Episode 997 – New Subcompact for Brazil, Auto Sales on the Rise, First Zinc-Air Battery?

October 22nd, 2012 at 12:05pm

Runtime: 9:18

A boom in the Brazilian market has one automotive manufacturer introducing seven new models. Has the U.S. auto industry fully recovered? A report from WardsAuto indicates it may have. Reading between the lines has us thinking we may see the first zinc-air battery soon. All that and more, plus an independent car tech believes he has solved the draw-backs of the rotary engine.

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Welcome to a new week of Autoline Daily. Have we got a lot of news to get to today. Later on in the show we’ve got a story on what could be a major breakthrough on the rotary engine, discovered by a back-yard mechanic. But before we get to the news, have you seen the results of the Autoline poll? We asked you which presidential candidate would be the best for the automotive industry and the results are an exact mirror of the national race. Based on your voting, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are tied, both with 46 percent. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian party got 6 percent, while Jill Stein of the Green Party and Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party both got 1 percent. I think the Autoline poll is a great indicator of how this election is going to go.

Lots going on in the booming Brazilian market. Chevy took the wraps off a new subcompact, called the Onix, which debuts at the Sao Paulo Auto Show this week. It’s powered by a 1.4 liter engine with a 6-speed automatic. GM Brazil is introducing seven new models to offset a drop in sales.

The AP reports BMW will invest $500 million to build a new plant in the country. And Bloomberg reports that Volkswagen will spend $4.4 billion to upgrade its factories and models in Brazil.

You’re all familiar with Google’s autonomous vehicle, and now China plans to start testing them, too. They’ll run from Beijing to neighboring city Tianjin, a distance of 120 kilometers. The National Natural Science Foundation of China, which is conducting the tests, is planning a longer test drive in 2015 that will cover 2,400 kilometers. The Foundation says it has made several technological breakthroughs, but is still way behind Google and others..

Speaking of innovation, the Nissan DeltaWing race car ran in the 10-hour 1,000-mile endurance race at Road Atlanta and finished a very credible fifth place. This despite the fact it had to start dead last, and was not allowed any wave-arounds under yellow flags. Otherwise, it would have finished higher up the rankings. We love following the DeltaWing because it represents such a breakthrough in racing design. It has half the horsepower of the cars it runs against.

Good news on the sales front. WardsAuto forecasts that the Seasonally Adjusted Annual Sales Rate, or SAAR, will top 15 million units for the first time since February, 2008. If the industry can consistently hold that rate in the months to come, then I think we can officially declare that the auto industry has fully recovered.

Lexus is unveiling the latest version of its LF-LC concept car. Now it’s painted blue and it’s being shown at the Australian auto show, but here’s what caught our eye. Toyota says the hybrid uses an “advanced high-energy battery pack.” Now if this was a lithium-ion battery, you’d expect them to say so. Could this car be fitted with the zinc-air battery that Toyota has been working on? If so, it could be a breakthrough. Toyota isn’t saying what’s under the hood, but we sure need to learn more about this car.

On Friday, Local Motors announced the winner in the first phase of the Ultimate Delivery Vehicle Challenge sponsored by Domino’s Pizza. Over the course of the 6-week competition more than 1,500 concept files were submitted. Of those, 127 concepts met all competition criteria with Anej Kostrevc of Slovenia submitting the winning design. The challenge still has three more phases of interior, surfacing, and rendering that will conclude February of 2013.

The Wankel engine always held out a lot of promise, but never was able to fully deliver on those promises. It was never very fuel efficient, and the exhaust temperatures were very high. But now an independent car tech thinks he has stumbled onto what held that engine back Coming up next, what could be a breakthrough for the rotary engine.

Some of the best automotive innovations come from shade-tree mechanics and backyard tinkerers. One such inventor has focused his attention on improving the rotary engine. Ernie Brink has come up with several upgrades for these unique power plants.

Ernie’s been fascinated by these high-revving engines for decades. As a former Mazda technician he’d better be. Even though they’re nearly extinct today, he’s very optimistic about the rotary’s future. In fact, he’s come up with two possible breakthroughs to their design, the first of which addresses their inherent loss of compression.

