Saturday, June 23, 2012

How to Buy the Best Radar Detector

What is the best radar detector I can buy for my car? There are many different ways to buy the best radar detector that will satisfy your needs.

In this article, I will be sharing 7 steps I use for buying the best radar detector. Here are the 7 steps to know you are buying the best radar detector.

1. Find out if a detector is legal in your state. Before you start your radar detector research, find out if a detector is legal in your state. It is important to know your local and state laws regarding radar detectors before you buy. You could be facing fines for an illegal detector. You also could get your detector confiscated. Radar detectors are illegal in the District of Columbia and Virginia. Radar detectors are also illegal in most provinces in Canada and U.S military bases. Radar detectors are illegal in commercial vehicles in most areas. The best way to know if radar detectors are legal in your area is to go to your state's department of motor vehicle website or call your local law enforcement.

2. Determine your budget. There are a lot of radar detectors now on the market with a lot features. They range in price from $50 to more than $400. Figure out what you can reasonably afford for a radar detector. Remember, the most expensive detector is not always the best radar detector.

3. Determine the type of radar detector you want to buy. There are three types of radar detectors: corded radar detectors, cordless radar detectors, and remote-mount radar detectors. Corded radar detectors are usually mounted on the windshield in the vicinity of your rear view mirror, and offer the best range of detection. Cordless radar detectors are easily more transportable and are easier to install than corded radar detectors. Remote-mounted radar detectors are permanently mounted to your vehicle and are virtually undetectable to thieves.

4. Identify the model and features you want. There are a lot of radar detector models on the market. Stick with the major brand name radar detector manufacturers such as Beltronics, Cobra, Escort, PNI, Rocky Mountain Radar, Valentine and Whistler.

There are a lot of radar detectors on the market with a lot features. You've got range, sensitivity, visual alerts, audio alerts, false alarm control, etc. With all these different features on the market, which one is best for you? The amount of features you get will depend on how much your budget is that you determined in Step 1. No matter what you budget is, you should look at radar detectors that have these basic features:

> Select a radar detector with a wideband. The radar detector should be able to pick up the entire X, K, and Ka band. You want different indicators for each one of these bands that include a separate flash or beep for each band.

> When shopping for radar detectors, look for radar detectors that have at least 110 dB.

> Pay close attention to the display. Make sure you can see it clearly.

> Also look for a mute feature with an adjustable volume control.

5. Research your radar detector. You know your budget, what bands you need to detect, the model brand names and the basic features. You now are ready to research your radar detector. There are many different websites that will allow you to compare different radar detector models, features, reviews, and prices. The trick is to find the best radar detector with the best features at the your price. Obviously, if you're spending 400 bucks for a radar detector, you are likely going to get more features and a better range that your radar detector can detect to than if you spend 100 bucks.

6. Buy and install your radar detector. When buying a radar detector, you need to decide if you're going to buy from an online store or from a general electronics store.

After you buy your radar detector, you need to decide if you are going to install the unit yourself or have someone else install it. Some radar detector installations are as simple as plugging your unit into your cigarette lighter socket. Other radar detector installations can be as complex as having the entire vehicle wired throughout. Depending on your knowledge and the complexity of the job, you may need to get your radar detector professionally installed. A car audio store is an excellent place to have this work done. Radar detectors should be mounted on your windshield in a high position to give you the widest possible detection range.

7. Watch out for scams. As with any purchase, you need to watch out for scams. Deal with a honest, reputable supplier. Check out the warranty. If dealing on the phone number to see if a real business does exist.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Scam Marches On

Amazingly, my #1 most popular post is still the eBay Motors/Western Union scam.  And, sadly, people are still falling for it!

Here is an email I just received from Kathy.

I believe we have fallen for one of the scams you describe on your blog.  Is there any recourse we may try to get our money back?

Feeling sick,
My response:

Hi Kathy,

If you sent the scammer money using Western Union/Moneygram, and they picked it up, then I am afraid you are basically screwed.   You can file a report, however, you are unlikely to see a penny back.  If they did not yet pick the money up, call WU right away and see if they can cancel the money order.

Take this as a very expensive, harsh lesson: never buy ANYTHING using non-reversible payments (e.g. Western Union money transfers).



We made the call to Western Union etc and the money was picked up.  We are filing a report with the FBI and State Attorney General in case we have a chance of getting anything back.  Painful lesson for our 21 year old son!  Thank you for your response.


The sad truth is, Kathy's son is basically out of whatever money he sent, probably several thousand dollars.  The FBI is unlikely to recover a penny.

Remember some ironclad rules of internet commerce:

  • If it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is
  • NEVER pay ANYONE using non-traceable money transfers such as Western Union or Moneygram
  • NEVER buy goods from ANYONE on Craigslist who isn't local to you. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Ford May Sales Thoughts

Ford released its sales figures for May today (here).  I took a quick look, and two things really jumped out at me.
First, the redesigned Explorer is doing well, much better than the old truck-based model.  The new Explorer is running around 160,000 units annually, while the old Explorer was around 50,000.
Second, Lincoln is in BIG trouble.  In a rising tide of sales, Lincoln is down 2%, mostly due to the aging of the MKZ.  May saw only 7,274 Lincolns sold.  I suppose a new MKZ will help that, but still, Mustang outsold the entire Lincoln brand in May!
Ford needs to fix Lincoln, quick, or its dealers will starve to death.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Those Who Live In Glass Houses...

Obama is attacking Romney over Bain Capital's unsuccessful run with a Michigan auto supplier, Cambridge Industries.  Obama should be careful, because Romney's supporters might start reminding everyone what happened under Car Czar Steven Rattner. 

