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26.11.2013
Julian Edgar, 50, has been writing about car modification and automotive technology for nearly 25 years. I write that with a rather heavy heart: anyone who has read my stuff over a long period will know that I previously embraced and relished hybrid technology. The first hybrid I ever experienced, around the year 2000, was an NHW10 grey-market Japanese import Prius – it blew me away with its refinement, quality and fuel economy. Back in 2003 I new-car-tested a hybrid Honda Insight – we did 3,500 kilometres in four days.
In 2004 I tested an NHW20 Prius over 5,400 kilometres in seven days; I then called it one of the most fascinating cars you can buy. As a magazine tester of new cars (a role I no longer play) I also drove two models of the Honda Civic Hybrid, and the hybrid Lexus GS450H, Lexus RX400h and Lexus 600hL. I own a first gen Honda Insight, and for years I owned an NHW10 Prius that I first supercharged, and then turbocharged. I haven’t driven the current model Prius, but I’ve experienced a Camry Hybrid- and wasn’t much impressed. And boasting a host of advanced technologies – including a new inverter, motor and battery – you’d expect that this to be as good in fuel economy as a hybrid Toyota gets.
The presented i-Tech model (a higher trim level that costs $26,990) was OK inside, although definitely nothing outstanding. On the road, with three adults and a seven-year-old in the car, the transmission refinement was good, the steering welcomingly much heavier in feel than previous Toyota (and Lexus) hybrids, and the power was – well, a bit disappointing. My 1999 (read that again – 1999, that’s 13-year-old technology!) Honda Insight in similar conditions would, I’d guess, be in the mid-Threes – but that’s in a car that is much smaller (only two seats) and is also much lighter. Since we’d taken the Roomster to the dealer, I immediately drove exactly the same road loop just undertaken in the Prius C.
For me, the Prius C could not be justified in any way as a replacement for my existing car – the Roomster.
And so then you wonder – for whom would the Prius C be justifiable over other fuel-efficient cars? Today I drove the car that, for me, spells the end of the piston engine for performance cars. The car was the all-electric Tesla, and its performance – and the way it achieved that performance – was just so extraordinary that I am almost lost for words. Trickle around a carpark at 1000 (electric) revs and the car drives like it has a maximum of just a few kilowatts available. But select an empty stretch of bitumen and mash your foot to the floor and expletives just stream from your mouth as the car launches forward with an unbelievable, seamless and simply immensely strong thrust. There are no slipping clutches, no flaring torque converters, no revving engines, no gear-changes – just a swishing vacuum-cleaner-on-steroids noise that sweeps you towards the horizon. In fact drive the car hard and you start assuming that this is the only mode – outright performance.
Today’s AutoSpeed article on electric vehicles is, as the box in the article states, based on a seminar given by Dr Andrew Simpson. Dr Simpson produced the paper that we used as the foundation for the Assessing the Alternatives article we ran about a year ago – it’s amongst the very best of articles you’ll find in deciding which fuels vehicles should be using. Andrew Simpson has just returned to Australia from four years in the US, where he worked at the US Government National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado, and then was a Senior R&D engineer at Tesla Motors.
I found his seminar quite riveting: it changed my views on a host of subjects relating to electric cars.
The boom in GPS-based navigation systems must have seen a diminution in sales of book-based street directories. But the companies that produce street directories (and of course in many cases also supply the software for the nav systems) are fighting back. As I write this, I am on holidays – something that also won’t be the case by the time you actually read this!


