Auto Manifesto

May 29, 2009

F1 2010 Rules & Budget Cap Resolved

The 10 current teams racing in Formula 1 are members of FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) and had been in dispute with the FIA over the rules for next season which involved a 40m Euro budget cap and a two tier rule structure which provided budget capped teams numerous advantages over the teams that did not accept the cap.

There was a huge row over the changes resulting in all FOTA teams refusing to enter unless changes were made. Williams GP was the first team to cave in and lodge its entry for next year ahead of today's deadline. FOTA promptly suspended (temporarily) the team's membership.

The remaining teams are expected to lodge their entries today as a result of negotiations which saw the two tier rule structure dropped and the budget cap raised and postponed. It is believed the 2010 budget cap will be 100m Euros per team, and that it will be reduced to 45m Euros in 2011.

New teams Prodrive (to be rebranded Aston-Martin in 2012), Lola, and US Grand Prix Engineering (USGPE) have also filed entries for the 2010 season. Thus we may have 26 car grids next season. Any more and pre-qualifying would be needed for each race.

How the budget cap will be enforced is still a mystery.

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Nanolaminate Materials

Modumetal is profiled in the May 2009 edition of Inc. Magazine. The company is developing a new technology for making metal alloys at the molecular level, stronger and lighter than steel. The process for making these materials involves "growing" parts in an electrochemical bath, where the finished part is created in only one manufacturing step.

Plans call for eventually using these materials in automobiles. Interesting.

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Chrysler Seeks $448m In Hybrid/EV Funding

Specifically, its seeking to build a test fleet and establish annual production capacity of 20,000 electric vehicles. The proposed test fleet includes 100 hybrid pick ups, 100 hybrid mini vans, and 165 electric cargo mini vans for the US Postal Service.

The money would in be matching funds, meaning Chrysler puts up half the amount and the Government funds the other half. More info here.

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Lutz Wants Permanent Gov Auto Task Force

Automotive News reports Bob Lutz (GM Vice Chairman, possibly next in the firing line if it weren't for his upcoming retirement) is calling for a more permanent form of the automotive task force, to establish ongoing dialogue with the automakers and help the industry become more competitive through fuel economy regulations, trade rules, and currency issues. He claims these are advantages that Asian manufacturers receive through their governments. No mention of European (German) companies who've also taken significant US marketshare.

That's all fine and dandy. But this is another clear indicator that Detroit hasn't learned its lesson (Bob, it's not them. It's Detroit). In a free market economy the most successful companies produce the best cars, cars that the market wants in sufficient quantities. GM and Chrysler haven't done enough, and aren't doing enough. Calling for more government assistance in the form of trade protection is not going to improve the product.

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Federal Government To Invest $30b In GM

In an effort to get bondholders to agree to terms, the Federal Government is willing to invest a further $30b in GM, on top of the nearly $20b it's already funded.

So far it seems the Government is going to own 72.5% of GM, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union's trust fund will own 17.5% (with a possible 2.5% increase in its stake later), and the bondholders (who hold $27b in GM debt) are expected to receive the remaining 10%, with warrants to buy an additional 15% share at a later date.

Current stockholders would essentially see their investments rendered worthless as GM is nationalized. They would also likely get nothing should the company file for
bankruptcy protection.

No word yet on whether GM will file bankruptcy.

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May 28, 2009

Argonne Lab UltraCap & Battery Project

Argonne National Labs is working with project partners to combine ultracaps and lithium-ion batteries to optimize performance for range and power, and strategies for controlling capacitor state of charge (SOC).

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No Takers On Dodge Viper Operation

Automotive News reports Chrysler has no buyers lined up for the Dodge Viper operation, tooling, and plant at the asking price of $10m. Certainly the economic situation is not helping but there is no doubt that Chrysler spent many times that amount to develop the operation and brand over the past 20 years.

Maybe the cost structure is too high and the break-even point is too high? Perhaps the uncertainty around the survivability of suppliers (especially Chrysler itself) for any would-be buyer is insurmountable. The issue of service and distribution would still be unanswered but there are a number of dealerships losing their franchises with idle facilities...

It would be a big risk, but don't be surprised if someone swoops in and buys the operation for a song, perhaps building a few hundred a year for export markets as well.


HCCI Development

GM continues to work on HCCI (Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition) technology, as explained here by ABG. Apparently the engines can now smoothly run from idle to cruise speeds of 60 mph (maybe about 2500 rpm?). The benefits are about a 15%
improvement in fuel economy, and current engine designs can be adapted rather inexpensively.

