Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Feeling lazy but slightly irresponsible too

So here's a post gathered from other sources.

4Car is an English site and therefore a good source of Euro centric car news and reviews. Recently they covered the launch of Tesla's sports car and followed with a retrospective of notable electric cars. I especially like the Sinclair which incorporated a number of construction techniques pioneered by Lotus. Read about it here.

The New York Times had a pair of interesting articles. (Note: registration may be required to view these links but it is well worth it.) First is a slide show of dream cars from GM. These images I found took me right back to my youth.

Nice huh? Actually it seems a little retro contemporary. For more go here.

Times are tough for automakers in the US. Even mighty Toyota has taken a hit after gearing up to steal the truck market from US builders. Honda however appears to be weathering the storm with a small profit. Credit their long standing commitment to a "do more with less" design philosophy which sometimes put them at odds with their US dealers. It also put them ahead of the curve when gas prices rose. A neat synopsis is available here from the NYT business section.

Happy Motoring.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why I love Lotus redux

Probably of interest to engineering geeks only but once again I've fallen under the spell of Lotus Engineering. When they aren't out tending the hemp field they are inside designing for the future; always with the idea that less is more. Want the most efficient crossover powerplant for the near term? How about an engine that will run efficiently on any combustible liquid you pour in the tank? All it takes is a willingness to stand at least three fixed assumptions about internal combustion engines on their heads!

This article courtesy of Jalopnik via Automobile Magazine.

Lotus Engineering is starting up a project they're calling "Omnivore," a task which, if successful, could see traditional internal combustion engines go the way of the dodo. Lotus is planning to meld the two-cycle engine with new technologies — direct injection and a variable compression ratio — to create an engine able to run on almost any fuel. If you've ever wondered what the future of the internal combustion looked like, you're getting a peek now. Put your propeller cap on and join us for a pocket protector talk after the jump.

Used to be that a gas engine was a gas engine and a diesel was a diesel. With the advent of reliable direct injection, variable displacement cylinder heads that don't turn into grenades, and incredibly sensitive monitoring and control systems, it's now possible to run an engine in ways would have never worked in the past. Consider the main barrier to high-compression gasoline engines in the past — preignition. High octane numbers were a band-aid for that problem, but that also caused fuel economy to plummet. Direct injection virtually eliminates the issue, allowing engineers to put the fuel right into the chamber exactly when it's needed, high pressure be damned. It's even conceivable to run a gasoline engine on the diesel cycle with direct injection.

Now add the idea of operating with a two-cycle engine to the mix and things get really weird. Two-strokes are traditionally dirty, dirty engines to run. The huge amount of fuel used and inelegant combustion leads to lots of pollution but huge amounts of power, since you've got twice as many power strokes compared to a four-stroke. However, a two-stroke with direct injection and a variable compression ratio would be able to burn almost anything under super-high compression ratios, resulting in temperatures and pressures sufficient to completely burn almost any fuel. Of course, that assumes you can build powerful enough injectors and internal components that don't turn into Swiss cheese in extreme conditions. Let's just say this: Lotus is setting out on a path that's going to get a lot of powertrain engineering PhD's hot and bothered. If they succeed, future car engines will shrink and be more powerful as a result.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Truth or Dare

Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to say. Especially if you are running for president.

We're addicted to oil. Pretty much everything in our economy is produced using what used to be cheap energy. Energy isn't cheap anymore. We have no alternative sources of energy available right now. The price of everything is going to go up. It isn't inflation, it's a lifestyle changing,paradigm busting,cataclysmic cultural event. We should prepare to be a part of it. We can reduce the pain but there will certainly be a good deal of pain involved.

I for one think that if this message were delivered honestly, Americans would respond positively to it. Fossil fuels are limited even if you don't believe in global warming. There are more people using larger amounts of them every day. Think of them as the batteries the planet came with. We've only got a little time to create a sustainable substitute. If we don't the consequences are really unthinkable, if not for us for some future humans.

Expensive energy really does have the ability to change people's choices. Witness Ford and GM shutting down truck assembly lines in a heartbeat. People respond when the truth is delivered in the market- with a price tag. A positive narrative does help to ease the pain. It can be our little project.

And we really have a vast reservoir of conservation that remains untapped. Here is a small chart of per capita energy use compiled by the World Resources Institute.

2003 Total energy consumption per capita
Units: Kilograms of oil equivalent (kgoe) per person

Brazil 1,067.6
China 1,138.3
Finland 7,218.1
France 4,518.4
Germany 4,203.1
India 512.4
Italy 3,127.2
United States 7,794.8

Somehow those damn Italians manage a modern lifestyle using less than half the energy of Americans. Even the relatively profligate French use just slightly more than half. The US has a lot of room for improvement. The longer we dawdle the more world resentment is likely to grow.