June 29, 2012

Just how bad is diesel exhaust?

It's no secret that this blog is a proponent of cars fueled by clean diesel, so much so that since this spring a clean-diesel car occupies our driveway (I believe in transparency and want to put this disclosure right up front). So when, earlier this month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reclassified diesel exhaust as a carcinogen (from a "probable carcinogen) I needed to find out what than means, exactly. After all, my children occupy that driveway too.

And speaking of children, the nation's fleet of iconic yellow school buses runs largely on diesel. So moms like me need to educate ourselves on the risks of diesel fumes.

Diesel exhaust, like all engine exhaust, contains a number of volatile chemicals that aren't good for you. But the part that leads to a risk of lung cancer is the particulate matter (PM) emitted by diesel engines, known to most of us as soot: that black cloud that until recently is characteristic of 18-wheelers and tractors, especially at a cold start.

Of the particulate matter, the highest risk is posed by the smallest particles that can get deep into your lungs and cause damage to the tissue. In this context, "small" means 2.5 micrometers; that's 1/10,000 of an inch, or 1/20 of the width of a human hair. In pollution parlance, all particulate matter that is 2.5 microns or smaller is grouped under the heading PM2.5, which is part of the PM10 pollution of all particulates up to 10 microns.

To get a sense of perspective, let's start by stepping way back and asking about the overall sources of PM2.5 pollution. For me, there were a few surprises in the rather comprehensive data on PM2.5 collected by the EPA (I will highlight nationwide numbers but they also have data by state and county). The data is from 2008, after clean diesel with an ultra-low sulfur content became mandatory in the US.

Nationwide in 2008, the total PM2.5 emissions was 3,454,000 tons. (These staggering numbers are only livable - just - because the earth's atmosphere is large: however, let us never forget that it is not infinite). Nearly a third of those PM2.5 emissions is from dust - mostly from unpaved roads! The fuel combustion heading includes electricity generation, and residential heating with wood.

Of the 417,354 tons of PM2.5 from mobile sources, 75% is from non-road use, including commercial marine vessels and air planes, which so far has evaded emissions regulations, diesel train locomotives, etc.

On-road emissions (107,384 tons) account for 3% of the total PM2.5 emissions from all sources; 58% of that comes from diesel trucks, and 37% from gasoline-fueled cars. Those diesel trucks really do a job! The Union of Concerned Scientists remark that as of 2008 in California, "Diesel trucks number about 600,000 but produce more than double the amount of PM and NOx from all of California's 20 million passenger cars and trucks."

There are two notes to this observation: firstly, this is after ULSD "clean" diesel became mandatory in the US in 2007, so PM emissions from those diesel trucks used to be much worse. Secondly, while gasoline-powered cars don't emit soot, they do contribute to PM2.5, from the oxidation and accretion of their organic emissions, also known as secondary organic aerosols (SOA). Indeed, a recent study has shown that most of the SOA in Los Angeles can be attributed to gasoline powered cars rather than diesel trucks.

Diesel powered passenger cars hardly feature in the mix, mostly because there just aren't that many of them in 2008. However, their numbers are projected to increase to 12% of new light-duty vehicles by 2018 globally. In Europe they already account for half of new passenger car sales, because their high fuel efficiency and tax advantages that offset the higher purchase price.

But this does not mean that we will be enveloped in a thick shroud of smog and PM pollution, in the manner of London anno 1880, or Pittsburgh anno 1940, or Beijing anno 2012.

While most of the diesel trucks that contributed to the PM2.5 count in 2008 had no scrubbers, catalytic converters and soot traps to speak of (all of which would be quite ineffective with the dirtier diesel prevalent before 2007), new diesel trucks and passenger cars fall under strict emission regulations in the developed world, and none stricter than those set by the US EPA.

Never mind the exact engineering specifications for particular models: the cumulative bottom line is the EPA limit for PM2.5 of 15 µg/m3 (micrograms per 1000 liters), with occasional outliers up to 35 µg/m3 allowed for no more than 24 consecutive hours. And there is a proposal in the works for lowering the limit further, to 12-13 µg/m3.For comparison, in Europe the PM2.5 limit is 25 µg/m3.

In Beijing, the PM2.5 count goes "beyond index", i.e. exceeds 500 µg/m3, more often than one would like: it's because China still uses diesel with the higher sulfur content, which is cheaper to produce, and its burgeoning industry is powered largely by coal.

A study from 2000 that links the PM2.5 count to the incidence of cancer, found: "In the combined analysis, a 10 µg/m3 increase in PM2.5 from mobile sources accounted for a 3.4% increase in daily mortality, and the equivalent increase in fine particles from coal combustion sources accounted for a 1.1% increase."

While PM2.5 emissions from diesel cars and trucks make up a small portion of total PM2.5 pollution, you still don't want to spend too much time too close to their sources. For instance, when standing in line to board the school bus, try to avoid its exhaust plume.

Because unfortunately, most school districts cannot afford to switch overnight to the new, much cleaner, school buses; in fact many can't afford even the installation of soot filters on their older diesel powered buses. But states and municipals do have guidelines in place, that call for such common sense practices as minimising idling, in particular after a cold start when PM emissions are highest.

As older and sootier vehicles are phased out of the nation's fleet, the PM emissions from road traffic should improve even as more clean-diesel vehicles come online - and because those are up to 40% more efficient than gasoline engines of comparable power, they will help keep CO2 emissions lower as well. Remember that PM from road traffic is a small part of overall PM pollution.

Even so, it's good common sense to avoid standing in the exhaust cloud of any diesel vehicle, or any vehicle at all - tell your children not to hang out around idling school buses. Give the right example by not idling your car along the curb for more than a minute or so: apart from the reduced emissions, turning off the engine is the ultimate fuel (=money) saver.


