Monday, June 16, 2008

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins in Michigan, ends 76-race losing streak

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the darling of NASCAR, but the motorsport's most popular driver was completely winless for the last 76 races until this past weekend when the Intimidator's son won the LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Junior won the race in an odd way, literally coasting across the finish line on an empty tank of gas under a caution flag after Patrick Carpenter spun out on lap 203. The race had been extended to overtime after Sam Hornish Jr. spun on Lap 200, and had it not been for the caution Carpenter created three laps later, Junior would likely would've ran out of gas before the finish. Rather than do burnouts afterwards on the track, Earnhardt's #88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy had to be pushed to Victory Ciricle. The win not only ended Junior's drought, but also gave his new employer, Rick Hendrick, his second win of the season. Many thought this might be Junior's year after he handily won the Bud Shootout ahead of the Daytona 500. That was his first race as a member of Hendrick Motorsports and didn't count for points, but the rest of the season has not gone his way until this past weekend.

Blue 1989 Geo Metro has been "green" since 1993

Like a number of other folks who didn't get much attention at the time, Doug Heffron was worried about gas mileage and pump costs way back in 1993. That was back when this particular blogger had a VW Jetta that could be filled to the tippy top for $11, and having to spend $13 was considered criminal banditry. But Doug wasn't happy with merely cheap fill-ups and 56 mpg in his Geo Metro Xfi. So he turned it into the car you see above.

That meant installing tandem seating on the left side, fairing the wheels, changing the gearing, and chopping off the right side and replacing it with, well, nothing but a wing. Once finished, the car got 75 pg. All that work might sound like a lot for an extra 19 mph, but one should expect a bit of aero tweaking and math to squeeze a 34-percent gain in fuel economy from an already frugal econobox.

The car was driven for two years in all four New England seasons, and then gas prices went down and it was put away in a barn. In 2006, however, the barn doors opened again, but Doug hasn't said what he plans to do with the car. We're not saying that everyone should drive this type of... thing, but if a guy in his garage can crank out something like this, then... come on Chevy Volt! Thanks for the tip, Ted!

Ford Racing Invitational '08: The aftermath

went into the Ford Racing Racing Invitational drag race this weekend
with only a cursory knowledge of drag racing. Sure I was aware of all
the usual suspects like Garlits, Prudhomme, Force and other famous
names over the years. I knew about the kind of speeds they reached and
I had a vague awareness of bracket racing and the need for consistency.
But I figured "How hard can it be to go from a starting line and
traverse 1320 feet in the shortest possible time?" Well, it turns out
that it's a lot harder than you might think. If nothing else, I came
away from this experience with with a vastly increased respect for
successful drag racers.

Let's start with a brief run down of
the procedure. First up, before getting to the starting line you do a
couple of burnouts to warm the tires in hope of getting some extra
grip. On racing slicks this undoubtedly helps. Whether it actually
helps with street tires is something about which we need to consult
with some tire engineers. Once your tires are warm, you pull up to the
line. This is where things start to get very complicated. Read on to
learn more and check out the gallery below for shots from the day
showing Autoblog and its peers doing their best on the quarter-mile.

Is Genepax for real? A car that runs on water? Highly unlikely!

never fails, whenever fuel prices go up someone comes up with some new
miracle that will reduce or eliminate your gas consumption. Back in the
1970s, it was 200mpg carburetors, magnets you put on the fuel lines and
all manner of other things that never worked. One staple of these
schemes has always been the car that runs on water. The latest example
comes from Japan created by a company called Genepax. They have devised
a system that consists of a fuel cell and a so called energy generator.
The energy generator is claimed to consume water and breaks it down to
hydrogen and oxygen which is fed to the fuel cell. While fuel cells are
well understood and are known to work, the hydrogen generator is the

Hydrogen can actually be separated from water quite
easily with no energy input. Just put a piece of aluminum in into some
water and hydrogen will be release as the surface of the aluminum
oxidizes. The problem is that such processes are not sustainable. Once
the surface of the aluminum is fully oxidized, the reaction stops.
After this, the material needs to be reprocessed so it can be used
again. This part requires significant energy input. Genepax has not
revealed details of their process, however it is believed to be
something along these lines. While the converted Reva electric car may
indeed be able to run on water for a short time with no external inputs
other than water, it's not clear how long that can actually happen. It
may turn out that Genepax has come out with something revolutionary.
More likely they are only showing part of the big picture right now and
we aren't seeing the other part of the process that regenerates the
energy generator.

