Saturday, December 01, 2012

Artesanal double-cabs: a former Brazilian trend, now nearly extinct

Starting in the 60's, going thru the 70's and 80's, artesanal double-cab conversions were a popular mod in Brazilian-made trucks, due to the unavailability of factory-equipped versions. If early ones were pretty simple, just a crew-cab work truck like that old blue Chevrolet C-10 fitted with a Stovebolt Six and a collumn-shift 3-speed manual transmission, they started to become trendy after '76 due to automobile import restrictions, becoming an option to customers in the market for luxury cars, which then had a low availability. Larger rear cab extensions started to become prevalent, offering enought room for comfort features such as a sofa-bed and home appliances such as TV and fridge, to make longer trips more pleasurable.
Some models, such as the Chevrolet C-20 (which ethanol-powered versions were locally-named A-20 and Diesel ones D-20, and export ones B-10), started to have crew-cab versions in the 80's, but weren't so luxurious as the artesanal conversions. A curious feature to note is than most converted double-cab trucks had only 2 doors, once a trend in Brazilian market for budget reasons and concerns about child safety, while a crew-cab from the factory had 4 doors.

The 90's came with a market reopening, and Japanese crew-cab trucks started to hit the streets. With its smaller, more fuel-efficient engines, better maneuverability in tight spaces and improved driving comfort in opposition to full-size trucks which often still didn't even have power steering, started to take over the local truck market. The segment had nearly to reinvent it to survive. many conversion shops closed, others started to sell accessories to the Japanese newcomers, while a few still remain on this market.

Some models such as the Chevrolet S10, introduced to the Brazilian market only in '95 and since then the best-selling truck, had a potential market for crew-cab versions, which OEM extended-cab couldn't fully meet. Until '97, meanwhile a factory crew-cab wasn't available, the gap had to be filled by the aftermarket conversions. Even after that, some customers still enjoy the artesanal double-cabs since they provided more room to the back seat, making it more comfortable for family use and improving the comfort in longer trips.

The double-cab conversions market is still not extinct, in spite of the much lower volume. In addition to more traditional body-on-frame trucks such as the Ford F-250, it also started to draw more attention to unibody front-wheel drive coupé-utilities such as the Ford Courier which are very popular in Brazil in spite of the unavailability of a double-cab/crew-cab for most of those.

It may look dumb for some customers, but for many others it's important to have an open deck which makes easier to fit some larger bulks in a counterpoint to a regular sedan...

The only coupé-utility with an available double-cab is the Fiat Strada, in a response to few customers who were retrofitting rear bench seats into factory-offered extended-cab versions to carry 2 more passengers in spite of its tight space.

In spite of all the factors which led to its decline, the artesanal double-cab conversions are not fully extinct, mainly due to the ability to provide more personallized solutions than an OEM would, exactly due to its lower market volume...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Arguments against EPA witch-hunting regarding Diesels without mandatory emissions equipment

The EPA should reconsider the current strict mandate on Diesel road-legal emissions,regarding their particular operation in a counterpoint to a regular spark-ignited engine. Some devices such as the EGR and SCR actually just transfer the pollution from the truck's tailpipe to an industrial chimney.

The EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) leads to an increasement in the Diesel fuel consumption, which can be easily diagnosed from the enhanced particulate matter emissions, altough the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) hides this problem. Due to its prejudicial interference in the combustion process, the EGR is not compatible with a more accurate tuning for fuel-savings, which could lead to imrpovements not just environmentally-wise but also regarding national security due to the lesser dependence on foreign oil from politically-unstable lands.

The DPF getting more demanded also leads to an increasement on the regeneration cycles required to keep its operational conditions, also enhancing the Diesel fuel consumption. We all know the oil drilling, refining and logistics involved in the final destination of its derived products (gasoline, Diesel fuel, kerosene, among others) have its own environmental impact and a high energy expense, enhanced due to the misguided EPA standards which are actually not so effective concerning to environment protection.

