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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

Archive for February 2009

World’s Cheapest Car - 50 mpg! Will not be sold in United States

The world’s cheapest automobile is now the $2,000 Tata Nano, a 50 mpg economy car that will not be sold in the United States. Tata Motors, India’s leading producer of trucks and third-biggest carmaker will release the tiny Nano this April, in India. 

Tata’s $2,000 base-level Nano is stripped down to the bare essentials: no radio, no air bags, no passenger-side mirror and a single windshield wiper. It’s 623-cubic centimeter, two-cylinder engine makes 35 horsepower capable of propelling the miniature five-seater to a top speed 75 mph. 

“This is a benchmark kind of a model. You Indians always make us think,” said GM CEO Rick Wagoner.

I’ll speculate the possible reasons why the Nano is not gracing American soil could include that it wouldn’t pass American crash test standards, or possibly that people in high places would rather not see a car imported to our country that could potentially take a large slice out of Detroit’s already shrinking pie. Of course, this is only speculation/conspiracy theory as official word on Tata’s reasoning isn’t readily available at the moment. 

Learn more about the Nano at the official Nano website (which has already seen 30 million hits) at http://tatanano.inservices.tatamotors.com/tatamotors/. 
 

Clean-diesel cars on the rise, without Detroit

Foreign automakers are preparing to launch a wave of clean-diesel cars in the United States and Detroit doesn’t seem to have a response. 

“This is the perfect storm for clean diesel-powered cars,” says Allen Schaeffer, executive director of Diesel Technology Forum,”Diesel engines are a proven technology that never took off. We are now in a climate where people are focused on energy, and diesel is energy-efficient. This is the perfect time to bring out diesel.”

Acura, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, BMW, Acura, Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen all plan to launch clean-diesel cars in the U.S. by 2011 and many already have models in production. Notice the lack of American names from that list. 

It could have something to do with the fact that in Europe, 50 to 60 percent of the cars are powered by diesel engines versus barely 3 percent in the states giving European automakers a definite edge on production and subsequent sales in the states.

Regardless of the angles current diesel vehicles are now as clean as any other gas powered car on the road, if not cleaner, and 25 to 40 percent more fuel efficient. In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency required the introduction of ultra-low-sulfur diesel effectively removing the highest polluting portion of diesel fuel and helping ease its stigmatic association with the black stinky smoke that bellows from commercial trucks and buses.

Bleeding money and jobs, Detroit appears to be banking heavily on positioning themselves with efficient gas powered cars and latching on to the hybrid craze ignited by the Toyota Prius instead of pushing clean-diesel cars of their own.

Ford’s 2009 Fiesta ECOnetic clean-diesel car puts up 65 mpg, but you might not have heard of it because it isn’t sold in the United States, but Europe. 

The ECOnetic emits less C02 than a Toyota Prius and has a better highway fuel economy. Deduct the $1,300 tax credit available to American buyers of new diesel cars until the end of 2010 and it could be possible to bring the ECOnetic’s estimated $25,700 US price tag down to a competitive level with the uber-popular Prius, which usually sells for about $24,000. And yet, the ECOnetic is lost on American consumers. 

“We know it's an awesome vehicle but there are business reasons why we can't sell it in the U.S,,” said Ford America President, Mark Fields in a September 4, 2008 article in Business Week, “We just don't think North and South America would buy that many diesel cars.” 

At the time that may have been true, but times are changing as evidenced by the burgeoning influx of foreign clean-diesel cars into the U.S. 

“We expect diesel in the U.S. to increase from 3.2 per cent of the market in 2007 to 3.6 per cent this year and reach 10 per cent market share by 2015,” says Mike Omotoso, senior manager of powertrain forecasting at auto industry analyst J.D. Power and Associates, “Despite all of the publicity surrounding hybrid vehicles, diesels have outsold hybrids in the U.S. by a large margin, we expect that to continue as the European manufacturers introduce more diesels in the U.S. market.”

Bah! The engines for Ford’s ECOnetic are manufactured in Britain and it would cost Ford nearly $350 million to construct another production factory in Mexico to reduce labor costs for sale in the United States. At that price Ford would need to sell 350,000 ECOnetics per year to make the venture profitable. 

Instead, Ford plans to produce a gas-powered version of the Fiesta in Mexico slated for release in the U.S. by 2010. The 1.6-leter four banger would produce a fuel economy in the high 30s, roughly half that of the clean-diesel version.

Maybe Ford shouldn't have passed on that check from the bailout.

Prius Cup: Amazingly boring

Have you heard the one about the Prius Cup? Yeah, the one where a bunch of Toyota dealerships enter their Prius’ in low-speed races to see who can suckle the best gas mileage out of their car? 