A very "Private equity" like takeover of GM and Chrysler, under which plants, dealers, and many many jobs were cut, in order to re-organize the companies.  The only difference here is that Rattner was using taxpayer money instead of investor money to back the re-organization, but his goals were essentially the same as Bain's would have been: improve shareholder (taxpayer) value by re-structuring the operations into profitable enterprises. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

EPA's Hybrid Payback Calculator

The EPA has posted a very nice interactive hybrid vehicle payback calculator.  It lets you quickly adjust assumptions to see how long a hybrid or electric vehicle would pay for itself based on fuel savings.

For example, comparing a Chevrolet Malibu Eco to a base gasoline Malibu, 12,000mi/year, 60% city driving, gasoline at $3.75, the tool says that you would save a whopping $200/year on gasoline, and that the $550 MSRP difference would be paid off in 2.7 years.

Clearly, the Malibu Eco isn't an irresistibly good deal, because that $200/year in fuel savings is going to cost you several cubic feet of trunk space. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ethics of Manuals?

Over at, David Sirota asks if it is "ethical" to drive a manual transmission.  The reason for his question is recent news that more people are choosing manuals, and also, that automatics are now sometimes equal to or better than manuals in fuel economy.

I find it odd that he only considers fuel economy in his question. 

A more careful ethicist would also consider the resources going into the transmission.  For example, a manual will over its lifetime consume one or two clutches.  An automatic (unless it is one of those rare CVTs) will consume several changes of automatic transmission fluid, a.k.a. oil.

Also, consider that automatics usually cost about $1000 more than a manual.  Why is that?  Simply, omplexity.  The automatic has more parts, including electronic controls.  More parts means more manufacturing footprint to make it.

It seems to me that manuals are more "ethical" than automatics until such time as their fuel economy gains can overcome the manuals advantage in simplicity. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fireman's Lowrider Towncar

I spotted this wild Lincoln Towncar lowrider cruising Southfield today.  He had tiny red wheels, lots of chrome, red tinted windows, and a fire dept. sticker on the rear screen.  His rear axle was braced and chrome plated, as were many other suspension parts.

I found a video about the car on the Detroit Free Press site.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Anatomy Of A Scam: Nigerian Check Fraud

So you get an email from someone you have never met, offering you a "work from home job".  You get to keep a sizeable sum of money, in return for simply "processing payments" or some such thing.

If you bite, this is what will happen.

An blandly named fellow, such as "Mark Nelson", will arrange to send you a check, usually by FedEx or priority mail (to give it an air of urgency).

He will ask you to deposit the check, keep some money for yourself, and then split up the rest into smaller Western Union or Moneygram payments.

The reason they use Western Union is that it is not really traceable and can not be revoked. All they need is the Money Transfer Control Number and they have the cash, simple as that.

Then, your bank will sock you with fees and expect you to pay back the fictitious money.

Here we have an example where the package was apparently sent from Boise, ID.  However, using the tracking number on the label will show that it actually came from Pennsylvania!


April 30, 2012, 2:06 pm


Next, notice that the check supposedly was sent from one "Sarah Sparks", but it is signed by yet another character, "James J---" (it is hard to tell".  It is NOT signed by "Mark Nelson". And it was apparently purchased by "Tony Nguyen". 

The fake check itself is pretty good, however, you might notice small flaws.  For example, in this case, the ink used for the check account number, check #, signature, and other information was the same color of black and slightly raised (like a laser printer would produce).  There is no actual "water mark" on the check paper, when you hold it up to the light you only see printed ink.  Also, the "reflective ink" watermark that the front of the check claims is there is not in fact reflective, it is just yellow. 

Don't be fooled.   There is no such thing as a "work at home" job which pays $100's of dollars an hour for cashing checks and sending out Western Union payments.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Some Dart Thoughts

I haven't had a chance to drive a Dodge Dart yet (I'm not one of those big-time auto journalists, you know) but I did get a good look at them at the NAIAS, and also, I have been watching the launch publicity and early reviews.

Here are some thoughts.

The Dart appears to be Chrysler's first competitive compact/midsize vehicle since the Dodge Cirrus of years ago.  It has modern efficient powertrains, a nice interior, and nice gadgets.
It is a 100% improvement over the Caliber, which was, even after a refresh, a cheap rent-a-car.
Reviewers so far have been saying that the driving dynamics are quite good, and NVH is excellent.
Chrysler's weak spot now is quality and reliability.  They need to work hard to convince people that they aren't selling pretty junk.  Though, these days, even below-average quality new cars are quite a bit better than the average of just a decade ago.
I wouldn't buy a new Dart, yet, but I would not hesitate to lease one. 
The other part I'm not sold on is the front end styling.  It seems like a mish-mash of Dodge cross and more organic influences.  I actually like the basic monochrome version much better than the black bedecked Rallye trim.  The front overhang seems very long to me.
Still, this is the first car I have seen from Chrysler in a while that I could see myself owning.

Inline image 1

Friday, April 27, 2012

SOLVED! TheAutoProphet Geocache Challenge 2012


Jason F. has solved the challenge and captured the prize.  However, in true geocaching spirit, he left the container with something new in it for the next person.

I didn't think it would still be there, but wow, there it was! So cool! Thank you for the awesome prize and sharing this great park with me. I will be coming back here for sure. Now in true geocaching spirit I left behind a little prize, and I plan on listing it on a caching site if thats ok with you?
Thanks again!

Ps. I plan on using this to detail my new-to-me 04' Grand Marquis.  :)

Ziebart, provider of numerous car detailing, protection, and customization services has generously sponsored my annual Geocache Challenge.

