Tuesday, March 06, 2018

5 reasons why sidecars are often seen as a taboo in some 3rd-world countries

Sidecars have been around for a long time, serving for many different purposes since the early days of motoring. The world has changed a lot in the meantime, with conventional cars taking over some of the market-share that used to be captive for sidecars due to their technical simplicity and perceived lower cost since the early postwar when affordable cars with air-cooled engines suitable to be parked outside even in the European winter such as the Citroën 2CV and the Volkswagen Beetle got their days of glory. Even though the market-share for sidecars in developed markets have now been more restricted to recreational/enthusiast uses, mostly for passenger transport, they still have plenty of potential to address the needs of affordable light transport in emerging and underdeveloped countries. Cargo applications have become quite popular in Brazil in the last two decades but, like other 3rd-world countries, its use for passenger hauling became quite a taboo. Among the reasons that led to this awkward situation, at least 5 are more relevant.

Exposure to the elements: this might be more critical for passenger transport, while some enclosures are more easily available (though not always effectively implemented) for cargo. Be it due to weather conditions, unpleasant smells on the way and fumes out of poorly-mantained vehicles, or fearing that some loose objects falling from other vehicles and debris could harm the physical integrity of the rider and passengers, it's not a negligible concern.
Lack of a perceived "prestige": even though this matter is not so relevant for commercial operators, who value functionality and lower operating cost overall, it's known that a car may be regarded more aspirational for private users. So, even though a sidecar may be easily achievable in a shorter term, is not usually the first choice.
Nazi stereotypes: this seems to be more prevalent in Brazil. Whenever the possibility of getting a passenger-hauling sidecar rig is mentioned, its usage by Nazi German troops during World War II is always reminded. Surprisingly, all the people who expressed me their objections toward sidecars due to some reminiscence of Nazi military motorcycles were non-Jewish.
Requirement of a motorcycle endorsement for the driver license: sidecars rigs actually don't have a handling so close to the one of a motorcycle not fitted with this device, and are also not so identical to a car in this regard. However, since they occupy roughly the same space of a car over the roadway, most noticeably width-wise, the usage of sidecars could become more widespread among low-income customers in third-world countries if they were entitled to ride them without the requirement of a motorcycle endorsement on their driver licenses. Considering the lower purchase price compared to an average subcompact car and the higher maintenance cost of older jalopies which could be replaced by a sidecar rig, a legal provision enabling their riding by holders of a standard car driving license may become an effective way to decrease fuel consumption and emissions.
Perception as a makeshift approach: despite having its cost-effectiveness and suitability to many different tasks already proven, sidecars are still often pointed out as a mere makeshift. It's worth to notice that sidecars and trailers have a similar function, which is basically to expand the capabilities of the vehicles they're fitted to, so since trailers have already had their utility recognised maybe it's time to also consider giving sidecars a try.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Why is it pointless to ban older Diesel cars like it's been proposed in Germany?

The recent decision of a federal administrative court in Leipzig, recognising the legality of proposed restrictions to the circulation of Diesel-powered cars certified according to emission standards other than the current Euro-6, is one of those initiatives that may initially sound reasonable, but in fact are not so effective in regard to the "sustainability". Let's consider some aspects that render it pointless...

Relatively ease of retrofits to make 2000 and newer model-years compliant to current standards when their engines get due to an overhaul instead of simply getting rid of them: taking as example the Alfa Romeo 146 when fitted with the 1.9 JTD engine, fitted with a 1st-generation common-rail injection, much of its basic engine design is shared with newer models such as the Jeep Renegade, which in its Diesel-powered versions rely on engines from the Pratola Serra modular engine series that also originated the 1.9 JTD. Well, even though an eventual need to fit an AdBlue tank could become an issue, I can relate that to the usage of an auxiliary gasoline/petrol reservoir in older Brazilian dedicated-ethanol and flexfuel vehicles as a cold-start aid. Quite bothersome, but not impossible at all.