June 26, 2012

Drive Less Challenge

Every Wednesday, the Reduce Footprints blog puts up a challenge for, well, reducing our footprints on the planet. It's usually something interesting that makes you think about what you're doing. This weeks' challenge is right up CelloMom's alley:

"This week we're going to track the driving trips which WE DON'T TAKE. Yep ... for every time that you walk, ride a bike or simply choose not to make a trip, keep track of it. At the end of the week, please come back and share how many miles you didn't drive (and money saved, etc, if you also track that information). We'd also like to hear about your strategy for meeting this challenge. This is based on an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled The Road Not Taken May Be a Key to Driving Less."

Monitoring how much you drive apparently helps you reduce both your trips and your total mileage. The WSJ article has a link to a spreadsheet that makes tracking your miles very easy.

The original challenge, including responses, is here.

June 25, 2012

So you want a seven-seat car that does better than 30 mpg

It's only reasonable: you have a large family to move. Or a family of musicians that play large and delicate instruments. Or you regularly have grandparents in the car, or a few friends. You end up with a minivan or an SUV / crossover: but those tend to eat fuel in a big way. Gas prices have been down fron their peak earlier this spring, but they're still high. I've heard so many moms say, with a sigh, that they would gladly give up their gas hog, if only they could find a gas sipper that offers enough space.

The good news: they are out there! I have spent much of this month looking into gas-sipping cars for larger families, and the exercise has been eye-opening. There are quite a few cars now that offer seats for seven passengers, and have fuel economy over 30 mpg. It's easy to find them.

The bad news: while it's easy enough to find them, it's hard to buy them. In the US, that is. For they are sold all over the planet, except in the US. So maybe it's time for us to start asking for those gas sipping family cars.

Photo by Robert Scoble via Wikipedia Commons

To whet your appetite:  how about a 7-seat Toyota Prius? The US version of the Prius v has five seats, but in Japan (where it's called the Prius-α) and in Europe (where it will be offered this summer as the Prius+), this wagon version of the familiar Prius comes with seven seats. It's outfitted with lithium ion batteries instead of the nickel-metal hydride batteries offered in the US, with a similar fuel efficiency: 44 mpg.

The Toyota Sienna, a typical mommy van, gets about 22 mpg. But the Toyota Estima Hybrid minivan gets a quoted 42 mpg. But hybrid is not the only road to increased fuel efficiency.

The Mazda 5 is popular in the US for its versatile seating configuration: it has six seats, and the ones in the back two rows can be folded down completely for cargo hauling. It does 21/28 mpg (cty/hwy). Japanese version: "6+One" seating, about 30 mpg est. Europe: "6+One" seating, 39 mpg from a diesel engine.

The Nissan Quest minivan is used by many moms (19/24 mpg cty/hwy). You can't buy it in Europe: there Nissan offers the NV200 Combi, which can give you anything from seven seats plus a bit of storage in the back (enough for a cello), to two seats and a cavernous cargo space. Its diesel engine gets a quoted 45 mpg.

Kia offers its Sorento crossover in both the US and the UK, but in the US it has a 2.4L gasoline engine (175HP, 23 mpg average) whereas in the UK it comes with a 2.2L diesel engine (194HP, 32 mpg average). Diesel engines pack power. But if 32 mpg is not high enough for you, you might buy the Kia Carens: it's just a bit smaller than the Sorento, but comes with a smaller, 1.6L diesel engine that does 41 mpg in real life.

The Volkswagen Routan is really made by Chrysler. Let us not speak of its V6 engine. The real gems are Volkswagen's Multivan, the direct descendant of the VW camper made (in)famous by the hippies (33 mpg). If you don't need a living room on wheels, you might opt for the Sharan (quoted at 43 mpg).

In case you've started thinking that the overseas carmakers are the only ones tossing us the largest and largest-engined models, I've compared seven-seat cars made by Ford, three for the US and three for the UK market. This side of the Atlantic, they're all longer than 5 meters (197in) and do less than 30mpg. On the UK side they're all less than 5 meters in length, and do either 32 mpg with a 1.6L Ecoboost gasoline engine or 35 mpg with a 1.6L diesel engine.

Are you mad yet? Don't get mad: get going and ask your friendly dealer to make his company's best sippers available to you. Gas sippers don't have to be more expensive than the models you're familiar with. It is possible to save at the purchase as well as at the pump.


Cross-posted at BlogHer



You may also like:
1. Have your Cake and Drive it Too: of Fuel Economy, Performance, and Moms
2. What's so clean about diesel?
3. Fitting Three Children on Your Car's Back Seat


June 23, 2012

Nissan 7-seat people carriers

When in 1588 the Spanish Armada set sail with the intent to invade England, the fleet consisted of 151 ships carrying 8000 sailors and 18,000 soldiers, plus 2500 guns. They were entirely wind powered, so until the guns were fired, their emissions (CO2 and soot) were zero.

The Invincible Armada

The Nissan Armada, a bit smaller than a Spanish galleon but still enormous, carries 7 people (and hopefully no guns). This boat uses its 5.6L V8 engine to navigate American roads at the rate of 13 mpg in the city, and 19 mpg on the highway. Until my recent visit to Nissan's USA website I thought that such engines had gone the way of the Spanish galleons that met their watery end on the coast of Cornwall.

Compared to that, Nissan's Pathfinder is a mere sloop of war, sharing the same platform with the Armada but with a body that is 15" shorter. Still, it has a 4.0L V6 engine that gets just 15/22 mpg (cty/hwy).

For moving up to seven people, America's Nissan option with the highest fuel economy is the Quest, a family minivan whose 3.5L V6 engine does 19/24 mpg (cty/hwy).

If you are looking for a Nissan people carrier that does better than the anemic 24mpg, you have to look overseas. Nissan's Japanese website shows seven entries in the Minivan/Wagon category, as well as four boxy MPVs. I found this website much harder to navigate than other Japanese carmakers', so I went instead to Nissan's UK website for the gas-sipping alternatives.

