Letters - 8/21/2008

Aug. 21, 2008
In the recent issue (June 5) Leland Teschler leads off with an editorial about the scarcity of high-mileage cars in the 1970s and the scarcity of them today.

Car talk
Then, a few pages later, Denise Greco raves about the new Chevrolet Malibu 1LT, and in passing mentions fuel economy of “22-mpg city/30-mpg highway.” That’s poor, especially for a four-cylinder 2.4-liter equipped small car. Following that, Leslie Gordon raves about the 2008 Buick Enclave. Leslie doesn’t even mention that it gets 16-mpg city and 22-mpg highway.

Yes, the U.S. auto industry has great engineers and top-flight workers. I also love the fact automakers pay good wages and benefits. But they continue to build gasguzzlers. Why? Perhaps because our press continues to rave about these inefficient dinosaurs.

Where’s your journalistic ethics? Please call these things what they are: fancy gas wasters and polluters. Otherwise, soon we won’t have a U.S. auto industry at all, and you definitely won’t get any U.S-made toys to review.

Bob Neidorf

Strictly speaking, the editorial talked about prices of high-mpg cars in the 1970s, which were firm, and that dealers at that time wouldn’t deal. But that doesn’t imply a scarcity so much as a lack of competition in high-mpg cars. When Ms. Gordon drove the Enclave, Buick had not released EPA figures for mileage. And it’s hard to open a newspaper or Web browser without reading about the rising price of gas. So consumers are likely aware of the trade-offs when they buy a so-called gas-guzzler. By the way, a recent Wall Street Journal (June 25) article talked about cars that are hot sellers. The 14-mpg Lexus (and Dodge Viper) saw sales double this year, and the Toyota Sequoia sales rose 29%. At the same time, sales of the Honda Fit and Toyota Scion rose up 64 and 59%, respectively. Seems like consumers like choices.

I do not recall seeing much press on what it really costs to own and operate the new low-emission vehicles. My son works as an mechanical engineer for a small fuel-cell company and my company is also peripherally involved in fuel cells, so the discussion comes up now and then about the cost of operation. My son always speaks about all-electric cars being much more efficient that internal-combustion engines and what great fuel economy hybrids get. When I ask what it costs in terms of dollars per mile to operate those vehicles, I never get a straight answer. Of course the question can be asked based on fuel cost and amortization, and I really don’t care how the number is calculated, but I sure would like to see some published or projected costs of operation for each and every new car either being sold or planning to be sold.

My son thinks electricity is cheap and abundant but when I ask what it costs to charge and operate an electric car such as the new Tesla or the proposed Volt, I don’t get an answer. I think the notion of an electric commuter car is great, but based on what I pay for electricity, I suspect in the end it will cost more than I pay now to commute the 13 miles I drive each way to work. As an engineer, I always need to quantify everything. It seems that there is way too much hand waving and too little comparable numbers.

Chet Bejtlich

CNW Research compiled overall energy cost-per-mile figures on all new cars. Their figures are said to include not just the cost of operating the vehicle, but also the cost of developing and manufacturing the vehicle, amortized over the expected life of the vehicle and expressed in overall cost/mile. When we mentioned this report (available for free at http://tinyurl.com/mamcw) in an editorial, we took a lot of heat about it because by CNW’s calculations, the overall energy cost/mile of some low emissions/hybrid vehicles is actually quite high. — Leland Teschler

I am just playing around with my CAD system on my designs for the coming electric car. The basic platform would have batteries that slide out the side, motors in the wheels, and all-wheel steering so it can crab for parking. You could then install or change out a pickup truck, van, convertible or fourpassenger body in about 30 minutes. The center of gravity would be low for safety. I have more, but do not want to bore you with the details. The electric car is coming and I can’t wait.

Donald D. Jones

Not to rain on your parade, but have you considered the amount of unsprung weight in the wheels you’ll have with motors this way?

An exhibitor at the SAE World Congress displayed a hybrid military vehicle which contained wheelhub motors, big ones, and had to be sturdy enough to be dropped by parachute. They admitted to having a lot of problems that they attributed to the amount of unsprung weight in their chassis. But they proudly said that in a run-off against competing firms, their design was the only one that didn’t tip over when it live-fired the 50-caliber machine gun mounted on top. — Leland Teschler

Getting kids interested
Your editorial, “How not to make engineering appeal to kids“ (April 10, 2008) about trying to get school children interested in engineering reminded me of a similar event years ago at a major telecommunications corporation. Someone in HR decided it would be a good thing to expose kids to a real engineering environment. So they made all the arrangements, hired a couple of buses, picked up about 50 kids at school and brought them to our buildings. They showed them the labs, the cubicles, gave demonstrations, prepared short videos — the grand tour. Halfway through the day, they took the kids to the cafeteria where they could order anything they wanted. After lunch, a couple more short tours and presentations and it was time to head home,

But, before the kids left, HR asked them which one thing they most liked during their tour. Hands down, the winner: They liked the hamburgers best.

Cecil Deisch

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