Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

The Ubuntu-mobile II

OK, so that’s Ubuntu.  And here’s why the open source car people are full of bologna.

What they are calling open source means they provide CAD/CAM drawing of the car, and these drawings and plans are open source.  That’s dumb.  Open source cannot be applied to the tangible.  Open source is a response to closed source.  Closed source = intangible.  You can’t open source the tangible.  If you can put a tape measure on something a measure it, by it’s mere tangible existence its already “open source”

You can open source software because it’s code is intangible. You can open source the die of a microchip because blueprinting the die is so bloody difficult it rates as intangible.

You catagorically cannot “open source” something you can blueprint quickly and easily.

Further, remember that Linux was developed by brilliant professionals doing what normal folk cannot.  Normal people CAN make car bodies. Fiberglass + Bondo + elbow grease = car body.

The hard part of car design, the things you really need professional help for is emissions and crash standards.  To control emissions you need software running on an Power Control Module (PCM.) There is one open source PCM available and it cannot be used on emission control vehicles because it has not been EPA approved.

Crash standards can be suggested by computational anysis but require regirous testing.  Once a basic chassis granted DOT approval the blueprints of that chassis could be open sourced.

But without EPA stamp on the PCM and engine, plus DOT approval of the chassis, the car is dead in the water.

The active community of users with wikis and forums and blogs is development of an effective product, not the cause of it.  The open source car, as it stands is a joke.

Finally, since cars do not reproduce flawlessly like software, a certify agency will have to put a stamp of approval on cars to show that they are open source compatable, and therefore, EPA and DOT approved, as well as sharing parts interchangability with other certified cars.

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Engines, Government, Linux, Microcar, skepticism, Small Car, Software, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ubuntu-mobile I

I wish I could buy an Ubuntu car.

Now, there are people out there working on what they call an open source car, but I’m not super impressed with any of them yet.  Further, it think their basic premise is flawed, or frankly, stupid.

Open source is a response to closed source.  Had closed source not started it all, open source would not have had a reason to exist.  Let’s look at the cause of open source, Microsoft.

Microsoft wrote DOS.  DOS lets people talk to the computer, but DOS is still pretty obtuse.  Microsoft makes a bunch of pretty pictures than normal people can use, and those pictures can talk to the DOS to talk to the computer. That’s windows.  Windows was really popular, and computer code is easy to reproduce.  Microsoft, like all good companies was interesting in making profit for its owners so it took steps to make it hard to sell and reproduce the code that many thousands of Microsoft programmers had worked very hard on and need to be paid for.

Linux was created as a substitute for DOS, not for windows.  Essentially a guy named Linus re-wrote a old operating system for mainframes (Unix) into a new operating system for PCs.  He did it because he thought computers were a force of capital G Good in the world, and he didn’t want Microsoft’s bottom line to get in the way of people being able to use computers.

Later, just as Microsoft developed a graphic user interface for DOS, a graphic interface would be developed for Linux.  If fact many would be developed, the most popular is called Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is the most popular because it is, for all practical purposes, NOT Linux.  Though Linus’s original code is buried in Ubuntu, it has been improved by thousands of highly skilled programmers working tens of thousands of hours.  Further, Ubuntu contains a whole bundle of pre-packed goodies that make it a functional windows replacement.  Those goodies were all developed by yet more thousands of programmers working tens of thousands of hours.

Despite the fact that Ubuntu was developed for free, it was not developed by amuteures. It was developed by some of the best programmers in the world over a period of years, and in some parts of the source code, decades. (The original Unix kernal was written in 1969.)

What the programmers did was what you cannot do. They did the very hardest parts, the most esoteric parts that take the greatest level of technical proficiency.

Finally, Ubuntu has a tremendous support network.  Wikis and forums which explain each step in plain detail.  If you can’t handle that, often in the forums, there are links to blogs which will explain tiny steps in stupefying detail.

May 25, 2009 Posted by | Engines, Linux, Microcar, Science, Software, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Suspension Primer

So, I don’t write many car posts.  I am a freak about cars, so I know a lot about cars.  I don’t just know about the cars themselves, but the companies, the people that designed them, the engineering, etc.  I take cars very seriously, and having the position of knowledge that I’ve worked for over the years, I say things that people without my background don’t understand, and they think that I and not they, am the moron.   (There’s two approaches to this. One, I can explain everything from start to finish.  By the time I’ve given them the background to actually know what I am talking about, my point is lost.  Alternately, I can make my point, have them tell me how stupid I am, and then spend an extra hour on the lecture defending every single point, since they already know the final point and don’t want to agree with it.)  I am going to spin this into a critical thinking post in the next installment, so I am doing it anyway.

