than the GPS features built into our cell phones now.

Anyway, the point of the study was to determine where, when, and how much motorists in the program drove. Instead of charging an 18.4 cent/gallon Federal fuel tax on gasoline as has been the case since 1993, officials are looking at taxes/tolls/fees based on each mile driven, and at what times (congestion pricing).

This is intended to ensure adequate continued highway funding as vehicles become more efficient and use less fuel,

I will point out though that a fuel tax on a per gallon basis will tax constituents on how much fuel they use rather than how much they drive. Right now if you drive a vehicle that gets low fuel economy, you get taxed more per mile than if you drive a more efficient vehicle.

With VMT-based taxes, unless there were provisions to account for your vehicles efficiency, you’ll be taxed on how much you travel. It would be better if drivers taxed on a basis that accounted for both the fuel used and the distance traveled in order to encourage less driving (especially during peak hours) and the use of more efficient vehicles.

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Six Miles of Wonder

New mid-day routine: I’ve started bike riding at lunch now. By doing so I’m breaking the workday into two halves. During the break I typically ride about 20 to 25 minutes and cover six miles.

Much of the time the weather here is hospitable (enough) to bike. I ride year round. It’s relaxing, I don’t think about work while I’m out and I come back refreshed, hit the shower, eat lunch and I’m ready to do another half day at elevated productivity levels. In other words, working two half-days in one day is more productive than working one regular day.

It’s a wonder why more people don’t bike. It works great and takes away from traffic and congestion. And by the end of the day I have more energy than if I hadn’t gone on the ride. If only more people knew how good it is…. Quite possibly the best kept secret in transportation.

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Cold Weather Battery Use

Batteries don’t tend to work as well at cold temperatures. Their performance drops off significantly below certain temperature thresholds. So here’s a question.

I wonder if there have been studies done for determining when a battery would actually be more efficient at cold temperature by powering a small heating element to help warm itself, as well as improve durability?

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April 9, 2008

Hybrid & Electric Cars Too Quiet?

Automotive News (subscription required) reports that the US House of Representatives is likely to introduce a bill today to direct the Secretary of Transportation to initiate a study to decide if there should be minimum vehicle noise levels to protect pedestrians. The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008 would be targeted at identifying if vehicles that are too quiet would be detrimental to pedestrian safety, and if so how much noise they should make at a minimum.

At first blush it seems that this would only benefit the blind population. But they're not the only ones that would benefit. Anyone with hearing would. Just because someone is not blind doesn't mean they'll see these vehicles coming. It would also help distracted or unaware pedestrians with normal eyesight, much like back up alarms on trucks and heavy equipment.

I only hope that if it is determined there should be a minimum vehicle noise level, that the mandate noises aren't considered a public nuisance. It would be ironic to make all this progress only to end up with hopelessly annoying vehicles.

Just thinking aloud (no pun intended) perhaps there should be low speed indicators. But once above a certain speed the noise maker would be disabled because tire/wind noise would be prevalent enough that the vehicles are audible. If it turns out this is a problem, I would imagine it'd only be a problem in densely populated areas (urban/suburban) and that there's no need for vehicles to make noise all the time.

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April 7, 2008

Hydrogen Infrastructure

I’m not totally against hydrogen. The sun is full of it. But it just doesn’t make sense to me as a fuel. According to Larry Burns of General Motors the development work on fuel cells is now to the point where it’s commercially viable except for the fact there is no hydrogen refueling infrastructure and no one has said anything about producing enough hydrogen to do anything.

BMW echoed the message on a commercial featuring the Hydrogen 7. They said that the car is ready for the world when the world is ready for it, presumably about the refueling issue. It only emits water vapor. Well that’s still about the only thing that anyone will talk about.

There’s a great article in the April 2008 issue of Fast Company (it’s like a car magazine) that talks about Iceland’s progress with hydrogen and energy in general, and how they’re exporting their know-how. That’s all fine and good but it appears to me that Iceland has three things going for it that the US and many other countries don’t have. Lots of installed geothermal energy sources, a very small population, and relatively small geographic area.

In a place where there is essentially energy from the ground to generate power, efficiency isn’t a deal breaker. But in just about every other part of the world, can someone explain to me where we are going to get the energy to make the hydrogen?

Maybe industry is doing this to show how impractical the idea is while getting green kudos from an uninformed public? Or maybe I’m uninformed and cynical. Time will tell.

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Mobile Billboards, Not Green

This is a perfect example of doing the wrong thing well. Why on earth are there companies that operate trucks that do nothing (e.g. transport cargo) but drive around adding to congestion and taking up space? Plus they’re adding to congestion because billboards would be less effective if there was less traffic around.

Then they suggest this is somehow environmentally conscious. Some times people lose sight of the point that the green movement isn’t to waste electricity instead of oil but to reduce our overall waste. How does a person even say this with a straight face?

