Category Archives: Transportation

Why I Hate Automotive Tech

There comes a time when the development of cars, computers, and so-called electronic convenience, become anything but that.

Fixing my own cars, and occasionally for others, I’ve witnessed this march to built-in catastrophic entrapment for several decades… and it ain’t pretty.

There was a time when an engine could be removed, valves replaced, seats ground, pistons pulled, cylinders rehoned, rings replaced, transmissions removed and rebuilt, and you could continue to use the same car for many years. If you want to keep them now, it’s going to be an expensive proposition.

Then came the need for pollution control systems. Not satisfied with pumping in more air to burn waste gases, nor using expensive palladium catalytic converters on the exhaust. That wasn’t enough. Let’s put in some sensors, and computerize the whole process of bringing in air, swirling it about with computer timed fuel injection and variable valve timing. Then fart it out the back with sensors that constantly sniff for emissions, only to feedback through the computer, hey – you’re giving me gas!

As if that wasn’t enough, they installed infotainment systems into these supposed smarter cars. Only one problem with that, no make it two. First the drivers need updates, and that wasn’t happening. Knob fiddling was one thing, but glaring at a screen which not only controls the interior temp, your favorite radio stations, the last 500 songs you cleverly downloaded, and also gives you reroute instructions past the 15 car pile up you need to avoid to get to work.

What Are The Usual Causes For Computer Failure in Vehicles

car-computer-insideNot only are computers failing with ever-increasing frequency, due to downsizing all those millions of tiny micro junctures, which makes them more susceptible to cycles of heat and cold. They now control your 9-speed automatic transmission which is arguing with your engine management systems on what the right fuel-air combination, meshing with the right gears for your on and off the acceleration because you couldn’t make up your mind on which of the 6 lanes of traffic to travel.

Mercedes, among several later manufacturers, has built-in systems to detect when you’ve listened to way too many conference calls and are now too drowsy to stay in your lane. They’ve also added another computer to check that your eyes are scrutinizing that fancy whiz-bang infotainment system instead of driving, and are about to plow into the little old person crossing the road in their 4 wheel drive, electronically controlled wheel chair. It has now applied the computer management system for your brakes, and detected the G-force to be sufficient to maim you, has launched 3 out of 7 possible air bags to cushion your low earth orbit.

One last system has been called upon to maintain your ride stability system which manages ride height on all 4 wheels, keeping you level, while bearing down on previously mentioned senior citizen, having a cardiac event in front of your just in time stopped car.

Never mind, the smart 4 wheel drive scooter has called 911 to get her or him the assistance they need.

Meanwhile, you will have gone through a pile of cash or credit to replace the inflated airbags and clean up the interior of your car, contaminated by all the internal special powder they put in those airbags, combined with your sudden urge that has stained the leather in your seat. After you receive the hospital bill for the face and neck burns from the airbags, you will visit your doctor for a prescription of Nitrazepam.

infotainment_cntrThe advance of technology has repealed radio / cassette knobs, in favor of a computerized lit entertainment screen which beckon you to gaze at it, instead of attentive driving.

BTW, you’ll need a new infotainment system after you have smashed your knuckles into it when your computer determined you had to stop extra fast because of the kitty running across the road in front of your collision avoidance equipped, modern car. evil_mask_sml

Another Motorcycle Brand is History

It came as a somewhat unexpected (probably only to me – more informed people knew it was coming), that Polaris manufacturing, makers of Victory & Indian Motorcycles, decided to drop the Victory line and stick only with Indian Motorcycles.

victory-models-end

End of the Line for Victory Motorcycles


Victory Motorcycle Announcement
1/9/2017 12:00:00 AM
Polaris Industries Inc. (NYSE: PII) will immediately begin winding down its Victory Motorcycles brand and related operations. Polaris will assist dealers in liquidating existing inventories while continuing to supply parts for a period of 10 years, along with providing service and warranty coverage to Victory dealers and owners. Today’s announcement does not affect any other Polaris business units.