Cost and energy consumption of the manufacturing of replacement vehicles: an overwhelming majority of the 15 million Diesel-powered vehicles in Germany is now deemed "outdated" according to the proposed restrictions to be implemented initially in cities like Stuttgart and Dusseldorf, with only around 2.6 million or 8.6% of all Diesel vehicles in Germany already being certified in accordance to the Euro-6 standards. Even though the recycling of end-of-life vehicles is taken more seriously in Europe than in other regions, an extension to the operating useful life of an earlier model that is still roadworthy makes more sense than scrapping it from a sustainability standpoint. Well, just a few mechanical parts that might require a replacement and eventual updates to the engine management software require a lower energy input and fewer raw materials.

Impact on the resale value of used vehicles: this is another possible matter of concern, not just for the German domestic market but also for used car exports to African, Middle Eastern and Latin American countries where the import of used cars is allowed. Well, even though some older models still fitted with mechanically-governed indirect-injection engines such as the Citroën AX 1.5D or the Ford Fiesta Mk.4-based Courier Kombi 1.8D might not have an expressive resale value nowadays, others such as the 2nd-generation Fiat Doblò and the Hyundai Matrix which had been available with common-rail injection and forced induction since day one would be more heavily impaired in this aspect. Well, even though it may be arguable that North African used car dealers would try to stockpile as many cheap older Diesel cars as they could, it's not clear to which point the current owners of vehicles with a more advanced engine would receive a fair compensation to either replace them with a newer spark-ignited equivalent (eventually hybrid) or to retrofit them to become compliant to Euro-6. In a worst-case scenario, should we expect some Germans to resort to motorcycles with sidecars like their ancestors used to do before the introduction of the Beetle???

Higher suitability of most "jalopies" to alternate fuels: most noticeably the ones fitted with old-school indirect injection such as pre-2000 versions of the Opel Combo still fitted with the Euro-2 Isuzu 4EE1 engine or the Peugeot Partner/Citroën Berlingo with the Euro-3 DW8 engine, older Diesel-powered vehicles not fitted with some devices such as the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) are easier to adapt to run on pure vegetable oils, either fresh or reclaimed from culinary applications, plus the slower combustion process makes it have an even better fuel economy due to the slower burn of those oils with their natural glycerin content. Other models and versions already resorting to direct injection may not have issues associated with the evaporation of the fuel at the DPF core during its self-cleaning (also called "regeneration") process when running on biodiesel.
Ignoring the impact on commercial operators and prices of goods and services: even though the proposal of "blue corridors" with a steady supply of natural gas (Erdgas) in the most important motorway routes throughout the European Union is already meant to address an eventual need for replacement of Diesel fuel in the commercial transport, plus the German expertise on biogas/biomethane leading to a rather easy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, there is a high cost involved and it may affect either the profitability of businesses and individual entrepreneurs or increase the price of goods and services in order to rebate the expenses of either a fleet renewal or the retrofit of newer engines with their associate fuel systems and emission-control devices.

There might be many other aspects to consider, but these 5 might already highlight why a Diesel ban goes against the best interests of German people, and also represents a dangerous precedent for the eventual loss of many other individual freedoms in Europe...

Friday, November 24, 2017

Suzuki GN250 bobber

Spotted this Suzuki GN250, known in my home country as Suzuki Intruder 250, some days ago while walking the dog. This is a 2001 model-year, the last for it in Brazil before being indirectly replaced by the GN 125. Even though the 125 outsold the 250, not just due to the cost but also benefitted by a longer local production run (actually CKD assembly, since Suzuki has turned to its Chinese partner HaoJue for the development and manufacturing of most of its small-displacement range).
Nowadays it's not so easy to spot a GN250 in stock condition, with most either beaten out in various states of disrepair, and others modified. This one is actually not the first modded one that I spotted, but I see it quite often. Even though its owner didn't really got rid of some features such as the turn indicators, rearview mirrors, front fender and front brake in order to make it look more old-school, and had even managed a quite smart solution to keep the speedometer by relocating it to the fork, it does resemble more a bobber than any other motorcycle type.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Jeep Willys CJ6 with 4 doors and a metal top

Took these pictures 9 years ago in my neighborhood, and never saw this one again or any other Jeep CJ from that vintage with a metal top. Similar adaptations used to be quite popular in Argentina, but are uncommon in Brazil. This top and doors were made by Carraço, a company that got specialized in those accessories not just for the Jeep Willys but also for other 4WD utility vehicles such as the DKW-Vemag Candango (a local variant of the West German DKW Munga).
When that enclosure was introduced in the '60s, it became perceived to be more refined than the more usual canvas tops, rendering the Jeep more suitable to match the aspirations of a then-emerging urban middle class with the need for a vehicle rugged enough to cope with the harsh road conditions.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Brazilian Volkswagen Transporter T2 Pritschenwagen (pick-up) with a regional high-volume van conversion and a graffiti paintjob

