The Car Geek: January 2008

The Car Geek

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Johnson Controls Open Li-ion Plant

The call for green vehicles is steadily increasing. Automakers are also responding to this call by manufacturing vehicles which use very little petroleum fuel or none at all. Toyota manufactured the Prius, a gas-electric hybrid which means that it is powered by a small internal combustion engine and sometimes supported by an electric motor which draws power from a nickel-metal hydride battery.

These batteries are being used because, well, it’s the only choice. But it will soon be phased out as lithium-ion batteries are starting to crop up. Li-ion batteries are favored by many over Ni-MH batteries as it weighs considerably less than the latter and stores more power. The only catch is that battery developers have not yet come up with a very good solution to make Li-ion batteries safe for automotive application.

That problem will soon be over though as Johnson Controls announced that they have opened the first Li-ion battery manufacturing facility in the world. That could only mean that the company has found a way to manufacture Li-ion batteries safe for vehicles. The Auto Channel reported that the said assembly facility will be manufacturing battery packs for "hybrid, plug-in, fuel cell and electric vehicles". I am sure that these battery packs will be as safe and reliable as Acura coil springs.

Mary Ann Wright, vice president and general manager for hybrid battery business for Johnson Controls, said: "This manufacturing facility demonstrates our ongoing commitment to hybrid technology. We are the first company to produce the batteries for the automotive industry and have recently announced a number of production and development contracts. We are confident that we will continue to be a global leader in the development and manufacture of advanced energy solutions for automotive batteries that make cars more energy efficient."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Car Shoppers Still Not Convinced With Diesel

A study done by Kelley Blue Book’s marketing research team was recently concluded and the results showed something quite interesting. A small number of new vehicle shoppers have disclosed that they still are not convinced with diesel being a good source of fuel with only 6% believing in diesel.

The study continued to disclose these facts:

  • 40% of the respondents still go for hybrids
  • 20% are for hydrogen fuel cells
  • 17% would rather have flexible fuel systems

Consumers interested in hybrid vehicles still continue to bloom and this simply means that the need for BMW parts made specifically for hybrids would also go higher. Also, consumers who took part of the KBB study said that they still look at diesel engines as the dirty and noisy ones. It looks like no matter how good the new diesel engines are marketed, it would take quite a while before shoppers get the idea that these engines are no longer like the old ones.

Jack Nerad is the executive market analyst and the executive editorial director for KBB and on the study, he disclosed via The Auto Channel, “Many automakers are looking toward diesels as a very workable solution for the future, especially in light of the recently passed energy bill, but the results of this study should give them pause and make them realize they need to do a better, more thorough job of winning over the American consumer.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On the Right Track

I'm not sure if you'll agree with this: For humans, beauty and power define greatness but for cars it's in the quality and safety. Later, we'll analyze what humans and cars have in common. For now, let's focus on the latter.

Kia Motors is now gaining a good reputation for advocating those two points - quality and safety, authorities of the car industry revealed to This happened after the car manufacturer earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick Award for 2008. Kia vehicles were among the 34 awardees that received the institute’s recognition.

Good publicity for its latest special edition called the cee'd SR Spectacular that features front electric windows, USB port, 5 doors, CD and MP3 player with 6 speakers, 16" alloys, air-conditioning and 6 airbags earned various positive comments.

Autocar remarked, "This is the car that will shift Kia into the big league and challenge Europe's leading hatches." Stylish and sporty, this new Kia car was designed in Europe and was made in Slovakia.

According to What car?, "Kia's light, responsive steering makes it nimble a around town and feels assured when pushed on country roads."

The quality of a car steering has a great effect on the value of your ride. It's a good thing that Kia vehicles have an electronic stability control (ESC) designed to provide comfort and protection to drivers. Through sensors and a microcomputer, a vehicle's response to the driver's steering input is being monitored thus enabling it to apply the vehicle brakes as well as modulate engine power that keep the vehicle traveling in accordance with the steering wheel position's path.

Yet, even a Kia steering is not free from steering failure. If it does, an water pump may offer a solution. A car's water pump is responsible for fluid circulation as the engine runs.

