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Hemi Hybrid

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Hemi Hybrid
Celebrating the American Roots and Growing New Green Branches
©2009 Isaac Hernández

Bob Lee, the man behind the rebirth of the HEMI V8 engine in 2003, has recently been replaced by Paolo Ferrero as senior Vice President of Chrysler Powertrain. Lee continues at Chrysler, but now Ferrero, who served as vice-president of product engineering at Fiat, calls the shots when it comes to engines.

Fiat owns 20% of Chrysler Group LLC and has management power. As part of the investment deal, Fiat will provide its fuel-efficient engines to Chrysler. If Fiat were to manufacture these engines in the US, the Italian company would be allowed to purchase an additional 5% of the American brand.

Some people in America are afraid that the Fiat takeover would represent the end of the HEMI engine. At Chrysler LLC, they love the HEMI and they’re making sure that the Italians learn to love it too.

During a recent visit of the Italian Minister of Economic Development, Claudio Scajola, to the Chrysler headquarters, the Italian delegation was shown the wind tunnel with no other than a HEMI Chrysler Viper SRT-10 ACR in it.

During the MotoGP Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix races in Laguna Seca, California, Fiat Yamaha Team riders former World Champion Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo drove a 425-horsepower 6.1-liter HEMI-powered Dodge Challenger SRT8.

I have been lucky to drive the Dodge Challenger HEMI on the Willow Springs racetrack first by myself, and then with Erich Heuschele at the wheel (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eu3G-HthIh4). Erich, Supervisor of Vehicle Dynamics SRT Engineering, is passionate about the HEMI. He later gave me a ride in the Viper ACR (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcbLujK2Gy8)

Today I want to celebrate the Hemi heritage, in honor of those men and women who have given their ingenuity to develop the hemispherical combustion chamber, which with its arched shape, allows for the spark plug to be placed in the center of the chamber and the position of the valves allows for better breathing of the engine.

The first Chrysler HEMI engine was an inverted V-16, rated at 2,500 horsepower, developed for WWII aircraft, but it never made it into production. Fiat’s own history has a hemispherical engine, the one that powered the A.L.F.A. 40/60 GP car in 1914. There have been other hemispherical engines before, in racecars from Peugeot, Pipe and Miller, as well as production cars from Duesenberg. Stutz and Offenhauser, among others.

Chrysler continued developing the HEMI after WWII, but it wasn’t until the Chrysler C300 came out in 1955 that the legend began to be written. It was the first production car in the US with over 300 hp. Chrysler won the NASCAR Grand National title and the AAA Championship, with a whooping 33 race victories. Many say the C300 was the first muscle car. The FirePower engine came to propel different models of Dodge, Chrysler, Imperial and DeSoto cars. The Hemi engine died with the 1959 model year.

The legend was reborn in 1964, specifically to win at NASCAR. And win it did. Richard Petty dominated in 1964 and 1966 with the blue Plymouth Superbird Number 43, powered by the 426 Hemi (426 for its cubic inches, or 7 liters). It became such an important part of American car culture, that in the 2006 film Cars, Pixar included a car inspired on the Superbird, named “King”, voiced by Petty himself. It was for this second generation that Chrysler trademarked the name Hemi. Its life came again to an end in 1971.

The first Chrysler HEMI lasted for four years, the second one for twice as long. If we were to follow mathematical logic, the third generation (built in 5.7, 6.1 and 6.4 liter variations, so far) born in 2003 should be around until 2015. Will it? Unfortunately, as much as Americans love their HEMI, sales may not be supporting its long-term survival.

The HEMI of the future?

American ingenuity will find a way to have fun with cars and be environmentally friendly, now that our main focus ought to be to reduce carbon emissions, so that our children don’t have to suffer extreme global warming.

Popular Mechanics (PM) modified a Dodge Challenger SRT8, turning it into an Eco+Muscle car. The idea is to use “inexpensive aerodynamic aids, a state-of-the-art electric drive system and some other helpful bits” to turn the Challenger “into a parallel hybrid plug-in/solar/electric that burns no fuel at all in everyday driving.“

PM paid $30,740.00 for the Challenger, and quite a bit more on gasoline, doing 9.0 mpg in stop-and-go traffic. On the freeway, because of the computerized cylinder deactivation, they could get as much as 25.4 mpg on the highway.

