Monday, June 15, 2009

Car Technology Works to Protect Us and the Planet

I would like to provide a couple of examples to demonstrate how technology works in beneficial ways, and how vehicle functionality, safety and economy can improve over time. The examples below are the result of natural evolution in the absence of a major energy crisis. These vehicles were finalized in design between 2005 and 2007, well before the 2008 oil pricing crisis and the current recession were in effect. In other words, the improvements highlighted by these four sample vehicles can be realized in 10 instead of 20 to 25 years in response to strong pressures for fuel efficiency dictated by market prices or regulations.

First we look at the evolution of Honda gas misers, the very economic 1985 Honda CRX HF and the advanced hybrid 2009 Honda Insight which also have comparable pricing in terms of purchasing parity with the 2009 Insight priced at about $20,000 now and the CRX priced at $6,500 almost 25 years ago.

Units 1985 Honda CRX HF 2009 Honda Insight Change
Seats number 2 5 150%
Footprint sq.ft. 64.2 79.8 24%
Cargo sq.ft. 13.0 15.9 22%
Weight lbs 1713 2723 59%
Transmission type 5-speed manual CVT Easier
Fuel octane 91 87 -7%
EPA City mpg 38 40 -5%
Safety estimate Basic Very Good Much Better

The 2009 Honda has much more room for people, it is 24% larger, and 59% heavier. Part of the latter has a lot to do with safety features which make a 2009 Insight a very safe car to be in a collision, whereas the consequences from a rear angle (T-bone) accident in a compact 1985 vehicle are rather dire even at moderate speeds. Despite all the increases in size and functionality, the 2009 Honda delivers a 5% improvement in fuel consumption and it runs on a less expensive fuel. Also the Insight has a convenient Continuously Variable Transmission or CVT, which is a state-of-the-art "infinite gear" automatic gearbox.

Then we take a look at relatively popular performance vehicles made by BMW: the notoriously square best seller 1989 325i, and its modern re-incarnation the 2009 128i, both with similar six cylinder inline engines and manual gearboxes. In terms of pricing the 128i at about $30,000 is a relative bargain now compared to the $25,000 sticker price of the 325i about 20 years ago.

Units 1989 325i 2008 128i Change
Seats number 4 4 0%
Footprint sq.ft. 76.6 83.3 9%
Weight lbs 2811 3252 16%
0-60 mph sec 8.5 6.1 -28%
EPA City mpg 16 18 -13%
Safety estimate Good Very Good Better

The above comparisons show that the 2009 car is 9% larger and 16% heavier, but 28% faster and 13% more fuel efficient!

As I concluded in my previous post, the outlook on future vehicle technologies is bright and many improvements will come from developments that do not even exist today. The two examples above show that progress is constant and in the right direction.

This progress is not possible or probable; it is certain. The worldwide auto industry is a giant part of technological, industrial and economic significance. For example, vehicle production during 2008 was 66,000,000 units. Here is a breakdown of vehicle production from some non-U.S. brands which also depicts the significance of these industries to regional economies and countries, and indeed the wrold as a whole. (Worldwide data do not include production from China and India, both of which have booming car markets.) The table below represents about 50% of world production:

Manufacturer Country 2008 production
BMW Germany 1.4 million
Opel Germany 1.5
Mercedes Germany 1.9
FIAT Italy 2.2
Peugeot + Citroen France 3.3
Honda Japan 3.8
Hundai + Kia Korea 4.2
VW Germany 6.2
Toyota Japan 9.0

(Base country shown but all manufacturers have plants in multiple countries.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Technological Solutions for Improving Fuel Efficiency Now

There are several technologies that improve light duty vehicle miles per gallon (mpg) and in piecemeal fashion all of them are applied in today's cars and minivans, and some SUVs and light trucks.

They include lower rolling restistantance tires, cylinder deactivation (must have at least 6 cylinders), a start-stop system that kills the engine during idle times, electric power steering so that idt does not load the engine via a hydraulic pump, 6 speed automatic gearbox which can be found in some affordable cars such as the 2009 Chevy Malibu, smaller engine with a supercharger and direct gasoline injection inot the cylinders, in the same way that diesel engines work for nearly 100 years now.

