Another failed green car

Hybrid sports car maker Fisker Automotive owes the DOE  — that’s us taxpayers — $192 million but no one wants to buy the troubled company. It hasn’t built a car in over a year, according to Reuters, but has gone through $529 million in government funds. And that’s just one example of the government’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program….

U.S. puts non-performing $50 million green-tech loan up for auction

 The U.S. Department of Energy will put up for auction this week a $50 million loan awarded to the now-closed Vehicle Production Group LLC, an unusual move by the DOE that may give U.S. taxpayers a chance to recoup a portion of their investment. The auction may also mark a path for the government to offload non-performing loans made to other troubled, taxpayer-backed companies…

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16 responses to “Another failed green car

  1. you can only maintain the use of gasoline car by preventing majority of people on this planet from driving it. You better hope something works. 192 million is a small amount of money compared to 100 billion + spent on illegal surveillance alone, or about one trillion spent on the army and the wars. Acquire some sense of proportion, and a sensible outlook on world situation when it comes to scarce resources.

    • Howdy mf
      You’re correct that, in a wasteful budget where probably $1.5 to $2T of the budget is spent foolishly, another $192m or $520m is small potatoes.
      There’s every reason to think that an expanding global economy, one based on economic freedom, will make transport available to all who can use it. Will it be gasoline? I dunno. There are reasons why other transport systems might be preferable — except that, at this point, none of them work as well as gas and diesel do. If the users of gas and diesel expand, and I hope they do, engineers and entrepreneurs will provide for their needs or will provide alternatives.
      But government’s track record of choosing winners and losers is really quite poor. The wasted money is unfortunate but small scale, as you say. The lost opportunity is surely much greater, although I can’t put a number on it.
      I will add this: at least national security is actually a government responsibility. Developing the next generation of transport systems isn’t. Providing infrastructure is.

      • Unfortunately governments also cost us through regulation and other support. governments tend to regulate to support the technologies they choose. For example all the renewable energy mandates – ethanol for cars and solar for our power grid add up to much more economic costs than the mere support of these industries implies. For electric cars – the company is directly subsidized, the customer is subsidized a similar amount, and the government purchases most of the cars – so the subsidies are much greater then the first glance look.

        You also need to consider lost opportunity. The brightest automotive engineering minds are being diverted to government (supported) projects. What if they spent their time innovating on practical automobiles?

        • I know many sad stories of innovation in the automotive industry suppressed by marketing departments. The best example is streamlining done in reverse on virtually every car body in existence because “The market has an established notion of what a streamlined body must look like, and we can’t mess with it.”

        • just now one government dropped the exemption of road&other taxes for ‘clean’ cars that was put in place several yrs ago to encourage ‘low carbon’ driving . People bought tiny diesel powered low mileage cars with minuscule 3 cylinder engines by the droves. A lot of high quality engineering went into designing those engines which could get you up to 100 miles a gallon.
          The roadtax exemption for it being a diesel (they are heavily taxed) taken away and the owners are stuck with a bill of up to a couple of 100 $ monthly for the useless thing.
          So now the market is flooded with tiny secondhand under performing overpriced cars To expensive to drive, impossible to sell. For the same money they could have driven a SUV. It all goes to show, people are still as gullible as ever and will stay that way.

    • So graft is fine, as long as they keep it less than the Defense Department’s budget.

    • A +$100K “luxury” plug-in hybrid and $192 million or whatever wasn’t going to solve any perceived worldwide automotive problem. Also are you suggesting that the national defense apparatus is needed to prevent 3rd worlders from having cars?

      Newsflash: The govt. didn’t invent the car in the first place, and they’re not responsible for worldwide distribution of cars and fuel.

  2. I observe a parallel with Preston Tucker who was accused of taking investor money and never intending to produce any cars. The only difference I see is Fisker has taken a boatload of government funds and (so far) hasn’t faced any threat of prosecution by the SEC.

    Gene, you’re right about the way cars are styled – most would be more efficient aerodynamically if driven backwards.

    • Or if their messy underbodies were cleaned up, but according to the same marketing types, nobody ever looks there, so it would be a wasted effort. Every time there is a push for efficiency, these issues come up but Marketing kills them.

