Interesting and odd points of the automotive industry, both present and past. Interesting, because there often overlooked. Odd, mostly because there ours.


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A Brief Look Back So That We Can Look Forward

This is actually a copy of a rather old press release from October of 2008.  In fact some of you may already know about Mazda’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility and have seen the RX-8 Hydrogen RE.

The reason I wanted to revisit this article in its entirety is because the momentum behind the green movement, and its effect on the automotive industry, is starting to show signs of not only picking up momentum, but accelerating toward a greener future.  We may see the infrastructure and availability necessary to support the Eco-Cars of the future alot sooner than anyone ever expected.

In fact, for the entire month of August I plan to focus on a few key developments in the industry.  They showcase clear plans in place for a new automotive industry, centered on responsible motoring, that will be a reality in just a few years.  For now thou enjoy a spark from that flame:

HIROSHIMA, Japan—Mazda Motor Corporation today introduced the Mazda RX-8 Hydrogen RE (Rotary Engine) vehicle to Norway’s public roads in collaboration with the Norwegian national hydrogen project, HyNor. Initially, the RX-8 Hydrogen RE’s driving performance on Norwegian roads will be validated with a single vehicle, which will also be shown at various events. This marks the first time that a Mazda hydrogen rotary vehicle has been put into regular use on public roads outside Japan.

Mazda signed a memorandum of understanding with HyNor (Hydrogen Road of Norway) to participate in the project in November 2007. HyNor is a national project in the Kingdom of Norway that aims to establish a clean energy transport system based on hydrogen fuel. Beginning in fiscal year 2009, Mazda will provide approximately 30 RX-8 Hydrogen RE vehicles for the HyNor project under commercial lease contracts.

 

RX-8 Hydrogen RE handover ceremony

 

The RX-8 Hydrogen RE validation vehicle is being delivered in advance so that Mazda and HyNor can jointly assess its driving performance in Norway. It will also be exhibited at environmental and other events for potential customers who are interested in leasing a hydrogen vehicle.

“Up to now, real world use of Mazda’s hydrogen rotary vehicles has been limited to Japan. Participation in the HyNor project marks our advancement to the next stage,” says Akihiro Kashiwagi, Mazda’s program manager in charge of hydrogen RE development. “After we validate the first vehicle on Norwegian roads, we intend to deliver 30 more units under commercial lease contracts. We are pleased to be a part of the establishment of a society based on hydrogen energy in Norway. Mazda plans to use the wealth of data and experience that will result from this project for the further development of hydrogen vehicles.”

HyNor is a unique Norwegian initiative to demonstrate the implementation of a hydrogen energy infrastructure along a 580 kilometer route from Oslo to Stavanger in Norway. Hydrogen filling stations are being established along this transport corridor to enable refueling of hydrogen vehicles. The project aims to revolutionize transportation in Norway by encompassing buses, taxis and private cars, and varying types of transport systems, including urban, inter-city, regional and even long-distance transport. In August 2006, Mazda attended the ceremony to commemorate the opening of Norway’s first hydrogen filling station constructed by HyNor. This was also where the first on-road demonstration of a RX-8 Hydrogen RE vehicle outside of Japan took place. Since April 2006, Mazda has delivered eight RX-8 Hydrogen RE vehicles to government bodies and enterprises in Japan under commercial lease contracts.

Mazda Hydrogen Technologies: http://www.mazda.com/csr/special_features/env/01-06-03.html

I highly encourage you to check out Mazda’s commitment to CSR: http://www.mazda.com/csr/

BMW to Exit Formula One at End of 2009 Season

In 1980, BMW announced entry into Formula One racing as an engine supplier. In 1991, a joint talent promotion campaign by BMW and ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil Club) allowed Formula One drivers like Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Timo Glock, Adrian Sutil, Ralf Schumacher and Christian Klien to learn the basics of Formula Racing. Then BMW scored ten victories when it Joined Williams F1 in the 2000 season. In the middle of 2005, BMW acquired the Swiss team Sauber, took to the starting grid, and collected a total of 19 Grand Prix wins. By 2008, the new BMW Sauber F1 Team had established itself as one of the top three teams.

