Archive for the Car conception Category

God is in the details – Volvo S60

Posted in Car conception, Desirable machines with tags , on 15/06/2016 by Alexander

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, the German-American Modernist architect, once said God is in the details, referring to how a work of architecture isn’t just valuable as a whole, that delicious little mannerisms on a small scale. In my humble belief, this adage is applicable to cars, and even some cars that can be considered bland, insipid or just plain, might have funky little design minutiae that jump out as unexpected eye-candy. So that’s what this entry is all about – the emphasis on wonderful little details most people perhaps overlook on my own beloved Volvo S60.

Detail #1 – The way the roofline melds into the bootlid.
Contrary to what you might have read or think, the Mercedes CLS is not the forerunner of today’s so-called four-door coupés. Years before, Volvo introduced the S60, a sports saloon with lines do smooth it doesn’t even have protruding bits like radio antennae, and even the door handles aren’t salient as in most cars. This could be said of the car on which its styling was based on, the original S80, but the main difference was the swooping roofline, and the sleek shape which resulted. I’ve had my S60 for more than three years, and I’m not tired at gazing at its tail and the beautiful lines that compose it. It curves beautifully inwards, and it melds with flanks with a sharp corner that flows down and turns into a strong but curvy shoulderline. Exquisite.

Detail #2 – Wing mirrors
I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by wing-mirrors. When I was a very young boy and still learning to draw, The details I paid most attention to when drawing cars was the antenna on the roof and the mirrors on each side (even though, at that time, many cars only had a wing-mirror on the driver’s side, which violated my imagined perfect symmetry every car should have). And today, I still regard them one of the most important aesthetic traits of a car, as an ugly wing-mirror can ruin a car for me (e.g., the old Citroen C4). The S60’s mirrors are gorgeous, sculpted and balanced, in sync with the rest of the car. Here’s a confession: it was the first thing that made me want to get an S60.

Well, there are far more details I’d like to write about, but my fear is that it might come off as overtly sycophantic. I’ll leave more details for another time.


Hydractive suspension – some anecdotes

Posted in Car conception, Desirable machines with tags , , on 13/06/2016 by Alexander

Hydractive was the fancy marketing name for Citroën’s now-defunct hydropneumatic suspension. Unlike other cars that rely on shock-absorbers and springs for ride quality, a Hydractive-equipped vehicle has a system of LHM fluid that self-levels the car, allows for a driver-variable ride height, and ironed out bumps, holes and all the other crap bad roads throw up like no other system. It also ran the power steering, which made it incomparably easy to steer a Citroën, and was used in the brakes, which made it safer than most other cars on the road since brake fluid was incredibly flammable.

If that isn’t enough to convince you how good Hydractive was, then a few real-world examples might. I had a lovely Citroën BX as a first car, and that fancy suspension got me out of a few tricky situations.

#1 The street thugs
One day upon leaving work, I got back to my car and found it was being used as an impromptu bench by some street thugs. I asked them to piss off (though not in so many words) and this seemed to annoy them and their stance gave me the idea I was in for a whooping. I got into the car and started it up, and it began to rise as it always did, and the street thugs little faces suddenly lit up. They gestured me to go higher so I did – no, wait, I decided not to pander to their whims so I gestured that it didn’t rise any higher and drive off without getting whooped.

#2 The lake on the slipway
A sudden and intense shower in the middle of summer in the city where I live caused a sort of flash flood on a slipway to get on the motorway. Part of the tarmac was submerged where the terrain dipped, mainly due to a clogged drain. There was one part of the road that was juuuust shallow enough for an ordinary vehicle to pass, as long as they stayed very, very closed to the guardrail and didn’t stall, as the water reached the cars’ door sills. The resulting queue of regular saloons and hatchbacks was tremendous, while lorries and 4x4s all took a shortcut and simply ploughed through the middle of the gigantic puddle, as did a certain Citroën BX with its hydraulic suspension set to maximum height.

#3 Crap but unpunishable parking
I was late for work, but it wasn’t my fault. It was one of those days where it seemed half the city had decided to drive to wherever it wanted to go, and I couldn’t even find a decent illegal parking spot, i.e., a place that will get you fined, but doesn’t really hinder traffic or pedestrians. I only found a spot beyond the pavement, on a patch of unkempt, wild and weedy grass. I drove the BX onto it, then slotted the suspension setting into its minimum height, and literally slammed the car into the weeds. Result: I could get a ticket, but there was no way I could get towed away. This became a favourite trick of mine.