    • Howdy KDP
      Our dear friends the Mythbusters demonstrated that no, at least the car most loudly claimed to be more aeordynamic backward was nothing of the sort.
      The Mythbusters also demonstrated that a car with a dimple surface, similar to a golf ball’s, got something like 10% better mileage. Seems like one could make appliques for cars to get that effect.
      I don’t know how much mileage we can gain by streamlining. It may be considerable. But appearance is only one element that may affect the desirablility of streamlining. The cost of material to make the streamlining work might be greater than the benefit for most drivers, as the premium on energy-capturing braking systems is more expensive for most drivers than the energy they produce.

      • Geoff, I have not seen how Mythbusters did it and have no idea how they got a negative result; the experiment I heard about from a GM engineer involved a minivan like my Voyager towed by a winch on rail tracks. I can’t recall the exact numbers, but he claimed the difference in the force required to pull it forward and backward was substantial at all speeds above 15 mph.

        That experiment should be scalable; I guess you can do the same with a toy car. The wake vortex is the most powerful source of drag for any car.

        I see truckers come up with new drag-reducing contraptions every year. They started with front fairings and tractor base bleeds many years ago, but now the wake vortex finally has their full attention:

        http://www.google.com/patents/US6286894

        • Howdy Gene
          Adam and Jamie took a car that was supposedly more aerodynamic backwards than forwards and they switched the body around so the car would operate “backwards.” Of course that’s one instance, an anecdote rather than data.
          Depending on the year of your Voyager, it’s possible that the shape of the vehicle’s back end is more aerodynamic than the front. I remember vans that had nearly flat fronts; you accessed the engine from a cover between the front seats. I used to own one, in fact. The Lumna van series had a windshield that made a continuous slope with the front grill (I hope I’m describing that clearly). A leetle like the nose of a B-29 compared to almost all other airplanes, where the cockpit glass was actually the nose of the plane.
          I doubt we’re losing all that much fuel to the aerodynamics of ordinary cars, although I could be wrong.

          • Think of the ideal aerodynamic shape – sub-sonically speaking – as a 20 degree teardrop.

            Ipso facto, the front of the vehicle should be LARGER than the rear. Cars and vans are built the opposite.

          • I have a rough idea of how much we’re losing to air because all my recent cars were equipped with instantaneous fuel meters. For example, in my 1992 Lincoln Continental, the optimal speed varied between 45 and 55 mph on a level surface in still air, depending on the fuel. That is how I learned that even the fuels sold at the same gas station can vary a great deal day to day. Also, shopping for the cheapest gas is not always practical because you don’t know what your’e getting. The composition and energy content of automotive fuels are not standardised; the only standard thing about them is their octane number. The optimum fuel rate in my Lincoln varied too, from about 32 mpg to 38 mpg, but whatever value it was, it usually appeared as a somewhat sharp optimum — a single peak.

            On the high side of the peak, I saw a steeper decline in efficiency, and I attribute that to air drag, rather than and engine dynamics. Two observations support that. One, driving even slightly faster than optimal speed resulted in considerably more ambient noise. Most of the noise I hear while driving comes from tire slapping and turbulence, but these noises are distinct, so you can tell which is stronger. The second observation is that when I slipstream behind a truck, my optimum speed becomes 65 mph and efficiency jumps way above 40 mpg — I remember sustained 45 mpg in some experiments. It was never better than about 33 mpg @ 65 mph in undisturbed air. Same with other cars. I’d say, air is the most significant factor at cruise speeds.

    • “Gene, you’re right about the way cars are styled – most would be more efficient aerodynamically if driven backwards.”

      Very true. People don’t realize that the shape at the back of the car is as important as the front of the car.

  3. Meanwhile the Ford Focus sold in the UK gets 65.7 mpg, and the VW over 70. Their CO2 emissions per mile driven are therefore less than half of the 30+mpg targets of the CAFE targets and should bring grins to the greens and the EPA czars. The problem: Taxes. American roads are maintained with a gasoline tax. Cut gas consumption by over 50% and you cut government gas tax revenues proportionately! The ‘green car’ show is just smoke and mirrors, intended to distract the population from the graft of funnelling federal megabucks to generous campaign contributors.

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