Tuesday, July 23, 2013
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Saturday, July 20, 2013
The Tesla Model S: The Prius of the 2010's. Tales of my First Run in With a Tesla Model S...and its Owner.
|5 years ago, the car in this picture would be a Prius.|
During the Prius' reign, average members of society without proper "green cred," including those poser Escape Hybrid hybrids, needed to be on constant alert for a verbal berating from a Prius owner. Not only was the Prius the greatest thing since sliced bread, but Prius owners were saving the world and if you didn't own one, you were a bad person and they weren't afraid to tell you about it.
They also weren't afraid to tell you how great their gas mileage was. It was like a fishing story, the mileage always got better as regular cars started getting better mileage. 40mpg quickly turned into 50mpg over the course of a five minute story depending on how good the mileage of the non-Prius owner's car in the conversation got.
The problem of course was that, despite its price, the Prius wasn't much better for the world than a Corolla. The Prius was aimed at yuppies who had some disposable income but wanted the green cred. They were willing to sacrifice luxury and looks to drive a Prius and get such cred. A Corolla or a small diesel car was far too blue collar. In short, the Prius was the go-to car for the upper middle class quasi elite and Hollywood types.
Well, I'm here to announce that the Prius has been replaced by the Tesla Model S as the go to car for the quasi-intelligentsia. Thank goodness because the Prius is now far too mainstream for proper condescension. The Tesla Model S not only has more green cred than the Prius, but it is much nicer, prettier and, for now, it doesn't carry the reputational baggage caused by years of condescending Prius owners. The Tesla is very "cool" right now. People instinctively flock to it like the salmon of Capistrano. Unfortunately a lot of the same types of people who used to buy Prius' are now drooling over Tesla's. Luckily for society, most of these people can't afford a Tesla Model S.
However, a couple days ago I spent a significant amount of time with a Tesla Model S owner and I am pleased to report that the spirit of the original Prius faithful lives on. As you probably know, I am a car guy. Most Prius owners are not, the one and only Tesla owner was sure to tell me, on several occasions, that he was not a car guy. According to him, "I'm not a car guy, the only reason I bought this is because its all electric." I swear he closed his eyes every time he said "all electric." Of course, despite the fact that he and I had a pretty lengthy conversation, I can't recall the color of his eyes since he had them closed for the duration.
For a guy who isn't a "car guy" he sure knew a lot about his car, and could easily list every reason why it was better than every other car in the history of western civilization. Here is the non-exhaustive list:
- It is "all electric"
- It has a completely flat floor since its "all electric"
- It is silent because it is "all electric"
- It is "insanely fast" (I swear, he said this about 20 times) because it uses an "electric motor." Throughout our conversation, the car's 0-60 time ranged from over 5 seconds to 4.3 seconds. The number got lower after we talked a little bit about my car's acceleration times. He also informed me that his car is actually significantly faster in the "real world" because car magazines measure "all electric" cars' acceleration times differently than internal combustion engine cars.
- The range is so great, it can "get to Omaha and back no problem." He told me this at least 3 or 4 times. He looked genuinely upset when I asked him whether he could "get to Omaha, run some errands, and get back no problem or perhaps go to Kansas City." He informed me that he would probably have to take his second car for that. Yes, his second car is a Prius, he bought it about 3 years ago.
- The interior is as nice a the "German makes." I nearly replied back "You've clearly never sat in a nice German car" but I bit my tongue.
The Model S exhibits a much better build quality compared to the Roadster (there was a roadster at the same event, I did not get to meet the owner) and is on the level of an ordinary middle market car. The interior is nice, definitely not a kit car, but it doesn't knock your socks off. Yes, it has a massive touch screen, which is cool. But "cool" doesn't mean "luxurious." Almost every grimey, beer soaked frat house in the country has a TV with a massive screen, most people wouldn't call your average frat house luxurious.
