Posts Tagged: Cars

Another hybrid?

Sunday 4th December 2011

At first glance, electric cars seem to be a good idea. Certainly at current prices, using electricity seems to be a relatively cheap way of fuelling a car. And for many people, who mostly use their car to make short journeys, the range issue isn’t generally a problem.

However, most people also use their car for occasional long trips. For example to visit friends or relatives who don’t live locally. And so although people generally only make short trips, they still need it to be able to make longer journeys on occasion. I think this is probably one of the major barriers preventing wider uptake of electric cars at the moment (price being another big one; a comparable EV typically costs 50-100% more than the alternative conventionally-powered car). Even if you only make short trips 95% of the time, most people don’t want to buy or rent another car for the other 5% of the time.

But perhaps there’s a way to have the best of both worlds. At the moment, certain cars have a “hybrid” system. Here, a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) provides power in the first instance, and this is supplemented by an electrical system which collects energy which would otherwise be wasted (in braking etc). Seems like a good idea, although I do find it surprising that many of the cars which use this system don’t actually seem to do it very well. For example in the real world, a Prius only seems to be about as efficient as other mid-size cars (e.g. the Ford Mondeo or the BMW 3-series) which use reasonably-sized diesel engines, and are much less efficient than many smaller cars which use small engines with forced-induction. Only the Prius is more harmful to the environment, once you take into account the materials used to manufacture the hybrid system…

I reckon that this might be the wrong way to go about making a hybrid drivetrain. Rather than having a drivetrain that is mostly ICE and partly electric, why not have the balance the other way?

By that I mean, rather than fit an ICE drivetrain with a slimmed-down electric drivetrain, why not fit a small engine to an electric drivetrain? So for short journeys you can run solely from the batteries, which you can then charge as you need. But then if you want to make a longer journey – or if you run out of electricity – you can fill up with petrol or diesel and start the engine.

I can’t see too many downsides to this. It’d be harder to package and would increase the weight slightly, but I guess that this is only the same problem as is faced with the drivetrain on other types of hybrid. But in this solution, the car gets the best of both worlds.

Of course, I’m not a mechanical engineer so there could be problems I haven’t foreseen; perhaps there’s a good reason why no-one uses this drivetrain (if that’s correct. Maybe some cars do, and I just haven’t heard of them). But I really can’t think of many negatives which would outweigh the obvious benefits: EV efficiency for smaller journeys, and ICE range for longer ones.

All this being said, has anyone actually worked out whether EVs really are more efficient than cars with an ICE? Or does using an electric drivetrain simply move the location at which fuel is consumed away from the vehicle? I actually don’t know the answer to this, although if making a journey using an electric car costs less per mile, I guess that’s a good hint.

Posted In: CarsEngineering Tagged: | 3 Comments

(Extremely) Irrational Desire

Saturday 23rd February 2008

A car website I read has a feature where they find a car for sale each week which is under £1000, but fairly interesting. This week’s is one that you wouldn’t touch with a bargepole (unless you’re a talented spanner monkey), but reading the forums I came across a link to an episode of Old Top Gear where Clarkson tests it.

I want the V12 version. I reckon £4000-5000 would probably buy you a semi-decent one, and then £x on a classic insurance policy (limited mileage, blah blah blah). This is pretty harmless desire at the moment, as I don’t have £7000+ lying around. But give it a few years and I may well do…

I shouldn’t, but damn I know I’ll be tempted. Anyway, all irrelevant at the moment. And frankly at the moment theres not many cars I wouldn’t want…

On the topic of the Top Gear ep, its interesting to see how much it’s changed. I prefer Clarkson’s reviewing style in the old one to the way he is in the newer format. There’s coverage of the British Rally Championship in there too, and that’s always fun. Incidentally, it was back when Colin McRae was in the BRC, and watching him you see why he was so successful. With most of the other drivers, you watch it and think “pah, I could do that!”. But with McRae, you watch and think the exact opposite. It reminded me of a video of Jean Ragnotti I saw a while back. When I watch those kind of videos (esp Ragnotti), I see the way the car gets out of shape coming up to a corner and think “oh crap, this isnt gonna be good, he’s gonna crash”, and then somehow they gather it all together and go through the corner. Sideways.

I saw Ragnotti drive at Donington last year (incidentally, one of my favourite circuits), and the way he threw the car through the Old Hairpin (pretty much a 90 degree right hander. At the bottom of a hill) was electrifying. In fact… This is the exact corner I’m on about. And the spin on the exit is deliberate by the way (christ, I actually remember that run. Is that sad?). Also, watch him parking.

Someone who I wish I could’ve seen drive is Gilles Villeneuve. He raced in the late 70s and early 80s, and for my money he was probably the most naturally talented driver ever to have raced. One of my favourite stories from motorsport concerns him and the 1979 US Grand Prix. On the first day of qualifying it was raining. A lot. Only a few drivers took to the track, and they pretty much all said it was too wet to drive. Then Villeneuve went out and recorded a lap time nine seconds faster than anyone else. To put that into perspective, at last year’s US Grand Prix (albeit on a different track, the crappy Indeanapolis infield circuit), the gap in qualifying from the fastest car to the slowest car was about 2.3 seconds. 9 seconds is a lifetime in F1.

Another example from the same year. The French Grand Prix at Dijon. Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux had such an intense battle for second place in the last few laps of the race that, when people talk about that race, the fact that it marked Renault’s first win in F1 racing is pretty much forgotten. If you don’t like motorsport, watch this and tell me it’s boring. Oh, and watch all the way through, cos the last couple of laps are brilliant.

Villeneuve died in 1982 though after crashing in qualifying for a race. He tripped over another car and went into the barrier. The impact ripped his seat, along with him, from the car, and threw him across the track. If you watch the video on YouTube, you kinda watch the car go off. You don’t notice the white ragdoll being flung across the track… Horrible. Incidentally, I read Jackie Stewart’s autobiography a short while back, and one stat that took me back is that between about April and July 1969, one major driver died each month. Stewart said that, at the time, if you were a professional racing driver in F1, you were more likely to be killed than to retire normally. And yet when people suggested it might be a good idea to improve safety by, for instance, putting fences at the sides of tracks to stop people crashing into trees and the like, other people (including some of the drivers, iirc) said it was a stupid idea. Just so you get an idea, this is a clip of Spa Francorchamps in Belgium from the 60s (taken from Grand Prix, the movie), and here is the same circuit in 2007. Spot the difference…

I make no apologies for the car & racing nature of this post. I can understand why some people don’t like Motorsport, but to me it’s just brilliant. I love the places the races are held, I love the cars, I love the skill of the drivers. When I went to Donington last year, the brother I went with said it was the most excited he’s ever seen me (I don’t usually do excitement). It’s 3 weeks till the 2008 F1 season kicks off, and I know that I’ll get excited when I hear the theme music for the first time at the start of qualifying. It’s been far, far too long.

I could honestly write about this for a long time, so I’ll stop now before you start losing interest (if you haven’t already). I shall save the topic of Why Michael Schumacher is an Absolute Genius for another day (seriously, I could probably write a whole post)… By the way, the videos are kinda important to the points I’m making, so try to watch em all (apart from Top Gear, that’s not so important. But watch the first couple of parts [Clarkson and the BRC] if you’ve got 20 mins free, cos it’s entertaining).

I think the lack of motorsport may have something to do with my disdain for January-March. Is that bad?

Posted In: CarsMotorsport Tagged: | 2 Comments