There is, of course, no sign of the Armada. After all, the English have successfully repelled the Armada from their shores more than 400 years ago, and there should be no reason why they can't do so now.

They don't have the Quest, either. In fact, nothing with more than four cylinders. Nissan's largest consumer option in the UK is the Pathfinder, but with a European twist: it comes with a 2.5L diesel engine (28mpg quoted average). Even its most basic trim is a lot more expensive than the other UK options.

One of those alternatives is the NV200 Combi. Shorter than the Quest by more than two feet, this is a versatile minivan: you can fold down the five seats in the back to get a cavernous cargo space. The NV200 runs on a 1.5L diesel engine with a quoted fuel economy of 45 mpg. That, and its modest price tag, is something a family can live with.

Photo by M 93
via Wikimedia Commons

Then there is the Qashqai+2, the slightly enlongated version of the Qashqai crossover, also with space for seven. This one has a regular gasoline engine whose 35mpg is still reasonably high. Besides more power under the hood, it also features more creature comforts than the NV200 Combi.

So here is proof that there are cars that accommodate up to seven passengers, and still do better than 30mpg.


Nissan seven-seat vehicles, USA and UK, sorted by length

  Qashqai+2 crossover
Acenta 2WD
1.6L 4-cyl 115HP man
L=(178.8in) 4541mm
£ 19,695
154gCO2/km (35mpg)
Pathfinder SUV
SE 2x4
4.0L V6 266HP auto
L=192.3in (4884mm)
$ 29,290
15/22 mpg (cty/hwy)
Acenta 4x4 (diesel)
2.5L dCi 188HP man
L=(189.5in) 4813mm
£ 32,445
224 gCO2/km (28mpg)
Quest minivan
3.5L V6 260HP auto
L=200.8in (5100mm)
$ 25,990
19/24 mpg (cty/hwy)
NV200 Combi
S (diesel)
1.5L dCi 89HP man
L=(173.2in) 4400mm
£ 17,293
138gCO2/km (45mpg)

Armada SV 2WD SUV
5.6L V8 317HP auto
L=207.7in (5276mm)
$ 39,870
13/19 mpg (cty/hwy)



June 22, 2012

Review: Seven-seat Toyota Prius

Quick: what does the "v" mean in "Prius v", as in the wagon version of the Prius? (Not to be confused with "Prius Five" the top-of-the-line regular Prius, which I take to be a one-up on the Prius Four).

Toyota says that the "v" stands for "versatility" - but maybe that's just a fig.

Photo by Robert Scoble via Wikipedia Commons


To me, versatility means the option to change the passenger / cargo ratio at will, so that you can accomodate three children plus their various string instruments, OR your five-member family plus one set of grandparents (or friends). The Prius v you can buy in the US has five seats (what's versatile about that?), so really it should be called the Prius V, as in Roman numeral V, meaning "five", to be distinguished from, say, a Prius VII.

The Prius VII, seating seven, does exist. Only it's called the Prius-α, as in "alpha". (After using Arabic numerals and the Latin alphabet, why not give the Greek alphabet a go?). Launched in Japan in May 2011, the Prius-α has an on-demand third row which accomodates an additional two passengers. In Europe, the same car will launch in July 2012 under the name "Prius+": so here they're going into math symbols, presumably to denote the 5+2 seating.

The seven-seat Prius has a lithium-ion battery (whereas the Prius v sold in the US uses a nickel-metal hydride battery). The average fuel efficiency is quoted to be 62 mpg under the JC08 standard (but that same standard quotes 71 mpg for the regular Prius), so probably 44mpg is a reasonable estimate for the Prius-α, similar to the Prius v.

If you cruised the American Toyota website looking for a hybrid that seats seven, you would find only the Highlander Hybrid: 28mpg and starting at $38,715: nearly 50% more than the $26,550 lowest price for the Prius v.

Wait: you want me to pay $12,165 more for the same number of seats, in a vehicle that does 28mpg rather than 44mpg?

Oh come: let's have the seven-seat Prius v in the US. Go ahead, tack on a Japanese kana (how about ち, "chi", kind of looks like +) - tack on a Russian letter, I don't care, just bring it here!


June 21, 2012

The fuel economy of new cars, May 2012

The good news: New cars sold in the US in May 2012 have an average fuel economy of 23.3 mpg, according to the ongoing survey by TrueCar.com. That's down a bit from the high of 24.1 mpg attained last March, but 6% higher than the 21.9 mpg reported a year ago for May 2011.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic new cars bought in 2011 are about 3% more frugal than those purchased in 2010. In Europe they like to measure fuel efficiency in terms of CO2 emission (after all, that's what the emissions standards are mostly about): in 2011, new cars averaged 136 g CO2/km, which translates to 40 mpg for cars running on gasoline, and 46 mpg for diesel cars.

This means that my diesel-fueled 2012 VW Golf TDI, which is giving me close to 40mpg around town, is on the guzzler side of the European average for 2011, even accounting for the fact that the European test standard overestimates the fuel efficiency.

In a few years my car will be embarrassingly short of the EU standard, which is set to go, in steady decrements, to 95 g CO2/km by 2020. That corresponds to 57 mpg for gasoline, and 66mpg for diesel cars.

Predictably, European carmakers are grumbling about this, and warn about the cost of those future gas sippers. But a 2011 study by the CARS21 Group has found that the vehicle price increase threatened by carmakers in the past, have not materialised, while CO2 emissions did get curbed.

European consumers, on the other hand, are happy with the lower CO2 emission requirement, because it means that more gas-frugal cars will be made available which will save them big at the pump. Indeed, EU consumer groups are sanguine about a 70 g CO2/km standard proposed for 2025.

