Posted tagged ‘cars’

A bit of brain candy whilst waiting to post after admissions heck…Russian Tank/Personal Transport Edition

February 16, 2010

Via Automotto, this.

I want one.

(h/t Gizmodo)

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And on the other hand (Easterbrook edition)

September 9, 2008

Update: See Shiv’s comment below for an alternate view of the wisdom, or lack thereof, in Easterbrook’s argument.  I think he has a point — though the notion that simply good design could do a lot to reduce oil consumption even absent significant technological change seems to me to be valid.

Below, I excoriate sportswriter and sometime pundit Gregg Easterbrooks’ willed no-nothing stance on the LCH startup.

Here, I acknowledge his wisdom, further down in the same column that earned my ire.  Talking about fuel economy, US policy and the amazing foolishness of the current horsepower race on the American roads, he concludes

Federal legislation to regulate the horsepower of passenger vehicles, perhaps by establishing a power-to-weight standard, would reduce petroleum consumption, cut greenhouse gas emissions, lower U.S. oil imports, strengthen the dollar, and take some of the road-rage stress out of driving. So what are we waiting for?

He’s right, and the rest of his analysis is on the mark. So skip the physics nonesense, ignore the football stuff, (nothing much happened last weekend anyway), and scroll down to just past the half way mark if you want to get the whole of the argument.

Image:  Start of the 1915 Indianapolis 500, published in the New York Times, June 13, 1915.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Updates on the 100 mpg car front

July 28, 2008

Way, way back when there was a Republican fight for the nomination, Mike Huckabee made a little splash by calling for a one billion dollar prize to encourage the production of a generally available care capable of 100 mpg.

I ridiculed Mike here and here. Mostly because (a) the billion bucks was such a wildly disproportionate reward, given the X-prize being offered for the same basic goal seemed to think that ten million would do the trick, and, at least as important, at least one production vehicle on the verge of release, the Tesla roadster, could already lay claim to the milestone. (Latest news — as of a couple of weeks ago, 12 production vehicles had been completed, with the assembly line cranking away at a blistering four vehicles a week.)

But the what I want to highlight here is the power of 4 buck a gallon gas to concentrate the mass market manufacturer’s mind.

Most immediately, it looks like the GM Volt is real as of 2010 — though at a higher price than originally proposed, 40K instead of around 30K. It will have an MPG equivalent of 150 mpg running on its electric motor, which will drop if the range-extending gasoline engine gets called into use. GM also has a Saturn Vue plug-in SUV project in the works. Toyota is working on its plug in response, with a current, very short range claim of 99.9 mpg.

But what caught my eye today was this report from the Green Car Congress, showcasing the British Motor Show’s latest offerings of cool to cute electric, energy efficient cars.

The headliner? The four-seconds-to-60/10 minutes to recharge Lightning GT. 300 large, I’m afraid, so this is another pure fantasy. But taken all in all, and never forgetting the 350 mpg personal transportation available in the form of this electric scooter, it looks like the use of market mechanisms to control green house gas emissions is, pace the McCain campaign’s whispered walk-back on the issue, is working just as the econ 1 textbooks tell you it should.

Image:  Lightning GT, Lightning Car Company photo.

Saturday Random Post: Really Bad Lyrics edition.

May 10, 2008

Overheard this morning on NPR’s Cartalk.

From a song leading into one of the breaks:

300 miles to Winnemucca

I drive a van; I ain’t no trucka’

Top that if you can.

Image:  John Constable, “The Hay Wain,” 1821.  Location:  The National Gallery, London.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Really Stupid Ideas: John McCain – Environment – Global Warming edition

April 17, 2008

I begin to think that John McCain and George Bush made major — and really scary — speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday in the hope that any serious examination of what they actually said would disappear in the intensity of the very serious ™ examination of Obama’s hatred of small town America and Hilary’s capacity to distinguish between the sound of AK 47 and Dragonov fire.

But they both said very interesting — stupid, but interesting — stuff, and if we wait for media grandees to help us figure it all out,….it could be a while.

Bush, of course, decided to punt action on global warming not just to the next occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania, but three or four down the road.  I’ll probably blog about it, but the real story is not the last President, still desperately trying to burnish his already impressive claim on the title of worst President evah.

The real concern now has to be the thinking of those trying to take his place.  And here, McCain has given us all real, renewed cause for worry bordering on panic.

McCain delivered his much anticipated speech on his economic “plan” (sic) on Tuesday.  There was an extraordinary amoung that was frightening in both his analysis and his policy proposals (that’s a grand term for what was rather a grab bag of half formed ideas).  I’ll blog a soon — I really ought to do it with my next post — about the real killer for American science (and probably our lng term economic health and national security too, now that I think of it) within the fine print of what he said.  What makes this one scary is that it stands a chance of being enacted if McCain does become President.

But the real insight into the kind of thinking that McCain would bring to the Presidency came in one of the more obvious non-starters, his proposal to enact a gasoline tax holiday through the summer driving season, Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Now there are all kinds of reasons that this is a really dumb idea.  People have pointed a lot of them out.  It would drain the already underfunded Highway Trust Fund.  (That is: if you liked this, you love driving on John McCain’s infrastructure.)  It will be a windfall for the oil refining companies.  (What a surprise, given the recent history of Republican transfers of wealth from American consumers to oil company owners.)  It would kill jobs, bash mass transit, and save the average driver — wait for it — twenty eight bucks a year.

All of that is true, and probably is sufficient reason why this is going nowhere, at least for now.  But I’ve been surprised that what seems to me the biggest and most obvious point.

McCain has been praised as the first major Republican candidate to take global warming seriously.  That claim is incompatible with this proposal.  Flat out.  One or the other wins.  If McCain wants to combat global warming, then he has to support policies to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.  If he wants to encourage driving by making the use of cars cheaper, then by all means cut the gas tax — but Katie Bar The Door for the global climate system.