Some more stories will be furnished at a later date!

Citroën – doing what it does best

Posted in Car conception, Desirable machines, News, Upcoming cars with tags on 10/06/2016 by Alexander


I’m a big Citroën fan. Always have been.

In fact, I’m a second-generation Citroën man, since my father owned most models of Citroën manufactured from the 60’s onwards. He had a wonderful olive-green Ami8, e had a couple of Visas, but he never had a GS simply because his car of choice was the CX.

Thanks to him, the CX is my favourite car to this day, and it represents what most purists argue was the last true Citroën that was 100% faithful to the core philosophy: innovation, lateral-thinking, standing out, no compromises.

The CX launched in 1974, and the following year, the company had to be bailed out by Peugeot. Peugeot did all it could to kill Citroën’s flair and innovative style, but a lot of crackingly good, original Citroëns managed to make their way to the showrooms.

There was the BX, which thankfully ended up being my first car, which was so good it inspired a cult following still vibrant to this day. There was the Citroën AX, a car everyone assumed would be just a cheap, forgettable urban runaround, but still chugs around transporting proud their proud owners in 2016. The Saxo, with its “street” following, the C6 with its unique stance… the list goes on.

The past decade or so has made me sad, in that it would seem that everyone now likes Top Gear-endorsed, overpriced German cars, with rock-hard suspension and seats that seem to be made of granite. Everyone now prefers cornering and a badge over common sense and an intact spine.

So it thrills me that Citroën, for years the last automotive stalwart for comfort and treating its passengers’ bodies well, has announced Citroën Advanced Comfort, a few simple technologies to make the car as comfortable as possible. Let me just pause by saying that this is a sad day for some die-hard Citroën fans, as it marks the definite end of the Hydractive suspension system, responsible for the Marque‘s “magic carpet” ride quality, and present in most mid to high-end Citroëns since 1955. I’m part of this number, since it was a fantastic bit of kit to have on your car (that adjustable suspension got me out of a few pickles), but let’s look at the bright side: at least Citroën is on the path to regaining its status for innovation and comfort.

The tech is comprised of cushioning the suspension further, as well as using different and supportive materials in the seats. Heightened body rigidity adds to he comfort, as does further sound deadening to isolate occupants from the outside world. You can read the testimony of someone who has tried this in this Autocar article.

Perhaps the main advantage is the low cost, which will allow even the entry-level Citroen offerings to be equipped with the extra comfort. I personally can’t wait, as this news plus the announcement that the PSA group plans to introduce a range of new vehicles including electric ones, means I might have an electric mega-comfy Citroën I can actually afford in the future.

The Tesla Model 3

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, Desirable machines, General opinions, Green Tech, News, Upcoming cars on 03/04/2016 by Alexander

Tesla Model 3I’m very surprised by the reactions to the launch of the Tesla Model 3. The BBC were balanced as usual, but I believe failed to underline how significant 115,000 pre-orders in 24 hours actually is. Then there are articles like the Daily Beast, that prophesizes Teslocalypse, where the brand will be irrevocably DESTROYED by the Model 3. A lot of criticism is being heaped at Tesla and the Model 3, and although much of what being said is factually correct, I definitely feel as if behind these nay-saying opinions are the voices of motoring journalists who either feel that their time of being lent petrol-swilling supercars is being threatened, or who think Tesla’s aren’t so much cars as they are gadgets, so as experts on grease-and-oil-driven machines they’ll be made obsolete. Maybe it’s just me being unnecessarily bitter. Here are some facts:

Tesla is hemorraging money
Yes, and so are Uber, Shazam and Spotify, and even YouTube only managed to break even as recently as 2014. Airbnb loses $150-million a year and may not make a profit until 2020. Funnily enough, I don’t see this referred to in related articles concerning all these aforementioned companies, but Tesla gets a special financial-loss mention.
Unlike all these other companies above that are pissing money away, Tesla has invested very heavily indeed on R&D, as recently proved by the Autopilot function (however, Tesla also wasted money on stuff like those pitiful “falcon” doors which add nothing but complexity to the Model X, a car that should have been postponed until after the Model 3). It’s a perfect criticism to try to frighten potential punters away, implying that Tesla won’t be around long enough to honour warranties and such.

