Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Few Of My Favorite Things I Don't Have

In my last post, I wrote about a few of my favorite things I have. I've been admiring a few other things on the road too. These are just a few of them.

Honda Insight - These little two seat hybrids are no longer made by Honda but get over 60 mpg without even hypermiling. It is still the best fuel economy hybrid made to date and resale value of these is very high. There aren't very many on the roads but they're very well made. Those batteries that people insisted would need to be replaced at like $7000 a pop after 100,000 miles have proven to go much further than that without failure. Toyota's hybrid batteries have also far outlasted the critics.

Smart Smartfourtwo - These little two passenger cars are fun to drive. If you ever find yourself near the Lindon/Orem Mercedes Benz dealer, I recommend swinging by and test driving one. They look tiny on the outside but are so roomy inside it is amazing. The "automanualmatic" transmission (automated clutchless manual transmission) is quirky and takes some getting used to but you can drive it as either a manual (with no clutch) or an automatic. And the price is competitive with other new economy cars.

Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris Liftback - Both of these cars are the "new" Geo Metros and Ford Aspires on the roads today. Great fuel economy at low prices. The Yaris is very cute but the Fit's five door setup is more practical than the Yaris's three door. I'd be happy with either.

Zero Motorcycles, Zero X - An all electric dirtbike with equivelent power of 250 cc combustion engined motorcycles but with less weight. It gets 60 miles to the charge, can be outfitted with proper lights to be street legal and better performance than gas dirt bikes due to low mass and high torque at all rpms (even 0 rpm). Lean, clean, green, and fun.

Tesla Motors, Tesla Roadster - This is one expensive but nice ride. 100% electric and 0-60 in 3.9 seconds. It uses a BMS (Battery Management System) that can take many small cells and balance their charge and discharge rates to preserve the life each cell. In most battery packs, if one cell goes bad, it can force other cells to pick up the slack causing them to wear out prematurely too. The BMS solves that. This is a production electric car that can outperform many gas sports cars. They're rolling off the factory floor into actual drivers' garages as we speak. The electric car is here.

Subaru Baja - This little gem bucks the trend of my passion for fuel economy but I can't let it be forgotten. At first I called it the Subaru El Camino but over time I grew to like the little micro truck. It has four doors like the Forester or Outback and Subaru's signature all wheel drive. Unlike most SUVs, which I find lacking in sensibility, the Baja has a tiny but actual truck bed. There is enough room for bicycles or a single large appliance like a refrigerator or washing machine. And it's smaller size makes it easier to move around tight parking lots than a gas guzzling Ford F350 would. Like the Honda Insight, this one is out of production so it may be harder to find.

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Have I ever mentioned that I love my Scangauge II? Earlier this week, I talked with a fellow hypermiler at work about our scangauges. Mine is newer than his and can use the programmable xgauge functions. His couldn't so now his scangauge is jealous. We even went out to my car to get the manual and double check his for xgauge capability. There was none.

My scangauge II (about $160 at a variety of online stores) came from and has been very nice to have. I have been able to hit more 50+ mpg tanks in my Saturn SL1 with it than I could before I got it. My highest to date is 52.99 mpg. I still think I can beat 55 mpg some day. Right now, anything 53 or more will make me very happy indeed. I recommend a scangauge to any ODBD II compliant car (any car made in or after 1996) that doesn't already have an instantaneous fuel economy gauge.

Did I ever mention that I love my 98 Saturn SL1? It is surprisingly easy to get great fuel economy in the car. A few weeks ago, I took it paintballing up the mountainside above Centerville UT. We were the only car there. I felt like putting a bumper sticker saying, "Gone Places Hummers Won't Go." Which is true (but not conducive to good fuel economy). I've taken this front wheel drive car on muddy rutted roads in Bauer UT and up 30+ degree rocky inclines in Eagle Mountain UT. I have a small radiator leak to prove it. I should get that fixed soon.

Our Scooter, Fuzzy, continues to get ridden fairly regularly, saving us plenty of gas by getting 80+ mpg. And now I'm fully legal! Whoohoo! A few weeks ago, I passed the state riding exam and now I have my Motorcycle endorsement. I mostly just use it on short trips to the grocery store to pick up small items. My wife will take it on around town trips too. Fuzzy will be staying with us for some time to come.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Price of Gas and Alternatives to Petroleum

Gas climbed to all time high's this summer and now it is dropping. The news is saying things like the oil speculation bubble has burst or with foreign markets slowing, the dollar's strengthening again. Some talk as if the end of high costs are gone for good.

Well, they aren't. I predict that at this time next summer, Gas will cost a little bit more than it did this time around. It might not climb as quickly as it did this year but the general trend year over year is that the price will continue to to rise. Something dramatic would need to change in the market for the price to truly drop and stay down.

