Auto Manifesto

February 26, 2009

Volta Grand Prix

I've been working on an electric racing kart since 2006. Got it up and running in 2007 and have been developing interest and waiting for better, more cost-effective batteries ever since.

The end goal is a pure electric racing series that can be used as a test bed for EV technology, to bring greater awareness to kart racing, and to enable more people to experience driving an EV.

Following up on yesterday's post about the future of racing, watch the first couple of minutes of the video below. You'll see the electric kart (the blue kart) and get a sense of its performance against a gasoline kart.

Keep in mind that there are a number of reasons why gas kart eventually pulls away. The electric kart has a higher top speed than the gas kart carrying the camera. But the tires are not suited to the slick surface, especially when they're cold. Further, because it's a true racing kart (no bumpers around wheels) I had to be careful around the turns not to touch the walls or any other karts or risk bending things.

But ultimately, if the batteries were able to store a longer charge the kart would outperform this particular gasoline kart. I predict this will soon happen in the near future as EVs go (more) mainstream.

Indoor Kart Racing MeetUp (In the Hotseat With Mike) from Volta Grand Prix on Vimeo

For more pictures and information, visit

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Measuring Tire Temperature In Real Time

Here's an interesting development. Beru has come out with a tire temperature measurement system that measures the actual carcass temperature of the inside of the tire. In the long run, the idea of course is that this technology would benefit passenger vehicle and tire development.

A couple of Formula One teams have tested it and are interested in using it to negate the further testing restrictions imposed on the teams this year, which leads to the time honored question. Does reducing track testing really do anything to reduce expenditures if the budgets aren't capped and the teams can still spend?

Beru isn't going to give these things away for free, and the additional data is going to require the teams to use more manpower to make sense of it all. This is not a criticism of the technology but simply to point out that the net effect of these rule changes is probably to divert budgets to other areas, not reduce them.

The other point of note is that the article implies the 2009 cars seem to have more front grip (same tire sizes). This is probably in large part due to the large front wings and the drastically smaller rear, coupled with more contact area on the now slick tires, having dispensed with the circumferentially grooved tires of the past eleven seasons. Expect cars with more oversteer (i.e. tailhappy) this coming season.

Here's the article:

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February 25, 2009

Racing Will Scale Down to New Heights

Think about the problems faced by motorsport. Falling sponsorship revenue. Skyrocketing costs. Environmental issues, real and perceived. The sum of those issues results in an activity that is unsustainable. It simply can't remain that way and survive. Witness the radical adjustments being made by Formula 1 and NASCAR, the two biggest series in the world.

The future of racing lies not in expanding to more and larger race tracks that can accommodate a hundred thousand fans traveling from far away to attend. It's not in increasing team budgets to hundreds of millions of dollars per year. It's not in jetsetting around the world tons and tons of freight in order to put on a show. And it's not in counting on hundreds of millions of people tuning in to watch a few dozen cars race at the same time on TV.

The future of racing is in smaller events and smaller venues. Compared with today it will cost just a fraction of current budgets to put on a show. These events will take place closer to where the fans live. There will be more drivers and more participation, and more opportunities for exposure when combined with new media.

And the action will be even better. Check out this action packed on-board video from one of my club events (turn up the volume):

More video and pictures are available here:

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Electric Racing Is Almost Here

The future of racing is clear. In order to maintain relevance and to serve as a testbed for future technologies it has to explore alternative power. As we've seen with the American Le Mans Series, Formula 1, and IndyCar there are existing efforts
heading down the path of hybrid power and alternative fuels.

The one thing that does not yet exist in circuit racing (no pun intended) is a pure electric series. West Race Cars and KleenSpeed have joined forces to build a car that is intended for that type of racing.

Right now electric doesn't seem to be competitive with internal combustion counterparts for long periods due to battery limitations. But depending on how the events are formatted, the actual performance of electric race cars in terms of lap
times could be very competitive.

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Electrifying Bicycles

This could be just the thing to encourage a large number of people to try bicycling as a means of transportation. The concept of changing a wheel and installing the wireless controller is brilliant. The conversion and weight couldn't get much simpler than that.

It will likely be easier to install the electric drive system than it is to assemble a regular bicycle with a derailleur, chain, and cranks.

