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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Growing Doubts on Hybrids

I've been thinking hybrids over the last few weeks and I'm beginning to wonder if they are the intermediate solution to impending fuel shortages. I think that low sulfur gasoline and diesel combined with efficient engines from automakers to run those low sulfur fuels is the solution. Hybrids are not. Let me list some of the weaknesses of hybrids:

1. They do not get the EPA mileage they state they do. The mileage tests by the government overestimate hybrid efficiency. In the real world hybrids, unless driven in a markedly different manner than real world driving, do not get the stated mileage.

2. Cost. Hybrids cost significantly more than comparable diesel engines. Even if mass produced to an extent where the cost is negligible, auto companies will always charge a premium just because hybrids are "different". And there is no guarantee that the cost to produce a hybrid will ever be cheaper or equivalent to a comparable ICU engine.

3. Pollution. Hybrid disposal, i.e. the disposal of the acid filled batteries, is very polluting. Where will we find a place to store millions of giant batteries?

4. Replacement. Come to think of it, the cost to run a hybrid will ALWAYS be significantly more expensive than a comparable ICU car because the battery will not last as long as the engine and will require costly replacement. This prices poor people out of buying used hybrids, because the car will need maintenance that is beyond their budgets.

5. Complexity. Hybrid maintenance is vastly more complex and expensive than a regular engine. Many mechanics do not know how to, or do not have the equipment needed to deal with hybrids. If the auto companies can hinder the supply of special equipment to independent mechanics, the cost to maintain hybrids will always be expensive.

6. Hybrids only work well with small cars. A large SUV or pickup requires an enormous battery. This compounds the expense. The fuel efficiency is not as great the larger the vehicle either.

7. Electromagnetic radiation. The larger the battery, the more it produces. Electromagnetic radiation causes cancer.

8. The danger of current and acid. The larger the battery, the more likely in an accident of the danger it poses. A ruptured battery is filled with acid that can spill and burn. Also a larger battery poses more of a threat in terms of electrocution and could electrify a metal car. People trying to free someone from a wreck could be electrocuted, especially if they use something like the jaws of life to pry open the wreckage.

Common rail diesels and direct injection gasoline engines seem the more logical way to go. Automakers might be served better if they spend money lobbying governments to institute low sulfur fuels quickly. Then car companies can easily import over European models that already run on these fuels at no additional cost. The ability to create a world vehicle that complies with emission standards all over the world will finally be a reality.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Or Maybe Not...

A loyal reader sent me an email with a link to a Washington Post editoral about GM. It's very well written and hopefully isn't correct about the future because the writer believes that this new wave of products just isn't going to cut. She bases her opinion on the fact that every last new wave of products didn't cut it either, and the chief problem with GM is a corporate culture of focus groups and indecision. The best auto companies do seem to be run like dictatorships. Ford is basically a dictatorship, Renault/Nissan, Porsche, and Mazda. Companies with several luminaries making waves always seem to struggle. Maybe GM should give all the power to Lutz, I don't know. Perhaps a corporate insider could give me a tip or two to what the heck is going on over in Detroit in terms of culture. Hint, hint. I welcome all your letters and articles to read. Thanks.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

GM Might Just Be Getting It

The Car Connection has an article with several quotes from Bob Lutz and others at GM that tell us they believe product shall be the new king. One quote caught my eye:

"We see a huge opportunity here for us to capture the essence of the American automobile in its glory days. The Japanese can't follow us there any more than they could follow Harley-Davidson. We believe there is a lot of gold in those hills and we intend to mine it," said Lutz.

They got it. I mentioned the Harley example previously in my blog here. (My ego believes he read my post.) The one key thing that the American auto industry has over other foreign auto industries is heritage, and looks. Right now most of the American car lineup lampoons the Japanese. The 300c and the Mustang (mentioned in the article) show that the future for the American auto industry is a sort of retro look, with aesthetics at the center of things. I look forward to what GM has in store. Maybe a new Camaro!

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Bill Ford, Regular Joe

Ford stopped in at one of his plants in a surprise visit. It's good to see someone at least try to be one with the labor. I think Ford has done that marvelously. In this day and age where companies that build cars are worth billions and billions of dollars, to see a family owned company, and to see the head of that family act like he cares about the company, is reassuring. I really think he does care, in large part because he has the weight of the family name and the respect that comes with that name in the balance. If Ford goes down, then Bill Ford will become a laughingstock. If it survives, and I think it will, people will remember the name of only one executive who saved it. Bill Ford.

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