Why Are We Still Talking About Electric Cars?

A couple of months ago I wrote about my experiences test driving a Tesla motorcar. I think it might be more appropriate to consider these as battery cars.  Certainly they are rechargeable batteries, but batteries non-the-less.  Electricity being the power source and motors (electric) being the power plant that drives the wheels.

Battery power for cars is the key to its success or lack of it.  The ideal battery would recharge from zero (or nearly zero) to 90% in minutes and provide power to allow for a few hundred miles of cruising at highway speeds between charges.  Such an electric vehicle would compete successfully with gasoline powered cars even when fuel prices were at the $2 a gallon price (or less).

In a brilliant (maybe) move Tesla made its patentable technology open source right from the get-go.  The stated aim was to foster faster development of electric-powered vehicles.  Be careful what you wish for Tesla as another luxury brand, Audi, is getting into the EV market.  If Mercedes and other established luxury car companies step into that space what chance does Tesla have.

Without dealership franchises, not much.  While it was an interesting concept for a business model it is also a business model that will likely be the tapeworm that sucks away the profit potential of Tesla.  Has any car manufacturing company had a successful business model that included company owned dealerships?

With the currently low gasoline prices in America Prius and Volt are struggling yet out of the twilight zone comes yet another Electric Car company.  Faraday Future, another EC company borrowing the name of a nineteenth century electrical genius.  What is next, the Steinmetz Car Company?

Faraday Future has no EC, yet.  They are promising one will come to market in 2017.  If you look at their staff of executives you can see that they have raided several from Tesla and at least one from BMW’s ranks.

Rather than shout to the world what automotive rechargeable wonder they are going to enter the marketplace with their descriptions of their vehicle to be are soft and filled with marketing speak phraseology.

In the background are rumors of associations with companies such as Apple, and the Beijing Automobile Industry Holding Corporation, as well as the Leshi Internet & Technology Company.

Just a few clues have emerged on what a Faraday vehicle might be like.  It’s first iteration is to have a battery pack larger than what is available in a Tesla model S. It is to have “seamless connectivity to the outside world” with the promise of autonomous driving.  Also mentioned is “unique ownership models”.  Could this be a lease-only situation much like occurred with the Chevy EV?  If you remember in that case it meant that when Chevy puled the plug, all examples of the EV car had to be returned to GM and were destroyed.

What is the future of battery-powered cars?  Murky

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Our Computerized Cars


It should be no secret that our automobiles now run on computers.  In fact, since the advent of OBD (Federally mandated On Board Diagnostics) we are very dependent upon computers, sensors, networks, and software to allow our cars and trucks to do what we expect them to do – provide transportation.

Outside of transportation duties our vehicles now provide guidance, entertainment, and watch over our environmental needs. They also manage our braking, steering, ride qualities, and when our lights come on.

The current crop of new vehicles have more processing power than the military’s F-35, Joint Strike Fighter.

Key to all this is the software magic that control every aspect of a car’s functions.

Hardware wears out and deteriorates, but software is written broken.  How broken?

A modern car has 10,000,000 lines of code running.  A statistic of the programming industry is that the average is one software bug per thousand lines of code.  So that means that this average car has 10,000 errors waiting to cause who knows what kind of failure.

Half of today’s recalls are the result of software bugs.

That means that 253 million cars and trucks are carrying 2,530,000,000,000 software bugs around on their four wheels averaging nearly two tons apiece. Think about that on your next commute to work.


But wait, there is more.  Since our cars have become dependent upon computers, their software, and the networks that interconnect every part of the car’s systems together they are also susceptible to being hacked. 

Just a few years ago hacking of automobiles was demonstrated by physically connecting to the diagnostic port and then using a laptop to command brakes not to function or steering to malfunction along with no control over the accelerator.  Interesting but who would let someone attach a laptop to their car?

Now that cars have Internet connectivity, wireless monitoring of tire pressures, OnStar, and a myriad of wireless connections. A cellular modem, Blue Tooth, and who knows what is really on that USB jump-drive that you plug into your MP3 playing radio.

