Saturday, November 3, 2012

Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Well time to welcome in the Gen 5 Small-Block-Chevy. It's the new base engine for the 2013 Corvette with 450HP and similar torque over a wider band than the previous engine. It's still 6.2 liters and retains the same bore spacing but it shares no parts with the outgoing mill. They appear to have thrown just about every modern tech trick and tweak that exists at the engine; variable everything, 11.5-1 CR, direct-injection, dry sump oiling, cylinder de-activation, an acoustic foam shell over the manifold to quiet the injectors/pumps, and believe it or not a new sensor that measures air humidity. Oh yeah still a pushrod motor which makes me wonder how the devil Chevy is getting these sorts of power figures with only two valves per cylinder because in specific output terms these figures are comparable to a lot of furrin' big eights that use overhead cams, four valve heads, and their own heaping helpings of ultra-tech. Lastly the 2013 car will be rated at 27 mpg.

When this new design gets punched out, blown, and stuffed into the ZR1 it might well break the 700HP barrier. Perhaps most amazingly of all it still fits into the same rough footprint the original SBC does. Somehow I doubt this is what the gummint was expecting when they bailed out GM. It certainly constitutes a classic double fingered Stooges style poke in the green obsessed eyeballs of the current admin. Plus it's nothing but cheering that Ford and Chrysler have fielded their own hearty high-power eyeball pokes. Good on all of 'em.

It is fascinating that the Obamanauts seemed to think that by sheer rhetorical force they could convince the public that they they must purchase small vehicles with poor performance for inflated prices such as pure electrics and advanced hybrids. The hypothesis was, and is for that matter, that if American manufacturers were forced to build ultra high efficiency vehicles that the public would naturally get with the green program by flocking to buy them encouraged by large bribes incentives, from the feds. How's that working out guys?

The darling of this program is the Chevy Volt which is selling in numbers so low that even Lamborghini would be embarrassed. Turns out folks aren't keen on spending forty grand on an economy car no matter how much high tech is slathered upon it or how big the government bribe is. Trouble is even the most virulent anti-automobile activists have not found a way to force consumers to buy a consumer product they do not want to buy.

It is true that in the case of health care "reform" that the government has enlisted the IRS as a financial leg-breaker in its quest to force the public to buy health insurance and so compliance is likely to be high. However health insurance is, in most cases, not really an optional expense for the public so naked government coercion works more effectively. Buying a new vehicle is almost entirely an optional process for the public however so even the smartest president in history has not yet figured out a way to force them to dance to their preferred green tune while doing it. Luckily the current administration, as of writing, knows that short of literal police-state coercion there is no feasible way to force people to buy a particular kind of ordinary consumer product.

The response of the feds to this impasse has been to heap ever more draconian efficiency mandates upon auto manufacturers so as to try to achieve by extra-legislative regulatory coercion what they cannot accomplish by rhetorical effort. They are advancing this agenda in the hope of two primary effects. First these mandates are to be phased in over decadal time spans consequently the cost to the public of these mandates will not be entirely apparent until the current administration is fully out of office. The second hoped for effect is that the public, in the manner of the famous frog in boiling water, is far more likely to accept the substantial cost of these mandates if they are spread gradually over time instead of being hit by large price increases all at once.

In the Soviet Union consumer choice was severely constrained by the state, grumbling might result in a vacation at a gulag, but that approach will not work, yet, here. So stealth and subterfuge must be employed since the all consuming cause of Climate Change is so stupendously critical that any method the public can be made to swallow must be utilized. A more perfect example of "the end justifies the means" is difficult to imagine. If, despite Solyndrical bumps in the programmatic road, the greenwashed political class continues these efforts we may have to exercise our imaginations quite a lot in the coming years.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Baby Acura

Looks like Honda's premium branded Acura division will be fielding a new vehicle that will use a combination of conventional IC power for the front wheels and twin motor electric propulsion for the rear wheels. This gets the vehicle all-wheel-drive while lowering the significantly expensive and weighty levels of componentry normally used to do this job. Acura plans to used a similar system in their upcoming sports car the NSX but the system will be reversed with the IC engine directly powering the rear wheels and the electric motors powering the front.

