Bob-Lutz Business Cars Chrysler composite-materials Concept-Cars Economics gas-mileage hybrids Innovation Nissan patriotism Politics Post Volvo

Hybrid Concept Cars, The Future Is Now Part 2

So yesterday our cars of the future article was on "Didn't they do this already". I think today's category is "Wouldn't be Caught Dead in This". You can try to persuade me that people buy cars based on power and performance all you want but I am pretty sure that the look and style of the car is pretty important, too. Just like no one will ever want to be seen in the environmentally friendly Hummer, I can imagine the same will be said of most of these vehicles. In third place we have the Ford Mercury Meta One. hybridcars_130_mercury.jpg You may argue that this car isn't necessarily the ugliest car you have ever seen, in fact it's okay. Work with me here for a minute, if you please. Think back to that movie about the cars that try to kill people. You know the one, the really bad Stephen King movie, Maximum Overdrive? This car will eat you. And your children. And then your neighbors and their families until it runs out of gas, which will take a little longer than a normal SUV since this runs on nice and clean " hybrid transmission with a twin-turbocharged V-6 diesel engine calibrated to run on a bio-diesel blend". You can see how I feel this is potentially hazardous to everyone, right? Just look into those headlight "eyes". Those are the headlights of a killer. Second Place in the ugly stick contest goes to the Volvo 3CC: hybridcars_130_volvo.jpg This vehicle is kind of ugly. I mean, it's nice and aerodynamic and boasts that it can run on any type of power system (gas, ethanol, hybrid or electric). But, it looks kind of...lame. Like the vision of the future that they had in the seventies where the high fashion of the times happens to be tunics and tennis skirts. And it only sits three people and quite uncomfortably, if you really look at it. And it also takes 10,000 lithium-ion batteries (like the ones in your lap top) to power. Only 10,000? That's nothing. First place goes hands down to the Nissan Pivo for obvious reasons: hybridcars_130_nissan.jpg It's electric and it swivels. Enough said. Eventually I will get around to posting the best of these concept cars. Thanks for reading!

How new Ford CEO Mulally will save the company

Ford is in trouble. Some new models are doing well, but all their gas guzzlers are in decline big time. So CEO Bill Ford has hired his own replacement - Alan Mulally, formerly of Boeing.

What can Mullaly do to turn the company around, and why was he chosen? Bruce Nussbaum at Business Week says that Ford needs innovation in their business model, to be more like Apple and Amazon. I think he's right, but I will let those with more knowledge talk about how to improve Ford's business model (if you have ideas, please comment below).

What I will talk about is product innovation. I think Ford Motor Company has picked exactly the right person to be CEO, and here's why: the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The Dreamliner is not just a new jet. It makes extensive use of advance carbon-fiber composite materials to make it lighter, stronger, and more efficient.

Ford needs something really innovative, not just more cup holders or higher, skinner windows. They need to build a car using similar composite materials and blow past everyone in terms of safety and fuel efficiency.

Just taking a nice, stylish mid-size car like the Ford Fusion and replacing heavy metal parts with composites could cut weight drastically. Forget about hybrids—even though I think they're wicked cool—advanced materials are the ticket.

This is not a new idea – a few engineers are trying to do something similar with the Aptera at Accelerated Composites. Mulally has the expertise and the contacts to get the materials, get the designs together, and build up to production capacity. This could even be a boon to Ford's union workers. Even though large parts of the Dreamliner are built in Japan and Europe, a lot of the composite work is being done in the U.S., and there's a lot of work to be done on scaling production techniques before China can compete on labor costs alone.

It would be a huge, non-trivial problem, with a lot of pitfalls. I certainly don't know enough to even begin listing the challenges to such a plan. But it seems obvious to me why Ford would pick Mulally after looking at the Dreamliner. I just hope it's obvious to Ford as well.

Economic patriotism

I've never been one to wave the flag. Yes, maybe I take living in the United States for granted sometimes, but if you play the cards you're dealt, you don't whine when you get a couple aces. But reading Daniel Howes's article in the Detroit News today about Washington's attitude toward Detroit's number one industry has me thinking about some recent comments by Bob Lutz, GM's main product man and a longtime employee of the global auto industry. Lutz - born in Switzerland, I might add - gave a rousing speech defending the concept of "economic patriotism" and noting that we as Americans simply suck at it. Who more exemplifies how economically unpatriotic we are as Americans than big man George Bush himself, who, as Howes mentioned,
won't meet with the bosses of General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group. But he'll sit astride a Harley, visit a Nissan truck plant, herald the Toyota engine that won the Indy 500, campaign for Republicans and then have his press secretary swear there's no snub of Detroit.
Sure, he drives a big 'ol pickup at his ranch in Texas and Cadillac builds his limos, but those press opps mean nothing when he won't say carburetor to Rick Wagoner, Tom LaSorda and Bill Ford. Should GM, Ford and the Chrysler part of DaimlerChrysler receive some sort of relief package along the lines of the bailout Chrysler got in 1979? Considering the current government's track record with the airline bailouts, probably not a good idea. But that does raise a good question: Why were we quick to hand checks and concessions over to the airlines ("You wanna legally probe passengers? Well, okay!"), but any specter of doing the same for the automotive industry immediately meets boos and hisses? And yes, the domestics got in over their heads with pensions and with concessions to the unions. They've got to figure a way out of that hole. When GM appoints one of its top honchos specifically to deal with the issue, you know 1) it big problem, and 2) they takin it seriously. And yes, it has become difficult to discern domestic from foreign lately, with Nissan building cars in Tennessee, BMW building in South Carolina and GM and Chrysler building in Canada. I grew up in Central Ohio, where Honda's Marysville plant drew workers from an hour and a half away and suppliers employed thousands. The real factors underneath this problem, though, lie in Americans' perception of its own automotive industry. We now give it the short-shrift, look on it with the same despicable frowns as we gave the imports 25 years ago, and blame poor sales on poor quality, irrelevant products and that hangnail you got on the test drive. But keep in mind that Toyota's currently going through a million-car recall, the Ford F-series pickups have outsold even the VW Beetle over each respective lifespan and initial quality studies mean crap outside of the dealer's lot. Am I here to tell you which cars to buy? No. Am I here to tell you something more than your immediate satisfaction hangs on the line? Yes. Now you tell me why you bought your car.