Auto Manifesto

June 29, 2009

Daytime Running Lamps Will Not Be Required

Back in 2001 GM had petitioned NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) to require vehicles to be equipped with daytime running lamps (DRL). It took a while but today the agency published a denial of the petition.

Here's the official summary:

This document denies a petition for rulemaking submitted by General Motors on December 20, 2001. The petitioner requested that the agency amend the Federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) on lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment to require the installation of daytime running lamps on passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks, and buses that have a gross vehicle weight rating under 4,536 kilograms (10,000 lbs). NHTSA has reviewed the petition and performed an extensive analysis of real world crash data. Based on the results of our study we were unable to find solid evidence of an overall safety benefit associated with daytime running lamps and are therefore denying the petition for rulemaking. The agency maintains its neutral position with respect to the safety benefits from the use of daytime running lamps.

Links to full document: Text and PDF formats.

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June 26, 2009

NHTSA Roof Crush & Foot Print Workshop

June 25th - Attended a workshop organized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), part of the US Department of Transportation. Two topics were covered: Revised FMVSS Roof Crush standard 216a and calculating vehicle "footprint" for fuel economy purposes.

This is basically wheelbase x track width. The presentation was about the specifics of how they determine each vehicles "footprint".

Then it was off to the compliance lab. No pictures were allowed, but the lab's web site has some. Look under standard 216 of this page:

A new Honda Fit was tested (and destroyed) at yesterday's event. Held up pretty well. The standard now requires vehicles under 10,000 lbs GVWR to be able to withstand 3 times their unladen weight while allowing for no more than 127 mm (5 inches) of platen (the rectangular plate used to crush the roof) travel and a maximum force of 222 Newtons (50 lbs) of head contact on the head form (like a test dummy).

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Rising Star: Hyundai

A good article that highlights some of the moves that have made Hyundai a sales success in light of the downturn. Notice that John Krafcik, (acting?) CEO of Hyundai Motor America was on the research team behind the groundbreaking book "The Machine That Changed the World".

Here's the link:

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Will Max Mosley Ever Go Away?

Pitpass reports he's now threatening to renege on the FIA deal with FOTA earlier this week.

Mosley continues to demonstrate that he is shrewd in arcane procedural matters and yet completely foolish and reckless with the big picture - which is a particularly bad combination when it comes to leadership. Every day he is in office at the FIA, Formula 1 is further damaged in the eyes of the public due to the needless politicking.

The public wants to see good racing, not a combative megalomaniac calling all the wrong shots (e.g. grooved tires, KERS, $48m F1 bond for new entrants to prevent independent teams, budget cap, 100 year license of commercial rights to Bernie Ecclestone's firm, and on and on).

He is trying to cling to power for its own sake and without regard for the good of the sport. I doubt he was ever in it for the love of the sport. He has only been interested in one thing and that is power, for which he has corrupted the organization (FIA) in his quest for absolute control. Good thing it was only F1 and not a country bearing in mind his disgraceful history:

For a lot of F1 fans the day can't come soon enough when he's shown the door and helped out of it.

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June 16, 2009

Hybrids On the Hill

Last week I went to a Hybrid Truck exhibit and briefing near Capitol Hill organized by HTUF (Hybrid Truck Users Forum). On display were about a dozen trucks for various vocations (refuse trucks, school buses, delivery vans, and a long-haul truck
tractor) featuring technologies we've read about. These included electric and hydraulic hybrids, not only for the propulsion but also for auxhiliary loads.

These make the most sense in stop-and-go applications. Every time a vehicle comes to a stop, kinetic energy is converted into another form. Traditionally vehicle brakes have done so by converting that energy into heat and dissipating it to the
atmosphere, a process that wastes a lot of energy.

What a hybrid system does, whether electrically, hydraulically, or in some other means, is capture that energy for later use.

In some of these trucks that energy can be used for propulsion as well as for PTO (Power Take-Off), such as powering the hydrualic ram in a refuse truck, power tools at a work site or the lift bucket for power crews. This work can be done using stored energy rather than idling the engine to produce the power.

Hybrid electric trucks use the same operating principles as those of most hybrid cars. They capture braking energy and convert it into electricity, which is stored in batteries (or capacitors).

On the other hand, hydraulic hybrid trucks capture braking energy via a hydraulic pump and two connected accumulators (tanks which store hydraulic fluid under pressure). One tank is a low pressure tank, the other a high pressure one. When the vehicle slows, the pump forces more fluid into the high pressure tank, increasing the stored energy for later use (see the Parallel Hydraulic Hybrid diagram).

To my knowledge, the vehicles on display were parallel hybrids and the sense was that series hybrids are on a longer time horizon [correction: the UPS parcel delivery van present was a series hybrid, thanks Eric].

