The great recession of 2009 constituted an existential threat to auto companies across the board, and Volvo was by no means an exception. Equipped to fight the hard economic times and German competition with only a stale line up of relatively boring model line up, things weren’t looking good for the company during those difficult years:
“The company was psychologically depressed and almost bankrupt,” explained Peter Mertens, Volvo’s Senior Vice President of Research and Development. “At that point, we needed stability. Volvo was thinking and behaving as if Ford had left us, but we had actually left Ford. Yet, we were acting as if we were still part of a big company. At 360,000 cars annually, we were tiny.”
Everything changed when a Chinese automaker called the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group purchased Volvo for well over $1 billion. The sale constituted the largest foreign purchase made by a Chinese car company at the time and attracted the confused attention of industry experts and common consumers, especially since Geely couldn’t hold a candle to Volvo’s safety ratings.
However strange the pairing, Geely managed to make it a favorable one. Volvo was allowed to maintain Swedish management and Geely’s chairman, Li Shufu, was more interested in creating a new and improved vision for Volvo than fat profits from the start.
“We changed how we develop ideas, research, technologies, how we approach design and manufacture,” Mertens explained, “But it even goes beyond that. Fundamentally, we cannot live by processes. We do not produce and sell processes. We create products and we must be proud of them and build the best cars we possibly can. So, to adhere to our Volvo brand pillars, we took charge of our destiny.”
Bold changes made by the invigorated company included to create only four-cylinder cars with turbocharge, supercharge and electric options, and replacing buttons with touchscreen operation for infotainment and powertrain controls. The decisions sat well with consumers starting with the 2015 XC90 and even earned it the prestige of being named the 2016 North American Truck of the Year.
“Perhaps we even did overdid the XC90 in some ways,” admits Mertens. “Maybe it didn’t need all of the leapfrog technology we put into it, but we wanted it to be a statement vehicle; to show what is possible from a reborn Volvo.”
While the XC90 was instantly well-received, Volvo’s rebirth is perhaps best exemplified by the S90 saloon and V90 estate models. The saloon is a cohesive and elegant vehicle with a gracefully descending roofline that slopes into the rearside windows and creates longer, more intricately-shaped day light openings with a tasteful kicked-up trailing edge.
Even the saloon’s taillights are unique and classy in their own way; the interesting and aesthetically pleasing squared-off C-shape accentuates the car’s width. Some call the design too loud, but others have found the saloon’s rear both inspiring and soothing in a world where nothing is certain.
Fukushima is known globally as the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters of recent years. The nuclear power plant stationed in Fukushima malfunctioned and with highly toxic results when the 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan. However, its catastrophic past has not kept the Japanese government from creating ambitious plans for the region. According to recent announcements, Japanese legislators hope to turn Fukushima into a major hydrogen production center.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to create a situation in which Fukushima can produce significant quantities of hydrogen for use in Tokyo, specifically during the 2020 Olympics. Hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen energy have recently become a major contender in the race for alternative fuel sources. The major issue with hydrogen-based fuel is that it’s so energy-exhaustive to create hydrogen in the first place, reducing the net gain overall.
Nevertheless, the minister announced his goals for Fukashima while visiting the prefecture in March, and the national government subsequently enacted a program that would promote and support clean energy in Fukushima.
The plan relies heavily on public-private partnerships to develop the financial means and energy infrastructure that would enable such a plant to exist and succeed. The plan will also investigate the potential benefits of increased use of wind power in the same region.
While it may seem counter-intuitive that the Japanese legislature would be interesting in opening another power plant where one disastrously failed, part of the reason that the country is pursuing hydrogen fuel cell technology so aggressively is in response to the nuclear disaster; Japan hopes that hydrogen can provide a safer alternative to nuclear power and allow Japan to avoid using more fossil fuels.
The use of fossil fuels is unattractive to Japan not only for environmental reasons but also because the country must import the vast majority of its coal and oil, making it economically unfeasible in the long run. Instead, Prime Minister Abe hopes to develop a “hydrogen society” where fuel cells powered by renewably generated hydrogen can be used to power not only vehicles, but even buildings.
