The Truth About Cars » Mormon Tabernacle Choir http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 22 Jul 2014 04:21:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Mormon Tabernacle Choir http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Adventures in Automotive Branding: That “Distinctive Fender Sound” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/adventures-in-automotive-branding-that-distinctive-fender-sound/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/adventures-in-automotive-branding-that-distinctive-fender-sound/#comments Wed, 27 Mar 2013 13:48:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=482431

Detroit is a funny market when it comes to advertising. In addition to the ads, commercials and billboards that you might see or hear in other markets from national and regional advertisers, there is some advertising that is specific to the automotive industry, usually from tier 1 vendors trying to make a sale to one of the domestic automakers. As a result, there might be a billboard on I-75 about, for example, exhaust systems, suspension components or audio equipment that is targeted at a relatively small audience, the people at Chrysler, GM and Ford who make the final engineering and purchasing decisions.

Driving home from an errand I heard the announcer on WJR, “the great voice of the Great Lakes broadcasting from the golden tower of the Fisher Building”, start talking about the synergy when two musicians first meet, discuss common influences, then get together, plug in their instruments and start to write songs. I thought he was going to discuss when Lennon met McCartney or when Richards met Jagger but in fact it was a live commercial announcement for how Panasonic and Fender have partnered to sell Fender Premium Audio branded stereos to the OEMs. Apparently the deal that VW has to sell Panasonic made components labeled with Fender’s brand is not an exclusive one.

1959 - 1960 Fender Bassman Photo: RocknRollvintage.com

It’s interesting that Panasonic thinks that Fender is a brand name that has more cachet with consumers when it comes to premium audio equipment than the Panasonic brand name itself. It’s doubly interesting because Fender has, until now, not been a brand for consumer audio equipment, premium or otherwise. This deal should make it clear that just because your car may be branded with the name of a particular audio company doesn’t mean that specific company actually made or even sold what’s installed in your car. The fact that your car comes with Fender Premium Audio doesn’t mean that Fender made the stuff any more than buying a Bill Blass Edition Lincoln meant that you were getting upholstery that came out Mr. Blass’ workshops, if he had them. A brand is a brand, just a mark.

Actually it’s triply interesting since the announcer in the commercial touted “Fender’s distinctive sound”. Now I don’t play guitar but I do make a little bit of noise in key on the harmonica, and if there is something  distinctive about the sound of Fender amps and loudspeaker cabinets it is their distinctive distortion. As you can see from that link, Jack Baruth discussed this back when the deal with VW was first announced, and we shared a laugh about this, but I never thought they’d actually use “Fender’s distinctive sound” to sell high fidelity audio systems.

The ideal amplifier, electronically speaking, adds no distinctive audio signature. What goes in comes out, only with more gain. There’s no such thing as the ideal amplifier, but makers of audio equipment used to reproduce music generally design and test equipment to have as little distortion as possible. Sometime in the history of rock and roll or the blues, though, someone figured out that if you turned the amps up loud enough so that the preamp would overdrive the output tubes to distortion levels (this was before transistors and other solid state components), you could end up with some very cool sounding music. Not all distortion is unpleasing. While odd order harmonics are what makes fingernails on a blackboard so grating, the ear tends to like even order harmonics. Guitar players and players of other electric instruments, like harmonica players digging through a box of half-century or older ceramic microphone cartridges, are going for the right combination of distortion. Also, if you chose the right sized drivers for your loudspeaker, you could get them to break up and distort in a pleasing and artistic manner as well. The net result is what players call “tone”.

That’s the reason why guitar players love the sound of amps like the Fender Bassman, and others derived from Fender’s 1950s classics like Marshalls. They love the distinctive distortion

That’s not the case with home audio equipment and likewise the stuff you want in your car. That gear is intended to be as much like the theoretical  ideal amplifier as possible. I’m quite sure that the Fender branded audio equipment that is being sold to OEM’s by Panasonic has fine distortion specs. CNET ranked the stereo in the VW Beetle Turbo as their personal favorite for 2011, saying it competed well with audiophile home equipment. I’m sure that Fender Premium Audio equipment very accurately reproduces “Fender’s distinctive sound” well. It may not make my ears bleed but it does make my head hurt.