As many as 10,000 fatal crashes can be avoided annually if all vehicles will be equipped with ESC, said Institute President Adrian Lund. With car manufacturers like Kia Motors committed to their consumers' safety, the car industry is on the right track towards greatness. By the way, I forgot to tell you, LATER for me means an hour OR a decade-worth of wait - it depends on my mood. Anyway, you may proceed with your own analogy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hummer Reigns Supreme

Last year, Hummer's website was named the best by J.D. Power and Associates. This year, after six months, the automaker's site once again achieved the highest ranking in the 2008 Manufacturer Web Site Evaluation Study conducted by J.D. Power and Associates.

Steve Witten, the executive director of marketing/media research at J.D. Power, outlined the things that made Hummer the winner saying: "HUMMER continues to set the standard with a Web site that satisfies shoppers through fast performance and streamlined navigation. A focus on a user-friendly site that delivers robust information to shoppers both quickly and easily has put HUMMER's site in the top spot three times in the past four waves of MWES."

According to The Auto Channel, the automaker's site received 867 points out of a 1,000 scale. Although the automaker retained its lead in the rankings, its index dropped by 2 points.

With more and more consumers looking to gain information regarding vehicles or purchase auto part like fuel injectors on the World Wide Web, automakers continued to improve on the design of their sites to provide information to consumers.

Witten said: "Traditional point-and-click Web site navigation is changing as a growing number of shoppers use search engines to link directly to automotive manufacturer model pages rather than the home pages."

Witten also pointed out Lincoln's site which made it to the top three this year to be one of the sites which have been improved to suit the needs of site visitors. "As a result, manufacturer vehicle model pages are beginning to contain more functionality than ever before. Lincoln's Web site, in particular, combines rich content on its model pages with fast, clear navigation," Witten added.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ford Bids Goodbye To Gas Caps

If ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s the mantra we’re accustomed to follow. But are you supposed to fix it when it’s already broke? I don’t think so. Obviously, it might hurt you; might as well throw it away.

Gas caps aren’t broke and useless. But FoMoCo will soon be bidding goodbye to them. In 2006, the automaker promised to wipe caps off its lineup. Now, the promise has finally made good.

Yes, the Dearborn-based automaker has found a new ally in capless system, the technology it uses in NASCAR. Ford will be offering the technology on select models such as the 2009 F-150, which was displayed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Aside from the next-gen F-150, the capless system is also featured on the 2008 Explorer sport utility set to roll out into dealerships this fall. It will also be available on the 2009 Flex crossover and Lincoln MKS sedan.

“The capless refueling system already is available on the 2008 Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle, and it's coming to the 2009 Flex crossover and Lincoln MKS luxury sedan,” said Matt O'Leary, chief engineer on the pickup.

O'Leary said it's [capless system] something that they'll appreciate every time they fill up. "People just don't like the cap," he said. "Anyone who drives a vehicle hates that." Meanwhile, he expects auto rivals to eventually develop their own versions of the system which will be offered in their lineup.

Car Stuff has this to say about the innovative system: “The system, which came from Ford's NASCAR racing experience, first appeared on the 2003 Ford GT sports car. It has two small spring-loaded tabs that pull back a flap inside the fuel filler neck as the nozzle hits them. When the nozzle is pulled out, the flap closes.”

But not everyone is flabbergasted by the system. Aaron Bragman, auto analyst at Global Insight, called the system a nice "surprise and delight" feature, but said no one would buy a Ford because of it. "It's a nice addition, but by no means a decision-maker," he added.

Ford rival, General Motors, is adamant about the innovation. Mark LaNeve, GM North America vice president for vehicle sales, service and marketing, said: “The removal of the gas cap never shows up like a problem in any of our research.”

The Dearborn automaker said all of its vehicles will be capless. And for now, I don’t if it’s gonna be a hit. The innovative system may not be as remarkable as the discovery of seatbelts but I think it’s worth a try. Given the opportunity, I’m gonna hit the ignition switch to experience a capless drive.

Friday, January 11, 2008

An Innovative Small Car

The Tata Nano has been widely anticipated by Indian consumers as well as by the global community. Last year, Tata Motors announced that they are in the process of developing what would be the world's least expensive car. The auto industry has been abuzz with that proclamation. Even major automakers have failed or did not try to address the issue of producing small and cheap cars that will be within the reach of millions of families. But Tata, an Indian automaker, has beaten them to the punch.