In the old spy movies of the sixties the trick was to plant a transmitter on the bad guy’s car.  Today the car is already a transmitter and the passengers are all carrying their multi-functional cell phones that tattle on them constantly.

In their haste to provide all our automotive wants and needs the car companies have left our cars unlocked and available to hackers and trackers.

If you are counting on our legislators to regulate this aspect of cars and mandate security you can pretty much rule out seeing anything that could keep up with the troublemakers because our legislators haven’t got a technological clue.

Yes, the NHTSA has recalled 1.4 million Fiat Chrysler vehicles to fix their hacking threat, but that is just the one vulnerability that is known.  More will come.

So ask yourself, just how comfortably will you sleep in your self-driving car?

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A Moment with Sam Posey

He’s a man with many talents and you might say has everything, including Parkinson’s.

I have two books by Sam.  Mudge Pond Express, an autobiography published in 1976; and Where the Writer Meets the Road, a compilation of his writings, broadcast introductions, and recollections of fellow drivers and events. 

I bought Mudge Pond Express as soon as it came out and devoured the pages, soaking up all the information on Sam’s life that it contained.  For me he was one of the hero’s of racing having competed in many series, including Can-Am, Indy, Formula 1, and Trans Am.

In 1968 he teamed with Mark Donohue on Penske’s unbeatable Trans Am race team.  He competed in the Can-Am series which was practically unlimited in terms of rules.  The cars had to have two seats, have the bodywork enclose all the wheels and meet the minimal safety standards of the day.  The engines were unrestricted and could be supercharged or turbo-charged. Tires could be as big as you could fit and aerodynamic bodywork was open to just about anything.  Jim Hall even introduced a vacuum system to suck his car to the track.  It was one of the rare times technology was banned by rules.  While it created a huge advantage it also blew huge amounts of road debris into any car unlucky enough to be in its wake.

Sam was no second string driver either.  In 1969 he won the Trans Am at Lime Rock in Connecticut.  Posey was a driver at Le Mans 10 times and won the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1975. 

Sam is also and architect, designing the timing tower at Lime Rock Park.  The front straight there is named Sam Posey Straight.

Friday I was on my way to see the man of legend and have him autograph my copies of his two books mentioned above.  He has also written a book about model trains (Playing With Trains) as he is a collector and aficionado of same.  I had been reading his latest book, Where the Writer Meets the Road, and it brought back so many memories as well as filled a couple of pages of note paper with questions that I hoped he would have time to discuss.

I was about an hour away and called to let him know my ETA. His wife Ellen answered and let me know that he would be engaged painting a model (he still paints nudes) and would I be able to time my arrival with the model’s departure.  Not a problem, of course.

I drove up to his studio and parked the P71.  Ellen greeted me and let me in and Sam was in the back of the studio contemplating his art work.  He transferred himself to a electric chair and we moved to a sitting area where he transferred to a regular chair and we talked.

It was so nice to be able to meet with Sam that I almost forgot my notes full of questions.  He shared his feeling on the current state of Formula 1.  It is not in a healthy state and time will tell if there are any changes that can be made that will facilitate a turn-around.  Mixed with that were the memories of the era of racing where death was a constant specter, removing some great and talented from the ranks of drivers.  Jimmy Clark and certainly Mark Donohue.  With Mark’s accident Sam realized that no matter how talented or lucky a driver might be there would be a bad day to come and with that he let his wife know that open wheeled racing was no longer an option for him.

We talked about his time as a color announcer with ABC sports at Indy and even the F1 races.  He asked for my pen and notebook and traced the first and second turns at Monaco where he explained how Aryton Senna’s driving took him through those turns, looking as if he was colliding with the guard rails, but instead slithering his car in impossible fashion through them with equally impossible speed and grace.

I asked him what movies he found that represented the true feeling of racing.  Heart Like a Wheel, the 1983 movie of Shirley Muldowney who became a top fuel dragster champion driver, was the answer.  Then Sam got a twinkle in his eye and asked if I liked Red Line 7000.  This is a 1965 film directed by Howard Hawks.  Clearly he enjoyed the movie.