Actually, the Prius Cup is no joke. Japanese Toyota dealers have been participating in it since 2007 to promote the little car’s incredible gas mileage and further familiarize their sales peoples' understanding of it by putting them to work in the pits. The sixth running of the race in December drew 22 dealer teams from Central Japan. The last winner in Gamagori racked up a prudent 69.3 mpg over 20 mind-numbing laps. 

Impressive to think about, to watch, not so much.

The winners are determined by a combination of service and race scores. Drivers are penalized for going too fast or too slow while they obsess over the fuel burn numbers on the Prius’ mid-console monitor. Instead of executing sling shot maneuvers, they accelerate slowly after the green flag and pit stops to keep the electric motor in operation as much as possible. When they do eventually wisp silently by their crew a team manager will signal them with a card if they need to slow down or if the amount of fuel they’re consuming has reached an unacceptable level.

Basically it’s like watching a teenage driver with an anxiety disorder being berated by an overbearing parent about the cost of fuel, yet for some reason knowing that they're squeezing close to 70 mpg out of the whole petrol-sipping ordeal makes it acceptable entertainment. 

Toyota says that from their internal testing the soon to be released 2010 Prius promoted by the Prius Cup is putting up 50mpg, a four-gallon increase from the 46mpg of the last model. How much more boring will the Prius Cup get in the years to come? For the sake of fuel economy let’s hope it’s bad enough to make a milk cow want to kill itself.

GetCarsWrap.com arouses concern

GetCarsWrap.com is shady, like the well-dressed guy on the street who jitters up to you asking for a dollar to buy a beer, but it’s fairly obvious he’s trying to work up a wad to score some crack. At the website a “one-time” fee of $10 allows subscribers access to a data base of advertisers willing to pay eligible drivers to have their cars outfitted with car wrap advertisements, or even put them behind the wheel of a new car-wrapped car, free of charge. It sounds like a half-way legitimate offering until you read the opening cattle call on the website:

“People everywhere are taking interest in how to get a free car with the information located on GetCarsWrap.com. Companies are actually out there giving away cars like free candy to people in your area. They also provide you with a way to actually get paid to drive your car. It’s basically like a easy, ‘pain-free’ way to get free gas money!”

I like free money AND candy! Yikes, that’s some low-grade rube trolling barely fit for a carney’s loudspeaker. Only as GetCarsWrap.com points out, companies such as Monster energy drinks, Pepsi Co., Coca Cola, Budweiser, Nokia, Yahoo! and many more have all utilized car wrap advertisements. Still, there was no mention of whether or not these big names are actually included in GetCarsWrap.com’s magical database or even if website subscribers are guaranteed any sort of business with an advertiser for their, “measly” $10 pass. 

Sadly this is only the beginning of the discrepancies. Take a gander at these questionable statements regarding the, “new car,” supplied to customers, located in close proximity to each other on the CarsWrap website:

-“The car belongs to the Sponsoring Company. At the end of your contractual agreement (usually 3 to 5 years), you may have the option of purchasing the car you have driven at a discounted price.”
-“Unfortunately, you will not be able to keep the new car forever. The company will provide you with the vehicle only for the duration of the advertisement program, which usually runs from 6 – 24 months in duration. After that point, the vehicle will have to be returned to the provider.”

-“The car fee's like repairs, insurance, ect. will be paid for by the advertising company that provides the car.”
-“The only costs you will incur will be fuel and insurance. It is important to note that if you receive a new vehicle, you will most likely have to sign up for insurance through the vehicle provider.”

If that weren’t enough to set off a few warning signals, it also turns out that many of the wrapped cars, new or supplied by the drivers are equipped with a GPS tracking unit to make sure the distance traveled is living up to the ever vague contractual agreement, and also that the car is parked in a designated public parking spot to ensure the ads remain visible during off hours. How far drivers have to travel day to day or where they are required to leave their car would also be left up to the contract, in all likelihood. 

Realistically, car wraps do seem to be a viable source of advertising not much different than those seen on public transit, but GetCarsWrap.com reeks of an infomercial more than a staffing agency for advertisers. This shouldn’t be very hard-hitting news to anyone here but it is interesting to see what people will spend their money on. See for yourself at www.getcarswrap.com. Just don’t be surprised if they ask you for beer money.

Shelby’s 208 mph Electric Car

 

The World’s fastest production car is going Green at 208 mph. Shelby SuperCars (SSC), has outfitted their Ultimate Aero, a gas powered car that currently holds the Guinness World Record for “World’s Fastest Production Car” at 256.18 mph with an All-Electric Scalable Powertrain (AESP). 

