Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mercedes Learns to build cars and quits Construction Business

Hi all
This is an important post for me.
Back in the day when the Mercedes A Class was just a sketch, me and my dad has a big discussion.
I still remember it because it happened during a visit to an "water slide park" and instead of enjoying the slides, we got into the most nerving discussion sited by the towels area and having a sheet of paper with the picture of an ugly car between the 2.
As soon as he commented out loud "And here we are... mercedes are entering the VW Golf world" things started.
Looking at the car I immediately stated "It's as ugly as it can be without being mistaken with sillyputty (the computer game toon)".
Than I took about 5 more seconds and stated "Either the newspaper picture is not well scaled, or this car will be an assassin and will be unable to go around bends".
That was dad beat his hand hard on the towel and replied "ohhh I see, so now you know better that mercedes engineers! You! A kid!"
This bothered me immensely. Kid or no Kid, I studied physics and in my particular case I was very devoted to motion dynamics and cars.
The discussion went on all afternoon and ultimately ended with my father pointing out how stupid I was, assuming all that from a simple newspaper picture and that my well known BIASED opinion against mercedes was taking over my judgment ability.
This issue was "closed" with this statement and me being hurt by my father's lack of trust in my physics knowledge that, in turn, he WAS paying good money for me to build up!
I didn't knew than that EURONCAP was starting to test all cars against a possible immediate road obstacle avoidance procedure by unsettling the chassis brutally on the lateral G scale.
It didn't took long to read the shocking news that the A-class mercedes (together with the soon to be released Smart) failles this test catastrophically. I'm going to be honest with you... I WAS THRILLED and LOOOVED the horrifying news. In part because it was a failure of what I consider a classic mercedes problem (comfort over dynamic efficiency) and in part because my father would have to come around and apologize.
This is the Video of that wonderful test.
Those were times of pure triumph. Dad looked shocked in both on how could they engineer a car that bad, and also how could I jnow better then them and predict that outcome just by looking at the car's pictures.
Every one knows the evolution of the A class project. Extreme, desperate measures to make the car usably stable. Huge brakes to cope with the always under usage ESP and even so, just don't go hard around bends unless you want to sample a different view of the world.

The second version of the A-Class was still a failure... and the B-Class with it.
In terms of engineering, is has flaws that the recently arrived into the market Koreans didn't do. Honestly! Next time you follow an AClass V2 or an BClass, take a good look at the rear suspension arms. The right one is a simple, straight design, but the left one!? The left on is the same as the right arm, but with a bent in the middle!!! Why? well it seams that mercedes engineers built a chassis design and then remembered "VAIT ZE CARR MUST VAVE ZE TAIL PIPE! VERE ZHOSE ZIT GOES?" and then decided to bend a vital suspension element around it.
It's not problematic that the A Class left rear arm weights more that the right rear arm... a car like that will never race and there fore misses a balanced and equally biased chassis in the same way I miss Alicia Keys songs. But still that's JUST BAD ENGINEERING.
It seams to me that Mercedes is having a bigger a bigger misdirection of what is a car and decided to start building houses. Does the A Class have room? hell yeah.. It's built in hight like the sky-scrapers... it must have room to live-in, throw a party, have an orgy.... but the problem is that my building has the same but it doesn't have the pretension to go around bends... and the A-class does.
It's simple physics...building a car out of steel with is higher than wider, fitting some comfortable suspension (A.K.A. SPRINGS) underneath-it and then trying to left-than-right-turn will ALLWAYS...ALLWAYS end upside down.

If there is something that characterizes German car makers is their rather obsessive control of the owner's usage of the car.
AUDI for instance, builds EXCELLENT chassis and some pretty decent engine/gearbox packages, built within a good quality product, but then they ruin everything with their suspension settings making the car under-steer on the grip limit. This is very frustrating IF you know how to drive properly...if, however you don't, the feeling of loosing the car control will make you either lift-off or even brake, making the Under-steer setup a solution for the idiot driver.
I'm just stating this because the Knowledgeable driver will be extremely frustrated by not being able to explore the VERY expensive car he just brought, but the idiot driver will be confident he is the best is the world and happy with the car.
In a sentence, AUDI invests blindly in chassis engineering quality, and then throws most of it away while assuming that the driver can't drive.
Mercedes on the other hand seams to be building poorly engineered cars, and assuming that the driver will know how to drive. This would not shock me if somehow mercedes had been brought by an american car giant like chrysler or GM... but it just isn't so.

