Cars News and Reviews Sweet BlueMotion- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

The Aerosmith song starts "You talk about things and nobody cares / You're wearing out things that nobody wears".

Well, have I been driving a thing that nobody drives. Nobody in the US, that is. I'll talk about it, too, and I don't care that you don't care. But you should care.

I've been driving a rented Golf for a week. Except that the steering wheel is on the right side of the car (more on that in another post), it's just the same as our Golf. Same sturdy seating, not overstuffed. Same ample trunk that easily fits our luggage with room to spare. Same easy handling.

However, under the hood it's a little different: it has the 1.6L diesel engine that is not for sale in the US (where the smallest engine is the 2.0L TDI). This rental car was augmented by Volkswagen's "BlueMotion" suite of technologies that boost the fuel efficiency.

I confess freely: I was lousy at hypermiling this car. The whole first day, while adjusting to the left hand drive, I drove it in lower gear than really necessary. I took it up steeper hills than at home. I threaded it through narrow roads where anything over 20mph was reckless. And one glorious coastal stretch that was actually just 0.9 lanes wide, with the rear view mirrors brushing the hedgerows on either side; I was in first gear for most of that. On the whole, not exactly hypermiling.

After about a week we filled the tank before returning it, with 29.7L of diesel, or 7.85 US gallons. We had covered 420 miles. Assuming that the previous driver had topped it off similarly, that comes to 53 mpg out of this 1.6L TDI BlueMotion Golf.

No hypermiling. No hybrid drive.

Exultation is a sweet emotion. Wish I could have bought this one in the US. Our 2.0L TDI only does 38 mpg. And is more expensive than the frugal BlueMotion version.

 

 

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Cars News and Reviews The Difference Between Owning a Car and Being Mobile- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday

It makes the news when a city like Helsinki announces that, by 2025, its suite of mobility-on-demand solutions will be so comprehensive that it will be quite pointless to own a car. But in fact, the trend in many large cities has been going that way for a long time.

Compare these two pictures of Oxford Street, London's shopping paradise, the first taken in the up-beat 1950s, the second this summer.



Oxford Street, 1955. Photo by Ben Brooksbank


In the days just after the War, Oxford Street was already lined with shops. There was enough space for three cars abreast in each direction. The sidewalk was fairly generous. Private automobiles shared the road with the famed double-decker buses, and the iconic London taxis, all black.





Oxford Street, 2014.


These days, the imposing façade of Selfridges still dominates the streetscape around Bond Street. Double-decker buses still ply the road: lots and lots of them. In fact, during most of the day buses make up most of the traffic. Three lanes accomodate traffic in both directions, with bus stops carved out of the sidewalk at intervals.

Away from the bus stops, the sidewalks occupy well over half the area of the street. They are wide enough for the planting of young trees which promise to grow to majestic size in time.

A bewildering number of buses serve Oxford Street, adroitly steered by their drivers (more traffic artists than mere drivers) to within a small number of inches of other objects both moving and stationary. If that's too slow for you, you can use one of four Underground stops to get access to the faster trains. An Oyster card gives quick access to both.

After buses, the most common vehicles on central London's streets are cabs, no longer all black but plastered over with advertising, some very funny, some not.

But between the congestion charge, the congestion itself, and the nightmare of having to find parking, there are now far fewer cars than there used to be. Why own a car, if you can have easy mobility without one?

And this is not the end. There are calls to restrict the road surface available to vehicle traffic even further. For a modern city, London still has a laughable number of bicycle paths (nearly none). A new Underground line is under construction: Crossrail, connecting Heathrow to the heart of London including the City, ready for the first passengers in 2018. I could devote a whole other post on the engineering prowess required to thread a new tube line through London's invisible maze of water mains,optic fiber pathways, other subway tunnels, sewers dating back hundreds of years: literally, the infra-structure: the structure that is below the city. Wow.

And why not make the whole responsive to demand? The technology is here already, used in real-time ridesharing. Implementing that technology for city-wide on-demand mobility requires engineering prowess of a different kind, but computers already deal with massive routing problems in real time, getting the morsel of data you want from the server to your screen at the click of a mouse, and almost instantly. Compared to managing internet traffic, city traffic is a walk in the park. So to speak.

For those who cannot, or choose not to, use the smartphones that would make this kind of mobility very easy: there is still the old-fashioned phone. Even - dare I say it? - the landline. The elderly and handicapped in the Netherlands already use such a service, called RegioTaxi: this is an on-demand door-to-door bus service with nearly the same fare as city buses. Of course you can make an online reservation (up to an hour ahead) but you can also call in and talk to a live person. If you get on with your membership card, the fare is charged directly to your linked bank account.

Ditch the car: the car payments, the search for parking, the repairs, the annual inspection, shoveling snow from the driveway. While retaining the mobility. I could totally live like that.