Another currently-mandatory device, the SCR (Selective Catalyst Reduction) is also not so “clean”, since it increases the logistics complexity involved in Diesel vehicles' operation and leads to a high consumption of purified water, and also in case of an accident with leakage from the on-board urea tank it can easily contaminate water courses nearby, including underground waters.

Winter time is also critical for Diesel operators, since EGR-equipped vehicles have harsher start-ups and take a longer time to get a stable idling speed, which increases the particulate matter emissions due to the longer cold-phase after the start-up. The SCR is also a source of problems, since the urea-based fluid is easily prone to freezing due to the 67,5% water content.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

EPA sucks, Diesel rocks

Yesterday, some bad news for the Diesel scene came out, because H&S Performance suspended the production of its tuning devices, including EGR/DPF delete kits. The company, currently a worldwide leader in the Diesel performance market, is now seeking for an EPA compliance to upcoming products.

Ironically, all that emissions control devices currently mandated by the EPA environazis such as EGR, DPF and DEF (urea injection at the exhaust, also known as SCR) have some side-effects. EGR decreases the fuel-efficiency and leads to a higher particulate matter amount, requiring more DPF regeneration cycles which also spend more Diesel fuel. Then, more energy is spent from the oil extraction to the Diesel fuel transport to the refuelling stations, going thru the refining. The extra components added to the vehicles, from the EGR to the urea injection setup, are pointless too due to the incresement in the raw materials amount demanded to make each vehicle. It's not really an effective way to cut emissions after all.

Performance-wise, the EGR prejudices the turbocharging effectiveness due to a reduction on the exhaust housing pressure. It's worth to remember the turbocharger also leads to a higher fuel-efficiency, due to the higher air intake flow promoting a more complete combustion process.

The increasingly common SCR/urea injection is also not so great as it's often quoted, since it demands more industrial processes to manufacture the industrial urea and a higher water consumption to make the standardized urea-based Diesel Exhaust Fluid, not to disconsider the increased complexity to the logistic procedures required to make it nationwide available.

EPA and its pointless witch-hunting against Diesel clearly show that environmental protection is not a real priority for the Diesel-bashing environazis.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Diesels: energy-efficiency doesn't need excessive complexity

For a long time, Diesel has been the prevalent option for customers on the market for vehicles with a lower fuel consumption. From the old irons like the Fiat 128 to the current offerings such as the Fiat Punto Evo, in spite of all the emissions control devices which led to controversial effects in reliability, maintenance schedules, and even in the so acclaimed fuel-efficiency, such as the EGR which re-routes part of the exhaust gases to the combustion chambers in order to decrease the internal temperatures to reduce the Nitrogen oxides generation, Diesel engines are still the easiest way to conciliate performance with fuel savings.

One threat to the Diesels' supremacy are the hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, but don't seem to justify all that "eco-friendly" aura implied by the marketing. Delivering fuel-efficiency ratings very close, often worse, their manufacturing processes have an increased environmental impact, apart from the higher technical complexity. An average compact car, such as the Chevrolet Cruze, easily delivers a higher mileage in Diesel versions.

Comparing to a gasoline-powered engine which would provide a close performance, Diesel has been less complicated, mainly due to the absence of an electric ignition system. Older ones, with a fully-mechanical injection setup, are able to remain running even after an eventual alternator failure...
Altough nowadays electronic fuel injections became prevalent, mainly due to the higher adaptability to environmental factors which influence the performance and efficiency, Diesels remain less complicated that any gasser.
Needless to say how simpler they are comparing to the hybrids with all the complex integration between both primary (combustion) and secondary (electric) drive and the high-voltage components...

There were also some few attempts to conciliate the higher thermal efficiency of Diesel engines with Hybrid drivelines, such as the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4, but the overall cost still goes too high for the proposed improvements on the fuel savings, also becoming too opulent for a "world-saving" lurker, when some less expensive vehiches with close functionalities, such as the Peugeot 308 1.6HDI, can provide a lower overall life ownership cost from the first registration to the final disposal or a life-extending refurbishment...