The tuners went all out, trying to squeeze as much power out of the V-8, even adding a nitrous system. Then they added a UQM electric motor, at a weight penalty of 89 lbs. producing 125 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. The electric motor provides all torque from the very beginning, improving acceleration for the Challenger. How do you power it? With 28 Exide Select Orbital lead batteries in the back seat, producing 336 volts. This was the best compromise between power and price, according to PM. They’d prefer a lithium-ion system, but pricing was out of their range.

The racing stripes on the carbon fiber hood are actually flexible solar panels, which help charge the batteries. “On a sunny day, they recharge the battery at a rate of 2.5 amps”.

The rear axle was modified and so was the fuel tank. There’s also a fuel cell under the trunk. Making everything fit took some genius. You can read more about it in http://media.origin.popularmechanics.com/documents/ecomuscle/index.html.

The cool thing about the Eco+Muscle Challenger is that the foot pedal controls the combustion engine, while a hand throttle sends powers the electric motor.

To compensate for the extra weight, many body parts were replaced with carbon fiber. The car sports new lighter seats and no rearview mirrors, which were replaced by more aerodynamic video cameras.

There’s still work to do. The engineers are still trying to make the car work on fully electric mode in the city. Right now, the Hemi has to idle to power the power steering and power brakes even if the electric motor is driving the car.

The Eco+Muscle maybe a crazy idea, and an expensive one (PM doesn’t say how much it would cost to build one without all the sponsors), but it’s definitely a fun idea. My hat goes off to the people who want to reconcile the muscle with the eco, the past with the future.

Written by Isaac Hernandez

noviembre 27, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Publicado en automovil, hybrid, sports car

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Bike Dynasty vs. Kingdom of Cars

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From my Chinese Green Car column.

