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Over 25 Million Vehicles Recalled…and it’s only June!

As of last week, 25.3 million vehicles in the U.S. had been recalled1. In the meantime, GM sent notice that it is recalling an additional 3.36 million vehicles2. The reason for this recall – an ignition switch defect.

In fact, 1 out of 10 vehicles on the road in the United States has been recalled this year. Just to clarify, that’s not 1 out of 10 vehicles sold this year but literally 1 out of every 10 vehicles currently registered across all makes and models. When I read that statistic, I literally gasped. To be fair, many vehicles are recalled each year for reasons that are far less serious than an ignition switch that can turn off and disable critical safety systems like airbags. For example, some Ford Taurus cars were recalled for a license plate lamp assembly that may get corroded due to water intrusion.

Federal legislators are looking into GM’s handling of their initial recall earlier this year related to faulty ignition switches and have certainly given Mary Barra a grilling on Capitol Hill. I certainly do not envy the position that she’s in.

One of the questions that comes up a lot in discussions with other members of the Automotive IQ team is ‘What is going on in the auto industry?’ This is an incredibly loaded question and it would be unfair to generalize about car manufacturers in general. That said, I see three major issues that have contributed to this ‘year of the recall.’

  1. Some manufacturers have retained a culture that was not focused on product safety and instead employed a defensive strategy of damage mitigation. In some companies, employees did not fear being fired for their failure to act in the interest of safety.
  2. In some cases, the large recalls involve very high-tech electronic systems. The auto industry is at a very exciting crossroads where a lot of potentially disruptive technologies are emerging. Technologies that will lead to more automated driving experiences that attempt to remove the error inherent to a real person driving are being integrated into modern vehicles. These technologies are still in their infancy and it’s normal that there are some bugs to work out.
  3. Global supply chain problems. The Aston Martin accelerator pedal recall earlier this year was a prime example of how possible it is to lose control of the quality of a supply chain. As supply chains become more global and take advantage of prices in emerging markets, it is increasingly important for the one with ultimate responsibility over the product (the OEM) to have oversight.

 

One of the unfortunate side-effects of having so many very public recalls in such a short period of time is that it begins to normalize the problem and de-sensitize consumers. Ultimately, the power to change the industry lies with the consumer.

1:http://money.cnn.com/2014/06/13/autos/recalls-record-year
2http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/06/17/gm_recalls_record_number_of_cars_consumers_still_don_t_care.html

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The Car Industry Needs a Diet

At the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford unveiled the production version of the previous years Atlas F150 prototype. This time around the F150 stole the show, not only because it’s America’s favorite mode of transport but notably this American stalwart now sported an all aluminum cab and load body.

A number of car companies are beginning to produce vehicles with lightweight alternatives to steel. Aside from the new F-150, BMW boldly moved into carbon fiber composite with its i3 and i8 and no doubt they’ve learned a lot from this experience. Jaguar’s new XE, designed to compete against the German small sedans, supposedly is going to feature an aluminum unibody.

Nevertheless, according to Philippe Houchois, UBS Head of European Automotive Research, in order for manufacturers to meet CO2 limits in Europe, vehicles will need to lose 300 – 400 kgs/car and he believes that the industry is nowhere near that reduction.

Personally, I am an optimist and a strong believer in the potential of an industry to reinvent itself when placed under pressure. I recently had the opportunity to interview Ed Bernardon who is the VP of Strategic Automotive Initiatives at Siemens PLM Software. He is a wealth of knowledge on lightweight materials such as composites.

Our interview can be viewed in the lightweight materials section of Automotive IQ

Supercars Help Re-introduce Turbochargers and Superchargers

The new standard trend for supercar engineers is to have a normal engine mated with a turbocharger or supercharger. Why? Both can significantly boost an engine’s horsepower without significantly increasing its weight, which is  a huge benefit for supercars and that makes them so popular!

Growing up, I’ve always been a car enthusiast and to this day every time I hear about turbo engines I think of the Ferrari F40, a car which defined supercars with its engaging drive and lightening pace. Quite simply, the F40 changed everything. Turbos and supercharger popularity waned since then, but now in 2014 they seem to be fighting back stronger than ever with the highly anticipated new Honda NSX, the Jaguar C-X75, the Porsche 911 turbo and the Ferrari California T.