Keep in mind, however, that this is a technology that would go well with a series hybrid (aka range extended EV), where the engine "just" needs to do is be able to smoothly and reliably start and reach an efficient operating RPM to generate
electricity. If that were to happen it could increase fuel economy by a lot more. Perhaps we'll see it in the second generation Volt?

GM hopes to reach production with this technology in about 5 years.


VELA Lab Opens In Italy

SAE reports the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) opened the Joint Research Centre (JRC) Vehicle Emissions Laboratory 7 (VELA 7) in Ispra, Italy in March.

The lab can now test heavy vehicles up to 40 feet long on a rolling road dynamometer that can accommodate tandem axles.

Because of this vehicles can now be tested directly instead of removing engine and subsystems and using an engine dyno for testing as in the past.

SAE Article

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May 26, 2009

Here's an interesting write up entitled "An Analysis of 2010 F1 Regulations".

It draws the conclusion that the two tier rules approach so restricts the rules for the teams whose budgets aren't capped that they will be forced to cap their budgets to be competitive. So it would be unlikely there is actually a two tier series in effect. But the existing teams would be forced to make massive cuts in staff and to give up the use of much of their investments (wind tunnels, etc) and thus advantages.

No wonder the existing teams are opposed to the rules for next year.

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May 24, 2009

Monaco Grand Prix Tech Thoughts

Gearboxes and tire degradation were two technical items of interest in the race (which itself was pretty good).

SpeedTV's RPM segment (Racing Per Matchett) with Steve Matchett looked at a 7 speed Red Bull gearbox. The first gear cogs were much thicker than the subsequent 6 gears, the reason being that much more torque is transmitted in the lower ratios, so
the gears must be stronger.

Conversely, reverse gear was much less stout. Even the gear teeth were hollowed out to reduce weight and rotating inertia. And while the ratio for reverse gear is likely even lower than first gear (and therefore transmits even more torque) it
doesn't need to be as stout because no driver is going to do a full power launch in reverse. There's also likely to be electronic controls to prevent such action. So the gear can be made lighter.

The other item is the issue of the requirement to run both tire compounds at some point during the race. This rule should be eliminated. Depending on the track conditions and the available compounds, the rule has often resulted in artificially mixing up the lap times.

For instance, in today's race we saw the Brawns start on the softer compound and the Ferraris on the harder compound. Not a dozen laps into the race the Brawn cars already had tire degradation issues and were losing large amounts of time (over a second/lap) to the cars behind on the harder tires, until they made their first pit stops and changed to the harder compound. Yet the teams that chose to start on the harder tires had to use the softer tires in the closing stages, thus losing time at that part of the race.

Teams and drivers should be allowed to run whichever available compound they want in order to make the best possible racing. The FIA should not try to artificially make the racing more exciting with this rule.

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May 23, 2009

GM Likely To File Bankruptcy Next Week

Multiple outlets are reporting GM may file for bankruptcy next week (CNN for example). Speculation is that the "bad" assets will be cut out and the "good" assets packaged into a new company which would emerge. Automotive News (subscription required) reports GM's bankruptcy plan calls for another $30 billion in Federal loans, bringing the total close to $45 billion.

This begs the question (sort of tongue-in-cheek), why couldn't they just go bankrupt with the debt they already had? Isn't this just trading one mountain of debt for another, with added strings and loss of control?

A lot of people (bondholders, shareholders, dealers, employees and the American public taxpayers to name a few) are getting a raw deal. Is it necessary? No one knows but it IS going to get uglier before it gets better, if it ever does.

It's also interesting that the Chrysler filing was likely a test case (see my earlier post), it's not yet out of bankruptcy, and GM is getting ready to file already. The urgency of the government deadlines is rushing decisions which should be made at a more prudent pace.

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F1 Headed For A Showdown...

And it's not on the track. Ferrari lost their court case this week when seeking an injunction against the FIA's rules (more details here).

They lost not on the grounds of their case, but the fact that they failed to exercise their veto power at a prior meeting with the FIA when decisions surrounding the rule changes (and budget cap) for next season were made. However, the FIA did err in their procedural matters and thus are now also subject to additional legal action.

