Posts By: Megan Benoit

By on November 30, 2007

070107003.jpgBusinessGreen reports that Ricardo, Land Rover, mapmaker Ordnance Survey, mobile giant Orange and the UK's Transport Research Laboratory have banded together to develop the "rCube control system." In theory, the bolt-in computer will combine the [now] familiar real time traffic data with automatic control over a hybrid's engine, batteries, throttle and brakes. Say what? "If you are approaching a junction or a traffic jam and have to stop, the control system will optimise the deceleration to limit how hard you have to break and maximise the amount of energy that is captured and used to recharge the battery," explains Tom Robinson, senior product group manager for control and electronics at Ricardo. "It means that you get a smoother ride and lower emissions." The scarily-named "Sentience project" promises a prototype rCube-equipped Ford Escape Hybrid by the summer. So… what's hybridless lame duck Land Rover got to do with any of this? And why can't they just teach people to go easy on the gas and the brakes?

By on November 13, 2007

a06_hydrogen_full.jpgSetting aside our usual "show me the infrastructure" hydrogen economy skepticism for a moment, it looks like we may have a winner! The AFP (via Yahoo News) is reporting that University of Pennsylvania researchers have discovered a way to generate hydrogen that produces more hydrogen energy than the process consumes in electrical energy. [NB: for those of you wishing to cite basic laws of thermodynamics, electrical energy is not the only source of energy in the process.] Poor efficiency rates and low yields have led many alt. energy experts to consider hydrogen an also-ran even before it technically ran. Apparently, adding aetic acid to the production process allows scientists to produce hydrogen at 99% of the theoretical maximum yield. Theoretically, that's more than enough efficiency to make hydrogen a viable energy source. Even better, aetic acid is a common byproduct of glucose fermentation, which is typically discarded. Isn't it wonderful when a plan comes together? Expect tons of complaining from flyover, er, corn land, and much rejoicing from grocery aisles as the price of beef and dairy go backdown to reasonable levels. That is, if this isn't a bunch of hot (cold?) air.

By on October 1, 2007

texpump.jpgWhat Car? [via The Daily Record] says premium petrol is a rip-off, providing neither extra power nor superior gas mileage. The UK consumer magazine paid a lab to test various premium grades against their lowly counterparts. The lab concluded that premium petrol purchasers may eke out a few more miles to the gallon, but the cost (up to 30p more per gallon) outweighs the benefit. In specific, they claim that Shell's V-Power petrol couldn't quite match the mileage provided by regular: 22.9mpg to 23mpg (which is well within the margin of error). The article fails to mention that certain car manufacturers require premium unleaded for a reason; the knock sensor will smooth things over, but you'll get pitiful gas mileage and probably damage your engine over the long run. 

By on August 31, 2007

08scion_xd_01.jpgThe Scion brand has turned to face some strange ch-ch-changes over the last model year. The bento-box-on-wheels xB was re-fashioned for American tastes, exchanging hip Nipponese style for porky gangsta chic. And now the xA, the mini-minivan-shaped thingie that somehow (unfortunately) captured the spirit of the orthopedic Toyota Echo, has been axed. In a break with ToMoCo’s tradition of maintaining model names, Scion has decided to replace the xA with the xD, a mini-CUV-shaped thingie with bad ‘tude. Go figure.

By on August 31, 2007

twingo2908_468x316.jpgSo French automaker Renault hired an ad company to help promote the new Euro-only Twingo to Dutch women. The UK's not-so-prim Daily Mail reports the result: a faux-handwritten letter from an unknown admirer who "called them 'darling', suggested meeting soon for a drink and signed themselves 'lots of love, M." Despite a reference to the Twingo– "you have a Twingo, don't you, I saw the new one and thought immediately of you"– and a color photo of the car enclosed with this missive, recipients were not well pleased. There were heated exchanges in many a huis, while some women were bummed to learn that "M" didn't exist (although you've got to take that idea with a shaker of salt considering the source). Renault has apologized and will send a letter of apology to all 30k households. Presumably it doesn't start "Dear John…"

By on August 20, 2007

delhi-traffic.jpgGet your mind out of the gutter– this is an automotive blog. And anyway, despite rumors of a plastic car (heard today on the Paul Harvey newscast no less) The Hindu Business Line reports that the new Tata will have a traditional steel body and the usual bits and pieces. The Rabbit-sized ride will sport a rear-mounted 600cc engine. While it doesn't have an official name yet, the "One Lakh Car" (100,000 rupees, or around $2,400) will be priced within reach of India's growing middle class. Considering the tiny profit margin involved (about three percent), they'll need to sticker that low to generate enough volume to turn a profit. (Ain't capitalism grand?) Currently, Indian autos are priced well out of the economic mainstream; about eight in 1000 Indians owns a car. What's that you say? Safety? Well, it can hardly be less safe than the mopeds favored by most of India's population. Perhaps it'll give us something other than China's dismal safety ratings to talk about.

By on August 15, 2007

050201_driving_cell_hmed12phmedium.jpgThe Chicago Sun Times reports that *gasp* drivers still talk on their cell phone whilst 're driving– even after laws were enacted making the practice a ticket-able offence. No surprise there. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed that a 2001 cell phone ban in New York State led to a dramatic decline in in-car cellular communications. Three years later and the percentage of drivers using cell phones from behind the wheel went right back up to pre-ban levels. Why? Lax law enforcement; in Chicago cops wrote 13,400 cell phone related tickets as compared to 2.8 million traffic tickets. The study also cites an "above the law" attitude amongst offenders. In other words, there's a large number of cell phone-wielding drivers who believe they're perfectly safe drivers, much like chronic speeders. In this, they are sadly mistaken, as anyone who talks on a cell phone while driving may be as dangerous as a drunk driver.