OK, some basic physics.  Cars are heavy.  In physics terms, this means cars have a large mass.  Mass resists being moved, and once moved, resists being stopped.  Roads are not flat.  They go up and down, so anything going accross them goes up and down.   When a car goes up, the wheels aren’t sticking to the road.  When it goes down it the wheels are diving into the road really hard.  Also this isn’t good for the car.  A car is made of many pieces, if they are all made flexible, they bend and rub each other till they break.  Make the car rigid, and the constant force without flex to absorb it will also break it.  So we we make suspension.

Springs in the form of wood have been used on chariots since Egypt.  By the 19th century, they were steel.  Cars inherited these steel springs.  The problem was that cars went faster than horses, so something had to link the axle to the car besides the springs, to keep the springs from just bending out of the way.  This is called linkage.  As cars got faster still, on new problem was found.  The car would bounce on the springs so fast that it would vibrate the car to pieces, so the shock absorber was invented.  The shock absorber lets the spring bounce but slows it down, like the difference between swinging your arm in water instead of air.

So, their are 4 parts to suspension.  Axle (what the wheel spins with or around), springs (which connect the axle to the car), linkages (which keep the spring from flexing right out of from between the car and axle) and shocks (which keep the spring from bouncing excessively.) Whether we are talking about a Model T,  or a Formula 1 racer, that’s it: 4 basic parts consisting of axle, springs, linkages, and shocks.

The truly astute will notice that we have not solved the first problem, just make it smaller.  Remember that moving the car horizontally causes vertical motion.  Mass resists moving, and once moving resists stopping.  Now, it is the much lower mass of the suspension doing the vertical movement while the car pretty much floats over.   This car is mounted on springs, thus is “sprung mass”.  The wheel and axle are not, thus “unsprung mass”  (Some parts are both, the part of the spring which is fixed against the car is sprung and the part attached to the bouncing axle is unsprung.  So we figure 1/2 the mass of the spring is unsprung mass.)

But cars don’t just go straight.  They turn.  Remember that an object in motion wants to stay in motion and that the car is heavier than the suspension?  When you make a hard right, the lighter suspension pretty happily changes direction.  The rest of the car wants to follow the old path of motion, now to the left.  It tries do slide to the left, and pushes against the suspension, so it “rolls” left, squishing the left springs and stretching out right springs.  If the body rolls enough it will pick up the right-side wheels off the road.  Sometimes this is no big deal.  Sometimes you die in horrible agony.  Depends on the road, and the car.  Anyway…

So, to recap so far: The suspension has one job, to keep the tires on the road.  It must keep the tires on the road when the road tells the wheel to pull away, or when the cars body roll pulls the wheel away. It does this with 4 parts: axles, springs, linkages, and shocks.

Totally unrelated to the problem of keeping the rubber in the road is the task of passenger comfort.   And totally unrelated to that is the production engineering.  Bearing that in mind, here is the normal time line of front suspension development. (For reasons I’m not going to explain, new technology goes into the front end first, then is translated into the rear suspension.)

Ok, so first is the beam axle.  Its a big pole with wheel on each side.  Then comes the swing axle which is the same thing with a pivot in the middle.  Then comes the McPherson Strut, then the equal length wish bone, then unequal length wishbone.

The problem is?  That’s crap.  Despite the fact that absolutely everyone says that the time line, it’s not.  And it doesn’t go from bad handling to good handling in good order, which is it’s usually presented: a timeline with improving ability with each development.

January 1, 2009 Posted by | Engines, Microcar, skepticism, Small Car, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great News for Electric Car Aficionados

So, a kind of battery is being developed called the nanowire lithium battery.  I’m not much on electrochemistry, so I can’t tell you why having more lithium in the right place makes it work better, but I can tell you how.  The chemical relationship of silicone to lithium is such that a little bit of silicone chemically holds onto a lot of lithium.  They tried making silicone wires, but they cracked when electricity was passed through them, no small problem for a rechargeable battery.  Dr. Cui made nanowires of silicone bonded to stainless steel wire.  This gets around the cracking problem and allows 10 times more power density than is currently available from lithium-ion (li-on) cells.