Yesterday all 10 F1 teams threatened (via FOTA, the Formula One Teams Association) to pull out for next season. FIA president Max Mosley's likely intended outcome for next year was a somewhat higher budget cap than 40m Euros. Maybe 60m or 70m, and one set of technical regulations. The threat of a two tier rule structure and a low budget cap was just posturing.

But the negotiations didn't go as planned once the existing teams realized the proposal would devalue the investments they have made over years, and in some cases decades (Ferrari), and not allow the them to ramp down their spending in a gradual
and orderly manner unless they were subjected to severe technical restritions, while teams that do comply with the budget cap (probably new entrants) would be allowed tremendous technical freedom.

There is no way any sensible outcome would involve Ferrari leaving F1. It is much more likely that a compromise will be reached (e.g. only one set of rules) and/or Mosley will have to leave.

And this still would not resolve the issue of how a budget cap could possibly be enforced in an equitable fashion. It is foolish to believe that accounting rules can be enforced more easily than technical rules.

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May 18, 2009

One Nationwide Fuel Economy Standard

Finally, something rational is being attempted. All along industry has been telling the regulators there needs to be one nationwide standard for emissions and fuel economy. Having multiple standards would be shortsighted and just plain senseless.

The states cannot go off and set their own standards because that will result in a far greater compliance and administrative burden with no clear benefits. Air doesn't stay within state or national borders.

Automotive News and the NY Times (among others) reports that tomorrow the EPA will announce that there will be a single national standard in place for the years 2012-2016. Granted it comes with tough fuel economy standards (basically California's standards - kind of a trojan horse-esque move) but at least everyone will know the rules and be able to get on with the job of actually building cars. Expect a fleet average of 35 mpg in 2016.

The CAFE program is fundamentally flawed (I promise I'll eventually get around to that topic) but this development at least provides some concrete targets for the next several years.

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MerLexus 5 Sedan

I've seen a fair number of Hyundai's new Genesis sedan around lately. If it weren't for the badges I wouldn't know what it was. It looks like a deadringer for a composite of a Mercedes, Lexus, and BMW 5 series. Toss in some BMW 3 series taillights for good measure and there you have it.

Source: Hyundai

The drag coefficient is a claimed 0.27 (slick), though like most other cars these days it's a real porker. The V6 model has a curb weight of 3,748 and the V8 is over the two ton mark at 4,012 lbs.

Still the team behind this car have done a remarkable job. It looks a lot more expensive than it is, has great specifications (available with a 375 hp V8, six speed automatic transmission, 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds, and 25 mpg highway), and is surely going to give established players a healthy dose of competition.

Not surprising then that it took North American Car of the Year honors. This could be as much of a game changer as the original Lexus LS400 was in 1990.

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OBD II Diagnostics

A few weeks ago the check engine light in my Mom's car came on, which was unusual. It's a 2004 Toyota Corolla with less than 100k miles. My Mom has had 3 of these cars over the past 20-some years; they last forever and are extremely reliable.

This model, though, has been less than stellar. It hasn't been unreliable, but there are a number of noticeable flaws relating to the design and materials. But I digress.

Anyway, there were no noticeable problems with the car's performance, and the engine light went off by itself within a few days, before she could get it to a service shop.

So I borrowed a colleague's OBD II diagnostic tool (by Innova; see and plugged it in to see if any problem codes were recorded. OBD II has been required by the EPA on all U.S. market light vehicles since 1996. There's a basic group of error codes required for emissions purposes. Then each vehicle manufacturer can also include its own codes beyond that for additional diagnosis.

In this instance 3 generic codes were saved, all pertaining to the fuel system. Prior to this I had already checked if the gas cap was on tight. If the seal is not tight it could also trigger the light. It's also possible that the seal is no longer effective but I suspect that the error codes were false signals. So I cleared them from memory and will revisit the issue if it pops up again.

Got to experiment, learned some new things and saved my Mom some money. This is pretty neat stuff.

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May 13, 2009

Job Openings At Brammo

Brammo, maker of the Enertia electric motorcycle, has two job openings, presumably in Oregon. One for a Corporate Controller, the other for a Mechanical Engineer. Best Buy is also going to start selling the Enertia this month on the west coast.

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Ferrari (Maybe) Out of F1 in 2010

The board of directors has issued a statement that Ferrari will not participate in Formula 1 in 2010 if the recently passed two tier rules are not rescinded. Renault followed suit. And Toyota and Red Bull have both previously stated that they would do so as well. For once hopefully the teams (FOTA) can stick together and prevail.

