I think it is strange that people put military service members on a pedestal. Its because they see the risks that we endure and they think we do it for them. A person can live for something without being willing to die for it, but I doubt that a person could be willing to die for an idea without being willing to live for it.
I think a lot more people are willing to die for what they believe in than anyone realizes. “..if you chose not to decide, you still have made a choice…” All those alcoholics who drink themselves to death, all those angry, sullen young men that die in pointless gang fights, all the people who die of heart disease at 45. They all pursued a lifestyle that had a cost. Its not alcohol that kills the alcoholic, nor cirrhosis, its him. When a 17 year old gets gunned down in the street he has sacrificed his life for something he believes in: flashy cloths, easy money, and the “gansta” life. The corpulently fat die as martyrs to their own god: the pleasure of eating.
I think we are all martyrs in the end. I think all of us die for the glory of our god. Its just so many of us enthrone plastic gods and tin goddesses we dare not look at others this way, least our god be revealed to be nothing but the work of our hands. Everyone loves idols. They are always right where you put them, no soul searching or spiritual disciple. But in the back of out mind, somewhere we know that this god we serve isn’t real. It can’t save us, its not any stronger than we are because it… is we.
If we all must die for that “one thing”, what would we chose? I know a lot of us in the USAF will, in the unlikely event we die for our country, probably die for a fast car, a Nintendo Wii, and a weekend in a strip club; a precious few might die for the GI Bill. A handful might die for their people.
Still, what do I chose?
Well, after some thought (and the first comment I have ever had from someone who didn’t already know me) I want to revise slightly my stance on the Chevy Volt, and admit something.
I have a bit of a vendetta against the auto makers
I love cars. To me that makes me sound ignorant, so let me first say, what that doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that I love fast cars expensive cars. I love all cars. When I was around 9 my biggest dream in life was to own and operate a car company. A writer for Motor Trend explained to me that this would be very difficult because the day of the cleaver young man with a dream running a car company was over. Those men had worked so hard and built so much that the cost for admission into the small club of car makers was incredibly high. So I studied not only the way cars are put together, but the way they are made. It’s not enough to make a truly great car, you also have to sell it. Some of my readers might be naive enough to believe that making great car would ensure that people would buy it. Actually the public usually wrong, and often when right, they are so for the wrong reason/s. The public is like the most dangerous sort of person: the person who knows enough to think that he knows much more than he really does. A truly great car is a masterpiece. Engineering is an art as well as a science. In a truly great car every bolt and bit is like this single brush stroke of a great painting. Insignificant in and of it self, but participating together to make a masterwork.
I constantly in a desperate search for a car that not merely adequate for the mundane task of shuttling me from place to place but a car to wear the mantle of greatness that human endeavor deserves. If you misjudge me, you will assume I mean some car that does everything. It goes ridiculously fast, in sumptuous comfort, costing pennies in fuel and nothing in maintenance. I do mean all that. I mean all that and this: it must me cheaper than dirt. Its not enough to make art. Art was meant to enjoyed. There is something about a beautiful painting, a real classic, only ever seen by the obscenely wealthy, that robs art of its joy. Art isn’t just for the people who can afford the education that tells them why it is right for them to like it. Art is for any person willing to be moved by it. A French farmer will not tell you that he likes his 2CV because it began the second epoch of the world auto industry (though it did) he will tell you he likes it because it is cheap to buy, cheap to run, and cheap to fix. A real classic gets into peoples’ lives in a gritty low-brow way. A first year art student can tell why the Mona Lisa is good art. But a first grader can tell you he saw it on the back of his cereal box.
I am not bothered by the concept of hybrids plug-in or otherwise. The theoretical advantages of a system which includes different methods of energy production, storage and utilization cannot be argued. Nor do I have any doubt in the ability of our inventive species to come up with a way to make these wispy theories flesh and blood. I even believe that production engineers and financial analysts can find a way to me this cost purchasers little, but benefit producers much. What I doubt, very much, is that the Chevy Volt is going to be the car that reflects the above. In fact, I believe strongly that the designers of the Chevy Volt aren’t even trying. Worse still, I think management has purposely given design specifications that will not clue people in to what the designers are capable of, lest the consumer develop realistic expectations about price and performance.
Here is the good about the Chevy Volt:
(1.) Plug in capability
(2.)Attempt at power-train maximization
Now, I’m going to list the great successes . Basically each of these relate to the car succeeding as art. . The bench marks are…
(1.) The Model T
(2.) The Citroen 2-CV
(3.) The Jeep
(4.) The Beetle
(5.) The Mini
(6.) The Ford Model V8
(7.) The Honda Cub (a motorcycle)
The above vehicles didn’t succeed in the market, they created it. In the above seven cases, there had been vehicles that incorporated some or all of the features that the above embodied, but while the predecessors had been periphery sellers, many of these models were produced for more than 25 years (some more than 50, and the beetle for more than 75 years).