The government will be attempting to use the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a major incentive and motivator for the project as well as a challenging deadline. A similar situation occurred when Japan hosted the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo; the olympic games became a way for Japan to promote its now-famous “bullet trains.”
Japan’s high-profile deployment of hydrogen fuel-cell technology will likely include hydrogen fuel cell cars and larger public vehicles like buses. That plan assumes, however, that a sufficient amount of properly functioning vehicles can be manufactured in time. It also assumes that Japan can foster adequate infrastructure for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles within the next four years. To try to make the deadline, the government has already mandated that Japan’s three largest automakers (Honda, Nissan and Toyota) lend their efforts towards creating the hydrogen fueling stations.
Nissan doesn’t currently have plans to put a fuel-cell car on the market and has hedged its bets on battery electric vehicles. In fact, the Renault-Nissan Alliance has sold many more electric vehicles than Tesla or General Motors.
A lot of events have occurred this week that demonstrate the growing importance of green vehicles in our global culture. Germany recently moved forward with its plan to incentivize the purchase of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, for example. The Tesla Model 3 reservations have now topped 373,000 now that the record-breaking order onslaught is finally slowing. Suzuki is sinking deeper and deeper into its own scandal regarding overestimated fuel economy stats on its recent models. Basically, public awareness is changing, and electric cars are getting a lot of legal and media attention. Let’s delve a little deeper into the subject.
BMW’s “i” range of fuel-efficient luxury vehicles haven’t exactly been best-sellers, but the company isn’t perturbed. BMW announced that its iNext concept car will go into production as soon as 2021 and become somewhat of a flagship to replace the 7-series as the “best” BMW. Considering fuel efficiency laws will go into affect in 2025 that mandate that all new car models get almost 55 mpg, BMW is likely headed in the right direction.
The aforementioned German subsidies for plug-in hybrids and EVs will unfortunately not help any Germans hoping to invest in that iNext series. The legislators decided to cap the subsidies to cars that cost less than $68,000. iNext is projected to cost a fair amount more than that.
In other news, Tesla Model S cars may begin to be used by the Los Angeles Police Department. The department began testing two Model S cars for police duty last year, though many questioned how useful the cars could actually be for police work. They’re definitely cleaner and better for the environment, but whether that is enough to justify the hefty financial investment that those cars require remains in question. Perhaps police departments would be better suited to a Model 3, when they hit production.
Speaking of Model 3’s, Tesla recently announced in its prospectus that around 373,000 people have reserved a Model 3 after speculators and cancelled reservations were removed from the statistics. In order to pay for the necessary manufacturing infrastructure that the orders will require, the company has begun a stock offering campaign.
While Tesla suffers growing pains, Suzuki faces a very different kind of problem. It has recently joined Mitsubishi in announcing that it has been selling car models in Japan with overly zealous fuel economy numbers. The actual fuel economy of 2.1 million cars sold in Japan is currently in question. Mitsubishi has already been burdened by major fines and had several higher-ups step down from the company; what lies ahead of Suzuki remains to be seen.
Speaking of fuel economy scandals, recent news reports from The Car Connection have revealed that the top workers at Volkswagen have received $455 million in salary since 2001. This has tempered any sympathy held by the public regarding the execs’ constant questioning about the emissions test cheating that they may or may not have known anything about.
The Jeep Wrangler is undergoing some environmentally friendly adjustments in an effort to boost its own fuel economy. Shots of the next generation Wrangler demonstrate a new 4-cylinder engine under its bulky hood, which constitutes the first 4-cylinder engine in a Jeep in over a decade.
This may being as what many will believe to be an oxymoron. However, I will say that Ford and their F-150 line has just made a pretty green truck with the release of their new EcoBoost engine for the 2017 model. When this goes on market in fall it will be the only engine in its class to boast a 3.5 liter engine with an all new 10 speed transmission.