Here is a table that summarizes all these and provides a listing on the basis of bang for the buck.

U.S. $ Cost/Car MPG Reduction (%) Bang / Buck
1 Low rolling resistance tires 6 1 167
2 Cylinder deactivation 225 4.5 20
3 6 speed auto transmission 260 5 19
4 Electric power assist steering 180 1.5 8
5 Smaller engine with turbocharger 750 5 7
6 Start-stop system (kill engine at idle) 1900 5 3
7 Direct gasoline injection (like diesel engines) 400 1 3

3721 18

Some interesting observations are as follows: All these technologies are affordable and even if all are combined together the total cost addition to a $25,000 vehicle is relatively small. For example, applying all solutions from 1 to 7 except for 5 yield a total estimate of about $3,000 and an MPG gain of 18%.

However, some of them are not necessarily compatible with each other. For example, changing from a 3 liter V6 to a 2 liter turbocharged engine no longer enables cylinder deactivation.

So if we take a 2009 Ford Fusion that delivers 23 mpg overall, an 18% improvement in fuel efficiency yields 28 mpg. If its user clocks 12,000 per year, he or she will realize a savings of roughly 470 galons of gasoline or $1,400 for a price per gallon of $3.00

The lesson here appears to be that a paradigm shift is necessary to make light duty vehicles both affordable and energy efficient. This paradigm shift includes two major components:
(1) massive reduction in vehicle mass (what we popularly call weight) which will likely bring a reduction in size as well and as an added benefit, there will be normal use for parking stalls labelled "compact."
(2) replacement of high displacement gasoline motors with diesel motors, electric drives or both.

A combination of (1) and (2) can result in susbtantial energy economy at an affodable price. Toyota Prius and Honda Insight are the current and largely convincing proof of this, but the future is bright and promissing.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Concerns About Honolulu's Rail Project Process Are Mounting

Four important organizations in Hawaii with a long and proud legacy on both environmental and traffic management concerns, The Outdoor Circle, the League of Women Voters, and Hawaii's 1,000 Friends are discussing the many and significant flaws in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed rail system for Oahu. See it here:

Meanwhile I am gravely concerned about the Honolulu City Council's haste and lack of desire to insert accountability controls in the budget that includes hundreds of millions of dollars for this project, as described in this article printed in Honolulu Star Bulletin ( Full text below:

Honolulu’s Council that represents almost 900,000 people on Oahu is about to make a major fiscal and political error. They are about to grant the authority to the city administration to start rail without environmental approvals and without federal monies. Council also plans to approve to start the project about a mile outside Kapolei, and develop a six mile elevated rail to Waipahu. Worse yet, they plan to approve the float of eleven hundred million dollars in bonds for rail with no stipulations or accountability controls. This $1,100 million obligation must be paid back by the Oahu taxpayer, plus interest.

These actions demonstrate a lack of responsibility, due diligence and common sense. Here is a partial list of what is lacking in this process.

Lack of uncertainty analysis in costs and ridership. The city and its consultants follow the bankrupt Everything Goes According to Plan principle. They have a cost contingency plan but it’ll evaporate by this prolonged recession. Most economists do not predict much growth for at least five years into the future. The city’s solution to insufficient funds will be more taxes, but the feds cannot approve a financial plan that is not ground on current reality.

How about the ridership? This project was justified by the assumption that by 2030 there will be many more residents in leeward Oahu and many more jobs all over Oahu that 738,000 more daily trips would occur in 2030 than in 2005, and 401,000 of these new trips would develop between Aiea, Mililani and Kapolei. Is there anyone that believes that this assumption is correct? The cost-effectiveness criteria for this project are now much lower than calculated in 2006. Updated estimates could disqualify it for federal funds.

Lack of sufficient investigation of technologies more suitable to Oahu’s environment such as underground segments and at-grade segments. True light rail, in full or in part, was never studied.

Lack of sound decision making which would have chosen an initial operating segment between Ala Moana Center and Aloha Stadium.

Lack of sound decision making in proceeding with construction without a completed and specific funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA.) Actually this count alone qualifies Council actions as reckless and contrary to the best interests of the Oahu citizenry that they represent.