Soon I was feeling guilty about how much of this man’s time I was taking up.  I probably could have pestered him with questions for days.  He bent over and signed both my books and explained what he wrote and why.  I was honored. Then he asked me if I liked coffee.  Of course I said.  “Well over there I have some coffee cups that I’ve painted and designed, go an pick out one you would like”.

I was all smiles and felt like a kid at Christmas, trying to choose one of the many personal designs.  The red hand caught my eye.  “This one,” I said.  “That’s a good choice,” said Sam.  I suggested that he should do one with his iconic helmet design on it, “great idea,” he said.


I bid farewell and thanked his wife for the time and floated out the door to the P71.  Ready to get on the road once again.

Posted in Automobiles, Car Movies, Car Stuff, Cars, Great Drivers, Life and Cars, Racing, Road Trips | Tagged | 1 Comment

Electricity–I test drive a Tesla


This may come as a shock to you folks that know my feelings toward electric cars, but last week I had the opportunity to actually test drive what is probably the pinnacle of electric powered automobiles, the Tesla.

Tesla Motors has a well deserved reputation as the premier design of dedicated electric cars.  It has made the decision to place all of its patents in the public domain so as to encourage and accelerate the technology required to make electric cars a practical alternative to the petroleum powered vehicles that dominate our roads.

In the very early days of the automobile electric cars were actually a large part of the vehicle population for reasons that make a lot of sense.  They were quiet.  The early gasoline vehicles were most certainly not.  They were pleasant, for the most part, to drive.  There was no danger of breaking your arm while crank-starting the gasoline engine because there was none.  The battery technology was lead-acid similar to what you find as part of the charging system of today’s gasoline powered cars.  In the early days gasoline was not as easy to find and its quality was often suspect.  Electricity, especially in urban areas, was available and clean.  Speed was not an issue and most commutes were only a few miles.

Thomas Edison was intrigued with the idea of an electric car and understood that the key to its success was to develop an efficient and powerful battery.  He made a statement that he felt that battery technology would be optimized in a year’s time.  He was optimistic, to say the least.  It has been about 100 years and battery technology is still in the process of being perfected.  Automotive engineers and materials scientists understand that this is the key to market penetration and acceptance. Today PEV cars amount to about 0.75% of the market.

True Car did a study to better understand what factors drove the electric car market.  The conclusion was that people with higher incomes purchase battery powered cars.  Buyers of the Ford Focus EV had an average household income of $199,000 a year while buyers of the gasoline powered Ford Focus averaged $77,000 annual income.  Buyers of the Fiat 500e averaged an income of $145,000 per year versus the regular Fiat 500 owners having $73,000 average yearly incomes.

With all that to think about I joined a small group of people who were interested in test driving a Tesla sedan.



Since Tesla Motors has come out with AWD (all wheel drive) versions of its sedan early adopters have been trading in their RWD (rear wheel drive) versions for the enhanced models.  So my test drive was in a relatively new, but RWD sedan.

Myself and another test driver climbed in and the sales manager rode in the back seat ready to help us through any unique differences in the driving experience.  I was riding shotgun for the first half of the drive and that gave me a good opportunity to experience the ride quality and interior accoutrements. On the dashboard, between the two front seats was the world’s largest iPad.  It was a large, touch screen, graphical interface that could be used to tune the suspension, set a course, and many other things.


One of the first things you notice is how different the noises are in the Tesla.  Tire noise becomes much more of a factor than engine noise.  You became acutely aware of the differences in road surfaces and what changes they made to the sound level and tempo.

There is no transmission. There is a stalk to the right of the steering wheel that appears to shift you from park to neutral to drive.  Because the drive motor is electric torque is pretty much instantaneous. So is deceleration as the car relies on kinetic energy recovery when you are not on the accelerator.  When you press the brake pedal there is far greater deceleration.  As you get used to the action of the throttle pedal you can sit at many intersections without actually pressing the brake pedal.


Acceleration is excellent.  On a model with AWD and more performance acceleration from zero to sixty is in the 2.8 second range.  Although a bit older, this model Tesla was no slouch, and all that torque meant that you accelerated rapidly.

