New DIY Electric Car Opportunities

Posted on January 22nd, 2009 in Driving Emotion,Electric vehicles,Honda,Hybrid Power,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

People who have been into modified cars here in Australia have for decades known of the incredible bargains that can be had from Japanese-importing wreckers.

Because of the speed with which Japanese drivers discard near-new cars, the drivelines – or even complete front halves of cars – can be bought amazingly cheaply. Engines and gearboxes boasting late model technology, for less than the cost of having an old clunker rebuilt. It’s simple – buy a locally-delivered car and then install a new Japanese-import driveline having much greater performance. Over the years I’ve done this twice – and both times got a tremendous car for the money.

And now there’s a whole new and exciting Japanese-import field opening up.

Because Japanese manufacturers have led the world in the creation of hybrid petrol/electric cars – the first was built over 10 years ago – and because many were sold locally in Japan, hybrid car parts can now be sourced out of Japan at the same ridiculously low prices.

I’ve driven the latest auto transmission technology – and I prefer the old!

Posted on January 13th, 2009 in Driving Emotion,Mitsubishi,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

I think that the people responsible for the design and evaluation of cars sometimes lose the wood for the trees.

I am as much as an automotive technology aficionado as anyone I’ve met. I love technology like stability control, radar cruise control, telematics and hybrid petrol/electric drivelines. I look forward to pure electric cars, to better aerodynamic technology and to exotic materials use.

But I think that all new technologies must be assessed within the paradigm of what is currently cutting edge, and not just adopted because in just one or two respects they are advantageous.

I’ve recently driven two high performance cars with transmissions that are clearly, in important aspects, inferior to what is currently available.

The twin clutch SST transmission in the Lancer Evo MR can be lumpy in urban driving, and (worsened by the over-large turbo, high mass of the car and small capacity of the engine), has terrible lag off the line.

Books to read

Posted on January 8th, 2009 in books,Ford by Julian Edgar

It’s been said that the victors write history. It’s also the case that history tends to be written in the native language of the country – or company. Perhaps it’s for those reasons that good histories of the major Japanese car makers seem so absent – or, when they do appear, are rather lame.

Honda Motor – the Men, the Management, the Machines was written by Tetsuo Sakiya in 1982. When I came across it, the age of the book didn’t worry me – surely all the foundations of the company were in place by then – so it was a read I was looking forward to.

However, the promise isn’t fulfilled. Basically, it’s because the author feels the necessity to wander off into prolonged diversions on Japanese history, culture, labour practices, emancipation of women, trading companies, the role of government – and God knows what else.

Making very bad product planning decisions

Posted on December 16th, 2008 in AutoSpeed,Driving Emotion,Ford,Opinion by Julian Edgar

This is the last blog post for this year, and this week’s edition of AutoSpeed is the last until January 6.

It’s been an interesting year, not least because in response to reader requests, we’ve been again testing more new cars.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I think that when testing cars, nearly all journalists are way too soft in their criticisms. I mean, to make just a simple point – by definition, half of all new cars should be rated below average and half should be above average.

But read most car tests and you’ll find that nearly all cars are said to be way above average!

I also think that journalists – and especially enthusiasts’ magazines and TV shows – need to in part be blamed for the absurd direction that some manufacturers have taken with their cars.

The car that this year amazed me the most was the Ford FG Falcon.

The model that I would think sells the best – the XR6 – was incredibly off the pace in the things that matter to most purchasers. All I can say is: what on earth was Ford thinking when they set the priorities?

I wrote about this when the car was first released – see The New Falcon – Mostly Irrelevant and the ironic The Ideal Car for the Times – but the car’s reality was even worse than I’d guessed.

$2 for an improved suspension…

Posted on December 11th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Honda,Opinion,Suspension by Julian Edgar

The topic of bump stops does not attract much interest. But especially in cars with lowered suspension, and in light-weight cars, bump stops form an important part of the springing system.

A bump stop is the (usually) rubber buffer that is compressed as the suspension reaches full bump. (Some cars also have full droop buffers as well.)

Traditionally, bump stops were impacted only rarely, but more and more often in current cars, the suspension is designed in such a way that the bump stops are frequently contacted.

Let’s look at light weight cars first.

