Friday, January 27, 2012

Where Have All the 4X4’s Gone?

Toyota FJ Cruiser
A disturbing trend is occurring in the automotive market and honestly it comes as no surprise. Auto manufacturers build cars that people want to buy, with features that people want to use, or maybe not use, but they want such things just so they can feel stylish, or cool. This desire to be perceived a certain way is driving the market and that’s probably as it should be but…

In the last few years the trend is, taking SUV’s that used to be solid four-wheel drive trucks and turning them in to big, tall, mall running station wagons for nothing more than trying to look good. The SUV craze of about 10 years ago has given way to the crossover (CUV) craze. These new crossover vehicles are the silliest things ever made, and are generally a direct reflection of the desire people have to be both stylish and practical at the same time (which usually never works out), and the desire to drive something that feels like a car but somehow looks tougher.

To the 4WD purists such as myself this crossover craze has been nothing but offensive. All of the rugged, tough, off-roading machines that started the migration from station wagons, sedans and minivans to machines of manliness, are now evolving into a bunch of tall fat station wagons that the minivans replaced back in the 80’s. Perhaps history is only repeating itself. A fine line exists between dopey old station wagons like the Ford Country Squire and the new CUVs like the Ford Flex. This leaves few options for the outdoorsy types such as myself who actually like to dip our four-wheels drives in the mud, and bang them on a rocks a bit just for fun, all the while having the capacity to haul kids and all of their stuff with you.
A wussified, dolled up Tahoe.
This evolution all began with vehicles such as the Chevy Tahoe becoming the Cadillac Escalade. The Escalade is one of the worst vehicles ever made because it is just a Tahoe with fancy wheels, trim, interior, and every whistle and bell ever installed on a vehicle. At the same time this abomination has been stripped of everything that makes the Tahoe a capable rig that it was when it was first introduced back in the late 90’s. The Escalade doesn’t even have a low range or even anything really in way of off-road ability. To make this thing even worse it is actually still truck based so it really offers none of the practicality of a regular crossover. I suppose that’s okay because maybe your neighbors will see you driving it and think that you are cool. Chances are that your neighbors don’t really care what you drive, and if they do, why would you want to be friends with them.

The original Ford Explorer
A different example of the same problem is the Ford Explorer. When this SUV first hit the market back in 1990 it was based on the Ford Ranger and came equipped with all of the same tough, truck like features that the Ranger had only it had a back seat and room to haul your gear and other things on the inside. This was the formula for just about every SUV ever made since the Suburban first hit the market back in 1935. A car company could take their tough and capable pick-up truck, put a backpack on it, an extra seat in the back, and some carpet behind that and voila, a new model to appeal to more buyers.

2011 Explorer. A Taurus station wagon
for the new generation.
The Ford explorer of today has none of the rugged features of the old Explorers. No ladder-frame construction, no live axles anywhere, no 4WD (all-wheel drive doesn’t count), no low range, no nothing. The new Explorer is only capable of exploring the mall parking lot. If you want to get rugged you might be able to explore the puddle on the far side of the mall parking lot. This thing comes standard with front wheel drive just like a Taurus, and all-wheel drive is an option. In fact the new Explorer is essentially built on the same platform as the Taurus.

The new Dodge Durango is pretty much the same way. Used to be tough, now it’s tough to keep it from getting stuck in the mud. It’s nothing more than a fat station wagon. The new Nissan pathfinder is going to get the same treatment. Once an icon of the SUV market now reduced to nothing more than a frivolous bit of inner-city transport that really offers nothing practical to its owners. Remember the Chevy Blazer, S10 or full-size? They are no longer around and the vehicles that are the most direct descendant represent nothing that that the originals did.
The new Dodge Durango. If you squint it almost looks like
an old Crestwood or Polara station wagon.
One of the tough old Nissan Pathfinders.
All of these cross-overs try to combine the best of several different vehicles: SUVs, minivans, sedans, but all they end up with is the worst of all worlds and for what? For the sake of blending in with the neighbors, or to satisfy some silly notion that if you don’t buy a minivan then you are still cool. Crossovers do not have the interior volume of a minivan, they don’t have the ability to haul kids as efficiently as a minivan, they don’t have the ability to tow heavy loads like an SUV, they don’t have the ability to go off-road like an SUV, they don’t have the good handling of a sedan, and they don’t have fuel economy as good as a sedan. What is the point?