The prize this year is a $100 gift certificate to Ziebart for any of their services, including:

  • Detailing
  • Bed Liners
  • Fabric Protection
  • Window Tint
  • Tonneau Covers
  • Bed Rails
  • Step Bars
  • Wind Deflectors
  • Remote Starters
  • Toolboxes

Ziebart is a Michigan based company and I am very happy to work with them!  They have 15 locations in MI and many more nationally.  You can find a list of MI locations here.

As in prior years, here is how it works:  Go to the below coordinates, and search around for the prize box.  If you get it first, you get the prize.  Just make sure you email me (theautoprophet "at" and let me know you have it.  If you don't mind, please send a cell phone pic of yourself with the prize.

Here are the GPS coordinates:

  • Start: N42d 33.472', W083d 12.456
  • Waypoint 1: N42d 33.550', W083d 12.535
  • Waypoint 2: N42d 33.549', W083d 12.591
  • Finish: N42d 33.544', W083d 12.603

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

SAE Congress Tidbit: DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) Issues in US

Listening to an SAE Congress panel discussion about future powertrains. 

A question to the panel, regarding transmission, elicits an interesting comment on DCT (dual clutch or automated manual transmissions)

In the U.S., DCTs (e.g. Ford Focus) are not well liked because they have a less smooth low-speed and stop/start/creep performance compared to a traditional hydraulic torque converter equipped automatic.  In the U.S., customers are used to the very smooth performance of automatics, having mostly abandoned manual transmissions, so the jerky feel from DCTs is a big minus.  In Europe, most customers are coming from automatics, and are used to some clunkiness.

The industry hopes that customer acceptance in the US will increase as consumers become used to the feel of DCTs... but there is a real danger here to the technology, judging by the poor acceptance and near-demise of the CVT in the NA market.

Personally, I would nave no problem trading some clunkiness of a DCT for its advantages: fast shifts, full manual control, and no fluid to deal with.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The 2014 Impala

GM has unveiled the 2014 Chevrolet Impala at the NY Auto Show.  You can see nice photos here.

I like the exterior design, it is a big improvement over the current, ancient Impala. 

The interior is also a big upgrade, but to me seems a bit busy.

GM says that it will come with a choice of 2.5L I4, 2.4L eAssist (mild hybrid), and 3.6L V6 powertrains.  It should get pretty good fuel economy, but with the I4 engines pushing about 200HP, it is not going to feel very quick unless the weight is substantially reduced over the current model.  Looking at the photos, I'd be surprised if it is less than 3750#.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ford's 5 "Myths", Aren't

Ford has a post on their web site listing 5 "myths" about electric vehicles.

I think these need a rebuttal.

Myth 1:
"The technology isn't ready."
Ford: "
Ford has been putting reliable, efficient hybrid electric vehicles on the road for over 10 years."
Rebuttal: Sneaky Ford is combining hybrid electric vehicles into the same bin as battery electric vehicles.  Truth is, Ford is about to release its first modern mass market BEV.  The electric Ranger of the late 1990's was a low volume fleet product.  And high profile technical issues in the new crop of EVs show that, in fact, the technology is still in flux.

Myth 2:
"Electric vehicles are too expensive."
Ford: "
Ford has yet to determine pricing on its plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and all-electric vehicles. Though the initial price of these vehicles may be higher than a conventional gas-powered vehicle, keep in mind that the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle is being designed to deliver maximum fuel efficiency. So you may be able to save money on fuel costs. Tax credits may also be available. Check with your appropriate local, state and federal agencies for more information."
Rebuttal: Ford has yet to determine?  They already announced an MSRP of $40,000 for the Focus BEV, and current HEVs, I don't expect the final prices to go down by much--batteries are still expensive.  Truth is, BEVs are prohibitive for most people to buy, until battery costs are reduced dramatically.   HEVs do have a faster payoff, yet even with $4/gal gas, they are not exactly flying off of the dealer lots.

Myth 3: "I'm afraid I'm going to get stranded when the battery runs out."
Ford: "
A Ford hybrid electric vehicle has a gasoline engine, so you're in no more danger of getting stuck than you would be if you were driving a traditional gasoline engine- powered vehicle. The battery of the hybrid electric is also continuously charged while you drive. As for the all-electric vehicle now in development, Ford is working with the public and private sectors to help create the infrastructure that will enable you to recharge your all-electric vehicle in a variety of locations other than your home."
Rebuttal: Ford again combines HEV and BEV into the same answer.  If you have a Focus BEV, chances are you will only get about 75 miles (according to EPA) on average.  That's a mere one hour of driving at Michigan speeds.  Anyone driving a BEV must be careful about range, because recharging takes at least 4 hours for a full charge.

Myth 4: "My commute is too long for an electric vehicle."
Ford: "Because a hybrid electric vehicle has a gas engine as well as an electric motor, no commute is too long for a hybrid. The Ford all-electric vehicle, currently in development, is targeted to go up to 100 miles on a single charge."
Rebuttal: The average daily commute is about 40 miles, so a 75 mile average range should cover it.  But if you are driving in the winter, and using the heater, you probably won't have much range left for the grocery run after work, or the detour to pick up the dry cleaning.