The history of Victory Motorcycles® doesn’t stretch back over the past hundred years. We are young, full of drive, with our eyes on the horizon. That passion has raged since 1998, when a small group of riders, designers, and gear heads came together in Minnesota, and decided to engineer power and performance back into American V-Twins. Our first bike roared to life on July 4th, 1998. This was more than a patriotic gesture. It was a flag in the ground that marked the rebirth of the American V-Twin, and we’ve been claiming more roads ever since. From numerous awards to leading innovations, we have given new life to American muscle with industry changing cruisers, baggers, and touring bikes.

Well that’s what they said. Now, here’s my two cents.

victory_motorcycle_promo_pix_b

Victory Motorcycles 2015

Eighteen years or so, is a long period of time if you’re talking about digital tech. When it comes to any kind of transportation, motorcycle, cars or trucks, it’s nothing. It’s a blink of an eye, and no one in a few years will likely remember much about the company unless they turned out some very innovative products. I’m not so sure I can recall anything about Victory Motorcycles that was all that remarkable. Believe me, I’m not taking anything away from them. They probably built a few models that will stand the test of time, and I’m sure if I rode one, I would’ve enjoyed it. Here’s the thing, I didn’t, because I saw nothing that really intrigued me over what is already available in the market.

I fully appreciate the problem they had, before they even started. The cost of doing business in this highly competitive and regulated industry is daunting. Before you can even begin to manufacture, there are thousands of federal and state regulations you must meet and that’s not even counting the labor and distribution regs.

The market demand for motorcycles in the U.S. is not anywhere close to the amount of automobiles sold. According to Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Motorcycle registrations in the United States have grown each of the past 10 years, from 3,826,373 in 1997 to 6,678,958 in 2006—a 75 percent increase overall.” Sales of new bikes hasn’t achieved huge increases. There are many people, like myself that simply buy a used bike from someone wanting to trade or exiting the market.

Here’s a sampling from Revzilla of motorcycle sales.

motorcycle-sales-ending-in-2014-stats

The problems they faced by entering a market with an increasingly older rider demographic, with a product facing established, successful competitors, Harley Davidson, Honda, Yamaha, Triumph, Suzuki, etc. were huge. They needed something where a segment wasn’t being served. To say, we’re the alternative to Harley-Davidson because we are an American manufacturer that also builds large cruiser & tourer motorcycles, just wasn’t enough.

As a matter of practicality, when you look at two of the biggest motorcycle manufacturers, Honda & Harley, you have to ask yourself, what makes them so successful? I might not be an expert in this area, but I can sure take a good guess. Harley-Davidson in 1980, like the 1950’s and 60’s British bikes was taking a dive. In the late 1970’s and throughout most of the 1980’s, BSA, Triumph & Norton were gone. By the 1980s the Harley-Davidson Motor Company had come within red-ink inches of the edge of the cliff which many other manufacturers had plummeted over. In 1981, they managed to combine a group of investors and through an LBO bought the legendary motorcycle company. Recovery came rather quickly with these committed people at the helm, and through their persuading President Reagan to impose tariffs on larger displacement imports.

Harley-Davidson knew they had a brand that could engender loyalty. In a way they leveraged the 1% biker image as a marketing ploy to those who had large enough disposable income that wanted to be weekend “hell-raisers”. The doctors, dentists, pilots, and many other successful business men wanted to show they were still “rebels without a cause.” They sold on “sex appeal”. Even the historical Triumph Motorcycle brand was resurrected by a successful British real estate mogul.

Meanwhile Honda, the always market savvy and almost always reliable manufacturer of small bikes, continued their onslaught from the 1970’s with ever larger and more sophisticated bikes, but never forgot the younger more economy minded motorcyclist. They understood the ageing demographic too, by developing and continually upgrading the Honda Goldwing. The closest thing to a Bentley or Cadillac on two wheels, but with handling and power of some sport bikes. Honda also found the off-road segment was a market worthy of pursuing. The biggest market for Honda is Asia, with small displacement & Moped size bikes.

Polaris came into the market with the Victory and later, doubled down with the purchase of the Indian brand of motorcycles. Indian was the historical rival of Harley-Davidson and some say, the most beautiful of the earlier 30’s art-deco inspired styling. It didn’t really pay much attention to what was currently trending as it slowly grew from the bigger rivals.

Harley-Davidson has social and consumer branding down to a science. They sell a lot of other merchandise and they get free advertising. Almost everywhere you look you will see a clothing item or sticker with the name of the company. I don’t know if they aren’t a more recognizable brand than Coca-Cola.