Obviously the reason that so many of the classic SUVs are being wussified is that people buy them. Just because they are popular doesn’t mean that they are any good. Tobacco, and alcohol are also really popular but that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily worthwhile.

A few car companies still offer manly machines that remain true to their roots. Jeep still builds the Wrangler which might be called the original SUV. The Wrangler is still an excellent option for anyone who wants to do a little rock crawling once in a while or for anyone who wants to take a dip in the mud. Some of the other offerings from Jeep such as the Grand Cherokee and Liberty are still legitimate off-roaders, at least for now. Jeep has recently taken to offering some useless crossovers such as the Compass and the Patriot, but those are separate vehicles from the traditional SUV offerings from Jeep.
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Trail rated and ready to go
Toyota is another company that has not forgotten the off-roaders that made their trucks and SUVs popular. The 4Runner is as stout a 4X4 as it ever was. The Land Cruiser is still around despite the fact that it’s not a big seller, and even though it is a true luxury machine, it is still a very capable off-roader. The Land Cruiser also has enough room to haul a few kids with you on your adventures. The FJ Cruiser is a serious off-roading rig in the purest form. It’s probably the only real competitor for the 2 door Jeep Wrangler. The Sequoia is also still fairly off-roadable. Toyota has some useless crossovers as well but those have never been mixed with the traditional man machines.
2011 Toyota 4Runner ready for just about any trail.

As we cling to the hope that vehicles like the 4Runner and the Wrangler keep it real, and keep it tough, comfort can be taken in the fact that most likely the CUV craze will fade into something else at some point. Because people are always changing their minds, it is likely that CUVs will change into something else. As long as I can have a real 4X4, the masses can do whatever they want to do to seem socially acceptable pulling in and out of the mall parking lot.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

10,000 Hits

The Auto Rules has now had more than 10,000 visitors. I don't really know what this means but I think that it's probably a good thing. While I doubt that they are all visits from people looking for the useless insights that they can find among these articles, I welcome them all.

If you have enjoyed any of my ramblings then I suppoes that this has been a success. The Auto Rules first hit Blogger 11 months ago and I figure that I can write for at least another 11 months before I totally run out of ideas, or perhaps I can go even further than that.

To those of you that follow this blog, thank you. Hopefully I can maintain your interest a little longer.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Best Cars Ever: Chevrolet Corvette

The Greatest American Sports Car and Perhaps the Greatest Sports Car of All Time
1953 Corvette
The Corvette is without a doubt the most well known of all sports cars to come off an assembly line in the United States. First introduced in 1953, the Chevy Corvette is the longest running sports car in the U.S. and the longest running car model in the U.S. There are some truck models that go back a bit farther. The generations of the Corvette are labeled from C1 to C6. The generations break down like this: C1 1953-1962, C2 1963-1967, C3 1968-1982, C4 1984-1996, C5 1997-2004, C6 2005-Present. In 1983 there was no Corvette as Chevy was getting ready for the C4 which was the first all new Vette in 14 years.

C1 1961 Corvette
When the corvette was first built it came with a rather under whelming straight six from the Chevy sedans of that time, but after only two years GM decided to put a V8 in their hot little roadster and from that time on the Vette has always come equipped with a V8. Putting a V8 under the hood also made the car a legitimate sports car, and it has been the stuff of legends ever since.

The most powerful of the old Corvettes came in the 60’s. While the 1963 with a split rear window might be the most famous from the time period, the 1967 L89 with the 427 V8 was the most powerful of all the old Corvettes putting out somewhere in neighborhood of 475 horsepower. Many believe that the actual horsepower from this engine was much higher and most likely it was. Horsepower numbers were often very conservative back in the day to appease the lawyers and the insurance people.
C2 1967 Corvette

These high-powered classic Corvette models came along under the management of Zora Arkus-Duntov, the engineer who put the Corvette in the map. Arkus-Duntov was the reason that the original straight 6 was scrapped, and the reason that the Corvette got into racing in the 60’s. Without his guidance during the early years of the Corvette, it might not have survived and become the legend that it is today.

