Computer industry pundit, columnist, documentary film maker, small airplane pilot, classic car enthusiast and former international oil industry correspondent Robert X. Cringely is talking up SwiftFuel. Just in case the name isn't catchy enough (the fuel, not the author), Cringley calls sorghum-based go-juice “The Splenda of motor fuels." "It has an octane rating of 104 (higher than the 100 octane fuel it replaces) yet contains no lead or ethanol. SwiftFuel mixes with gasoline, can be stored in the same tanks as gasoline, and be shipped in the same pipelines as gasoline.” Swift Enterprises claims the sorghum brew yields six times as much fuel per acre as corn and delivers get up to 20 percent better gas mileage than… gas. They're currently selling the alt fuel as a replacement for leaded gasoline in small airplanes. Too good to be true? Cringely doesn’t address many of the problems associated with the whole agricultural feed-into-fuel deal: converting wilderness into farmland, fresh water consumption, the use of pesticides and fertilizers, energy required to convert the biomass into SwiftFuel, etc. Despite E85's rough ride (here and elsewhere), look for more of this outside-the-oil-well thinking as oil prices escalate.
Posts By: William C Montgomery
Yesterday was Black Tuesday for the American auto industry. TTAC's bloggers worked their fingers to the bone trying to keep up with an abandoned airport's worth of bad news. And still we didn't get it all. Anyway, it’s official. For the first time in sixteen years (since December 1992), a car has outsold the ubiquitous Ford F-series pickup trucks. Make that, FOUR cars. Last month, [Edmund's] "seismic shift" sent buyers into Toyota and Honda dealerships seeking fuel efficient sedans, rather than gas guzzling pickup trucks and SUVs. The Toyotas Corolla and Camry, and Hondas Civic and Accord, each outsold Ford's venerable tpickup. Feebly trying to explain F-series’ fifth place finish, Ford’s head sales honcho Jim Farley said, “May was a watershed month. We are, as an industry, catching up with the breathtaking choices customers are now making.” Meanwhile, this simple pistonhead asks: how this could be such a big surprise to a FoMoCo executive?
Why is gasoline so damn expensive? The mainstream media has rounded up the usual suspects. They demonize oil companies (for excessive profits), lambaste environmentalists (for blocking domestic drilling and refining), and sock it to speculators (for fear mongering over supply). Simply put, the current crisis is a speculative bubble whose impact to American consumers is exacerbated by domestic economic conditions. I fully expect crude oil will trade below $80 a barrel in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, let’s tackle this one myth at a time.
One year ago [Chrysler Suicide Watch 12] I opined that Jeep was morphing from the world's most uniquely-American brand into a schizophrenic abyss of muddled models. Of course, this analysis hardly required the keen insights of branding guru Al Reis. Jeep had just introduced the unconvincing Compass and platform partner Patriot to the market. And they were preparing to launch a re-skinned Jeep Liberty. The Liberty was the reigning best selling small SUV on the market. So one year later, how has the brand progressed? As a Jeep owner and acolyte of [what's left of] the brand, I'm sorry to say that Jeep's crisis is far deeper than before.
As a child I loved to play on swings. Leaning back and kicking my legs forward, I could propel myself into momentary weightlessness. Of course, every good swing ended with an acrobatic dismount. At the point of greatest forward momentum, I would let go of the chains and launch myself off the seat. For a brief moment I would be flying. Like an astronaut on NASA’s vomit comet, I would arc across the back yard. The sensation was thrilling. But I wasn’t a bird. Gravity’s hand never failed to pull me back to earth. And so it is with General Motors.
My personal highlight of Last year’s Dallas Auto Show was watching Sajeev work his magic on GM’s regional marketing director. He’d met her at the Houston Auto Show some weeks earlier, where they’d had a productive conversation. Apparently the Powers That Be within GM didn’t think that was a good idea. She was talking gaily with other scribes when we approached her. When she turned to greet us, her face darkened the moment she recognized the dashing Mr. Mehta. Visibly agitated, she hissed, “I can’t talk to you,” spun on her heels and scurried away. After a moment of stunned silence I asked TTAC’s lonely lothario, “Do you have that effect on all women?”