And how do we solve the energy problem in America? A lot of people are calling for allowing the oil companies to drill on more of our lands. That will do nothing to the price at the pump in the short term, and after the five years or so it takes to find the oil and build the platforms to drill for it, it will be too little too late for most people. And the only people who will gain from this is the oil industry. I think they're rich enough already.

Petroleum is a finite resource, I think it would be wiser to deplete other country's oil deposits first and then when we are well past the peak oil point (and some think we may be already), we will be one of the few places left with it.

Other people are calling for research in alternative technologies, funded by taxpayer money. I see that money ending up in the hands of oil companies or companies owned by oil companies to fritter tax payer money away in researching technologies that will never get sold or marketed, like hydrogen fuel cells.

What I think would be better would be to provide tax incentives to the consumer to purchase those alternative technologies, some already exist and others would become economically viable with the reduced cost of entry. Let natural market forces dictate which technologies get used. The good ones will survive and the bad ones will fail. Handing a big company a big check for research won't ensure that the technology reaches consumers. Now if that big check went to the consumer, then the companies that deserve it will get the money in the end.

People keep talking about electric cars as if they are still ten years in the future and the battery technology isn't here yet. The technology has been here for at least the last ten to twelve years. The GM EV1, Ford Think, Toyata RAV4 EV, Honda EV Plus, Chevy S10 EV, and Ford Ranger EV, all worked in the late 199os. A handful of Toyota RAV4, S10, and Ranger EVs are still being driven in California, mostly by utility companies and government research groups.

The Tesla Roadster is now in production and rolling out of the factory and into people's homes. The Aptera and Venture One will not be far behind. People all over the country have converted existing gas powered cars to electric. You can see them here. Whoever says that the technology isn't ready for electric cars must still be stuck in the year 1988 instead of 2008. I would have my own electric car already if I had a little more money for such a project.

We can kick the habit of oil today if we really want to. The American southwest has the space and days of sunlight to use solar. Everything else from wind power to geo thermal are also possible alternatives. There are many ways to make electricity and by driving electric, then we broaden the possible energy sources. It doesn't have to be oil and it doesn't have to be ethanol.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Scanguage Has Arrived!

I waited for my birthday and no Scanguage under the birthday tree. I waited for Father's Day and no Scangauge under the Father's Day tree. So I plunked down some cash and ordered one. Less than a week after ordering it, it showed up on my doorstep.

It can tell me a lot of really cool stuff! I'm hoping that my mileage will be getting even better with the additional information it can tell me.

When I pulled it out of the box though, my first thought was, "It looked bigger on the internet". The device is tiny and light. I'll give more updates as I use it and get to know it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Meet Scoot, My first Electric Vehicle

As a combination of lucky second hand store find and an early birthday present to me, my wife bought me my own electric scooter. We saw one a few months ago at the local Deseret Industries but didn't buy it at the time as it didn't have a charger. This one did.

Scoot was listed at $40 but my better half managed to talk them down to $25 because the throttle wires had been cut and the rear tire had a flat. Within minutes of working on the scooter, I had the throttle wires re-spliced and the throttle test had the rear wheel spinning nicely. This week I'll put in a new tube (probably a flat resistant one) and she'll be on the road again... or maybe the sidewalk. Its a 24v motor and probably doesn't have much power or range.

This small and simple vehicle is going to be my get used to electric vehicles vehicle and possible concept testbed. Someday I might swap out the default battery pack for deep cycle lead acid 6v or 12v batteries for some serious range extension. Then I might take the motor, batteries, and throttle off the scooter and put them into an electric bicycle, or (what I really want to try), a two seater quadracycle. I'll have to make sure I don't over do the amps with the motor under load though.

I also have pictures of Scoot's big brother Fuzzy (because his black and white body reminds us of a police scooter). This is the wife's daily commuter. Isn't he cute.

And the two of them together. Awe!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The New Face of Fuel Sucking Pigs

I don't watch much TV so this has probably been going on for some time but it is new to me. We were in our basement watching TV while the wife was borrowing my sewing machine to make some capris while I was doing some family budget work. Our son was climbing up the support post that is randomly placed in our living room. It was the sort of thing I would have done at his age.

Anyway, back to the TV. A commercial came on with two guys sitting in a fast food joint or something talking about this guy's SUV and how good it is, including good fuel consumption. A little tag in the corner of the screen advertised an amazing 20 miles per gallon (freeway)! What a let down! My wife's 12 year old pickup gets 18 mpg and a lot of that is city driving.

With rising gas prices the auto industry is now trying to sell their SUVs as economical when they are nothing of the sort. I think they are counting on people having driven their older SUV's for so long that they think that stepping up from 14 mpg to 20 mpg is a huge improvement. They hope that people have forgotten that in the eighties people drove little cars that got upper 30s easily and some into the 40s.