Ford went on to say that the redesigned V6 will be able to deliver 450 pound feet of torque, or in other words 30 more than the outgoing engine while being able to maintain its strong 365 horsepower. This according to Ford, is going to be the most powerful V6 on the market, nay of all time. Everyday the auto industry is changing.
This is going to be a help to Ford who has sold F-Series pickups and has made them the number one selling car or truck in the United States for 39 years straight. This is impressive when you consider the fact that EcoBoost engines make up 60% of all Ford’s overall F-150 sales. The remaining 40 is split between 2 other models.
In 2017 the version of this EcoBoost should include a 2 fuel injection system, all new pistons, new turbochargers, new cylinder heads and a host of other new or redesigned technologies.
“when you combine the engine and transmission, it creates a power train combination that is truly unbeatable in the segment, it’s not about efficiency or performance its about efficiency and performance.”
This is going to be an interesting release in light of all the new electric cars on market today. especially because Ford is declining to say how much more fuel efficient the 2017 is going to be, and some speculate if it will be at all. It may very well be the case that they are only interested in making it more power capable rather than giving a hoot about the fuel economy.
This is where ford and its $1.4 billion overhaul investment is being called into question. It may very well be the case that they are making slightly more efficient cars and branding them as being super green, however the world is changing and the day of the every man having a work truck when they have no use for it may be behind us.
There are whispers of a gas electric hybrid for a full size truck and the world just about stopped. The reason being is that there has never even been talks about this in the past with Ford. There has long been this disconnect that the only cars that are expected to go green are small family commuter mid size cars. However, if the real problem is going to be addressed we need to realize that there is a huge problem with how efficient full sized trucks and SUV’s are and how prominent they are on our roads. We are going to probably see Tesla come out with an all electric work and that will change the truck game forever. Considering the fact that they are already making their charge on economy cars this in the coming years.
Mexico City made headlines a week ago when it enacted a temporary and periodic ban on private and federal vehicles in the city. The rule came into effect yesterday and will be enforced through June 30, effectively prohibiting driving in the city for one day each week and one Saturday each month starting for just under three months.
The bans were created in reaction to the concerning air quality that has been a pervading problem for the city, which sits on an inland plateau bordered by a ring of volcanic peaks. Unfortunately for the citizens of Mexico City, these peaks trap polluted air and entrench the city in inescapable smog.
The ban will not apply to hybrid and electric vehicles, nor will it count against government service vehicles, public transport options and school buses.
This isn’t the first time that Mexico City has passed a so-called “no circulation” tactic to attempt to mitigate the negative consequences of poor air quality on public health; Mexico City has experimented with a variety of options for the past 30 years.
It’s also not the first city to go to such great lengths to limit car use within metropolitan areas. Paris also encounters air-pollution issues and also attempts to limit private citizens’ use of automobiles as a result. The entire city went bike-only on September 27 as part of an event called Paris Without Cars, which was itself inspired by the very popular and successful Car-Free Sundays initiative in Brussels.
That said, Mexico’s ban on cars is more than an awareness-raising initiative. The city faces very real public health issues as a result of rampant air pollution. In fact, this ban was likely prompted by the city’s recent and intense smog wave, which passed over the 200 mark according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index scale. The air quality sunk to a poor enough quality to prompt the city’s first air-pollution alert in 11 years; Mexico City officials ordered around 1.1m of the area’s 4.7m cars (most of which were located in the city center) off the streets immediately. It also offered free bus and subway rides as a further incentive for citizens to leave their cars at home.
Brussels, Paris, and Mexico City are only scratching the surface of what city officials can do in response to widespread air pollution issues caused by overpopulated cities with major traffic issues. There are some cities in India where urban dwellers breathe some of the world’s dirtiest air and city officials have reacted with a variety of bans and regulations. In Delhi, for example, city officials made a high-impact decision in 1998 to switch the metropolis’s 1,600 city buses and 25,000 auto-rickshaws from diesel to cleaner compressed natural gas. Last year, Delhi officials decreed that vehicles with license plates ending in odd and even numbers would be able to operate only on alternate days. The government has also instituted a 4% sales tax on new-car purchases in order to curb public encouragement to purchase private vehicles.
