Tuesday, December 9, 2008

NEIL AND THE MICHIGAN AUTO CONNECTION

Posted By on Tue, Dec 9, 2008 at 11:59 AM

Anyone catch Neil Young at the Palace Sunday night? We didn't this time -- but from reading the setlists posted online during the tour thus far, we're betting that he was as great as ever (though he'll never top premiering the Rust Never Sleeps show at Pine Knob during the late '70s, shocking the hell out of everybody -- by singing about "Johnny Rotten," among so many other things -- at a time when his audience had no idea of what to expect).

Interesting thing is there's been a real connection between Mr. Young and the state of Michigan during the last two months or so. For those of you who haven't heard yet (and if you haven't, you're probably not a big fan), Sugar Mountain, his latest album, released just last week as part of his ongoing Archives series, is a document of a stunning 1968 acoustic concert he performed at the Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, just a short time before his debut solo album was released. The show -- which comes in the package as both a CD and, even better, a DVD -- includes songs from that album, as well as songs the then 23-year-old artist had written for and performed with Buffalo Springfield. It's highly recommended and apparently much more cost-effective than his long-awaited (even longer than Chinese Democracy, for godssakes!) Archives boxset, which is now being promised in late February. The current suggested retail price for that set is a whopping $344.99 ($431.99 for the Blue Ray set!), though it's slightly less expensive at amazon.com. Check it out here.

Not sure what Mr. Young was thinking with those prices, especially in this god-awful economy (and if you go to the amazon link above, there are already plenty of comments and criticisms about a set that hasn't even been released yet)...but I'm betting it's not going to chart in the Top 20!

But Neil obviously has been thinking a lot about the economy and, specifically, the problems the Big 3 are experiencing here in the Motor City. Young's always been obsessed with cars; in fact, his wonderful "Long May You Run" was written about one of his fave vehicles. So late last month, the rock star wrote two different editorials addressing the changes the auto industry is facing after he assembled a team to turn a nearly 20-foot-long, 5,000-pound 1959 Lincoln Continental into a car that will run on natural gas, electricity or some other form of clean energy. Both think pieces, in addition to a story the NY Times ran about Young's project before he wrote the columns, are featured below. Thanks to our friend -- and Young publicist -- Bob Merlis for sending these our way. Truth be told, though, my eyes started to glaze over midway through the first column...but there are surely plenty of autoworkers in this town and state who might find the following interesting, if they haven't seen it yet.

How To Save A Major Automobile Company

Auto manufacturers taking advantage of a government bailout must only sell clean and green vehicles that do not contribute to global warming.

by Neil Young

Find a new ownership group. The culture must change. It is time to turn the page. In the high technology sector there are several candidates for ownership of a major car and truck manufacturer. We need forward looking people who are not restricted by the existing culture in Detroit. We need visionary people now with business sense to create automobiles that do not contribute to global warming.

It is time to change and our problems can facilitate our solutions. We can no longer afford to continue down Detroit’s old road. The people have spoken. They do not want gas guzzlers (although they still like big cars and trucks). It is possible to build large long-range vehicles that are very efficient. People WILL buy those vehicles because they represent REAL change and a solution that we can live with.

The government must take advantage of the powerful position that exists today. The Big 3 are looking for a bailout. They should only get it if they agree to stop building autos that contribute to global warming now. The stress on the auto manufacturers today is gigantic. In order to keep people working in their jobs and keep factories open, this plan is suggested:

The big three must reduce models to basics. a truck, an SUV, a large family sedan, an economy sedan, and a sports car. Use existing tooling.

Keep building these models to keep the workforce employed but build them WITHOUT engines and transmissions. These new vehicles, called Transition Rollers, are ready for a re-power. NO NEW TOOLING is required at this stage. The adapters are part of the kits described next.

At the same time as the new Transition Rollers are being built, keeping the work force working, utilize existing technology now, create re-power kits to retrofit the Transition Rollers to SCEVs (self charging electric vehicles) for long range capability up to and over 100mpg. If you don’t think this technology is realistic or available, check out the Progressive Insurance Automotive X prize. Alternatively, check out Lincvolt.com or other examples.

A bailed out Auto manufacturer must open or re-purpose one or more factories and dedicate them to do the re-power/retrofit assembly. These factories would focus on re-powering the Transition Rollers into SCEVs but could also retrofit and re-power many existing vehicles to SCEVs. These existing vehicles are currently sitting unsold at dealerships across America.

Auto manufacturers taking advantage of a government bailout must only sell clean and green vehicles that do not contribute to global warming. No more internal combustion engines that run exclusively on fossil fuels can be sold period.

No Big Three excuses like “new tooling takes time”. New tooling is not a requirement for SCEV transition rollers.

Build only new vehicles that attain the goal of reversing global warming and enhancing National Security.