The Chevy Volt fails for the following reasons:
(1.) Totally inadequate chassis. 2600 lbs is far, far to fat for a 4.5 passenger vehicle whose selling point is fuel economy.
(2.) Lack of direct linkage of engine to drive engine. In cruise this has less losses than a genset to motor system. Since highway mileage is done at cruise this is clearly necessary. (My kudos to the commenter who pointed out that I first complained that it had this. I was wrong, the Volt does not share technological parentage with the Toyota Prius. The linkage is a good idea, Toyota simply made the task more complicated that it should be.)
(3.) Near total lack of aerodynamic refinement. Bob Lutz freely admits the Volt is more aerodynamic backwards. (He assures us this will be fixed.) This is not task here is not making it more slippery. The task is making people like aerodynamic cars (Look up the Chrysler Airflow). The ideal place to introduce a whole new concept of the way a car should look is with a new power-train because people have less expectations.
(4.) The use of a four cycle engine. With an advanced power train controller (which the Volt has) there is no reason not to use a 2 cycle engine. The computer can make a 2 cycle as clean as a 4 cycle with 80% less moving parts.
(5.)The use of a battery pack to store energy instead of almost anything else. Chevy says the open road performance of the Volt is 50 mpg. Using that number as a basis for energy requirement, if we figure its 40 mile electric range that means that it takes .8 gallons of gas or about 5 lbs. As I mentioned the real world efficiency of batteries verses gas (15% loss for electric motors versus a 75% loss for gas engines) plus the joules per second of heat in gas versus the joules per second of the electricity means after calculation that li-on cells hold about 1/24 the energy of an equal weight of gasoline. 5 *24 = 120 lbs. Plus the weight of the motor.
Using a small high efficiency gas engine as the auxiliary rather than a battery and electric motor saves weight, and can increase fuel mileage.
(6.)I stand by my original statement that plug-in hybrids are not necessarily better for the environment. According the scientist contacted by Noel Parrin in his book Solo (about his electric car journey) the magic number is 80 MPG. Power plants burn fossil fuels too. Make a car that gets better than 80 MPG and you are making power on your car with less pollution than the smoke stacks at your local coal plant. Electric isn’t zero pollution. Its the pollution of 80 MPG.
The Chevy Volt is a good concept car. Its just not nearly as good as it needs to be to change the world, which is what many suggest it will do.
Again with hybrids…
I wrote this blog several times before I was able to figure out what I wanted to say. It is very frustrating. I was trying to gather data to make an apples to apples comparison rather than an apples to oranges comparison. A car is not an engine, or a motor, or power train. A car is a system, and all part have to be analyzed correctly. I just sort of brain puked everything I was learning into a OOdoc and it didn’t make for fun or interesting reading. So here goes my last try.
GM has created a concept car called the Chevy Volt. First a note on GM. General Motors is not in the business of making cars. GM is in the business of making money for its stockholders. They happen to do this by largely by making cars, but like any large organization to effectively do their core task they must be equally skilled at many other tasks, liking schmoozing government officials and probing the public.
The expressed purpose of the Volt is to introduce the E-Flex system. Chevy’s late blooming (but wise) attempt to create a standard component set for hybrids. Wanting to get the most bang for the buck, they also try some new styling cues. You might have noticed I said “expressed purpose” There’s a reason for that. GM is pushing the very edge of promotion to flat out lying. Remember that GM’s job is to make money.
Lie number one: The Volt was created to show off the E-Flex. The car market is about selling crap to stupid people. People do not buy SUVs because they really need off-road ability. They buy SUVs because they think they look cool, and that driving a cool looking car makes others view them as better people. (Thats not my opinion. That’s the statement of the head artist responsible for the Dodge Dakota. He also said he made it look like a big cat on purpose because most people are insecure and driving a car that looked like a Puma would make them feel safe and in control of other people. Interesting, “safety” is one of the primary reasons people sight for buying an SUV even though statistically they are less safe than sedans.) If you think that Chevy introduced a fairly advanced engineering concept to the unwashed public to see what they thought of the engineering, I have a bridge to sell you. In general, people are too stupid to think about engineering. Chevy introduced it to see what kind of an emotional relationship people would form with their poorly understood notion of the engineering. (Example: Correctly designed dual overhead cams actually have a minor performance loss at the low RPMs where most people drive. But people have an emotional attachment to DOHC that says “dual cams means FAST!!!” so they put them in almost everything.)
Lie number Two: The Volt will be ready for production with by 2010. The Volt show car uses a form of battery called lithium ion (called li-ons). GM can’t produce them at a price to sell the Volt. GM hired Compact Power and Continental Automotive Systems not to produce the battery, but to research it.