It's no surprise the Volkswagen Transporter T1 and T2 became so popular in Brazil, and remain to this day as one of the most iconic utility vehicles ever. This one, specifically, had been originally a pick-up, but had been converted into a high-cube van. Probably its first duty was delivery of cigarettes, or Elma Chips (local branch of Frito-Lay) snacks, until it finally found a new life hauling handicraft products to be sold at open-air exhibits that happen quite frequently in Porto Alegre. Spotted this one yesterday in the afternoon at the Farroupilha Park, just a few blocks away from downtown Porto Alegre.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

1996-2000 Dodge Grand Caravan with Opel Astra H headlamps

Spotted this Dodge Caravan in one of the parking lots of the Salgado Filho International Airport, in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. At a first sight from distance, while going by the Aeromóvel (a pneumatic-propelled monorail) from a nearby train station to the main terminal, this appeared to be something more exotic, such as the facelifted 1st generation of the Chinese-market Buick GL8.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why do internal-combustion engines still seem viable in the foreseeable future?

The internal-combustion engine has been a reliable source of power for more than a century, and the basic operating principles are pretty much unchanged in this meantime. Compared to external-combustion machinery, such as the Watt's steam engine, the safety has been a noticeable advantage, even though it's limited to run on liquid or gaseous fuels. However, the predominance of petroleum-based fuels became a matter of concern in recent decades, not just due to environmental motivations but also because of the petroleum being a finite resource. This, and the advances in electric engines and batteries, is leading to some questionings about the viability of internal-combustion engines in the foreseeable future. However, it doesn't seem accurate to single-out engine technology as the main problem, while a better selection of renewable fuels could actually improve their environmental record.

While there has been some expectations around electric drive as a "cleaner" alternative to internal-combustion engines, especially in the automobile industry which still relies heavily on them, it's not so accurate to neglect some issues surrounding the reliability of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) under certain operating conditions. Even though it may fare well in stop-and-go traffic, and the footprint of electric power generation is expected to go down as much as solar, tidal and wind power get widespread, there are still many concerns about the current status-quo with either a dependence on coal which is highly pollutant or hydroelectric which capacity is often compromised by unfavorable weather conditions such as longer dry periods. However, the effects of subtle weather changes on those alternative power sources is also far from negligible, and when it comes to wind power there had been some concerns about its effect on wind directions and how it would affect the migrating birds. The chemical compounds used in batteries, and the availability of raw materiais suitable to their manufacturing, had also been a subject of uncertainties due to the political allignment of certain countries with large reserves of lithium such as Bolivia.

The frequent usage of internal-combustion engines for electric power generation, either continuously or as a standby emergency setup, is another critical aspect to take in account. It's also important to remind the ease of handling inherent to most of the traditional liquid fuels, with Diesel fuel being still prevalent for that application, and the availability of gaseous fuels that could also be used, quickly turning a genset into a valuable asset in areas prone to weather-related power shortages at a higher rate. Despite it being possible to store electric power supplied by the grid during low-demand hours to use later in peak hours, and even the battery of an electric car such as the Nissan Leaf may fare as a limited power supply to the household during a shortage, gensets powered by an internal-combustion engine are still likely to remain quite common, while electric vehicles are going to keep relying heavily on government incentives as an attempt to increase their acceptance among the general public.

Other application for which the internal-combustion engine has been unbeatable is on utility boats, for which the harsh environmental conditions such as the salt mist are a matter of concern. After the Diesel engines successfully replaced the failure-prone and labor-intensive coal-fired steam engines about a century ago, there has been virtually no competition other than gas turbines. It could sound quite simple to harvest solar and wind power for a boat, not just for motion but also to supply power for communication and navigation devices such as a radio and a GPS, or comfort features, but it would still be subject to eventual weather changes and compromise the power supply. The energy density of an internal-combustion powerplant with all the fuel, lube oil and eventually other fluids required is usually still more favorable than what could be achieved with an all-electric setup (excluding on-board generation from solar or wind power in order to keep it more predictable), which is more suitable for such a weight-sensitive application.

