Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Addicted to Speed, NOT Addicted to Oil

The further that the words and deeds of President George W. Bush fade into history's unvisited areas, the better I feel. These days, the phrase "Addicted to Oil" isn't heard too much. What should enter the conscience of a world that currently builds a new car every 4.5 seconds, is the phrase "Addicted to Speed". As a spectator sport, auto racing is among the most patronized of all sporting events in the world. And the onlookers do not swoon and gasp at the sight of fuel loading or fuel consumption.

Every adult is addicted to speed! Faster times getting to work, getting anything done, communicating...Top highway speeds in the 1940s were less than 50 mph. Off-the-assembly-line vehicles before 1950 had engines that produced well under 100 horsepower, even for the most luxurious production cars.

What I advocate with this blog is making every vehicle on the roadways and highways mechanically constrained, so that no vehicle (well, perhaps bicycles), not a car or truck or motorcycle, could travel faster than 34 miles per hour...downhill, pedal to the floor, all out engine screaming....55 KM per hour... that would be it. It would affect less than twenty percent of the time we spend traveling, increase gas mileage tremendously, and cut manufacturing costs dramatically.

Now, not one of the high volume producers of automobiles would dream of advertising less horsepower, less acceleration, less ultimate maximum speed. In a perverse way of explaining their performance parameters, some manufacturers claim their cars are "electronically limited" to a top speed, usually this "limited speed" is in the neighborhood of 130 miles-per-hour!! This is an insane speed to attempt to attain on any highway, anywhere, as road hazards, side traffic, other vehicles, as well as the driver's skill make it nearly certain that a bad outcome would ensue after a very short period of traveling at such a speed. Yet these kind of technical "wow's" are what sell cars. And, they drive up the price of cars.

If road vehicles were physically constrained to attain a maximum speed of 55 kilometers-per-hour (34 mph) the benefits would be enormous and long-lasting. Read some of my very first entries into this blog, but notice the mileage of the 2008 SAE Supermileage winners to the right of this message. How did they do so well? They had no big "design and engineering" groups aiding their effort, and, they were all students! Here are the three reasons:

  • The vehicles were very light
  • The engines were very small
  • The aerodynamic drag created by a vehicle below 35 mph is very small

Remember, as speed increases, the aerodynamic drag goes up by a power of three: if it takes two horsepower to move a vehicle at 30mph, it takes eight horsepower to move the same vehicle 60mph! And by the way, the amount of horsepower it takes to move your typical 3000-lb car at a constant rate of 60 miles per hour??? Fourteen horsepower!

So why do cars have big V8 engines, touting 300 horsepower??

Everywhere you look, advertising for passenger vehicles tout acceleration numbers and top speed numbers. Being able to accelerate briskly to 60 mph is a major selling point. A recent Ford Mustang commercial showed a "father and son" out at night in a new Mustang, with the father admonishing the son, "This is not a toy..." and then uses the car as the ultimate toy by burning rubber and accelerating wildly, then stomping on the brakes to illustrate, "THIS IS FUN"!

It is a toy! Ford wishes you to lust after a toy! That is what sells cars.

The best part about a change to a mechanically-fixed maximum speed: present vehicles can be retrofitted. Instead of waiting for a turnover in the current 220 million cars and trucks on the road in the United States, they can be set up with inexpensive escapement mechanisms, similar to those that regulate the speed of a mechanical clock or watch. You don't have to wait five, ten, or twenty eyars for a big impact. A big impact can arrive in as little as twelve months after the decision is made. New industries that would (1) build the escapement kits (2) build and retrofit engines of smaller size and lighter weight would be welcome in a time of high unemployment.

Talk about "saving the planet" with electric cars and hybrids makes no sense when you consider the numbers: there are 220 million cars and trucks current extant, on the road, in the United States!


People are talking about the impact the Chevrolet Volt might have..when it ramps up to a million vehicles a year...it is a minor number compared to the operating fleet! If a million hybrids, a million electrics, all hit the road and replaced a vehicle, it still would take twenty-five years to convert to a sizeable number of the overall fleet!