The last election cycle in the United States brought forth the term “low information voter”. That’s made me think about low information consumers. There is, after all, a reason why Panasonic has hooked up with Fender. The Fender brand has recognition well beyond the relatively small community of electric guitar players and other folks familiar with guitar amps. I don’t begrudge Fender and Panasonic and VW and whoever else decides to spec Fender Premium Audio in their cars the right to exploit that brand identification. I just think that they’re treating people like low information consumers and that most of Fender’s existing customers must laugh in derision when they hear about “Fender’s distinctive sound” when it comes to car audio. The fact that Panasonic and Fender think that the folks who make engineering and purchasing decisions at car companies are also low information consumers is noteworthy as well.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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Automotive Conspiracy Theories and Urban Legends http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/automotive-conspiracy-theories-and-urban-legends/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/automotive-conspiracy-theories-and-urban-legends/#comments Fri, 22 Mar 2013 13:52:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=481965

Is there something about cars and car companies that make people tend to believe that there are all sorts of conspiracies keeping us from driving the car of all our dreams? I ask the question because I can think of at least a half dozen urban legends, conspiratorial glosses put on actual events, and outright conspiracy fantasies that are or have been popular among car enthusiasts and the general public.

I suppose the grandaddy of them all is the 200 mile per gallon carburetor but there are many others. The EV equivalent to the Fish carb would be Nikola Tesla’s radio wave powered experimental Pierce Arrow. The theorists tell us that were it not for the car companies buying up patents to keep those technologies away from their competitors, we’d have access to those technologies. Somehow the idea that the owners of that intellectual property would exploit it for commercial and competitive purposes seems to be lost on those that believe these tall tales. In some versions, of course, it’s the nefarious oil companies that are suppressing technologies that would threaten their profits.

A related conspiracy theory has to do with John D. Rockefeller and Prohibition. Rockefeller was in the petroleum business, first making a fortune selling kerosene, which was used for lighting. When Edison, Westinghouse, Steinmetz and Tesla made it possible for electricity to be used for power and lighting, Rockefeller, looking for a use for a toxic and almost explosive refinery byproduct he’d been throwing out, started to encourage its use as a fuel, converting the stationary powerplants in his refineries from steam to gasoline and, according to some historical sources, subsidizing the sale of gasoline engines to farmers, who were a primary market for stationary engines, to run farm equipment.

Now the above paragraph is historically reliable, at least to my own satisfaction. However, it took me a while to get the information. You see, when I started to enter [Rockefeller, gasoline engines] into a search engine, the first two pages of results were almost all about how John D. Rockefeller was the head of a conspiracy that led to the United States adopting Prohibition. It seems, according to the conspiracy theories, that Rockefeller put his money behind prohibiting drinking alcohol because he wanted to suppress ethanol as a fuel, which could, theoretically, compete with gasoline.

Another quasi conspiracy theory also involves gasoline and alcohol. It’s related to General Motors’ and DuPont’s development of tetra-ethyl lead as a gasoline additive to prevent pre-ignition knocking and allow the use of more powerful higher compression engines. In the late teens and early 1920s, before the large oil deposits in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Mideast were discovered, there were concerns about running out of petroleum. “Peak oil” is not a new concept. Casting about for alternative fuels GM’s Charles Kettering started looking into gasoline/ethanol blends, which can have reduced octane due to phase separation and the ethanol absorbing water, so they started looking into ways of boosting octane. GM and the DuPont chemical company were joined at the hip for much of the 20th century and a joint research project ended up with the development of leaded gasoline. In the meantime, new petroleum deposits were discovered and tetra-ethyl lead ended up as an octane booster for gasoline. Where the conspiracy theories start is at just how much GM and DuPont suppressed information about the dangers of leaded gas.