Honda sells machines to every conceivable market segment with a reputation of reliability. I’ve been a Honda motorcycle owner and fan of the product since the late 1990’s. I’ve never had a breakdown. If you do the normal maintenance, (which isn’t much), you can expect that when you turn on the key, you’re in for a pleasant experience of getting to your destination.

So who or what is Victory, other than a name? I saw a couple of their models that I liked, but I know the older riders tend to like the Harley. It’s also gotten very reliable and they’ve come out with some new models to address the younger and less willing to spend mega-dollars on two wheels, consumer. The big luxury tourers offered by Victory seemed to use a merger of the Jetsons meet the Croats idea of design.

victory-motorcycle-2017-lineup

Victory went after the same market segment as Harley-Davidson. That’s primarily, the over 50 male crowd. They didn’t offer models that would appeal to a younger segment, like sport bikes or financially frugal riders. For the most part, they ignored marketing to women. How then could they see a path to success? Build a better mouse trap? As I said, Honda is incredibly reliable and Harley isn’t too far behind. Increase displacement? Harley-Davidson has been doing that. In recent years, Harley-Davidson has steadily increased displacement since 1999 – 88 cu in (1,450 cc), 96 cu in (1,584 cc), 103 cu in (1,690 cc), 110 cu. in. (1,801 cc). Honda Motorcycles did produce a larger V-Twin (1800cc) from 2001 thru 2008 in Marysville Ohio. They have backed off the larger displacement bikes, concentrating on a different market segment.

Sales statistics for 2105 (U.S. only)
——————————–
Harley-Davidson  – 1
Honda Motorcycle Group – 2
Victory was 10th in the list. Still, they reported this rosy forecast in 2016

harley-davidson_motorcycle_sales_stats

Where does Polaris Industries fit into the motorcycle industry going forward? They claim they will focus more on their Indian brand. This is supposedly a stronger brand for them. The high-end Victory Motorcycles were in the mid $20K and Indian is right about there as well.

Motorcycle Annual Sales Numbers for 2015

Manufacturer North America sales Worldwide sales
Honda Motors 286,000 10.73 million
Harley-Davidson 189,082* 264,627
Yamaha 89,000 5.22 million
Kawasaki 51,000 524,000**
Suzuki 35,000 est. 1.11 million (est.)
BMW n/a 136,963
Ducati 12,132 54,800

Personally, I think they’re done and will entirely leave the two-wheel market in a few years. I don’t think you have to be a marketing guru to realize the almost insurmountable position they’re in. Another air/oil cooled V-twin motorcycle, no matter how old the original brand is, or how beautiful the bike looks isn’t likely to spur an increasing demand or expanded market share. Triumph Motorcycles offers that rich tradition at generally a lower cost of entry.

indian_motorcycles_lineup_2017

Photo courtesy – American Iron

Younger people are more likely to purchase a car which meets their sport and-or fuel economy requirements in transportation. Polaris has many other recreation oriented products which provide them revenue. I think this announcement has damaged their credibility.

Going Out On A Limb

I’ve made predictions before about trends in technology, but mostly to myself. I’m often right, but you would have no way of knowing that, so here’s one I’ll announce in a way that can prove whether I got it right or wrong. Assuming I’m around and this blog is still accessible.

Here are my predictions….

electric charge stationThe internal combustion reciprocating gasoline engine is just about at its zenith in popularity. Over the next several years, we’ll see a decline in its consumer use.
Why?
There are some fundamental reasons to believe this is true but it primarily depends on only two.