On the surface this setup sounds very capable but a deeper analysis reveals that it amounts to baby-steps. Obviously a generator of some sort is required to power the electric motors which adds signifcant weight to the setup. The reason I call this a baby-step is that if electric motors can be successfully used to power one end of the vehicle it's hard to see why they can not be used for both ends. This approach, which I have previously discussed here at some length, would result in weight reduction of as much as several hundred pounds and make all-wheel-drive, stability control, and traction control possible entirely by electronic means instead of relying on the substantial weight and complexity of the usual suite of mechanical whiz-bang required.

The power requirements in an all electric drive system can easily be split between four motors which obviate any need for a large and heavy centralized motor. What would be the most salient obstacle is the fact that powering these motors would require a generator equivalent in output to the internal-combustion powerplant driving it.

In the case of premium level sedans this means a generator capable of developing at least 300 horsepower which means that, even in the highest tech form available, such a device will be very heavy and extremely expensive. It is true that although the total weight of such a system could well be less than a fully mechanical one the total cost of such a system is another matter entirely. Even at the OEM level the motors could cost several thousand dollars each and the generator could easily cost as much as twenty thousand dollars. That is merely a guess about the generator which might well actually be far more expensive than that.

An additional consideration is that whatever powerplant used to power such a generator is unlikely to come straight off anyone's parts shelf. For maximum weight savings and efficiency levels the powerplant would have to be specifically designed for such duty and this means big development bucks--probably several hundred million dollars worth all told. Since such a system could likely only be contemplated for vehicles costing in excess of 50,000 dollars since the far lower sales levels of this vehicle class means each unit has to absorb a much bigger chunk of its development costs. Designed from scratch engine/generator combos are in development ( but there has not been much of a rapid push towards such technology. The Lotus system is interesting but is of a quite low power level and I suspect that as power requirements increase costs would increase exponentially.

In short Acura is using this "new" setup primarily as a marketing tool and a somewhat less mechanically complex method of achieving all-wheel-drive. This can be construed as a technological "baby-step" but fielding an all electric drive system would be more in the vein of seven-league boots so it's hardly suprising they have done it the way they have.

It would really be inaccurate to call this notional direct drive IC/electric system a "hybrid" system. In all cases to date the term hybrid refers to the fact that the means used to drive the wheels is mechanically shared between conventional hardware with varying levels of electrical assist with the required juice supplied by batteries. The new Acura alters the equation by using a generator to supply power to the electric motors but the comparison still holds.

An internal-combustion engine directly powering a generator which directly powers the motors at the wheels is quite a different technological kettle of fish than any currently sold hybrid drivetrain. Whatever packaging, weight, and efficiency gains an IC/electric drive system might confer the generator cost issues are likely to mean that if it is implemented at all in the near term it will be on high end vehicles only.

Regarding the generator part of such a system a quick internet ramble reveals that a typical conventional 300 horsepower electric generator is ridiculously heavy and absurdly expensive. Of course a 100 HP generator might be more than adequate to power a vehicle since torque levels would be more than adequate for good acceleration but the vehicles top speed would still be limited to whatever the max power output of the generator might be.

All these numbers may have little to do with an actual automotive situation but there is absolutely no question that an engine/generator combo that could provided performance equivalent to a conventional 300 horsepower engine/transmission setup is going to be a frightening expensive proposition. It might be, on paper, a "good idea" but an idea that turns a $40,000 vehicle into an $80,000 one manifestly rockets the situation down far below "good" territory.

Sadly a device such as an ultra high-tech light-weight high output generator is not ever going to be subject to the production economies of scale that could alter this equation enough to court practicallity. All-wheel-drive for a pure electric battery powered vehicle is another matter but of course there the so far intractable bugaboo is the horrific expense and weight of high capacity batteries regardless of how technologically advanced they are. For this reason all electric battery powered vehicles will remain little more than a halo products and showroom traffic builders, at best, for manufacturers that, with microscopic sales levels, will contribute little or nothing to overall fleet efficiency for the foreseeable future.

