ಗುರುವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 25, 2010

Nooooooooooooooooo! Volvo to kill V70 wagon.

I can't believe it.

One of Volvo's iconic products was the turbo wagon.  It was a way to drive an honest wagon, and look and feel good doing it.

Now, according to a leaked document at Jalopnik, Volvo is going to drop the V70 wagon in the U.S., to concentrate on the butched up XC70. 

The more sedate midsize wagons will still be produced for other markets, so there is always a chance that if fashion swings back to car-based wagons, Volvo will reconsider.  Maybe someone will make a business out of lowering XC70's and tearing off their body cladding?

ಶುಕ್ರವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 19, 2010

The Most Expensive Cars To Insure

I thought this was interesting. This is a list of the most expensive 2010 models to insure. I suppose if you have the riches to own a Porsche 911 GT2, which is a second or third car, you probably can afford almost $3,000 for insurance! Data courtesy of Insure.com.

The most expensive 2010 vehicles to insure
Rank Make and Model Style & Type Cylinders Avg. national premium
1 Porsche 911 Carrera GT2 2 Door Coupe 6 $2943.78
2 Mercedes S65 AMG 4 Door Sedan 12 $2863.03
3 Dodge Viper SRT-10 2 Door Coupe 10 $2851.89
4 Porsche Panamera Turbo AWD 4 Door Sedan 8 $2837.39
5 Dodge Viper SRT-10 2 Door Convertible 10 $2815.90
6 Mercedes CL600 2 Door Coupe 12 $2754.80
7 Audi R8 2 Door Coupe AWD 8 $2751.55
8 Porsche Panamera S 4 Door Sedan 8 $2744.78
9 Mercedes SL600 2 Door Convertible 12 $2715.86
10 Porsche 911 Carrera Turbo 2 Door Coupe AWD 6 $2706.04
11 Mercedes CL65 AMG 2 Door Coupe 12 $2699.74
12 BMW M6 2 Door Convertible 10 $2689.13
13 Mercedes S600 4 Door Sedan 12 $2667.48
14 Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series 2 Door Convertible 12 $2655.15
15 Mercedes SL65 AMG 2 Door Convertible 12 $2653.53
16 Mercedes CL63 AMG 2 Door Coupe 8 $2646.92
17 BMW M6 2 Door Coupe 10 $2627.27
18 BMW 760Li 4 Door Sedan 12 $2565.59
19 Jaguar XKR Portfolio SC 2 Door Coupe 8 $2537.79
20 Jaguar XKR Supercharged 2 Door Coupe 8 $2533.48
Source: Insure.com, from a study commissioned by Insure.com from Quadrant Information Services

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 18, 2010

How Will Chrysler Survive?

According to many measures, Chrysler is building junky cars.  Today's junky cars are still miles ahead of the junky cars of decades ago, but still, Chrysler's products are not competitive.  The latest bad news comes from J.D. Power, which shows that Chrysler and its various brands are much worse than industry average for 3 years in service reliability.  

Industry Average: 155 problems (per 100 vehicles)
Chrysler: 166
Jeep: 222

GM and Ford fare much better, most of their brands being above average.  Lincoln, Buick, Mercury, Ford and Cadillac score above average.

If Chrysler can't fix it's quality problems, how will it survive?  It doesn't have VW's Euro cachet or Mazda's Zoom Zoom (both well below average).  Chrysler needs to be a solid choice for the average mid-market family, or they are toast.

A Theory To Explain Sikes

This is purely my speculation.

According to Toyota, Mr. Sikes pressed his brake pedal hundreds of times during his "runaway Prius" event, but did not trigger the engine torque over-ride.

One possible explanation is that perhaps he had a foreign object, such as a soda bottle, wedged under his brake pedal.  In a panic and unable to slow his car down, he wasn't able to remove it until the end.

I once had this actually happen to me, when a water bottle from under my seat worked its way forward, and lodged itself under my brake pedal.  It was a little hairy, but I was able to kick it out of there before getting in trouble.

Giving Sikes this bit of leeway, we're still stuck with the other problem: how did the Prius run away to begin with?   According to NHTSA and Toyota, his floor mat was not clipped to the floor, but was not bunched up under the throttle pedal, either.  But they were unable to move the mat into a position that would have pinned the pedal.  And his Prius was not subject to the throttle pedal recall.

Did Sikes get a stuck throttle and an obstructed brake pedal?  Or did he make the whole thing up for publicity?

Electric Car Consumers Want 90mi for $2,000

According to a survey by Consumer's Union of 1750 car owning adults, the typical (well, median) consumer wants a plug-in car that gets 90 miles of range or more, and wants to pay $2,000 or less over the price of a similar gasoline car for the technology.  More tellingly, consumers earning less than $50,000 (close to the median family income in the U.S. of about $52,000) were much less willing to pay a premium for a BEV.  