So there is some basis in fact for some of the conspiracies, but then the Talmud teaches that no lie can be believable without some grain of fact. Failed EV entrepreneur Ed Ramirez has claimed for decades that his Amectran EXAR-1 was foiled by a conspiracy at the Environmental Protection Agency. I happen to think that Ramirez started believing his own PR, but the idea that a bureaucrat or government agency might kill a promising technology is not that far fetched. When the then young EPA started a program to encourage new clean air technologies, hybrid car pioneer Victor Wouk’s hybrid 1973 Oldsmobile Cutless showed great promise and met all the test criteria that the EPA demanded, but the project was indeed killed by EPA administrator Eric Stork.

Getting back to General Motors, not only did they supposedly conspire to give us all lead poisoning, but the big automaker also allegedly conspired to eliminate environmentally sensitive electric streetcars, so they could make money selling polluting city buses.

Sometimes the conspiracies just percolate in the public mind. Other times they get a boost from Hollywood. Lots of car companies have failed. You don’t need a conspiracy to have the cards stacked against a startup car company. Literally thousands of car companies have gone belly up, and Preston Tucker’s business plan had some big holes in it, so the Tucker company’s failure was no surprise. According to some Tucker faithful, and amplified by Francis Ford Copolla’s film, though, Tucker didn’t fail because he bit off way more than he could chew, with a car that had to be developed on the fly, he failed because the Big 3 got Washington to go after him for securities fraud.

So what automotive conspiracy theories have you heard, and which of them do you believe? Being a Learned Elder of Zion I’m a bit allergic to conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists in general, but you can try to convince me.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

 

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Revived Detroit Electric Brand to Open HQ in Detroit and Sell Electrified Exiges http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/revived-detroit-electric-brand-to-open-hq-in-detroit-and-sell-electrified-exiges/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/revived-detroit-electric-brand-to-open-hq-in-detroit-and-sell-electrified-exiges/#comments Tue, 19 Mar 2013 21:57:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=481737

Until the modern day revival of electric vehicles like the Teslas, Nissan’s Leaf or the Chevy Volt, the best selling electric car ever was the Detroit Electric, produced by the Anderson Carriage company from 1907 to 1939. They sold thousands of them (1914 was the high water mark with ~4,500 produced). Among the people who drove Detroit Electrics were electricity pioneers Thomas Edison and Charles Steinmetz and the wives of automotive industrialists  Henry Ford and Henry Joy (he ran Packard). Interestingly, John D. Rockefeller, who made his enormous fortune from petroleum products like gasoline, owned a pair of Detroit Electric Model 46 Roadsters. Now, not only has the electric car industry been revived, but also the Detroit Electric company, which says it will start producing battery electric sports cars in a Michigan facility by the end of this summer. Following Tesla’s example, their first car will be based on a Lotus, in this case an Exige coupe, and the company promises two other “high performance” models in 2014.

Teaser of the Lotus Exige based Detroit Electric sports car

Using a Lotus glider as the basis of an EV, as mentioned, isn’t a particularly original idea. Besides the Tesla Roadster if you remember, before their bankruptcy, Chrysler showed a raft of electric powered concept cars including the Circuit EV based on the Elise derived Europa. With aluminum superstructures and composite bodies, Lotus cars are light enough to still have good performance after being fitted with heavy electric battery packs. The choice of the Exige is an interesting one since that car is not sold in the United States – apparently because of a regulatory issue with its airbags. Perhaps Detroit Electric’s chairman and CEO, Albert Lam, who used to run Lotus, will use his connections with the British firm to get the gliders federalized.

John D. Rockefeller had two Detroit Electric Model 46 Roadsters, like this one for sale at RM’s 2012 St. John’s auction

In addition to announcing that Detroit Electric is going to be more than just a placeholding website that’s been around since Lam acquired the rights to the brand and logo in 2008, the company has signed a lease for its headquarters to be located in Detroit’s historic and automotively connected Fisher Building. The new car will have a press launch in Detroit early next month, followed by a global reveal at the Shanghai auto show later in April. In addition to signing the lease on their HQ, Detroit Electric has selected what they call a “dedicated production facility” in Michigan that will have an annual capacity of 2,500 cars a year. Since they’re working with the quasi-governmental Michigan Economic Development Corporation, most likely it will be a facility that has formerly been used to build relatively short production runs of specialty cars. My WAG would be either the facility in Troy where Saleen did final assembly of the Ford GTs, or the former GM Lansing Craft Centre that built the Chevy SSR. Between the offices in Detroit and the production plant, Detroit Electric hopes to create 180 new jobs in Michigan over the next year.