Now BMW is putting a close to yet another chapter in its motor sports history. In a press conference on July 29th, BMW Group announced that they have decided to pull out of Formula One at the end of the 2009 season; dedicating these resources to the development of new drive technologies and projects in the field of sustainability.

The BMW Group is rolling out that strategy in all areas within the BMW Group. “In addition, we initiated an internal change process that goes hand in hand with a new mindset throughout our workforce.” says Norbert Reithofer, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG. C02 and other emission requirements standards in the UK continue to be reduced. However sportiness and dynamics remain key attributes of all BMW models, albeit paired with responsibility. Being the world’s leading premium car-company in the automotive industry, Reithofer says, “We believe that this demands accountability.”, and is convinced that they must remain a positive role model within our society.

Reithofer continues:

In line with our Strategy Number ONE, we are continually reviewing all projects and initiatives to check them for future viability and sustainability. We made this clear with the initial announcement of our Strategy Number ONE. And, naturally, this also includes motor sports. And I have always been clear about my position on making tough decisions that will help ensure the BMW Group’s success over the long run. As our company places stronger focus on sustainability initiatives, our participation in Formula One becomes less a key promoter of this engagement. It goes without saying that this step was very difficult for us – as well as for me personally. On behalf of the entire Board of Management, I would like to express our immense gratitude to Mario Theissen for his commitment and successes. Everyone knows that the BMW brand embodies sportiness with sheer driving pleasure. Sportiness and fair competition are firmly encoded in our DNA. This is why we will remain loyal to motor sports. But we will do this in series that enable us to transfer technology more directly and to realize additional synergies, while strengthening our brand values. This is in our customers’ best interest. As a company, we are making a paradigm shift based on our Strategy Number ONE. We are setting new priorities in an ever-changing environment.

Having had great success in touring car, sports car, rally and Formula Two racing, BMW reports they will continue participation in the Formula BMW, Touring Car, ALMS and endurance races as well as their increasing activity in close-to-production customer sports and the Super Bike World Championship.

UK to use Lexus IS-F Cruisers to lineup

Want to discourage high speed police chases and at the same time set turn heads with your slick styling? Look no further than the UK who has replaced their AWD Impreza Police Fleet with brand new IS-F cruisers. Nothing like looking into your rear view to see the law in a 416HP V8 monster on your tail. Pull over your not going anywhere.

FD RX-7 Rant

I happened to be perusing one of my new favorite websites nextautos.com and came across an article for the 93 RX-7 that claimed it may be the greatest sports car of all time. I personally agree. The pixels weren’t even dry however before the reliability card was pulled. This being a sore spot of mine I had to chime in. Read my response below…

Let me dispel those reliability fears right now.

Its true the vast majority of examples belonging to the dead 7s society do so because of blown water seals, over heating, and shattered apex seals. However I just help but to take up a Jihad every time I hear that reliability card pulled on the RX-7.

If you cant tell from my defensive position on the subject, I’m a FD RX-7 owner who has seen the end of my own 13B engine and I can tell you one thing for a certainty, all of the horror stories you’ve heard about this car are all thanks to the poor maintenance habits of their negligent owners. I admit, I’m also part of that club.

What I’ve learned from my experience as I researched to complete my first rotary rebuild, is that that engine has to be absolutely pampered. The car needs to be warmed up and allowed to cool down. Not doing so degrades the oil very quickly in turbo cars which doesn’t make it easy for the turbos and apex seals to do their jobs. Its easy to understand the turbo side of things, however most don’t know that the RX-7 injects oil into the combustion chambers to lubricate those apex seals. I am convinced that if proper and timely oil changes are carried out, the seals would be well lubricated and not generate so much internal heat which I believe is most likely why water seals, which are very close to the combustion chambers to begin with, loosen and expand to failure. That having been said, the car does benefit greatly from minor cooling modifications as well.

Staying on top of those two issues alone would keep the vast majority of RX-7 owners out of a lot of trouble. Like me its not something many pay attention to when making their purchases and completely forget about the first time they experience wide open throttle past 4000 rpm. Make sure the life blood of your rotary is changed just a little sooner than you would in any other vehicle and keep it cool. This will make for a very long lasting RX-7 that will continue to provide oodles of fun every time you turn the key.