"Among consumers that would consider an electric car, the median extra amount that they would pay was $2,068. But 20 percent would pay nothing additional, while an equal share would pay at least $5,000 extra. Across major demographic segments, only one difference was statistically significant: 46 percent of consumers earning $50,000 or more annually would pay at least $2,000 extra versus just 27 percent of those earning less."

However, the current premium is estimated to be something like $10,000 for enough battery to move you 100 miles.  Which means that unless gasoline becomes very expensive, it is going to be a long time before electric cars have any significant volume.

Story here.

ಶನಿವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 13, 2010

Beware The Craigslist Ebay Motors Escrow Scam

The famous Craigslist (or any other source) Ebay Motors escrow scam is still going strong. I am still getting many search engine hits from it, and even after two years, it remains my single most popular post.

In short, it works like this:

  • You answer an ad which has a car for sale that seems "too good of a deal to pass up" or perhaps too good to be true.
  • The seller says the car is in storage, and will be shipped to you. The stories vary, lately the most common one is that a military guy has to sell his car because he is shipping out, and he has to due it long distance.
  • The seller demands that you send Western Union or a similar non-traceable payment to an "Ebay Motors Agent", using the Ebay Motors Protection Program. They even send you an official looking email.
  • If you make the mistake of sending money, you are hosed. There is no Ebay Motors Vehicle Protection program. There are no agents, and Ebay does not use Western Union.

  • Never pay anyone for goods using Western Union, it is probably a scam
  • There is no Ebay Motors Vehicle Protection escrow program
  • Ebay Motors does not use agents
  • Ebay does not accept Moneygram or Western Union payments directly
  • If the story seems fishy (vehicle in storage, guy overseas) it probably is fake

Useful Links:

ಶುಕ್ರವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 12, 2010

Is Sikes Another "Balloon Boy"?

Recenly reborn TTAC and Jalopnik have been digging around to see what they can find out about Mr. Sikes, the "I can't stop my Prius" guy, and what they are finding isn't pretty.  It looks more and more likely that Sikes is a gold-digger.

But even if he is... how did he manage to burn his Prius brakes?  Shouldn't that be impossible?

TTAC story here, Jalopnik here.

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 11, 2010

Videos Show Prius Will Stop

Leith Toyota's (Raleigh, NC) service director, Rodney Britt, has posted a home made video starring Shawn Witek, general manager.  Witek shows how you can stop a 2008 Prius which has its throttle pedal mashed to the floor, using the neutral gear selector, or using the brakes, at 80mph.  You can watch it here.

In the video, the car has no problem going into neutral at 80mph, even if the pedal is pinned to the floor.  The car also has no problem slowing down if the brakes are depressed, again while driving 80mph ("myl'n ahwer") with the throttle pinned.

And on Youtube, this video also shows what happens when you press the brake and gas a the same time on a Prius while moving.  Again, no problem slowing down. 

In both videos, you can clearly hear the engine noise cut out when the brakes are pressed.  That's because the 2008 Prius already has a sort of brake override software, in the sense that the hybrid powertrain controls system doesn't see a need to waste gas if the driver is trying to brake.  So if you hit the brakes and the throttle at the same time, the hybrid will reduce engine torque.

So what happened with Sikes in California?  How did his Prius keep going, while he was supposedly standing on the brake pedal?

ಬುಧವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 10, 2010

Top Gear on Prius

An old Top Gear episode from Top Gear. Clarkson hates the 1st gen Prius so much, he has "Billy Bob" get all WWII on one. See 2:43 for the HK G3, followed by a Browning .50 machine gun. Nice.

Yep, Runaway Prius Guy = Idiot

I wonder, maybe this guy set this up as a stunt?

"Neibert told Sikes after the CHP caught up with him to shift to neutral but the driver shook his head no. Sikes told reporters he didn't go into neutral because he worried the car would flip."

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100310/AUTO01/3100387/1148/rss25#ixzz0hmUtw0Hc

ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 9, 2010

Runaway Prius = Driver FAIL

The runaway Prius story is just full of FAIL.

The driver didn't know he could put the car in neutral with a flick of his wrist, or push and hold the starter button to kill the engine.

The police officer which talked to him over the loudspeaker told him to use the emergency brakes--did the police officer know to suggest neutral or killing the engine?

There is no excuse for a sticky throttle pedal.  But there is also no excuse for not knowing how to control your vehicle.  It is lucky that in this case, somehow the ignorance didn't cause injury or death.

ಸೋಮವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 8, 2010

U.S. Census Money Waste

Today I got a letter in the mail with official markings on it, U.S. Census. But it seemed awful skinny to be a census form. Sure enough, it was a letter informing me that in a week, I will get a census form, and that it is very important that I fill it out.