The U.S. is broke and the FTA faces several hundred billion dollars of necessary maintenance of existing transit systems including rail and bus fleets, thus billion dollar allocations to new systems are unlikely.

How much taxation escalation and irresponsible decision making is enough before a tipping point is reached and Oahu begins to lose population at an accelerated rate? (Thus making rail even more irrelevant.) Oahu lost a few thousand people from 2006 to the present time. More taxes, less services and rail to nowhere add to the existing misery and are strong incentives for a mass exodus.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hawaii Highway Modernization ...

... or (unfortunately,) the failure of enacting it.

A fairly ambitious bill was submitted to the Hawaii State Legislature this year but it died in committee. The Bill would have raised gasoline and weight taxes to collect about three billion dollars and along with one billion in federal funds was planning to do a large number of shovel-ready projects to improve congestion bottlenecks, retrofit or replace old bridges, mitigate rockfall sites, improve pavements, etc. Highlights and the list of projects can be found here: Hawaii Highway Modernization. The bill may be taken up again at the 2010 legislative session.

A TV program was developed to discuss this lost opportunity. It is available in four parts on YouTube, as follows.

State Representative Cynthia Thielen Discusses Transportation with Professor Panos D. Prevedouros

Part 1 --

Part 2 --

Part 3 --

Part 4 --

International Symposium on Freeway and Tollway Operations in Honolulu

The 2nd International Symposium on Freeway and Tollway Operations has Active Traffic Management of expressway facilities as its core theme. The 2nd ISFO is designed to bring together freeway and tollway operators, practitioners and researchers specializing in freeway operations, highway toll operations and expressway infrastructure development. Over 150 presentations are scheduled in 35 sessions between June 21 and 24, 2009 at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki in Honolulu.

Presentations at the Symposium will:
  • Capture the state of the practice in freeway and tollway operations including current programs and planned initiatives for Active Traffic Management.
  • Discuss Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and managed lanes.
  • Explore the potential benefits of using managed lanes, tolling, pricing, and other strategies to improve traffic operations on congested freeways.
  • Present methods and challenges for infrastructure financing and development.
Also, Hawaii-specific sessions will provide updates of public sector projects and discuss the impacts of traffic congestion to businesses in Hawaii.

The Symposium is conducted under the aegis of the Transportation Research Board, a unit of the National Academy of Engineering, and with sponsorship by the Federal Highway Administration and the Hawaii State Department of Transportation.

The Monday plenary program includes remarks from Lieutenant Governor James Duke Aiona, the Director of the Hawaii State DOT Dr. Brennon Morioka, Robert Poole of the Reason foundation, Dr. Joris Al from the Dutch Ministry of Transportation, and a keynote address by the internationally renowned transportation analyst and historian Alan Pisarski. Executives from Canada, China and Greece will provide regional state of the art reports for North America, Asia and Europe, respectively.

Active Traffic Management means being on top of corridor-wide traffic conditions 24x7 year-round and proactively adjusting controls to avoid or minimize jams. The Monday afternoon program also includes six presentations on active traffic management, and other modern methods in traffic operations. Most of these methods are highly effective, modestly expensive, necessary and applicable to Hawaii but largely absent from Hawaii at the present time.

For more information and registration visit the Symposium’s website at and contact the Symposium coordinator Pacific Rim Concepts LLC at For technical information please contact Dr. Panos Prevedouros at, chair of the symposium’s steering and organizing committees.

Hawaii Legislators, Council members and all State and City officials are cordially invited to the opening of the 2nd ISFO on Monday, June 22 from 7:30 AM to 11:30 AM. Registration is required for attending the luncheon and the subsequent program.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Conversation with a Rail Proponent from Texas

From time to time I receive thoughtful arguments about my posts. Craig, a senior attorney in Texas and I started conversing about the impacts of transportation on climate change. He remains a transit proponent (for now) and I remain a proponent of independence and automobility. Here is is our most recent exchange. Craig's part is first, and my response follows.

