Spies Hecker

There is an international group which is called ‘Extinction Rebellion’ – or ‘XR’ to its friends. A recent survey of UK based membership found that almost none of the members lived north of a line drawn between the River Severn in the West and the Wash in the East of England – so hardly a ‘national’ movement, and questionable as an ‘international’ movement. Further, two thirds of the membership possessed a degree, nearly one third have two or more degrees, and none admitted ever voting for the conservative party. Even more alarming – the membership was concentrated in not one but three small towns: Stroud in Gloucestershire, Trowbridge in Wiltshire (where there are more cattle than people anyway) and Frome in Somerset (famous as the birthplace of Jensen Button in 1980). 

This organisation does not have a published leadership, has open disagreements between clusters of its own activists – such as protesting against a new cycle lane in London – and has been endorsed by celebs. Would those be the very same celebs who take many, many, many journeys by air? Oh, yes. 

XR has repeatedly paralysed transport in the name of inducing a complete reversal of the ‘carbon economy’ by a date… let me see… when’s possible…. ah, there it is! 2025. Nothing made up about that at all. The message? We’re doomed, all doomed. Yes, Greta Thunberg, we have dared to steal your dreams and yet we are all doomed. 

Let’s gently point this out 

The automotive business produces circa 80 million vehicles a year without a massive over reaction from Governments around the world in the face of a pandemic, is a major economic activity and provides the route to yet more economic activity. Just deleting this sector is not an option by 2025 or any other made up date, whereas allowing it to change – as it has always done – will deliver results more acceptable to those who protest about ‘cars killing the planet’. 

Policy, lobbying and results 

Most democracies around the world are in varying states of crisis. Some of this is positive, in the sense the people seek a different conversation than those who are elected to lead want to have. Others, like the cretinous behaviour of corrupt officials in Lebanon are beyond saving. Every single country can produce lurid tales about abuse of power, lack of justice and mis-appropriation of funds. The only differentiator is the scale. 

In the desire to reduce emissions from the transport system at a faster rate than had been achieved previously via Government lead target setting, there has been an unholy alliance between politicians, lobbyists and activists. In the present climate of name calling and disregarding people who have any perceived differences in the name of inclusivity or ‘diversity’, strong ideas and simple messages thrive. Forget consequences. Forget the economy. Following poorly conceived ideas with no regard for how well they work is the name of the game. 

Once upon a time vehicle emission law was created by three main zones – the USA, Europe and Japan. All other countries around the world either adopted these rules and tweaked the targets, or simply ignored them. Each new target would have an immense time to scope, consult and debate before it became law, and there were nearly always two introduction dates: The first date applied to new models which went into production after the new law came into force, and a few year later where vehicles already in production also had to comply – or cease. 

For decades representatives from the political arena, government officials, vehicle manufacturers, vehicle retailers and more worked through each change, so that the public got recognisable changes in fuel economy/tail pipe emissions. Until Europe decided the pace of changes was too slow, and sought to influence what type of vehicles were sold as well as the technologies they would carry. In the first wave the public were encouraged financially to but diesel-powered vehicles, which for some applications was and is the best choice anyway. The big campaign was to reduce CO2.  

Then Europe discovered that another group who had set out a plan to reduce tail pipe emissions by cutting targets at an ever-increasing pace – to the point law was published and enabled in stages (hence Euro VI ‘a’ to ‘d temp’) with little introduction time. It looked like complete panic. Such was the complexity with this messy approach – first rolled out with Euro V – the tax regimes applied to vehicles dependent on emission status are causing confusion to this day. A tax collector really does want to know if a vehicle complies with Euro VI ‘a’ or Euro VI ‘d temp’. 

This meant diesel engines have to have higher pressure fuel injection technology, the addition of particulate filters, the addition of NOx traps (a new technology that was invented circa 2007, introduced from 2009 onwards) and more – all because the combustion regime that delivered the desired CO2 was not possible with the ever more stringent targets for other exhaust gas pollutants. 

The left hand really did not know what the right hand was doing. 

All at sea with a few lies for good effect  

You would think the OEMs would merely suggest lifting production out of Europe to stop the Government machine dead in its tracks. But no. Fatally, in the desire to comply with ever more ridiculous targets, some vehicle manufacturers cheated.   

This story was repeated around the world, as countries who had no demands slowly woke up, and others played out the same chaotic unlinked thinking as Europe. True to the headquarters of Europe, Belgium set the scene for the next big thing – if vehicle manufacturers did not meet targets for CO2 in addition to all other regulated exhaust pollutants, they would pay €95 per gramme per km per vehicle above target.  

