Thursday, June 26, 2008

Simple Steps to $1000

Saving money by saving gas is a hot topic these days. It seems like every other story on automotive news sites is about hybrid, electric or fuel-cell vehicles. And the rest are about ways to save gas with the car you have. But how much can you really save? Yahoo Finance tried to find out.

They looked at typical car numbers - 22 mpg and 15,000 miles per year - and applied a series of hypermiling and other recommended techniques to figure out how much you can save. Amazingly, if you do everything on their list (and honestly, a few things are just silly), you might be able to knock $1,000 off of your yearly gas bill. That's a lot of dough!

Now, as I said, a few of the items don't make much sense. Yeah, I'm sure it would help if you lost 100 pounds, but if you need to lose that much weight, I think saving money on gas is pretty low on your reasons to do so. They also recommend getting an oil change every 3,000 miles to save $27, or about the cost of one oil change. Well, with most cars and oils, you can easily go 5,000 miles (or more if you use synthetics). At 5,000 miles instead of 3,000, you'll need two fewer oil changes per year, saving you even more money.

But back to the good ideas - the top two are key for me. I've been known to keep that Check Engine light on way longer than I should. I never really thought about how a failed sensor might affect my gas mileage. The air pressure item is amazing. Granted, I don't know what their baseline is (and that's actually a problem with all of these numbers), but if keeping your tires at the correct pressure can save over $500 a year, I need to be better about that. I have a few tires that seem perpetually low, so I bet I can really help my fuel efficiency by being more prompt in filling those up.

Lastly, it should be noted that if you really want to improve your gas mileage, you need to start tracking your gas mileage. Otherwise, how will you know if it's working? And how should you track your gas mileage? BrightCar, of course! ;-)

Friday, June 13, 2008

RepairPal Can Be Your Buddy

Have you ever had the feeling that you were being screwed by your mechanic? That he was charging you way too much for service? Of course you have. We've all felt that way - lots of times. The problem is that consumers have a huge information deficit. We don't know how much repairs should cost so we have to take the word of the guy who is giving you the estimate. Sure, you could get a competing offer, but in most cases that's not practical. Who has time to go driving all over town getting quotes? And what if your car isn't drivable?

Enter RepairPal. The folks at RepairPal collected a ton of historical repair data, sliced it and diced it with the help of a couple of dozen mechanics and can now give you an estimate for your repair. You tell them what make/model/year vehicle you have, your zip code and what service you need and they'll give you a range that you should expect to pay. It really is impressive and could conceivably save you hundreds of dollars.

What might be cool is to take your service history (you use BrightCar to track that, right?) and see if you've been getting fair prices. I'm definitely going to do that and see if I need to change repair shops!

You can find two nice reviews of RepairPal (which just launched this week) at TechCrunch and Wired.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Hypermiling

As gas approaches a national average of $4 per gallon, everyone is looking for ways to reduce fuel costs. The most obvious solution is to purchase a more efficient car, possibly a hybrid. But if you have to buy a new car to achieve greater fuel economy, are you really saving any money? Probably not. Hybrids ain't cheap and trading in one car for another is almost always a big money loser (and often counter-productive).

So what to do? How about fixing the way you drive right now and saving just as much gas as you would by switching to a hybrid? You need to try hypermiling. Hypermiling is pretty simple actually. The gist of the concept is that you should change the way you drive to be more efficient. Accelerate more slowly. Use your brakes less. Try to avoid red lights. And most importantly, track your fuel economy so you can see how you're doing! According to CNN, if you follow the basic steps outlined at hypermiling.com, you can increase your gas mileage by 35 percent. If you get really serious, you can be like this guy and get 70 mpg out of your Honda Civic (OK, that requires a bit of body work as well)!

One really cool side benefit of hypermiling, is that some of the techniques can actually reduce traffic congestion, helping everyone on the road, not just you. If that sounds preposterous, check out this paper on reducing "traffic waves" by maintaining a generous gap with the cars in front of you. If you keep at least a two-second gap, you can greatly reduce the number of times you have to quickly brake. Each time you brake in traffic, you force the car behind you to brake as well, and the car behind them, etc. Every time that happens, it compresses traffic at that spot, making a small, compressed "wave" in the flow of cars. If you instead cruise along with a buffer in front of you, you can ignore some of the annoying little stops that you normally encounter in heavy traffic. If you don't have to brake, then neither do the cars behind you - suddenly that "wave" of slowed (or stopped) cars goes away. Just one car can make a huge difference. Read the article to get a clearer picture, because it can be a bit difficult to describe.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

$2.99 Gas for 3 Years

How would you like to pay $3 per gallon for gas for the next three years? Steven Levitt's Freakonomics blog introduces this as new deal for Chrysler customers. Basically, this is just one of a handful of "financing" deals Chrysler customers could choose. So, if they want the deal on gas, they'll have to pass up the normal cash back or lower loan rates they might have otherwise taken.