  • Continued increase in fuel prices which make operational costs higher
  • Development and improvement of electric-powered vehicles
  • Availability of charging stations
  • Legislation forcing automotive manufacturers to retool or fade away
  • Removal of price support (tax incentives) for large petroleum companies

I think full conversion to an alternate engine/propulsion system is still an unpredictable time frame. It may take 10 to 15 years for this technology to be prevalent. Twenty to thirty years and I think the gasoline internal combustion engine will go away like steam engines. Sure, there will be some left but more of a curiosity on the way things were rather than anyone wanting them. The one thing that can and probably will impact the development & distribution of electric power cars is legislation. There has been a significant push by some of the public toward legislation affecting output of carbon emissions. It doesn’t matter if you are in a panic or unconcerned about global climate change, the reason government officials are for the idea of limiting carbon emissions, is it gives them more control and tax revenue. Money is power and if tax policy can be shaped to place limits on industry and their products as well as allowing trading these credits for tax purposes (cap & trade), you know they like the idea. Why else would they use the IRS as a punitory administrator in health care? This is simply an expansion of power. Good intentions aside, power likes to aggregate more power. There’s a common bond between an environmental agenda and political power, so that is why I think there will be more controls and incentives to seek alternative power sources for transportation.

Tesla supercharger station

Tesla Supercharger station

Refueling is the key and the charging station proliferation will play an important role in the wider acceptance of this type of mobility. Significant efforts have been made in some areas of the country which have public charging stations available for work. You drive to your place of employment and they provide an electrical plug-in. Many homes are already equipped with 220 volt power connections. Having an outside or in garage charging connection is something within the scope of a licensed electrician.

Tesla motors is at the forefront of making this technology viable. They have worked with companies to install charging facilities so it’s possible to drive across country with their long-range electric vehicles. Any vehicle only capable of 100 miles or less between charges wouldn’t work but the Tesla is in the 200 to 400 mile between charge range. Rapid charge is possible but their other proposal is to use quick battery exchange. You drive up and the battery pack to your vehicle is quickly removed and a fully charged one takes it’s place. Again, as more electric vehicles are on the road, new ways of providing quick re-fuel will be made possible. They have also installed a few supercharger stations which provide a range of about 150 miles in 30 minutes time.

What are some of the additional benefits or impetus to promote electric drive technology? Let’s examine what happened in another form of transportation history. Steam locomotives opened a new era in large capacity, fast transportation. Wide spread use beginning in the 19th century continued into the first 3rd of the 20th century. Then a completely new technology was introduced, diesel-electric locomotives started use in the 1930’s and by the early 1950’s, steam engine powered trains were part of history. The diesel-electric locomotive was a hybrid and in a way points to modern automotive hybrids. Electric motors were used at the wheels as primary mover and a diesel engine running an alternator was a constant source of electrical generation. Hybrid cars such as the GM volt use a gasoline engine coupled to a generator to do much of the same type of work. I think this is an interim step, fully electric will be the eventual dominate form.

Steam powered locomotives were ‘settled technology’. Even though they were more complex, steam engines were admired for their speed & pulling power, all of that appealed to the engineers at the time. They had a life unto themselves from the way they sounded to how they responded to throttle application. In short, they had their adherents. When the diesel-electric locomotive was introduced several things happened, all of the existing fueling locations were no longer necessary, coal and water stations were outmoded. steam engine locomotiveServiceability was improved, because these new locomotive propulsion systems were a lot less complex and required less maintenance. This is exactly the way it is for all-electric vehicles. Hybrid automotive systems don’t accomplish the fewer parts rule. The complexity for electric cars and the general reliability of motors and electronics can help the consumer to reduce cost as well as fuel savings. Electric cars are more efficient in energy conversion as well. Battery life is a significant factor because replacement is usually required after a few years and the replacement cost is significant. More production should reduce costs and improvements in battery technology make that attainable.

The United States will have to find a way forward on energy policy or its future isn’t going to be a good one. The constant all or nothing mentality needs to move past the petty partisanship because if we are to find strategies that work, cooperation is needed. Simply passing law that mandates a 30% reduction of carbon emissions in coal fired electric power plants aren’t going to manifest productive outcome. Energy costs force people to change but those who suffer the most are the lower-income individuals and families. They need to have electric costs which are affordable and dependable transportation is critical if they are to fend for themselves. Politics often makes problems worse rather than help because unforeseen or at least, under researched insufficiently explored consequences are a result.

Tesla and BMW are in cooperative talks

Clearly, until now the rest of the industry had rejected Tesla’s charging technology, which goes beyond just the physical plug. One can imagine numerous reasons for this, but at the top of the list could easily be the issue of control. When you’re dealing with a connector/plug standard, it’s important that a competitor can’t mess with it.