The dark days of the Corvette came during a dark time for the automobile in general. The energy crisis in the U.S. was on, and at the same time automotive engineers were trying to figure out how to build cars that performed well, yet complied with new emissions laws. In 1975 the most powerful engine available in a Corvette was the L82 option 350 V8, good for all of 205 horsepower. Because of the new emissions standards performance engines were severely detuned in order to put out less pollution. Manufacturers should have redesigned their engines rather than detuning them but they were caught off guard by the new laws.
C3 1970 Corvette
C3 1980 Corvette
The Corvette suffered because of things going on around the world but each year after 1975 the power output slowly began to climb. 205 hp may seem bad but let’s compare apples to apples. These Vettes were the weakest and slowest ever, but what other car from the mid to late seventies is better? Mustang II? I don’t think so! Even in the darkest days of the Corvette it still represented the best that America had to offer.
From 1990 to 1995 the Corvette was offered for the second time around with an option called ZR1, but this time it was different. This car came with the LT5 5.7L DOHC V8. This is the only over-head cam engine ever offered in a Corvette. This engine was designed by GM and Lotus and built by Mercury Marine because they had extensive experience building all aluminum engines, and they were better able to tool their manufacturing facilities for the low volume production of the LT5. This amazing engine put out anywhere from 375 hp to 405 hp, and was supper modern, arguably more modern and high tech than the engines used in today’s Corvettes.
C4 1984 Corvette

This ZR1 really took the Corvette to a new level. The corvette has offered the best bang for the buck, of just about any sports car in the world for years. The ZR1 made the car world class. The car was now on a stage where it could compete with the likes of Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini and others, and it could compete for a fraction of the cost of the European exotics. The idea of being able to get a car with exotic power and exotic feel, but without paying exotic prices is the thing that has really helped to make the Corvette one of the greatest cars of all time.
C4 1995 Corvette ZR1
In 2009 the ZR1 was brought back for the third time, and this time Chevy managed to up the ante in a way that they had never done before. This ZR1 that is available today has a supercharged 6.2 liter V8 good for 638 neck snapping horsepower. Once again we are talking world class. Any car that has a top speed over 200 mph such as the ZR1 Corvette is not messing around. This car is amazingly fast.
C5 2000 Corvette
Of course the ZR1 is the top of the line model but there are other models that have plenty of go fasters bolted on. The Z06 Corvette that has come and gone over the years is currently good for 505 hp. The Grand Sport Corvette which was originally conceived by Zora Arkus-Duntov is another high performance variant that reappears every few years to give the Corvette buyer yet another performance option.

The Chevy small block has been the staple for the Corvette since the first year that a V8 was offered. This engine has served the Corvette very well because it is so easy to adapt it to any platform, and it is very easy to make it fast. The LS engines of the last 15 years or so have proven to be even better then the old small blocks that were used in the older corvettes. The LS2, LS3, LS6, LS7, and LS9 are some of the iterations of the LS that can be found under the hoods of the newer Corvettes. These LS engines are not that modern in design but they are so effective, and so easy to tune that it’s hard to argue for anything else.
C6 2009 Corvette ZR1, the fastest Vette ever!
The C7 is very near introduction to the market. Most likely it would already have been introduced were it not for some of the financial troubles that GM has had lately. What will it bring? Chevrolet has kept it very effectively under wraps, but perhaps the most exciting thing will be a new small block engine family. The LS will be retired in favor of a new design that will be all aluminum and be capable of better fuel economy without sacrificing performance. The one thing that will be certain about the C7 Corvette is that it will be amazing, and it will continue to be the greatest American sports car of all time.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Power to the People! Electric Power That Is!

2011 Toyota Prius
 In 1999 Honda introduced the first Insight to the U.S. market and at that time the race began. The race was obviously not a very fast one since we are talking about hybrids which are not very fast. The race was a race to develop new technology that would make cars go farther on less fuel, and create less pollution. Both of these things amount to greater energy efficiency. Of all of the alternative fuel systems that are on the market right now, none have experienced the kind of growth over the last decade that the hybrid vehicle has.