To evaluate the all-new 2008 Toyota Sequoia, I spent some quality time with comparable full-size SUVs from GM and FoMoCo. In back-to-back-to-back tests on the highways and byways of Denton County, Texas, I pitted the new Sequoia Platinum against the 2008 Ford Expedition King Ranch Edition and the 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ "White Diamond" edition. Let's not beat around the Texan brush: the Tahoe outshines its competitors as the best all-around full-sized SUV. Here's why…
Saleen Inc. hits the quarter century mark next year, and they're already celebrating. At the Dallas Auto Show today they unveiled the "Sterling" edition of their S302 Extreme. The Sterling edition is limited to a production run of 25 vehicles and will be mechanically identical to the "standard" S302 Extreme — if "standard" can be used to describe a Mustang with a supercharged 5.0L engine pumping out 620hp and 600 lb-ft of torque with accompanying upgrades of everything. The Sterling adds a special silver paint, unique wheels and an upgraded interior featuring "couture" leather. Each of the 25 purchasers will be flown to Detroit where' they'll receive the royal treatment and receive a photo book showing every step involved in "birthing" their baby. It can be yours for just $20k over the price of the plebeian S302 Extreme– a mere $101,545. Now, if all our readers would just send me one dollar each…
The full-size SUV, species Gigantus Utilitas Amnericanus, stands like a mighty and proud American Bison. The even-toed ungulate’s wet nose nervously sniffs the threatening winds of change that blows across the prairie and buffets its coarse brown mane. For now, the herd stands proud and strong in suburban habitats. But today the mighty beast catches the scent of three long rifle-wielding predators: Panic, Price and Patriotism. Squarely in their sights stands the Ford Expedition King Ranch Edition.
I studied epistemology in a college religion class. Epistemology is a fifty cent word for the branch of philosophy that explores the way in which man learns truth. What leads a person to the certain conclusion that God exists? Is it the conclusion of a logical process? Or personal spiritual experience? Maybe it’s embracing family tradition? At the risk of offending deity and condemning my soul to an eternity burning amid fire and Bridgestone, I liken the process of buying new tires to the quest for faith.
Professor W. Edwards Deming taught post-War Japan statistical process control. Toyota management applied Deming's lessons with characteristic discipline, refining the Yale grad's famous "14 points" to create their lean manufacturing system. Through it all, ToMoCo had one over-riding goal: to mimic and surpass the world's greatest automakers. Driving the new Toyota Sequoia back-to-back against its archetypal competition– the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition– proves the old adage: be careful what you wish for.
Though locked in a battle for worldwide sales domination, top executives at GM and Toyota agree on one thing: hydrogen fuel cell cars are a crock of shit (albeit an extremely cold one). Speaking separately to reporters at the Geneva Auto show, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz and Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe criticized the "zero-emissions" technology as too expensive, too dependent on non-existent infrastructure, not competitive with other alternative power sources, and an idea that just ain't done cookin'. The Wall Street Journal quotes ToMoCo's top dog as saying "it will be difficult to see the spread of fuel cells in 10 year's time." Meanwhile, the recipient of TTAC's inaugural Bob Lutz Award asks, "If we get lithium-ion to 300 miles… Why do you need fuel cells?" I guess this explains why The General didn't bother installing an actual fuel cell power train into the Cadillac Provoq hydrogen concept making the rounds at this season's auto shows.
Did you know your car grows whiskers? The revelation comes via computer industry pundit Robert X. Cringely (nee Mark Stephens) on his PBS.org blog. Here's the deal… Tin is the primary ingredient in electrical solder that's used in automotive circuit boards and electrical terminals. Tin can grow thin crystal threads that can reach several millimeters in length. Unshaven, these tin whiskers can create short circuits that blow delicate electronics. (NASA banned the use of 100 percent tin in its components after tin whiskers disable three communications satellites.) So electronic component makers switched to solder made of a tin – lead alloy. In 2006, environmental concerns led the EU (so to speak) to ban lead in electronics. Cringely says this well-intentioned regulation means that today's electronics are THOUSANDS of times more likely to create tin whiskers than before. If you’re tired of buggy electronics in your car now, just you wait.
Day three of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit is comparatively quiet. I took advantage of the lull to chin wag with Clay Dean, Cadillac’s Global Design Director and Dave Caldwell, Caddy’s top spin man. Both men were refreshingly candid. So I challenged the duo on the brand’s marketing mix: product, price, place, and promotion. While the adulation heaped upon the CTS, CTS-V and CTS Coupe indicate that Cadillac’s lineup is better off now than when ‘Slade sales started slipping, what of Caddy’s future?
The press preview for the 2008 North American International Auto Show is finally over. TTAC’s Texas twosome–myself and Sajeev Mehta– did our level best to catch the major reveals, grill some suits and get a feel for the temper of the times. On the plane back to the Lone Star State, I collected my thoughts on the show’s winners and losers. Were the carmakers fiddling while Rome burns, or preparing to rise Phoenix-like from the ashes ahead?