Add up the sales of Tesla and Fisker, multiply times ten, and the result is a sales volume that any major manufacturer would count as a serious failure. We don't have to only consider overpriced niche vehicles to see true market forces at work. Case in point is the Chevy Volt which will never, I repeat never, recoup its development costs or save its owners so much as a skinny penny durring its service lifetime.

Indeed I supect vehicles will be powered by dilithium crystals or some other as yet undreamed of power source before battery power becomes anything more than a practically useless icon of misguided green activism. The dreams of battery powered eco-fabulousness continue to run seriously afoul of simple arithmatic. Insisting that two plus two may not now equal seven but gosh darn it with enough "investment" someday it surely will barely merits the status of wishful thinking.

Acura, and most other manufacturers, are taking baby-steps because much bigger steps do not hold out serious improvements in efficiency or cost. Unlike green activists arithmatic is an inescapable part of their existences. The continued cry that we simply must "do something" to avert sauteeing the planet should in no way mean that we "must" do manifestly pointless and counterproductive things that merely serve to do economic violence to consumers and allow activists to indulge in smug eco-preening.

Electric vehicles have been the "next big thing" for a century and the next century is likely to maintain that status. The marriage of conventional powerplants and electric drive systems holds more promise but only just barely.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Blood for Awl

A recurring trope of anti-war activists in the last decade is that the U.S. interventions around the globe but in particular Iraq were all about oil. In addition the evil Bush/Cheney were, as they say in Texas, awl bidnessmen so ipso facto they were prosecuting military action in Iraq on behalf of their cronies in the petroleum industry.

The Big Lie it is said can be created by repeating a falsehood ofen enough that it becomes "fact" in the public mind. The "no blood for oil" trope may not quite merit the status of Big Lie but at a minimum it is a "Little Lie" created by a similar process. Even the most cursory examination of the facts shows this trope to be baloney squared but rather than tromp around in that swamp I prefer to examine the oft placarded words themselves. The assumption in all the thusly lettered protest placards is that it is a very bad thing indeed, evil even, for any head of state to procecute a war merely for the purpose of securing oil supplies for either its population or its petro-businessmen.

Another obvious implication is that no person of reasonable intelligence could argue with the proposition that warring for crude is a bad thing due to the manifest truth of it. In other words intelligent people can only be repelled by a war to obtain oil supplies. To believe otherwise is prima facie evidence of a sub cro-magnon putridity of concience rivaled only by the immense moral vacuum of, say, a Heinrich Himmler.

The question I have for the placard wavers is this. Is there any vitally important resource that a society might not fight to obtain if the shortages are severe enough? History answers that question very nicely but the placard brandishers seem to be saying that we should be now be evolved enough to consider a war for resources utterly contemptible. In nearly all cases, oil included, this would be true but not because of the inherent villainy of the proposition but rather the fact that wars for resources in the face of the currently structured global commodities markets simply make very little sense. The cost in blood and treasure is simply too high to justify such an enterprise. The return on investment would be ludicrously negative.

One will notice in the case of Iraq that to whatever extent their crude production capacities have increased in the aftermath of the conflict every barrel of has been sold on the international commodities market and not a single drop of it has been directly tranported to the U.S. without proper payment via the commodities market. Iraq is possessed of considerable crude supplies but it is a fairly small player percentage wise so even in the unlikely event of villianous oilmen directly stealing its crude the world price would scarcely budge.

So in effect the anti blood for oil crowd is voicing a legitimate sentiment but for all the wrong reasons. The left hates war and they hate oil. Hating war is, to them, a no-brainer and adding oil to the distaste is pure bonus. War is just plain awful and oil of course is the primary bugaboo of the environmental left. So not only is war horrid a war for icky planet killing oil is well and truly beyond the pale. If bloody war is bad and oil is a monumental villain then "no blood for oil" is a rhetorical slam dunk. Quite a pity then that there have not actually been any wars for oil prosecuted by this country and no others come to mind that were strictly about obtaining this resource. A sober examination of the facts has however not exactly been the strong suit of the environmental left.

One can disapprove of the military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan on any number of legitimate grounds but the Little Lie that they were all about oil is simply not one of them.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mars Needs Newt?

