Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Flat out - like a lizard drinking

World’s lowest car

How low can a car go? The answer is 543 mm, according to British custom car builder Andy Saunders, whose latest creation is billed as “the world’s lowest car”.
Dubbed Flat Out, the Fiat 126-based car is barely taller than its tyres - yet is fully driveable. Assisted by noted British engineer Jim Chalmers, Andy Saunders built Flat Out in just three 18 hour days last year at Britain’s 40th Annual Autojumble at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, Hampshire.
He chose the 126, which also spawned the Polish-built Niki 650, because its rear-mounted water-cooled twin-cylinder engine is mounted lower in the chassis than most cars.
The result is a total vehicle height that’s just over a third as high as the original Mini (1350 mm) and BMW’s born-again Cooper (1420 mm).
As a piece of automotive freakery, Flat Out is well worth a first-hand look. But in the absence of any rollover protection, perhaps its most appropriate application is as a drip tray for a Hummer H2.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that the Citroen SM was announced at the Geneva Motor Show in 1970. I asked what did the initials S and M stand for? Well, it was S for the project code and M for Maserati. And the reason they picked Maserati was simple. Citroen had bought Maserati.
So to this week. The world’s first half-tracked vehicle to traverse the snow was built for the Tsar of Russia. When was this? Clue: Kegresse.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!

2007 F1 season opens in two weeks

The first round of the 2007 F1 championship kicks off in Melbourne, Australia on the 18th March. The first season without Schumacher the Elder, and now with the World Champion Alonso in a different team, and some exciting newcomers like Lewis Hamilton, it could be a good season.

Lewis Hamilton driving for McLaren

The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne returns to its traditional role of season opener after moving to round three last year to avoid a clash with the Commonwealth Games. Meanwhile, the Japanese round will move from Suzuka to Fuji, the circuit which staged the country’s first Grand Prix back in 1976.
There are five sets of back-to-back races on the 2007 calendar: Malaysia and Bahrain in April; Canada and the US in June; France and Britain in July; Italy and Belgium in September; and China and Japan in September/October.
The full line-up is as follows:
Australia, March 18
Malaysia, April 08
Bahrain, April 15
Spain, May 13
Monaco, May 27
Canada, June 10
United States, June 17
France, July 01
United Kingdom, July 08
Germany, July 22
Hungary, August 05
Turkey, August 26
Italy, September 09
Belgium, September 16
China, September 30
Japan, October 07
Brazil, October 21
I will be watching from my favorite chair in Jameson’s. Join me and many other F1 enthusiasts in front of the big screen. Telecast times will be published on the Fridays before the race day Sunday.

The cars of the future? NGV? Biodiesel? Hydrogen? Fuel Cells? Electric?

The future?