It's time for a confession...I'm not a Mercedes guy. I hate their concept of comfort to the extreme and then you end up with either a 2 story car like the A-class, a funerary mobile like the B-class, or a 2 or 3 tones saloon like the rest of their cars. I'm the guy that thinks that extreme comfort is something for the living room because it stays put instead of going around bends. In the same way, a car should be dynamical efficient and if that means discomfort... then be it, because it's meant to go around bends. That way, if you want to relax, go home and watch a DVD. If, on the other hand, you want excitement, go and destroy a set of tires around a beautiful mountain road on a discomforting but brilliant car, then have sex and then shower.

Following this line of thought, the ONLY Mercedes I ever liked is the original Gullwing with a tubular steel chassis light enough a man lift-it by it's self... that one WAS quite something... from that point onwards, all they've built was sofas, living-rooms and full duplexes on wheels, making Mercedes a company in the construction business.

But then, alter years building houses, Mercedes decided to look to AUDI on their right side, and then to BMW on their left side... and some kind of miracle happened.
I don't know if they've just had a corporate wide enlightenment, of decided to contract their competitors engineering teams, but I like the news.
The new Mercedes A-Class is a sort of copy between the BMW and the Audi A3 merged together with a Mercedes C Class front grid.
Now if this was a normal car building company, I would say it's a design without identity and simply copying it's rivals instead of improving, but being a Mercedes, its actually something to cheer for. It actually looks like a car that could be driven...
... congrats Mercedes, looks like you are planing to move out of the construction business and start building cars again... let's see how it goes in the future ;)

--------------------> UPDATE <-------------------
The prototype has been built and it's very close to the initial sketch. I love it and I've already wrote a new article HERE

The Toyota FT86 and the EVORA.

Not too long ago I was  Face-booking and I saw an article from the TopGear Facebook page showing the the Toyota FT86 and making interesting parallelisms with the Lotus Evora. On the Comments page, we could read all sorts of comments from the exceptionally bright ones passing to the nonsense ones all the way to those stupid comments made in strange foreign languages that no one except the commenter understands (somebody should explain the basics of communication to these people... either that or just plainly explain that commenting on an article means that other should read and comment back eventually).
The most interesting comment came from a girl (and this proves that girls are not just knowledgeable on Louis Vuiton matters). Megan stated that the comparison between the FT86 and the EVORA was a nonsense as the EVORA was a Lotus and, being so, supercar territory.

I loved the comment. Essentially because the Girl was enlightened enough to understand a Lotus and get the point of the Article... although in the wrong discourse direction, but still she got the basic question while most blokes just commented trash like "My twingo beats'em all" or "Toyota Prius forevaaaa".

As I replied to Megan(that's her name), the article parallelize the two cars on purpose... making a lot of sense.
Historically LOTUS has patterned with other big manufacturers. They not only sell consulting services (helping some of those mass-produced-cost-oriented-dull cars we see around handle decently), they also accept outsourced production of small quantity models and they buy mass produced engines for their own cars:
-Todays Elise and Exige use Toyota Engines.
-The now ended production Opel Speedster and Speedster turbo were, in fact a lotus chassis with different body panels and Opel engine... produced by lotus in a parallel production line with the Elise.
-The first Elise, Exige and R340 all used Rover K series Engines.
-The Lotus Elan V2 had ISUZU engines
-...prior to that you can immediately remember the Lotus-Omega
-...and if you want earlier examples; just google on the brilliant little Lotus-Cortina.
It's not just a today's trend; in Lotus, joint-venturing and cross engineering, is Business as Usual.

Back to the new Toyota and the article comparing it to the EVORA; the lotus-toyota joint venture MAKES perfect sense.
I'm not trying to speculate about what I don't know for sure. I'm, however, betting in a lot of LOTUS DNA made on to this Toyota chassis.
Let's just think about this:
-The older Toyota AE86 excelled and it's competitive even by today standards. Replacing it will be quite a venture.
-Toyota has no RWD, 4 seater, front engined chassis in production. Making one from scratch would up-price the project.
-Toyota no longer has a true sports car. They killed the Supra and transfered it's flagship all the way to the brilliant Lexus LFA; They killed the Cellica 4wd Rally-like; They killed the brilliant Little MR2... Today's toyotas are in fact dull cars. I'm not going into details on just how stupidly Toyota and Honda are evolving; you can read about this on my other articles on this very same blog;_ but fact is that Toyota is loosing edge on building good cars.
-They have nothing to support their new "reborn AE86" in their part's supply chain... it would have to be a 90% new parts car.
-They have channeled all their R&D towards electrics and hybrids; BUT they still have a good thing going on with LOTUS.

