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Posts Tagged ‘NHTSA’

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June 27th, 2011 Comments off

Last month, Autoblog Green writer Eric Loveday wrote about an interview with Bob Lutz – former Ford/Chrysler/BMW executive, most known for his recently-ended stint at General Motors where he retired as Vice Chairman of Global Product Development.  Now, as a car-guy, I’ve always sort of admired Maximum Bob.  He’s a car-guy as much as a businessman, and he oversaw the development of more than a few worthwhile vehicles in his career.  But, he does have some flaws in his thinking, which are painfully revealed in the Loveday interview…

Bob Lutz

Bob’s a climate-change skeptic, and it shows in his opinions related to CAFE regulations and the federal government’s role in the auto industry.  He says of the initial CAFE rules from the 1970’s,The feds basically handed our market to the Japanese.”  He then describes how the American automakers made perfectly desirable vehicles until CAFE came about, forcing the domestic industry to abruptly redesign and re-engineer everything in order to comply.  And since change is hard, American auto quality suffered.  He also blames the State Department for granting Japan a favorable exchange-rate, making American competitiveness even more difficult.  (I’m no economist, but I’m pretty sure the State Department doesn’t set exchange rates.  Am I wrong?)

Bob describes the U.S. federal government as the only one in the world that is hostile to its own auto industry because of the policies it places “against” the automakers, born of what he calls a complete lack of understanding of what is technologically feasible.  He describes a mandate of 42 mpg by 2025 as physically impossible, tantamount to mandating that all cars have to “hover off the highway by two inches.”  (For what it’s worth, 42 mpg is the below the range of what NHTSA has been considering as the 2025 CAFE rule; instead, the agency has been considering improvements of 3%-6% per year beginning in 2017 within the realm of possibility, equating to 47 mpg to 62 mpg by 2025.  Additionally, today the White House “unofficiallyreleased a proposed CAFE target of 56.2 mpg.  I wonder what Bob thinks about that?  …Actually, I’m pretty sure I already know…)

Bill Ford

In contrast, Bill Ford – Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company – recently spoke at the TED2011 conference, and penned an opinion piece on CNN.com, describing the global gridlock we face as the number of cars on the planet doubles or quadruples over the coming decades from the nearly 1 billion vehicles we have now.  Bill accurately describes the downside:  traffic jams, squandered time, stifled economic opportunity, and the resulting loss of mobility options and lower standard of living.  He then suggests a few solutions:  better mass transit systems, smart cars, smart infrastructure, and cooperation among corporations, entrepreneurs, NGOs, universities, and governments.  In stark opposition to Lutz’s tack, Ford anticipates the unsustainability of the current paradigm, and envisions possibilities to overcome the challenge.  (Lutz, on the other hand, only envisions external factors as the cause of difficulty for his industry.)

The contrast between these two auto executives – and their view of the world – couldn’t be more apparent.  It’s a good thing for GM that Lutz is now a former executive.

Eco-Tires & Eco-Racing

July 3rd, 2009 Comments off

I love tires.  And I love racing.  I especially like the sort of racing that involves both right AND left-hand turns.  Not so long ago, I made sure to watch every Formula1, American Le Mans, Grand-Am, and Speed World Challenge race that was broadcast.  (My wife’s 30th birthday present to me was VIP tickets for the Petit Le Mans – best present ever!)  Unfortunately, I now seem to have much less time to devote to sitting in front of the tube every race weekend…

Of all these series, the ALMS has made the most effort to “go green,” (with involvement from the EPA and DOE).  It started a few years ago, with Audi’s “clean diesel” R10 cars dominating the LMP1 class (and the whole series).  Since then, ALMS cars have raced using E10 and cellulosic E85 fuels as well as hybrid technology.  This year, there’s even the Michelin-sponsored Green X Challenge, which scores the race-finishers based on highest performance with least environmental impact.  (Yeah, I’d love to see the NASCAR folks try to implement a program like this…)  And, yesterday it was announced that the ALMS has even partnered with The Nature Conservancy!

Yokohama Advan ENV-R1Adding to the Green Theme, Yokohama is now supplying the eco-tires used in the Patron GT3 Challenge series (a support series for the ALMS).  This tire (the Advan ENV-R1) is a race-tire that replaces 10% of the petroleum used in the tire’s construction with citrus-derived oil.  The impressive performance and durability characteristics of these tires demonstrate that this technology is applicable to street tires as well.  (Now, I would like to know just how much petroleum is being displaced, both in the tire construction itself as well as from a life-cycle perspective.  Is the extraction of the orange oil and incorporation of it into the manufacturing process any more energy-intensive than the conventional method?)

In another take on eco-friendly tires, NHTSA has recently proposed a tire-rating system that adds fuel-efficiency ratings (in addition to revamped traction and treadwear ratings) to the mandatory tire-labeling system.  Yes, the tires you buy do have an impact on your car’s fuel efficiency!  On the whole, I think this is a good idea; however, one thing does bother me a little.  Tires improve fuel-efficiency for the most part through decreased rolling resistance.  Decreased rolling resistance almost always means less grip.  (NHTSA states that this doesn’t have to be the case, with the disclaimer that higher costs would be involved otherwise.)  And think about it – the only thing connecting your car to the road is the four tire contact patches, each about the size of your hand.  Less grip at the four corners of your car means longer stopping distances and less traction when going around corners.  In an effort to (slightly) improve fuel economy, is it so far-fetched to question if there may be a (slight) increase in traffic accidents?

I wonder how much fuel could be saved through low-rolling-resisitance tires.  Though I haven’t done the analysis, I would guess it would be small compared to how much could be saved if people just maintained proper tire pressures!  And how does it compare with the effect of using orange oil instead of petroleum in the tire construction?  …Yeah, I’m gonna have to figure this one out…