After all, it takes approximately five years to develop a car, and you are committing to a long-term standard in the automotive industry that goes well beyond five years. People take decades to get used to things, and you have to install things both at home and at public charging stations. Messing with this plug and standard is a huge issue.

Tesla is constrained is that it can’t hire engineers fast enough, and automotive engineering projects simply take a lot of time. Testing new automotive systems — batteries, bodies, motors, electronics — takes years.

From a strict investment standpoint, it had become clear that Tesla’s charging network was a major advantage. Even if someone else were to deliver a car with 265 miles of pure battery-electric range, all other things equal, a consumer would prefer a car that could be recharged quickly on longer routes.

If you have a critical advantage, you exploit it. You don’t give it away for a small fee when you didn’t really need that tiny sliver of financing anyway. Today, if you want a 265-mile electric car and the ability to charge it quickly along some of our long-range freeways, Tesla is your only option. So you have to buy the car from Tesla, not BMW.

The above quotes are from Anton WahlmanThe Street” I disagree with his assessment of the future stock value of Tesla. I’m betting on Elon Musk prevailing. Read the article if you want to find out more on investment potential. I believe Mr. Musk is smarter than the analysts advising people on stock value.

Cooperation is needed for electric vehicles to become prolific. Common standards need to emerge in this industry just as they have in many aspects of the computer communication tech. Competing charging station connections, rapidity of charge are part of the first steps.  With a small number of free-to-use stations in California, Tesla has plans for an ambitious charging station network for its new model line. The stations only work with the Model S. The Model X and subsequent Teslas will also be able to utilize these stations. Competing standards of CHAdeMO, SAE, and the Tesla Roadster are incompatible with it.

A solar powered charging station.

A solar-powered charging station.

Summarized: If we can keep from killing ourselves in other useless war(s) and our politicians start to recognize their immigration policies flooding this country with illegals (un-documented for the PC crowd), address our true educational needs and we can keep a stable growth economy, then some of these predictions will come about in a form resembling my thoughts. Don’t you just love all of the qualifying variables?

Here’s what may and in some cases should transpire.
1 – gasoline as well as diesel internal combustion engines will substantially diminish in number.
2 – Electric motors with self-contained charged energy sources will become dominant. I used a name different from battery technology because there’s likely to be significant change in storage cells, radically different than today.
3 – Hybrid systems using gasoline engines will almost be non-existent. Exactly what with will be difficult to predict set of options; an alternate source might be hydrogen fuel cells, or my more likely idea as of this juncture is a Stirling engine to run a generator.
4 – Almost everyone born in what is referred to as the “baby boomer generation”, born approximately 1946-1966, will have to pass before these predictions are true. The reasons revolve around people wanting to keep things as they are rather than how they might improve.
5 – Highways systems will include computer controlled technology permitting the individual car to only enter the interstate when the driver enters the necessary permission code to engage into the stream. Each vehicle on that highway will be autonomously controlled to avoid rapid speed changes and unforeseen lane changes. You will be able to read, watch the news, read your tablet, put on make-up, drink your coffee and eat a bagel if you want without endangering everyone around you.

I don’t see how we can continue with the present self drive single or even dual passenger vehicle clogging freeways and their uncoordinated motions and decisions which create chaos and mayhem with huge delays and injury on major highways. There will be a lot of push back on this but the alternative is greater grid lock, severe loss of time and an almost impossible to predict work arrival time. The time, material cost, energy efficiency and reduction in deaths all point to future technology taking advantage of the required on board computers and motor drive.

Here’s one other idea that comes to mind when we talk about electric motor powered vehicles. Nikola Tesla was a genius and came up with ideas we’re just now beginning to see how they might be used. Tesla’s theories on the possibility of distributing power by transmission through radio waves was and still is an unfulfilled concept but similar ideas are already being employed to charge cell phones. Placing the cell phone near the induction charging station, enables charging of the phone without physical connection. Applying that idea to future interstate highway road systems, the electric vehicle could receive a charge while driving over this highway with successively located proximity charging stations. This means your car receives a charge while driving. Costs for this charge would be applied to the specific vehicle owner registration using a scheme similar to network MAC ID’s (used to identify each physical device through a unique 12 digit code on a computer network).

An ignorant person is one who doesn’t know what you have just found out.
Will Rogers

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