Government legislation going with the bailout should include tax breaks for purchasers of these cars with the new green SCEV technology. The legislation accompanying the bailout of major auto manufacturers must include directives to build only vehicles that attain the goal of reversing global warming while enhancing National security, and provide the financial assistance to make manufacturing these cars affordable in the short term while the industry re-stabilizes.

Eventually the SCEV technology could be built into every new car and truck as it is being assembled and the stop gap plan described above would have completed its job of keeping America building and working through this turbulent time.

Detroit has had a long time to adapt to the new world and now the failure of Detroit’s actions is costing us all. We pay the bailout. Let’s make a good deal for the future of America and the Planet. Companies like UQM (Colorado) and others build great electric motors right here in the USA. Use these domestic electric motors. Put these people to work now. This plan reverses the flow from negative to positive because people need and will buy clean and green cars to be part of World Change. Unique wheel covers will identify these cars on the road so that others can see the great example a new car owner is making. People want America to win!

This plan addresses the issue of Global warming from our automobiles while enhancing our National Security and keeping Detroit working.

*****

So You Want A Big Electric Car

By Neil Young

President-elect Obama¹s plan to put a million electric vehicles on the road
in 10 years is do-able and should be surpassed by its own momentum. As
people discover the many advantages of electric vehicles (EVs), this
momentum will build. Not only are these cars green and responsible, they
also enhance National Security. From all we¹ve been told about EVs we know a
little. They are cleaner. We¹ve heard about plugging them into our homes to
recharge overnight. But most of us don¹t know much about electric cars yet.
The momentum of the Electric Vehicle Age will stem from enhanced
performance, smoothness of acceleration, quietness, and superior control.
The way an electric car can be tuned to behave a certain way for a certain
driver allows for a whole new feeling in the driving experience. People just
don¹t know how cool these cars are.

Existing designs can be manufactured as electric cars with no change to the
tooling of the existing designs. Adapting kits are possible. Build electric
versions on these existing tools to keep people working and get people
interested in buying again. The technology to make these new electric
vehicles exists today right here in this country.

From Wichita Kansas we get this report: A 1959 Lincoln Continental repowered
to be a self charging electric vehicle by a small group of engineers and
local services, is now achieving up to 65 mpg in informal tests. Work there
continues. The goal of the project is to attain up to and beyond 100mpg for
the biggest and heaviest car made in 1959. The car has been driven in
California and Kansas and shown to over 15,000 people. In an audience of
12,000, one tenth of the people raised their hands when asked if they would
like to have a car like that. That Lincoln represents a future for Detroit.
It is the possibility of Big Clean cars that do not promote Global warming.
Let¹s build them now, as well as economical small clean and green electric
cars and let¹s put people to work. We already have the existing tooling and
the facilities and manpower.

From Detroit we get this report: ³We have devoted significant resources to
this project: Over 200 engineers and 50 designers are working on the Volt
alone, and another 400 are working on related subsystems and electric
components. That's how important we think this is, and that's how much stock
we place in the future of extended-range electric vehicles like the Chevy
Volt.²‹ Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director ­ E-Flex Systems and the Chevy
Volt, GeneralMotors Corp. The GM, FORD and Chrysler CEOs then each boarded private personal business jets to be paid for by taxpayers money, and flew to Washington to ask tax-payers to give them a 25 Billion dollar infusion to
save hard working American¹s jobs. Have they changed direction but it¹s just
too early for our senators and congress representatives to see it yet? I
don¹t think so. Maybe introducing a new high-performance fossil fueled
Shelby Mustang and jumping into a private jet to go to Washington for a
bailout was not such a good idea.


Efficient technology can power the existing designs we have today.
We don¹t need a car that looks different with a new sunroof over the back
seat creating an air conditioning challenge as a feature.
We don¹t need new tooling to start building electric cars now.
We need kits to adapt what we are currently making to today¹s demands.
We need new thinking from new leaders and we need new perspectives from
unions.

Today the news is Hybrids. Everyone is making them. Some of these hybrids
offer very poor mileage in the 20-30 mpg range. They may be already on their
way out because of the inherent inefficiency of their design. An electric
motor and an internal combustion engine both driving the wheels in one car
may not be the most efficient approach. Forward thinkers are wondering
about that inefficiency and working on ways to solve it. Plug in Kits are
now available for Prius and Ford Escape, allowing these vehicles to plug in
for a re-charge, increasing their efficiency and reducing their negative
impact on the environment. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) look
like the future, but are they the future?