©2009 Isaac Hernández
I’ve just returned from Portland, Oregon, and I have seen the future of transportation: a place where cars and bicycles live together in harmony. Before Portland, I had only witnessed this in Amsterdam and Xi’an City.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the automobile. There’s something meditative about driving a well-built car on a well-built road, being present; being one with the road. But I also love bicycling. I can get the same feeling of power and peace at the handlebars of a mountain bike zooming past trees on a single track, or on a bike lane through city streets.
I thought that a world of bicycles and cars living together could be possible after going to China in 1998. I was there to document world bicycle Trials Champion Hans Rey. We rode around Xi’an, including a visit to the Terracotta Army, and all the way to the Sea of Bamboo and Emei Tan, in Sichuan Province; both by van and by bicycle. Xi’an at the time had impressive bicycle boulevards as wide as the car boulevards.
Amir Moghaddass Esfehani reports that China sent officials to Europe in 1866 to learn the latest technological developments of the Western world. Binchun came back with this report: “On the avenues people ride on a vehicle with only two wheels, which is held together by a pipe. They sit above this pipe and push forward with movements of their feet, thus keeping the vehicle moving. There’s yet another kind of construction which is propelled by foot pedaling. They dash along like galloping horses.” (Binchun, Chengcha Biji, 1866/68).
Since then, China went on to become the “kingdom of bicycles”, as Qiu Baoxing, a vice-minister with the Ministry of Construction, said in 2006, when he announced, according to the British newspaper, The Guardian, “that any bike lanes that have been narrowed or destroyed to make way for cars in recent years must be returned to their original glory.”
Los Angeles, California, was considered a “kingdom of cars” during the same time period. The first cars here were railway streetcars, pulled by horses and mules, starting in 1873, not long after China’s discovery of the bicycle.
By 1887 there were 43 rail car franchises in LA. And in 1881 the first successful electric rail system was completed. By 1911, many rail car companies had merged. In 1944, Los Angeles had two railway companies, Los Angeles Railway, with 1042 yellow streetcars, and Pacific Electric, with 437 red electric cars. The Pacific Electric Railway covered four counties, with 1,150 miles of track and over 109 million passengers that year.
But Los Angeles was becoming the car capital of the world; combustion engines paved the future. Trolley transportation was slow, moving at an average of 11 miles per hour, according to Scott L. Bottles (Los Angeles and the Automobile). But car transportation was slow as well, with automobiles spending 30% of the time stopped at intersections.
In 1937, The Automobile Club of Southern California suggested “a network of traffic routes for the exclusive use of motor vehicles over which there shall be no crossing at grade and along which there shall be no interference from land use activities.” January 1st, 1940, the first “express highway” was born. The term evolved to expressways and parkways, and then freeways, as in “free from congestion”.
But a rapid railway system still was part of the plan. Stone and Webster reported in 1939 to the Transportation Engineering Board of the city of Los Angeles that freeways should be designed to include rail tracks, necessary as densities increased. They even called for a subway system under Wilshire Boulevard. One freeway, over the Cahuenga Pass, did include tracks for Pacific Electric in its median.
The fate of the yellow cars may have been decided in 1943, when General Motors invested in American City Lines, a bus company, which in turn bought stock in Los Angeles Railway (up to 59% in May of 1945), and started dismantling the system. A similar fate awaited Pacific Electric in 1953, purchased by Metropolitan Coach Lines. By 1959 only one trolley line still existed, from Los Angeles to Long Beach. It closed two years later.
General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, Mack, and the Federal Engineering Corporation invested in National and American City Lines, which bought more than 100 electric systems in 45 US cities, replacing them with GM buses. The streetcars were burned, with the exception of a few placed in museums. It was after all, the time for “autopia”; rail lines were seen as a way of transportation for the poor.
