Tuesday, March 4, 2008


This post is not about open source or Linux or anything like that. It is just a rant that I have had running around in the back of my mind for a while now. I decided to set it free so maybe it will go away.

This is about cars. And it is not all of the nature of a rant. First off, the good part. I write this while I am traveling (part of it anyway). I have rented a car that surprised me. After getting Pontiac G6 after Pontiac G6 from Avis, they handed me the keys to a 13,000 mile Hyundia Sonata. And... it does not suck. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

I had a 1985 or 1986 Hyundia Excel. the one designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. I liked the color (Dark Blue), the design, and the radio. I hated the motor, the size of the gas tank, the way it was geared... pretty much everything else about the car.

The problems were rife: The gas mileage with a 5 speed was about 24 MPG on the highway. The car hesitated and groaned. I don't mind a slow car (more on that in a minute) but I mind one that does not run right. And if it is going to be slow, it better get way more than 24 MPG.

I tried to get a carburator repair kit at the Auto Parts store, but they did not carry Hyundai parts, even though it was an import place. I then went in to a Hyundai dealership to get the carburetor repair kit only to find out that I had to know which of about seven carburetors this car had. I was told by the parts guy that major engineering changes inside the same model year made for many different incompatible models inside the one model year.

I had the alleged car with me (it did look like a car from the outside), so I pulled off the air cleaner and got the tags off the carb, determined my unit was the 5th in the series of the 7 or so designs that year, and then found out the repair kit was the same price as a whole new carb! 650 USD! The parts guy admitted that the new carb was the only way to go... but that I had to stay inside the same EC level because the hookups to the various emission controls were different. There is a reason why all cars went to fuel injection here in the States.

I could not update to the latest version of the carb. The current unit was junk, and probably a new one would not work much better because with all those EC's, there was clearly a problem in the design in this part of the car. A repair kit was an utter non-starter. Fuel treatment had doing nothing either. I was stuck. I left there with a new gas tank instead. Hyundai had two gas tanks that fit that car, and I had the small one. At least with the new unit I could go an extra 50 or so miles. At that time I drove 120 miles a day, so it was not a big win.

Someone stole the radio and I traded it in. The only decent part of that car was gone. No point in keeping it.

I have driven 1965 VW Beetles with 1200cc 40 HP engines. I have owned all sorts of junkers, some of which I hand rebuilt the engine with parts laying about the garage over a weekend to get through another week of school. I have never hated a car as much as I hated that one.

So, I was surprised to see how much I like this Sonata. First of all, it is much bigger than the Excel, and it gets 32 MPG on the highway. Second, I thought it was a V6 till I opened the hood and saw a four cylinder looking back at me. It is comfortable, and.. the radio is as good as ever. It is no audiophile unit, but for a base unit it is pretty good.

Rant one then is this: Imagine the Joker, looking at the Batwing after it wrecked his plan to poison all the good people of Gotham. (The Batman movie with Keaton and Nicholson). Now you have the inflections for this:

"Why didn't they tell me (they) had one of these things!"

Yeah. OK. Fine. That one is on me. I let my early experience with Hyundai keep me from ever looking at one again, even though to survive they obviously had to change. I have no idea what the long term reliability is of the new Hyundai stuff. What Consumer Reports thinks of the electrical systems. Anything like that. I did read some end user reviews now, and most are positive. Does me a lot of good now though. I never once even considered looking.

There is probably a good lesson for marketing folks about the length of memory of the average consumer. I may not be average though....

My Fleet

To my point above about driving slowish cars, here is my and my wife's current fleet of cars:

  • 2008 Honda Fit 5 speed, 106 HP (my daily driver)

  • 2004 Honda CR-V 5 speed, 160 HP (my wifes daily driver)

  • 1985 Mercedes 240D 4 speed, 60 HP

  • 1984 Mercedes 300SD, 4 speed Auto, 120 HP.

You could add my entire fleet up and still have less HP than one modern Corvette. I drive the Fit now, but the 300SD was my daily before that. Neither will win any land speed records. About the only car the trembles in fear of my fleet is a Chevy Chevette.

The two Mercs are actually on loan to our kids till they can get established and get cars of their own. Meantime, they are safe in our tanks.

Here then is the other rant:

I went to buy the Fit after falling in love with the SuperMini class of car while I was in India. In India they have 800cc and similarly small engines. One of my friends had a brand new Suzuki four door with a monster 1.1 liter engine. It was a great car. Plenty fast, handled the highway just fine, and got great mileage. Even cooler to me, as a Merc owner, were the Tata's I saw and rode in. Two cylinder diesels. I imagine they got outstanding fuel economy. Maybe not as clean as a US specification diesel, but when you are using only a gallon to traverse 50 or 60 miles, there are some real advantages.

I had read about the Honda Fit. It is Honda's world platform, and is called the Jazz in Europe. I am going to rebadge mine to be the Jazz. That is a cooler name. The Chassis is stiff and strong, and there are five engines available for it.