1999 Honda Insight
A hybrid vehicle is one that runs on more than one power source. Hybrid vehicles use a gasoline engine and an electric motor for propulsion. Depending on the design it may be able to run on gasoline only, electric motor only, or a combination of the two. Examples of hybrid vehicles are things such the Toyota Prius, the most popular hybrid ever, the Honda Insight, and the Chevrolet Volt. Often you hear the Volt described as an electric car but the fact of the matter is that the Volt has a gasoline engine that will come on to assist the electric motor to propel the vehicle down the road, or to generate electricity for the electric motor the use. A true electric car such as the Nissan leaf has no gasoline engine at all, more on the Volt in a minute.

The gas/electric hybrids that are on the market now will always have the following components: Gasoline engine, one or two electric motor/generators, a high-voltage battery, and some kind of power inverter. All of these systems use complex computer controls to keep everything running nicely. Depending on the hybrid setup they may not have a transmission like we are used to on normal cars, or they may have one that is just like those found on normal cars. Hybrid drivetrain designs vary.

2000 Toyota Prius
Some hybrids have more complex systems that allow the vehicle to function more in electric mode only. These are what are known as series/parallel hybrids. With this design the electric motor or motors, are the primary drive units and the gas engine is there to assist and turn generators to produce electricity. Some hybrid designs cannot function at all in electric mode only. These are called parallel hybrids.  A parallel hybrid uses the gas engine for the majority of the drive and the electric motor is there to assist. A design known as a series hybrid also exists but none of the hybrids currently on the market fall into this category. The series design has no mechanical connection between the engine and the wheels. All drive is accomplished by the electric motors and the gasoline engine is there only to turn a generator. This is essentially the way modern diesel electric locomotives run.


The gasoline engine is not much different from those that we are used to in regular cars. They still use the regular principles of internal combustion in order to move pitons up and down and turn the crankshaft. The engine is usually known as the ICE (internal combustion engine). Some extra measures are taken however to help them be ultra-efficient, and work well with the electric motor/generators. Most of the time the gas engine will not have a regular starter motor because the large electric motors used to propel the vehicle can also be used to start the gasoline engine. Some times when the ICE is started it seems strange because you don’t get the usual cranking sound that you have with regular engines, it’s almost as if the engine just instantly come to life.

An A/C compressor with no pulley
Many times these gas engine will not have any of the accessories or the associated belts that are found on the front of the engine. These items can be powered directly by small electric motors. The air conditioning compressor doesn’t need to be belt driven because a small electric motor inside the compressor can be used to turn it. This is a good thing because the gasoline engine on every hybrid will not always be running whenever the car is in use. If the engine isn’t running then an engine powered device will not work. This would mean no A/C when the vehicle comes to a stop. Other things that are electrically powered are things like the power steering, the engine water pump, and the alternator. The alternator is actually completely eliminated. Why do you need a small 12 volt generator that is spun by the engine when you have 300 volt generators onboard?

Engine and transmission removed from a hybrid vehicle. The big orange cables carry the  high-voltage.

The motor generators on a hybrid vehicle are usually located in what might usually be referred to as the transmission, or between the gasoline engine and the transmission. The amount of propulsion that is provided by the electric motors totally depends on the hybrid design. As mentioned before, some hybrids only use the electric motor to assist the gasoline engine, and the vehicle will not move on electric only. On some hybrids the electric motor can propel the vehicle alone, up to about 50 miles per hour. One way to get a rough idea about how much fuel a hybrid can save is by how much the electric motors can propel the vehicle without the gasoline engine running. Most hybrids currently on the market can move down the road on electric only but most of them can’t accelerate to speeds above 10 mph without the gasoline engine coming on. Once they get up to speed there are some hybrids that can run on electric only at a steady cruise between 25 and 40 mph. As the technology gets better and better, more hybrids are capable of going faster, for longer periods of time running on electric only.