Some may be asking how turbo’s work and what’s the difference between a turbo and supercharger? So… here on Automotive IQ we explain both these intriguing questions, so sit back and visualise the voodoo mystery.

How turbo’s work

Turbochargers are a type of forced induction system where they compress the air flowing into the engine which allows the engine to squeeze more air into a cylinder, the extra air results in more fuel delivered to the engine therefore providing extra power. In order to achieve this boost, the turbocharger uses the exhaust flow from the engine to spin a ceramic turbine blade, which in turn spins an air pump. The turbine blade in the turbocharger spins at speeds of up to 150,000 rotations per minute (rpm) — that’s about 30 times faster than most car engines can go. And since it is hooked up to the exhaust, the temperatures in the turbine are also very high; explaining why almost every supercar has big air inlets to ensure the turbocharger doesn’t overheat.

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The difference between a turbocharger and supercharger?

Superchargers like turbochargers are also called forced induction systems. Superchargers work the same way as turbos described above, but as you can tell from the name superchargers offer more power. In a supercharger, there is a belt that connects directly to the engine and receives its power the same way that the water pump or alternator does. A turbo charger on the other hand, gets its power from the exhaust and as mentioned above the exhaust runs through a turbine which generates compression.

Both systems have trade-offs. A turbocharger is more efficient because it utilises ‘wasted’ energy in the exhaust stream for its power source, however turbo chargers create back pressure in the exhaust system which creates turbo lag causing the car to bog down until the engines generates enough pressure and is running at higher rpms. Due to this turbo lag, supercars are now mating turbo’s with electric engines to compensate for any lag, so that you don’t look foolish at the lights when your car bogs down and you get overtaken by a Nissan Micra whose car insurance is definitely cheaper than yours.

Superchargers generate tons of power, sounds cooler and offer a great feeling of excitement, but, and this is a big but…it all depends on how the chassis can utilise this extra power; does the car have enough grip to put the power down, or does it just spin up its wheels and/or torque steer like mad? Superchargers are easier to install and are more reliable but of course more expensive, however this may be worth it as the power is always available throughout the rev range.

To conclude, supercars tend to favour turbo engines, as they are more manageable in terms of power efficiency, they are cheaper and quieter reducing noise pollution. Hypercars being so dramatic tend to favour superchargers.

This post was written by Hiten Solanki

The Exciting New World of F1 Turbo Engines – the Brave Unknown

With the first 2014 testing session underway this week at Jerez, the majority of F1 fans will be eager to hear the sound from these new 1.6 V6 turbo engines. This year will be one of the biggest changes to Formula 1 engine regulations in the history of the sport. The previous V8 2.4 litre engines were naturally aspirated and pierced your ears from its soundtrack and the introduction of turbo’s will be more of a growling sound, which will take some time getting used to.

Each car for the 2014 season will have two less cylinders than the previous year resulting in 600bhp, and the introduction to a much more powerful energy recovery system (ERS) will not just harvest kinetic energy from braking (sound is completely different to previous years) but will also recover heat from the turbo’s turbine shaft and the exhaust gases. Unfortunately, it gives engineers and drivers two more acronyms to learn on top of the new turbos which will be nothing like the turbo’s of the past, and nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen.

The electrical energy can be either directed to the kinetic energy (MGU-K as known to engineers) as extra power boost or to the battery for storage for later use. However, when acting as a generator, heat energy (MGU-H as known to engineers) is used to match the speed of the turbo to the engine and cut out turbo lag. The new ERS will produce 160bhp of the overall power (estimated to be around 760bhp combined), making it significantly more important to lap time than in previous years.
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In this complex new era of F1 motor racing I will shed some light on the new engine regulations:

Reliability
The new engines represent a huge step into the total unknown, the first day at Jerez testing summed that up perfectly, with both Ferrari and Force India coming to a halt within matter of corners on their first voyage out of the pits. What we also don’t know is how the V6 combined with the turbo and the energy recover system will work on a full race distance, major concern among engineers will be the cooling of the turbo engine, especially with Red Bull who’s designer Adrian Newey is fond of tight exotic bodywork packaging around the rear of the car. Don’t be surprised if you see half of the grid not finish at the season opener at Australia.