Detroit Electric logo on the aluminum running board of Helen Newberry Joy’s 1914 Detroit Electric. Note the broken shoe scraper.

Apparently that production facility will not be owned by Detroit Electric. Before working at Lotus, Lam’s resume includes stints in Asia with Apple and Sun Microsystems, and Detroit Electric will be following an “asset light” business model, focusing on R&D and marketing and jobbing out production.

When the new Detroit Electric sports car is first revealed next month we’ll have coverage of the event. Press release here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Renault and French Unions Agree: No Plant Closures, 7,500 Jobs Cut http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/renault-and-french-unions-agree-no-plant-closures-7500-jobs-cut/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/renault-and-french-unions-agree-no-plant-closures-7500-jobs-cut/#comments Thu, 14 Mar 2013 18:56:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=481293 Renault photo

In what Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn described as a “historic” event, the automaker has come to an agreement with the three unions representing its French workers that will keep five Renault factories in France running until at least 2016 while using attrition and retirements to reduce their workforce by 7,500 employees.

To keep all of the company’s French assembly plants open, the unions,  Force Ouvriere, CFE-CGC and CFDT, appear to have agreed to what amounts to a wage cut, at least to begin with. There is a salary freeze for the first year of the agreement, but workers will have to put in 6.5% more hours in their workweek and increase production by a third. It’s interesting that Ghosn got the French unions to agree to a longer workweek not long after the recent dust up between Titan tire CEO Maurice Taylor and French finance minister Arnaud Montebourg over how lazy or productive French workers are or aren’t.

Ghosn said that the contract is a “balanced agreement” and will allow Renault to “renew its competitiveness in France”. The agreement follows a pattern set earlier between Renault and Spanish unions, pressuring its French workers. Ghosn is using a different strategy to cope with the problem overcapacity in a stagnant European car market than other automakers. Ford, PSA and Opel have all announced planned factory closings. The Wall Street Journal reports that there are as many as 20 auto assembly facilities in western Europe that are running at less than 50% capacity. Ghosn’s plan is apparently to boost productivity and lower the company’s break-even point with its French operations. The company says that the increase in working hours will lower costs by an average of €300 ($390) a car. I guess Renault is dealing with the overcapacity situation by actually using more of that capacity. Before the global financial crisis, Renault assembled 1.2 million cars in France in 2007.  That figure dropped to 532,000 for 2012. The company says that planned production of 710,000 cars in France by 2016 will improve utilization to 85% of capacity.

Some of that increased production will involve building 80,000 Nissans a year for Renault’s strategic partner. Though Ghosn predicted that a “promising” line of new cars will change Renault’s fortunes on the continent, since he only recently said that the European market won’t experience any growth for years, I think that making cars for Nissan and Renaults for export is going to be what that increased production is for. Renault’s international sales have indeed been up and despite the doldrums in Europe, Renault did make $2.3 billion in profits for 2012. At home, though, things aren’t good. Overall car sales in France in 2012 were down 14% and in the European market in general, Renault has not been competitive. Last year Renault lost more than a percentage point of market share in Europe as its sales fell 19% in that region.

Ghosn may not have a choice about lowering per-car assembly costs. His competitors have been waging a price war as they lower prices in their own way of keeping assembly lines running and capacity utilization high.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

 

 

 

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Are Graphene Micro-Supercapacitors An EV Gamechanger? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/are-graphene-micro-supercapacitors-an-ev-gamechanger/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/are-graphene-micro-supercapacitors-an-ev-gamechanger/#comments Mon, 25 Feb 2013 13:30:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478801 Micro-supercapacitor-prv UCLA Photo

Energy density isn’t the only reason why battery-powered cars have never caught on. As was highlighted in Tesla’s somewhat less than successful media road trip, the amount of time it takes to fill batteries with electrons can be as significant a factor in the practicality of EVs as the amount of electrons those batteries can hold.