The rotor of of a brushless motor
from a hybrid. Notice how well the scraper
 sticks to the permanent magnets

The motor/generators are motors that help to move the vehicle but they are also generators. All hybrids have a mode called regenerative braking. In this mode the motor/generators become a generator to produce electricity that can be stored in the high-voltage battery. The generators are attached to the wheels which are spinning because the vehicle is moving. The generators provide resistance to stop the vehicle, and because the generators spin, they produce electricity.

The motors are able to switch from motor mode to generator mode in an instant because they are brushless A/C motors. This essentially means that they use permanent magnets in the armature (the center spinny part of the motor), and electromagnets in the stator or field windings (the part that doesn’t move, that surrounds the spinny part). When the field windings are turned on, the opposing magnetic forces cause the armature to spin and we have a motor. When the field windings are turned off, we are then spinning permanent magnets around inside a conductor, this is a generator.

The Battery can only hold D/C electricity so the A/C that comes from the generators must get converted to D/C in order to be stored in the battery. Then, as the battery feed the electric motors the power must be converted back to A/C. All of this takes place in the power inverter that is found on all hybrid vehicles.
The field windings of a brushless motor from a hybrid


Early hybrid vehicles used Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries for the high-voltage battery that powers the electric motors. Newer hybrids are starting to use lithium-ion batteries, or lithium-polymer batteries. These batteries function just like other rechargeable batteries, but they are much bigger so they can put out more voltage and amperage. Most of these batteries put out somewhere between 100 and 350 volts. Because of the tremendous amount of electricity that they can store, there are certain precautions that must be taken when working on a hybrid vehicle.
Hybrid HV batteries located under the back seat
These batteries are made up of hundreds of small cells that each put out somewhere between 1.5 to 3.0 volts. All of these cells are wired together in series which causes the voltage and amperage to be multiplied until there are enough cells in the battery pack to put out a great deal of power. Each of these cells is actually quit similar to either a cell phone battery, or a D cell battery in appearance and function. The cells cannot be serviced individually so if enough of them go bad that the battery output is diminished, then the entire battery pack must be replaced.

A complex computer control system is used to monitor and control the state of charge of the HV battery. State of charge is never allowed to be higher than 80% of its actual capacity and it’s never allowed to drop below 20% of its actual capacity. The instrumentation that the driver sees may display that the HV battery is fully charged or fully depleted but it always stays within the middle 60% limits when things are operating normally. Because of these precise controls HV battery service life has proved to be much better than originally predicted.

Just like any other rechargeable battery, it was believed that the hybrid HV batteries would have a definite service life. The average life of your run of the mill car battery is between 3 and 5 years, maybe 6 at the most, and cell phone batteries usually go bad before the rest of the phone does. With hybrids first being introduced 13 years ago by Honda and Toyota, many of these first hybrids have well over 100k miles on the odometer and they are still running around on their original batteries. Eventually they can still degrade to the point where they don’t hold a charge and need to be replaced, but if they last for 15 years and 150k miles, or more, it may not matter if they need to be replaced.

So how do they drive?

Very well, actually. Despite what people say, most hybrid vehicles drive very nicely and have plenty of pep. The amount of power is usually not any different from a similarly sized vehicle. Some of the ways in which a hybrid functions might be very different and require some time to get used to. Every time you pull up to a stop the engine will shut off if it has been running. This is the idle stop function and it helps to save fuel. When you are waiting to turn left across traffic and the engine isn’t running it may seem a bit unnerving at first, but as soon as you lift your foot off the brake pedal to hit the accelerator the vehicle will move and the engine will start up right away if it is required.
Prius controls require a bit of explanation.

Some hybrids such as the Honda Civic Hybrid or Ford Escape Hybrid feel very much like a normal car. All of the controls are familiar and no special instruction is needed to get the car started and moving down the road. Hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Chevy Volt are a bit different and may require a new driving lesson. Once you are moving down the road however, all hybrids handle well and drive nicely.