Myth 5: "They don't make electric vehicles in the style I want."
Ford: "Ford offers hybrid electric vehicles in the responsive, fun-to-drive Fusion as well as the Escape small SUV. Other Ford vehicles are currently in development."
Rebuttal: Escape HEV is about to be killed.  Transit BEV is in limbo along with Azure's future.  Which leaves two styles of vehicle--compact hatch and mid-size car.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Republicans Buy American, Democrats Don't

According to a new study by Strategic Vision, these are the top 5 vehicles most popular with Democrats:

  • Honda Civic Hybrid
  • Volvo C30
  • Nissan Leaf
  • Acura TSX Wagon
  • Ford Fiesta Sedan

Here are the top 5 vehicles most popular with Republicans:

  • Ford Mustang Convertible
  • Audi A8
  • Mercedes GL
  • Ford Expedition
  • Ford F150

Now, there is a very interesting trend here.  Only one of the Democrat picks is built by an American automaker, and NONE of them are built in UAW plants (the Fiesta is built in Mexico).

On the Republican side, 3/5 are Fords, and all 3 are built by UAW run plants in MIchigan-Flat Rock MI, Rouge MI, and Wayne MI. 

I think some re-evaluation of stereotypes may be in order here.  Democrats will fight tooth and nail to increase union power--but don't necessarily buy the products they produce.

Another one bites the dust...

Another EV maker down.  Azure Dynamics is filing for creditor protection after Canada's investment regulatory agency denied their request to issue new shares, which Azure needed to do to generate operating capital.

That's because Azure wasn't selling many electric vehicles, not enough to support operations.

I am somewhat disappointing, because Azure is a relatively mature player, and wasn't going after exotic 3-wheel cars or anything fancy, they are in what should be a solid business: retrofitting existing designs with electric powertrains.

The problem remains, that the EV conversions are so expensive (batteries!) that few businesses can afford to buy them in lean times, even though they do save a lot of money in the long run, in fuel savings.

I hope Azure survives, but the future for small EV players looks dim. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

H1-B Posting At Work

At work today, the company posted a notice in the coffee room that it was pursuing an H1-B sponsorship. 
I have not seen an H1-B notice in a while. 
The engineering market is definitely tightening up again, in Michigan.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Dutch Birdman Is Faking

Take a look at these two frames from Jarnos Smeets test flight video.

In the pre-launch frame, there is a large black dot on the left wing, but no matching dot on the right.

In the post-launch frame, there are large dots on both wings.

That's because the post-launch stuff is CGI.

So why the fakery?  Is Smeets just fooling around, or is this project one of those elaborate marketing devices?

The Truth About Obama's Energy Policy

Obama's reelection team likes to promote the fact that oil and gas production is up during his tenure.  This is great news.

However, this cart from the American Petroleum Institute tells an interesting detail.

Production is up on private lands.  On Federally controlled lands, production is in fact down.  And much of that is due to Obama's policies and regulations. 

Production may be up, but it isn't as large as it could be.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Consumer Reports Hits Fisker Again


But the Fisker is languishing in our lot, going out mostly for short commutes that remain well within cell-phone coverage in case of trouble--a concern in the rural area surrounding our track. Just this weekend, for example, the speedometer and energy meter display disappeared when driving, on top of having several other rogue warning indicators appear last week. It is expected we'll be revisiting the dealership soon. We've had cars in the past that have been troublesome, but never anything like this.

From source.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Obama's Straw Men

Obama loves to argue with straw men. 

His latest tactic?  Accusing people who oppose his energy policy as being "flat earthers".

"We've heard this kind of thinking before. Let me tell you something. If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society. They would not have believed that the world was round."  (quoted from

Um, no.  Truth is Mr. President, we who are critical of your misadventures in energy policy, we adhere to this ancient, dogmatic system called "the laws of economics".   You can have windmills, and Solyndra powered solar power plants, and magical Unicorn tear powered hydro plants.  For a price, paid by us, the taxpayers.. 

Your plans may damage the economy further, kneecap industry with regulations and taxes, and take away consumer choice. 

Replacing Gas Taxes

GM has an open letter on its blog, here, opposing pending legislation in Washington (State) which levies extra fees on EVs to compensate for lost gas tax revenue. 

GM correctly argues that adding fees on EVs will discourage people from buying them.  However, lost gas tax revenues are looming problem.  As gas cars become more efficient, and some people switch to hybrids and pure EVs, revenue from gasoline sales will drop significantly.   Federal and state gas taxes are generally used to maintain the roads.

So there needs to be a "technology neutral" way to fund road repair.  I think a sensible solution would be to drop gasoline taxes entirely, and fund roads through some sort of usage fee that all cars would pay.  There are many ways to do this:

  • Mileage based fees, which can be collected annually at registration renewal.
  • Higher registration fees.
  • Digital toll roads using license plate reading cameras or RFID
  • Extra sales taxes on new car sales
  • Taxes on electricity used to charge EVs (smart metering)

Each of these has advantages and disadvantages.  The nice thing about gasoline taxes is that the fees are collected gradually.  A camera based toll system could work this way, charging your credit card every month for approximate miles driven, however the required infrastructure and privacy issues would be significant. 

Putting the motoring tax on tires is an interesting concept--all cars and trucks, no matter what the powertrain technology, consume tires.  The problem is, tires last a long time, so the tire tax would have to be very high to recapture lost revenue from gasoline.  Can you imagine payint $1000 extra for a set of tires?

Annual mileage based fees would be equitable, but if you imagine having to pay a year's worth of gasoline taxes at once, you are talking about a hefty bill, on the order of $500-700/year for a typical motorist.  Still, if I had to pick my favorite taxation method I think annual miles driven would be my choice.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Malloy Hoverbike Model Flight

The guy working on a hoverbike (twin propeller ground effect aircraft) has built and tested a scale RC model. This is a big step, because having a stable control system is key to having a safe bike.


Epic Win Video.

Darth Vader.
Playing the Star Wars theme on bagpipes.
Riding a unicycle.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Review: Mag-na-port Porting

There is a gun customization and smithing outfit in Harrison Twp, MI, called Mag-na-port Intl. Mag-na-port is famous for inventing an EDM process to cut trapezoidal ports into gun barrels.  The idea is that by venting the gasses upwards, you reduce muzzle jump and felt recoil.