The FSP (Fuel Sucking Pig), as the hypermilers at like to call SUVs, are a terrible design for many reasons. I'll touch on just a few.

The SUV is overwhelmingly used to carry a single passenger, or a handful, seldom more than three or four people at a time, from point A to point B. That vehicle must carry itself in addition to it's passenger(s). The same people could be transported more economically in a small to mid-size car with room for up to 5 passengers.

The huge mass of the vehicle provides little to the ride other than reduced fuel economy and a false sense of security. Although good on passive crash safety, SUV's are too heavy to react to sudden events quickly and are less likely to avoid an accident altogether. Combine that with much higher rollover tendencies and you really have a lot less safety than you thought. In the middle ages, the knights and other nobles thought that more armor meant better protection. It reached such extremes that a knight needed a hoist to get on his horse. Peasant soldiers learned that to defeat such heavily armored foes, all they had to do was kill his horse (easier to do) and then attack him as he lay helpless on the ground. So much for more armor. An SUV is that overarmored overweight knight.

Am I against all big vehicles then? No. Just SUVs. For everything the SUV tries to do I can find a vehicle that does it better. Haul the family, the vacation gear, and the camper? Get an extended or crew cab truck. Haul lots of people? Get a van, mini-van, or micro-van. Haul a few people? Get a car. Get a single person from point A to point B? A small car, motorcycle, or scooter. Tow something or a carry a heavy load? The truck again.

As hybrid car sales continue to climb and SUV sales continue to decline, I think it is about time that Detroit starts reconsidering what it is trying to make and sell. The higher the gas prices get the smarter the average consumer will get. The manufacturers can either hop aboard or miss the train altogether.

...Hmm the train... Gotta take the family out to try the new Frontrunner commuter rail system that just started operation. It'll be fun.

Taking the Scooter Home

So I got my wife a scooter for mother's day. It has been sitting at my parents' house all week. Yesterday we finally got our helmets, our learner's permits, and the time to go pick it up from their house. We practiced around the neighborhood for a while to get used to how it handled and then drove it from Bountiful to Layton.

It was fun to ride but I kept forgetting to turn the turn signal off after turns. My wife did too. Hopefully we'll get used to that. I'll be interested to see what our real world mileage will be on this thing after a few tanks. It should be somewhere between 80 mpg to 100 mpg. That is a lot better than 18 mpg from her truck. It is also a lot of fun.

The initial investment should pay for itself over the first two years or so (which is also the warranty period). On the plus side, we paid cash for it and therefore have no debt associated with it to make it even more expensive. On the negative side, we might have paid too much for that two year warranty. I suppose time will tell and even if that is the case, the fuel savings will help offset the not looking hard enough for better bargains. Live, learn, and live some more.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Life Really Is A Highway

Welcome to Life Really Is A Highway. Over the past couple months a lot of my recent posts on my other blog were about automobiles. With little end in sight, I figured I could dedicate a whole blog to my newfound hobby.

When I was a little kid, I wanted to grow up to be a race car driver. When I became a teenager and could finally drive, my interest had wained to the point of I didn't care what I drove as long as it had four wheels and ran. My ideal car at the time seemed like a min-van, the epitome of the un-cool in most automotive circles.

I basically "fell" into every car I owned, without giving any serious thought to what it was as long as it had four wheels and ran. My current car, a 1998 Saturn SL1, was essentially a hand-me-down from my dad. The cost to me was the cost of replacing the engine when it burned out due to an oil leak (both my fault... I didn't know much about cars back then). In fact, part of me felt like that was one area I was not a stereotypical guy about.

Then one day, with rising gas prices and my wife and I considering an alternative vehicle than her truck, one that could carry kids safely since we are hoping to have a baby soon, I started looking into fuel efficient vehicles to haul the family in. Then I rediscovered my inner race car driver child.

I wanted performance out of our family car. Not like a Porsche or Ferrari, performance, but insane fuel economy performance. I looked at micro cars, electric cars, hybrid cars, velomobiles (pedal powered cars). We test drove a Smart Car and a Ford Aspire. We look for people selling Geo Metros. I read about electric converted cars and aeromods to existing cars. I dreamed of owning a GM EV1 even though GM destroyed them. I turned into a hypermiler.

I realized one day that I actually had a passion for this stuff. To me, it's not about "going green" as much as saving money and/or pushing engineering limits. Going eco-friendly is just a pleasant side-effect.

So welcome to my blog where I discuss all things auto with a heavy lean towards fuel economy and alternatives to gasoline. Life really is a highway and most cars get better mileage on the freeway than in the city.