Because of the energy recovery going on when not acceleration I found that you could have a lot of fun with the Tesla’s braking characteristics.  You could dive hard into a corner, ease of the accelerator, squeeze artfully on the brakes, and then accelerate with gusto through a tight corner.  It really felt very fulfilling.

I enjoyed my test drive and also had a good discussion with the service representative.  I was wondering, what with the lack of service items – what did the service department have to do on a Tesla car?

There are no oil changes, no filter changes, the brakes are likely to last the service life of the car and about the only item that might need service is the R134 refrigerant in the air-conditioning system.  Software updates can be done through the owners home Wi-Fi.

The biggest owner service complaint is noise.  With the lack of an internal combustion engine making background racket things that would be unnoticed or trivial – such as minor squeaks or rattles become areas of concern.  Its that quiet.

What about the practical range of a vehicle like Tesla?  I was assured that you could expect a range in the order of 270 miles on a full charge.  Stop and go traffic actually worked to the cars advantage with the energy recovery of braking.  Recharge time varied with your source charging.  If all you had access to was 110 volt, well I hope that you like to sleep.  But if 240v was available a dead battery could be 100% in about eight hours.  Typically you would probably drive until battery levels were in the 10-20% range so recharging could take even less time.

So am I in love with the Tesla?  Well I loved the experience, but I am still not in love with electric cars.  When the “god” battery arrives with 300 miles of range and $100/kWh, I might be tempted.  I also try to take into account the reality of what toll is taken on the environment to create the batteries and the high efficiency motors.  Nothing is perfect, and certainly not the gasoline powered brethren, but for the moment I’ll stick with the drone of the internal combustion engine.

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24 Hour ChumpCar Racing at VIR

As I wound my way to Virginia yesterday I thought about the excitement of going back to one of my favorite tracks, Virginia International Raceway.  It is just about a half mile over the North Carolina border, but it takes you into another world.  The world of racing, with all its sights, sounds, and smells.


This was a special racing event for a couple of important reasons.  It was part of the ChumpCar series which means that it is real grassroots racing.  Sure, the professional series such as NASCAR, Indy, and F1 are spectacular, but it takes huge fortunes just to get on the grid, but the ChumpCar series is one that is affordable and allows participation in many ways in the sport of competitive driving.




This event was a 24 hour race.  That means to finish first, you must first finish.  Having a fast car is nice, but having a reliable car is paramount.


The team my visit focused on had done very well in the previous event at Watkins Glen and reliability was core to how their car performed.


Being a 24 hour event meant refueling and driver changes as well as the inevitable attrition of a field of nearly 100 cars.


People love these races because they are so accessible and fun to watch.  There is a family atmosphere that is lacking in the big-time professional series.


The people on the teams are just as competitive, but they also understand the value of helping each other out with parts, advice, and even lending a hand.


The teams spent a great deal of time preparing their cars and their people.  Rehearsing fueling procedures and going over checklists to ensure that everything is ready prior to getting on the grid.



The pit boxes are arranged with tools, tires, and radios.  Duties are discussed and contingencies are planned for.




Once the car is on the grid the driver is focused on the start where staying in the front of the pack really makes a difference.

As the start approaches the tension mounts.


Then the cars are off and the teams real work begins.  In the first two hours there are offs which result in yellow flags slowing the cars down as a safety car leads them around the track while crews clean up and tow the unfortunate car back to the teams pit area or garage.




After the first two hours it was approaching the time when cars would come in for fuel and a change of drivers.




Attrition is the reality of a 24 hour endurance race.  The team whose car was so reliable had to deal with an on track, car-to-car impact, that took out two of their wheels.


Hours ticked by as injured parts were scrounged and replaced.



Back in the pits the long hours were wearing folks down.  Sleep was taken where it could be taken.


With four hours to go teams discussed concerns and strategies.




The cars would continue to run as the time ticked by.




This is a ChumpCar event where you can experience a race as a spectator or as a part of the crew.  The sound of engines being asked to provide as much power as possible.  The smell of hot brake pads and loads of burned and unburned hydrocarbons, mix with the sights of triumph and failure.