What a stupid waste of money and trees.

Toyota Vs. ABC: The Empire Strikes Back

It took The Galactic Empire^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Toyota a couple of weeks, but they finally have issued a formal rebuttal to the hack job that ABC and Professor Gilbert did to them on TV.   You can read the details here, but basically, it is the same conclusion that I came to (and posted about here).

Gilbert spliced into several wires on the throttle pedal harness, shorted two of them together through a resistance, and then shorted them to sensor power.  In other words, he induced a multi-point failure, with very specific parameters.  If he had done the splicing in a different order, or shorted different wires, or used a different resistor, it would not work.

Gilbert proved that you can re-wire a car to misbehave.  He didn't come even close to proving that this is what is going on in the field.  

ABC proved that it would rather stir the pot and get people excited, while providing ammo for trial lawyers, than report responsibly on a highly technical issue.  They even threw in some faked tachometer footage to make things look more dramatic--hilariously, with all the telltales illuminated, showing a vehicle at rest, with doors open, and in park.

I would like to see ABC and Gilbert now defend their piece, by explaining how it is relevant to the Toyota untended acceleration issue.

ಭಾನುವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 7, 2010

Troy Chrysler Dealership Tricks

At the Troy motor mall, there used to be a Chrysler dealership, Birmingham Chrysler Jeep ("Birmingham's In Troy!"). They lost their franchise during the Chrysler quick-rinse bankruptcy. Now, something strange has happened. The former Saturn store in the same area has apparently picked up a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge franchise.

This was formerly Suburban Saturn

I don't get it. Chrysler had an established and apparently successful dealership right on Maple road. Why would they force them closed, and then open up a new one around the corner?

Birmingham Chrysler Jeep is now Troy Autoworld, and is trying to scrape by on used car sales and service. They also are selling Wheego neighborhood electric vehicles, which look like an electrified Smart.

Volt Sighting: Detroit Zoo

I took the family to the Detroit Zoo today, to take advantage of the warm sunny weather, and here is what I spotted in the parking deck: a Volt powertrain calibration vehicle.

What surprised me the most about seeing the Volt up close was its size. This is a compact car, not much (if any) larger than a Prius. It was parked next to a current model Malibu, on one side, and a large crossover utility on the other, and it looked small. The GM employee who was driving the car had installed an infant seat in the back behind the driver, and it took up all the space, touching the driver's seat. The car also seemed noticeably short, and according to Edmunds, the Volt is 3" shorter than the Prius.

The volt is definitely going to be a technical triumph, but if it comes in at $35,000+ retail, I don't see how it will be a commercial success.

ಶನಿವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 6, 2010

In Defense Of ETC, Part 3

A comment on my previous post, by user "Ming", pointed out the trend of the total number of unintended acceleration complaints to NHTSA over the years.

2000: 1415
2001: 1345
2002: 1460
2003: 1446
2004: 1426
2005: 1112
2006: 878
2007: 876
2008: 456
2009: 251
Now, what is interesting in this is that over this period, the number of complaints were cut dramatically, even though the number of new cars on the road increased. Also, and this is key, in the year 2000 many cars were still using mechanical throttle systems.

By 2009, almost all cars now use electronic throttle systems.

Yet, unintended acceleration complaints were reduced dramatically.

Another point of proof, that ETC systems are at least as safe, if not more safe, than mechanical throttles!

ಶುಕ್ರವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 5, 2010

Unintended Acceleration Round 3: NPR Does The Math

NPR posted a nice widget on their web site, here, where you can check the statistics on unintended acceleration complaints.  Most importantly, the data is normalized, so you can see which carmakers are having more complaints than their market share and which are getting less.   

Here is a snapshot for 2009. Notice that the worst three carmakers, in terms of complaints per 100,000 vehicles, are Toytoa, VW, and BMW.  Also notice that VW/Audi is more over-represented even than Toyota is!

model year 2009

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified 251 complaints alleging sudden acceleration and related problems for vehicles in model year 2009. A breakdown by vehicle make follows.

Vehicle make Complaints Market share Share of complaints Sales Complaints per 100,000 veh.
TOYOTA-LEXUS 133 16.7% 53.0% 1,773,609 7.5
VOLKSWAGEN-AUDI 34 2.8% 13.6% 295,778 11.5
FORD 17 15.3% 6.8% 1,620,949 1.1
BMW 14 2.3% 5.6% 241,711 5.8
HONDA-ACURA 14 10.9% 5.6% 1,151,309 1.2
GM 9 19.6% 3.6% 2,075,748 0.4
NISSAN 7 7.3% 2.8% 770,719 0.9
CHRYSLER 5 8.8% 2.0% 931,860 0.5
SUBARU 4 2.0% 1.6% 216,268 1.9
HYUNDAI 3 4.1% 1.2% 434,656 0.7
MAZDA 2 2.0% 0.8% 207,787 1.0
VOLVO 1 0.6% 0.4% 61,488 1.6
KIA 1 2.8% 0.4% 300,019 0.3

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 4, 2010

2011 Mustang Fuel Economy

Ford just announced that the 2011 Mustang with 3.7L V5 will get 19mpg city and 29mpg highway, with the manual transmission. This is due in part to the use of newer engine technologies such as variable cam timing, and they haven't resorted to direct injection or turbocharging (yet).