Weighing the Cost

One of the great debates surrounding hybrid vehicles is whether or not the owner of a hybrid will actually save enough money on fuel to make up the extra cost involved in buying a hybrid, versus buying a normal gasoline powered car. All of this depends on how many miles the vehicle is driven in a year. Using the Civic hybrid for an example we can look at some numbers to figure this out. The reason that the Civic Hybrid is a good example is because we can compare the exact same car in hybrid form, regular form, a high fuel economy HF version, and just for the fun of it, we can look at the natural gas powered Civics as well.
2012 Civic Hybrid
All of the cars that we are comparing here are similarly equipped as far as the normal whistles and bells are concerned. They all have automatic transmissions, power windows and door locks, similar audio systems and other creature comforts, but they are not exactly alike. According to Honda’s website the pricing and the estimated fuel economy breaks down in the following manner:
  •          2012 Civic EX (the normal gas powered Civic)             $21,505    39 mpg
  •          2012 Civic Hybrid                                                        $24,505    44 mpg
  •          2012 Civic HF (the high fuel economy model)               $19,455    41 mpg
  •          2012 Civic GX (natural gas powered)                           $26,155    38 mpg
With these figures and some arithmetic you can see that if the driver puts 15,000 miles on their car per year, and gas is $3.00 per gallon, it will take 25 years to save the extra cost for the Hybrid. This shows us that buying the Hybrid is not worth it. The hybrid version only saves the average driver about $100 a year on fuel cost but the Hybrid purchase price is about $2500 more than the EX. The HF is probably the best value of all of the Civics because the MSRP is lower than that of the normal EX, and it gets better fuel economy.

A civic that runs on natural gas is more practical than the hybrid.
The GX is the compressed natural gas (CNG) powered Civic. This one is the most expensive but the fuel is only about $1.50 per gallon, cheaper in some places, more expensive in others. The time to make up the difference with a CNG powered civic under the same terms is about 10 years. If, however the cost of gasoline goes back up to $4.00 per gallon, and you live in a place where natural gas can be purchased for $1.05 per gallon, and your drive 20,000 miles a year, it would only take 3 years to make up the cost difference.

Plug-In to Better Fuel Economy

Plug-in hybrids represent the next evolution of the hybrid vehicle, and this feature may be the thing that allows hybrids to become a very legitimate alternative. The thing that makes a plug-in hybrid different is the fact that they can typically run much faster and much farther on electric motors only. The Chevy Volt for example can go about 40 miles at speeds up to 40 or 50 mph on the electric motor only. This means that the gasoline engine would never come on. If your daily compute is 20 or 30 miles round trip, you could drive to work and back, maybe run a few errands along the way, and never use any gasoline. When you get home you could plug your car in for the night and in the morning it would be all charged up and ready to go.

The Chevrolet Volt is actually a hybrid and not a true electric.
If you want to drive a longer distance, the gasoline engine comes on as needed to generate power for the electric motors and to provide mechanical assist to the electric motors. This means that you could drive the car for several days on electric only, and then just use gasoline on the weekends for a road trip. Fuel economy numbers have been difficult to calculate because of the way these things work but estimates are generally somewhere between 50 and 100 mpg.

Currently the Volt is the only plug-in hybrid on the market but Toyota will be releasing a plug-in Prius, and Ford will release a plug-in Fusion Hybrid sometime in 2012. Most other manufacturers that currently offer hybrids will be adapting a plug-in feature to their models at some point.

The Volt carries an MSRP of about $41,000 which is pretty steep for a small sedan, and makes regular hybrids look like a good deal. Chevy released the car to market after the federal government had taken over the bankrupt GM. The Feds will give you a $7500 tax credit if you buy a Volt. That only brings the cost of a new Volt down to $33500 which is still a lot of money for this type of car. Having U.S. tax payers fund a certain percentage of your new car purchase also seems somewhat immoral. If you are wealthy enough to spend over 30k on a new car what entitles you to receive another $7500 from your neighbors?
Plug-in Prius.
The new Prius plug-in will carry an MSRP of $32,000. The tax credit that this car will qualify for is probably going to be about $2500 (why less than the Prius?) bringing the cost of the car to the purchaser down to $29,500. Better than the Volt but still a lot to pay for a small car such as this. Pricing for the Ford Fusion 
plug-in has not yet been announced.

