Auto Manifesto

March 25, 2010

DOE Calls BS On V-Vehicles?

The V-Vehicle Company won't be getting government guarantees for low-interest loans to build cars in Louisiana after all.

Why is this company so secretive? My guess it's because there is little substance behind the smoke and mirrors. We've all seen this movie over and over (and over) again with all the hype over so-called green cars.

The idea of building cars that have less of an environmental impact is sound and SHOULD be something the industry focuses on. The problem is that any time you have a paradigm shift that involves large sums of money you get a lot of charlatans, prima donnas and the like.

They promise the moon and the stars and deliver nothing of the sort. In fact, they generally poison the well which has a tendency to ruin it for everyone else.

Anyway, I think the Department of Energy made a good call on this one, cutting losses at $6m rather than potentially blowing $320m+.

The classic list of lines include:

1. The check is in the mail.

2. I'll still respect you in the morning.

3. [Too crude for this blog]

To which we can add:

4. I'll build "x" cars per year which get "y" mpg and will create "z" jobs.

With x, y and z being grossly inflated (and conveniently round) figures of questionable basis.

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March 8, 2010

The Next Big Thing Is About 1.4 Liters

Future engines are getting downsized for cost and environmental reasons. But due to increasing efficiency, there shouldn’t be much if any reduction in performance. Why do with 5 what you can do with 3? Classic engineering progress.

According to this month’s AEI (Automotive Engineering International), Nissan, Chrysler, VW, GM and a number of other automakers will be releasing engines in the 1.4 liter range. These will supplant current engines in the 2.4 liter range, and will feature a variety of efficiency enhancing features such as Direct Injection and turbocharging.

Coupled with more efficient CVT or dual clutch transmissions, or with just more speeds these powertrains will find their way into vehicles expected to return over 40 mpg, in an effort to raise each manufacturer’s fleet average fuel economy above the nominal 2016 CAFE target of 35.5 mpg.

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March 7, 2010

Toyota Problems Compounded By Politics

Let me be perfectly clear. Toyota’s product issues with unintended acceleration are serious safety issues and I’m not downplaying their significance.

However, it is obvious that there is a political undercurrent to the whole debacle that is being amplified by the media that is clouding the true extent of the problems and resulting in even more irrational behavior than normal (panic).

People are losing thousands of dollars trading in their Toyotas. It reminds me of the results of the spike in fuels in 2008, which drove prices of fuel efficient small cars up (e.g. $8k for a mid-90’s Geo Metro).

Here are a few key points to think about.
  • Toyota overtook GM in 2008 to become the sales leader in the US market.
  • Toyota does not have a union workforce in its North American plants.
  • GM is mostly unionized.
  • The Democratic party has the support of the UAW (United Auto Workers).
  • The US Federal government is now the largest shareholder of General Motors (the UAW also holds a significant stake).
  • The US government is controlled by a Democratic administration.

I’m not going to mince words. Every major automaker has recalls, some more serious than others. But the propaganda machine has blown Toyota’s issues all out of proportion.

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A Pedestrian Is Struck - How Did this Happen?

Yesterday morning I had tea with a lady whom I had stopped to help about 6 weeks ago after she was struck by a car while walking across a busy highway. It was remarkable in that she was not seriously injured.

I had been riding my bike to work one drizzly morning when out of the corner of my eye I saw an umbrella on the ground and heard crying. There was a commotion. I stopped. put my bike down and ran over to the scene. People were standing about, a few on the phone to 9-1-1.

A lady was laying on her stomach in the crosswalk in the middle of 3 lanes of traffic, sobbing. I did hear her telling someone her neighbor's address, presumably an emergency contact. Others were tending to her so I helped direct traffic before the police arrived. Route 50 is a major artery in Northern Virginia, and traffic backed up instantly. I could see it was easily half a mile.

Police were very quick, arriving in a matter of about 2-3 minutes after the phone call. Fire and rescue were just another minute or two. Since I did not witness the actual incident, I did not need to stay and give a report.

About a week later I stopped by the lady's neighbor's house to inquire about her condition. I found she had, almost miraculously, been discharged from the hospital the day of the accident, and did not have any broken bones.

Thinking back about the incident, what happened was that she was struck by a left-turning car while crossing the street (see diagram). Since the car had been stopped, it was a low speed incident.

I started wondering about pedestrian airbags. Will they work? I don't know. Perhaps not in this instance, where the pedestrian ends up on the ground in front of the vehicle and not on the hood.

But the actual cause of the accident itself, I think, is because of a number of factors. First, the intersection is a bit tricky. It's a four way with access roads that run parallel to Route 50. On top of that, there are no turn arrows on the cross street, and it's questionable if the "walk" sign was working correctly.

Lastly, I have a theory that newer vehicles have poorer turning visibility due to much thicker A-pillars - a necessity for passing today's roof-crush standards, and to store airbags on some vehicles (the one that struck her was a new crossover SUV). Combine that with the possibility of distracted driving and you have all the ingredients for an accident.

Is it any wonder that we have about 40,000 fatalities and millions of highway injuries each year?

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