Episode 839 – More States Move Toward Autonomy, Renault Squared, GM Trucks Go Dual Fuel

March 5th, 2012 at 11:45am

Runtime: 7:14

California and a handful of other states are following Nevada’s lead in allowing autonomous cars. Renault is introducing a new “square” gasoline engine inspired by F1 racing. GM will start selling trucks that can run on gasoline and natural gas. All that and more, plus Seamus McElroy has a look at the new Fiat 500 Abarth.

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Hello and welcome to this Monday edition of Autoline Daily for the fifth of March.

Last Friday General Motors announced it will shut down production of the Chevrolet Volt for five weeks because of slow sales that caused inventory to balloon up. That made national headlines and lit up the anti-Government-Motors crowd that has vilified the Volt. Specifically, Chevy has a whopping 154 days of inventory for the Volt. But guess what? The Volt actually outsold the Nissan Leaf by 2-to-1 last month. And it outsold the Mitsubishi i by more than 40-to-1. So if you think that GM is having problems with slow-selling electric cars, Nissan and Mitsubishi must be pulling their hair out. Remember, by the end of the year Nissan is supposed to open its plant in Tennessee that can build 200,000 battery packs and 150,000 more Leafs a year.

California just took a step towards allowing autonomous cars on its roads by introducing legislation that will allow that to happen. Nevada was the first state in the U.S. to enact legislation allowing autonomous cars. Bloomberg reports that Hawaii, Oklahoma, Florida and Arizona are in the process of doing the same thing. While autonomous cars are not yet ready for sale, proponents want to make sure the laws are on the books that will be ready for them.

And over in China, BYD announced that it is working on what it calls Remote Control Driving Technology that will allow cars to park themselves in spots where its too tight to open the doors, as well as turn right and left at low speeds.

If you’re hungry for alternative fuels GM has your meal ticket. Late this year the company will offer dual-fuel versions of the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado. Both heavy-duty pickups will be able to run on either gasoline or compressed natural gas. With both tanks topped off the driving range should exceed 650 miles or well over 1,000 kilometers. The trucks will be assembled at GM’s plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana and then shipped to a separate supplier for conversion to CNG and will go on sale in April.

It’s no secret; Chrysler is roaring back. Overall its U.S. sales were up 35 percent last month. And it’s not just happening in America. Chrysler jumped to the No. 1 selling spot in Canada last month for the second month in a row. Wrangler sales were up 37 percent compared to the same time last year, but more impressively, car sales, lead by the 200 and 300, DOUBLED.

RENAULT F1-INSPIRED FOUR BANGER (subscription required)
Renault is introducing a new gasoline engine, a 1.2-liter four-cylinder that’s going in the redesigned Megane. It delivers an impressive 115 horsepower with fuel consumption of just 5L/100 km – that’s about 47 miles per gallon. This is a “square” engine meaning the bore very closely matches the stroke. This allows for big valves and easy breathing – something Renault learned from its F1 racing program. It also features a friction-reducing graphite coating on the pistons. Renault hopes this powerplant will be a popular choice in Russia and China where customers favor gasoline over diesel.

The Fiat 500 came nowhere close to its sales target in the American market last year, but something that could help bring more people into the showroom is the introduction of the Abarth version that puts some more zip into making this car move.

(This content available only in video version)

Thanks for that report, Seamus. Say, did a Jewish engineer actually come up with the design of the original Volkswagen Beetle and did Hitler rip him off? Be sure to join us for Autoline After Hours where we’ll be talking with the author of a book that claims just that. Join me and the Autoextremist Peter De Lorenzo for the best insider information in the business.

But that wraps up today’s report. Thanks for joining us, we’ll be right back here tomorrow.

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49 Comments to “Episode 839 – More States Move Toward Autonomy, Renault Squared, GM Trucks Go Dual Fuel”

  1. pedro fernandez Says:

    Abarth? No, thanks, I think I’ll pass on that one!

  2. motorman Says:

    why does the NG conversion cost $20K because i remember back in the 80s getting pickups converted to propane costing about $1000. all that was required was a “showerhead” on top of the carb for the propane and a electric solenoid to shut of the gasoline and turn on the propane and a tank in the bed. sound like GM is doing what it did with the volt having a poor ROI.

  3. tj Martin Says:


    As y’all have probably noticed , I won’t be posting any comments etc to avoid the ongoing irritations that have ensued , but will only place up the occasional news worthy link .