First of all, thank you so much for your reply. I have commented briefly below on your assertions.
I am really glad to hear from you. I have written to several other knowledgeable folks, but they are evidently very important and busy. In any case, I have read extensively in this venue, and have more than a few serious concerns. I would like to work them out, since more than one source predicts disaster. [He refers to global warming and its effects.]
If you would provide some clear evidence to guide me, I would be happy to change my mind about the future. I have a great deal of experience in travel, both in the US and in Europe, and in many American cities as well as cities in Europe. San Francisco, for instance, has the BART, which is used extensively and is dependable, safe and reasonably comfortable. Its major problem is crowding. They also have bus service that runs 24-7, at reasonable times. I was able to go anywhere in San Francisco during the middle of the day in about 10 minutes to 15 minutes, using mass transit. The same trip by car, because of parking problems, would take much longer, and cost much more.
Perhaps you have a problem with the cost of this sort of service. I do not. I know that taxes are a bit higher to cover the cost of transit. However, in San Francisco I did not need an automobile, and there was, believe me, a high net gain on the transaction. How is individual automobile travel going to overcome the problems that portend in the near and mid future, much less the longer range?
It just depends on your framing and viewpoint, I suppose. I have never viewed the automobile as anything more than a way to go from one place to another. It has no status value to me; I dislike the expense of purchasing it, the fact that I must transport 3000 pounds of vehicle to move 190 pounds of me, or that it creates pollution and is expensive to insure, service and fuel. I could live very well without an automobile. There are three reasons why mass transit does not work - it is not available/reliable, or it is not safe, or it is not comfortable.
Right now, I am not convinced that automobiles have much of a future. Please talk me down.
With great appreciation and interest,
Craig _________



As an engineer I must provide remedies based on the full set of realities in front of me and not on any behavioral or theoretical schemes for the future.

Indeed SF, Chicago and NYC are special cases of transit and as you pointed out, the reason is the real limitations in automobility, primarily the lack of space and/pricing of parking.

Once you move out of this "10%" you need to confront the remainder "90%" of America which is sprawl. Trains and buses are massively expensive and massively inconvenient in spread out places. I had no part in spreading out American cities but the same is true for suburban Paris, London, Athens or even Tokyo.

I stayed for a while at Saitama University. Saitama cannot be differentiated from Tokyo but you need one or two buses to get to any rail stations that take you to fun or important places in Tokyo. What a production and waste of time, but road capacity in Tokyo make this transportation arrangement necessary. But there is no parallel of this to Houston, LA, Atlanta, Honolulu or what I called above the 90% of America.

The worst part of mass transit is that outside of 4-5 hours of peak travel, buses and trains run near empty, and unions mandate double shifts, overtime, and on and on. We are talking about excessive human labor and energy waste. In contrast, an 100 mpg Prius descendant in 2025 is highly likely (the current Prius is far more efficient than any light rail) and any Prius like car is totally benign outside the 60-100 minutes of average daily use.

This comment of yours is both fundamental and spot on: There are three reasons why mass transit does not work - it is not available/reliable, or it is not safe, or it is not comfortable.

Here is my comment on these fundamentals of mass transit:

(1) Rail is not available, bus is not reliable. Except for a few multimillion population cities and Manhattan, rail stations are too far apart for most residents in most cities. Buses are caught in road jams so they are not reliable. Few cities are smart enough to develop HOT lanes with priority for buses along jammed segments.

(2) It is not safe. Indeed bus and rail stops are shelters for homeless and retail points for frugs and other contraband. Also rail systems provide quick getaways, so robberies around stations are many more than other parts of the same city (see Vancouver and Portland statistics.)

(3) Not comfortable. Problems abound from overcrowding, pushing, groping, bad smells, loud music, intimidating and unstable people and inability to carry American sized groceries and other shopping. There is reason why 95% of Americans abandoned buses and trains. And they are not going back.

Society seems to have progressed along technology paths and personal independence. Cultural and social revolutions have fallen flat on their face. History seems to repeat itself, so the future will form along paths of technology and independence, some of which we cannot even imagine today. After all, the car is only 100 years old, and roughly only 50 years old as an affordable transportation appliance. The computer and cellphone are roughly 20 years old. Who knows what it is is store of us 20 and 50 years forth. But buses are rails are not likely to determine anything essential in our lives.

All best,