He hopes it will be mass market ready by around 2013.  One likely application is electric vehicles.  I’m excited about it.  Electric cars have enourmous benefits compared to normal cars running normal engines.  Namely, mechanical simplicity.  A battery electric vehicle needs a motor, a battery pack, and a controller.  The controller is complicated at a microlevel, as it’s a large quantity of integrated circuits, but to the auto manufacturer or mechanic, it’s a just a brick.  Moving electrons beat precision moving parts every time.   Also, electric vehicles take the emissions problem from 100,000 engines built to wear out in 5 years dumping into 100,000 tail pipes and put it all into one power plant with every part designed to give the best performance dumping into one easy-to-monitor smoke stack.  

The problem with electric cars is one of energy storage.  The lithium ion nanowire battery (hereby called the Lionwire) has an energy density of 2.6 MJ per kilogram.  (Don’t know what a MJ is?  Megajoule, or 1 million joules.  Joules are a universal measure of energy that can be used to measure, heat, electricity, etc.  Handy thing to compare different energy densities because it’s universal between all types of energy.  A joule is very small, so MJ are the most convenient here.)  Anyway, the lionwire battery has 2.6 MJ/KG.  Gasoline has 46.4 MJ/KG.  

That’s not quite as bad as it looks.  A good electric car will be able to get 80% of the power that goes in down to the road.  A good gasoline engined car, 17%.  80% of 2.6 is 2.24.  17% of 46.4 is 7.89.  So, gasoline still holds 350% more energy per pound than the lionwire cell.

Well, with all the support systems for the gasoline engine out, don’t we get some extra weight allowance?  Yes.  The engine and transmission are gone, replaced by a advanced AC or DC motor.  No cooling system is needed, and no fuel system.  To actaully run this, we will need some real numbers. 

Using the example of a Ford Focus, we can remove the engine (400 lbs with alternator and oil) the transmission (135 lbs with fluid) the radiator and coolant (15 lbs) and fuel system (100 lbs)  We took 650lbs out.  We do need to put in a motor and controller.  I’ll use the Advanced DC FB1-4001A with a Curtis 1231C-8601, which has a 100HP peak rating same as the Focus OEM engine.  Unlike the OEM part, however, it weighs just 200 lbs including the electronic controller.  So we have 450lbs left over, or 204 kilograms.

The Focus has a 13.2 gallon tank, thats right around 80 lbs of gas, or 36 kg.  36kg times the post powertrain energy density of 7.89 is 284 MJ. The original energy storage of the car is 284MJ.   However, 204 kg surplus gained by removing the engine and its support systems times 2.24 is 457 MJ.  That’s gain of 160%!

That’s right, ladies and gentleman.  We finally have a battery that will yield equal or greater systemwide power densities than gas!!!  It’s not perfect, recharging still much slower than filling a tank of gas, and they will probably cost much more for awhile, but the days of the internal combustion engine car are numbered!  

November 14, 2008 Posted by | Ecology, Engines, Microcar, Small Car, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mental leakage for Thursday

Tomorrow, I publish the massive blog I have been churning out on the Focus on the Family “A letter from 2012” nightmare scenario.  Today, I wanted to write a bit.  I thought I would write about some of the crazy thoughts that are rolling around in my head

(1.) I think that stupid conflict is caused by an inability of people to accept that life isn’t fair.  “Wah! Boo hoo!  No one likes my God or my country! I’m not getting what I deserve!”  Then someone comes along and says “You right, you, your God, and your homeland are all being slighted.  So, even though its normally wrong to kill people and steal crap, it’s OK for you because life handed you the short end.”  Insert suicide bomber.

(2.) My mom is more of a man than most of the people I work with.  Last night a work it got down to about 34 deg F.  A guy there drives a Mustang.  He starts carping. “Oh, it’s getting cold out, pretty soon it will be snowy and icy. Mustangs are fun but they are NOT the car you want in the winter. ‘Bout time to put it up for the winter, uh yup, yup yup.”

Please.  My drove a full-size two wheeldrive pickup every winter for years.  There’s some simple keys involved.   Drive slow, put season appropriate tires on it, and put weight in the back.  Or you can be like this guy, cower in fear of the primal storm god, and use it as an excuse to own 2 cars.  Wuss.

(3.) I don’t really get the whole anal sex thing.  Ok, now if anal sex was about having sex with the butt, I could see that.  Butts are big and round and bouncy.  Lot’s of fun, butts.  However, you are not having sex with the butt.  You having sex with the sigmoid colon/rectumThe colon.  Why is that supposed to be hot?  I’m sure there is a website specializing in critical organ sex now.

