Mostly off-topic for an architect, I know, but it’s this odd odd appendage that has developed as a part of my sideline as a writer about green technology (and living close to Detroit). Two things coming up:

I’ve been invited to come to Penguicon again this year, and to be on a panel with some other automotive and transportation folks to talk about the future of automotive technology. While I am still only accidentally a “car guy,” it has become an area of interest for me as part of my involvement with EcoGeek. I’m not in the industry the way the other panelists are, so hopefully I can provide some wider perspective. I also expect I will be acquainted with a number of blue-sky concepts that the others are less familiar with.

I’m not sure about other presentations or programming for Penguicon, yet. I’ve offered a possible presentation on ‘Alternative Alternative Power Generation,’ looking at the fringe ideas and explorations that make wind and solar look mainstream (which they certainly are becoming).

Secondly, I’ve been invited to visit a Volkswagen research facility in a couple weeks to learn more about what they are up to (as well as to have a chance to drive a bunch of their upcoming models). It’s one of the more incongruous parts of my life. Look for some stories coming out of that in a couple weeks.


[Originally posted at EcoGeek. I’m mostly a bus commuter, but there have been times when I’ve seen the benefits of the Michigan Left. Increased safety, increased efficiency – it should be a no-brainer to see this design implemented more widely. The downside would be all the disruptive construction needed to tear up existing intersections and reconfigure them like this; that will be the biggest obstacle beyond simple inertia and political xenophobia over foreign ideas.

On an only tangentially related note, yesterday, while I was waiting for an opening to cross the street (as a pedestrian), an oncoming car on the opposite side of the street stopped before the crosswalk where I was going to cross, and thus stopped a line of 4 or 5 other cars behind her, despite the fact there were several oncoming vehicles on my side of the street that I had to wait for. So she sat there with the other cars stacked behind her. I thought she had stopped to make a left turn at that intersection, so once the other traffic cleared, I waited for her to make her left, and then, after a few seconds, I darted across the street.

I appreciate courteous driving and consideration for pedestrians, but its false courtesy to inconvenience a half-dozen other people to try to be sanctimoniously courteous to one.]

A recent study carried out by traffic engineering researchers at North Carolina State University found that the use of roads without left turns (known as “Michigan left” or “superstreet” design) makes for roads with “significantly faster travel times, and leads to a drastic reduction in automobile collisions and injuries.” While the Michigan left has been around since the 1960s, the design is not widely used except in Michigan and to some extent in North Carolina. This study is the first significant examination of the benefits of this kind of intersection.

Drivers, especially those unfamiliar with the concept, may find the Michigan left to be frustrating in practice, because making a left turn in such an intersection often requires a stop, then driving a short distance and having to stop again before being able to join the flow of traffic in the desired direction. However, the wait times are actually less than if the intersection was configured with all the needed delays necessary to implement four-way left turns (which usually stop all other traffic to allow the lefts).

Read the entire article

NAIAS 2011 CredentialIn addition to the coverage of the Detroit Auto Show (NAIAS 2011) that I’ve done for EcoGeek, this year I’ve also written a piece about going to the Auto Show for the Ann Arbor Chronicle. Rather than trying to be a “car guy,” this gave me a chance to talk about what it’s like to have a press pass when you aren’t a full-time journalist.

I am not a journalist – I just play one, as the saying goes.

So what was I doing at the Press Preview of the North American International Auto Show a few days ago at Cobo Hall? Even though I’m an architect in my day job, I also do some writing for, a blog focused on issues of technology and the environment. And I’ve also contributed to several other online media outlets in the past few years.

My writing sideline started with a focus on green building technology. But because of my proximity to Detroit, I found myself receiving forwarded invitations to auto industry events.

So while I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a “car guy,” I’ve come to find myself acting in the capacity of an automotive journalist. I have now attended the North American International Auto Show three or four times as a member of the press.

Despite having developed some familiarity with the process, I still feel like an interloper – as though I’m getting away with sneaking in someplace I’m not supposed to be.

[Full article on Ann Arbor Chronicle]

It’s a longer, more narrative piece compared to most of the other things I’ve written recently. I had a lot of fun writing the article, as well. There are still a lot of things that I saw that I haven’t written about in one way or another, and there are also lots of things that I wanted to find out more about, but I just didn’t have time for. That’s just how it goes.

[Originally posted on EcoGeek]


Advanced Mechanical Products (AMP) wasn’t on the show floor in Detroit at this year’s North American International Auto Show, but a few of the company’s representatives brought the company’s X Prize competition entry vehicle to Detroit. Initially, I was offered a chance to drive the car out on the streets of Detroit, but the weather that day was somewhat icy (and I had a particularly slow drive into downtown Detroit to get to the show that day). The lightweight, rear wheel-drive, electric-converted Sky was probably better handled by someone familiar with it, so I went for a ride with AMP President Steve Burns to experience the AMP’d Sky.

Given the conditions, we stuck to the surface streets, so we didn’t demonstrate the 0 – 60 mph (0 – 100 kph) in about 8 seconds that the car can reach. But, other than the big, red cutoff switch where the gearshift lever had been (an X Prize requirement), it was a Saturn Sky inside, and driving around was really no different than riding in any other car on a cold January day.

Since the vehicle we were in is AMP’s X Prize entry, there were a couple elements that were more like a test vehicle than a finished car. In addition to the aforementioned cut-off button, there was some extra equipment among the batteries under the hood, and there was soundproofing omitted in the rear, so the motors were louder than they would be in a commercial AMP Sky, though not so loud that we couldn’t have a conversation. But, beyond the unusual motor noise, the vehicle was an ordinary Saturn Sky in look and feel.