Another aspect that should be always taken into account instead of pushing electric drive as the one-size-fits-all solution is the closure of the carbon cycle, which is actually way more effective with the internal-combustion engines. Their suitability to operate with renewable hydrocarbons is a valuable asset, considering that post-combustion CO² has a shorter half-life than methane which is the main component of Natural Gas and is methabolised more easily by vegetable stocks, either agricultural crops and pastures or forests. We must consider that organic matter is always going to rot away, so it would be better to keep it under control and take benefit from any energy that could be harvested, which includes ethanol that can be brewed out of virtually any starch, sugar, molasses or even cellulose, and the biomethane that is released by a wider range of feedstocks. Due to the technology required to make a spark-ignited engine run on those fuels being already commercially-available, sure there is some hope for internal combustion even in this post-Dieselgate world...

With operating principles remaining nearly unaltered for more than 100 years, internal-combustion engines have been a reliable power supply not just for mobility but also for many other activities of the mankind. Addressing issues concerning to the quality of fuels and lube oils supplied to those amazing machines seems to be actually more effective in order to claim a better environmental record for them, in order to ensure the best balance of sustainability and economic viability Even though it might seem like we're desperately attempting to stick with the past, it becomes hard to deny how suitable the internal-combustion engine is going to remain in a foreseeable future.

Monday, September 04, 2017

One of the most unconventional food-trucks in Brazil

I saw it a few times in Florianópolis, capital of Santa Catarina state. I have no clue how the driver is able to look around while driving, but it does drive. I took this picture in the Pantanal neighborhood, but I have seen it before in Rio Tavares. It's been built around a Ford Corcel, which is a local derivative of the Renault 12 that was under development when Ford purchased the assets of Willys-Overland, which represented Renault interests in Brazil.
Picture merely illustrative

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Toyota J40-series truck with a different bodywork

Brazilian-made Toyota Bandeirante, a local derivative of the J40-series Land Cruiser, fitted with a custom sport-side tray and a few mods to the cabin. The doors look like they came from a Willys All-Steel Station Wagon (mostly known in Brazil as "Rural Willys"). The cabin also appears to have been a little longer than stock, and the lack of those rear-quarter windows highlight it.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Yamaha TDR 180, a Brazilian makeshift approach to the overseas TDR 250

Brazil has always held some peculiarities when it comes to the local vehicles market, not just the cars and commercial vehicles but naturally the motorcycles too. It's important to point out there were restrictions against imports from '76 to '90, which in a market where motorcycles previously had been considered more like a leisure vehicle than an affordable commuter, low-displacement models were setting the change to that point of view. Stricter local content policies were also not so inviting to set a local production of a wider range of models in higher displacement classes, since not just the domestic market demand for them wouldn't justify the investment but the logistics to export most of the output posed as another challenge.
So, while a motorcycle culture was starting to ressurge in the '80s, the easiest way to provide newer models presumably more up-to-date with the international offerings was the adaptation of whatever locally-built engine available. One of the makeshift versions from that period is the '89-'93 Yamaha TDR 180, which relied on the very same single-cylinder air-cooled engine fitted to the DT 180 at that time instead of the liquid-cooled parallel-twin from the '88-'93 TDR 250 marketed elsewhere. It might be quite arguable that a milder version of the parallel-twin from the Brazilian Yamaha RD 350 LC could have been a better choice in order to retain a performance level more consistent to its purpose, but once again it's worth remember the Brazilian economy downturns right after the end of the military government, and then the choice for a cheaper engine to be shared with the DT 180 makes some sense.
Other cost-cutting measure that might spark further controvery is the rear drum brake, in opposition to the all-around disc setup fitted to its foreign counterpart. Though back in the day it didn't really seem to bother anybody so badly, now it's occasionally pointed as an example of disregard to Brazilian customers who were offered a supposedly "inferior" product much like the automobile industry still does nowadays. Nevertheless, in spite of any criticism that may arise against either its performance or other features, the Yamaha TDR 180 was actually an interesting development once we consider the context of the period it was introduced. And it still looks cool at all.