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April 6, 2008

F1 Notes – Bahrain

What’s this have to do with future transportation? There’ll be more relevant technology transfer between racing and road vehicles (both ways) as we go forward toward new generation vehicles. Besides, I just plain like racing and analyzing drivers. Here are some observations of today’s event:

Adrian Sutil has not done much with his time in F1, and I think it’s about to come to a close.

Sebastian Vettel has had some phenomenal races. So far this year he seems to have had a string of bad luck. Hopefully he’ll return to form soon.

When things are good he’s great. But Lewis Hamilton cracks under pressure. He had a rough day of his own making. We’ve seen on several occasions now when one thing goes wrong, whether it’s his fault or not, he falls down like a row of dominoes. Don’t know if his botched start was a technical issue or his fault but it wasn’t that bad until he rear ended Alonso. Then he almost fell off the road passing Fisichella’s Force India and had the temerity to gesture at him for holding him up even though they were, how do you say, racing for position. He needs to calm down. Especially in light of making a McLaren look like a Super Aguri today. The second year is often not as stellar as the first.

Of course, Alonso wasn’t exactly polite while racing Timo Glock for position either.

From the on-board camera, Jenson Button’s steering wheel was turned on way while his front wheels were pointed the other after the collision with David Coulthard. It was almost certain he wouldn’t make it out of the pits after.

Coulthard’s suspension held together better than the last race.

Force India color scheme looks a lot like McLaren’s. Hard to tell the two apart unless up close.

Speed’s Bob Varsha says Nick Heidfeld is “Mr. Under-the-Radar this year”. Could probably expand that to include his whole F1 career.

Kovalainen might outdo Hamilton this year. He’s fast and consistent. Seems low key too.

Mark Webber finished the race. Guess I’m used to his 2006 season when he only finished 7 of 18 races, or his 10 out of 17 last year. A lot were not his fault but he’s got a knack for driving for teams when they’re really unreliable.

Felipe Massa made good on the first 2 races. He’s very fast. Needs more consistency. Wonder what advice Michael Schumacher is giving him.

Kubica did very well to secure his and BMW’s first pole position, great finish.

Kimi not so much into pomegranate fruit drink as a Champaign substitute on the podium, as expressionless finishing second as he is when he wins - my pick for the title again this year.

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The Difference A Catalytic Converter Makes

You may remember I recently bought an MR2 off of Craigslist for a project car. Just because I’ve always wanted one like it and plan to restore it to original condition. The engine and gearbox are in decent shape and the body is straight, no rust or accidents. But it’s a little rough around the edges.

So the first thing that had to be done was an inspection. It passed the safety inspection without issues. But then it failed the emissions inspection. All the readings were high, even the passing ones. But the car failed the CO% test. I’ve never had a car fail inspection before. Take a look at the chart below.

On the rolling dyno it failed at 15 mph for emitting too much CO. I gave it a minor tune up, came back a week later and it failed again. Same problem (there are two failed reports but I only posted one since they were nearly identical). So I had the catalytic converter changed and re-inspected the following week. It passed.

Not only that lo and behold the emissions were much lower across the board. HC was reduced by about 80%, CO by about 98%, and NO by about 87%.

Catalytic converters make a huge difference in emissions. In this case driving around with a bad one pollutes as much as five or more cars. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to inspect emissions in more areas.

The next emissions inspection on the MR2 is due in two years. I’ll see at that time how the cat holds up, and if the engine has been doing anything unusual (seems to be fine).

Here’s more info on catalytic converters:

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April 1, 2008

Retractable-Stud Tire

Great idea. I've worked with tire chains and have seen other inventions designed to improve snow traction. This is a really interesting product from a company called Q Tire.

Apparently it operates using two air chambers. One is to contain the regular tire air, the other is for pressurizing the studs and forcing them out. The secondary chamber is pressurized using air from the main chamber. When the studs are retracted the air in that second chamber is released to the atmosphere. The company claims this can be done 20 to 30 times before the main chamber needs have air added. The idea behind using these all-weather tires is to eliminate the need for having two sets of tires and wheels, and not having to fiddle with changing them.

The significance of this is not just the retractable studs but that these tires can actively change shape and alter their traction characteristics. Think of what the implications are for traction and handling in the future.

What we’re seeing here is the potential for active tires in the future offering levels of control well beyond what has so far been attained. Very cool indeed.

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The Growing Need For Driverless Cars

Police in Tokyo, Japan are encouraging elderly motorists to turn in their driver's licenses. As the population ages there are increasing safety risks to the public from drivers who are not as capable as before.

According to Automotive News:

While overall traffic accidents have declined 20 percent in the past six years, according to police, accidents involving drivers over 70 have surged 35 percent.

Though driverless cars are some time away it's clear that their availability would help improve safety, increase mobility for certain segments of the population, and ease the burden of congestion. I wonder what the AARP position on this is.

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