Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why Waste Time With Hybrids...

When pure electrics can be this good?

Those are some of the early test laps of the first (as far as I know) EV race car, the KleenSpeed WX10-T.

I can't wait to see that on a track racing in earnest!


Friday, December 26, 2008

Tango EV Snow Plow

I can't honestly say I'm sold on this particular electric vehicle, mostly because it's bloody weird looking.... but I have to admit that it'd be useful around here for nearly a third of the year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Go Green: Drive a Porsche!

No really, it's true.

This Porsche 911 gets better gas mileage than my 4 cylinder family sedan!

I'm as shocked as you are. And I'm wondering how I can convince my boss that my next company car should be a 911, so I can save the company money, of course...

Seriously though, German ex-racer Klaus Niedzwiedz proves, once again, that how you drive is as important as what you drive. He was able to hypermile the 3.6L, 345hp sportscar exactly 400 miles (648 kms) on a single tank of gas through city streets, over country roads, and down the Autobahn... all while maintaining an average speed of 52 mph (84 kph), with his top speed being 81 mph (131 kph).

That works out to 42.2 miles per gallon (Imperial), 35.1 mpg (US), or 6.7L/100km.

That's astonishing!

It doesn't hurt that the Porsche employs some high-tech engineering like direct injection, as well as a 7-speed PDK gearbox which enables you to drive 130 km/h while keeping the engine revving under 2000 rpm.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Another Hybrid Aborted

As I mentioned here back in July, Audi is doing it's best to push diesels in North America over hybrids, thankfully.

Since diesels outperform hybrids on highways (where North Americans generally spend more time driving) this makes perfect sense to me.

Audi did, however, have plans to offer their Q7 & Q5 SUVs as hybrids to appease the masses. Thankfully, they've killed those plans and are sticking with TDI powerplants for these two trucks. Interestingly, they cite crash-test issues with the batteries. Since other automakers haven't canceled their hybrid production, I have to wonder if Audi found some issue the others haven't, or if they simply are being more exacting than the others.

In any case, they are bringing new (for them) fuel saving technologies to their lineup, including start-stop and other improvements akin to BMW's Efficient Dynamics.

Personally I'd wish they'd also spend more energy on bringing their TDI powered sedans, coupes, and roadsters here as well... especially the smaller ones like the A3.

Source: Autocar

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Moment I've Long Been Waiting For!

Top Gear drives the Tesla!

Hybrids are crap... even the "good" ones. They're over-priced, over-weight, under-performing, and are basically a futile exercise as far as I'm concerned. They don't get particularly great fuel mileage when you consider the cost, and as I've mentioned before, they don't do anything to wean us off our dependency on fossil fuels. It always irks me when people refer to them as "alternative vehicles", since there's no true "alternative" because they, like all other cars or trucks, still need to go to the gas station to fill up with the very same fuel that any other IC car/truck needs.

Bio-fuels and electric vehicles are truly viable alternatives... as the technology of each continues to progress they'll be the ones offering an honest alternative to filling up with with fossil fuels.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Clean Diesel Gets Dirty!

Hmm... fishnets!

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Volkswagen entered a Clean Diesel powered Touareg in the Baja for the very first time and finished a respectable 13th in their class out of 26 starters.

Autoblog.com has a full article up now about their experience covering the event and watching the TDI (relatively) quietly perform.

Even better than that though, is this video from streetfire.net all about Volkswagen Motorsport's involvement with the project. It's awesome to see them stepping up with absolute commitment to developing and fielding ultra high performance diesel engines in racing.

Volkswagen TDI Touareg at the Baja 1000

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Top Gear Reviews the Ford Fiesta...

... as only Top Gear can!

I don't know about you, but capabilities like those would serve me well in a sub-compact hatchback. More than once I've found myself in a situation similar to those pictured and thought "if only my car could...."

Personally, I can't wait to see the Fiesta (as well as it's Mazda sibling, the Mazda2) here in North America. It's coming soon, and is a strong contender to be my next car in 2 years from now. The fuel prices we're seeing today won't last forever, and even though I drive a marginally efficient car now, my next one will be even more frugal, without sacrificing the joy of driving.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tesla Gets Pulled Over

This might be a first, but I can't say for sure...

First Week With a Tesla

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

EV on Ice!

This little green beast of a car is known as an "Andros Car". It's a purpose-built electric vehicle intended to compete in the Andros Trophy race series in France. It is, as far as I know, the first EV built specifically to race in what is otherwise a conventional racing series populated by gasoline powered cars (and bikes).

The Andros Trophy is a winter race series held on ice/snow covered tracks, and is basically a mix of rally super-special stages, conventional circuit racing, and drifting. The shells of small cars like the Toyota Auris, Kia Rio, BMW 1 Series, Renault Clio, Citroen C4 and others are mounted over radical race chassis with 300+ horsepower engines and all wheel drive, and are then subsequently thrashed around on winter race tracks all over France.

It's a whole lotta' fun!

Not only will this EV be competing against conventionally powered cars, it stands a decent chance of winning. Last year the 2nd version of the Andros car won the final event of the year. The 3rd iteration (pictured above) should be even better.

And starting in 2009, there will be a 100% electric class featuring 10 of these cars competing.

Finally, there is also an electric bike, the Quantya, competing in the 2 wheeled class of the Andros Trophy.

Two video's of the Andros Car 03, as well as the Quantya bike can be seen HERE as well as HERE.

As a passionate motorsports fan I have to admit that I have a hard time dealing with the lack of noise... part of racing is the awesome sound of a high performance engine but even so, I'm eager to see EVs shed their laughable sterotype - that of being slow, ugly, micro-cars that look like they belong on golf courses and retirement community driveways instead of the real road - and really start to show that they can perform.

Monday, November 24, 2008

VW Touareg TDI's First Outting

Last weekend was the 41st running of the Baja 1000 race in Mexico.

It was also the first time in the event's history that a Clean Diesel powered vehicle successfully competed in, and completed, the event. VW's Touareg TDI placed 13th in it's class of 26 trucks.

This Touareg TDI was powered by a 550-hp 5.5l V12 diesel, which is quite a bit more substantial than their forthcoming Dakar entry, but still... clean diesels are slowly but surely becoming an integral part of endurance motorsports.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Update

I haven't had a whole lot of time lately to update this blog with articles as much as I'd like to... but there are a few in the past few days that I'd like to touch on briefly.

First, I really want to redo my "How Much Does That Hybrid Really Cost" article that I wrote up a few months ago. With the current fuel prices being so low, that article would take on a whole new dimension. The amortization period for a brand new hybrid now must be astronomically high! The huge premium that hybrid buyers were suckered into paying earlier this year when their popularity skyrocketed must be a very painful pill to swallow right now.