I agree with Levitt that this appears to be a brilliant marketing ploy by Chrysler. I find it hard to believe that it'll cost Chrysler any more than its other incentives. (In fact, I'd bet it ends up costing them less per customer.) And the price of gas is constantly in the news, perhaps inflating its importance in drivers' eyes. So, maybe this promotion gets some incremental car buyers in Chrysler showrooms.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Nissan's Carlos Ghosn Bullish on EVs

TWSJ reported yesterday that Nissan plans to introduce electric vehicles (EVs) to the U.S. and Japanese markets by 2010, and globally by 2012.

The article cites some interesting comments by Nissan's CEO, Carlos Ghosn, as well. Specifically, Ghosn is preparing Nissan for what he believes will be a "mass market" for EVs in 2012. His belief stems from expectations for continued high oil prices, increased environmental awareness by consumers, and breakthroughs in battery technologies.

Interestingly, he also sizes the initial EV market around 10 million vehicles, the number of vehicles used for shorter commutes in big cities around the world.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

This could have been soooo much better

In A Crushing Issue, Joel Millman tells us the story of 4,703 Mazdas that were aboard the Cougar Ace, a freighter ship that capsized (but didn't sink) on its way across the Pacific Ocean. The story itself is very interesting and worth a read. He's also got a video, presumably to add further detail to the specifics of the story. But this video could have been soooooo much better. I wanted to see cars getting crushed. I wanted to see cars getting eaten by shredders. I wanted to hear the "pop, pop, pop" of the airbags inflating. But I didn't get any of that.

Well, at least we still have video on SSI's shredders (which we covered previously in a Friday Diversion).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Buying Cars on eBay

I read just the other day that eBay recently sold their 3 millionth vehicle. That's a lot of cars! But if you ask most people you know, not only have they never bought a car on eBay, they wouldn't even try.

Why not? Why are folks scared to buy a car online? There are two obvious reasons - first, it's not what they are used to and second, people feel like they need to physically see and drive the car they buy (and maybe even kick the proverbial tires). That first barrier - buying cars at a dealership or out of newspaper ads because that's they way dad did it - should be easy to overcome. Dad didn't buy Blu-ray DVDs online back in the day either, did he? Online shopping simply shouldn't be scary anymore. So, it's the second problem that's probably the most significant hurdle - not actually seeing the car or meeting the seller.

Let's talk a bit about that. Cars are basically a commodity today, no different than mp3 players or computers. You can get them anywhere and a Toyota Corolla you buy in Albuquerque is exactly the same as one you get in Abilene. In other words, if you check out a make/model/year that you like in your hometown, why shouldn't you then go and try to find that same car for the cheapest price no matter where it comes from? Isn't that extra bit of effort (and actually, it's probably less effort than haggling in person) worth saving a few thousand dollars?

One related fear to not seeing the car is not meeting the person who's selling it. I think most people expect to see their car seller (whether it's a dealer or someone selling their own truck) face-to-face. The funny thing about this, is nobody trusts car dealers. There's a reason that the unctuous used car dealer is a cliche. Here's where eBay's method is world's better. No, you never actually meet or see your seller, but you do know exactly how every one of their online transactions worked out. That's the key. If you sell cars on eBay, you simply can't afford to screw anyone. If you get a few - or maybe even just one - negative review saying that you are dishonest, your business is kaput. Nobody is going to send $15K to buy a car halfway across the country from someone they feel they can't trust. On the other hand, if a local dealer screws a customer, how does anyone find out? It could happen all the time and you'd probably never know. Your only hope is to check with the Better Business Bureau and hope that someone thought to file a complaint there, or hit up Google and hope someone posted to some message board. It's a crap shoot. The truth is, you probably won't find out. You actually have much less visibility into and information about the local guy than you do about an eBay seller on the other side of the country.