Very much ado has been made of Newt Gingrich's recent assertion that we should reinvigorate our space program to the extent of establishing a moon base and perhaps mount expeditions to Mars. Discounting the snark of both liberal and conservative planetary isolationists more sober precincts are exploring the merits of such a proposal.

The most obvious ointment bound fly is the cost. Establishing a viable moon base would more than likely involve monies the equivalent of, or probably even greater than, the 175 billion bucks (inflation adjusted) of the Apollo program. In an age of truly insane budget deficits such a program really does appear to be, well, insane. The numbers have been run a thousand times and with anything remotely resembling current technology the costs of such an effort are wildly beyond anything any forseeable congress will ever tolerate. It all comes down to dollars per pound to orbit. Using the most sophisticated heavy lifter technology available the numbers just don't add up, to put it as mildly as possible.

Even the sundry nascent private space exploration efforts, amounting to really only stunts at present, have little chance of driving down costs to levels that will ever make any remote economic sense. We appear to be stuck. Stuck on Earth's surface that is. My personal feeling is that we will remain stuck for probably at least a century. This of course is in the category of a wild-ass guess, could take somewhat less time, and could well take two or three times as long as a century.

Two central conundra confront us. The first is getting bulk materials to orbit at a cost that is a least three orders of magnitude less than that is possible or foreseen in the next several decades. Lifting the many thousands of tons to orbit required by moon base building or a Mars expedition by means of chemical reaction rockets is simply out of the question as a long term solution. To be sure there are current private efforts to greatly increase the efficiency of conventional rockets and these should bear real fruit in the fullness of time. What they will not do is cut payload to orbit costs by the several orders of magnitude that is actually required for true commercial exploitation.

This leaves what? Well it leaves exactly one thing and that is the much vaunted space elevator that will mechanically transfer material to orbit for, supposedly, a very tiny fraction of the costs that conventional rocketry can manage. The slang term for such a structure is the Beanstalk. The primary stumbling block for such a structure is usually taken to be the strength of the fibers used to build it which will need to be far greater than anything we have now or promise to have this century barring some truly monumental discovery--so monumental that its discovery will amount to a real life deus-ex-machina. In other words it will take a miracle.

For the purposes of discussion let us postulate that such hyper-strength materials can be fabricated, and somehow made affordable. This is merely the beginning. The engineering challenges will be stupefying difficult and fabulously expensive. The costs of building such a structure could easily exceed a trillion dollars. We are talking about deploying millions of tons of ultra high-tech materials and hardware on an unprecedented scale with unprecedented problems guaranteed to rear their heads before the project is finished. With such vast quantities of complex materials and huge heavy devices economies of scale will only take us so far.

Vast amounts of electrical energy will be required to power the vehicles which would ply this mega-tower, some of which can be recovered to be sure, but nevertheless the equivalent of several large nuclear powerplant's worth of generating capacity would be required at the base of the stalk. Unknown dynamic resonance effects will crop up as the immense stucture ascends (and descends at the same time) and will continue to crop up after the structure is finished. Problems of NIMBYism, terrorism, and equatorical political factors will plague the builders. Monies will aways be in short supply with the required coalitions of national finances subject as they always are to interruptions, turf wars and political battles. As in the case of advanced fighter aircraft the project's gestation will be long enough for technological obsolescence to be a major thorn in the side of project management.

Before the project is finished hundreds of billions of dollars worth of conventional heavy lift capability will be needed to facilitate construction on the orbital terminus of the stalk. After what is likely to be a quarter century of construction the amount of energy to deliver a pound to orbit will indeed be a small fraction of what it is now but the gigantic build costs will have to be amortized over each and every pound delivered to orbit for decades afterward. Further consideration must be given to the fact that during the lifetime of the structure there will many billions of dollars of cost per decade required to maintain and upgrade the structure. Consequently the fully amortized cost to orbit will be thousands of dollars per pound which although cheaper than now is still a stiff tab to pay. The beanstalk concept, although promising, is far from a financial panacea.

