Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Car Parks #1: (That would be a parking garage to you other 'Mericans)
This got me thinking upon seeing a few Mini Coopers (and not to mention Ferrari 360 Barchetta in beautiful Ferrari Red), that if Americans would actually dump these wasteful, unnecessary vehicles for the more aptly and appropo hatches and smaller saloons (even small estates), it wouldn't be as bad in terms of making it through the challenge course of the car park (which at times is akin to bike trials, and we're not talking TT's here).
However, reality struck me hard upon my skull reminding me that were that the case, the American's would just make the spots smaller and pack even more autos in, or they'd utilise a smaller facility, ensuring that it was perpetually difficult regardless of the size of vehicles which chose to grace said car parks hallow asphalt lined ground.
Pitiful, but that's American thinking for you.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Political Needs #1: Displacement based taxes on cars and trucks.
Diesel engines would be a little more flexible in terms of ranges of size, maybe the lowest rate would be to 1.7 litres @ 10%, as so on and so forth up to 3.3 litres with anyting over being 100% taxed over MSRP. You want that new $23,000 Mustang GT, well, because of it you can pay $23,000 in taxes on it.. $46,000 in total. I think we'd start seeing more sensible purchases out there. We'd also start seeing the availability of the wonderful high torque, low polluting (now) displacement Diesels that Europe sees.
Wake up America, things need to change, this would be one way to do it, without taking away "choice" which we all value as United States citizens.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
American Car Market : Much like Americans... Getting larger around the waist as years go on...
Part of this issues relates to all the whiz-bang features that the average American thinks they want in their car(s) and/or truck(s).
What? 3 cupholders not enough? well, gotta make the cabin a little larger to accomodate the other 7 we're going to add.
What's that now? Your fat ass doesn't fit on the seat of the average car now so rather than eating healthily and responsibly and putting the doughnut down, you want the automakers (foreign and domestic) to widen the seat to fit your oversized posterior? And we have to lengthen the car too because you're to oversized to fit in the backseat? Rather than just better ergonomics inside the cabin and the removal of a stupid set of cupholders in the backseat, lets just add a few hundred pounds to the car to compensate for the extra metal it is going to take for stiffening the chassis and body thanks to the lengthening and widening of what was a perfectly fine vehicle its first few model years, just so you can have your food while you drive.
Wait? You're complaining about the gas economy of the new version of the car now all because they had to add a bigger engine, because the older engine (which worked fine before they added the cupholders, wider body/longer chassis) doesn't cut it anymore with those extra hundreds of pounds of weight (of the car, not to mention the occupants) are causing a strain on the driveline?
The above may seem silly, but this is exactly what has been happening on all levels of the American car market. It is a cyclical problem. Cars started getting bigger and heavier, all of a sudden requiring more safety equipment to protect against next years even bigger and heavier model vechiles. This madness needs to stop. It has become so infectious that even the Japanese and Europeans (those which still sell in the US Market) have caught this disease (at least in their US bound products).
Mk I VW Golf (Rabbit to you 'Mericans) vs. Mk : We're talking about 1000lbs difference in weight.
Ford Contour (Actually it is a European Ford called the Mondeo) vs. any Contour from the 3rd model year (in the US) onward. : In great in length and weight significantly enough to take away the wonderful feel of the original with no gain other than fat-ass accomidations.
The Mini-Van. There is no such thing anymore. Have you SEEN the size of a modern "Mini" Van. They're massive. The only thing they're not in terms of size of "Full Size" vans in the same height. YOU DON'T NEED an 8 Passenger vehicle. If you think you're going to then get a Diesel Bus or use a condom.
The fact that a country could find itself coming out with a vehicle like the Ford Excrement (correction: Excursion) which boasted being the biggest SUV on the planet is just shameful. We should be proud of making a fuel efficient vehicle, or a greener vehicle, or a fun to drive, flashy yet still economical and environmentally friendly sports car, but NEVER should be be proud (or even worse, consumers of) wasteful, polluting, oversized bovine waste which screams to the world, "We're a bunch of overweight, careless gluttons and we don't give a F*ck about anything but ourselves". Great image there to pass on to the next generation. I think I'm going to be sick.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Choice of Car Manufacturer screwed up by American Sensibilities (the lack thereof)
We used to host french cars and italian cars amongst other (usually asian) car companies back then. Companies like Renault, Peugeot and Citroen. Companies like Alfa Romea and Lancia. GM and Ford used to sell their European cars here such as Opels and English/German Fords. (though they bunged that one up themselves by changing the drivetrains from what the original cars had to mismatched American junk)
Some of it was due to poor choices in cars to import, some had to do with lesser quality as well as an insufficient amount of quality dealerships. Most of it had to do ultimately with Americans themselves.