Accountability, visibility and convenience aside, the best reason to buy a car on eBay is the most basic one - price. With a little patience, you can find outstanding deals on eBay. Edmunds has a great feature called True Market Value pricing, where they show you actual expected prices you'd pay/get for a car. They show you three prices, Trade-In, Private Party and Dealer. Trade-In is what you would likely get for a car if you traded it in to a dealer. Private Party is what you'd expect to pay someone to buy their personal truck (i.e. through a newspaper ad) and Dealer is what you'd pay at a dealership. You pay more at a dealership because you're ostensibly getting a bit more backing behind the car, that they've cleaned and inspected it and you have some recourse if something goes wrong. The differences between these three prices can vary from several hundred to several thousand dollars. On eBay, you should expect to pay no more than the Private Party price even though you are buying from a dealer. If you are picky and look for No Reserve auctions, you can do even better. I have bought two cars on eBay and paid just above Trade-in for one and $700 below Trade-in for the other. I could have bought the car, driven it straight to a local dealership and traded it in for a profit. Beat that out of your local classified ads!

When you are saving that kind of money, it really helps to offset the other fears. Sure, there's a chance that the used car I'm buying is a lemon, but that's a risk with any used car, isn't it? Is a short test drive going to prove otherwise? Would one of those used-car inspections help? Maybe, but you can actually order one of those for most eBay cars as well. Even so, how much risk are you taking on? To use an example, say you want to buy a 2005 Honda Accord EX with the V6 engine. At a local dealership, I'd expect to pay about $17,500. I can find one of those on eBay right now for about $15,600. Wouldn't a savings of nearly $2K help offset any risk? Especially if you consider that I know that the seller has all positive feedback and has posted dozens of pics of the inside and outside of the car? Well, what if I decide that I'm willing to shop a bit abd I hold out until I get a car closer to the Trade-In value? Now we're talking about a savings of about $3,500. You could replace the transmission and still come out way ahead!

The bottom line is this - buying a car online makes sense. You can buy a great car from a reputable dealer and you can save thousands of dollars. Why would you want to do it any other way?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Some Air-, Electric-, and Diesel-Powered Vehicles in the Pipeline

The past week or so was chalk full of articles on alternatively-powered cars. Upon seeing all these articles, I was astounded by just how much effort and investment is taking place in this area. Given the huge effort, it seems very likely that car buyers' options will be greatly expanded in the coming years.

We wrote previously about MDI's air-powered car (here and here). And Forbes has written a recent article on the firm as well. In addition to Tata Motor's license to produce the air-powered car in India, Forbes reports that Zero Pollution Motors has purchased a license for the U.S. market. Zero Pollution Motors hopes to offer a 100-mpg vehicle for about $18,000 by 2010.

For those of you interested in green ideas generally, you should check out Fortune's recent report on "11 great green ideas". They profile a solar company, a recycling firm, and alternative energy ventures, among others. Also profiled is Aptera, a firm that has already sold out its initial run of 1300 electric hybrid vehicles that aim to get 300-mpg thanks to revolutionary aerodynamics that nearly eliminate wind resistance and therefore reduce by two-thirds the energy needed to move the car. Venture Vehicles is also profiled. It expects its plug-in hybrid VentureOne (which also looks nothing like the cars seen on the road today) to hit the market in 2010 and get 100-mpg.

The Wall Street Journal reports that General Motors is becoming increasingly bullish about its Volt, hoping that it can go into production as early as November 2010. And it looks like GM is viewing it from at least two strategic angles as well--to "eliminate this perception of GM as the environmental antichrist" (according to Bob Lutz) and to help GM meet increasingly stringent CAFE (fuel efficiency) standards.

And finally, BusinessWeek suggests that some new high-mileage diesels set to hit the U.S. market could give hybrids serious competition. The article reports that more than 50% of new-car sales in Europe are diesels, and Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Kia, and Mahindra have all announced plans to introduce diesels to the U.S., beginning this year.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dash Express: Early Reviews

As a follow-up to our earlier post on the new networked GPS navigation device, Dash Express, I thought it would be interesting to check out some early reviews of the product and related service.

CNET likes the device (there's a nice video summary here as well) and thinks it has the possibility to introduce revolutionary change to GPS navigation. But it's not there yet. The most troubling thing they found was that the actual GPS functionality is pretty substandard: "As we drove around [San Francisco], we noticed that the Dash was slightly off the mark with its tracking; most of the time it was behind by a block, but it could be as bad as up to three blocks off." A block to three blocks off = missed turns while driving. Not good for something that's supposed to get you where you want to go more efficiently.

