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

A last letter to my fundamentalist parents.

Dear Mom and Dad,

This is, I think, the last blog about this. I don’t blog everything, just things that I need extra eyes on to see if I am communicating clearly, and properly understanding the responses. I never intended this blog to become the huge issue it did. The great advantage to blogging, and why I started in the first place, is that I have a written record of my thoughts. I didn’t have a direction when I wrote the first blog about you guys, and it certainly wasn’t supposed to be a personal attack, though now reading a week later, I can see that it very clearly seems to be a personal attack.

My point (though I didn’t know it at the time) was not to say “OH you bad people! You HURT me.” My point was only that I was that I hurt. I don’t want you to apologize for hurting me, because I never thought it was intentional. Really, all I wanted was for you to agree with me that you had done something wrong. You don’t have to feel bad for doing something wrong, what good would that do? I mean, some of this stuff was almost two decades ago. But when you didn’t write back and say something to the effect of “You’re right. We messed those things up.” Then, I did want to say “You bad people!” because I was pissed at you for not doing what I wanted. Reasonable response to frustration, but not really helpful. Buried in these things I did really want to say were some pointless little stabs that I really didn’t mean to say, I was just mad. I’m sorry about that.

It doesn’t really answer the question of why it was so important to me to have you know that you hurt me. I had to think about that for awhile. See, I want to be your friend. I’ll always be your son, and I’m proud to be. But unlike being your child, which will never change and is just the way things are, friendship is a choice. I came to the conclusion that we are not friends, which hurt a lot. That was first blog. (My beloved…). For us to be friends, we have to start off afresh, and so I wanted to prove that we were never friends, which was the second blog (A letter to my fundamentalist parents). It was the process of writing those and reading your response that brings me to this blog.

You guys did your best as parents. I plan on making some improvements as I raise mine, but you did the best you could and that’s all a person can ever ask. I’m able to make these improvements because you did a significantly better job raising me than your parents did raising you, so as I said, you did good. I’m an adult now and I want to be your friend. To do that you’ve got to know me, or at least want to. I complain that you never knew me and put the responsibility entirely on you. Some of it is your fault, but some of it is honestly mine. I began hiding the parts of my personality that you would find less palatable around the time I was 9. Now, I can rail against you for not creating an environment where I felt comfortable being myself, but it was 20 years ago. Me carping will not change anything. I don’t need you to apologize, I only need you to agree that you did create an environment where I was uncomfortable being myself.

I need that, because if you don’t think you did anything wrong, I can’t be your friend. If someone hurts you and says “That didn’t hurt, you just think it did” you can’t trust them. Dad, I feel like your response to my last blog said “Yup, we understand that we hurt you, and we understand that wasn’t OK.” That’s all I need from your side. Mom, I love you, and I will continue to tell you so, but I have a hard time trusting you, for a totally different reason. I know that hurts, but here’s why. (edit: Mom, I wish I hadn’t brought this up in the first place.  I bring it up now only because by since I already said it I am sort of committed now.   I love you and I’m sorry about this.) You told me that your dad repeatedly “spanked” you till you passed blood had bloodied welts.  And you told me that’s OK because you deserved it. And you told me that if front of other people. I’ll always be your son, but it’s hard to really be your friend. Friends, good ones at least, love each other, and when I tell you I love you, I know that to you, part of loving you can include beating the hell out of you. You being OK with that makes loving you feel a little cheaper to me. There will always be little hole in our relationship, not because you told me you were abused, but because you told me you deserved it. Until you can tell me that what happened to you wasn’t OK, it’s hard for me think that your definition of a relationship being OK is going to be good for you and me being friends.

That’s your side, and it just leaves mine. I’ve doubted Christianity since I was about 9. Not because of you and dad, but because the way my brain works. My brain doesn’t run on faith, it never has. My brain is wired for evidence, either by an evolutionary process or by a God with a deeply ironic sense of humor. I never believed I was saved for more than a few hours after my conversion, which I did many times. I never had any experience which I though God was the most likely explanation of. Deep down, I knew that, but I wouldn’t let it up.