This brings us to conundrum two. Once we get that material to orbit then what? There we'll be all dressed up with nowhere to go because we will still be dependent on conventional rocketry to get where we want to go in the solar system. We will not, repeat not be able to cost effectively explore the solar system with conventional rockets. The costs and time frames are simply far too prohibitive. With conventional rockets we would still need months to get to Mars and years to get to Jupiter and Saturn with severe contraints in terms of the supplies needed for such long journeys and the sundry human factors that will remain as intractable as they do now.

Nuclear powered rockets are touted as the best hope for cutting this knot. A vehicle under one continuous gee of thrust would only need a few weeks to get to Jupiter, including turnaround and deceleration into Jovian orbit. Trouble is we do not yet have a clue, despite much research, on how we will ever build such devices. All the projects to date envision devices that, although operating continuously, provide very small amounts of thrust. This would be an improvement over the massive fuel consuming burns of conventional rockets but the transit times will still be in the area of many months, at a minimum. Such low thrust scenarios could make a Mars expedition more viable than at present, somewhat, but transits to the outer planets are entirely another matter. The low continuous thrust scenario could well be a cheaper route but it will not be a particularly speedier one.

To properly address these stony problems will require truly stupendous leaps in the materials and power handling sciences--leaps that will dwarf what we have already achieved--and we have achieved a very great deal. To build a space elevator we will need materials that make the very strongest carbon nanotube based fibers we can manage currently seem like overdone spaghetti. To build nuclear powered rockets that will continuously develop tons of thrust over long periods will require both materials performance and power densities that make the most efficient rocket engines yet devised look like a child's holiday sparkler. It is going to be really really frakin' HARD to achieve all this. It is very possible that we could be in Star Trek territory, beyond the 24th century, before we get a real handle on these bizarrely difficult challenges. It is in fact possible that we might develop a true FTL spacecraft drive before we ever figure out how to get a pound of stuff to Earth orbit at a reasonable cost.

The big problem is that mere incrementalism is not likely to bear the fruit we want. Slightly ever greater efficiencies in heavy lift capability and marginally ever more powerful and compact drive technologies are not going to get us there because costs are bound to remain a severely hobbling factor. We are beyond baby steps. What we need are true technological seven-league boots. At this point we have not the faintest idea what such boots will look like.

This is a hard pill to swallow for enthusiasts of space exploration, as I am, but there simply will not be any cheap easy road to the planets let alone the stars. And since our publicly funded space programs are essentially jobs programs that will at best tolerate a timid incremental approach we will be making little progress in the decades to come. I fear that Newt-like boosterism, even if it inexplicably infects the general public, will make little difference in the long run.

The Manhattan Project and the Apollo program required a reordering of industrial focus and the injection of vast amounts of cash to achieve what they did but both achieved their objectives with essentially what technology was available, or envisionable, at the time. All it took was will and money, a lot of each to be sure. It's naturally going to take vast heaps of both of those to achieve a true interplanetary spaceflight capability but it is also going to require technological leaps the likes of which we can simply can not imagine at this time. The state motto of Kansas is instructive--Ad Astra Per Aspera--to the stars with difficulty. Brother they ain't kiddin'.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Altar Man

It is, truly, amazing how completely hobbled by ideology the current administration seems to be and how much political capital is being sacrificed on the altar of climate change activism. The lastest example is the admin's decision to kick the decision on the Keystone pipeline project down the road past next year's election. Actually in this case being a slave to climate change ideology is the most charitable thing one can say about the decision. The least charitable interpretation is that the O is a craven calculating politically partisan hack of stupendous proportions.

Since the second choice is so hideously ugly let us assume that first choice of environmentalist ideology drives the decision. Wait a sec. I just realized that the decision really services both imperatives at once. The environmental left, and whatever slice of the Democratic base cheers the decision, will be at least somewhat mollified and perhaps will rouse themselves in numbers sufficient to aid Obama's re-election bid. The rest of the base will at least not strongly disapprove of the decision enough to convince anyone to switch parties, a very low probability in any case.

