My first post for the “Wheels” blog in the New York Times Autos section went up yesterday. Richard Chang is the guy in charge of the blog, and he even left in my favorite bit, about wide, American … roads.
The chicken mole at Seattle’s Hotel 1000 was lovely, but VW head Stefan Jacoby’s comments were enlightening. For instance, VW wants to triple its vehicle sales in the U.S. in the next decade, including sales of whatever full-sized sedan will be built at the factory under construction in Chattanooga, Tennesee. (Jacoby promised the car would “solve the cupholder problem” for the American market.”)
VW also sees clean diesel and refinements to gasoline engines as the most practical solution for the near future, Jacoby said, with fuel economy raised by as much as 50% and emissions reduced significantly. That said, VW isn’t complettely counting out fuel cell technology, second-gen biofuels, and some kind of battery-electric vehicle. But for now, it’s sticking with what it knows for mass-market vehicles.
Speaking of which, VW brought a Euro-spec 6-speed manual Golf TDI for short test drives in hilly Seattle traffic. It was only a few miles, but I really liked the feel of the car while I was at the wheel. Until, that is, I got stopped at a light on a 45-degree incline. Luckily fellow auto journalist Doug Newcomb of Edmunds.com was in the passenger seat to teach me a trick with the emergency brake that kept me from rolling backward and hitting the road-test Touareg behind me. At least I didn’t curb the wheel in front of the hotel (I’m looking at you, Bruce).
I paid the whole twelve bucks for two days at the Stumptown Comics Fest this past weekend. I stopped to say hi (and not much more — they were crazy busy) to my comic book purveyors of choice, Bridge City Comics. I learned about the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, and made my own print at the Independent Publishing Resource Center table, which looked intimidating. It wasn’t.
I also picked up the hardcover “Beanworld” by Larry Marder. I’ve been meaning to buy this book for a couple months, and what better opportunity than to hand my $20 over to Mr. Marder himself. He signed my book and drew a little Beanworld guy on the title page in green ink.
On Sunday, I attended a panel on comic book editing that was aimed at creators who want to understand the editing process. Diana Schutz from Dark Horse was there, as was Bob Schreck, co-founder of Oni Press and Jeff Parker, a freelance writer (and sometime artist) for Marvel. As an editor who LOVES graphic novels and comics, I was interested to find out what the job entails.Turns out it takes editing skills, project managment chops, and a desire to see the creators’ best work get published. Check, check, and check.
The surprise was the number of up-and-coming creators at the panel discussion who felt they needed an editor but didn’t know how to find one. Were they ever in luck — I had a stack of business cards with me. Here’s to developing a second area of expertise in a shaky economy.
I went to the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association’s monthly meeting on Thursday (after an absence of many months — for shame) and met a couple of great guys. The first was Wade Patterson, who has a Zero X electric dirt bike that he demos around the Northwest. I’m going to interview him for an upcoming NY Times story, if I can ever pin him down.
At the same time, I met Bob Simpson, an electrical engineer and EV enthusiast who’s working to convert a 2003 BMW 325i to lithium-ion power — and beat John Wayland and White Zombie. A key supplier for the conversion reneged on a deal, so the project has stalled. Simpson won’t be able to take on White Zombie at this summer’s Wayland Invitational, but he’ll be there to watch the other Teslas, bikes, and conversions attempt to set records at Portland International Raceway July 24-25.
I was out of the home office yesterday (yay!) for a Ford Fusion event in downtown Portland. I have never been so glad to see a carafe of coffee in my life. Nancy Gioia from Ford gave a great presentation about the Fusion hybrid and Ford’s green plans for the future, but I had spent the entire morning without liquid fuel. Four cups later, I felt much better.
We got to take the Fusion hybrid for short test drives, and the LCD instrument panel is super geeky hi-tech. Apparently, the engineers’ first attempt was too much like a video game, and drivers in the simulation watched the gas-saving graphics more than the road. Much to the team’s dismay, that version was scrapped for the cool-but-not-too-cool production version.
Ms. Gioia also gave me an interview after lunch (sandwiches and cupcakes) for an article for HowStuffWorks.com on whether owners can recoup the hybrid premium. The article will be up on the site two weeks from tomorrow, I think. Her answer matches my math — you can definitely maybe make up that cash in incentives and hypermiling. But probably not. But maybe.
I went to the press day for the Portland Auto Show yesterday — lunch courtesy of Ford, dinner courtesy of GM, and a talk in the middle from Chrysler’s rep and all-around good guy Scott Brown.
I didn’t learn anything at the Portland show that wasn’t said at the Detroit show less than a month ago, but I was surprised at what’s missing from the Portland floor. Toyota didn’t bring the latest Prius, Honda didn’t bring its resurrected Insight, Chrysler didn’t bring its ENVI cars or its GEM electric vehicles, and GM didn’t bring the Volt.
Some of these cars are at the big auto show in D.C. right now, putting on their best razzle-dazzle dance for the guys who hold the money, and several of those cars are one-of-a-kind concepts. But Prius and Honda aren’t getting any money from the U.S. government, and those two hybrid cars go on sale in a couple of months. Surely there’s more than one Prius and one Insight in existence. And surely they recognize the eco-minded auto market we have in the Pacific Northwest, right? Right?
I went to my first Detroit Auto Show this year; from what I understand, this was a real downer of a show. I wouldn’t know, have nothing to compare it to and no time to think about it while I was there. I’ve put images of the latest eco-friendly-ish cars on Flickr and created image galleries on About.com for the supercars.
Check out these links to the pieces I’ve written so far:
- Images from my first day, second day, and third day
- Guided tour of the Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR Stirling Moss
- Blog posts about Bentley, Audi, and Fisker press conferences
- The new Honda Insight vs. the new Toyota Prius
- Tesla’s deal with Daimler
- A test-drive of the Mitsubishi iMiev on the track in the basement
After sitting out most of the summer with a mysterious gas leak, my Kymco People 50 scooter finally demanded that I fulfill my promise to fix it. I thought about pushing it up a piece of 2×4 into the bed of the truck and taking it to the shop, but instead went with my original idea to fix it myself. I used my new camera (a Canon A590 IS) to document the process in case I went wrong somewhere.
Though I didn’t need my digital breadcrumbs — it was an easy fix and an easy reassembly — I did post them to the Flickr account I’ve had for years and never used. You can see the six-step repair process here.
I headed all the way out to the Washington County Fairgrounds in Hillsboro yesterday to visit the Alternative Energy Show. It was small, but the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association had a presence, with an AC-powered 914, a converted Honda Insight, and a factory electric Chevy pickup. They even had a trailer of pop-up solar panels to use for charging, thanks to Oregon State University.
I spoke with OEVA members about the Chevy Volt’s chances of survival, and Ford’s lack of leadership in the alternative-fuel market. The show was small, but the vendors and information was useful. Zenn had a display as well, and there was a LNG-powered car, too, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to the woman manning that booth.
I went to a lovely lunch last week with Dan Kapp, who’s been in Ford’s powertrain division for 31 years, ever since he got out of college. He spoke to the group of NWAPA members and local media for over an hour about EcoBoost, hybrids, clean diesels, Ford’s long-term plans … he really covered a lot of ground.
You can read my post about the press event at GoodGreenCars.com.