And this takes us to the relationship behind Lotus and Toyota... and this car, the FT86.

LOTUS is building chassis and using Toyota Engines. One could resume the "relationship" to a simple CustomerLOTUS-SupplierTOYOTA case. However, things are deeper that they look. The LOTUS assembly line is 100% JustInTime manufacturing. This shows pure Toyota Quality Assurance and Control implementation all the way to LOTUS core.

Let's try to understand the FT86 project from Toyota's point of view (and I will remind you all again that this is the way I interpret things and that, at this time, I have no official data to support this).
LOTUS build the EVORA to be a RWD, 4 seater. The extra weight made them shift from the 4cyclinder Toyota engine to a V6 and allow more torque to maintain agility.
Toyota has the exact same need... The AE86 was a 4 seater and the FT86 is so, the AE86 was a RWD car and the FT86 is so, things get messy however when you try to fit the "the AE86 was front engined" on this equation.
The Evora chassis, is an MR chassis. This puts the engine between the rear seats and the rear axle, leaning-it towards the rear axle so that under power it will squeeze the rear wheels to the ground and improve tire grip.
So if the FT86 chassis is indeed inspired on the EVORA chassis, that phrase "the AE86 was front engined" is already a problem, considering the weight increase of today's passive security systems and room for 4 souls, that the 4 cylinder engine is not an option. And placing a V6 under the bonnet is for sure beyond original chassis design, meaning more changes and R&D... leading us back to the original Toyota-only-builds-hybrids-and-has-no-R&D-budget-for-cars problem.

This is where the Subaru boxer sourced engine comes in to solve the issue. The Subaru engine is a 4 cylinder, but since it's a boxer unit (a V engine with 180degree) it will both be compact and the center of gravity will be extremely low. I would imagine that the Lotus EVORA chassis, with a rear installed gearbox + differential, and a front mounted 4cylinder boxer would work almost right out of the box. Either Turbocharged (witch I disagree) of just big bored, shorted stroked, it would be very compact and efficient in almost every dynamic way.

So all the sudden, a TOYOTA with a LOTUS chassis and a SUBARU engine made sense. Is it pure TOYOTA Rev happy madness as the original AE86? NO, but it will surely be very very interesting and fun.

I'm not saying this IS the reason. I'm just posting a way to explain it and, to me, makes perfect sense. If you read my very first posts on this blog, you'll even find an almost "genetic" linkage to this. I've been saying for years that the Japanese manufacturers are now building crap hybrids and stop building real cars. I posted these subjects about Honda and Toyota mainly, and also posted that of the great Rising Sun giants, only a few prevalents building good interesting cars... on this short list you can clearly read SUBARU... and guess what, now that they can only build hybrid crap, Toyota are raising their hand and asking for some help with a true sports engine... funny how the world goes arround.

Don't get me wrong...I know toyota builds excellent engines. The ae86, the celica gt4, the supra, the MR2 had excellent engines. But the 4 cylinder engines from today's toyota are not good enough to take on competition. They are no as good as, for instance, a 4cilinder (former)Honda engine... and the V engines, well the best one they have came from yamaha by no chance.
The 1.8vvti is good for a lightweight LOTUS, but the prototype racing K20a LOTUS will just outperform it easily.
The 4seater FT86 would be too heavy for a 4pot 1.8vvti... and fitting a honda sourced K20A inside the FT86 would be a way to pull-it, but the damn treehuggers just found a way to kill-it with the bullshit emission regulations, and the hole car would see it's mass center shifted higher that the subaru engine allows.

Also, If toyota uses the subaru design, but builds the engine in-house them selfs, it will endure a lot more than the subaru's own built, rendering it tunning capacity with Toyota reliability... something that IT AE86 important heritage.
My ONLY issue is the turbo part. It's not clear in the article if it's going to be NA or Turbo.. I'm hopping for NA cause a turbo should always be AWD and a AE86 successor SHOULD be RWD.

Again on the engine vs chassis matter, having a boxer engine will allow it to seat closer to the firewall, clearing more space under bonet and allowing more generous wheel arches to increase lock angle...something excellent in the AE86 and very important in a drift natured car.

The damn treehuggers still make a mess out of the car world, but this mess here look very interesting indeed, in the same way that the Frankenstein monster was an extremely interesting fiction story. Wedder or not this is fiction... later research will tell ;)


Later research is indicating that the Chassis it self is Toyota-Subaru engineered. So I would trust it to have the same underpinnings an impreza has, but at least this does look good (so far).
Sadly this makes the entire article (like I was stating... before) just an engineer's wet dream, but still interesting to dream of.