<rant> Except in the bloody US!, where there is only one! The biggest, worst fuel economy engine! Argg!! </rant>

The Fit/Jazz here comes with the 1.5 liter VTEC. Same engine size as that much hated Excel, but with twice the horsepower, and gets 37-38 MPG Highway instead of the Excels 24. That is impressive really, except that I keep wondering if they could have kept the horsepower down, and given me fuel economy instead.

The Fit / Jazz engine with the same HP as the old Excel is the smaller 1.1 liter unit, and is good for something like 60 or 62 HP. Same HP as my 240D, and the 240D is a 2.5 liter four banger. I have no idea what the fuel economy of the 1.1 liter Honda mill in the Fit is because <rant> they do not import it!</rant>. Nor the 1.2, 1.3, or 1.4 liter units. Only the relatively gas guzzling 1.5 liter.

Sure, its quick, with something like a 9 second zero to 60. Of my fleet, only the CR-V is faster, and not by much. But I do not need the speed. I am used to driving the Mercs. I am not in that big a hurry to get to work or anywhere else. My 60HP 240D Merc will drive at highway speed all day long. Why not the Honda with a 1.1 liter unit? Why can I not order the smaller, slower, better fuel economy mill?

The Fit turns about 3200 RPM at 70 MPH, but the VTEC engine is torquey enough that it could easily run at 2800 RPM or even less at that speed. No overdrive gear. The cars five speed is close ratio. Why? At 3000 rpm or so the VTEC engine cuts in the second set of intake valves. The engine gets noisier, and there is a fun surge of power. But I do not need that. Let me cruise at highway speed on the more efficient RPM, knowing a downshift gets it on cam in a double quick hurry!

I have a feeling a reason is that Honda wants to make as much money as they can, and by not offering base units here in the states (where they have to certify each drive train as meeting emissions standards), they give preference to profit over the environment. Sure, the Civic HA did not set the world on fire as far as sales records goes. You know what? There is such a thing as being a good citizen of this planet too. Honda generally is, at least to the point that many of their cars are LEV and ULEV. But they can do better. Honda advertises a fuel cell car here in the states, and that is annoying since it can not be bought. My daughter was asking me the other day why we had not bought that one instead. I had to explain about the difference between an ad and reality from a whole new perspective: An advert for the possible but not yet realized. Honda may make one. Probably will. But the ads are preceding availability by a number of years.

Another reason is common wisdom. This common wisdom says that Americans won't buy slow small cars. It also says that we like Velveeta Cheese, and can't watch movies longer than 90-120 minutes. Sure, Lord of the Rings made a bazillion dollars, and we buy all kinds of other cheese here, but that is meaningless. Americans only want big, bad cars with electric everything.

The Honda dealer about had a Fit when I asked if they had any models with roll up windows.

Why not a Prius or other Hybrid?

It wasn't that I did not think of that. Here are my two main problems with Hybrids:

  1. What happens to the batteries when they wear out, and how much does that every three or so year service interval cost the owner and the planet?

  2. Assuming that the battery issue is not an issue, where are the Diesel hybrids? If gas can get 50, Diesel can get 70 MPG. Or more. Bio-D is far more renewable than Ethanol too.

The Perfect Car, in reach of Todays Tech

I am not crazy: I like all the body stiffness, crash-worthiness, and other cool things that come from a modern car body. The high strength steel, the quiet interior, the MP3 radios. Adjustable hight seat belts. In the specific case of the Fit / Jazz, the nifty interior seat / options. The tall SuperMini packaging. All that is goodness. I would keep all those things.

Since I current reside in a swamp, but my ancestors used to live near the North Pole, A/C is a must. I like a quiet car where I can hear just enough of the engine to know when to shift. Manual tranny to be sure, unless they come up with an Auto that is more efficient at shifting than I am. It could happen with computers these days. Slippery, wind tunnel derived shapes and quiet, tall, good feedback tires with low rolling resistance and great wet weather traction. All these things about modern cars are keeper features.

GPS and mapping systems are all nice, but I would not pay for it. Give me big analog controls that I can use without taking my eyes off the road. On-Star and similar would get jerked out of the car so fast the wires wouldn't have time to spark. Just too Big Brother for me.

Where I would really make the changes are the drive trains. I want 100 MPG or as near that as tech can get it. Assume that the batteries are 100% recyclable, and that there is a VW-like aluminum block, diesel engine option. Small. Maybe 40 HP. Designed to be clean without Urea injection because it is used only to recharge the batteries or to supplement the electric motors for acceleration. A diesel hybrid or a diesel like it is exists in a train, with no direct connection to the wheels. The hardest, lowest rolling resistance tire / wheel setup I can get, with a tuned, perhaps even live suspension to damp all that back out from the the driver.

The whole thing should be designed and rated for BioD. Grow algae in salt water tanks in the desert, and refine BioD from it.

Solar cells on the sun roof to power vent fans when the car is parked, and keep the batteries topped up. Roll up windows (I'm not lazy, and the motors are just something to break) but central locking so that the alarm system has something to work with.

One, two, and four passenger versions. Now that would be a car.

Thanks. I feel better now. Back to Open Source stuff.

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