In a light weight car, the variations in possible loads make up a greater proportion of the overall vehicle mass. This means that, to avoid bottoming-out, the suspension must be set up more stiffly to cope with the potential load variation.

Or – and here’s the key point – the bump stops can be designed to be increasing rate (but still relatively progressive) springs that are brought into operation when the car is carrying full loads over bumps. That way, the spring rate of the suspension during ‘normal’ load carrying can be set much softer, giving a better ride.

Cost vs benefit of car modifications

Posted on November 25th, 2008 in Aerodynamics,Driving Emotion,Economy,Honda,Opinion by Julian Edgar

When modifying cars, everyone conducts some sort of cost/benefit analysis.

That might be as informal as weighing-up the likely cost of the modification against the guessed benefit, or it might be a more detailed analysis.

A friend of mine, Paul, has a rule of thumb that goes like this:

Back in 1998, on naturally aspirated cars, he budgeted $100 per kilowatt for a power improvement. Any more than that and he thought the value poor; any better than that and – well, he thought that was pretty good.

That $/kW ratio was for mods like intake, exhaust and chip.

Taming throttles

Posted on November 11th, 2008 in Engine Management,Mitsubishi,Opinion,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

A while ago in a reply to another blog post, I wrote about the current Lancer Evolution that:


“The Evo should use far improved throttle mapping where blade angle is mapped against foot position and the calculated instantaneous tractive effort value. It should also use a smaller turbo. ”


At least one reader was so excited by this notion that he wished to “quietly roll up into a foetal position and rock back and forth on the floor”. However, leaving aside bizarre responses, it’s a concept sure to interest some.


I won’t discuss the ‘smaller turbo’ bit because most of you will have a good understanding of this idea. But what about the throttle mapping?


In electronic throttle cars, the relationship between the accelerator pedal position and the throttle blade opening no longer needs to be linear. In a linear system, the throttle blade would be half open at 50 per cent accelerator pedal travel, three-quarters open at 75 per cent accelerator pedal travel, and so on.

Initial thoughts on driving the FG Falcon XR6

Posted on November 6th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Ford,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Day #1, Urban

Power steering heavy, good (apparently variable) ratio, good feel

Suspension gives firmly damped ride

NVH very good

Performance at full throttle nothing special – air con switches off at merest hint of lots of throttle and seems to stay off for a long time (relatively speaking eg 5 secs)

Cabin feels surprisingly enclosing, not spacious – cf colours of trims, width at driver’s knee level poor, distance between back seat and rear of centre console poor

Speedo and tacho have stupidly fussy markings + silly ‘XR6’ colouring

Central instrument panel LCD is model of clarity – good range of selectable options, including digital speedo

I-phone connectivity (including charging) but no on-LCD display of tracks, etc

Around town fuel consumption with air con on – 12.5 – 13.5 litres/100km – this is progress?

The disappointing Lancer Evo X

Posted on October 8th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Mitsubishi,Opinion,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

Look, I am sorry to say so, but I just don’t think the Lancer Evo X lives up to its hype.

In fact, as a driver’s car, I don’t think it even lives up to the (immense) promise that drives of previous Evos would lead you to expect.

There are four separate problems.

Firstly, the engine drives like an old-fashioned turbo. That is, despite the hoopla about variable valve timing, super lightweight turbo assembly and all the rest, the engine is slow to come on boost.

In fact, the engine really only gets going at just under 3000 rpm – say, 2800. Redline is 7000 rpm so that gives you just over 4000 rpm of powerband. Not terrible, but certainly nothing special.

How can some get it so wrong?

Posted on October 6th, 2008 in AutoSpeed,Driving Emotion,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

Whenever I have nearly finished writing a new car test, I have a quick look at what other testers have had to say about the car.


Sometimes I find points that I have overlooked – and I am not too proud to re-examine the car and see if I agree with that other perspective. Other times, I find comments that I completely disagree with – and I never change the test to match what a majority might be saying.


I always wait until my test is near-complete before looking at other tests; it’s the same logic that means I usually drive a car and decide what I think it is worth before looking up its exact price.


So when I’d just about finished writing the test on the Toyota Aurion AT-X, I did a quick web browse.