Ramblings for Mar. 13, 2000

March 12, 2000

Variable compression gets a boost

If you want to start an argument, ask which invention has most affected modern life. Computers, electricity, and a lot of others will all come up, but the internal combustion engine will always be a strong contender. It has defined the progress of the 19th century, and now as it moves into its second century, it will need improvements to adapt to the need for cleaner and less wasteful power.

Saab thinks it may have the answer, with the Saab Variable Compression (SVC) engine. SVC offers an entirely new concept for combining high performance with low fuel consumption and low exhaust emissions. The five-cylinder supercharged 1.6-liter SVC engine can be run at the optimum low load compression ratio of 14:1 and then be lowered to 8:1 at high load to prevent "knocking." It develops an amazing 225 hp and 224 lb-ft of torque. The engine is still at the prototype stage but is the third version tested and is not far from production applications. A lot of engines are running in test beds with electronic solenoids replacing mechanical cams, and when these come to fruition, the old spark and burn engines will have an entirely new lease on life.

Battling a buck-fifty a gallon

Barely over a year ago I took a photo of a local gas station offering 67.9 cent a gallon gasoline. Today their sign says $1.41.9. This is an artificial event, but is likely to become more common. Fuel prices may even blunt the popularity of monster trucks. Fortunately, car manufacturers have all rolled out a new generation of smaller and more efficient engines, with more to come. Technology has made hybrid powerplant vehicles available, and hydrogen fueled cars are ready whenever we are ready for them. For the present, we will have to adapt, and probably will do so by driving less. Truckers and AAA have called on the government to do something about rising fuel prices and declining oil inventories which they say are threatening the economy. It will be interesting to see how this influences the growth of telecommuting and shopping by telephone and the Internet.

Mobility via NHTSA

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released its first ever consumer brochure to help persons with disabilities take advantage of new technology to increase their mobility. The 13-page full-color booklet, "Adapting Motor Vehicles for People with

Disabilities," will be distributed free of charge. It has also been posted on NHTSA's Web site, https://www.nhtsa.dot.gov. In addition, automakers, the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists, the Department of Veterans Affairs and AAA will get copies to distribute. While the brochure focuses on drivers of modified vehicles, it also contains suggestions for those who transport passengers with disabilities and some general hints for folks with less demanding infirmities. There are more than 380,000 vehicles on the road today that have been specially adapted with hand controls (for gas and brakes), joystick steering, wheelchair lifts and low-effort braking systems.

Cybersquatters, beware

One of the most unpleasant aspects of the Internet was the rush for some greedy folks to register Web address names like Ford, IBM, Microsoft, etc. and then try to sell them to the corporations for big bucks. Now a U.S. District Court has ruled under the recently enacted Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act that Volkswagen was entitled to the Internet domain name VW.net. Porsche, Dodge and others have wasted millions of lawyer fees getting to this point.

Bob welcomes comments or questions at bstorck@sprynet.com.

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