There are huge limitations. The battery is the biggest. An average EV is
only good for a short trip before it needs a charge. Maybe 40 miles or so is
a good estimate. Some electric cars get a long range like 100 miles before
they lose power and have to recharge. The Tesla (a super light sports car)
goes over 150 miles on a charge. Two things that all basic EVs have in
common is they are small in size and they have to stop and re-charge. If you
run out of power you are down. Just like gas. To re-charge, you need a power
source. It may be your home, or it may be your parking garage at work. It
might be a charging system that is privately owned and is a business
enterprise (Better Place), or it may be a public utility service (PG&E). You
may have a cable to plug in that identifies you so your account can be
automatically charged. One thing is for sure. You need to re-charge. So you
are going to be more conscious of your energy use.

Not every EV has to plug in. For some, it¹s optional. Cars like the Chevy
Volt have an onboard generator to re-charge batteries or power the car.
These cars are Self-Charging EVs (SCEVs). That means on long trips you use
gasoline. A long trip is over about forty miles in a Volt, on level ground.
When the battery starts to die, an onboard generator rescues it and powers
the electric motor, while slowly recharging the battery. This sequence
cycles on and off while you take a long trip. Mostly the generator is onŠ..
using gasoline, a fuel widely seen as a National Security disadvantage. The
Volt generator will charge the batteries faster if the car is not moving, by
using gasoline. On short trips, you won¹t even use the generator. You will
go the first 40 miles on plug-in power. An average commute in the USA is
about 35 miles.

Efficiency in the self-charging electric car is the big decider. If the
efficiency of your charging system allows you to make electricity with less
financial cost than buying it from the grid, then your car can power your
house and turn the meter backwards to reduce or eliminate your electric
bill. Potentially, you may even be able to sell electricity to the grid
someday. That would be a good reason to buy a SCEV with a highly efficient
self-charging system. These cars are mobile power plants.

Big electric cars are left out of the story so far by major manufacturers.
They have made some very poor hybrid SUVS. SUVs, big sedans, pick-up trucks are all by the wayside. They have been relegated to dinosaur status. But
don¹t count them out. A big Self-Charging SUV with a super efficient
self-charging system would create enough power to support 6 homes. You could be part of a distributed power system by using the grid backwards, selling power back to your Utility Company. In this approach, power enters the grid from plugged-in vehicles, avoiding the loss found in the lines when power
comes to you from a central Power Plant located miles away. Imagine a big
electric car that earns you income.

But you just wanted a big electric car. You may be surprised to know why
size is important. Big SCEVs, while taking big power to run, and requiring
large battery banks and big electric motors, will undoubtedly be getting up
to 100 mpg or more in the near future. A big developmental car, Lincvolt,
seen at Lincvolt.com , is proving this technology. Big SCEVs may well be
earning you money while you are charging the grid. They may be re-charging
with super efficient self-charging systems, and even using Domestic Green
bio-diesel fuel, a fuel that does not contribute significantly to Global
Warming. Big may be an unexpected Green alternative.

***

Long May You Run: Neil Young’s Eco-Lincoln
By Dan Fost

NEIL YOUNG wants fuel-efficient cars, and as a politically active rock star, he wants everyone else to have them, too. But Mr. Young is not ready to give up his love of big cars, and he doesn’t think many other drivers are, either. So Mr. Young, the iconoclastic godfather of grunge, has assembled a team to turn a nearly 20-foot-long, 5,000-pound 1959 Lincoln Continental into a vehicle that will run on natural gas, electricity or some other form of clean energy. His aim is to win the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, a $10 million challenge to develop a vehicle that can get 100 miles per gallon or better by 2009.

He’s calling the project Linc Volt and he picked that Lincoln from his collection because it was his “favorite of the craziest and most out-there designs that American automobile manufacturers had come up with,” Mr. Young said. “I thought it would be a good poster child for the latest in technology.”
Mr. Young is shooting a forthcoming documentary about the Linc Volt project called “Repowering The American Dream.”

Creating the car is only one step toward winning the prize, however. The winner must also compete in two long-distance stage races in various cities around the country, and must demonstrate a capacity to produce more than 10,000 of the vehicles a year. “Our goal here is reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and you can’t do that with one-off vehicles that die in the backyard,” said Don Foley, executive director of the X Prize Foundation.

Mr. Young, 62, is a longtime tinkerer. He holds several patents, mostly having to do with model trains, and he once owned part of the model train maker Lionel. “I’m a transportation freak,” he said. “I like transportation devices. I like mechanical devices.”

But more to the point, he said: “I’m just a curious guy. It seems funny to me that we can’t get better mileage than we’re getting.”

His ingenuity is right at home in the hills above Silicon Valley, where he lives. He said he had been intrigued watching his techie neighbors at work, not only on computers but now also on electric cars, like the Tesla. Musically, he has criticized the quality of digital music, but he appeared at a Sun Microsystems event this year to praise Sun’s Java software, which he said had made it possible for him to release huge volumes of archival footage and recordings on high-definition Blu-ray discs.

“Music and mathematics, they go together,” he said. “It’s all harmonic, really.”