Engadget is a bit more bullish, likening Dash's community features to those first introduced by TiVo: once you experience the benefits, you wonder how you'd ever settled for less. But they also experienced some poor navigation results, with a larger than expected number of lost signals, mainly.

GPSreview.net has a comprehensive review posted, based on about 500 miles of driving experience with the Dash Express. They conclude that the device is currently geared toward hard-core commuters, and it's not for people looking for guided navigation in unfamiliar areas.

PC Magazine spent some time with the Dash Express as well, and they come to a similar conclusion: Interesting, but other devices are adequate and cheaper, for now. They do post some photos of the device and its screens. And they point out that the unit is designed to work in the United States only, so if you want to use a GPS device in other countries, get a different one.

As for me, I plan to wait before springing for a new Dash. I love some of the unique features, but the truth is, I don't drive enough during heavily-trafficked times that its real-time traffic info would be too useful for me. And I really like to take the GPS device with me when out of the car (walking around a new city, for example), and the current Dash device seems too bulky for that, and its communication signal seems too unreliable. By waiting a bit, I can hopefully get a Dash device that is portable (i.e., smaller). And, in a year or two, Dash will hopefully have enough early adopters adding serious value to its network and community features. Finally, in a couple of years, Dash will hopefully have worked out some of the substandard navigation performance issues that some current users are reportedly experiencing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

86 The 84-Month Car Loan

When I graduated from college and realized that I knew next to nothing about how to take care of my finances, I went and read several books on the subject. One of the pieces of advice that always stuck with me was that the five-year car loan was one of the worst "investments" you can make. Cars depreciate too quickly to justify paying for one for so long. It is always more sensible to go with a four- or three-year loan if you can swing it. And if you can't swing it, you probably can't afford that car.

Well, time marches on (sadly for me, it's marched a lot since I graduated) and the American populace has many more loan options, including the unbelievably bad seven-year auto loan. This is sort of the car version of the sub-prime mortgage. As the guys at The Car Connection point out, if you have to take a seven-year loan to buy that new jalopy, you can't afford that car. Odds are, you're going to be trading that car in for a new one in 3-4 years and with an 84-month loan, you'll probably still owe more than the vehicle is worth. Bad idea.

On the bright side, with the car market so soft these days, you should be able to find some legitimate good deals, like Chrysler's 0% financing.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

$48,000 for a Volt?

Autosavant has an article citing Bob Lutz claiming that a "realistic price" for the Volt would be 48 Large. Wow. My guess is that there wouldn't be too many takers at that price. But I'm also guessing that GM is angling for as much in government subsidies as they can get. The more the government will subsidize purchases of electric vehicles (EVs), the more the leaders in the market will benefit. And if GM can produce the Volt on time and as advertised, it should be a leader. Autosavant concludes that the net cost of a Volt to consumers will be a lot closer to $30,000 than $48,000, given subsidies and GM's (probable) willingness to discount the price otherwise.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Networked GPS Navigation: Dash Express

Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed a newly available GPS navigation device called Dash Express. While his trial didn't go flawlessly (the device tried to route him into heavy freeway traffic), the networked device seems to offer some meaningful benefits relative to traditional, stand-alone GPS devices offered by Garmin, Magellan, and others.
  • TruTraffic - Each Dash Express unit is wirelessly connected to the Internet. This allows Dash to monitor traffic speed on various roads and override standard, third-party traffic information with real-time, proprietary traffic information of its own. This could be handy for people who absolutely must get to a destination in the least amount of time and who might be able to choose an alternate route to avoid traffic. This feature, however, is dependent upon a critical mass of users adopting Dash to provide the data required to develop real-time traffic updates.
  • Map and Feature Updates - Dash can push out updates of its map database and new features to Dash Express units via their wireless networking capability. As a Garmin user, I have to connect to the Internet via a USB connection on my computer to update the maps (and sometimes I have to buy the latest versions), so I can see how this feature on the Dash device would be very handy. You'd always have the most up-to-date map / route information, and this feature alone would probably nearly cover the incremental cost of the wireless Dash Service for people who regularly pay to update their maps on other GPS devices.
  • Send2Car - When I use the Garmin, I still normally search for the destination on my computer first, just to get a sense of where it is. I then have to enter the destination into my Garmin Nuvi to tell it where I want to go. Send2Car allows Dash Express users to wirelessly send the destination location information from their computer to the GPS device instead of typing it in to the device directly. It can also be used to receive destination information from others' computers. (So your friends could send you the destination location information, for example.)
  • Gas Prices and Movie Times - While Dash doesn't provide a lot of information on this feature, I'm assuming you can ask the device to tell you the price of gas at nearby stations. It's easy to see how this could be useful and save money, especially while on a road trip. (Well, if the data are good!)
These networking features come free with each device for three months. Thereafter, users can subscribe to the Dash Service (anywhere from $10 to $13 per month, depending on contract length) to continue receiving the wireless networking benefits. Customers who choose not to subscribe to the Dash Service can simply use their device as they would any other standard GPS navigation device on the market.