That’s one of the reasons why high power capacitors, also known as supercapacitors or ultracapacitors, have held promise – caps can charge and discharge very quickly. That promise, though, has been held back by the old bugaboo of energy density. Capacitors unfortunately have limited capacity. Researchers at UCLA who had previously announced the almost accidental discovery of a simple and inexpensive method of creating graphene sheets, which have ideal properties for fabricating ultracapacitors, have now published the results of their further research, demonstrating a scalable process for fabricating flexible graphene micro-supercapacitors that have some of the highest energy densities achieved yet for such capacitors.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

The team, led by Richard Kaner, is developing the devices out of one of those fortuitous discoveries that expands the frontiers of science, like penicillin or nylon. Maher El-Kady, of Kaner’s lab, had invented an elegantly simple and inexpensive method of making graphene, a single atom thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in that hexagonal latice that C loves so well. He poured out a layer of graphite oxide solution on a plastic substrate and then exposed it to laser light. The process wasn’t the most clever thing about El-Kaner’s discovery, it was the equipment that he used. El-Kaner’s substrates were DVDs and he used a standard consumer grade LightScribe DVD burner for the laser. Refining the process, the team has now figured out a way to embed electrodes into the graphene, which is formulated over a flexible film, and they claim energy density comparable to current thin-film lithium ion batteries.

Often “scalable” means scaling up, but Kaner and El-Kady discovered that scaling down has advantanges. Miniaturizing the devices enhances charge storage capacity and charge/discharge rate and it also allowed them to produce more than 100 micro-supercapacitors on a single disc in 30 min or less. The flexible substrate allows for packaging options and the size means that they can be mounted on the back of solar cells or other chips.

As is always the case with potential energy gamechangers, the research team is looking for partners to produce their invention in industrial quantities. While the initial applications will likely not be for transportation, any development concerning electrical storage that combines enhanced energy density, faster charge/discharge rates, and lightweight miniaturization is bound to attract attention from the EV crowd.

UCLA press release here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Jeep Compass’ Segment-Leading Capability vs Jeep Patriot’s Segment-Leading Capability http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/jeep-compass-segment-leading-capability-vs-jeep-patriots-segment-leading-capability/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/jeep-compass-segment-leading-capability-vs-jeep-patriots-segment-leading-capability/#comments Sat, 23 Feb 2013 12:02:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478651 2014 Jeep Compass Limited Chrysler Photo

The decision by former Chrysler design chief Trevor Creed, approved by the company’s product planners and subsequently reaffirmed by Sergio Marchionne and his team of Fiat managers, to produce two compact Jeep SUVs, the Compass and the Patriot, has always confused me. Why spend money developing two different cars based on the same platform for the same market segment? Wouldn’t it make more sense to make one good car instead of two not quite as good cars?

Of course in the corporate mind at Chrysler, the Compass and the Patriot were not really supposed to compete with each other. The Patriot was supposed to be a compact Jeep for traditional Jeep owners, with styling derived from the XJ Cherokee. The Compass was supposed to be the compact Jeep for women people who’d never consider buying a Jeep. It had rounder, softer shapes, and was the first Jeep to be sold that could not be bought in a configuration that would earn it Jeep’s coveted “Trail Rated” branding.

2014 Jeep Patriot Chrysler Photo

Both Jeeplets have gotten their poorly received original interiors upgraded as Chrysler has renewed its product line coming out of its bankruptcy and just last month at the 2013 NAIAS Chrysler introduced the restyled 2014 Compass, touting it as “the Most Capable Compact SUV” having “Segment-leading capability”. So where does that leave the Patriot? I guess the product planners and marketers in Auburn Hills are slicing the marketing segment salami paper thin because at the same time that Chrysler was publishing the press release about the new Compass, it was also releasing one about the 2014 Jeep Patriot, with “Benchmark Compact-SUV Capability” with “Segment-leading capability”.