Tesla won’t be able to meet demand
This will probably happen. Overwhelming demand is a double-edged sword, and cuts very sharply both ways. The positive view is that, in theory, lots of demand means whatever leaves Tesla’s production line for the next few years is guaranteed to be sold. The negative view is that in reality, not being able to meet demand means overdue delivery times, customer frustration and consequently, damage to the brand image.
However, there’s alway’s the Gigafactory, which will definitely boost Tesla’s fortune’s once it’s up and running, even if it only reaches full capacity in 2020.

No-one’s mentioning how good (or bad) it looks
The Model S is bite-the-back-your-hand beautiful. The Model X isn’t. The Model 3 is sort of halfway between them. Am I the only one who thinks the glass area above the body looks bulbous, and badly-proportioned to the rest of the car? I hope I’m wrong, because I’m one of those people who were eagerly antecipating the Model 3’s unveiling, in the hope of it ticking all the right boxes to being my first electric car. Nothing puts me off quite like an ugly ride.

Hardly anyone mentioned the terrible interior
I couldn’t believe it: no f**king instrument cluster. A screen that protrudes from the centre as if it were an aftermarket item nailed into place minutes before the cars unveiling. I hate this design with a passion. Recently, I read how this might indicate a really autonomous car, which is just as bad. I like driving. Unless the Model 3 has something like a HUD replacing a conventional instrument cluster, or an ACTUAL binnacle included in the production version, this is a deal breaker.

No-one’s talking about the brilliant glass roof

On the other hand, the interior might be saved by the wrap-around glass roof. If I understood what Elon Musk said, and if the pictures and videos are correct, the roof will be entirely in glass, save for above the driver and front passenger (for sun-visors, lights and such), and the boot lid will basically hinge in the middle of the car. This is brilliant. I love glass roofs and I think sunroofs and such should be mandatory on cars. This Model 3 has hit this particular nail right on the head.

No-one’s talking how disruptive and revolutionary this is
The number of pre-orders has hit over a quarter of a million. Pre-orders. In just over 48 hours. Established car-brands with highly-awaited models don’t get that many orders, and they must see by now that if they don’t get into the electrification game soon, they may be very well left behind with their dinosaur-juice-burning contraptions. And the more car-brands go electric, the more the market will follow. The more the market follows, the more things will change to enable/cash in on this. Infra-structure will have to be updated, car and road tax will have to change to pay-as-you-go. Even mundane habits will be altered, as there won’t be such a need for 24/7 fuelling stations, because you can plug in at home, but then there’ll be nowhere to buy fags at 3am.

Like it or not, the Model 3 is a big deal.

Save these cars

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception with tags , , on 25/05/2015 by Alexander

One of my biggest worries as a conscious person who doesn’t want to see his planet bled dry of resources is what will happen to old cars if suddenly there’s a shift away from internal combustion engines?

There’s no good reason to throw away a car that’s in perfectly good condition apart from a broken engine, since the engine is where most malfunctions start. There’s the cooling system, with the radiator, the piping, the reservoir. The exhaust system, with manifold and mufflers and all sorts of bits that will wear out over time. The transmission, with gearbox, prop-shafts, clutch and linkages. And the engine itself, with oil, gaskets, valves, push-rods, pistons,  and so on.

Cars are usually thrown into a scrapyard once they’ve hit a certain mileage, because the engine is probably worn, but the rest of the car is probably alright. So why consign it to oblivion?

I’ve always been a fan of retrofits and turning an ICE car into an EV has undeniable benefits. For example, how about this BBC article that proposes modifying old classic cars that were lovely to look at but had poorly-engineered powerplants got them onto “Worst Car” lists since they arrived.

Undoubtedly that there are hurdles, caveats and other issues with this approach, but we’ll delve into that some other time. For now, just picture yourself driving your favourite car with the knowledge that it won’t overheat, vomit oil, seize up or spend a week in a sodding garage because its f**king head gasket decided not to do its job anymore (this last sentence is my personal rant because THAT’S WHAT’S BLOODY WELL HAPPENED TO ME).