I have always wanted to get some of my guns ported, so I finally took the plunge and dropped off my Beretta M9 9mm, and my Remington 870 12ga shotgun at Mag-na-port.

A week later, they were finished.  The cost was about $250 for both guns, and Mag-na-port gave me a 15% coupon to use for my next service.

The ports were cut cleaning through both barrels, leaving crisp edges and no burrs or other leftovers that I could see.

Shooting the 870

Not the v-shaped gas streams venting upwards from the ports.

Today I took the guns to an indoor shooting range that I like (Target Sports on Woodward) to test drive the ports.

The Beretta M9 was never a very hard recoiling gun to begin with, but I do think the porting helped reduce muzzle rise.  It was quite pleasant to shoot.  I did notice the bright orange gas streams venting upwards to either side of the barrel, but they were gone so quickly that they were not obtrusive.  I need to go back and shoot some +P ammo, as I only had Winchester white box for this trip.

The 870 was still a 12 ga shoulder bruiser, but I also felt that the muzzle rise was reduced.   Additional flash from the vents was not very apparent to me.

For both guns, I could not tell that they were any louder.

Shooting the 870:


Shooting the M9:

* I did not receive any compensation from Mag-na-port for this review, I am just a customer.

Friday, March 9, 2012

EREV Advantages

The beauty, from an engineering point of view, of the EREV (range extended electric vehicle) architecture, is that in theory the range extender technology could be adjusted to be the most efficient or cost effective, without changing the essential function of the vehicle.  For example, if a new engine maker such as Cyclone Power or EcoMotors, or perhaps some future Sterling engine developer package an emissions compliant powerplant which could generate enough electricity to sustain an EREV, we could see vehicles which burn different fuels than gasoline competing against the old gasoline ICE.

The problem with EREVs, of course, is that they are very complex, requiring both electric and combustion systems, with their separate controls and sensor networks.   As Fisker and GM are finding out, this is not easy to pull off cleanly.

"White Box" Range Extender Engines

Consumer Reports blog has an interesting interview with Henrik Fisker, the daddy of the troubled Fisker Karma (he must feel somewhat like Paris Hilton's dad).

In one of his answers, Fisker states that he sees a market for range extender engines which are non-brand, because they are no longer the core of the automobile.

When do you predict electric cars and plug-in hybrids will become more affordable?

Over the coming years, I could see several opportunities where gasoline engines are produced by certain carmakers in very high volume and provided to various carmakers who make electric cars with range extenders, because the gasoline engine only functions as a range extender, so you can take cost out of that gasoline engine in the future. And you can also produce in very high volumes for various carmakers since [wouldn't any longer be] the heart of the automobile.

This is a very interesting prediction, and I think it could be good for companies such as GM, who have expertise in producing small engines that meet stringent emissions requirements and have good reliability.  OEMs could soak up their extra manufacturing capacity by making "white box" engines to sell as range extenders, which they would probably have to sell complete with engine controller and software calibration.   They would, however, be enabling the competition. 

On the other hand, what established automakers are already good at is making small engines.  What is elusive is cost effective development of the electric side of things, such as regenerative braking, battery management, etc.  So perhaps a better idea for the likes of Fisker and Tesla, if they are to survive, is to sell their electric propulsion expertise to laggards in the hybrid-electric space, such as Chrysler and BMW. 

Review: Detroit Tire & Wheel Co. (Old Redford)

The other day, I noticed a nasty bulge in the sidewall of the right rear tire on my car. Bulges are something you want to be careful with, because it means that the layers of rubber that form the critical sidewall of your tire are delaminating, or weakened in some other way. There is a risk that the bulge will rupture and you will find yourself with a shredded tire at highway speed.

The new tire dealers want about $200 for my tires. My other 3 tires are in good shape but are worn to about 50%, it seems silly to put a new tire with 3 older ones. So I started looking for a used tire.

Some people balk at used tires, but in my opinion, they are like any other car part. If you buy one used, and inspect it carefully, you are going to save money and most likely have a perfectly useable tire.

I did some calling around, but couldn't find anyone with my exact tire in stock. I wanted to match the exact make of tire, so that my tread pattern, grip, noise, and other characteristics would match. On a lark, I stopped in at Detroit Tire & Wheel Co., a wheel and tire shop in Old Redford, on the corner of Grand River and Lahser (22116 Grand River313 794 0888)

They guys working here found an exact match to my tire, with about 50% tread life remaining in their collection, mounted and balanced it, and had me out in about 15 minutes. The cost was a reasonable $50 --  $35 for the tire and $15 for mounting and balancing.

If you need a used tire, these guys are a good choice.

*I was not compensated in any way for this review, I'm just a happy customer.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fisker: Half-Baked

Ford was roundly (and rightfully) scolded by the automotive press and by consumers for shipping a buggy, slow MyFord Touch infotainment system.

But, if Sync crashes and reboots on you, the car is driveable.

There are growing reports on internet forums that Fisker's Karma suffers from software bugs that make the car unsafe.  For example, this report on

complete blackout while driving
situation driving at 7pm pst this evening and for the second time in two weeks at 70 miles per hour the "idiot lights" behind the steering wheel all light up the car goes dark including the headlights and then the dash disappears and after a few seconds it rebuilds itself. This is very dangerous and random. Has anyone else experienced this and if so what have you done about it. This condition is a safety issue and an accident/lawsuit waiting to happen.     
And, of course, the now famous Consumer Reports' own Karma bricking.