(4.)When I had a motorcycle people would say “Hey, nice bike.”  When I got a small car with an engine the size of a motorcycle’s people say “Is that safe?”  Well, it’s significantly safer than a motorcycle, doofus.  What is it with people dissing small cars?  It’s just a motorcycle with a side car.  But motorcycles are cool (ie, penile extensions) and small cars aren’t. 

(5.) Obscene comparatives used as superlatives. Example: hotter than fuck, colder than fuck, louder than fuck, etc.  What does that mean?  Wouldn’t “the hottest” be hotter than any statement that began “hotter than…”?  Further, this is an example of stupid cussing: using sulfurous language when other things would work better.

October 30, 2008 Posted by | Microcar, Self discovery, Slice of life, Small Car, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great Fuel Economy without a Big Oil Conspiracy or Hybrid.

“Why won’t the car companies build this car?”

I can’t tell you how often I have heard that from people in reference to some high mileage concept.  Well, luckily you all have me here to answer that for you.  Today we are are going to make an high fuel economy car on paper, then I’ll explain why no one builds it.

There is one simple way to use less fuel: make less power.  Engines burn fuel to make heat, then convert this heat into horsepower.  To save fuel, we need to make as little heat as possible, then convert that heat into power as efficiently as possible, then take that horsepower and use it to move the car as efficiently as possible.

There are 2 ways to reduce the need for power: Aerodynamics and Weight.  We turn to the Power Train (engine and transmission) to convert the energy efficiently from heat, to horsepower, to vehicle motion.


Aerodynamics are simple.  The faster the car goes, the harder the air in front of it piles up, sticks to the sides and swirls around behind it.  Step one to good aerodynamics is to make the car’s cross section as small as possible.  No matter how aerodynamic something is, the bigger it is the more air it has to push out of the way.  So, make the car very narrow and low, say 44″ wide and 44″ tall.  (Airplanes made to sit two across are this size.  Its doable, just different.)  To keep the air from piling up in front, the nose of the car needs to be a rounded point like a bullet.  To keep the air from swirling around in back in needs to end in sharp point, like a wedge, and should be quite long.  Since some air sticks to the sides, the longer the car, the more air sticks.  If the car is too long more energy is lost unsticking the air from the sides, than swirling around behind a blunt a wedge.  6 times the length is ideal for a wedge.   The car would be about 23 feet long, but we can cut off the last 3 feet to make a “Kammback” and have it be just as good.  The car then ends in a straight edge, which is good for mounting the tail lights in anyway.


Weight is also simple.  The more it weighs, the more power is needed to accelerate, climb hills, and stop.  The last is important for two reasons. One, heavy cars need heavy brakes.  Heavy brakes mean a heavier car, which needs a heavier engine to get around, which in turn becomes heavier and needs heavier brakes. (Don’t laugh, this is why  a 73 Corvette weighs 500 lbs more than a 53 Corvette.) Two, among existing mass produced cars there is proportional relationship between weight and and likelihood of the passengers to survive a crash.  There are ways around this, but it requires some real design skills.  Bearing safety in mind, we want the car as light as it can be inexpensively made.  The only option this really leaves us is an aluminum space frame with a lightweight plastic body covering it.

Power Train


Power Train includes the engine and transmission.  We need to use as little fuel as possible.  Hybrids sip fuel by using a battery pack and electric motor to move the car at low speed and the engine to move it at full speed.  The problem is that the very best, cost-no-object batteries still don’t even hold a 1/10 the energy per pound as tank of gas.  So we will hybrid with a small engine, say 5 to 10 hp.  This engine will run the A/C and anything else necessary when the car is stopped, help accelerate it at low speed, and let the primary engine take over at higher speed.  Since the secondary engine is so small, and used occasionally, it doesn’t need the special “getting the most heat out of the engine” trick that the primary engine does.  To accomplish this we need a something called a “turbo-compound engine“.  I’ll not explain the intricacies of these here, only to say it involves a turbo that uses some of its power to supercharge the engine (like a normal turbo) and returns further power to the crankshaft.  The maximum efficiency for this set up is about 60% vs the 20% most cars make.  However, it is unlikely that in vehicle service we could get over 40-50% efficiency.  Basically double.


The car is very light, but people aren’t.  So the car might only have to carry its own weigh plus a 160 lb person, or four 200 lb people and some luggage (a 1000 lbs).  This means the load range of the car is 625%.  To pull this off we need an unusually flexible and efficient transmission.  Luckily for these relatively low loads, there is an ideal one which shifts without gears, called a Continuously Variable Transmission or CVT.