Plug-in hybrids sound great but considering the cost it’s hard to justify buying one as well. Whne they bring the cost down then maybe we will have something worthwhile. The other thing to consider is that the electric power charged to the batteries when the car is plugged in has to come from somewhere and still has to be paid for.

What about the Horse and Buggy?

While it seems fairly obvious that hybrid vehicles are probably still impractical for the most part it helps if we put things into perspective. Imagine the year is 1900. It has been 14 years since Karl Benz built his motorwagen, which is considered to be the first modern car powered by an internal combustion engine. Other upstarts have been around for just a few years and Henry Ford is doing a lot of experimentation, but the Model T is still 8 years away. Some of the wealthy are just beginning to run around town in these noisy little horseless carriages from names such as Ransom E. Olds and David Buick.

At this point, many say that these might be the future, but such a thing is hard to imagine and here are some of the reasons why. These little motor cars are slow, expensive, reliability is dubious, and no real practicality can be seen in owning one. When they break down and you take it to the blacksmith shop they aren’t going to know how to work on them. They are so complicated compared to what we are used to that it makes no sense to say that this will one day be the standard. Those that currently own them are trying to make a statement about themselves, or they are just trying to show off and act like they are ultra-modern.  Some might say, “Just give me a good team of horses and a sturdy wagon or buggy and I can get around just fine for the rest of my life.”

Now reread the above paragraph and substitute the word blacksmith with mechanic, and the words, team of horses and a sturdy wagon or buggy, with normal car, and you could apply the message to some of the negative viewpoints surrounding hybrids today. The bottom line on hybrids is that this technology is new and still unproven, and still needs to develop further. Current hybrids are not good enough to be the future of transportation, but a future hybrid that is much better and much cheaper might be. Let’s sit back and see what happens.
Porsche Cayenne Hybrid

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New Resolve

We now find ourselves at the beginning of a new year and it is a time for introspection and resolve. Of course 99% of the things that we resolve to do for ourselves never get done, and any attempt that we might make towards changing ourselves or our lives is all for naught. I suppose that as long as we keep trying to improve ourselves then one day perhaps we may be successful.

Because changing ourselves is too hard and nit picking others is much more fun, I have come up with several new year’s resolutions for most of the major auto manufacturers in the U.S. These are things that they need to change, or work on improving through the course of 2012 if they want to improve themselves. Some of these are legitimate and may actually happen soon and some of them never will, but if they did, it would mean a better company and better cars. Of course none of these companies care what I have to say, but never the less I have no problem telling them what they should be doing.

General Motors

  • CEO Dan Akerson needs to get the Federal Government out of the shareholders meetings. The Federal Government still owns about 25% of this American icon and nothing would be better for GM, and the American tax payer then to get Feds out of the way. The UAW needs to sell its stock as well. Talk about conflict of interest.
  • Find a way to build the Chevy Volt for 15k cheaper or kill it all together. 42 grand is too much to pay for any small 4 door sedan.
  • Build a modern V8 engine that’s reliable. The LS has been a great motor but could be so much better with DOHC and 32 valves. The Northstar was modern, but was terribly unreliable.


    The new Taurus
  • Find a way to sell more Tauruses and Explorers. These two names used to be huge hits for FoMoCo and then the public figured out how bad they were and quit buying them. The sad part here is that both of these models have evolved into solid, worthwhile vehicles. Ford should have never brought the Taurus name back from extinction, they should have stuck with the 500 or chosen another name altogether.


  • Try and convince long time Mopar fans that the new models that they will be releasing soon are not just rebadged Fiats from Italy. When Mercedes owned Chrysler they kept the American cars separate from their German cars for the most part. Fiat is taking a different route.
  • Convince the public that a car with a silly name on it like “Abarth” can be cool and fast.
  • Quit telling the public that the Chrysler 300 is “Imported from Detroit” when it is in fact imported from Canada where it is built.
  • Build a new Dodge Viper and make it a worthwhile. It must be BBV; big, brash, and vulgar. If it doesn’t meet these requirements then give to Fiat.