I didn’t realize I was lying to myself of course, I thought I was being a good Christian and pushing away my doubts. But I was lying to myself, and in the process, I lied to the people closest to me. Despite the Bible’s teachings, Christian does not just mean one who has faith in Christ. “Christian” today means a slew of likes and dislikes, and political leanings, and generally, really bad music. I was never good at the faith part, but I was awful at the other part. If you want to be my friend, you are going to have to accept all of me, not just the parts that turned out like you hoped. A child is respectfully silent when you are wrong. A friend isn’t. A child hides the things that you disapprove of. A friend doesn’t. I like to have a glass of wine, or a beer once in awhile, I enjoy a cigar occasionally, and from time to time I enjoy looking at pornagraphy. When I feel it is the best method of communication, I curse like a sailor. These are things which I know my liking makes you uncomfortable, but I am a package deal . This is what I am, and I will make no apology for being me, and it is your choice to be friends with me or not.

If not, I will still call, I will love you. You’re my family. But personally, I’d like more. I don’t ever expect you to agree with me about atheism. Nor would I wish it. I got here by a process. I don’t want you believe in atheism because I like it, nor would I wish that process upon anyone, though I am glad I went through it. I don’t ever expect you to respect my destination. I hope someday we’ll be good enough friends that you respect my journey.

You Son, Israel

January 24, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Christianity, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Small Car, Uncategorized | , , , , | 4 Comments

Suspension Primer II

So people seem to believe that the chronology of mass produced suspension designs relates directly to suspension quality.  The usual theory goes, beam axle, swing axle, McPherson, wishbone.   First let’s look at the proviso “mass produced”.  Define mass produced.  Is it 100 units?  100,000 units?  Beam axles were the first mass produced in the sense that they were produced en mass since around 1000 BC.   But you can’t just say they were the first mass produced in cars just because the Model T had them.  The Model T began production in 1908.  By that time, Decauville’s indpendent front suspension patents had already expired, and they had been making a car with independent front suspension for a decade, beginning in 1898.

Further, equal length wishbones are usually seen as a post McPherson strut development.  Actually, they were proposed in a 1934 technical paper by Maurice Olley.  The McPherson strut was not invented until ’49, but mid 1920’s technical papers by FIAT would show that they invented the concept then. So here to set you straight is the Israel Walker “real story” of suspension history.

Remember, there are four parts to suspension: axle, linkage, springs, and shocks, and you need all four. A brilliant axle with poor linkages, crappy springs, and lousy shocks will be crappy suspension.  Let’s look at Model T as a baseline.

First off, there is nothing wrong with a Model T’s suspension.  The roads the T was made to run on were crap.  So the T had to have tall wheels.  The tires available were skiny so it had to have narrow wheels.  If you have tall skinny wheels clawing over rough terrain you need a huge amount of articulation.  The motors available are heavy and weak, so the car (and suspension) has to be light.  A modern engineer, given those requirements would give you the exact same suspension Henry did.

Beam axles get a bad rap.  This site has a pretty standard Pros/Cons list for beam axles.  They’re simple, and strong, with good camber control, but have high unsprung weight, gyro stability issues (the fact they have two rotating masses on a stick causes weird vibrations) bump steer (up and down make the wheels turn left and right), take up to much space, and poor road holding.

This is where critical thinking comes in.  Simple compared to what? Strong in reference to what? High unsprung weight compared to what? Gyro stabilizing issues compared to what? Large compared to what? And some research about bump steer and road holding.

The problem here is that they there is more difference between Model T’s beam axle suspension and a modern high end beam suspension than there is between a kitten and tiger.  Strong in reference to what?  Weight.  They carry more load with less component weight than any other system.  This is why semis have them. And if they are the strongest referenced to weight, that means that they are one of the lightest systems, not the heaviest.  Yes, they do have gyrostability issues if they have weak or poorly designed linkages.  ALL suspensions have stability problems if they have weak or poorly designed linkages.  The bump steer is fixable.  Road holding is fantastic, if properly designs.  As is the case with all suspension designs, road holding is poor if the overall execution is poor.  Finally, the “too big” one is a plain lie.  Most minivans use beam axle suspension in the rear precisely because of how little space it takes up, allowing more cargo space in the back of the vehicle.

I think what they meant, was it takes up the wrong kind of space.  Beam axles must run in a line from wheel to wheel, meaning that you can’t put, say ,an engine, in the space between them.  The original reason that GM went to independent front suspension in the 30’s was to mount the engine between the wheels instead of behind them.  It was a stylistic and not an engineering decision.  This was reflected in the fact that early GM IFS ate the heck out of tires.

We must compare apples to apples.  It’s not fair to say that the beam axle suspension of a 1908 model T designed to conquer roads that would have appalled the Romans and do so for as cheaply as humanly possible, compares unfavorably 21st century dual wishbone designed for glass smooth roads and with cost no object.  We never learn anything from comparisons of maximized systems to un-maximized systems.  If we want to set high performance as the baseline, than lets look to racing.