My idea of speed-reduced vehicles won't save Detroit, or the rest of the current automotive industry. Because of factors of scale, current manufacturers cannot save themselves. Lighter cars with lighter engines do not need to be smaller, but they will be easier to manufacture, because the ability to travel safely at high speeds means heavier frames, heavier motors, heavier tires.... all these things are more expensive, the higher the potential top end speed. Can you name one golfcart manufacturer? No, but it's not an automotible firm like Ford or Nissan.

If the top speed were a mechanical constraint (not a roadsign or law to be voluntarily obeyed) it would be less than two years before vehicles getting 200 miles-per-gallon were manufactured and sold. And not "Dodge-'em" looking vehicles, either. The reason the "SMART car" and others of a similar nature are so small, is that they must be able to go over sixty miles an hour, or no one would buy them. And, they could not reach that speed and be large, because the dimensions-x-speed require a heavier frame, heavier wheels, a larger frontal area with more air resistance at sixty...there goes the mileage!!!

A commitment to mechanically-constraining all vehicles to a slower speed would create all sorts of beneficial externalities, including cheaper roadbuilding. It would take less commitment than World War II, where there was a complete cessation of personal cars being manufactured, and fuel was rationed.

It would be a commitment to a saner, safer, "cooler" world (less carbon dioxide emissions).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Volkswagen's L1 Concept: All About Weight and Aerodynamics

Volkswagen first introduced their "Concept" back in 2001 or so, but now it is purportedly set for actual production. What is holding things back is the ability to create a carbon-fibre body
cheaply enough so that the car is competitively priced. This car will have the capability to exceed any posted speed limit (75 mph) and is called the "L1" by way of its early antecedent.
The L1 updates an idea Volkswagen has been kicking around since 2002, when Dr. Ferdinand Piëtch, then the chairman of the board, drove the 1-Liter microcar from Wolfsburg to Hamburg. The car drew its name from the fact it needed one liter of fuel to go 100 kilometers. The 1-Liter was a technological marvel built of carbon fiber and magnesium, but it was so ridiculously expensive VW knew it wasn’t practical. Piëtch shelved the project, figuring it wouldn’t be financially viable for another decade.
Note the frontal area. Small. It is all about aerodynamics. Length of a vehicle doesn't matter as far as drag is concerned, so the second passenger is behind the driver. Volkswagen made a similar, less aerodynamic one-person car in the 1980's that was never brought to market. It could not be profitably made. Same with GM. Their "Lean Machine" (a three-wheeler that leaned into turns, created by hot-rod/performance GM engineers) was a rave with test audiences, but could not be profitably produced.
People often buy cars based on the "maximum case" carrying capacity. Ideas like "if I go to the airport and pick up my brother's family, where will I put them if I own an L1?" are reasons they give not to buy this car, even though their brother has never brought the family (or even the wife) on a trip via flying! Or the soccer team which they never transported. Or the camping trip they never took. For such one-off events, for Gawd's sake, rent a proper VAN for a week, pay the $500, and save by driving a small car the other 51 weeks of the year.
Automakers say two-seat cars don't sell, are not profitable. Well, major automakers are not profitable. They have to start accepting alternate variations on the core product.
The Volkswagen L1 could have an even smaller engine, and could forget about carbon fiber, if the car only attained a sub-40 top speed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Feedback on this Blog

Recently I mentioned this blog on Paul Kedrosky's Infectious Greed and consequently received remarks, but not about the idea of limiting the top speed of vehicles on our highways.

In summary, every response was name-calling, which takes no thinking whatsoever, and even less keyboard effort. But, that is the Internet: a place where one can anonymously pass judgment and fulminate against anyone, long after you have alienated every one of your physical actual friends and acquaintances. Your ex-friends can geographically hide. Open season on anything that moves on the Internet, so spray away. It's not hitting a target that counts on the Internet, it is simply the pleasure of "pulling the trigger", seeing your words in print. Truly...that is the hiding place of the weak.

