Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Oh What a Feeling!!

As the new year dawns, auto manufacturer Toyota has been receiving Federal flack for their cars. It seems that the gas pedal, (or the software that drives it), sticks. The cars become runaways, quickly gathering speed until either the driver shuts them off, or they run into something.

It all boils down to the Federal Government dictating fuel standards. In order to meet these goals, manufacturers have had to come up with new ways to save precious fuel. We have become obsessed with fuel mileage, and less obsessed with how we achieve it. The cars of today sport fuel injection, and "Drive by Wire" throttles. There is no commercially produced car that has a carburetor, nor linkage from the gas pedal to support it. All this is an effort to gain fuel economy. Apparently, computers know how to save gas, and humans don't. With the passing of time, these standards grow stricter, and corporate fuel economy must keep pace. Toyota uses a computer program to monitor and control the flow of fuel into the injectors, thus propelling the car forward, and saving as much fuel as possible.

This reminds me of a movie from long ago called "Westworld", which was about a future theme park where robots acted out people's fantasies. The teasers for the movie used the phrase: "Westworld; where nothing can go wrong". Of course, it did!

We have that same thing in today's Toyotas. The software that drives the car, has a glitch, so in certain situations, the car will accelerate full throttle, and can only be stopped by shifting into neutral (and thus grenading the motor) and applying the brakes. Of course, if you went back to Toyota to report this, there would be no "trouble code" that could be downloaded. It would be as if it never happened! It's happened a number of times, and as time goes by, more and more people come forward with their stories.

Is this where we stand today, roughly 100 years after the invention of the automobile? We have so much technology in our autos, that we must be afraid of them?

We have the government to thank for all this, from dictating fuel economy, to the equipment a car must carry. It seems the inmates are running the asylum! We get so impressed when a full sized car can get 20-25 MPG these days, but back in 1959, it was different. In '59, a Studebaker car got just over 29 MPG, (and it had a carburetor, and throttle linkage just as the first cars did).

I don't know what conclusions you will draw from this, but I feel that we've lost our way in the automotive forest. We get demands from non-car people, forcing us to do dangerous things, with technology we haven't quite figured out. Then, we wonder why people are getting killed by their autos!

The answer would be to simplify everything. Quit all the fancy stuff, and go back to the basics. If Studebaker were around today, we'd all be driving one, and saving gas to boot! Sorry Toyota, it's time to dumb down your cars, and get back to basics. See you all on the road!