Electrical and Hybrid – Early Influencers

The first electric car was built in 1832 but it wasn’t very practical, the battery was hard to charge, the range wasn’t great, etc. Over the next 70 years the Netherlands, Eastern Europe, and the US attempted to improve on that early design.

Electric taxis began in 1899. Ford and Edison attempted to build their own electric car, but it didn’t go anywhere, so to speak. Given the popularity of steam-powered locomotives at that time, the popular opinion was that someone would invent a practical road version, which would become worldwide success. Weight and cost of fuel made steam forever impractical for road use, but you could see why most people could wrap their minds around that compared to an electric car.

Electric or Gas?

In the minds of potential car makers at the time it, the choice to use electric or gas was a much tighter race. It could have gone either way until the Model T arrived on the scene. Finding oil in Texas may also helped seal the fate of electric vehicles for more than 100 years. Bear in mind that for centuries we only used whale oil for lamps, heating, etc. The crude oil to gas innovation was a game changer, and with a domestic source, well, that seals the deal.

Infrastructure and Expansion

Because so many cars used gas it created a demand for gas stations. No one built a network of electric fill stations because the cost was inhibitive. This further pushed electric out of favor. As oil prices have climbed and fallen through the years the topic of electric fuel has resurged periodically. The obvious advantage of Electricity is that we can and already do generate it using whatever source is most cost effective locally.

The disadvantage of electricity is that it’s not cheap to generate many places and it creates more demand raises prices. In effect, when I drive more, I pay for the gas I use, but when I drive an EV everyone pays more for power to heat their home, etc.

Either way, the fact that there wasn’t a distribution network for EV’s continued to be a factor in Americans not adopting electricity as car fuel for more than 150 years. And considering that the power grid goes nearly everywhere in the US, it’s surprising that they only recently managed to cobble together an infrastructure for refueling electric vehicles.

What About Hybrids?

What about hybrids? For some reason cars tend to have only one source of power. It’s just how it’s always been so it seems normal to us but compared to boats where it’s common to have more than one power source you’d think someone would have created a hybrid earlier. It was not unusual for seacraft to have more than one type of power, say electric and gas powered, or wind with a gas engine.

Obviously, it would be difficult to create an engine that ran on diesel or gas. But using an electric engine for around town, then switching to gas for longer trips is an easy way to overcome the lack of range in EV’s.

The military is now exploring hybrids

One of the early adopters of the hybrid concept was the US military, such as the High Military Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle or Humvee, which is a kind of a cross between a truck and a tank. But in civilian terms this isn’t a “Hybrid” because the engine isn’t a hybrid, it’s more of a cross-over vehicle.

The military is interested in EVs and HEVs, likely because of the infrastructure issue discussed above aren’t as big a deal for the military. The US military frequently have to build infrastructure on the fly (think MASH units, mobile communications, and refueling stations). Therefore they’re better positioned to change large numbers of their vehicle pool to EVs or Hybrids.

For more on the other advantages to Ev’s and HEVs in the military see this article.

The EV1

In the 1990s, the EV1, was an experimental two-seater that car historians agree was ahead of its time. Most of them were recalled, some of them were even stripped by teams of engineering students. The majority of those which remain intact are in museums across the country. Its total horsepower was an adequate 137hp.

The EV1 ultimately suffered from a lack of demand. The first big mystery here is, why so many were produced if it was only a test concept. The second big mystery is why they were only made available by lease instead of directly sold to the public, and that only in certain markets. The third big mystery is why GM decided to gather them all back up after lease and crush them. Literally, crush them!

One possible explanation is that GM was trying to turn a concept car into a solution for a proposed California Zero Emission Law that eventually went away under pressure from American Automakers. Still, the prevailing theory among EV enthusiasts is that Big Oil had to play a roll in all this.

The Prius

The Prius was another early innovator regarding the later electric powered cars. A four-door sedan originally, it was considered to be the cleanest vehicle on the market in 2007, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. It is currently available in 90 countries, including Japan and the US. The newer models have hybrid in addition to all electric modes.

Honda Insight

The Honda Insight began as a two-door and achieved the heights of being the top selling car in Japan. In 2010 it was the most inexpensive hybrid on the market.

VW Custom Conversion

A VW Beetle was converted to run on both electric and gas by the students in Minnesota. It managed a maximum speed of 70 mph.

It seems as if the electric and hybrid revolution is well underway with new manufacturers like Tesla, Rivian, and Nikola, and with the Big Players like General Motors announcing their intents to make only electric cars in the near future. It’s the direction the world is heading.