Mr. Ratan Tata, the chairman of the Indian automaker, recently talked about the Nano and how it came to be. He said that his goal is to provide a car for common folks which will be safer than scooters.

He said that they first intend to use materials like plastics but it will not be practical as they are aiming for large volume production output. "Initially I had conceived a car made by engineering plastics and new materials, and using new technology like aerospace adhesives instead of welding," said Tata. "However, plastics didn't lend themselves to the volumes we wanted because of the curing time required. Volumes mean the world in this context: if we produce this car and if it is for the wider base of the pyramid, we can't settle for small numbers because then the purpose is defeated."

He described how they were able to cut costs on the Nano but at the same time, come up with a quality vehicle which can be compared to Acura headers in terms of reliability. "We did things like make similar handles and mechanisms for the left- and right-side doors; we developed our own small engine which could sit under the rear seat, enabling us to craft a smaller overall package; we looked at a new type of seats; and we worked at cutting costs everywhere," said Tata.

"We have put our instrument cluster in the middle, not in front of the driver. This means the same dashboard will work for a left-hand-drive vehicle. There are a lot of such innovations that are low-cost and future-oriented," he concluded.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

And The Winners Are…

We know that Edmunds is one great place to research about car pricing, specs, features, and whatnot. They also test drive vehicles which means we can have an idea of how a vehicle drives even without having to try them out ourselves. But it is still important to test drive a vehicle you want to buy to see if it fits you to a tee. Anyway, as Edmunds is widely regarded as prime source of information about vehicles, we should take heed of what vehicles does Edmunds' editors wanted.

The Auto Channel reported that the Inside Line, Edmunds' online car magazine recently named the winners of the Edmunds' Inside Line Editors' Most Wanted Awards. Wow! That's quite a mouthful eh?

Anyway, Scott Oldham, editor in chief of Inside Line described their selection as: "The vehicles chosen were our favorites – the ones that we didn’t want to give back after testing them." With that description, you know you are getting the best deal for your money with the vehicles picked by Inside Line editors.

The 2008 GMC Sierra Denali is one of the winners. According to John Pearley Huffman, a Inside Line's contributing editor: "Think of the Sierra Denali as the perfect truck for the contractor who actually loves his job and happens to have hit the Lotto. And just bought a boat." That must be some serious pulling power huh? Surely, a burly radiator will fit in that Denali.

Another winner is the 2008 Mazda3. Josh Jacquot, Inside Line's Senior Road Test Editor praised the Mazda3 saying: "Bottom line, the Mazda3 is Edmunds’ Inside Line Editors Most Wanted Award winner because it offers a driving experience for beyond expectations and, more importantly, beyond its price tag." There you are guys, the best deal for your money.

Other winners are the 2008 Porsche 911 GT3, 2008 Honda Odyssey, and the 2008 Audi R8 adjudged as an Instant Classic.

Monday, January 07, 2008

WSJ/NBC Poll Cites Gas Prices As No. 1 Economic Concern

Look around – what do you think is our main economic concern these days?

The latest survey from Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll cites gasoline prices as the economic woe that affects most Americans, according to the Auto Channel. As such, the Car Care Council warns people that putting off vehicle care and maintenance can make matters worse.

"The best way to fight higher costs at the gas pump is to keep your vehicle running properly. You can't control the price of gas, but you can control how much gas you burn by proper maintenance and how you drive," said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. "Performing simple and inexpensive maintenance can save as much as $1200 a year in gas cost."

The Car Care Council offers these gas-savings maintenance and driving tips to make motorists save big money at the pump:

  • Check your vehicle gas cap. About 17% of the vehicles on the roads have gas caps that are either damaged, loose or are missing altogether, causing 147 million gallons of gas to vaporize every year.
  • When tires aren't inflated properly, it's like driving with the parking brake on, and can cost a mile or two per gallon.
  • A dirty spark plug causes misfiring, which wastes fuel. Spark plugs need to be replaced regularly.
  • Replacing a clogged air filter can improve gas mileage by as much as 10%, saving about 15 cents on a gallon.
  • Aggressive driving can lower gas mileage by as much as 22% on the highway and five percent on city streets, which results in seven to 49 cents per gallon.
  • Sitting idle gets zero miles per gallon. Letting the vehicle warm up for one to two minutes is sufficient.
  • Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. Each mph driven over 60 results in an additional 10 cents per gallon. To maintain a constant speed on the highway, cruise control is recommended.