I've heard a lot of people comparing the Model S to an Audi A6 or a BMW 5 Series. While it may be similar in performance and price, the interior is not on the same level. When you get into an Audi A6, you know you are in a luxury automobile. The tolerances are higher, the materials and colors are nicer, everything just screams luxury. Once you get past the touch screen, the Model S' interior is simply not in the same league as the main German Luxury brands when it comes to true luxury. When sit in a true German luxury sedan, you are immediately bathed in luxury, from the materials, the touch, the fit and finish and even the smell. When you sit in a Tesla, you might as well be sitting in a full size American or Japanese mainstream sedan with a large screen.
Looking at the pictures above, it is clear that the Tesla's interior is on par with a large mainstream sedan like an Impala, Taurus, or Avalon. However, it clearly is not on par with the A6's. Your average driver would not complain about it. However, your average driver isn't dropping over $50,000 when he or she purchases a vehicle.
The Model S is by far the best electric car on the market. From a engineering standpoint it is an impressive feat. It is also the only electric car on the market that I would ever even consider buying.
However, at the end of the day, it is still not a car for the typical American. While its range is impressive for an electric car, its range is not at all comparable to a car with an internal combustion engine. Unless a buyer lives in a big city and has nobody or nothing out of town they want to visit, the Model S will still require a potential owner to have a second car.
For the price, I'll take the (real) luxury and practicality of a 5 Series, an E-Class, or an A6 without hesitation. If I felt like saving the world through my choice of car, I would get the diesel version of all of the above.
Of course I wouldn't be able to talk down to the people around me with tales of "pure electric" bliss. This is unfortunate, but I probably wouldn't care because I would be in a far superior car
Friday, June 21, 2013
Jalopnik did a poll of its readers asking them what the 10 most boring car companies in the world are. Not surprisingly, Acura was voted most boring. Here is what Jalopnik had to say,
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Jalopnik-The Ferrari 458 is Not a Supercar
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Many of you (I hope) are aware that the US Postal Service ("USPS") was going to discontinue deliveries on Saturday to help shore up its budget shortfall.
Some people were very upset about this. I was happy about it. I was impressed to see someone in government (or quasi government) making a tough choice based on fiscal reality.
As it turns out, the masters of fiscal irrationality, Congress, decided to put an end to my happiness. Apparently, Congress decreed that USPS must continue to deliver six days a week.
Amazing! How could come I didn't think of that? That will fix everything! If we just force it, without regard to paying for it, the problem will just be fixed.
So much for my dreams of a sober and reality based government. If Congress is unwilling to let the USPS save $2b a year by cutting a service that isn't a huge deal, how can we expect them to balance our country's budget?
I assure you, whether we balance the budget through taxes, cuts, or both (hopefully) it will require the slaughter of cows much more sacred than mail on Saturdays.
Monday, April 1, 2013
Honda...oh how the mighty have fallen. As many of you know, I often like to wax nostalgic about my car obsessed youth. Although I grew up during two great hypercar wars, I also grew up, and started driving, during the greatest tuner car war since the 1960's.
The late 90's and early 2000's witnessed the rebirth of the affordable, moderately sporty cars for all. While the cars weren't as fast, the formula remained the same as the 60's: Take a boring, slow, everyday car and beef up the engine and the suspension. Sometimes the factory did this for you, sometimes you did it yourself. In the late 90's and early 2000's, the GTO and Nova were replaced by "import tuners" such as the Honda Civic Si, Acura Integra GS-R, and Mitsubishi Eclipse GST/X.
Used cars such as the Toyota Supra, Nissan 300zx, Mazda RX-7 and Mitsubishi 3000gt or new or used Mustangs and Camaros were much faster. The Supra, 300zx, RX-7 and 3000gt were the true "import tuners" of the time. They were and are still proper sports cars, thus, I will refer to the lesser cars (such as those pictured above) as "economy tuners."