The main issues with implementation, of course, are reliability and Return-On-Investment (ROI). These vehicles have yet to be deployed in large numbers so there are questions about how they'll perform in the real world, if they'll deliver the
expected benefits. Further, because of the low production volumes the costs are still considerably more expensive than conventional vehicles.

It's a classic challenge. That's why it's important for policy makers to help make the hump smaller and encourage industry to find the answers to the two questions above.

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Growing Interest In Open Innovation

While the technical aspects of the RiverSimple car are certainly relevant, the most interesting thing about this story is the idea of open innovation, allowing independent companies to lease (license) the intellectual property.

Several organizations and companies are proponents of "open source" automobiles, and I believe it is an idea whose time has come.

However, there may be segments where it would be more appropriate than the common OS target which is mini cars and basic transportation.

Source: AutoBlogGreen, AutoCar

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Tire Rolling Resistance Ratings

An interesting attempt to identify and quantify light vehicle tire rolling resistance is underway in California. The Federal government is also working on its own method. In principle this is a good concept but, depending on the rules, I'm sure it could result in a slew of unintended consequences such as gaming of the rules at the expense of safety or durability.

Remember, if you can save a bit on mpg but tire degradation (life) occurs more quickly than perhaps it is not environmentally more sound. These aspects need to be accounted for.

Sources: AutoBlogGreen, Modern Tire Dealer

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June 15, 2009

Hitachi Improves EV Batteries

Hitachi is now up to the 4th generation of its lithium ion batteries. They are claimed to be 50% more powerful than the current version, and will be shipping samples to automakers this fall for evaluation. The company hopes to have them in mass production circa 2013.

Earlier this year GM ordered 100,000 battery packs from Hitachi for hybrid vehicles.

Source: Automotive News

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Is GM Learning Disabled?

An article in Automotive News reports GM has been working on a project for four years to standardize the designs of its factories so that it can build vehicles of the same architecture anywhere, reduce costs and actually turn a profit. Furthermore, it projects the plan will be 82% complete by 2012. GM calls the concept "interbuildability."

We call it "obvious". That's what their competitors have been doing for decades. McDonald's figured it out in the 1950s. Michael Gerber wrote a book about it (The E-Myth Revisited), and millions of copies have been sold. It's not a secret.

This is another example of GM's idea du jour. Now just wait for them to botch up the execution of the plan and try something else. GM should just stop talking and concentrate on doing things right.

Source: Automotive News

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Continental Apps Store

Continental is developing an open software architecture called AutoLinQ, based on Google's Android software stack for mobile devices, to enable 3rd party suppliers to create applications for its telematics systems. These would be downloaded into vehicles by customers themselves.

Possible applications include navigation, entertainment, and social networking. How about car alarms? Or maybe apps to reduce driver distraction? Ummm... yeah.

Source: Automotive News

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Ken Okuyama Design Opens New Office

Ken Okuyama Design has opened a third design office. In addition to locations in Tokyo and Turin, Italy the firm has opened a studio in the former Mercedes-Benz premises in Irvine, California (also home to Saleen).

Ken Okuyama is a former Ferrari designer and design chairman at the Art Center College of Design in California. Maybe he'll follow Fisker and produce an upscale hybrid or electric car? AVL (Austrian powertrain engineering company) is also opening a systems engineering test lab in So Cal.

Source: Automotive News

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Coulomb Technologies Electricity Cost Estimate

The company, which makes electric vehicle charging stations, estimates the cost of electricity at about half the cost of the equivalent amount of gasoline, which is the most reasonable estimate I've yet seen.

There weren't any further details, but if you remember, based on my calculation of gasoline at $3/gallon, my own electric bill and assumed electric propulsion efficiency of twice gasoline propulsion, electricity is about 1/3 the price of gasoline.

Having said that, I am a staunch supporter of electric cars and I am convinced it is the way of the future. But a reality check is that claims that some parties have made that you can drive 40 miles for a dime or two are greatly exaggerated.

Source: Automotive Engineering, May 2009 (P. 22)

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Congestion Pricing Pitfalls

The ITS community has been a strong proponent of Smart Roads, which would provide drivers with real time information to help traffic flow and improve safety. We've started to see the fruits of these efforts in the form of dynamic signs that indicate traffic conditions.

In some places there are now dynamic speed limits based on the time and day. There are also plans in some areas to implement congestion pricing along certain routes to help reduce congestion by making travel more expensive during peak times.

The future potential of these systems is staggering, and they will provide an eventual pathway to autonomous vehicles (see previous posts, Part 1 and Part 2).

The question though, is how might unintended behaviors manifest themselves? Parking problems? More stress? Gaming of the system? These could negate any intended benefits.

For example, many airports have improvised waiting areas. That is, drivers pull over prior to the airport entrance, park and wait, rather than pay to park. They subvert the system.

The question about congestion pricing is how might motorists respond? It may be in ways that were not at all expected, which could negate the intended benefits.

