E-Mech Alert

batteryCharger You might know that I drive very little. Working from home, regular use of public transport, and doing most of my day-in day-out shopping on foot means that my car is pretty stationary. I think I last used it in early January.

Which explains why I wasn’t surprised to find its battery flat. The car has seen little use and the battery got little charge thus. Add an unusually long and cold season, and it makes perfect sense. Inconvenient, but not alarming.

What’s next?

Find the old battery charger, and descent down onto memory lane just once again. I made this charger myself, back in ‘86, as part of my vocational training. When I say “made it myself,” I mean it: made the transformer from scratch (a hand-packed E-I core with self-calculated and wound coils), made the case from scratch (starting with a handful of screws, a welding kit and a piece of sheet metal). Fitted the electronics, engraved the front, – just about everything that one can make by hand in this thing is made by hand.

Which means that the charger must be worth an absolute fortune. I must have been working a week or more on it. To me, it’s worth much more still, and it is something I was immensely proud of when I took it out of the cupboard and brought it to good use on my flat car battery.

Prouder still when I re-connected the battery in the following morning. One turn of the key, and off we were.


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The New Suburbia Driving Test

watchOut Did you ever drive around in London‘s suburbia? No? Well… let me just say that some streets are so narrow, with cars parked all over, than cruising Naples in the rush hour seems like a piece of cake in comparison.

You cannot, for example, drive to Waitrose West London through Felix Road without stopping, giving way, backing out. Or take Maunder Road, of many others.

Fascinatingly, some queer brain at the council still chooses Felix Road to be the main access into Hanwell coming from the busy Argyle Road, and some super-whacky planners agree that Maunder Road should serve as one of the two main access paths to the new Cambridge Yard five apartment block development. There is no limit to insanity, but I am drifting off my main subject today…

Well, the point is that many drivers are unwilling, and, presumably, unable, to back out. Some of this might be a genuine inability to be considerate drivers and considerate people(see insanity, above), but I think many simply cannot drive back in a reasonably straight line for more than three inches.

I am proposing that each driver must show the ability to navigate a curved course backwards as a mandatory part of each driving test. I’m serious.

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Efficiently Inefficient

appleTree I rented a Toyota Prius once again. I like the Prius. It looks OK (to me, although the design is often considered boring), and it drives real nice. The car feels safe, reliable, and well-designed. It has a lot of torque, oh, and yes, it has this marvellous hybrid engine. The “synergy drive”, as Toyota calls it, employs an energy-efficient combustion engine in combination with an electric engine, a regular tank of fuel, and a pack of heavy-duty batteries.

When the car rolls downhill or breaks, or simply runs on petrol, the batteries charge. When the car rolls gently along, it can run on electric power, or use both power sources together. Clever, huh?

Toyota is proud to display a fuel consumption graph in the car, showing 70 miles per gallon (4 litres per 100 km) are in reach when cruising a flat highway at constant speed.

These cars are a huge success, and sell in huge numbers. They aren’t cheap, but you get to save the planet whilst driving. How’s that?

I tell you how that is. It is a brilliant marketing ploy, but it doesn’t save the planet, and it’s not very fuel efficient to begin with.

I run my rental Prius over 330 miles in total (530km). It uses a rubber tank of 6..12 gallon capacity (subject to ambient temperature); the common assumption is 9 gallons in the moderate weather conditions that we experienced. So, it run on an average of 330 miles / 9 gallon = 37 miles per gallon, or (for the continental Europeans) 7.6 litre per 100 km.

My ten-year old Vauxhall Astra does the same, or even slightly better, on a straight and not very optimised V8 combustion engine. Latest figures are 39 miles per gallon (7.25 litre per 100km) in mixed-mode driving. I can get it down to under 6 litre with ease on a steady motorway cruise (47 mpg).

Just goes to remind me that one ought to think twice about every advertisement slogan and marketing hype, and when done, think it twice over again.

So, my next car is not going to be a Prius. I hope hydrogen technology matures, and hydrogen availability increases over the next few years, though. Unless Tesla Motors come up with a nice and affordable family car of course, in which case I shall re-consider. Too bad Tesla will probably go bust before they can do that.

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A Green Car Surprise

rueDuParadis Some of you know what we own two cars, although we only really need one these days. We are holding on to the second one for convenience; the idea is to trade in both against a single replacement car, with a size between the two present cars, once more attractive green or green-ish alternatives are available. Green is my favourite colour anyhow.

More and more hybrid engines are available already, and their availability, cost, and battery life will probably improve over the next year or two.

For curiosity, I was looking into pure electric cars, too, and found a Nice car company. 40 miles reach at mixed mode driving and 8 hours or more for a full charge. That doesn’t really work, not even as a second car. 

The part that really blew me was that these electric cars are sold with either manual or automatic transmission. What? A mechanical transmission? What is wrong with a nice electronic four-quadrant variable frequency direct drive, delivering lots or torque with minimum friction straight to the axis?

I’d expect something like what the nice guys from Tesla Motors do. An accelerator, a stirring wheel, breaks, and a direction selector: go forward, or go backwards. Too bad they are having a hard time.

0 to 60 mph in under 4 seconds, yeah! Practically no noise. Top speed 125 mph, reach 220 miles (max), full charge as little as 3.5 hours. That’s more like it.

Too bad it’s only a (very beautiful) roadster with negligible room for luggage. You can’t even store its price tag in it, which is kind of huge (ahem… €90,000). I can’t wait for more reasonably priced and slightly more useful alternatives to become available in the next few years.