His own ride these days is a 1982 Mercedes coupe diesel that runs on vegetable oil he buys from a restaurant in Pacifica, Calif. “That’s a good source of fuel,” he said. “It’s working for me. It’s clean, and it doesn’t smell bad.”

But the diesel, he said, “is a Band-Aid.” The goal, he said, is to get cars to run on even cleaner fuels — electric batteries or natural gas.

That’s where Linc Volt comes in. Mr. Young teamed up with Johnathan Goodwin, owner of SAE Energy in Wichita, Kan., who was deemed a “motorhead messiah” by the business magazine Fast Company for his modifications of big cars into high-mileage, high-horsepower, clean-burning vehicles. He is currently refitting a Jeep for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

One of Mr. Goodwin’s partners, Uli Kruger, is another important part of Mr. Young’s team. Mr. Kruger, a German who lives in Australia, achieved renown for his experiments mixing different fuels. With Linc Volt, Mr. Kruger said, “What we have will be a very interesting concept that has never been done before. We’ll be running a rotary engine with natural gas.”

Until now, natural gas vehicles have run on piston engines, with poor fuel efficiency. Mr. Goodwin said the Linc Volt team was “enhancing the range and efficiency with another fuel source, which we call the slog.” They run water through a process of hydrogen fracturing, and capture it in the exhaust and use it again. That means instead of using a massive tank of natural gas that can go only 500 miles before refueling, they will use a much smaller tank and travel 1,000 miles.

Mr. Kruger called the project “an in-your-face approach.”

“If we can get a thing like that to be fuel efficient — the quintessential gas guzzler — imagine what we can do with a smaller car,” he said.

Mr. Goodwin and Mr. Kruger say that Mr. Young is very much hands-on. “There have been times where Neil will get out of a concert at midnight or 1 a.m., charter a $60,000 flight and come here to work on the project,” Mr. Goodwin said. “We’re talking turning wrenches.” Mr. Young is not a natural mechanic, Mr. Goodwin said, but “his desire to learn is what you see in a teenager.”

Mr. Young estimates the project will cost less than half a million dollars, at least to get to the end of the first stage of producing a road-ready vehicle.

Merely trying to produce a 100-miles-per-gallon vehicle is challenging enough, but the Goodwin-Young team intends to win the Automotive X Prize. More than 100 teams around the country, from well-financed electric-car startups to a high school science class, have expressed interest in competing for the prize, which is run by the same foundation that in 2004 awarded $10 million to the first team to send a piloted civilian aircraft to the edge of space. Even the big automakers may enter, although none have yet done so.

Mr. Young said he didn’t see the production requirement as too steep a hurdle for his project. He figures once he and his team come up with a workable way to refit existing cars, they will be able to sell it at dealerships across the country.

Mr. Young at times shrugs off the competitive aspect of the project. “We’re not in the race against other contestants; we’re in a race against time,” he said at the Sun Microsystems event in May. “We’re not in this to win the X Prize. I am focused on a goal, and it’s an audacious goal: to eliminate roadside refueling.”

In addition, Mr. Young said he would share whatever his team comes up with, so that others could build on their work. His Shakey Pictures is producing a documentary on the project, and he’s putting much of the video online as the project moves along, both at lincvolt.com and on a YouTube channel, youtube.com/lincvolt, he has set up. He said the car would also be linked to the Internet, so its vital statistics could be piped online in real time during each test drive.

“It’s a reality car show,” Mr. Young said. People will be able to see what mileage the car is getting, how it’s doing at different altitudes, how much battery life is left and how the generators are working.

“Lots of people will be able to pick up data from the Web site, and maybe learn from it and put it in their own projects,” he said. “The idea is to share the knowledge over the Internet and share the experience.”

“If we break down, they’ll see us break down. It’s an inclusive approach, rather than a secretive approach.”

Mr. Young said the information should run two ways. “We’re going to have an innovation gallery,” he said. “People can submit ideas, talk about them and vote which ones are best.”

The videos already on the site have an engaging, informal quality. Mr. Young, wearing sunglasses in the garage and sipping a beer, seems less like a rock star than an aging, paunchy mechanic, while Mr. Kruger and Mr. Goodwin have the lean look of guitar heroes.

Yet Mr. Young has the stage presence to carry the videos. In one, Mr. Goodwin and Mr. Kruger gave the geeky details of what kind of fuel they tried, and how they patched an engine leak, and then Mr. Young added a poetic touch, describing a test ride through Wichita in which the big white Lincoln moved stealthily on its near silent electric motor.

“It’s fantastic, it’s very eerie, very ghost-y,” he said, “this beautiful, white, huge car moving down the road and not making a sound.”
From the New York Times

P.S. Thanks to Dave Lawson for the correction!

Neil serenades an old car below...

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