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...

WHAT?!?

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, coup├ęs, 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.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

BMW's Efficient Dynamics

BMW's "Efficient Dynamics" is a collection of technologies developed and/or implemented to improve the efficiency of their vehicles without sacrificing what makes a BMW a "BMW". They recently showcased these technologies in North America when they brought the Efficient Dynamics demo car, a 118d, to New York.

The program uses features such as Auto Start Stop (turning the car off when at a stop in neutral to save fuel and reduce emissions), Brake Energy Regeneration (using the brakes to charge the battery to power accessories instead of allowing it to parasitically feed on the engine, again reducing fuel consumption), and Electric Power Steering (which means the power steering only functions when the wheel is actively being turned, differing from a hydraulic system which feeds off the engine at all times).

Other features of the program include a Gear Shift Indicator, so you can shift at the best time for optimal efficiency, active air vents to reduce aerodynamic drag when the engine doesn't need cooling, and RRR (reduced rolling resistance) tyres.

BMW is even working on a hybrid... and if anyone could change my mind about driving a hybrid, it's BMW. In the mean time, you can read more about their Efficient Dynamics at their international website, HERE, and then wait for them to eventually bring it all to the North American market... one day.

In the mean time, hopefully technologies and ideas like these will be adopted by many other manufacturers in their own line-ups. These are all smart ideas, some very simple even, each of which alone makes a small improvement in fuel efficiency, but together can make a significant difference in mileage and emissions at the end of the day!

All without sacrificing the drive.