Given that features such as TruTraffic require a critical mass of users, I expected to see more than a free three-month trial period for the wireless network access. By including the cost of the service in perpetuity (or even for 3 or 5 years, say) for the first 6 months the device is available (or to the first 100,000 buyers, say), I think they could have generated a lot of buzz and essentially acquired their required critical mass very quickly. I largely see the value of what they're doing in the data they collect from their network. If they get to critical mass and own a large network of users, there's not much incentive for competitors to try to replicate it. (Why would I join an upstart network when there's already one out there that works just fine and has lots of data feeding it?) So I would have expected to see them be much more aggressive trying to acquire users. It'll be interesting to see how quickly these devices get adopted. If they're not fast enough, they'll probably find some serious competition from the incumbent GPS device or map data providers.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Breaking News II: Electric Boogaloo

(OK, that title was a bit of a stretch, but I just had to work Electric Boogaloo in there somewhere).

There's a lot going on in the world of electric cars (and not just with Tesla Motors).

Quick hitters:
Smart Charging Up Plans for Electric Vehicle Test Fleet

Electric on 11th Avenue: Nissan Debuts Denki Cube


Volt news
Volt Redesign Yields Major Efficiency Gains

GM: We'll Lose Our Shirts on the Volt, But That's OK

Bob Lutz: Saturn Vue plug-in, Chevrolet Volt to be more expensive than originally thought


Mitsubishi i MiEV
Mitsubishi to produce all-electric i MiEV, Concept CX

Mitsu Testing Electric Vehicles, Too


Subaru R1E:
Subaru Testing EVs Stateside

Big City, Little City Car: Subaru's Quick-Charge R1e

Subaru to test R1e electric car in New York City

Subaru R1e to Begin Testing for Potential U.S. Sales


California Air Resources Board meeting on the ZEV mandate:
CARB Faces Reality versus Fantasy

Will California Kill the Electric Car — Again?

California Almost Killed EVs. Will It Try To Again?

Opinions Fly at California Air Resources Board Meeting

California Cuts ZEV Mandate In Favor of Plug-In Hybrids

Tesla In Production

As you know, we've been following the saga of Tesla Motors here pretty closely over the past year. There's just something compelling about an electric car that's as beautiful as this: Tesla Roadster

Well, now it looks like it's even closer a reality. Tesla says that the Roadster is now in production and that the first customers will get their cars soon (more here).

If that wasn't enough good news for those of us interested in the idea of a viable electric car manufacturer, it was recently announced that Tesla is one of the entrants in the Automotive X PRIZE, a $10 million competition to build a production-ready 100 mpg vehicle. (More here and here.)

And hey, do you live in Europe? You might be able to get yourself a Tesla too!

Lastly, did you know that Tesla Motors has their own blogs? Somehow I'd missed that.

High Tech? Green Tech? Fuel Economy? What Do We Want?

With rising gas prices and a flood of new technologies, the car market is in a state of serious change. So what do consumers really want? That nifty iPod interface? A hybrid engine? Scented tires (seriously)? Well, I guess it depends on who you ask. MyRide.com did a small poll of their readers and found that folks really like the geek stuff. Who cares if the car gets 70 mpg if you can't plug in your iPod?

But wait. AAA did their own survey and determined that fuel economy is the #1 concern of buyers, even above the manufacturer.

If you're one of the folks more like the ones AAA asked, Edmonds.com has an outstanding article for you. They tested a number of different fuel-saving tips to see which ones really paid off. The results aren't shocking (driving at a consistent 65 mph is your best bet), but they are very interesting anyway.