Although the Supra's, Camaro's and the like were much better than the "economy tuners", they didn't occupy the right niche for most 16 year-olds at that time. First of all, they were too expensive for a first car. Second, they were too fast for a first car. Economy tuners weren't actually fast, they were just a little faster and a lot louder than the normal economy cars of the time. Case in point, I once raced a friend in his 1999 Civic Si in my mom's V-8 Mercury Mountaineer...it wasn't even close, the Mountaineer destroyed the Civic. My dad's Buick would have done the same. It didn't matter though, perception was all that mattered. How losing races to basic SUV's didn't ruin our perception of these cars until much later in life is beyond me. I guess that's why 16 year-olds aren't allowed to vote. Anyway, back to Honda.
At the time, Honda was, by far, the king of the castle among us. For the record, when I say "us" or "we" I mean adolescent boys in Orange County California who turned 16 around 1999-2000. Also, when I say "Honda" I also mean "Acura." If you didn't know that Acura is Honda's luxury arm, then please stop reading this blog.
You may be asking yourself, why Honda? Why not Toyota? At the time, Toyota was far down the road to its current soulless, yet lucrative, existence (FR-S not included). Toyota did not produced only one exciting car at that time. The Supra had been out of production for a few years. Everything else was dull, ugly, boring, and usually beige. (As you will see later, Honda is on that road now) Their only sporty car was the Celica GTS, although it was faster than most of the Honda's at that time, it was ugly and had a reputation as a "chick car". Being known as a "chick car" is a fate worse than death for a 16 year old male. This is why we weren't all driving the worlds best driver's car at the time, the Mazda Miata. Once again, another reason why 16 year-olds shouldn't vote.
For reasons unknown to science, Honda's were not chick cars. Honda's were seen as being as reliable as Toyota's but they were for people who actually had souls. More of "us" wanted them which led to a much larger aftermarket for them. Let's look at Honda's sporty lineup in 2000:
Civic SI: 160hp, 8500rpm redline, plus a giant VTEC sticker on the side.
Prelude: 200hp, 8000rpm redline, plus a giant VTEC sticker on the side.
S2000: 240hp, 9000rpm redline, rear wheel drive.
Acura Integra GS-R: 175hp, 8000rpm redline.
Acura Integra Type R: 197hp, 8500rpm redline, giant TYPE R sticker on the side.
Acura NSX: 290hp, 8500rpm redline, an aging supercar at the time.
Acura 3.2 TL/CL Type S: 260hp, 6100rpm redline, an inferior Japanese alternative to the 3 Series, but an alternative nonetheless. Basically the only Japanese 3 Series alternative at that time.
While the numbers may seem modest to car enthusiasts, they are actually not far off from what is common in the class today, besides the NSX of course. What the numbers don't tell you is how special and exciting all these cars were. They all had personality and spunk. Their high revving nature made them extremely fun to drive, the sound of a small engine at 8000+ RPM's is music to a gearhead's ears. The Integra Type R is still considered to be the best handling FWD car ever made. They also had ample room under the hood (besides the NSX) which meant they were relatively easy to work on. The Civic Si and Integra GS-R were the bench-line against which all other economy tuners were judged. The Integra Type R was practically a super car as far as we were concerned. The Integra Type-R's 1.8 liter engine revved to a sky high 8500rpm's and produced 197hp. It also had an amazing suspension, a limited slip differential and was lighter than the base Integra because Honda stripped almost all the sound deadening insulation out of it. Outside of the premium brands, nobody has a lineup as sporty as this today. Honda has not sold a car as extreme as the Integra Type R for quite some time.
For enthusiasts, Honda's lineup was probably the best lineup outside of premium or high performance brands in the late 90's and early 2000's. Simply put, Honda's and Acura's were a sporty alternative to the sea of beige being produced by Toyota and the irrelevance coming from Nissan. This made sense considering Honda's rich motorcycle and automobile racing heritage. There was a view that the technology developed on the race track trickled down to the street cars. This was especially true for the VTEC system and the big stickers that came with it.
The RSX launched in 2002 as a replacement for the Integra. RSX was a stupid name. Just like TL was a stupid name compared to "Legend," the car it replaced. As a fanboy, I didn't see it at the time but Acura was essentially "emblem chasing" the German luxury brands. BMW, Mercedes and Audi used only numerical or alphabetical names, thus, all the pretenders had to do the same (I'm looking at you too Cadillac). However, this was the first step towards Honda losing its identity. More on this later, back to the RSX.