By ditching those big fat spark-plug holes and replacing them with narrow slots — no wider than 1.5 millimeters he says — compression is no longer wasted out the exhaust. But there’s more on the table with the Wankel engine.

The idea behind that offset combustion chamber is to help kick the rotor in right the direction so it’s not pushing against itself. Ernie has actually built a specially modified engine to put his theories to the test. The results of this experimentation were astounding! He claims EGT, that’s exhaust-gas temperature, fell by 600 degrees Fahrenheit!

We don’t really know if Ernie has come up with a breakthrough, but what he’s saying certainly seems to be logical. I hope someone with the will and the resources can fully test out his theories. Are you listening, Mazda?

And that wraps up today’s show, thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog and WardsAuto.com

26 Comments to “Episode 997 – New Subcompact for Brazil, Auto Sales on the Rise, First Zinc-Air Battery?”

  1. pedro fernandez Says:

    If this rotary engine idea works out, automakers should consider bringing in a few senior techs for consultation on new ideas and engineering plans for upcoming cars.

  2. G.A.Branigan Says:

    I like what that guy did to the wankel.It appears he made the rotor into a paddlewheel.Makes sense.I’m sure aircraft home builders will be interested as they like the rotories.The ‘poor mans turbine’ as it’s often called.Brilliant!!

  3. Lex Says:


    It is great to see that Autoline is able to give people like Ernie Brink a platform to share their ideas. I wish Ernie good luck convincing Mazda to test his ideas on how to improve the Wankel/Rotary Engine.

    I have my own idea on how to improve the Wankel / Rotary Engine. My idea is that there should be harden steel rollers at each of the three points on the rotor? I believe this would reduce internal fiction as the rotor spun within the chamber, and increase horsepower and fuel economy.

    A small rotor engine could then to used in place of the standard 4 cyclinder currently used in vehicles like the Chevy Volt. This smaller and more compact rotary engine would be used both as a range extender and battery recharger.

  4. Zieke Says:

    If this technology evolves, I bet it wouldn’t take long for rotarys to outsell EVs by a whole bunch!

  5. HtG Says:

    Looks like John may have a source about that battery in the Lexus.

  6. gmveteran Says:

    Random Thought of the Day: A few years ago, several Chinese auto companies started exhibiting at the NAIAS (Detroit Auto Show), and speculation ran rampant as to how soon Chinese cars would be on sale in the U.S. That has proven to take longer than those companies forecast . . . or has it? There are two ways to market cars in other countries: develop them from scratch or buy a company that already does business there. Either way, the profits from the vehicles they sell go back to the home country. Therefore, I submit that you can buy a Chinese car at your local Volvo dealer right now. And, forget about Mahindra and Mahindra, Tata has them beat as you can buy an Indian car or SUV at your closest Jaguar and Land Rover dealerships. If you think about it, its the same way that GM got started selling cars in Europe when they bought Adam Opel and Vauxhall. It may be only the beginning, but you will see more Chinese and Indian vehicles sold in the U.S. via one strategy or the other.

  7. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Interesting about the Wankel, and the fixes listed should help with some of the problems, but I believe one problem (I’ve heard of previously) revolved around seals and materials used as seals. (Maybe the sealing problems revolved around the ‘too much heat’ factor and are also subsequently addressed.

    I’m guessing on the Presidential poll results that people were voting for their pick irregardless of what they thought on the automotive premise suggested.

  8. G.A.Branigan Says:

    Hey Chuck,I had heard many years ago that the problem seals were fixed.I seem to remember they started using teflon seals,but that was a long time ago and my memory could very well be wrong.

  9. Ed Says:

    I remember SAAR was at 16 mil in 08 when the crash came, with population increase, and time( 4 years hence) SAAR should be more than that at least upwards of 16, anyway you cut it it is in decline, or dragging, that could be good. But call it like it is.

  10. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I’m not holding my breath on the Wankel engine making a big come back, but it will be interesting to see if anything comes of Mr. Brink’s ideas.