I went on Edmunds and did some digging, to make a chart of how the base Mustang engines have evolved over the years. It is a great example of how far powertrains have improved in the last 15 years.

Since the 1990's the Mustang base powertrain has gotten dramatically more powerful, while keeping about the same fuel efficiency. Now, for 2011, both power and fuel economy are improved. This same pattern is going to repeat on other vehicles going forward. Instead of just ramping up performance, automakers are going to be looking at efficiency, while trying to preserve power and affordability as best they can.

The good old ICE still has a long way to evolve before it is put out to pasture.

Read At Joe's

One of my favorite autobloggers is Joe Sherlock. He writes well, usually has interesting things to say, and has been doing it for a long time. Go check him out, here.

Chrysler Naming Fun

Rumour has it that the Chrysler Sebring midsized mediocrity will be renamed the 200C when relaunched under Fiat rule.  This is funny because the 300 is a large car, and the upcoming 500 will be a very small car.  

Chrysler clearly needs a consistent naming convention, and as an engineer I am ready to help.

Chrysler cars should be named in terms of 1/(size).  Therefore, since the 300C is a large car, and the 500 will be a very small one, the car-formerly-known-as-Sebring should be named the 400.

ಬುಧವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 3, 2010

Unintended Acceleration Round 2

News reports are out that that NHTSA is still getting Unintended Acceleration complaints from Toyotas which have apparently been repaired with the various recall fixes.

What is going on?

I think that what we are seeing is normal cases of UI, which happen to all brands of vehicles, amplified through the media and the Toyota recall frenzy.  In other words, people hitting the wrong pedal, or both pedals.

It is unreasonable to expect that Toyota's repairs will drive the number of UI cases to zero.  Instead, it should reduce them to "background" rates, similar to the other major automakers.

Spyker Interview

This morning Paul W. Smith (WJR 760AM) interviewed Spyker CEO Victor Muller about the acquisition of Saab, and the plans going forward.

A few interesting bits, from memory:

"We are going to return Saabishness to Saab" ... "We are going to restore the Saab DNA."

"Saab buyers are the most educated in the market, with 67% of them having a college degree or better"

"Saab buyers are very loyal.  We don't need new customers.  We just need to get our Saab customers back, who left for some reason."

"When Saab customers left, they didn't go to Volvo, they went to Audi and BMW mostly"

"Saab only needs to sell 100,000 vehicles to be a great company.  Audi sells 70,000 units in the US, out of 1,000,0000 produced, Saab can sell 50,000 out of 100,000, and make money!"

"We have 200 dealers in the US, and that is about right.  They have been very supportive."

I don't see Saab becoming a major player, after the damage that GM did to the brand, but it doesn't sound like Spyker expects them to.  It sounds like they expect to be a niche product, sitting somewhere between Volvo and Audi.  We won't see any more lame badge-jobs like the 9-2 or 9-7, so Saab will be limited to just a couple of products for a while.  

ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ಮಾರ್ಚ್ 2, 2010

Brake-Throttle Override And Two Foot Driving

Amazing as it sounds, there are people who drive automatic transmission cars with two feet.  They typically drive with the left foot resting gently on the brake pedal, with the belief that they can brake more quickly than if they move their right foot from the gas to the brake.  They of course neglect the possibility that they will overlap, and will reduce the effectiveness of the brakes.

It is likely that NHTSA will mandate, or Congress will pass a law which requires that automakers who use Electronic Throttle Control Systems (ETC) must have brake override logic, similar to the software update that Toyota is releasing as part of its recent unintended acceleration recall.   

As this feature becomes more widespread, two-foot driving will become a little bit more difficult.  The two-foot driver will find that if they overlap brake and throttle pedal application, that they will get abrupt reduction in engine torque, and therefore more abrupt deceleration, as the ETC system slams the throttle closed to reduce engine power.  In order to drive smoothly, they will have to take the time to lift off of the throttle before pushing the brake, giving up much of the perceived advantage of two-foot driving.

Wow! AdBlock on Chrome!

Wow.  I was sure that Google would not allow adblocking extensions to run on Chrome, but amazingly, they do.  Chrome + AdBlock is now my favorite browser, because it is fast.