Why would Fisker ship a vehicle that was suffering from severe software issues?  My guess is the need the money badly, and expect the owners to understand that beautiful cttting edge cars need some growing time.

The problem for Fisker is that there are lot of ways to spend $100,000, and get world class transportation.  For example, one could buy one of the industry's most reliable hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius or Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, and have money left over for a killer sports car.

DOE to Carbon Motors: Denied

The Department of Energy has denied Carbon Motors' application for an ATVM loan, which they were going to use to bring to market a purpose built police car running a BMW sourced diesel power train. 

Good decision.

Carbon Motors' business plan was always bizarre to me.  They admitted, up front, that each vehicle would cost around $60,000, and would have negligible resale value because they were intended for government use only.  The idea was that police departments would save money on fuel by running a diesel engine, an therefore recoup the cost of the car, while gaining lots of great law enforcement features.

But developing a whole new platform is expensive, and requires a ton of physical testing, after many thousands of hours of CAE simulations.  When an automaker develops a new platform, development costs can run into the half-billion dollar range, and more, from design to manufacturing. 

And while the program would have generated many U.S. jobs, I think it was probably difficult for the Obama administration to approve a project that sources high-value components from BMW in Germany.

Carbon Motors should have started with a more modest goal, perhaps: retrofitting a proven platform, like the Dodge Charger, with a high efficiency diesel powertrain and whatever custom police tech they wanted to sell.  They would have avoided most of the engineering, while reaping most of the benefits. 

Does the U.S. police market need another interceptor, when Chrysler, Ford, and GM all have proven offerings in this space?  Why would police fleets pick up an unknown and unproven design, with a foreign sourced powertrain requiring BMW tools to repair?

Carbon Motors now has to raise money the old way: convincing private investors that they have a viable product.  I wish them luck, they will need it.

Story here.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Electric Cars Aren't Selling

Another "Emperor is naked" moment.  The combined sales of Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, the only currently available plug-in electric vehicles, for the month of February were a whopping 1500.  Meanwhile, the F-series trucks sold 47,000 (31:1 ratio).  Chevrolet Cruze sold about 20,000 (13:1 ratio) .  

And Ford is about to jump in with the Focus Electric, and Mitsubishi also with the i, offering greater choice to the apparently disinterested consumer.  I hope they aren't expecting much volume!

2013 Fusion Hybrid: 47MPG

I am impressed.  In a press release touting their fuel efficient offerings, Ford claims (no EPA sticker yet) that the 2013 Fusion Hybrid will get 47mpg.  They don't say if that is the combined, city, or highway number, but given that it is a hybrid, best case is probably the city number.

If this holds up, Fusion Hybrid beats all other hybrid sedans in production, and even beats the Prius V (44 city). 

We'll have to wait for the MSRP to be announced to decide if the Fusion Hybrid is a good deal, or not.  My personal opinion is that a hybrid needs a 5 year payoff to be attractive. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hummer Is Dead, But The Brand Slinks On...

The Hummer vehicle brand is dead.

But, you can still buy lots of Hummer and Humvee branded stuff.  Like a cheap knife/flashlight combo at Amazon. 

I wonder if we'll be seeing Saab branded junk soon, too?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

False Messiah

Comment spammers keep posting links to videos on Youtube about Ahn Sahng-hong.  He was the leader of a Korean church splintered from the 7th Day Adventists, and his followers are apparently convinced he was the Messiah.  Bizarre.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ram: Selling With Euro Sex?

Sex sells.  Put an attractive and barely clad model in a car commercial and men's heads will swivel towards the candy.

The new Ram being advertised looks like a luxuried-up version, similar to the Ford F150 Platinum, with a nice interior and tasteful bling.  Fine.

What confuses me about the new Ram ad on Youtube, "The Dark Side of Ram", is that it has a sort of Euro supermodel / James Bond feel to it.

But isn't Ram a domestic, "all American" sort of blue collar brand?  I don't get the marketing here.

I wonder what DeLorenzo has to say?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Newt's A Tool

From the Detroit News:

"You can't put a gun rack in a Volt," Gingrich said in a line that drew cheers at a speech in Georgia this weekend, and is now appearing in his stump speech. "We believe in the right to bear arms and we like to bear the arms in our trucks."

Seriously, Newt, stop the pandering.  You're a wealthy former history professor and politician, not the kind of guy who drives a truck with a gun rack.  When was the last time you went game hunting?

No one puts a gun rack in a sedan.  And if you want to safely carry a pistol, there's plenty of room in a Volt or any other car for one of these locking pistol vaults

Stop promising moon bases.  You're done.  Go back home and spend some time with wife #3.

Gun Rack In A Volt

Open letter to Newt: "You can put a gun rack in a Chevrolet Volt!".  LOL.


Friday, February 17, 2012

NAIAS Detroit Auto Show 2012: BMW

This is the lovely BMW I8 concept. It is definitely a sharp looking design, much more so than the current crop of BMWs.


Find more information about BMW Canada

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

JD Power 3YIS Survey Observations

The latest J.D. Power 3-year dependability survey is out.  I have colored the excellent Detroit News chart to show which brands improved and which ones got worse.  A few observations.

The industry average got significantly better, by 19 problems/100 vehicles.  

Luxury brands Lincoln, Acura, infinity, and Jaguar bucked the trend and fell in their ranking.  Jaguar's 3yis number went up by a whopping 60 problems/100 vehicles.  I'm guessing it is due to software/electronic problems.

Toyota made a good improvement, and it's young Scion brand made huge gains, 55 defects.

Hyundai improved (not suprising) but Kia fell (odd, since they are closely related).