Lie number Three: Plug in hybrids offer the best of both worlds: battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. It doesn’t. It doesn’t in a big way. Everything I’ve said so far is pretty easy to research. This is where it gets tricky. Theory and practice are not the same, but the people paid to report theory get paid proportional to their ability to make devices that are lab queens (only does whats being reported when under ideal circumstances) sound like something that will be just as happy and functional in your car or home.
EVs (electric vehicles)
Everything you know about electric vehicles is probably false. First of all, BEVs never died. In their own niche nothing else can even come close. Hundreds of thousands of BEVs are made every year. Forklifts are common example. Second, BEVs are not incredibly simple machines. Yes, they are simple in concept. If you want to, you can build one in your garage. If you wanted to, you could build all the part of nuclear reactor in your garage. The fact that you can make the basic components of something doesn’t mean you can get them to work together in an ideal manner for the intended purpose. Making BEVs is easy. Making good BEVs is really hard. Forklifts happen to have a very narrow market niche which perfectly matches the strengths and weakness inherent to the design. Cars don’t. The Tesla roadster is an amazing BEV. And it costs 100 grand. Good design is hard. Paying people do things that are hard takes more money. In the category of hybrid vehicles (for which no one has yet introduced a cleaver abbreviation) they are again, produced by the hundred of thousands. No one has made a direct drive locomotive for 50 some years. All locomotives are hybrid, and the vast portion of the worlds submarines as well. Hybrid technology is not new. Its not different. It is just demanding. Like BEVs, hybrid vehicles are simple in theory, but hard in practice. An older, but common example is a GE Dash 8-40CW, which has Turbocharged, inter cooled split cooling 4000HP V-16 powering an alternator, the power of which is then rectified into DC power to go to not one but six traction motors (one on each axle) Locomotives use this diesel to alternator to rectifier to DC motor system because when the system is big enough, the demands variable enough and the engineering careful enough it yields a fuel savings. Did you notice the “demands variable enough” part? If total efficiency in a lab was the goal, they would NOT use hybrid but direct drive. The problem is that the direct drive which can move an 8000 ton load from a dead stop takes different technology than the drive system that can move it along at 70 mph (the max speed for a Dash 8-40CW)
Chevy’s answer is to combine the incredible complexity of a standard hybrid (Engine, alternator,electric motor) with the complexity of a standard direct drive vehicle (Engine, transmission) and the complexity of a BEV (battery pack, controller, electric motor) Giving us a vehicle that has…
1 engine, 1 transmission, 1 electric motor, 1battery, 1 controller, and 1 alternator. The transmission, by the way, is the most overworked part, responsible for making sure that the engine’s power is either charging the battery or moving the car or both at some infinitely variable ratio of action. And the batteries don’t exist yet. But if they did, they would have an effective power density of 1/24 that of gasoline. That is to say, the car gets 50 MPG of gas, but only 2.08 miles for a fully charged battery of a weight equal to said gallon of gas (That figure took me about 3 hours to pin down, by the way.)
The Toyota Prius is a hybrid of the same vein. It gets 46 MPG which is heralded as the best ever sold in the US (which it isn’t). However, a major college recently did the math. When the Prius’s “radical” drive train is removed and the original engine powers a standard 5 speed transmission it actually gets better mileage. ( This is due to the removal of over half a ton of bulk: the batter pack, alternator, special splitter transmission, and 2 electric motors.) There is no reason to believe the Chevy Volt will be any better.
The final lie is not so much about the Chevy Volt, but about the whole save-the-planet-by-driving-electric-cars crowd. This is a bit mathy, but simple if you pay attention.
Your standard car engine is, in practice, about 25% efficient. Then through a 92% efficient transmission. (There are other loses, but they are the same for both electric cars and ICE powered cars so they don’t figure into the comparison.)
.25 * .92 = .23
Battery powered car has power going into 95% efficient controller, then an 85% motor.
5 * .85 = .81
But how does an electric car get its power? Around 60% get power from coal fired steam plants (30% efficiency on a good day) Then then through miles of copper wire and transformer (97%) then through a 95% effiecient charger, and into the batteries (lead acids which are most common have only 65% charging effieciency, but we’ll use the Volts as yet unmade li-ons at 99.9%)
.81 * .30 * .97 * .95 * .999 = .22
Since the drive train of an charged electric vehicle begins at the regional power plant, the total efficiency is 22%. One percent less than a well made car with a stick shift. If the EV in question uses lead acid batteries this is a paltry 15%!!!
The Chevy Volt is a well marketed excuse to sell people a very complicated, poorly performing machine which actually uses more fossil fuels to go the same distance. Car which get better economy with less compromise are manufacturable, but not nearly so profitable. And the public is swallowing the BS with a smile.