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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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