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Hybrid-electric cars: a pointless marketing deal

Highlited as an alternative to cut tailpipe emissions, hybrid-electric vehiches are often pointed to have a lower operational cost, altough in this matter they're not so great at all. Considering the initial cost, a Chevrolet Sonic can be as cost-effective at the long run as a Chevrolet Volt, which can become around 150% more expensive competitively-equipped. After a predictable 10-year lifespan, it's still cheaper to just overhaul the engine of a subcompact than to overhaul the engine AND replace the traction battery packs of a hybrid...

Diesel-powered vehicles, spotting the Volkswagen Jetta TDI as one of the most successful in the American market, are also a cost-effective option. In spite of the higher cost, altough still around 35% cheaper than a competitively-equipped Chevy Volt, a Jetta TDI offers an easier adaptability to run on alternative fuels, which leads to a lower environmental impact without sacrifices to performance or driveability. Also considering the manufacturing of the traction battery packs and their end-of-life reprocessing, which lead to a high energy expense, easily overcome the energy-saving thru a predictable 10-year lifespan, that can be easily surpassed by a Diesel while a battery hardly lasts more than 7 years. It's also worth to note that nowadays in some markets even sportscars, such as the Audi TT, can be had with a Diesel, joining the higher fuel-efficiency with the weight-savings and enhanced aerodynamics, leading to more increasements in the fuel-efficiency and environmental performance...

After all, a gasoline-powered hybrid is essentially matter of foolish marketing...

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Single windscreen wipers: nice or rice?

One of the most controversial features in street cars, altough greatly popular in race cars, are the single windscreen wipers. Used in low-cost cars like the early Fiat Uno, and also in some higher-end models such as many Mercedes-Benz vehicles from the 90's, it's often regarded as an undesirable feature.

In opposition to a widespread myth, which reports single wipers to prejudice visibility, they're widely used in race cars due to their benefits in this aspect: since the driver's seat is usually lower than in a street car, an average dual-wiper setup sits too high and ends up reducing the driver's visibility, while with a single wiper set to rest either standing in the middle of the windshield or laying in the passenger side, the prejudices are minimized. Also, due to the wider sweeping pattern, it can wipe more efficiently and cover a bigger portion of the windshield.
It's worth to note that, with a dual-wiper setup, which usually sweeps from the passenger side to driver's side, is that it dumps water right in the driver's field of view before it's cleared off...
Other features favorable to single-wipers are the lower weight, altough it doesn't look so significant at a first sight, and an improvement to the aerodynamics since it's one less thing to get dragging when the vehicle runs.
Then, in a racing environment it's desirable for performance while in a street car it helps to decrease fuel consumption at the long-term operation.
So, despite the occasional criticism from the haters, who quote single-wipers as a ricers' deal, it has some undeniable practical purposes in street cars...

Monday, July 02, 2012

Is the American customer ready to a front-wheel drive full-size van?

Already proven in the stereotypical soccer-mom vans, the front-wheel drive layout is still rejected by many commercial operators. However, it's likely to change soon...
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans, from Daimler AG, with its conservative rear-wheel drive layout, despite having a narrower body than the average American full-size van, were very sucessful since its introduction in the USDM as a Dodge product, but nowadays Chrysler LLC, which has the rights to the Dodge brand, is tied up with Fiat SpA. Then, a gap emerged in Dodge lineup with the Sprinter being reintroduced as a Mercedes-Benz, and a replacement is required.
From Fiat lineup, the front-wheel drive Ducato is often pointed as a viable option. Due to its lighter transmission setup, and the transverse engine layout allowing a more compact packaging, it turns out as an effective way to meet higher fuel-efficiency requirements. Its stability, comparably higher than the average rear-wheel drive vans, is particularly attractive since it could avoid lawsuits from reckless drivers. And is also a great advantage for some vocational applications such as ambulances...

Another option is the Iveco Daily, which RWD layout, and the longitudinal engine placement, allow to an increasement in the engine and transmission options that could be offered and shared with Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep current lineups. Higher GVW ratings are also available to meet different requirements. Dual rear wheel, preferred by many operators due to the enhanced stability, despite absent in the Ducato, is also available for the Daily range...