Military Hybrids and EVs

The US military is interested in Electric powered vehicles (EVs) and Hybrid Gas/electric vehicles (HEVs). A common reason civilian adoption of EV has been slow is the cost of creating an infrastructure to fuel them. The time it takes to charge an electric vehicle is not conducive to just popping in to fuel up, as one does with a gas, diesel, or even propane. However, the infrastructure issue isn’t as big a deal for the military as they frequently have to build infrastructure on the fly (think MASH units, mobile communications, and refueling stations).

Advantages of vehicle that could be powered by more than one source like a hybrid are many. It would be flexible in longer campaigns, especially considering the use of regenerative braking, which allows the vehicle to recoup vehicle inertia back into potential energy by recharging the batteries. Another possible advantage is silent running, as electric motors don’t make very much noise.

Still another potential advantage for EV’s and HEV’s (Hybrid Electric Vehicles) would be modular design capability. This refers to the military’s recent passion for retrofitting equipment. When you spend up to a billion dollars each for certain vehicles it’s frustrating when they become obsolete quickly do to technological advances. The US military must remain cutting edge, but modular design allows them to avoid replacing their entire fleet every year. One example of would be the refit nose cones and tale parts that allow the Air Force to turn bombs originally designed to fall on enemy targets in WWII, into guided bombs able to steer toward a specific target. Only with modular design vehicles a single powertrain and suspension could be quickly refitted for use as an armored troop carrier, a tank, or a cargo transport.

However, the real advantage is the degree to which military vehicles already use increased electronics. With onboard radar guiding systems, satellite communications, electronic counter measure, and so on, adding a generation source is sort of a no-brainer.

The military seems hesitant to take the plunge on EVs and HEVs until the tech advances a little. Specifically, the battery life and overall vehicle range needs to improve. However, experts anticipate military EV’s and/or HEVs in the next five to seven years.

Link to more research.

Car and Bubbles

Messerschmitt

When we talk about “bubble cars” we tend to refer to types of micro-cars (being a car with a 700cc engine or less) with a spherical shape. They have no reverse gear meaning they can only turn to navigate a small space. It’s very easy to get them stuck in a small space.

They were mainly produced in Europe and used canopies of aircraft such as Messerschmitt and Isetta, the Messerschmitt production being focused on Germany.

The Isetta is one of the few bubble cars which crossed the Atlantic, if only in places such as Argentina and Brazil. It had both rear wheel engine and rear wheel drive, its front consisted of the door for entry; no hood, radiator, or anything you tend to associate with a vehicle. Despite its small shape it was based on the design for a van.

Rehabbed Isetta

Because of its micro size it is still the ideal car to improve and you can still buy original parts through the BMW website.

Isetta originated in Italy through Iso before being taken over by other companies, such as Iso. This type of vehicle had four gears and a reverse, so it was an improvement on the Messerschmitt. You could also escape through the sunroof if you were completely boxed in.

The Isetta has had its imitators, the company Zetta created its own Isetta lookalike, consisting of a motorbike engine and manual transmission. Bubble cars are a gift for the hobbyist mechanic and as you can imagine companies enjoyed cashing in on this.

1960 BMW Isetta

Rust especially affects such vehicles, which makes it harder to read chassis numbers and so on. This means it’s even harder to find the correct part. Indeed, it’s always a good idea to deal with rust whatever car you have.

Related slightly to the bubble cars was the UK produced Peel car – one of the smallest cars ever produced. Unlike the Isetta they don’t have to be factory built, you can choose to build them yourselves, also it has three wheels, rather than four. It’s not quite a bubble, its design is a squarish cube above a more rounded shape.

Peel

The top speed of these vehicles varied, the Turbo reached 50 MPH. The Tridents look more bubbly in shape and run on electric motors. Again, production was sadly short-lived, designed for tiny roads not huge freeways. 

There could be something about bubbles which makes for niche cars, such as the bubble top car. The Forcasta, not a micro car by the way but a full-size one, was a modified version of the Cadillac and it isn’t helped by the psychedelic upholstery which can be seen under the sphere.

Another change was now the front half could be raised by hydraulics. As with many modifications it was evidently made by someone who was a fan of the car but felt it was too factory-built. It is a shame that other cars didn’t have the Forcasta treatment, but there may have been economic reasons why not.

Beijing Bubble

Even China has a bubble car although we don’t know much at this moment, beyond that it costs about $750 equivalent, it’s top speed is 30 MPH and a range of 60 miles.

The next question one might ask is…will there be a future for the bubbles? Several people seem to have taking up the call by blending the old idea of the bubble with the newer idea of EVs. Seen below is a possible bubble of the future.