Friday, March 21, 2008

TWSJ on Online Car-Buying Resources

Walt Mossberg's right-hand gal, Katherine Boehret, was in need of a new vehicle recently. She wrote about her experience using online resources to search for a new car. For anyone looking for a new car, this one's worth a read.

"Safety" Features, Anyone?

For those of you who subscribe to Smart Money, you may have seen their recent article on "The New Backseat Drivers". (In a move of pure stupidity, it seems, they make it incredibly difficult to a.) find their article online, and b.) link to it.) I've also found another interesting article from cnet. As the cnet article states, "your car could one day tell you when you're about to screw up". The problem is how your car tells you this.

How about a vibrating seat, or a red light showing up in your rear view mirror, or even a vibrating steering wheel? Some cars may even come "equipped" with a system that will apply the brake to your vehicle if it "senses" you're about to get into an accident.

I don't know about you, but I think I'd be a bit distracted by some of these "safety" features. I guess I'd actually have to see how they work in practice, but you're supposed to actually be paying attention when you drive, right? It seems to me that a vibrating steering wheel or a light in the rear view mirror might actually distract you from the road at the exact time you needed to pay attention to it.

In another example of manufacturer markups gone berserk, the Smart Money article states that some of the "safety" technology can carry as much as a "fivefold markup from wholesale". With markups like that, are we really supposed to believe that our safety is a high priority of the manufacturers?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Random Rumblings

Shaking the Intertubes and seeing what rolls out ...


Could plug-in hybrids and electric cars actually be worse for the environment than old skool gasoline cars? Seems crazy, but USA Today wrote a big article on it, getting most of their info from two studies, one by the Natural Resources Defense Council and another by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The gist of the claim is that the increased electricity usage will require burning a lot more coal.

I gotta admit that the NRDC sounds suspiciously like something an oil company might have thrown together to fight the rising tide of alternative fuels for vehicles, but it is actually a legitimate pro-environment group.

But wait, there's more. PHEVs and electrics cars will also use more water than their gas-powered bretheren. As that article points out, this issue isn't a show-stopper, but it's one more variable to consider.

----------------
A mass-produced 70mpg car? Maybe. VW showed off their diesel-hybrid Golf at the Geneva Motor Show. It looks and sounds pretty darn cool, but there's some debate over whether it will actually get to market. VW is being coy and saying it's just a prototype, but that's not what these guys say. Unfortunately for the US, it may be a Europe only thing. We'd get a gas-hybrid instead.

More hybrid and alternative fuel news:
Toyota and GM racing to put out the first plug-in hybrids. I guess they don't read USA Today.

While a bit late to the game, GM is already pushing their next-generation hybrid system using Li-ion batteries.

Sure that Golf, may be sexy, but Toyota isn't jumping on the diesel-hybrid bandwagon.

Toyota (man, are they all over the hybrid news or what?) thinks Li-ion is soooo 2009. They are totally into zinc-air batteries these days. At least until zinc-air sells out and signs on with the big companies.

We posted a couple of weeks ago about the potential ecological impact of switching to biofuels. It gets worse. The New York Times has discovered that the plants that refine the stuff are dumping tons of hazardous gunk into local streams and rivers.

------------------
File this one under the "never would have guessed it category" (that's in the 'n' drawer) - a nationwide sawdust shortage might make cars a bit more expensive. That's just odd.

------------------
The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) recently posted PDFs of their last two status reports. The big issues seem to be driving speed (duh) and roof strength.

------------------
Looking to buy a new car? Consumer Reports doesn't seem to be too high on American cars. Again. They do like Hondas though. You might want to also consider the NADA's recent finding that luxury cars are the worst when it comes to depreciation. Forbes also looked at car depreciation and found a more varied list of offenders.

------------------
Lastly, I couldn't resist this one. James Bonds' Lotus-cum-submarine from The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the coolest cars ever. If only it really existed. Well ... this little baby's pretty close. It's a Lotus. And it's a submarine. And get this, it's a convertible.

You have to watch the video:

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Catching up with the Tesla Roadster

Software developments often end with a product that is delivered late and has fewer features and functionality than originally planned. Well, the Tesla Roadster--founded by Silicon Valley techies--seems to share these unwelcome similarities. The delivery date for the car has slipped (now March 17). And the first production vehicles will ship with a "temporary" one-speed transmission that can be swapped out in the future for the two-speed transmission that was originally planned.