Fuel Saving
Drivers will now have to complete the same race distances as they did in 2013 but with just 100 litres of fuel, a rough estimation of 35% less fuel than 2013 and this will present a serious challenge for engineers and drivers in order for races not to become an economy run. The new engines will not use as much fuel for a start as they are smaller, while much more power is available from the ‘hybrid’ technology ERS. Race strategy will become even more important to ensure cars complete races.

Driveability
The ‘drive-ability’ and power delivery of the new units should prove a big challenge and watching how well the drivers and cars handle that extra power will be fascinating. Turbo engines produce significantly more torque than naturally aspirated engines, but the delivery of the torque can lag behind the application of the throttle, drivers have already commented that the throttle pedal should be a metre long to control the torque of the engine.  One of the great challenges of the new power unit is to reduce turbo lag to near zero by using the heat recovery (MGU-H) to power the compressor while the turbo reaches full boost.

Cooling
Although the engines are smaller next season the cooling requirements are much higher with an intercooler for the turbocharger, plus extra cooling for the ERS system. All of these combined will not be welcome news for designers in the aero department where cooling means bigger radiators and bigger openings in the bodywork, one thing working for them is the bigger sidepods which have been introduced this year for safety reason (T-bones crashes).  

Many of you may be thinking that all these engines changes will be costing teams significantly more than previous years which is absolutely correct, but in the long run these systems will help reduce costs with fuel, aerodynamics, etc. and unlock technology which can be used in everyday motor engineering which will save billions.

To sign off on one of the most exciting aspects of the 2014 regulations is that it shifts the emphasis ever so slightly away from aerodynamics. For the first time this decade engine departments will have the opportunity to innovate and compete with one another over the coming years.

This post was written by Hiten Solanki who writes for Tempcover -day insurance.

BMW 4-Series

I have a friend who is the spitting image of Rory McIlroy. He spends much of his time on any night out trying to convince people he is not Rory McIlroy. Even in a backstreet kebab shop in a provincial town at 2am, as he spills garlic mayo down his shirt he will be asked if he is Rory McIlroy. It can be hard to make a name for yourself when you are constantly having to tell people what you are not.

That issue is similarly faced by the BMW 4-Series, a car which has thus far spent its entire existence denying that it is the BMW 3-Series. The 4-series coupe is essentially the two-door version of the much-loved 3-Series coupe with better model delineation and greater exclusivity. It is a slimmed and optimised version of a traditional staple; it is like short-term car insurance – fast, effective, immediate and modern – to a traditional annual policy.

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In terms of distancing itself from its predecessor though, despite the inevitable connections, the 4-Series is already making strides to make a name of its own. For a start, the 4-Series is already considered to be much livelier than its predecessor, its improved steering and a lower centre of gravity helping it to bring more balance to the road alongside a more responsive suspension.

The 4-series is also slightly lighter than the 3-Series, around 25kg so, and comes with a choice of six engines – all rear-wheel drive. Two petrol options are turbocharged 2.0 litre four cylinders giving 181bhp or 242bhp respectively, whilst the other is a 302bhp turbocharged 3.0 litre six cylinder. There are three diesel choices too; offering between 181 and 309bhp, and these are expected to prove more popular.

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In terms of future developments for the 4-Series BMW have already tabled a Hybrid version of the vehicle with a 340hp output 450 Nm of torque. There had been rumors that the 4-Series Hybrid would be making a cameo appearance at the LA Auto Show at the end of November, but alas the new model appears to have suffered from stage-fright and failed to make it to the Los Angeles Convention Centre for the event, leaving us to twiddle our thumbs in anticipation of its arrival in the new year.

 

This article was written by guest blogger Hiten Solanki

Is The Future of Cars Electric?

We’ve been told that the future is bright; we’ve even been told that the future is orange, but when it comes to cars is the future electric? Should we be turning our backs on the increasingly old-school petrol driven cars and be fully embracing electric cars so as to future-proof ourselves?