The technology

So what went into the car?  The chassis is a welded and bonded aluminum space frame, covered in plastic panels. The Renault Sport Spider does this, and its chassis weighs less than 180 lbs.  The primary transmission is an of-the-self CVT unit, but the car needs three additional transmissions.  One to connect the secondary engine to the primary transmission, one to connect the secondary engine to all the auxiliaries of the primary engine, and one to connect the turbo to the primary engine. The secondary engine is a standard 100cc motorcycle engine.  The primary engine, on the other hand is a direct injection, turbo-compounded unit.  Though this is old technology and regularly used in power plants and other other very large engines, no one has made any transportation engines of this type since the Wright R-3350 of the 1940’s and 50’s.


The car should have at least twice the aerodynamic efficiency of a normal car, so that doubles the mileage once.  The engine should produce its power with half the fuel of a normal engine of the same size, so double again.  Going with the mileage of existing economy cars, the Ford Festiva and Geo Metro, 40-50 MPG and taking it times 4 we get 160-200 MPG highway.  Using the example of modified economy specials from the 70’s (which never went over 30 mph) we can estimate the in town mileage of around 300 – 400 mpg.


Space frame chassis do not translate well into mass production.  The more purely the form is a space frame rather than a unibody, the more this is true. (Saturn’s “space frame” chassis aren’t really.) They must be semi-mass produced, which raises the price.  The power train can be mass produced, but requires premium components in many places to function.  It also has four transmissions.  So, again the power train is expensive.  If the car is going to sell for a reasonable price, these expenses must be made up in the only remaining ways: body, non-critical component quality, interior trim quality, and lack of amenities.

Body: Instead of being the shiny, ultrahard plastics that Saturns are made of, it will be the cheap matte injection molded plastic that storage tubs are made of, and the even cheaper diecut plastic that notebooks are covered with.  The windows will be fixed, and bonded to the body.

Non-critical component quality.  This means parts that work in a way that makes you nervous.  Door handles that flex horribly before opening, blinkers that stay on until you shut them off manually, and gauges will be plain digital readouts, as if robbed from a microwave.

Interior trim quality: This mean lawn chair like seats, and and lack of fascias.  The guts of the dash will be just sitting there.  No head liner on the ceiling, just bare plastic.  No carpet or rubber mats on the floor, just bare metal. Or, conversely, if the fascias are installed, they will be of cheap material and installed sloppily.

Lack of amenities: No power steering, windows, brakes, seats, mirrors, locks.  Nothing is powered at all. No stereo, no GPS, no gear shift (push button for forward and reverse)  Spartan, spare, and minimalist.

The whole picture

So now we have our super mileage car.  It gets 300 MPG in town and 200 MPG on the road.  It costs about as much as a normal car, it comes in one color, a sort of beige gray (the cheapest plastic), and it is shaped like a turd.  You can’t use drivethru’s anymore because the wheels stick out a foot from the car and the windows are fixed in place.  You are as safe in a crash as anyone else in accident in a small car, but thats not saying a lot. You can carry 4 people and all their stuff across the country on 10 gallons of gas.

Answering, “Why don’t they make it?”

Well, quite simply, the lead times and costs are enormous.  I would buy this car because I would rather get 300 mpg than look cool.  However, most people would rather have a much more compromised car which gets 40 mpg instead of 30, and is a better phallic extension for them.  There simply aren’t enough people who would buy these to justify building a factory to produce them.  Besides, the kind of people who are so cheap they will drive what looks like a wheeled suppository just to save some scratch aren’t going to buy a new one every 5 years.  They are going to keep it like an heirloom.  Which means there is no continuing demand. Once everybody who wants one has one, they can’t sell anymore.

Finally, every company has a culture. It is no more acceptable in Detroit to be really excited about building a super economy car than it is for a school teacher to be really excited about taking preschoolers to the bathroom.  Oh sure, both parties will do the job because it is their civic virtue, but both would be highly suspected of aberrant desires if they were really excited about it.

Car companies are not in the business of selling transportation machines.  They are in the business of selling desire.  There is no profit margin on utility.  A car you actually need would probably cost about 5 grand, look at the Tato Nano.  The only way for the car companies to make that additional 25,000 dollars is to sell you what you want instead of what you need.  Do people want to get 200 mpg gallon?  Certainly, but not nearly as bad as they want to look the part of whatever dream they are having.  Men and woman who have never even seen a gravel road buy off road packages because it compliments who they like to see themselves as.  The number of people who want to look in the mirror and an ecologist more than they want to see a sexpot is just too slim to make a car for them.