Americans don't take care of their possesions. In Europe, you take care of your car, basic maintenance is all I'm talking about here, checking your oil, keeping it clean, and not putting in cheap petrol, oil and/or coolant which saves pennies, but ultimately leads to the demise of a vehicle worth thousands and on up.
In my lifetime, we have lost from our shores:
Opel, European Ford, Alfa Romeo, Peugeot, Citroen, Renault, Rover (as Sterling), MG, Mini (Pre-BMW), Lancia, Daihatsu, and I'm sure others. Some of these cars were not the best choice to come here, but overall, ALL of the above companies existed as of a year ago (Rover is at its end as far as I can tell) in the rest of the world.
These companies still have a sense of value and taste, and because they don't build the completely unnecessary wastes of metal and resources known as SUV's, they don't have much of a chance here.
Some may say that they didn't sell large family sedans here, and that isn't the case. American's (as mentioned in a previous post) have been conditioned to think that a Family sedan needs to be the size of a Chevy Impala, Ford Crown Victoria or a Chyrsler LHS. The other companies were selling Family Sized cars here. Amongst them: The Alfa Romeo 164, Almost any Citroen sold here, every Peugeot sold here, some of the Renaults (which eventually were build by Eagle, American, and no longer functioning as a company thanks to Chrysler). We used to get Ford Sierras (as Merkurs), and Opels (via Buick). All capable of hauling the family around, let alone provided great driving experiences while exhibiting (in most cases) decent if not great fuel economy figures.
We, thanks to our twisted views about how the world should be (instead of conforming to the reasonable views shared amongst the mature European, Australian and Asian peoples in general) brought it upon ourselves. Thanks to those companies pulling out, we might never get to enjoy some of the very wonderful cars on sale now as close as Canada and Mexico from Manufacturers such as Seat (from Spain), Lancia (Italy), Alfa Romeo (Italy), Peugeot (France), Citroen (France), Renault (France), MG (England), Proton (Maylasia), Daihatsu (Japan), Fiat (Italy), Ford Europe, Opel (GM Europe), Vauxhall (GM UK), Holden (GM Australia (other than the Monaro (Pontiac GTO))), etc. amongst others.
How embarrassing it can be to be associated with such stupidity in my own country. Maybe one day when the country gets aquired and we're on the Euro, Pound Sterling, Yen or Yuan, other countries will come back to the United States and people will see what they've been missing.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Lesson #3: Don't be offended by people who don't buy 'merican cars.
Here's a little trivia, test your knowledge:
Who invented the first automobile? ... Daimler (1885)
Who invented the disc brake? ... Peugeot (1909)
Who invented Anti-Lock Brakes? ... Mercedes
Who invented Traction Control? ... Mercedes
Who invented Electronic Stability Control? ... Mercedes
Who invented the Diesel engine? ... Rudolf Diesel (German)
Who invented the 3 point seatbelt? ... A Volvo Engineer in Sweden and then for free shared it with the world because safety was more important than profits.
This isn't to say the Americans never invented anything... For one: The Airbag back in the 60's! (Yes, you can get an old Oldsmobile from the 70's with an Airbag).. , however they are also responsible for the hideousness of 'the chrome bumper'.. Can't win 'em all.
My point here is that we didn't invent much of anything. We've made poorly inefficient overweight gas guzzlers, unapologetically I might add while the rest of the world learned to produce safe, lightweight, well handling attractive vehicles which were also efficient and affordable.
This site is aimed at the majority of American drivers, so here's a bigger fact: GM designs and sells cars in Europe and elsewhere that we don't get in the United States, and on those few occassions which we did, they messed it up by putting in an inferior gas guzzling engine of a higher displacement which got worse fuel economy and lower performance.
Ford produced the Sierra Cosworth/RS500 in England. All wheel drive, nice powerful engine, etc. back in the 1980's. We got it as a Merkur, with a 2.3l Turbocharged 4cylinder Pinto motor.
Ford produced the original Escort in the 1970's. It was used for professional rallying and racing. It was front engine, and rear wheel drive.
Ford also produced what was at one time the fastest production car in history, the RS200. Big V8? nope.. 1.8l Four Cylinder with between 250 and 450bhp versions at that displacement.
Currently the new Focus ST over there (a 4cylinder) is looking at 240bhp and 250 lbs. ft of torque. What do we get? 170bhp in the short lived Focus SVT.
GM is sold as Opel in Germany, Vauxhall in Britain, Holden in Australia. You want a hot car, forget your Cobalt SS.. You want a Vauxhall VX220.
My point is this. People buy non-American vehicles because they offer what the American manufacturers don't (at least not in the United States). Quality, Performance, Efficiency and Cost.