New Volvos

Posted in Car conception, Upcoming cars with tags , , , , , , , on 30/08/2013 by Alexander

Volvos of the 2000’s had quite long production runs, such as the S60 (2000-2009), the second-generation S40 (2004-2012) and the XC90 (2002-). Even though they had minor facelifts during their lifetime, they were essentially the same car, and ageing models aren’t treated very kindly in today’s market. This was mostly due to Volvo’s tumultuous tenure under Ford’s ownership, who were in trouble themselves and would keep all the good bits for Fords rather than the group’s premium brand.

However, those days are gone and it’s Chinese money keeping the Swedish boat afloat. The Volvo V40 was a promising start to the post-Ford era, a very stylish, unique and contemporary car that has, to my knowledge, garnered praise from various corners of the motor-journalistic world.

129825_4_13Volvo’s new cars look promising. First there’s the good-looking Concept Coupe that’s designed to show off the brand’s Scaleable Product Architecture (SPA) platform that will underpin all future Volvos, from the smallest to the largest cars. The car definitely reminds me of the Audi A5, which in one aspect is positive, because the A5 is very handsome, but bad in another way because no-one wants a chinese rip-off. I love coupes and I hope Volvo builds it, because their current “coupe”, the Pininfarina-penned C70 (it isn’t really a coupe, it’s a convertible), is as ugly as sin.

And other notable Volvo news is the upcoming all-new XC90. I normally don’t go for SUV’s at all, but this summer I was lucky enough to ride around in a V8 XC90, and one thing that I loved was how the centre back seat had an in-built booster seat that could move all the way forward, so my daughter had a proper view out the front. I’d buy the car just for that.

The Evils of Electric

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, General opinions with tags , , , , , on 30/05/2013 by Alexander

Last post, I delved into how the Tesla Model S might be too good for its own good, if that makes any sense at all. Electric cars have gained a lot of traction since I started writing this blog and offering up other possible modes of making cars go that might become dominant. But I’d like to focus once again on just electric cars, in particular non-hybrid, 100% battery-driven vehicles, and possible consequences of their adoption. I’ve no doubt their market share will grow, and at this point in time all we think about is how wonderful it will be with silent, no-emission environmentally-friendly vehicles that’ll cost peanuts to run, and not about downsides this might bring. Let me insert a small caveat here: that I’m in no way against electric cars, in fact it’s quite the opposite, I think they’ll probably be fantastic when they overcome current problems.

With the possible advent of a slew of super-batteries, such as the University of Illinois micro-battery or graphene batteries, it’s no longer solidly arguable that charge times and range will be a hindering issue in adopting EVs as a normal everyday transport. But at what cost?

– Electricity will become more expensive
If everyone starts plugging in every night to recharge their cars, the electric grid will have to be upgraded to cope with the extra juice being extracted. That’ll cost money, and I don’t see governments picking up the bill in this economic climate. Also, markets function on the principle of supply and demand. A lot of demand will mean the suppliers will raise prices and increase their profit margin, and blame the aforementioned upgrades for the price hikes. Don’t believe me? That’s exactly what happened when oil prices spiked and the price of fuel went up, and oil companies registered record profits.

Might be avoided if…
… the march for the adoption of renewable energy sources continues. Solar and eolic (wind) generated electricity are the most obvious, but perhaps other solutions originally thought up as alternatives to petrol and diesel like algal-based fuels and second-generation biofuels can be put to good use if the internal combustion engine goes the way of the dodo.

– Gigantic changes in infrastructures
If I were to go out tomorrow and buy a Nissan Leaf, I’d be buggered to able to recharge it. Having an electric car today, in 2013 implies you’re fortunate enough to have a garage with your own mains. Most people have to park 3 streets away from where they live, or, like me, in a common garage beneath the block of flats where they live with no socket to plug their car into. Charging stations are a joke in this day and age. I only know of one at a petrol station near my house, and to my knowledge it’s probably the only one in a 10-mile radius. Most of the time some ignorant plonker in a BMW has parked it front of it, so it’s non-usable, or another EV has parked there and won’t be finished with the station for another four hours. Infrastructural support for EVs will need big investments, and in the case EVs replace ICE cars, there’ll be a lot of abandoned petrol stations. “Oh, just convert them into charging stations” you might say. Well, I can tell you from my own experience in real estate-related matters, that is scrotum-squashingly difficult. You need a bunch of legal mechanisms that don’t even exist at the moment to make it possible in the first place, and that’s just to make it possible. To make it easy will be herculean (if it’s even achievable) since every law-making entity always makes a hash of streamlining any sort of legal process. Top all this off with the prospect that charging points will be non-standardised at first as each brand will battle for its own proprietary solution, and the fact that the user-friendliness, quality and adaptability of charging stations will suck terribly before years of R&D, consumer consulting and simple trial and error will fix all the original mistakes.