The Seventh Circuit Court of California tried the companies involved and summarized the case: “On April 9, 1947, nine corporations and seven individuals, constituting officers and directors of certain of the corporate defendants, were indicted on two counts, the second of which charged them with conspiring to monopolize certain portions of interstate commerce…. The American City Lines having been dismissed, the remaining corporate and individual defendants were found guilty upon this count.”
In 1948, the United States Supreme Court (in United States v. National City Lines Inc.) reversed lower court rulings and the case was moved to Illinois. At the end, each company was fined $5,000, and each director was fined one dollar. It was a slap on the wrist for cutting transportation possibilities for millions of people.
From 1963 to 1990, when the Blue Line opened, there were no trains in operation in Los Angeles. Building new lines has proven difficult. If you are elderly or can’t drive for any reason, it’s tough to get around. Today we look back at the one thousand miles of rail that were dismantled and see an asset thrown away. We’re trying to back pedal and have a feasible public transportation system in LA. If only we hadn’t get rid of them 50 years ago!
In the meantime, China thrived on bicycles. Back in 1978, there were less than two million passenger cars in China… and 148 million in the USA. By 2006, the number of cars in China had increased to 27 million, and to 251 million in the USA.
It’s predicted that by 2021 the number of motor vehicles in China could reach 130 million, or one car for every 10 people. In the US there’s at this time one car per inhabitant. In California, due to the number of people with classic car collections, there are 10 cars per person!
Many people in the USA fear the consequences of continuous car ownership growth in China, and its effects on the environment and the economy due to the expected increase in demand of oil. But it’s a selfish approach to think that we in the US can enjoy our cars, but the Chinese can’t. I say let people enjoy cars, but let’s all do it responsibly. Which brings me back to Portland, Oregon.
That city has been fighting for years to increase bicycle traffic, by making it easier for people to ride, with miles of bicycle lanes, and boulevards (for exclusive bike use, away from car traffic). More and more businesses have showers so that employees can freshen up before starting the work day, and priority is given to bikes in many intersections, with the inclusion of green boxes painted on the street at stop lights. Cars must stop behind the green zone, allowing bicycles to go first when the light turns green.
The more people that ride bicycles, and the better public transportation, the more automobile drivers can enjoy their driving without traffic jams. Perhaps that’s why driver are so courteous to bike riders there, because they appreciate that it’s a bicycle in front of them, and not another car. After all, where is the freedom that the car is supposed to provide when you’re stuck in a traffic jam?
As I said, I love automobiles, but I love them under the right conditions. I work at home whenever I can. I couldn’t stand driving a car everyday to go to work and back, especially not in stop-and-go traffic. Whenever I can I walk or bike to the store. When I take classes at the university, I go by bicycle; it keeps me in good shape and saves money. Yes, I use the car when I need to go to Los Angeles, 100 miles south of my home in Santa Barbara. If time permits I’ll take the train; because of our culture of automobiles in Southern California, unfortunately our trains are not very fast, and not well connected.
So while Portland is trying to be more like China, increasing bicycle friendliness, I fear that China is trying to be more like Los Angeles. Believe me, you don’t want to “go” there. The city of movie stars is very unfriendly to communal life. It’s difficult to do anything without a car, so you become a slave to your car, instead of the automobile being at your service when you need it. You need to drive to get anywhere, and the rush hours are longer and longer. And only 0.6% of its population commutes by bicycle. Which reminds me of the sticker I saw on a bike in Portland, “you’d be happy to if you were riding your bicycle”
In the future, cities will be friendly to bicycle traffic and easy to get around by train and bus. In the future you will enjoy the car on a racetrack during the weekend.
In the future, cities will be more like some places in China, where the bicycle is still king. If China wants to look to the USA for ideas in the year 2009, just like Binchum looked to Europe in 1886, turn your eyes to Portland, Oregon, not Los Angeles, California. Don’t buy the streetcar companies and burn down the trolleys. Don’t set your bicycles on fire just yet. In fifty years you may wish you had those bicycle lanes and those train tracks back, just like LA. Cars, trams and bicycles can live together. Just look at Portland.

