Monday, February 21, 2011

Yale Center: Ethanol Mandate Raising Global Food Prices

From the YaleGlobal Online Magazine: a short piece on global food price factors.  Quote (emphasis mine):

Third, the US ethanol subsidy diverted more than 100 million metric tons of corn into ethanol last year. This did little to reduce global warming, and made basic grains and meat more expensive for most people in the world. Nearly a third of US corn is now used for fuel. If the Senate lowered the US deficit by reducing the tax break on ethanol, corn prices would drop and China's increased consumption would easily be accommodated. Since there was a recent decision to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline, this problem will likely intensify. A move to cellulose-based ethanol would be helpful. Land released from corn could be used for soybeans and reduce prices for several crops.

I did not realize that 1/3 of our corn production is going into ethanol.  And that is at an average mix of only about 10% (since E85 is not widely available and consumed)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mahindra MPG Fail

If you have been following the sorry saga of Mahindra's attempt to import Indian built compact diesel pickups into the U.S., here's more bad news.  The EPA mileage rating of the crew cab automatic has come in at 19/21 MPG.  Compare this with a Ford Ranger 4x2 with a 4.0L V6, which gets 15/21 MPG, or a Nissan Frontier with a 4.0L v6 at 15/19 MPG.  

So where is the reason to buy?  If people are going to give up refinement, possibly reliability, and comfort to buy a Mahindra truck, the selling point must be the utility of the small diesel engine.  If the diesel isn't clearly superior for fuel economy, then is the trade-off worth it?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

NASA on Toyota: Tin Whiskers May Be An Issue

The headline for the NHTSA/NASA report on the Toyota unintended acceleration, as widely reported, was that Toyota's electronics were not at fault, because the overwhelming evidence was that people were either pressing the wrong pedal, or the pedal was entrapped/stuck.

NASA evaluated Toyota's diagnostic strategy, and as I blogged about before, found that the only way to have an undetected failure with a runaway throttle would be a very specific mutli-point failure, virtually impossible in the real world.  This was professor Gilbert's trick, which I covered here

However, buried in the NASA report (here) was one interesting find.  One customer returned pedal, while it did not cause unintended acceleration, did result in "jerky" throttle response and sometimes did not set a fault.  It turned out that a "tin whisker" had grown between the pins of the two pedal position sensors.

Vehicle testing using a defective potentiometer accelerator pedal assembly from a VOQ vehicle with a resistive short, within a narrow range of values between the sensors outputs, identified a vulnerability that may compromise nominal limp home mode fail-safe operation on subsequent ignition key cycles and affect the malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) display and/or DTC  generation under certain specific conditions. Destructive physical analysis of this pedal assembly found tin whiskers, one of which had formed the resistive partial short circuit between the pedal signal outputs.  A second tin whisker  of similar length was also found in this pedal assembly that had not caused an electrical short.  If a resistive short between the potentiometer accelerator pedal signal outputs exists, the system  may be vulnerable to a specific second fault condition that could theoretically lead to UA.However, if resistive faults were occurring during normal use, DTCs would be expected from at  least the first ignition key cycle and the following cycles that did not meet the specific criteria.  Subsequent review of the warranty data does not support an observable failure signature of  pedal-induced DTCs. Electrical measurements on six VOQ vehicles found no indication of the resistive paths necessary for this failure scenario.

This condition must be very rare, and is not an explanation for the many UA cases that NHTSA investigated.  However, I think a smarter design would not have the two position sensor pins located next to one another.  If a tin whisker had grown between the sensor pin and ground, for example, a fault would have likely been triggered.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chrysler Superbowl Commercial

Well done. Gritty, in your face, beautiful. I hope the car can live up to the marketing.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Caribou Coffee: Ending My Boycott

In the past, I have been boycotting Caribou Coffee because they were bought out and majority owned by Arcapita (formerly First Islamic Bank of Bahrain). As part of their ownership, Arcapita required Caribou Coffee to have an official policy of adhering to Sharia (Islamic law) with regards to their business, whicn included bans on interest and pork.

Even though Caribou was certified to not be supporting overseas groups involved in terrorism, I did not want to support Arcapita's middle-eastern Muslim investors, so I refused to patronize them.

However, I am changing my position. According to this article, Arcapita has sold a large portion of its shares in Caribou, and now only owns about 25% of the company. Arcapita may be the largest single shareholder, however, the public now owns most of the company.

By the way, you still can't get pork at Caribou, in case you were wondering.