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It isn’t uncommon for the US to lead the way when it comes to technology, and particularly California. The home base of the behemoth Google, not to mention the hundreds and thousands of start-ups in Silicon Valley, when it comes to the future Californians should know their tablet-form onions. And if you’re looking to California for guidance then the suggestions are that electric cars are very much the next step.
Charging stations and points for electric cars have been a common sighting in The Golden State for some time, but earlier this month the region took the next step. The first public EV charging station that supports all models of electric vehicles has now opened in San Diego, all the more reason to buy an electric car. The charge point, located at the Fashion Valley Mall, can charge the batteries of cars that operate on any of the three existing connection systems to about 80 per cent in around 20 minutes.

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In the UK, charging points remain few and far between and for the most point limited to slow performing charging stations dotted around the big cities. If you drive around London regularly then you’ll have a lot less trouble keeping your car charged than you will in North Yorkshire say, where you’ll have to cross your fingers that you can make it from York to Scarborough in one charge.
The plus point, I suppose, is that our concerns have shifted from the vehicles themselves to how to keep them running. Thanks to celebrity endorsements and a greater range being produced by manufacturers, electric cars are no longer the concept fads they were once supposed to be. Just this year the BMW has gone all guns blazing with UK television advertising to herald the arrival of their i8 and i3 vehicles. Neither comes cheap, but they each mark a significant departure from the staid conservative nature of the Toyota Prius.
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As more vehicles come on to the market, an electric future on the road appears to be inevitable, although not quite a here and now solution. If you live out in the country then you may want to hang fire before putting all your eggs in a snazzy new electro-basket to save being stuck on a darkened ‘B’ road in the middle of the night, but if you’re in the city then perhaps the time has come to embrace the electric car future.

This article was written by guest blogger Hiten Solanki

Fuel Cells Are Back in the News…Are They Here to Stay?

A few years ago, the major car manufacturers were all bringing fuel cell concept cars to the auto show circuit. There was a lot of excitement in the press and amongst consumers. The environmental benefits and potential of having a car that achieved great fuel efficiency without the need for a long recharge was attractive. And then, suddenly those concept cars disappeared from the public eye.

However, universities and car companies were still at it. One of the most interesting concepts is to use a hydrogen fuel cell as part of a hybrid electric vehicle. By utilizing a fuel cell, the hybrid would run clean even when it is not running on battery and fill up times would be comparable to a traditional car. By utilizing this range extender concept, the expensive and sizeable battery of a pure EV would be unnecessary which would dramatically reduce the cost of an alternative powertrain.

Automotive IQ recently performed a market survey to determine whether the auto industry thinks fuel cells are viable as a range extender concept. 80% of respondents said yes. Below is a graphic representing the timeframe that respondents believe is likely for fuel cells to achieve a significant market share. To view the full results of our survey click here.

When will fuel cells gain market share?

 

Will Hornick is the Managing Editor of Automotive IQ

Do Foreign Auto Makers Have a Responsibility to China’s Environment?

Recently, the New York Times’ Auto Section reported that the Chinese auto market is beginning to prefer larger cars. There is a certain logic behind this. An increasing number of Chinese are able to afford cars and it goes to follow that an increasing number can also afford more spacious and luxurious cars. But a cultural shift is also occurring as SUVs are no longer seen as a reminder of the rural setting that many chose to escape by moving to cities.

Auto manufacturers are quick to take advantage of this cultural shift as GM, Ford and Chrysler have all indicated that they will begin promoting and manufacturing S.U.V. models in China. Inevitably, these larger vehicles will consume more fuel, and create more emissions. But what responsibility do auto manufacturers really have toward a society faced with growing environmental woes? Should auto companies voluntarily adhere to more stringent fuel consumption and emissions standards than are currently legislated as a form of social responsibility?

In 1970, the economist Milton Friedman famously wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine in which he stated:

There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.

Whether or not you believe that a business or an industry has a social responsibility, companies do engage in actions that benefit the community or the larger society in which they operate/sell. Some companies, Whole Foods’ Market for example, make these actions a part of their mission statement. Other companies proactively exceed environmental and safety targets set by legislation. Their reasons for doing so may be to head off future costly legislation by showing that even in the absence of more stringent regulation, improvements are occurring. In the example of safety standards, vehicle manufacturers often exceed government crash safety regulations because consumers put safety as a priority when buying a car. Therefore, exceeding the mandated standards is not only socially responsible but a good business decision.