It’s an interesting and pervasive global issue that will likely be mitigated in many ways across cultures and country lines.
Leaders in the development of self-driving cars publicly urged Congress to create legislation to regulate the budding industry. The higher ups hope to avoid issues that may surface as a result of conflicting state laws that may create problems and impede innovation.
The call came from representatives of Google, General Motors, Lyft, and auto supplier Delphi. The companies have stated that regulation is necessary, but should come from federal as opposed to state governments.
These requests occurred during a hearing help by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The companies involved claim that self-driving cars that only sometimes need a driver’s intervention are going to be released into the market within the next few years and that completely autonomous cars may arrive in the automotive world within the decade. With technology moving so quickly, legislation may need to pick up the pace to remain in step.
“If every state is left to go its own way without a unified approach, operating self-driving cars across state boundaries would be an unworkable situation and one that will significantly hinder safety innovation, interstate commerce, national competitiveness and the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles,” stated Chris Urmson, technical leader of Google’s self-driving car project. He explained to the committee that legislators in 23 states have introduced 53 bills regulating autonomous cars in recent year, most of which dealing with liability and testing rules.
Mike Ableson, vice president of strategy and global portfolio planning for General Motors, stated his belief that a national approach to laws regarding autonomous vehicles may need to come soon. He claimed that GM expects to introduce autonomous vehicles with drivers capable of taking over within a mere “couple of years.” Initial roll-out was projected to occur in the form of a ride-sharing partnership with Lyft, the popular mobile app and ride-sharing business. Lyft recently received a $500 million investment from GM, solidifying the partnership between the two.
A few major legislative issues deriving from the autonomous car development have included whether a licensed driver should be required in vehicles during on-road testing. California legislatures recently ruled in the affirmative, creating major issues for Google’s high-profile Google car project. The more recent round of Google cars released didn’t even have brakes, a transmission, or a steering wheel. The company has understandable expressed frustration at the ruling considering its new cars couldn’t be driven by anyone in any way, regardless of their having a driver’s license.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, on the other hand, ruled no on the same subject, creating confusing issues for the auto industry.
This hearing came around two months after the NHTSA signaled that it would make plans to coordinate momentum towards creating national self-driving regulations. The Obama administration actually proposed spending just over $3.9 billion over 10 years to accelerate development of self-driving cars and vehicle-to-vehicle infrastructure communication.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind have both shared their intention to end roadway deaths in America. Their idea is that a complex mix of software and sensors will eventually allow for self-driving cars to become error-proof.
Gas is a big deal, and everyone loves great milage. Gas comes from oil, and oil is processed by oil refineries. Here’s some information about how that happens.
Oil refining can be sorted into a few basic steps: distillation, cracking, treating, and reforming.
Distillation involves pumping oil through pipes that are located in hot furnaces. This heat separates the light hydrocarbon molecules from the heavy ones in downstream distillation towers. These are the tall, skinny towers that make oil refineries so distinctive.
From here the processes may vary somewhat, but it’s common for refineries to distill crude oil in two large crude units that have three separate distillation columns. One operates at near atmospheric pressure, while the other two operate at significantly less than atmospheric pressure.
This process causes the lightest materials like propane and butane to vaporize, rising to the top of the first atmospheric column. Materials with medium weight like gasoline, eat and diesel fuels, will condense in the middle. Heavy materials called gas oils condense in the lower portion of the atmospheric column. The heaviest, tar-like material called residuum remains at the bottom.
This distillation process is then repeated in many other plants to further refine the oil and create various products.
Cracking is the next step, and involves converting middle distillate, gas oil and residuum into more valuable products. There are three methods of cracking: fluid catalytic cracking, hydrocracking, and coking, also known as thermal-cracking.
The Fluid-Catalytic Cracker uses high temperature and catalyst to crack 86,000 barrels each day of heavy gas oil into gasoline.
Hydrocracking is the process responsible for creating jet fuel and gasoline.