Does that mean that the Compass is more “capable” than the Patriot? Is the Patriot the “benchmark” for the Compass? And just which segments are each of them leading. Both cars feature a new six-speed automatic, both cars are now available with Jeep’s Freedom Drive I 4×4 package and both can be equipped in Trail Rated form with Jeep’s Freedom Drive II 4×4 Off-road Package. The Compass’ original raison d’etre was selling Jeeps to people that would never take them off pavement. Now that both cars are equally capable, and segment-leading capable at that, what’s the point of selling both of them? Sergio’s no dummy so selling both cars may make more money than just one of them, but I still can’t help but think what a Patriot with twice the development money behind it would be like.

Ya think there’s some cutting and pasting going on in Auburn Hills?Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Save This 1969 Checker Aerobus From Getting Made Into Chinese Washing Machines http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/save-this-1969-checker-aerobus-from-getting-made-into-chinese-washing-machines/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/save-this-1969-checker-aerobus-from-getting-made-into-chinese-washing-machines/#comments Mon, 18 Feb 2013 13:00:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=477926

I like unusual cars. I’ll walk right past a half dozen ’57 Chevys and ’69 Camaros to see a single 1961 Rambler American. The Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti is penciled in as an annual stop for me. From that info you can probably figure out that I dig Checker cars. If a Checker is unusual, then a Checker Aerobus is unusual squared . The Aerobus, as the name implies, was typically used as an *airport shuttle and came in seven and nine door wagon body styles (and 8 door sedans in 1976-77). Essentially it was an A8 Checker (taxis were A8s, retail models were Marathons) with a special double reinforced long wheelbase frame and extra doors. When I saw that one was listed locally on Craigslist, I had to check it out, or at least make a preliminary phone call.

Apparently it’s most recent use was as a promotional vehicle / billboard for an establishment named “Checkers” and the Aerobus is skinned in a checkerboard pattern. With no working drivetrain, it’s being offered as an $800 “parts car”. Of course one person’s parts car is another person’s restoration candidate.

The ad said that the interior was good, and I figured that if the body was anywhere near sound, at a near 24 Hrs of LeMons claiming price, it might be worth getting on the road, or at least salvaging as an artifact. Since Checker used an assortment of Chrysler, Continental and Chevrolet engines over the 3 decades that they made the A8/Marathon, a small block Chevy and Turbo Hydramatic drivetrain would be a relatively inexpensive no-brainer.

So I called the number listed in the Craigs ad. I asked him one question, “how bad is the rust?” His answer was kind of scary. Apparently the door frames are rusted out. He didn’t say just how badly, but I got the impression that some of the many, many doors might fall off if they were unlatched. Still, in the photos in the ad the doors seem to be sitting more or less straight. How bad could it be? Surely it could be shored up with some creative welding.

Even if this Aerobus really is beyond repair, I’m hoping that some Checker enthusiast will see this post and buy the car as an actual parts car. I doubt Checker spent the money on unique doors for the Aerobus and I’m sure that those doors and  many of the other parts will indeed fit one of the shorter wheelbase Checkers. They belong on another Checker, not as part of another Chinese made appliance.

If you are interested in saving this historic artifact, and potentially beyond way cool cruisemobile, a word of caution about price. I first spotted the car when it was $900 and in talking with the seller about how firm his price is, it’s clear that any potential buyer would be competing with the price of scrap steel. The remark about Chinese appliances was no joke. A 9 door Aerobus wagon has a curb weight of over 5,300 lbs. At $250/ton for scrap steel, do the math.

Murilee’s Junkyard Finds often elicit “someone should save that car” comments. While Murilee has a fine eye for cool cars, many of those ‘restoration candidates’ are nowhere near as rare, or register anywhere near the coolness factor that any Checker has today, let alone a 9 door gazillion passenger Checker station wagon. Think of it. Enough room for the band, the roadies and a couple of groupies, plus cargo room for the amps. Though 1969 was the Aerobus’ highest production year, Checker still only made 436 of them that year, out of about 3,300 Aerobus wagons that were made in Checker’s Kalamazoo factory from 1962 to 1974. That’s not as rare as other notable depot hacks, the 1959 Cadillac Broadmoor Skyview station wagon, or the Miller-Meteor Oldsmobile Toronado based Jetway 707,  but it’s still uncommon. How many other cars have D pillars, let alone Es and Fs too? Checkers have an active enthusiast community and how can you not love a car that makes people smile? Save this Aerobus!