Interestingly, European trade unions have also welcomed the stricter standards: they reason that if carbuilding technology in the EU gets left behind by the rest of the world, it's bad news for EU manufacturing and development, and bad for the people working in those sectors.

Just look at what has happened in Detroit since the 1980s, when the CAFE standard got stuck at 26 mpg (inched up to 27.5mpg between 1990 and (2010).

These same reasons are cited by groups in Japan, as it is also working to update its fuel economy standards, from 16.3 km/L (38 mpg) in 2011 to 20.3 km/L (48 mpg) in 2020.

In the US, the CAFE rules require new cars and light trucks to average 54.5 mpg in 2025 (100 g CO2/km). Here as in Europe, carmakers have warned that those requirements would make cars a lot more expensive. But consumers know better, and realise that with the number of miles logged here every year, we will feel the benefit of every improvement in fuel economy right in our wallets - especially since we've seen the price of gas go up the last few years, even if it is still nowhere near European levels. The Consumer Federation of America can list 10 reasons why the CAFE2025 standard will benefit drivers. And CelloMom shares a few tricks for buying a gas sipper for less.

By the way, even though the price of gasoline has eased in the last few weeks, don't count on the price of gas to go way down in the long run. The price of oil is currently well below $100 per barrel, but as the world's large economies work themselves out of the current doldrums, demand will send it up again: Because the marginal production cost, the cost to produce an extra barrel of oil, is now approaching $100 per barrel.

Finally, I hope you realise that all the numbers bandied about by these governments are overstatements of the actual on-the-road fuel efficiency you can get in real life. Even the 54.5 mpg quoted everywhere for the US CAFE2025 rules is higher than the EPA numbers you see on the stickers on new cars (which are accurate).


June 18, 2012

Review: Mazda 5 / Mazda Premacy

The Mazda 5 offers a roomy ride for those families who need more than five seats but don't want or need something as large as a minivan. This compact MPV has recently been updated with sweeping lines on the sides, spanning a practical sliding door. Seating six (in the US), access to the third row is through an opening between the second-row seats.

The Mazda USA website tactfully refers to that opening as "elbow room", but perhaps Mazda have simply figured that Americans' expanding girth precludes seating three across the second row. Which is a loss to those American families who do have lanky children (and there are still plenty of us): for that opening in the middle can easily accomodate a seventh seat.

Indeed, the seventh seat is offered in those markets deemed by Mazda to either have slimmer populations and/or people who are used to having less need for personal space (ever been in the Tokyo subway at rush hour? A reference to "sardines" would be a vast understatement). In Japan, where the Mazda 5 is called the Premacy, the configuration is called the "6+One" seat concept: click on the photo to see the re-configuration in action.

Will the seventh seat be a comfortable long-distance place for your biceps-endowed high school quarterback? -No. But for a younger child (or a very, very large teddy bear): sure.

A friend of mine, who is a mom of three (including a cello player and a violin player) tells me that should her youngest child decide to take up the cello also, there is space in the back for an additional cello in the back of her Mazda 5, even with third row up.

As usual, the US offer (choice? what choice?) has the largest engine of them all: a 2.5L, 16-valve job that is reported by its users to get 26 mpg on average. The smart automatic transmission has something called "adaptive shift logic" that gets the same fuel efficiency as a manual version (the auto version does have a higher price tag). Customers in Japan are offered a 2.0L gasoline engine with stop-start technology called i-STOP; its estimated real-life fuel economy is about 30 mpg.

In Europe, the choices are three: 2.0L and 1.8L gasoline engines, and a 1.6L diesel that gets the highest fuel efficiency: 39 mpg in real life, while putting out the highest torque: 199 lb-ft (diesel engines do that).

In the UK, the diesel is £ 1,300 ($ 2,000) more expensive than the 2.0L gasoline version; my guesstimate is that, if sold in the US, it would have about the same price tag as the one with the 2.5L gasoline engine available here now. (No, it would not cost close to $40,000 as suggested by the table below: UK prices include a hefty tax, while the on-the-road price in the US is close to the net price - cars are cheap here).

I know a few moms - and dads - who would jump at the chance to drive a seven-seater that does 39 mpg. Parents: why don't you ask Mazda to sell you the gas sipper version(s) of the Mazda 5 you know and love?


Mazda 5 / Mazda Premacy

Mazda 5 (US) Premacy (JP) Mazda 5 (UK)
Type Sport
6 seats
20E i-STOP
1.6 TS2 Diesel
Year 2012 2012 2012
Emissions rating T2B5 / LEVII EURO5 "E"
MSRP $ 19,625 ¥ 1,960,000
($ 24,900)
£ 20,660
($ 32,500)
CelloMom Rating
Fuel Economy:
City/Hwy quoted 21 / 28 mpg    
Avg. quoted   33 mpg (JC08)
166 g CO2/km
45 mpg
138 g CO2/km
Avg. actual 26 mpg 30 mpg est. 39 mpg

4-cyl 16v

2.0L 1.6L MZ-CD
Power 157HP

163 lb-ft

137 lb-ft
270 Nm
199 lb-ft
Transmission VVT Auto or
6-spd Manual
5-spd Manual 6-spd Manual
Fuel Unleaded reg. Unleaded Diesel
Length, mm(in) 180.5in 4585mm  
Width, mm(in) 68.9in 1750mm  
Height, mm(in) 63.6in 1615mm  
Weight, kg(lbs) 3417lbs 1500 kg 1490 kg
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) 44.4cuft
3rd row down
Turning radius, m(ft) 36.7 ft c-c    
Top speed, kph(mph)     111 mph


June 15, 2012

Drive like your life depends on it - it does.

My youngest uncle is deaf. An ear infection took out his hearing when he was a child, but, extremely personable and gregarious, he never let the lack of hearing keep him from talking to everyone. He speaks several languages and can lipread at least two.