While it may not seem like much now, the RSX Type-S was a truly great car when it came out. It had all the things that made the Integra special, it was affordable, sporty, relatively practical, economical, high revving, smooth shifting and it handled well. It also had a unique interior and a certain level of class that was missing from the Integra. The key to the RSX was the driving experience,which was anchored by its engine. The 2.0 liter four cylinder produced 200 horsepower and redlined at a silky smooth 8000rpm.
|Honda's design department must be blind.|
The Prelude ceased production in 2001 and the 2002 Civic SI (left) was overweight, under-powered, and had styling only a mother could love. Also, the US lineup lacked any car with the phrase "Type-R" affixed to the end of it. But this is merely the time of the iceberg.
The 2002 Civic SI provides a nice example of Honda's problems which started in 2002 and continue to this day. The 2000 Civic Si produced 160 horsepower, redlined at 8500rpms, did 0-60 in 7.2 and ran the 1/4 mile in 15.7 seconds. Source. The 2002 Si, despite gaining 150lbs, still produced 160hp but it did 0-60 in 7.6 and ran the quarter in 15.9. Not only was it slower it was far less dramatic and exciting. Although it produced more torque and had a more usable powerband, it revved to a lowly 6500rpms. Thus, it didn't make much power and it made even less drama. Source. Why Honda thought it was good to follow up a sporty car with a model that makes the same horsepower is beyond me, but this lack of pushing the envelope became a recurring theme.
In 2006, Honda eventually put the sweet and high revving 200 horsepower (actually 197 but what's 2 horsepower between friends?) engine from the RSX Type S in the Civic Si. Then, as part of what seems to be a company wide sleep induction campaign, the 2012 Si got a shocking 200 horsepower, but out of a 2.4 liter engine that revved to 7400rpm's. From an objective standpoint, the new engine was probably "better" but from a subjective standpoint, it was a step down. The car's soul had been removed. I don't know what Honda's engineers were doing during those 6 years, but they surely weren't working on the Civic Si's powertrain considering that some of Honda's competitors made over 240 horsepower at the time. Thus, the Si now not only makes less power than its rivals, it also has less soul. Not a good combination.
Another Honda great, the S2000, suffered a similar fate until it was discontinued in 2009. When the S2000 howled its way onto the scene in 1999 it squeezed 240 horsepower from a 2.0 liter engine at a stratospheric 9000rpm's. The engine made no torque but the horsepower and redline made it an
Honda killed the S2000 in 2009, by then, it was Honda's only sports car besides the Civic Si, which, let's be honest, isn't a real sports car.
This lack of pushing the performance envelope was endemic throughout Honda. The RSX was killed in 2006. Acura has not had a 2 door model since. The best and saddest example of this performance neglect can be seen in the slow and steady death of the NSX.
The NSX was, at one time, an amazing car. It launched in 1990 with a sweet, smooth and high revving 3.0 liter v6 that produced 270hp and featured a healthy dose of Honda racing technology.
The new engine was a step in the right direction. It was a 3.2 liter and produced 290hp. The 2002 NSX did 0-60 in approximately 5 seconds. Unfortunately, 12 years is an eternity in the world of high performance cars. By 2002, the NSX's competition had left it far behind (literally and figuratively). For example, a 2002 BMW M3, made 320 horsepower from a 3.2 liter engine. Keep in mind than an M3 is not a "supercar" and the NSX cost approximately twice as much. The NSX was not even in spitting distance of the supercars at the time. Due to neglect, the NSX went from hero to bottom of the barrel. The NSX fell so far that in 2001, the S2000 accelerated just as actually just as quickly as the NSX and was nearly as fast around a track. Source. The NSX was mercifully put out of its misery in 2005.
