Environment Forum

A Nightmare on Auto Street: Big boxes

When it comes to competition in the auto business, it’s the unknown that keeps the top U.S. Honda executive, John Mendel, up at night.

Mendel, speaking to the Reuters Auto Summit in Detroit, said he is always concerned about the conventional competitors. But what he is really afraid of is a company that “changes the game.”

“What keeps me up regarding new competition is someone significantly changing the game,” Mendel said.

People mention an autoseller taking up dealers dropped by General Motors, Chrysler or Saturn.

“What if they didn’t have a dealer network,” Mendel said. “What if they used big-box retailers and contracted with Jiffy Lube to have your car fixed?

Bike commuting = less CO2 + cost savings + good mood

I wish I could report that “environmental reasons” were behind my decision to start commuting by bike. But the real motivation was much simpler: I’m a cheapskate and biking saves money.

Yet three years and some 24,000 kilometres after switching from the train to the bike, I’ve discovered a number of useful fringe benefits beyond being frugal and reducing greenhouse gas: the daily exercise from the 40-km round trip each day puts me in a good mood, makes me healthier, liberates me from the hassles of semi-reliable train timetables and makes me a bit lighter as well.

No matter how lousy or stressful or full of irritations the work day might have been, by the time I’ve arrived home on the western fringe of Berlin from the city centre after an almost always enjoyable 50-minute bike ride, I feel transformed back into a happy human being. It’s magic.

A speed limit for Germany?

In Germany, where many consider their cars sacred and most politicians on both the left and right refuse to consider tampering with the unlimited speed on the Autobahn for fear of hurting the car industry, the leader of the Greens party said it is high time for the country to join the rest of the civilised world and put an upper limit on Autobahn speeds — if for no other reason than to cut CO2 emissions

“The speed limit on German motorways will happen because it has to happen,” Cem Oezdemir, co-chair of the environmental Greens, said in an interview (click here for full story). “There will be an Autobahn speed limit as soon as the Greens are in power. We simply can’t afford it any longer to ignore any chance to reduce CO2 emissions. The interesting thing about a speed limit is that it would have an immediate impact on emissions. It would also save money, save lives and reduce the number of horrible injuries resulting from high-speed accidents. When you think about, it all the arguments speak in favour of a speed limit.”

Oezdemir, 43, said that aside from the powerful car lobby — which opposes a speed limit for fears it would damage the marketing mystique of carmakers like Porsche, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen — there are precious few reasons for letting cars continue drive at speeds of up to 200 kph and more: “The only argument against it is the pre-modern masculine dream of racing their cars at high speed.”

from Raw Japan:

Mercedes? No thanks, I’ll take a hybrid

VOLKSWAGEN-LAW/“I hope the next three months will be better for you than the last three," Czech ambassador Jaromir Novotny told a gathering of Japanese car importers last month.

The way things are going, he'll be hoping against hope.

In April, Japan introduced an “eco-car” tax incentive that has left all foreign car brands such as Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, neatly outside the fence of eligibility.

It’s the last thing they need in a market that’s already full of quirks that make life difficult for non-Japanese car brands: the existence of a huge and unique 660cc microcar segment, convoluted recycling laws and stringent regulations against what type of materials can be used in fuel tanks, to name just a few.

The other plan to cut car pollution? Drive less

The feds are taking on California’s plan to limit tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases and discussing the idea of low carbon fuel, but California has one other major idea to curb vehicle pollution, says the state senator who pushed through the tailpipe emissions law, Fran Pavley. The idea: drive less.

“No matter what we do on the clean car regs, with the gross of the state… and the sprawl out into the suburbs and the rural areas, we are going to be going in the wrong direction. And that’s something the federal government hopefully will eventually look at — land use,” she said by phone, when asked about next steps for vehicle pollution.

2008′s Senate Bill 375 by Darrell Steinberg set up targets for coordinated planning of transportation, land use and housing with regional reduction targets for greenhouse gases. At the time the bill passed, California was expecting its population to rise to 46 million by 2030 from 38 million.

Is California really banning black cars?

Has it come to this in California? Is the Golden State really banning black cars from its famous freeways, as reported in various auto industry blogs – and even The Washington Post – on the grounds that they require more air conditioning to cool?

The answer, a slightly exasperated spokesman for air quality regulator the California Air Resources Board tells Reuters, is an emphatic “NO.”

CARB spokesman Stanley Young calls the story a “very unfortunate case of misinformation from the blogosphere” stemming from proposed draft regulations that have since been put on the back burner by the agency.  But even those draft regulations, he says, never contemplated a ban on black cars.

Tesla unveils its latest electric ride

Tesla Motors unveiled the Model S, its newest all-electric car, at a media event outside Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon. Billed as the first mass market highway-ready electric vehicle, the Model S can seat five adults and two children and can go for up to 300 miles on one charge. And, it costs a lot less than Tesla’s Roadster sports car, starting just shy of $50,000 (including a government tax credit). Check out our full story about the Model S unveiling here.

At the event, executives drove the prototype vehicle around the parking lot and into the surrounding neighborhood to show it off. We shot video of some of that, and here it is (forgive us for the guy walking into our shot!). Let us know what you think. Would you buy this car?

VW on electric cars: “Please, lower your expectations”

Volkswagen’s U.S. chief ruffled some entrepreneurial feathers on Thursday when he told a group of business school students at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management that  it will be 35 years before electric cars make up a significant portion of the world’s auto market.

During his prepared remarks, Volkswagen Group of America CEO Stefan Jacoby outlined the German automaker’s view that fossil fuels and traditional combustion engines will be with us for many years to come. VW, however, is committed to making them vastly more fuel efficient. The company is also investing heavily in so-called clean diesel technology, which reduces tailpipe emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases while still giving cars their “fun-to-drive” pep.

“At Volkswagen we are taking a long-term and a short-term approach, and the short-term approach is not electric vehicles,” Jacoby said. “We can have cars on the road that have fuel consumption of 50, 60, 70 miles per gallon. That can happen in the next ten years.”

from UK News:

UK minister in a spin over climate change doubters

As a top-flight racing driver, Britain's Science Minister Paul Drayson may seem an unlikely critic of the auto industry.

The self-confessed "car nut" owns a motor racing team and competes in a 200mph Aston Martin in competitions around the world.

 But at a news conference in London, he attacked the "significant minority" of auto industry executives who he claims still deny the evidence for climate change.

Egg-shaped Aptera is no wallflower, but would you buy one?

Last week, we paid a visit to startup car company Aptera at its headquarters in Vista, California, just north of San Diego. Aside from talking to company executives, we also got to take a ride in the ultra-efficient, spaceage vehicle. Check out our complete coverage of Aptera here.

To say that the egg-shaped car, which the company will begin shipping to customers later this year, stands out on the road is a major understatement. Take a look for yourself in the video below, and let us know what you think.

Would you buy a car like this? The final price for the two-seater is expected to run between $25,000 and $40,000, and the all-electric version gets a 100 mile range per charge.

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