Sunday, July 05, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News for Wk of 7-6-15

Can you believe it—it’s been 20-years since Congress repealed the 55-mph National Maximum Speed Law. For you kids born since 1995, way back in the olden days, the Guvment thought it best to keep throttles reined-in to 55 on the highway—you know, to save gas, and for safety reasons. They imposed the double-nickel in the 1970’s in the midst of an oil embargo crisis.

I know few people who drove 55. Sammy Hagar had a hit record about that in the ‘80’s, “I Can’t Drive 55.” Now, an assistant Transportation Professor at the University of Texas is suggesting better-engineered cars and roads are sufficient justification for raising the speed limit even higher.

Pro. Stephen Boyles’ research indicates few drivers adhere to posted speed limits, and says, "in fact, the greater discrepancy between slower and faster drivers is often more dangerous."  Boyles points to data from the Federal Highway Administration, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program and the Institute of Transportation Engineers which indicates speed limits should be set at the 85th percentile of traffic speed. In other words, only about 1 out of 7 cars should be driving faster than the speed limit. 

“Any more than that and the speed limit should be raised,” Boyles says. “Speed limits should conform to drivers, not the other way around,” he says.

You can get from Houston to Dallas in record time with the posted 75-mph speed limit that kicks in from just north of Huntsville to the Ennis. My experience has seen drivers typically exceed the posted limit by at least 10-mph. The trip is about 240-miles, with 130-miles with the higher speed zone.That’s about the distance from Franklin to Memphis, Tennessee.  

The 28th Annual International Z-Car Convention, or Z-con, is slated for Friday, July 17, and Nissan wants to know how many of you want to drive the NISMO Road Trip to get there. Nissan Employees and VIP’s are making the trek from company HQ in Franklin to a Beale Street suarez in downtown Memphis. Sounds like a perfect excuse for a three-day weekend, starting Friday morning at 8am, the road rally…er, trip, commences at 9am. 

Nissan promises lots of tantalizing revelations in Memphis, including the entire NISMO product lineup, a 2009 40th anniversary Z-car, an original 240Z, plus the all-new 2016 Nissan Maxima and 2016 Nissan TITAN XD. The feature car of the drive will be the late Yutaka Katayama's ("Mr. K's") last-ever U.S. Nissan lease vehicle, a 1974 260Z 2+2, customized by the factory with a full-metal, retractable sunroof.
Eau my.

Wanna go? To RSVP, participants are asked to tweet the hashtag  #NISMORoadTrip to help organizers provide an estimate of the number attending. And I know what you’re thinking…It’s about 775-miles from Houston to Franklin. Some of that at more than 70-mph (wink, wink).

Best way to create value: Limit Production. Dodge’s factory-built Challenger Drag Pak is only going to run about 60-units. Subaru is using a similar tactic with a Hyper Blue edition of its popular WRX STI and BRZ high performance cars. 

The Hyper Blue WRX STI will boast a 305-hp 2.5-liter turbocharged and intercooled Boxer engine, with Symmetrical All-wheel Drive. Brembo brakes lurk behind 18-inch BBS black-alloy rims. Subaru says it’s only going to make 700 of these special edition WRX’s.

The BRZ is powered by a 200-hp 2.0-liter Boxer engine, allowing it to retain its ultra-low profile. The Hyper Blue motif includes the exclusive paint scheme, with color-keyed leather seat bolsters and head restraints. Blue stitching accents the seats and the blue and black leather-wrapped steering wheel, as well as the shift lever boot and leather-wrapped parking brake handle. 

The blue theme also carries to the center console kneepads and door trim, accented by an embroidered silver BRZ logo on the front seatbacks. Carpeted floor mats also pick up the BRZ logo and blue stitching. BRZ gets a rear view camera as a standard item this year. Subaru is going to build only 500 of the Hyper Blue BRZ’s.
Pricing on both vehicles will be released later this year.

Mazda’s ugly little secret about its fourth-gen Miata is out: There will be no Mazdaspeed version of the MX-5.
Dry your eyes. 
MX-5 Program Manager, Nohiro Yamamoto, tells Top the newest edition of the drop top two seater doesn’t need any performance boost.

"It's important not to get hung up on numbers," Yamamoto-san told Top Gear. "Not on power, or torque,” he said. “No, what is more important is the feeling. The driving experience and feeling is more important than power. In my mind it just has to be fun to drive," Yamamoto said.

When asked whether his team had ever—or ever would consider adding a turbo to the Miata, Yamamoto responded that it went against the spirit of the roadster. "I never considered using a turbo," he told Top Gear, "because naturally aspirated engines are just nice, especially for this kind of car.”

The newest edition ND Miata will be smaller and lighter than its NC and NB brethren, and closer in size to the original NA Miata. 

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News for Wk of 6-29-15

Spencer Penrose graduated last in his class from Harvard in 1886.
That did not deter him from becoming an adventurer and developer of many of Colorado’s landmarks, including the Broadmoor Hotel and the Pikes Peak Highway.
In 1916, after widening the narrow carriage road to the 14,110-foot summit, Penrose established a competitive hill climb to promote the route to tourists. “The Race to the Clouds” was first run with open wheel class vehicles.
The 1916 winning time was 20-minutes, 55.6-seconds.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb now includes nearly every class of competitive automobile. The fastest time on the 7-mile course was established in June 2013 by Sebastien Loeb, at 8-minutes, 13.8-seconds, driving a 875-hp mid-engined Peugot 208 T16.