Secondly, the 2 most economical hybrids that were sold in the USA are now not elligible for the hybrid tax credit. Yes, the Toyota Prius (which was bumped last year) and Honda Civic Hybrid (which will be axed from the list at the end of 2008) have sold enough cars to be considered mainstream enough to not need any tax credit incentives to sell. What about the cars that are left? Of the 16 still elligible for the credit, only ONE gets better than 33 miles per gallon.

That's laughable!

In fact, 13 of the 16 vehicles left on the list are large, low-mileage SUVs! It's a joke... a totally, hypocritical joke! Half those huge hybrids won't even be around showrooms in a year or two because they aren't selling, even as "fuel efficient" hybrids.

Lastly, some good news!

While GM and Chrysler are busy scrambling to sell their models that nobody wants, Ford is busy looking ahead instead of behind and are continuing to develop their small cars for North America! For anyone that keeps an eye on what they produce at Ford in Europe, this is exciting news! Personally I can't want to see some ST and RS models of the new Focus, Fiesta, and possible even Ka come to showrooms here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Extinction of the SUV-Asaurus!

This is a perfect example of my philosophy of making responsible choices when car buying. You don't have to buy a hybrid to save money on gas, but any fool with half a brain can see the pitfall of buying the biggest, heaviest, & most inefficient vehicle they can barely afford.

There's a joke about fossil-fuels in there somewhere....

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before...

Environmental responsibility, or social statement... why are you buying a new car?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

200+ Miles Per Hour on Biogas!

Audi is quickly becoming a favorite automakers of mine. The silver bullet pictured here is yet another example why. They took a standard 3.0L current gen A4, fitted twin turbos to boost the output, and converted it to run on biogas... in this case, fermented switchgrass!

The results? 585 horsepower, and a top speed of 327.2 km/h, or roughly 202.8 mph.


Monday, October 27, 2008

What Car Buyer's Really Want

According to a Survey done by BMW in Britain... 75% of buyers would not buy a hybrid. Why? Because while 20% of buyers actually do look at CO2 emissions when car shopping, "three quarters of motorists would purchase a lower-emissions car only if it saved them money". Saving money is by no means the same as saving gas.

You can read the full BMW press release HERE.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's All In The Spin!

Earlier this week when I was looking around the lexus.ca website for the facts & figures used in the previous article I came across the "Lexus Hybrid Drive" section of the site with headings on "Benefits", "How It Works", and "Hybrid Myths". Some of it was well presented and honest, but a few "facts" were so rife with spin I got dizzy!

A few examples:
A Powerful Statement
Lexus Hybrid Drive is an advanced gas-electric hybrid system that delivers significant environmental benefits without sacrificing power or performance.

First... I hate anyone that justifies hybrids primarily by declaring them to be a statement!

Secondly, are the environmental benefits truly significant? As I brought out in my last article about Lexus, in the case of the GS450h, it only uses 4.6% less fuel than it's conventionally powered counterpart. That's hardly significant.

I will admit that it does indeed do so without sacrificing power though. After all, you've got 2 powertrains working together to do the work of one, so of course it will end up being more powerful.

But what about performance? Performance can be measured in a multitude of ways. Since we can assume that these 2 cars will be fitted with many (if not all) identical parts outside of the powertrain, that means "performance" in this case can be boiled down to two things: power, and weight (since the extra motor + the batteries to power it weigh a few hundred pounds).

Horsepower: 303@6200
Weight: 3795

Torque: 267@4800
Weight: 4134

The hybrid does have a slightly better power to weight ratio, which means acceleration will be somewhat better. But since it weighs over 300 pounds more, braking and cornering will suffer. A lot!

It would be like having my ex-wife in the backseat all the time!

Lexus Hybrid Drive vehicles are significantly more efficient than their non-hybrid counterparts. While fuel consumption is lower for both city and highway driving, city driving requires less fuel because the electric motors are often used exclusively at low speeds.

Yes I will agree that city driving with a hybrid uses a lot less fuel since you spend more time rolling on electric power, as well as having the benefits of start/stop (which conventional vehicles are soon starting to get).

But yet again... there's the word: significant. 4.6%... significant? Not in my opinion.

In the "Hybrid Myths" section:
Hybrids Cost An Arm And a Leg
There is an initial added cost outlay, but it's not nearly as significant as you might think. You'll also benefit from available government rebates, reduced service costs and fuel savings. The Lexus GS 450h gets almost 25% better fuel-economy than its conventional cousin, the GS 430.

The people at Lexus seem to have a very fluid perception of what "significant" means. A 4.6% savings in fuel consumption is "significant", yet a 38% increase in MSRP is "not nearly as significant as you might think".

How stupid does Lexus think their customers are?

As for benefiting from government rebates... here in Canada (after all, I'm reading lexus.ca) there is only one of the three Lexus hybrids that gets that rebate, which is a mere $1000 (on a $55,000 vehicle).

As for the claim that the 450h gets 25% better fuel economy than it's conventional cousin, the 430... it's true, but that's only because they are powered by two entirely different engines! The 430 is powered by a 4.3L V8, while the 450h is powered by a 3.5L V6! Lexus is comparing apples to oranges. There's 2 extra cylinders and nearly 25% difference in displacement between the 2 engines, so of course the bigger one would use more gasoline.

Compare apples to apples Lexus... conventional 3.5L V6 vs hybrid 3.5L V6.

But wait, you don't really want to do that because 4.6% isn't nearly as significant as 25%.

Sorry Lexus.... you've got some very nice looking vehicles, but your hybrids are not nearly as great as you proclaim them to be, and the lack of respect for your customer's intelligence is appalling!

If you want to read more of their nonsense and spin, feel free to visit their hybrid page for yourself.

Friday, October 10, 2008


For the automakers that feel hybrids are here to stay, and not just a transitional technology, I can't help but wonder how their hybrids will be powered when gas is too expensive for anyone to buy, or when it's completely gone all together...

According to Johnson Controls, electric cars will eventually win out!

Those that are more forward-thinking are already hard at work making cool electric powered cars. Tesla is the first to put performance EVs in the hands of consumers, but RUF is hot on their heels with their electric powered Porsche.

-200 horsepower
-418 lb-ft of torque
-0 to 60 is less than 7 seconds
-160 mph top speed
-zero emissions

I want one!


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lexus Says "Hybrids Aren't Just a Transition Technology"

"They are here to stay."

So claims Andy Pfeiffenberger, the head of Lexus Europe. Perhaps in the future things will be different, but in their current state, hybrids are nothing more than a band-aid. And if what they have now is all they have to offer, Toyota/Lexus is in a very sad state.

For starters, hybrids as we know them now do very little to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. The fact is, they still need gasoline to run. Sure they may use a bit less, but like I said... they're just a band-aid. Hybrids on our roads today are doing little to wean us off gasoline, and nothing to promote alternative energy solutions.

Just look at the hybrid offerings from Lexus themselves:

The GS450h is the hybrid version of the GS350. The 350 is powered by a 3.5L V6 and gets a combined EPA rating of 10.7L/100kms (22mpg). The GS450h is powered by the same 3.5L V6 (I wonder where they got the 450 nomenclature from?) but with the addition of the electric motor puts out a few more horsepower, while consuming 10.2L/100kms (23mpg).*

That's a grand total of 4.6% improvement in fuel efficiency! (And don't forget that they both need Premium pump gas too...)