What DO American companies give you? Trucks and SUV's that all but the professional contractors and delivery services out there DON'T need. Even then, Ford makes nice Panel vans in Europe which are four cylinder diesels and built on small-pickup chassis'. Sorry, you don't need a 280bhp V8 to deliver replacement windows. A 110bhp diesel with 200lbs of torque getting almost 30mpg will do much better thank you.
If you were still offended by this, get over it, you've bought the hype and get what you deserve, drive your Chevy's and Fords and what not but when you see other people driving cars in the same price range with better suspensions, lighting, features and comfort, don't go complaining about them foreigners putting 'mericans out of a job as it was American companies that did (and do) that. Aside from that, your American cars aren't all built here anyway.
The Camaro/Firebirds were built in Canada.
The Ford Focus, Contour (Mondeo in the rest of the world) etc were released in Europe about 4 years prior to coming to the US.
The Cadillac Catera? Look inside the door Jamb, built in Russelheim, Germany.
That new Pontiac GTO? Melbourne, Australia, it's a Holden.
How about that new Focus anyway, you reliase the most recent (best) version thus far is built off of the Volvo S40 platform? Its an improvement, but again, not one we came up with in the US.
Like your Corvette C5 & C6's silky transmission? Germany.. You can say "Danke" now.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Diversion #1: Average Litres of Displacement from Cars I've Personally Owned.
These cars basically span from Suzuki Swifts with 1.0l 3 Cylinder Motors to Ferrari 308GTS's, Lotus Esprit S4S's, Authentic Cobras (not of the Mustang Variety), Aston Martin DB2 Race cars, and 7.3l Turbo Diesel F350 Pickups. I have experience with FWD, AWD, 4WD (Part Time w/No Center Diff), RWD. I've owned front engine, rear engine, water cooled, air cooled layouts. I've had wagons, hatchbacks, sedans, vans and pickups. I've had my fair share of experience owning, repairing, racing and transporting a plethora of vehicles.
My personal vehicles do say more about me though in terms of what I feel is practical for the everyday driver. In order, they are:
1979 Datsun 210 - 1.5l, 4cyl. RWD, Front Engine, Watercooled, 4 Door Wagon
1986 Volkswagen Golf - 1.8l, 4cyl. FWD, Front Engine, Watercooled, 2 Door Hatchback/Hillclimb-Rallycar
1981 Volkswagen Vanagon - 2.1l, 4cyl. RWD, Rear Engine, Aircooled, 3 Door Van/Tow Vehicle
1985 Chevrolet S-10 Extended Cab 4x4 - 2.5l, 4cyl. 4WD, Front Engine, Watercooled, 2 Door Pickup/Tow Vehicle
1987 Volvo 240DL - 2.3l, 4cyl. RWD, Front Engine, Watercooled, 4 Door Sedan
2003 Volkswagen Jetta GLS - 1.8l, 4cyl. Turbocharged, FWD, Front Engine, Watercooled, 4 Door Sedan
2005 Daewoo Lacetti - 2.0l, 4cyl. FWD, Front Engine, Watercooled, 4 Door Hatchback
I recently added up the displacement of all the aforementioned engines and divided by the number of vehicles. Guess what.. Apparently 2.0l is my average vehicle displacement. Given that my average was 2.0l before my most recent aquisition, I'm not surprised that I bought the Lacetti.
I've said before that I've driven a wide variety of cars from under 50bhp to over 800bhp, but I've found that while fun (a lot) for short bursts, I prefer a sensible balance. This doesn't mean that I don't know the max speed (from experience) of each of the above vehicles, nor does it imply that I haven't seen what it takes first hand to get a Vanagon airborn, an S-10 to do a 360, or a Golf on 2 side wheels at Pocono International Speedway, it just means that I realised a long time ago that more litres of displacement aren't the answer. I've learned an important lesson.
Less is more. (Unix geeks understand this in more way than one).
Lesson #2: Americans have screwed up sense of car class size(s).
This all came about when looking at the recent announcement from BMW regarding making a bigger "Mini" for America. What many people don't realise is that the original/1st generation Mini Coopers could fit INSIDE the current mini-coopers.
People here see them as "mini" cars, meant for two small people when in reality the original Mini Cooper which is considerably smaller was meant for 4 adults. I'm 6'3" (1.9m) tall and I fit into first geneation Racing Mini's fine (and that's wearing a helmet, and maneuvering around a roll cage).
The concept of car as being something you use for transportation of people is foreign to many Americans. It seems that people feel a car/truck is meant to be an extension of their house/garage/storage locker, and as such has to have room to house everything from kids to pets to boxes upon boxes of crap which really isn't being used for anything except taking up space in the oversized vehicles which are only necessitated by said boxes/mentality of storing them in an automobile. Stupid.. yes.
