Posted on March 31st, 2014 • by David Zatz
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.
Posted on December 30th, 2013 • by David Zatz
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.
Posted on December 27th, 2013 • by David Zatz
One of Chrysler’s continuing advantages in minivans is the “Stow ’n’ Go” seating system, which lets owners fold their seats into the floor, providing a flat load floor from the front seats back to the gate. Launched in the 2005 minivans, it was improved in the 2008s by having the headrests flip forward automatically, killing one step in the (still rather easy) process.
Now, reader Steven St. Laurent pointed out that Chrysler appears to have more tricks up its sleeve, with a new patent showing another revised Stow ’n’ Go system, presumably for the 2015-or-2016 minivans due at the start of 2015 or so. The primary advantage of this system, based on perusal of the images, is that the middle seats fold first and then move into the floor, which would make moving the front seats forward less of an issue; the system also appears to be less complex, based on the description. Part of the floor panel (when stowed) is fixed to the seat back, also simplifying stowage and reducing the parts count. (You can peruse the full patent if you wish.)
Posted on December 6th, 2013 • by Bill Cawthon
The Ram 1500 pickup has been on a roll recently as, Chrysler group designers and engineers have developed what is arguably the best full-size pickup on the market today. An unprecedented second consecutive win as Motor Trend’s “Truck of the Year” and a repeat performance as “The Truck of Texas” show the Ram is outpacing the competition, including the newly overhauled (at great cost) Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra twins from GM.
For the 2014 model year, Ram added icing to the cake with the new V6 EcoDiesel engine, the first diesel offered in a light-duty American pickup for many years. Based on the same VM Motori powerplant installed in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the EcoDiesel cranks out 240 horsepower, which doesn’t sound like much for a full-size truck, and 420 lb-ft of torque, which is playing well into V8 territory. In the truck market, torque is what counts: it’s what gets you and the load moving.
There aren’t any EPA figures, but Ram brand CEO Reid Bigland says they’ve been getting about 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway in testing, phenomenal for a big American pickup. Compare that to Chevrolet’s highly-touted 4.3-liter EcoTec3 V6 that produces 285 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque while delivering an EPA estimated 18/20/24 mpg city, combined and highway, respectively. Ford’s V6 doesn’t even do that well: a 3.5-liter V6 that gets 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. (By comparison, the Ram 1500 with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and eight-speed transmission is EPA-rated at 17/20/25.)
With the observed fuel economy, an EcoDiesel Ram 1500 could have an operating range of about 700 miles. That’s enough to get from Detroit to Boston or almost to Atlanta on one tank of fuel. In Texas terms, the Ram would get you from Houston almost to El Paso.
Those familiar only with older diesels or big rigs may be conjuring up images of lots of smoke, lots of clatter and 0-60 times that include lunch breaks. The Ram EcoDiesel is the new breed. It’s 50-state emissions compliant, unobtrusive, and, thanks to the torque coming in at 2000 rpm and the eight-speed gearbox, has plenty of juice to play in traffic. Combine that with the fuel economy and it’s not surprising that the EcoDiesel and eight-speed were voted “Best Powertrain” at the 2013 Texas Truck Rodeo, garnering twice as many points as the runner-up GM EcoTec.
I’ve had two opportunities to try out the new diesel, but the longest drive was in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Los Angeles. The truck had good acceleration, good response, plenty of power to climb dirt roads up the hillsides, and was just like driving a pickup with a conventional engine. With the Ram’s outstanding suspension and the creature comforts of the Laramie crew cab, the 1500 EcoDiesel was such a pleasure to drive, I wanted to keep on motoring just for the enjoyment of it.
Noise was minimal and unobtrusive, even at startup.
Black smoke has been consigned to the bad old days with the addition of a diesel oxidation catalyst, diesel particulate filter, and selective catalyst reduction: it’s “California-clean.” For even lower greenhouse gas emissions, the EcoDiesel can operate on biodiesel fuel.
In addition to lower fuel costs, the EcoDiesel should have lower maintenance costs, including oil changes every 10,000 miles. Unlike some past attempts at building a diesel for a light vehicle, the Ram EcoDiesel was designed to be a diesel: it’s not adapted from a conventional engine. This means components designed from the beginning to handle the pressures required by the diesel system. Even though it’s a V6, the Ram EcoDiesel weighs about 20 pounds more than the 5.7-liter HEMI V8.
The downside to the EcoDiesel is its price. Official figures haven’t been announced, but Bigland said the diesel would carry of premium of about $4,000 over the base engine and about $2,800 over the optional HEMI V8. That sounds like a lot, but it’s half the price of adding the Cummins diesel to a Ram 2500, and the payoff comes in reduced fuel and maintenance costs and an engine designed for the long haul.
The EcoDiesel will be an option for all Ram trim levels and body styles except the standard cab with the short bed. This means fleet buyers can get it in the base Tradesman and rack up some serious reductions in operating costs.
