A few days ago a story made the rounds on the Internet (as they usually do) that raised a few eyebrows regarding the Chevy Volt. GM’s much-ballyhooed plug-in hybrid, which can go 40 miles on electricity only, would apparently require premium gasoline to power its battery generator. Premium fuel carries a premium price, usually 20-30 cents more per gallon. So much for saving money on gas. Turns out that yes, the Volt is calibrated to run on premium fuel, for reasons I will get into below. However, it is equipped with a knock sensor… which means the engine can “detune” itself to run on regular fuel.
California prides itself as being a green mecca, inviting inventions and high technology and grooming early adopters with special HOV lane access and tax credits on alternative fuel vehicles. Well, mostly. It seems like California has soured on hybrids in HOV lanes, recently revoking the Prius’s access to this less-traveled road. At least the Prius was allowed in for a time though. In a rather shocking turn, California has not only denied the Chevy Volt access to the HOV lane, it also won’t get any state tax credits. Zing!
Unlike many of my fellow gearheads, I’ve come to realize just how much potential for performance is locked away within electric vehicles. Major manufacturers have made the mistake of assuming only the eco-conscious care about electric cars. But if the Tesla Roadster proves anything, it is that there is a market for electric performance cars. Looking for proof? Well last week Kleenspeed, an electric car startup based in Moffet Field, California, took to the famous Laguna Seca raceway where he set a new track record of 94 mph, beating its own previous record of 93 mph.
I’ve got a lot of respect for people who try to do things differently, especially when it comes to cars. We’ve been driving the same basic contraption for over a century now, from the engine to the suspension to even the accelerator. While I love cars, I also love the innovation and creativity I’m seeing from the alternative fuel movement from both big manufacturers and small, and some old ideas are getting a second look. Take the rotary engine. It has fewer moving parts than a standard engine… but it also makes a lot less torque, requires precision machining, and devours oil rather quickly, making it rather useless for towing or performance. Plus, since the internal combustion engine has become so ingrained in our culture, many mechanics can’t make heads or t...
When I heard about the Refuel event, a free track day and time trial at Laguna Seca, it was literally a dream come true. I have long been a devoted aficionado of the legendary corkscrew. Laguna Seca has a strict 92 dB sound limit except for major races, like MotoGP. This is due to the fact that some developer was able to trick a lot of golfers and other such genteel folk into buying property and playing a game that requires absolute silence next to a racetrack. So most race cars and motorcycles have to do obscene things to their vehicles in order to pass the sound check, or else go home and forfeit a $300+ track day.
As promised earlier this year, Fiat has officially adorned their beloved 500 with a brand new engine option: the 2-cylinder TwinAir. The 85 HP, turbocharged 0.9 liter engine reportedly has the performance characteristics of a much larger 1.4 liter, 16-valve engine, but it consumes about 30% less fuel—resulting in a fuel economy of 57 mpg as rated on the combined Euro cycle. If it were sold in the U.S. and rated on the EPA cycle, that number would likely drop to around 50 mpg. Unfortunately for now, there are no plans to sell the 85 HP TwinAir engine as an option on any of the Fiat 500’s that are rumored to be reaching U.S. shores by the end of this year.
General Motors is on an all-out push to ensure that its new Chevy Volt becomes the electric car of the mainstream U.S. market. On July 1 the company launched a cross country tour introducing American communities to the car from Austin, Texas to New York, New York. It’s pretty clear that the symbolism-freighted trip is designed to spur U.S. car buyers to hop aboard a revolutionary change in passenger car technology: the route covers 1,776 miles on a journey timed to end today, Independence Day. The reference to the American Revolution also shows that GM is right up in the grill of any skeptics who still doubt the viability of an electric car in the U.S. market. After all, the world pretty much figured that the American experiment in self-government was doomed to fail and h...
An in-depth interview and factory tour with the family behind CRP racing.
In a classic case of sustainability layering that borders on downright slathering, the City of Tsukuba in Japan is set to test-host a new car sharing system using electric vehicles that are powered almost exclusively by solar energy. According to a recent report on the solar electric car sharing plan, the partnership involves the Mazda2 (aka the Demio in Japan) with electric vehicle drive trains from Think, using lithium ion batteries developed by the U.S. company EnerDel, and all based on the ZipCar car sharing model. The choice of Tsukuba as a test community is no accident, considering its moniker “Science City.” By design and population, the city is an ideal laboratory for giving sustainability concepts a real-world workout.
Air travel is often hailed as the safest form of travel, and there is something to be said for getting where you need to go in a hurry. Of course, to cruise six miles or more above the Earth going hundreds of miles per hour requires highly combustible jet fuel. Lots and lots of it. A Boeing 747-8 can carry up to 64,000 gallons of jet fuel and, depending on how fast it flies, can burn through over three-thousand gallons of fuel per hour. No matter what you say about efficiency-per-passenger, that is a whole lotta jet fuel. Everybody knows it, including NASA, which enlisted six research teams to design a more efficient aircraft. A team led by researchers at MIT came up with a plane they call the “double bubble” that is supposed to reduce fuel consumption by 70%.
While most of San Francisco was running across town in silly outfits, history was being made a few miles north, at Infineon Raceway. The tech industry isn’t just buying naming rights to racetracks, some might say it’s poised to take over racing as we know it. While gas-powered engine technology is mature and only making incremental changes, Azhar Hussain, TTXGP's founder, has created a whole new game strictly for electronic motors.
It’s been an exciting weekend at the Infineon Raceway watching the 2010 eGrandPrix, TTXGP. And, after all the bikes were on course, I had some time sit down and talk with Azhar Hussain about the TTXGP series and its importance. In the following conversation, Hussain talks about how combustion engines are moving towards electric and what kind of system we need to make EVs a lasting part of the equation.