    But I would be remiss if I didn’t post the following


    This weekend I attended a very informative lecture from the # 1 body shop ( fully ASE accredited etc ) in the greater KC area ( spring and hail are around the corner so better to be prepared )

    Due to M-B’s incoming Hybrids and possible E/V’s the subject of EV/Hybrid safety came up and here’s what was learned ;

    #1 ALL Hybrids & E/V’s (including the Prius ) have a minimum of two wire bundles storing in excess of 300 volts when the car is at rest . In the lecturer’s own words ” More than enough to send you to your maker ” Touch one in the wrong place or heaven forbid one gets cut in an accident and well……

    #2 Special training is needed , but not currently fully implemented nationwide for all Body Shops dealing with E/V’s and Hybrids …. which adds to the cost of repair

    #3 Extremely specialized training is needed for all Emergency workers in dealing with the above …. which adds to the cost of rescue as well as placing even more demands on your Tax dollars in order for the training to be implemented …. which means many communities in financial difficulties are not giving

    #4 ANY wrecked and or damaged E/V – Hybrid must be treated as a potential Biohazard . Reuse of the batteries from a wrecked E/V – Hybrid is in fact verboten

    #5 Every Hybrid- E/V has specific points on the car where the Jaws of Life can be used ( Prius has four ) If an accident prevents using one of those specific points …. the occupants are in fact out of luck

    All of the above adding cost to both the owners of E/V’s as well as the rest of us in increased Insurance Costs , added demands on our rapidly diminishing Tax Dollars etc

    All of the above was directly obtained by the lecturer from the OEM’s themselves as well as the ASE and the SAE

    That is all

  4. Dale Leonard-Lakewood,Oh Says:

    I enjoyed the story Seamus did on the Fiat Abarth. Just one thing,with that turbo,why didn’t he tromp on the gas?
    I would have really enjoyed a “Jay Leno” style burn-out!

  5. pedro fernandez Says:

    It used to be that carrying 15 to 20+ gallons of highly combustible liquid was also very dangerous, especially with gas tanks between the cabs and bed in pickups and gas filler holes at the end of some cars making them very dangerous in rear end collisions (Pinto) but we have evolved from that.

  6. pedro fernandez Says:

    That little crappy Fiat cannot properly handle that power with its puny FWD, econobox platform! Oh wait. let me put a turbo in my Crapola and this way my wife can collect the nice Life policy I have!

  7. Kit Gerhart Says:

    What GM is doing with the dual fuel pickups makes sense. I’d always thought Honda should make their CNG Civic also run on gasoline, so you could fuel it with CNG when you can, like from a home fueling setup, but use it on gasoline for longer trips. The CNG Civic has a range of about 200 miles.

    #2, To do a CNG conversion properly, where it will be clean, and efficient takes a lot more that a “shower head” over the throttle body for the CNG. $20K sounds like a lot, though. Where did that number come from?

  8. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I suspect they will put those CNG tanks in a pretty well protected location. They not only contain a highly combustible substance, but it is stored at over 3000 psi in the CNG Civic, and would presumably be at similar pressures in the trucks. You’d have both a fiery explosion, and a mechanical explosion if you rupture one.

  9. Phil Says:

    Driver-less vehicles? Never going to happen. ‘Regular’ cars already malfunction and break down. If [when] was of these self drive cars malfunctioned and caused an accident everyone involved – the owner, the manufacture, etc. would be sued for untold millions and put out of business.

  10. Jon M. Says:

    Wait a minute. BYD is working on technology that can park in spots where it is too tight to open the doors. Isn’t that a good reason to find another parking spot? And let’s not forget the first rule of driving: if you can’t park it, don’t drive it!

  11. Brett Says:

    What the heck is with this “turn the camera to a 45° angle so we seem hip” stuff? If a segment seems boring, it’s not the cinematography. Trust me on that one.

  12. Former alt fuels guy Says:

    CNG storage vessles are protected against explosions. One of their validation tests is to survive getting shot by a gun.

  13. Zieke Says:

    T.J. Thanks for the info. I doubt the government wants this to be widely publicized. Personally I don’t want anything to do with these cars, and evidently I have a lot of company as sales are what they are.

  14. Kit Gerhart Says:

    “#4 ANY wrecked and or damaged E/V – Hybrid must be treated as a potential Biohazard . Reuse of the batteries from a wrecked E/V – Hybrid is in fact verboten”

    Maybe reuse of batteries is “verboten,” but it happens. There are about a million Prii on the road, and a few get “totaled” without the battery being damaged. Also there are a few off-warranty cars that need batteries. That’s a perfect fit, and the batteries find their way to new homes.

  15. pedro fernandez Says:

    Folks, BYD and other China cars can’t even manage to keep occupants from being decapitated in a bad crash, so please they need to learn to crawl before they can run!

  16. HtG Says:

    Didn’t Rick van Wagoner cite the high voltage cables in the EV1 as one reason GM felt it had to crush the cars? They didn’t want mechanics in the future to get crisped on the shop floor.