In addition to doing four AutoSpeed stories, I’ve been spending the time cudgelling my brains over my upcoming Human Powered Vehicle project – a front-wheel drive, delta (two rear wheels, one front), recumbent, leaning trike.
I’ve looked through the articles I’ve previously done in AutoSpeed on recumbent pedal trikes (including the tadpole trike pictured above), and have been furiously scanning the web.
Recumbent bikes (where the rider sits back in a reclined seat, the pedals in front of him or her) make up only a tiny minority of bikes worldwide.
Recumbent trikes make up a small minority of that tiny minority – and recumbent, delta, leaning trike designs can be counted on the fingers.
Thus web searches have tended to return to the same sources, taking any one of a number of routes to get there. Here in Queensland the State Government has issued a discussion paper entitled Improving Sustainable Housing in Queensland. The paper canvases a range of requirements the government is considering implementing for the construction of new houses and units. I think it astonishing how little government regulation has been applied to the energy efficiency of housing. After all, a typical house is going to be consuming energy for something in the order of five to ten times as long as a car, and will be doing so most hours of the day and night. I’ve always been a little scornful of those parents who proudly proclaim their children’s knowledge and interests, knowledge and interest that are only a reflection of their parents’ particular knowledge and interests.
But now in having a child of my own, I can see that it happens rather naturally – the child is interested in what the parents are interested in, and that knowledge is transferred without effort. So the fact that my four year old, Alexander, when looking over my shoulder at a book on cars that I am reading, can identify the old Citroens, Jaguar E-Types and Porsches, is perhaps not much of a surprise.
But this familial socialisation becomes interesting when you consider change, and the future. I am starting to wonder if the problems that Ford and Holden are facing in this country with their large cars – the Falcon and the Commodore – are going to be possible to remedy. Holden is now talking a whole range of environmental and fuel-efficiency measures – from E85 compatibility to reducing weight – and Ford, despite having just released a brand new model, has already made public the next engine option, a diesel. As I have written previously, both companies have only themselves to blame for their current woes – they were happy completely ignoring the changing marketplace and blindly heading down an ever-increasingly irrelevant path. But what makes me think that they may have lost it big-time is what I am seeing more and more: Holden and Ford are rapidly losing their loyal long-term potential car-buyers. Trouble is, at the ‘it might happen’ stage it’s difficult to decide on the right course of action. Think CFCs in aerosols and the ozone layer for the first; think Y2000 bug in computer software for the second. And the eminence of the ‘early adopters’ counts for little: remember the 1970s predictions of a world overpopulation crisis, and how widespread famine would result in a catastrophic reduction in the population by the year 2000?
I think one of the most awe-inspiring automotive sights possible is seeing an Outback road-train pulling into a truck stop at night. Hot, dark air pushed aside by the behemoth, a vehicle that has been driving for hundreds of kilometres into a tunnel of light lit by the huge spotlights, brushing away – depending on the location – ‘roos, rabbits or even bulls.
It’s enough to raise the hairs on your neck, the glorious romance of pushing a load through the immensity of darkness. Over the years I have listened to many truck drivers talking on the CB, in the distant past on 27 megs and more recently, on UHF. It doesn’t matter if you look from the perspectives of road safety, of road maintenance, of greenhouse gas emissions or of total fuel usage. DRB is a top-ranked and respected source for the best in art, travel and fascinating technology, with a highly visual presentation. Connect with us and become part of DRB on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus; make sure to subscribe to our updates. I want the red one with the claw hands so I can drive down the highway and EXACT VENGEANCE on those whose driving skills I disapprove of!


Does anyone remember that retro movie with those cool futuristic trailer trucks that had missiles and guns and other bells and whistles attached to them? No one was hurt when a train plowed into a tractor-trailer that was stuck on the railroad tracks in West Knoxville. He has owned cars with two, three, four, five, six and eight cylinders; single turbo, twin turbo, supercharged, diesel and hybrid electric drivelines. That’s the same as its big brother Prius – but surely that must be a quirk of the testing system… with the C’s smaller size and mass, and lower total power, surely there’d be a benefit to real-world fuel economy?
It wasn’t with just prurient intent: if the car did what it was supposed to, I was quite prepared to buy one. The last Prius I drove, now an old-model NHW20, could on green lights wheelspin its way across intersections – the current Prius C had not remotely enough low-down torque to do that.
It weighs about 200kg more than the Prius C, has much better performance, vastly more interior space – and like the Prius C, has 5-star crash test safety. We didn’t have the salesman aboard, but apart from that, the conditions were as identical as it was possible to make them – same speeds, same roads, same traffic.
After all, why buy a car that is demonstrably far more complex, and has a battery pack that will one day fail, when the raison d’etre of the hybrid – fuel economy – is no longer stunningly better than the others?
They immediately knew that they were flying the future: there could be no going back to pistons and propellers. That a start-up car company has created such a vehicle is simply unprecedented in the last century of automotive development. It’s the pussy cat to end all pussy cats: Grandma could drive it with nary a concern in the world. But then enter that carpark, or keep station with other traffic, and you’re back to driving an utterly tractable car – in fact, one for whom the word ‘tractable’ is irrelevant. The braking – achieved primarily through regen – has the same brilliant throttle mapping, an approach that immediately allows even a newcomer to progressively brake to a near-standstill at exactly the chosen point. I haven’t seen the figures to support that, but it’s certainly what you’d assume to be taking place. Before I was banned, I was almost pleading with those who had developed recumbent trikes to do some testing and measurement of their machines’ performance, so that the tiny community of scattered builders around the world could actually compare designs and see which approaches were best. Especially in the context of the media attention given to fuel-efficient cars, there seems to have been a deathly silence on what is surely the far more important area of housing. It’s obvious they expected the market to change to suit them, rather than build cars that suited the buying public. Despite some very highly credentialed experts arguing vehemently – and with apparent logic – that we were doomed, it didn’t happen. Over that time I have become a fan; being able to talk to these guys, sometimes from a very small car, has given me confidence and understanding and empathy with these drivers of giants. He lists his transport interests as turbocharging, aerodynamics, suspension design and human-powered vehicles.
Put your foot down a little and the car seamlessly accelerates: heavy urban traffic, just perfect. The car will do it again and again and again, all with the same phenomenal ease that makes this the winner of any traffic lights grand prix you’re ever likely to meet. Combustion engines are tractable or intractable; this car’s electric motor controller just apportions its electron flow as required, in an endlessly seamless and subtle variation from zero to full power.
That applies especially to Ford, a company that with the FG Falcon, had years more time to prepare for the changing times than Holden had with the VE Commodore.



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