Father's Day Sweepstakes, Day 1: Keychains!

was Father's Day and we decided that a series of sweepstakes was in
order to celebrate the modern day patriarch. We'll be hosting one
sweepstakes per day this week in honor of dear old Dad, so whether you
are one or just have one, we hope you enter for a chance to win some
fun stuff. We're kicking off Day 1 with five prizes courtesy of, which sells officially licensed keychains for
nearly all of the major car brands. While there are hundreds to choose
from, all made from high quality materials like steel and leather, we
chose five fun ones:

Uh, that last one just shows you how large the selection is on, and one lucky person's gonna win it. We'll
randomly choose five winners who'll each be given one of the above
keychains according to the order in which they're chosen (first chosen
winner receives BMW M Series Keychain and so on).

All you need to do to enter is...

UPDATE: Please pick the car key you like best in your comment, not which prize you'd like.

Check back tomorrow for our Father Day Sweepstakes, Day 2 as the prizes get bigger and better.

Greener golf with a solar golf cart

FYI: We'd have used "going green on the green" if Uncrate hadn't already beaten us to it. Clever tagline aside, what we have here is a solar-powered golf cart which uses 48 volts worth of batteries to power its 5.5 horsepower electric motor. According to the specifications, the roof-mounted solar panels increase its range by about sixty percent over regular electric golf carts. That solar installation offers three amps per hour and can completely charge the batteries in fifteen hours. Otherwise, a regular outlet can charge the vehicle overnight.

Top speed is said to be twenty-four miles per hour. That seems plenty fast enough for the golf course, if you ask us. We also think that its 755 pound capacity should be more than enough for a couple of golfers and their assorted gear. Two cup holders are available for when the ever-important beer cart makes it over to your area, so all the bases appear to be covered.

Nikkei: Mitsubishi and Peugeot will work together on electric cars

The iMiEV, the production car based on the Nissan Mixim, and who knows what other goodies became a little bit more real today with the report in the Nikkei business daily newspaper that Mitsubishi and PSA Peugeot Citroen will work together on electric vehicles. The two companies will share technology, particularly about next-gen lithium-ion batteries. Nikkei said that Mitsubishi will offer PSA information on how best to convert electricity to drive power and how to prevent overheating in the batteries. According to Reuters, the two companies may also form a joint venture to build EVs. Mitsubishi had no official statement for Nikkei, but we do know that PSA and Mitsubishi recently announced a joint plant in Russia.

Nissan's diesel Maxima may be manual only

Sales of Nissan's first clean diesel in America could be severely hampered before the car even gets a chance at life. According to Nissan, the diesel engine slated to power the Maxima could come equipped with a manual transmission as its only option. We honestly can't imagine Nissan going through with this idea. Diesels already have a mildly bad reputation in the states due to some of the not-so-great oil-burning products our market has been cursed with in the past, and Americans have a profound penchant for choosing an automatic transmission over a manual. Therefore, endowing the Maxima diesel with a stick as the only option seems like a death knell in terms of sale, although it's probably the gearbox that we'd choose as enthusiasts. Considering how well Nissan has done with its CVT transmission, we wonder if the company could find a way to pair it with the Renault-derived diesel slated for the Maxima.

For what it's worth, the Japanese market has not been properly introduced to the diesel engine, either. Nissan's first product with a new clean diesel for its home turf will be the X-Trail SUV. The assorted powers-that-be at the company have already decided that a manual tranny shall be the only option on that model due to the M9R engine's inherent turbo-lag.

