Monday, March 16, 2009

Come on manufacturers

Whenever a new car is out, be it a supercar or a sports car, the manufacturers are quick to sing praises of its zillion horsepower capability and its nought-to-hundred times. I’m passionate about automobiles and I make it a point to read automotive news from a variety of sources. Now I’m getting a bit tired about all these “it smokes to 100 in less than 5 seconds and has a monstrous 500 Nm torque” things. I mean a Ferrari  F430 can do 0-100 in about 4.5 odd seconds. A Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder can do 0-100 in 4.5 odd seconds. A Porsche 911 Turbo can do 0-100 in 4.5 odd seconds. A BMW M5 can do 0-100 in just under 4.5 seconds. An M3 can do 0-100 in just over 4.5 seconds. A Chevrolet Corvette C6 can do 0-100 in about 4.5 seconds. The Audi TT RS can do 0-100 in about 4.5 seconds. An Audi RS6 Avant, a station wagon for the love of God, does the same 0-100 in about 4.5 seconds. I hope you see how little the numbers tell us the story: a luxury sports saloon (M5), a people carrier (RS6 Avant), a track tool (F430) all just about share the same times. Each car mentioned above is unique in its own way and the 0-100 times tell absolutely nothing about their character. I think it’s just plain pointless all this numbers thing. Numbers, for me, explain only a very little part of the car; they're definitely not telling anything about the uniqueness of the car unless you’re comparing an eco-box to a sport sedan. Leelakrishnan can tune pretty much any car to do 0-100 in 4.5 seconds. It’s nothing different to talking about top speeds of European performance cars when you know that all are speed limited to 155 mph.

My point is that the manufacturers of performance cars, sports cars and supercars should talk more about what their car can do in addition to the usual, engine muscle stuff. Talk about the skidpad times. Talk about the slalom times. Measure how stable your car is in a corner of such and such radius at such and such speed, normalize it with your rival cars and post it. Do a stint of 20 laps in a race track and boast (with numbers) how consistent your tyres and brakes are. Testers rate how a car feels on the limit. For example, the Veyron is said to be so much more stable at 320 kph than, say, an SLR. I ask the manufacturers to quantify the so called feel. Now that sort of a quantification of a wide range of performance parameters will help a 430 Scuderia owner laugh off a ZR1 owner.  There are so many other factors that can help the discerning customer feel good about the choice of his exorbitantly expensive wheels.

Car and Driver recently tested a Corvette ZR1 and says it does 0-100 in less than 4 seconds. How is Ferrari (or Lamborghini or Porsche) going to tell normal people like me that its car is so much better than the Chevy?

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Chevy Volt

The Chevrolet Volt is a new electric car that’s not strictly electric. The car is slated for a late 2010 launch and it looks very promising. Here’s how it works: there’s a lithium-ion battery powered electric motor that drives the front wheels. You can charge the battery by plugging the car into your garage power outlet (yes, it’s a plug-in hybrid). GM claims that an overnight charge is useful for a range of 40 miles. That’s handsome. But don’t worry if you’re going to drive for more than that because there’s also a 1.4 litre petrol engine to keep you from getting stranded in case the electric juice runs out. When the battery reaches 30% of its charge, the engine fires up and starts charging the battery. Where the Volt differs from other petrol-electric hybrids is that the IC engine is only used to charge the batteries. It cannot power the car on its own. This means that you’re looking at zero emissions and zero petrol consumption if your drive between charges is less than 40 miles. Neat.

Quick Specs: 4-seater sedan | 0-100 kph in about 9 seconds | 160 kph top speed | battery charges in 8 hours @ 110 V and 3 hours @ 240 V | price not known

More Information: Photos | Videos | Motor Trend Article

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why American cars are so advanced

Full leather upholstery, heated seats, remote entry, climate control system, anti-lock brakes. These are some of the features that are not oh-so-rare here in the States. However, if I were in India and happened to see a spec sheet with any of these features, I'd swear that I was looking at a luxury vehicle. If you're going to tell an American (or a European or a Japanese), with a reasonable exposure to motor cars, that Indian cars are not so well equipped, you can expect him to think that India really is playing catchup in technology. Or worse, is financially poor. But why would my country need all these features in the first place? The more I think, the more I come to the conclusion that these technologies, great though they may be, are solutions to problems that people have. The problem is this...

Heated seats, remote entry and climate control system-
The average temperature of the Snow Belt in the US is about -10 degree Celsius during the winter. And no car owner is going to be terribly pleased to have to walk out of his climate controlled house, manually insert the key into the snow covered key slot exposing his hands to the freezing winds in the process. So there you have it: remote entry. And imagine how it would be to sit on a lump of ice covered in a plastic sheet. A cold car seat gets close. What do you do? That's right, heated seats. Oh dear, heated seats need leather. Throw in a full leather upholstery. 

So now I ask myself, 
"Do I need remote entry in my car that I drive in Madras?" - No
"Do I need heated seats in that car?" - Are you kidding?
"How about leather seats?" - Why on earth would I need it when it's already scorching outside?
"At least climate control?" - OK, that's acceptable. But, in winter, I can just roll-down the windows to get naturally climate controlled air! 

Sunday, December 21, 2008


It's been a long long time since my last post and it was when I was in India. Being used to small cars (as it turned out) the American automobiles gave me a bit of "man, that is b-i-g!" sort of feeling. Check out the Toyota Tundra pickup if you want to know what I'm trying to say. The speeds these guys do in the highways ("freeways" in US speak) is just...well, you can do Trichy-Madras distance in 3 hours. The traffic is so disciplined that drivers don't need to anticipate and prepare for things in advance, as we guys do in India. If 3 lanes are merging to 2 lanes, you'll be cautioned 2 miles ahead!