The rest of the conversation can be read here: http://www.nextautos.com/forums/keepers-buying-owning-and-driving-great-used-classic-cars/keepers-mazda-rx-7-best-japanese-sp#comment-123666

Fiat shows you how to do your part in helping the environment.

Our friends on the other side of the pond have added a new fuel saving feature, called eco:Drive, to there 5 door 5 passenger mini-MPV the Qubo. The latest in Fiat’s range to benefit from what Fiat says is both a fuel saving and emissions reducing technology.

The eco:Drive technology is currently available on the European versions of the 500, 500C, and Grande Punto. Thanks to their newly formed alliance with Chrysler we stand a good chance of seeing the eco:Drive technology applied to some of the new models Fiat will bring to the states. In January of ’09 Autoblog.com clued us into the introduction of the Fiat 500, 500C, Panda?, and Grande Punto into the American markets. All of which have available, as an option, Fiat’s 1.4-liter four-cylinder direct-injection engines that work with the new technology as an option.

Now environmentally conscious drivers can learn how to reduce their particular impact on the environment. eco:Drive Allows drivers to download a record of their driving style from car to computer with a USB memory stick, helps motorists understand the impact of their driving in terms of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, and offers suggestions on how to improve efficiency further by changing driving habits.

We want our cars to be fun, but they must also be practical and environmentally-friendly,” says Andrew Humberstone, managing director, Fiat Group Automobiles UK. “Offering eco:Drive on Qubo will help to spread the benefits of this technology, helping drivers to improve their driving efficiency, saving fuel and reducing their impact on the environment.”

Launched by Fiat in 2008, the free-of-charge, award-winning system is available on www.fiat.co.uk/ecoDrive.

Ford and Fiat – The Automotive Saviors?

Anyone that knows me will tell you that I am typically not a fan of American automobiles. And I haven’t been for quite some time. However it looks like I might be forced to change my opinion.

As I mentioned in one of my past articles (Auto Americana), some of the greatest sellers from American auto makers like Pontiac are actually European inspired, some even borrowed like the Opel GT. Normally this would be the point at which I climb atop my soap box and start to wail, and I will, however I can no longer be angry at Ford. In that same article I mentioned that “in recent years this has been more a stroke of genius than an affliction of sub-par decision making” and the decision makers at Ford seem to think so as well.

Back when gasoline was selling as high as $5 a gallon in some places, small car sales were booming in America. In Europe however Ford has been selling smaller, smarter vehicles like the Focus (If you question this choice just look at the new Focus RS, or even the old model, you will be impressed), the Ka and now, the new Ford Fiesta. For Europe this might not be such a big shocker or even seen as the light at the end of the tunnel. For US customers though, this means a whole new ball game. Its not hard to see the changes being made and much like the time of the $5 Gallon we are forced to factor in far more than before. That having been said, choices like the new Fiesta and possibly the new Fiat 500 and Grande Punto might just make all the difference in the world.

The news of Fiats decision to step in and help Chrysler reorganize is all the buzz. This type of assistance however isn’t news. A similar “helping hand” was lent when Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault, took the reigns as CEO for Nissan and brought the company from a $6.1 billion loss in ’01 to a $2.7 billion net profit the very next year. Ghosn is also credited with turning Renault around before doing the same for Nissan. If Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne is anything like Ghosn we stand to see amazing things happen with the Chrysler brand. In fact Marchionne already has the credit of bringing the company he hails from, Fiat, back to profitability. Like Ghosn, if successful, this will be Marchionne’s second victory. In the very year Ghosn took over at Nissan we saw a landfall of change in the models offered by Nissan. Similarly Fiat also plans on lending Chrysler several new engine and model designs.

Could you be driving a new Ford Fiesta or Fiat 500 in the next year or so? Absolutely! Learn more about them here…

Ford Fiesta: http://www.fiestamovement.com/

Fiat 500: www.fiat500.com/eng/

Future Fuels – What Might Fuel Your Passion In The Near Future

Theres an old saying that goes “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”.  Oddly enough, there is a little known truth to that old phrase.  There just happens to be a soluble dietary fiber in the skin of apples and other fuits and vegetables that has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels and promotes good digestive health.

