December 11, 2008

Signature Edition Tesla Roadster EU

Signature Edition Tesla Roadster: "Be among the first in Europe to own the breakthrough Tesla Roadster. This special allocation of 250 uniquely equipped 2009 EU-specification Tesla Roadsters will be made available exclusively for European customers at a price of €99,000. Establish your place in automotive performance history by reserving a Signature Edition Tesla Roadster today."

A smart move by the market savvy geeks at Tesla Motors, and in time for the rumored debut of the Tesla on BBC's Top Gear this Sunday (December 14). That's Top Gear as aired in the UK. No word yet on when it will air on BBC America, but here's betting the Tesla segment will be on YouTube before Monday morning, New York time.

The Tesla fans/owners that I know are bracing themselves for Jeremy Clarkson's reaction to the Tesla, given a. Clarkson's attitude to all things green, b. Clarkson's preference for entertainment over facts, c. Clarkson's feelings towards America. The posse agree that Clarkson is a great entertainer and we're all fans of Top Gear. But...

For example, last season Clarkson trashed the Ford F150, a vehicle of which I am a past owner and long time fan. Jeremy accurately captured the main reason why pickups don't sell well in the UK (people steal whatever is in the pickup bed--something my brother pointed out years ago, and a leading reason why vans are the contractor's vehicle of choice in the UK). But Jeremy totally failed to understand why Americans buy F150s.

Having driven up and down America in an F150 numerous times, often towing a trailer, I can assure you there is not a more comfortable, reliable, and capable vehicle in which to do that. Just ask my Mum. She's been driving for 45 years and thoroughly enjoyed our two day trip from Florida to upstate New York in my 2003 F150. We got 15 mpg towing a hefty trailer. I got 20 mpg on the return trip, sans trailer but averaging over 70mph (*optional rigid truck bed tonneau needed for that kind of mileage).

The ride was smooth, the cabin spacious and comfortable. And this was a standard cab, long bed XL, with the 4.7 Triton V8, not some fancy edition (although I did add side rails for easier access). I had to sell that F150 because it was not four wheel drive and we have moved from Florida to a cottage on a hill at the end of a gravel road that rises 300 feet in less than a third of a mile (on which snow is gently falling even as I blog this).

So, to recap, IMHO: The F150s rock, Top Gear rocks, the Tesla rocks, and Clarkson rocks as an entertainer. Just keep that in mind Tesla fans, should Jeremy miss the point about the masterpiece of automotive engineering that is the Tesla Roadster.

December 8, 2008

Offshoring and the Auto Industry

Steve Clemons: Offshoring and the Auto Industry

He that Michael Moore has pointed out: "anyone could buy the entire American auto industry for less than $3 billion -- and U.S. taxpayers are about to pump 5 times that into the uncompetitive sector.

And on top of that -- there is NOTHING in the current outlines of the auto bailout package that requires the auto industry to keep jobs in the U.S. This money can go to help them manage their facilities abroad -- in lower wage countries -- while facilities continue to shut down in the U.S. with jobs shifted overseas."

Wish someone would bail me out of my upside down property and pay me to live well in a cheap place abroad. Maybe then I could afford to buy a new car.

August 2, 2008

Rail Fans Rejoice, Trainspotters Too: A "new" steam locomotive comes to life in UK

Those Brits are so nostalgic! Decades after the last steam locomotive was taken out of active main line service in the UK, a new locomotive has been built. Not a new design, but a faithful reproduction of a 1943 design like the one on the left, known as the A1 Peppercorn (after the design engineer Arthur Peppercorn). The new loco is called Tornado and moved "in steam" for the first time a few days ago. This picture, from the LNER archive site, shows one of the original Peppercorns, back in the day. This type of steam engine design is generally known as a "Pacific" and has much in common with some of the great American steam locomotives engines.

As you can see this is a beefy engine with a 4-6-2 configuration, capable of over speeds in excess of 100 mph. With all the talk of high speed rail today focused on sleek electric and diesel trains, and given all the woes of high speed rail in America today, it is easy to forget that steams trains were delivering passenger service at speeds up to 100 mph in Britain and America as early as the 1930s (the UK's LNER A3 Peppercorn 2750, named "Papyrus" is a contender for the title of first 100mph train, with a run it made in March, 1935).

The effort to build the Tornado, seen on the left, has cost about $6 million so far, and is part labor of love, part engineering challenge. The two hundred years of accumulated skills and knowledge that went into building the most advanced of the steam locomotives were about to be lost. Now they have been preserved, and updated. This process will extend to operations as the Tornado has been designed to run regular trips on British track, providing a rare treat for trainspotters.

