Family values and technological change

Posted on September 4th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Electric vehicles,Global Warming,Hybrid Power by Julian Edgar

I’ve always been a little scornful of those parents who proudly proclaim their children’s knowledge and interests, knowledge and interest that are only a reflection of their parents’ particular knowledge and interests.


You know: “Benjamin can name all the players in the Adelaide Football Club”, proudly says the football fan – and stuff like that.


But now in having a child of my own, I can see that it happens rather naturally – the child is interested in what the parents are interested in, and that knowledge is transferred without effort.


So the fact that my four year old, Alexander, when looking over my shoulder at a book on cars that I am reading, can identify the old Citroens, Jaguar E-Types and Porsches, is perhaps not much of a surprise.


But this familial socialisation becomes interesting when you consider change, and the future.

Without radical action, the end could be near

Posted on August 25th, 2008 in Automotive News,Driving Emotion,Global Warming,Hybrid Power by Julian Edgar

I am starting to wonder if the problems that Ford and Holden are facing in this country with their large cars – the Falcon and the Commodore – are going to be possible to remedy.

Holden is now talking a whole range of environmental and fuel-efficiency measures – from E85 compatibility to reducing weight – and Ford, despite having just released a brand new model, has already made public the next engine option, a diesel.

As I have written previously, both companies have only themselves to blame for their current woes – they were happy completely ignoring the changing marketplace and blindly heading down an ever-increasingly irrelevant path. It’s obvious they expected the market to change to suit them, rather than build cars that suited the buying public. That applies especially to Ford, a company that with the FG Falcon, had years more time to prepare for the changing times than Holden had with the VE Commodore.

But what makes me think that they may have lost it big-time is what I am seeing more and more: Holden and Ford are rapidly losing their loyal long-term potential car-buyers.

Now, self-evidently, they have lost some of these already; otherwise Ford wouldn’t be sacking production workers and releasing a market-special FG seemingly only minutes after the new Falcon was released; and Holden Commodores wouldn’t be being outsold (let’s talk private buyers) by a helluva lot more than just a couple of other car models.

Personal Greenhouse Gas Action Plan

Posted on August 21st, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Economy,electric,Global Warming,Hybrid Power,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Perception of any crisis in world affairs has always followed much the same pattern.

Those who say it isn’t happening and never will happen; those cautious but observant who say it might happen; those early adopters who say it is happening well before a majority agree; and those who like to see it unambiguously demonstrated before acknowledging it is actually happening.

Or – and this is really important – not happening.

Trouble is, at the ‘it might happen’ stage it’s difficult to decide on the right course of action. Do nothing and any action might be too late.

Or, conversely, do nothing and in fact the action might later prove to have been correct.

Think CFCs in aerosols and the ozone layer for the first; think Y2000 bug in computer software for the second.

And the eminence of the ‘early adopters’ counts for little: remember the 1970s predictions of a world overpopulation crisis, and how widespread famine would result in a catastrophic reduction in the population by the year 2000? Despite some very highly credentialed experts arguing vehemently – and with apparent logic – that we were doomed, it didn’t happen.

And now to global warming. 

Coming hybrids

Posted on June 25th, 2008 in Economy,Honda,Hybrid Power,Toyota by Julian Edgar

…from the most successful hybrid car makers in the world –

The current Prius technology is a decade old – so expect a big jump in new models.

Honda, despite always having far better petrol engines in their low-cost hybrids than Toyota, have been left well behind by Toyota – so expect an even bigger jump!

Interesting times ahead.

Being less circumspect

Posted on June 5th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Economy,Hybrid Power,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Despite what some might say in discussion groups, everything I ever write for AutoSpeed is carefully considered and thought-through, whatever the consequences of its publication.

So, for example, I was prepared to write content in Part 2 of our water injection series that showed, despite the good hardware, the results in some ways were disappointing.

“What a let-down!” said one discussion group poster.

That may well be so, but I don’t ever want to be in the position of claiming some modification benefit that others cannot duplicate.

In the same way, for our stories on advancing the ignition timing by tweaking the intake air temp sensor (see The 5 Cent Modification) modifying the action of the EGR valve (see Part 1 and Part 2), I was deliberately understated in my description of the potential benefits.

Shooting for goals that have gone…

Posted on April 17th, 2008 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,Hybrid Power,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Regular readers will know of my admiration for the Toyota Prius.

That’s not just because I own a first series NHW10 model (currently off the road with a worn-out high voltage battery) but primarily because of the commercial success the Prius has had.

Simply put, in terms of actual impact on the market, the Prius stands head and shoulders above any ‘alternative’ car that has been sold in perhaps the last 75 years.

prius1.bmpIt therefore behoves anyone enthusing an alternative automotive technology – whether that’s biodiesel, LPG, pure electric cars or anything else – to know the Prius inside-out. To know its equipment level, its warranty, its real-world fuel economy, its emissions performance, its new and used prices, and its technology.