He also loves cars. He has special relations with several dealers in his city, who often let him take a car out for a week-long spin. Like many car lovers, he's a very good driver. As a passenger you're totally safe with him - as long as you don't strike up a conversation. Because the only way he can "hear" what you're saying is to watch your lips. Even when he's doing most of the talking he still needs to check to see that you're not trying to answer. This is usually when my dad stops him short, telling him rather brusquely (after eight decades my uncle is still just his little brother) to keep his eyes on the road. And not to drift out of his lane.

I had cause to think of my uncle this week, as in the course of a single day I encountered no fewer than five lane drifters (and I covered hardly twenty miles that day). It's hard to know what to do when you're on a two-lane road and the car coming towards you is slowly but steadily veering over the middle line. Either those drivers were completely sleep-deprived and ready for some shut-eye, or something else is keeping their eyeballs occupied.

It's extremely unlikely to encounter, over twenty miles, five deaf drivers who were lipreading their passengers. But there are plenty of distractions in a car even for those of excellent hearing.

Many new cars come equipped with a screen that facilitates your connectivity, from radio to navigation to full-blown internet connection. The multiple functionality requires touch-screen operation. But its virtual buttons don't stick out like real buttons do: so you need to look at the screen.

Even without a fancy screen on the dashboard, you can still get plenty of distraction from your cellphone. This one is even more dangerous: for instance, texting requires not only your eyeballs but also both your hands - for all but the most dextrous teenagers. Yet a frightening percentage of drivers (and more than half of teen drivers) admit to texting while driving.

Look. There have always been plenty of distractions in the car. The children in the back seat. Your new boyfriend/girlfriend. Your audio book. The good looking truck driver in the next lane. But none of those required your eyeballs and both your hands.

As states are dealing with the rising number of accidents, some fatal, caused by drivers texting or otherwise distracted, increasing numbers of them are tightening the laws on distracted driving: look up the rules for your particular state on distracted.gov.

In addition to running pilot projects for increased law enforcement on distracted driving, the Department of Transportation is laying down federal guidelines for carmakers to limit the distractions built into the dashboard. Among other things, the guidelines call for tasks that require visual-manual coordination to be allowed only when the car is in "Park" mode.

While they're at it, they might install a reaction time meter (e.g. a game you play on your fancy screen) that prevents you from starting the car if, say, you got sluggish after a stint at the bar.

Here's my pep talk about cell phones and cars: The very highest-end vacation resorts now offer a connectivity-free environment where executive types pay a premium for the privilege of really getting away from their work: sorry, they can't be reached, there's simply no signal on their iPads and Blackberrys and such. Remember: your cell phone is not your ball and chain, and you don't have to be available at its every beck and call.

Think of yourself as the executive of your household, and think of your car as your privileged resort, your haven where you don't take calls, texts and other intrusions: it's just you and your thoughts (or your favourite music; but the choice is yours, not one imposed by the outside world). Your cell phone belongs in the trunk. Calls and texts can wait until you get to where you're going - safely.

Especially with children in the car, you can't afford to engage in distracted driving: you don't want them to follow you down that path when it's their turn to get behind the wheel.

Never forget: every car is potentially a lethal weapon. Let us wield it with the utmost care and respect.



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2. Seven Ways to Keep Your Teen from Texting While Driving


June 12, 2012

Review: Volkswagen Multivan, VW Sharan

Photo by Alfacevedoa
via Wikimedia Commons

Volkswagen offers one minivan in the US, the Routan. The less said of it the better. It's not even a Volkswagen: it's made by Chrysler and is actually a re-badged Town & Country, sharing the platform also with the Dodge Grand Caravan. You can tell it's not part of the VW fold by looking under the hood, where you will find a 3.6L V6 engine that gets a 20th century fuel efficiency of 17 / 25 mpg (cty/hwy). It's an ugly critter, too, sporting a mean smirk at the front.

If you want to see a real VW microbus, you have to go to the beautiful city of Santa Clara, CA, where the characteristic sound of the boxer engine can be heard everywhere. This is where good VW buses retire: rust-free, basking in the mild California climate and pampered by their loving owners. Some of them are still attired as hippiemobiles. Some go all the way back to the original T1 generation.

The next closest place is Mexico, where Volkswagen still sells the Transporter, one of the T4 generation (the last that was sold in the US). With the frugal TDI option. And a choice of pickup truck, cargo van and passenger van versions.

But for the real thing, the place to go is the home of Volkswagen.

In Germany, the current generation minibus (T5) comes in several manifestations. The Multivan is the sensible runaround MPV. Its variants include the AWD Edition 25, a version with an elongated wheel base, and a luxury Business edition. Of course, there is the California camper, complete with fold-out roof. The photos made CelloPlayer fairly faint with desire.

As a sign of its versatility, the Multivan also occurs in Volkswagen's "utility vehicles" list. But for the consumer versions, the second row of seats can be swiveled to face to the rear. Pull out the built-in table, and you're ready for a cup of tea, or lunch. And there are panoramic windows, even for the children in the back. Of course, there's plenty of space in the trunk for strollers, sports equipment, and a cello or two. Altogether a family-friendly vehicle.

All that at a fuel efficiency better than 30 mpg.

But if you don't need a living room on wheels, you can take a look at the VW Sharan: "Great to the smallest detail". It sort of looks like a larger version of the Golf, but has a sliding side door, handy for those tiny European parking spaces, and comes with a 6-seat or a 7-seat option (the latter is an extra € 1,575).

Photo by El Monty via Wikimedia Commons

All seats are easily foldable to form a flat cargo floor in case you need to move larger pieces. In case that's not enough, the Sharan can pull a 750 kg (1650 lbs) trailer without brakes, and 2200kg (4850 lbs) with brakes. So yes, you can take this car on a camping trip and do fine with it.