GM, and particularly Cadillac, made big improvements.  Oddly, GMC is much worse than average.

Chrysler is now dead last, with its brands taking the bottom four slots.  Chrysler must to get their game up on quality (and I am sure that they know it) or they will not be able to compete.  

The Smugness of Tesla

I am watching the Telsa Model X presentation video (here).

At one point, when Elon Musk argues that electric vehicles produce less CO2 than gasoline vehicles, even when power is generated from fossil fuels, he puts up a map of west Virginia (heavly coal user), which he calls "worst case situation', with comic pauses.  The audience laughs.  Then comes a map of Vermont, which generates its power from hydroelectric, nuclear, and other cleaner alternatives.  Applause. 

If I was Elon Musk, I would be a little more humble.  The people of West Virginia help to subsidize a $500 million loan to Tesla, to build a plant in Calfornia.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

NHTSA's Coming Backup Camera Mandate?

According to Automotive News, the NHTSA is going to announce a backup camera mandate to try to reduce injuries from drivers backing over pedestrians.  

I am not in favor of this mandate, because it will hurt vehicle affordability by increasing prices.  Expect the systems to add around $200/vehicle in cost.  

I think it would be better to allow automakers to install an ultrasonic system, which would give an audible and text warning, as a way to offer the benefit in a low cost package.

There would be a side benefit.  All new cars would come with LCD screens, which should allow for higher end infotainment displays on low end models.

Review: Thermos Stainless King

I have finally found the ultimate travel coffee tumbler.  I'm throwing the rest away, this is it:

The Thermos Travel King.  It is a double walled stainless tumbler.  In use, it has kept my coffee and tea hot for hours, without ever warming up to the touch on the outside at all.  It has a simple but effective silicone gasket system, which switches from free flowing to tightly sealed with the flip of a lever.  It even has a neat little hook inside the lid to hang a tea bag without trailing the string out and ruining the seal.

These are not cheap, but they seem to be built to last.  Worth every dollar.

  • Keeps hot stuff hot a long time
  • Seals tightly
  • Tea bag hook
  • Disassembles for easy cleaning
  • Not cheap
  • Made in China
  • Some users report paint flaking off with use (but I would not care myself)
*I received no compensation for this review, I am just a happy customer.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sony Dash: Full of FAIL

I was really excited to get my hands on a new Sony Dash for $70 from  I knew that the Dash, based on the Chumby, was not a super-fast device, sporting a middling resolution screen, a resistivle touch panel, and a wimpy 800MHz Marvel processor.  My expectations were for a serviceable clock radio with the added bonus of Facebook and news updates.

But the Dash, well, dashed all hopes of even that.

The Dash, even after a firmware update, was unable to connect to Gmail using the Gmail checker app.  It was unable, despite numerous attempts at registration through the Facebook device screen, to connect to my Facebook account.

OK, I thought, so I can't have email or Facebook, at least I can have news and weather, and internet radio.

But there are many other annoyances.  Any interaction with the thing takes forever.  It doesn't have a light sensor, so to make it to go night mode you have to either program a timer action, or manually hit the night mode button.

Then the dealbreaker.  Sony didn't think to have the device save its settings in non-volatile memory.  As a result, if you have a power glitch or brownout, the Dash wakes up and then sits there stupidly asking you to choose your wireless network, rather than automatically reconnect.

Which means that on some days, you may wake up late in the morning, wondering why your alarm never went off, to find your high-tech clock radio sitting there with a boot screen.

So it isn't really useful as a social networking device, it isn't really reliable as a clock radio.

Back to Walmart it goes.

Now, the Archos 35 Home looks promising...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tesla Model X Falcon Doors

Telsa has unveiled their Model X crossover vehicle, which looks something like an enlarged Honda Crosstour or BMW X6. It is a beautiful design, overall, with elegant proportions. The most striking feature of the design are the "falcon wing" doors, which are like gullwing doors with a hinge, so they move more upward than outward as they swing open.

There are good reasons why mainstream auto makers stick with traditional swinging or sliding doors for their designs.

Upward opening doors are:
  • Harder to seal reliably (more gasket area, different closing forces)
  • Harder for passengers to open and close manually 
  • Slow to open and close if they are electric, or in an emergency
  • If the vehicle rolls over, the doors are difficult to open
  • More work in terms of crash engineering

And, this design would preven a customer from mounting a roof rack for skis or bicycles.

Tesla could have simply designed a nice set of sliding doors, but it is clear they want to be different. I think the electric powertrain and Silicon Valley pedigree of the vehicle makes it different enough.

They also have a significant risk in terms of market demand for this type of vehicle--neither the BMW X6 nor the Honda Crosstour are selling very well.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fisker Death Watch? Not yet, but...

Is Fisker on the way out?  Not yet, if I had to make a guess, I would say they have enough vehicles in the pipeline and enough private investors to last a while.  But cracks are showing.

Should the Department of Energy fund Fisker?  No, not unless Fisker can keep its side of the existing agreement.  The government should not re-negotiate with Fisker unless significant private backing is shown.

The Karma is a beautiful vehicle and appears to be an excellent piece of engineering.  It is also a toy for the wealthy, and a distraction.  Fisker isn't doing basic battery research, unlike the established OEMs, who have in-house science labs working on problems such as battery chemistry, thermal management, and safety. 

As lovely as the Karma is, it was a potential waste of taxpayer money to fund it. 

Department of Energy funds should be going to companies doing basic R&D on batteries, and to established OEMs who already know how to build a good car, and can target more affordable implementations.  Ford and GM, for examle, can take $500,000,000 pretty far because of their existing R&D infrastructure.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

NAIAS Detroit Auto Show 2012: Part 6, Honda

The most interesting stuff at the Honda stand was the Accord coupe concept and some new Acura designs. But except for the heart-racing NSX, Honda really didn't speak much to me this time through.