That figure is even more amazing when you factor in the price. What does the privilege of 4.6% improvement in fuel economy cost you? Try $11,250 in the United States, or $18,200 in Canada!**

Let's do the math on that:

In the USA it will cost you about 25% more to save 4.6% on gas.

In Canada it will cost you over 34% more to save 4.6% on gas.

Andy Pfeiffenberger had better hope Toyota/Lexus can come up with something much better than that if they truly believe that hybrids aren't just a transition technology and really are here to stay.

*Fuel economy figures taken from fueleconomy.org.
**Price differentials based on MSRP, taken from lexus.com and lexus.ca respectively.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Speed matters!

For the sake of science, I've been making a nuisance of myself over the past month and a half. How so? By sometimes driving exactly speed limit... aside from the occasional Prius, I felt like I was about to be run into more often than not. Why was I doing this? Read on.

Common sense dictates that driving slower uses less gas! It's simple logic... if your engine turns less RPMs, then you are therefore pumping less fuel through it and creating less power.

But, exactly how much does slowing down save? (Or conversely, how much does speeding up cost?)

Over the last little while I've been keeping track of how my speed affects my fuel economy. Using a Scan Gauge (an essential tool for all hyper-milers and anyone concerned with saving gas) I've been able to verify just how much (or how little) fuel I use during my daily commute. Unfortunately, there's far too many variables involved in my entire commute to give anything close to accurate numbers for comparison.

However, there's one stretch of exactly 16.0 kms which is generally congestion free. Many mornings I can turn on the cruise control and not have to touch a pedal for the duration. This doesn't always work though, and from time to time my test was binned because I had to either slow down or speed up to avoid getting into, or causing, accidents.

This stretch includes a few curves in the highway, 3 underpasses, 2 overpasses, one long uphill, and another downhill section.

I ran many tests at varying speeds, alternating randomly between 100kph (the posted speed limit), 105kph, 110kph, and 115kph. The speed driven on any particular day was chosen randomly. The randomness was to prevent any one factor from unduly influencing the results. Things like aerodynamic drag (tried not to spend too much time behind any other cars on the highway), temperature (it was marginally warmer when I started running these tests), the amount of gas in the tank (full vs. empty, different weight), etc. were hopefully negated by averaging out multiple tests over nearly two months of trials. Results that were inexplicably high or low (severe headwind/tailwind perhaps) were thrown out.

Below are the results of 5 different trips at each speed, taken on entirely random days over the last 6+ weeks.

100 kph:
6.8L/100km - 6.5L/100km - 6.4L/100km -6.4L/100km - 6.5L/100km.
Average: 6.52L/100km

105 kph:
6.8L/100km - 6.7L/100km - 7.2L/100km - 7.0L/100km - 6.8L/100km
Average: 6.9L/100km

110 kph:
7.3L/100km - 7.2L/100km - 7.6L/100km - 7.2L/100km - 7.4L/100km
Average: 7.34L/100km

115 kph:
7.8L/100km - 7.7L/100km - 8.1L/100km - 7.9L/100km - 7.7L/100km
Average: 7.84L/100km

So what does speed cost?

Driving 5% faster than the speed limit costs 5.9% more in fuel.

Driving 10% faster than the speed limit costs 12.6% more in fuel.

And finally, driving 15% faster than the speed limit costs you 20.25% more in fuel!

I'd like to try higher speeds to see exactly how much fuel consumption increases with every 5kph, but there are consistantly police along this particular stretch of highway as well, in at least four different spots, so going any faster for the sake of this blog just isn't worth it.

The increase is definitely steep though. Aerodynamic drag increases exponentially with speed, and therefore increases fuel consumption sharply. Looking at my numbers above you can do the math and see that 20% faster than the 100kph speed limit will cost roughly 28-29% more in fuel.

So, is driving fast worth it to you? I suppose it depends how late you are.

Or how much money you want to burn.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

VW Jetta TDI Sets Guinness Record

Congrats to Helen and John Taylor, who set a new World Record by driving their 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI around the United States (the lower 48) while achieving a record setting overall fuel mileage of 58.82 miles per US gallon. That is 70.64 miles per Imperial gallon, or 3.99L/100km.

The trip of over 9,400 miles used just 11 tanks of gas and cost them only US$

You can learn more about them and read a journal of their entire trip on their official website.

(Image courtesy vw.ca)

Rallye R.E.A.L. Update

I got some more info about this coming weekend's Rallye R.E.A.L.

Over the course of the two day event the cars will travel from Alma, Quebec to St-Jerome, Quebec via a route of approximately 800 kms. The complete entry list, however, is a real disappointment... 18 cars entered, every last one of which is a hybrid.

Joy of joys.

Not a single CNG, LPG, or bio-diesel/biofuel powered car to be seen. No EVs either.

It's quite a let-down when you consider that it's supposed to be an "alternative energy" rally, yet every single car entered runs on fossil fuels. Sure they're "hybrid" so they can get slightly better fuel mileage, but they aren't really alternative since they have to fill up with the same gasoline nearly every other car on the road uses.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Volvo's DRIVe Technology

I think it's absolutely great when an automaker steps back for a moment, takes a look at the vehicles they produce, and asks "how can we make this just a bit better without sacrificing the car itself?"

That's exactly what Volvo has done with their DRIVe technology, which analyzes a vehicle's efficiency and then optimizes it for economy. Volvo calls it a "holistic approach to eco-performance"... which I find irritatingly haughty sounding, but that's just me. The principles and technology involved are totally sound.

Volvo took their diesel powered C30, S40, and V50 and looked at 4 different areas of each of the cars and optimized them accordingly: they reduced aerodynamic drag, they lowered rolling resistance, they used higher gearbox ratios, and a finally, implemented a more efficient driveline.

The end result: an average increase in fuel economy of about 10% over the equivalent standard models, which were already very efficient cars to begin with.

Take a look at the cars in the picture... aside from the unusual looking wheels you can't really see a difference, can you? It just goes to show that automakers can make a difference when they put their minds to it.

Read all the details HERE at greencar.com.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chrysler's EV Recipe

(Also known as "how to copy Tesla in 3 easy steps".)

1) Buy a Lotus... everyone's go-to when they need something cool, quick, and light weight! In Chrysler's case, it was the new Europa, vs. Tesla's choice of an Elise.

2) Remove all the gasoline burning parts.

3) Replace said parts with high powered electric motor, to the tune of 268hp.

They figure it'll go from 0 to 60 in less than 5 seconds, top out at about 120 miles per hour, and will be able to cover 150-200 miles on a single charge (which they claim will take 8 hours on 110v, and 4 hours on a 220v circuit).