I did publish on the blog a message from Barry which supposes I am attempting to "say" something other than what I have published in this blog. Heh, electrons are cheap. I write out all that I want to say. Do not 'interprete'. I only suggest that you take fifteen minutes and read this weblog from the first to the last, because all the "problems" with this idea of limiting top speed are addressed in many of the first entries.

Finally, I want to remind readers that we all have the natural bias to assume things can always remain the way they exist in the present, as long as we resist change, vote it down, rally against change, keep our "freedoms". No question, when the automobile first hit the streets, people wanted their horse-drawn wagons, did not want gasoline, noise, etc. They wrote laws like "3 mph top speed, with a man on foot walking in front, waving a red flag" because they loved their horses, they loved the way they "had always done it." It used to be a tradition, on Christmas Day in this country, that every able-bodied male went out with a gun, and shot every single bird that moved. Robins, eagles, pigeons, everything. Where did that tradition go??!!

We now have 300-plus million people in the USA. There were 180 million when I began driving. Things cannot remain as we wish they could. The planet has six BILLION humans, and growing.

As a consequence of the population growth, some things will go away, sooner than you think.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Transportation, or Toys?

Pretty obvious that the automobile transportation industry is only fractionally involved in transporting people from "A" to "B". This pictured truck probably has seldom if ever gotten off a paved road, but undoubtedly has in excess of $5,000 in modifications that are completely unnecessary for moving people to school or work, or to go shopping. We all like our toys, and everyone likes something about their personal vehicle. But in this country, vehicles are more toys than transportation.

But the world cannot take it no mo'. The realistic, mature fact is, there are simply too many people on the planet, and putting money into non-functional but expensive add-ons is simply unsustainable. The huge losses all across the automobile industry, worldwide, leaves no doubt that this is true. We cannot have a nation where one person in fifty grows food, and ten in fifty sell chrome-plated-this and super-shock-absorber-thats.
I get SAE's monthly magazine, and I see even in 2009 the auto industry still swooning, still pouring enormous amounts of research and money into seven-speed transmissions, muting noise at eighty miles per hour, more elaborate fuel delivery systems for V8, V10 engines, for more horsepower per cubic inch displacement. These don't add value to transportation on the highway, because these incremental "advances" are only functional above 70 mph!.

Advertising that a car has an "electronically limited top speed of 155 mile-per-hour" is desperation...desperation grown of shrinking sales. Acceleration and an unusable "top speed" may help -sell- a particular type of car, but simply focusing on tactics to increase sales by offering "better high-speed performance" leads to a nationwide fleet of cars that cost too much in total operating cost (fuel, insurance, depreciation) for the value they provide in getting from "A" to "B" efficiently.

If the maximum speed a vehicle could travel was physically constrained to 34 mph (55kmph), engines could be very small (two cylinder most likely) and mileage would quickly surpass 200 miles-per-gallon in new, clean-sheet designs. Once you have a lighter, inexpensive vehicle, and no excessive oil importation, then you can begin adding spinning hubcabs and jacked-up suspensions... fuel efficient cars DO NOT have to be tiny Prius econo-boxes, IF they don't have to go 70 mph!

In addition, let's enjoy the reduced carbon output as we simultaneously return sanity to transportation.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Nick Adenhart and the crash that killed him

As a baseball fan, I was very shocked to see the headline that announced that Nick Adenhart had been killed in a car crash. He had just pitched the night before. How could it be? Where would he have been, as a member of a professional team in the midst of their season, where he could be out driving, and then be so foolish as to risk life and limb?

Ah, the terrible details. Nick Adenhart was only a passenger in a car that was hit by another vehicle going NINETY MILES AN HOUR. Two other people, the driver Courtney Stewart and passenger Henry Pearson, were killed, both of them instantly. A fourth, John Wilhite, was "internally decapitated" but has remained alive.

Now as my blog makes abundantly clear, I am advocating a speed (top speed, cannot physically exceed) of 34 miles an hour for all vehicles on our roadways, as a means to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and to cut carbon dioxide emissions down to pre 1970 levels. But apropos to the crash that killed three people and ruined the life for the driver of the other vehicle, and probably the critically-injured passenger, you have to ask yourself:

Why does ANY vehicle on the road, need the capability to exceed the speed limit? Why??