Concentrated minds 

New model programmes were stopped. Existing models had either facelifts added, or had planned facelifts delayed – anything to save cash. The money went into a ‘road to Damascus’ moment for the global automotive industry, as it realised technical solutions were no longer required – political solutions would be required. 

Money was diverted into making as many engine/vehicle combinations complaint with new requirements, which included rushed adoption of 48V mild hybrid technology (MHEV – a revolution 20 years in the making), hybrid, plug-in hybrid and the ultimate – pure electric drive vehicles. The maths did not add up. The ‘best solution’ was pure electric drive, but these vehicles cost around 50% more to build than the equivalent internal combustion engine powered vehicle and are sold at cost rather than a profit. 

The attack was co-ordinated, politicised and highly effective. The automotive industry, notorious for not working together, had been out manoeuvred. Lobbyists with ‘index linked pensions and money tree salaries’ had managed to change the strategic direction by giving ambitious but inept Governments ‘solutions’ to a problem which remains poorly defined and laid firmly at the door of the vehicle manufacturer. 

The mantra was clear. Land transport, and especially cars, were ‘killing’ thousands (the same report was used by a parade of politicians to claim this – using a number for a country and applying it to their own city or state with on reference to the report). Change had been effected at significant economic cost, and yet … 

Not one lobbyist or politician or Government official stands to take account for their actions, which have and will continue to reduce economic activity by pushing up costs. Add in a few stars such as Elon Musk who built his whole business around the right political solution, and suddenly the message about legacy from Silicon Valley peddled by Facebook et al has resonance. 

The big push to eliminate the internal combustion engine is an example of an unaccountable lobby/protest movement influencing weak government bereft of any meaningful engineering capability, assuming that vehicle manufacturers are ordinarily wealthy, money grows on trees and somehow everything will work out. Well, change is and will continue to take place, but not via this Marxist inspired call to regress to the 1500s. 

Pandemic ahead! 

The eco warriors have won a battle but not the war. Economics is all about the people, not the blessed few. No matter how much the few try to fix, cheat or coerce the public will win, eventually.  

The vehicle manufacturers have let shooting stars like Tesla openly insult them and know what is really required to build two million plus vehicles worldwide with believable product support as well as minimal warranty claims. Tesla does not even understand that yet, whilst struggling to shift 460 000 vehicles a year. If they calm down and learn from the engineering/development/manufacturing/service support of other vehicle manufacturers, they too will gain these vital skills. 

The pandemic and the associated Government responses from around the world reset many economies. In the initial stages of the shutdown air travel was just 2% of the normal level of traffic, and vehicle sales stalled. Now we head into a perfect storm in Europe. 

The eco plan was to get consumers used to the idea of a vehicle with a lead to plug into a power source. Lashings of cheap finance would help blunt paying 50% more for the vehicle than a diesel- or petrol-powered vehicle of the same size, and to hell with the vehicle manufacturers because they (apparently) have made a fortune for way too long anyway, as have (apparently) oil companies.  

If that lot did not work the next step would be to force people to walk or use bicycles. Doubtlessly whilst dragging a plough across some fields too. Sooo North Korea. 

The reality 

Every single vehicle manufacturer is in deeper trouble than 2008. Mitsubishi, having been on life support after being jettisoned from Daimler for mis-behaviour with Fuso and more recently caught mis-reporting fuel economy results in the US, decided to stop selling in Europe. They cannot compete.  

Meanwhile former associates Daimler knew in November 2019 they needed to remove          10 000 staff, yet by May this had increased to 15 000 staff. Renault, linked to Nissan and Daimler, needed all the usual cash from the French as well as European Governments plus some special presents too. The comment from French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said “Yes, Renault could disappear,” unless the whole rescue package could be secured. Nissan? That was in trouble before the pandemic as it slides towards 1999 yet again (boring products, poor image, no profits).  

Production plans set up years in advance of the new European CO2 tax are in ruins. 

There are fields full of pure electric vehicles with no customers (apart from Tesla, according to… Tesla).  There is genuine confusion about ‘hybrid’, ‘MHEV’, PHEV’ and more – but the purchase price and so the related lease price remains stubbornly high. Queues to buy such vehicles are short apart from celebrated high profile, high price models. What would have been a challenge in a growing economy makes little sense in the face of a depression. This disaster threatens to destroy some vehicle manufacturers, through a situation mostly created by those who are not accountable for the consequences of their actions. 

New steps 

The unspoken truth is the eco warriors have initiated and change that was going to take place anyway, and all they have done is put some speed into the process whilst risking the livelihoods of many. So, please, consider this development from Mahle. 