The first Indianapolis 500 was raced in 1909.  The last time a car with beam axle front suspension would win? 1962, at 150 mph.  Sprint cars, racing 1200lb vehicles with 800HP engines on dirt tracks still use them, again at around 150 mph.   Further, they are the preferred axle of choice for many extreme motor sports, like rock climbing.  The Humvee has has been troubled by it’s lack of beam axle suspension.  It’s wide articulation, fully independent suspension is far more weight sensitive than beam suspension.  As such, the Humvee becomes dangerous to drive when overloaded by say, improvised amour.

Beam axle is far more simple.  As such, it costs less to maximize, and more importantly, has less fail points.  In the crushing loads incountered in racing, rock climbing, and warfare, the beam axle wins.   Tune in next time, for a bit less detail about the swing axle, the wishbone, the McPherson strut and double wishbone, and more.

January 1, 2009 Posted by | Engines, skepticism, Small Car, 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

Electric Vehicle Review

Real changes in efficiency will require real change.

Real changes in efficiency will require real change.

I am a big geek.  Do you know how some people have a feeling of the divine when the meditate?  I feel the divine when I ponder an amazing design.  Have you ever noticed that some products you pick up and use without ever needing to be told how to?  That’s design!  A truly brilliant design does something some perfectly that it seems perfectly intuitive.  So intuitive often, that unless you try to design things yourself, you don’t even realize how many blind alleys, rabbit trails, setbacks, and losses there are before you get to that perfect design. It is intuitive only retrospect.

When I opened a constant velocity joint for the the first time and saw how the balls and the cage and the hub all worked together, I felt something stir within me.  This is who I am, this is who genetics and environment crafted me to become.  I derive a sensual (though not sexual) pleasure from touching a great design. With car engines, I can feel the design teams successes and failures as I run my hands over the block.  Feeling the texture engine block, I know if it was sand, lost foam, or die cast.  This tells me how many engines the design team planned on making, and what compromises and pressures they were forced to make to the purity of the Ideal to get the engine made.

From the type of the casting and its complexities I know what alloys were used, and in turn the stress the block can was designed for.  I run my hands over the corners, feeling their sharpness, and I know the designers didn’t expect stress here, or simply didn’t care.  I visualize the cylinder bores, cast iron set in cast aluminum.  When the head is off, I can see how the cylinder bore meets the deck of the block.  Was the designer conservative or risky?  Was his company broke and scrappy (the parts are compromised to be produced on existing equipment) or flush and cocky (the parts are less compromised but require special tools to make and service)?  Did he plan on the engine being rebuilt or recycled? Did they plan nothing at all but simply moving the iron out the door? (Often the case on mid 70’s and  early 80’s American cars).  I can tell if the engineer thought the car he was designing would be around next year. (If you’ve ever turned a wrench on a ’81 Mustang 4 cylinder you know what I mean.)

Its not just cars, though.  A good door latch sets me a twitter.  A well designed building makes me warm inside.  When I stand in a kitchen that actually considered work/motion in its design I wish I could find the designer and shake his or her hand.  I want to tell them that I get it, that it matters to me too.

So when I say that I love design, I love it the way some love meditation, some love drink, and some love baseball.  Having established my credentials as a design freak, let me now say this.  I love electric cars.  I want one.  I think they are groovy.  When I think of driving down the road in near silence, with a handful of moving parts pushing me into a newer, greener, place I get weak in the knees.  That said, I now have to say something that amounts to near blasphemy in the eco community.

Electric cars are not being massed produced because people don’t want them.

I’m going to put the features of an electric car in the jargon of normal cars.

We have a car with a special power train.  The advantage of this special power train is that it gets 300 mpg.  But the unique power train is very bulky and heavy, so the car has limited cargo and passenger space.  Also, it has a very small gas tank, about a quart, and that tank takes 4 hours to fill. It will cost about as much as a normal car.

Note that these are real numbers.  To move an electric car takes about 1/10 the cost per mile as gas, so 30 mpg becomes 300 mpg.  Most have a range of about 75 miles in real driving conditions.  At 300 mpg thats about a quart of gas.  And the 4 hour fill time is accurate too.

Before you can sell a car you have to sell the need.  Before you can sell a car for $30,000 you must sell the idea that the purchaser wants the car more than they want $30,000.

