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.