This is one of those examples where going with a smaller package can give you big savings: the 7-seat Sharan is € 2600 ($3200) less expensive than a comparable Multivan with the same engine. The table below compares the Multivan to the Sharan, both outfitted with the sweet 2.0L TDI Bluemotion powertrain. Both MPVs have the same width, but the Sharan is less tall. It also has quite a bit less weight, so its fuel efficiency is about 30% higher than that of the Multivan. (No user data is available yet for these cars, but apparently the European test cycle is much more accurate for diesel engines than for conventional gasoline ones).

Since the Sharan is really in a different class from the Routan, perhaps VW can be convinced to start selling us this MPV that offers space for larger families but still has a sensible carbon footprint.


Multivan Sharan
Type 2.0L TDI Bluemotion
2.0L TDI Bluemotion
Trendline 7-seat
Year 2012 2012
Emissions rating EURO5 "C" EURO5 "B"
MSRP € 36,224 € 33,600
CelloMom Rating
Fuel Economy:
City/Hwy quoted 9.1 / 6.1 L/100km 6.8 / 4.8 L/km
Avg. quoted 7.2 L/100km
5.5 L/km
(43 mpg)
Avg. actual    

2.0L TDI Bluemotion

2.0L TDI Bluemotion
Power 103 kW (138 HP) 138HP @ 4200rpm
Torque 320Nm (231 lbs-ft)
@ 1750-2500 rpm
Transmission 6-spd manual 6-spd manual
Fuel Diesel Diesel
Length, mm(in) 4892mm (193in) 4854mm (191in)
Width, mm(in) 1904mm (75in) 1904mm (75in)
Height, mm(in) 1990mm (78in) 1720mm (68in)
Weight, kg(lbs) 2218 kg 1774 kg
Trunk volume, liters(cuft)   300-2300L
Turning radius, m(ft)   11.9m
Top speed, kph(mph) 173 kph 194 kph

June 10, 2012

Fact or Fiction: can you get more gasoline by filling your tank in the morning?

With the price of fuel at historic highs, every bit of savings you can get at the pump helps your bottom line. One piece of advice often dispensed is to fill up in the morning when it's cool rather than in the heat of the day. This is because gasoline, like most liquids, expands when the temperature is raised, so when it's cooler, the gasoline is more dense, or heavier, and you get more gasoline per gallon.

The reasoning is impeccable. But when you dig into the numbers, you find that this tactic for saving at the pump is pretty much a quaint urban legend.

First of all, the volume of gasoline, diesel and other oil-derived liquids are calibrated to a temperature of 60F (15C). The Canadian government has published a helpful chart of the volume correction factors for gasoline; on this chart the correction factor 1.0000 can be found for T=15.0C. When the temperature dips to -20C (-4F), the correction factor is 1.0444, so a gallon of gasoline at that temperature will get you 4.44% more mileage than at 60F.

Because this is a Canadian chart it goes to -40C (-40F), but I'd really rather not think about filling up under such circumstances. On the other hand, the chart only goes to 30C (86F); for temperatures higher than that you need to consult a US publication; the one I found is a 1920 publication in the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry. Its data is consistent with the Canadian data from 2011 but it does go to 120F (49C), where the volume correction factor is 0.95 - 0.97 (compared to the standard at 60F). You can buy an app for this - but my phone doesn't do apps so I get to stare at the tables.

The tables suggest that, if you live in Tucson where the temperature swings are large, you can get about 5% more gasoline if you go to the pump at 4am (the coolest time of day) rather than the 3pm school pickup time. Sounds great.

However, before you set your alarm for such an ungodly hour, you might consider that the gasoline at the station is generally stored in an underground tank, where the temperature is much more steady than at the surface.

Just think: in the summer your basement is always cooler than the rest of the house. And the water coming out of your tap (once you're run it for a while) is nice and cool: it is at the temperature of your well, or your municipal water pipes, both underground. (Conversely, in wintertime your water keeps flowing despite freezing air temperatures, because the pipes remain above freezing).

In fact, once you're 5-6 meters (15-18ft) below the surface, the temperature of the ground is a steady 45F (8C), fluctuating by at most 2C in response to temperature swings at the surface (this is what makes geothermal home heating / cooling work). So the volume correction factor inside the storage tank is at most about 0.5%. While the first quart or so that gets pumped into your car tank is at the surface temperature, the rest is close to the temperature of the storage tank, much like your tap water is still cool in the summer.

Just to be sure, pumps in Canada are outfitted with a temperature correction device, so that each litre dispensed by the pump means the equivalent of one litre of gasoline at 15C (60F), no matter what the actual temperature of the tank might be.

US pumps don't have this correction, but are you really going to lose precious sleep over savings amounting to at most 0.5%? That's $0.02 on your $4 per gallon gas. You'd do much better by choosing a gas sipper next time you're ready to buy a car, for some real savings at the pump.

Of course, CelloMom has her own list of strategies for increased fuel efficiency. Some are out-of-the-box. None involve getting up before dawn.


June 8, 2012

Review: Kia Sorento, Kia Carens

For families that need more than five seats in a car, here is an option with flexibility: the Kia Sorento is a two- to seven-seater crossover that is nearly two feet shorter than the standard minivan: easy to park, and with real-life average fuel efficiency up to 32 mpg: easy on the family budget.


The seating is in a 2-3-2 arrangement, with the second row foldable in a 60-40 configuration, and the two third-row seats foldable independently, handy for transporting long narrow things. Even with the third row up, you can still stow a cello way in the back (just).


As usual (this is getting to be boring), the US version comes with the largest engines: your "choices" are between a 2.4L, 191 HP gasoline GDI injection engine rated at 22/32 mpg (cty/hwy), and a 3.5L V6 that gets a fuel efficiency as measly as 18/24 mpg for the all-wheel drive version. All US offerings have automatic transmission, tacking about $1000 onto the price tag (plus the additional cost of gas, about 10% higher than for the manual transmission).