Yes, it is essential to take care of your car’s body parts. But maintenance should go hand in hand with safety driving.

To learn more about "Be Car Care Aware" campaign, visit

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Hail The ‘Grease Cars’

Now that our country is facing terrible global warming concerns, everyone should think of better solutions.

Aside from the production of hybrids, another good remedy is the use of grease cars. Yes, grease cars – those that burn vegetable oil. So move over gas-guzzlers and welcome the grease cars, the latest trend in the industry composed of environmentally-conscious drivers.

As defined by an article, grease cars are diesel vehicles converted to also burn leftover food-grade vegetable oil (aka SVO for straight vegetable oil). The oil can is available in local restaurants. Grease car conversions and fueling take some leg work, but advocates say in the end you save money, help the environment and consume less "foreign oil," said the article.

“The first grease cars were developed in 1980 on a Volkswagen Golf in Germany, according to, but thousands of Americans have grease cars nowadays,” said Cynthia Shelton, director of the California-based National VegOil Board.

What are the steps required to do the greasing? Robin Lloyd shares the following steps:

First, they lineup a waste oil source in advance. You don't want to convert your car and then scramble for fuel. Contact local restaurants to reach an agreement. Some restaurants pay to have the oil carted away so they might be pleased for you to take it for no charge. Spector and Uviller live in Manhattan, so they get their waste oil from a French restaurant literally across the street.

Next comes the vehicle. The purchase of a new diesel car has been tricky in some parts of the country, including the Northeast, because of air emissions rules, but new low-sulfur diesel is changing that, or you can buy a used diesel car.

Choose a conversion kit by comparing the offerings from sites such as, and, or reading the or blogs.

Finally, greasers set up a filtering system or station. Some food scraps tend to remain in waste oil, so you have to filter it out. You can buy filtration systems for $700 or make your own from parts for less.

According to the National VegOil Board, the vegetable oil used is not certified by the EPA. This is why drivers of grease cars also have to research local oil collecting, hauling, storage and relevant laws regarding the matter.

As automakers are improving their engine, radiator and fuels, the effort should not end there. We have to find some ways to remedy the predicament; this isn’t just for us but for the coming generations.

[credit: MSNBC]

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Legend's Birthday Blowout

When it comes to high performance vehicles, it is hard to leave the name Carroll Shelby out. According to The Auto Channel: "Carroll Shelby dominated sports car racing in the mid-1950s, twice being named Sports Car Illustrated’s "Driver of the Year". His crowning achievement came in 1959, when he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans."

Amy Boylan, president of Shelby Automobiles which Carroll Shelby founded had this to say: "Carroll Shelby is an American hero who changed the face of automotive performance. We’re going to kick off a year long celebration of this amazing man’s life with a serious party. Working with Team Shelby, we’ll throw a party Carroll’s way with lots of ways for enthusiasts to enjoy their cars. It will be one of the single most important events of 2008 for Shelby fans."

The Auto Channel further narrates:

"After he retired from racing in 1960 due to a heart ailment, Carroll Shelby began a new chapter in his career. In 1962, he forged a relationship with Ford Motor Company that created performance magic. Attracting talented individuals from California’s aerospace and hot communities, as well as tapping the resources of Ford, he founded Shelby American to create the legendary Cobra sports car.

"In 1965, Ford asked Shelby to turn its new Mustang into a dominant muscle car. Over the next four years, the Shelby team put Mustang at the pinnacle of the performance world with the Shelby G.T.350 and Shelby G.T.500. The relationship also resulted in a limited edition Shelby GT350-H with Hertz Rental Cars in 1966."

Performance enthusiasts also know that cars manufactured by Shelby are as reliable and as durable as Acura mufflers.