Fuel sipping station wagons sold in Europe

Do you have a small family and a dog? For many Europeans in that or a similar situation, station wagons are the ride of choice, despite the SUV and minivan craze. Buying a station wagon often means that you're buying a fuel efficient vehicle which can carry lots of stuff, and some of these vehicles can even seat seven. The key to an fuel-saving family hauler is finding that elusive combination of being compact in size, roomy inside and fitted to a efficient powertrain. Compact minivans, SUVs and CUVs sometimes fit these qualifications, as we discussed when we posed a list of European fuel saving people carriers. That list included some station wagons that seat seven, and today's list expands on that and shows the 20 most fuel-efficient station wagons on sale in Europe. Don't think all of them are made by European automakers. Find the full list after the jump.

Spy Shots: 2010 Ford Mustang glass-top coupe and base convertible

It seems to be getting easier to take spy shots of the 2010 Ford Mustang, as reader Chris F. chatted up the drivers of these two prototype 'Stangs in Lake Zurich, IL who told him they were both base models with the 4.0L V6. The coupe also features a glass top, which suggests this relatively new feature will carryover to the redesigned '10 Mustang and be available on all models. Unfortunately, the fact that both base models were still powered by the same old 4.0L V6 suggests that, at least when it debuts, the '10 Mustang will not feature the 3.5L V6 that can currently be found in nearly every other Ford product.

We can see all the tell-tale signs of the redesigned Mustangs in these pics, including its new headlights, new grille, new front fascia, new wheels and new taillights. Out back there's only one tailpipe, confirming their base modelness. Unfortunately, the cool drivers Chris met up with asked him not to photograph the interior and weren't willing to give up any other juicy tidbits, but we'll take what we can get.

Spoiler Alert: Diesels take top six positions at Le Mans

If you have the 24 hours of Le Mans on your DVR and don't want to know which diesel crew landed at the top of the podium then don't follow the jump. If you want to know who covered the most distance today go right ahead.

Honda presents first customers at FCX Clarity Job 1

Today is Job 1 for the world's first series production fuel cell car as Honda executives and the first customers for its FCX Clarity looked on. Honda CEO Takeo Fukui and American Honda EVP John Mendel were also there to watch as the first production FCX Clarity was completed and driven off the line. Joining the Honda bosses were Ron Yerxa, Jon Spallino and Lauren Harris. Those three along with Jamie Lee Curtis, her husband Spinal Tap lead guitarist Christopher Guest and business owner Jim Salomon will be the first customers to take possession of their Claritys when they arrive in Southern California next month.

Honda put in a dedicated assembly line at its Tochigi New Model Center to produce the 200 Clarity units that are planned for delivery over the next couple of years. Currently Honda is only leasing the cars (for three years at $600/month) in areas where there is a already a dedicated supply of hydrogen and enough places to buy it. That means the Los Angeles area first, along with Japan. Three Los Angeles area Honda dealers have been named to provide service and support for the hydrogen fueled four passenger Accord sized sedan in case a cup holder or the car's very high-tech hydrogen fuel cell needs fixing. All we know is that these new FCX Clarity owners better have some big pockets for those oversized keys.

Plug-In Prius prototype in Nashville today

The Congressional Tennessee Valley Authority Caucus is a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and Representatives from the Tennessee Valley Authority area (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia). Today, the Caucus will hold a field hearing on electric drive vehicles in Nashville, and Toyota will be showing off the plug-in Prius prototype there. We're familiar with the Toyota PHEV Prius PR routine (we took one for a drive late last year at EVS23), but we'd be much happier about these events if certain Toyota execs didn't spend so much time downplaying the plug-in hybrid.

In any case, Toyota will also have Camry and Highlander hybrid models on display at the Caucus hearing, as well as a regular Prius. More details after the break.

Spy Shots: Next BMW Z4 and 7 series caught on PCH

Friend of the blog Fred K. happened upon a pair of BMW prototypes while cruising California's Pacific Coast Highway recently and had his camera phone in tow to take some pics. What he saw were the next BMW Z4 and 7 series sedan heavily covered in camouflage, but not so much that we can't make out their general shapes and few new styling cues. Feast away at the pics in the gallery below and remember, always have a camera with you as prototypes are popping up all over these days.