Monthly Archives: July 2012

New Car Tech Saves Lives (So They Say)

Cars today are light years ahead of where they were just a decade ago and all this new technology is actually saving lives. That’s the conclusion of a study done by the Highway Loss Data Institute, a non-profit research group supported by the insurance industry. They looked at a variety of the latest safety systems and found at least a few which were making a big difference when it comes to automobile safety:

Particularly effective, the study said, are “forward collision avoidance systems,” which alert drivers when they are quickly gaining on objects in their path and may crash. Some of these systems feature automatic braking if the driver fails to respond.

Car models available with this feature include the Mercedes-Benz CL Class sedan, the Volvo XC60 and the Acura MDX SUVs.

The Highway Loss Data Institute found that property damage liability claims were 14% lower for models from Acura and Mercedes-Benz featuring forward collision avoidance systems, including automatic braking, than in models without them. Property damage liability claims include damage to other vehicles caused by the insured vehicle.

The Volvo autonomous braking system reduced crashes by 10%, though that finding wasn’t deemed statistically significant.

Injury claims also dipped slightly for most vehicles with forward collision avoidance systems, though not by a statistically significant amount in most cases.

Not to be overlooked are basic safety systems such as seat belts and air bags which have also been shown to save lives, but which are now considered “yesterday’s news” when it comes to automobile technology.

As more vehicles continue to hit the roads and even more new drivers emerge from their garages, it stands to reason that the incidents of traffic crashes are going to go up. Automobile manufacturers are constantly looking for new ways to counter this trend and keep everyone, and their cars, as safe as possible.

Your Car Can Earn You Money With OnStar And RelayRides

Most people look at their car as a function of modern living. We need a car to run errands; go to the doctor, go to work, go to school or whatever. When we aren’t using it, it just sits in the driveway gathering dust and losing value.

This is fine for the wealthiest Americans who really don’t care how many cars they have or what they are worth, but for some of us, having a way for our car to actually earn its way would be a blessing.

For owners of GM cars with the OnStar system, there is now a way to make money from your car when you aren’t using it. OnStar is now partnering with RelayRides, a company which specializes in renting users cars to other certified members of their system. That means if you are not using your car, you can rent it out.

This is a great idea for anyone who has a second vehicle which is only used for emergencies, or when the primary vehicle is unavailable. Instead of parking that car in the driveway and letting it gather dust you can make it available on the RelayRides network. If a certified user comes along looking for a rental car, and your is a good match (size, availability and location) then the company helps put the two of you together.

Here’s how it works: an owner of an OnStar equipped vehicle logs on to his OnStar account and makes the car available for rental via RelayRides. Once a picture is uploaded, the car can be rented right away by anyone with a RelayRides account.

When the car is rented, the prospective driver need not meet the owner to exchange keys; instead, the renter contacts OnStar via smartphone to unlock the doors of the vehicle. The owner, presumably, must leave a spare key hidden in the car, much to the delight of car thieves everywhere.

Renters get the added peace of mind that OnStar gives, meaning that directions or emergency assistance is just the press of a button away. Owners also benefit from knowing that if their car is stolen, it can be tracked and even disabled by the OnStar service.

American Petroleum Hates Ethanol (And For Good Reason)

If a company releases a delicious thirst quenching carbonated soft drink it stands to reason that Coca-Cola and Pepsi might try to dissuade consumers from even tasting the new product.

Business is business after all, and if you want to stay in business you need to convince people to buy your product and not a similar product offered by a competitor.

So it seems only logical that the American Petroleum Institute, a group dedicated to protecting the interests of petroleum producers, would have a problem with ethanol. Ethanol is a fuel additive produced in the United States which can be mixed with petroleum. In fact, it can also be used as a direct fuel for many vehicles, without the need for mixing with gasoline at all.

If not for the sale of gasoline the API would be out of business, so of course they are adamantly opposed to the use of the product. However, their efforts to convince drivers not use ethanol products, or even gasoline with ethanol in it, they are also saying that ethanol will destroy vehicle engines, which is simply not true.

The fact is that ethanol is perfectly safe for use in almost all engines, even those which are not specifically designed for “flex-fuel.” The API is playing on the fears and prejudices of some drivers who simply do not like change. If these drivers had their way “leaded” fuel would still be in use today because “unleaded” fuel was going to destroy their engines. (The theory being that the lead helped keep engine parts lubricated.)

In the meantime, ethanol producers have launched their own campaign to promote the use of their domestically produced fuel product in all vehicles. They have worked tirelessly in support of the agricultural producers who bring the ethanol to market and have helped demonstrate the effectiveness of ethanol as both a fuel and a way to support the national economy.

Russia Takes Aim At Supercar Market

France is know for its Bugatti (although now a company owned by Volkswagen) and Italy is known for its Lamborghini. The United States has its Ford Mustang GT and England has the hand built stainless steel Noble M600. Until now Russia has been mostly on its own when it comes to supercars, with nothing to offer the world market.

But all that is about to change as the new B2 built by Marussia Motors in Russia (with some assembly in Finland) is nearly ready for the consumer market. The prototype B2 designed by Russian actor and racing driver Nikolai Fomenko is already turning heads among supercar aficionados who simply cannot wait to get their hands on one. Even Electronic Arts, the designers of the uber-popular racing game “Need For Speed”, have already included one as an option in their massive multi-player online game. However despite the anxious crowds the B2 is not expected to hit the consumer market for at least a year.

Some have questioned whether or not the B2 will truly classify as a Russian-made supercar since some manufacturing and assembly will be done in Finland, but Marussia Motors says more than 85 percent of the machine will come from locally manufactured parts and the car was designed by Russians, so therefore is a Russian supercar.

Whatever. The B2 is clearly something different and a welcome change of pace from the supercar market which is being overrun by Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porche. This is something different, designed by a country and a company that is desperately trying to bring something new to the playing field. What is at stake is more than just their honor as an automobile and supercar manufacturing authority, but also as a country which is moving forward; shaking off their reputation (deserved or not) for designing vehicles which are something decidedly less than stellar.

‘Coda’ Electric Car Gets 100 Miles Per Charge

The biggest draw back for consumers even slightly interested in purchasing an electric powered vehicle has been the limited range between charging. For the most part these vehicles will only get you about 50 miles before their battery packs run dry and you need a charging station to get back on the road again. If this were a five minute process and these charging stations were as ubiquitous as gasoline filling stations, that wouldn’t be so bad. However. charging stations are difficult, if not impossible to find, so most electric car owners are charging up at home. Also, the process to recharge fully depleted batteries means leaving them plugged in overnight if you need the battery on “full” the next day.

Coda, an independent car manufacturer in California, is trying to change all that with their new prototype mid-sized electric sedan known as, well, as ‘Coda.’

The ‘Coda is an all-electric vehicle which has an Environmental Protection Agency mileage rating of 88 miles on a single charge, and owners are reportedly getting 100 miles or more of use between charges. Plus, the specially designed 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger will replenish about 20 miles worth of driving distance for each hour it is plugged into any 240-volt source. That’s about twice as fast as owners have reportedly been charging their Nissan Leaf electric vehicles.

There are certainly some drawbacks to the new Coda, as expressed by drivers who complain that although the vehicle goes further on a charge than a comparable electric vehicle, it offers very little in the way of accommodations; the ride is rougher, there is no cruise control, no keyless entry or push-button start and no rear view back-up camera. For $35,000 consumers today expect their electric cars to deliver performance and all the amenities they have come to expect from a high-end motor vehicle. Anything less is going to be a tough sell to the general public no matter how far it goes on a single charge.