 

 

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Cars News and Reviews The Difference Between a Road and a Means of Transport- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

A recent Op-Ed in the New York Times sighs, "America’s infrastructure is now so wretched that, in some areas, the only people who drive straight are the drunks. Anyone who is sober swerves to avoid potholes."

So yes, the Federal excise tax on gasoline, which helps pay for highway maintenance, has been stuck at 18 cents a gallon since 1993, quite unaffected by inflation or the slowly decreasing use of gasoline. And states and local authorities are broke.



Photo by Sascha Pöschl.

But the way road infrastructure is built and managed could also be a lot better. My dad, a retired civil engineer, always says that construction is far easier than maintenance. He especially sighs at "vanity" projects in developing countries, where developed-world roads are built, complete with beautiful overpasses and glorious bridges, but where maintenance funds are not assigned, so that the steel and concrete glory starts to crumble faster than you can say "repair funds".

Even in many places in the developed world, construction companies too often bid for either the building of a road, or a specific repair.

It's a recipe for repeat business: companies use the minimum in materials and quality that will satisfy the local code. No more. But skimping on the cost of materials often means that roads are not as durable as they could be. For the construction companies, that's great: they get invited back that much sooner to do repairs. Which is done to code, but no more. And so the cycle goes.

Here is an alternative business model: suppose your town / county / state invites bids, not for the construction or repair of a road, but for a means of transportation for, say, forty years.

This is something completely different from the building of a road. A means of transportation can be specified to be free of potholes and the like for the duration of the contract. Suddenly you don't need a building code: now you need a usage code.

You can be sure that a company will use better materials from the start: everybody knows that constant maintenance is expensive. They will go for the more durable materials, and the whole project will be much more in the sign of sustainability.

You can negotiate the contract so that the construction company also wins from the deal: a steady income for forty years sounds much more attractive than the nerve-wracking all-or-nothing bidding that occurs every five to ten years. The usage code can stipulate that any damage inflicted by the road (say, broken shock absorbers) be reimbursed by the construction company. After all, they are responsible for a decent means of transport, and have an ongoing obligation to provide safe roads. The whole may cost more than the way it's done now - on the other hand, there will be fewer car repairs on the part of the user.

Many European countries have bids for their roads this way, with greater or lesser success. In the case of Germany or the Netherlands, there are very few potholes of the rim-knicking kind. You have to work pretty hard to get your car to the point of needing new shock absorbers. Come to think of it, there are actually very few flat tires. It wouldn't be tolerated. (People do get spoiled driving this way).

There's also very little downtime: repairs and maintenance is done mostly at nighttime in the summer holidays: this minimises time lost in traffic jams. Even counting the construction workers' overtime, this still keeps down the total economic costs: after all, time lost to sitting in traffic jams costs money, too.

I don't have to add that, in the age of climate change, road construction needs additional provisions engineered in: roads need to be made resilient to extreme heat, extreme rainfall, extreme temperature swings.



Photo by Bert Marshall

 

 

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Cars News and Reviews Up! Holland up!- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

Some time in the course of the 2010 World Cup, I looked out of the window of my dad's flat in Holland and spotted, right on the parking lot, a diminuitive Volkwagen up!, all decked out in orange and with the works "up! Holland up!" painted down its sides.

I grinned. It was a brilliant marriage of the name of Volkswagen's tiniest car, the up!, and the fighting song of one of Europe's smallest nations. Very much tongue in cheek, it goes, "Hup, Holland, hup! Don't put the lion in its undershirt." It is sung in the key of good nature, by supporters of Dutch teams at international sporting events.

Some duke, Floris III of Holland, had the lion put on his shield in 1162. Back then it looked fearsome, with blue claws and a blue tongue. These days a fan-friendly version of the Lion of Holland is sported on the orange mini-flags that are strung across Dutch streets by residents taken by football fever, together with the red, while and blue of the flag, the whole remaining very much out in the cold and the squalls of driving rain that tend to grace Dutch summers.

Really. How can you take a team seriously when its anti-mascot is a lion shivering in its undershirt?

It's the same way Europeans prefer their car ads: the more tongue in cheek the better. There are tons of them on YouTube: light-hearted ads that poke fun at the cars or their owners.

I assumed the "up! Holland up!" slogan would be used for the 2010 World Cup, and was surprised to see it in an ad for the 2012 Olympics, which took place in London. The ad campaign was called "Orange Motion", a pun on Volkswagen's high-fuel-efficiency BlueMotion option. "Cheer yourself to the Games - in the first Volkswagen up! that runs on sound".

One can only hope no babies (or dads) were harmed during the making of this ad.

Perhaps in a kick at Tesla exclusitivity, Volkswagen selected the tiny up!, a real city car, to receive one of its first electric drives: Check out the e-up!

Which will be followed by the e-Golf, starting in 2015. EV enthusiasts rejoice: apparently this one is slated to come to the US. Range: 113 miles.

 

 

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