Written by Isaac Hernandez

noviembre 27, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Publicado en Uncategorized

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Of Hummers, Government Motors and Fuel Economy.

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From my Chinese Column
©2009 Isaac Hernández
It always puzzles me how the English language refers to fuel consumption as fuel economy. Perhaps it’s all relative; I suppose a 100mpg AutomotiveX-Prize contender (see last month’s column) really has fuel economy, compared to the current consumption standards.
While we wait for the X-Prize winner, the US government has proposed a 35.5mpg goal by 2016. This is not new. The Bush administration had already proposed in December 2007 a fleet-wide average goal for cars and trucks of 35mpg, by 2020. In the current regulation, cars must average 27.5 and trucks 23.1mpg. The CAFE standard will increase by five percent each year, building on the 2011 standard, until we get to 2016. The new goal is a national fleet mpg average of 39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for light trucks.
According to the White House, “the projected oil savings of this program over the life of this program is 1.8 billion barrels of oil. The program is also projected to achieve reductions of 900 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions under the life of the program. That is equivalent to taking 177 million cars off the road or shutting down 194 coal plants.”
What the White House has accomplished is for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to work together to set standards for greenhouse gases. From these standards, they’ve come up with the fuel consumption figure.
It took some compromises from everybody. California, for example, had to give up their own Clean Air Act and go along the goals set for the rest of the nation. Under California’s plan, the fuel consumption average still worked out to be 35.5mpg by 2016, but the curve to get there was a bit steeper. The White House wants to give car manufacturers more time to get to the new goal.
And, like all laws, there are exceptions manufacturers can work around. For example, heavy vehicles, like the Hummer H2, are exempt from this regulation because they are considered farm or work vehicles. In fact, during the Bush administration, you could even get a tax rebate for the value of your car, if it weighed over 8500 lbs. and was used for business. Other loopholes include mileage credits for selling flexible-fuel vehicles, even if these never run on E-85 fuel.
In my hometown of Santa Barbara, for example, there are no Ethanol fueling stations. I’d have to drive over 100 miles, to Los Angeles, to refuel on E-85; a short distance, if you consider that a couple of years ago, the only E-85 gas station in California was in San Diego, another 150 miles south. Today there are five of these stations in Sacramento (propelfuels.com), one in Brentwood (conservfuel.com) and the mentioned one in San Diego.
Yes, California has a long way to go, but there are also many agents of change, including Daniel Emmet, from Energy Independence Now (ein.org), who pitched governor Arnold Schwarzenegger the idea of a Hydrogen Highway.
Emmet has an ally in Arjun Sarkar, whose official title at the University of California at Santa Barbara is “sustainable transportation change agent”. He has been championing alternative fuels for many years, and is the brain behind our very own Green Car Show, since 2001. Through this show, our citizens have been able to choose more wisely among many different alternative fuel options, including some electric cars from Miles Automotive (milesev.com), manufactured in China. Sarkar is a big proponent of the use of multiple fuels, from natural gas, to electricity to hydrogen.
Perhaps because of the government credits for flexible fuel cars that can burn ethanol, General Motors and Chrysler invested energy in developing this kind of vehicles. They also touted fuel cell and electric car prototypes, but it wasn’t until 2008 that they brought a full hybrid into the market. While we wait for the promised land of the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, GM is selling hybrid versions of the Saturn Vue, the Chevy Malibu and the GMC Sierra/Cadillac Escalade. Chrysler launched a hybrid Dodge Durango (sharing technology with GM), but never brought it out to dealerships.
The two other big players in the US automotive industry, Ford and Toyota, have been selling hybrid cars for many years now. Is it perhaps a coincidence that these manufacturers haven’t required any government assistance, yet? I’m not saying that the hybrid car saved Toyota and Ford, but the fact that these companies have had these available for almost a decade speaks volumes about the different way of thinking.
Yes, GM brought us the EV-1 electric vehicle back in the 1990’s. And they have shown many fuel cell cars over the years, including a Chevy Equinox Fuel Cell, which is actually being tested in real life in Los Angeles. But where was the GM “Prius” when they needed one?
Manufacturers have claimed that US consumers don’t want fuel-efficient vehicles as long as gasoline remains under $2 per gallon. Last summer, when the price reached $4 per gallon in Santa Barbara, hordes were selling their SUVs and buying small cars.
Will it take a surge in gasoline price to sell cars under the new CAFE standards to the public? An increase in gasoline tax would do the trick, but don’t ask Americans to pay more tax on gas. We have no problem ever increasing taxes on cigarettes, but people have much emotion about their gas. During the last crisis, Oregon tried to pass a law to increase gasoline tax by just 1 cent per gallon with a voter initiative, in order to fund the police force, and it failed to pass.
Some Republicans propose a gasoline tax hike in exchange of lowering employment taxes, thus not increasing taxes, technically, but moving them around. This way we would tax something that we don’t need (CO2) instead of something we need (jobs).
The EPA and NHTSA foresee flexibility in compliance with its proposed standards based on certain credits. Credits can be earned for fleet over-compliance in a given year, and applied in future years. Current consideration is to allow credits to be carried forward for at least 5 years.
And while the new standards are designed to make all type of cars and light trucks decrease their fuel consumption, there probably will be ways in which manufacturers can transfer credits among its fleet. Plus, plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles will count towards “super credits,” by making each of these vehicles count as more than one, with a multiplier to be decided.
And since the mpg figure is actually figured mathematically from the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, critics say that the improvement of AC systems will count towards the figurative reduction of fuel consumption.
The car manufacturers seem to like the new plan as it simplifies the system, by getting rid of different laws for California, and the other States that were going to follow the Clean Air Act. Some say that GM and Chrysler had no option but to stand behind the president, after all, the government owns 60% of GM.
Obama’s office, which has been accused of being Communist by conservative right-wing Republicans, is setting these standards for all car companies, but also its own company, GM, which some say that it stands for “Government Motors”.
The irony is that GM may have not been in such dire straits if it wasn’t for the old CAFE standards, which gave unfair tax advantage to large SUVs, by exempting them. SUVs became the chicken that laid the golden egg. And even though SUVs still enjoy relative strong sales in the USA, given the circumstances, the Big Three became too comfortable with large vehicles and an easy profit, and have not quite learned yet how to make a profit with small cars (or so people say).
Does GM have an unfair advantage with the government on its side, and the possibility of setting up laws that favor their own company? The US legal system won’t let the government get away with helping its own company. It will be impossible for GM to be an exclusive supplier of police cars, for example, or for the White House to give away GM cars with your tax rebate.
Some question the government’s investment in GM. If you were to buy a car company, why buy one with so many troubles at such high price? And if we really want to reduce fuel consumption, why not invest in a new company that makes electric cars already, not one that promises a plug-in hybrid in the future? Look at Daimler, which sold Chrysler before it went bankrupt, and now it’s buying 10% of the electric car company Tesla Motors.
As I write these lines, I hear that Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co. is possibly buying Hummer, contracting vehicle manufacturing temporarily, thus keeping the Shreveport, Louisiana, factory (where the H3 and H3T are assembled) open until at least 2010. While the H3 does have to follow CAFE standards, the H2 doesn’t. It’s up to Sichuan Tengzhong to make Hummers that the public wants. A 100mpg Hummer, anyone? Why not? Who says a purely American brand also has to be a gas guzzler?

Written by Isaac Hernandez

noviembre 27, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Publicado en Uncategorized

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