So even if the decision is largely political calculation it serendipitously accords very nicely with the administration's steel reinforced rock-ribbed refusal to do anything in its power that can be seen as encouraging the use of any fossil fuel, anywhere anytime. The environmental left and the Progressive political class have at last entirely and indistinguishably melded into one. Progressivism therefore is intractable reflexive environmentalism at least as much as it is anything else. It is exceedingly hard to imagine anyone with spotless Progressive political credentials as having even a neutral, let alone positive, attitude on the subject of increased or continued use of hydrocarbon based fuels. My guess is that the total number of such individuals in this country couldn't decide the election of a schoolboard member in Flyspeck, Alabama Pop. 28.

It has become far past obvious that the environmental left simply does not in the least care, at all, if the economies of the industrialized world are permanently savaged in the relentless push toward a Valhalla of renewable green fabulosity. The fringe of this fringe insanely views this destruction as a sterling feature of the push and not a lamentable bug in the program. Man is a plague upon the Earth don't 'cha know and the fewer of us, with consequent lowered stress on the biosphere, is only to be appauded regardless of the casualties, economic or human.

The increasingly obvious deleterious economic effects of heedless green spending appear to matter not one teeny-weeny bit to climate-change nabobs. They are undoubtedly livid that pushback against this hoped for impoverishment is increasing in the largest chunk of the body politic which can best be described as the Non-Insane Community. The plan of the eviro-left to willy-nilly convert the world into a a leaky ship of their foolishness is beginning to run aground on the reefs of economic viability. It's much to early to say that the enviro-left is running out of, er, gas but this just might mean that the likelihood of fierce rear-guard actions will increase. Such a characterization fits perfectly with the Keystone decision. With the decision to make no decision the administration may be hoping that either one of two scenarios will play out.

The first scenario is that if Obama is re-elected then the decision can safely languish and the can kicked further on down the road past 2016. The second scenario is that if Obama is not re-elected, and the new White House occupant approves the pipeline project, then the environmental left will be presented with a perfect opportunity to do what it does best which is to ululate in turbocharged high dudgeon about the grotesque irresponsibility of conservatives who "want" to kill the planet. Also the opportunities for mediagenic activist protests against the pipline will increase to very satisfying, and money raising, levels. So win-win on this one but either contemplated scenario only reinforces the impression that economic heedlessness is endemic in the "movement".

Something else, which is an irony of supernova proportions, is the fact that the headlong pursuit of stunningly expensive "renewable" energy will most adversely affect those alleged darlings of the Progressive political class--the working stiff. Now though those stiffs, who make up most of the trade unions, are starting to get a clue so one might think that consideration for lower income workers would help ameliorate a consequences be damned rise in energy prices. Please to think again. Presumably unions are so deep in the bag of the Democratic party that they can be flayed economically without serious consequence. This fact may well be why the administration's quasi and extra-legal attempts to strengthen unions are taking place. Give with one hand and take with the other. Situation neutralized.

Now though, with the cronyism and financial ineptitude of the greens as exemplified by such as, but certainly not limited to, Solyndra becoming too blatant even for many stalwart unionists, it should be possible for the GOP to cut a goodly number of disenchanted steers out the union herd. The possibility of fracturing the union vote should terrify Progressives but bound hands and feet to the environmental left as they have become they simply may just not care.

The Keystone decision delay is therefore a political high wire act requiring a very specific set of dominoes to obediently topple in the correct direction. Worthy of insertion at this point is the hoary cliched response of UK PM Harold MacMillan who, when asked what he most feared most, replied, "Events dear boy, events." Progressives seem not to be able to seriously understand that for their grand plans a worldwide financial meltdown could accurately be characterized as an "event" that might spectacularly explode those plans.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The E-Bridget

Review of The E-Bridget concept from U.S.A. Motors.
By Dennis Mac Luggage
Car and Track Trends Magazine
December 2013

Sonny Sanderson, CEO of U.S.A. Motors has unquestionably been gratified by the sales of the Bridget roadster which stand at around 10,000 units in the last year and a half. This is very healthy volume for such a niche vehicle but if the economy were not still in the throes of recovery then the figure would likely be higher. S'ok though because the volume is fairly closely matched to the small factory's capacity and quality of the sweet little ride has not suffered and in fact gripes & gremlins have been in very short supply. This is most likely due to the car's simplicity, many fewer things to go wrong, and who couldn't love that? The firm is modestly profitable as well which is a rarity in the niche market.

