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Ram and tech vs tech

Developing direct injection, turbocharging, supercharging, and other engine technologies, and using materials like high-strength steel, aluminum, and magnesium, automakers are finding new ways to increase acceleration, safety, and load capacity (in trucks).

Some claim that Ram is behind in the tech race, failing in buzzword compliance, against with GM’s direct injection, Ford’s turbochargers (’course, Chrysler pioneered modern, high-volume turbocharging in the 1980s), and everyone’s hybrids, fuel cells, and electric cars.

Ram has been working along different lines, to a degree. The eight-speed automatic, for example, is superior not because it has eight speeds, but because it has a wide range, and both shifts and locks up extremely quickly, with light weight for its torque capacity. The results are better acceleration and better highway economy, coming both from gearing and from overall efficiency.

Ram has been cutting back on sources of drag and parasitic waste, from warming up the transmission fluid faster to varying fluid pressures to computer control over the alternator so it can pick the best times to charge. All wheel drive systems in cars and SUVs are now an efficient disconnecting-axle design.

The Pentastar Six was dubbed one of the world’s ten best engines by Ward’s for three years running — a rare accomplishment, without direct injection or forced induction. Some of the magic is the relatively cheap variable valve timing system, which uses dual cam phasers; Fiat’s MultiAir is superior in efficiency, but danged expensive to build and to fix, and presumably harder to program. The Pentastar’s modular design has also helped Chrysler to slash its bewildering array of V6 engines and parts, changing only what needs to be changed to fit into each car and purpose — and quite probably spurring Toyota’s current engine-part commonality project, just as the Neon spurred all sorts of activity at Toyota and Honda some 20 years ago.

Ram Ford Chevy
Base Six 17/25 (20) 17/23 (19) 18/24 (20)
Economy Six 18/25 (21)
Diesel 20/28 (23)
Turbo V6 16/22 (18)
Base V8 14/20 (16) 15/21 (17) 16/23 (19)
Top V8* 15/22 (17)
(8 speed)
13/18 (15)
(6.2 liter)
15/21 (17)
(6.2 liter)

Ram has the two top spots in fuel economy for half-ton pickups, beating even the compact Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. Ram “cheated,” in a way— they used a VM diesel engine, with the torque of a 5.7 Hemi, that will deliver good mileage even when towing (unlike a  turbocharged gasoline engine). It’s buzzword-compliant, but a large part of its efficiency comes from being paired up with that Torqueflite 8 transmission, as well as all that waste-reduction work.

It seems that Ram has been doing well by working at the little things; while the diesel would no doubt do well on its own, with everything else thrown in, the Ram 1500 diesel is a full-size that beats compact four-cylinder pickups in economy.

Ram 1500 does well even without the diesel; shows that Ram and Chevy are tied for best mileage for a base V6 (though GM has a price advantage), but Ram also has its more efficient HFE V6 pickup — the most efficient gasoline pickup sold, despite Ford’s rhetoric and reputation — which adds stop-start, grille shutters, and other tricks.

Ford’s turbo V6 competes with the base V8 models from all three makers, and does a good job of it in day-to-day driving, but is still beaten by Chevy’s new V8. Various testers claim that the gas mileage of Ford’s turbocharged six suffers under a heavy payload; Ram’s diesel solution is expected to respond better to serious use.

Ram’s 5.7 liter V8, though the least economical of the three eights, suddenly becomes more economical than the Ford V8s, and close to the turbo six, when paired with the eight-speed automatic. The capable transmission is an alternative to turbocharging, and comes in close to GM’s newer powertrain.

Looking at cars, we get a similar situation. The Charger V6, thanks to the eight-speed automatic and time in the wind tunnel, ended up beating the front wheel drive Ford Taurus and Hyundai Azera in fuel mileage (all have 19 city; Dodge has 31 highway, compared with 29 for the Ford and Hyundai). Going up to high-performance V8s, we see the 2014 Charger SRT beating the Chevrolet SS, despite Dodge’s older, five-speed automatic, which is being replaced in the ’15s by an eight-speed. Both cars have 14 mpg for the city, but Dodge’s 23 highway beats Chevy’s 21.

It seems that, despite being buzzword non-compliant in some cases, Chrysler engineers have been able to keep up and beat the competition. One wonders what will happen when the rumored Hemi refresh and direct-injected V6 come into play… possibly before GM and Ford start using their own ten-speed automatic.

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FCA signs on for Apple CarPlay

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has joined other carmakers in supporting Apple’s new CarPlay. All FCA brands except Ferrari and Maserati will offer the system, which promises to seamlessly integrate iPhones with in-car infotainment systems to create a safer system that reduces driver distraction, which is blamed for thousands of traffic fatalities each year.

CarPlay features Apple’s Siri voice control and is adapted for drivers. Drivers can ask Siri to perform several functions, including reading received messages. The system also works with the vehicle’s regular controls, whether they are knobs, buttons, or a touchscreen.

Apps for use in the vehicle have been adjusted to permit hands-free, eyes-free operation to reduce driver distraction.

Chrysler still working on hybrids

Chrysler pHEV hybrid electric minivan

With no new electric or hybrid-electric vehicles coming out of Chrysler, except the Fiat 500e, it may seem as though the company has simply opted out of the field. However, CEO Sergio Marchionne has already suggested that a hybrid-electric minivan may be coming in 2015-2017. The company has been working on various hybrids in a Department of Energy project, as well as evaluating stop-start system alternatives.