The internal combustion engine has some sort of future, even if we are not clear exactly which made up date will mark its end. Mahle took an idea from diesel technology and cleverly applied it to petrol engines, so giving a step change in real world emission performance. The fuel is injected into a pre-chamber, then ignited so that flame fronts emerge from four to eight holes into the main combustion chamber. Suddenly petrol engines can reach diesel levels of CO2 without the downside of NOx or particulate traps. The first application will be Maserati MC20, but the effect is too big to keep to high priced sports cars – this engineering product will have a great future. 

When added to the range of existing devices (cylinder deactivation, variable valve timing/lift, on demand oil pumps, electric coolant pumps, electrically driven ancillaries) we have a steadily increasing cost bast, but still nowhere near the margin that pure electric drive has to fall to reach parity.  

Away from the political noise, steady engineering progress has and will continue to deliver real world benefit, which in a time much shorter (circa five years) than viable battery packs (130 years and counting) will reach all sectors and price points. 

Hush-hush active lives again 

Way back in the early 1980s, Lotus Engineering gathered some really amazing engineering talent and made a whole series of one-off prototype vehicles featuring active suspension for many of the world’s vehicle manufacturers. Even Saab had one.  

The crucial difference was the road wheel was placed into position via a hydraulic actuator rather than using a conventional spring/damper. There were coil springs on many of these demonstrators, but these simply allowed the vehicle to rest at ride heights and took no part in the dynamic performance. 

The party tricks were legendary. Roll? If you want. Anti-roll (i.e., a car that leans into a corner instead of outwards)? Oh yes, if you want. A magic carpet ride, better than anything created by Citroen? Certainly. 

The downsides. The technology used electronics and software on a par with the capability of a home computer of the era, relying on the brilliance of the engineering team to make these basic tools do an amazing job. The whole system was built around characteristics of oil, which meant it had to be controlled within a relatively narrow temperature window. This reflected the limitations of real time sensing of the era as well as the fundamental concept – the oil used for the actuators had to be heated at sub-zero temperatures to enable start-up and cooled once operational. In typical Lotus Engineering fashion, they used an oil pump complete with variable speed drive gearbox from an aero engine – the Bristol Siddeley/Rolls-Royce Pegasus jet engine from the Harrier. 

The performance was legendary. As was the noise. The oil pump liked the whole world to know just how hard it worked, so no matter what powered the vehicle the only noise that could be heard above all was…. the oil pump. Lotus in one of its many convulsions, sold off rights to the system to partners and interest in the system waned as not one vehicle manufacturer took the steps to migrate the system from ‘hush-hush’ prototype to production. This was in part due to significant engineering challenges to deliver the required refinement for customers, in part due to the energy consumed by that oil pump and in part not being brave enough. 

There have been many ‘active suspension’ announcements in the past 40 years, but all of them are enhanced re-active systems. The advent of ADAS and the availability of relatively inexpensive sensor technology enabling real time survey of the road ahead is slowly making its way into the marketplace, led as usual by Mercedes-Benz. Not to be out done, BMW and Volkswagen Group are also in the vanguard. For example, the next Rolls-Royce Ghost will not only have enhanced body roll control, but the ability to cancel roll.  

The real time road survey linked to GPS with four-wheel steering, powertrain control, torque vectoring and more enables this. The roll control is achieved via ride height adaption as well as electric motor control to increase anti roll bar stiffness on demand. In a straight line the ride height adaption removes body pitch to left or right, as well as front to rear.   

Woke today, gone tomorrow 

The ‘legacy’ automotive industry may well be heading to sunset, but it will remain a powerful global activity for decades to come. We can see that in spite of the external onslaught, engineering is still shining through – and it engineering that makes things happen rather than sitting in the middle of a busy road.  

The overwhelming global eco policy has been to declare everything to do with internal combustion is irrelevant, and the automotive business is finished. Sadly, those who shout but don’t hang around to see the effect of their mischief have miscalculated. A few million EVs build with significant subsidies at all stages of manufacture and sale are not a force to be reckoned with. Subsidies can and will run out. 

Then there’s the political weakness of politicians and their administrators, who in their mistrust of the ‘legacy’ automotive industry were swept away into never-never land. Again, this outwardly all appears to work, but the primary lubricant is money raised from taxation. A case of take from the poor to give to the rich. 

Then there’s our freedom fighters, who have good houses and index linked pension/wages, naturally funded by the big money tree called the tax paying public. Agreeable shouting is completed with agreeable single tone conversations with like-minded people, whilst the real economy of which they know nothing, burns to the ground. 

With eco-warriors who never pay for anything themselves pushing hard, OEMs face harsh times, or even going bust.  

Is there any end to this Marxist march into the Dark Ages?  Yes. It starts right now. 

Auto Industry Consulting is an independent provider of technical information to the global collision repair industry via EziMethods, our online collision repair methods system. For more information please visit the website: www. ezimethods.com