In the South Korean home market, Kia offers this car with a choice of two gasoline engines: a 2.0L E-VGT (35mpg) and a 2.2L E-VGT (33mpg). (These MPG numbers are overstated, but only slightly: for comparison, on Toyota's Korean website the Camry is quoted as having a fuel efficiency of 30mpg, whereas it is rated at 28mpg by the US EPA). As far as I can tell both versions have automatic transmission (while looking at the Korean script is amusing, I couldn't recognise anything except the roman-script "USB" option for one of the trims).

In the UK, it's just diesels on the menu. You can buy the basic trim of the Sorento (imaginatively named "1") as a five-seater with a 2.0L, 148HP diesel engine. 7-seat Sorentos are available with a 2.2L, 194HP engine, also running on diesel: enough power to get your family out on a nice camping trip in the Lake District. There are rails for a roof rack where you can stow extra gear, and if you bring a caravan or trailer you can tow up to 2500kg (5500lbs).There is choice of manual or auto transmission, and two- or all-wheel drive. The table below shows stats for a 7-seater with two-wheel drive and manual transmission. Real drivers report an average fuel economy of 32mpg for this version: I would settle for that if I had to move more than five people often enough.


Photo by Mick via Wikimedia Commons

However, for the UK even the Sorento is sort of a large MPV. If you need the third row seats only occasionally, and are looking for savings both in the purchase price and in the operating cost, you might well consider the Kia Carens. It's six inches shorter overall than the Sorento, so with the third row in use you won't have that much storage space left.

It comes with either a 1.6L, 133HP gasoline engine or a 1.6L, 126HP diesel engine; both are available with manual transmission only. The diesel version gets a road-proven and very sweet 41mpg fuel economy. If that weren't enough inspiration to learn to drive with a stick, the price tag for the 7-seat Carens is £ 9,000 less than for the Sorento. That kind of money would pay for driving lessons, plus quite a few camping trips, even if you might not want to take it up the steepest roads in the Lake District - or the Rockies - with a trailer in tow. Certainly it would do very well for moving your children, their gear and a few friends around most towns.

Both the Sorento and the Carens come with Kia's 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty, a welcome relief in a world where warranties have shrunk to mostly 3 years and 30,000 miles.


Kia Sorento (US, UK); Kia Carens (UK)

2.4 I4 A/T
2.2 CRDi
1.6L CRDi
Type LX KX-1 2
Year 2013 2012 2012
Emissions rating EURO5 "H" EURO5 "F"

$ 23,150

£ 25,005
($ 38,844)
£ 16,000
($ 24,700)
CelloMom Rating      
Fuel Economy:
City/Hwy quoted 22 / 32 mpg 28 / 44 mpg 36 / 45 mpg
Avg. quoted 25 mpg 36mpg
171 g CO2/km
41 mpg
146 g CO2/km
Avg. actual 23 mpg 32 mpg 41 mpg

2.4L GDI

2.2 CRDi 1.6L CRDi
Power 175 HP
169 lbs-ft
194 HP
422Nm (311 lbft)
126 HP
@4000 rpm
Transmission 6-spd Auto CVVT 6-spd Manual 6-spd Manual
Fuel Reg. unleaded Diesel Diesel
Length, mm(in) 183.5 in 4685 mm 4545 mm
Width, mm(in) 74.2 in 1885 mm 1820 mm
Height, mm(in) 68.3 in 1745 mm 1700 m
Weight, kg(lbs) 3845 lbs 1830 - 1915 kg 1605 - 1715 kg
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) 9.1 / 37.0 / 72.5 cuft 111 - 1525 L 74 - 2106L
Turning radius 35.7 ft c-c 5.4 m 5.4 m
Top speed   182 kph
(113 mph)
179 kph
(111 mph)

June 6, 2012

Ford Seven-Seat People Movers: Explorer, Flex, Expedition, Grand C-MAX, S-MAX, Galaxy.

I have been remiss: in my eagerness to find a new car for my own family of four, I have pretty much neglected the needs of families of five or more. I was reminded of this when Kristina from The Greening of Westford asked for suggestions, and I had no ready answer. I will remedy this omission wholesale right now: by covering no fewer than six vehicles that can carry seven people. This one is for you, Kristina!

One way to get around the issue is to simply stick three children on the back seat: this is what they do in Europe. It works because they have baby and child seats that are quite a bit narrower than what you can buy here, so yes, you can actually fit three in a row in the back of a VW Golf. Even in the back of a Honda Fit.

But child seats in the US are wider, and it would be hard fitting three of them in a smallish family car. And if you have beefy teens who are getting broad-shouldered from their stints with the weights or with the rowing team, they would have a fit if you saw fit to fit them three across in a Fit.

So the first place I checked was the website of Ford, the company that has been instrumental in family mobility for over a hundred years. They still are: they offer three options for 7-person vehicles, the Explorer, the Flex and the Expedition. Those range from the Large to the Enormous: plenty of space for a larger family, plus a friend or two.

In what is now a near-automatic reflex, I looked abroad, and checked out Ford's website in the UK. That also shows three 7-person cars, but three completely different ones: the Grand C-MAX, the S-MAX and the Galaxy. The effect of jumping between the two websites rather reminded me of the Continental Divide.

When I first heard of the Continental Divide I imagined a deep chasm cutting across the United States, sort of like the Mississippi but a mile deep. The actual Continental Divide turns out to be a relatively mild geological feature. But now it appears that the real Continental Divide is not a geological but a cultural feature, and spatially runs somewhere across the Atlantic Ocean, probably coinciding with the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

In the context of cars, the Continental Divide is represented by the vertical line running down the middle of the table below. For each model, the table shows the fuel efficiency (duly translated into miles per US gallon) for the smallest engine available for that model. Note: the numbers for the Grand C-MAX are real-life MPG as reported by their owners; those for the S-MAX and the Galaxy are "official" MPG which in Europe tend to overstate the fuel efficiency.