Another example of this trend is the Ford Transit: the model, already available in Mexico only in front-wheel drive layout with a transverse 4-cylinder 2.2L turbodiesel and a manual transmission, has many rear-wheel drive versions in other markets, including some fitted with the same Duratec 2.3L formerly used in the Fusion and the Ranger. To the entry versions, with lower payload and GVW ratings to be an alternative over the current truck-based E-150, the front-wheel drive layout can be attractive for its enhanced fuel-efficiency and lower purchase cost, also benefitting from the enhanced stability. Another advantage is the lower cargo platform, which could be an enormous advantage due to the increasement of the overall cargo volume and due to the easier boarding it might benefit some special applications such as ambulances...
So, despite some common misbeliefs, front-wheel drive presents itself actually as a reasonable option to many commercial van customers.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hummer: currently out of business, but still a strong brand

One of the best-recognized brands in the world, Hummer was one of the best American symbols. Its characteristic military-inspired design inspires either passion or the deepest hate not just for the vehicles, but also for its owners and the United States in a general way. Yes, there are many losers who blame Americans just for being Americans, hence the rejection against many of the modern cultural icons such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Hummer...
Its size tends to please men who want a vehicle with high tow/haul capabilities and off-road ability for outdoor leisure, and also soccer-moms women due to its visibility on traffic and the perception of the ruggedness as a safety factor in a family-oriented vehicle. For this reason, in a partnership between AM General (developer of the original military Hummvee) and General Motors, civilian-only models started to be made based in the Chevrolet/GMC full-size truck platform.

Subsequently, there was a lighter series, the H3, notably narrower and initially not fitted with a traditional V8 (having an inline-5 gasser instead), based in the mid-size pickups platform co-developed with Isuzu, and then more suitable for export markets. Factory-fitted right-hand drive versions were officially released in 2007 and even started the global expansion of the brand with a manufacturing facility in South Africa, but in 2008 came the Real Estate crisis that led to a severe economic recession, and GM was strongly affected.
Under a strict restructuration plan ruled by the federal government, General Motors phased out the Hummer brand in 2010. Many of its enthusiasts blame the president Barack Obama for that, since many of his supporters seem to be "sorry" for being American and don't really give patriotic values their due respect. Actually, after the "Buy American" bill, it's quite dumb that an American industry icon was so neglected...

Considering the technical aspects, the H3 could remain on production. The frame, lighter than the one used in the H2, could be fitted with smaller engines, such as the Opel C24 2.4L inline-4 used in Brazilian versions of the Chevrolet S10 and in the Isuzu D-Max (badged as Isuzu KB 240 in South Africa when fitted with this engine) and the Ecotec 2.0L turbocharged that incorporates downsizing concepts while delivering a performance comparable to the 3.7L inline-5. It's worth to note that the 2.0L Ecotec would be subject to lower taxes in many export markets due to its displacement and favored due to its lower fuel consumption. Also, many Diesel engines from Opel, Isuzu, Fiat and currently Chevrolet can perfectly fit inside its engine bay, and are a decisive sales argument in Europe, also desirable in Australia due to the extended range it can provide, South America due to the lower operational cost and in Southeast Asia due to the harsh environmental conditions in the countryside. Even for the American market it's a good option since it helps to decrease the demand for imported fuels without sacrifice the overall performance even in a heavy vehicle...
It's also noticeable that the current generation of Diesel engines has even some 4-cylinder options perfectly suitable as a higher-efficiency option to the gasser V8. The presence of a turbocharger in many of the modern Diesels is also an advantage for uphill driving since forced induction provides a more constant intake pressure, reducing power losses in higher altitudes...
Actually, even its heavy-duty body-on-frame configuration is more suitable to experiences with alternative fuels and energy-saving drivelines since it allows a larger flexibility for layout arrangements than an unibody.
So, despite the current hiatus experienced by the Hummer brand, it's still well-recognised in the market, has a strong cult-following and is clearly possible to become profitable again.