Autonomous Cars vs Driver Assistance in 2021

Op-Ed by Wimsett and A.R. Bunch

Swiss Semi-Autonomous Street Car

People are worried about sharing the road with autonomous cars, although there is a race by the car companies to create a level 5…

Level 5?

Every car has a level of autonomy. Level 5 is the highest.

Here is this list in full:

Level 0: This is a regular car with no autonomous features. The driver is in full capability – and full liability – of the car.

Level 1: Only one task is done autonomously, whether it is braking or so on. Otherwise the driver needs to be in charge. Presumably if anything goes wrong with the one thing being done autonomously, you need to take that over too.

Level 2: This car can handle more than one task, for example driver assist, braking and so on. This is being carried out by the big names such as Cadillac and Tesla. Unfortunately, it still isn’t considered self-driving as such, you need human intervention.

Level 3: This type of vehicle can only be driven autonomously if the conditions are correct. In emergencies, the car needs to switch to a regular car. Only the Audi A8 currently fits this description in the US.

Level 4: These show a massive difference from Level 3, they don’t require a driver. These at the moment cannot be purchased, they can’t drive in bad weather or at high speeds.

Level 5: Fully autonomous car and cannot switch off even for emergencies.

This technology relies on a number of sensors, but they need to be thorough. As hinted above there is a whole range of outside variables such as weather, traffic, road layout and so on. Either radar or laser can be used. But it is needs to be better in order to work on US roads.

The whole idea of autonomous cars is that comprehensive self-driving removes all the “driver error” but what of computer error? The theory is that even if a particular driver was able to outperform a computer driver, if every car on the road were computer driven, we’d have fewer accidents. The bad drivers wouldn’t be wracking up wrecks and the computers would learn to avoid each other by driving in a predictable manor.

Right now, at level 1, 2, and 3 the most effective use of autonomous driving capability is to reduce driver fatigue. In a way, these systems are just sophisticated versions of cruise control. Driver assists like emergency breaking, etc. aren’t controversial and don’t require a huge outlay of federal highway dollars to build infrastructure in order to enable them to operate “autonomously.” So how long before we’re banned from driving our own cars? Maybe we at the kicker will hazard a guess when car makers actually create the first level 5 car.

80’s Cars vs Todays Cars

From the UK desk

In the 80s a number of station wagon were introduced and before the introduction of Coupes and Sedans. The number of strikes in the 80s meant it was a tough time for car factories.

A car which had the power of the Acura is unknown these days. In the late 80s they were considered pretty cool with 118 hp.

The Audi Quattro was truly iconic with five turbocharged cylinders. These hatchbacks took the world rallies by storm. Sadly, not many of them made their way across to the US; most of the cars were rather neutral in comparison. Despite some strong contenders’ acceleration wasn’t as good as today’s vehicles.

Vehicle that did make it across the pond include the Pontiac Firebird and the Ford Mustang GT. The price however has fallen down in recent years due to lack of parts. Who’d have thought red convertibles would go out of style, but everything has its period of glory.

As Chrysler merged with Maserati the Chrysler TC was born. The Chrysler company has created a number of improved vehicles since. They did have a 5-year warranty, including maintenance. In 1987 Chrysler purchased another big player: AMC.

Look at the Dodge Daytona with its dipping headlights. Again, the lack of horsepower let it down.

Although these cars may not yet be known as classic, they show their age.

You could adapt these cars to get a better horsepower but then you’d lose something of the essential flavor of these vehicles.

Too Many Cars or Too Few?

Op-Ed by P. Wimsett and A.R. Bunch

Obviously, there is political pressure discouraging everyone from driving their cars, but is it really going to work? Has it already worked? Or is the answer to simply make cars more environmentally friendly? Do the powers that be want us to buy more cars or less? These are some of the questions we’ll look at today.

Carbon emission problems are discouraging folks from driving yet the need for domestic manufacturing jobs means it shouldn’t affect people’s car buying habits. The answer could be electric cars—that seems to be what car manufacturers are planning to do in response to the situation. The environment seems to be leading car production decisions.

Gridlock & Congestion

One issue with simply reducing vehicle carbon emissions is that it doesn’t eliminate gridlock. Unlike traffic jams, which result from accidents or construction, gridlock is that annoying traffic slowdown created by having too many commuters on the road at the same time. Gridlock is named for the grid pattern of city streets where efforts to coordinate traffic flow breaks down when capacity is reached. Clearly, your city doesn’t need a good grid-like layout in order to have gridlock—London and Rome manage to lockup pretty well and their streets meander about in every direction, seemingly at random.