Another motive was to ensure that one of each class of historic steam locomotive was preserved. Since all the examples of this type had been scrapped it was necessary, in some minds, to make a new one. That's how dedicated some rail enthusiasts are.
Just to put this into perspective, clock these rims. That's some serious metal work. And I don't know if anyone has put this loco through the "green" test to check it's carbon footprint versus a diesel, but it would be interesting. At least one person reckons that the Tornado should have been built to a newer design with an eye to it's eventual return. Finally, one has to applaud this level of enthusiasm for transportation technology. If only America had not caved in to the vested interests of car makers, tire makers, oil companies, and road builders, just think what we might have today in terms of trains. New York to Miami in 10 hours? Cross country in a day? With the comfort of rail and without the endless hassles of air travel. What a sweet green dream.

July 16, 2008

When Can We Get A B? Mercedes small car strategy still mystifies

Recently I enjoyed a great weekend in Toronto. What a super city! So many clean quiet neighborhoods close to downtown. And the Greek restaurant row on Danforth. What superb eating!

So what has this got to do with Mercedes Benz? Well, I spotted several Canadian registered Mercedes B Class beauties on the road. These are smaller and more economical than any Benz sold in the States, with a choice of two 4 cylinder engines. The cheaper, 134-hp option is mated to a 5-speed manual and apparently gets over 45 mpg (prices start at: $29,900 Canadian). The sportier turbo version sports a 6-speed tranny and a 193-hp 2.0-liter.

As far as I can tell, Canadians have been able to buy B class models for several years. However, for reasons that would seem to defy all market logic, Mercedes has no firm plans to sell the B in the U.S. of A. Plans to bring the B to the States in 2007 were apparently scrapped (smooth move MB, just ahead of $4 gas). Now there are rumors that Mercedes might in bring over the B in 2011. That's hardly the agility required of a world class competitor. Sigh!

June 29, 2008

Coming Together Nicely: Google Maps, Streetview, and Trip Advisor

I need to find a hotel to stay at in New York on August 22 for the opening night of 'our' movie: Dare Not Walk Alone. So I go to Google Maps and check the address of the cinema (Pioneer Theater, 155 East 3rd Street between Avenues A and B). Then I use Street View to check out the neighborhood. Then I use the Find Nearby feature to look up hotels. This not only maps the nearby hotels but now shows me Trip Advisor listings for them.

Not sure when Google added this feature, but it's very handy. I've blogged about Trip Advisor before when I used it to find an affordable hotel for a working trip to London. I find it useful, although you have to filter the opinions of the reviewers (some people 'hate' or 'love' things too easily). But it is even more useful in combination with Street View because I can see what the hotel and environs look like in a candid photo, not the hotel brochure (at the very least this should reduce the disappointment factor when people arrive and find the place is less glamourous than the official photos suggest.

May 20, 2008

Blogging Diesels to Death: A taste of data pollution?

Here's a blog post and comments that contain many of the thoughts, right or wrong, surrounding the anti-diesel movement. As you may have gathered from my previous posts, I think it is dumb to ban diesel cars in America (which is essentially what California has done, aided and abetted by Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, and Maine).

Until the infrastructure is in place to transport all goods and persons using electricity (which implies a massive shift to rail, of which I am a keen advocate) we need to be clear on the advantages that diesel offers over gasoline in internal combustion engines. With diesel you get more work per unit of fuel and per unit of pollution.

Any meaningful discussion of vehicle efficiency and pollution must take into effect the amount of work being done by the vehicle. Carrying one person to work and back once per day is way different from hauling one contractor and his tools from job site to job site throughout the day. That's how a lot of gasoline is consumed and there are no easy answers on the market right now for contractor who wants to go green while still hauling hefty loads.

So I'm getting tired tendency to focus on passenger cars as the root of all pollution and fossil fuel dependency. Drive past any diner at lunch time and you are likely to see a raft of pickup trucks that are being used for work, not just going to work or the grocery store. If they were diesels they could still do all that while causing less pollution.

April 28, 2008

Roseboom Antique Power Days

Not all traction technology is new. We can always learn from past technological achievements. That's why I'm looking forward already to the Tenth Annual Roseboom Antique Power Days. August 16-17, 2008.

This gathering of old tractors and other antique machinery has become quite the event in the Cherry Valley and Cooperstown area. If you can make it, expect to see over 100 antique tractors and farm machines as well as a bunch of parallel activities, like eating pancakes. Click here for the general location.

The Roseboom Antique Power Days are a great complement to your trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame and Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown. I will post more details as they become available.