Renault the Ripper

If you've known-me for long, that this article will be just another boring "I know, you were right" reading.
If you don't however this will be an interesting story.
Back in the day's when Nissan was a car company, the French giant approached and proposed a joint venture. Back than, just like most Japanese car makers, Nissan placed 90% of it's engine R&D budget on petrol engine units. It made perfect sense as Nissan produced essentially with the American and Japanese domestic market in mind, an was regarded as a company able to create brilliant passionate cars like the Skyline.
This didn't mean that Nissan's Diesel engines were not good... cause they were. I can remember the good old Nissan BlueBird's 6 cylinder diesel put out 2 million kilometres without needing to be rebuilt, pumping out more power and torque than it's "Long Runner" rival Mercedes 180D 2.0 4 cylinder unit witch was know for it's respected 1 to 1.5 million kilometres without rebuilds status.
The problem was that emission regulations were getting tighter on the diesel side (and although it's a stupid trend in the petrol engines side, in the oil burner's side makes some sense). Since building powerful, clean diesel engines was getting too costly, Nissan patterned with Renault and sourced it's (under heavy development) DCi units.
It looked like a simple Customer-Supplier relationship, but then Renault started to use Nissan's chassis knowledge. Back then I immediately said: "this is it, buy you Nissan TODAY and keep it safe... or just admit that your next Nissan will be a Renault".
Nissan was in fact starting to slip into Renault's hungry-for-High-Tech mouth. Guess what?
Not 2 years after the initial "partnership" Renault increased it's share. Later on, the Renault Laguna V2 came up with an interesting benchmark publicity video: an high speed slalom where the huge saloon outperformed an Porsche Boxter clean. How is this possible? Remember the Nissan Skyline Computer and it's way of maintaining stability without disrupting agility (unlike the dull clumsy Bosh ESP that most European cars used back then)? Guess what: Renault sourced it out.
This event issued some pretty loud "I TOLD'YA SO!" statements from me.
It didn't take long and Nissan's Fair-lady project switched from the expected RB26DETT engine to an american-stile lazy V6. And latter the R35Skyline was rumored to be a V6 too... That was it. Nissan was dead and their R&D was clearly doing stunts for the French to like-them enough to maintain them an independent brand after the buyout.
And so it was... The RB26DETT engine was terminated and the dark ages came to Nissan. Renault took complete control and in the GTR debut (it's no longer caller Nissan Skyline R35 GTR as it's no longer a Skyline) it was clear that the entire engineering team was very nervous about how Renault's chairman would react to the extremely technologically advanced GTR.
Renault's chairman loved it (evidently.. the car is almost perfect being spoiled only by it's bad V6 engine when compared to the Godzilla's RB26DETT capable of going all the way up to 1300Bhp).
One of Nissan's flag ship technology of the Nissan Skyline GTR line, is, among the ATTESSA AWD, the Super-HICAS AllWeelSteering System.
As described in this picture, you can clearly see how the computer decides to change the rear wheel angles independently (by dynamical tuning the suspension convergence and toe angles), depending on the speed and G-force involved in the turns.
Well my friends, the latest Laguna3 GT with the so called (4Control System) does EXACTLY that...

So if it was not clear for you that Renault just brought Nissan in order to source technology from it into their product lines just open your eyes wide and embrace the horror:
New Datsun 240Z? no... just a crappy v6 wannabe.
New skyline? NOP just a technical testbed for Laguna with a crappy american cheap style engine.
New Silvia? Noooo, don't think so.
New Almera GTI? New Sunny GTI?.... no!
You can buy a 2tonne Qasquai with an 1.5DCi engine though.

Nissan is now a test lab for Renault and a SUV maker.
Renault on the other hand is building beautiful (the new ones finally are able to be looked up without needing a sick-bag at hand) cars and making them better by the minute. The Megane Sport, The Laguna 3 top line... and more will come.

All I'm gonna tell something further on this matter is ...  much like "jack the ripper" liked to take organs from his victims, ultimately killing them and parting them up, Renault is doing the very same thing to Nissan, being the only remaining FLAGSHIP, the GTR (which is a rape of the original concept by it self), and I would guess that it's only survival is because it's better than a 911 at half the price and this will allow it to live as little over being a tech-R&D platform for Renault.
It's the sad truth about the death of another Japanese Giant.