People dislike gridlock but it doesn’t seem to detour them from going out at the prime times of the day when everyone else wants to go out–commuters for instance. Most people start and end work about same time as each other, which creates high demand. The laws of fluid dynamics come into play and suddenly congestion slows you down.

We reference fluid dynamics because that’s truly what governs traffic flow. It’s worth noting that gridlock and congestion don’t occur when traffic stops, they’re already happening when traffic goes under the posted speed. The simple act of having too much traffic causes the roadways to reduce capacity for throughput. Think of it in terms of supply and demand. Since supply can’t increase to meet demand, the price goes up. What are we paying the price with? Not dollars but time. Time is more precious than gold because when it’s spent, it’s gone forever.

Avoiding Gridlock

If you avoid the busy periods like rush hours you can avoid some of the gridlock.

Another way is to use public transport, although it cannot go exactly where the commuter wants to go and runs on it’s own schedule, and let’s face it, services are often delayed or interrupted. Even a gridlocked road may get you to your place of work quicker than public transport. So if you have a problem paying a lot of time to gridlock you may pay just as much for mass transit.

Peak Car

Traffic seems to be shrinking since 2007, also known as “peak car.” (Peak Car is a term that came from Peak Oil, or the theory that oil will become too hard to pull out of the ground, and at some point, no longer be cost effective.)

We know empirically that there are fewer cars on the roads because traffic cameras count the number of cars on high volume roads. But why? The population as a whole has continued to grow.

One possibility is demand reduction people are moving out of cities to rural places that don’t suffer congestion. We’ll return to demand in a minute. Another possible reason would be people using mass transit, but we also know the ridership levels and while they’re on the rise it’s not enough to account for reduced traffic.

Car Prices

The key way to tell if we’re truly diving less or if it just people not using high traffic roads (where they’d get counted), is if people are buying fewer cars. If we really had a peak car situation then you’d see people avoiding new cars in favor of cheap and plentiful used cars. And that has been a trend since 2016.

But as with everything in this article, Peak Car isn’t the only explanation for people buying used over new. As cars become too expensive, drivers are opting to share a vehicle or find an alternate way to get to work. It especially affects the supercar market but even names like General Motors are decreasing in new car sales.

Automakers are trying to respond to car prices by including high class extras, but the customer still needs to be able to afford these extras. Another possible way to counter the “too expensive” issue some auto makers are trying is to make cars less luxurious, cutting corners but not compromising safety.

This may be linked to the bad economy and people using public transit; however, affordability might not be the reason new car sales are down.

Demand Issues

There are demand issues. The baby-boomers are starting to not be able to drive. More people are working from home and the unemployed don’t need to commute to work. The digital age means people don’t need to drive to go shopping.

A big reason both road use and car buying are down is that millennials just don’t seem to want to buy cars, or even get a licence. In 2008 less than half of eligible drivers had a license when in 1998 two thirds of the population used did.

Is the car no longer a status symbol? It seems to be the case with young people and the trend continues: 26% of US 16 years old had a license in 2017. However, many Americans love having a car, even millennials. Vehicle registrations did go up in 2018.

There are a number of factors which affect car buying, not just finances. Some people think the reduction of cars is cyclical; others think it may be more permanent. This is why e-scooters, e-bikes and mini-motos are trying to gain a foothold.

“Research and forecast firms Cox Automotive, Edmunds and J.D. Power/LMC Automotive expect sales declined about 1% last year to roughly 17 million vehicles compared with 2018. Such results are considered healthy but would mark the lowest sales since 16.5 million vehicles in 2014.”

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/02/americans-bought-fewer-new-vehicles-in-2019-but-spending-to-hit-record.html

Despite research into this field, no one exactly knows what the future holds regarding the car economy.

The Future of Commuting Based on Current Trends:

The way things are going seems to be moving towards self-driving technology and electronic technology and we are moving into SUV, crossovers, and trucks. The kind of car to get away from the crowd, not the urban dweller.

What about taxis and Ubers? 95% of all trips will be made by taxis by 2030. This could be a piece of the answer, if not the whole, no matter what forces are driving the problem. It resolves the gridlock issue and affordability issue, and even the environmental issue. People are using Uber and Lyft – $20,000 a year and many people feel they won’t go back to a private car. Didi, a Chinese version of this kind of service took 10 million.

When we combine the trend toward larger off road vehicle purchases with the increase in rideshare usage the trend is easy to predict—people in cities will increasingly avoid owning a car and people in rural areas will insist on having them so they can “get away.”