There is no rocket science here, and there are no loop-holes.  Virtually every thinking economist says that the most efficient way to cut carbon emissions is to impose a carbon tax.*  The only existing even vaguely broad such tax is the gas tax.  A genuine commitment to controlling global warming would raise that tax, and make it truly universal across different emissions sources; alternatively, a cap-and-trade system could perform the same goal, making the cost of polluting the atmosphere an explicit element in the total cost of any economic transaction.

The one thing you really don’t want to do if you have any serious concern about climate change is to provide yet more encouragement for people to drive.

So which do you think McCain would save, if he had to throw a tax cut or an environmental stand under the bus.  Bets?  I didn’t think so.

At least we learned something from the whole affair; McCain is an environmentalist in precisely the same way that George Bush was compassionate and a conservative.

*See this NYT article if you want a backgrounder on carbon tax vs. cap-and-trade schemes..  For broad, digressive, funny and incredibly well informed analysis of global warming and the follies of our leaders, see Eric Roston’s blog Carbon Nation.  I’m a little embarassed to plug it here, because he has just posted a truly generous review of a book I published almost two decades ago. (Yours, for only 2 cents on Amazon!  — the price dropped two cents since I last grumbled.)  Also, look for Eric’s book coming out in a couple of months.

Image:  André Huppertz, Painting – 2.  Licensed under a GNU Free Documentation License.

Update: More on Huckabee’s 100 mpg car (he wishes).

January 25, 2008

In this post I ridiculed Mike Huckabee’s pulled-out-of-some-orifice energy independence “plan” — the one where he proposed a one billion dollar prize (that’s right — a billion with a “b”) for someone who could come up with a 100 mile per gallon car.

Now, this idea is fatuous on many levels, anathema, I think from both right and left perspectives. Mostly it is a loser because it misses the point: energy indpendence depends on much more than increased efficiency in a use that accounts for something under one quarter of all energy use in the country. Getting there wouldn’t hurt — to the contrary — but it wouldn’t solve the problem, or even come close. (For many reasons — supply issues, oil being a resource that will begin to decline and has already been doing so for a long time from domestic sources; demand issues, given that a couple of billion folks in Asia want more of the stuff and so on; and more demand issues, given the fact that efficiency allows more people into the game, thus reducing the impact of gains on overall consumption; and so on.)

For more on energy use by sector, browse through the tables here for some interesting/depressing reading. Two things do stand out. Huckabee is right this far fuel efficiency is a problem, however feckless his solution might be. Efficiency totals for the American fleet of cars topped 20 mpg in 1990. As of 2005, total fleet efficiency had reached only 22.9. And second the SUV plague is a national security issue: over those same years, SUV efficiency went from 16.1 mpg in 1990 to a high of 17.6 mpg in 2001, and then back down to 16.2 mpg by 2003, where it has stayed. That’s a drop of about 9 % in just two years. All those Hummers and Porsche Cayennes take their toll, I guess. Given that SUVs and light trucks account for over half of domestic car/truck sales that’s just bad news. All numbers from the link above: the Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Review for 2006.

All that said, the bottom line is that if you want to increase the efficiency of US ground transportation the fastest way is through regulation: increased CAFE standards, applied to all light transport, with no distinction made between cars and light trucks. That’s something everyone knows, and no one –especially amongst the GOP orthodoxy — wants to admit.

But this post is not about the “I don’t wanna” idiocies of US energy/transportation policy. It’s about 100 mpg cars. The reason Huckabee’s offhand comment in a debate was not just stupid, but silly was that, of course, the technology to produce 100mpg cars does not need some Manhattan Project to generate breakthroughs to a brave new energy future. It’s already here, and, as I pointed out in my original post — there is one production >100 mpg sports car, the Tesla Roadster, about to be delivered to customers.

In that earlier post I noted that the 2008 model year is sold out. Since then, Tesla Motors has opened the waiting list for 2009 — so if $5,000 (against a base price of $98,000) is burning a hole in your pocket, go for it.

But I must say that I was perhaps too triumphalist in my crowing over Huckabee’s so-yesterday grasp of the technological possible. Tesla Motors has just deeply disappointed me. As the Wired’s Autopia blog reported yesterday, the high performance engine, capable of propelling the two-seater from 0-60 in 4.0 seconds, overwhelmed two different transmission designs. So when the car actually ships in March (promises, promises) it will come with a temporary fix, a beast of a transmission that can handle all the power generated, but that cuts acceleration to a mere 5.7 seconds for the 0-60 run. A newly designed transmission to restore the promised performance is promised for later model run cars (and as a retrofit to the tortoises off the line first).

All together now: awwww.

Now, its true that cars that cost less than $30,000 — the Nissan 350 ZX and the Ford Mustang GT for two — could smoke the transmission hobbled Tesla on the flat. But loathe as I am to agree with Gregg Easterbrook on anything, he’s right in the item in this column that ridicules the need for speed that is safe (and legal) only on the track.

Meanwhile Mike Huckabee’s naive paean to salvation by the technological deus ex machina (two dead languages in the same sentence — I’m cooking now) is simply a distraction from the real business of using policy incentives to change energy behavior. The big problem is not going to go away in the flash of a speeding Tesla, however delicious its technology may be.

And if you think that this was all an excuse to put up another couple of pictures of the car…you’re right.

(And if you think that I, c. 50 y. 0. want to live my second childhood in one, you’re right again.)

Images: Lesser Ury: “Paris, Sonnenaufgang,” 1928. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Tesla Roadster, taken Sept. 27, 2006, licensed under Creative CommonsAttribution ShareAlike 2.0. Source: Wikipedia Commons.