Friday, February 27, 2004

The Future of Fuel

The auto industry is somewhat unfairly maligned for being responsible for most of the crude oil consumption in the world. In fact most oil consumption is done by industries, not by cars. But there is room for improvement at all ends of the spectrum, including American customer's tastes in vehicles.

Living here in Los Angeles, California, I experience firsthand what it is to breathe in a polluted city. My own experience has not been too bad; I don't have asthma or other breathing problems. Yet I can "see" the effects of gasoline, the ever present brown sky overhead. And I have had to contend with record breaking temperatures, probably due in large part to global warming. And I have had to contend with extremely high (for America) gas prices. It's clear to me now that there is a finite amount of oil left in the world, and that gasoline exhaust damages the environment. There is overwhelming scientific evidence supporting these facts, and I won't bother to bore you with links. Suffice it to say, disagreement here is foolish.

What there is disagreement on is what to replace gasoline with. We all love performance, and virtually all the options out there to replace gasoline in our cars would reduce performance at the current level of technology. Switching from gas to ethanol would result in larger fuel tanks, and heavier cars. Switching to hydrogen would be expensive, and dangerous. Ethanol too is quite explosive. Both are invisible when on fire, making them extraordinarily dangerous. Both pollute dramatically less. Electricity is an option, but from where to generate the electricity. This is a problem with hydrogen too. Will the plants generate these from gas? Then the point of switching from gas is lost, as this is less efficient then directly running cars on gas. Ethanol requires vast amounts of farmland too, farmland that might not exist with growing populations, and vanishing arable areas. And then there is the nuclear issue. Is that a solution?

I think the solution lies in the only renewable resource, the sun. From the sun we can harness energy through wind farms and solar panels. The sun causes the wind to blow, and of course blowing wind powers wind propellers. Solar panels are even more direct. These will generate electricty, which can then be used to create hydrogen in plants, or perhaps electric generators, for electric engines in cars.

There will also be a performance lag. Europe after World War II was reduced to using very small cars to survive fuel shortages; it took years to come back. The same might happen here as well once fuel runs out. There is a solution to that too: Invest in research and development to bring hydrogen or whatever nonpolluting engine, to the same level as gasoline cars now. The alternative is to continue to invest in wars abroad, and pipelines around the world, to bring gas here. It's an expense we might not be able to afford much longer.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Trouble with BMW

Autoweek has a very well thought out article concerning BMW, and flooding the market. BMW is going to have four new releases in the next few months, the X3, the Six series, the Five Series, and Six series convertible. BMW hasn't done their homework on several fronts.

1. America is a recession. The more expensive the vehicle, the smaller the market. The less rich people in America, the less BMW buyers.

2. Their new cars are ugly to some. I personally don't think they're that bad, but many others do. No one can argue with the fact that the new look is controversial though.

3. Many people who buy BMWs, will only buy one BMW. They don't care what it is, they just want to own a Bimmer. The X3 competes in price with the 3 series, the six series with the five series. BMW thinks that the X3 will hit a different market niche. It might, but not to the extent they think it will. Many people who were going to buy 3-series, will now buy an X3. Not all car buyers are as car crazy as I am, and buy cars on the basis of status alone many times, not which is sporty or can go offroad.

BMW has to realize that it's not Ford or GM. In fact it should look at those companies, and what can go wrong when you expand too fast. They should also take a look at their cousin Mercedes, for what happens when you go on a model making binge.

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Efficiency and Toyota

Here's an article by the Detroit News, detailing what are the most efficient auto plants in the world. See here.

There's just no competition, and from the look of things, there never really will be. It's my opinion that the Big 3, to survive, should do what they do best. Make sexy vehicles. Sexy is a broad term, and probably a ridiculous term, but let me put it this way: is there a Japanese vehicle as sexy as a Corvette? Or as brawny as an American pickup?

There might be European cars as sexy unfortunately. At least the Europeans know they can't compete with the Japanese in efficiency, and have stuck with sexiness. It's served the Germans quite well.

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Sunday, February 22, 2004

Another Auto Blog!

I didn't even have to find this one. Bob Schulties is a professional auto writer, and also writes this blog as a hobby. It is linked here. I'm also going to add him permanently to the links section on the side bar for future reference. Thanks for reading the blog, Bob!

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