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 March 2010 - Nr. 3
Happy Easter - Frohe Ostern

Dick Altermann at the computerAuto News

Back in the early 70’s, when I was technical manager with Canadian HILTI – the construction fastener company – I was toying with the idea of building a small ‘Hybrid’ vehicle, akin to a dune buggy, but battery-driven. The idea was to use a small gas engine – from something like a lawnmower – set to a constant speed – to charge a series of car batteries that would drive an electric motor, which would drive the vehicle, with a chain-drive to the rear axle and bicycle wheels. Of course we did not have – or even envisioned – Lithium Ion batteries or Fuel-cells then, but the idea made sense – at least to me.

I enlisted the help of our top mechanic in our tool-repair shop. But when I discussed it with him he said it would not work. He was adamant about this and brought up a number of reasons why it could not work.  But I was still convinced that the idea had merit!

Many years later I mentioned the idea to an engineer I had met at a function in Oshawa who told me – in strict confidence – that GM was working on an electric vehicle, which turned out later to be the EV-1. Unfortunately the thousands of cars that had been sold, were recalled and scrapped, to the dismay of a large number of customers that were enthralled with their cars, but nevertheless had to turn them in for scrapping! Some of you may remember this fiasco!

And this takes me to the Auto Show in Toronto. The many visitors at the show gravitated to – yes, you guessed it – the new “Hybrids”.

Of course there had been Hybrids on the road for a while already, but none seemed to create that much interest and sales were marginal, even in the US. However the idea must have seeped through – especially with the high gas prices, electricity seemed an idea whose time had really come, this time!

The automakers did not rest on their laurels but initiated a serious race to bring electric cars to the market with gasoline-electric power train; or hydrogen fuel cell technology.

An interesting ‘aside’ is the fact that during the Olympics in Vancouver, 20 Hydrogen fuel-cell powered busses are operating there right now, with unmitigated success. Since there is no hydrogen-refuelling infrastructure available yet, they can only refuel at the depot, at the end of their runs.

Since HONDA is one of our clients (Downtown Honda) and I have steered many acquaintances to my friends there, it was of course the first of my interests at the Auto Show.

The latest fun-to-drive vehicle seems to be the 2011 CR-Z Two-seater, based on the Insight Hybrid. It is powered by the 4-cylinder, 1.5 litre engine from the FIT plus a small 10 kw (13 hp) electric motor with a combine output of 122 hp and 128 ft/pounds of torque. Sounds like a winner and my kind of car! When Honda claims low cost; high resale value; affordable; reliable; fuel efficient; safe and fun to drive, it all seems true!

Many hybrid systems are in development by GM; Chrysler; BMW and Mercedes Benz in electric and two-mode hybrids. (Electric only - at low speeds - or gas and electric - at high speeds.)

But there are so many other automakers realizing my 40-year old dreams now that it is just too much to write about them all here. One of the salesmen at General Motors claimed that the Volt is close to production and the Equinox is not far behind. He even mentioned that Oshawa may not be dead yet. Who knows? Stranger things have happened to that venerable company, now that they have been bailed out.

But what is new at Volkswagen, you ask? Well, the 2010 VW Golf is already “world car of the year” and replaces the 2009 Rabbit. Diesel or Gasoline versions are available. It comes as a two- or four-door hatchback; a four door wagon and the ‘hot hatch’ GTI.

The Jetta Wagon is now the Golf Wagon for 2010. There is also a turbocharger on the horizon, the TSI Twincharger – but not available here yet.

In Europe it gets 6.3-litres/100 km (about 45 mpg).

I better stop or this report gets too long. If any of our 16,000 plus readers are interested in the Autoshow they can go on the Internet for more information. I really just wanted to check out some hybrids! Just to confirm that I was not dreaming 40 years ago!

As always

Dick Altermann

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Dick reports about community, historical, cultural, ethnic events within the distribution area of Echo Germanica from a German-Canadian perspective.

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