One of the problems hybrid car-makers have to face, particularly if their system will go for extended periods without the “fossil-fuel” engine running, is maintaining heat for the occupants on cold days. Patent 8,740,104, from Mark Bigler, Mark Hill, Allan Flanagan, and Joseph Balog, was originally filed back in 2008, but seems to have been updated and was finally issued in June 2014.

In essence, the system adds a controller to operate a pump so that antifreeze can be pushed through the engine and heater core, keeping heat going into the passenger compartment with the engine off. The system would sense antifreeze heat to avoid pushing cold antifreeze around and other usability features.

A more recent patent, filed in January 2012, regards an invention by Joseph Ivacko, Laszlo Hideg, and Salim Hamam, to address issues that come up when the engine switches between engine and electric power. With a normal hydraulic transmission, there are pumps for pressurizing the fluid under primary engine power and under electric power, but moving between the two modes can be a problem, and the auxiliary pump apparently tends to stall at first in cold weather. The invention still uses an auxiliary pump, but matches pressure and has various ways to respond to low fluid pressure.

For pure-electric cars, one may look to Adam Timmons’ 2012 application from September 2012, covering an idea which sought to require lower voltage batteries, since high-voltage (350V or higher) batteries can drive expenses up. Rather than using a conventional DC-DC voltage converter, his setup uses twin buses with capacitors and switches to boost voltage from a relatively small number of batteries, without high expense or waste.

IBM to integrate Fiat, Chrysler

Detroit News’ Bryce G. Hoffman reported today that IBM will integrate Fiat’s, Chrysler’s, and CNH’s global computer systems and related business processes.

The contract will likely bring Chrysler and CNH into line with Fiat’s practices, given that IBM has been working with Fiat for ten years.  At Chrysler, the new contract replaces IT supplier CSC.

Integrating processes, software, and hardware is likely necessary in the long run for the level of collaboration desired by Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne. IBM announced that the integration would help bring together dealer networks as well as engineering.

Fiat gained control of Chrysler in 2009, but did not actually take ownership of the full company until this year. CNH Industrial was created by merging Case New Holland with Fiat Industrial.

All cars getting rear-view cameras

All vehicles sold in North America (weighing under 10,000 pounds) will have backup cameras by mid-2018, according to regulations approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation today. The rules were mandated by Congress in 2008, due to parents killing their children by backing up into them — presumably a result of the greater popularity of pickup trucks, SUVs, and crossovers, as well as cars designed with high trunks that slash rear visibility.

This type of accident was reported as being the largest killer of children in automobile collisions.  The original regulations were finalized in 2010, but were delayed due to the costs involved.


Chrysler and R1234yf

An Automotive News article today announced that numerous Chrysler cars and trucks will have a new refrigerant, dubbed R1234yf by its inventors (Honeywell and DuPont), which has a much lower greenhouse-gas index (meaning that escaped refrigerant does not have trap as much heat as the current R134a refrigerant).

Standardizing air conditioning systems between American and European cars is one reason for the switch, but the article pointed out that EPA credits for R1234yf systems sold in the United States is more likely the deciding factor in Chrysler’s move. Using a refrigerant with a low greenhouse-gas index allows automakers to comply with new economy and greenhouse gas standards, and can trade excess credits with automakers whose lineup is less efficient.

R1234yf has a claimed greenhouse-gas index of 1, meaning it has the same impact on the atmosphere’s heat retention as carbon dioxide. R134a, on the other hand, has an index of 1,430, meaning it has 1,430 times the impact of carbon dioxide.

Nearly all climate scientists not employed by the petroleum industry and its lobbying groups have endorsed the theory of global warming, though it remains controversial in the United States and parts of Canada. Around 97% of Europeans and around half of Americans believe that global warming exists and has a human-caused component, according to recent surveys. Wikipedia noted that, in a meta-study of papers found that 97% of those with a conclusion “supported the consensus view that it [global warming] is man made.”  Generally, those involved in the automotive industry appear to believe global warming is a hoax.

The European Union will require all new passenger cars to use a refrigerant with an index of under 150. The new standards were nearly delayed by Daimler’s testing, which revealed a fire hazard. Daimler’s findings, however, could not be replicated by anyone else; continued testing by SAE to verify Daimler’s claims revealed that it was safe, and implied that Daimler had chosen a specific testing regimen to garner the desired result. Daimler and other German automakers have pressed for a system that would use carbon dioxide under very high pressures, which could be marginally safer but drag down fuel economy. Daimler, BMW, and Volkswagen-Audi Group are still free to use carbon dioxide-based systems, since these conform to E.U. standards.

Cars sold in the United States with the new refrigerant include the 2014 Chrysler 300/300C, Dodge Challenger and Charger, and Jeep Cherokee, with Dodge Dart and Ram 1500 scheduled to get the new system during calendar-year 2014; from GM, the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Spark EV; and the Honda Fit EV, Ranger Rover, and Range Rover Sport. The XTS and Fit EV were the first cars in America to use R1234yf, starting in 2013, but it appears that Chrysler will have the widest range and already has the largest sales numbers.

The major downsides of the new refrigerant are greater cost over R134a, which is extremely inexpensive when purchased in bulk, and the need for new equipment at dealerships; for a time, it may also be harder to have vehicles serviced at independent shops, though by the time the new cars are old enough to be leaking, the equipment is likely to be widely available.

1999-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Dodge cars, 1967-1980

Driven: Fiat 500L

Chrysler Institute of Engineering

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