And with the option of having both wheels equipped with such a system, if use could be sequenced such that one was only powered up after the other, the range might almost double (45 mile range?).

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February 5, 2009

2009 Washington Auto Show

Two nights ago I attended the SAE Government/Industry reception and Washington DC car show. Here are some notes:

Briefly chatted with Henrik Fisker about racing. He was open to the possibility of racing his cars if a team with sponsorship came to him and wanted to develop a range extended vehicle for racing, particularly the American Le Mans Series. If a company were to do that, imagine how much faster it would drive the development of these types of range extended vehicles. Racing would quickly identify new problems and the solutions needed to overcome them.

The Tesla display had a nice rolling chassis and powertrain on display. The transmission is made by BorgWarner. I only brought my camera phone so the pics aren't great but...

Ford will release a Focus-sized electric sedan in 2011 in conjunction with Magna. It's going to be powered by lithium-ion batteries, an AC motor, a single ratio gearbox, and the batteries will be in the trunk and under the rear seat. The batteries will be air cooled by fans that suck air from the cabin over the batteries and then out the body vents.

The range-extended ENVI (I think that's how they feel about others right about now) Chrysler minivan on display had a neat powerplant - appears to only have two cylinders. It's a great example of downsizing engines for serial-hybrid applications if it works.

This EV pick up with in wheel motors is a monster. I don't buy the whole "no compromises" hype but it is a neat vehicle. A quick peek underneath reveals that there is a solid beam axle with wheel motors on the ends - kind of like a self-propelled barbell, and more ground clearance than if it had a driveshaft. Each motor weighs sixty-six pounds which is quite heavy unsprung mass, but it might ride well nonetheless.

Also, the hydraulic hybrid SUV is here. The powertrain was orginally developed for parcel delivery vans but is now being scaled down for slightly smaller applications. We probably won't see these on small cars until the storage tanks can withstand much higher pressures, but it is an interesting mechanical series-hybrid application. There are no driveshafts and the wheels are driven by hydraulic pumps.

More info at EPA:

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Vehicle Simulation

The future of vehicle emissions testing is going to make use of extensive computer simulation and modeling. Yesterday I attended a National Academy of Sciences meeting on this regarding heavy vehicles. Europe and Japan are both moving forward with simulation and are trying to harmonize simulation platforms (as are companies in the US), from passenger cars to heavy commercial vehicles.

It will advance greatly during the next several years and the effect is going to be twofold. One is that a larger variety of vehicle models and specifications will be available because simulation will enable them to be produced more cost effectively. Secondly, the end user may have to bear more of the environmental compliance burden because vehicle use can be tracked more accurately with more advanced technologies.

Thus not only must the manufacturer produce a product that meets specifications when new, but the end user will be responsible for ensuring the product is used in a way that is consistent with environmental performance over its lifecycle.

Check out PSAT for more info on simulation:

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A Kia Powered by Honda?

Last weekend I took a road trip and rented a car. I was provided with a Kia Rondo, a quirky odd-looking mix of a minivan and station wagon. It was surprisingly roomy inside and had good highway performance. I was also pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful interior which was full of bins and storage compartments

After the trip I looked up the specs and realized it's powered by a 2.7 liter V6. The first thing that came to mind was the original Acura Legend (1986-1990). When I looked up the bore and stroke measurements I found the Rondo engine has an identical stroke (75.0 m) to the orginal Legend, and nearly identical bore (86.7 mm vs. 87.0 mm).

While the Rondo is equipped with a DOHC cylinder head design and the Legend a SOHC, it appears that perhaps the Rondo powerplant is based on the Acura. Did Kia obtain the tooling from Honda and use it as the basis for their design? Perhaps they bought it for a song and subsequently were able to drastically reduce their R&D cost? Might that help explain their low pricing (about $18k sticker price)?

Apparently the second generation Legend was built under license by Daewoo for the Asian market from 1993-2000. I didn't delve deeper into the specs of the engines I mentioned earlier so it could just be coincidence. But it's also quite plausible that Kia bought Honda's old tooling or design and is still making a version of that engine.

Kia Rondo info:

Honda Legend info:

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