Like it or not, the Prius sets the current benchmark.

Nope, not necessarily in any one specific area – emissions, fuel economy, driveline technology, control electronics or even high voltage battery technology – but in a total package that has been successfully sold to the public for a decade.

And, because of that timescale, it is a car that is now available very cheaply second-hand.

That might all seem obvious – but it is certainly not to some.

I recently had long phone discussions with a man very enthusiastic about DIY biodiesel. He runs seminars on the topic, played an instrumental part in developing a home biodiesel plant, and is highly educated. But his knowledge of the Prius (and other hybrids) is poor indeed.

With regard to hybrids, his website contains errors of fact and makes some statements that could only be described as wild scaremongering.

Wankers Leap into Life

Posted on April 10th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Economy,Hybrid Power,Opinion by Julian Edgar

When we ran the story on modifying the Honda Insight’s TPS signal, I knew that we’d get some attention. That’s in part because to a much greater degree than with the Toyota Prius, Insight owners – especially in the US – are much more likely to modify their cars.

But what I hadn’t counted on was the stupidity that’s so rampant in car discussion groups. Just as occurred when I wrote about upgrading the Insight’s rear springs to improve load carrying and handling (see this blog), all the idiots came out of the woodwork.

Examples? Try these:

Just my opinion but the circuit does not extend lean-burn, it just helps those with a heavy foot maintain a smoother TPS input into the ECU and the Insight will not drop out nearly as quickly.

Well, no kidding – that’s exactly what the article says the modification achieves!

He was driving pretty fast and I get better results with just my foot.

I was doing the same speeds as other traffic, 80, 100, 110 km/h – what do you normally do, dawdle along in the slow lane?

Forget century-old braking…

Posted on April 10th, 2008 in electric,Hybrid Power,Opinion by Julian Edgar

One of the aspects I like most about hybrid and electric-powered vehicles is regenerative braking.

Regeneration braking (“regen”) occurs when the electric motor is used as a generator, so charging the battery and in turn slowing the vehicle.

Regen is important for energy-efficiency – the energy that would normally be wasted in friction braking is instead utilised. In many driving conditions this can result in a substantial improvement in fuel economy (hybrids) or driving range (battery electric).

However, I like regen most because it is really effective from a driving perspective.

Unlike friction braking, the faster that you are going, the better regen works. The faster-moving vehicle has more potential energy that in turn can be turned into more electric energy. That’s the case with friction braking as well (the potential energy is higher so more heat energy can be generated) but since conventional brakes reduce in effectiveness as they are required to do more work, the feeling is not the same.

Regen braking can feel like the ‘inexorable giant hand’ pulling you back, all with smoothness and a degree of control that is impossible to obtain with friction brakes.

And let’s look at the subject of control for a moment.

The Most Important Article of the Year

Posted on March 18th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Economy,electric,Hybrid Power,Opinion,Technologies by Julian Edgar

Unusually, in this blog I want to refer you all to the AutoSpeed article that was published today. As I have written above, I think it’s probably the most important article that we’ll publish this year.

So what’s it about?

In short, the article is based on a paper written by Dr Andrew Simpson when he was working for the Sustainable Energy Group at the University of Queensland. His paper looks at a huge number of alternative fuels and drivelines, concluding which are the best from both energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions perspectives.

Andrew has given us permission to use major excerpts of the paper, and in fact went through it again to ensure that his conclusions are current. The full paper can be downloaded from the link at the end of the article.

His is a detailed ‘well-to-wheel’ study, where the environmental costs of producing the fuel and the efficiency of the cars using them are evaluated. Even better, they’re all benchmarked against a real car, the Holden Commodore. Even better again, the alternative fuelled cars are modelled to have the same range and performance as the Commodore.

Power and torque

Posted on January 29th, 2008 in Hybrid Power,Opinion,Power,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

torque-curve.gifThe (repeated) articles that we’ve recently run in AutoSpeed on power and torque are vital to understanding how to make your car go harder.

(The series can be found at Power vs Torque Part 1 –  and Power vs Torque Part 2)

And why is this understanding vital? Simply because people who use the terms ‘power’ and ‘torque’ often don’t seem to really understand what the words mean. The vital point to realise is that engine power is worked out by multiplying torque by revs.  And that’s the only way that power is worked out!

So an increase in torque at – say – 2500 rpm will mean a proportional increase in power also occurs at 2500 revs. It’s therefore just plain stupid to say “there wasn’t any change in the power curve but we got an increase in mid-range torque…” as some manufacturers of performance equipment state.