  11. pedro fernandez Says:

    Kids not interested in driving, job situation is bad and so many negative economic news, I am surprised car sales are at this level, you’d think they’d be lower, like Italia.

  12. W L Simpson Says:

    If a very small version was driving a constant speed generator , connected to a small group of life-po4 batteries on a composite platform,
    driving computer controlled inwheel motors, the
    EER would be amazing.

  13. W L Simpson Says:

    Oh! & don’t forget the michelin airless tires.

  14. Brett Says:

    Apex seal wear was pretty much resolved through material science for non-competition engines. Apex seals wear heavily at high RPMs because the force at which they are applied to the chamber wall goes up so dramatically due to centrifugal force. (square of velocity)

    We had EGT guages in our 1st Gen RX-7 race car and our driver was trained to watch them like a hawk!

    The slotted plug port ought to do a lot to improve fuel economy and clean up it’s reputation as an emissions pig.

    I think these are some pretty exciting concepts and I can imagine very compact, highly efficient “prime mover” rotary engines for hybrid genset applications.

  15. Jonathan Says:

    Exciting show! Can we get Ernie on the Autoline After hours show to further discuss his breakthrough with the rotary engine.

    I really enjoyed his segment today and look forward to hearing more on autoline after hours if at all possible!



  16. cwolf Says:

    There is not a lot of places to go now a day for auto makers,yet they must believe expanding in the Brazilian market is worth it. Ford,GM and VW do not dominate in Brazil. Competion is stiff, their present and future economy expectations are a bit below US forcasts and any imported resources are heavily taxed. I’m not sure how BMW and VW ventures in Brazil and the US will coincide,but time will tell.

  17. cwolf Says:

    It kinda makes sense that Romney and Obama percentages were equal and it really does’nt matter. The two houses would have a bigger impact on the auto industry by far. What happens over the next month or so should prove very interesting, with observing any willingness to compromise the major factor towards the future direction in dealing with the “fiscal cliff.” The tea party did’nt favor well,but did’nt Romney sign the tea bag pledge? Sorry, it must have been that other Romney!

  18. HtG Says:

    I hate to burst our bubble, but there’s another election happening. Over in the Middle Kingdom, China that is, they’re having a leadership transition which will be consequential. A new generation will come into power, and it’s not certain how they’ll look at us. It’ll be settled in a few weeks time.

  19. pedro fernandez Says:

    HtG the day they feel they don’t really need us as consumers, things will really get ugly plus now you got saber-rattling Putin trying to bring back the old cold war days, only this time it’ll be econ wars and we will lose that one.

  20. cwolf Says:

    China is as dependant upon the US as the Us is upon them. Any sabre rattling is only that!

  21. HtG Says:

    Here we go


  22. cwolf Says:

    You pull up some very interesting sites. I don’t know how or where you find time to do it, but I envey your ability.

  23. C-Tech Says:

    As a technican who use to tinker with an RX-7 (I recognized the modified motor as the one from the 1st gen. RX-7, and other Mazda products in the early 80′s) his mods are spot-on! I really hope someone from Mazda (or even GM!) can put aside the NIH factor and take a look at his ideas. If he can somehow make the parts himself, he’ll probably make some bread from the guys who still race Mazda’s around the world. Gives me hope today!

  24. Ryan Says:

    I think its a fantastic idea that Mr. Brink has come up with. I my self love the Rotary and I think it still has a chance. I would love to see more of this. Also a prototype would be really interesting to see. Where we can compare the new to the old. I believe this may be a big break through which Mazda should open their eyes and maybe give the small fish a shot to prove himself? I believe their may be something here! Give me more!

  25. BOONE Says:

    Be careful the apex and side seals may BLOW OUT because of a greater compression. This is just a theory of Bill,Dan& Rich 3 MAZDA Experts

  26. Brett Says:

    I don’t believe that any of Mr. Brink’s modifications addressed increasing the compression ratio. They addressed volumetric efficiency and force vectors during combusion.