Could it result in less on-road congestion but more drivers parking at peak hours? More accidents as drivers rush to reduce their tolls? Would this cause more stress than it reduces?

If implemented, will it produce the desired outcomes with minimal undesired side effects? I'm not saying it won't work, but congestion pricing is so complex and specific to the area where it is applied that it should be thoroughly tested and proven.

Source: Automotive Engineering, May 2009 (P. 20)

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Quote of the Week

...we're seeing an unprecedented intrusion into corporate America by the executive branch of the government, without oversight by anyone. That's wrong.

Keith Crain, Publisher and Editor-In-Chief
Automotive News
June 8, 2009

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June 11, 2009

Koenigsegg To Acquire Saab

Turns out Koenigsegg is the winning bidder for GM's Saab unit, which filed for Sweden's equipvalent of bankruptcy protection. Koenigsegg is a Swedish manufacturer of (really) high end sports cars. They make about two dozen cars per year.

No word on whether this includes US distribution, if the US dealer network is retained but it would seem likely. And it would also seem likely that there will be sportier Saabs in the future.

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June 10, 2009

Drove It Like He Stole It...

Car Thefts In 2007, compiled by NHTSA: html or PDF formats

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June 6, 2009

Penske Acquires Saturn

This is a huge boost for the 350+ Saturn dealers. As I suggested in December, this was a probable opportunity.

Roger Penske operates the second largest auto dealership group in the country (Penske Automotive Group) as measured by revenue. In addition to the auto group, Penske is also the U.S. distributor of the Smart ForTwo by Mercedes, owner of a
reknown racing team (they've just won their 15th Indy 500 last month), and operates one of the largest truck leasing fleets in the world (over 200,000 trucks). Pretty much the midas touch.

Penske's plan is to import cars based on Renault-designs manufactured by Samsung in Korea starting some time in the 2012 time frame. Until then they hope to continue selling the current most of the current models.

While it's a move GM has to make to focus on its core, it's another case of selling tomorrow for today. Clearly Penske is likely to succeed with the project. Not only that, he's starting with one of the better dealer networks within GM. Saturn has long been known for great service, no pressure sales and no-haggle pricing.

What GM is doing is creating a tough new competitor for itself in a few years (perhaps along with Hummer).

I haven't seen any further mention of the Sky roadster and the Delware plant where it's built along with the Pontiac Solstice. But don't be surprised if Penske picked these to flesh out the future product line as well.

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F1 Ramblings

The showdown is yet to come and FIA president "Mad" Max Mosley may yet prevail. It will likely get ugly.

The FOTA teams submitted their entries as a block with conditions (though it's fragmenting with Williams, and now Force India breaking ranks and entering unconditionally for next year.) The FIA does not have to accept those entries, and thus could bar the FOTA teams from competing in F1 next year.

A number of new teams have announced their intention to enter F1 next year, and the recent Formula 2 arrive-and-drive series (for about 1/5 the cost of GP2) races were succesful. It looks like Mosley's plan may bear fruit.

However, the longer this soap opera drags on the longer all the teams, FOTA or not, are forced to compromise their preparations for next season because no one knows what's going to happen. The lack of stability is appauling.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel took pole position for the Turkish Grand Prix after being fastest in all three qualifying sessions. Teammate Mark Webber was 4th so the car has definitely improved, and the Brawns were also very competitive in 2nd and 3rd. Ferrari is climbing back toward the front (6th and 7th), while McLaren lost the plot.

Lewis Hamilton failed to make it out of Q3 as the car was very nervous. While McLaren still have Pedro de la Rosa as test driver to help develop the car, they are now being outpaced on occasion by Force India to whom they supply engines.

Hamilton is extremely fast and usually makes blistering starts, but it's clear that he does not now possess the added dimension for developing a car in the way that Prost, Senna, Schumacher and Alonso could. When things don't go well he is no
more competitive than other drivers that have not received the kind of accolades or backing that Hamilton has enjoyed. He is now paying his dues after having the path to F1 paved with a red carpet, and the climb is that much steeper. I'm not convinced he's got the will to do it.

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June 1, 2009

Why Racing Belongs On Track

Some people call it racing. Some people call it sport. Lots of people are calling this a farce these days with all these shenanigans that have little to do with racing.

The sorry state of Formula 1 rolls on... June 12th might be another day in the long running drama.

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The Day Comes

Too late to short GM. GM filed for bankrupcty protection today citing assets of around $82 billion and debts of $172 billion. Automotive News reports the company employs 92,000 people and supports about 500,000 retirees. Ouch.

The US Government will provide an additional $30 billion in financing to keep GM going and will take a 60% stake in the reorganized company, while the United Auto Workers (UAW) will receive 17.5%, the Canadian and Ontario governments 12%, and existing bondholders 10% (60 + 17.5 + 12 + 10 = 99.5%). No mention of that last 0.5%.

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