AMP’s approach has been to work with the best of what is already available, rather than designing new systems from scratch. This is why they are working with existing vehicles that have already been engineered and safety tested to the extent that only a large automaker like GM can manage. While they take out the gas engine and install stacks of batteries and a pair of electric motors directly connected to the rear wheels, they leave as much of the conversion vehicle intact. Nothing is welded to the existing frame. The brakes and tires are exactly as they came from Saturn. This actually disadvantages the conversion in some ways. For example, the rolling resistance of the stock tires is not as ideal for an electric vehicle. But this makes it easier to produce the vehicle without expensive design and engineering changes.


The electric motors are the same ones that GM is using in their Tahoe hybrid. But, using two of them to propel a much lighter vehicle means that the vehicle can be 100 percent electrically driven. Again, by using stock parts, AMP makes it that much easier to build an affordable, serviceable electric car. Customers can take their car to a dealer or service center and have the brakes repaired using identical parts to a standard Sky.

We’ve also started an interview with Steve Burns for an upcoming EcoGeek of the Week segment. If you have questions you’d like us to ask, you can ask them in the comments below (before this Thursday 1/21/2010).

Previously on EcoGeek:
AMP Road Testing Saturn Sky All Electric Prototype
Saturn All-Electric Conversions Available Next Year

[Originally posted on EcoGeek]

I am always glad when I have a chance to write something positive for my adopted home state of Michigan (or, more broadly, for the Great Lakes region).  My brush with celebrity: seeing Bill Ford, Jennifer Granholm, and (possibly future governor) Andy Dillon at the Ford announcements today.


At the Detroit Auto Show on Monday, Ford Chairman William Clay Ford announced that the company was going to be investing an additional $450 million in facilities for the production of batteries and electric vehicles. Ford spoke of bringing battery technology back “in house,” and returning research and production of battery systems as a “core competency” for Ford. This move will relocate production from Mexico back to Ford’s home state of Michigan, a move which was welcomed by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who shared the stage at the announcement.

Ford’s announcement comes shortly on the heels of GM opening its own battery manufacturing facility in Brownstown Township, MI.

The two long time automotive rivals appear to be opening a new chapter in their competition, and are setting the stage for electric cars to be an increasing part of the vehicle mix.

[Originally posted on EcoGeek]


Audi showed up at this year’s North American International Auto Show with some impressive hardware. Not just the cars that they are showing, but also the award for the 2010 Green Car of the Year, which was awarded to the Audi A3 TDI at the LA Auto Show. And today, Audi unveiled their E-tron electric car concept, making another major automaker to join the electric vehicle bandwagon.

The A3 is driven by a 2.0 liter clean diesel engine that gets 42 MPG on the highway. The A3 is another example of the new clean diesel that is legal in all 50 states. Last year’s winner was the 2009 Jetta TDI, so clean diesel has certainly arrived as a competitor in the green car field. Other finalists for the award were the Honda Insight hybrid, Mercury Milan Hybrid, Toyota Prius, and the VW Golf TDI.

Audi also showed up with its second “e-tron” concept car. (An earlier e-tron concept was unveiled at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show a few months ago.) While it looks like something a Cylon might drive, it is a powerful 2-seat electric sports car with 45 kWh battery capacity and two electric motors that provide over 200 hp. This gives it a range of 250 kilometers (155 miles). As a sports car, its numbers aren’t quite as strong as the Tesla roadster, but it is likely to appeal to a different buyer than the Tesla.

In remarks today, the company announced that an e-tron vehicle is expected to be ready by 2012. Audi’s strategy for electric vehicles is to skip the ‘mild hybrids’ that use electric motors just as a boost to the gasoline engine and instead focus on full hybrids. Their direction is to prepare for the future when electric drive vehicles are more commonplace. Audi representatives also announced that a full hybrid Audi A8 is to be unveiled at the upcoming Geneva Auto Show.

[Originally posted on EcoGeek]


Electric vehicles have become a common theme at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Major manufacturers are unveiling new electric vehicles that aren’t simply blue-sky concept car shells. They are designed, engineered and specified throughout, even if they aren’t going to arrive on the showroom floor next month.

A sign of just how far things have come, Tesla is on the main floor, across the aisle from Audi and in between Land Rover and Lotus. There is also a part of the main floor designated as ‘Electric Avenue’ with numerous small manufacturers, as well as a display for the Automotive X Prize, with several of the entrant vehicles on hand for display. Larger manufacturers, including Nissan, with the Leaf, and Mitsubishi, with the i MiEV. For both of these manufacturers, that is the extent of their Detroit presence at the show this year.

The basement of the show this year has been set up with the ‘EcoXperience,’ a set of small winding tracks with numerous hybrid, electric, and fuel cell vehicles available to drive. It’s a tiny course, but it’s enough to put hundreds of journalists–and thousands of show atendees, starting this weekend–behind the wheel of an electric vehicle in order for them to be able to experience first hand what it is like to drive something different. The ordinariness of it may be what is most striking, and many more people may come to think of electric and alternative fuel vehicles as viable options, rather than just car show fantasy.

This morning, I have already driven a Think electric car and a Mercedes Benz fuel-cell crossover. I also met with the president of AMP Electric Vehicles and took a short ride on the streets of Detroit in their X Prize entry vehicle, an all-electric converted Saturn Sky. More about that to come.