Auto Manifesto

July 31, 2009

Intellidrive Workshop

Yesterday I attended the Joint Military/Civilian Workshop on Intellidrive (U.S. DOT program). Intellidrive is intended to reduce vehicle crashes by providing an open communication platform for wireless communication between vehicles and infrastructure elements (V2V and V2I). The vision is to offer 360 degree awareness as well as multi-modal information (buses, trains, etc).

Just a few random notes I picked up along the way:

Congestion is estimated to cost the U.S. economy $78 billion per year.

Twenty-seven percent of police-reported vehicular accidents are intersection collisions.

Using historical traffic data to project future traffice is about 80% accurate (way better odds than the stock market).

Intelligent vehicles that have the capability to communicate with infrastructure and each other would be analogous to data probes. An example given was if most vehicles in a given area started using their windshield wipers, that data could provide a real-time weather report.

One of the presenters, Dr. Luca Delgrossi of Mercedes-Benz, stated that safety is the priority when it comes to intelligent vehicles because the requirements are much more demanding compared to those for providing mobility and convenience functions. If the safety portion is achieved, the other uses will also become available.

More accurate map data would help reduce intersection collisions. So-called regular GPS can predict what road a vehicle is traveling on. More sophisticated GPS would enable pinpointing which lane a vehicle is in.

The difference in lifecycles between cars and cell phones is a huge challenge to bring them together. What's needed are flexible computing platforms in vehicles that can be upgraded to keep pace with changes in communication technology.

Improvements to vehicles by themselves are mostly controlled by the manufacturer. Improvements to the networks of vehicles is dependent on collaboration between multiple stakeholders and manufacturers, which makes the challenge far more complex. It's a classic chicken-and-egg problem.

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July 29, 2009

Schumacher Returns to F1

Incredible news. Seven-time F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher is going to step in to sub for Felipe Massa at Ferrari. The legend is back. The competition will probably be much closer now since he's a little older and no doubt somewhat rusty, and the car is not as dominant.

However, he does have almost a month to prepare and there is no doubt this will be a huge boost to F1 ratings world wide. When Willi Weber, his manager, was quoted as saying he was certain Schumacher would not come back it was probably negotiating posture as well as to reduce the expectations that are certainly high.

F1 2009 may go down as the most memorable season yet.

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Local Motors Open Innovation

This is an open innovation group producing a car based on public input. Great idea. It appears they're doing so on the basis of design (styling) competitions and then doing the engineering in-house, and will farm out production to shops in various locales to produce the vehicles.

This is a good first step to open innovation. Later on it would make sense to draw more expertise from participants and enable them to become more deeply involved with the engineering work. This and the RiverSimple concept are two examples of the inevitable move toward open innovation in the automobile industry.

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Hyundai Highlights

Hyundai is looking to sell the $60k Equus sedan in the U.S. starting in 2011. If that's through its existing dealer network, which seems likely since the stated goal is to elevate Hyundai's image, that will be a huge step up. Remember that Toyota, Nissan and Honda all created separate luxury brands when they moved upmarket.

Meanwhile, Blue Edition versions of various Hyundai models will feature lower weight, lower gear ratios and rolling resistance (not to mention price) to raise their fuel economy ratings. Surprisingly they may eliminate power windows and door locks in these models as a means to save weight and reduce costs.

Source: Automotive News

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Formula 1: Massa's Replacement

Following Felipe Massa's terrible accident in Hungary, all manner of speculation is on the table as to who will be his substitute or replacement (should his F1 career be over).

Michael Schumacher or Fernando Alonso have certainly been mentioned. Schumacher because he's available and a (retired) legend in his own time. Alonso because he's the most complete driver on the grid and has often been rumored to move to Ferrari, the latest being 2010 so it would make sense if he could be released early from his current contract.

Another benefit of having one of these two drivers is that it will light a fire with Kimi Raikkonen. The Kimster will raise his game as he is faced with a new teammate. He needs motivation.

Robert Kubica is also a possibility if there are performance clauses in his contract with BMW, which has decided to pull out of F1 after this year.

For these reasons I would guess the Ferrari test drivers (Marc Gene, Luca Badoer) or a rookie as a sub would be an unlikely choice to replace Massa. This year's silly season is going to be a media frenzy. We'll see.

I'm hoping for a full and speedy recovery.

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July 17, 2009

Kitchen Sink Syndrome

One way to lighten vehicles would be to reduce the extreme conditions they are designed for. Essentially every light vehicle sold in America:

Is capable of a coast-to-coast drive any time.
Can climb any paved hill or grade.
Has a lot of extra engine size and power for peak acceleration
Has power-everything (think of all the extra motors, wires, controls, switches, and potential headaches)

The more variables involved the greater the challenge. Yet, quite a bit of it is not necessary.