DSC03106 v
The Fit EV was lonely in its little protected alcove, and relatively unloved.  It looks mostly like a Fit with some aero tweaks.



The Honda Accord coupe concept was, to be honest, a snooze.  There was some odd bling surrounding the  foglamps/faux "brake cooling vents", or whatever the big plastic grates were supposed to evoke.  But overall, the design seemed busy, a bit disjointed.


The Acura NSX, on the other hand, was lovely.  The front end reminded me of Mazda's recent design language.  Will it look this good when they build it?


Tucked away in a corner was the Acura ILX design concept.  A styling buck, this car was a glossy shell only.  No one seemed to be paying much attention to it.  It is definitely understated, but it does have a more interesting front end design than the current huge-chrome-shield look of Acura.

Honda, wake up.  Unleash the designers, and make some sculpture.  Make cars that are exciting to look at.

NAIAS Detroit Auto Show 2013: Part 5, Chrysler, Fiat, Maserati

Chrysler's more interesting displays at the 2012 NAIAS included their new Dodge Dart in cutaway view, a design concept for a minivan, and a new Maserati SUV concept.  I also coudn't help but notice that Chrysler/Fiat was the most aggressive in flaunting their female auto show presenters physical assets.



Some views of the Chrysler 700 concept.  The design was much too swoopy for a practical minivan, in my opinion.  The strong diagonal line applied to the B pillar area looks like it would cause very poor visibility.

The 700 product specialist was, I think, too glamorous for the vehicle.


The Maseati Kubang, an SUV which will share the Jeep Grand Cherokee/Dodge Durango platform, but not their styling.



Some views of the new Dodge Dart.  While it is a huge improvement over the clunky looking and unrefined Caliber, I don't think the Dart is as good looking as the new offerings from Ford and Chevy.  It is rounded and organic, which reminds me a bit of the old Dodge Neon.

The interior looked pretty good, if you don't mind some of the same rounded organic themes.

Underneath the Dart, a clear shot of one of the aero tricks that we will see on many new vehicles going foward: a plastic shield which helps flow air around the underside of the car.


This young lady got a lot of attention, more for her outfit I think than for the 500 Abarth she was promoting.

NAIAS Detroit Auto Show 2012: Part 4, CUE, Uconnect Take On Sync

Ford got everyone's attention when they rolled out their much loved (and much hated) infotainment system, Sync.  Now, GM and Chrysler are taking on MyFord Touch with their own touchscreen user interfaces.  I got a quick tour of the Cadillac CUE system and Dode Uconnect.

Product specialist Rosemary gave me an interactive tour of Cadillac's upcoming CUE system. It was responsive, with quick reactions to user requests. It has a nice haptic feedback feature, where the screen taps back at you when you touch a selection. This is very useful, because it helps you know that you actually touched something. CUE is also highly customizable. The user can pick his favorite buttons and drag them to the shortcut row, at the top of the screen. You can also choose a number of different display formats for the instrument cluster, which is one huge LCD screen. When you aren't interacting with it, the shortcut bar and bottom bar of icons fade away. If you reach your hand towards the screen, the extra information fades in again, offering the user an uncluttered view most of the time.

Cadillac's CUE system.

Rosemary shows me how the custom IP displays work

The sport setting shows a tachometer to the left, and on the right you can have a minature navigation view in the center of the speedometer.

Another custom view for the IP, this one just shows a large digital speedometer in the middle, with entertainment and navigation items.

 At the Dodge Dart display, I had a chance to play with Chrysler's Uconnect system. Similar to GM, it was responsive and fairly simple to use, but it didn't seem to have as many customization options as CUE. It also didn't have the haptic feedback feature.

Uconnect has a small square central LCD screen on the IP.

Uconnect has a few large icons arranged at the bottom of the screen.

Both Uconnect and CUE are going to give MyFord Touch/Sync strong competition, unless Ford steps up their game.  Ford says that a new and much improved version of MyFord Touch will appear early this year, with better latency, fewer bugs and an easier to read layout.  I hope that this is as promised, because GM and Chrysler are learning from Ford's mistakes.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012 NAIAS Detroit Auto Show: Part 3, Coda

Coda set up a booth at NAIAS, which was surprising to me.  See, Coda will only be for sale at first in California, and has an unknown timetable to sell in the rest of the country.  I asked one of the Coda reps why they were in Detroit, and they said simply to build awareness.

Coda, you have a lot of work to do. Your car does not look like it is worth $15,000, much less $40,000.

Coda's biggest problem, I think, is that their car looks like an old Toyota from about 2001.


Coda's second biggest problem is that this thing is put together about like a Chrysler from 2001, or worse. Look at the loose headliner fit. That's not me pulling on it, that's some guy who got into the front seat after I got into the back, and said, "hey, check this out!".

The interior can charitably be called functional. Hard plastics, wide gaps, and cheap feel abound.

The "high-tech" PRNDL knob. It feels about as cheesy as it looks.

The powertrain cutaway was interesting. Here is where most of the $40,000 is: in the wide, flat battery pacj slung under the body.

The face of Coda. Notice the huge gap between the hood and the headlight/fascia. It screams "cheap".

I have no idea how Coda is going to make it.  With elegant and refined electric cars in the market such as the Leaf and Focus, as well as the half-gas Volt, Coda looks very weak.  They claim to have a 150 mile range, which would be world class.   But who will spend $40,000 on an ugly car, made mostly in China, with an unproven record and a minuscule dealer network?