The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is due in dealer showrooms in March 2014. Anyone seriously considering a full-size pickup should add it to their shopping list.
Posted on November 1st, 2013 • by David Zatz
In 2013, the Ram 1500 diesel was shown as a 2014 model. It’s now expected to enter production in January 2014, making widespread availability in late February 2014.
While the Ram 1500 will probably still be the first modern diesel-powered pickup in its class, and will no doubt have far better fuel economy than gasoline-powered competitors, the delay has been aggravating for buyers looking forward to having a more efficient tow vehicle. Modern diesel engines are responsive, quiet, and efficient, especially under heavy loads, when turbocharged gasoline engines (used by Ford) are at their worst.
The delays, according to one source, stem largely from emissions controls; while the actual percentages of pollutants emitted by warm engines are not a problem for VM, the measurement techniques used by American authorities are tougher and more realistic than European methods. The result was apparently a surprise to VM, which has supplied engines for European Jeep and Chrysler vehicles for decades, and it has taken a long time to get certification. The Jeep diesel was reportedly only approved in October 2013.
VM’s production capabilities may also have been an issue; the company is not geared for American Ram and Jeep volumes. The company is expanding their facilities to meet new demand, and some believe that, if the engines are popular enough, that VM’s parent Fiat might build them using their under-used Italian plants.
The good news is that the pickups are coming, and that they have received nearly universal acclaim from critics.
Posted on October 8th, 2013 • by David Zatz
Guest editorial by former Chrysler engineer Ian Sharp. The 2013-2014 Viper was a “make do and mend” project, refining the prior Viper with relatively few changes. The question is whether the marque can survive this brush with a photocopier design process.
Whilst the Viper is more sophisticated now, it doesn’t seem to be stirring the spirit of the buyers. There’s hand-wringing on the sage automotive blogs, and a drop in sales that has led to production cuts.
Though engineers focused on NVH (buzz, squeak, and rattle), they forgot both “fit and finish” and, more importantly, the larger picture of what Viper needs to “continuously improve” into.
The Viper has always suffered from having sponsors and patrons of various personalities. Ralph V. Gilles took on the mantle of savior of the marque, but unfortunately did not evolve SRT’s customer understanding beyond those who had already purchased Vipers. (The lady and her husband who own a whole slew of them, in every color, needs, I think, to take a little vacation where cars are banned, to get a little perspective in their own world, to break an acquisition habit possibly bordering on a neurosis.)
Allpar members react to Viper’s sales woes and compare Viper performance to Nissan GT-R and Corvette ZR-1
Chrysler (or, rather, SRT and Dodge) needs a halo vehicle, which was part of the thinking behind the original Viper concept. That halo car must have the company’s signature stamped all through it, but what does the new Viper say? Timidity in design and engineering, and a sprinkling of lack of vision. Maybe this is the signature of the New Chrysler, but I doubt it, and it deserves better.
Every vehicle evolves and hopefully improves, but it has also to improve in the psyche of the potential customer, new or returning.
This basic premise was understood when the team asked me for a “thought starter” proposal in 2010. I looked at the product and at the staff that was going to enact this new vehicle …. a shiver went down my spine as a cold realization sunk in. Not only was there a dearth of quality engineering in the original vehicle, derived from a truck chassis and a truck engine; the agricultural thinking of the Viper that resided within the company was encouraged, nourished, and flourished as “Heritage.” The Viper’s character as a brutal machine was loved by many, but too many specific technologies and choices had become ingrained as “essential,” holding back its progress.
The problem possibly harks back to early days of “Le Monstre at Le Mans,” but this garish vision of American sports car engineering is no longer sufficient to win, and calcifies the negative reaction of many euro skeptics.
Even companies with agricultural histories have managed to shrug off those humble feudal beginnings, producing ever more exotic examples of their ethereal thinking. Yet Viper seems to relish and foster this image, and lose itself in myopic introspection.
A parallel can be found in the history of Formula 1 (F1) racing. In the 1980 season, the Tyrrell 010 was launched, to the derision of the racing media and the F1 engineering community. It was designed by Maurice Phillippe, a gentleman and talented designer who learned his trade at AV Roe Aviation and preceded Tyrrell at Lotus under Colin Chapman. He designed marvelous vehicles at Lotus, but always through the spark of inspiration of ACBC.
Maurice, and to be fair every other F1 designer of that day, was petrified of the all-conquering Lotus 80 with its new “Ground Effects” technology. Not being able to understand how it worked, and losing his confidence, Maurice went about copying the Lotus 80 down to every detail he could glean from scaling of the vehicle at F1 races – from photos, even cigarette packets resting on components. I wonder if this is how China does it today, though I suspect they just buy one and run a laser over it.
The new Viper seems to be in a similar rut. The 010, incidentally, was never successful, because Lotus developed an even faster car for the following year. Likewise, Viper has not had a winning Le Mans season, despite a single race whose late caution flag allowed Viper to avoid a lead-losing pit stop when it needed to refuel.
What is my solution?
