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.