The Coker converts low-value residuum into high-value light products. The large residuum molecules are cracked into smaller molecules when the residuum is held in a coke drum at high temperature for a long period of time. It produces petroleum coke as a by-product.
Then comes the combining stage. When the cracking process breaks most of the gas oil into gasoline and jet fuel, it also breaks off some pieces that are lighter than gasoline. Most refineries want to turn the almost 15,000 barrels of the lighter stuff created every day into something sellable, so they use chemicals to combine the lighter units and make them into high octane gasoline.
Finally the gasoline is ready to be treated. All the products created at this point contain some natural impurities like sulfur and nitrogen, so a process called hydrotreating is used to remove those impurities and reduce future air pollution when the fuel is finally burned.
Finally the gasoline is ready to be reformed. Because octane rating is an important measurement of how well a gasoline performs in an automobile engine, if gasoline doesn’t have enough octane (which it usually doesn’t), it can’t be sold to be burned in cars.
At last the blending process occurs, which is when gasoline is blended from treated components made in several processing units and tested for quality and appropriate octane levels before it is prepared to be shipped to gas stations, airports, etc. Now you know how your gas is created!
That’s just the way of the world; all cars must someday meet the crusher, a huge machine built to compress a car’s enter body into a tiny cube or a flattened slab.
Once a car is worth less than the metal its made out of, junkyards see fit to compress them so that they’re more easily stored and potentially more readily transported to a recycling facility.
And cars aren’t the only gadget that gets compressed; there are all kinds of metal appliances that are compressed before they are disposed of; everything from old kitchen appliances to large combines.
Crushers themselves are either portable or stationary, generally depending on their age (newer ones tend to be portable so that they can be towed from place to place as needed). Portable ones are less expensive for salvage yards to use because they can be shared by many different companies instead of purchased for a pretty penny and then used only every so often.
Car crushers generally make use of a hydraulic system to press down on cars. A large motor powers a pump that pushes hydraulic fluid which in turn drives large cylinders, all in such a way that utilizes the principles of force-multiplication.
Some crushers, called “bale” crushers, are aptly named because they crush not only from the top but also from the side, creating a cube of car that reminds people of a hay bale.
There’s also an oil reclamation system that sits below the crushing bed and collects motor oil and other fluids that might flow out of the car when it’s being squished. They’re stored in a large tank and collected to be recycled when the tank is sufficiently full to merit the effort.
But how does the car get into the crusher in the first place? You can’t drive them up, seeing as most of these cars generally don’t even work. This is where one of the coolest part happens: the giant electromagnet comes into play.
A lot of junk yards use huge electromagnets to pick up cars and drop them into crushers. These junk yards utilize the interrelated nature of electricity and magnetism to turn the magnetism of a giant piece of iron on and off; when they turn it on, the metal is a strong enough magnet to pull a car off the ground by its roof. When they turn it off, the magnetic properties of the metal cease to exist and the car drops, generally right into the crusher (if the technician has any idea what he or she is doing).
Just to give you a feel for how much car crushing will set a junkyard back, old ones cost around $30,000 while newer, cushier and portable ones cost between $120,000 and $150,000. That said, the newer ones are usually rented out by junkyards for less than the older ones ever cost.
Apple has not formally announced it, but according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, it’s an “open secret” that Apple is currently working on its own electric car to rival the Tesla Model S, Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and other contenders in the electronic vehicle market.
Apple has already registered several automobile-related internet domains including apple.car and apple.auto.
Musk also claimed that cars that could not drive themselves would be deemed strange and outdated sooner than we’d ever imagine.
Tesla, Nissan, and BMW are the only all-electric car brands currently on the market. Tesla actually runs at a loss for now, but its cars are expected to be financially viable soon.
That said, it has its own challenges on its road from red to green; apparently many of its engineers have been hired by rival tech giants like China-backed Farady Future and, of course, Apple.
Mr. Musk believed that Apple’s interest in the electric car market was an “obvious” development:
“It’s pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it,” Musk laughed. He does not believe that Apple will be a huge threat to Tesla, but rather will expand the industry.