This is an excerpt from an article published on Automotive IQ. To view the full article follow the link below.

Full Article

Will Hornick is the Managing Editor of Automotive IQ

Autonomous Driving: Revolution or Evolution?

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Alfred Eckert, Head of Advanced Engineering at Chassis & Safety, and Thomas Gallner, Overall Vehicle E/E Architecture. Both work for Continental in Germany. It was a great conversation and very enlightening about the what the future holds in terms of safety and autonomous vehicles. We also discussed the potential of moving to a 48 volt power supply to supplement the current 12 volt system in cars. The full interview is available by clicking on the image below:

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Autonomous driving has come up in quite a few discussions recently. Some people express excitement at the prospect of being able to relax in the car, others express fear of not being fully in control. Yet a third group seems to despair at the idea that the car as-we-know-it may cease to exist. Admittedly, I am a car-enthusiast and the prospect of such a revolutionary change is daunting. However, it’s unlikely that the transition into autonomous vehicles will be quite so dramatic and revolutionary. According to Alfred Eckert,  “…in the future, there will be cars. There will be a steering wheel in front of the driver. There will be pedals…the process needs to change fluidly. You cannot say, okay, now you have to drive this vehicle without a steering wheel. Can you imagine the ensuing discussion?”

Continental has set a time frame for their development of autonomous vehicle systems. Their goal is that by 2016, vehicles will be available with systems allowing driver’s to transfer control over to the car in heavy traffic situations up to about 30 km/hr. By 2025, fully automated driving should be available but only for highway scenarios.

Driving enthusiast or not, you have to admire the work these engineers are doing. Not only is the technology amazing, but its potential to save lives is incredibly important.

Read the full interview and share your thoughts.

Will Hornick is the Managing Editor of Automotive IQ

How Would a Free Trade Agreement Benefit the Car Industry?

During his State of the Union speech in February, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “Tonight, I’m announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive trans-Atlantic trade and investment partnership with the European Union.” One month later, the European Commission agreed on a draft mandate for the partnership and sent it to the Council for the Member States for approval in order to begin the next round of negotiations. At the speed of international politics, so far this one is breaking the sound barrier. What would a free trade agreement mean for the auto industries of the U.S. and the European Union?

Currently, the European auto industry is experiencing a slump. EU car sales came in at the lowest recorded for a month of February since record keeping began in 1990 even bearing in mind that the EU only had 15 Members States at that time. Ian Fletcher, an analyst at IHS Automotive in London, predicts that the EU automotive market will contract another 2.6% in 2013. Clearly, the car market is struggling.

The Centre for Economic Policy Research in London was appointed by the European Commission to perform an in-depth study on the potential effects of a free trade agreement between the EU and the U.S. Their study details the potential impact of various policy scenarios not only on the two main players but also on the global economy. Under what is termed an “ambitious and comprehensive” scenario, the sector set to gain the largest boost is motor vehicles where EU exports (worldwide) could increase by almost 42% and imports would be up 43%. Motor vehicle exports specifically to the US are expected to increase by 149%.

One of the most important considerations for a potential trans-Atlantic trade liberalization is to reduce “non-tariff” barriers such as customs procedures and behind-the-border regulatory restrictions. It is certainly in the auto industry’s best interest to have better harmonized standards in order to reduce testing and development costs for individual markets.

The main barriers to a comprehensive agreement lie with industries such as agriculture where Europeans are wary of GMO goods which are more common in the U.S. There are also concerns over privacy restrictions that differ across the two trade blocs. At Automotive IQ, we’ll be paying close attention to any new developments with this potential trans-Atlantic partnership.

Sources:

“European Commission Fires Starting Gun for EU-US Trade Talks,” IP/13/224, European Commission Press Release (March 12, 2013).

“Independent study outlines benefits of EU-US trade agreement,” MEMO/13/211, European Commission Memo (March 12, 2013).

James Kanter, “U.S. and Europe Seek Support for Trade Pact,” New York Times, March 12, 2013.


Will Hornick
is the Managing Editor of Automotive IQ

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