The result is a near silent electric rocket known as the Ultimate Aero EV, powered by a twin motor AESP that produces a Prius obliterating 1,000hp and 800 lb-ft of torque capable of launching the EV to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds (nearly twice as fast as the all-electric Tesla Roadster) and a top speed of 208 mph. Because the AESP is liquid cooled, it can run for extended periods of time at peak performance without overheating. 

Impressive no doubt, but range is usually a main drawback of Duracell cars. Well, the EV can travel 150-200 miles on a single charge and SSC says that its, “Charge on the Run,” onboard charging system can fully restore battery power in as little as 10 minutes. That is, presumably, if you can find an outlet with an owner willing to charge you by the needle revolutions on his power meter. 

None the less, in a press release promoting the EV, SCC said, “SSC decided the Ultimate Aero to be the perfect high visibility outlet to demonstrate the capabilities of its new Green powertrain,” and, “SSC will display its AESP in the Ultimate Aero EV in order to prove that electric-powered vehicles will not only match but also provide more linear power (electric motors have 100% torque at 0 RPM) and overall performance than internal combustion cars.” 

With the astonishing performance numbers being produced from the AESP, SSC’s Green division, SSC Green, Inc., plans to extend its use beyond the elitist realm of super cars and repackage it for applications ranging from 200 hp for economy and midsize cars, to 500 hp for light trucks and SUVs, and up to 1,200 hp for delivery trucks, heavy-duty equipment, buses and even military vehicles. Imagine a Green Hummer…what would environmentalists think of that one? 

In the mean time, SSC is planning on entering the Ultimate Aero EV into the running for “World’s Fastest Production Electric Car.” At a time such as this in the American auto industry, one might think that getting started on creating some affordable electric economy cars might be a more pressing issue, but a tip of the hat to Shelby for creating a car that has the potential to serve a practical purpose sometime in the near future. 

A good question to ponder until then is how much electricity is required to put a 10-minute charge on an AESP equipped vehicle; it’s only practical so long as it’s cheaper than filing up a gas tank. 

RIP International CXT

After a long battle with the ailments of the American economy the world’s largest production pickup, the International CXT is said to be dead. 

“Shame on International for making this thing,” said Daniel Becker, director of the Sierra Club’s global warming and energy program, “this is a monster truck that only a Hummer could love, and it shows that without government leadership, the auto industry will lead us to more irresponsible, gas-guzzling vehicles.”

Despite efforts to play the XT line down as super heavy duty trucks designed to help out with the day to day work of landscapers and the like, it was fairly obvious to most people that an International CXT with a GVWR of 25,999 pounds was little more than the manifestation of a truck lover’s pipe dream, on steroids. 

During its run as a production pickup truck, the CXT was noticeably 21 ft long with a 9ft tall cab. Its capacities were also somewhat conspicuous with a load limit of six tons in the bed and another 20 tons in tow. Unloaded, it weighed in at 14,500 lbs, or about twice the weight of the next heaviest production passenger automobile on the road, the Hummer H1. In fact if it would fit, the CXT could carry the weight of the H1 in its bed with several tons to spare.

The vulgar display of power came in part from International’s 9.3-liter DT 570 engine option, which produced 310 hp and a monstrous 950 ft-lb of torque. The only downside was a 7-10 mpg average fuel economy that would drain the CXT’s 70-gallon fuel tank like a juice box. Helping compensate for the thirstiness, the air-ride cab came with five bucket seats and luxury options including leather, DVD and satellite radio. Total price tags ranged from $93,000 to $115,000, most likely just out of the average landscaper’s truck budget. 

After celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and NBA star Jalen Rose bought CXTs of their own, sales of the truck never managed to take off for the working class Joe who opted to stick with half and three quarter ton Chevy and Ford pickups for their business use. Jay Leno took a CXT for a test drive at one point, but there were only so many nice things he could say afterwards. It just wasn’t enough, and now the CXT is gone.

Nonetheless, for big truck lovers who did manage to purchase the behemoth while she lasted there couldn’t be a much better bragging right than to have a high-ranking member of the Sierra Club accuse their life size Tonka truck of being impractical. No shit, Becker, thanks for noticing.

2003 Kia Rio 4D, America’s new best buy

 

Are you broke or getting there in your own sweet time? Yes? Well don’t shake the baby, buy a Kia. 

That’s right, a 2003 Kia Rio 4D sedan is the new car for the working class gentleman whose social standing is seeing a definite gain in prestige. According to Kelly Blue Book’s latest suggested retail values, the newest and cheapest used automobile you can buy from a dealership or private party is now the 2003 Kia Rio 4D Sedan for the ultra-low price of $4,785. 