By on July 26, 2007

hertz.jpgThe Detroit News reports that The Big 2.8's decision to trim fleet sales is jacking-up prices down at the rental car lot. The cost of renting a car has jumped more than 20 percent in the past two years, heading for a five percent upwards jolt in '07. Manufacturers are also modding the product mix, cutting back on the dirt-cheap manual everything models the average Budget, Avis and Hertz renter has "enjoyed" in years gone by. By selling higher-priced, better featured cars, the Detroiters hope today's rental car will be tomorrow's not-so-dirt-cheap retail sale. Meanwhile, if you're not buying this explanation, if you're skeptical about car rental pricing policies, join the folks over iAfrica.com, who believe the industry is rife with "collusive and monopolistic practices."

By on July 25, 2007

clarion_drive_eye2.jpgA gaggle of gadget-related blogs are reporting that Japanese electronics stores are selling a clip-on camera for automotive sun visors. The camera's G-force detector starts the camera recording at the onset of sudden deceleration (e.g. braking to avoid smashing into someone's car or actually smashing into someone's car). The system provides up to 15 seconds of pre-accident abd five 5 seconds of post-accident footage. The camera is housed within a heavy-duty magnesium alloy casing, in the hopes that it will survive all but the worst of accidents. The clip-on cam can also record on demand, should you want to show your friends your [pre-crash?] shenanigans. At $412, a visorcam is a high price to pay to prove your innocence (depending)– but cheap compared to a lawsuit.

By on July 19, 2007

wrxsti.jpgWinding Road reports that Subaru will begin fitting the Legacy with a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) in 2009, and all other models shortly thereafter. Given the poor reviews and slow sales of these "stepless" transmissions, the news is something of a shock. Ford recently abandoned the CVT in its quest to turn the Five Hundred into the Taurus. The Blue Oval Boyz and other mass market manufacturers are also busy gearing-up to install DSG (double sequential gearbox) or similar into their future products. Given the unlimited fun of a paddle-shift DSG gearbox vs. the whiny sloth of a CVT, it's hard to imagine many existing or potential Subaru drivers would trade spirited performance for an extra mile per gallon. [Note to Subaru: no one drives a Subaru for the gas mileage; they drive them in SPITE of the gas mileage.]

By on July 12, 2007

hydrofocus_7418.jpgYesterday, Ford CEO Alan Mulally announced that Ford would have plug-in hybrids for sale in "five to 10 years." Today, Consumeraffairs.com 'reports that FoMoCo's spinmeisters are touting hydrogen as the fuel of the future. We're talking about Ford, right? The same Ford that backpedaled on their 2005 promise to build 250k hybrids by the end of the [last] decade? The same Ford that "rethought" their 2000 promise to improve SUV fuel economy by 25 percent? The same Ford that promised alternate fuel vehicles for Europe and nowhere else? Naturally, today's round of attention-grabbing was carefully hedged with cunning caveats: hydrogen fuel storage limitations, public concerns, "if all things were perfect," etc. Except Honda already has a running hydrogen fuel concept, slated for production and public consumption in less than three years. Oh dear.

By on July 6, 2007

vw_specials_01.jpgThere are only two reasons why anyone would buy a New Beetle convertible: a craving for cute or a need for nostalgia. Once you rule out these emotional drivers (so to speak), you're far better off in any number of more economical and practical machines. But that's OK, isn't it? Acquiring a Ferrari isn't exactly a rational decision. So analyzing the New Beetle's desirability comes down to this: does it suck enough to put off the retro- fashionistas?

By on June 25, 2007

x07st_au010.jpgYou gotta admire the chutzpah of an automaker that asks buyers to “rethink American” by pitting a German derived sedan against cars.com’s third “most American” automobile (Toyota Camry) and a sedan with 70 percent domestic content (Honda Accord). Although Saturn’s ads invites interested parties to a side-by-side-by-side comparison of all three “domestics”, like many intenders, I didn’t have time. So I decided to test the Saturn Aura XE and call it good. You know, if it was.

By on June 4, 2007

satnav2.jpgIt’s hard to believe global positioning satellite technology was once the sole purview of the U.S. military. It’s equally difficult to comprehend how James Bond’s first in-car tracking device thrilled pre-pubescent boys. These days, a luxury car without a satellite navigation system is like a luxury car without dual-zone climate control. Still, it’s a pretty pricey item that’s bound to bite you in ass at trade-in. So should you listen to your oleaginous salesman and tick that option box?

By on May 31, 2007

legacygt_front.jpgLet’s face it: Subaru isn’t known for building physically attractive automobiles. Their products are the automotive equivalent of the “butter face” girl: everything is great “but her” face. Fortunately, the new Legacy GT (LGT) avoids the brand’s heavy-handed airplane-inspired refreshes, or the new Tribeca’s po-faced Pacifica pandering. The Legacy GT’s not-so-B9 makeover puts the model in prime position for the legions of more mature automotive enthusiasts desperately seeking Subie. 

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