I believe that the Viper needs an external engineering crisis manager and team, with the authority to get things sorted out. He (or she) must have an understanding of high performance vehicles in every aspect, including chassis, aero, and powertrain, and a working knowledge of Chrysler itself. He has to understand that he is going to get resistance, and be on guard for malevolent connivance within the company. For this reason, he and a hand-picked team must work almost completely devoid of contact with the mother ship.
A raw vehicle must be developed with a fully functioning running prototype in six months, including two months of intense road and track development. (It’s not the easiest time of year to do this in Detroit, but Chrysler has facilities in Arizona as well.) It must respect the assembly constraints at Conner Road, and still pass the senior management stop/go ride-and-drive with its “Roman Emperor’s thumbs down.”
Any new Viper must have a significant weight reduction, especially above the suspension upper ball joint center line. Perhaps the current luxurious interior should be replaced with a cost-saving brushed steel and brushed aluminum Spartan-yet-functional interior (such as Lotus Exige). Viper has never been about luxury, but about performance; adding creature comforts in this generation has not added sales.
The current chassis needs a re-think. The roof and windscreen should be removed and replace by a Tonneau cover with a zipper section for driver spouse, friend, or dog, whichever is the driver’s most prized possession. The windscreen needs to be a couple of dickey bug deflectors, even convex if need be, like a sport bike fairing, but not overly Batmobile-ish.
A rear stylized, but fully functional, “manly” roll hoop, with a cross bracing bar for a 6 point harness, should be installed for the road.
While Mr. Gilles has pledged his support for a Chrysler V-10 — no Ferrari power, no Maserati turbo six, no forced induction — the current V-10, whose roots go back as far as the 1950s, is no longer practical. Perhaps in time a new V-10 engine could be developed from the Pentastar V6; but economically, having an engine for the Viper and only for the Viper means added development costs that have to come from higher pricing or less investment in the rest of the car. The V-10 is heavy, large, and already tuned to the limits of its design.
Because of this, I believe that the powertrain needs to be a lightened version of the upcoming Hemi V8 normally aspirated, and as a factory tuning option as a supercharger kit, without the Hemi auxiliaries. A simple flat cheap weir and gate oil pan would prevent oil surge but allow the engine to be as low in the car as possible. A lightweight “dual pass” radiator cooling system would work — good old racing techniques adapted for the road. There are many other aerodynamic and design tricks that can be adapted from various racing programs.
Adding an optional KERS (kinetic energy recovery — that is, regenerative brakes, electric motors, and superconductor or flywheel storage) rear axle system after the first year, at around $25,000, would give an additional 100 hp, or to be more accurate “give back” 100 hp.
A year or two ago, the Viper community was firmly against any suggestion of an engine other than the “big Ten.” That seems to have changed, with an increasing number of people now suggesting that, if it does the job, a V8 would work. Losing to Corvettes, with their eight cylinders to Viper’s ten, has probably had a lot to do with the attitude change. I believe that if higher performance can be had from a Hemi, that Viper owners, and new demographic prospective buyers would accept it. What’s more, it would allow Chrysler to cut their costs quite a bit and end an outsourced tuning program that yields no benefit for anything else in their product lines.
I envision no air conditioning, but a flow-through cabin ventilation system ducted for cooling on warm drives. The HVAC system should consist of some nicely made Carhartt (a Detroit brand) jackets with leather wear strips sewn onto the pockets and sleeve edges and a nice leather Viper patch. There was a Viper technician at the Phoenix Chrysler Arizona proving grounds who used to make some nice stamped impressed Viper belt buckles – so, really, engage the workforce past and present in this effort.
This is a sport car, and it must be sold at a list price of no more than $55K. The performance must be able to at least take it to the Corvette C7 up to 100 mph, and equal or beat the C7 around Laguna Seca.
How these crisis programs work is raw, basic and somewhat ugly. A number of cars are delivered, and a select one or two on the project look at the parts availability over the whole corporation. A series of parts are delivered within a week to the facility and some serious thinking is done looking, at all components. Work commences and evolves in an organic way.
I have been the crisis manager on similar projects for Asian automakers. Big wooden boxes would be airlifted from Japan or Korea, along with (in one case) a team of three Korean workers from their companies’ vocational training school; this was their commitment to getting it right. I suspect, however, that these projects were launched mostly to avoid a career ending loss of face.
A seriously competitive (production and Le Mans) 2016 Viper could be achieved if a serious program is executed, but it can’t be done within the current corporate structure, due to the endmic roadblocks of “not invented here” and “but Viper must have this!”
It’s a tall order, or in miserable corporate parlance a “stretch goal,” but this truly has merit for the company and marque’s image and success. It’s a worthy challenge to salvage a heritage, many careers, and assembly jobs in hard-pressed downtown MoTown — to say, “Yes, we can get things done ‘double lively.’”
Allpar members react to Viper’s sales woes and compare Viper performance to Nissan GT-R and Corvette ZR-1