Scion FR-S
  • Continue to fight for the title of World’s Largest Auto Manufacturer. The competition is coming from Volkswagen and it is getting fierce.
  • Sell a large pile of Scion FR-S’s to make up for the only 5 or 6 Scion iQ’s that will be sold.
  • Develop a ¾ ton Tundra powered by a diesel engine.
  • Market the new GS properly so that the Lexus line can sell something other than RX’s. Lexus is the number one luxury car in the U.S. because the RX sells so well. That’s okay but the RX is a crossover and not a regular sedan. The new GS represents a new direction for the Lexus performance sedan lineup.


  • See the issue above that they are having with Toyota. Volkswagen wants to dominate and they are doing a good job of positioning themselves to do so.
  • Convince people that the new designed and built in America Passat is not as boring as it looks. If Vdub wants world domination, they must have a greater presence here in the states. The Passat is trying to make that happen.


  • Repent for the lackluster redesign of the iconic Civic. The 2012 Civic is not much different from the outgoing model. When you build a car that is the sales leader in its class for so long you have got to make it count every time you redesign. Note to Honda: Put a K20 in the CR-Z and all will be forgiven.
  • Build a rear-wheel drive, V8 powered performance car of some kind. Sedan, coupe, sports car, truck, anything, just as long as it has a great V8 and rear-wheel drive.
  • Dare to build something daring. With U.S. market share sliding they need to do something to break out of their funk.

2011 Civic

The new redesigned 2012 Civic


  • Find a way to make the Nissan GTR even faster. This is sure to happen since they seem to come out with a new one slightly faster than the old one, every year.
  • Sell some Leafs in order to feel more justified in spending all the R&D budget on the electric city car. Of course even if they do sell a big pile of leafs (er is it leaves?) they likely would not break even for many years if at all.
  • Convince the public that their cars no longer have the plastic fantastic interiors that they did during the last decade. Nissan interiors were so bad they would make a Ford Windstar from the 90’s feel down right sumptuous on the inside.


  • Get control of the terrible looking crossovers that they are continuing to offer. The X5 is good enough; everything else is ugly and pointless.
  • Sell as many 4 cylinder 328i’s as possible to prove that even though the 3 series is bigger than ever, it’s still a small sedan.

The ugly and just plain silly BMW X6.


  • Figure out a way to make their model lineup even more confusing than it already is. C class, E class, and S class we understand. It’s not as simple as 3 series, 5 series, and 7 series, or even A4, A6, and A8, but we can still follow. When you start talking about CLS, SL, CL, SLS, SLK, this is where things get confused, and if you consider the SUVs, M, GL, GLK, R, and G then there is just no way to keep it all straight. Maybe if I knew German this would all make sense.

  • Keep up the appeal with the lefties that their cars are more virtuous than any real SUV, and if you drive a Subaru through the woods it makes the trees happy.
  • Figure out a way to make the WRX even faster than it already is. This little rally car is kind of the opposite of the Subarus that the granola eaters favor.
  • Build an all-new 911 that will be a major departure from what the 911 has been in the past and with a radical new design and…never mind. Just release the next 911 even if it is pretty much like every other car before it. I have no doubt it will be great.
  • Kill the Cayenne and the Panamera. No Porsche should have 4 doors.


  • Continue to silently take over the U.S. market. Hyundai and it’s little brither subsidiary Kia, have taken the nation by storm in the last few years by building car that people want to drive with a price that people want to pay.


  • Find a new place to source model platforms and parts. Things are going okay since Ford dumped all of its Mazda stock but they need to figure some things out like how to redesign there current models without the help and resources of Ford.
  • Convince the public that making a car using more plastic and lighter materials and calling “Skyactive Technology” isn’t just a PR stunt.


  • Sell some goofy electric cars. Not that all electric cars are goofy, but the Mitsubishi I-MiEV is definitely goofy. It’s also the cheapest legitimate electric car you buy in the U.S.
  • Find a way to build the Evo XII. If they kill the Evo then may the automotive gods have mercy on those executives’ souls.
  • Try not to go belly up
Mitsubishi Evo XI

  • Who?