Category Archives: News

Of Singularities and Updating Cars

This article from Automotive News – “Why a new phone Trumps GM’s $200 map” is an interesting article and certainly worth reading.  Summarized it is this:

  1. GM created some very poorly designed in-dash GPS units that people sometimes paid substantial amounts of money to add to their cars.
  2. GM charges $200 for a map update to these poorly designed in-dash GPS units.
  3. The author of an automotive press company would rather buy the next iPhone than pay $200 for the map update for his car.  In fact, the author doesn’t use this expensive in-dash unit and pulls out his cell phone to look up locations.

The author, Nick Bunkley also points out, “The auto industry is still struggling with how to keep up with the rapid advances in technology that can make parts of a 3-year-old car obsolete.”
This was not the case 10 years ago.  It is evidence for the technological singularity.  One of The Pirate King of Cars (TPKoC’s) favorite science fiction authors, Vernor Vinge, introduced him to the concept of the singularity.  Conceptually humanity’s technological progress is progressing on a exponential rate.

Once in TPKoC’s science fiction reading history had the philosophy that if you read a science fiction book – and the advanced technology of a alien civilization wasn’t applied evenly, then the author had done something wrong.

Not so, apparently.  As humanity’s technology progress, er, progresses it does it in fits and starts.  Some industries advance by leaps and bounds and others lie dormant for decades.  Cell phones have gone from vocal communication devices to small, versatile and fully functional computers.

Three years from now will the auto industry be complaining that it cannot keep updating their cars to keep up with technological changes that come every three months?

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Over twenty years ago TPKoC owned a 1992 Honda Civic 4-door LX 5-spd manual.  No matter how poorly TPKoC drove, that car got 40 mpg.  Long drives to Florida and back to New Jersey would yield 45 mpg!

Sadly, eventually the car began to fail and it was replaced by another car after 10 years and 222,000 miles.  But is that the way it should be?

TPKoC likes to build his own computers.  An incredible thing happens when you build your own computers.  Has your computer aged?  Change out the motherboard, processor and memory and it becomes a new computer!  Keep the hard drive, disk drives, case, memory and display!

What if we could do that with cars?  What if, as my Civic aged, there was a higher performance (in mpg and hp) engine that was designed to fit the engine bay?  In fact all cars of a similar size had the same engine mount points?  You could have a Honda with a Ford engine (eh, not sure why you would do that, but let’s go with it…)  Instead of my Civic (and then my Accord) lasting for 10 years and then being replaced, they could last until the next advances involved getting a new chassis?

As car prices escalate like they are on a path to their own singularity how will the average mortal human get a new vehicle when their vehicle is no longer maintainable?  This could be the solution.

The automotive industry will also need to adopt processes similar to cell phones and software developers.  Got an update?  No problem, you can do it yourself for free.  In fact it is far more efficient for the automotive industry to make more and more changes do-able by the average car owner than maintain a vast network of dealerships.  Expose how the internal computer interfaces work and customized versions of these systems could be made.  It is possible that a few changes to how the injector system works in some later patch could gain the end user/car owner a few more mpg!

Adapting to change is often hardest in that first step.  Once the automotive industry starts to adapt to constant and accelerating change it will not be one of the industries where some technologies have lagged while the world of cell phones has past them by…

Ford Returns to Buttons

In this Motor Trend article the concept is about Ford returning to the usage of buttons – with continued use of touch screens.

The problem is that the rapid changes coming to cars are trends – as the name of the magazine is stated – Motortrend.  It isn’t about design and ensuring high customer satisfaction.

Touch screens are great – in handheld devices where your eyes are on the device.  TPKoC used the buttons in his old 1992 Honda Civic as markers as to what to touch and where to touch it.

The touch screen integrated cars – you have to take your eyes off the road to ensure that you are touching the right item on the screen.  Bad design and unsafe for drivers.

Ford is doing the right thing by returning to buttons.  The tactile response of reaching for a button and feeling it without ever taking your eyes off the road is far more efficient and safe than reaching and then looking to see if you touched the right thing on a touch screen.

Touch screens have been a boon for car manufacturers.  They charge more – and their costs have gone down because they removed a large number of buttons from the command consoles of cars.

Now, to go back to the drawing board and do it right.

The Disappearance of 6 Passenger Cars

In this modern era of cars – there is no passenger car that can hold 6 passengers.  The last major model to hold 6 passengers has lost the front center seat – the Chevy Impala.

Two station wagons remain that can transport 6 passengers – the Mercedes E-class station wagon and the Mazda5.

Inherently, in the design of a sedan there are advantages that should result in a high-passenger capacity vehicle that gets great gas mileage, handles well and Arg, isn’t a minivan.  For instance, sedans have less weight, lower center of gravity, lower coefficient of drag and typically have a smaller physical footprint than most minivans and SUVs.  All of these factors should create a great handling vehicle (compared to an SUV or minivan)  that gets great gas mileage.