We’ve also been told that we should have at least 8 glasses of water of water every day.  This advice too, has a very good reasoning behind it.  Water is a truly amazing substance.  We might look at a bottle of Deer Park on a hot summer day like it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, but that bottle is definitely worth a second look.

Water is a very powerful Chemical.  There is another saying, “A steady drip can wear a hole in a rock”.  All you need do is stand on the edge, at any point along the Grand Canyon, to be awestruck at what the power of water can do.

I was lucky to catch an episode of Eco World on the Discovery Science channel that discussed Alternative Fuel such as Solar Energy, Hydrodynamic Energy (such as dams), but what was most impressive was the section on pure Hydrogen power.  For those who don’t remember chemistry (I sure didn’t), 2 Hydrogen atoms joined with just one Oxygen atom make water.  Both of which are gasses that are, under the right conditions, flammable.

What stood out the most was the home of one engineer that was completely powered by it.  So was his car, which he converted to Hydrogen Fuel Cell power.  The system is so efficient that he says he can power both his home and his car for a year on the gasoline equivalent of just 40 gallons.  With the average price of gas today, that is easily close to $150…per year…for home and car.  With gas prices steadily rising, some of us are paying $150 after 3 or 4 fill ups, and that says nothing about the tuned vehicles that eat 93 octane like cotton candy.

Another home engineer converted a $500 junkyard bought vehicle with about $4K in new parts into an electric only vehicle.  The batteries and usage he designed gives him about 20 miles of mobility which only cost him, get ready for this, just $7 a month to charge.

One step further, the cable channel Planet Green airs a show called Green Machines that pits fossil Fuel powered vehicles of all sorts against an electric powered cousin and tests them in different circumstances to see which reigns supreme.  One particular episode saw a gas powered drag motorcycle do the quarter mile with a fuel consumption equating to a little under $4.  The electric drag bike perfomed a very similar time and cost just over $.70.

That having been said, can you imagine a booster system operated simply by switch that almost doubles your current gas mileage?  How about never having to pull up to a pump ever again?  Instead, you just pull up to your garden hose.

In my next few articles, I want to explore the possibilities available to us currently in the world just burgeoning into the area of alternate fuels.  I should tell you now though, if you’re looking for a pat on the back or reassurance that you’re doing your part by using Ethanol, IM sorry.  You will find no kind company here.  It has been said that growing crops for use as fuel is a gross and now obvious failure as a true alternative.  What follows will be an insight and study on both Hydrogen and Electric vehicles and opinions on why those two sources of energy are our only real alternatives and will be our only means of fueling vehicles in the future.

Auto Americana – Why The American Auto Culture No Longer Inspires Buyers

It wasn’t long after I started selling cars that I had come to learn the difference between American, Asian and European craftsmanship.  Long before I got my first car I was stunned by the looks of the ’79 Camaro and almost every mustang ever produced (the Mustang II included).  Awestruck by the build quality and expense of my dad’s old Mercedes-Benz and ultimately impressed with the balance of those qualities found in Hondas and Toyotas of the mid 80s.  Even to this day the current products from most of the auto makers that spawned those very vehicles and eventually nurtured my enthusiasm for the automobile still stoke the fires of my imagination today.

So powerful was this need to have cars in my life that I decided I would sell them.  Eventually I became a new car salesperson for a Mitsubishi dealership where I watched the Mitsubishi Employee propaganda video.  I use that term jokingly because as I found out, Mitsubishi has been in the automotive manufacturing business since 1917 starting with the release of its very own Model A.  It became Japans first series production automobile.  The most interesting fact though of this video was the target market for the ’00-’05 Eclipse.  Initially I could not understand why they were targeting Mustang owners.

Could there be two more different vehicles to compare, a 150 bhp Single-Overhead-Cam 2.4L 4 Cylinder and a 205 bhp Dual-Overhead-Cam 3.0L 6 Cylinder.  Yes, a Front-Engine Front-Wheel-Drive coupe built on a Chrysler ST-22 Platform had firmly crushed any desire I had once had to own any ford product, let alone a Mustang.