Much of this no doubt must be laid at the feet of U.S.A. Motor's not reinventing the wheel, keeping the vehicle as simple as possible, pitching the car as the sum of its humdrum components, and keeping development costs within the bounds of sanity. 10,000 units would be counted as complete failure for a full line manufacturer but the likes of Tesla would swoon over such numbers. In fact the 100 mil. that Sonny Sanderson spent in getting the Bridget to market, starting from scratch, is less than, by a factor of about thirty, what Tesla has spent on getting its two models to a sales level a tiny percentage of that enjoyed by the cheery uber-Spridget.

Early this year Sanderson and his merry little band of engineers trotted out the Hy-Bridget which was a suitably minimal hybrid version of the roadster. The car worked, quite well if we're any judge, but U.S.A. decided that however well it worked it just did not fit into their one car lineup. The selling price of the Hy-Bridget would have had to have been at least $5000 higher than the fifteen grand tab of the standard Bridget and it wasn't a bit more fun to drive and fun after all is the object of the whole exercise.

The standard Bridget easily gets 40 mpg out on the slab and although this figure is becoming much more common every other make uses great heaping helpings of expensive high-tech to accomplish it. An ultra-tech direct-injected turbo motor combined with an advanced 6-8 speed trans may be many things but simple it surely is not. One might say that, except in the fun category, U.S.M. has set low expectations for its product and has met those expectations perfectly.

The latest Bridget version show evidence of very minor fiddling about the edges of its performance envelope but the looks, price, and functionality have changed not a bit. Yet Sanderson and his engineers are not resting on their laurels completely and so have given forth with another concept on the heels of the Hy-Bridget, the E-Bridget. "We did it" says Sanderson, "because we could." Also because, we're sure, that it did not require vast wads of cash to accomplish.

One thing pure electric vehicles are not usually characterized by is light weight. The Mitsubishi iMiev, still on the market despite two years of very lackluster sales, weighs twice what a Bridget does. In fact no pure EV or hybrid squeaking below the 3000 pound limit comes to mind. Since the main enemy at U.S.M. is weight then the onus on the engineering team was to make a simple pure electric vehicle that did not outweigh its IC powered brethren.

Towards that end the relatively pricey wheel motors from the Hy-Bridget were retained. For that matter the E-Bridget is built on the same mule chassis as the hybrid, waste not don't 'cha know. The IC engine/generator combo was yanked out, as was the small supercap that distinguished the hybrid. In their place was deposited an 8kwh lithium polymer battery crafted, not to some mileage objective, but rather to closely match the weight of the removed components. Thusly the E-Bridget weighs within a few pounds of a standard roadster. Atop this battery sits the car's power electronics, also suitably sized. Total battery/electronics weight is in the neighborhood of 300 pounds.

This is on the small side by pure EV standards but of course the Bridget itself is aburdly light by any standard at all so even though the battery weighs quite a bit less than what the one in a Volt its range is fifty percent higher. Sanderson claims a 60 mile real world range for the E-Bridget with a top speed of 80mph. We've not been given a chance to drive the vehicle but we've little reason to doubt Sanderson since our horseback guess, given the battery size and 25hp each wheel motors, is right in line with his claims. Claimed full recharge time, 120 volts only, is ten hours.

Since weight has been kept under control we'd expect the fun factor of an E-Bridget to nearly equal that of a standard roadster--minus the lovely feel of its perfect 5-speed trans. So the fun factor and the weight factor is well in hand but the price factor is another matter entire. Even in quantity the battery used would likely cost five or six thousand dollars and this would shoot the price of the vehicle up by that much at a minimum and probably a good deal more since high power battery management systems are far from cheap.

Sorenson claims, and here again he's almost certainly right, that an E-Bridget would have to sell for at least 25 thousand dollars and any profit at that price would be elusive. Plus now that the heavy federal subsidies for pure electrics have disappeared the market for such a beastie would be even more elusive. And so although the operation was a success the patient will be allowed to expire. No E and no Hy-Bridget will grace a showroom floor in any foreseeable future.