July 29, 2008 Posted by | Ecology, Government, Microcar, Small Car, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yet more TATA Nano stuff.

So I wanted to further complain about the carping being done about the TATA Nana.


You probably haven’t heard of Goggomobil. Goggomobil was car made in Germany from 1955 to 1969. This was the period of time that Germany was still getting on her feet economically, not unlike India today. The Goggomobil was…

9’6″feet long and 4’3″ wide. It had a 15HP engine mounted in the rear (like a VW bug or the Nano) and 10″ wheels. It seated 4 and (unlike the Nano) had 2 windshield wipers. They made 250,000 of them, so someone liked them.

Then there was the Fiat 500 which was 9’9″ long, 4’4″ wide, and weighed a tiny 1100 pounds. They made 3.6 million of them.

Then, of course, you can’t forget the the Subaru 360

Which was 9’10” long, and 4’3″ wide. It weighed a whopping 900 lbs. Now, if the Subaru 360 looks like a bit of freak to you, you have willfully chosen to ignore history. This was not some Japanese only oddity. The Subaru 360 was the first car Subaru sold in the US, back in 1968. This is what launched Subaru US. (Consumer Reports said it was a death trap, by the way.)

All of the cars above are smaller than the Tata Nano. None of them are as fast, or as safe. The Subaru is unique in getting better gas mileage (66MPG by US test method).

Stop whining about how small the Nano is! It’s not small! It’s not (within its market segment) dangerous. It’s not polluting. Read some history. Read some facts.

May 28, 2008 Posted by | Microcar, Small Car | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tata Nano

Automobiles are one of the single largest things we do.  Transportation is a huge slice of the economy.  Where roads and bridges can and cannot go is a huge social issue.  The design of cities, land use, environmental concerns, tax laws, sustainable wage… all these things are touched and shaped by cars.  So cars a pretty good pulse on society.

Enter the Tata Nano.

In case you live in a cave, the Tata company in an Indian super company. It includes 98 companies selling in 85 countries. 20% of global steel production is by Tata.  Tata’s dealings make up 3.2% of India’s GDP, making them the de facto majority shareholder of an entire country, much like GE here.

Despite all that, when Tata announced that their automobile division would make a car for $2500 no one really cared.  It was assumed that they would make yet another auto rickshaw.  But, Tata had been underestimated.  What they produced was not some spindly three-wheeler. It was a real car in every way. Observe the specs:

SOHC 624cc Fuel injected Twin

12″ wheels

4 wheel hydraulic brakes

Meets current India and EEU emissions and safety requirements.

So naturally, everyone hated it.  Now, I shouldn’t say everyone. The people of India were pretty excited, actually.  But people who will never buy one are really upset.

The number one complaint: because it is so cheap people who didn’t own cars before will buy them increasing global warming and reducing available fuel supply, raising prices.

Well, thats just plain dumb.  People who can afford the Tata Nano are using motorcycles and auto rickshaws.  The vast portion of which are fitted with early model 2 cycle engines.  World wide, two strokers make up about 5% of the engines.  And 32% of the pollution.  Replacing wheezing 2 strokes with Nanos reduces emissions.

Number two complaint: its not safe.

Again, just plain dumb.  Nothing is 100% safe. Life is risk. Successful life is risk management. Yes, driving a Tata Nano is not as safe as hidding in bunker.  Who cares? The people who are buying Nanos are people who were driving motorcycles previously.  They are safer in Nanos than on motorcycles.  Again net reduction in problems.  They also meet EEU standards.  Since pollution is based on parts per million of pollutants rather than pollutants per car, even that doesn’t tell the whole story.  A Tata Nano puts out significantly less pollution per car than a Volkswagen Golf, because the Tato has a significantly smaller engine of approximately the same efficiency per cc.

Third complaint: They will reduce global fuel supply.  *sigh*  Ok, there might be some truth in this, but I just can’t get my underwear in bunch about it.  As long as SUVs are the prefered form of transportation in the US, I don’t think anyone in the US has right to complain about a 12′ long car that gets over 50 MPG.

Fourth complaint: No, I’m not joking.  People really complain about this: the wheels are too small.  This is too is very dumb. To this issue and all the above I raise the issue of the kei car.  Kei cars are a special legal qualification of cars in Japan.  If a car meets certain kei car guidelines it can be sold as a kei car, saving both the purchaser and the producer a bundle of money. The requirements are 11′ feet long, 4.5′ wide, 6.5″ tall (they make kei spec vans and four by fours as well, hence the generous height) and a 650cc engines.  In one form or another the Japanese have been making kei cars for more than 50 years.  As of 2004, they were making 2 million of them a year.   Many a kei jidosha (light car) has the similar features to the Nano.