For the 93rd running of the race on Sunday (6/28) Honda Performance Development and Honda Research and Development associates fielded 13 vehicles in 11 different classes. Former Indy Lights Champion Alex Lloyd, and Japanese Super GT legend Tetsuya Tamano were tapped to pilot the Honda B-Fit spec and an all-electric vehicle on a CR-Z chassis, respectively.
Honda has had winning cars in at least one class-victory in each of the past 13-years.

But not this year.
The 2015 Penrose Cup winner is Rhys Millen with a run time of 9-minutes, 32.4-seconds…the first win by an electric vehicle. Millen drove a 1-megawatt eO PPOE developed in Latvia that produced 1,367-hp.
Batteries not included.
No, wait—they were.

Beginning next month, you can order a factory-prepped Dodge Challenger specifically intended for drag racing. The next-generation Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak will offer the option of a supercharged 354-cubic-inch Gen III HEMI engine or a naturally aspirated 426-cubic-inch Gen III HEMI engine. 

Where might one drive such a vehicle, you ask?

FCA says the dream machine is “designed for passionate Sportsman racers who compete in nationally sanctioned drag racing series, such as the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA).”

You can order your Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak “through authorized Dodge dealerships” starting July 23. The MSRP for the naturally aspirated 426 version of the Drag Pak is a “cubic inch appropriate” $99,426, with the 354 supercharged race car available for $109,354 MSRP. Apparently, size does matter.
Order two.

Imagine dropping a serious performance engine inside your favorite SUV, and than tweaking the package with some major attitude. Nissan did just that in 2011 with its JUKE-R crossover supercar. The 2015 JUKE-R 2.0 concept made its global dynamic debut at Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK on Thursday, and it was pretty impressive.

It looks as good as it tastes.
The front and rear bumpers are made from 100% carbon fiber, and the  nose has been retooled with larger vent intakes to cool the 600-hp NISMO engine.  The hood has bare carbon cooling ducts that have been repositioned for better efficiency.
The rear exhaust cowlings have been reshaped, and are made of high-temperature carbon fiber. LED
lights are used extensively, front and rear and in between, including turn signal repeaters in the side rear view mirrors.  The JUKE-R 2.0 rolls on the new GT-R wheels, and comes in your choice of colors, so long as you like Matte Black.

When the Mini Cooper hardtop first came on the scene in 2002, I was enthralled. I had to drive one. And it performed as expected, with snappy response from superior geometry with all four tires place essentially at the corners of the chassis. I thought, ‘there’s no way to improve on this.’ 

I was wrong, because the Mini Clubman appeared with just a little more cargo space tucked under its elongated top. Funny thing about that process…the Mini became less and less “mini” with each iteration. And the inevitable has occurred—the first Mini mini-van.

The new and improved 2016 MINI Clubman is 10.9 inches longer and 2.9 inches wider than its “little” brother, with a wheelbase that is 4 inches larger. The not-so-mini 17.5 cu ft luggage compartment can be extended to as much as 47.9 cu ft by folding down the rear backrest.

Fortunately, Mini has beefed up its power plants to handle the bigger, better Clubman. In addition to the standard 134 bhp 3-cylinder engine, the new MINI Cooper S Clubman also offers a 4-cylinder, 189hp engine. Mini also offers an 8-speed Steptronic transmission for the Mini Cooper S Clubman, but you’d miss all the fun in the standard 6-speed manual tranny.
One thing is clear: This is not your mama’s mini van.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Going Back to My Old School

There are few things more terrifying for a "seasoned" citizen than going back to school.
The obvious reasons are that older students don't exactly blend-in with the rest of the student body, especially with our Dad- or Mom-bod appearance. The cat-like reflexes we once had as teenagers have long since departed. The issue of physical stamina is also called into question, and pulling an all-nighter to cram for an exam--after 6-decades of orbiting the sun--is out of the question.

Regardless, I have been investigating that very experiment--returning to college. I am reliving the frustrations and irritations of my youth in navigating obtuse websites, opaque clusters of instructions, and the eccentric personality that is Academia on the internet. 

Today I learned I may have to take an entrance exam to go back to school. Seriously?
I think I took the SAT when I was in High School. Many of my friends were crowing about their scores. As I recall, I was no rooster.

The Texas Success Initiative is being held over my head like some Damoclean sword (I'll bet that reference isn't on the test!) and frankly, I'm stumped by the very first math question:
"If 3t - 7 = 5t, what is 6t?" 

I believe this particular form of mental torture is called Algebra.
Kids, I have NEVER used a stick of Algebra in all the years of my semi-stellar professional career. 

The answer to this puzzle is -21, according to the test answers supplied by the College Board.
I think they have to provide the answers so people like me won't blow a mental o-ring and my head explode. I tried to Google the solution on-line, and some of the answers made Common Core look like an excerpt from Tip and Mitten (another arcane reference the students of today don't get).

That's the other frustration of being a senior Senior on campus--nobody gets your jokes.
The most-distant cultural reference these young pups might catch would be lines quoted from Napoleon Dynamite, or maybe, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I'm not even going to try to keep up with their music.

I read inspiring stories of 80-year old's going back to school to earn their degrees, and they're the life of the party. They're campus celebrities, and at their commencement they deliver stirring addresses to motivate and encourage their 20-something classmates. And then they go home and die the following week.
I think I know why.
"What is 6t?"