What will we be driving in 2020? In the opening sessions of “On the Road in 2020”, a conference hosted by the Energy Laboratory at MIT, they wished to see how people with widely varying interests would respond to their technology assessment and its results. The 70 attendees came from companies that make and distribute vehicles and fuels, government groups, and other academic and nongovernmental organizations involved in transportation.
Their assessment focused on the year 2020 and selected combinations of fuels and vehicle types that could be developed and commercialized by then. Their options included hybrids, fuel cells and electric vehicles. For each 2020 fuel/vehicle combination, they estimated key characteristics such as energy efficiency, cost, greenhouse gas emissions, safety and other consumer concerns such as reliability, convenience and familiarity.
And what was their answer? Be prepared for disappointment. Nobody really knew! The only good news was their assertion that hard work on conventional technologies should produce an “evolved” passenger car with dramatically higher fuel economy and lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to today’s models.
New technologies were compared to an evolved midsize car, specifically the 2020 model that would result from a modest continuing effort to improve fuel efficiency using traditional technologies. According to the assessment, the 2020 model will use one-third less fuel, cut greenhouse gas emissions by a third and cost only about five percent more than today’s model. And that was the result of two years with some of the brightest minds in automotive technology. Hardly earth shaking, or futurology.
So are the next 13 years only going to be evolution, rather than revolution? Looking into my own technological crystal ball, I am not so negative as the MIT researchers. I do not believe that the best we can do will be one third saving in fuel and greenhouse gasses, or that the midsize car of 2020 will only be 5 percent more expensive than today.
Let me take cost of the vehicle to begin with. Personal transport is an important part of the thinking of developed societies. A large part of earnings is put towards vehicle ownership, and that will not change in the next decade and a half. With all Cost-Price indices showing around five percent per annum positive growth, we should expect car prices to then double between now and 2020, which will mean they will be exactly as affordable as they are now, as wages will also have doubled. Now you must factor in the decreasing cost of technology (just take a look at the computer hardware industry as a guide) and my crystal ball would say that the vehicles in 2020 will have more technology than today’s cars, and be (relatively) considerably cheaper.
The next factor which I would like you to ponder is greenhouse gasses, because this is what will decide the future direction of the auto industry. Dieter Zetsche, the head man at DaimlerChrysler in an interview at the 2005 New York International Auto Show, claimed that the car business is “about selling dreams, aspirations, and emotion,” and that may be so, but the public perception of the dreams, aspirations and emotion is changing, and will continue to change over the next 13 years. The driving factor, says my crystal ball, is global warming. Public perception will be much greater than it is now as far as global warming is concerned, and public emotion will be towards reversing the global warming trend. This is what will bring an end to the internal combustion, atmospheric polluting, engines. And that includes both diesel and gasoline. The public will kill these engines. No longer will fuel consumption figures be the deciding factor in the purchase. The world will want to be seen as grasping the global warming nettle, and will take the motor industry along in its wake - you can forget about the motor industry leading the world’s auto drivers!
Amongst the engines, or vehicle technology that will be killed along with this are the hybrids. The internal combustion engines are just too ‘dirty’ even when combined with electric motors. At best you are only cutting down greenhouse gasses. The world will want zero emissions by 2020.
So where is that going to lead us? To hydrogen, often touted as the fuel of the future? However, my crystal ball says it will remain as the fuel of the future, as the infrastructure to make it universal is too costly. Even the most developed nations will not be able to afford hydrogen reticulation by the public (taxation) purse. And you must not forget that hydrogen as a fuel energy source, is generally headed towards making electricity as the motive power for the vehicle.
It is now generally accepted that a major obstacle is today’s fuel delivery infrastructure. Dr. James Katzer of ExxonMobil Corp. (the guys who just made an American corporation record profit), noted that the existing infrastructure for gasoline and diesel fuels is the result of 100 years’ development. Switching to methanol or hydrogen requires building an entirely new infrastructure at a cost of many billions of dollars. “We can only afford one change in infrastructure in the next century, so let’s get it right,” he said. “An infrastructure for handling methanol, for example, will also become obsolete if we must eliminate carbon emissions to prevent future climate change.”
One researcher at that conference who did see the way of the future was Dr. Philip Sharp of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government who did think the US may soon take some action regarding global warming and he said that any action taken to constrain carbon emissions, or not, will profoundly influence the choice of transportation technology. He should have looked a little further and deeper into the crystal ball! The answer was there.
As carbon emissions/greenhouse gasses/global warming becomes the dominant factor, which transportation technology is left? Electric power, that is what is left. The world already has electricity reticulated to every household in the developed world, and will continue to expand the electricity grids over the next 15 years. The power will be where the people live. And how to get that power into the family vehicle? Battery technology. Well that’s what my crystal ball says.
Electric motors have been around for well over 100 years, and the technology in converting electricity into rotational movement is well known, and becoming increasingly more efficient. All that we need now are lightweight, rechargeable batteries to power the on-board electric motors, and we have the power source that does not pollute, and can be recharged in our own homes, using the electricity grid. Just like our mobile phones.
I ask you to think back to when mobile phones first became available. You carried around something that looked like a small suitcase and weighed such that the mobile phone user could be identified by the muscular development of his arms! What do we have today? Miniature phones you can carry in your shirt pocket, with lithium batteries that are recharged at home. Not only is the technology better, but mobile phones have also become very much cheaper.
Now extrapolate that to auto technology. The cars by 2020 will have small electric engines, powered by small rechargeable batteries. Public sentiment will have determined that we should drive non-polluting cars, the public purse will have determined that we should not fund incredibly expensive infrastructure to bring fuels to the public, and all this will happen despite the powerful oil lobby.
We have 15 years in which to do this, and incidentally save the planet. It is more than feasible, but my crystal ball also says that the oil industry will not go down without a fight. “Old” technologies that have become entrenched are often difficult to get rid of, but as the financial markets see the opportunities, it will gain in momentum. Just make sure you have some good electrical wiring plumbed into the garage!
And to all those who say that the production of electricity for the grid is a polluting process involving the burning of coal, that may be the case right now. But in the next 15 years, technology will continue there too, and expect the grid to be a mixture, coming from such sources as wind, hydro, solar and tidal, all non-polluters.
The future can be good, but we will have to break the nexus with the oil industry on the way!