So why has the Nano raised such ire in a country it can’t even be sold in?

Here’s the human issue that the first paragraph eluded to: though people complain that they shouldn’t be sold because they are unsafe, I never here this argument about motorcycles and bicycles, which offer no protection what-so-ever in a crash.  So there must be an underlying emotional reason that people feel they are unsafe.  I think people have an emotional need to drive a very large gas guzzling car.  The existence of people who don’t have that need offends them, so they invent data (which is wrong) that says those people shouldn’t be alowed to buy the car.

The person who drives a car purely out of regard for safety and makes the majority of their other decisions out of a sense of what is safe, is leading a small boring life.  Relationships consist of risk.  People who take no risks have no relationships.  So these people end up pretty unfulfilled.  When they see people taking risks and getting more enjoyment out of their life, it really pisses them off, so they try and legislate any risks others might want to take about of existence.

May 26, 2008 Posted by | Ecology, Microcar, Small Car | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One bazillion miles per gallon

So, I really don’t have much to say tonight, but I don’t want to blog tomorrow, because I have spent the whole evening answering emails tonight and I need to spend some time with my daughter tomorrow.

So, here is the Aptera

Its a slippery little car made by a composites company.  It gets 300 mpg.  (Actually it doesn’t, more on that latter.)  It looks funny because for a car it has obscenely good aerodynamics.  Drag coefficient is a what is called a dimensionless number, or what I think of as a magic number.  No mater how big or small something is, it’s shape has a C/d.  The lower the C/d the less energy it takes to push the shape through the air.  (The truth is bit more complicated, but thats pretty much it.)

The C/d for the Aptera is 0.11.  Now, that is very good for a car.  The Honda Insight (which is no boxy fuel hog) has comparitively icky 0.25.   However, a Boeing 747 has 0.0331.  If a 747 and the Aptera had the same cross sectional area, the Aptera would take 3 times more energy to go the same speed as the 747.

This is where that whole 300 mpg thing ties in.  The Aptera doesn’t get 300 mpg.  It gets 120 mpg.  When being used as a plug-in-hybrid it gets 300, but the straight performance is 120.  (For more about plug-in-hybrids click here) And, quite frankly, 120 isn’t good enough for a vehicle that must be licensed as a motorcycle.

Here is a car that gets 75 mpg, seats 2, and is street legal.  It was also made by some dude in his garage.

Out of a 1989 Geo Metro.  See, when some guy with a hacksaw can make an insurable, drivable, 4 wheeled car, that meets all the crash and emissions standards for its year of manufacture with no engine modifications…

Lets just say I am a little suspicious that 120 out of pure carbon fiber is really even trying that hard.  May I remind everyone, that elite cyclist have a maximum output of about 2000 watts in a sprint.  The land speed record for a fully faired bike is…81 mpg.  On 2.6 horsepower.  The Aptera is cool.  I hope they sell.  But we can really, really, do better.

April 18, 2008 Posted by | Ecology, Microcar, skepticism, Small Car, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Geo Metro reflections

When I was a 11 years old my dad bought a brand new Geo Metro.  He had to get something to replace his wheezing Chevette.  He had, at that time, a 120 mile round trip to work everyday.  The Metro was the highest fuel mileage vehicle he could find.  Now, in the 1990s there were small cars and then there were tiny cars.  The Metro was tiny.  It had tiny 12″ wheels, a tiny backseat, and under the tiny hood something I didn’t even know existed.

I started working on cars when I was eight, so most of the cars I worked on were late 70’s early 80’s full size sedans. Beneath the hood was an engine so small you could actually work on it. When you looked down the engine you could see the ground on every side of the engine. You could get a wrench to any part of the engine without taking out 2 belts, a shroud, 15 vacuum hoses, and a wiring loom.

It’s not that the engine compartment was big, it was as tiny as the rest of the car.  It was just that the engine was that small. One liter displacement, smaller than my uncles’ motorcycles. It had a watch-like 5-speed manual transmission.   It would drag me, my dad, my mom, my sister, and all of our crap for a trip down the road at 70 mph and getting 50 mpg.  Since my dad put a lot of miles on it, I got to work on it a lot.  It got me thinking about mileage, and the environment.