To completely understand why I get a bad taste in my mouth whenever I see a Ford product I first have to go back to where it all began.  In December of 1979 I decided that it was time to great the word at Alexian Brothers Hospital in my native San Jose, California.  Some 2,063 Miles away the first brand spanking new Fox Body Mustang rolled off the assembly line at Fords plant in Dearborn Michigan.  It continued to roll off the assembly line until 2004.  Yes while the rest of the world was moving along, Ford decided that all it would change was the body style it laid over that structure.

Now at this point I’m obligated to bring up a very important point about one of the greatest cars of all time in my opinion, the Nissan 240SX.  What’s really important about that vehicle is this.  The First Generation S13, produced from 1989 to 1994, as well as the Second Generation S14 produced from 1995 to 1998, were both built on the Nissan S platform.  Why do I love 240SX and develop Turrets on sight when it comes to the Mustang?

The 240SX completely outclasses the Mustang for one reason.  The S platform the 240SX was built on was purposefully designed to roll out a sporty vehicle to the masses.  The platform selected for the Fox Body was not.  It first saw service in 1978 as the underpinnings for both the Ford Fairmont and Mercury’s Zephyr and Ford decided, like most American manufacturers of the day, that it would be cheaper to simply slap another body on and fit a really nice small block under the hood.  So even as a new vehicle in 1979, the Fox Body Mustang was somewhat of a hand-me-down.  Like the Star Wars T-Shirt that for whatever reason is still in your dresser drawer even though it’s still a size of two too small.

Pontiac is currently doing a similar thing with the Solstice.  Many savvy auto buyers know that the Kappa platform that holds the Solstice body is the same for the Saturn Sky.  What many might not know is that the sky is simply a rebadged Opel GT.  Pontiac has taken it a step further.  Anyone who is a fan of the GTO should take a look at the Holden Monaro.  Like the Pontiac G8?  It’s based on the Holden Commodore.

In recent years this has been more of a stroke of genius than affliction of sub-par decision making.  As auto makers bottom lines become more and more financially troubled it has become important for car makers to think this way.  However where Ford uses a singular platform to build multiple cars, many are now realizing that one platform on one model can be used globally and actually sell.  You can thank the Subaru WRX for that.  A car on the market for years in Japan and Europe that was finally allowed to come to US shores.  When it did, sales were massive, which encouraged Mitsubishi to do the same with its Lancer Evolution line.

Thanks to the brilliant minds responsible, we now have vehicles like the Nissan 370Z, Toyota’s Yaris, Hondas Fit and the ultimate in affordable supercars the GT-R.  It seems that some manufacturers word-wide have finally heard the voice of their customers and responded with exactly what they want.  If only American manufacturers could have gotten the message a little sooner.

The Dynamic Duo

I thought I would show everyone what I am personally working on.

Theise are both of my personal cars.  A 1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S and 1993 Mazda RX-7 Twin Turbo.

'85 Corolla GT-S and '93 RX-7

The ’85 Corolla GT-S The mighty '85 Toyota Corolla GT-S.

The Corolla GT-S is famed for being one of the very few sport compacts produced by Toyota as a Rear Wheel Drive.  With a close to perfect 53/47 weight balance the car was fitted with suspention and an almost bulet proof transmission and factory LSD that made this little car quite a hot number.  In tuned form it has the rare privilage of outrunning quite a few sportier models on circuit tracks even today.

The ’93 RX-7 TTThe '93 Mazda RX-7 TT

I stepped into this car after having owned a Front Wheel Drive Honda CRX Si with only 130 HP.  Making the very large leap to a Rear Wheel Drive 250 HP monster like the RX-7 was indeed a learning experiance.  With the engine mounted behind the front axle the RX-7 is rightfully considered a Mid Engine vehicle and just so happens to have a perfect 50/50 front/rear balance and gives very good feedback alowing drivers to anticipate almost everything this car is about to do.  What you may not expect is just how much of it the car is about to do.

 Right now my RX-7 sits waiting for a Dodge Diesel truck to die so it can have a single turbo transplant however the Corolla is ready for its new heart right now.  Its currently waiting for an oil pan and bearings to be picked up this week and the engine IM rebuilding for it will be finnished and dropped this month.

 Continue to check back for updates on there progress!