For example, cars these days are designed to carry a lot, for those occasional trips to home improvement or appliance stores, though they're usually driven with little or no cargo. One example I can recall are the ads for the GMC Envoy XUV a few years back which showed it could carry a refrigerator upright in its cargo area. How many owners actually did that? It's an irrelevant design compromise.

The same could be said of all these large pick up trucks. They're often marketed as being able to haul 4' x 8' sheets of lumber or wall board. That's great if they're used as work vehicles, but how many are actually used that way?

If people were more diligent, and recognized (and acted on the fact) different tools were better for different tasks, cars would be very different.

It's like pushing a full tool set around everywhere you go when you only use 3 screwdrivers 90% of the time. This results in a false sense of security and self-sufficiency, and it's quite evident in the number of SUVs driving around with only one person inside. It's all rather foolish.


42 MPG, Not That Hard

Been on vacation for a while. Drove my Mom to upstate New York to visit family friends. We took her '04 Corolla. My Mom has driven Corollas for a long time. She buys one new, drives it into the ground and then repeats the process. It takes a long time.

I drove the whole way and averaged 42.4 mpg, using 18.3 gallons of 87 octane gas over 776 miles. Much of the time the air conditioning was on and the weather was great. Tire pressures were 32 psi, ambient temperature about 75-80 degrees F, humidity fairly low (probably about 30% to 40% max), and cruising speeds in the 60 to 65 mph range.

The car is pretty good for the money. It's a real car that can be found anywhere - not experimental or far fetched in any way. Amazingly, it only cost $1,000 more than the same model my Mom bought 10 years before. Much of this cost containment was achieved by using lower grade materials (interior trim, upholstery, etc). The older model had 4 wheel independent suspension, this one has a rear beam axle. You notice these things.

The ergonomics border on terrible, and the Corolla chief engineer alluded to this when the 2009 model debuted. The steering wheel is too far forward and does not telescope. It does now on the new model. The seat also left my backside numb after an hour or two. There's also a lot of buffeting when behind large vehicles at speed.

It's hard to believe that Toyota could nail it for so many years and then not do such a good job on this one. But overall it is still a good value. The car has been bulletproof as far as reliability.

A Prius is easily $7k more. Unless you drive a lot and fuel prices rise astronomically (to about $9/gallon, assuming 50 mpg for a Prius, 40 mpg for the Corolla, 15k miles/year, and you keep each for 10 years) you will never actually save money.

Automakers could probably gain another 10% in mpg for $1,000 or less. Here's what I would consider:

1. Lower seats and roof to reduce frontal area and aero drag. Everything else constant, a 2 inch height reduction would cut drag about 3% to 4% (likely about 1.5% to 2% mpg improvement).

2. Cooler glass and less of it. AC could then be downsized, and it wouldn't have to work as hard to cool the cabin.

3. More gears. Everyone's already doing this. Four speeds is not sufficient for keeping the engine in its sweet spot over rolling terrain at speed.

4. Predictive cruise control. Cruise control is pretty efficient compared to humans. It would be even more effective if the driver could set a speed band (maybe 5-7 mph) and GPS could let it figure out how to anticipate road grades.

A 10% improvement in fuel economy and $1,000 price premium would result in break-even on savings when fuel is at $2.94/gallon or higher, given the above example with the Prius. It almost makes financial sense at this mpg strata. It would definitely be positive for vehicles in the 25 mpg range.

By the way, this reminds me of my '89 Civic hatchback in college, one of the best handling cars I ever drove. It had a 5 speed manual, enormous trunk space, and it rarely returned LESS than 40 mpg.

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July 8, 2009

Raise the Fuel Tax Already!

Raising the fuel tax gradually and consistently would be so much more effective at curbing consumption and enhancing technical/economic stability than all these political "solutions" such as the CAFE standard. The CAFE standard doesn't even have to be rescinded, just not increased further.

The solution is really simple (though no politician is likely to have the courage or support to propose it). Take the national average gasoline price for the year to date. Make that the minimum gasoline price everywhere in the country.

Then add a modest (e.g. $0.05/gallon tax). Then every quarter going forward add another 0.5% to 1% to the tax, adjusted for inflation.

The price is never permitted to fall below the minimum (unless you want to see a run on gasoline). The same could be done for diesel. Use the tax revenue to fund roads, bridges, and ways to further reduce oil dependency.

This way the cost of gasoline will eventually outpace inflation but in a gradual way that companies and consumers can actually plan for, rather than the crapshoot of price speculation and wild swings.

Here are couple of food-for-thought articles:

China Raises Fuel Prices, Fuel Standards Are Killing GM

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July 7, 2009

Kart Racing @ Summit Point

Here's how I spent part of the 4th of July:

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July 2, 2009

"Cash For Clunkers" Rulemaking Published

I don't believe in conspiracies. Except for this one. The Government comes up with the acronyms first, and then chooses words that will fit. How else do we explain words that say little except for the cute little acronyms they form hmmm?

