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Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Clarkson’

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?

Does the Insight Hurt the Cause?

July 1st, 2009 Comments off

I have not driven the new Honda Insight (Honda’s “affordable hybrid”).  I did read Jeremy Clarkson’s scathing review of it last month (and if I didn’t link to it, like every other auto-related blog has done, then this wouldn’t be a bona fide car blog).  And although the Top Gear host is admittedly anti-hybrid (his being obtuse is a trait I chalk up to part of his schtick as a TV entertainer), I tend to think his view of things automotive sync up well with mine.  (After all, I did declare the Alfa Romeo 8c Competizione the most beautiful car of the modern era, even before he did.  Unlike Clarkson, unfortunately, I was not offered the opportunity to drive the 8c on a test track, which may be just as well, since Clarkson was thoroughly unimpressed.)

Honda InsightBut now, Consumer Reports has given the Insight another horrible review.  And while I’ve never given any credence to CR’s automotive reviews (they tend to approach cars as if they were appliances), the fact that the Insight has now earned two black marks from both extremes of the auto review spectrum makes me think there may be some truth behind the negativity.  (Heck, I even winced a little when I saw the first photos of the Insight revealed before the vehicle’s introduction.)

Now, I love the fact that there are more and more hybrid vehicles being introduced to the market … but, if one of the most anticipated and talked-about hybrids is really a piece of shit as bad as they say, then this doesn’t really help the cause for powertrain electrification!  If consumers get in their mind that hybrid = crap, then fewer hybrids will be sold.  Purchasers of hybrid vehicles should not have to compromise when making their purchase; otherwise, there won’t be any purchasers of hybrid vehicles.

Tesla Motors had the right idea with their Roadster – make a car that people want.  Sure, most of us can’t afford a Tesla Roadster, but that’s how technology works – when it’s brand new, it’s expensive.  Many more folks will be able to afford Tesla’s Model S.  And you know what?  It’s also a car that people want.  The Toyota Prius – the most successful electrified (in its case, hybrid) vehicle thus far, isn’t necessarily a car that people want, but it doesn’t really force its owner to compromise, either.  (OK, the last-generation Prius that I drove over the Rocky Mountains did struggle to maintain a constant speed, but that’s likely true for any normally-aspirated internal combustion engined economy car going up steep hills at 10,000 feet.)  The Chevy Volt – although similar in shape to the Insight & Prius (where aerodynamics may trump style) – is actually a decent looking car, in my opinion.  And hopefully, GM’s recent claims that the vehicle will be sportier than the Prius will hold true.

So, automakers, take note:  don’t make crappy hybrids.  Or crappy PHEVs.  Or crappy EVs.  …Better yet, just don’t build any more crappy cars.

Small Cars / Fun Cars

June 29th, 2009 Comments off
Fiat 500 Abarth

Fiat 500 Abarth

One of the outcomes for which I was hoping from the Fiat takeover of Chrysler has now been confirmed!  The Fiat 500 will be coming to the U.S. (as reported by autobloggreen).  I’d love to park that in my garage, alongside the Alfa Romeo Mi.To.  …Of course, I don’t actually have the Alfa in my garage, since it isn’t sold here.  …Which is the case with a lot of the most eye-pleasing, sporty small cars from across the pond.  Why is this?  Why has the North American market been so focused on large SUVs and trucks, while the ultra-compact car segment has been relegated largely to a few featureless, ill-handling, snore-inducing models?

Alfa Romeo Mi.To

Alfa Romeo Mi.To

A large part of the answer is the difference in the price we pay at the pump, as well as different tax systems that penalize larger cars in Europe.  But another reason is the differences in our cultures.  We Americans need large 7-passenger vehicles with acres of storage space to transport our large broods and our gear from our estates in the suburbs to our offices, private schools, and shopping malls spread far and wide, don’t we?  …Cynism aside, this isn’t necessarily untrue.  (My wife and I purchased a 7-passenger crossover when we realized the infant-seat for our second child would not fit in our Audi A4 and still allow room for a front-seat passenger!)

So, perhaps our large, inefficient cars aren’t the problem – they’re just the symptom of a larger problem – our sprawling, poorly-designed cities, which have led us to our car monoculture (as described by Dan Sperling and Deborah Gordon in their book Two Billion Cars).  And as big of an undertaking as it will be to transition our vehicle fleet to an efficient one based on low-carbon energy sources, it could be a much more difficult task to transform our cities to the type of mixed-use places that solve our mobility issue, at least in the way that Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins suggests when he says the ultimate mode of transport is being there already.

So, I’m quite excited for the Fiat 500 – the Abarth version, of course!  (This is the car that made Top Gear‘s Jeremy Clarkson quite giddy!  …Top Gear = best show ever, by the way…)  But I wonder – will it sell in America?  Or do we just have too far to drive, and too much stuff to bring with us?