Friday, May 9, 2008

Scooter-geek's dream ride: Yamaha Vino scooter, fully farkled

Though it's usually the adventure touring crowd that excels at turning their motorcycles into rolling technology test-beds, we've recently run across a Yamaha Vino scooter that has been fully farkled. Featuring an on-board computer based around a VIA mini ITX form factor motherboard that's cleverly been hidden under the stock Vino's seat, this rolling geek-mobile packs in WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, GPS, FM radio, a TV tuner and a front-mounted camera in its diminutive frame. With the full-spec computer, pretty much anything should be possible right from the road using this scooter. While this is certainly a cool project, we have a few questions regarding its durability. How long will the acrylic plate that makes the structure for the computer hold up? Perhaps most importantly, how long will the scooter's battery be able to power all this technology? In the name of science, of course, we graciously offer our services for a road trip on the machine to find the answer to these all-important questions. Thanks for the tip, jared!

Ford is the first carmaker to join the Climate Registry

For several years, Ford has been working to reduce waste, energy use and emissions generated by its manufacturing facilities around the world. Its latest step has been to join to the Climate Registry, a non-profit group that is developing standards for reporting greenhouse gas emissions. The idea is that emissions reporting is useless unless everyone uses the same criteria to determine and record the output. Most of the U.S. states, Canadian provinces and Mexican states have adopted these standards. Companies reporting their emissions can use the same methodology in all the regions that have adopted the TCR regime. To be a member of TCR, Ford (and all other member companies and agencies) will have to measure, independently audit and publicly report greenhouse gas emissions.

Toyota expecting profit drop in 2008

The current economic environment in the United States is hurting all auto makers these days, even mighty Toyota, which was once considered immune to so-called market realities. Though its overall performance last year would be considered a stellar achievement for any other automaker, Toyota's 28% profit plunge in the fourth quarter of 2007 points to an expected 27% drop in annual profits in 2008. If Toyota's revised forecast proves accurate, 2008 would break a nine-year stretch of profit growth. In addition to the slowing U.S. market, Toyota also cites high material prices, the worldwide credit crunch and a strong yen as contributing factors in its mild downturn. Toyota's expected profit drop is certainly newsworthy, but we just have to wonder how the money-losing American car companies will cope in the U.S. market with the same issues. While sales of cars are gaining strength, the SUV and truck markets are sinking with what could be Titanic-like implications for the truck-heavy lines from Ford, Chrysler and GM.

Audi and Sanyo developing hybrids together

Following Audi CEO Rupert Stadler's declaration that the German automaker would be building an EV within the next decade, things seem to be moving along inside the VAG group. Although a pilot project, Audi has signed an agreement with Japanese supplier Sanyo to develop batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles. The automaker intends to use the lithium-ion batteries in the second and third generation of Sanyo's technolgy. The upcoming Q7 Hybrid will have nickel-metal batteries supplied by Sanyo. The project is eventually expected to reach €1 billion, but the scope is developing the technology for the highest number of models possible, including small cars (VW Up, Audi A1). Sanyo will benefit from a solid project after three years of restructuring the company. Despite Europe's love affair with diesels, which seems to have largely kept Europeans away from embracing hybrids, most trips are less than 40km, a territory where hybrids, plug-in hybrids and EVs have a lot to say.

Fiat 500 billboard in Berlin talks back

Since its debut last year, the new FIAT 500 has been one of the most talked about small cars in Europe. Now people in Berlin can share their thoughts on the 500 with th everyone in the immediate vicinity. A pair of billboards installed near the former Checkpoint Charlie reflect the words of passers-by. Along with videos and other messages, the 3,100-square foot boards also invite viewers to send a text message to a special number. The messages then scroll across a 65-foot wide ticker on each board. Presumably the messages are moderated in some way (either human or automated) before they appear on the boards, otherwise this PR stunt could get very interesting.

Fiat to introduce natural gas fueled Palio in India

Fiat is reportedly planning on introducing a natural gas-fueled version of its Palio compact in the Indian market in 2009. Compressed natural gas is a popular fuel in India, especially for buses. There are also experiments ongoing with using Hythane, a blend of 10 percent hydrogen gas along with the natural gas. The Palio hatchback is already available with both gas and diesel engines in India. Fiat is planning several vehicle introductions in the coming months in India including the tiny 500 and locally-produced versions of the Grande Punto and Linea. The 500s will be imported from the plant in Poland that produces them for the European market.

Altairnano still in the game for Phoenix Motorcars

It appears that along with re-engineering the powertrain of their upcoming electric vehicles Phoenix Motor Cars has decided to hedge their battery bet. Phoenix was the first company to commit to using Altairnano's lithium titanate batteries in an automotive applications. However Canadian battery supplier Electrovaya announced the other day that they would be supplying battery packs to Phoenix. The obvious question is what becomes of Altairnano? According to Phoenix Marketing VP Bryon Bliss, the company will be offering packs from multiple suppliers. Both Altairnano and Electrovaya batteries will be sold for the upcoming SUV and sport utility truck. The Altairnano batteries have the advantage of being able to withstand 10 minute rapid charges. Unfortunately they only have about half the energy density of other lithium battery technologies and so far they are also much more expensive. We're still trying to get more clarification on timing and cost differences for the different battery packs and we'll keep you updated.