As shown by Toyota's success, a low volume supercar and sports cars may not matter to most, especially the mainstream media. However, the importance of so called performance and "halo" cars and should not be forgotten or ignored. I can not sum it up any better than Zora Arkus-Duntov, the "father" of the Corvette:
“THOUGHTS PERTAINING TO YOUTH, HOT RODDERS, AND CHEVROLET”
The Hot Rod movement and interest in things connected with hop-up and speed is still growing. As an indication: the publications devoted to hot rodding and hop-upping, of which some half dozen have a very large circulation and are distributed nationally, did not exist some six years ago.
From cover to cover, they are full of Fords. This is not surprising that the majority of hot rodders are eating, sleeping, and dreaming modified Fords. They know Ford parts from stern to stern better than Ford people themselves.
A young man buying a magazine for the first time immediatly becomes introduced to Ford. It is reasonable to assume that when hot rodders or hot rod-influenced persons buy transportation, they buy Fords. As they progress in age and income, they graduate from jalopies to second-hand Fords, then to new Fords.
Should we consider that it would be desirable to make these youths Chevrolet-minded? I think that we are in a position to carry out a successful attempt. However, there are many factors againt us:
- Loyalty and experience with Ford.
- Hop-up industry is geared with Ford.
- Law of number-thousands are and will be working on Fords for active competition.
- Appearance of Ford’s overhead V8, now one year ahead of us.
When a superior line of GM V8’s appeared, there where remarkably few attempts to develop these, and none too successful. Also, the appearance of the V8’s Chrysler was met with reluctance even though the success of Ardun-Fords conditioned them to the acceptance of Firepower.
This year is the first one in which isolated Chrysler development met with succsess. The Bonneville records are divided between Ardun-Fords and Chryslers.
Like all people, hot rodders are attracted by novelty. However, bitter experience has taught them that new development is costly and long, and therefore they are extremely conservative. From my observation, it takes an advanced hot rodder some three years to stumble toward the successful development of a new design. Overhead Fords will be in this stable between 1956 and 1957.
The slide rule potential of our RPO V8 engine is extremely high, but to let things run their natural course will put us one year behind-and then not too many hot rodders will pick Chevrolet for development. One factor which can largely overcome this handicap would be the availability of ready-enginered parts for higher output:
If the use of the Chevrolet engine would be made easy and the very first attempts would be crowned with succsess, the appeal of the new RPO V8 engine will take hold and not have the stigma of expensiveness like the Cadillac or Chrysler, and a swing to Chevrolet may be anticipated.This means the development of a range of special parts-camshafts, valves, springs, manifolds, pistons, and such-should be made available to the public.
To make good in this field, the RPO parts must pertain not only to the engine but to the chassis coponents as well. In fact, the use of light alloys and brake development, such as composite drums and discs, are already on the agenda of the Research and Development group.
These thoughts are offered for what they are worth-one man’s thinking aloud on the subject.
Signed: Z. Arkus-Duntov
With the death of the NSX, Honda has one "sport" model in its lineup. The Civic Si. Honda's traditional lineup is still made of good, competitive, cars (besides the Ridgeline of course). Acura's lineup, while good, is arguably not competitive. Acura, while ostensibly a "luxury" brand, does not offer an engine with much over 300 horsepower, a V-8 or RWD. The majority of Acura's lineup is simply rebadged Honda's. Luxury consumers are not stupid, for the most part, especially on the high end, they know a pretender when they see one.
I'm sure Honda's sales are fine. As Zora explained above, there are probably lots of buyers from my generation who purchased an Accord, CR-V or Pilot due to their positive experiences with the CRX's, Si's and GS-R's of their youth. The question is, in a few years, when the children of my generation go car shopping for the first time what will they want?
Nobody wants the car their parents drove. Buick and Cadillac learned this the hard way. BMW and Mercedes haven't had to learn this because they, especially BMW, continue to make very exciting performance and performance oriented cars.
I don't think its too late for Honda. Only time will tell, but Honda should should develop more sporty cars and try to regain its reputation as a fun, reliable, and sporty alternative before it is completely lost. It is a lot easier to repair an image (Ford) than it is to rebuild one (Cadillac/Buick).