  17. Kit Gerhart Says:

    That may be part of it, but most of what I heard, was that GM just didn’t want to support the cars for the 15 years required in CA, where most of them were leased.

  18. dcars Says:

    It is very confusing to me that Chrysler is No.1 in Canada. With cars like the 200 and no small car it really makes no sense.

  19. Chuck Grenci Says:

    This to John Mc (or anyone that knows the answer, no conjecture please); does Canada have mpg numbers that are government mandated (or do they accept the numbers from the U.S.)? And a general question; do Canadians also crave/desire the larger vehicles, i.e., Jeeps, trucks, larger cars that Americans desire (seems to me that they do)?

    Abarth, not for me; but if it floats your boat (that’s okay with me).

    Guessing the ‘verboten’ use of crashed battery packs is tied to physical damage to the battery and containment vessel (as Kit said).

  20. Chuck Says:

    To #8 and all, assume everybody saw JPM hit the track-drying truck during the Daytona 500? That was 200 gal of kerosene that I would put up against 20 gal of CNG going off – you don’t want to be there. That’s why RVs, campers, etc. carrying propane tanks are forbidden in major tunnels. JMO

  21. Jon M. Says:

    I’m wondering if the rare few who actually have the Fiat 500 on their list are of the variety who would dream of Fiat producing the Abarth version. Perhaps a couple, but given the sales figures of the plain vanilla 500, that’s pretty small estimated take figure.

  22. Kit Gerhart Says:

    CNG would burn very quickly/explode if released, while kerosene just burns, and that can take a while.

    They don’t allow propane tanks in tunnels because, if leaked, it can form a proper mixture with air to cause a violent explosion. This happened at an ice show at the Indiana state fairgrounds coliseum in the ’60′s. Propane used by a vendor for cooking leaked, and caused an explosion under the grandstands, killing about 100 people.

  23. C-Tech Says:

    Just my observation from living near Windsor, Ont. Canada: Canadiens are proud of the cars built in Canadien factories and that seem to cater to them – the 300/Charger/Challenger built in Canada, and some of the GM badge-engineered vehicles built and sold with Canadien nameplates. Chrysler does offer the 300 with AWD, and all Jeeps have 4WD or AWD, which in their climate (no area of Canada goes without snow!).

  24. Kit Gerhart Says:

    My ’89 Caravan was built in Windsor, Ontario, and I think minivan production is again in Windsor, since a St. Louis plant closed.

  25. C-Tech Says:

    @ #3.3
    GM Volt – 360 volts on the bright orange cables running to the battery. GM offers FREE online training to any first responders covering all of hybrid vehicles. If there is any info a first resopnder needs it is a few mouse clicks away, not to mention what is readily availible from dealers and the regional training centers I cannot see why Toyota, Honda, and Nissan would not do the same.

  26. Chuck Grenci Says:

    A simple solution to the battery/emergency responders dilemma could be a main battery disconnect switch that would be universal in location (in all electrified vehicles) rendering anything not orange (I’m using orange as a universal color for the battery proper) as safe (even electrical wires after the main disconnect is used). Maybe not as simple as I’m making it out to be (but there are a lot of real smart engineers that could make this happen quite easily and simply).

  27. C-Tech Says:

    From what is old is new again – isn,t a Chevy small block’s bore and stroke almost “square”?

  28. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Toyota has an on-line guide for first responders dealing with their hybrids. It’s the second hit you get when googling “prius first responders.”


  29. pedro fernandez Says:

    TTAC reports that based on their own data, Fiat 500 is more reliable than new Passat, yes the Mexican made Fiat has been more reliable than the American built Passat. Don’t blame American workers for this, (Camry, Corolla, Civic et al) Blame VW and their horrendous quality control and supplier network

  30. tj Martin Says:


  31. W L Simpson Says:

    VOLT! too—-small, heavy, expensive,complicated.

    The ultimate winner is going to have a motor for each wheel ,small number of next gen batts,
    small eng/gen combo– all on the KISS principle,
    encased in a polymer vehicle. All of this stuff is around now, just not in one pkg.

  32. W L Simpson Says:

    Close friend , w/20 yrs as a GM service tech, went
    to EV school—— Doesn’t work there any more.

  33. pedro fernandez Says:

    Ampera voted European car of the year, you see we’re not the only wackos over here! I suppose GM will start production again to meet the onslaught of new orders over there.

  34. cwolf Says:

    Within my 40 years of spending time in Canada,Chry. has always been abundant on the roads. I think the Maple Leafs are more patriotic to products made in their country. For this,they have my respect.

    Did you listen to the sound of the Abarith starting off? I once drove a vega with a hole in its muffler that sounded much like it. Looks like Seamus(how’d ya get that name?)is wide enough to allow only a skinny person to side along side him.