Are we required to maintain a "free-for-all" type of playground for speeding? Isn't 70mph as a top speed, for Porsches and Corvettes, as well as the Minivan that was traveling 90mph and killed three people...NINETY MILES AN HOUR on a regular four-lane boulevard... isn't 70mph enough? If you want high speed, buy a racing car. But don't mistake transportation for entertainment. Driving is a privilege, and not a right.

No manufacturer should be building cars and selling them to the public, that can exceed the speed limit. There is no rational, reasonable reason for doing so. And in light of the fact that drunk drivers with no license continue to drive and kill people, should there be some basic manufacturing guidelines to deal with reality???!!

There was one other car at that intersection of Orangethorpe and S. Lemon, facing the Adenhart car. The driver saw the speeding minivan flicker in the periphery of his vision. He was lucky. Courtney Stewart did not see the minivan. Had it been traveling at only 70 mph, would she have seen it? Would she have also paused.

I would say, speculatively, yes, she would have. Chrysler contributed to this accident, IMO.

Why build a car that can go ninety miles an hour?

To kill people??

By the way, if "my world" were in existence, and the top speed was only 34 mph, there would have been no crash, no loss of life.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Ridiculous Phrase "Addicted to Oil"

Perhaps when our current president George "Dubya" Bush leaves office, his utterance of "addicted to oil" will finally vanish into history.

However, some electric car enthusiasts wish to prop up the phrase for their own promotion. I sincerely hope they abandon it.

Today, January 1st, 2009, an article on fuel consumption was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Though prices in California have dropped from the $4.50 per gallon to the $1.69 per gallon range in only six months, consumption volumes show no sign of increasing. In fact, most predict consumption will continue to drop. Does this sound like an "addiction"??


What every adult is addicted to is speed! Faster times getting to work, getting anything done, communicating....Top automotive speeds in the 1940s were less than 50 mph, and few cars could get above 80 mph. Now, you cannot sell a car without brisk acceleration, a nice top speed (130 is often touted).

Nearly a year has passed since I began this blog, and no one has disputed my claim that if we simply made cars, trucks, and buses incapable, mechanically, of exceeding 35 miles per hours, that we would soon not be importing foreign oil, the price of fuel would drop, the price of cars would drop, the amount of carbon entering the atmosphere from petroleum consumption would drop below 1980s levels worldwide, vehicular deaths would drop to an incredibly low number, the list is long for the fallout from the effect.

And, the best part about a change to a mechanically-fixed maximum speed: present vehicles can be retrofitted. Instead of waiting for a turnover in the current 220 million cars and trucks on the road in the United States, they can be set up with inexpensive escapement mechanisms, similar to those that regulate the speed of a mechanical clock or watch. You don't have to wait five, ten , twenty years for a big impact. It can be as little as twelve months after the decision is made!

Talk about "saving the planet" with electric cars and hybrids makes no sense when you consider the numbers: There are 220 million cars and trucks on the road! 220 million! People are talking about "ramping up" electric vehicle production to a million cars a year..."ramping up"!! The same with hybrids. Buying and driving a electric-gas hybrid in order to "commit" to change is absurd in face of the 220 million vehicles on the roads, NOW, in the United States. If a million hybrids hit the road and replace (most hybrid purchases do not replace existing cars, just shove them to the back of the driveway) traditional gasoline-exclusive vehicles, it will take a century to have an effect!!

My idea of speed-reduced vehicles won't save Detroit, because Detroit as it's currently set up, cannot save itself. Cars that operate at reduced speed are not in as many accidents. If vehicles begin to appear that get 100-200 miles to the gallon, the existing fleet simply will not turn over fast enough to support the Big Three (and many other vehicle manufacturers) because of the longer life for the average vehicle. The size and scale of the current automobile manufacturing structure will not allow a reconfiguration to a smaller volume of output without continuing financial losses...forever.

However, we would save Planet Earth, we would become more sane as a society, more human in our schedule and relations to others. It would take less courage than entering World War II, and cost the country nothing but its attachment and nostalgia for "the old days".