The major problem with car manufacturers pursuing profits is that they design, build and sell to the average size family is that people who lie outside the average size family have reduced choices.  Those reduced choices result in large families only being able to choose poor handling, heavy vehicles with bad gas mileage.

For example, TPKoC has been fruitful and has four children.  Due to changes in car seat laws you can no longer have a Civic with 4 kids crammed in with two adults in the front.  In fact, your only choices for 6 passengers are heavy, poor handling gas guzzling SUVs and Minivans.

Perhaps you would say that the gas mileage doesn’t look that bad.  The Honda Odyssey has a highway mileage of 27 mpg and a city mpg of 18.  The real-world has been less-kind than the EPA estimates.  Routinely, our 2007 Honda Odyssey gets between 13 and 14 mpg.

Perhaps, people would argue that a Honda Accord is too small for three passengers in the front seat.  Americans are big people!

While I don’t question that Americans are big people and that we’ve gotten bigger in the past decades, I do question the absence of variety in the car buying market.  The premise of a free market is that everything that people are willing to pay for can be available.  Someone, somewhere will find a profitable way to create and fill the needs of the market.

However, with the limited number of auto manufacturers combined with the fact that few of these manufacturers are not beholden to each other (such as Ford/Mazda, Chevy/Buick/Cadillac, Toyota/Scion) means that there are even fewer choices.  We shouldn’t be confused with the number of models available in 2014 (around 1000) with actual different choices.

It can’t be all that hard to design a front seat that can accommodate three people.  Cars that had this option used to be prevalent everywhere.  Perhaps we could have a 40mpg car, that can fit 6 people?

News – Mazda CX-9 Deception

Deception starts at the Manufacturer in the Automotive Industry

Arg, mateys and welcome!  I know that you know that going to a used car dealership is a place of deception.  And these voices on the radio for new car advertisements with crazy offers are often not the whole truth.

The deception starts at the top of the industry, mates!  You see me in my pirate garb and you know I’m going to rob you and raid the bank.  But these men in suits (Not the Men in Black, they are cool) are out to rob you and smile and make you think you had a great experience.

Look closely - the non-optional transmission added to the base price.

Look closely – the non-optional transmission added to the base price.

Look closely at the image I’ve captured from Mazda’s website today!  Raised my gun and told it to surrender, I did.

Look and see me hearties!  The base price is $29,785.  How great it is under $30,000, but what’s this?  6-Speed Auto – the transmission – shows up as an extra charge of $425!  Tell me stalwart pirates, can you buy this car without the transmission!

No, this is deception, raw and simple – passed by some committee at Mazda.  The base price of this vehicle should be: $30,210.  Think of all the ads and all the publications that carry that this, the base model of the CX-9 is under $30,000 – or that the base price is lower than some competitor!

Outrage and cry Havoc!  The deceptive practices of the automotive industry start with the Manufacturers!

I have studied data – and the data speaks of the deeds done by people – to deceive!

Sadly, I like Mazda cars and overall the Mazda brand.  The problem here is plain and simple – do not let the accountants control what you put out there for the customer to see.

We should demand that deceptive practices such as this be abolished.  Then from the top down perhaps the industry can start to straighten out.  One day – going to a used car dealer could be an honest exchange.

News – Mazda6 Skyactiv-d

Mazda 6

Well met, me hearties!  May the winds favor your travels.  Huh, well, the winds don’t seem to matter much to our travels as much as they used to…

In my searches for great new cars to purchase that contain a combination of factors such as not being a car that a zombie would be comfortable, fuel efficient, exciting to drive and not be dull after the first few years of driving.

I found the 2014 Mazda6 Skyactiv-d.  (Pictured above is the 2014 Mazda6 Skyactiv-g)  It is currently available in Europe and Australia and has some interesting features such as using capacitors for recharge when using the brakes which apparently will run the electrics for a full minute.

Some articles are reporting the gas mileage of this vehicle to be 56 mpg – in a full size vehicle!  Take that you Prius – a zombie car if ever there was one.

Although, the estimated mpg may be off a bit and has since been reported in the low forties.  Still awesome me hearties!  This change in estimates might be due to that evil of the Imperial gallon vs the US standard gallon.

Unsettling news for us in the U.S.; though, is that diesel is so expensive.  There has to be a manageable way to charge consumer prices and commercial prices for diesel.  While there are solid benefits to using diesel – saving money with increased gas mileage might not be a winner.

I met up with some friendly folks at Mazda at the New York International Car show.  Unfortunately, for a new to be released model – they didn’t have one at the show.  I spoke to the staff there and they had little more information than I did – other than to stay away from the 56 mpg figure as it was unlikely to be accurate.

The Pirate King of Cars – says – “I can’t want to see and drive this car in person!”