Might be avoided if…
… there’s a lot of planning and understanding in advance. Governments and the big players in pushing EV recharging stations would have to come together and choose the best stuff on offer and come up with a harmonious solution. Doesn’t seem likely for a number of reasons, most of which have been stated above.

– It will ruin other forms of transport
This one’s close to my heart, since I’ve recently restarted using a bike as a mode of transport. In many cities, especially in uncivilised backwaters like the one I live in, bicycles are seen purely as an object of leisure, and only paupers use bikes to go to work. As a consequence, bike lanes are only practically found along the coastline and near universities, because local authority members only use cars and wouldn’t be seen dead on a bicycle, and think that if they build bike lanes no-one will use them (which shows up their stupidity, the only reason people don’t use bike lanes is because there aren’t any, but I digress). However, recently bike sales have climbed, and people cycling about is an increasingly visible sight. The rise in their use is mirrored by a current awareness campaign on TV aimed at making motorists and cyclists behave better around each other, and some councils converting disused railway lines into bike tracks (which is very stupid, but maybe one day I’ll get to that). Bikes are brilliant: they’re cheap, quick, healthy, easy to park, non-taxed and have practically little to no running costs. The problem here is that human beings are inherently lazy, and will only start riding bikes for financial reasons. That’s why bike use is rising, because we’re in the midst of a humungous economic depression. If people get access to electric vehicles that are cheap to run (if the price of electricity doesn’t go through the roof), that’s it for bicycles. And buses and trains, since it will probably be cheaper to run a near-maintenance-free EV than it will to buy a fricking bus-pass every month. We’ll be back to pre-recession levels of car use, if not higher.

Might be avoided if…
… people get used to bikes and start loving the freedom and the practicality and health they give. That and the subsequent total gridlock that will become rampant if everyone starts using a car.

– It will radically transform the economic dynamics of the materials necessary
Rare earth materials have been quite controversial in recent years. There’s China’s attempted market manipulation and terrible mining practices in the Congo surrounding these materials, and these are absolutely crucial for the electronics that our lives can’t function without today. Smartphones can’t be made without rare earth minerals, as well as a whole host of other consumer electronics. So imagine: in a few years, we’re going to need a whole lot of rare earth if we want to make battery-powered cars that are governed by complex techno-wizardy to make them work properly. As the name implies rare earth materials are, well… rare, and if today there are enough problems as it is for supply to meet demand, imagine what will happen if demand keeps rising!

Might be avoided if…
… scientists or manufacturers manage to get round the need for rare earth minerals by making complex electronics work with more abundant elements. For example, a Chicago-based company has come up with an electric motor that doesn’t need rare earth materials.

– It will create perverse new ways for governments to put their hands in our pockets and monitor our habits
Yes, this one is the biggie. Governments should be like those money kitties at work, where everyone chips in and it’s all eventually and evenly used for a common benefit. But unfortunately, most of them work more like Mafia bosses, demanding a cut on every single piece of income you could possibly have, then squandering most of it on expensive habits, but leaving a few crumbs for the less fortunate to give the impression they care. A huge slice of government money comes from taxing fossil fuels (where I live, it represents 20% of indirect tax, second only to VAT, which is a whopping 50%). So if fuel consumption goes down, it only stands to reason that the government will implement something like a perverse “pay-by-mile” scheme, which will in turn imply monitoring where you go so they can collect their precious lolly. I can only guess they’ll make it mandatory to have some sort of GPS-tracking system you can’t switch off, which will then be hacked by criminal syndicates who will use it to see when you’re away from home and sell the info to burglars, so when you get home you’ll have four walls and nothing inside them. The Dark side of electric power comes hither.

Might be avoided if…
… governments had wise people within them. Which they don’t.