Imagine yourself motoring about in spry “excellent” condition Kia with 72,000 miles and a peppy 1.6 Liter 4-Cyl mated to a 5 Speed manual. Wrap your grabber around the gearshift, dump the clutch and listen to the front tires chirp as you’re thrown back in your seat for a moment of pure exhilaration.

Dual front air bags provide the comfort of knowing you wont be slammed against the steering wheel in the unlikely event of a crash while standard power steering promotes all around drivability in keeping with modern automobiles. 

The stereo operates in both AM and FM modes, connecting you to music, talk, and an endless repetition of advertisements that are sure to inspire the hope of possible purchases in the years to come. And yet there’s no need to purchase insurance; the 2003 Kia Rio 4D sedan received 3.5 out of 5 stars based on 146 reviews according to the good folks at Kelly Blue Book online, that’s nearly 4 stars, on the Internet. 

Don’t hesitate to act today! Without buyers, this buyer’s car market could pass you by.

Black box for teen drivers

Nothing says safety like installing a black box on the dashboard of your kid’s car. It’s called Tiwi, an enduring sign of parental distrust made especially for the young person entering the first formative years of their driving experience. 

Tiwi comes equipped with GPS capable of mapping the local speed limits and comparing them to the speed of the car whose OBD II port they lovingly accommodate. If things are going too fast, Tiwi will reprimand the driver,” You’re exceeding the speed limit, please slow down.” In addition to speed, the little box also has customizable accelerometers to measure breaking and cornering levels. Parents can set their own parameters at the company’s website and choose to be notified via text, phone or email when they are broken.

Should they be, Tiwi acts as a handless phone if parents would like to call the vehicle directly after being notified of an infraction. In the event that accident should occur, Tiwi can call the authorities itself. 

Inthinc, which makes Tiwi, has also been the main supplier of crash data recorders for NASCAR since the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001. Tiwi went on sale in July for $549 with a monthly subscription fee of $24.95 to $34.95 depending on the options. During the launch period there was a “race fan” $100 discount and one year of free service. Visit www.tiwi.com for more information.

Humvee to be replaced

Since replacing the Jeep in 1984, the Humvee has been modified to fill tactical roles for which it was never designed to undertake, perhaps most notably as a transport capable of protecting American troops from attack in the Middle East.

According to statistics from the Washington Post, “The number of IED (improvised explosive device) attacks has steadily risen in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They now account for nearly two-thirds of military deaths from hostile actions in Iraq, and slightly less than half in Afghanistan.” (September 30, 2007). 

The Humvee was not originally designed to sustain the sorts of small arm, machine gun or explosive fire it has encountered in the Middle East. Armored versions of the Humvee such as the M1114 do exist and “Up-Armor” kits have been made available for installment, but at its best the Humvee is merely retrofitted for the types of attacks it encounters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its inadequacies were brought to the national spotlight as part of the publicized criticisms of former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld before he eventually resigned his post in 2006. 

Now, the US military is working to replace the Humvee in both the short and long term. For immediate use, various prototypes are being developed and tested for standardization and various MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles are already being utilized to fill the duties the Humvee is not adequately equipped for. In particular, a family of vehicles produced by Force Protection Inc known as Cougars are currently seeing action and reports of their resilience to attack have been close to entirely positive.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates requested larger numbers of the Cougars be deployed to Iraq after Marines reported in 2004 that no troops had died in them during more than 300 IED attacks. 

The Cougar is equipped with V-shaped hull that extends to the engine bay to help deflect the force of an explosion away from the vehicle and is protected against small arms fire, land mines and IED's. Inside, the cab is cooled by duel air conditioners to keep heavily dressed troops from succumbing to the dangerous Iraqi heat. 

For all the success the Cougar has seen, criticisms of the giant vehicle include concerns that it might be too big for it’s own good. Their curb weight can tip the scales at 14-tons, too heavy to cross many bridges and too large to navigate close quartered areas. The cost of production can easily top $500,000 a piece and questions have been voiced as to if there are enough manufacturers of military-approved steel to meet the Cougar’s copious need for armament. 

Other possible setbacks include just what will be done with the MRAP’s that do see completion after the end of the conflicts in the Middle East; as vehicles almost specifically designed for the unique battle grounds of the area they might not be useful in other parts of the world. 

Regardless of the issues hampering the greater production of MRAP’s it would be agreeable to say that with the infusion of vehicles such as the Cougar in Iraq, US troops are going to better protected than they ever could have been in a Humvee.

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About this blog

Brandon Seiler is a bonafide car guy, member of the Northwest Auto Press Association and proud Washingtonian. He covers the latest auto news, technology, and pretty much anything having to do with car culture. You don't have to like cars to read his blogs, you just have to be able to read.

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