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Utilitarian

January 3rd, 2010 Comments off

I love utilitarian vehicles – cars that are built for a purpose, in which every part has a function.  (Fake hood scoops, on the other hand, piss me off.)

Mahindra TR20

Mahindra TR20

Mahindra is probably the largest car company that you (here in the U.S.) haven’t heard of.  But you will soon.  …Or, at least eventually. They plan to begin selling a line of pick-up trucks in the U.S. in 2010: the TR20 two-door, the TR40 four-door, and a similarly styled SUV.  These large-compact pick-ups have some interesting specs, such as a 2.2-liter diesel engine that gets 30 mpg, and a large bed that can haul an impressive 2,765 pounds – more than most full-size U.S.-built trucks of the 1500/F-150 variety.  And it looks utilitarian – no expanses of chrome or other useless adornment here.  If a piece is there, it’s for a reason.  For example, the truck has built-in tie-down hooks along the outer edge of the cargo area – a simple and more elegant solution than Utili-trak system on Nissan‘s Titan.

I like this truck. I hope it does well, when it finally arrives.  (The introduction has been repeatedly delayed – the current prediction is this coming Spring).  But American truck-buyers are a fickle (and loyal) bunch.  Getting consumers to embrace a not-quite-Ford-tough-looking truck made in India, with an engine that sacrifices a little power for efficiency, may be a tough sell.

Rudolf’s Invention

August 20th, 2009 Comments off

In 1892, Rudolf Diesel invented the compression-ignition (i.e., diesel) engine.  The big difference between diesel engines and gasoline engines is that gasoline engines are typically of the spark-ignition type, relying on a spark-plug to ignite the air/fuel mixture, whereas compression-ignition simply relies on physics to cause the air/fuel mixture to ignite when it is compressed to around 5% of its original volume.

VW Jetta TDI Sportwagen

VW Jetta TDI Sportwagen

Diesel engines are significantly more efficient than their gasoline-powered counterparts, and have enjoyed more popularity in most parts of the world.  Unfortunately, the U.S. is not one of those parts.  Although a few manufacturers have offered diesel engines in their light-duty vehicles in the past, about the only mass-market diesel vehicles you can find in the U.S. today are powered by Volkswagen’s TDI technology.  It seems other manufacturers would follow VW’s lead, given the sustained success of the TDI engines.

What’s the problem here?  Maybe it’s marketing: American consumers still remember the horrible diesel engines of a few decades ago, and think of them as noisy, polluting, and slow, when in fact modern diesel engines are quiet, clean, and powerful.  Maybe it’s cost – diesels generally cost a tad more than their gasoline counterparts; however, diesel engines are usually built “tougher” to withstand higher compression ratios, and frequently have greater lifetimes as a result.  And then there’s the efficiency benefits.

…In a past season of Top Gear, the hosts had a contest to see who could drive from Basel, Switzerland, to Blackpool in the UK, driving any car of their choice, but using only one tank of fuel.  Jeremy Clarkson figured it couldn’t be done, so he chose a car that would actually be enjoyable: a Jaguar XJ6 TDVI (diesel) with a fuel economy rating of 35 mpg, and a theoretical range of 655 miles.  James May chose a Subaru Legacy diesel with a rating of 50 mpg, and a theoretical range of 706 miles.  Richard Hammond chose a VW Polo Bluemotion with a 3-cylinder 1.4L engine that gets 74 mpg, but equiped with only a 10-gallon tank.  Before setting off, they properly adjusted their tire pressures, and (in the ultimate display of hypermiling) even sealed the body-seams with tape!

The result?  Richard arrived first, followed by Jeremy, who drove like a bat out of hell with the A/C and all accessories on to demonstrate that it couldn’t be done – proving himself wrong in the process.  …Captain Slow didn’t quite make it.  But, it was an excellent demonstration of the efficiency of diesel vehicles.  Unfortunately, none of these cars are available in the United States.  What will it take to change this?