Auto Manifesto

October 22, 2008

Too Big To Fail?

Not to be too much of a cynic but see what I meant last week? There's no business case for a GM/Chrysler merger but.... maybe taxpayers will foot the bill.

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October 20, 2008

BMW Mini E Announced

BMW will launch an electric version of the Mini at next month's LA Auto Show. There will be a limited run of 500 units for the US market. The quick stats are that it has a 150 mile range (probably with a lightfoot), has a one speed transmission, and is limited to a top speed of 95 mph.

This is a pure electric. There is no engine. It's also a two seater since the backseat of the gasonline version has given way to a large lithium ion battery pack. The car also gained about 600 to 700 lbs in the conversion from gasoline power, now weighing about 3,200 lbs.

Seems like an interesting city car. Also, it'll come with a quick charging station for home garages which will enable a quick 2.5 hour full charge.

More info here:

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F1 Cost Cutting Measures

The F1 governing body (FIA) is worried about the rising costs of running an F1 team, especially during an economic environment like the one we have now. If another team goes under the grid will be down to 18 cars, which will be a shadow of the 26 cars the grids use to have in the early 1990's. Simply put the show will be in serious jeopardy if one or two teams fail.

So they're proposing all sorts of radical changes during the upcoming few seasons. If every proposal goes through, by the end of it the teams will be buying mostly spec parts and cars to race with.

While the FIA idea that the cost of running a team should be close to the amount of revenue it brings in from its share of the TV broadcast money makes sense, mandating and enforcing that is going to be very difficult.

They're basically proposing standard engines for 2013, as well as standard wheels, brakes, and suspensions in addition to the standard tires already used.

Pretty soon the cars could be a lot like the GP2 cars. The racing will be closer and the drivers more experienced so it should be exciting to watch, which is the most important thing. But then it wouldn't really be Formula 1 with teams building their own cars as now. Here's a link to the supposedly leaked letter:

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October 19, 2008

F1: Chinese Grand Prix

It was a good, clean start. Fernando Alonso gets by Heikki Kovalainen for fourth place. Jarno Trulli and Sebastian Bourdais collide. Lewis Hamilton sets the pace, followed by the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.

I don’t understand why the broadcast team at Speed TV thinks Felipe Massa getting second place to Hamilton’s first would put him in a strong position for the Brazil Grand Prix, the next and final race. Finishing like that he’d be 7 points behind Hamilton.

Ferrari look very strong for the Constructor’s title but the Driver’s title is a whole different matter.

Based on initial pace it looked like Hamilton was light on fuel and Massa not as much. It turns out it was in fact the other way around, which favored Hamilton.

Kovalainen’s right front tire fails and he has to limp it back to the pits. The crew put on a new set and off he goes. He’s on a heavier fuel load than teammate Hamilton but has not been able to keep up.

After the second round of stops Raikkonen (on soft tires) is seen checking his mirrors for Massa (on hard tires). He will in all likelihood let Massa by since he is out of contention for the Driver’s title and Massa is not.

It’s also a possibility that Raikkonen has not pushed Hamilton harder due to having to maintain station to Massa in order to orchestrate a ‘pass’ since team orders are technically not allowed. Ferrari might have chosen to do this in order to maximize team points and limit damage to Massa’s title chances.

With eight laps to go Massa goes by Raikkonen, having steadily gained on him over the preceding 10 laps or so. In the end Kovalainen parks his McLaren Hamilton wins, followed by Massa, Raikkonen, Alonso (Renault), and the BMWs of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica. The Renault has improved tremendously over the course of the season.

Kubica is now out of contention for the Driver’s title, Hamilton leads by 7 points over Massa, and Ferrari leading the Constructor’s title by 11 points with one race remaining.

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October 18, 2008

GM/Chrysler Takeover/Buyout/Merger

A day later and it still doesn't seem like a good idea for GM. This article goes into a little more detail about the cash GM would get from Chrysler's coffers, which would be advantageous in the tight credit environment that currently exists. Let's be real. That $11 billion isn't going to save a company that is burning $1 billion per month, especially after it absorbs another company that's also bleeding. What's that going to buy? Another 6 to 12 months?

It seems like the real end game would be to create a company that has so much impact on the American economy, whether real or perceived, that it would not be allowed to fail. By merging the two they would have further bargaining leverage with governments, suppliers, and dealers, as well as the ability to drastically reduce industry capacity. That would (perhaps) help hasten a recovery by bringing supply more in line with demand.

However, I still think it's a bad idea and that adding two companies in crisis isn't going to result in anything but a big stinking pile of you-know-what.

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F1: Chinese GP Qualifying

Robert Kubica barely made it from Q1 to Q2. With 5 minutes to go he was 17th, the car was in the garage and his mechanics were swarming all over it. Out he went and did the lap he needed.