This is how to make, and sell EVs. GM take note. Having an arse-ugly, four-door, Civic/Prius crossbreed that can only do 40 miles on a charge is not the way to make people take note.

As for this little EV... remove the Viper copycat stripes and I'd buy one!

More HERE.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday News Quickies

I don't have a lot of time today to get into everything I'd like... but I did see a few articles over the weekend that I want to highlight.

First of all, Mazda is working on developing synthetic plastics. Since plastic is a petroleum based product, using it to lighten cars (to improve fuel economy) isn't exactly an entirely winning situation since it still would be reliant on oil. By working to develop synthetic substitutes for plastic, Mazda is effectively working on backing away from any reliance on oil. As I've mentioned here in the past, they're also working on a brilliant start/stop technology (much better than the usual way at least...) which I very much hope will be available sooner rather than later. When my current lease it up I'll be looking for a vehicle with start/stop and Mazda would easily be at the top of my list if theirs is out in Canada by then. Finally, they have a very interesting looking 2.2L diesel in the works too. It'll be sold in Europe sometime in '09, paired with their start/stop tech, which makes me hopeful that it will soon after find it's way to North America.

Next, Audi is working on an intelligent system that communicates with stop-lights on the road ahead and informs you as to what speed you should travel so as to arrive at the light when it's green. This is a fantastic idea that has to potential to greatly improve fuel economy by eliminating the constant stopping and accelerating that's associated with city driving. As you're driving down the road towards an intersection, you would know that if you decelerated a bit to 50kph instead of 65kph, the light ahead would be green when you get there, instead of you driving all the way to the light, coming to a stop only to have to accelerate again 3 seconds later. Maintaining a constant flow would pay dividends in your own fuel economy, as well as help improve traffic flow in general.

FIAT has yet another special edition 500 ready to sell... this time styled by Diesel, not fueled by it. Personally I love small, quirky cars like the FIAT 500, and while this particular edition is pretty nice looking, it's only skin deep. (The upcoming Abarth Edition is much more interesting to me.) The Diesel 500 is nothing more than some new colors, a little badging here and there, and some interior refinement. They call it an "Urban Survival Vehicle"... uh, ok. In any case, at least they're standing by their statement that going green means reducing size! (Image courtesy autoblog.com)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Small Car = Large *****?

Ok, I'll be the first to admit that this isn't truly "newsworthy" in that it's got nothing to do with alternative means transportation, or any new technologies to reduce our dependence on oil, but still... it's worth a laugh!

It's long been maintained that people who drive sports cars and massive (read: useless) SUVs are compensating for something *ahem* that's a little lacking.

Claviné (a natural male enhancement) decided to turn that cliché around and instead point out that men secure enough to drive fuel efficient, small cars (ie: the smart) have no inadequacy to worry about... thanks to Claviné, they would have you believe.

All in all, good for a laugh! (And the only decent excuse to drive around town with a larger than life-sized image of Tera Patrick - who also drives a smart - on all four sides of your car...)

See a few more pics HERE.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Green Cars or Sports Cars... We All Want The Same Thing!

(Editor's Note: It's kinda' hard to respect greencar.com when they go and do something utterly stupid like naming a 20mpg SUV as their "Green Car Of The Year", but that's what they in fact did in 2007. You can take a look at the article yourself and be dumbstruck as you read some rather obtuse quotes like "People don’t think ‘green’ when SUVs are concerned, and for generally good reason since SUVs often get poor fuel economy compared to most other vehicles" immediately followed by this gem: "Chevrolet’s achievement is even more apparent during city driving where a large percentage of SUVs spend their time every day."

Brilliant! They open their article by citing the two major flaws of the SUV trend (they inherently inefficient and their sheer size is dangerous to others and needlessly congests our roads), but then go on to extol the virtues of one that manages to get 20 miles per gallon instead of the usual 15!

Hopefully those responsible have been sacked!

The reason I bring this up is because they do occasionally cover some excellent cars featuring exceptionally bright ideas..
. one of which I'm talking about at the end of this article.)

The founder of Lotus, Colin Chapman, believed that the two most important characteristics of a sports car were minimum weight, and maximum handling. Lotus' are truly uncompromising cars, as adept on a race track as many purpose built race vehicles. There is rarely any "excess" to be found in a Lotus. They are truly minimal sports cars, even in their fully "streetable" form. Alongside these, Lotus offers cars like the 2Eleven which truly push the boundaries in lightweight performance.

Chapman also pioneered the use of light weight composite materials in his Formula 1 cars, as well numerous other innovations in suspension and aerodynamics.

What does all that have to do with green cars?

There are three things that make sports cars fast: power, weight, and aerodynamics. Two of those three are equally important to fuel efficiency!

-Aerodynamics are a defining characteristic of highly fuel efficient cars. Hybrids like the new Honda Insight and Toyota Prius look that ugly for a reason: so they can slip through the air with the least amount of resistance and thereby get the maximum fuel economy. Read any article featuring tips on hypermiling and you will undoubtedly notice they always counsel removing roof racks, bike racks, etc. to reduce aerodynamic resistance.

-The other significant contributing factor to getting better mileage is weight reduction. More and more car makers are looking to composite materials as alternative to steel to make their cars lighter. Mazda, for example, managed to make their brand new Mazda6 lighter that it's predecessor despite the overal vehicle itself being slightly larger. The all new Mazda2 (available everywhere but North America for now) is over 200 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, without cutting the size of the vehicle. Again, any hypermiling article you're likely to read will point out that carrying 50 extra pounds in the trunk can noticeably affect your car's gas mileage.

That being said, Lotus doesn't stop there. They're actively developing their own versions of "green cars", and I'm not talking solely about "British Racing"...

-E85 Burning Exige 265E
Starting with the ultra-lightweight (2050 lb.) Exige, Lotus proceeded to convert it to run on E85 biofuel (85% ethanol - 15% gasoline) whilst putting out 264hp, a boost of 46 horsepower over the stock Exige, making it the most powerful street legal Exige they'd ever made up to that point. The results: 0-60mph in 3.88 seconds, 0-100mph in 9.2, and a top speed of 158 miles per hour!

But how "green" is it? Running on E85 the 265E has a CO2 output of less than 100g/km. According to Toyota's own site the much vaunted Prius, the poster-car for tree-huggers everywhere, has a CO2 output of 104g/km.

Lotus didn't stop there though. The E85 fueled Exige is just a case study... the first step in developing a true enthusiasts car that can run on a variety of fuels, both conventional and alternative.

Tri-Fuel Exige 270E
The natural progression of the E85 powered Exige was the tri-fuel powered Exige 270E which runs on any mixture of gasoline, bioethanol and methanol. Yet this time they got 6 more horsepower out of the engine for a max output of 270hp. By far the most interesting facet of this tri-fuel car is the fact that the methanol it can run on can be produced synthetically from CO2 in the atmosphere. This process would allow the 270E to achieve carbon neutrality. From the Lotus website:

Methanol (CH3OH) can be produced synthetically from CO2 and hydrogen. Ultimately, emerging processes to recover atmospheric CO2 will provide the required carbon that can entirely balance the CO2 emissions at the tailpipe that result from the internal combustion of synthetic methanol. The result is that a car running on synthetic methanol, such as the Exige 270E Tri-fuel would be environmentally neutral.