“Tesla wil aspire to make the most compelling electric vehicles, and that would be our goal, while at the same time helping other companies to make electric cars as well.”
Musk believes that cars of the future will be electric and autonomous, and driving manually will be more of a hobbyist’s activity than a necessity. His Model S, ironically, is more of a hobbyist’s electric car, but it has become one of the best-selling electric cars of all times. Its recent Autopilot update allowed for the car to manage its own speed adjustments in response to outside traffic, lane changing, and lane following.
It also recently released a “beta” feature that allows owners to summon their cars from their smartphones.
“With the current version of Summon, the car will come and find you if you’re on private property,” explained Musk. “The car will exit the garage, close the garage behind it and come over to you… This is the first baby step- ultimately you’ll be able to summon the car from New York if you’re living in LA, and it will drive across the country, charge itself at the various locations and come to you.”
Valet and Tai drivers may have more than Uber to worry about, as Musk says that this cross-country Summon feature may actually be ready for production in the next “couple of years.”
Musk says that electrification and autonomy are the two biggest innovations to hit the auto industry since the moving production line, and it’s hard to argue with him; even Hummer-churning industry leader GM has seen the electrical light; their new Chevy Bolt is set to beat out Tesla for the first affordable all-electric car model (It should move up to 200 miles in one charge an cost only $30,000).
“Owning a car that is not self-driving in the long term will be like owning a horse- you would own it and sue it for sentimental reasons but not for daily use,” Musk concluded. Only time will tell if the far-seeing engineer is right.
Cars are becoming increasingly computer reliant, and generally that’s a good thing. Everything from your GPS to your engine is made safer and more efficient with the help of computers. The rise of autopilot technology and Tesla’s use of in-car software upgrades are more examples of the way that computers can be used to improve the on-road experience and society’s relationship with cars as a whole.
This movement towards in-car computing technology shows no signs of stopping; Audi is making augmented reality glasses to better assist their mechanics in the replacement and repair of in-car computers, Google is making self-driving cars, and Volvo is working on kangaroo-identifying software to assist and protect Australian drivers.
Unfortunately, the movement towards the incorporation of computing technology into the automotive industry is not always a movement towards increased security; take for example the widespread issue suffered by customers of Texas Auto Center in 2010. Over 100 drivers found that they couldn’t turn their car on and that their car alarm wouldn’t turn off unless they removed the battery from their vehicle. Eventually the mechanical issue was revealed to be the work of a disgruntled-Texas-Auto-Center-employee-turned-hacker named Omar Ramos-Lopez. Ramos-Lopez had hacked into Texas Auto Center’s vehicle immobilization system (generally used for people who had
Ramos-Lopez’s hack was more of an inconvenient prank than a malicious cyberattack, but the fact that he pulled it off displays the vulnerability that comes with using cars with computers and internet connections. Analysts at the University of Washington and the University of California at San Diego uncovered that there are a variety of ways that hackers could hack and monitor vehicles. Terrifyingly, the analysts were able to hack into automotive control systems and control anything from the heat and radio of a vehicle to the brakes. Researchers from Rutgers university and the University of South Carolina additionally found a way to hijack the wireless signals used for a car’s tire pressure monitoring system which, once intercepted, could allow for a hacker to monitor the movements of a vehicle.
Director of forensic and information security services at Chartstone Consulting Damon Petraglia had this to say about the matter:
“If your car is infected, then anything that the infected computer is responsible for is infected. So, if the computer controls the windows and locks, then the virus or malicious code can control the windows and locks… Same goes for steering and braking.”
The computers commonly used in vehicles today are different from your PC; they use hardware, software, a processor and memory, but they are much simpler because they have been developed to serve a simpler and more specialized purpose. In these circumstances, users don’t need to worry about being infected by a virus unless a hacker actually gains physical access to their car.
However, as cars become more connected to the internet, that vulnerability increases:
“As more and more cars are getting interfaces with internet sites such as Pandora and even Facebook, cars get two-way communication and are therefore by definition more vulnerable,” explained Cas Mollien, an information and communication technology strategist with Bazic Blue.