May 31, 2007

Electric Ferrari? No, but this electric beat a Ferrari

As a lifelong EV fan I just love watching these two videos:

The electric car beats the Ferrari and the Porsche
The electric car beats the Lamborghini and the NASCAR

Even when you set aside the mega-geek factor and the bragging rights, I believe fast and powerful electric cars and trucks are the way to change the American perception of EVs for the better.

For the record, my first ride in an EV was 1971, before some readers of this page were born, and it was not a demo or a prototype. It was a commercial vehicle in daily use, a British milk delivery truck to be exact (you may have a hard time finding info specific to these EVs on the web unless you to know that the Brit term for them is "milk float"). Being a 'milkman' was a great way to earn money between high school and university and I was in good company (Sean Connery worked as a milkman in Edinburgh, although he drove a horse-drawn cart, not an electric 'float').

In techno-speak and biz-think, the role of the electric milk float meshes perfectly with the traditional characteristics of an electric vehicle. The range was 30 miles, plenty for the inner city delivery route I covered. The speed topped out at 30 mph, the highest speed limit of any of the roads on the route. The float pictured on the right is pretty much the same as the one I drove. It is even in the livery of the Unigate company, the same dairy I worked for, owned by food giant Unilever. The image is from the amazing milkfloats.org.uk web site. Amazing because yes, there is a whole web site devoted to these vehicles.

The awesome torque of electric motors was perfectly suited to getting a loaded truck off the mark and up to speed in a hurry. The crates back then were metal. The milk bottles were glass, and a full load of 750 Imperial pints weighed, well, it weighed a whole...a big...well a heck of a lot (if anyone happens to know how much, I'd love to hear from them). The point about the weight is, heavy loads are easy for an electric motor to handle (as most EV fans know, electric motors drive locomotives and cruises ships). Furthermore, the weight declined during the seven to eight hours that I spent dropping off full milk bottles and picking up empties, even as the batteries were being discharged. Back at the depot I would plug it in to recharge in overnight and it would be ready to go the next morning.

Remember folks, those EVs have been working like that, efficiently and pollution-free, since the 1960s. This was not a reaction to the oil crisis of the 1970s. What do you bet that more than 80 percent of all U.S. Postal Service delivery vehicles fit the 30/30 operational parameters of that old milk wagon? We could have had four decades of great gas-saving and emission-reduction from the postal service rather than a sweetheart deal for a petroleum-based government contractor (Grumman seems to make most of the postal vans I see in Florida--and I think the USPS ordered them in 1986).

May 11, 2007

VW Jet: Cool project, hot subject

I mentioned this amazing VW jet project recently, in a completely different context, over on my information security blog. as something of a joke.

The joke was NOT about the street legal JET-IN-A-VW project (I think there's an old proverb that goes something like "Jest not about a man who can fit a jet engine into car and live to drive it about"). Indeed, I urge you to read Ron Patrick's account of the project--it's fascinating stuff, especially the matter-of-fact manner in which he says things like "The first thing I did when I got the car was to cut the hole in the back for the engine. Made a fancy jig out of a tripod, a rod, and a lawnmower wheel to mark out the cut and went at it with a pneumatic saw" and "Air for the jet enters the car through the two side windows and the sunroof. It's a little windy inside but not unbearable." Amazing!

My infosec joke was about VW, which used [allegedly] a VW corporate jet [aircraft] to steal a bunch of secret documents from GM. And herein lies the automotive angle, something I have not heard anyone speculate about before. As part of the settlement of the ensuing industrial espionage lawsuit, VW agreed to buy more than a billion dollars worth of parts from General Motors over 7 years. That agreement was around 1997. So we can assume VW used a lot of GM made parts in its vehicles between 1997 and 2004.

Now, have you experienced reliability problems with a VW during that time period? I know my daughter has, on two different vehicles (kid can be such slow learners sometimes). And I seem to recall that VW has consistently had at least one model in the Consumer Reports "least reliable" list every year during that time, and still does today....do I need to connect the dots?

Let me drop another hint, outside the auto field. In the last year, Dell, Apple, IBM, Toshiba and others have all had to issue recalls on notebook computers with batteries made by Sony. All the numbers I have been able to find [as a blogger, not a paid journalist with a fact-checking department at my fingertips] seem to indicate that a smaller percentage of Sony Vaio computers shipped with the defective batteries than Toshibas, Dells, etc. Hmmmmmm....