Sunday, March 17, 2013
I don't watch racing every weekend but I try to watch at least the beginning and the end of the Daytona 500 every year, the final race of NASCAR season if I will decide a champion, and the occasional Formula 1 race.
I'm not really NASCAR hater and I used to enjoy it a few years ago but it is pretty boring and I dislike the fact that, for the most part, the cars only make left turns. I know stock car racing is very difficult and takes a high degree of skill but it makes for boring racing. Another beef I have with NASCAR is the cars themselves. I have no idea why the are called "stock cars" because they are not "stock." Toyota doesn't make a two door Camry, a v8 Camry, or a rear wheel drive Camry. If a person went out a bought a Camry looking for a sports car, or even a fast car, they would be greatly disappointed. The same distinctions apply to all the so called "stock cars." I just pick on the Camry because it is by far the dullest car represented in stock car racing.
The cars in NASCAR are essentially identical tube chassis' with fake, one piece, bodies thrown on top of them.
|Notice a Difference?|
Another problem I have with NASCAR is that, if there is even the slightest drizzle, they wont race. Finally, NASCAR has too many cautions, if there is anything on the track larger than a grain of sand the caution flag goes up.
F1 is a little better than NASCAR because there is actual turning in it. However, its not much better. It is pretty dull, there are very few passes on the track per race. The cars are undoubtedly the most advanced race cars in the world, the drivers are probably the best in the world, but that doesn't make the racing exciting.
Also, like with NASCAR, a fan can not go and buy a car that is even remotely close to an F1 car. There's no "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" for either series. As a car fan this takes the fun out for me. I like to be able to see somewhat "real" cars duking it out on a race track.
Enter ALMS. The 12 Hours of Sebring is some of the most exciting racing I have ever watched on TV. There is more action in five minutes of ALMS racing than an entire F1 race. There was at least two or more position battles going on at any one time. I can't say how gratifying it is as a car fan in general to see new Viper GTS-R's locked in constant battles with BMW Z4's, Ferrari 458 Italia's and Corvette C6-R's. There are also 911's but they didn't spend a whole lot of time jockeying for first.
The great thing about the GT class is that they are based on production cars and the cars are all different from each other within loose specifications as described below:
Source. The prototype classes also feature exciting racing and major differences between the cars. For example, the Audi's, which seem to dominate all, use turbo-diesel-hybrid engines, the other cars use gas engines. Neither NASCAR nor F1 allow such major differences between the cars. I like the idea of a competition between design philosophies and technology as much as I like competition between drivers.
Another great thing is the lack of cautions. There was all kinds of crap all over the track by the end of race, including pieces of bumper, but no caution was called. The drivers were expected to simply drive around the obstacles, this is a feat of driving skill that NASCAR drivers are apparently incapable of.
I can't stress enough how exciting the racing is. As mentioned earlier, in the GT class it was the story of the Viper GTS-R vs everyone else. To me, this was a great marketing victory for the Viper and renewed my excitement about a car I had pretty much written off as playing second fiddle to the Zr-1. The drivers did not look like they were battling the car, they seemed to have the most power, and, most important in endurance racing, they didn't break!
Despite the Viper's dominance for most of the day, the ultimate hero was the Corvette C6-R. The C6-R was a lap down for most of the race due to penalties and electrical problems. However, with about an hour left in the race (about 11:00 pm) the Corvette team started setting the pace and catching up with the field. With about 7 minutes left in the race the Corvette was in second place behind a Ferrari 458 Italia. The Italia's driver buckled under the pressure from driving at night and having the 'Vette in his rear view mirror and took a turn a little too fast and went wide, the Corvette made the pass. With about three minutes left in the race the Corvette was running out of gas due to how hard they had to push to take the lead and then fight off the Ferrari but they managed to hold on for the win.
This brings me to another important point about the brilliance of ALMS racing. Durability. This racing series allows manufacturers to torture test their technology. Its not just about who has the fastest car, but who has the most durable car.
In sum, if you are a fan of cars, a fan of car racing, or a fan of both, check out ALMS on SPEED on online. It is the best racing on TV.
To learn more about ALMS, check out their website at http://www.alms.com/