As well as being green, the great benefit of synthetic methanol is that it would use similar engines and fuel systems to those in current cars; and synthetic methanol can be stored, transported and retailed in much the same way as today's liquid fuels such as gasoline and diesel.

Synthetic methanol also possesses properties better suited to internal combustion than today's liquid fuels, giving improved performance and thermal efficiencies. And it is ideal for pressure-charging (turbocharging and supercharging) already being introduced by manufacturers to downsize engines in a bid to improve fuel consumption.

This alone is quite possibly the coolest development of all!

You can read more about both these case studies HERE at Lotus' official site.

Lastly, and possibly the most interesting "green" case study from Lotus is the Eco Elise.

Lotus went an entirely new direction with the Eco Elise. Instead of focusing simply on fuel and emissions they looked at how they could make the car green from bumper to bumper by using renewable, sustainable, and recyclable materials. Instead of using carbon fiber mat as a base for the composite body panels they used hemp fiber, grown locally. Not only is hemp strong enough to substitute the carbon fiber in this application, but it also obviously consumes CO2 (via photosynthesis) prior to being harvested, pushing the Eco Elise towards carbon neutrality. While the resin it's presently bonded to isn't recyclable yet, Lotus hopes that a natural resin can be developed in the future, thereby making the body panels fully recyclable.

The Eco Elise is also painted with a water-based paint co-developed by Lotus and DuPont, eliminating harsh chemical solvents, as well as needing lower curing temperatures allowing Lotus to expend less energy in the painting process.

Moving inside, hemp is again used as a carbon fiber substitute in fabricating the structure of the seats, which are then covered with a natural wool, which is a great idea if not for the fact that some (like myself) are allergic to pure wool. Instead of dying the wool to the color they want, Lotus designers simply selected specific breeds of sheep to get the desired shade. (Obviously, you cannot get a bright orange interior in this car...) For the carpet, they used another renewable crop... sisal.

On a purely technological side (and one of the features that interests me the most about this study) a pair of solar panels are integrated into the roof. These panels provide power to the cars electrical systems, relieving the engine of the extra load and helping to improve fuel economy. A significant aspect of this feature is that these panels are embedded in a double curvature roofline. This is a feature I would hope many manufacturers could one day implement into any sort of production car... not simply their "green" concepts.

The end result: not only is the Eco Elise greener from beginning (production) to end (disposal/recycling), but Lotus also managed to cut a total of 70 pounds off the standard car's weight. They even saved 3 pounds by simply re-evaluating the sound system and choosing lighter components.

For a little more info, as well as some pictures, you can read greencar.com's review of the Eco Elise HERE.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Audi R10 TDI Takes All

2008 American Le Mans Series Championship: Check! (clinched with two races to go no less...)

2008 24 Hours Of Le Mans: Check! (despite heavy opposition from Peugeot's own diesel)

2008 European Le Mans Series Championship: Check! (again, despite heavy opposition from Peugeot)

Congratulations to Audi and the diesel powered R10 TDI for taking top honors in all three benchmarks for sportscar racing in the world!

(image courtesy autoblog.com)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Eye-Candy!

When it comes to true sports cars (and by "true sports cars" I mean stripped down, bare minimum, performance first, everything else second rides... not sporty cars, or sport sedans, or other such fun vehicles) that are propelled by something other than gasoline, there are currently only two options... an electrically powered Tesla from California, or an LPG motivated Beira from Breckland Motors in the UK. A few other companies have very nice renderings and concept cars... but as yet, nothing to truly show if they can kick it around a track or not.

Also, diesel power will likely be found beneath the hood of some sports cars in the very near future too, courtesy Audi and likely Porsche... but for now, it's one or the other of the two I just mentioned.

Batteries Included!
The Tesla is a very small roadster based on a Lotus Elise powered by a brushless electric motor that provides peak torque from zero to 13,000 RPM! Not only is it beautiful to look at (unlike some electrics)... but it also gets the equivalent of 256 miles per gallon (that's less than 1L/100km), goes from 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds, and does it all silently, without a clutch, a gearbox, or any other moving mechanical parts.

Another significant fact about this EV... it gets well over 200 miles of range per charge! General Motors could afford to take note of this detail... their upcoming EV, the Volt, is expected to have an electric range of just 40 miles, with a supplementary range of 300-something on it's gas engine. Excuse me?!? An EV that needs a gas engine to travel any significant distance?!? Brilliant EV planning there boys.

You can read more about the Tesla, as well as see a bunch of great photos on the official site of Tesla Motors.

Future TVR?
The other non-gasoline sports car out there now is the Brecklands Beira. Again, it's a small roadster, this time based on GM's Miata-chasing Kappa platform (which you likely see every day on the road in the form of the very sexy Pontiac Solstice or Saturn Sky).

However, in the case of the Beira, instead of an anemic 4 cylinder (turboed or not... that car is a little overweight) Breckland instead opted to use GM's 6.0L V8, which puts out a nice round 400 horsepower while running on LPG.

Unfortunately, I can't find an "official site" for Breckland Motors. In the mean time, you can see a few more pics of the Beira at the evo website HERE.

Lastly, you can see both in action at Goodwood this past summer, courtesy Fifth Gear:

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chrysler Engineers Try Something New: Thinking

Using nothing but the power of their brains, engineers at Chrysler have managed to increase their minivan's fuel efficiency by 8%! Yes, instead of just slapping a bunch of random parts together and pawning it off on soccer moms across America, they actually took a few moments to think about what they could do to make their vans a little friendly at the pump.

According to them:

A re-tuned six-speed transmission and higher numerical first gear launches Chrysler and Dodge minivans more briskly than a comparable four- or five-speed transmission. The engine also provides smaller steps between ratios, which means the engine speed changes less with each shift, creating a smooth driving dynamic, with improved fuel economy.

(When they say "the engine also provides smaller steps between ratios" I'll assume they meant that in actuality the transmission provides smaller steps, since engines have nothing to do with gear ratios.)

Yes, instead of trying to fit just one more cupholder into a van which already had more cupholders than seats, they decided to apply a little engineering know-how to make the van go further on a tank of gas. A random side-effect of this usage of their brains is that they made it smoother to boot.


Other automakers take note: More Gears = Better Mileage.

I'm surprised nobody came up with this sooner.

Oh wait... sports cars have been using 6 speed gearboxes for years. And Mercedes equips a few of their sedans with 7 speeds...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mitsubishi Preps a Bio-Diesel Powered Lancer for the 2009 Dakar

Despite the 2008 edition of the Dakar rally being a no-go due to a-hole terrorists, the relocated 2009 edition is less than 4 months away. And during the past off-year Mitsubishi have not been resting on their laurels, enjoying their previous 7 consecutive wins. No, they've been busy getting their brand new, bio-diesel powered, Racing Lancer ready to attack South America in January of next year.