These rules would permit teams that abide by a budget cap a host of technical advantages. Teams that spend more than the cap allows would be severely restricted in what they're able to do.

It's simply an unworkable situation. The last thing F1 needs is two classes of cars and to go this far into the year without the rules for next season finalized so the teams can begin designing. Further, how is it possible to enforce such a cap with any significant degree of confidence? It's not.

The constant (and unilateral) implementation of rules that don't enhance the quality of racing (grooved tires from 1998-2008), add to the costs (KERS), and damage the sport, alienating many FIA constituents (ADAC, AAA I believe are two of the biggies) has taken its toll on the sport.

It's time for Max Mosley (and Bernie Ecclestone) to exit. F1 has been run by greed (Ecclestone) and hunger for power (Mosley) for too long. A lot of people are waiting for them to be carted off so more sensible management can be brought in. Their rule changes have generally had the opposite effect of their stated intentions.

Hopefully someone will finally run against and defeat Mosley this fall when he (again) stands for reelection.

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Waste Heat to Electricity

Lots of interest lately in capturing the energy in exhaust heat from internal combustion engines. Converting that energy to useful work makes a lot of sense - if it can be done cost effectively.

Last week I sat in on a presentation by John Fairbanks of the U.S. Department of Energy about thermoelectric applications in vehicles. He estimates a there's enough waste heat generated by a Chevy Suburban (and space under the chassis for the system to fit) to produce up to 800 W of power. Efficiently capturing such energy would enable the vehicle to power accessory loads such as the cooling fans, navigation and entertainment systems, and so forth. This is intended to help enable the "beltless" vehicle in which the engines don't have the parasitic loads they're currently saddled with.

Air conditioning is a big load so there are also proposals to eliminate R134 (a big source of greenhouse gas emissions) and shift to "zone air conditioning", which would blow cool air from individual seating positions. This would only require a fraction of the power needed to cool the entire cabin. So perhaps a thermoelectric generator would have enough power to handle it.

GM, BMW and Rolls-Royce (owned by BMW) are all currently developing such systems and are targeting the year 2012 for production. Something else interesting was said. If the efficiency of such systems reach more than about 35% efficiency, the IC engine could be replaced by an external combustion engine that burned anything, since that would be a more efficient method.

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May 3, 2009

Mercedes Targeting Drag Cd Less Than 0.20

Drag Coefficient (Cd) is a major component of a vehicle's aerodynamic drag. The others are frontal area and vehicle speed. Since speed is up to the driver engineers only have control over Cd x Frontal Area. It is also linear, meaning its impact on drag does not change with speed. Weight is another fuel economy factor, mostly in stop-and-go driving.

Apparently the new E-Class coupe has a 0.24 Cd. Not sure what the frontal area is but it is a medium-large car. As long as the cars don't get much bigger (and the tires too sticky), the drag reductions will result in real fuel economy benefits.

See more here.

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May 1, 2009

Chrysler Goes Belly Up (For A While)

Chrysler has filed for bankruptcy reorganization, in part because bondholders did not accept a Treasury offer of about $2.45 billion for their $6.9 billion in debts. It would be interesting if some of those creditors had insurance policies on those
bonds that would pay them more in case of default than the Treasury offer.

Anyway, this isn't the end. Chrysler will be reorganized and come out and "merge" with Fiat. The UAW membership has overwhelmingly accepted wage and benefit concessions (considering how that's much preferable to not having jobs). In the
mean time, Chrysler will slash its dealership network to match its reduced output and sales. And output for the next 30 to 60 days is going to be zero as it idles all of its assembly plants. I don't think the market is going to miss those cars
that are not produced.

After the reorganization, Bob Nardelli will also exit as CEO and the company can figure out how to start paying back the loans from Uncle Sam. This is sort of a short preview of what GM might eventually go through. Sort of like a test case
without a merger partner. More details will follow in the coming weeks.

It's kind of like an alcoholic going to rehab after getting divorced before getting married again. When he comes out he's going to be bossed around (guided) by his new second wife and living on the payments from Uncle Sam. And there's still no guarantee that he won't fall off the wagon.

But he'll have a lot fewer debts, his ex-wife won't even make him pay alimony so long as he goes away, and maybe he'll have fewer other creditors as well. Except for Uncle Sam wanting his money back. Then eventually the couple will have kids and, with any luck, the kids will turn out to be far better than the ones from his previous marriage.

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