This is racing that is accessible to people at a grassroots level.  Take the time to find out when an event like this comes to a track near you and go and have the time of your life.


Posted in Automobiles, Car Stuff, Cars, Racing, Road Racing, Road Trips, Sports Cars | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Taggart Autosport–in Cary, NC


Tonight we attended the grand opening of Taggart Autosport in Cary, NC.  While Jim Taggart has occupied this 20,000 square foot facility for the past six months, this was the first time that everything was put together for a truly spectacular opening that featured not only their signature Rally Fighter cars, but many others including their Maserati race car.






Cary, North Carolina, has become a racing center with many of some of the best road racing venues in the country within an hour or two of this city.  Not the least of which is Virginia International Raceway, commonly known as VIR.

This superb road racing track is but and hour and twenty minutes away and just a few hundred yards over the North Carolina border. 



The local racing fraternity flocked to this opening.




Some day Cary will become as well known in racing circles as Charlotte, NC.

Posted in Cars, Automobiles, Racing, Modifying Cars, Sports Cars, Road Racing, Garages, Car Stuff, Life and Cars, Rally Cars, Great Drivers | 1 Comment

Automotive Shops–Torque

Automotive service shops are a tough game to play in.  The dealerships do everything they can to hold their customers captive to their own service department.  Obtaining factory diagnostic tools and information can be difficult and is always very expensive.

Cars continue to get more and more sophisticated and have become, quite literally, high speed networked computers and sensors on four wheels. Even something as seemingly simple as a brake job may require the assistance from the car’s computer to accomplish.  Alignments on cars with electric power steering will also need to be done in sync with the car’s computer in order to ensure the steering knows where center is.

Independent automotive service facilities must make a big investment in equipment as well as technically astute personnel needed to operate them if they are to stay competitive with dealership service.

Still independents abound and jumping into the fray takes skill, business knowledge, money, and having the confidence to know that you can make it.


This morning I visited a new shop in Raleigh, Torque Automotive, and was prepared to find a guy who maybe had worked in a local dealership for a few years and got the yen to try his hand at his own business.  Then I met Simon.

Simon started out in South Africa and worked at dealerships there for several years until he moved to Dubai where he got a job at the largest BMW dealership in the world.  He started out as one of nearly 90 technicians there and worked his way up in a few years to managing them.

Simon had a dream of moving to the United States and had applied well in advance of the day when he was granted the move back in 2012. By then his resume was complete with experience in many European makes as well as being a master tech with BMW.  So you would expect him to end up at a dealership or an independent that specialized in those makes.  But he took a little different path.

Even four years after the recession, finding that kind of work in the area was tough and so he went looking for existing automotive service businesses for sale.  One promising opportunity popped up and he went to check it out.  The service side of an independent car sales shop was losing money.  That part of the business was for sale, but it turned out to be well above Simon’s resources at the time.  So he negotiated a deal where he would manage the service side of the business for a percentage.  Over time things improved greatly.  Within a year a profit was seen and by the end of three years the staff had grown from one tech to three.

Now he was ready – and so was born Torque Automotive.

Simon gave me a tour of the shop, which is only a month or two old at this point, but he already had five cars in for service and plenty of space to accommodate them.


The shop has been freshly painted and the floors in the shop area have been professionally coated with a heavy duty epoxy finish that not only reflects light under the cars, but is easily kept clean as it is impervious to any fluids used in servicing.


He has a unique company car, a Smart Car, by Mercedes Benz, with a twist, Tesla has converted it to an all electric.


It is Simon’s daily driver and has an eighty mile range.  The perfect commuter car and a great way to let people know about his shop.

Simon understand where the automotive service business is going and is quite prepared to keep up with the changes looming on the horizon.  He is also building a following of loyal customers.


Its nice to see these better alternatives to being a captive of the car manufacturers and the dealerships that sell them. 

Posted in Automobiles, Car Stuff, Care and Feeding, Cars, Servicing Cars | 5 Comments