It also introduced me to something that I had remained blissfully ignorant of until then: the power of stupid people in large numbers.  People hated that car.  People at gas stations would insult the driver.  My parents were told by other drivers that they were criminally irresponsible for allowing their kids to ride in that death trap.  Strangers would call it a roller skate, a go-kart, or a beer can with wheels.  Tire store employees would refuse to sell us tires until we brought a tire into the store and proved to them it really did take 12″ tires.  On the rare occasion that my dad and I could not fix it and we had to bring it into a shop the people would try and sell us a new car that was “safer”.  Once, a shop refused to work on it.  (My dad and I took fantastic care of the car.  With it’s freakishly overloaded little 3 cylinder engine we put over 300,000 miles on it.  The shop said that they would not work on small cars with a lot of miles on them.)

Which in turn introduced me to skepticism. Conventional wisdom said the car was dangerous. Yet my mother and father felt it was safest car they ever owned? Why?  If our little car could get 50 mpg, why couldn’t other cars do better?  Why did (does) the EPA require expensive catalytic converters, but not require cheap manual transmissions, which reduce pollution as well?  What was the real secret to good gas mileage?

And this is what I learned.  Some of it relates to cars directly.  Some not so much.

(1.) Don’t make technological solutions to social problems.  The problem with pollution is not that engines pollute.  Its that the owners’ of those engines don’t give a damn.  Seriously.  No process is 100% efficient. There is always irreclaimable energy released and usually byproducts created.  The problem isn’t the technology.  The problem is that people don’t care what consequences their actions will have on other people or even themselves.  When we try to solve social problems technologically, we end up with more complicated problems to solve.

Case in point: coal power plant.  The problem is that people waste too friggin’ much power.  That means they burn a lot of coal.  That means the coal puts out a lot of waste.  “Solution” clean the coal waste gas.  Now, coal plants don’t have huge plumes of stinky smoke.  Nope, now they radioactive solid waste to dispose off. (Coal contains radioactive isotopes in fractional quantities. Burn enough coal, and scrub enough of the exhaust and you will have radioactive solid waste.) Again for clarity.  Technological solutions to social problems will make the problem more complex and expensive, not solve it

(2.)There is no free lunch.  Like most kids I didn’t really learn much in school. Real learning comes from the things you decide you want to know, not what a textbook writer decides you should know.  My early science education came from investigating 100 mpg carburettor scams.  My dad said they didn’t work.  I wanted to know why.  Had to learn some chemistry to understand fuel/air ratios.  Had to learn some thermodynamics to understand the amount of energy the engine can make.  Had to learn some physics to understand why the engine has to store some of it’s energy in the momentum of the crank and flywheel to be able to finish the next cycle.  I learned that engines waste around 80% of the energy that they make because they must, not because of a global oil company conspiracy.

(3.) Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers. American cars get crappy gas mileage and handle like bloated whales because that is what people want enough to pay for.  There may be many things that people want.  Most people want a car for free if possible. It is not the car companies job to give you what you want. It is the car companies duty to it’s stock holders to make money by giving you what you want more than your money. If Americans wanted electric cars more than they wanted money, they would have them.  But they don’t.  Americans DO want big V8s more than they want their money.  So they have them.   Remember I am not saying people don’t want electric cars.  They do.  They just don’t want electric cars more than they want $30,000.

Case in point:The BMW mini.  Things people like the most: sporty but with good fuel economy. Things people dislike the most: to small and not good enough fuel economy.  The cause of the things people like is the things they dislike.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.

(4.)Government agencies (and other large groups of people who aren’t paid to produce anything) are more interested in next year’s budget than their stated mission. The EPA mandated catalytic converters.  But not manual transmissions.  In the 70’s when they mandated that automatic transmission mechanical efficiency was about 85%.  Remember that cars are only about 20% efficient on a good day?  That takes it down to 17%.  That’s a 15% reduction!  (A properly made manual tranny will have losses equal to a plain shaft of the same length when in road gear.)

(5.)Not all sciencey stuff is scientific. Case in point: Hydrogen economy.  We need a hydrogen economy to save us.  How do we get the hydrogen? Electrolysis of water, which wastes 60% of the energy that goes in.   Well, how else can we get hydrogen?  Cracking of natural gas.  Who owns the natural gas?  The same oil companies who own the gasoline. The hydrogen economy talk is bread and circuses to keep you from noticing that rich and powerful have you by the soft bits.  But psudeo-science is a magic totem for the stupid.  Hold up sciencey words and “smart” people will line up behind you like Crusaders behind a cross.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | Government, Microcar, Politics, skepticism, Small Car, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments