Getting out the ugly truth about Plug Ins

February 14th, 2022 | permalink

My girlfriend, loyal soul that she is, attaches to people and things like I do.

That is to say, we both hold on to people and things that have been good to us, and try to be good to them in return.

In my case, it’s my bicycle. The same one I arrived at college with in 1993. Something it amuses my friend Sam to observe. He likes to point out that when we ran into each other 15 years after college, I was on that very bike, owned the very same car, and even had very same home audio setup, CD player and all.

In my girlfriend’s case, her friends are longstanding, and she’s been loyal to her first apartment, her first car. And her second iPod.

While I admire this trait in us both, and in others, and was reminding my friend Peter just today that he’s a rock because he too is loyal to people and his things, I think it’s a dangerous tendency to hold on to ‘this tendency to hold on’ in other areas of life.

To gasoline, for example.

Just as my girlfriend doesn’t use her phone to store her music, or even stream it, but carries around her trusty iPod to bring music into her life, when I suggest to people that they are the ideal candidates for an EV, they clutch and cling onto what they’ve known like they can’t imagine living in any other way.

A childhood friend, one of my oldest, is currently looking at cars. And seems quite intent on the notion of a plug in hybrid. “Hybrid” to the average consumer means “good for the environment.” And Plug In Hybrid can be driven more often on battery alone, making the action of plugging it in, and driving for the first 10, 20, even 30 miles on electricity alone feel like you’re a brave pioneer, venturing into the unknown, like those who have already been using an EV for two decades.

But here’s the ugly truth about the Plug In Hybrid. You’re not twice as friendly as your gas counterparts. And in fact in some ways, you’re only risking twice the harm to others.

You see, the hybrid is a curious mix of a gasoline vehicle and a battery pack. A plug in hybrid adds the plug, and perhaps a larger battery, so you can charge that battery not just as you slow down, but also with a wall outlet or charger where you park. The fundamental problem with this approach is you’re now cramming two different types of motor and fuel storage into one car. You’re consuming twice, under the same, familiar sheetmetal. And that makes them heavier, which makes them more cumbersome when it comes time to turn or to stop. Wears through tires and roads faster too.

It also means there’s less room for things like passengers and cargo, especially when compared to EVs, that can have much smaller motors and transmissions, and store their energy in their floors, not between their rear wheels as is almost always the case with a fossil fuel engined vehicle.
An EV can be incredibly space efficient in ways a gasoline or diesel powered vehicle never could. A plug in hybrid is no better than its gas counterpart in this regard. And is sometimes worse.

Wheras many feel a EV drives ‘better’, sometimes the hybrid or plug in hybrid drives worse. Particularly in something high riding, which is increasingly popular these days. (People think they’re safer up high, even though they aren’t.)

If you plan to sit up high, better reason to have the heaviest parts of the car stay down low as much as possible. So EVs make a whole lot of sense if you’re thinking “I’d like an SUV.” of any sort. (Two possible exceptions: BMWs and Subarus, that drop their engines’ centers of gravity lower than others.)

When your plug in hybrid runs out of juice those 10, 20, or even 30 miles from home, they’ll drive just as poorly if not worse than a hybrid. And while you wont hear a gasoline engine at work when the battery can move you, the car will still feel the effects of that extra weight bounding and swaying, which can feel both cumbersome and tiresome.

Hybrids and plug in Hybrids make more sense in cars. You know, sedans, or hatchbacks, or wagons. Especially small engined, front drive ones, where the extra weight balances the car out better than conventional versions, making them feel more like their superior, and dearer, rear drive cousins.
But if you’re going higher, remember to keep your weight lower.
Your complexity too.

Oh that’s right. I didn’t mention: because there’s no free lunch in physics and engineering, that added complexity leads to more to wear or break, more complexity to diagnose. So if you believe in Keep It Simple, Stupid, again EVs come in ahead of “Internal Combustion Engine” ‘d vehicles, or ICE cars as some call them. And once again, coming in third, is the (Plug In) Hybrid.

“But, wait!” you’re probably saying. “I want to save gas!”

And pulling up to the pump less often can feel good.

But the truth remains that hybrids, because they’re more complex and more marketable, sell for more money, so it takes a number of years for what you save in gas to cancel out how much extra you’ve paid for the vehicle in the first place. (And plug ins, while they get even better overall MPG on average, are more expensive still. So you have to do the math and see if it really adds up in your favor, or you’re just being sold to.)

So to review:
Less expensive to fuel.

But:
More Expensive to buy.
More likely to break.
More expensive to fix.
More clumsy to maneuver.

Do these sound like things we should be holding onto?

Or do they sound like ugly things we should leave behind, in the past, where they belong?


The Redesigned 2022 CarCounsel - coming soon.

February 6th, 2022 | permalink

The last 20 years were fun and all, but it’s time to get serious.

Launching 2/22/22.


Oh ///My

November 30th, 2021 | permalink

Right about now, the Internet is ablaze with reactions to the BMW XM.

Offensive, and not just up front. An affront to all they were and promised to never be.

And yet… I’m not bothered by it so much.

Because offensive, and affront have been core BMW selling points since the Bangle era. The XM is just the most extreme case yet, and their current goal is to shock us as much as possible, when possible.

And besides, let’s consider it for what it is: a car designed with Chinese tastes and sensibilities in mind. Which to our tastes and minds might seem senselessly tasteless. But we aren’t the ones writing the checks for these.

Also consider we felt like this when BMW released the X5 in 1999. “An affront! Offensive!” some cried then too. And I was tempted to until I drove one, and realized they’d not only created a category but a singular experience too.

Those who cried offensive affront upon gazing at the iX for the first time saw the light once they drove it. Same was true of the i3. And others.

So put down your pitchforks, and take comfort in knowing that even if it’s not a car for you and me, at least BMW has some mojo and attitude and has come out swinging again.


It’s been a minute.

November 30th, 2021 | permalink

I wish I had better memory. Or better organizational skills. And was less of a procrastinator, and perfectionist.

Because over the years I’ve lost count of how many times my supporters – that’s the best name for you all – have asked me, “Do you have a blog?”

“I used to” I tell them. And then promise them – and myself – that I’ll start again.

I started writing about cars in the late 80s, blogging about them just before Y2K.

When I did I was offered an NPR show. To be represented by the same PR firm that represented the artist formerly known as… Opportunity after opportunity came and I said, “Nah – it’s just a hobby.”

I pride myself now as I did then: on being impartial. Then when I was pulled headlong into the car industry I decided it was unethical to have opinions now that I had picked a team to play for. So in 2007 I shuttered the blog.

14+ years later, here we are.

I’m not sure I’ll take it any more seriously. And you probably shouldn’t either.

It’s once again a journal of sorts. A place to place my thoughts. And for discussion, so please share your own whether in agreement or not.

Just try to keep it respectful, please.


I’m back.

November 24th, 2021 | permalink

Where did it all go?

March 1st, 2016 | permalink

Pardon our appearance – the site is under what you might call construction.

Return visitors will notice we have removed nearly all previous posts from 2000-2010. Look for them to reappear in another form – and some major site updates – in the months to come.


Hello, BMW’s Carbon Future

May 22nd, 2014 | permalink

Zintro called upon its network of experts to discussed SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers and BMW Group’s plan to invest $200 million to triple the carbon fiber (CF) capacity at their Washington state plant to handle high demand from the automotive sector. This was my response as selected and featured in their newsletter May 22nd, 2014:

This announcement should come at no surprise, and yet it is a delightful harbinger for both the future of BMW models and that of lightweight materials in vehicle construction. ‘No surprise’ because the M3 CRT portended this shift in early 2011, and now in addition to the i3, BMW is now ramping up production of three other vehicles that rely on CFRP to varying degrees: i8, M3, and M4, and given the response to the ‘joy’ reduced weight is bringing back to BMWs lineup, we will surely see its use proliferate beyond the i and M brands to the regular models, just as thermoplastics, aluminum and magnesium have historically played the same role to varying degrees. Don’t be surprised to see increased carbon levels in all BMW vehicles a generation or two from now. This comes at an opportune time for BMW: they’ve lost technological and dynamic footing to competitors like Audi and Cadillac who have used (and marketed) aluminum and lighter metals to bring their weight down just as BMWs was swelling. Carbon based components will help restore BMW’s driving machine ethos and give BMW a marketing edge and halo technology they need to stand out once again, especially given the high performance and racing associations some consumers have with the Carbon Fiber. Those less interested in performance or racing will also see gains given regulatory and market pressures for more fuel efficient vehicles despite increased safety, feature content, and size.


Even professional reviewers can benefit from CarCounsel.

August 20th, 2013 | permalink

A number of them are wise enough to seek it.

Here’s one example:

“The evening before I was scheduled to return the 2013 Honda Accord Sport after a weeklong test, I stopped by the home of my friend and automotive guru, for his counsel and once-over. He listened to the engine idle, with the same diligence as a pediatrician and a stethoscope. He stepped inside and, as is customary, touched every surface, knob, and fabric. When opened the cubby underneath the radio controls, he noted the slight heft in the compartment’s open-close action, and smiled.

You may not realize it now,” he said, “but once you give it back, you’re going to miss the little things about how this car works.“”


Click the Mule

August 14th, 2013 | permalink

Our followers on Instagram, many of them working in the car industry or at publications, are kept informed and ahead of the curve given we aren’t beholden to any manufacturer or publication.

You’ll find many a car that couldn’t get away there, and sometimes these images are shared free of charge with publications that ask nicely.

Here is one example.


Transcript of our interview heard around the world

November 1st, 2012 | permalink

“With the Detroit auto show in full swing, a US-based analyst talks to DW about the changes that have enabled German carmakers to secure a bigger slice of the North American market.

DW: What sort of factors are coming together right now to bring some more success to German carmakers in the US market – a market that used to be a very niche thing for them?

CarCounsel: I think part of it is the recent ability of German manufacturers to build toward the American market specifically. For a long time the German makers were kind of set in their own ways, saying this is the way we do it, because it’s the best way to do it. But although they were probably right about that, it didn’t necessarily translate into the North American market. So, a lot of what’s going on right now is the product of studying the American buyer and seeing what’s working for other manufacturers. I think they’re more willing now to follow trends.

They’re also designing vehicles that don’t necessarily make sense for the European market, but do in the US. For example, BMW’s super utility vehicles drive better than SUVs should, but now all German carmakers are pretty heavy in the cross-over SUV market. Then there’s been the perception issue that Japanese cars are reliable and German cars are not so much. BMW has been a champion of free scheduled maintenance. Others simply had to follow suit or try and pull out again.

You’re also seeing a proliferation of all-wheel drive, which European makers agree is not a necessity. They say winter tires are just as good, if not better. But American buyers want to have all-wheel drive for their convertibles and sports cars. German makers have now gotten round to including all-wheel drive across their model range.

DW: Let us bring things around to Volkswagen. The company announced this week that it had sold over 8 million units worldwide in 2011. While the company is a large and influential carmaker, it has always been a bit frustrated by the US market. But it looks as though in 2011 they may well have cracked the nut. They experienced a 25 percent year-on-year increase in sales. So what exactly is making it the right time to sell a non-luxury German car in America?

CarCounsel: Again, they were designing for the European market. They were designing a car as well as they knew how, and they were designing to a performance standard and then setting their prices accordingly. This is a contrast to a lot of the Japanese and domestic makers that VW was having to compete with. The real change that we’ve seen with Volkswagen in the last year or two is that it’s decided that American buyers aren’t interested necessarily in the highest level of technology or how the car is made. They’re more interested in the value, meaning getting more car for their buck.

VW’s Jetta has just gone from having really good dynamics and safety qualities and engineering properties to being a car that’s been stripped a bit – a car that was designed for China and India, and not the European market. And that Jetta is considerably larger in the back seat and cheaper to assemble. And similarly with the Passat. The Passat was – like the Jetta – kind of in between two stools in its pricing. It was a smaller car that was competing on price with one-class-above cars. So, they brought the price down and they brought the complexity of the vehicle itself down. And now it’s also offering a very roomy back seat, a big trunk – a whole lot of car for the money.

And even without trying to be a baby BMW or a baby Audi, the experience of driving a Volkswagen is a lot more relaxed, a lot more domestic or even Japanese. Critics and analysts like myself have decried the fact that the brand has gone afoul. But those very changes that seem so offensive to us seem to be resonating with the consumers at large.

DW: On the other end of the scale, German luxury makers are also doing rather well in the United States, especially BMW. In fact, last year they led the luxury sector there for the first time ever. What is it that BMW is doing right in terms of getting more high-end consumers in the US to go into the showrooms and buy cars?

CarCounsel: As discussed earlier, the two things that BMW did that toppled some of the barriers in the marketplace were the free scheduled maintenance and the inclusion of all-wheel drive. People wouldn’t think about a BMW, but then did after those changes. But BMW has also led the charge in a couple of other ways. Some things hadn’t really been received very well at first, but a spin-off car from an existing car for instance doesn’t cost a whole lot of money, and it can really fill the hole in your product line-up. There’s a general shift in the kind of cars BMW is conceiving and inventing. They’re still fine automobiles, but they aren’t placing driving as the number-one priority. The positive thing there is that they’re able to cannibalize from other makers.

Someone who might be looking at a Lexus or a Mercedes for comfort or technology reasons would now find a new BMW 5-series car. So, it’s the same sort of mass appeal that could be impacting the brand sales overall. A lot of loyal BMW owners are starting to look around and defect, or at least consider it in a way they might not have before.

Design is a big aspect as well. If you look at Audi or BMW, they both brought in designers who really shook up they way German car companies are doing things. But while diluting a little bit of what they do, on the mass scale they’ve become a little more focused in their products in the performance divisions.