On the UK side of this table, no car is longer than 5 meters (197in); on the US side all are longer than 5 meters. On the UK side, the largest engine option is the 2.2L Duratorq TDCi diesel engine (161HP); on the US side the 2.0L Ecoboost engine in the Explorer sticks out like a bright mylar balloon: all the other engines have displacement volumes of 3.5L or more.

On the UK side, all three do better than 30mpg; on the US side none do better than 30mpg.

Moms! here is proof that you can move your family of five (plus one set of grandparents) and still do up to 35mpg, without paying hybrid prices. Yes you can. Moreover, these cars are designed and built by Ford, an icon of Detroit and of American life for generations. Yes it can.

I think it's time to ask Ford to start selling their best gas sipping people movers on their home base. A vehicle like the Expedition is meant for hauling a large family with all the paraphernalia necessary for survival at the mountain cabin, plus the boat. Not all of us need that kind of brawn.


Ford seven-passenger cars


Grand C-MAX
L=4520mm (177.9in)
W=2067mm (81.4in)
H=1684mm (66.3in)
Seats 2 or 4 or 6 or 7

32mpg* 1.6L EcoBoost
    (+1 other gasoline)
35mpg* 1.6L TDCi (+1 other diesel)

Explorer Sport
L=197.1in (5006mm)
Seats 2 or 5 or 7

20 / 28 mpg 2.0L EcoBoost
    (+1 other gasoline)
L=4768mm (187.7in)
Seats 2 or 4 or 5 or 6 or 7

35mpg** 1.6L EcoBoost
    (+1 other gasoline)
45mpg** 1.6L TDCi (+2 other diesel)

L=201.8in (5126mm)
Seats 2 or 5 or 7

18/25mpg 3.5L Ti-VCT
    (+1 other gasoline)


L=4820mm (189.8in)
Seats 2 or 5 or 7

33mpg** 1.6L EcoBoost
    (+1 other gasoline)
45mpg** 1.6L TDCi (+2 other diesel)

L=221.3in (5621mm)
Seats 2 or 4 or 7

14/20mpg 5.4L SOCH
    (no other engines)

* HonestJohn.co.uk real-life MPG
** Manufacturer's quote avg. MPG


Unfortunately I can't very well give a driver review since the nearest dealer carrying an S-MAX is across the Atlantic. What shall we say? It's an MPV, albeit smaller than the MPV minivans we're used to seeing on US roads.

Both the front and rear side doors swivel open; all the back seats can be folded down flat independently, so you can adapt the seating / cargo space to your needs of the moment. This MPV can be configured with all the usual bells and whistles, from leather seating to USB connections. My favourite option is the heated windshield: its heat turns on instantly at the touch of a button, relieving you from having to hack away at the freezing rain that often visits cars in such maritime places as the UK and the Netherlands, usually on Monday mornings before an important meeting.


The Grand C-MAX, classed as a compact MPV, is just four inches longer than a Toyota Matrix, so there isn't that much space behind the third row once you've put that up. But with the third row folded down there is space for a few cellos in the back.

Access is versatile and playful: To begin, the Grand C-MAX has sliding side doors. And the middle seat in the second row can be folded away underneath one of the other second-row seats, to form a walk-through to the third row. I'm assuming that the third row is also accessible by folding down one of the side seats in the second row.

The smaller 5-seat C-MAX is coming to the US (MY 2013), but only in a hybrid version (including a plug-in hybrid). That's nice. But I think I would extend a much warmer welcome to one of Ford's European 7-seat offerings: even without the hybrid technology, those already get up to 35mpg. If you trade in an older Explorer, you could double your fuel efficiency overnight.


June 1, 2012

Vampire Power

Far from anything to do with the marketing prowess of the Twilight novels / movies and their tie-ins, "vampire power" refers to the electrical power used by electrical and electronic equipment while in "sleep" or standby mode. The "phantom load" is estimated to be around 10 percent of residential electricity use.

No wonder that there has been a call to reduce the leakage, by turning devices to OFF instead of standby when you don't need them. Chopping 10 percent off your electricity bill (and your home's carbon footprint) is nice.

In 2010, the average US home used about 11,500 kWh of electricity. A tenth of that comes to 1150 kWh per year, or about 3.15kWh per day.

Let's put that in perspective: the Nissan Leaf is rated to have electrical mileage of 340 kWh per mile (ignore the silly MPG-e number or the misleading "zero emissions": for an EV, the kWh per mile number is the only one you need).

So if you own a Leaf, you could drive nearly 10 miles each day on the electricity you save by turning your devices OFF: 3380 miles a year, which is a whopping 22.5% of the 15,000 miles the average US car covers annually. In a gasoline car doing 20 mpg, your carbon emissions savings would amount to about 1050 miles a year, about 3 miles a day.

On the other hand, if you let go of your gas guzzler and trade it in for a more gas-frugal car (and 40 mpg is no big deal any more, even in the US), it is possible to double your fuel efficiency overnight. Now we're talking a real win on those CO2 emissions: once you do that, perhaps you can be forgiven for leaving one or two things plugged in and on standby.

We have been conditioned to think "EV" and "hybrid" when the words "fuel efficiency" come up, and such vehicles come with high price tags. But it doesn't have to be that way: you can save thousands of dollars even at the purchase, by getting the right amount of power for your car; I believe that generally our cars have way more power than we really need. I'm one of those who can stand to ditch the vroom-vroom effect if that means I can save thousands. Here is my pep talk on how to buy a gas sipper for less - even without giving up on comfort or safety.

Right now, a car doing less than 30mpg is a dinosaur.