The summary of the "Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act of 2009" and notice of upcoming rulemaking proceeding was published today. NHTSA, in conjunction with EPA, is to have everything ready by July 24th.

In a nutshell, trade in your old gas guzzling car or truck (must have been manufactured after mid-1984) toward a brand new one that guzzles a little less and get a $3,500 to $4,500 discount off the new one, as long as the sticker is under $45,000.

Your old vehicle will be shredded or crushed to get it off the road. You will need to have owned and insured/registered it for at least the past year to be eligible. The details are laid out on the last page of the PDF below.

Overall this will probably reduce pollution somewhat and give a slight nudge toward alleviating the recession.

Source: NHTSA (Txt, PDF)

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July 1, 2009

RiverSimple Open-Source Hydrogen Car

Key points of the press release indicate the car is powered by a 6 kW fuel cell (8 hp) and that it is networked with ultracapacitors, to absorb energy from regenerative braking (a la F1 KERS).

However, as I previously said, whether hydrogen-powered vehicles can be successfully commercialized at this point is debatable, but I am convinced the concept of open source automotive development and (more) localized or decentralized production is definitely going to take off.

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Electric Vehicle Plug Standard Coming In July?

SAE J1772 is supposedly going to ballot for this month for final approval. This would be a good move toward standardization of infrastructure and hardware. The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) process typically takes a few years for completion
of a standard or recommended practice so the outcome is generally well vetted by the industry.

Source: AutoBlogGreen

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Green GT Prototype Race Car

Great stuff. Electric racing cars. They still have limitations with range, and to some extent weight, but they are definitely coming along. With FIM's announcement that it will be running an electric motorcycle racing series we will, the recent TTXGP, and now a number of other events things are looking up for EVs even in this economy.

Greent GT has tested their car at Circuit Paul Ricard in France. The car is named the Twenty-4.... for 24 Volts?

Source: AutoBlogGreen

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Driver Training Idea

Following up on my previous post, an emergency situation is no time to learn how to handle it. Drivers should be trained ahead of time how to deal with evasive maneuvers in safe, controlled conditions. Maybe this has been done before, but I'm
not aware of it.

We've all seen a lot of bad driving. If manufacturers (or dealerships) offerred safety clinics or driving classes they could help enhance public safety and bring more traffic to their showrooms.

Hyundai is guaranteeing fuel prices for a year. A few manufacturers will subsidize your car payments if you lose your job. How about manufacturers teaching people to drive better while providing them a chance to test drive the cars?

This might work well if done in conjunction with a motor club (AAA) and an auto insurer. Maybe those who successfully complete the program could also get a discount on their insurance rates?

Just a thought.

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Safety Rulemaking & Research Priorities

The Natinoal Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a request for comments (due Aug. 31, 2009) on its Safety Rulemaking & Research Priority Plan 2009-2011. Here are a few interesting insights gleaned from the report.

In 2007 there were more than 6 million police-reported crashes in the U.S., over 41,000 people were killed, 2.5 million injured, and it is estimated the cost to society was $230 billion (about $750/person).

Four types of crashes account for 85% of all fatal crashes, as well as 75% of all road fatalities (presumably including pedestrians?):

Run-Off-Road (23%)
Rear-End (28%)
Lane Change (9%)
Crossing Path (25%)

Makes sense. The higher the speed and/or directional difference between objects in a collision, the greater the risk.

Light trucks present a higher fatality risk than passenger cars in frontal crashes with other motor vehicles (37% and 32% of fatal crashes, respectively).

Light trucks also present a significant fatality risk in non-collision rollovers, "accounting for 23 percent of crash fatalities."

This will not be helped by CAFE standards which is assessed in part on vehicle footprint, which is based on track width and wheelbase and thus encourages larger overhangs. This reduces vehicle stability compared with placing wheels at the furthest corners of the vehicle.

Crash avoidance programs are the highest priority at NHTSA as they offer the greatest benefits.

Source: NHTSA (Text, PDF)

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Out-of-the-Box Aston-Martin

AM has explored a number of distinctive avenues since Dave Richards and Prodrive have taken over the reins. First there was the Rapide, the first A-M 4 door. Then the London bus project, the Lagonda SUV, and now a city car.

The city car is based on the Toyota iQ's underpinnings. Automotive News reports A-M will not actually make any changes other than interior trim and a new fascia; no mechanical changes. The company plans to build 2,000 units a year and sell first
only to existing clients.

The article alludes to this being a means by which A-M can raise its average unit fuel economy. Talk about unintended regulatory consequences. If that's true it will also raise the total A-M footprint.

In light of the macro picture, the goal should be to reduce the carbon footprint of real A-M cars, even if only a modest amount. That would produce a better environmental outcome by far.

Source: Automotive New (subscription required)

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