*Brochures touted the Aerobus as “for businesses, institutions, resorts, service firms, schools… even big families!”

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Plus ça Charge: Electric Touring http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/plus-ca-charge-electric-touring/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/plus-ca-charge-electric-touring/#comments Sat, 16 Feb 2013 20:59:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=477823

Note the date of publication is 1914, not 2013

While following the he said he said back and forth between the New York Time’s James Broder and Tesla’s Elon Musk, over Broder’s unsuccessful drive from New York to Boston in a Tesla Model S, it seemed to me that one important factor affecting consumer acceptance of EVs is being obscured by all the Sturm und Drang of the NYT and Musk both working this story for maximum bad publicity for their respectless enterprises. That factor, ironically, is why Tesla set up the media road trips in the first place, the fact that EVs will need a publicly accessible charging infrastructure if they are going to be seen as anything other than town cars. The Model S press trips from DC to Beantown were supposed to demonstrate Tesla’s expanding network of locations equipped with Tesla’s “Supercharger” quick charging stations.

That need for public charging stations has been obscured by other issues in the discussion of electric cars, which it seems to me have been focused more on range than anything else. Tesla is not unwise to create it’s own charging infrastructure for its customers because the simple fact is that if you could recharge an EV as quickly and as conveniently as you can refuel a gasoline or diesel powered vehicle, and if you could find a charging station within your EV’s range, range becomes more of a non issue. Let’s face it, how many owners of gasoline cars really consider range on a single tank of gas when buying a new car? As long as you can get ~300 miles between fill ups, the vast majority of car consumers don’t really care about range. Gas mileage yes, but I’d bet that total range is only important to a minority of gas/diesel drivers.

This is nothing new. Like 3D photography and movies, this is not the first go-round with EVs. Electric cars and were marketed more than a century ago, at the dawn of the automotive age and soon enough electric car companies, electric component makers, trade organizations, tire and battery companies, and publishers rushed in to help EV owners find a charge.

The EV side of the auto industry understood that drivers of EVs would need public charging facilities at the same time that it promoted electric cars as suitable for touring. The Electric Vehicle Association of America even published a charging station guide to the Lincoln Highway, America’s first attempt at a coast to coast road. Since the longest distance between charging stations was about 120 miles, well beyond the range of any contemporary electric car, it’s doubtful than any early electric automobilists completed the entire route, but the EV industry did what it could to dispel the image that electric cars could not be taken on long trips. Tesla is doing the same today.

The fact that the Electric Vehicle Association agreed on a standard charging plug that was used by most EV makers made things a little easier. In the photo above, the charging port on a 1922 Milburn Light Electric is being held open so you can see the terminals in the photo above. The photo below shows a similar charging port, though closed, on a 1914 Detroit Electric runabout.

By 1912, the Detroit Electric Car company, the most successful of the first wave of EV makers (it has only been in the past year that the Nissan Leaf surpassed the Detroit Electric as the most successful EV ever, in terms of total sales) had both standalone charging garages as well as combined sales branches and charging stations in Detroit, Manhattan, Chicago , Boston, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Cleveland, Evanston, Kansas City, and Minneapolis.

In 1914, the New York Electric Vehicle Association, in conjunction with Automobile Blue Books started publishing route guides for “electric touring”, that mapped the locations of charging stations and provided suggested touring routes.

The guide was updated, apparently annually. In an emergency, drivers of electric cars could get a charge from electric streetcar or trolley wiring – as this Tom Swift story relates.

While General Electric sold  mercury arc rectifier based residential chargers to EV owners, the majority of the more than 14,000 chargers that GE sold a century ago were sold to public facilities like hotels and parking garages.