    Whats the big deal on autonomous cars? Lots of young ladies have been driving with no hands on the turnpike since cell phones became affordable!

    GM trucks that can run on CNG or gas is a good idea. But why always make new offerings like this in trucks first,rather than a car? I’m sure makers will string the public along with offers of soon introducing CNG in cars; just like they have been for years promising diesels.

    Re #3, tj
    As y’all have probably noticed , I won’t be posting any comments etc to avoid the ongoing irritations that have ensued , but will only place up the occasional news worthy link .

    Don’t be silly,big fella; This type of statement sounds like you are looking for attension! There is’nt a single person here who would object to you voicing your views or challanges of opinion. Just don’t show disrespect or treat others differently as you expect to be treated. I’m sure it will be a piece of cake for you because you are a perfectionist and a scholar.

  35. tj Martin Says:

    FIAT X1/9 + Suzuki GSX-R1000 engine =


  36. pedro fernandez Says:

    My Vibrolla sounds like that and I’m getting tired of it, go figure, different strokes for different folks!

  37. cwolf Says:

    If poor EV sales have’nt gotten enough attension,here comes Ford with their Focus E/V and VW is soon to shoot themselves in the foot with their Coupe offering! What’s up with this? Is having an EV in a manufatures line-up a more profitable way to satisfy overall mpg requirements,are they simply stupid, or do they know what we are destined for and are’nt saying?

  38. pedro fernandez Says:

    All these EV’s have been in the pipeline way before anyone knew that no one wants them, so now it’s too late to put them on ICE (sorry) besides everyone thinks “theirs” is the best of the lot and will sell more than the others.

  39. HtG Says:

    Developing EV tech takes years of investment, but fuel prices can spike as fast as a speedboat in the Persian Gulf. Car makers need to develop their own ability, plus create demand for their suppliers. If there are fewer early adopters around than hoped for, tough. If Israel attacks openly, let’s see which cars people start buying(assuming the whole economy doesn’t collapse).

  40. cwolf Says:

    I was just schrolling thru DeLorenzo’s site and and had to exit after the first few paragraphs. I must be thick headed because I just cannot understand his gibberish or appretiate his personal brashness towards everthing he disagrees with or contains views different from his own;as if he is the Einstein of the auto world….yea right! I’m glab he does’nt say much when a guest on AD or I would have to cut my viewing short,once again.

  41. pedro fernandez Says:

    #37 if the proverbial excrement hits the fan in the Middle East, no one will suddenly turn to EV’s, waht will happen everyone will assume the hide under the desk attitude and NOTHING will sell!

  42. Jesse W. Henry Says:

    #25 C-Tech

    I am not sure on the small block chevy but both the Ford 4.6 and the new 5.0 V-8 are square engines.

  43. HtG Says:

    39 It’s my opinion that elites have determined we cannot rely on petroleum. That’s why there’s been such a push to diversify our energy sources. It’s why fracking has been happening on such a large scale, and without so much environmental limitation. If something happens in the M.E. maybe mass psychology will shift as well. Here’s a little story I found about Energy Sec. Chu working on small scale nuclear reactors.


  44. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Time will tell if others confirm that the Passat is unreliable, but if they do, that’s unfortunate. The Passat is a roomy, decently appointed car, and with the TDI, it gives hybrids a run for their money in fuel economy.

    I would have expected the 500 to have at least ok quality, because the PT Cruisers from that plant were generally decent build quality.

  45. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Those “small” nuclear reactors might be useful as an alternative to burning huge amounts of natural gas to process Canadian tar sands oil. Lots of steam and/or hot water is needed to separate the oil from the sand, and nuclear reactors might be a good energy source to boil water.

  46. HtG Says:

    The energy costs of producing gas is such a downer. Doesn’t refining crude also use beaucoup juice just to boil the goo?

    (of course there’s also the small matter of all the CO2 released making cement for nuclear power plants, and the energy needed to process the fuel from the ore. Shhhhh!)

  47. Jeff Myers Says:

    EV’s not selling? Gee, could it be that they’re all so ugly in design that it keeps consumers from buying? I also hear, because I sell cars in Canada, the concerns about poor battery performance in cold weather conditions. Build a sexier EV, available in great colors, it might sell more units.

  48. Kit Gerhart Says:

    EV’s don’t sell well because they are expensive, and have very limited driving range. Pure EV’s would be a small niche, no matter how good they looked, because of their limitations for use as an “only” car.

  49. pedro fernandez Says:

    Today a client has a neighbor who bought a Volt recently, this client thought the car was like $30k when I told them how much it was plus the charging station, they freaked out and could not understand why someone of moderate means would spend such kinds of money on such an “ugly and ordinary” car, well I said: it takes all kinds, I guess!