While a rally-raid event isn't exactly an environmentally friendly endeavor, Mitsubishi is looking to take a few steps in a greener direction by competing with a non-food-sourced bio-diesel powered vehicle, as well as using renewable plastic in it's construction.

The Racing Lancer they'll be competing with in 2009 will be powered by a 3.0L turbo diesel putting out approximately 280 hp and over 475 pound-feet of torque. It's an engine that they've been developing and competing with in their 2008 raid vehicle, a Pajero Evolution.

You can read more about these beastly diesels HERE.

Buh-bye Hummers... hello smarts!

It's hard not to laugh at the misfortune of the ill-fated HUMMER brand. They post the highest monthly sales losses by brand every month, GM is desperately trying to sell off the name, and their dealers are closing at an unprecedented rate.

Subsequently, it's impossible not to laugh when one such dealer, the largest HUMMER dealer in the US is not only closing... but is soon going to be selling smart cars instead!

You can read the FULL STORY HERE.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rallye R.E.A.L.

What: Rallye Énergie Alternative des Laurentides 2008 (or in English: Alternative Energy Rally of the Laurentians 2008) (A "regularity rally" run over open roads with scoring being based on precision of timing and speed, not outright, full-throttle craziness!)

Website: http://www.rallyereal.com/

When: October 2nd, 3rd, & 4th, 2008

Where: Alma, Quebec City, & St-Jerome - Quebec, Canada

Climate change has became a subject of concern whose stake is on the scale of planet. One cannot ignore it, which is why the promotion of alternative means of transport are from now on of crucial importance. The consequences of the massive use of the car in our cities is well known: air pollution, sound pollution, congestion of the downtown areas, accidents, deterioration of the quality of life of the citizens, to name only a few.

Rallye Énergie Alternative des Laurentides 2008 represents the ideal occasion to see various vehicles driven by alternative energies in action at the time of this exclusive rally open to the general public and to help promote other types of energies that that of gasoline.

The rally comprises two stages, over a 2 day period and adding up more than 800 km. The pilots and copilots will have to navigate, and drive their car conscientiously under optimal conditions to obtain minimal fuel consumption while traveling the splendid panoramic route, and to respect the speeds imposed during each test of regularity.

(Translation courtesy of WorldLingo.com & yours truly)

Unfortunately, the 2007 edition was almost exclusively a hybrid affair. There were 2 electric vehicles... one production based, and one home-brew Chevy Cavalier. The rest of the field was made up of Priuses, hybrid Civics & Insights, and 2 hybrid SUVs... a Highlander and an Escape. (Interesting side note: my strictly gas powered, 175 horsepower, sedan can get better highway mileage then either of the EPA ratings for the hybrid SUVs entered.)

This year the event is open to hybrids (yawn - what else?), electrics (Tesla, anyone? Yes please!) as well as vehicles powered by alternative fuels, including biodiesel, natural gas, LPG, etc.

I'm curious how many smarts might be entered this year. The cdi smart can be run on biodiesel, and it puts out a mere 88 g of CO2/km, which is well under the event's regulated limit for biodiesel vehicles of 100 g of CO2/km. And while they don't have a class for gasoline powered high-efficiency vehicles, the regulations state that any car using more than 30% fossil fuels will be limited to 120 g of CO2/km. The petrol powered smart falls under that limit as well.

Sadly I don't own a smart of either type, I can't even come close to affording a Tesla... and since I'll never be caught dead driving a hybrid, I can't enter this event. However if you own a smart cdi and would be willing to hand over the keys and spend the 2 days as a copilot I'd be more than happy to team up. (I'm not holding my breath...)

I'll try to make it into St-Jerome in a few weeks to catch the end of the event and see if anything besides the jellybean snob-mobiles showed up!

Anti-Greens Torching Priuses

While I'll certainly never mourn the fact that there's one less "overly smug, self-righteous greenie" driven Prius on the road, torching someone's car is just WRONG!

Mind you, I never shed a tear for the excessively wasteful SUVs that got torched or vandalized a few years back either. I guess the drivers of those gas guzzlers just got tired of ugly little Priuses (aka: poster vehicle for the "I'm a better human than YOU" crowd!) buzzing around town congesting traffic with their utter lack of acceleration and low-speed "oooh noes, I don't want to drive fast because it makes the gas engine work" shenanigans!

Full article HERE, courtesy autoblog.com

Q: What does a smart have that no hybrids can offer?

A: 50% off parking in NYC!

In Europe smarts are allowed to park nose in towards the curb, thus allowing two to get into a single parallel parking space.

Until North America climbs out of the automotive stone-age and catches up, this would never fly here. In the mean time, Meyer's Parking of New York City is only charging smart owners half what it would normally charge for space in it's garages, which include Madison Square Garden, Javits Center, Times Square and Upper East Side.

Full article HERE.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Keen Grasp Of The Obvious

"Friends Of The Earth" have done a study as part of their forlesspollutingcars.com initiative and have come up with the following revelation after questioning 5000 people in various Eurpean countries:

Two thirds believe that lowered fuel consumption would allow citizens to spend their money in other ways, which would help the economy.

Wow! That's brilliant! Who ever could have imagined that money NOT spent on gas could subsequently be spent on something else far more interesting?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Open Your Mind!

And avoid backseats!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Cool Diesel News!

I came across some cool diesel news on Autoblog.com this afternoon. While diesels are still in for a long fight to gain acceptance in North America (as opposed to outnumbering gasoline powered cars in Europe), the dim light at the end of the tunnel is slowly brightening.

All of VWs TDI powered cars, as well as Mercedes Bluetec vehicles, now qualify for a federal alternative-powertrain tax credit. (I would assume that the soon to be released Audi TDI cars will get the same benefits as they are essentially VW engines under the hood.)

Oddly enough, several Ford hybrids like the Escape hybrid two-wheel drive qualify for 2 to 3 times as much of a rebate. Perhaps a little favoritism? Seems like it to me.

Also today, there's a great myth debunking video on GMNext.com pointing out that there are no real legitimate reasons for diesel to be the "outcast" fuel that it still is here in North American.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Performance + >50mpg + Exclusivity = ALPINA

Start with a 3 series BMW coupé & a 1 series diesel powerplant.

Then put it in the capable hands of the ever subtle BMW tuner ALPINA and let them work a little magic. The result is an even better looking Beemer that still gets well over 50 miles per gallon (52.3 to be exact, or 5.4L/100km) while putting out 214 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque, which is enough to propel the coupé from zero to 60 in less than 7 seconds and keeps pushing it all the way to a 152 mph (244 kph) top speed.

Oh, and don't forget that APLINA is only going to make 100 of them, so you'd better get your name to them ASAP... if you live in Europe.