The Exide battery company, perhaps the major EV battery maker in the early days of the automobile, set up its own storage and charging garage (many city dwellers didn’t have residential parking for their cars) and “battery depot” in New York City.

In addition to public charging facilities, taxicab companies that operated electric cabs set up their own charging garages and had chargers installed for their drivers’ use at hotels they serviced.

As was shown 100 years ago, broadscale consumer acceptance of electric cars needs a publicly accessible charging infrastructure. It’s unfortunate that the war of words between Mr. Musk and the New York Times is obscuring rather than illustrating that need.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Ken Lingenfelter: New LT1 Engine A Challenge for Tuners http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/ken-lingenfelter-new-lt1-engine-a-challenge-for-tuners/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/ken-lingenfelter-new-lt1-engine-a-challenge-for-tuners/#comments Mon, 11 Feb 2013 13:30:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=477084 Elteeone - photo courtesy of Cars In Depth

General Motors’ powertrain engineers have undoubtedly demonstrated with the LS family of V8 engines that pushrods still have a place in the 21st century. As successful and popular as the LS has been, I don’t think it’s much of stretch to assume that the new LT1 V8 in the all new seventh generation Corvette will eventually replace the LS engine in its various permutations and applications. The LT1, still a cam in block engine, and still with Ed Cole’s 4.40 inch bore centers, adds direct injection to the Small Block Chevy heritage. The LS family has also been popular as crate motors, used by customizers and high performance enthusiasts as well as with a small industry of companies that specialize in high performance GM products. While you can buy a LS from General Motors with up to 638 horsepower, if that just doesn’t satisfy your need for speed, companies like Callaway, Lingenfelter and Hennessey have shown that the LS engine’s basic architecture is capable of putting out almost twice that power. After talking with Ken Lingenfelter about the new Corvette, I wonder, though, just how tuner-friendly the new LT1 will be.

I ran into Lingenfelter in front of the Classic Car Club of America’s display at the Chicago Auto Show. Ken’s a noted collector of Corvettes and other performance cars who took over Lingenfelter Performance Engineering when his cousin, John, who started LPE, was killed in a car wreck. Ken’s a car guy’s car guy and I see him at tons of car events around the Detroit area, as an exhibitor, as a vendor and as an attendee.  A while back he graciously gave me access to shoot 3D photos and video of his collection. He was in Chicago to show some LPE massaged cars, including a very nicely done ’67ish StingRay body on a C6 Corvette chassis with Lingenfelter power, built by Karls Kustom Corvette .

Alex Dykes’ posted some nice pics of the cutaways at the Chicago Auto Show. They’re fine photographs but you haven’t seen cutaways until you’ve seen them in 3D. Talk about engine porn! To view in 3D without glasses, cross your eyes slightly so that your right eye is looking at the left image and vice versa. Then relax your eyes similar to when using a pair of binoculars, and a stable third, 3D image will fuse in the middle of the other two images. You might have to move closer or farther from the screen for the ideal distance

When I asked Lingenfelter if LPE has had a chance to work on the LT1 yet, he told me that GM’s been rather close to the vest with the new engine. He also said since the LT1 is the first time that GM has used direct injection in their V8 engine family, there’s going to be a learning curve for the tuners. One thing he said, though, may not bode well for 1,000+ HP LTs. Lingenfelter said that engines are designed with performance limits. Think of the way that Formula One used to use “hand grenade” qualifying engines, motors built to make crazy power but not last longer than a few laps. According to Lingenfelter, the production versions of the LS engine still leave a lot of room for performance improvement, they’re nowhere near the limits of the performance envelope. From what he’s learned about the new LT1, Lingenfelter fears that the motor, which has the highest specific output of any GM engine ever, 450 HP and 450 lb-ft of torque from 6.2 liters of displacement, may be closer to the limits of its performance envelope in production form than the LS. No doubt the LT1′s architecture can handle the 600 or 700 HP that the eventual ZR1 edition of the C7 will have, but 700 HP is commonplace in the LS tuning world and Lingenfelter is concerned that they may not be able to wring much more than that out of the new Corvette engine.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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