For all the Tesla-bashing, however, it's exciting to think that the company may be at the forefront of--and accelerating the arrival of--a new chapter in transportation history. I don't think it's a stretch to say that Tesla's founders want to change the way people think about driving (a high-performance, electric-powered sports car), give them an relatively environmentally-friendly alternative to gas-fueled vehicles, and blunt the negative effects of global warming and the world's dependence on oil. While the Tesla Roadster may not be the "greenest" vehicle to hit the market (new models are flown to the US from England, where they are produced; there are questions about the production, useful life, and disposal of the batteries; the $100,000 Roadster will never be a "mainstream" car), this just may be the beginning of a world in which electric-powered vehicles are a realistic alternative for a majority of drivers. And that's exciting.

To catch up with some of the recent developments at Tesla, I scanned Autoblog for some interesting articles.

Tesla co-founder Elon Musk took delivery of the first production Tesla in February. Follow the link for an article and some (not too exciting) video of the Roadster on the pavement.

Wish you could test drive the Tesla? Autoblog did. There's some more extensive video at this link, along with a video (scroll down, second video) that let's you experience the sound--or lack thereof--the Roadster makes as it cruises along.

Despite still working toward full-capacity production and delivery of its Roadster, Tesla is already working on its Whitestar sedan and a mass-market vehicle, currently dubbed Bluestar. The Whitestar sedan will probably fall in the $50,000 to $70,000 price range, and is expected to be available in 2009, with a functional prototype by year-end 2008. Tesla may partner with another firm to produce and market Bluestar, which seems to still be in early concept stages.

Finally, talk of a Tesla IPO has begun. Co-founder Elon Musk says that profitability might be reached by 2009, and an IPO could come within the next two years.

Thanks again to Autoblog for all the posts. And if you didn't get enough of Tesla here, just go to Autoblog and search on "Tesla". There's a lot more there.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Random Rumblings

Random finds while surfing the net instead of working ...

Spinning 22s? Full-surround air bags? Hybrid engines? A zillion miles to the gallon? Yeah, yeah, those are all great, but what Americans really want are a few more cup holders. Thanks to Autoblog for the find.

------
Yesterday's technology today - in an effort to squeeze even more efficiency out of their hybrid vehicles, Honda is looking into steam engine technology. When a hybrid is cruising along at regular highway speeds, it isn't really any more efficient than a standard car. Honda is looking to address that by harnessing some of the immense heat created (and then lost) by a combustion engine. Slap a small steam generator on that baby and use it to charge the vehicles batteries and voila! The 2000s borrowing from the 1800s. Pretty cool stuff.

------
Ever wonder what happened to that beater you drove in college? Or maybe the car dad drove you to soccer practice in? Check the Lost Car Registry and maybe you can find out. You're gonna need a VIN though. You still have that, right? (Thanks to Autoblog)

------
The debate over the benefits of ethanol rage on. The latest volley comes from Science magazine. And they have some pretty harsh criticism. Their main critique seems to be that forests would need to be cut down to make room for all of the new crops. The loss of those trees would have a "carbon cost" of 17 to 420 times the annual savings by using the new fuel. Uh oh.

------
Looking for a new ride? The 2009 Nissan Murano is the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety's top pick for SUVs. The next best choices are the Mazda Cx-7 and CX-9 and the Mitsubishi Endeavor. THe poorest performers are the Jeep Liberty, Jeep Wrangler and Kia Sorento.

If you aren't looking for an SUV, you might want to check out Consumer Reports' Annual Auto Issue which is about to be released. Hyundai is a surprise winner, with two best-in-class choices in the Elantra SE (Small Sedan) and Santa Fe (Midsized SUV). Otherwise, you can always stick with the regulars - Toyota had four winners.

-------
One drawback to electric vehicles has always been the batteries, in particular their size and weight and the cost of the precious metals they require. A small company out of Portland, Oregon might have a solution. QuantumSphere says that their catalytic nanoparticle coatings greatly increase the catalytic action of any materials. They have produced a battery with a 320-percent power gain over traditional alkaline batteries.


------
Do you like cars? Do you like stock markets? Do you like fantasy sports? Well, step right up, mister, because Edmunds has something for you. They are launching their Car Stock Exchange, an online exchange of new car models using play money. Think a model is going to be a big seller? Buy! Is GM making a big mistake with their new Box On Wheels? Sell short! Maybe you can become the Warren Buffett of the fake car stock market.