Getting Better Mileage Is As Easy Changing Your Driving Habits

As I often say, there's no need to sacrifice your driving enjoyment to the tree-hugging hybrid gods just to get better gas mileage. While it's true that commuting in a huge car with a gas guzzling V8 is generally pointless, fuel efficient driving can still make a dent in the economy of that pointless car. Of course, making a responsible choice when buying a vehicle in the first place helps too.

But regardless of what car you drive, changing your driving habits can help keep money in your pocket.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Popular Mechanics tests the TT TDi!

After two weeks out of my office, I'd like to say it feels great to be back.... but I can't. It's Monday. Monday never feels great. Perhaps tomorrow will.

In any case, Popular Mechanics got tired of waiting for Audi to bring the diesel powered TT over here for a test, so they went over there to try it out. And they liked it!

A killer looking sports coupe that can top 40 mpg (US mpg no less)... what's not to like?

Read the full article HERE.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Losing the War on Relevancy!

While Ford is busy shutting down it's truck & SUV production lines to make room for manufacturing the new euro-based Focus and world car Fiesta, GM is busy stumbling along in a fog of ineptitude.

I'm no Ford fan-boy, but when they saw that their Focus was selling like hotcakes while their F-150s (once their staple) languished on lots all over America they were fast to react.

General Motors on the other hand is anything but.

Their stocks have been falling at an unprecedented rate, and have recently traded below $9 which is the lowest they've been in 50 years.

Earlier this week they announced sweeping cuts to reduce costs, as well as major cuts (300,000 units less by 09) to truck production. Up to this point, it all makes sense. Then they lose the plot...

In April of last year (2007) Chevrolet unveiled 3 compact concept cars at the New York Auto Show. Yes, that is New York, as in... the United States. GM then created a website for the Triplets, urging the American public to vote on which was their favorite. Heck, they even managed to get the all-important product placement. The Beat (which won the online vote) will make an appearance in the upcoming Transformers movie sequel, much like the coming (one day... soon... eventually... or so they say) Camaro did in the first film.

With the North American automotive market in the state it's in, surely now would be the perfect time to release that Beat (and even it's siblings!) to the American car-buying public. Small cars are selling faster now than ever. MINI can't keep cars on the lots, Toyota and Honda are both into single digit inventory days for their sub compacts, and many other automakers like Mazda and Ford are working hard and fast to get their smallest world cars selling on this continent.

So what about GM and the Beat?

Well, they're planning on having it for sale in Europe next spring.

But according to Bob Lutz, GM's "car czar", GM didn't intend for the Beat (or Spark as it will be called in Europe) to be offered in the U.S., so it doesn't meet federal safety and crash standards. He says it would take too much money and about two years to bring the Beat up to snuff for sales in the U.S., and therefore it wouldn't be coming to the U.S. until the next generation arrives...


A "generation" in cars years is about 5 or 6 years at least. If Europe is only getting the new car in 2009, that means North America won't see a Beat (Spark, whatever) until 2015. And all because they didn't think that maybe it was time to design a car to be sold globally?

With that kind of brains at the helm of GM it won't even be around long enough to sell the next generation.

And just who were the marketing genius's that decide to release and promote the Triplets in the USA, while never having any intention of actually selling them here?

So, what is GM planning for the North American automotive market? Well, according to Lutz, they've got some new compact SUVs coming this fall. That's brilliant! Just what we need... even more trucks! Really, I'm being totally serious. While the rest of the world is getting sub-compact Beats that get great fuel mileage and are having their tedious old Cobalts replaced with the new Cruze (which gets 40+ miles per gallon, versus the Cobalts low 30s) we here are stuck with Aveos and Cobalts, neither of which is especially economical or even nice to look at.

Aren't we lucky?

But wait, GM will have another relevant vehicle for sale soon... the Cadillac Escalade HYBRID!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

People Are Joiners, Not Thinkers

Why do people make environmental choices?

Because it's the smart thing to do, or simply because it's the cool thing to do?

Thirty six percent of Prius owners bought that particular car because of it's fuel saving ability. For them, it was a smart thing to do.

However, 57 percent of Prius owners bought that particular because "because it makes a statement". In other words... it was the cool thing to do. All the other environmentalists are doing it, so why shouldn't I?

Good question.

Instead of thinking, and making responsible choices, the sheep mentality of far too many people today just leads them to make whatever decision everyone else is making. Any idea pushed in their face must obviously be a good one, so they go ahead and jump right in too.

Monday, July 14, 2008

BMW Bringing 3 Series Diesel to NA, But Not The 1 Series Diesels?

According to THIS ARTICLE at autobloggreen.com, BMW has plans to bring the refreshed, diesel powered 3 Series to North America this fall. Or I should say, a single diesel powered model of the refreshed 3 Series. The 6 cylinder 335d looks pretty interesting, especially when you look at the performance numbers: 0-60 just over 6 seconds flat, 265 horsepower, and (the most impressive number) 425 lb-ft of torque!

Even though they're only bringing the diesel over to our shores with an automatic 6-speed gearbox, that torque number alone is enough to ensure that there will be plenty of get-up-and-go no matter which gear you're in.

When you consider those performance figures along with the usual "driver enjoyment" traits that BMW brings to the table with all their models, you've got a solid package. However, when you factor in the fact that this diesel will do all that while also getting a combined fuel mileage of 35 miles per US gallon (42 miles per Imp gallon / 6.72L/100km!!) you've got a potentially great package!

Unfortunately, it seems BMW doesn't have much faith in selling diesels to North Americans quite yet since only only their highest performing diesel 3 Series, the 335d, will sell in North America this fall, because in Europe they also get 4 cylinder diesel 3 Series, the 320d. While it doesn't boast performance numbers that are quite as impressive (177hp, 0-62 in 7.9 seconds) it does get a combined fuel mileage of 49 miles per US gallon (58.9 miles per Imp gallon, 4.8L/100km!!).

The new 1 Series is no better off. When I asked BMW when/if they would bring more variants of the 1 Series to North America their response was:

Unfortunately, there are currently no communicated plans to offer other variants of the BMW 1 Series in Canada. There are many variables that come into play when looking at introducing new models/variants but it is possible that we will see the hatchback/diesel models in the future.

Give it time though. As gas prices continue to rise, so will the demand for fuel efficient cars. And with that will come more of these performance oriented diesels.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Audi Pushing Diesels Over Hybrids

Not only does Audi make the best diesel powered race cars, but they are also very adept at making great diesel powered sedans, coupés, and roadsters. They even make a diesel crossover (in Europe only), but the Q7 is outrageously hideous so I'll just pretend they never stooped so low.

What Audi doesn't make is a hybrid!

Why not?

According to Johan de Nysschen, the boss at Audi Of America, there just isn't really any point for the manufacturer, nor the consumer. Referring to the previously mentioned abomination... er, Q7... he wants to delay the launch of a hybrid as long as possible - if not indefinitely - given today's currency exchange rate and the low projected volumes for the vehicle.