Perhaps it is for the best. Our darling little Bridget needs no excuses, no broadening product line, no justifications for its existence. The Simple Simon of the automotive world is complete and perfect as it stands. The Bridget is one of the great car bargains, greatest bargains period, and any real attempts to position it within the wildly complex greater automotive zeitgeist is extremely misquided.

So Sonny says they did it "because we could" but as he wisely knows this reason is simply far too insufficient to bet his corporate finances on whatever passing trendiness is being chased in the escalating techological fever of the greater automotive world. Let it be Sonny. Let it be.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Are You Experienced?

Presidential candidate Herman Cain is lamented by sundry current pundits as being too inexperienced for national office. That is to say, aside from a failed senatorial primary bid, he has no political experience at all. This is considered a dire defect by the conservative chattering classes presumably because the country's experiment with an individual with a dearth of experience has proven so unsalutary and a lack thereof may be viewed with alarm by the Blessed Independents whose support is always presumed to be entirely crucial to a pres. candidate's ultimate success.

The problem with this line of thinking is that although the present Oval Office tenant may be deemed to have had insufficient political experience a far larger issue is that the current tenant had no experience whatsoever in the field of practical and effective economics, to put it as mildly as possible. It's worse than that really. The One not only had no serious economic experience but he, and most of his cheerleaders, futher presumed that a Niagra of government spending, er excuse me, investment, just had to be the ticket back to economic prosperity.


Leads one to think that conventional political experience is firmly on the overrated side. Political experience, for all its vaunted importance ever and always drags along baggage much of which frequently has to be overcome rather than trumpeted. Mitt Romney is a current case in point along with Rick Perry to rather a lesser degree. In any case political experience, i.e. a feel for the log-rolling and glad-handing of congress critters is something that can be bought. Bought in the sense that a president can surround himself with a staff whose talents run in those directions whilst he referees the shoving matches and tries to keep the policy train on its tracks.

It is also odd for anyone to think that the experience of several decades of high level business dealings would involve no politiking. Anyone ever hear of office politics? It can be and often is a frothing snakepit the equal of the national legislatures and requiring the sort of talent of the principals that can only be described as political in nature. By this measure ol' Herm has about as much of that kind of experience as any man standing. As much as anyone, and likely far more than anyone else mired in the GOP primary swamp let alone the current big chair occupant, Cain has the experience, the feel, for practical economics that is desperately needed at the moment.

Regarding Cain's 999 plan it is naturally being attacked by the usual Progressive and leftist suspects but also by most of the GOP primary field as well. A thoroughly Progressive friend has observed that at least Cain actually has a plan which describes no one else in the running. All other candidates, being more or less experienced political animals, know instinctively that once one puts forth any putative plan it will immediately be mercilessly picked apart by one and all other political animals. It would be nice if the critics were offering firm debatable concrete ideas of their own instead of a steady rain of kvetching about how the current system of taxation is unfair and misused. As intimated above the political animal "knows" that in specificity lies danger and so avoid it if they can.

The closest anyone else comes to specifics is Newt Gingrich with his 6-Sigma presentations and, tantalizingly, he is showing unexpected strengths in the polls as of this writing. Newt however, much as I personally admire him, has as big a political baggage train to pull as anyone and is therefore unfortunately hamstrung by it to a considerable degree. Only Cain can claim the mantle of citizen candidate at this time since he has heretofore been "only" a citizen. I and an increasing number of others consider this, as they say in the software trade, a feature and not a bug of Cain's campaign.

Angling a bit off camber from the above discussion I am struck by the notion that a presidential contest between Obama and Herman Cain would well and truly be the very first post racial national contest. In my fevered mind only a race between a black avowed hard-core Progressive and a black with undeniable conservative credentials would set to rest once and for all the idea that African-Americans have insufficient access to the halls of power. Additionally the blithering useful idiots of the left are going to get little traction accusing Cain of being insufficiently black for their tastes. The nitwit parade currently painting Cain as a "Tom" or a "token" better be prepared to endure heaps of deserved ridicule, and a possible well deserved fat lip from the candidate himself.