Back on topic. The current Mini Cooper is a "Compact Car" in the US. There is no equivalent to the "Micro" car class in the US. For a better example of sizing, look at the VW Bora (1999-2005.5 Jetta). In the United States, it is a compact car, in Europe it is a mid-sized car. I use the term "in Europe" loosely, as I'm going by the general motoring press which I read routinely beit French, Italian, English, Dutch, or German.
If we want to talk Micro-Cars, we need to start talking about the Ford Ka, the VW Polo (which is getting larger as each generation progresses), the Smart car, the Nissan Sunny, the Fiat Cinquincento, etc. ad nauseum.
Many of those cars listed above are what most Americans really need for their everyday business whether it is commuting to work over the vast expanses of land we have here (my commute is 39km (a little over 24 miles) each way through long winding single lane country roads, including some pea gravel and short bursts of highway expanse. The concept of driving an SUV which weighs in at 2.5 tons (2.2 tonnes) getting something like 15mpg (almost 6.4 kilometers per liter) is outlandish, yet Americans as a whole don't see anything wrong with this.
It boils down to the issue of what they need vs. what they've been conditioned to think that they need.
I smile when I see a family driving in a VW Golf TDI because it tells me that they have more common sense than the next person, driving alone in their monstrosity of an SUV. I personally am quite happy with my most recent automotive purchase, but I'll leave that for another discussion.
It is a waste of natural resources, and the most inefficient way to build power. Muscle car fans are the hard to explain this to, must be from all of the poor exhaust emissions they've inhaled over the years. I'll explain this slowly, use small words and big examples so as to get it through to them.
V8 engines in everyday cars are pointless. To make the lesson easier to comprehend, we're going to keep driving habits out of this, meaning that I'm not saying to drive slower, nor am I saying not to drag it out at the stop lights (if that's your thing). What I AM saying is that the same kind of power and almighty torque figures can be had in much smaller, fewer cylindered, cleaner and efficient packages.
Part of the problem here is weight. Bigger engines require bigger chassis which means more weight. This not only affects capabilities in terms of speed and acceleration, it affects braking and handling.
The key is power to weight ratio. Lets take a look at a simple comparisons here using only American cars for clarity purposes:
2006 Ford Mustang GT vs. 2006 Dodge Neon SRT4:
Mustang: 300bhp, 320ft.lbs., 4.6l V8, 69bhp/litre - 0-62 in 5.1, 1/4mi 13.6
SRT4: 230bhp, 240ft.lbs, 2.4l I4T, 79bhp/litre - 0-62 in 5.3, 1/4mi 13.9
Cost of the Neon: Between $5,000 & $9,000 less to similiarly equipped Mustang GTs. Gas economy is between 2-5mpg better with the SRT4. The Neon seats 5 people vs. the Mustangs 4 offering more utility functionality aside from performance. Independent suspension front and rear vs. a many decades old design of a live axle in the GT. Warranties are similar (basic), but the powertrain warranty for the SRT4 is a full 7 years, 100,000 miles.
Both vehicles are starard interiors for American cars (cheap and plasticy), so that's a draw. Yes, the Mustang does have a heritage and it is Rear Wheel Drive (which is my personal preference), but in the rear world, on public roads, it is pointless when you consider the numbers.. Do the math.
Note: I personally don't like the looks or feel of the Neon, though its size is much nicer than the Mustang which seems to be too big of a vehicle externally, while offering minimal increases inside vs. the SRT-4 (in this example).
Of couse, if we were to bring European cars into the fray we could very quickly find sport diesels with monstrous torque figures and low-six second 0-60's while retaining 40-50mpg fuel figures.
Bring the Japanese rally-bred cars into it and you end up with All Wheel Drive, nicer interiors, torque figures at or nearing 300 ft. lbs., though that does bring the price up a bit. Had to be mentioned though.
By Americans I do specifically mean citizens of the United States of America, and I reference them as such above because from their perspective, America is synonymous with the U.S.A. It is a poor view, as South America is also "America", as is Canada, however I don't wish to insult the intelligence of our Southern or Northern brothers and sisters.
This blog is aimed squarely at the John Smiths, Jane Joneses, Bubba Hatfields and Chet Yuppies in America. We all know the type I'm talking about. You can't go anywhere in America without seeing them. Little tiny women driving these monstrosities of SUVs, and Humongous Minivans. Redneck hicks driving Pickup trucks which are never used to haul anything, wasting fuel and clogging the air with foul emissions. Muscle car nuts who don't understand that V8's aren't "then end all be all", and still refer to "farn cars" (That's "Foreign" to any non-inbred citizen of the world).
We're going to address many issues here, feel free to jump right in. And yes, I started off with extreme stereotypes, the purpose of which is to get your attention not to insult everyone, though you may find that a good deal of what I described above is closer to fact than fiction.
Time to get in, sit down, strap your seatbelt on, shut up and listen. (Though intelligent debate is quite welcome, I do hope I'll learn something out of this as well).