John's Journal: John McElroy's multimedia blog about the automotive industry

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Dodge Challenger: Interior Styling

April 30th, 2008 at 9:20am

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Jeff Gale, the son of famous Chrysler design executive Tom Gale, explains how they took a big step forward on the interior design of the 2009 Dodge Challenger. Chrysler has been roundly criticized on the interior designs of its recent vehicles and on the Challenger it went out of its way to show that it’s improving its interiors. Jeff Gale points out the use of different materials on the interior, and how they used certain design elements to tie it all together.

Dodge Challenger: Performance

April 29th, 2008 at 9:27am

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Eric Heuschele is the Supervisor of Vehicle Dynamics for the SRT Engineering group at Chrysler. In this interview, he explains why the 2009 Dodge Challenger handles so well, drawing an interesting analogy to the Porsche 911. He also describes Chrysler’s use of “knock-back mitigation” on the Challenger. It’s a problem common to high-performance cars with big brake rotors, and Chrysler owns the patents on how to cure this problem.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Misconceptions About Diesel Fuel

April 28th, 2008 at 5:40pm

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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There are a lot of misconceptions about diesel fuel, but here’s my attempt to straighten out a couple of them.

A lot of people are wondering why diesel fuel is more expensive than gasoline. I hear them say that it’s cheaper to make diesel because refineries crack it at lower temperatures. And they say because it’s not as highly refined as gasoline that we get more gallons of diesel out of a barrel of oil.

But here’s the reality. Every oil refinery makes a variety of what they call distillates. And they build refineries to have a “sweet spot” so it maximizes a certain product — like maximizing it for gasoline, or maximizing it for diesel.

So diesel is not cheaper to make and you don’t get more of it per barrel. The problem with diesel is that we don’t make nearly as much of it as we do gasoline. And that is the real reason why it costs more.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Life-Cycle Energy Use Needs to be the Way We Measure

April 28th, 2008 at 10:39am

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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All this talk about miles per gallon is fine and good, but it really doesn’t measure how much energy your car uses.

Everybody is fixated these days on the fuel economy of the car they drive. But mpgs only give you one third of the picture. It takes a lot of energy to build a car, and a lot of energy to recycle it.

A fascinating study called “Dust to Dust” came out a couple of years ago that looked at life-cycle energy usage. That is, it looked at all the energy a car used from cradle to grave. And the study determined that a Toyota Prius hybrid uses as much energy as a Hummer H3.

I’m not sure I completely believe the study, but it’s on the right track. We have to look at life-cycle energy usage if we want to formulate the kind of energy policies that are completely sustainable.

Dodge Challenger: Marketing

April 25th, 2008 at 10:09am

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Mike Acavitti is the Director of the Dodge Brand and SRT Marketing Communications. In this interview, he talks about how the 2009 Dodge Challenger will attract new buyers to the Dodge brand. And he talks about who will buy this kind of car, especially in light of soaring gas prices.

Driving Down Under

April 24th, 2008 at 6:21pm

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Australia is known for its strict driving laws. They have almost zero tolerance for drunk driving and they’ve been quick to embrace advanced technologies to help enforce the rules of the road. Here’s a little background information on the driving laws in Australia should you ever find yourself behind-the-wheel in the Commonwealth.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: ICE Has Lots of Life Left

April 24th, 2008 at 2:48pm

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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We keep hearing about hybrids and diesels and fuel cells, but the gasoline engine still has a lot of room to it.

Even though diesels, hybrids and fuel cells seem to be getting all the attention these days, don’t count the gasoline internal combustion engine out just yet. There are all kinds of technologies coming that will make it a lot more efficient.

And while those technologies will cost more, they’ll still be cheaper than the other major alternatives. The rule of thumb being discussed in the industry is that it takes aboutBMW M3 V8 Small $4,000 to get a diesel to meet U.S. emission standards, and it takes about $6,000 to convert a car to become a strong hybrid.

But as an engineer told me, “Let me add $1,000 to my gasoline engine and I’ll show you what I can do to boost fuel economy.” In other words, if we shower some money on conventional technology it can make some major improvements.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Natural Gas Vehicles Never Caught On

April 23rd, 2008 at 5:18pm

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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Natural gas is a great alternative fuel. It burns very cleanly and there’s lots of it, so how come we don’t use it in our cars?

It wasn’t all that long ago that GM, Ford and Chrysler all sold vehicles that could run on natural gas. Today, only Honda sells them.

Civic SmallEven though many states offered very generous credits to anyone who bought a natural gas vehicle, they just never caught on. That’s partly due to infrastructure. Even though you can buy natural gas in a lot of places, it isn’t on every street corner. And the gas tank takes up a lot of room in a vehicle. And there’s also a fear of a big explosion at liquid natural gas port facilities.

So put it all together, and the environmentalists say we should use natural gas to generate electricity and then put that in the batteries of plug-in hybrids, rather than burning it in our engines.

 

Dodge Challenger: Exterior Styling

April 23rd, 2008 at 9:08am

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Jeff Gale is the chief exterior designer for the 2009 Dodge Challenger. In this interview at the media preview for the car at Willow Springs race track in California, he explained to me how they tuned the car for better aerodynamics and how they used a few styling “tricks” to enhance the proportions of the design.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: We have Plenty of Diesel, if We make it from Heating Oil

April 22nd, 2008 at 5:35pm

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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Diesel Fuel1

Diesel engines can boost fuel efficiency and cut CO2 emissions, as long as the United States can make enough diesel fuel.

One of the barriers that could hurt diesel sales in the U.S. is the lower refining capacity we have for diesel fuel compared to gasoline. We have a lot less diesel refining capacity and that’s one reason why diesel is currently priced so much higher than gasoline.

But it turns out that heating oil is very close to diesel and it would be easy for existing refineries to produce a lot more diesel if they didn’t have to make heating oil. In fact, the ratio is one-third diesel to two-thirds heating oil, so the U.S. could easily double diesel fuel production.

But that means the U.S. has to put the strategy and incentives in place to get all the homes and businesses that use heating oil to switch to some other fuel, like natural gas.