"The price premium of the hybrid under these conditions would negate the savings to consumers, as well as eliminating any profit margin for the automaker."

No surprise there. Nor am I the only person to point out that a hybrid doesn't really save you much coin. They're really nothing more than a high-priced fashion statement.

But I digress...

Back to de Nysschen:

“I'm not pushing engineering to hurry up. We don't need hybrids for all segments for Audi in the U.S.”

“I'd like to see hybrids pushed out two more years.”

Like the other major German carmakers, Audi sees diesels as a better option in the U.S. than hybrids. Given the fact that a hybrid only really shines in slow, stop-and-go city traffic, while a diesel can greatly outperform it on a highway at speed, it makes perfect sense.

(In any case, I believe that large SUVs and crossover should be banned from city centers, or at the very least heavily taxed if they want to be driven downtown already. The last thing any downtown core needs is excessively large passenger vehicles occupied by a single passenger taking up far more room than they can possibly require!)

But I digress... again...

Unfortunately, Audi also recognizes the well-entrenched perception by North American consumers that hybrids are a better solution.

In Europe, diesels account for more than 50% of all new car sales across all the major brands. It's not just an econobox or delivery truck thing anymore for them. Prestige brands like Audi, BMW, & Mercedes all have significant diesel lineups. But in North America it's an uphill battle for them. The market here has been greenwashed into believing that hybrids are unbeatable when the fact is, they aren't. They're merely one way to cut fuel consumption... but by no means are they the only way.

Toyota Camry's Lead Engineer Died From "Karoshi" (Overwork)

Putting a bit of substance behind the claims from the National Labor Committee that Toyota employees are literally worked to death is the ruling of the Japanese labor bureau that a lead engineer on Toyota's hybrid Camry program did indeed die of "karoshi" which is the Japanese term for "death from overwork". This report from the Associated Press gives some details.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Advertising By Association

Hybrids are cool, right? They're the "in" thing right now. The demand for better fuel economy is increasing exponentially, and since hybrids are perceived as the greenest automobiles around, everyone wants to get on the hybrid bandwagon.

Even if their car isn't a hybrid.

Renault recently announced that they're bring the "micro hybrid" technology called "start-stop" to every model in their lineup by 2010. Great! Shutting down the engine instead of idling at stoplights is a great idea. It's something I do myself at lights I know to be particularly long, especially if I roll up to one just as it's turned red.

But why is Renault calling this a "micro hybrid" technology? There's nothing hybrid about it.

A hybrid, by definition, is "something, such as a computer or power plant, having two kinds of components that produce the same or similar results." Hybrid cars have two different powerplants, both of which are able to propel the car down the road on their own, or together.

BMW has implemented start/stop technology in their conventional gasoline & diesel powered "Efficient Dynamics" cars, and other automakers are working on getting it on their models as well. Mazda developed a start/stop system of their own, ostensibly even more brilliant in that they need neither a battery pack, nor a starter-motor to restart their engines. Their SISS (smart idle stop system) will appear on Mazda models as soon as 2009!

Shutting a gasoline or diesel engine down at a stop is not a hybrid. It's a smart idea, improving fuel economy by up to 10% (or more in city driving) but there's still just one kind of engine motivating that car.

Automakers need to call a spade, a spade and stop trying to greenwash their products, calling them something they aren't!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

50 Liter Challenge

CanadianDriver.com in association with Motoring 2008 held their second 50-Liter Challenge earlier this year. The first was held back in 2005... the good ol' days, back when gas was $0.50/L less than it is now.

The premise is very simple. They took 13 cars - all with a fuel tank capacity of at least 50 liters, and all under $20,000 - filled each one up with exactly 50 liters of fuel, and then drove them until they ran dry. The route chosen took them all over eastern Ontario and even into south-western Quebec over a variety of roads ranging from flat highways in the morning rush-hour to steep hills and forested rural roads in the afternoon. I've driven many of those roads myself and I can say they definitely covered a variety of driving conditions. The only thing not included in the test was stop-and-go city traffic.

So which of the 13 went the furthest on 50 liters? And how far did it manage to go? The most fuel efficient of the group didn't come as much of a surprise to me... but the distance it covered was quite impressive. Over one thousand kilometers on just 50 liters!

You can read about the entire test HERE.

Friday, July 4, 2008

MPG Test: BMW M3 vs. Toyota Prius

I was going to call this post "Friday Eye Candy" but unfortunately there's a Prius in the video as well.

In any case... take one beautiful sport sedan, the 'bahn storming BMW M3 with it's 4.0L V8 pumping out 414 glorious horsepower and then pit it against every fuel misers darling, the supposedly economical Toyota Prius in a no-holds-barred Miles Per Gallon shootout!

The results:

Ignore the part in the intro where Clarkson mentions that the construction of the Prius is more enviromentally damaging than that of a Land Rover. While there is a certain amount of truth in what he says, it's not quite that simple. (If you want to know the whole story, you can read all about it HERE at thecarconnection.com.)

I'm sure that the Prius drivers of the UK were already several sentences into their hate-mail before the credits rolled, but the fact remains, as he said at the end, that how you drive can be more important than what you drive.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Save Fuel By Driving Less!

That's the brilliant advice offered by Toyota on their corporate blog. Seriously, they've got some pretty intense, hard-hitting journalism there. I never would have thought that not driving my car uses less fuel.

In all fairness though, they do make one or two valid points... things that not everyone may think of. In that same blog posting they link to an earlier article about "hypermiling", which is the practice of adjusting your driving habits & style to improve fuel economy. It's a good article that is definitely worth taking a few minutes to read. Lately I've been making a concerted effort to apply certain hypermiling strategies as often as I can. It's not always feasible, but the techniques do make a difference.

The two biggest changes I've coerced myself into making is avoiding heavy use of the gas pedal, and eliminating idling as much as I can. Accelerating modestly isn't nearly as fun, but driving like your grandmother is in the passenger seat saves a ton of gas! (I'll admit, this is still the hardest change to adopt... I just love really driving.) As for avoiding idling, I don't turn my car off for every stop-light, but the lights that I know are particularly long... lights I wait at nearly every day of the week... for those I definitely cut the ignition. The traffic light to leave my office can be well over 3 minutes. Drive-thrus are another trap to be avoided like the plague. That is much too much time spent with the engine running while not making any forward progress. Nine times out of ten, when I go inside there's barely any line-up there... yet I can't say the same about the drive-thru window.

The other tips mentioned in the article linked above all help too.

I've personally seen a difference of as much as over 18% between the mileage of a tank of gas driven how I usually drive, and a tank of gas hypermiled as much as possible. Even a "moderate" amount of hypermiling saves me over 12% per tank. Over a year that's nearly 10 tanks of gas for me.

Ten tanks of gas at well over $70 per fill-up (@ $1.499/L - current price) is over $700 that I would much rather see in my pocket than the oil company's.