I don’t want a car that gets 300 MPG and has a one quart gas tank that takes 4 hours to fill more than I want $30,000.  Neither do most people.

But, people do want EVs!

I want an EV.  I am very excited about getting the equivalent of 300 mpg. But I am not $30,000 excited.  Heck I’m not even $5,000 excited. Under 5 g’s and I can accept those compromises.  Over it, not so much.

But many people do want them that much!

That’s a fact. Many people do.  Those people are well served by the existing botique market.  To achieve significant reductions of cost on a car you need to make a minimum of 100,000 units a year for several years.  There are probably at least 100,000 people in the US who want this $30K, 300MPG, 4 hours to fill car. (Called the 3k3m4h from here forward) But are there half a million over 5 years?  Probably not.  And once initial demand is met then what?

Well most people have 2 cars, they could use the 3k3m4h as a second car.

Perhaps, but I am not convinced.  Ten times the mileage is nice.  But the 4 hour fill time and 75 mile range mean that the car never leaves the city.  If more people were interested in accepting compromise and renting when ever they had a 4 hour drive to take, then they wouldn’t have two cars in the first place, they would have one small car, and rent a big car for trips.  The lack of that says most families want 2 fully non-compromised cars and collective mileage be damned.

What do you mean 75 miles?  Brand X’s  Electroflux car goes (insert 3 digit number here) miles on a single charge.

Yes, I don’t doubt that.  What I doubt that is that the average electric car buyer could afford the Electroflux.  If you can compare cost-is-no-object-celebrity projects like the Tesla Roadster, than I can do the same.  I choose the Microjoule Eco-Marathon car. 10,127.9 miles per gallon. Wow, that makes 300 mpg look like crap. Maybe we should just stick to more common ones.

Everything you are saying is true, but its only that way because of Big Oil conspiricy.

Conspiracies do happen. More castles fell to conspiracy that siege. Hitler consolidated his power with a conspiracy, and the Street Car conspiracy is real and documented. (GM manipulated city governments to replace street cars with GMC coaches.)  But you have to be careful with conspiracy theories.  They often contain a compliment to the originator. I don’t doubt that the car and oil companies have a lot of money, which I don’t doubt that they put to the normal use in Washington.  What happened to the EV1 was weird to the point of scary. BUT while that conspiracy might prevent pro EV legislation, it cannot prevent market forces from driving prices in certain critical components.  Like batteries. EV’s have cost benefits to production until you get to the battery.  The battery is not expensive because of a lack of production.  Mass production only makes things cheaper by changing the process, not the materials.  When the cost of materials is the primary cost, mass production will not appreciably bring down cost.  The “Big Oil Conspiracy” on this one allows people to say “Oh I would buy an EV if only there wasn’t a B O C.”  It allows people to feel environmental without actually doing anything.

The price will go down in mass production.

See above.

Well people shouldn’t be driving so much anyway.

I couldn’t agree more.  But the proper way to get better city planning (the lack of which is the cause of so much driving) it legislate proper city planning, not legislate a compromised technology.

It doesn’t mater what the cost is, it saves the earth.

Taking care of the planet is profoundly important, but personal transportation will always be more wasteful than mass transit. The solution is not electric personal transportation.  The solution is better designed cities and better mass transit.  If we must speak of doing things no mater what the cost to save the earth, a resource shift in personal vehicles isn’t really the best place to start.

You are just anti-electric car.

No I am pro-electric car and anti-stupid.  I think electric cars are great.  I think that the handful of companies making them everyday are great.  I just don’t believe they are the magic bullet being claimed.  If you want to talk about subsidies, the answer to stupid subsides is not smart ones.  Let’s get the extractive industries and car makers off the government tit before we offer it to another industry.

But they do reduce polution.

Never said they didn’t, and I support the reduction of polution.  Electric cars would cut polution in half, which is good.  But why not invest the money in mass transit and smart cities.  That would decrease the amount that people drive ANY kind of cars, and would make electric cars more viable.   I’m not saying they shouldn’t be made.  I’m saying legislation attempts to treat the symptom instead of the problem.

But they are zero emissions!

No, thats stupid.  They are reduced emissions.  The engine to wheel process of a normal car is about 20% efficient.  From power plant to wheel in an EV is about 31% efficient.  They pollute about 1/2 as much.  That’s good, but infinately more than zero.

OK that’s all I’ve got tonight.

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Ecology, Government, Politics, skepticism, 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