The McLarens were 1-2, led by Lewis Hamilton. The Ferrari duo were 5th and 6th or thereabouts. David Coulthard was irate with Nick Heidfeld for passing him prior to the start of DC's flying lap, and then coming in. Heidfeld was later demoted 3 starting positions, and rightfully so. But come on DC. Calling it the most unsportsman move ever is just a slight exaggeration.

In Q2 Kimi Raikkonnen went out early on soft tires. My guess is this was to obtain data for the team and title-contender Felipe Massa. Normally they save those tires til the end of the session or for Q3. Kubica was on the bubble near the end and was not able to move into the top 10 as hard as he tried. Teammate Heidfeld did.

In Q3 Hamilton took pole, Raikkonen was second, Massa 3rd, and Fernando Alonso a strong 4th in his Renault.

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October 17, 2008

Chrylser Up For Sale (Again)?

Chrysler, the oft troubled automaker, is rumored to be in merger talks with GM. Why should GM even consider doing such a thing?

As if it didn't already have enough problems of its own, the very idea of taking on a boatload more headaches makes as much sense as trying to teach a pig to fly.

There's no way to sugarcoat it. Chrysler is a basketcase and won't likely survive as an independent. The company makes vehicles the market doesn't want, has too much legacy cost, few products in the pipeline, and most importantly too few paying customers. On top of that the industry already has too much capacity. So there's even less room for mediocrity. It's amazing Chrysler has survived this long. And now it's clamoring for a lifeline.

But why should anyone throw it one? Throwing good money after bad isn't going to turn things around. This is a company that should've died long ago. Now it's a dead man walking.

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October 16, 2008

Gordon Murray Design T-25 City Car

Gordon Murray's firm is finishing the design of their "city" car, the T-25. The firm plans to license the design to other maufacturers. The claims are that the car will revolutionize mobility and drastically reduce lifecycle environmental impact.
So far it certainly seems to have the potential to do so.

I'm not sure how the car could fit in half a lane to allow two to drive alongside one another, but parking and driving all appear to easily meet the claims .

From looking at the silhouette and dioramas it appears that the car could be used as its own container for transit from the factory to destination. It appears that the front end structure could be a module that could be placed inside the vehicle for shipment, and then bolted to the car once delivered.

FYI Gordon Murray is one of the greatest living automotive engineers, an exceptional lateral thinker. His F1 race car designs have won numerous world championships, the McLaren F1 road car he designed in the early 1990's is still one of the greatest cars by today's standards, and his innovations are numerous. The T-25 will surely become one more feather in an already crowded cap.

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Pod Cars

As I've said before, the concept of autonomous vehicle travel makes sense. Personal transportation would be more effective if controlled by computers rather than people. There wouldn't be nearly as much (if any) congestion. It's not a new concept but now the idea is making a comeback in Ithaca, New York (and other places), and it will be interesting to see if the political and cultural barriers can be overcome. Technically it seems quite straightforward:

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Ruf Electric 911

The electric car tidal wave is becoming a tsunami with so many companies jumping into the fray. Things are definitely converging on electricity. We've seen BMW and Mercedes announce hybrid plans, GM is going there with the Volt, Toyota and Honda are already several generations into it.

The main obstacle has been, and still is battery technology. Though with Saft, Panasonic, Johnson Controls, Continental, and many others are working on it, how much progress will be made in the next year or two?

And when those batteries are suitable for automotive use and the technology accessible to niche players, think of how many more companies will be producing electric cars. Tesla is but one of many.

Ruf, the respected German firm that specializes in Porsches, has been working on an electric 911 of its own. So far it's not yet competitive with a gasoline powered 911, but it might just indicate where we are headed and what might be possible not long from now:

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Recapturing Waste Heat

This is an area with a lot of promise. Many attempts have been made to harness the energy content of waste heat. Thus far success has been limited (basically heaters and "grill-while-you-drive" devices). But with increased interest in energy efficiency we'll see more developments in this area, particularly with various energy media. Steam power may yet find new life in mobility. Here's an interesting concept:

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October 12, 2008

F1: Japanese Grand Prix


This was a snoozefest. Not because it wasn’t interesting to watch but watching it live in the E.S.T. time zone was around 1:00 AM so I was dozing off intermittently after a long day.

The first few thing of note was that the green grooves on the tires are a gimmick. Sure it’s part of a larger Bridgestone corporate message about sustainability, but all so transparent. Nothing has changed from the previous races this year as far as F1’s impact on the environment.

The change makes it hard to tell which compound each car is running since ALL the tires have green grooves and the softer tire has a white groove as well, where as the previous convention was that only the softer tire had white grooves while the other tires did not have any color grooves. Plus next year they’ll go back to slick tires.

On a more serious note about tires, since there is no “tire war” because Bridgestone is the only supplier, why do they have to bring custom compounds to each race? It makes the racing less predictable because each team’s performance can be compromised based on the chance that Bridgestone choose specifications that don’t suit their cars, which does nothing to reduce operating expenses.

They should make two compounds of a fixed specification for the entire season and bring that to every event. That way the teams will have a clear and equal starting point from which to design their cars, instead of having to do more and more simulation and testing just to pick which tires to use for each race weekend. Sure, the tires would likely not offer quite as much peak performance but the racing would be closer and that should be the top priority.

Other rules in F1 that should be dropped include the requirement that wing settings from qualifying be subject to “parc ferme” restrictions. It is foolish to compromise race day performance by having to choose the car’s wing settings the day before. Whenever weather conditions change, suddenly the car’s performance will be compromised purely from chance. As long as the teams don’t replace the wings with different components, there should be no problem with wing settings being changed on the grid prior to the race.

Again, qualifying was uneventful. Lewis Hamilton took pole, Kimi Raikkonen was second, followed by Heikki Kovalainen, Fernando Alonso, and Felipe Massa. Massa didn’t deliver when it mattered in this title fight.


At the beginning of the show, Speed TV talks with McLaren about their wheel nuts which are not hexagonal. They adopted a design from Indy car which has many more angles and allows the gun to always fit the nut without any axial alignment by the operator. That probably saves a tenth or two during each pitstop (not to mention reducing risk of error).

Race day temperature was cool at 16 C, we’ll see how that affects tire performance from various teams. The start of the race was chaotic. Raikkonen and Kovalainen made great starts and got by Hamilton, but Hamilton elbowed his way past his teammate and had the inside line to Raikkonen at the first turn.

Hamilton played Kamikaze and overcooked his entry and that forced Raikkonen wide. Both McLaren and Ferrari drivers then went off the track and Alonso was able to take the lead followed by Robert Kubica.

Kubica is the most complete driver on the grid this year. His interview responses indicate he thinks quite methodically and was flexible to track conditions. When Peter Windsor asked him before the race how they’re dealing adapting to the track and tire combination, he indicated how he looked after the tires on different laps (i.e. different driving lines), opened up the differential, and change his steering angles. In other words, he changes the settings and way he drives on different laps to get the best out of the car.

All the drivers do this to varying degrees, but the way that he responds to these questions so naturally suggests that he has tremendous mental capacity to do so under peak pressure and is also a great test driver. More on this later.

David Coulthard and Kazuki Nakajima go off the track and break their cars; Coulthard’s car is done while Nakajima continues back to the pits for a new nosecone. It appeared Coulthard’s right rear suspension was wobbling (broken) all over prior to his impact with the tire wall. The Red Bull car does seem quite flimsy, breaking not for the first time this year, though it’s uncertain what caused the break.

Then Massa and Hamilton make contact and Hamilton spins and has to wait til everyone goes by. It looked to me that Massa was at fault as Hamilton was ahead and had the line.

Adrian Sutil is out on the main straight with a flat tire and parks it but not before leaving debris all over the track. Kovalainen’s engine blows. Then Massa is given a drive through penalty for hitting Hamilton, and Hamilton is given one for his move on Raikkonen at the start. One has to wonder if a drive through penalty at Fuji is much harsher than other circuits because the front straight is so long.

Sebastian Bourdais then leads a grand prix for the first time in his career. Then he pits and comes out while Massa is going by and they make light contact. Massa spins and continues. Raikkonen chases down Kubica and the two have an intense scrap for several laps before Raikkonen’s tires start going away.

Massa is under investigation for the Bourdais incident. It will be investigated after the race. F1 just shot itself in the foot again. When there is ample time to make a decision during the race, the stewards should settle the matter immediately in order to avoid possible penalties being imposed later and changing the results after the fact, as well as raising questions of manipulation of the championship outcome.

Another thing is the debris left from Sutil’s incident should’ve been cleared off. It was left there for the duration of the race and a bunch of drivers ran over bits and pieces while attempting to overtake.

Amazingly Alonso won his second race in a row. Kubica was second and Raikkonen brought it home third. Massa managed to salvage a point while Hamilton scored none in a very eventful race. Neither drove like championship contenders in this race.

Hamilton is a very good driver but he is also super lucky considering the mistakes he has made. He has had virtually no mechanical failures in his entire time in F1.

Having had a very lackluster season and now out of contention for the title, Raikkonen’s body language on the podium says he’s done. The Iceman’s fire appears to be out.

Meanwhile Alonso appears to be on fire even though he too is out of the title chase. When he finally gets a seat at Ferrari there will be epic battles with Hamilton and McLaren.

Ultimately, if there’s one driver who has performed like a champion this year it’s Kubica. He’s fast, intelligent, level-headed, and has made the fewest mistakes – if not diplomatic (easy on publicly criticizing the team Robert).

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